On Missing the Method (but Increasing the Madness)

Greetings, fellow writerly denizens of the interwebs. It’s been a while since I last wrote to you, partially because of the (relatively) new schedule and partially because of a chaotic combination of work, random trips to Berlin, holiday prep (we celebrate several days of Christmas here in Poland…the actual celebration/vacation part can last up to 3 weeks!), and sheer exhaustion from all of the above. I have also, during this time, been working on my novel, and been making quite slow progress, at that. I have encountered a new problem in this particular process, and so I come to you, dear fellow tortured souls, to seek solace and suggestions for success (Eru, I adore alliteration).

berlin
I spent 2 days wandering around here.

I have a very particular and carefully structured way of writing. By that, I mean that I compulsively have to write from start to finish, with everything in its proper order. This was true in my university days as well, where I wrote all of my 500+ essays from introduction to conclusion, and never in any other order. The very thought of starting in the middle of a story or an essay and then coming back to write the introduction bits later is enough to send me into a panic attack. Anyway, that method, flawed though it may be, is not the problem at this particular moment in time. No, my problem instead comes from breaking my adherence to that method and finding myself in a great deal of trouble as a result.

structure
Forever my watchword.

After getting the prologue and a full chapter of the novel written, I suddenly found myself with three complete scenes in my head that should take place around the climax of the book, scenes in which several important plot points happen. These three scenes are chronological to each other, but don’t belong anywhere near what I had previously written. They popped into my head so vividly that all I could do for several days was think through, analyze, and tweak them. I wanted to write them down, but about 98% of my soul screamed in agony at the thought. I took the problem to my proofreader, our very own Tom, and as his writing process is radically different from mine, he suggested I ignore my inner structure demons and try writing the scenes down anyway. After that, I could lock them away and then ignore them until the rest of my very structured and quite chronological writing got to that point. I agonized over it for a week before I finally told said inner demons to go to hell (so to speak), and I wrote down those scenes in a mad rush, as if my paycheck depended upon it (which sadly, it does not). They were absolutely exquisite (although 2 of them are now out of date and will need a great deal of revising in the future). I’m very proud of the work I did. However, the problem I now have to contend with is that having written those exciting scenes, I’ve run out of writerly energy to get much further now that I’m back working on chapter two. The wheel of writing is turning, but the hamster of creativity is dead, and I don’t know necromancy. Anyone have any ideas for how to get my plot back on track?

Writing While Wandering the World

I hope you all took the time to appreciate my awesome and aesthetically alliterative appellation for this post. Anyways, greetings from Poznań, Poland! I safely arrived here on Sunday evening (well, evening for me…it would have been late morning/early afternoon for those of y’all in the States). It was a long and glorious trip that involved 18 hours in New York’s JFK airport, a very cold layover in Moscow, frenetic dashing through two separate and highly confusing train stations in Berlin with 100 pounds of luggage, and my first ever ride on a European train as I departed Germany for Poland. I traveled through four countries in three days, and needless to say, I practically passed out from joy of arrival and exhaustion from carrying everything when I arrived, so thank you Lorien, for taking over my post for Tuesday whilst I recovered 😀

My response to finally getting here.
My response to finally getting here.

During the three day journey, I thoroughly intended to actually get some creative writing done. Ever since I got the job offer about 5 weeks ago, I’d been so overwhelmed with moving preparations and paperwork that the only writing time I had went into my posts for the Art of Writing and for my personal travel blog. Other than that, I had absolutely no energy for writing, so my poor novel had been eagerly anticipating the travel time as a period in which I would have time to work on it again. What the book didn’t consider was that even though three plane trips, three long layovers, and one three-hour train trip give you plenty of *time*, they leave you without much energy (and usually leave your computer in the same condition if the planes, trains, and automobiles don’t have electrical outlets), so physical writing isn’t always an option.

That, and you get distracted by all the random Russian words in the plane.
That, and you get distracted by all the random Russian words in the plane.

At the same time, however, I knew I also needed to get some work done on my novel so that I could actually get some pages written out once I recovered from the journey itself. Also, my characters tend to throw temper tantrums and get into trouble when I neglect them for too long, and I don’t want them trying to unionize like the last batch did. That…didn’t end well, let’s say. *shudders* The compromise I reached with myself on this issue was that I would do some of the mental work that would facilitate later writing. I’m an internal processor, meaning that  work through things in my head, constantly examining and dissecting them to figure out where they fit and what I need to do with them. It can be quite helpful when it comes to writing. In each location I went to on this trip, I ended up working on a different element of my book. In Phoenix, Arizona, where the journey began, I did some mental outlining of where I need my next chapter to go. In the JFK airport in New York, I fought a courageous battle against the urge to revise some later chapters I wrote a few weeks ago instead of working on the next chapters that needed to be written (I won, though the fight was bloody and the victory came at great cost – more on that in another post). Moscow, Russia, was the site of some social hierarchy construction, while Berlin inspired some ruminations on the necessity of a writing plan for once I get settled. Now that I am here in Poznań, I am back to work on the actual writing of my chapters (one of which should be done relatively soon), and I am resisting the urge to call myself the World Wide Writer. If I didn’t already have a title for my blog, that’s what I’d go for 😀 The process of writing my novel has officially gone global! And now it’s time for me to get back to work on it.

Returning to old story ideas: The Court of Wonders

Hello, internet!

It was nice to see that my post from last week encouraged such vigorous debate in the comment section. I’m planning to write a whole series of posts on the ethics of violence in fantasy fiction, and I look forward to seeing everyone’s views on future posts as well, but – alas –  various things stole my time this week and stopped me from writing an immediate follow-up.

Instead, I hope you will accept the offering of a little glimpse into a world that I came up with a few years ago outside a castle in Germany. I think a lot of fantasy writers will sometimes conjure up an idea for a setting which they love, and which sticks with them, even if they never actually knuckle down and write more than a few stories set in that world. This is one of those worlds, which has been on my back-burner for a while, lurking in a dusty desktop folder with a collection of other half-worlds, tempting me to abandon whatever book or series I’m writing and dive back into it. This little scene is the kind of thing that happens when I do. I hope you enjoy!


Canis Castrum

The court of Sherrington, the self-styled king of the landless masses, filled the valley. March thought that it must once have been a great city of the old empire. The streets were sheltered by a patchwork of many-coloured awnings and tarpaulins, rising like circus tents over the bazaars, but beneath the sea of drapery were the bones of grand old buildings. Whichever country had claimed this city as its capital must have suffered greatly in the war, though few people – if any – still knew or cared which side it had fought on, or why. Such thoughts were very unfashionable in Sherrington’s court. He was known to sit atop a golden throne in a great library, surrounded by trees that had grown in the sunlight which came down through a large hole in the domed ceiling, a hole made by some huge mortar shell during the worst of the fighting after the lines broke and the war ran wild. The landless masses barely noticed the old ruins anymore. They danced in the fallen masonry, read palms and sold trinkets from stalls built amongst the rubble, and slept in common dens in the attics of bombed townhouses after nights of drunken revelry. Sherrington threw famous parties in the former halls of Archdukes and Grand Palatines whose titles had healthily expired.

March felt hungry, but he didn’t know if it was real hunger or mere longing to be in the court again. He strained his senses to compete with the sounds and smells of the Amberline, the throaty beat of her Maybach engines and the synthetic smell of luftgas as Aurélie vented the gasbags, sacrificing precious buoyancy for their long descent towards the aerodrome. March longed for the scent of spice and the nasal sound of gourd flutes, the murmur of mingled tongues for miles around him. Down there, beneath the gaudy covers of the streets below, the light on the old walls and the colours of a hundred faces changed from blue to green to orange with the passing of the hours, as the sun passed through the sky and shone through different sheets of silk. March stood on the portside gondola catwalk, wind in his hair, rapping his cracked knuckles on the railings and itching with impatience. He knew that the crew were as eager as he was to to peel back the rainbow covers and lose themselves in the backstreets of the Court of Wonders, filling their lungs with the sweetness of incense, running their hands over spools of fabrics that they couldn’t afford. Little Minnie couldn’t wait to feast her eyes upon the street dancers, the fire breathers, the sword eaters and snake charmers. Gunny Mac, Wuthers and the other gasbag hands were more interested in the city’s thriving trade in food, wines and women from beyond the Eastern Weld. Aditaya was determined to scrounge some new cam bearings from somewhere, even though she knew that the court didn’t offer much in the way of airship parts. March smiled at the thought of her rifling through baskets of fine cloth in search of treasures smeared in axle grease.

Something weaved between his boots, and March sniffed with mirth. He knelt, hearing his bones creak, and scooped up Nudnik before he had a chance to live up to his name. The Amberline was mere minutes from tethering up and yawing in, and somebody might kick the poor cat overboard during the routine chaos. They were already circling the aerodrome, waiting for one of the monks on the ground to toddle over and run a red flag up the mast, giving his blessing for the ship to approach. March cradled the cat in an affectionate silence, scratching the back of it’s neck in the way it liked, and listening to it purr. Wheels turned in his head. Once the Amberline had tied down and her cargo of ermine pelt was sold, he would have no pressing business in the city. It had been a long flight down from the Rus, with foul weather and sparse comforts onboard. And it had been too long since he had surrendered himself to the warm embrace of chance and joined a band of strangers for a midnight carousel through the court’s innumerable drinking holes. He would dance, he would laugh, he would eat curried goat, perhaps he would even find a willing young man to spend the small hours with. He fancied that he wasn’t too old, yet, for that sort of thing. Not quite. Sunlight would find him in an unknown garret full of scented hammocks and divans, to spend the morning around a hookah pipe, drinking green tea and trading philosophies with new friends. Then he could return to the ship with his spirit renewed, and decide where they would fly next.


Image credit: The Foreign Market by Rhys Griffiths

Major Life Changes: Balancing Packing and Writing

mapTo say that the last few days have been a whirlwind of insanity would be an understatement. Last Monday, I was contacted about an interview for a job I really wanted. Less than 24 hours later, I was being interviewed for that job and was given a tentative offer; 42 hours beyond that, and I was offered a position as an Instructor of English with Berlitz in Poznań, Poland, starting at the beginning of October. “Did you accept?” you may very well ask, at which point I will stare at you incredulously, because of course I took the job. It would be ridiculously stupid of me not to. Anyway, factoring in the time I’d need to get settled and start my job training, it became clear that I have a little under 5 weeks to prepare, pack, and relocate. Everything since Thursday has thus been a hectic mess of logistics and suitcase-wrangling.

The sad and unintended side-effect of this major life change has been that I don’t have time to write. I finished another chapter of my novel about a week and a half ago, and I was working at full steam on the next one when the world turned upside down and and inside out (albeit in the best possible way). When I do have a few moments to sit down and not work on a list or comb through paperwork, I’m too mentally tired to actually get any of my creative writing done. My characters are currently complaining that I’m never around, but one day they’ll understand that I’m doing this for them so that they can have better opportunities and maybe a European castle some day. Anyways, I just cannot brain enough to work on my novel, but I can’t just stop writing while I’m relocating. So I’ve developed a system to keep myself consistently in the writing game (and, incidentally, keep me from stressing out too much). I have to take at least 15 minutes a day to write on *something,* whatever that may be. I started a travel blog that I’m currently updating daily, I write my posts for The Art of Writing, and occasionally I will write out one of my famous rants about something nerd-related (usually Doctor Who, to be honest, but you all probably knew that). The point is, despite all the insanity around me, I’m still making myself write. And when I’m flying from the Arizona desert to Poland next month, maybe I will have the time and energy to get back to my novel and my poor neglected characters. But for now, it’s a start.

Sunday Picture Post

So, last night was the celebration of a friend’s birthday and we all went to a restaurant that serves a combination of burgers and sushi… it was interesting, and very good. A lot of the stuff on the menu was some kind of fusion of the two types of food, and there were some surprising combinations. I had what amounted to a sushi sandwich with ‘buns’ made out of spring roll wraps filled with sushi rice and crab meat and then briefly cooked to harden the wrap. Anyway, as you all know, we like to take Sundays off. However, in honor of our dinner last night, I went and found this:

Ninja Burger! Your food in thirty minutes or less... or we commit seppuku!
Ninja Burger! Your food in thirty minutes or less… or we commit seppuku!

Inspiration from the Beach

629047.TIFWell, I finally graduated from college! Now I have time to write. And, for the first time in eight long years, go on a real vacation. I’m currently on day 8 of my two weeks vacation at Myrtle Beach, and it’s been pretty fantastic. It really is beautiful out here, and I’ve been inspired to do some creative writing, different pieces based on the different things I’ve experienced here. Therefore, I’m going to talk a little bit about the major bursts of inspiration I’ve received during the past few days.

First off, the beach itself has always been a major source of inspiration for me. I’m very much a water spirit, as some of you may remember from an earlier post on the subject. I can’t write very well when I’m away from water, and the ocean provides a veritable well of creativity for me, so to speak. Just looking at the sand and the water and the waves and the horizon where the sky melds into the sea gets my vocabulary flowing. Most of the time, as in this case, it inspires poetry. The poem is a work in progress, and it will probably not be finished until I have to leave. I may share it with y’all at some point in the next few weeks.

beachSeveral times this week, my boyfriend and I have gone out walking to look for shells. I found several very interesting ones, including a conch, some really smooth sea snail shells, a purple sea urchin with all the spines missing, and two unbroken sand dollars. I very much enjoy looking for shells, and this particular activity is relaxing enough to let me think clearly whilst I work. My Master’s thesis, currently in progress, involves mythology, and my shell-searching jaunts actually inspired something of that nature. I recently wrote my own myth, influenced by Ancient Greek mythology, involving a sea god of my own creation, and the bringing into existence of the first mermaid. Shell hunting for some reason gets me into an old fashioned frame of mind, and so I find myself writing myths and such things during these times.

My final major piece of work during this vacation stems from a late night 2 1/2 mile walk along the shore, plus the influence of a storm I witnessed earlier this afternoon. I love the dark and I love storms, which is probably one reason why I love Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft so much. The story I’m currently working on is definitely influenced by those two authors, and storms and darkness abound. I do my best writing at night or in a storm, and an evening storm at the beach couldn’t be any more perfect. I wish I could live here, I really do. I think I’d get a great deal more writing here, thanks to the perfect combination of my inspirational factors. And who knows? I may get even more writing done over the next few days. Where are the best places for you to write?

Water Song

Aldeyjarfoss in Iceland.
Aldeyjarfoss in Iceland.

Latina author Sandra Cisneros often referred to her short stories as “lazy poems” – brief works that were very imagery heavy and had a real flow to them but didn’t quite rhyme. I often write such lazy poems to express feelings I can’t describe any other way. So today, I’m going to share one of those creative nonfiction “lazy poems” with you. Enjoy!

…………………………………………………………..

I can’t get it out of my head. That song – it’s always there. Babbling beauty, crashing cacophony, thundering torment. The harmony changes but the melody always stays the same. It’s a melody of emotion. Longing, happiness, pain, anger, despair, peace, joy, and emotions no one can ever quite give a name to. All bound up in one song. Different parts of the melody become stronger, depending on where I am. But I always know that it’s the same song. It’s my song – a song inside my head that forms me, shapes, destroys me and reshapes me, awakens feelings and desires I’ve never known inside myself before. I used to resist, but it never works. The music wears away all barriers, erodes resistance, floods my mind. My song is the song of water, and I am consumed.

My first memory of the song is from when I was very small. It’s my first ever memory. I was playing outside in the yard when I heard it. That melody that I can never quite explain – content and happy this time. The harmonies were gentle and sweet, a medley of harps and violins that reverberated through my head and made me get up and dance. Some days later, when my father took me into the woods a short distance away, we crossed a small stream, and I knew it. I knew the stream. It was as if the water itself had taken up residence inside my head, playing that song from days ago. Every little nuance of the music played itself out in my mind as I watched the stream skip past me, sweetly laughing and begging me to play. It was a moment of pure terror and unadulterated wonder that has somehow never quite dissipated.

