Yesterday, my friend Karen wrote to me:

So, do we write what we are? If so, who are you?

I thought about this for a while. We were speaking, to put this in context, of magic and religion. At least in the course of the AGC, I indicated the following:

Primarily I take from Norse and Celtic lore, with a little smattering of Judeo-Christian ideas for good measure. It’s all very basic, tied to the way the world itself works. I guess, at heart, I’m an agnostic. I ask: “So, if all this religion is true–and if it were to manifest itself to you–but if it might mean the destruction of your world, what do you do? Whose side are you on?”

Devil’s advocate. That’s me.

I realize that’s a little on the spoilery side, isn’t it? I’ve indicated in the past that the Aldersgate itself has quite a bit to do with what magic is and isn’t in this world. But the crux of the tale rests, thus far, on the decisions people make, and what sides they end up on.

As much as possible, I’ve tried to fiddle with our concepts of good and evil, concepts that so often invade science fiction and fantasy in ultimate contrast. That’s why I think the whole Neo-Victorian/steampunk aesthetic is so important to the story itself, because it speaks so perfectly to the tensions in the telling.

Anyway. For those of you who write, here’s the question to you: Do we write what we are? If so, who are you?

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There’s no surprise in mentioning that I spend a great portion of my time listening to the opinions and perspectives of characters I’ve altogether made up, and live nowhere but in the confines of my own brain. Writers understand this, but many others will doubtless find it slightly discomfiting and perhaps just odd. It happens. I can accept that.

I was just going through my LJ account, reading posts, trying to get a good idea of when the AG folks started up their conversations with me, and how long it took me to write their story the first time. It turns out I wrote it a lot faster than I thought: just over seven months, almost from start to finish. The first draft was done in March 2008, so I’ve already outspent my editing time rather heftily.

But the story has changed, and that isn’t my fault. I don’t have control over them sometimes. I swear.

Thing is, as I was perusing old posts, it occurred to me how odd it is to think that these characters once didn’t exist. Other than driving me to the near point of madness, this whole multi-POV approach has brought me closer to this batch of characters than through any other endeavor I’ve attempted before. And as such, they’re like friends, or personas, aspects of myself/themselves that I’m really comfortable with, familiar with.

I don’t think I’m getting this across very well, at all. Ah, well. At any rate I thought it would be amusing to post the piece I wrote the day after I was set on by this new menagerie of characters. It amused me, anyway.

August 7, 2007

So, today, in spite of the insane amount of work I’ve been doing as part of my job, I’ve been practically assaulted by a whole new series of characters. All throughout the day today, scenes and snips of dialog have been flitting through my brain.

In some ways, this is disturbing. I have a book. I have two books, in fact. This was not one of the ones I was planning on, but yet it’s like an itch I can’t scratch.

So, well, I sat down after things calmed down a little this evening, and began writing. Four pages ain’t bad at all. Then, I got to the end, and realize someone’s going to die. And die soon. And ugh. That’s a little depressing.

But anyway, I’m actually excited to write this. I was feeling the story in a way that hasn’t happened in a very long time. Michael asked me to go to bed, and instead of abandoning it, I said, “No! I’m at a really good part!” That’s pretty awesome.

It is crisp and beautiful out there this morning, a real Autumn day. I happen to think John Keats sums it up best (as he’s like to do; in fact, he’s one of those aforementioned heroes). Keats wrote, just before penning this poem: ‘How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now–Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm–in the same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.’

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Sometimes I think in poetry. Don’t know what this is, exactly, but it’s been floating around in my brain. Thought I’d share. (I found the picture after the writing part, but it’s quite appropriate, I’d say…)

She stands, knees bent, her cheek to the sky.
Such sounds around her, twisting and writhing in the morning bright,
a dappled, jeweled splendor.
To touch the center of that power, to know the mystery that
beats beneath her chest–such ecstasy and agony–
is to mark the slippery difference between peace of mind
and madness,
and forget it.
Inspire, expire; and curling fronds of power lift, rise, and fall.
She opens her eyes.
She sees.

Charles Barbaroux - SylvanWell, it all depends on how you look at it, doesn’t it?

I suppose if you want to call me a villain, you’d be well within your rights, of course. You can call me whatever you want, I assure you, I’ve been called worse. Being a bastard seems to attract a rather high concentration of name-calling and taunting, you see, especially when your father happens to be the favored brother of the Queen, hmm?

So yes, my father is Lord Lucas, the beloved prince who stood by his sister Maelys until he died rather uneventfully of a heart-attack some years back. I don’t remember him much as, well you might imagine, seeing my likeness wasn’t particularly something he enjoyed–especially considering I look so much like him. I’m a memory of a bad choice, the decisive factor in destroying his marriage (although I would argue the woman was plotting against him well in advance of my appearance on the scene; it isn’t my fault she couldn’t bear children, after all).

So you might say that I’ve been set up for villainy my whole life. Yes, I’m terribly arrogant and self-serving. But truly, I do this as a matter of survival. I inherited all of the characteristics of the Vezinas and the royal line: cleverness, good looks, patience, confidence, tenacity; yet I cannot enjoy any of the benefits, like land, titles, and the like.

