The Creative and the Subconscious

I dreamed the other night that I owned a beautiful book. I’d acquired it at a great discount at one of those places one sometimes acquires beautiful things at a great discount—the bargain bin at NMU’s bookstore, in this particular case. It had a sapphire and lavender cover, the colors fading and drifting into each other like a sunset. Think the cover of Bitterblue by Kirsten Cashore (one of the [many] [really good] books I am currently reading), but shinier. It wasn’t a story book; it had pictures and text and paintings of magical creatures and words about how to write and how to make art and references for mythology and all other sorts of things. Or only a few of those things, or none of those things at all. What I knew was that it was a beautiful book, and full of all the wisdom and inspiration that I most especially need. Something I was glad to have, and something I wanted to hang onto. With a lot of reverence, I placed the book on my shelf—and here, I ran into trouble. The spine of the book held both the title (some word written in silver flowing script, with multiple S’s) and an image of a white creature, either a dragon or a unicorn. When I placed the book upright, so that the title ran the correct way and the book would open right-side up when pulled from the shelf, I discovered that the creature was upside down. Ah, I said. It was a discount book, after all. I flipped it over, so that the creature was upright and centered, braced against the bottom of the shelf—and now the words were upside down, and ran the wrong way. No matter how many times I re-oriented the book, I couldn’t get it right.

Maybe you’ve already guessed my metaphor.

Nothing’s changed. I still want Wanderlust (the writing, the art) more than anything, but I’ve gotten lost somehow. I’m tripping between the pictures and the words, not sure what I should be working on, and unable to accomplish, or finish, anything—and all the time hunched beneath and wading through the pressures of REAL LIFE, and most days too tired (or too engaged in other things) to make headway on creative projects at all. I don’t know which end is up. I don’t know which way to hold it, and I can’t seem to get it right.

I present you with this blog post sheepishly, ashamedly, like a thief who returns a stolen object at arm’s length, ready to run. I haven’t been following your blogs, or reading your tweets or keeping up with any of you, my internet friends and supporters, and some real life friends too. When I withdraw from the internet, I do so pretty completely. Also, I noticed that each of my sporadic posts over the past MANY moths ends with something like, “I promise I’m going to start blogging more regularly. No, I mean for real this time.” Therefore, this time, I make no promises. What I usually forget about blogging, though, is how it makes you write. Writing is writing. All practice helps. And right now, I do need help.

One more thing. Something I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. November starts in, what, a little over a week? I am… eep… considering doing NaNoWriMo this year. You know, that crazy thing where you write a novel in a month. I’m still undecided, but more tempted than I’ve ever been before. More on that to come. Maybe. If we’re all very lucky, and I manage to write another blog post soon.

-G

Rewrites are Wrenching

Rewriting is funny. Kind of like time-travel is funny. Kind of like back when we all had  VCRs (I still have one) you could hit record, and tape a new thing over something you’ve already recorded. That’s the feeling I have right now: I hit record on a new scene and I’m watching it play out, and as it plays out, it’s erasing some things that already occupied that time slot in my narrative. I think the new scene is better, which is why I’m letting it run, but the old stuff wasn’t bad, you know? I’m sad to see it go. The nuts and bolts of the old scene still pretty much get sandwiched in with the new stuff around it, but now everything about the old scene means something else and must be handled differently in light of a whole thing that just upset the emotional equilibrium of the two main characters.

Just so you know, this new scene doesn’t change the direction of the whole plot or anything—it’s just the problem of the week, and I’m working through it. Also, I’m going to share this illustration with you. It’s one of the best ones I’ve done so far; a lot of people said so. Technically it still works and I’m really hoping I can still use it, but due to this re-recording of events its inclusion in the actual book is in jeopardy. This is why you should consider writing your book before you illustrate it.

© Grace Makley, 2012

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?

Old Fashioned Editing

Today, I printed out my manuscript and bought a red pen.

