I was given two copies of the Tales of Beedle the Bard for Christmas, attesting to the fact that my family knows me quite well. I hadn’t explicitly asked for it, but people often think of me and think of magical worlds, and well, the book makes sense (especially since you can find it everywhere from Wal-Mart to your neighborhood gas station, I’ll warrant).

I didn’t crack it open for a few days, just because I had other books to read. But when I did, I wasn’t expecting much. I must say I was a little disappointed by the end of the whole Potter series, though undeniably still attached to the characters. This book appeared to me as well, a little reaching. Sure, I knew that it was going to be for charity which is good. But the whole debacle between Rowling and the Harry Potter Lexicon has made me a little wary of the lady. Sure, we’re all entitled to our opinions on the subject, but I have a much freer definition of creative license than she does.

What’s surprising to me about the book is how genuine it feels. Even as a purported children’s book, it’s very, well, medieval. And it’s supposed to be. (Beedle and Bede? Yes, there’s got to be a connection there.) I think the least effective of the tales is the one from the books, “The Tale of the Three Brothers”–and yet it rings particularly medieval, due to its characterization of Death, etc. I suppose I was waylaid by the silly names, like “Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump” and “The Wizard’s Hairy Heart”–but what struck me was how these stories are, like many medieval tales, a bit on the gruesome side. There’s little candy-coating there (not that Rowling does that much to begin with, but I assumed she would here).

And of course, there’s the whole frame of the book; that it is, in fact, edited by Hermione Granger with commentary by Albus Dumbledore. I thought this would be distracting, but I was surprised to find that, reading Dumbledore’s commentary, I found I actually missed the guy quite a bit. As for Ms. Granger’s presence, there really isn’t any detectable. Which makes sense for an academic like she is.

All in all, it’s a surprisingly good read. Certainly nothing on par with the whole series, but a great little supplement. And certainly a treat that gets a chuckle from those of us with medieval leanings. I think Rowling certainly did her homework on this one.

A moment’s reflection on the hard numbers of The Aldersgate as it stands right now.

  • Total completed chapters in current draft: 22
  • Total chapters in original draft: 30
  • Total current word count: 119,115 (not a word less)
  • Total P.O.V.’s: Cora, Brick, Emry, Ellin, Sylvan, Kaythra (six even; half gals, half gents… listed in order of ages)
  • Total chapters expected in final draft: 30
  • Total chapters podcasted: Twelve (thirteen counting the prologue)

Just in case you were curious. Suffice it to say I’m ten chapters ahead of where the podcast is. As the New Year approaches I want to start getting the podcasts out every week to week-and-a-half, and try to keep it on a more strict schedule. I have some other projects brewing, including finishing my NaNoWriMo book but I’d like to see the next eight chapters written as soon as possible. We shall see. This “Editing” section is the most difficult, as the end of the novel is vastly different than the original–such things happen.

But I can do this. The end is in sight. I tend to pick up my pace a great deal when I know the end is near. Last time I finished (the first draft, that is) I printed it out at Kinkos, double sided, and read the thing to myself over a couple of days. I plan to do the same this time. Then, comes a resting period. Then, more editing. Then? Well, hopefully we’ll have made some good progress, and I’ll have something ready to submit.

Movin’ right along. Footloose and fancy-free.

I wish I could tell you that I had a magic formula for writing. It’s what we all want, isn’t it? That alchemical balance of heat, light, and air, with perhaps a dash of electricity to evoke the perfect environment for creative ecstasy.

But unfortunately, save for a scarce few writers in the world, writing is just work. Oh, sure it’s fun. It’s fun to think about, and fun to create–but the actual act of sitting down and putting the ideas in your head in verbal format is just hard work. That’s it. End of story.

Mostly, anyway. I have my routine. Sometimes I can woo the words with candles, music, and beverages (this sounds… rather seductive, but I promise you it’s not even remotely that exciting). Green tea, for instance, if I’m feeling sleepy; wine if I’m writing certain other characters. But when the rubber meets the road, there’s nothing that will decide what happens other than my own fingers.

That said, and the NaNoWriMo month being over, the most important thing to remember is… well, don’t get in your own way. There are always going to be distractions. Billions of distractions. And the more you give in to distractions, the less you’ll write on paper.

See, I happen to think that writing isn’t just about physically telling the story with words. It’s about a state of mind. The more you think about your book, the more you let your mind wander (in those spare moments which, as the mother of a two-year-old, I know the scarcity of) into the depths of imagination, the easier it will be to write when the time comes. I think many new writers don’t make a habit of this. They consider time at the computer as their only writing time. But I see it more like an iceberg. There are billions of words, feelings, descriptions, and nuances beneath the surface of a book–that’s what’s in my head. What’s peeking out is the best, the easiest to share; I can always delve deeper if needs be.

