Monthly Archives: May 2015

Why do you write?

writerNo, really. Why do you? Is it fame? Money? (Cough-choke-wheeze!! Sorry…I just choked on something. I think it was innocence.) Are you the artiste who simply must or die? What are your hopes? Your expectations, both practical and not-so-practical? We all have them, and I’m curious.

I was sparked this morning by a blog post on a friend’s page. She’d recently gone to Bath, England, and discovered some things about Jane Austen she didn’t know before–one of them being that Ms Austen didn’t see her name in print during her lifetime. How is that even possible? It got me thinking about her, and other artists, who never saw fame or fortune in their lifetimes, but committed to their art anyway.

Most of us are never going to see fame or fortune, in our lifetime or posthumously. Still, we do what we do. We write our stories, sing our songs, paint or sculpt, strum and drum. We don costumes and become someone else. We create the costumes. We plant our gardens. Sometimes art is big and sometimes it’s small. It exists for itself, and without it, we’re nothing.

Me? I write because I have the talent. Modesty is for suckers, y’all. My life is kind to my art, and I get to create it full-time without having to slot it in when time allows. Mostly, I write because I can’t imagine not doing so.

That’s really it. My goal is to write my stories, to make them the best I possibly can. The rest is gravy. Now, maybe I can say that because I’ve had a modicum of success at this writing gig, but it was true before I ever sold my first book, so I’m pretty sure it still is. Would I love to see my book in every bookstore? Lines of fans waiting for me to sign their books? A movie deal? Six figures? Five? Guest spots on talk shows across the country? Are those even real questions? Sure I would, but that’s not my reason for writing. It doesn’t fuel my desire to create.

Some will read the above and think I’m nuts. Why spend all this time on something without the ultimate pay-off, validation? That’s just me. The validation I’ve received so far makes me exceedingly happy. It’s truly more than I ever expected. Are my ambitions low? No. I just don’t need outside validation to fuel me. Do you? Is writing into a void wasting time? Does it kill your creativity? There is no right or wrong here. I’m just curious about experiences outside of my own.

 

 

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Bad Storytelling

(SPOILER ALERT!)

got21

George Martin’s novels depict the grimmest of the grim, the most horrendous of the horrendous. It happens across the board from the nobility to the peasantry. He spares no one. And it is good storytelling. I highly approve of some of the necessary changes made to the HBO series, like the intermingling of plots I had wished for in the fourth and fifth books. I do not approve of others, the biggest of which is the unnecessary use of rape the powers that be have decided to implement.

It’s not rape itself. Martin’s world is, as established, a grim one. Rape is a means to power as ancient and effective as any other violent act. Mr. Martin uses it brutally, some may even say he overuses it. Okay, I’ll buy that. But I want to talk about the places he did not use it, for a purpose.

Daenerys-Targaryen-Profile-HD

Let’s start with Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo. If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you know the story well enough to be spared a long and drawn out backstory. Dany is given to Drogo in marriage. In the books, she is fourteen; he is in his thirties. HBO made her a little older to lessen the squick-factor there. Okay, fine. In the book, we are expecting Dany’s wedding night to be a brutal affair–not unanticipated, but nonetheless horrific for a fourteen year old girl forced to marry a Dothraki Khal. And yet, with all the rape, murder, blood and gore that started on page one of A Game of Thrones, Drogo doesn’t rape Daenerys on their wedding night. He waits for her to come to him. This is the crux of her absolute love and devotion, and makes believable all that comes after.

Cersei_ProfileOk, now how about Cersei Lannister? Yes, it’s super-creepy for her and her twin to be having a lifelong affair that results in three children. It’s even creepier when they have sex beside their son’s funeral bier. But that was the point, now, wasn’t it? These two have engaged in this relationship since childhood. Squicky, yes, but again, that’s the point. Their love is absolute. They not only thumb their noses at convention, they hock luggies on it…and then have sex on it. Having  consensual sex in the presence of their dead son punctuates this and many character points. Mr. Martin’s good storytelling, however twisted, shines.

Sansa-Stark-Profile-HDFinally–Sansa Stark. In Mr. Martin’s books, Sansa is betrothed to Joffrey. He abuses her. He beheads her father. He does everything humanly possible to humiliate and hurt her–but he doesn’t rape her. And then she’s forced to marry Tyrion, who treats her kindly and–wait for it–does not rape her. Then Littlefinger whisks her away. He steals a kiss, but no rape. In the Eyrie, no rape. Sansa Stark manages to traverse the length and breadth of Westeros without being raped. There is a reason she maintains her status as “Virgin Queen.” It’s good storytelling, dammit.

The writers and producers of the HBO show, however, made some decisions about these three powerful women, and that decision can be wrapped up in one sentence–A woman’s power extends only as far as appeasing a man’s dick allows.

