alderpodlogoAlderpod #17 – Chapter Fifteen: Figments

No, you did not read this wrong. Yes, I’ve recorded another chapter. Sure, part of it is because I feel bad I haven’t been able to do the whole biweekly thing with the cold, but more than anything it’s because the chapters meld into one another. It’s a continuation from the last chapter, and I thought since I was on a roll I might as well go with it.

Notes on this chapter: This chapter scared me. I mean, scared. I don’t usually get creeped out by the things I write, having a good distance. But once again, since Emry is a little closer to home for me… well, you’ll hear I suppose. This is when things start to go really wrong. Sure, things have been bad, but this chapter is the hinge on which one of the main mechanisms balance: this is when we get a glimpse into just what happened in Barnet, we figure out how Cora busted out of her cell, and, in the meantime, learn about the Sibs in general. Gotta balance, right?

Next up is back at Hartleigh Castle with Sylvan and Ellin, and the arrival of the Alderdaughters. Plus: more intrigue, political upheaval, and the first POV chapter from Kaythra Bav. Then, we’ll be heading back to the Order of the Asp… and, unfortunately, things aren’t getting any brighter for Brick, either.

Ah, the joy of apocalyptic steampunk fantasy. But I promise! Not all is boom and doom… this is just the hard part to get through before hope emerges.

Thanks for listening, and look here for more chapters soon!

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And chapter 12, aka, Alderpod #14…

I discovered cabernet sauvingnon to be a good accompaniment to this particular piece. And I will admit to you two things: the beginning is a little wonky, but bear with me–I spliced two chapters together and combined them for brevity, etc; and also, the pacing is a little on the slow side. But this is intrigue people, not battles and hellfire and all that jazz. Sylvan and Ellin are my romantic leads, the sort that deserve the quiet and calculation of the palace setting.

Ellinora, or Ellin as she’s most usually called, is always a challenge to write, but frequently a surprise. Her perspective really moves the second half of the novel, so get ready to get to know her. I think you’ll enjoy the ride. And it’s high time I introduced my other female POV, don’t you think? (There is a third, oh yes, but that waits, precious.)

#15 was recorded, and almost ready to print, when I had some terrible background noise pretty much foul the whole thing up. Now I’ve moved the writing/podcasting station upstairs, I think it’ll make a significant difference both for mental and actual quiet.

At any rate, the next chapter, entitled “Iniation Rites” brings us back to Brick Smithson, the Order of the Asp, and the goings ons of the Territories, before we head back to the Nithings. So stay tuned; I may be late, but I will deliver. Even through the holidays. Or at least, I’ll pass out trying.

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…)

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Chapter Eleven: Dalliance

Huzzah! After hitting 25K for NaNoWriMo, and the official halfway point, I celebrated by recording Chapter Eleven of The Aldersgate. I won’t be able to stay away come December, I tell you. I’m just itching to get back, though I have to admit I’m very pleased with where Pilgrim of the Sky is at the moment.

This is a Sylvan DeLoire chapter and, although I read it a little too fast I think, I’m happy with the outcome. It’s a hybrid that actually includes some of the most recent edits, since I flipped some chapters around a bit for the podcast. The next installments will introduce Ellinora–the aformentioned princess–and get us up to date with Brick and the Order of the Rose.

Thanks, all, for being patient through out this!

I was thrilled to find out that The Aldersgate was reviewed (what’s been podcasted so far) on the Forgotten Classics podcast, episode 59; you can find it here. The review is so kind, and so… well, it certainly has me smiling from ear to ear!

I talk about bards more than, say, the normal person. Though I’m far from a skilled bard myself, the importance of music in my writing can’t be stressed enough. Many writers outline, sketch, plot, sit at desks or in parks or at coffee shops and plan, plan, plan, then plan some more. They fill up notebooks with voluminous notes, details, and references. They know exactly what’s going to happen, and when it’s going to happen.

I am jealous of these people inasmuch as, well, that’s not how I work. I’d love to say that I have a Tome somewhere with all the secrets of The Aldersgate Cycle down to which dress Cora is wearing when she… well, you get the idea. But I don’t. I know where the story is going, I have my first draft for that. But the actual details literally, well, appear.

After the birth of my son, I dealt with a lot of uncomfortable issues, postpartum depression being the big troll in my proverbial closet. The world didn’t seem right to me. Creatively I was devoid of inspiration, physically I was exhausted, and emotionally I was numb. It was a scary time. Any person who’s dealt with depression knows it’s a tricky little bastard, and women who’ve fought through PPD know how much of a thief it is. It’s a special kind of cruelty that robs the mother of those months with her child, at least from a mental standpoint, but that’s not my point, exactly.

When Liam was about three months old I started listening to WCPE. This magical station can be heard all the time, from anywhere, but it happens to be located right here in NC. Though I’d always loved Classical music, I don’t think I’d ever taken the time to really, really listen. To notice the variances, the currents, the melodies that meld and grow, twirl and change.

I would drive to my parents’ house almost every day and listen to the station, and during those 20 minute intervals, thing would appear to me. Scenes, conversations, words forming in front of my eyes like some strange spell. And that’s how I’ve been writing The Aldersgate. Although many of the particulars of which composition I was listening to at the time elude me, I know that the words and music are part of the same Source, whatever that Source really is. It’s a bit like going into a trance, but not so deep that one can’t drive. It’s deep, deep thinking.

Sure, it’s a little unusual. But what’s neat is that, over the last few drives, I’ve been thinking about my NaNoWriMo book–and lo and behold, the first few chapters are already written, in between Brahms and Bach; the first scene, especially, is crystal clear. A New England winter, right after the holidays, when the snow is two feet deep, the snowbanks encrusted with salt and grey with mud; you can hear the trees, then, crackle in their frozen state. That’s where it starts.

Classical music has a bum wrap, unfortunately, especially in the younger generation. Many people believe it’s boring, or old fashioned. I tell you it could not be more untrue. The variety of what can be found in Classical music, from period to period, ensures that, somewhere along the way you’ll likely find something that speaks to you. While Bach has always been a preferred composer of mine, I was surprised one day to hear Samuel Barber for the first time–his Adagio for Strings, Opus 12 played on a rainy day as I made my way to Target, and though the details are mundane, the experience was religious. Seriously. I burst into tears.

Just a suggestion. If you’re out there writing, and you’re stuck, and if you’ve not found something interesting, tune in to WCPE. I’m particularly fond of Deana Vassar and David Ballentyne and their shows “Allegro” and “Rise and Shine” respectively. You may find something surprising there between the notes.

I am still working on recovering from last weekend. I worked on Labor Day, and drove from ATL to NC, and something in my whole rhythm just got completely out of whack. Writing has been difficult, processing has been difficult, just getting going has been difficult. Don’t know what it is exactly. But coupled with the fact that work itself has been going at lightning speed, I’m under the feeling that as quick as the world is passing me by I just can’t grasp on well enough.

Usually I have a great deal more interesting things to say…

Current status of things:

  • Four short stories floating around in various stages of writing, one just about to be polished and sent out. A fifth idea visited me last night and wouldn’t let me sleep. 😛
  • One high fantasy-ish young adult novel in beginning form.
  • One steampunk/graphic novel idea crystallizing, trying to figure out what to do with that…
  • 88,000 of 150,000 edited words in The Aldersgate Cycle.

* – * – *

“And now… now, oh all matter of wonderful things are about to happen, Emry,” said the voice, now hushed and right by his ears. “Every time you call me to you, I grow stronger—stronger. And soon, you and I, we will join together with the others. And we will all dance.”

Mad ScientistMad scientists. Cooky engineers. Lunatic tinkerers. The figure of a maker of some kind is one of those essential ingredients in steampunk literature that, though it thoroughly amuses, often borders on the humorous if not cliche. For dissenters, the folks who think steampunk is ridiculous (though some of the language I’ve seen is considerably more forthright in tone), these characters are often the point of their frustrations. Why? Well, I think as steampunk has grown as a genre of literature–sometimes a part of fantasy and sometimes a part of science-fiction–it’s begun its own long line of stereotypes and archetypes.

While not everyone agrees with me, I tend to see steampunk less as an extension of science fiction and one more of both sci-fi and fantasy. Technology and magic blur anyway (what matters if teleportation is done with microchips or mysterious energy? same idea in the end). Steampunk’s fantastical elements aren’t always magic, either. There’s something to be said about the Victorian or pseudo-Victorian setting that’s as specific as fantasy settings.

To me, the mad tinkerer is much like the wizard in fantasy literature. Sure, it’s a tired archetype. How many sage, white-haired old men can there be, after all? I’ve picked up one too many books, excited at the prospect, only to be disappointed by the wizard character as just another rehashing of Gandalf. Gandalf is great. Just not a million times over.

So, how do we prevent our inventors from becoming hackneyed versions of the Wizard of Oz (there’s a confused genre for you)? Sure, there are plenty of historical analogues for this (from Newton to Einstein), but getting your steampunk tinkerer right means thinking–just slightly–out of gear.

  • The young, half-starved, mad with ideas inventor has been done. Try tweaking the age–maybe the inventor began this later in life, and found a propensity for technology.
  • As above, half-starved and poor? I smell cliche. How about from a normal family? Or a family that is well-to-do but not supportive of tinkering or inventing? Or someone from a religion, like a monk or a nun?
  • When there are female tinkerers, they tend to err on the side of tomboyish. How about a female inventor who’s just as feminine as can be–like someone’s mother? A mother who’s discovered her calling while staying at home with her kids–a true mother of invention!
  • Scientist? Alchemist? Tinkerer? Engineer? If none of these terms work particularly well, use your own. Stuck for ideas? I like the Online Etymology Dictionary, The Indo-European Roots Index, and Old Norse Online. Or, for an easy reference with research already done, there’s always Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book of Names.
  • The ingenue. Don’t have one. Or if you do, at least make an attempt to make her cool.
  • It’s a mad mad mad mad mad mad…. okay. I’m all for eccentricity. But science and madness do not have to go hand in hand.

***

Of course, that’s not to say my advice is law. I don’t even follow it all the time. My own tinkerer is in her 50s, tomboyish, a little person, and certainly a little batty in the brain. You don’t have to knock all the stereotypes to make for a good inventor, but you do have to spend some time thinking about what will set them apart from the crowd.

Behind the goggles, we all need to stand out.