A Weekend, A Sketch

Long weekends don’t mean too much to me, generally; I always have Mondays off. Brother came up from Massachusetts on Friday evening, though, and stayed with me and Brackett through yesterday. We checked out the newly renovated Dogfish Bar and Grill for lunch yesterday (I can recommend the 128 Free Street Sandwich) and then Brother and Brackett picked up some vinyl and a few Super Nintendo games at the Electrcic Buddhas nostalgia shop around the corner. They proceeded to beat Goof Troop in under two hours—a game that had seemed impossibly difficult when I was a child. Brother headed up to our parents house yesterday evening, and I’m following in a few hours. Sadly, I have to return my mother’s car. It was easier for her to leave the vehicle with me last weekend than for us to figure out the logistics of her and my father dropping me and another friend off in Portland on their way home from the retreat in separate cars in time for a scheduled event back home. It’s been really nice having wheels for a few days.

I can’t share the painting I was telling you about last weekend yet. I’m really happy with how that’s turning out, but it’s not quite done. My week was subsumed by another worthy project (yes I did make art during the week this week, though it was for a different purpose [an exciting one!] than my usual stuff) so I haven’t made too much more headway on that painting or my other digital art. I did make a sketch yesterday that I finished today, though, so I’m sharing that instead. I’m working on an illustration for the picnic scene in Chapter 4 (Wanderlust Chapter 4: City of Shadows) and right now I’m planning where everyone’s sitting and what they’re doing. I’m hoping to round up some friends to shoot reference photos this week (friends in Portland: I need about two more models for a picnic scene—let me know if you want to help!), so it will be good to know what poses I’m looking for ahead of time. I’m thinking Vanya will be in the background of the scene taking a swig of his drink. I realized I’d never drawn that before, so I did the following sketch as a study, using some stock photos as reference.

Screen Shot 2014-05-25 at 10.42.29 AM

Finding a Rhythm

Happy Fourth!

As you’ve noticed, I’ve been pretty remiss in my blog duties lately. I think I’ve reached a turning point, though, and I’m working my way back to a place where I can fit all the old things I know I enjoy into my new routine.

Speaking of routine, and my new job, I was on the news! I don’t say anything in the video, but there’s a bunch of shots of me driving my bus. I happened to be pulling into the garage at just the moment Channel 8 was looking for a bus in which to ride around the block and shoot video.

http://www.wmtw.com/news/maine/shuttle-between-lakes-region-portland-coming-this-summer/-/8792012/20804372/-/p8i4pf/-/index.html

I drew this sketch of Vanya yesterday (featured at end of post). A few days ago, I began playing the harp again after a truly intolerable break (I think it was a whole month). Soon, I’ll start re-working Wanderlust again. Lady Higg gave me a lot of things to think about in her Wanderlust review, and right now I’m not quite sure in which direction to take things, and how far to go. These are problems I’m going to have to attack pretty soon. Maybe this weekend. I’ll tell you more when I can. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves this independence day; I’m certainly looking forward to the fireworks tonight.

Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 3.00.40 PM

Vanya Snapshot: High School Chorus

This is a behind-the-scenes post. It gives away more of Vanya’s past than I am usually comfortable sharing—but I really wanted to share it anyway. I will be especially grateful for your thoughts in the comments section today.

I attended a high school music concert a few nights ago that featured middle school and high school chorus and band. There was one very small, skinny kid in the High School Chorus with a mop of dark brown hair that completely obscured his eyes when he looked down, although when he looked up he smiled a bright smile. From far away, he didn’t look like a high school freshman; he could have been eight. And he reminded me of Vanya.

A sketchy-sketch of how Vanya may have looked at 15, all dressed up for his high school concert and staring down at his shoes.

A sketchy-sketch of how Vanya may have looked at 15, all dressed up for his high school concert and staring down at his shoes.

Vanya left home when he was fifteen, just a few months into his freshman year of high school. While listening to this concert, I wondered how Vanya’s experience with the high school music program might have gone during the short time he was there. I like to imagine the school was large enough to have a pedal harp sitting around somewhere that Vanya played in the orchestra, which went fairly well because he sat in the back, and hid behind the giant instrument. But how about that chorus concert?

He probably wouldn’t have auditioned for the big solo. He probably would have known that he couldn’t handle that kind of commitment and pressure. But what if the kid who did get the solo was sick on the day of the show? Or drunk? Maybe Vanya saved the day, and sang that solo so perfectly that the audience cried and cheered. Maybe afterwards, they tried to tell him how beautiful he was, all of them, parents and teachers and classmates, crowding around him and shouting congratulations at him in the hallway after the show, overwhelming him with so much praise and admiration that he couldn’t breathe. Maybe that’s when he ran. Or maybe… maybe he did audition for the big solo. Maybe he sang it so perfectly at the audition that the director awarded it to him with hardly any deliberation at all, and the choice was so obvious that even the slighted upperclassmen couldn’t be angry. And when the big night came, maybe he just couldn’t do it. Maybe Vanya showed up drunk, or ran away right before they drew the curtain, and instead of his angelic voice the audience heard only silence, and the whispered confusion of a high school choir that had depended on that beautiful, blonde-haired boy. Either way it happened, I like to think his mother found him hours later in a McDonald’s parking lot, sitting on the wood chips beneath a strangled-looking tree and kicking his heels against the curb. She convinced him to get in the car, and when she saw the wet tears on his cheek she prayed that the Blessed Virgin Mary would help her console her son, even though she’d never understood him. She’d known she would find him that night because his harp was still at the house. If she knew a single thing about her strange and alien child, it was this: on the day he left her forever, he would have that harp at his side.

Taniel

Sketch of TanielA stylized sketch.

Taniel is one of the main characters from my upcoming novel, Wanderlust. His face is a little too thin here, and he looks slightly elven—no doubt a result of my current Tolkien kick.

I believe I’ve posted the most drawings of Vanya, the blonde one, and spent more time talking about Vanya than Taniel in this space. I did create Vanya first, and he is exceptionally dear to me—but Vanya never worked as a character until he had Taniel. Vanya is a sort of mysterious man-child, a wandering waif with a harp. This works as an archetype, as an idea, but in terms of story he needs someone to engage with. Wanderlust is written in very limited third person, and we see the whole story through the eyes of Taniel. Taniel’s thoughts provide readers with an access point to Vanya, and to the story. He is Vanya’s sine qua none; without him, Vanya could not function as a character and, indeed, Vanya could never embark on the adventure of a lifetime that is chronicled in Wanderlust. They didn’t know it, but before they met each other both Vanya and Taniel were waiting for their lives to begin.

And there, I’ve talked about him all in terms of Vanya again. It’s a little inescapable, as they both exist for each other. Yet who is Taniel?

He is a band manager when the story begins, having turned to the business side of music when he decided early on that he didn’t have what it takes to become a professional musician. He has worked very hard for a very long time, and most of his life centers around work. He doesn’t have very many friends. He is health-conscience, rule-abiding, and something of a scholar. Though prone to panic and quick bursts of anger, he has always felt most comfortable with himself when he has someone else to take care of. He is an orator, a dreamer, and a teller of stories, but he was forced to be practical very early in life, and he needs the influence of Vanya to re-discover his creativity and appreciation for the beauty and magic of the world.

Does that whet your appetite? Knowing this much about Taniel, would you pick up my book and read more?

Updates and Oddments

I’m preparing an actual blog post about an actual topic, but it will have to wait a few more days. We’re in an uproar here, by which I mean we are all sitting around in our bathrobes with cups of coffee, but we do have to leave in a few hours. We’re going to Boston tonight, to see our excellent and admirable cousin play The Pirate King in an MIT production of Pirates of Penzance. Since it is (it is) a glorious thing to be a Pirate King, this is something we really could not miss.

I’ll give you some updates—it’s all I have time for.

Harp: Still GOING WELL, although since our car was in the shop I had to cancel Wednesday’s lesson. I have the two songs my teacher gave me memorized, and I can play them at a fair speed. I can also play nearly all the songs from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I also know the chords to Billy Joel’s Downeaster Alexa and can even play them nearly up to tempo, and I almost have all the verses memorized. My harp teacher is sending me new music, and with any luck I shall see her next Friday so she can tell me all of the things I am Doing Wrong. I am hungry for that new music. I am still playing every day, but for the last week it hasn’t really felt like a challenge.

Wanderlust: I am cruising through chapter 8, and I really feel that the end (of this revision) is in sight. The writing may be questionable in the later chapters, but at least the plot was mostly hammered out by the time I wrote them. I have a theory this will make revision easier. Thanks to a comment by Lady Higg on my last post, I may have come up with an entirely different format for the stories-within-stories. This is both exciting and scary, because it will require working back into chapter one AGAIN.

Also, a big thank you to The Literary Man for being my 70th follower mere minutes after Tuesday’s post begging for one more follower to round out the number. As you will notice, the counter now reads 75, so thank you to ALL my new followers. Your presence here is very much appreciated.

And now, I will give you one more thing. A few weeks ago, when I was mired in chapter 4 of Wanderlust and didn’t think I would ever get out, I began a crusade of finishing things. Knocked out that cross stitch I abandoned four years ago in a single afternoon. Finally made some progress on that doll kit I got for christmas about ten years ago. It was very satisfying to work on these small projects because my big project was so overwhelming. I also finished an old drawing on the back of my bedroom door, the side that faces into the hallway. A long time ago, I began to draw a picture of Vanya on it in white chalk or oil pastel. When I tried to wash it off I discovered it was almost definitely oil pastel, which makes sense as the drawing dates from the era when I tried to use oil pastels for everything. Since the drawing wouldn’t wash off, I decided to finish it. It looks a little silly, because I was working from a very old drawing, but I’m attracted to the way the pastels (I used chalk pastels to finish it) fade into the wood. Since I didn’t feel like finishing up the lower anatomy, I hung the large version of the Wanderlust cover (printed out for my senior show) on top of the pastel image. I like the finished result; the pastel drawing functions like an echo of the actual book cover, and its close interaction with the wood grain of the door gives it a magical, dreamy feel.

Pastel Vanya on wood door

Old Stuff, Old Vanya

So I’ve had a bad week, or two. Despite my grandly worded, Lets-Get-To-It! last post, I have fallen into a writing funk. Again, I’m not saying Writers’ Block, I’m saying lazy. Also, the lack of a proper desk. I don’t think working on the couch is doing it for me, now that working requires going back and forth between the printed manuscript and the computer. It’s too many things for one lap! In the next few days, I hope to develop better work habits for this part of the project. There have been other extenuating circumstances that made working difficult, but you don’t care about any of that. My point is I’m sorry for not maintaining this site better in the interim, and thanks for sticking around. I am getting back to doing all those things that I was so fired up about the last time I posted.

One thing I have been doing, in addition to getting back into running and finishing up a free-lance painting job, is cleaning my room and filing everything I’ve ever created from elementary school onward. I won’t be living at home forever, in fact I’d very much like to get out within the year, but I plan to leave my bedroom finished, organized, and well-designed when I go. This way it can be a proper guest room for my parents instead of a disaster area. The problem right now is that everything I’ve owned in my life and everything I acquired in college is trying to co-exist in a room significantly smaller than the one I had in my college apartment. I’m attempting to downsize, but… I’m a writer. Organization skills do not come naturally.

Also, I’m a writer. I’m a paper-person. I’ve been a writer and a paper-person since second grade. I’ve heard that some writers throw out all their old work, but I’ve never been able to do that. To me, all those raw ideas are so valuable. Someday I might want to write a book for third graders, and those stories I wrote in third grade about a girl finding an injured baby pegasus might provide just the starting point I need. And what about the story I started in fifth and sixth grade that was supposed to be my first novel, about the slave-girl-turned-rescuer with twin black unicorns and a glowing sword? I’d like to turn that into a cool little book for a middle-grade audience, someday when I have the time.

So that’s me, saving everything. The problem is I also saved all the binders (and Lisa Frank trapper keepers) going back to third grade, and binders and notebooks take up a lot of space. Now I’m going through and removing all those valuable stories, and tossing the binders and recycling all the rest. I’m saving so much space. It’s a process, though. You’d think I could toss a whole binder full of science notes, except I probably got bored during science class and started writing an epic story. I have to go through everything. Yesterday, I found some fake journal entries of soldiers in trenches during WWII that I wrote in 11th grade, for a combined history and creative writing assignment. They were fairly over-dramatic, but also surpisingly powerful, and showed some growth in my writing voice. I also find tidbits of Vanya everywhere, like this sketch from the back of some Art History flashcards my freshmen year of college: I’d seen some boys in France who pulled off the hair-in-a-high-ponytail look really well, and I was fooling around with whether that would work for Vanya in the second book. (The answer is probably not, since it makes him look even more like a girl, but there’s still something about it I kind of like.) I even found some narrative on the back of the card:

…his hair had grown, of course, and he had taken to wearing it up in a sort of topknot, or messy bun. Strands of the blonde were forever escaping to blow around his face. This did nothing to decrease his femininity, and as a result both boys and girls were always staring…

This is also when Vanya was still the “emo kid,” with his fishnet shirt, although it looks like I was finally on my way to figuring out how to draw his cheekbones and jaw-line. Shows how things change: for the current version of the book, I decided the fishnets weren’t necessary for his character, and I no longer wanted to look at them in every illustration.

