Friday, December 23, 2011

The Hobbit

I remember when the trailer for The Return of the King came out.  There was a great deal of jumping around and shrieking.  This was repeated recently when all our cell phones beeped simultaneously and M, N and I all got messages from E to "check Facebook right now!"  She had posted a link to the trailer for The Hobbit, and even as we watched it, she called me - presumably to hear my high-pitched excitement.

I am the opposite of the commenter on the trailer felt that "it  doesn't look very 'Hobbity' to me .... more like a Lord of The Rings spin-off" (NZ Herald, December 22, 2011).  I am glad to see that the story is being treated seriously - I was a little afraid there would be too much focus on the potential slap-stick silliness.  One of my earliest memories of The Hobbit was listening to it on cassette tape when I was about 10 or 11 and sobbing uncontrollably when Thorin Oakenshield lay dying.  When they began the darkly beautiful rendition of "Under the Misty Mountains," I was relieved that there seemed to be adequate restraint in the balance of serious and silly with the dwarves.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I heard back from Abyss and Apex today.  They didn't accept "Catkin," so now I have my first rejection letter.  I would, of course, have been more excited if they had accepted it, but I am still excited to have received a rejection letter - it's a mark of progress.  In addition, it was a very kind rejection letter and they encouraged me to submit again.  While it's quite possible that it is a stock letter, nonetheless, as these things go, it was a very nice one to get as my first.

Anyway, I turned around and submitted the story to another magazine - Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  I once attended a motivational type workshop where we did an exercise in which the hundred or so people in the room milled around asking each other for something.  The something didn't matter, the rule was that as you were asked for things - a flower, a date, a job, an autograph - you said "no" to nine people, then "yes" to the tenth.  The point of the exercise was to remind us that if we didn't ask we wouldn't get to that "yes;" that the "yes" could seem arbitrary to us; but also that the "yes" was out there if we were persistent.  So here's to persistence and all the "no's" before the eventual "yes."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Tav'uresk Launch Party

A tent in our living room
Last night was proof (if there was any doubt) that I have yet to grow out of making pillow forts.  My original idea had been to put up a canopy to give the impression of a tent - but once I started I couldn't stop.  Good thing I have so many sheets and random lengths of cloth!

Key structural detail: Rice Paddle
 I used an entire box of straight pins - several dozen safety pins, a ball of yard, a length of chain, several books, several chairs - but the most important structural detail was a wooden rice paddle.
Our Tav'uresk Launch Party was, therefore, held in a tent in our living room.  The menu was delicious - I still don't much like deep-frying, but the results were great.  The repast consisted of:

Egg Noodles with Shredded Greens, Ginger and Basil
Perfumed Rice (Jasmine Rice cooked with ghee, and a broth of lemongrass, ginger, mint, basil, onions, black pepper and cardamom)
Seitan in Curried Yogurt Sauce
Cucumber, Carrot and Radish salad with Tamari-Sesame Dressing
Pickled Onions
Apricot Chutney

Curried Kabocha Samosas
Green Peas with Paneer Cheese
Turkish Donuts with Rosehip and Honey Glaze
Cream Cheese Stuffed Dates, Candied Almonds, Dried Apricots

and to wash it all down:
White Grape Juice with Ginger, Mint, Cardamom and Pepper

One of the fun elements was that I made my own curry powders and spice blends.  This was partially to use as little pre-made food as possible, (I made the Paneer too,) but also because one of the guests can't have coriander/cilantro which is a big part of many curry mixes.  It was fun researching and mixing the spices!

The evening continued with a reading of The Silvered Swords and then extended congenial conversation.  I highly recommended making a fort and a feast! 

Here are some pictures of the guests:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Endings... and Beginnings

It’s almost the end of the quarter and the beginning of the holiday break.  I am in that state of mind where I would rather be doing almost anything than the things I have put on my to-do list. Of particular interest are stories I am not working on, holiday plans which don’t need to be made quite yet and curling up with books and movies that are not related to either my dissertation or my writing.  Yet, despite the lure of the irrelevant I have been getting things done.  I put together my costume for the Tav’urisk party next week – and promptly misplaced part of it.  I have finished the menu, made shopping lists and have a final list of decretive elements to obtain. 

The writing on the religion, Daletha, is nearing a completed draft and I have finished drafts of the 12 Saints Tales.  Of all the entries I have completed for the Encyclopedia of Idhua I have the most doubts about the religion.  Oddly, as I noted as I began this project, it seems more strange and silly to create an invented religion and try to write about it, than it has to do so with invented countries and history.  Perhaps because I want to maintain the mystery at the center of things within my work and religions often try to explain that mystery – particularly in their written texts.  If I ever write a tale that is dealing heavily with the religion I will have to go back, but I have a slightly fleshed out outline – and an idea of the major historical periods and movements.

I will be glad to return to country building and short story writing in January.  I am going to work on the country of Orin next.  It is the country immediately south of Ariceda and settled early on by the same Seldue tribes that lived in Arcieda and southern Fjallind.  I have already written one short story set in Orin – Catkin – which is the one I submitted several weeks ago; however it is not a world-building or cultural exploration.  Orin was a convenient place for the physical requirements of the story.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Preview: Tav’urisk Launch Party

The Tav’urisk Launch Party is coming up in early December and I have been menu planning for it.  It is going to be a mix of dishes with an Asian bent – I’ve been reading Indian, Chinese and Nepalese cookbooks for ideas.  I am also drawing on Middle Eastern and Medieval Europe influences.

At the moment I have (as usual,) a ton of dishes and since the Tav’urisk “traditionally” do not use ovens, they are all stove top or, gasp, deep-fried recipes.  I very rarely deep-fry anything – it’s so unhealthy to eat (if delicious!) and a pain to do if you don’t have the right equipment.  I jury-rig pots, sieves, and slotted spoons and such, but it’s still a bit annoying.
However, I am going to make, and fry, Kabocha Squash Samosas and a Turkish Donut Recipe which sounds sort of amazing.  They are essentially a choux pastry, fried, and dipped in rose-hip syrup.  I am going to tweak the syrup recipe to be made with honey and no rosewater or lemon juice (ingredients the Tav’urisk wouldn’t have), but otherwise I am following this method: Turkish Doughnuts with Rose Hip Syrup.  I think I’ll do small balls instead of rings.

Turkish Donuts
photo by: John Kernick

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have finally crossed a line and begun to submit things!  I have submitted two short stories – on to the online magazine Abyss and Apex, and the other to the publisher World Wisdom.  Whatever the response may be, I will be excited to get a response as it means that I am starting the process of asking.  If you never ask, there will be no answer at all.  A “no” is preferable to nothing.  I was invited to submit something to World Wisdom, but I am really not sure if my work fits the expansion into YA fantasy/adventure they are considering.  I also submitted to the Fairwood Writer’s Workshop at Norwescon, which I submitted to last year.  It’s kind of amazing when I consider how far I have come in that year.  How many words I have written, how many critiques I have attended, and now I am finally ramping it up and trying to get published!

I would like to take a picture of my submission and pin it to the wall:  "Look, I have started putting my work into the world - here is the manilla envelope to prove it!"  Sadly for me, though better for the environment I suppose, so far I have submit electronically.  I must content myself with having made a new label color in my Gmail folders to indicate correspondence regarding submissions:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Amber Grimoire

The current issue of the Amber Grimoire, titled "The Wild Wood" is ready! The short story I put in there was an exercise to write a little tale in the style of an Arthurian romance - the retelling, not medieval verse.  The country of Ariceda in Idhua has a legendary queen, Aeslthed, and the cycle of seven tales about her are a keystone of Aricedan legendary history.  This tale is the fourth in the cycle and tells of her unexpected marriage.  If anyone is interested in submitting to the Amber Grimoire the next issue's theme is "Dreams."  The submission deadline and other information is posted here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Letter to my Future Self

October 21, 2011

Dear Future Self,

I am writing to you from right at the beginning of your writing career.  You are about to submit your first short story, you have just begun the journey to understand the publishing, marketing, commercial side of writing, and are still in the early stages of the creative side as well.  So, what is it that I want to say to you, my future self?  First, I believe that I will get to you some day.  You are out there – with short stories published, novels published, and a fantasy world of depth and mystery that is appreciated by your audience as much as you care for it now.

Second, I want you to remember some things from now, things to be carried forward into that future. 

Remember why you are writing – how much you love the words and the stories, the characters and the richness of the land you are creating.  As time passes your writing will (hopefully) improve, and, no doubt, it will change as you change.  Don’t disparage the things you are writing now – no matter if they’re never published, no matter if they become that story that you could squirm to remember its melodrama or verbosity.  Don’t be unkind to me, here and now, struggling to figure all this out.  All of the things you have written and will write are genuine, and passionate, and sometimes awkward.  In that they are as human as you are.  There will always be critics who hate your works and ones who love it.  Don’t forget you have chosen a middle path – to love the work and to keep learning and striving.

Remember what it is like to be a beginning writer and to be flooded with advice and forecasts of doom and woe.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be honest about your experience of a writer’s path, but when you are sharing that experience remember to share the core of your passion as well as the warnings of the pitfalls.

