world building


I have started a wiki! After months of deliberation on the subject, I decided to jump in and just go ahead and do it. It’s terribly addicting, I’ve found, and a little overwhelming. Having never put much of this stuff down, it’s been sloshing in my head, and I’m a little staggered at the sheer number of red links.

So, if you happen to be intrigued and would like a little more of a window into the world of The Aldersgate, you can visit Alderwiki. Most of the articles are currently in the barest of states, and some are even replete with spelling errors, etc. I am ashamed to admit my pitiful spelling capabilities, that I blame entirely on the advent of the spellchecker; in this instance, the built-in Firefox spellchecker doesn’t like the wikia forms, so…

Check back often, and hopefully it’ll start to look better soon (and be equally informative!).

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but since starting Alderpod, I really haven’t taken a look at iTunes. When I opened it up yesterday I realized how awful it looked, how silly the paragraph explaining the novel was, and how unprofessional it was! I could never find Alderpod in iTunes, and that’s because–for some reason–it’s not listed as Alderpod. Add to that the fact that half of the podcasts weren’t showing up well… I’m a bit red-faced.

I will defend myself by saying that I’ve been just too wrapped up in a) being a mom b) dealing with family issues c) writing my posterior off and d) trying to podcast in my spare time. I am not a podcast junkie myself–I just don’t have time to sit in silence and listen. It’s unfortunate, but true. I’ve learned a great deal by trial and error and this was a huge error. That anyone has followed along this far at all is astonishing to me.

So, first: apologies. Alderpod is a labor of love, not a means of making big bucks or getting “discovered”. It’s a public draft, and the feedback I recieve is absoultely instrumental in my novel polishing process (which is what I’m referring to it as these days). That I’ve been a little sloppy in the actual implementation is not a surprise.

Secondly, if you have tried in the past to subscribe to Alderpod, and found a) messiness and b) missing podcasts, I would ask you to revisit the feed. You’ll find the missing chapters, and an updated explanation of the book. It’s part western, part fantasy, part adventure, part steampunk.

And lastly, as a friend of mine recently inquired: no, this is not a kissing book. The first chapters sound a little like a romance, but, if you wait it out you’ll see that I have a rather skewed perspective on romance. If you get through the first three chapters you’ll soon learn that nobody gets what or who they want, and most everything is more complicated than at first glance. And, in fact, though the first draft of this book had quite a few um, extended scenes in the bedroom, the podcasted draft version (technically the third draft) does not. It’s odd. I certainly hadn’t intended to cut the scenes out, they just didn’t fit the feeling of the book the second time through, and didn’t make the final cut.

A sincere thanks to those of you who have stuck by. I can’t offer much in the way of thanks except that I can let you know I’m working on a wiki for the world (to answer questions I’ve recieved about other cultures/history, etc) that even includes a fancy map! Ah, yes. No fantasy is complete without a map.

“Nothing’s impossible, Brick. It’s only our thinking that makes it so.” – Sir Gawen of Fenlie (by way of Shakespeare, perhaps)

I’m supposed to be writing Queen of None right now, which is over 3/4 of the way there. I’ve just brought my heroine to the tipping point: the climax is the next two chapters, where everything she’s been planning and plotting is finally coming to fruition. Exciting, fun; I’ve never written as book so fast as this one (hoping that’s still a good thing).

So why was I up last night writing something else? Oh dear. Somewhere between making chili last night and tucking the kiddo in, some gears started moving. Since I finished The Aldersgate, those characters have been very polite in leaving me to Anna Pendragon and her family. But last night, they all crawled back out of the creative primordial ooze and started talking. Like, all of them.

So after a (mildly disappointing) episode of BSG, I sat down and opened up Scrivener, staring a totally new project. I tried one name, Googled, found a movie. Tried another, Googled, found it was another book series. Third time’s the charm: Ward of the Rose it is. I like the sonic play on “war of the Rose” and the fact that it has a kind of medieval tinge while using a word we associate with Victorian: ward.

With the name in place I started writing. Here we go again…

Oh, yes, another metaphor. This time, to writing and woodworking. Usually I go blacksmithing, of course but today I’m feeling like woodworking is best. It’s the whole grain/stain thing. You pick out a good piece of wood (ideas, first draft, etc). Then you shape it and sand it; and at first glance, that piece is beautiful. The curves and lines are there, the form is right. But the details are off.