I posted recently that I was going back to the beginning to do an editing run, and I thought I would settle into the rhythm of pruning my manuscript piece by piece, and honing every sentence. Instead, I ended up staring at my computer making all sorts of disgruntled expressions, McKayla Maroney-esque, and wanting to circle words and make squiggly lines under the bad sentences and scrawl notes in all the margins. Someone needs to make a computer program (maybe someone already has?) where you can type things and then draw on and around the typing. Until then, there’s old-timey paper and pen. I can’t seem to find the mojo to work on the thing as a clean manuscript; I keep noticing things that I know need to be fixed, to be added, to be cleaned up, but the existing text feels sedentary and I can’t always make it right in one go. This way, I can at least make a note of things, and nothing is quite so satisfying as making a note of something in a red pen. It makes the thing thing feel accounted for. Also, in the margins, I can write questions and toss out multiple solutions without feeling like I’m dirtying up my manuscript or increasing my word count with drivel. Yes, there are computer programs that allow you to place notes in the side, but I’m not using any of them right now, and besides: it’s really nice to not be staring at a computer screen for once. Hopefully, getting away from the computer and confronting my work on the page will jog my creativity, and be one more important step on the way to a finished product. So far, the first eleven of one hundred and thirty-five pages (size 13, 1.3 spacing) are covered in red, and it feels good.

Big news! My best friend Lady Higg, who you’ve heard so much about, has started a beer blog called Ales to Lagers. Check it out! http://alestostouts.wordpress.com/

How I Started Writing Again

Some good and some bad today. I did start writing again, more on that below. The bad news is that I have lost most of a notes document containing upwards of twenty pages of Wanderlust material. I had been relying on Microsoft Word’s autosave function, which is not a smart thing to do, especially if you are using a trial version of Word that has run out and will refuse to start up again if you are accidentally forced to restart the computer you have avoided restarting for weeks because the trial can’t run out on you if you never close the program, right? This accidental restarting occurred on my voyage through Canada a few weeks ago, and I’ve only just realized the extent of the damage. I’m feeling a little wobbly about the whole thing. It was all just notes, you understand, and pep-talks, and scenes I pasted there because I was deleting them from the manuscript in order to replace them with something better, but felt insecure about deleting them outright. Most of it was things I was getting rid of anyway, so this is not a disaster… but at the same time I can’t remember everything from the document, so maybe it is a disaster and I just haven’t realized it yet! There is one scene from the very ending of Wanderlust, possibly from the epiloque, that I have quite clear in my head and I know I have typed before, and it must have been in this notes document. It was in looking for this scene that I discovered the extent of the damage, and I feel a sharp sense of loss, for I know I wrote this scene, and I think it was good. It… hurts, to not be able to find it, because what if I can’t write it as good the second time? At the same time, I have all the words for it in my head. I see them so clearly. I will just have to write it up again, is all, and generally scenes do write better the second time, despite our fears. So man up, Grace. This could have been a lot worse. Wipe your eyes, write it again, and keep working.

I did start writing again. Just yesterday I finished a draft of Chapter 11. The most unintelligible, cobbled-together, might-not-contain-actual-words kind of draft, but a draft nonetheless. That means I’m on Chapter 12, the last chapter, and it’s actually going well! I’m very close to breaking 50,000 words on the manuscript. I should have a full draft (the roughest draft) by the end of the week—maybe sooner! Maybe tonight! Here are the two major things that got me writing again after a several-week drought:

1.) Workspace. Did you read all that stuff above about my copy of Microsoft Word being a trial? Well, the free trial ran out, and I didn’t have the money to purchase the actual program. I knew this day was coming, and I had a free substitute called Libre Office installed on my computer, and when Word ran out I just thought, okay. Time to make do. Except I hated Libre Office. Working in it made me cringe. I couldn’t do it, and I was on vacation so I ignored the entire thing as long as possible. Yesterday, sitting on the couch and talking to my brother, I was almost in tears because I still couldn’t afford Word, but I couldn’t imagine being able to function in any other program. Brother came to the rescue, as he has in every tech problem I have had, ever. He purchased Apple Pages from the the App store; Apple’s $20 Word Processing alternative. He needed it to touch up his resumé, and downloaded it to my computer so I could use it too since I was too skeptical to purchase it without a trial. (Yes, I own a mac. I have always owned mac. It’s a family tradition, plus they’re shiny.) Turns out it’s perfect, and, besides not loading images properly or having drop-cap capabilities, exactly what I need. Here’s a screenshot:

Most of the images don’t load, this is an exception, but I can put them back in if I want to. Most importantly, it displays a word-count and page-count at the bottom, has full-screen capabilities that are so helpful with distractions, and has all the necessary editing tools available at the top when I run my mouse over. With this program, I feel like I can finally THINK again.