Remember that I still have to go through all the challenges and hardships that you have already learned from.  Honor that journey.  Send me hope and encouragement for the tough times, send me joy and excitement from the successes.

I am excited to meet you someday – hang on, I’m on my way!

Love, Tannara

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wonderful Little Film

Check out this lovely little film "Anchored" from Lindsey Olivares. It was her senior thesis project at Ringling College of Art and Design.

Struggling with (Fictional) Religion

I am finding that creating a religion is much harder than any of the world creation or invented history I have been working on.  I want to create a religion which is both unifying and divisive and that can enhance the stories I am telling without overwhelming them.  The religion I am creating is called Daletha.  It is a duotheistic, with a God and a Goddess, as well as a legion of heavenly messengers and saints.  Coming from one mind and in a short period of time, there is no way that its philosophy can attain the complexity over time that a centuries-old religious system encompasses, but I am trying to work out the broad strokes of its theology over time and record its major movements and systems.  Ultimately, it is going to be a transcendent religion, but I am trying to balance that with some descendant theology as well.
In some ways creating a religion is a profoundly personal aspect of the world, because it will become a skeleton for the stories I want to write.  If I create a religion whose adherents are not people I would want to write about, I have created a useless construct.  Yet, trying to develop a world-view and philosophical system that fits the characters I create has ended up making me take a close look at my own world-view, and consider the fact that though I am fabricating an imaginary creation it is personally resonant.
Scholars examining J. R. R. Tolkien’s cosmology have been quick to point out the ways it fits (or does not fit) his own Catholic faith.  While I have no idea if my (real or fictional) cosmology will ever be studied, I am, at any rate, aware of the assumptions (true and false) which can be drawn.  One of the reasons that Tolkien’s writing is so powerful is the powerful forces underscoring his story, and while he does not have a religion in Middle Earth that we would recognize as such, we do recognize the deep spiritual underpinnings of his work.  It is impossible to say if my writing will ever achieve that depth – I can only hope it will.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

SF Signal's Flow Chart for NPR's Top 100 SF/Fantasy Books

M just sent me the link for this and I found it enormously entertaining.  I am trying to get myself pepped up to do some rewriting/editing for the Amber Grimoire, but found this to be much more entertaining:

Visit SF Signal's Post here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eonia Launch Party

Idhua’s third country, Eonia, has been launched.  An archipelago off the eastern coast, Eonia has an eastern Mediterranean influence.  The room was draped in shades of blue and violet, and decorated with ivy and flowers, candles and a shrine to the Eonian sea goddess, Moriana.  The menu was consisted of flat bread served with hummus, homemade yogurt cheese with olive oil and sumac, black and green olive tapanade, cumin carrot spread, and herbed artichoke heart relish; a salad of romaine, radishes, sweet onions, cucumbers, feta, and mint in a lemon and olive oil dressing and a goat cheese and roasted mushroom filo roll.  After supper there was reading of The Amulet of Aranos.

The evening was concluded with an ice cream made of Greek yogurt, honey and orange flower water served with candied orange peel and pomegranate seeds.  Everyone wore Greek/fantasy inspired costumes, but sadly a great number of the pictures came out fuzzy.  Below are a few that turned out:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Progress Report

Idhua is progressing apace!  I now have five countries done, in first draft form at least.  The latest that I finished over the summer is Ariceda, neighbor to Lendhlay and Fjallind.  I have decided that instead of doing a country this fall, I am going to work on the religion as I am getting to the point where the details of that are very important as I figure out cultures.  I have The Penguin Handbook of the World’s Living Religions to help me consider what elements and practices I need to look into including to build a religion.  I think a book on medieval Catholicism will be in order too.  At any rate, here is the current map of Idhua and the countries that are finished:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Happy Anniversary Idyllwild!

Last Saturday M, N and I celebrated the first anniversary of the Idyllwild Literary Guild with a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  The Idyllwild Literary Guild’s purpose is to promote mythopoeic literature and art with a particular emphasis on the beautiful and fantastic.  It was started last year, by some friends and I, and though it is not terribly big or active, it is a fun venture.  

At our tea party we had five tea pots – with Irish Breakfast Tea, Peppermint Tea, Cherry Punch, Water and Chocolate Milk.  Of course we played croquet – but though we managed to rent a croquet set, we failed to look up how one plays croquet.  Deciding that it couldn’t be that hard, we set up our arches (somewhat randomly) and fell to whacking the balls with enthusiasm.  We figured that if anyone criticized our method, we could point out that it was a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – so the croquet must also be a little mad.  At least we weren’t whacking hedgehogs.

A game you can play in long skirts!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers

Last Sunday I went to the North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers Meetup.  It was a really great experience.  Well, great besides the fact that I went to the Greenlake Chocolati Café, before realizing it was at the Greenwood Chocolati Café and so was late and flustered.  Once I got there, the group was very welcoming.  They all gave very useful feedback on my short story “Catkin.” Some of their suggestions were particularly helpful, because they will make the story more understandable to someone who is not familiar with my world, Idhua.  The blind spot of  my current readers – my mom, my sister and a few close friends – is that they know a lot about my world from all the stories and ideas I have bounced off of them.

The pieces I read from the other writers in the Meetup group were really good too, and it was a pleasure to read and critique them.  Hopefully some of the suggestions I made were as useful to them as theirs were for “Catkin.”

The group holds meetings every two weeks – which may be a little much for me, at least right now – but I do plan on going back.  It is invigorating to read and discuss works in progress with other authors in my genre and I would like to make more connections to the speculative fiction community here in Seattle.

North Seattle SciFi and Fantasy Writers

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review: The Heir of Night

The Heir of Night
The Wall of Night, Book One

Helen Lowe
Eos, 2010

"If Night falls, all fall."

This book is a compelling beginning to an exciting new series.  Lowe has created a richly realized world of great depth, and peoples it with interesting characters.  Her tale begins in a mountain keep in a harsh land where the Earl of Night, of one the Nine Derai Houses, keeps the unending vigil against the Darkswarm.  This horde of warriors, necromancers and terrible demons has been the Derai’s foes “across worlds and time,” yet a recent lull in the conflict has allowed some of the Derai to settle into complacency.  Additionally, the Nine Houses are split by past treachery, which has also split the warrior line from the priestly line – and anyone who shows the least bit of the “old powers” is exiled to the Temple.

However, now the Darkswarm have returned, and swords alone are not enough against them.  The Darkswarm are after Malian, Heir of Night, the Earl’s daughter.  She discovers she is a child of prophecy and a wielder of the old powers.  With the help of a young novice from the Temple, Kalan, she survives the first terrible assault of the Darkswarm, but she quickly learns that there are traitors among her people and that the rift between warrior and priest demands that she be sent away for her magical gifts.

The tale is fast paced and exciting, even as it weaves in the complex culture and family alliances, the vast legendary history of the Derai, and tantalizing glimpses of the other peoples which live on the planet Haarth.  Malian and Kalan must find a way to learn how to use their powers, stay out of the hands of the Darkswarm, understand the great legendary forces that are awakening around them – and perhaps find a way to unite their world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Submitting Short Stories

As my efforts to write short stories begin to yield some drafts that are nearing finished, I have been gathering a list of places to submit them.  Yesterday, I was very excited to discover Duotrope.  This website is a free resource for writers, which has a searchable database of markets for fiction and poetry.  By entering terms such as “High Fantasy” and “short story” I came up with a list of places to submit, most of which I had not found in my poking around on the web.  I found Duotrope through the website of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is another very useful website in its own right.  I have been keeping an eye on their blogs, as there are useful articles on both the writing and the business side of things.

Duotrope: search for short fiction & poetry markets

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On a quest to the Renaisance Faire

M, N, D and I had an adventure trying to get the Renaissance Faire yesterday.  We started out by checking out a smaller festival that turned out to be a bit of a dud.  Then, since we were all dressed up, we decided to go to the bigger fair that (luckily) was also happening this weekend.  With a lot of getting lost, getting found, calling friends to look up directions and maddeningly slow people on country highways we made it to the Faire – about an hour before it closed.  We still had fun though, wandering around, eating pickles and ice cream. 

I love the feeling of being dressed up in costume and among so many others in costume.  It is also really fun to people (or, perhaps, character) watch at the Faire.  Sometime it would be interesting to go and take four or five pictures of different characters and then write a story based on them.  Here's a picture of our costumes:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Submissions for The Amber Grimoire

Back in February, I solicited submissions for The Amber Grimoire.  The May issue did not receive enough submissions to be published, so we are trying again.  Our theme is still "The Wild Wood," and submissions of poetry, short fiction, reviews and art work are requested by September 1, 2011 for publication in November.  Visit the submissions page for more information.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I just moved last week.  Moving is always an exhausting process – but I am excited about this one.  Our new apartment is full of light, and has lovely large double-glazed windows.  I am still living with my sister N and our housemate M, but our other housemate S, is now in a studio of her own, a mile or so away.  My new room is tiny compared to my old one…but I really like it.  It has south and west facing windows, one of which overlooks the balcony where all my potted herbs are living.

I took the opportunity of moving to organize my writing-self:  I have a file box dedicated to writing and three wall pockets for manuscripts in various stages.  My notebooks have a place to live – that is not just a stack – and I even have a spot to put my computer case.  Now all I need is the internet to be hooked up and I will be set.
I also discovered a coffee shop in my neighborhood – in my search for WiFi – which is my new favorite coffee shop.  It is under an apartment building and is long and thin, with a coffee counter on one end and fireplace on the other.  The whole north wall is windows and there is a pair of comfy chairs that I can sink deeply into.  I haven’t liked a coffee shop this much since The Dragonfly in Portland, OR.  Check it out if you are ever out that way.

Lovely inside too!

In writing, my next country is coming along.  I spent a while yesterday designing a flag for it.  It is called “the oak and stars.”  The country is Ariceda, which is the setting for the novel I have in very rough draft form.  I know that manuscript needs a lot of work – if for no other reason than I have done a massive amount of world-building since I wrote it.  The short story I am working on for Ariceda is a sort of prequel tale for the novel and will, I hope, flesh out some of the secondary characters.
Despite being worn out from the move, I have been full of energy for writing.  I am plugging my way though editing and am collecting places to submit some of the more polished pieces too.  I hope I will be announcing some sort of publication in the next year or so.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vacation Time

I took a 6 week vacation from many of my activities so that I could enjoy summer, house-guests, visiting California, etc.  For the last week I have been down in Santa Cruz, staying with my mom and my dear friend, E.  (Check out her poetry blog CrazyCurlyCues.)  While I was down south, my mom’s writing group, the Inkslingers, was kind enough to invite me to their monthly meeting and to read for them.  I read my shortest story to date, Catkin, and received some excellent feedback.  It was also really wonderful to hear what others in the group were writing: high fantasy, a YA adventure/mystery story, and a non-fiction self realization/empowerment book.  I wish I had a magic door that opened one way into Seattle and the other into Santa Cruz, so I could visit all my good friends here – especially the redwood trees!
Sunlight in the Redwoods

Monday, June 27, 2011

Neil Gaiman's Advice

 I went and saw Neil Gaiman last night.  He is touring for the tenth anniversary edition of American Gods.  He is an eloquent and amusing speaker and I enjoyed the evening very much.  During the Q & A someone asked the ubiquitous question “What advice would you give to you fantasy writers?”   I suppose that authors must prepare stock answers for this question, but I thought his advice was particularly good:

  • You have to write.
  • You have to finish what have written.
  • Don’t read fantasy – except to stay on top of the genre – instead read everything else.
  • Read primary sources.
  • Read outside of your comfort level.
  • Tell the stories only you can tell.
  • The quicker you come to writing those stories the better.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Foundations: My Seminal Fantasy Books II

Three more authors which were read aloud to me:

L. Frank Baum: The Oz series.  The Oz books are an early episodic series –a band of adventurers that go from one encounter to the next with only a loosely connecting plot.  I very much enjoy the whimsy of Baum’s world.  Additionally,  Oz is surprisingly un-sexist for its time.  Its protagonists are often female: Dorothy, Ozma, Betsy, Trot, etc.  and the rulers and moral authorities in Oz are female: Ozma, Glinda, etc.

George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin; The Princess and Curdie; The Light Princess, The Golden Key, etc.  MacDonald’s work is infused with mysticism and (sometimes strange) symbolism.  Both are at times heavy handed, but they also give a depth and mystery to his work that I find very compelling.  There is a great depth of beauty to his writing.  I find the moral elements to be somewhat over done, but also laudable.  I find I dislike overly moralistic fantasy, but I equally dislike too much moral relativism or ambiguity.

Lloyd Alexander: The Chronicles of Prydain.  Alexander worked with Welsh and Norse mythology in his five book series – there are elements that are very reminiscent of Tolkien.  To me they are the classic “coming-of-age, orphan discovers grand destiny” tale.  They are a great mix of heroic adventure and humor.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Foundations: My Seminal Fantasy Books

The other day I was re-reading Judith Tarr’s The Hound and the Falcon trilogy, and it got me thinking about what are seminal fantasy books/series for me.  To start off my list, here are three authors that my mother read aloud to my siblings and me, all of which have had an impact on my own imagination.

J. R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  My mother read both of these aloud, but we also had them on cassette tape and listened to them until the tapes were all warped and slurred.  Some of the elements which I am particularly drawn to in these books include the richness and depth of the world, the lyricism of Tolkien’s writing, the nobility of his characters and the simplicity he brings to a complex tale.

Susan Cooper: The Dark is Rising quartet.  This YA series blends the modern day with a mythic world quite seamlessly.  Unlike some of the more recent attempts to do so, there is less of a sense that there is a hidden world of magic, and more of a sense of continuity between the ordinary and the extraordinary.  Cooper draws on Celtic mythology, particularly the Arthurian cycle.   I particularly like the way she reimagines customs and stories of the British isles, weaving together history, myth and her own inventions to create a grand set of adventures.

Ellen Kindt McKenzie: Taash and the Jesters.  This book is exciting, funny and engrossing.  It has many traditional elements: an orphan mysterious origins, a kidnapped prince, a long quest through a Medieval fantasy world, disguises, mistaken identities, wicked witches, good witches, and happy accidents.  One particular reason I have great affection for it is that the author lived in the area of California where I grew up, and I always fancied that the landscape of Taash was influenced by the same landscape that is often at the center of my imagination.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Writing Short Stories - Part 1

In the process of learning to write short-stories I have learned – or, perhaps, relearned – that I have a tendency to be verbose.  I think it is partially instinctive, as I have always had a love for completeness.  It is not enough to know the bones of the story: I want to know what they ate and how they made paint or glue or how their language evolved, and what happened in the places they left behind.  The trick that I am starting to learn is that all of that can be explored, but the story is the network of moments within it that fit together in one tight, sleek shape.  I hope that in time I will be able to shorten the process – rather than writing the 20,000 word version, then the 12,000, then the 9,000 and then finally the 7,500, I will be able to hold the 20,000 version in my head while I write the 9,000 version and then edit it down.

The other reason I tend toward wordiness is from academic writing.  Somehow, when I was receiving my training, there was much more emphasis on achieving the page number than on saying everything that needs to be said elegantly and succinctly.  In retrospect I wish I had had a teacher who was skilled in teaching how to define a topic that is the right size for that 25 page paper while being concise.  I have had a lot of good teachers over the years, but as I think about it, very few good writing teachers.

At any rate, I am rewriting and editing five stories at the moment.  While I am nearly done with Tav’uran, I have decided that I am not going to start the next country until I have at least two, if not three, of the current stories polished up to the point I feel I can start submitting them for publication.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Book Review: The Dragon's Path

The Dragon’s Path
The Dagger and the Coin Book 1

Daniel Abraham
Orbit 2011

There are two ways to meet the world.  You go out with a blade in your hand or else a purse” (526).

The Dragon’s Path is the beginning of an interesting tale.  Following multiple viewpoints through a world that is preparing for great change, this particular story spent a little bit too much time on introductory elements and only got into the meat of the tale near the end.  The characterizations are very well done – rich, well-rounded and always an energizing mix of likeable and dislikable.  It is hard to get entirely comfortable with any of the characters, which fit the uncertainty and uneasiness of the world they live in. 

There are two main threads of the story, corresponding to the two “ways to meet the world:” one of commerce and the other of war.  Both threads contain characters who are growing into their worlds, coming from the isolation of childhood, education and obscurity into the arena of adulthood, application of learning and recognition.  The first thread of the tale starts with a doomed caravan guarded by an aging hero, Captain Marcus Wester, his lieutenant Yardem and a troupe of actors pretending to be mercenaries.  In the caravan is Cithrin, a young banker’s ward who has been charged with the task of smuggling a vast amount of wealth (in the form of silks, gems, spices and tobacco) from the city Vanai, which on the verge of war.  This particular strand develops the world of the commerce as Cithrin plunges into the risky and intricate world of banking, juggling issues of trust, honesty, legality, opportunity and necessity.  She becomes both betrayer and betrayed; pawn and free agent.

Similarly, the other thread of the tale follows Geder, who like Cithrin, is pulled to and fro by the events of his world, sometimes seeming to direct his own fate, other times fully at the mercy of those around him.  His tale is that of the sword.  He begins as the target of every joke made by his company, which is a part of the forces of King Simeon.  After they take Vanai, he becomes a convenient sacrificial lamb to one side of the political forces struggling to gain the upper hand with the King.  Yet from the moment he is given any sort of power, his choices keep unexpectedly changing his own fortunes, as well as the stakes of the whole conflict.
Abraham plays his cards very close to his chest.  Throughout the novel, I found myself uncertain as to where he was going with some of his elements.  It appears that Geder is shaping up to be the villain, but it is possible he will realize the danger of the road he has chosen.  It also appears that the pair of Cithrin and Marcus Wester will be in a position to stand against Geder and the sinister forces he has unknowingly loosed in the world.  However, Abraham kept me guessing through The Dragon’s Path, and I am sure he has some further reversals in the continuing tale.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Review: The King of Attolia