Do you keep everything you’ve ever written, or are you more the light-it-all-on-fire every few years type? Feel free to drop a line in the comments below. 🙂

The Harper Boy, and How He Began

A few nights ago, during a family game of Citadels, I said, “Now I’m going to spend all my gold and build a library.”

My mother said, “That’s just like you!”

My own harper boy, Vanya.

One of the September projects I am undertaking is to sort, weed, and organize my personal library, so I can finally get all my favorite books out of boxes onto my shelves. In the process, I’ve been finding a lot of old treasures. Most interestingly, I found some forgotten evidence of how my conception of the wandering Harper Boy began. These books (and song) clearly had a direct influence on my creation of Vanya, the harper boy of Wanderlust, and on the formation of my own life-dreams as well.

First, Adam of The Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray, and illustrated by Robert Lawson (pictured cover by Neil Truscott).

It’s all there in that lushly illustrated cover: the traveling Boy with his Harp (and dog!). Please note that the harp is strung incorrectly; it’s the only thing wrong with an otherwise lovely cover. Adam of the Road is a medieval adventure story about a boy who loses his minstrel father and his dog and must find his way through the dangers of medieval England alone. I’ve penciled the year 2001 inside the cover, alongside my name, so I read this book over ten years ago, in about sixth grade. Given that, the clarity with which I remember parts of it is surprising. Late in the book Adam reunites with a close friend. They find each other during a church service, however, and must contain their joy, keeping it close and secret and spoken only by their jostled elbows and shared smiles, until the service is over. I just re-read that scene, and it is so brief, barely half a page! It left such a large impression on me regardless; it’s cool how memory works that way. I also remember strongly the deep pain of loss when Adam’s harp is stolen. I remember the loss of the harp, and not the loss of the dog, though Adam himself cared more about the latter. At any rate, the dog is recovered, and the harp is not. At the end of the book Adam is offered a place to stay and become a scholar, but he says, “No, thank you. I am a minstrel. I want to be on the road (Gray, 320).

Next, a picture book: The Minstrel and The Dragon Pup by Rosemary Sutcliff and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark.

Again, I barely need to say it. It’s all there in the cover: The slight-figured blonde young man walking through a green world with a harp. (And a dragon; how cool!) This is a charming little book, well-illustrated and containing more words than the average picture book. I first encountered it as an excerpt in a Cricket magazine, and happily found the entire book in hardcover at a discount store not long after (I think this was Middle School). The book is all about the Minstrel and his Dragon, of course, but it’s set within the archetype of the wandering minstrel, the harper who never stays in the same place for more than a few days. As a further parallel to Vanya, this minstrel even makes a sort of magic with his harp to gain the king’s trust at the end. Reunited with his dragon, he says, “Now we’re going home. Home to the open road, you and I” (Sutcliffe, 42).

There are a few other books that honed my image of the wandering harper, notably The Riddlemaster Trilogy by Patricia McKillip (which I somehow never quite finished, even though I loved it) and even Tokien’s The Hobbit, where Thorin Oakenshield is brought a harp that first night in Bag End when the dwarves weave a magic Far o’er the misty mountains cold…  Yet I think the third largest formative influence in my conception of the Harper Boy, the conception that led to my own Vanya, is the song The Minstrel Boy, written by Thomas Moore (full lyrics and some history here). The version I knew was by the celtic rock band Enter The Haggis.

The Minstrel boy to the war has gone

In the ranks of Death you will find him

His father’s sword he hath girded on

and his wild harp slung behind him.

The Minstrel boy has a ‘wild harp’ slung on his back, a harp he has taken to war, which further cements the image of a boy and his harp as fearless travelers. This song, which I discovered in early high school, is where the boy and his harp became distinctly Irish, and also where they became noble and tragic. The minstrel falls, and before he dies he “tears asunder” the chords of his harp, so that it will “never sound in slavery.” This, perhaps, is where Vanya acquired the haunting sadness that runs deep in his bones.

