On Winter

Part III

Crows on carrion carry on cawing,

carving out a living on dead things,

flapping black flags on the roadside,

undertakers of the animal kingdom,

leaving white bone and fur bits by

winter highways, ravens on dark wings

weaving shadows over wintered fields.

Corvus corax, common raven,

dark intelligence, inquisitive

sentinels against a snow white world.

Part II & Part I


Oh Hi!

It’s been a week and some change and speaking of change….

I have some news and plans.

Firstly, the next installment of On Winter is posting at the end of the week. I plan on sharing more poetry and fiction in the coming year. 

Next, grad school applications are going slowly but I’m nearly done gathering materials for the two schools I’m most excited about. 

And finally, I’m going to trunk my current WIP because I’m just not experienced enough at this point in my writing journey to do that story justice. I’ll come back to it. This is only a brief farewell, not a goodbye forever. There will be no updates on it during 2018. 

On NaNoWriMo with a full-time job and overtime hours this month…

I am in over my head. I’m fixing up an academic paper to send in with my graduate school applications. I’m trying to keep up with this blog. I’m neck deep in rewrites for NaNoWriMo. This is probably our busiest month at work this year. And i want to write more short stories and poetry.

I need to get organized if I hope to accomplish even a fraction of this list. In the interest of preserving my sanity, my posts this month will be of the poetic variety. I have stuff to do, and precious little time. This idea–a serial poem in parts– has been pinging around in my brain for nearly a year. It’s time to eject it.

Part I is posted.

The rest are on the way.

On Story as a Reflection of Character Action

I have a note card posted by my desk listing the problem/need of each of my three major viewpoint characters. The problem and the need each character has are unique to him or her, but they play off one another. I have this card in a prominent place so that I see it every day. I (literally and figuratively) don’t want to lose sight of my characters’ greatest desires and motivations. 

These are the main desires, and knowing them is crucial to the story I’m writing. I realize they aren’t the only desires that need to be acknowledged and addressed. Recently I purchased Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig, and in reading it, saw that my characters need depth and breadth in their desires and motivations. Which I already knew. Still, it’s helpful to have it spelled out via examples, and by a professional author. And with Damn Fine Story, the focus is on story and not mechanics or plot or beat sheets. I’ve read a fair few books on writing and the writing life. This one is–so far–unique, helpful, and fun. It has a monocle-wearing elk on the cover! This post is not intended as a book plug, however, it did prompt a critical thinking process for me so I thought  it worth mentioning. 

So here I am, looking into the deepest parts of my characters’ souls and asking, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?”

Wait, hold on…

Wrong script. 

Here we go: “What would you do with all that power?” And to follow up, “Why?”

Some of my characters have standard issue fantasy trope magical abilities. [I discussed my struggle to hit on some credible yet original magic system in a previous post.] Some have political power, wealth, or armies backing them up. A few have the strength of personality. Several have nothing but friendships propping them up. 

All of them want things. Peace, security, personal gain, political power. One wants to be rid of his power for personal peace. Others will use their power for personal and political gain, no matter the cost. My job as the author is to tease out the nuances based on the interactions and conflicts that shape them. 

 Now I want to focus on a specific example of how I’m incorporating this idea into my rewrites. 

There’s some popular writing advice that says something like, “Start as late in the story as possible,” and I agree. In trying to follow that advice, I started too late. I left out the entire status quo period for my protagonist, which left out an important episode in his life. That episode turned him onto the path he follows in my story. I stuck it in later as a flashback. Now, I’m not leaning heavily on flashbacks in my story, but this one comes at a pivotal moment for the protagonist–a confession (as recalled by flashback) leads to a change in his attitude toward the events around him– and I’d like to keep it where it is. 
How do I reconcile two scenes related to the same event–the opening chapter and a later flashback–without being repetitive? Point-of-view! and a little narrative sleight of hand. I can show him approaching that moment then cut to his reaction after the moment has passed. Later, the moment itself will be revealed during a vulnerable moment for the protagonist. 

This is only one small tweak with big impact that I’m making as I go through revisions. Rearranging is easy work, the hard part is building or restructuring scenes to bridge the gaps and accommodate changes. My characters are necessitating a lot of changes. It seems that once I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with my characters, they become alive, almost. They push on the narrative. The weaknesses in the plot are obvious as places where the characters are acting, well, out of character. 

I never had a good handle on my plot. Now that I know my characters better, I have a clear grasp of the story I can tell through them. The plot will grow alongside that.

Post-GRE Prepping, Post Haste

I did not give myself a large enough window for the admissions process. Nuts. And bolts. I’m screwed. Actually, it’s not that dire. Two of the schools don’t require all the application materials until mid-January. One requires everything by Dec. 10th. It’s alright. I am calm. I am capable. I am concerned about losing my sanity.