The King of Attolia

Megan Whalen Turner
EOS/HarperCollins 2007

It is advisable to read Turner’s series from the beginning, starting with The Thief (1998) and then The Queen of Attolia (2001), as her stories are very closely linked.  All three books are good, though I found The King of Attolia the most engaging as it contained a satisfying character arch and the reward of some of the elements she had built up in the previous stories.  In the first two books the protagonist is Eugenides, and the tale focuses on his adventures.  He is an interesting mix of learning and foolishness, cunning and artlessness, and always a sort of manic energy.  In The King of Attolia, the story is primarily told from the point of view of Costis, a young guard who becomes embroiled with the twisted workings of Eugenides’ schemes.  This view point works very well because having come to know Eugenides from the first two stories, the reader can see into or through some of the situations that have Costis confused, yet there is a freshness in seeing Eugenides through eyes that do not know him yet.

The plot centers on the layered conspiracies and politics in the court of Attolia and the slow unraveling and reveal as multiple players try to twist and turn things in their own way, only to slowly discover that they are all playing against a better player, in the person of their new King, Eugenides.  It is one of those tales that as it is unfolding I was so engrossed in the twists and turns it all seems entirely plausible, yet when I step back from it there is a sense that it is a little too pat, that Eugenides’ cleverness is a little too omniscient.  However, I did enjoy the journey very much and look forward to its continuation in A Conspiracy of Kings (2010), though, as it focuses on a different character, it may only have Eugenides in the background.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Norwescon 34 - April 21-24

So, I didn't write last week because I was busy going to Norwescon. S and I went down Friday morning and got back Sunday morning completely exhausted.   M joined us for Saturday and we all had fun hanging out and indulging our love of Fantasy and Sci-Fi.  I went to a ton of panels, some great, some ok and a couple of real duds.

I started with Best Fantasy and Sci-Fi of 2010 and got some exciting recommendations for books to read.  Perhaps the biggest thing that I carried away from it, was the realization (not for the first time) that as a big library patron I tend to be quite behind the times with my reading.  I am discovering things from two to three years ago and it would be good to freshen up my reading list a bit.

I also went to Marketing for Writers which had a lot of useful information.  Most of it I had heard in one place or another, but it was good to be reminded of it.  We got talking a bit about e-books, which is an interesting topic I am starting to think more seriously about.

Two of my favorite panels were the Interview session with Patricia McKillip and the Creating Your Mythos which also had her on it.  I have been a big fan of her for years – I grew up on The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, among others, – and it was really interesting to hear her speak.  I particularly liked her thoughts on writing about magic – she said that magic is already in the reader and that the language brings it out.  My sense is that she is taking about the way that well written magic stirs a deep longing and wonder inside the reader, creating as much of a sympathetic response as when you read of grief or joy and feel those emotions along with the characters.

One of the panels which was (unfortunately) not so interesting was the panel on World-building.   The main contention that I had with it, was that most of the panelists had similar methods of world-building and so could offer little contrast to each other.  Additionally, they appeared somewhat unprepared to discuss the topic and so the conversation was fairly flat and uninspired.

Besides panels, I went to some of the performances, music and the Masquerade.  I particularly enjoyed hearing Heather Dale’s music performance although I was so exhausted I couldn’t stay for the whole thing.

I also participated in the Fairwood Writers' critique session and received some very useful feedback/encouragement on “The Sorrow of the Lady of Sorjaey.”  I feel like I have a good sense of some of the most important things I need to work on in my writing, including point-of-view, wordiness and passive voice.  I also hereby vow to become a better self-editor – not that I am terrible, but I could certainly be a lot better too.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Writing.... slowly, but surely...

Writing the current country is coming slowly.  I have yet to settle on a name which I like for it.  For a while it was Anthuer – but I have several “A” names already and I didn’t particularly like the name anyways.  At the moment it is Tav’uran.  As I posted previously, this culture is built around their battles with demons and I have been playing with the idea that they leave a part of their name out in order to help hide themselves from the demons (or so the superstition goes).  The asterisk indicates where a syllable has been removed from a name to conceal the “real” name.  However, I am well aware that sticking asterisks into names is a fairly common and sometimes annoying fantasy trope, and I have not decided whether to stick with it or not.

At any rate, the story is coming slightly faster than the “facts” about the country – mostly because I had so much of it figured out ahead of time from my dream.  I am almost done with the first draft of it.  It would be good, I think, to work on the county entry before I start rewriting the story, so that I can allow that work to flesh out the world of the story.

All the writing has been slowed down, as I am still in beading mania, (as of tonight I have the bulk of it done and tomorrow will start actually sewing the dress again,) and am preparing for Norwescon.  Once all that excitement is over it will be time to buckle down to rewriting the Eonian tale besides finishing Tav’uran or whatever it is going to be called.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Beading Mania!

