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

Friday, March 11, 2011

Epic Dream Inspires Writing

    Occasionally, I have dreams which have many qualities of an epic story.  I usually jot them down – some of them I have used as bases for stories or am saving for ideas.  As I was finishing my work on Eonia and began to turn my thoughts to the next country (which at the moment is still unnamed) I had one such dream.  I had already begun gathering bits and pieces of this new country in stories I had written, but the elements I was toying with didn’t yet fit together.  The bits I had come up with was that there were a people who were nomadic and very secretive.  They had a martial magic which was unique in Idhua, yet it didn’t make sense that they would be in any kind of lasting conflict with their neighbors.  I was just beginning to puzzle over the elements I had already given myself, when this dream offered some interesting solutions to some of the problems. 

    In the dream there was a kingdom, ruled by a Queen (who in the dream was my housemate M) that was plagued by demons.  I was some sort of sorceress who was trying to help the Queen save her country.  In an episode near the beginning of the dream I received a magical crystal sword which I gave to the Queen’s champion, who was my brother.
So far our battle against the demons had not been going well as our weapons were fairly useless against them. Our only reprieve was that they had not figured out how to stay in this world for any length of time.  The Queen’s champion went to fight the demons with his new sword and I, as the royal sorceress set up a sort of monitoring spell to help him.  The new sword was very effective, but, while they were fighting, the demons were pulled back to their own dimension and the champion was pulled too.
     However, somehow my spell on him remained intact and I went running off to find my sister, N.  She was also a sorceress and we began preparing a spell to summon our brother back from the demon’s realm, while at the same time helping to prepare an evacuation for the entire castle, which apparently was about to fall off a cliff because the demons had weakened the foundation.  Our spell was successful (which was surprising, seeing as how cause and effect can be very warped in dreams,) and having rescued our brother, we turned our attention to the evacuation.
    At this point the dream sort of degenerated into a common trope for my dreams: organizing things.  Most of the people were out of the castle (or house as it had become), but I had a vague sense that we would be heading out on the road in a quest like manner, rather than meeting up with the other evacuees. I determined we would need to take camping type gear. I was in the kitchen of the house and I was getting a little hung up on making sure we had silverware, a cutting board and knife, napkins, dishtowels and soap and an oven rack to prop over a fire for an open flame cooking rack. I was a little frustrated at our lack of useful rations – but when I grabbed the peanut butter I remembered the Emergency Kit I had made up for winter (a real project and I dreamt of the exact plastic crate I used).  My epic dreams often have an episode like this – everybody else will be discussing how to sneak out of the city, or retrieve the magical artifact and I am off making sandwiches.  :)

    But back to the point: I felt there were the bones of an interesting story with the demons, the magic sword and the different realms.  I was also intrigued by the sibling element, as I have not written about siblings for a while.  But besides the elements of one story, I found that idea of a people plagued by demons gave some interesting answers to a nomadic, warlike people who nonetheless were not fighting their neighbors.  The idea that I am exploring now is that in the distant past their ancestors started summoning demons to do their bidding, but at some point the demons figured out how to cross into the human world on their own, though they could never stay for long.  They are attracted to the blood of the sorcerers who first summoned them and so the people keep moving to prevent the demons from getting a “fix” on their location.  Obviously, the idea needs a lot more thought and fleshing out, but at the moment I am enjoying trying it on – and enjoying that my dream gave me some solutions to this next phase of writing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Book Release: The Wise Man’s Fear

Last Tuesday, M and I went to the book signing for The Wise Man’s Fear at the University Bookstore. Fortuitously, we got really good seats – center in the second row. The event started at 7:00 pm, I arrived at about 5:00 pm to scope it out and save a spot for M, who was working until 6:00. Even two hours early, the chairs set up were nearly full, and by the time the event had started there were people crammed everywhere. The other nice thing about getting good seats was that the front rows got to go through the signing line first and, since my day job starts at 5:00 am (I’m a baker), I was very grateful to get my book signed earlier rather than later (and I am sure it was much later for some folks).

Patrick was a funny and engaging speaker with a very conversational tone. He was very interactive with the audience and I really admired his way of fielding the more silly, inappropriate or unanswerable questions. “That’s a really good question,” he might say, “I wish I had time to answer it. Next?” But he did it in both a humorous and gracious way.

One of the questions he did answer, which I found particularly interesting, was about keeping track of the enormity of his world – which, as I mentioned in my review of The Name of the Wind, is very complex and well realized. He said that he does have some notes, etc. but that a lot of it is in his head. I spent a bunch of time figuring out how to keep track of Idhua and lit upon making myself an encyclopedia for it, so I am very impressed that can keep all that in his head.

I have not started The Wise Man’s Fear yet, for fear (ha!) of becoming immersed in it and not getting my to-do list for this week finished. However, I am planning on picking it up this weekend. Patrick promised the next book will be out in 100 years (but probably sooner), so I have some time to finish this one. ;)