I’m not going to argue that this is not true. Historically, it is. What I’m arguing is that in the world of Martin’s creation, these three women are spared the stripping of their power for a reason, and that reason got taken away. Not only did it get taken away, it is completely counter to story arcs, character arcs, and good storytelling. This decision was bad storytelling at it’s worst, because it took subtle, truly powerful points and turned them upside down. For no apparent reason.

Dany goes from being a woman loved, a woman who believably sacrifices everything for Drogo to the raped-falls-in-love-with-her-rapist trope. (Remember General Hospital? Luke and Laura? No?) Instead of her true power being awakened by her sexuality because of a conscious choice she made–good storytelling!–she is diminished. Later, in the HBO series, Dany “seduces” Drogo, riding him rather than being ridden; but it is at her brother’s demand more than it is Dany’s claiming of her own power.

Cersei is evil, depraved, ruthless. This we know. She gets her comeuppance, but it is not at the hands of her beloved brother. Cersei’s love for Jaime pales beside her love for power. Not so for Jaime. He will do anything for her, for her love. What he would not do is rape her. Why did the HBO powers decide to go that route? Is their relationship not twisted enough? Or was it, again, consciously or not, stripping another powerful woman in the series of her power in this way?

And Sansa, who never even meets Ramsay Bolton in the book, is not only in Winterfell but forced to marry him, and in marrying him, raped on her wedding night with her “foster brother” in attendance. The Virgin Queen has fallen to yet another man’s dick. Why? So Stannis wasn’t riding to Winterfell to save Jayne Poole who was pretending to be Arya and not Sansa at all? (Ok, so he wants Winterfell, too. Stannis isn’t that noble despite his own delusions.) Maybe I’m giving GRRM more credit than I should, but wasn’t at least part of the point of this plotline to show the futility and mindlessness of this war when the White Walkers were on their way? There was no purpose to this straying from the book. It’s bad storytelling, once again, that detracts from both story and character arcs. Condensing the whole Motte Cailin/Theon/Bolton storylines was a good idea. If you’re going to go as far as putting Sansa in Jayne’s role and squeezing the storyline into a new shape, why not have Theon save Sansa before her wedding? Why take from her what I consider a huge chunk of her character?

There is lots of rape in GoT, both in the books and in the series. It’s as common and used as Littlefinger’s smirk, the stink in Flea Bottom and Tyrion’s love of wine. That makes those places Martin spared the women of Westeros stand out, and in standing out, makes a point. Good storytelling is what it is.

David Benioff–you wrote one of my favorite books of all time (City of Thieves) but even I can’t forgive you for this.

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Words, the Sea, and Thee…

I just got back from a week in Virginia Beach–Dollbaby Week. I’ve been taking this week away to write among women, beside the sea, since 2002. Some of these women have been with me since that first (Bald Head Island)  trip. Others have come and gone through the years. The gathered group has been pretty steady for about five years now. I love them beyond words, past and present. Dollbabies all, and some of my dearest friends.

I could go on and on about the food, the sangria, the daily-fresh-baked cake. The brilliant quiet of eleven women writing to the music of waves crashing. I could regale you with the bliss of walking along the beach beside someone you only see once a year, or waking to the sun yawning over the ocean, the scent of coffee brewing, and the sound of soft laughter trying not to rise too loud. I could, but I won’t.

I write five days a week, anywhere between five and seven hours a day most of those days. Dollbaby Week is not necessarily a time I get much done. I have the privilege of squandering writing time there that I don’t take at home. But something magical always happens in VAB. Last year, I finished Seeking Carolina. This year, the perfect missing detail for a major story arc in Waking Savannah simply…appeared.

I probably didn’t add more than 2K* words all week. I’d actually be surprised if I added that many. But in among the detritus of writing when one’s mind is not exactly on the story, I tossed in a scene that was neither planned nor particularly necessary. As I closed down for the day, I was already pondering deleting the scene. It just wasn’t necessary.

But…

I start each writing day going over what I’d done the day before. Nothing new there. Most writers do a variation of the same, as a way of reconnecting to the story with a sort of running start. As I went over that scene and came upon the old, burned-out foundation I tossed in as a cool but unnecessary discovery for my main characters, I gasped. Out loud and not just in my head. You know that heady feeling you get when epiphany takes over your brain and floods your body with joy? Got it. Started in my prickling hair follicles and tingled right down to my toes. One, throwaway detail–once again!–and everything fell into place.

Dollbaby magic? The always-crashing sea? Chance? Fate? The cosmos aligning? Who can say? Maybe it was all of those things coming together. Maybe it was just that glowing section of my brain that keeps secrets from me until I need to know about them, tossing out exactly what it knew the storyteller piece of my brain needed. I’m not here to pick that apart. I’m sure the science behind it is cool. I’m happy leaving it a mystery.