I am usually fairly organized about giving myself enough time to do something, but I have sort of failed this time.  Back in November I decided that I did in fact want to make a costume to wear at Norwescon, at least to the evening events and parties.  It took me until February to decide to pursue a peacock-themed masquerade costume, which has been in the back of my mind for a while.  I dithered about fabric for a while and finally got it in the middle of March.  All good – I had over a month to sew the thing.  But then last weekend, when N was helping me fit the bodice, I decided to bead the trim for it myself.  So now, just a few weeks before it is to be worn, I am madly beading some 84 inches of trim!  Listening to books on tape or to television shows, at a dinner party for M’s visiting parents, when I am having tea with a friend, so far the beading is following me most everywhere.  I don’t know if I will get it done in time, but I find it somewhat amusing none the less.  Next time I will start the beading in November!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Enchanted Forests

Nisene Marks, CA
During my sister, N’s, spring break last week, we went to visit family and friends in central California, where we grew up.  There is always something a little heartbreaking about returning to a place that is not home anymore, but was once.

The coastal forests of California are the foundational forests of my imagination; the landscapes which are written bone-deep on me – the ones that don’t just fill my dreams, but scent them too.  While I can identify far more plants in that ecosystem than in others, even the ones I don’t know the names of, or uses for, are familiar to me.  I have seen them season to season, in all moments of their growth and death.  

Hoh Rainforest, WA
In visiting that forest, I am reminded of how little I know the forests of the Pacific Northwest.  There I am a visitor, who marvels at the sights but does not yet know the language.  In a strange sense the forests of the North are more accessible to me through the mediums of literature, photography or film.  In California the woods are familiar because they are inside of me.  Where I live now the experience of the forest takes the reinterpretation of the artist’s eye, my own or someone else’s, to allow me to recognize that what I am seeing corresponds to something I know.
Me, playing dryad

The Forest that lies at the heart of Idhua grows from that soil that grows the redwoods carpeted with wood sorrel; the tangle of hazel, thimbleberry and bramble that shadows a trickling creek.  The first description of the Forest I wrote (when I was in my early twenties) was both consciously and unconsciously the woods I walked in:

It was well after midday when she came to the first of the great trees.  It reached up and up in majestic grandeur towards the soft sky, high above.  Her heart leapt and she stopped to look more closely at the vast ancient tree.  There was a rich, sharp fragrance in the air of bark and leaf.  The dizzying height made her feel as though she were but a mouse creeping through a vast, living cathedral.  She walked in silence between them and at last, when the light was turning rich and golden, she came to a grove of giants that grew in a circle and in the center of them was a mossy mound.
My sister, playing dryad
The Forest of Idhua, besides being infused with enchantment, stretches from northern mountains wrapped in ice, to southern lakes, shimmering under a brilliant sun. My intention is that it contains many different forests – from cedar to redwood, from oak to maple – yet, I think it is inescapable that its primeval layer this first forest of my memory.  C. S. Lewis wrote that a reader “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted” (29-30).  It is an interactive process for me, as a reader, writer and lover of trees; it is impossible to say whether the enchantment springs first from the forest itself, the trees I read about or those that grow in my imagination.

Works Cited:
Lewis, C. S. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. 2002. Boston: Mariner Books.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fjallind Launch Party

The second county in Idhua has been launched!  On Friday night the country of Fjallind was introduced with a small dinner party and reading of “The Sorrow of the Lady of Sorjaey.”  Fjallind is in the far north-west of Idhua and has a Nordic flavor.  To that end we had a menu which started with sourdough rye bread with homemade soured cream, pickled onions with fresh dill and smoked roasted mushrooms.  Our main course was honey-roasted root vegetables (parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, carrots and beets) and seitan “reindeer” meat with dumplings in sour-cream gravy. It is somewhat amusing to me to be making up a culture and cuisine and then to be adapting vegetarian versions of the dishes.
Later we had a dessert of crepes with wild blueberry sauce and honeyed whipped cream while we read the story.  Below are some pictures as we passed the story from person to person.  To add to the experience, one of my friends, PF, who attended, had set the song from the story to music.  It was a lovely surprise to add to the evening.

A verse of the song:

Into your keeping, Lady of Midnight,
Myra of the wayfaring roads;
Keeper of travelers and singer of stars,
One last breath, before I am yours.

Incidentally, this story is the one I submitted to the Fairwood Writers' workshop at Norwescon in April.  I am excited to see what sort of comments and criticisms I receive on it.

S, D and I listening
D and PF listening

SF reads as M listens