Archive for December, 2012

Reading by Starlight

Sometimes I walk late at night when it’s clear just so I can see the stars.  I stare up at the sky in wonderment and try to find constellations and make up new ones as I go.  It always gives me an odd sensation, like a feather running up my spine, to consider that some of the stars I glimpse are long gone, yet I’m still seeing their light shining just as brightly as it did when they were full-fledged suns.  I’m seeing stars’ ghosts when I see that light.

Star references have been all over for me the last several weeks.  It started when I was reading Miracle in the Andes by Nando Parrado.  He mentions how close the stars seem at one point in his narrative of escaping the Andes on foot after a horrific plane crash.  The passage struck me with its stark beauty, a commentary on the miracle of how these young men survived the harshest conditions and terrain you can imagine for 72 days, the stars their silent witnesses.  As well-written and gripping as Piers Paul Read’s account of the 1972 plane crash and subsequent struggle for survival  is, he still was an outsider to the events.  Read’s book Alive has the objectivity and balance of a good news story, but you will find no passages about stars in it.  I highly recommend both books, read one right after the other if possible.  Parrado’s writing made me cry.

I was staying at a friend’s house over Christmas when I picked up Charles Tazewell’s The Littlest Angel, which I remembered from my childhood but hadn’t read in years.  It choked me up too.  I had forgotten what a bittersweet little story it is.  It has to be the most touching, enchanting explanation for the Star of Bethlehem I’ve ever read. 

Speaking of enchanting, the last book I’ll mention is Thomas Moore’s The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, which is what inspired me to post about stars.  Moore quotes a Passamaquoddy poem on page 315 that made me want to weep too when I read it, the words are so beautiful and mysterious:

“For we are the stars.  For we sing.  For we sing with our light.  For we are birds made of fire.  For we spread our wings over the sky.  Our light is a voice.  We cut a road for the soul for its journey through death.”




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The Next Big Thing, Slightly Modified

I recently got tagged in The Next Big Thing, a chain-letter-promotional thingamajig of sorts that’s traveling on the internet via writers’ blogs.  I’m not a big fan of chain letters–usually I delete them.  Also, it seemed like from the forward I received that they had quite a few fantasy authors already participating and were looking for other genres.   However, the questions piqued my interest.  Also, posting this gives me the opportunity to promote other awesome writers whose blogs I follow.  Please, if you’re one of the writers/bloggers whose website I mention below, don’t feel as if you’ve been tagged and have to repost  and answer these questions on your own blog (unless, of course, you find the whole thing interesting like I did and wish to participate.)

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Okay, I’m already going off script here.  I don’t want to talk about my next book (or series rather), as I’ve just started it, and for me, talking about it too much at the beginning stages is like opening the oven when you’re trying to bake popovers.  For those of you who have never made popovers, if you disturb them mid-baking, instead of getting puffed, flaky, crusty bits of wonderful-ness dripping butter, you get flat, doughy lumps.  So I’m going to talk about the series I just finished instead.  The title of my finished series is The Landers Saga, which includes four rather lengthy novels (The Witch Awakening, Tapestry Lion, Phoenix Ashes, and The Curious Fear of High and Lonely Places) and one novella entitled Fledgling Witch.

2) Where did the idea come from for the series?
Not sure exactly–a lot of places, I suspect.  It was a long time ago, when I was fourteen or so.  I do remember walking along the road and a character named Dominic appearing in my thoughts.  He started telling me about his family, the House of Landers, and it was such juicy gossip that I ended up writing it down so I wouldn’t forget it.  The story kept evolving from that point, my own personal soap opera, new ideas coming to me when I was walking, driving, working, showering, cooking, talking to my pets, talking to my friends, talking to my characters, cleaning, sitting in class, reading.  I have a lot of practice manuscript hidden and moldering in my basement.  One of these practice books I burned when I was eighteen–it was that awful.  Friends came over, and we roasted marshmallows over its smoldering corpse.  Eventually, the story became about the generation before Dominic’s.  I did have the really nifty, somewhat scary experience of waking up one morning in November 2009 with the pivotal scene of the whole series playing in my head like a movie.  I knew then how many books were going to be in the series and had a roughed-out overall series story arc–all in a moment’s time.  I don’t remember what I dreamed that night.  What fascinates me is that I already had The Witch Awakening and Tapestry Lion written at that point, and when I went back and re-read them, I realized that there was a ton of imagery and symbolism that pointed to the serie’s pivotal scene, that my subconscious and intuition had been guiding my writing process long before my conscious mind was aware of it.

3) What genre does your series fall under?
Historical Fantasy Love Story Family Saga.  Something like that.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Okay, another off-script moment.  Hearing other people reading my writing out loud, hearing myself read my writing out loud, bothers me immensely.  I’m one of those people who cringes when I hear my own voice on the answering machine, so I guess I’m just overly self-conscious?  Anyway, I think it would be amazing if someone wanted to make a movie from my books.  However, I don’t know if I could bring myself to watch it when it was completed.  Hence, I haven’t really thought much about actors who could play the different characters.  However, there are several directors whose work I admire, so if one of them could direct the movie, that would be awesome just so I could meet these visionaries, a list which includes:  Christopher Nolan (I especially love The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception), Nora Ephron (who sadly is no longer with us), Ang Lee, Peter Jackson, Clint Eastwood (I was upset that my dad, who introduced me to Clint Eastwood movies, passed away before Gran Torino came out–he would have loved it), and Steven Spielberg (Catch Me if You Can is one of my all-time favorite films.)

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your series?
Love defies family, king, religion, even death itself in a skewed Renaissance world of witch burnings, swordfights, and court intrigue.

6) Will your series be self-published or represented by an agency?
Self-published.  This question makes me want to get on my soapbox for a moment.  I dodged a bullet, frankly, avoiding literary agents and the traditional publishing industry, which I feel has gotten so over-commercialized and focused on the bottom line that most fresh ideas soon wither in the arid sands of a corporate desert wasteland (notice I said most, not all–there are many great books out there now that are traditionally published.  I’m just saying I don’t credit a book’s greatness with its publisher–I credit it with its author.)  If you want to read a good book about this issue, I recommend John David Rose’s Rescuing Capitalism from Corporatism.  I like Rose’s argument because he separates small businesses and newer, smaller corporations (usually still being run by their founders, who have a vision they want to bring to the masses, like Henry Ford or Walt Disney or Jeff Bezos) from the larger, older corporations (where profits are everything because the founder has moved on and taken his vision with him).  Being the daughter of two small-business owners/artists and now technically a business-of-one owner myself, I hate arguments that lump all businesses and entrepreneurs together.  It’s a complicated issue, one vital for our economy, and so I won’t go into it any more here.  Let me suffice it to say that in the current market, some great writers will self-publish and other great writers will find traditional publishers, and in the long run, it won’t matter as long as their books end up in the hands of readers and the authors get a fair income for their work.   Anyway, I had some very nice correspondence with individual agents and publishers before I went the self-publishing route.  I pinned these letters on my office walls–now I’ve covered them up with very inspiring e-mails from enthusiastic readers, which I like far better than even the kindest rejection letter.  That’s really what it’s all about for me–my readers, who support my work with their money and time.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my readers.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It takes me a year or so to write the rough draft of a novel.  Tapestry Lion took longer than the others because from about 2004 to 2008, my personal life was a tornado of stress, death, mental hell, and destruction (which probably influenced Tapestry Lion and its successors quite a bit–The Witch Awakening is from a more innocent, happier time in my life.)  I am grateful now for those years; the tragedies shaped my determination to see my series finished and my books in print.  Also, there were some awesome bits, like becoming friends with my step-mother, my niece’s wedding, going to Norway, etc, and so forth.  Oh, I’ve rambled off-question again.  Sorry.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I really want to skip this question.  I could give you some silly, made-up answer, but I won’t, not here on my own blog.  I guess my inability to answer this stems from my inability to think about books I enjoy this way, except maybe in a college literature class.  How, for instance, can you compare Tolkien to another fantasy writer?  He’s just Tolkien–either you love his books or you don’t.  I will say I was inspired to write by many authors and their works, including Tolkien’s incomparable The Lord of the Rings, but most of the other authors who inspired me wouldn’t be classified in the fantasy genre:  Susan Howatch, Alexandre Dumas, the Bronte sisters, I can go on and on.  Pretty much any book I’ve ever read has had some influence on me for good or ill.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this series?