I remember as a kid I was riveted whenever I saw this one infomercial about some random varnish or stain that you put on wood. It would make the most hideous, scratched, stained, boring piece of lumber into a magnificent work of art. And although no woodworker would ever admit to the process being as simple as that, I still hold that a finished book is like a finished piece of wood. When you apply stain, the natural details in the wood just pop. It’s why when you select a piece of wood you dampen it, to see what the deeper colors and grain will look like with the application of stain and varnish.

Of course, I’m just finishing off with the stain. That’s the second draft, and the Big Edit. Which, honestly, for all intents and purposes was a complete rewrite. Sure, the characters are the  same, and some of the premise is the same. But I went after my selected piece of wood with a hatchet when I should have chosen a chisel. Or something.

I am hovering around the 135K mark at the moment, about 15K from the end of this book. And as always I feel a little like a kid poised at the top of an icy hill in a snow tube. It’s going danged fast. When I emerge at the other side, which may be in a few days if the speed is any indication, I’ll dance around and celebrate and likely buy a bottle of expensive wine and some Brie. I’ll record it so you can share in my revelrie. (The last draft’s celebration–nearly a year to the date–was a tattoo.)

Thanks for bearing with me as I finish this. I’m excited, and thrilled, and can’t wait to hear the response when the last podcast goes live. I’ve got some surprises that even I was taken by; it’s so mind-boggling when the gears all move into place as if moved by some pre-destined hand.

Back to Home Depot, then, to pick out the last bits of inlay and contemplate the right varnish.

I am determined to finish this edit in a week, and so, I’m up now, and I have a dizzying scene in my head, trying to weave in my ends (to use a knitting metaphor).

As you know, The Aldersgate is told in a multiple-POV. Every chapter, a different POV. This, of course, can’t last forever. I’m not as clever as George R. R. Martin, and I need to bring them together, and shift perspectives now and again within one chapter.

But boy, is this hard. I’m in the pre-climax. The chapter before the Big One, and all of these characters are coming together, and it’s like a thunderstorm; hot air, warm air, hail and rain. Toss in a gunfight between three factions with a fourth there for good measure, and you’ve made for one exciting little maesltrom.

I have geared bullets that bore holes into you, and keep boring, unless you get them out (and someone is currently working on getting said bullet out of someone elses’ thigh). I have blood and fear, I have betrayal and anger. I have a demon (of sorts) on the loose. I will not say more at the risk of being a total spoiler for those of you following along, but let’s say this… I’m juggling a lot of things. And some of them are knives, or fiery brands, or whatever dangerous things jugglers throw into the air. I started this chapter this morning, and I’m at the halfway point as we speak.

It’s 11:30, but I feel like I’ve got days of work before me if I ever want to get to sleep.

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.

When people describe steampunk, they often do so in relation to science fiction. “It’s like science-fiction from the Victorian period,” or “Neo-Victorian technology”. And certainly, yes. This is a large component. But I think that the relationship between steampunk as a literary genre and fantasy as a literary genre is too often overlooked. One of my goals with The Aldersgate Cycle was to create a steampunk fantasy world, where technology and a Victorian “feel” were part of the world itself, but not necessarily the defining factor.

The thing is, the steampunk aesthetic is as preoccupied with the tinkerer as with the alchemist, as invested in the blueprints as the spellbooks. Our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors embraced ideas of magic, the occult, an the otherworldly, perhaps moreso than any period before them.

Part of my argument rests on the whimsy inherent in the steampunk aesthetic. It’s not just about pipes and brass, it’s more than that. It’s making art that moves, that has a life of its own, that seems to impart its own power instead of just exist. The best objects I’ve seen, whether by Jake von Slatt and the Steampunk Workshop, or Datamancer, or any of the dozens of other makers out there, is when the creation is finished it looks like it should be magic. It looks worthy of magic, of mystery. (I think much of this dates back, from an art historical perspective, to the practice of making reliquaries… but that’s a whole other post in and of itself…)

The other side to my obsession with making steampunk fantasy is that I don’t think technology is that far away from magic at all. Of course, this is far from my own argument. But I think the line is blurred even more in the age of Steam, because technology is, at that point, such a well of fascination rather than a true science. From a historical perspective, you might say that the pursuit of technology was in some ways the pursuit of magic. I mean, if you go back to Newton, for example, one of the fathers of science, he was brilliant, yes; but Newton also was devoted to alchemy, and believed that he could find a way to turn metals to gold. That he and others failed in their attempts doesn’t mean it was any less noble to explore–simply that some things, in this world any way, do not seem to be possible.

It has to do with imagination, with invention. Steampunk is about reinventing the past, taking what we know and shaping it into something that it could have been. Take the whole concept of aether, for instance. It’s taken on a new, quasi-magical life in steampunk as something that’s hybridized science and fantasy.