At any rate, and in spite of my rambling… if focus is your problem, consider scheduling some time for yourself. I’m personally awful at this, but I find if I can mentally pencil myself in for writing at some point in the evening. I don’t always do it, but sometimes I can trick myself into thinking I will–so, even if I don’t get to the actual act of writing, I’m thinking about writing. And for me, that’s often as productive as anything else.

While not may people “get” my love of fantasy, a few blessed souls do. It has everything to do with my childhood, and with C.S. Lewis, mostly. I never believed in anything as surely as I believed in Narnia, when I was a little girl. It was a certainty in my life, a palpable force, a knowledge that magic was real, and that some day–even though I expected it at every turn–I would get myself to Narnia.

Sure, when you’re a kid, there’s a lot of things you don’t know. But I think too many people grow up too fast. They disregard fantasy stories and fairy tales because they don’t believe they’re applicable. But this is as far from the truth as can be: fairy tales are the truest tales we tell, in some sense, because they themselves are spun out of the truest stories of our kind. We, as paltry human beings, have never been able to fully explain the word around us, and fairy tails help us do that, and will brilliance, too.

The thing is, as a child, you feel more. You haven’t been bruised or ruined, disappointed or embarrassed, disregarded or degraded–at least, on the whole, not as much as later on in life. You are new; the world is full of possibilities. Every toadstool is a fairy cove, every cave a dragon’s den.

But we lose it; we leave it. Bit by bit, it falls away. Imagination gives way to reason, and fancy fails when faced with reality.

Yet, some of us can’t give it up. Every book we pick up brings us back again, every word we write in some way is connected to that golden moment of our childhood when it was all possible. I’ve been listening to what I write, lately, concentrating on what it is I’m saying–what my own self is saying about magic, and science, reason and fancy. And it’s rather fascinating. There’s a great deal more tension than I think I expected… I am wary, I am jaded. It’s never as easy as Abracadabra… yet I keep writing it.

I suppose as odd as it sounds, it’s because a part of me simply refused to believe that this is all there is, and recognizes the magic power of words. Magic doesn’t have to be hurling balls of fire or raising the dead. Sometimes, it can be much quieter. It can be hope; it can be love. It can be sharing stories across times, cultures, borders. It can be, in every way concievable, the most basic of human powers…

I have been searching, searching I say, for the right book to accompany my November writing marathon. I like to read while I write; don’t know why, but it always fuels me in the right direction. I think I’ve mentioned that I’d tried my hand at a series of “mainstream” fantasy books the last few months, trying to read what’s selling and get an idea of the market. All well and good, but the result has been far from positive on my end. I’ve been frustrated, uninspired, and unable to finish a damned single one of them.

Thankfully, after a trip to the local book megastore, I came back with Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear. I’ve been meaning to catch up on her, and after two foiled attempts to find Joe Abercrombie (they had the second in the series, and the third, but not the first) or anything by Emma Bull, I found Ms. Bear’s collection and said, “OH yeah! I’ve been meaning to get to this forever.”

Being a mom doesn’t give you a lot of time to read, sure. And maybe that’s why I’m super picky these days. But falling into Elizabeth Bear’s writing is like… well, having read nothing but her short stories I don’t think I knew what I was prepared for. Dark and delight, and on some of my favorite subjects. Her slant on Arthuriana is particularly thrilling for me, obsessed as I am with it.

I’m only a few chapters in, but happily hooked… it’s just such a great feeling to find the RIGHT book.

398px-ferc-fish_ladderThis NaNoWriMo experience has been… well, intriguing, to say the least. If anything it’s teaching me to write more habitually. That’s kind of expected though, you know?

What’s got me lately are the unexpected turns the book takes. I haven’t had so much time to sit and type, to plan to plot, and that’s sort of the idea, I guess. So it’s writing in the dark even more intensely than usual. It’s sitting in a pitch black room and waiting, and then, when something stirs, chasing it down, putting a light to it, and describing what I see.

Last night was… intriguing. I made up for my deficit on Saturday (my husband’s leaving town for a week, so I’m forgiven!) by quite some, and am just below the 15K mark.

But let me tell you, half of what happened last night… um. I don’t honestly even know where to start. Everything just took such a different turn, such a curious turn. And it’s nothing that had to do with setting, which is steampunkified Boston, or the research I was doing in to the shape and formation of the town itself in the 1880s.

Well, apparently I have something of a villain. And she’s my heroine, as well. And… yeah, I’m as confused as you. I’m going to stop now. Hopefully this all makes more sense in the end.

Meet my inner dragon.

Who is this odd, scaly, greedy bastard, you ask? Well, he’s the one who eats my confidence, whispers doubt, slurps up my best ideas, and then spits them out, cackling.

In spite of having been working at this writing thing for the better half of my life, my dragon has grown at a rather unbalanced rate. When I was at my youngest, he was smallest not just in actual size and shape but in percentage. In fact, at some point, I’m quite sure that he was an egg. I don’t think I even was capable of hearing him for a while.

Now, the dragon has grown considerably. Not only is he larger than he used to be, he’s larger in proportion to me. At least seventeen feet tall, not including the tail. He’s invited friends of all sort of sundry occupations, including a hobgoblin who has a penchant for listening to really crappy show tunes, and amassed an amazing collection of self-doubt, ridicule, and second-guessing, upon which he sits, drinking out of a golden goblet, every now and again peering down his long, warty nose, and saying to me in as sarcastic mode as he can possibly manage, “You’re writing what?”

The dragon loves to read, and especially the scathing reviews in the Times and New Yorker. He adores Howard Bloom, for reasons I can’t rightly understand, and likes to hold up each piece of writing I create, turn the paper around, singe the edges for good measure, and then laugh hysterically, plumes of smoke rising from his nostrils, and lava tears falling from his golden green eyes.

He has a name, but I don’t know what it is. Even if I saw the name, I wouldn’t know it. That’s the trick with dragons. Until you know their names, until you can call them out, you are powerless against them.

The dragon lives right next-cave to my muse, Aelfric. And since Aelfric is a bard, and plays soft music on a lute, or guitar, or other stringed instrument, much of his inspiration gets drowned out. Aelfric has filed at least thirty complaints with me, and is beginning to be a little aloof. “I can’t work in these conditions, you know,” he said to me yesterday. “I’m thinking of packing up shop and moving to the coast or something.”

So, I suppose that my first attempt will be to walk into the den myself, and see if perhaps, without pretense, I can convince the dragon to have tea with me. I’m currently enjoying some delightful green tea with pomegranate that I imagine would suit his fancy as well.

You see, this tea idea is not simply because I’m a coward (though, I suspect, I am a bit of that, too). I’d like to first try and make peace with him; he’s simply gotten out of hand. There was one point where his presence was just a reminder, a careful whisper that helped me see more clearly, helped me avoid the cliche, the hackneyed, the over-used. But now, nothing gets past him. He’ll sleep for a day or two, sure, and Aelfric and I will dally along, content in story, character, and the magic of words and music. But then he wakes up, grumpier than ever and–I should add–hungrier than ever, and chases us right out of the cave. Occasionally it’ll take Aelfric a good week to come back, the dragon rattles him so.

And then if the tea doesn’t work, then I must contemplate the way of St. George. Only I worry about the consequences. How does one get rid of a dragon, anyway? Especially if it has truly become part of the landscape?

I had a very successful writing/editing weekend, in spite of the cold. I finished two chapters, which is more than I’ve done in weeks, and brought the story right around to the middle, to last third of the plot. This is very exciting for me, to say the least!

Unexpectedly, though, I also scared myself. It’s a strange sensation, having written something that actually creeps you out (not the first time it’s happened during this tale, but the most pronounced instance so far, I think). I’m currently rewriting the Sylvan DeLoire chapters in the book, taking a slightly different angle on his character and his purpose. And I exposed a side last night that is so much darker than I thought initially.

No, murder ought not be taken lightly. And (well, duh) it’s a dark, dangerous deal. In the original version, the murder happens only in a flashback, and that distance makes it less of consequence. Things get watered down in memory, what you recall can change and take new shape. Not to mention I don’t think I could ever call Sylvan DeLoire a reliable POV. But this take on the murder is so much closer, so much more ruthless. I don’t think I anticipated that. Funny how that works.

Still, as I brought the chapter to an end I couldn’t help but shiver a little. I’d lost myself in the situation completely, and standing back from it… well, it’s good to stand back, to put the light on, and take a sip of wine.

This election has had me thinking a lot about feminism. We didn’t just have an almost woman candidate for Presidency, but now we have a VP nominee as well (though, I can’t say they are a thing alike). When it comes down to it, they both wear skirts and power suits, though reportedly one is much more fashion conscious.