 

Irish river. Picture credit to flickr.
Irish river. Picture credit to flickr.

The song never left, just got stronger. Deeper, not louder, as if it just wanted to be the background music to my life and not the main attraction. I’ve followed it my whole life. It’s never exactly the same from place to place. It’s fluid, always changing. But some things never change. The melody never does. And each body has a basic harmony that I can always recognize. Land-locked lakes are placid, soft flutes lulling me to rest and contemplation on a warm afternoon. Stream-fed lakes have more life, with sweet pianos joining in the harmony in a contented song that brightens the world. Rivers are fiddles and bagpipes and bass, lively and exotic, always rushing along, soaring on a medley that almost screams adventure. I have never been as happy as when standing on the banks of the Krossá as it danced in my soul and consumed my every thought. Oceans crash and roar in deep brass and powerful drum beats that threaten to overwhelm even the melody itself. Rain is cleansing, soft piano notes that draws out pain and washes it away, healing the soul.

The Krossá river, flowing from the waterfall of the same name.
The Krossá river, flowing from the waterfall of the same name.

Dead water hurts. The Mississippi River cries out in anguish, doleful cellos singing a dirge as the life of the river is slowly muddied and ebbed away. Stagnant pools are harsh, with clashing saxophone and electric guitar, screeching in anger. What hurts the most is pipe water, tap water, water that is not alive. It’s empty. No harmonies, just a melody of solemnity. It tears the heart to listen to it.

The melody is always in my head, the harmony shifts depending on the kind of water I am closest to. The song is strongest at the epicenter, emotions are at their height there. When I was young and foolish, I tried to escape it, sealing myself off where no water could be heard. The song died inside my head and I felt my soul begin to shrivel away with it. I could feel nothing, no emotion, no pain. Just emptiness and longing. It became too much for me to bear and I had to return. I’ve accepted it now. It’s part of me. I seek it out, thriving where it flows, where I can hear it most clearly. It makes me alive. I can’t bear to be without it. I have the greatest love for the oceans and the rivers. The ocean’s power intoxicates, envelops, motivates. It reawakens my imagination and drives me to stronger feelings that I can’t ever explain. The river tugs at my heart and carries me along in its own curious way. I could be happy living next to either of them.

Right now I hear the river song. It’s killing me, right now. Reawakened desires for adventures, longings for a place I have been, calling to the gypsy girl to come dance into a new world that I’ve never seen. It hurts, enough to make me weep, but I can’t pull myself away from it. I am overcome by the song and I must go, I have to, I cannot resist. The river is calling. I need to follow. I am not my own.

I’ve heard tales of olden times where nymphs bore the children of men. Perhaps, somewhere, that lineage is part of me. Maybe that’s where the song comes from. But it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is the music, the melody and harmonies of endless sweet water that is the spring of my own life. I cannot be parted from it, and I never wish to be so. My song is the song of water, and I am consumed.

So I Went to Oregon and Met the Doctor

Well, this past week, I went to Portland,  Oregon for an academic conference. It was great fun – a bunch of English-y academic types presenting papers on everything from “Tracing Monomyth in Homer and Harry Potter” to “Sexuality in Doctor Who” to “Celtic Mythology in the Lion King.” We also went around and explored Portland a bit – since I’ve never been on the West Coast before, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anyway, we got back really late last night due to bad weather (6 inches of snow, Virginia, really?), and today’s been rather hectic. So for this post, I thought I’d share some of my conference pictures and give a few brief descriptions of what happened. Enjoy!

My companions for the long flight: Rory the penguin, an iPod full of awesome music, and my favorite Star Trek anthology.
My companions for the long flight: Rory the penguin, an iPod full of awesome music, and my favorite Star Trek anthology.
034
Portland things!
Powell's bookstore - this place spans an entire city block and has floor to ceiling bookcases.
Powell’s bookstore – this place spans an entire city block and has floor to ceiling bookcases.
Can I create my own Cthulhu?
Can I create my own Cthulhu?
He exists! The Doctor is real! And I met him.
He exists! The Doctor is real! And I met him.
From Voodoo Doughnut, the best doughnut shop in the US.
From Voodoo Doughnut, the best doughnut shop in the US.

