Of the North deleted chapter

My sister has vanished from the haunts of men this week, and generally I’m busy until she gets back, and I’m also halfway through rewriting Of the North (according to the word count, that is, and barring unforeseen developments). So, have a post that doesn’t take long to write.

This was, oddly enough, probably my favourite chapter when I first wrote Of the North. Not anymore — this one has inaccuracies all over the place (such as: she’s back from spending three years in eleventh-century England, but you can’t tell, because she’s no different from before; and the whole augmentation of arms thing doesn’t work that way), and the style of the writing makes me cringe.

In the new version of OtN, this chapter doesn’t fit. It messes up timelines and all sorts of things. But before I cut it, I thought I’d share it here, as a bonus or something. Fun, if not particularly valuable to the story as a whole anymore.

None of the songs quoted in this are mine, and all that.

I like the characters.

Chapter XIII

The Feast Song


  Crown Tourney that fall saw Æschild in the kitchen for almost the entire event, after the person originally supposed to be in charge had a family emergency at the last minute and been unable to attend. It was her first time serving in the kitchen at an event, let alone as the one in charge, and she didn’t get to see one bit of the fighting, the cooking kept her so busy. In the first place, she hadn’t been expecting the duty at all, and got to site about an hour after gates opened, only to find frantic people rushing about nearly in tears, and offered to help. That offer got her stuck away from all the fighting all day –– it would hardly be true to say she was kept away from all the action, as the kitchen had plenty of that.

  First it appeared that about ten people too many had managed to sign up for dayboard, so Æschild’s assistants, William and Thomas, went running to all the people they knew to beg for Feast ware.

  “It wasn’t as if you could just say, ‘Sorry, we’ve got a hundred people signed up already, we can’t seat any more’,” Æschild said. “Oh no, these people are all pointy hats, and we’ve got to let them in.”

  “I suppose it happens sometimes,” said a lady passing through. “May I take some water from this cooler?”

  “Sure. How’s it going out there?” Æschild asked, filling the cup the lady held out.

  “Pretty well. It’s hot, but I’ve not as much to complain of as the fighters.”

  “I should think not.”

  “It’s pretty warm in here, though. I don’t envy you your job. I’d help if I could, but I’ve got a passel of children to run after, and I daren’t leave them alone any longer. I do hope you get things under control, though.”

   “It’s that kind of talk that doesn’t help any,” William said, grabbing an apple. “First they tell you how hard your job must be, and then they say they wish they could help, but of course they can’t, and then they say something that leaves you wondering whether they actually think you’re competent to do the job.”

   The food for dayboard was fairly light and simple, but all afternoon went into preparing the evening’s feast. Some goblin or other hanging around the kitchen, Æschild often had reason to think, must have been bent on causing every possible inconvenience.

  “An’ now we’re out of turnips,” William grumbled, just after the afternoon’s Court started and the three were still in the kitchen, trying to get everything that needed cooking into an edible state by the time Court was over. “Why couldn’t it be something yucky, like the carrots?”

  “Go boil your head; it might make a decent substitute,” Thomas replied. He had been hanging over a pot for most of the afternoon, making the soup, and his face was beet red.

  Æschild, lifting a heavy pot off the stove, where it was holding various vegetables she was boiling, said sharply, “That kind of talk will get us all in hot water if you don’t look out. Move away from the sink now, I’m coming over!”

  William backed up too quickly in the wrong direction and bumped right into her. The pot slipped and spilled boiling water down her left leg, scorching the knee she instinctively put out to catch it. She dropped the pot and backed up, trying to grab her dress and wring it out, but finding it too hot to touch.

  “I’m so sorry,” William apologized, all his grumpiness gone. He grabbed a towel from a pile on the counter nearby and threw it to her, grabbed another for himself, and began mopping up the floor. “I’m so awfully sorry. I honestly didn’t do it on purpose, honest. Will you be all right?”

  “It hurts. . . a lot,” Æschild said, wrapping the boiled folds of her dress in the towel and squeezing it. “It does hurt. I didn’t think you bumped into me on purpose. Oh, of all the other things that could have gone wrong, it had to be this now.”

  “There go all the vegetables, not just the turnips,” Thomas was mean enough to say.

  “William, clean up the carnage, if you would; and Thomas, try to finish the soup without, I don’t know, killing yourself. I’m going to the bathroom to see what I can do. Oh, and one of you, if the meat’s done before I get back, pull it out of the oven and put it on that big white platter. Don’t put the vegetables around it, though.”

  “They say they’re more nutritious if you don’t wash off the dirt,” William called after her as she, still holding the left side of her skirt wrapped in the towel, limped out toward the bathrooms.

  Upon inspection, her left leg was red and sore, but not too severely burned. The greater part of the damage was on her left knee, which was almost scorched where the metal pan, hot off the stove, had banged it. Her skirt was still wet and warm, but the only other ill effect was a little bit of felting (it was a wool dress and smock, and with that much boiling water, a little accidental felting was not unexpected).

  Æschild, not entirely sure what to do for skin that hadn’t been burned so much as boiled, rinsed her leg in warm water, and then cold water, hoping that would help. It made most of her leg feel a little better, but didn’t help her knee any. She wrapped the towel around her leg to keep her skirts from chafing the skin, and returned to the kitchen.

  “Do we have any honey in here, guys?” she asked her two helpers.

  “Honey? What for?”

  “My knee. Honey helps burns, I think.”

  “There’s about a quarter of the bottle left over from breakfast,” Thomas said, holding it up. “Will that be enough?”

  “It should. Then I’ll want something to wrap my knee in to keep the honey off my smock.” Æschild took the bottle of honey and sat down on a nearby chair.

  “You’re not seriously hurt, are you? I mean, not badly enough to have to leave?” William asked her anxiously.

  “No, I don’t think so,” Æschild said, accepting the thin dishtowel Thomas handed her. “This is clean, right, I hope?”

  “It should be, I pulled it right out of the drawer,” Thomas said. “We don’t have a first aid kit in here. William looked while you were gone.”

  “You could go out to the field and ask if there’s anyone serving as chirurgeon out there,” William suggested.

  “I’d rather not. Um, guys, could you not look while I’m doing this? I know it’s just my knee, but still ––”

  “Sure,” said William, turning his back and beginning to attack the soup with zeal. Thomas took the meat fork and poked the roast, making Æschild remember how she had been taking care of a similar cut of meat just before Sunnild’s wedding feast.

  With the boys’ backs discreetly turned, Æschild pulled up her skirts and undid the towel, revealing a red, sore knee. She squeezed some honey out of the bottle into her hand and lightly touched her skin with it. The sting wasn’t unbearable yet. She slowly rubbed the golden lump around on her knee till the honey left her fingers and was where it really ought to be. It did feel good; it didn’t ease the pain entirely, but it was still soothing on her skin. She tied the dishtowel around her knee and made sure it was secure before standing up.

  “Help any?” Thomas asked.

  “Yes, some. Thanks for taking care of that meat. We need something to lay around it, though the vegetables are out of the question. Cheese, maybe. Do we have any cheese?”

  “I think there was some left over from lunch,” Thomas said, rummaging in the refrigerator.

  “Æschild, are you in here?” asked a lady, putting her head around the door. “You’ve been called into Court.”

  “What!” cried Æschild, dropping the meat fork clattering on the counter. The boys froze, their mouths both hanging open. The three kitchen workers glanced at each other and stifled a giggle.

  “Yes, hurry up,” said the lady, leaving.

  “Oh dear,” Æschild said, feeling faint. She had never been called into Court before.

  “You’ll do fine!” William called after her. “I’m going to nominate you for a Pelican, after today, anyway.”

  “Yeah right,” she heard Thomas reply, and then the sound of a smack.

  The aisle from the door of the room they were holding Court in all the way between hundreds of people (probably hungry people too) up to the thrones was endless. Æschild tried not to limp too noticeably as she made her way up it.

  Kneel on the cushion in front of the thrones; that’s what it’s there for, she thought. This piece of advice for those called into Court she had heard many times. But how could she kneel at all, on a cushion or otherwise, with her knee in this state?

  She knelt on one knee, her left leg at an awkward and uncomfortable angle, conscious of a great deal of pain in her left leg. His Majesty stood up to address her or the populace.

  “Why aren’t you kneeling properly?” he asked her, bending down. Æschild had to look up to his face, which, with her legs the way they were, also stretched her back in a most uncomfortable way.

  “I scalded my leg just now, and my knee’s pretty painful,” she said.

  “Scalded your leg doing what?” he asked.

  “With a pot of water in the kitchen. It was an accident.”

  “Are you all right?”

  “There’s no one else to make Feast, Your Majesty, and we’d already had a few –– setbacks, if you please.”

  His Majesty addressed the crowd. “Æschild says she’d just burned herself, but there’s no one else to prepare our Feast this evening.” The people began laughing and Æschild’s cheeks burned under her headrail. Why couldn’t the King get to the point and let her go?

  “Æschild,” said the King, “We called you into Court just now to present you with your Award of Arms for your service to the kingdom in serving wherever you can at events, in sharing your knowledge with others, and for your willingness to light the way. We were not prepared to find that you sacrificed so much so that We and Our populace might eat well this evening. I am sure when we sit down to Feast, we will all think of what you have given for us.” He reached behind him and held up a scroll for everyone to see. “Here you are.” He handed it to her and her fingers clasped it mechanically. She was too stunned to register anything.

  “For the Lady Æschild Erices dohtor, Vivat!” cried the herald. His Majesty himself reached out his hand to help Æschild up, and she got stiffly to her feet with his aid. She limped back up the aisle amid shouts and cheers and clapping that was enough to deafen her.

  “What was that about?” Thomas asked when Æschild got back to the kitchen.

  “My AoA, of all ironic things for it to be,” Æschild said, holding her scroll up. “How’s things going?”

  “You just got your AoA and you’re asking us about the food?” William inquired. “Lady Æschild.”

  “I’m just a little overwhelmed with everything that’s been going on, okay? And now His Majesty is expecting it’d better be a good feast, if I went through all this trouble for it.”

  “Well, we found the cheese, and sliced it up and put it around the meat,” William said, displaying the platter, “and that’s about all.”

  “What else do we have left? What time is it anyway?”

  “It’s five-thirty,” said Thomas, looking at the clock on the wall, which was hanging crookedly.

  “And Feast was scheduled to be at five,” Æschild said. “We’re right on time, then. Let’s cover that meat so it stays warm, and then I think we’re about done.”

  “We won’t make you serve tonight,” William told her, as Thomas clapped a large lid over the platter. “You can sit down and eat with the rest of them.”

  “That sounds lovely,” Æschild sighed, falling into a chair. “It’s been one long day.”

  As Æschild quietly took a seat at the far end of the tables, in a darkish corner where she could prop her leg up without drawing questions, and the boys brought out the first remove, someone struck up a song.

The hall is well crowded, the feast under way;

To cook and assistants all homage we pay.

But lest we forget those who serve us this day,

I ask you to raise up your glass:

To those who eat last and who give us the best

Let’s drink to the few who would serve all the rest. . . .

  The boys gave Æschild a few significant glances throughout the course of the song, and were hardly able to serve her without dropping something in their effort to suppress their mirth and keep a seemly seriousness about their duty. But Æschild was thinking more of the last time she heard a bard singing, and it wasn’t at an SCA event, it was the Dane, Drustan, at Sunnild’s wedding feast.

   By the time they served the last remove, Æschild was tired of seeing the exact same things she had slaved over, and injured herself for, all day long.

  “How can we wreck dessert?” Thomas inquired when he dropped Æschild’s sweetmeats on her plate.

  “I can think of a few ways,” William said.

  “Don’t,” said Æschild. “Don’t spoil anything else.”

  At the end of the meal she noticed William stop collecting plates, the way he and Thomas were supposed to be doing, and go to where Their Majesties and the new Royal Highnesses were seated at the center of the high table. He went on one knee beside the king and seemed to be asking for something, to which His Majesty responded with excited nods.

  “It has been brought to my attention,” announced the King, standing up, “that the service done Us today in Our humble kitchens has been too great to be overlooked. However, as the person whom, I am told, is most deserving of recognition in this matter, is incapacitated due to a most unfortunate accident, We will not call her into Our, er, this impromptu Court of Ours. Instead, we will come to her.”

  The four crowned heads left the table and came over to where Æschild was relaxing in her corner away from attention.

  “Æschild –– no, you needn’t try to get up –– we don’t have a scroll or anything with us at the moment, so would you accept this from me as a token, and later we can ransom this with a proper reward?” As he spoke, the King took off a heavy golden ring he was wearing, inscribed with a Pelican’s device, signifying that he was of the Order of the Pelican.

  “Ummm. . . I’m most grateful, your Majesty, and thank you ever so much!” Æschild managed to say, accepting the ring, and wondering whether she ought to take the king’s hand and bow, since she couldn’t kneel properly.

  “See, I told you I’d see you got a Pelican,” William told her, when the royalty had gone back to the table. “I saw his ring when I was serving, and I thought, Oh, that would be neat, so I asked him a boon for my service, and told him my idea. He liked it, and so –– there you are.”

   “Well, thank you,” Æschild said. “And thanks for serving me, too, and the dessert. It’s not spoiled or anything, that I know of.”

  The boys even let her go right after Feast, saying they would clean up themselves, or find someone else to help them.

