Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why Fantasy? Part II

Pennsylvania Renaissance knight
A couple of weeks ago, I asked if there isn't something a little wrong with a 40-year-old woman writing medieval fantasy. Why fantasy? Why is it at all popular or relevant in 2011?

I got some great answers from you in the comments. The desire to escape into another world was primary, along with capturing the magical feelings of childhood and, yes, pretty clothes!

But I think that it goes deeper than that. All genre fiction is an escape from reality to some degree. I'm not talking about nitty-gritty realistic or literary fiction, but the stuff that we read for fun.  And it seems to me that, despite the general claim that traditional fantasy is out of mode, there is a faithful cache of readers who love it.

But why swords instead of six-shooters?  Why magic instead of science?

These questions have plagued me for months, and I find myself uncharacteristically at a lost for answers.  Being an analytical, big-picture kind of person, the fact that I can't pin it down bothers me.  So here are my random theories, and I'm genuinely interested to know what other people think. 

My first theory is that, due to the highly technological and time-bound culture in which we live, a world without machines or clocks or anything that ties us to half a billion other people every second of the day is tremendously appealing.  I think we long for a sense of mental and personal space.  A chance to find out who we are when not driven by the whip of technology.  But we don't like being bored, either, which is why we want a story and not just a vacation to Ireland.

Not that Ireland is boring! I'm going to get myself in trouble here. I really want to go to Ireland some day. What I mean is... not just to reside in a castle somewhere for a week but to have an adventure populated with living, breathing contemporaries and an element of danger.

Speaking of danger, the world around us is dangerous enough. I take my life in my hands when I drive to work each morning in New Jersey traffic. I'm haunted by the images of body parts in the Moscow airport after last week's suicide bomb, and I would really like to know about the other people who were shot at the same time as Congresswoman Gifford.  Who are they?  How is their recovery process going? I actually gave my husband an itinerary of where I was going to be last Sunday at the Philly Area Writer's Meetup, in case someone decided to go on a shooting spree in Center City. It was eerie, knowing that was my conscious reason for being so detailed in communicating my plans. I'd never done that before.

But all of these things are out of our control. We can't go after the bad guys with a sword, or shoot a catapult at our irritating neighbor's house no matter how many times they block our driveway with their car.  We need a release.  I know that video games serve that purpose to an extent.  I also believe that the reason the states in these "United States" don't break out into wars all the time like Eastern Europe does is that we have football instead.  The solution to world peace is the NFL.

But besides just emotional release, we want a story.  We want the struggle to have meaning.  So much of life does seem meaningless.  When your number is up, it's up.  And when you lose your job, tough luck. There is a sense of drudgery underlying all the flash and hype.  I am bombarded with ads constantly everywhere I go. "Be healthier.  Have more fun.  Eat this. Drink that. Wear these."  But no matter how many {blank} I buy, I will still have to get up and go to work and meet my boss's (and my own) expectations, fight the traffic home again, make dinner, walk the dogs and cope with all the family stuff, good and bad, or with being sick or with not sleeping well.

It *feels* like a heroic struggle some days.  Yesterday was one of them. I wasn't sure if I'd pull through.  I had a killer headache, been unable to sleep the night before, spent two-and-a-half hours in traffic, had a huge presentation due at 2 p.m. that wasn't ready, and I really thought I'd just throw up right there in the big corporate meeting I'd been summoned to. But I didn't. When lunch was brought in I ate something, grabbed a Coke, slipped out to the atrium and finished my presentation.  I gave it at 2:00 with enthusiasm and a smile, with much success.

But I felt like Faldur.  I think that his character - totally unexpectedly - has tapped into something very deep in me.  His endurance, discipline and unwillingness to let go of a mission, is something that I think I have been unconsciously cultivating my entire life.  There are those of us Who Do It - and those of us Who Don't. Not that it's always a person's choice.  I had a hard time at first with the concept of a "hero" until I realized that sometimes it's just a question of being born strong.  (Or pig-headed, if you ask my husband.) 

Some of us start out life charmed, and some struggle for every accomplishment.  Marenya is one of those who struggles. She doesn't see herself as important or capable except in very small, domestic things. But in the end she realizes that she is exceptionally gifted and powerful in ways she could never have understood if she hadn't been tested.

One more thing... Magic is a universal stand-in for spirituality.  C.S. Lewis has a quote that I cannot for the life of me find again about how fairy tales let us put spiritual truths in beautiful stained-glass colors for anyone to see.  That's what I'm trying to do with "The Golden Gryphon."  I hope that it will resonate with my audience as much as it does with me.  Because ultimately I'm writing myself a story.