Getting words on a page is the goal, but there are times it’s not about word count. Sometimes it’s about freeing up your brain so it can throw things at you. If you’re focused on the word count, you just might biff the catch.

*Strangely enough, I discovered 5,295 words were added to the manuscript last week. Totally surprised me.

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My Lovely Blog

It has been a long time since I’ve done one of these Lovely Blog things. Never on this site, anyway. When sister in Hadley Rille Books and Heroines of Fantasy Louise Turner asked me to join in, I thought, “Oh, no.” Let’s be honest, most of you reading right now know pretty much everything about me you want to know, right? But the topics for this lovely blog thing are quite different, and I actually got excited about it. So, without further disclaimering…

What is your first memory?
My first memory, one that I know I remember without the help of old pictures, movies, or retellings, is of my dad. Anyone remember Palisades Park in New Jersey? Starting in 1961, they held the Little Miss America pageant, into which my parents entered me in 1969. I was five. I remember my dress–an aqua dotted swiss my mom made. She and my baby sister had matching dresses. Wonder of wonders, I was a finalist. And here is my first memory.

I don't think I'm in there, but you get the idea.

I don’t think I’m in there, but you get the idea.

I had no idea what was going on. I was only five, after all. They called my number. They called it again. Someone gently nudged me from behind and, looking in all directions, I still had no idea what was going on. People were cheering and clapping. Looking out into the sea of faces, I saw my daddy, tears in his eyes, urging me forward. I remember my little heart boinging, because my dad didn’t exactly cry. He’d get teary, but never let them fall. They were falling, but he was smiling, and I knew it was okay. To this day I can imagine his face in the crowd. To this day, it brings tears to my own eyes.

(An aside–the runners up, of which I was one, had to come back the following week. While backstage, the angelic little blonde with long baloney curls, a big white bow in her hair, wearing a red dress and white gloves standing behind me, waited for that second I was called onto the stage to stick her little white-gloved hands into my hair and muss it completely. And that is how I went out onto the stage. Crying.)

palisades park

What books do you love?

What books don’t I love? There are so many favorites, but the ones that stick with me most are:

The Giver, Lois Lowry. Od Magic, Patricia McKillip. The Gold Coast, Nelson DeMille. City of Thieves, David Benioff. Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. All the Harry Potter Books. All the Lord of the Rings books. Dove Isabeau, Jane Yolen. Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli. Lamb, Christopher Moore, and The Once and Future King, TH White.

Libraries or bookshops?

I was a library fiend as a child and teen. Not so much once I got older. Never, since Amazon made it so easy to have books delivered first to my door, then directly into my Kindle. Does this make me a bad person?

Learning?

I wasn’t quite sure what this question meant. A.)Do I like learning? B.) What schooling I’ve had? C.) Am I in favor of old dogs learning new tricks? All of the above?

I love learning. It never ends. Whether I’m teaching myself to write (which I did) or listening to my endless courses on CD (almost always linguistics or history) I am constantly learning. There is always something new, something exciting to discover. My formal education ended with high school. I considered going to college once my kids were all in school, but it was either that or write. I chose writing.

Writing?

I am currently at work on Waking Savannah, the third in my Bitterly Suite. There are several more waiting in the wings–Being Charlotte (book 4 in The Bitterly Suite,) Into the Light (a spinoff series,) Traegar’s Lunatics (not a romance) and The Shadows One Walks (fantasy.) I can’t wait to have at them.

Writing is something I do full-time. I am fully aware of how lucky I am to be able to do so. Monday through Friday, from 10-4, I’m at my desk. And while I’ll take a Facebook break now and again, I’m spending all that time either working on a manuscript, or doing some other writing-related thing–like this.

What’s your passion?

Aside from writing and my family (which includes my cats) my passion is linguistics. My love of language is what fuels my love of writing, and vice versa. I’ve “taken”  seven linguistics classes via The Great Courses (marvelous thing.) Some of them I have listened to twice. I will even admit to listening with tears in my eyes sometimes, because I’ll learn something about words and language and history that hits me like a beautiful piece of music, or a painting, or a horse race*.

runninghorse

*I can’t watch a horse move without weeping. I’ve never made it through a horse race without bawling.

And I am also passionate about cooking. Cooking is an art and I am really good at it, I believe, because I truly see it as an art, not just food. If I were not an author, I would have a restaurant called “One the Fire,” serving Italian country style–whatever is on the fire that day. I use the name in (Dreaming August.)

Part of this game is tagging other blogs. So… LM Pampuro

Reference the source of the tag at the start, and choose as many others as you see fit to carry on after you – I just opted for two on this occasion.  I don’t think there are any timescales, and I’m not likely to put my post up until Friday at the earliest…

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