2.) Inspiration. Saturday night, the first night the four of us have been home as a family in a long time, we watched Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part II,  since my dad had it out on his netflix queue. I’d only seen it once in theaters, so I enjoyed seeing it again. Being the last of the Harry Potter movies, it was all about Ending. The ending of a book, the ending of an epic series, and, for many fans, the ending of an era. I’m not saying that I’m actively trying to emulate anything from this movie (I’m not even one of those rabid Harry Potter fans, really), but I am trying to craft an ending for Wanderlust; an ending that will stick and hold and be worthy of all that has come before. Maybe also one of the swooshy-spell things in the HP movie triggered a visual answer to the mechanics of a spell-thing I’ve been struggling with, but mostly, as I cried for Snape (always), felt awed by the epic moments of the battle, and wrecked by the sacrifices of Harry and all his protectors, what I internalized was how a proper ending should feel. How it should grab you, and where it should squeeze. Suddenly, instead of feeling terrified to write my ending, I felt excited again. Finally.

Lately this blog has been full of words! Stay tuned for my next post, a digital painting. Here’s a preview:

-Lady G

Hello from Massachusetts

So I’ve been having trouble getting my words together. I haven’t posted in over a week, going on two, and that’s exactly the precedent I don’t want to set for this blog. My only excuse is I was on vacation in Marquette, Michigan, (read about that here) and when I’m on vacation it’s so hard to work.

On Sunday, I actually wrote up a whole post. It sort of had a point, and sort of maybe came together by the end, but I never went through and edited it because there were trees to sit under (I have become a sitting-under-trees enthusiast) and beer to drink (Honey Lavender Wheat, mmmm) and friends to be with. That post never got finished, and a lot of it isn’t really topical anymore today. The lesson: always finish posts day-of.

Marquette was lovely, by the way. I swam in the lake and walked all around my town and went to my bar and spent time with my people. It was a really wonderful week, filled with about equal parts relaxing and shenanigans. I’m really glad I went back one last time, and I think maybe this time, I got it out of my system. I’m sure this wasn’t the last time I’ll see Marquette; I left my mug at Blackrocks, and it’s there for me, waiting. I’d like to think I’ll stop in every few years, grab my mug, and say, Hey, old town. I’m back. Let’s jive. But for now? I’m ready to start planning some bigger adventures, and traveling to some farther shores.

Right now I’m curled up in my brother’s apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts. I arrived here at 1 pm today (Thursday) after a Greyhound bus adventure that began at 2 am Wednesday morning. That’s about 36 hours on buses, people, with no layovers longer than 45 minutes. We’re driving up to Maine tomorrow, after Brother gets out of work. I’m glad to be done with the buses for today, but overall I will probably give you a more positive review of Greyhound travel than you’ll hear from most people. If you’ve got time, it’s not a bad way to get around. It certainly qualifies as an adventure (some other time, I will have to tell you about getting through customs at Saulte Ste Marie) and it means you really feel the distance rolling through the ground beneath you as you nod off to sleep and jerk awake when the lights come on at the next stop and slowly nod off again. It’s more intrepid than flying, a little grittier, and definitely more of an ordeal, but for me it was a positive experience overall. If the opportunity arises, I won’t shy away from taking another lengthy bus trip in the future.

One more thing: I have a confession to make. I am terrified to write the last two chapters of my book. I’m not calling it Writers’ Block because I don’t believe in Writers’ Block, per say. Writer’s Block is just another name for lazy. These last few chapters are gonna make or break the book, however, and I’m terrified that I won’t do them justice, that they won’t be good enough, that they’ll render all of my hard work up to this point irrelevant. This is a foolish fear, because the first draft is going to suck anyway. The first draft always sucks. What I need to do now is plow through the fear and get something, anything, written down, so that I’ll have something to work from when I figure out what I need to do to actually make it awesome. But I’ve been on vacation, and there have been so many excuses not to write. Now that I’m coming home, there won’t be any more excuses, and I will wrestle with this demon, and I will write those chapters. Next week, I’ll let you know how it goes.

-Grace out

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