Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Inspiration for an Interlude

This is a strange thing for me to say, since my problem is usually verbosity and not brevity, but I don't actually have a whole lot to say today.

I know, I know; peel yourselves off of the floor, dear readers. Miracles can happen.

This unusual pithiness - although I'm not sure anyone who uses the word 'pithiness' should be allowed to call herself pithy - is a direct result of the transitional state I'm in in my Work In Progress, aka WIP. I've settled on the bare bones of a plot for my Ancient Greek lifetime; I have lengthy and detailed psychological treatises on my three main characters; and I have a very, very general idea of where this lifetime might fit into the action of the book as a whole.

All of which's time to leave Greece. I'm having a difficult time tearing myself away - this is what happens when you sink yourself into the slippery sand-trap of character, time, and setting - but I'm managing it. I cracked open a book on Tibet.

And...I'm reading. Yup. Researching. Very preliminary. Fascinating, huh? I could go off for a while about the obvious imbalance in the amount of time American schools spend teaching about Ancient Greece vs. Ancient Tibet, and hence my own sad lack of knowledge of Tibet's religion, culture, and history, but I'll hold myself back, and just read about it for now.

So in the meantime, for this week, I'll just give you one of my favorite inspire-me-to-write quotes, in the hopes that it helps you get to your own work today, whatever that work may be:
“Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else... may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds.”
- J.R.R.Tolkien
That might seem like a strange inspirational quote for someone who mostly writes literary fiction, but I love fantasy. I always end up with little whiffs of it in my writing, anyway, no matter what my genre may be. And that quote above is one of the big reasons why.

Have a great week, all.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's OK to Experiment

I'm experimenting with voice these days, mainly because I'm fully inside my Ancient Greek story-line, and it just feels weird to write about Greek gods and myths with a modern tone. I mean, I know I don't need to go all Ovid on everyone, and start declaiming in verse, but I also know that having Apollo greet his sister, Artemis, with a "Hey girl, what's up?" feels just a wee bit awkward or, y'know, anachronistic (a word which, ironically, has Greek origins).

I say "experimenting" for a few reasons. I'm in that stage of development where I end up freewriting a lot of scenes that may never see the light of day; this helps me see how characters react to each other and to various situations. I often end up writing out scenes that happen before the action in the story, to sort of see how they unfold. This is pure experimentation; some of it works beautifully, and some of it should never, ever be read. By anyone. Ever.

I'm also experimenting, quite literally, with the tone - the voice - of these scenes. I'm finding myself writing some elevated, formal, and stylized language that I never normally use, and as a result it's a bit of a struggle to make it sound natural. See, I spend a lot of time thinking about the rhythm of the writing; how it flows, how it sounds out loud, whether it feels smooth or awkward. Yes, I read it out loud sometimes. Whatever - Jeanette Winterson said I should.

And yes, of course, I'm totally freaking out about this. Does this sound super pompous? Are people going to think I'm crazy? Is this the most unreadable, ridiculous pile of junk EVER written or what?

But the freaking out - that's normal. It's this new voice that isn't.

In all honesty, neurotic fears aside, it's kind of fun to try out a new style of writing. Ideally, I'd write each section of this book - each time period - in a different voice. The story in Ancient Greece should sound different than the story in modern London, or on a farm in Australia in the 1960s. If it doesn't, I'm not doing my job (this is another reason why I think I must be crazy to write a novel about souls moving through six different lifetimes. Seriously.)

So, I experiment. And because it's really fun to do something incredibly dumb, and expose myself to ridicule, I thought I'd post some of it here! It's totally brand new, unfinished and unedited, and absolutely NOT READY for public consumption, so naturally, I'm making it public. This is from a scene that may never appear in the book. It's an  explanation of what drove Apollo to swear off all love affairs; I used the myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus as the straw that broke the god's back:
It was Hyacinthus, in the end, who broke apart the last whole pieces of Apollo’s heart. Dark of skin and hair, wide-eyed and glowing with adoration, the young prince drove Apollo to distraction from the day the god first spotted him, running the edge of Sparta’s rivers with the swift wind at his back. Apollo descended from Olympus so quickly that he stumbled more than once as he ran, leaping and tumbling over the mountain’s forbidding cliffs with eyes fixed always on his goal. When he reached his target, and the youth stuttered his name, blushing and already weak with love, Apollo swept Hyacinthus into his arms and swore to never let go. From that day on, forgotten were the god’s lyre and his music; his bow lay neglected in dust and shadow; all his time was spent laughing over the hills with Hyacinthus. Together they hunted birds and netted fish, “like two silly mortals,” as Artemis scoffed; or played at sport, be it racing or discus or wrestling, their skin oiled and gleaming; or else wrote their passion, bodies entwined, across the sweet caressing grasses. 
As the days passed, and Apollo’s duties fell further and further from his mind, Artemis’s disdain swelled into open fury. “No good ever comes of these ridiculous affairs,” she spat, her face dark and her tone grim. “Something terrible will happen again, and it will be your fault when it does.” But Apollo, love-soaked, just laughed away the hard edge in her eyes, soothing her contempt with promises to spend many months hunting with her again, soon; tomorrow; or next week; or perhaps in a few moons… 
You can see from this small snippet that dialogue is an issue. It's one thing to make the prose stylized; it's another to make the characters talk that way, too. I'm still figuring that out. Along with everything else, of course.

Thanks for indulging my experiment. What about you? Do you experiment with writing, or something else in your work?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Images Instead of Words

Quick one today - and yes, I really mean that this time, because I have a lot of other stuff to do. For one, all of your comments were so helpful (seriously) that I've been off and running with my plotting, and two, the Olympics are on. And political controversy and human rights concerns aside, I love the Olympics. There's something about watching athletes stretch and challenge the limits of what the human body can do, and excel with such determination and grace, that just utterly captures my imagination and my heart.

There. I said it. I'm a sucker.

Anyway, I'm still working on Ancient Greece, banging out the details of the plot, which means that I don't have a whole of new thoughts to write about here yet. So I thought I'd share a little piece of what I do when I'm developing a novel: I get heavily involved with Google image search.

Now, I don't often do this for my characters, because I usually can't find anything that captures the way they look in my head; most searches leave me feeling disappointed and irritated. For example, an image search for "Apollo Greek god" will turn up a wide variety of pictures, from the classical to the artistic to the romantic, but none of them come close to how I see him: tall and athletic, with short curling blond hair, serious but bright eyes, and a body that a male model would kill for. Not a bad mental picture, huh?

Where I do find a lot of inspiration, and a lot of success, is when I search for images about a place. I need to be able to describe how any given setting looks, but a really good image will fire also my imagination, and give me a little flash of an idea that I can work on. I've got a bunch of these for Ancient Greece.

First, Mount Olympus:

There are a ton of images out there of Olympus, but I love this one because it's mysterious and otherworldly - a place I imagine the gods might live. Plus, it's often described as wreathed in clouds, which is a fantastic image. This one led me to wonder about how Apollo's mortal lover might see the mountain in its veil of clouds, and what he might think about the beings who live there - which gave me great insight into his character.

Then there's this one of the same mountain:

Very different, yes? I often imagine the Greek slopes like this: bare, desolate, and ancient. I imagined Damon, Apollo's lover (yes, I changed his name), herding his flocks of sheep on slopes like this, and this lead to my idea for the scene where Apollo first sees him.

Finally, there's this very modern picture of one of Apollo's temples:

Yes, I know, it's rather bare. There are artistic reconstructions of what the temple might have looked like, but like the images of Apollo, they're too specific for me: they don't leave room for my imagination to work. This one, on the other hand, has just enough structure for me to build a mental picture around it, all gleaming white marble and soaring grace, and I love how blue the sky is, and the sense of enormous, wide open space.