I guess I just hate genre definitions in general. The reason SF and F are spoken in the same breath so frequently is because they stem from the same concept: “If  ___ is possible, then  ___” — it’s exploring capabilities, whether by magic or technology, and seeing what influences those capabilities have on greater societies, cultures, and universes. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the “past” or the “future” (or future present, past future, wormhole)–it’s an imaginative exploration of what is possible.

Some people prefer proton bullets to magic missles, of course. But at the heart, it’s important to remember that the blacksmith is just as ancient as the thunder god: in some ways, magic and technology have lived hand-in-hand since the beginning.

Since the birth of my son, I’ve had a very different on perspective on being a woman. The new view came from a purely biological fact: that I survived a pregnancy and (barely) a birth, and brought a new human being into the world. From the moment of conception, the fate of the human race is in our hands. It’s as simple as that.

After childbirth, I felt empowered beyond belief. I never thought I would feel so different, so changed. People thought I was crazy to have a child without pain medication, in this day and age. But for me, it was something I felt was necessary. I wanted to feel connected to the generations of women that came before me, that had their children without modern medication. I felt that going through childbirth in such a manner would literally be a kind of spiritual connection… and I was right. It was even more profound than I can explain to you here.

But you see, it’s gone beyond that. I’ve been going through my writing in the last 28 months, and noticed that, whereas most of my protagonists in previous works were men, nearly every single novel and short story is female-centric. My NaNoWiMo novel, Pilgrim of the Sky is, in fact, what I would even call a feminist novel. Sure, it’s fantasy. Sure, it’s alternate history. But at the heart it’s about what it is to be a woman, what powers we hold, the oldest powers…

Yet in spite of characters like Maddie and Cora, I am careful about writing women. Because, I feel, many so-called feminist characters are, well, masculine women. A woman with a gun, or with the ability to kick lots of ass (not that it isn’t cool, mind you) doesn’t make a feminist. It makes for a good story, and one that likely will be appealing to all genders, but I don’t think it gels with my personal vision of feminism.

I’ve purposely moved Cora’s progression in the AGC very slowly. She’s young, she’s smart, and she’s powerful–but not all at once. Too many fantasy novels begin with a young person realizing their talents right away and going on to do amazing things. But I want to be true to her as a woman, as someone who’s a lot like me, who moved slowly from realization to application. I don’t want to write her as a woman warrior, because she’s not. But she can hold her own in many other ways.

In some ways she’s the hardest to write of the bunch, because she’s seventeen. She can be annoying and emotional, romantic and selfish. I find myself cringing writing some of her chapters because, well, I was all those things, too. And it’s hard to write the ugly side of seventeen. But it’s essential for her, as she grows; I want to present a character as realistically as I can, even if she’s in a made up world. And so far, from what I’ve heard in the way of reactions, it’s working.

Too much SF/F is just… unrealistic. And sure, there’s magic and science, and capabilities we don’t have in this real world. And as scarce as women are in fantasy–especially those who aren’t either debutantes or warrior maidens–I take what I do very seriously. I want the women to be real, capable, and moving without buying into stereotypes or cliches. I’m just sick of it.

Aside from Cora, though, there is Princess Ellinora. And with her, there is even more difficulty. First, she’s a princess, of course. Physically, she’s weak. Emotionally, she’s weak. She’d addicted to vialc, an opiate, and in spite of her marriage of three years, she is still barren. The Queen doesn’t take her seriously, her husband abuses her, and the love of her life is banished from the castle. She is abused physically and mentally… and yet… yet… I find in her a great deal of strength. No, she is not the likeliest of heroines, true. But she is something special, and her journey is a fascinating one.

Lastly, there is Kaythra Bav. If Cora is the maiden, and Ellinora is the mother (at least, hoping to be), then Kaythra is the crone, of sorts. At least, she’s past childbearing. But she is an unusual woman–having risen to power both on her wit and her proximity to the Queen (once her lover). While on her exterior, she is tough-as-nails, inside she’s fragile. She doubts herself constantly, in spite of her perceptions as High Counselor to the Queen. Though she doesn’t figure into the story until the last third of the first book, her presence is felt throughout–she is abducted by Soderon rebels while on a diplomatic mission, and this news riles the Queen and everyone at Hartleigh Castle.

These three women are at the center of the AGC. Not to discredit my boys, they’re important, too. But these women are the ones that drive me to keep writing; their stories are my stories, shared in a way that, even if I tried, would not be likely with the others.

(more…)

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.

But according to Scrivener it was 50,486. Still:

Yes I Did!

Yes I Did!

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