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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NO-Kiss Fest and Critiques

Well, the Kissing Day Blogfest was a huge success for me, personally--and it seems like it did pretty well for everyone else, too! I'd like to take a moment now to say welcome to all the new followers and readers! I'm grateful to have found so many bloggers through this event.

I'll for sure be taking part in the No Kiss Fest being hosted by Frankie Writes. And if you loved my kissing day contribution, I think you'll be equally as taken with the almost kiss coming to you on January 2, 2010. I've already got it set to post after the clock strikes midnight. Possibly that means I am overeager, but I can't wait to read all the almost kisses that didn't make it into the kissing day extravaganza. Reading everyone's contributions wasn't just fun, but educational. I think it really helped me to identify what I felt were the most effective devices for physical and emotional scenes like that, and hopefully that will help to make me a better writer moving forward.

I have to say, the last couple of days have been kind of exciting for me. My daily writing is going really well, and I can't tell you how exciting it is to have daily feedback and critiques on these short 1000 word scenes I've been writing. Just when I think I have a handle on things, there's something more to be improved upon, but that's what makes it fun--the challenge of always having something to work toward.

In my experience there's something of a process to finding critique partners. A warming up phase, where your critiques are gentle, careful, feeling out the responses of the writer you're working with. Mostly praise, with some suggestions fit inside. Then as you get to know one another, and how thick your skins are, you can start to really dig in and there's a shift toward constructive criticism, and away from flowery and distracting or unnecessary praise. It isn't that you don't love the praise, too, just that you know when you get it, it's more meaningful. It means you did something really outstanding, or accomplished something huge that you had been struggling to capture. It becomes more personal, more reflective of your growth as a writer in style, structure, form, and voice.

I love that shift. I love finding that place, that balance, with critique and writing partners, where there's no compulsion anymore to be self-deprecating in either  your critiques or the presentation of your own work. It is what it is, unapologetic, but with the hope and confidence still that the next piece will always be better.

This will be my last post for the holiday season, probably-- unless something comes up and I can't contain myself. Like a compulsive Christmas Cookie Recipe Sharing moment. Look for my next post on January 2nd, for the No Kiss Fest, and regularly scheduled (Tuesday/Friday) posting to recommence on the 5th! I'll certainly still be reading in the meantime.

Happy Holidays and Have a Very Fabulous New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Endangered Languages

When I tell people that I'm studying Icelandic, I get a lot of guff.
"Why?" they ask.
"Why not?" I reply.

Most often the argument I hear is that it's fairly useless. Icelandic isn't a global language. It's relatively isolated. There are probably only a million people in the world who speak it, probably not a lot more outside of that who care about speaking it. But for all of that, I wouldn't call it endangered. Not yet, anyway. Not as long as Iceland keeps its right to negotiate in Icelandic when dealing with the rest of the Scandinavian nations, and maintains the sense of cultural pride which has kept the language pure enough that modern Icelanders can read the Sagas as they were written.

I've talked a little bit about my frustration that we, as a culture, seem to feel that we have to have a reason to learn something. An excuse. We no longer want to learn for the joy of learning. Being a "professional student" even among people who appreciate education is still something we can't embrace-- something we find somehow foolish. The emphasis is on what you'll accomplish with the education. The career. The money. "What are you going to do with your degree?" is the question students are asked again and again. If it isn't for your career, for your professional development, there's the sense that it's a waste of money and time.

It's a waste of money and time to learn. Ouch. No wonder we have high school drop outs and people who don't see any reason to go to college. No wonder Classical Studies programs are flailing about, desperate for students. And not just Classics, but all liberal arts. Because it isn't a trade. It isn't an area of study that lends itself directly to practical application.

What does this have to do with Icelandic? Or Endangered Languages?

Everything.

This is why people abandon the language of their small tribal community. Why young people are letting their traditions die out, by adapting "useful" and more common languages. Because learning their grandparents' language isn't worthwhile. They can't DO anything with it.

What people fail to see, is that every language, every piece of information, of shared knowledge, allows us a new worldview, a different way of seeing things. New ways of seeing things, of doing things, are the cornerstones of innovation. Cultural diversity NEEDS to be celebrated. Linguistic diversity is important for mapping out those different viewpoints and understanding others. Understanding OTHER.

It's kind of like the rainforest. Every language that goes extinct is like a tree being cut down, and with it goes all the amazing and unknown things we could have found living in that ecosystem. Opportunities of study, innovation, realization are destroyed. The cure for cancer, the fountain of youth, world peace. It's all the same. We need every tree to make it work.

A quote from the article--just some food for thought.

Turin said he was amazed so few linguists are working on endangered languages, and people "do PhDs on the apostrophe in French," but no one knows precisely how many undocumented languages there are. When a language ceases to exist, so does its cultural world view, and much of the heritage of the community is lost.
So my challenge to you is to go out and learn something. Not because it's going to earn you money, but because learning for the sake of learning, for the sake of understanding, is an example we should be setting for our children. Why don't we make an effort to make the preservation of differing world views and cultural heritage a part of OUR culture.

I mean, Why Not?

Monday, December 21, 2009

In Honor of Mistletoe-- my contribution to the Kissing Day Blogfest.

Having to choose which kissing scene to post for the blogfest was maybe the hardest decision I've had to make in a long time concerning my own writing. I finally settled on this one though, because of the shorts I've been writing at The Writer's Block. It just seemed fitting to keep the theme.

This scene isn't currently found in The Book of Generations, but only because the book became too long and so I had to ruthlessly end it before I got here. That was another difficult decision.

[Excerpt Removed]

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Official Kissing Day Blogfest!

I just heard about the Official Kissing Day Blogfest, via this blog and I'm all in for Monday. Are you?

Join me in posting a kissing scene from your WIP on Monday!

Now I just have to go pick one...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Best Laid Plans...

I'm supposed to be doing revision work. Instead I'm knee deep in new material for a story I didn't mean to start writing because of a daily writing exercise that my brain kind of ran away with. Of course there are other mitigating factors of a personal nature that have interfered-- cookie baking, holiday visiting, some illness-- mostly I just haven't been able to focus for longer than short bursts of 1000 words or so. It makes editing and revisions difficult to accomplish, but I'm determined, and as soon as I'm back on my feet (or off them, as the case may be), I will be getting down to business. In spite of the holiday season!

What's funny is that the story I'm writing now--in blocks of 1000 words or so-- is part of what could be the prequel to The Book of Generations, if such a thing existed, and I wonder if perhaps writing it isn't part of my revision process. I wonder if writing the new story is necessary for me to move forward with the novel itself. Maybe I need the background of that precursor sorted out in order to better put this first book together. But that's always been the problem with Generations, too. Deciding what information is necessary, and what isn't.

Something else that's funny to me, as I revise and reread, is that the part of the book I like the least is the part of the book that my readers so far have loved the most. I'm not sure what this means, or what to make of this information, or what to do with it at all. My personal feelings about that part of the book--a reimagining of Creation-- were mostly those of relief to be done with it, after I finished writing. It wasn't that I felt it was poorly written, or that the story wasn't compelling, but it felt more to me like necessary information that had to be there, as opposed to the story I was most interested in telling. It's the foundation for the book, without which the rest makes much less sense, and is much less dramatic. I guess I can see how for a reader, coming to the material for the first time, it could be exciting, but for me it was always just background. It wasn't the point. I wonder how many other authors encounter this?

But that's part of what I love about writing and reader response. I love getting glimpses of the story through the eyes of my readers, and seeing what they think is important, what they love, what they hate. Virginia Woolf says:
...the only meanings that are worth anything in a work of art are those the artist himself knows nothing about. The moment the artist tries to express his ideas and his emotions he misses the great thing.
In my revisions, I must be sure to keep those words in mind.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Recap--Cookie Extravaganza

Sorry, readers-- I'm in NY and up to my eyeballs in Christmas cookie baking. Instead of a post about science, writing, or classical history, I can only leave you with a list of cookies made for this holiday season.

  1. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip (x2)
  2. Chocolate Chip (x2)
  3. Molasses Cookies
  4. Italian Chocolate Nut Balls (flavored with ground clove)
  5. Gingerbread
  6. Oatmeal Lacies
  7. Cousin Dora's Lemon Cookies (apparently a classic wedding cookie)
  8. Vanilla Spritz
  9. Italian Bar Cookies (four varieties--lemon, almond, anise, and vanilla)
  10. Grandma's Chocolate Drop (x2)
  11. Anisette Toast
  12. Monster Cookies
My mother will no doubt also be baking English Muffin Bread before Christmas, but that's the easy part. We normally also make  Almond Crescents, Chocolate Spritz, and Peanut Butter Fudge but we were a little bit short-handed this year so some sacrifices had to be made.

I may yet develop some blisters from all the mixing.

There will be a more traditional blog post coming to you guys on Friday!

Friday, December 11, 2009

I was tagged. Now you are too.

Stephanie Thornton of Hatshepshut fame tossed me a tag on this survey, and if you're reading this, you can feel free to fill it out too... Or not. I won't twist your arm or anything.

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
Helen is the latest thing I wrote--well, and also a 1000 word exercise on the word Fatuous over at Penny Arcade's The Writers Block.
The first thing I wrote that I still have is probably from fourth or fifth grade, and it's Star Wars fanfiction with the insertion of my mary-sue telepathic alter ego. Woo!

2. Write poetry?
Not anymore.

3. Angsty poetry?
When I was in middle school. But those days are thankfully long past.

4. Favorite genre of writing?
fantasy with a splash of history.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?
Eve's little sister, Mia, ticks me off, but at the same time she steals the show. It's a love-hate relationship.

6. Best Plot you've ever created?
I'm pretty proud of my Helen/Theseus plot, but the best is definitely Adam and Eve. You'll see.

7. Coolest Plot twist you've ever created?
Geez. If I could answer it without giving it all away, I would, but...

8. How often do you get writer's block?
Not so often anymore. After disciplining myself to write daily, I don't have much trouble with it. Sometimes a scene here or there is agonizing to put down the way I want it, but I wouldn't call it a block.

9. Write fan fiction?
When I was a kid I did, without realizing it. Then I got older and stopped. Then I wrote it when I couldn't write anything else, but it was my secret shame. I do engage in some star wars roleplaying though, text based, which could be perceived as fanfiction, I suppose.

10. Do you type or write by hand?
I type for the most part, but if I'm without my laptop and struck with an idea, or I'm sitting in the car waiting for someone I'll scribble stuff down. I don't go anywhere without pen and paper.

11. Do you save everything you write?
Yes. It makes throwing out old notebooks a nightmare. I have stories written in the margins of my notes for my old math classes and science classes, and I don't want to part with them, so they're sitting in boxes.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Yes. Sometimes it's actually incredibly successful, too.

13. What's your favorite thing you've ever written?
The Book of Generations story. It's heartbreaking and wonderful. But I also really enjoyed the not-yet-of Troy letters I wrote for GeekaChicas.

14. What's everyone else's favorite story that you've written?
I've been getting rave reviews from Generations. Hope they keep up. Hope agents feel the same.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?
When I was a teen, yes. As an adult, no.

16. What's your favorite setting for your characters?
I kind of love Asgard, as a physical setting, just because it's so rich. As a period setting, I'm kind of obsessed with the Bronze Age.