A Tribute to the Muse

Also, did I mention that the Muse has the prettiest baristas you'll ever meet?
Also, did I mention that the Muse has the prettiest baristas you’ll ever meet?

Well, it looks like someone forgot their post for today. But, that’s okay because I’ve been wanting to write a post about The Muse for a little while now. For those of you who aren’t in to know, the Muse is far and away the best coffee shop in Lynchburg. It also happens to be my home away from home. I’m there most every day either writing or grading… or you know… just hanging out. Anyway, the Muse definitely has the best coffee in Lynchburg, not to mention by far the best atmosphere and the friendliest people. If you’re ever in Lynchburg I recommend stopping in for a coffee and a quick bite (did I also mention that they have great sandwiches and some of the best soup I’ve ever had? I recommend the sausage, kale, and potato soup if they have it). Anyway, I wanted to give all of you a glimpse into one of my favorite places. If you live in Lynchburg then you probably know that the Muse is just about as close to the perfect place as you can find. It’s easy to work in, but it’s also not hard to find some good conversation, new friends, and lots of smiles.

A little look inside the best coffee shop on earth.
A little look inside the best coffee shop on earth.
One of the Baristas had just a little trouble with the whole smiling thing. It's okay though, it only happens when you take her picture.
One of the Baristas had just a little trouble with the whole smiling thing. It’s okay though, it only happens when you take her picture.
This lovely little lady is getting married, and I just wanted to say congratulations... you know... again.
This lovely little lady is getting married, and I just wanted to say congratulations… you know… again.
It doesn't take much time for the staff of the Muse to become your friends.
It doesn’t take much time for the staff of the Muse to become your friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The people here work hard to make sure that everything's just right.
The people here work hard to make sure that everything’s just right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And they're always happy to help!
And they’re always happy to help!

 

 

And they aren't the only ones.
And they aren’t the only ones.
The Muse is full of awesome people.
The Muse is full of awesome people.

The Unviewed Stories

So, despite all of our posts on different ways to defeat writer’s block, sometimes words refuse to connect.  No matter how long you sit and ponder different avenues, you cannot get your thoughts to form manageable meanings.  At least not meanings that another mind could decipher.  So, when this happens, as it is doing now, I go back to fount of comfort.  As I told Tobias today, I love books and written works, but my soul is currently craving music and visual art.  So, as per my usual when I can’t get to an art museum, I visit “The Artchive.” 

Browsing through the sidebar of various artists and genres, I perused my favorites: Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassatt, Kandinsky.  But, for tonight, my soul cried out for another of my all-time favorites.  Van Gogh.

Now, I know Van Gogh may seem like a cliched choice.  Next to da Vinci, Raphael, and the other Ninja Turtles, he’s one of the most popular artists in the popular world.  But, that doesn’t make him any less great.  Everything from his color palettes to his brush strokes demand attention.

So, here’s the uber-famous “The Starry Night” currently in exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in NY. (1889)

In this piece, the direction of the brush strokes speak more about faith than most crucifixion pieces.

 

Now, here’s “Trees in the Asylum Garden.”  Van Gogh actually spent time at an asylum.  In many ways, art was his therapy.  In many ways, he was a pre-cursor to literature’s Sylvia Plath.  Do you see any bits of the writer we know in the painter’s piece? What do the colors and stroke directions say in this piece? Faith, chaos, healing? (1889)

 

Thisone is “Road with Cypress and Star.”  Similar to “The Starry Night” it has an elegance to its natural simplicity. There’s balance and symmetry through colors and object focus.  Yet, the symmetry is essentially asymmetrical. The strokes are used to provide unity instead of dissonance.  Notice how they work together in cyclical manners.  (1890)

Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

 

Now, the last one is one of my favorites.  The vibrant colors play against each other.  Drawing eyes here and there.  Adding interest to the focus of the work. (1888)

Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller, Otterlo

 

These are my loves.  These are the stories my soul retires to in times of exhaustion.  My mind flees to this streetway filled with couples strolling and diners dining among the star-lit sky.