My love of all things Renaissance.  The Renaissance, that European marriage between the faith of the Middle Ages and the rationalism of the Modern Age–what an enchanting period of history to play with in a fantasy setting!  And I’ve always wanted to write a love story.  Though it may shock some of my friends who haven’t read my books, I’m a bit of a romantic.  My favorite love stories are the ones where the two main characters evolve and grow together–I think the most interesting part of any romance is after the wedding, when two people actually try to build a life together.  I credit my parents’ example for this inspiration.   My parents met in a bar and married two months later and were happily married for 31 years before Mom passed away (Dad, a tough Merchant Marine, tenderly nursed Mom for the last two years of her life–it about broke my heart to see them together like that.) They knew relatively soon after they met that they were destined to be together–they were both very intuitive people and had enough life experience/independence to recognize a lightning bolt when it hit them.  They weathered a lot of challenges during their marriage, and their beautiful example of true devotion will be with me always.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
 I put fiction writers into three basic categories:  plot-inspired, theme-inspired, and character-inspired.  None of these approaches is better or worse than the others; it’s all in what works for the individual writer in question.  I’ve always most enjoyed reading character-driven books, and hence, those are the kind of books I like to write.  And I feel, as a character-inspired author, that my job is to talk to my characters, get to know them, and then do my best to convey their essence on the page.  My job is not to put my words in their mouths, even if some of the things they tell me upset me.  My job is not to plan out their actions for them, even if some of the things they do upset me.  The last thing I want is for a reader to be able to guess my politics or my religion from my fiction.  I have friends from many different walks of life and with very diverse points of view on a wide variety of topics.  I find my friends to be interesting and good-hearted people, and when I don’t agree with one of my friends on a particular topic, I figure that my friend has his or her perspective for a good reason and usually let it go at that.  I feel the same way about my characters–I may not agree with them on occasion, but they’re entitled to their points of view without any interference from me.  I’m just here to transcribe what they tell me into a form that you can read, a form that will hopefully entertain you.

Now for the fun part of this post:  links!

Martha McMullen has written a wonderful memoir of growing up on the home front during and after World War II, centered around her family’s beloved classic “Woodie” car: Learn more at Martha’s website

Most excellent writer Cheryl Dietrich, who served in the Air Force for twenty years, has just launched a fascinating blog about her experiences as an officer and a lady: Learn more at Cheryl’s website

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and her husband Dean Wesley Smith, best-selling novelists, former editors, and bloggers extraordinaire, amaze me with the amount of writing and other stuff they do. I suspect they don’t sleep. I would recommend any fiction writer considering publishing, self-publishing, etc., to check out their blogs for some no-nonsense, very current advice on an industry that changes hourly and adds new pitfalls for the unwary (or at least that’s how it seems to this very little fish in a very big pond):   Learn more at Kristine’s website         Learn more at Dean’s website

 One of my best friends, Ron, has suffered “a long night of the soul” to emerge triumphant from the darkness and now intends to study for the priesthood. I’m so proud of him and would like to share his blog where he writes about his spiritual journey: Learn more at Ron’s website

Magaly Guerrero e-mailed me a couple years ago–she was interested in all things witchy and my books got her attention. I found myself charmed by her on-line persona in her blog about Pagan culture and fantasy fiction: Learn more at Magaly’s website

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