Maelys has always had a soft spot for me, and I have done whatever she has asked. Why not? The old crone knows what she’s doing, even if I don’t always agree with it. So is it villainy to follow directions? Maelys’s trust in me has helped me achieve ranks higher than I ever imagined–I am a Knight of the Rose, and for the most part, I do as I please. It’s a significantly better alternative than wasting away in a brothel like my mother.

I’ve been called a bringer of death.

So yes, I kill people. It’s a talent I have. But in my defense, I do it well. There’s little pain involved, unless they resist. And, suffice it to say, I’ve not yet failed an assassination, or I wouldn’t be here to answer your petty questions, now would I?

That’s right. I’m the Queen’s Assassin. We all have our dark secrets, and I’m hers.

Conscience? You ask if it bothers me? Well, I wouldn’t be human, would I, if I went about my tasks unfeeling? No, there are difficult days, difficult assignments. Men with families, acquaintances I’ve known. There’s no shame in my job, to be sure; I’m proud to do it. But remorse? It does visit me on occasion. Usually, I forget it after a glass of wine, or a visit to one of the maid’s quarters.

A man must get by, after all.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil by John KeatsCompulsion is described as:

1.
the act of compelling; constraint; coercion.
2.
the state or condition of being compelled.
3.
Psychology. a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, esp. one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will.

Writing is a strange habit, and certainly not one too many people engage in. There are lots of reasons for this. It is extremely time consuming; it requires focus, drive, and endless creativity; it is something done, with some exceptions, in near solitude.

And yes, it is, as Chaucer might say, “passing straunge.”

I have strange days when I open up Scrivener, and stare at the words–the words upon words–and can’t imagine where it all came from. I know, of course, that I’ve done it, that I’ve written the words and have told the story. But I can’t tell you where inspiration comes from, and I certainly can’t explain the magic formula involved when it actually goes right. Because, with writing–for me, at least–there is very little in the way of planning. Precious few are the days, hours, minutes, that I set aside for pure writing actually successful.

In spite of the loss of 10k words this week, the proof to me is that: hey, I wrote. I didn’t feel like I was, but I managed 10k in two weeks. 5k a week isn’t too shabby, that’s for sure, considering most of this “edit” has been a complete rewrite.

It’s rare that I go out of my way to share much of my writing. First of all, explaining fantasy novels–let alone steampunk fantasy novels–to anyone is trecherous territory. You either get it or you don’t.

The truth is, though, whether or not the novels, the stories, the poems ever see the light of day, it doesn’t really matter. I can’t stop writing, I can’t stop playing pretend. Because, really, that’s what it is. In fact, I can trace it back: I started writing novels when I stopped playing pretend with my little sister. We had an incredible world, she and I, filled with the kind of magic and mystique that only little girls can muster in the closeness and imaginative golden years of youth.

But, like Susan Pevensie, I suppose, I had to grow up. I was twelve and, at least according to me, much too old to be pretending to be someone I was not. Yet, the imagining didn’t cease. I wrote alone for a while, then brought my sister on board, and later wrote with my friend. Then when I was 15, I started the long dark years of teenaged angst, and didn’t write much (other than music, that is). And even in undergraduate school, I didn’t write much. This was mostly due to a rather stifling relationship that honestly didn’t leave any room for me. The stuff I did write was for workshops in my writing courses, and certainly not for me. I never could let go in those classes.

It took graduate school for me to revisit the book I’d started rather haphazardly when I was 18. That novel is finished, per se, but it still is lacking. I’ve probably been through it five times and I seriously doubt it can be resurrected. It’s a good story, but it’s so young. As I wrote it I could feel my writing improve, I could tell I was getting better; it’s hard to keep consistent when you’re growing that much.

Now, life is no less difficult–but it is different, in many ways. The Aldersgate is more than just my novel in progress; it was, you see, my way out of a very dark place, in the aftermath of postpartum depression. It brought me hope that I could write again, that I could create, and that there was light somewhere, even if it felt very distant. Slowly but surely, the world of the novel was revealed, in snippets, in voices, in conversations. It was as if after the suffering, the terror of nearly losing my son after he was born (and, I’m told, nearly dying myself bringing him into the world), I was given a gift.

I often say that Emry, the Bard, is the closest to me in the story. And at first, I thought it was because he was musical, and often clumsy, slightly foppish, and certainly a romantic at heart (curse me, but I am). But as I continue to write him, and to explore his growth in my novel, I realize that we share something else in common: suffering. We’ve been places that we can’t explain to people, even if we tried. And in spite of it all, we risk that suffering again because we love–not just our work and our calling, but our friends, too.

All that said, I’m feeling rather reflective since the Great Hard-Drive Explosion of 2008. Every now and again I feel as if I walk into another chapter of my own life; the light is different, the stars have moved, and there’s a new song to be sung.

So, with that, I suppose it’s time to move on along.

O Melancholy, linger here awhile!
O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!
O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle,
Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us—O sigh!
Spirits in grief, lift up your heads, and smile;
Lift up your heads, sweet Spirits, heavily,
And make a pale light in your cypress glooms,
Tinting with silver wan your marble tombs.— Keats, “Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil”