After a series of rejections, I checked my email late yesterday to find that a story of mine had, in fact, been accepted for publication. I’ve got to say, that is one good feeling. 🙂

I fixed it up and sent it back, and now… well, I’ll let you know when and where you can see it as soon as I can. It’s the steampunk/zombie mashup that I did called “Dr. Adderson’s Lens.” I was proud of it! And now even more so.

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Lady with a luteIf growing up means you can no longer play pretend, I want nothing to do with it. In fact, I’d like to go so far as to that I am, as of right now, declaring myself a professional pretender. I want to be a bard.

What am I on about? I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering my craft, lost in the labyrinth of my own brain, opening doors that have either been shut for too long, or have been cracked open, but not yet fully discovered. Prompted by no small part by some of Matt Staggs’s recent posts at Enter the Octopus, I’ve been waxing pensive (okay and maybe a little poetic) about this “new” age of writing and storytelling. I completely agree with Matt that the Internet has ushered in a new era of storytelling, where writers, readers, and publishers (well, sometimes) are connected on a level never imagined. Not only do we, as writers, have a direct feed to mountains of information (where would I be without Wikipedia or BoingBoing?), but we have direct feeds to audiences, looking for us. It’s no longer a matter of publishing houses telling readers what the next big thing is: they already know!

The thing is, even in this era of technology, gadgets, and ever growing worldwide problems, fiction is needed now more than ever. Fiction functions to keep us hoping, to inspire, to get us thinking outside our mundane little cubicles.

When I was in college and graduate school, my main era of study was the Middle Ages. As such, I tend to have a really backward view of how things work. Once upon a time, in our own world, storytellers, bards, and the like were revered. The Irish bards were a kind of druid, and held the lore and history of their entire culture in their minds (to our knowledge, they never wrote anything down). Sure, stories changed with the telling, but that was part of the fun. In some regions, being a bard was the highest calling one could have; remember, the majority of the population could not read, and certainly no one had televisions (um, duh). People depended on storytellers to transport them out of their dreary worlds into the space of the imagination.

So what’s happened to the bards and troubadours? Where have they gone? Most of us can’t go off to barding school (though, if you’ve been following along in my podcast, you’ll notice I invented one and sent Emry to it). Even if we write thousands of pages and novels and stories, there’s no guarantee that anyone will read them. In most circles, barding or writing or storytelling isn’t a viable option.

That is, unless you make it available.

Because, if you care about sharing your stories with others–if you care about continuing the tradition of storytelling–there are plenty of options. You can publish with a Creative Commons license, you can podcast, you can attend virtual writers’ gatherings and meet other bloggers and writers just like you. Instead of letting your manuscript languish at the bottom of a slush pile (which is still an option, of course, not that it doesn’t occasionally work), you can be proactive.

Sure, we all want to be the next bestseller. But don’t just assume it’s going to happen to you overnight (if at all, says the skeptic part of my brain). Remember, bards had to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to share their stories; modern day writers need to, too. Ours are just measured in bps rather than feet.

tolkien\'s sigThough I was writing novel-length creations (these lopsided, clunky, laborious writings are the literary equivalent of badly-wrought golems, I’d say) in my tween years, and had certainly admired writers like Lewis and L’Engle before, reading Tolkien just did something to me. For good or ill, I don’t know what it was. Some mysterious magic, no doubt, but one that, more than a decade later, I still can’t shake.

What happened exactly? Well, I recall being about thirteen or so, completely ostracized from the group of friends I’d once had, and was a painfully blossoming nerd. The glasses, the sweaters–I was a postergirl for early 90s fashion nightmares, and was growing a rather sulky personality to go with it. I had just finished a stint reading Stephen King, mostly The Stand twice through, and though I knew I liked fantasy as a genre, had no idea where to go.

It was my high school librarian who suggested LoTR. They didn’t have the first installment, but figuring it was like the Narnia series, I just picked up the Two Towers and ran.

First impressions:

  • I had no idea what an Aragorn was. With no context, he was all slinky and secretive. I figured, if he was hanging out with an elf and a dwarf, he must be something as equally impressive. I imagined him like a nicer version of Gollum, a being with large eyes and green skin who could see long distances and had a remarkable way with people. Boy was I surprised when I figured out he was… well, just a guy.
  • Merry and Pippin are the whole show! I didn’t get to the Frodo and Sam stuff for a while, but I was really intrigued by the terrible twosome. They were funny, friendly, and boy could they eat and drink. To this day, I simply adore Pippin, moreso than is really warranted. But, you know what they say about first impressions.
  • Kickin’ the Rankin-Bass. Unfortunately, prior to reading the series, I’d seen both Rankin Bass films–the adapted Hobbit and its Return of the King follow up (cringe). It had been about eight years though, so as far as plot and theme were concerned, there were no big spoilers. What took me forever to get rid of however, were the huge, sparkly, luminous eyes and terrible songs. For all the care that Tolkien put into the poetry of the series, I imagine hearing that warbling bard was enough to send him to his grave again.

It became an obsession for me very quickly, this hobbit series. It was all-encompassing. I had never read a book so voraciously before, nor had I ever loved characters as much. I remember reading RoTK, and one of the chapters describes Pippin being smooshed by a troll then “his eyes saw no more.” I of course, thought he was dead. I burst into tears. (Thankfully, being a fan of George R. R. Martin, I am now a little more hardened to this stuff).

Over the next few years, I absorbed everything Tolkien I could. I read all the books in the series, multiple times. I researched the genealogies. I joined a MUSH. Yes, I ultimately “met” the man I married five years later there, too (but that’s another post, I imagine). It makes sense. Michael was as in love with the hobbits and the Shire and Tolkien as I was. It’s really that. It’s love. It’s the highest sense of love you can have in the world… except it’s with a piece of art (I feel a Pygmalion reference coming).

There had never been anything–and there may never be–that impacted me on the level Tolkien did. This crotchety old man from England who really only wanted to frolic with trees and write a novel to put his own languages in, somehow changed my life entirely.

Years of internalization, and it eventually became apparent in my own writing. It’s not that I want to re-create Tolkien’s world; truly, in the years since I’ve learned to both love and critique his work and realize it’s not all perfect (there was a time that anyone who uttered such a word in my presence would have been called a blasphemer, but hey, we all grow up). What I want is simple: to tell a good story. I want my stories to move people even a modicum of the amount Tolkien moved me. I want to continue in the storytelling tradition and help people understand themselves better, even if it’s just through a fictional character.

How did Tolkien do it? I suspect is has something to do with the intimacy of writing, especially fantasy writing. Unlike fiction that takes place in this world, fantasy requires a huge amount of trust on the part of the reader. You are turning your imagination over to the writer and letting them describe things to you that you have never seen; they speak in languages un-uttered, of creatures uncreated. And, fickle as we are, we tend to cling still to the things we understand most: the people. In the end, Frodo’s decision to claim the ring for his own is the greatest heroic disappointment of all time, because, I think, it’s the same one we’d all make. He’s not better than we are, like so many gilded heroes. He’s as flawed as the rest.

All peripheral philosophy/religion/criticism aside, a great writer takes their readers on a journey; they show them danger, heartbreak, despair, joy–but always, always, they create a window into someone’s soul. That’s the deciding factor. That’s why people continue to pick up LoTR, or Shakespeare, or Updike, or any writer that maintains the ability to be relevant as times change. We often know characters in novels better than we ever will people in our real lives.

That’s quite astonishing, I think.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” – Gimli

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”