17. How many writing projects are you working on right now?
Revising The Book of Generations (hopefully for the last time) and letting Helen rest. But I'm prompt writing daily, if that counts.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
In high school I submitted a short story to a competition and won second place--with a prize of 250 dollars, my story published in the collection, a copy of the book, and a plaque. Small potatoes now, but it was a big deal to me then.

19. What are your five favorite words?
I don't know. I like Latin words the most, I guess. I love the variety of meaning, and the juxtaposition of concepts that we don't put together the same way today. But I don't have specific favorites.

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
In my novels, I guess Setta, but she isn't really that much like me. She has a lot more patience and a lot more nerve. We just both happen to love animals.

21. Where do you get ideas for your characters?
Mythology, lately.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
No. But sometimes my dreams are based off my writing.

23. Do you favor happy endings?
I don't like making my characters suffer without cause, and without the hope for redemption or peace, but generally I don't know where they're going until they get there and I'd say that my happy endings have a good amount of dubiousness to them. Maybe a happy for the moment, but not a happily ever after.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Spelling absolutely. Grammar sometimes gets shafted until revisions.

25. Does music help you write?
Yup.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops into your head.
hehehehe... I've been waiting for an excuse.

She craned her neck to look up at him, over her shoulder, and tried to imagine him wielding a sword or a battle axe or the hammer carved into the door and riding to war on a chariot drawn by goats. Goats. The idea seemed ludicrous, comical, and she tried not to smile.

He glanced down at her, and their eyes met. His seemed to sparkle as though he recognized the humor. “They weren’t normal goats. Not like the goats here. They were…” He made a face as if he struggled to find the right word, and then he shrugged. “They were magic goats.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How Do You Read?

When I find a book that I like, I jump into it head first. I'm voracious. I devour it, if possible, in a single sitting. If not possible, in as few sittings as possible. I'm distracted by the characters and their stories. I think about them when I'm not reading, wondering what's going to happen next. It's a lot like how I write, too. The compulsion to find out what happens keeps me moving forward, keeps me turning or writing the pages. I read so quickly that I find myself skipping words and description for the next line of dialogue to see what the response is. Skimming paragraphs of scenery in favor of the next clue about the plot.

After that first read through, if there's more books in the series, I leap into them the same way, swallowing them whole. If there isn't more than one book in the series, I put the book I just finished aside for a couple of days, digesting what I read, thinking about the story, the characters, what I might have done differently if I had written the book. But it isn't long before I pick the book back up again and start reading it for a second time.

The second reading is much more relaxed. I take it more slowly. Reading in shorter bursts over a much longer period of time. Maybe if I have nothing to do, I'll read for a few hours while I'm home alone. Or if I'm busy, I'll put the book aside for a couple of days between chapters. Where I skimmed things before, I read more closely now, absorbing the description I was too impatient to read the first time. Almost always there is something new in this second reading. Something I missed in the first run through that gives the book something new. I savor it.

If I didn't love the book the first time, sometimes it will be weeks or months or years before I read it again, but unless I hated it, I'll always go back. This is why I buy books, rather than getting them from the library. Because I never know when the urge to reread is going to strike me, and I want to have the book available at my fingertips for when it does. If I loved the book, thought it was fantastic, I'll reread it a dozen times. Maybe even four times in the same year. Maybe just annually. But I keep going back, exploring the characters. Sometimes I'll go online and do searches. Google a favorite character to see what comes up. Dig through scraps of information until I'm sure I have every morsel.

At that point, I start reading books from the middle. Looking for a favorite scene and then reading on from that point, getting to the end, and going back to the beginning to read the stuff I skipped. At that point, I know the story so well, I don't have to finish. I start and stop fitfully, skip entire chapters just to read the pieces that I want at that particular moment. Another reason why I have more books than I have shelves for,  I guess. Because I love them. I love stories. I love characters that come alive, and revisiting them.

So. How do you read?