Ok, I know this post looks long, but it's also got a bunch of images. For me, this is actually short. Sad but true.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: The Reality of Fear

NOTE: It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Ok, everyone. I'm going to do it again. I'm going to get serious, and talk about fear.

Here's the rub: I'm afraid.

The novel I'm currently working on is about love. Specifically, it's about two souls in love. Here, in fact, is the blurb I wrote about it for NaNoWriMo:

"Two souls chase each other through time and space in a love story that spans entire continents and eras. A Greek god falls in love with a mortal youth; a born-again preacher falls under the spell of a brilliant yet icy scientist; a young tribal leader risks everything for the sake of a wild nomadic shaman. These stories intertwine with many others to form a complex tapestry that explores the intersection of faith and love, and the very human fear of making leaps in both."

Way in the very beginning of this process, when I decided I was going to write a book about souls, instead of people, I knew I was going to play with gender. It didn't even occur to me to not do that. In a previous IWSG post, I mentioned this, noting (to quote myself, here) "And what better explore how our souls love, than by taking gender out of the equation? I mean, does a soul have a gender?'s such a fascinating issue and question that I want to raise it."

And that's what I'm doing. As of now, there are going to be at least six lifetimes in this book (although I reserve the right to add or subtract as needed.) Three will have a love story between a man and a woman. One will be between two men. Another will be between two women. A third, which will begin and end the book, and weave throughout the other stories, will be between a woman and a narrator whose gender is never specified.

I know that many people will read that last paragraph and think, "So what?" And some others might think, "Cool!" I also know, though, that many others - more than I might think or hope - will read it with mild disgust at best, and outrage at worst.

This is not exaggeration. There are entire countries where loving someone of the same gender can land you in jail, or in a grave. In the modern world. In 2014. The US isn't exempt: despite the Supreme Court's ruling in 2003, there are some states that still enforce (unconstitutional) laws that target homosexuality.

So it's with some trepidation that I write this book. Look, I'm realistic; I know I'm not doing anything seriously dangerous, or even trail-blazing. Many, many activists, plenty of normal people, and a large and growing number of writers have done and will do much more, and risk much more. I salute them and support them in any way I can.

But I'm human, and I'm flawed, and I'll admit that I don't want to be hated or judged. I want people to read my books. I want people to buy them, and read them, and talk about them, and I don't want to become a target of vitriol (who does?), or preach to the choir - and incidentally, M.L. Swift has a great, brave, eloquent post about not doing just that, which you can read right here - simply because I chose to write about love. Judge me for writing badly; for being boring; for being untruthful in my work; but please don't judge me for what I believe, in my heart, about love. Or for who I love.

Because I do believe it, deeply. I believe that gender, like race, is skin-deep; that many if not most of our assumptions about gender come from social mores, not biology; that our souls, whatever those gleaming, intangible, vital streams of light and spirit may be, do not obey the laws of gender; that when we love, truly love, we love with our spirits as well as our physical bodies. And I want, desperately, to tell this story: the story of souls, not people, who love.

And so I can't write this book any other way. And yet, I'm still afraid.

Is that silly? Maybe. But I can't help it: the fear of judgement is very real. I have friends here online, and a whole world of readers I hope to attract, and I don't want them to dismiss me, or my stories, because of prejudice.

And yet, they might still. Ultimately, it doesn't matter - I'm going to write this anyway, no matter what people might think. I would guess that writers who censor themselves out of fear of judgement probably end up creating terribly dull fiction. Certainly some of the world's great books have offended, and will continue to offend, giant portions of the population. I'm not completely crazy; I don't think I'm writing one of those masterpieces (I have a very long way to go, and a lot to learn, before I could even hope to do that.) I just hope to tell a true story - not a real story, but one that vibrates with something true about what it means to be human - and yes, to reach some hearts that might be surprised to find themselves reached.