Enough about my ill-scheduled application attempts. I want to discuss some important, but difficult topics. After all, I need a twenty page example of critical writing, and that means I need to refresh a topic I covered during undergrad. I want to synthesize a few topics to show I have a broad background of interests/studies and information to draw from. I did a paper on colonial women writers, one or two on Native American literature, and a few on international/global literary topics (i.e. non-Western writers). I’m quite interested in topics of ethnic divides and immigration, refugees and cultural identity. I’m about to dive into the long literary gulf between Manifest Destiny and modern Israel/Palestine.

God help me.

I want to be fair, and objective, but it’s hard because the issues certainly don’t play by the rules. What I’m going to attempt is a critical analysis of literature created by displaced peoples. Sometimes groups that have experienced hardship and oppression create poignant writings and art. These writings are not a Band-aid for the hurt, but an expression of it, a voice for those without a voice.

This will be a comparative study, with an examination of the history of Native American relations and treatment since European settlers arrived, and what it looks like now after all this time. Then I will take a look at the more recent and ongoing issues between Israel and Palestine. The lens I plan to use to examine these places and issues is that of fiction and poetry, but there will be a lot of historical and critical research supplementing my primary texts and argument.

P. S. My GRE scores were great for Verbal Reasoning, abysmal for Quantitative Reasoning, and meh for Analytical Writing. That does not bode well. At least I nailed one section.

The Great Library Day

I’m not one to get lost in research for days or months. I’m a pantser (as they call it over in NaNo land) by nature, although I’m trying to change my ways. The planners, when they are able to balance prep and writing, tend to be more productive. A better organizational system might prove helpful for my writing projects. The greatest tool I have so far is my library card. My second greatest is a day planner. As I push to finish the rewrite on my current novel before NaNoWriMo begins, I’ve found I need to become more diligent in the use of both.

Saturday, I went to the library for a couple of books on medieval history and life. I found two good ones, fairly recently published narratives with a scholarly bent. I like historical books that read more like a story than scholarly research. I’ve already read a short history of the Bubonic Plague in Europe, and a short account of the rise and reign of Charlemagne, HRE and Frankish king. I also read a sweeping and detailed analysis of the Battle of Hastings, which mostly covered the century or so leading up to the events of 1066 and all the circumstances that allowed a successful Norman invasion of England to occur. Fascination stuff right there. I’d go into it but this isn’t a bedtime stories blog.

The two books I got are:

A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age, by William Manchester, and

Barbarians to Angels: the Dark Ages Reconsidered, by Peter S. Wells.

The first book was originally published in 1992. The ‘more info’ tab on the library site describes this work as “the preeminent popular history of civilization’s rebirth after the Dark Ages”. That’s it. The second–published in 2008 by a professor of archaeology–attempts to look at the Dark Ages through the lens of newly unearthed archaeological records. The written record is spare, but the author contends a rich culture is evident by the artifacts left behind. Basically, I have a book from the perspective of the long held tradition of the Middle Ages as a dark time intellectually and economically, and another book that throws the old standard out in order to show–with new evidence–that the Middle Ages had its own bright spots, and the Renaissance didn’t spring randomly from the morass of medieval ignorance.

I haven’s finished either one yet. I’m not reviewing the merits of the books today. Rather, I’m making a point about libraries and research methods. Again, I’m a pantser, which I’ve recently heard described as a ‘discovery writer’. That sounds more diginified, but it’s the same thing. My book has come together in fits and starts and lacks the cohesiveness of great stories I’ve read. I have nuanced characters and not-terrible dialogue, and that’s a good start. The world they inhabit, however, looks much like the decoy town in Blazing Saddles. If a reader took a moment to check around back, or test the sturdiness of a building with a good push, the whole illusion would crumble. My characters are running around through a bunch of back lot set pieces, populated by too few extras. I’m doing my research after writing, to bolster up what I have so far, to give my world the life and color it now lacks.

I don’t know what the reality of living in non-technological world is like. This little foray into the land of research should help. I’m exploring my options, and formulation questions to answer.

How does trade work, both internally and internationally? What is the town structure? Are there lords, vassals, and serfs, or kings, landholding nobles, and tenant farmers? How’s the currency doing? What’s the gross domestic product, and is it affected by weather and climate? Any recent population decimators, like war or disease/plague? How often is there intercultural exchange of ideas?

This will all add texture and depth to my world, and change how the characters interact with it. External forces may throw wrenches in their internal motivations, creating a richer, more real story. That’s my hope anyway.

October will bring *daily* prep updates for NaNoWriMo. Also some scary stuff. The haunted house near me opens this weekend!