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Trip To The Met

I spent Tuesday at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, staring at glass beads from Mycenae and other items from the dates surrounding my Trojan War and my Helen's life. The real reason we went was for the Art of the Samurai exhibit, for my husband, but I can't pretend that I wasn't totally distracted by the Greco-Roman antiquities to the point where I had no patience for the glass cases of samurai swords.

Finding Rodin's Caryatids was a pleasant surprise, in the European Art wing. I actually recognized it from Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein. Not because I had ever actually seen the sculpture, but from his description of the work in that book. I'm not such a fan of Rodin's Eve sculpture, however, from the Gates of Hell. And while I took a picture of Adam for posterity, I really could have lived without him, too.



And then there was Theseus.

I wish that I had gotten a better picture, but the only camera I had available to me was my phone since my husband had the real one. Poor planning on my part, I suspect, but I'll be going back for more in January, because we didn't get to see even half of the museum in the measley four hours we had, a good quarter of that taken up with swords that didn't even have handles attached.

But that's beside the point. The point is, I was looking at one of my favorite paintings in all the world (Spring, by Pierre Auguste Cot) and when I turned around, there was Theseus fighting with a centaur, and I couldn't look away. Theseus looks quite youthful in the sculpture, but incredibly powerful in all his heroic glory.


There are absolutely better pictures of this than mine, and I will probably spend some time scouring the internet for them, but I can't adequately describe what seeing this sculpture made me feel after all the research I'd done on Theseus, and all the time I spent getting to know his character. There he was, not even remotely in the flesh, but at least in three-dimensions, and I understood even more fully how Helen must have felt when she met him for the first time.

Yeah, okay, I'm a little bit of a romantic. What can I say? I'll tell you right now that if there had been a larger than life sized classical sculpture of Theseus in marble, I would have been beside myself. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that a marble exists of him, though the Met has both a youthful Heracles and an older Heracles facing eachother in the hall of statues.

I honestly hadn't been expecting to see Theseus at all, but it was an amazing moment. Kind of like meeting an old friend unexpectedly. It seemed fitting, somehow to run into him that way, on the first of December, as I put Helen away, and it makes me eager to get back to that manuscript when Generations is polished.

There's nothing like a good trip to the museum!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Not-Yet-Of Troy Series Links

National Novel Writing Months is over, and with it also ends the awesome Not-Yet-Of Troy series on GeekaChicas! I really enjoyed writing these letters surrounding the events of Helen's early life, before her abduction by Theseus, and I hope that you guys liked reading them! I may continue with the occasional letter between characters as I write and revise, posted either on this blog, or over on GeekaChicas.

In case you missed any, or want to take a look now that it's all over, I thought I'd put together an ordered list of the links for your entertainment and reference.

Helen to Pollux
Pollux to Helen
Letters from the Kings
Helen to Theseus
Theseus to Helen
Letters between Theseus and Pirithous
Letters between Helen and Meneleus
The Final Letters: Theseus to Helen and Helen to Pollux

I finished up my book with just over 87,500 words right on time yesterday afternoon, but it's really rough, and will definitely need plenty of revision work. Writing Helen for National Novel Writing Month was a lot of fun, but looking back I think handling all of the Trojan War mythology in one book was overly ambitious. This book ends with Helen's marriage to Meneleus. Happy for him, less so for Helen, burdened with the knowledge of what's coming for her. It would be incredibly easy to continue on with a second book about Paris, perhaps beginning with his childhood and continuing through his kidnapping of Helen. I might sit down and outline it into a potential trilogy for the future, if I ever find an agent and publisher for my Non-Helen book and need to pitch something new, but for December I'm going to be putting Troy aside!

This month I'm going to be trying to get my Non-Helen novel, The Book of Generations, ready for querying in January. I've been revising and getting feedback from Beta-readers as well as my workshop partner Just Another Sarah, for the past six months, and I'm confident that I can get things finalized and polished at last! I've already got a pretty awesome query written, and it will be a relief to get this book out the door somewhere, God and luck willing!