Adam of the Road, The Minstrel and the Dragon Pup, and The Minstrel Boy. All of these contributed to my conception of the Harper Boy archetype, and subconsciously led to the creation of Vanya, my own darling Harper Boy. The harp itself is a very feminine object (I can share my essay that touches on the erotic connection between a man and his harp at a later date), and a woman playing a classical harp is an archetype of grace and sophistication. The woman at her harp is an aristocratic image (like this still from Disney’s The Artistocats), and it is a stationary image. The woman and her harp sit in the parlor, to please and be worshiped by the society and menfolk around her. But a boy with a harp? He slings his wild harp on his back, and he travels the world. If (when? When) I learn to play the Celtic harp, I will, of course, be a foxy harper lady—yet I want to embody the archetype of the traveling harper, of the Harper Boy. The dream breaks down somewhat when I consider the logistics of carrying a harp on my back in addition to a pack containing my laptop and other life necessities, but I’m not convinced it’s impossible. Vanya is my darling boy, and I say that like a mother; a title I claim because I crave, so badly, through my work and words, to give him life. He is the culmination of all the influences that created my myth of the Harper Boy, but he is also that lost and wanting part of me that needs to strike out, brave and wild, and fill my beating heart with faraway skies and the music of distant roads. It’s a romantic notion, but long-term traveling, or any traveling, is a thing people do, a real thing I can aspire to and plan towards. And if my inspiration is partially fueled by the idea of the wandering minstrel, by that boy and his harp, who will blame me? We all come from somewhere and, as much as he comes from the influences I’ve listed, Vanya also comes from me, and wherever I go, whether I learn to harp or not, I’ll carry him too.

* * *

Leave a comment, if you like. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Have you had any similar experiences, where you didn’t realize what books or songs influenced you until you found them again later on? What characters and archetypes have informed your life? Does my archetype of the Harper Boy agree with your own mythology?

Profanity in Writing (among other things)

Yesterday, I said a lot of my poetry was too personal to share. I stand by that, as it involves other people, but here is a beautiful blog post by an author who shared the most personal thing, the scariest thing. She writes this thing incredibly well, and it is absolutely worth a read—and I suspect this blogger is someone worth following. The Scariest Thing on Chalk the Sun

Another interesting thing about yesterday’s post: it didn’t even occur to me until much, much later that I had posted a poem containing a swear word. The third word of the second line, if you didn’t notice. It is the only word that can go there, and I’m not apologizing. I just find it interesting that it didn’t even occur to me that the word might offend certain audiences. It’s not something I even considered, probably because I know the words to this poem so well that they are a part of myself, and how can a part of myself be offensive?

Profanity in writing, however, is something to consider, especially as an aspiring author of Young Adult Literature. At what age level in books is it appropriate to include characters who swear?

We are, as writers, going for realism. I believe Stephen King said something to the effect of, if your character wouldn’t say “Oh sugar,” then you should write them saying the other thing. Authors writing in a fantasy world have the luxury of making up a swear word or two for their characters to use vigorously. My book is not set solidly in the real world, but the characters come from the real world, so that’s not an option. I’m aiming at the 14 and up crowd, and here’s the solution I’ve reached:

I have one character who swears, and one character who doesn’t. This isn’t an arbitrary decision; it comes directly from the essence of the characters and helps define who they are. The swearing habit actually says a lot about the character. It shows that he is more attached to this world than his friend, and it shows his tendency to fling words at things when he’s angry. When he takes the Lord’s name in vain, it’s even a clue about religious upbringing, though possibly not in the way you’d expect. The swearing is actually a major way that the characters are differentiated from each other in dialogue, especially in those life-or-death type scenes, and I hope this will help the reader get a handle on the characters, and on who is speaking when. So, yes, I let my one character swear freely—but never excessively. He swears when that is what he would say, when that is the only thing he would say, and when the situation warrants it. I never put swears in for the intention of shock value, or to make it seem “edgy.” They are what they are. Would I edit them out if someone who wanted to publish my book asked me to? I honestly don’t know if I would; I think the dialogue would seem artificial without them.

I have completely refrained from using the F-word in my book. I feel the use of that word would cross a major line, one that my guy occasionally saying, “Oh shit,” in a really tricky situation or “dammit” in a moment of emotional duress doesn’t even approach. Would you agree?

I’d love to hear comments on this one, I think it could be a great discussion.

Oh, and I drew this last night (this morning? I couldn’t sleep). Maybe later I will finish it. Did you know Vanya could smile?

Smiling Vanya Sketch

-Grace out