  “You go home and get something proper done with your knee,” William told her. “Honest, I’m sorry.”

  “You can stop saying that now. I know you didn’t bang into me on purpose. It’s not as if I’m dead or severely wounded.”

  “Maybe I ought to apply for the office of Master of Assassins,” William said thoughtfully. “I think it’s open right now.” Thomas whacked him.

  “Good night everybody,” Æschild said, gathering her bag of projects up from where it was sitting in a corner of the kitchen all day. “I didn’t think when I left the house this morning that I would be at Crown all day and not even be sure who the new Prince is.”

  “Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I know either,” said William. “Have a safe drive home. Uh, you can still drive, can’t you?”

  “Yes, you don’t use your left leg for driving,” Æschild assured him, beginning to feel that this endless talk of leg was a bit improper. “Good night.”

  At her next event she was embroidering during Court when her name was called, and she set down her project and pulled the King’s ring out of her belt bag as she hurried up the aisle.

  “I believe you have something of mine,” the King said, frowning down at her as she knelt, on both knees now as was right, “and I’d like it back.”

  “At what price?” Æschild asked, to remind him of his promise to ransom his ring with an award.

  “How about an Augmentation of your arms?” the king asked, holding up a scroll for all to see.

  “Taken!” Æschild laughed, handing him his heavy ring. He bent and gave her the scroll.

  “I trust you’re fully healed?” His Majesty asked as she got up.

  “Yes, Sire.”

  “How will you augment arms that haven’t finished the registering process yet?” the herald asked, a little nervously.

  “Find a way,” the King ordered. “Such things don’t happen every day.” And Æschild returned to her place amid much laughter.

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Quotations from The Lord of the Rings

I have vague memories of my father reading The Hobbit to us at bedtime, and of my mother doing the same; and it was partly because of my requests to hear that book again and again, I think, that she finally broke down and taught me to read when I was four. Tolkien has been near me ever since, in a growing collection (latest addition being Beowulf, his translation, which I may talk about another day, if you’d like my thoughts on it). I’ve read The Lord of the Rings regularly. A few years ago, however, I decided to wait a while and come back to it with older, if not exactly fresh, eyes.

The book (it’s a book, not a series) doesn’t need a review from me, but this time through I pulled out some quotes that I noticed more this time than I have at others, with occasional remarks.

 “Already she seemed to him, as by men of later days Elves still at times are seen: present and yet remote, a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.” (Yet you’d never call Lorien sentimental, in the sense of the word that means dwelling in the past excessively. And I think re-enactment, or living history, can be the same way: in the past, but not sentimental.)

“Halflings!” laughed the rider that stood beside Eomer. “Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?”

“A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”

  [Eomer] “It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. The world is all grown strange. Elf and Dwarf in company walk in our daily fields; and folk speak with the Lady of the Wood and yet live; and the Sword comes back to war that was broken in the long ages ere the fathers of our fathers rode into the Mark! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he ever has judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” (And fantasy is either evil magical stuff or mindless escapism with no application to the ‘real world’!)

“But fear no more! I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.” (There’s a reason Faramir’s been a favourite character of mine all these years. And I first met him long before I knew about situational ethics or the idea that truth and goodness change over time.)

[Bilbo] “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone must give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”

From the Appendices:

“It is often difficult to discover from old tales and traditions precise information about things which people knew well and took for granted in their own day (such as the names of letters, or of the days of the week, or the names and lengths of months).” AMEN. I might add any number of other difficult things, but for the sake of time I shall refrain.

After a decently long paragraph on deficits in calendars and how they were made up, and the Gondorian method of adding one day at the end of every millenium, there’s a parenthetical note: “In T. A. 3000 with the threat of imminent war such matters were neglected.” As if in most countries the calendar is the first concern of any Steward, war or no.

In a footnote to a section on how, in the Shire calendar, the date in a month was always on the same day of the week: “It will be noted if one glances at a Shire calendar, that the only weekday on which no month began was Friday. It thus became a jesting idiom in the Shire to speak of ‘On Friday the first’ when referring to a day that did not exist, or to a day on which very unlikely events such as the flying of pigs or (in the Shire) the walking of trees might occur. In full the expression was ‘on Friday the first of Summer-filth’.” ‘Filth’ may not actually mean mud in this context. I noticed this time through that a great many of the Shire names for months come from Anglo-Saxon ones, as Blotmath (pronounced, the Appendix says, as Blodmath or Blommath) from Blodmonath. (In Bree it was called Blooting.) Similarly Winterfilth from Winterfilleth. Tolkien knew what he was doing with language.

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In Which a writer attempts to do maths

I think the posts I make during the school year tend to be more focused because more things are annoying me, and I have a shortage of time so I need to say things as quickly as possible. Or it may be that now I’m starting to relax, and when I’m relaxed I tend to ramble. The last few posts have been very rambly. Today, maybe, not so much.

Numbers and I don’t get along well, usually, but I’ve been doing more with them this month because I’m doing Camp NaNo, and it’s fun to see how much I write in a day.

Of the North’s first draft hovered around 50,000 words except for the time I cut a chapter and it was at 49 for a while. A little research seems to show that historical fiction is expected to be around 100,000 words, and if it’s much under 80, people think the world isn’t detailed well enough. Anyway, the rewritten version is much expanded, and would probably be closer to 80k than 50 anyway. It is nice to know that that’s acceptable in its genre.

I now have ten documents for things related to Of the North:

The first draft itself, 50,500 words;

A copy of that first draft with some new scenes added so I have context for them, 55,991;

A document of Notes, 5,235;

One of new and rewritten scenes from May and June, 22,735;

One of scenes I’ve written so far during Camp Nano, which at the moment is at 10,466 — so, in two weeks, I’ve already written as much as I averaged per month in the two months previous (I started the revision officially at the beginning of May);

One of modern scenes (as many as I’ve written, though more will be coming), 17,312;

One with a new outline and the plot structure, 458;

One of lines to keep verbatim from the old version (though as I incorporate some of those lines, I change them), 9,600;

The document also containing a duplicate of the Snow White story, for purposes of keeping track of word count for NaNo, currently 21,745, though a fair bit of it is the other one;

The document with the revised story, as I begin assembling pieces, currently 36,166.

Now most scenes are in several documents at once, so don’t think adding up the total word counts of all of these will give you Of the North‘s word count. The Revised document has almost all of the new stuff, I think, so let me see. . . twice 36. . . (I can’t count this high on my fingers, so I almost did what my sister did with the waist of her skirt yesterday, and concluded twice as much as reality). . . I’m just under halfway, perhaps. Halfway-ish. It seemed like I had so much more than that.

Most of the important things happen while AEschild is in the eleventh century, and a lot of the modern scenes (after being returned, note the use of the passive, to the twenty-first) just show her character development. I’ve been writing a lot while recovering from, thinking of, hearing about, or wishing for SCA events, which makes it easier to do the modern scenes where she’s doing a similar thing (or even actually at an event), which means I have a disproportionately small amount of medieval scenes actually done. Which is odd considering that those are actually my favourite.

Last week was the infamous second week of NaNo, where things drag on — not something that had happened to me in my first two times, but last week it did. Then yesterday I somehow wrote 3,000 words easily. Maybe it was because, instead of trying to re-do scenes I already knew, I just took some characters and a list of things that needed to happen, and let them do the things on their own. Or maybe this was because of a breakthrough on Sunday (we had a guest preacher who did Psalm 90, which has a lot to do with the theme. . .).

I’m still hoping to have it fully revised, and gone through at least six weeks of sitting and cooling off, by the end of the year. Hopefully before. Then it’s off to beta-readers again, and then I’ll make the necessary changes, and if all goes well that will be done before Realm Makers, to which, if all keeps going well, I’ll be going in hopes of pitching it, among other things. Of course, there’s an entire school year to fit in there somewhere.

In the next week or so I’ll be busy finishing up the summer class, doing my sister’s chores while she’s at camp, writing blog posts about The Colour of Life and things that most bother me in historical fiction, and maybe finishing Camp NaNo in all of that. I only have about 9,000 words to go.

Posted in Of the North, Writing | 4 Comments

Backstory, cont’d.

I’ve finished going through Of the North, and have about 9,600 words of lines worth keeping verbatim, and some of those now I’m not so sure about. 9,600 out of 50,000 is a pretty small percentage.

One more note about college, before I go on. I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve wasted my time there, or that I have learned nothing about writing from the writing classes. I just haven’t learned very much, yet. It may be that way because I still have a year to go, and you don’t really get into the writing classes until the third year. Or maybe you get out what you put in, and I haven’t been putting much in. Grades don’t always reflect how much you’ve actually been learning, because sometimes teachers grade unreasonably high or low. Also, a lot of the early classes are for people who are just figuring out their voice or even the fact that they write, not so much for someone who’s already developed a voice and focus. And about two-thirds of it is poetry, for some reason.

Hope, whom I mentioned earlier, joined an online writing magazine thing and told me about it, but I didn’t pay much attention at the time. Eventually I started stalking it, reading their articles and forum threads, and watching their writing videos. I didn’t join, though, being reluctant to join yet another group that I’d probably end up leaving in a year or so.

But I did start to like it, and it was offering good advice, and I got to know some of the most common people on the forum (without them ever knowing I existed), and they seemed to be growing, and far ahead of me, and committed to the place. So in December, I think, last year, after finishing another semester still alive, I joined.

Kingdom Pen started as an online magazine for Christian writers, but by now it’s more than that. They publish articles, short stories, and poems. They do videos of writing advice. There’s the forum, too. They’ve started doing online classes, sometimes free and sometimes not, as well. I’ve learned a lot, most especially about plot structure and theme, since starting to stalk the website. Now if I have a writing question, there’s a group of people I can ask it of, without having to worry about adjusting for bad worldviews.

For example, the one course, Jumpstart Your Novel, says conflict is important because readers read to see other people, like them, battling the same things they do, and learning how to overcome them. Whereas one of my teachers is of the opinion that people read fiction in order to escape from their troubles, and they like conflict because it shows that someone else has it worse than they do, and furthermore, fiction not only should not teach lessons, it doesn’t necessarily do so. Whereas Jumpstart Your Novel says all stories teach something whether they mean to or not.

Then there’s the forum. A lot of us write fantasy, but there’s the occasional few who write historical fiction (and some who even like to read it!) among other genres, and several poets. Also, you won’t think of raspberries, ice cream, or extra-large frogs the same way again. Or even candy bars.

If that sounded like an advertisement, that’s probably because it is.

In other news, if you’re writing a novel set just after the Norman Conquest, don’t start off with an apparently respectable Anglisc woman walking around bareheaded and taking refuge in a storeroom for potatoes apparently intended for human consumption. She should also not be wearing a velvet cloak. And if you’re going to review such a book, don’t recommend it to lovers of Renaissance history unless you explain yourself. (Finding comparable books for Of the North is turning out to be hard.)

Posted in Of the North, Writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

A little bit of backstory

A discussion with a friend of mine today prompted this post — it was getting late in the day, and I wasn’t thinking of anything more exciting to report than my very slow progress through Of the North, on a quest to put in bold the (remarkably few) lines good enough to keep verbatim. Those of you who read the first draft will recognize very little in the second, if you’re so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to remember things word for word.

When, in 2008 or 9, I wrote down my first story, I didn’t think other writers existed. If you’d asked me whether new books were being published each year, and whether real live people wrote them, I would have said yes, but that was far off and unattainable. I didn’t know that I could do such things. I knew people from the seminary who’d published books, but they were doctors, and anyway they wrote theological essays and treatises, not stories. And thanks to our extremely limited household library of 6,000 books, I hadn’t yet encountered many published after about the year I was born.

Also I was extremely shy of showing anybody my work, which didn’t help much, so hardly anybody knew I was a writer. Even when grown-ups asked the horrid question “So what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’d say one thing or another (rarely the same thing twice in a row, as I recall) just to answer the question so that they’d go away, without really meaning it. I never did know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I figured, at best, I’d grow up and find out what I was doing then, and keep doing it. (So far that has not failed me.)

I wrote this and that in notebooks I collected, fantasy stories they might be called, some being more obvious pastiches of Tolkien than others. In my first Creative Writing class in college, we were all told to imitate somebody’s style, which I’d grown out of doing by then, but it is true that it’s not a bad way to start. I still don’t think you should tell people to imitate, though; if they need to, they’ll already be doing so, and if not, you can set them back a ways with it. Some of them never outgrow it. Paolini imitated all sorts of things in his Inheritance Cycle, with the result that it never should have been published as it is, but who knows, another decade or so and he might have found his own voice (and not come to such empty conclusions about basically every important thing, but I digress).

When I was twelve or thirteen, and had been writing for about three years, I joined Ravelry. It’s an online community for knitters and crocheters, with many smaller sub-groups. One of these I joined was for Christian writers — having finally figured out that was I was doing (making stories in my head and putting them on paper) was called writing, and that someone who did it as obsessively as me was called a writer; see also lunatic — and I met Hope there, among other people.

Being where I was, just finding out what I was, and just beginning to open up to people about it (more readily online than face-to-face, because having conversations in person is always scarier, and I wasn’t very confident in my newly-discovered lack of sanity yet), it was good. People might not give very constructive criticism, but they did encourage me to keep writing. We had challenges and contests every so often, and I like a challenge, so that helped. It also assured me that I wasn’t the only one who thought about killing people, or had “imaginary friends” that I was more attached to than my friend (singular, unless you count my sister) in “real life”.

But eventually a lot of the more mature writers moved on, or left, or weren’t active on Ravelry anymore, and a lot of immature writers replaced them — writers who were even less mature than I was, which is saying something, since I hadn’t even heard of “show, don’t tell” yet. So I left, and was without any other writers for a while. For those of you who aren’t writers (if any of you do read my blog), it’s hard to understand how hard it is to be a lone writer.

By the time I was fifteen and starting college, I knew I wanted to study how to write stories. Also, on the first day of my first class-in-a-classroom-with-classmates ever, the teacher told us “Show, don’t tell”. It was just a Composition class (in retrospect not even a very good one, but I didn’t know at the time), but that was the first time I’d ever heard that practically omnipresent piece of advice.

Much more recently, some poets from my church, along with the one prose writer (me), made a group for discussion and critiquing each others’ work, but we’re grown-ups, which means life gets in the way just as much as it did when we were children, and we don’t meet very often. And besides, though they have read lots of good books and all, they’re still poets, and I write prose. The two are essentially different.

I haven’t gotten to know very many writers at college, certainly not the kind I’m comfortable sharing my writing with. Oh, I do, of course, because classes require it. But when someone has an entirely antagonistic worldview, their advice is likely to be skewed, and often it’s a good idea to do the exact opposite of what they suggest. Often, not always, to be fair. But it is still a secular college, and liberal, of course — awfully liberal for being in a region settled by Norwegian Lutheran farmers.

I learned a lot about writing without knowing it, because I’ve been a bookworm for longer than I can remember. I never plotted anything — all I had to go by was knowing how books were when finished and published, not how they got there. So I wrote, because pencil and paper is a good way to get words out of your head. But I also just wrote things down as they happened in my head, without paying attention to plot structure and things, because it’s hard to consciously do something you don’t know exists. Characters didn’t have much depth or grow a lot. I summarized instead of showing. The style of the writing wasn’t very good. Sometimes it would sound a little like whoever I’d been reading, and sometimes it was more like a flat balloon. You can learn a lot faster, with a lot less trial-and-error and reinventing the wheel, if you have people who are farther ahead who can tell you things.

Then came college, into which I went bravely with a major in Creative Writing, and I learned about themes from philosophy classes, tone and three-act structure and foil characters and character arcs from literature classes, a little bit about writing from the odd poetry section of a craft and theory class, and next to nothing about writing from the actual Creative Writing classes. (You already know what I learned from that one workshop last semester.) I did learn something about the history of ideas from the writing classes (though I got to see them move along more in the British Literature classes, and the philosophy ones go without saying), and discovered that Modernism is still flourishing hand-in-hand with Postmodernism, which of course has no trouble with logical inconsistencies, in certain members of the faculty. (I also learned that a feminist of the old school can love medieval literature, whereas the new sort can only teach you that everything’s wrong with anything written before abortion became legal.)

I am now over thirteen hundred words in this post, and I think I shall leave you with a cliffhanger until my next one, which will now become mostly an advertisement, based on where I break things up now.

Posted in Of the North, Writing | 3 Comments

Things ganging agley

Because this is what happens when I make plans. I try not to, because then I get attached, and when they don’t turn out, I get sad about it. It’s easier just not to plan, and then whenever you get something done, it’s a pleasant surprise. Well, theoretically. I still set out to do things, just without the hard-and-fast deadlines and schedules that motivate most people.

So we went to the regional fighters’ practice that our local group was hosting, and it was lots of fun! My sister has pictures up on her blog, which you may see here.  Please do! I didn’t write about it, due to Other Things, but the pictures tell a lot on their own. (And I really like the one of her by the banner. . . forget what group’s it is, not ours, but I saw it at Hadrian’s, and it’s pretty. Ever since Pendragon’s Heir I’ve liked red and gold more.)

I wrote the bulk of the Snow White story, now renamed The Colour of Life, but I’m stuck on the ending. I’ll take the rest of Camp NaNo for working on Of the North. I was getting a bit tired of it, but a foray into Orthodox Russia was a nice change, and now I’m ready for the more familiar English scenes again. It’s a lot easier, also, because I’m more fluent in O. E. and Latin than Russian and Greek! Seemingly no one ever transliterates Russian, so it’s hard to have dialogue with a good feel. Of course, I have only researched the setting for two weeks. But I got stuck on how it should end, because I don’t know if it’s a kissing story or not, and the people concerned aren’t talking about it. Very helpful, guys.

Oh! And before I forget, I was looking up something rather different and stumbled onto a poem that works really well for the “Prince” character in The Colour of Liferead it, if you’re interested in Communism and things.

Speaking of being stuck on endings — About Wind Age. I know some of you are still waiting for a chapter. A couple of scenes were a bit outside my readership’s comfort zone (which is good to know ahead of publishing time), and there was the problem that cropped up in the next chapter but one to send out, and the question of whether to rearrange the narrative to not be so chronologically straightforward (because as it is now, the first half is awfully slow). The thing keeping me from sending out the next chapters is the snag that comes up in the second and refuses to go away — I like what I was trying to do with it, but I did it awkwardly, so it sort of flops, which isn’t the way to do things. The biggest problem with the story as a whole isn’t the slow start, but the fact that the climax of the story contains more of the same thing my readers said was too much, so I’m starting to chicken out and consider halting the beta-reading until I can do some serious thinking without a deadline and work things out. But that would be disappointing my betas, who have asked me at least twice (in the three weeks since I started slacking off) where the next chapter is and when it’s coming.

So far in each of my big stories there’s at least two times in their writing where I wonder whether this one is even worth it. I hadn’t had even one of those times yet with Wind Age, so maybe it’s just making up for lost time.

In other news, I’ve been doing some research on early paternosters. The thing with my garb is that to the unlearned eye (that is to say, most of America’s population), I probably look a lot either like a nun or a Muslim. I do wear a cross pendent from my belt, but it’s a tiny one and often hides in the gore where no one can see it, so that isn’t doing a lot of good. With the English veil, a necklace isn’t exactly practical. Of course, a visible cross anywhere is probably going to tip speculation toward the “sister” side, but it’s closer, right?

I found a site that says Godgifu mentioned something very like a paternoster in her will, so it’s possible that a string of beads (probably wooden?) with a cross on the end isn’t too much OOP. It might even be possible to make it myself (although I lost my new Swiss Army Knife yesterday, possibly outside, and my old one isn’t very sharp anymore).

And with one thing and another, and a long boring grownupish story behind it, I’m not getting a grant to go to Realm Makers next year, so it looks as if, if I am going, it’s on my own money. Which is a problem, as what I’m earning (right now, nothing; during the school year, about two hours a week) is supposed to go towards not having any debt when I graduate. I don’t have very many saleable skills, either. So who knows, maybe I’ll be handed a nice scholarship for next semester and have money freed up, or something like that; and then again maybe I won’t go. With the way Wind Age stalled, I’m not sure Of the North will be ready to pitch in time — one year from now. Eeep!

This is why I should not make plans.

And on that cheerful note, I’m off to try to do something with the last-mentioned story. I’ve gone through times of hating it and apathy, both, but I always come back to it in the end: I am of the North.

Posted in Of the North, Research, SCA, Wind Age, work in progress | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Three Drops of Blood

Last week I said I’d be telling you more about my Snow White retelling. I don’t want to talk about it too much, as it is for a contest, but I have back-cover copy:

Snow White in Orthodox Russia

  Alyona inherited her black hair, pale skin, and red lips from her mother, who died giving birth to her. Her father remarried to give his daughter a mother, but when he dies, her stepmother, Akilina, indentures her to her (Akilina’s) brother, who keeps a curiosity shop. Alyona has only her mother’s portrait, painted by her father, left of her old home.
One day someone brings in a set of nesting dolls with pictures of saints on them. Alyona is up late that night, reading, and at the stroke of midnight the dolls turn into seven little men. They befriend her and sometimes, when she’s up late, help her with her work of sorting through donations and mending the broken ones.
When a young doctor, who spends many of his days saving those wounded in clashes between various factions in the civil unrest shaking the country, comes into the shop to buy the portrait of Alyona’s mother, she tells him it is all she has left. He has already paid for it, but he promises to cherish it, and says he will let her come visit it, if she wishes. They strike up a friendship.
All seems to be going well, but Akilina learns from a magician imprisoned in her mirror that Alyona, far from being broken by her servitude, is thriving, and this is more than the jealous woman can bear. It will take more than a set of wooden nesting dolls, or a penniless young idealist, to save her now, when a woman scorned is thirsty for her blood.

As of right now I have about 5,000 words done, so I’m a quarter of the way to the 20,000-word word-limit. You can see how my progress goes through the month here.

And I’m off to try to get another thousand in before we have to go to a party-ish-thingy.


Posted in work in progress, Writing | Tagged | 6 Comments