Friday, January 28, 2011

99th Page Blogfest Entry

I stumbled across the 99th Page Blogfest in my Friday night browsing and couldn't resist entering. I don't even know what is on my 99th page, but you will as soon as I cut and paste some of it below.

You are supposed to think about 3 questions as you read it:

1. Would you turn to page 100?
2. Why or why not?
3. Based on what you read, how likely would you be to buy the book?

(peeking through my fingers)

Okay?.... here we go..

(I can't look)

* * * * *

Faldur took a long drink and splashed cold water on his face, trying to clear the fog in his brain. The fog cleared quickly enough when he pulled his shirt away from his shoulder. He cried out and staunched the fresh flow of blood with the fabric. It was red, swollen and very painful.

Marenya heard him and came running. When she saw him, her face tightened. “Let me.”

She cleaned the wound, stitched it up with a needle and thread retrieved from her sewing kit, then dressed it with faithflower leaves to draw out any infection. When she had finished, Faldur wiped the sweat from his face and reached for the flask of velasz he had recovered from his saddle. He took a searing mouthful, then handed it to Marenya. She was pale and her hand, which had been so steady throughout the process of stitching him, were shaking slightly as she took it and sipped. She coughed as it hit the back of her throat, but her color returned.

Together they went back to where Gorrith lay, and she stitched him up as well. This was a longer, more difficult business, made easier by the fact that he was still deep. Faldur assisted her as well as he could, marveling at how capable her slender fingers were. She used the rest of the faithflower leaves on him, spreading them out carefully over each wound on his chest.

When at last she was finished, Marenya took another sip of velasz. “He’ll be painful and stiff for a while, but he’ll recover.”

* * * * *

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

List Your Accomplishments

Laura Diamond has a great post on her blog about the importance of Self-Evaluation which reminded me of last week's meeting of my writer's group. We were setting goals for 2011, but first we took a few minutes to tally and share our writing accomplishments in 2010. You know what? When you actually write down what you've done in a year, it's pretty impressive.

Here's my list:

Joined a writer's group
Wrote/revised 30,000 words for JanNoWriMo
Started a blog and attracted 130 followers
Hosted my first Blogfest
Wrote a Doctor Query-approved query letter
Took an online writing class worth college credit
Beta read a novel and wrote a long commentary (requested by the author)
Completed nearly 80,000 words by the end of the year on my own book

One of my writing friends recently bemoaned the fact that no matter what else he accomplishes in a given day, he feels like he hasn't done anything if he hasn't written. That is so true!

I think it's because we tend to focus on what we *want* to get done rather than what we actually do. This is true in other parts of life as well. Don't laugh, but I have made lists for myself of what I accomplished on a given weekend: laundry, cleaned the bathroom, food shopping, etc. It really helps keep things in perspective.

Two other things really help with the writerly woes:

1. Try to make sure that the things you do are the things you wanted to get done, as much as reasonably possible. Don't offer to critique someone else's work if it means not finishing your own. Write first, blog later.

2. Accept the fact that there is no such thing as balance. A balanced life - like a balanced diet - is an illusion. You can't eat freshly picked blueberries in January (at least not here), and you can't write 1,000 words a day every day (or whatever your goal is.) But everything you do adds to the life experiences you can draw on.

During the past four years, I went from being a stay-at-home mom to full-time professional and I changed my career three times. I also spent a year in night school getting a certification I will probably never use again, but the experience was definitely worth it.

There is a time and a season for everything. Learn to appreciate the season you are in!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Write, Blog or Sleep?

I am so tired.  I kind of wish I were a vampire so I could stay up all night.  If I did stay up all night, I would look like a vampire... all pale and stringy-haired. Not glittery.  I don't think I could do glitter.

Anyway, I really appreciate everyone who has promoted and joined the contest.  Yay!  So far it looks like any of you have a really good chance of winning.  Heh heh.  "Several will enter, three will win."

But this brings up the whole writing/blogging issue that so many of us struggle with.  I have been known to say "write first, blog later" [*ahem*] but I really tend to blog first.  Today I did the opposite.  I woke up at 3 a.m. because my son had the bright idea to set his alarm for 3:00 so he could get up early.  Who got up?  ME.  Then I couldn't go back to sleep.  I got a couple of hours of really good writing in... I love when the house is quiet.

But I'm wondering how I can promote my contest and keep the blog presence going and finish my novel in March.  And there's the little matter of my day job.  Pesky things, day jobs.

Any thoughts?  Magic wands? Foolproof potions? Seriously, how important do you think an online presence really is compared to having a good manuscript?
And I'm not just talking about blogging, because the truly serious are on FB and Twitter and god knows what else these days.

Speaking of magic, Michelle Gregory, my fantastic blogging buddy, has made a button to help promote the blogfest.  She waved her wand over the computer and made this little puppy.  So if you would like to put it on your blog, just copy the code below the photo and put it in the sidebar of your blog in an "Add a Gadget > Add java script or HTML code" box.

Have a great week!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Anniversary Contest Prizes!

Announcing the prizes in the "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" contest/blogfest!  You don't have to participate in the blogfest to be entered in the contest.  Winners will be chosen randomly among everyone who has become a follower of The Writer's Hole and posted a comment that they want to enter, by Saturday, Feb. 5th.

You can earn additonal entries as follows:

+1 for promoting the contest on your blog
+1 each for tweeting or posting on FB
+2 entries if you put up a sample of your own early-in-my-learning-process, sort-of-awful-but-I-don't-mind-embarassing-myself writing.
+1 more for a rewrite of it, showing off your improved skills.

Please let me know if you've promoted the contest and in what forms, so I can give you credit for it.

To enter the blogfest, sign up on Mr. Linky below.

You've Come A Long Way Baby Blogfest/Contest
 Saturday, Feb. 5th

(P.S. I have no idea why Mr. Linky is acting so weird, but the links appear to work despite the red X's.)

Now for the prizes:

One lucky winner will receive a 2011 'Butterflies by Wendi" calendar featuring incredible butterfly photos by my good friend, Wendi Marchesani. 

Another lucky winner will receive a gorgeous Starbuck's travel mug with the blue starburst design, and filled with chocolate.  (I promised that Starbuck's and chocolate would come into somehow!)

Last, but not least, a third very lucky winner will receive a copy of Eldala by Michelle Gregory.  Update: Michelle has informed me that she can send a personally signed copy to the winner, or if you prefer, get a free download of the e-book from Smashwords.  For more information about this compelling fantasy-romance, look here.

So hurry up and join, and spread the word!  The contest ends Feb. 5th. Thank you all for helping me celebrate my anniversary.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Oh Fudge!

I just looked carefully at the rules for the Amazon Breakout Novel contest.  I thought that I didn't have to submit the entire manuscript unless and until I reached the semifinal stage.  But they want it up front.  Probably to prove that the thing is actually written and complete.

Oh, fudge! The contest opens Monday and they are taking submissions for two weeks, but the number of entries is limited. I just know that the slots will fill up fast.

So now I'm debating what to do.  Should I go for it anyway, and hope that a) I can finish it by the deadline and b) there are still slots left when I'm done, or should I let it go and wait for next year?

The importance of preparedness cannot be overstated, my friends.  Nor of keeping track of these things so that one doesn't find out at the last minute.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

photo courtesy of

This February will be the four-year anniversary of when I started my novel.  Yes, you read it right: 4 years.  No, I'm not kidding.

At that time back in 2007, I was just starting to write again after nearly a decade's hiatus.  A fiction writing course in college discouraged me so much that I quit  completely. I finished college, went to grad school, threw myself into my career, met my husband, got married, and had a baby.  It wasn't until my son was about two that I started to think about writing again.  But the thought scared me so much I didn't even want to try.  The only way I could convince myself to pick up a pen again was to promise myself that I was just doing this for my own enjoyment and no one would ever, ever have to read it but me.

That first, slow draft was truly awful. But the past four years of blogging, reading and learning have gradually improved my understanding and skill.  Now I'm seriously thinking of submitting my pitch to the Amazon Breakout Novel contest this month. I never would have imagined myself trying it four years ago.  I have no expectation of winning, but the deadline is what counts. I think I can be done in time if I push myself.

Some superior literary types are shocked that I have been working on the same book for so long.  They screw up their faces and study me like an embodiment of literary incompetence, then say "But you're going to finish it soon, right?  Don't you want to work on something else?" 

Well, no. I don't want to work on something else until I'm satisfied with this one.  Conventional wisdom says that you have to write at least three books before you can consider yourself a real writer, so many people dash off those three books just to be done with them.  But that means that they are basically "throwaways."  Why bother?  What I've chosen to do instead, is write this novel over three times. (Or is really 2.5?  or 4? I've gone back to the beginning so many times I've lost count.)

Each time it gets a little better. Each time I get closer to feeling that I really know what I'm doing. And that it might, in fact, be publishable. Even if I publish it myself. Enough people seem to have enjoyed the bits I've given them to read that I have the confidence to share it in its entirety.

And that, my friends, is definitely worth a four-year investment of my time and energy!  Of course, I never would have come this far without all of YOU encouraging me along the way.

So, to celebrate my 4th anniversary, I am announcing the
"You've Come A Long Way, Baby, Contest/Blogfest." 
Here's how it works, kind of the standard contest thing:

1. Post in the comments that you want to participate in the contest, and become a follower.  That's easy, right?
2. Sign up in the Mr. Linky thingy if you want to also participate in the blogfest.

You get:
+1 entry for being a follower by Saturday, Feb. 5th.
+1 for promoting the contest on your blog
+1 each for tweeting or posting on FB
+2 entries if you put up a sample of your own early-in-my-learning-process, sort-of-awful-but-I-don't-mind-embarassing-myself writing.
+1 more for a rewrite of it, showing your improved skills.

The prizes... I haven't figured out yet, but I'll come up with something good, I promise!  I know Starbuck's will probably figure into it somehow, and chocolate, of course, and maybe even a subscription to the "Bookmark of the Month Club." (Okay, I don't know if there is a "Bookmark of the Month Club" but there should be.)

So, sign up now! I hope you will share a little in the comments about your own writing journey. I look forward to reading about it, and your writing samples, and promise to post my own on Feb. 5th.

You've Come A Long Way Baby Blogfest/Contest
 Saturday, Feb. 5th"

p.s. I have no idea why Mr. Linky looks so wierd, but the links appear to be working despite the red X's.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why Fantasy?

For a long time now I've been wondering if there isn't something a little wrong with me.  Why am I writing medieval fantasy?  And why would it be relevant to modern readers, if at all?

Is there something inherently "off" about a grown-up, middle-class, professional woman living in one of the most technologically advanced parts of the world and of human history, who spends her free time writing stories about maidens in distress, magical gryphons, and heros with swords and magical abilities?

(You know, just in case on or the other fails.  No sword? Use magic. No magic?  Use sword.)

It amazes me how popular the "The Lord of the Rings" books and movies still are, sixty years after their publication.  And Harry Potter.  And all the vampire, werewolf, etc. movies.  Why did the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series take off the way it did?  And oh, my goodness, did we really need another Robin Hood movie last year?  Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it but I kept asking myself "Why?"

Why is a modern, socially and intellectually enlightened audience so fascinated with tales we associate with the Dark Ages- a time steeped in poverty, violence, disease and ignorance?  Particularly the paranormal or magical aspect.  Shouldn't we be past this?  Haven't we grown up yet?  What does this say about us?

Is there something unacknowledged in modern life which we are trying to find or to escape from?  Or is it just a general love of adventure stories, well-told or well-acted, that keeps drawing us in?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

That nagging feeling

Becoming a writer means that for the rest of your life, no matter what you are doing, there will be this nagging feeling that you should be writing.  You can have no rest or peace of mind until your current project is done, and even in the midst of it you'll think of one or two or ten other things to start on.
- Christine Hardy

Saturday, January 8, 2011

79,602 Words

I am now at 79,602 words of my nth draft.  Since I keep going back to the beginning and starting over, this is actually only the second draft of this latter portion of the book.

Plot is key at this point - it's pretty much all tension and action.  Groan!  Why couldn't I have written a nice children's book about cute furry mice or something like that?

If you also write fantasy, in case you aren't insecure enough already, here's a excellent article at "Writing World" which I re-discovered recently:
Keeping Your Fantasy Armies a Little Less Fantastic


It's a universal truth
That when the writer's muse is hiding
The primary topic she writes about
Is writing.

If the author is feeling tired,
Her characters fall asleep.
If she's been thwarted in love,
The hero is chained in a keep.

But if she is dieting
What miserable tragedies then
Will be unfurled in the fictional world
By the tip of her omnipotent pen.

~ Christine Hardy

If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.  
~Toni Morrison

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Authors vs. Writers

"Authors are rareified creatures, you know, who write serious fiction."
"And writers...?"
"Write books people buy," she explained, with a twinkle of mischief.

- Susanna Kearsley, Named of the Dragon

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Describing Point-of-View Characters

Ray Rhamey at Flogging the Quill has a great post up on his blog about this topic. I've struggled mightily with decisions about how much to describe and how.

I've come to the conclusion that although Ray's post is right on the nose for the kind of fiction he writes (mostly suspense), the question of how much to describe does differ among genres.  Romance seems to almost require detailed physical descriptions of main characters.  Science fiction and fantasy require some description as well, since the characters are expected to be physically unusual in some way.  Other genres can leave more to the imagination, since they are more obviously ordinary humans except for some distinguishing characteristic like a unibrow or flaming red hair.

What do you think?  How do you handle the problem of describing point-of-view characters?  Or do you prefer to leave it up to the reader?  How much description do you think is expected in your genre?