Okay, that’s not exactly what I’m writing about. No, I’m writing about something that really has nothing to do with the political sphere, other than it’s on the subject of women. But not women politicians–rather, women writers.

I’m blessed beyond belief to be a woman and a writer in this century. I think about the difficulties that women writers who came before me had to cope with, including and not limited to horrifying sexism, inadequate education, and social restrictions. That’s not to mention that many women writers had to work their crafts in the dark, having no one to look up to or reach out to for support.

But now I live in a networked world, where other writers are just a click away. There are dozens of women writers that I look up to, that have shaped the way I write and create worlds. I never felt, growing up, that my dream of writing was any less attainable because of my gender. And, thankfully, my supportive parents always instilled a belief that, if I worked hard enough at something, eventually I could do whatever I wanted.

Though it’s not to say it still isn’t difficult. I am often told, “just write a romance novel!” or “write as a guy, you’ll get published”. As a science fiction and fantasy writer, I’m in a genre heavily populated by men. There’s no chance in Hades I’ll move from this place, but it doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Sure, I know there are women writers in SF/F out there, but a quick glance at most anthologies and best sellers in the genre will show you that men still make up the bulk of the market. And though there’s been plenty of argument on either side of the fence, women still read a great deal of SF/F.

I think the crux of the argument is that there’s a tension between traditional/popular SF/F and feminism. Though I don’t think I can be called a feminist in the truest sense, I’ll never parade my characters around in chain mail bras. But it’s unfortunate that it’s what sells the books. As much as I’m enjoying playing 4th Ed. D&D I cringe whenever I see the drawings of female characters. I mean, really, do the Dragonborn have boobs? They’re frigging lizards.

Unfortunately I don’t think the popularity of that sort of writing will wane. People pick up the scantily clad ladies for the same reason they pick up romance novels–sex sells, end stop. While I’ve nothing wrong with a good shagging scene every now and again, it’s got to be there to mean something, to me. You cheapen writing by using too much sex. I’m sure there are people who will argue with me, but that’s just my stance.

So what’s to do? I think we, as women writers, ought to raise the bar even higher. Maybe that’s not fair for us, but here’s my thinking: if we write as expected, it doesn’t do anything, doesn’t prove anything. It only reiterates what people already think of as “female fantasy writing”. And it’s not to say to write like a man, either. Write from your heart, write from your being. Write what matters to you, be it the epitome of feminist fantasy or not. Whatever it is, just write! There are some amazing women writers out there right now doing exactly what I’m talking about, people like Cherie Priest and Elizabeth Bear, who do jaw-droppingly incredible work. The work is just… wow.

What I’m saying is that we, as women writers, ought not back down. We need to be confident, strong, and assertive. More than anything we need to believe in ourselves. That’s probably the thing I see most often, in women of all walks of life in this society. We don’t think we’re good enough. But we are. We’re more than good enough… with the right drive, and the right vision, we’re positively magical.

When I started this blog, I had finished The Aldersgate. The idea was that I’d post the edited chapters, one at a time, and podcast them. Seems like a pretty straight-forward plan, right? The name made sense, the format and structure made sense.

It’s all fine and good, but I realize I painted myself into a funny little corner. As editing has progressed I realized my little novel isn’t so little, nor uncomplicated. The more I edit, the more I discover; the more I discover, the more I change; the more I change, the more the book looks less and less like the first version and more like something new entirely.

And since my pace isn’t anywhere near as fast as I thought it’d be, this blog has become, ultimately, a writer’s blog about a host of subjects, from the process of writing, to trends in steampunk writing and culture, to music and history, to fantasy writing and science fiction.

Ultimately I realize I made a blog for a book, when I should have made a blog for myself as a writer. I suppose in a way it’s comfortable to hide behind something, like a book–but eventually personality wins out. So I’m contemplating renaming the site (not the address, as that’s impossible) and rethinking my approach a little more. The Aldersgate is a well-intended endeavor and, I keep telling myself any, a worthy one. But the more I edit and rewrite, the more I want to challenge myself and get it right. It’s a big story–a huge story, the largest and most ambitious I’ve ever tried to tell. And I don’t want to risk the telling by taking shortcuts.

So, suffice it to say, this blog jumped the gun a bit. Although, in my defense, when I sat down to serialize the novel I really did think it was 90% there. I just found out it was really closer to, oh, 20%. I’ve never been good at math.

To all the readers and friends I’ve made in the last few months, thank you. I’m rapidly approaching 10,000 views (?!?) and am ever amazed and inspired by the people I’ve come to know through this blog. Expect lots more from me as the months pass into the next year, and prepare yourself for new adventures!

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