September 2015 Goals

It’s the last day of August, and it must be time to review goals and make new ones. I had a very productive month of August, although my plans shifted around a little thanks to new book-making news.

In August I planned to:

1) Do new writing: Yes. I got ToB&L 7 to a reasonable stopping point, and now I need to really get to work on the giant plot knot tangle of the endings of the final 4 books.

2) 4-5 Pilates blog posts: Check! I posted a total of six times to the new Pilates blog, mostly exercises, but a few thoughts as well.

3) The Gantean process blog and promo: By the skin of my teeth I worked up my nerve and posted my Gantean Blog.

4) ToB&L 3 Revision: Check! I got through this one pretty easily and cut about 10,000 words.

5) Client line edit: I only got the MS for this yesterday, so I’ll roll it over into next month.

6) Finish researching costs and benefits of making paperbacks with IngramSpark as well as Createspace. Check! I didn’t find that producing with Ingram would be a good idea for me right now.

In August I also agreed to format Tamara Shoemaker’s Mark of Four, and got about halfway through that project. I began beta reading Tony Caruso’s massive A Town Called the End and got about a quarter of the way through that. I also began some restructuring work on my Tales of Blood & Light Book Four, so I’ve been a busy bee.

Here are my September goals:

  1. New writing: I’d like to shift gears and work on something not ToB&L-related for a while, so that means I’ll have to read one of my half-manuscripts to get my bearings to start some new work.
  2. Continue ToB&L Book Four structuring. Basically I’m taking two books and turning them into one.
  3. 4-5 posts on Pilates Blog
  4. Finish beta read for Tony Caruso.
  5. Finish formatting for Tamara Shoemaker
  6. Start to revise The Cedna based on beta reader feedback. Notes are slowly trickling in from beta readers– I expect this one to roll over into October.
  7. Start line edit for Joel Hedgepeth.
  8. Write one promotional blog for new version of The Velocipede Races. You can add it to your want to read list on Goodreads!

That’s a pretty ambitious list for a single month, so I’m off to get to work!

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What I Learned While Writing The Gantean

TGCOVER

As you all know, my book, The Gantean, is now available on Amazon. To celebrate its two-month anniversary, I’m posting this essay I wrote to myself a while back while I was trying to figure out why I was still working on The Gantean after so many years of struggling with it.

I started writing an epic fantasy novel when I was twelve. I recall that I did it just after reading Mary Stewart’s The Wicked Day, which was a paperback lying around the bookshelves at home. Like most fantasy books of that era, it involved what we call a “hero’s path” story, albeit a dark one. As a twelve-year-old girl, I don’t think I had ever read a fantasy story with a true female lead—there were plenty of girl sidekicks and girls as part of ensembles, but never a lone lead, never a story with a solitary girl’s point of view guiding the tale—I hadn’t yet found The Mists of Avalon. I’d gone through years of Lord of the Rings read-alouds with my mom and brother, captivated, of course, by the adventures of hobbits and elves, but always wondering, What about the girls?

So I set out to write the fantasy book I wanted to read. I knew nothing about feminism then, nothing about theories or politics—I just knew I wanted a story I liked, featuring a girl. And not a fairy tale princess kind of girl, though I was no stranger to fairy tales, having been fed a steady diet of story ballets and Disney movies throughout my childhood.

I slogged over the story in The Gantean for more than half my life, trying to make it work. I rewrote it many, many times. Now, I’ve “finished” it–to the extent that any story is ever finished, and I’m still wondering why I had such dogged persistence on this particular story. For something that gave me so much difficulty, I should rightly have abandoned it years ago.

My beta readers also slogged determinedly through the story, somewhat to my amazement. I had been a little skeptical that they would make it through. Most of the women liked the story, unconventional as it was. Most of the men got through it (“it’s well-written”) but didn’t really like my main character.

One smart reader said, after he finished, “I don’t understand the main character. What does she want? What are her GOALS? Her big goals, not her immediate ones?”

At which point I chastised myself, Emily, you dunce, how could you have written a character-driven story with a main character who has no goals!

After a minor meltdown, I buckled down and said, OK, what are the MC’s goals? She must have some; I just have to figure out what they are.

I know what the typical fantasy hero’s motivating goals are: finding one’s true self, overcoming an evil, saving the world or a friend, or these days, achieving vengeance or gaining power.

At first I thought the only goal that would possibly work for my MC, Leila, was finding one’s true self. But as I considered that goal, rebellion rose in my gut. I’ve always disliked that trope, because identity is a fluid thing, and too often books, especially fantasy books, seem to imply that if you just knew who your parents were and what you stood for, you’d have yourself figured out. No. I reject the idea that parentage, social roles, and our moral or political alignment entirely define us. As Leila, my heroine, says in The Gantean: I want to be more.

So I didn’t like finding one’s true self as a goal. And I had already written Leila very deliberately, associating her with the element of water, so that she flowed rather than strove, and she let her circumstances shape her more than she tried to shape her circumstances. She represented a traditionally feminine character—a character who did not seek power, someone whose strength derived from her ability to adapt and accommodate rather than her ability to control and dominate. I didn’t want to change that—it spoke to something deep about why I had written this book in the first place, some lonely call from my twelve-year-old heart: it’s ok to not know who you are; it’s ok to be passive, to observe, to avoid conflict. These powers are connected to the mythic feminine, and they are under-represented in fantasy, or, when shown, they’re vilified by readers who fail to understand that our conventional hero’s path is paved only with traditionally masculine ideals.

I went back to the standard fantasy character motivations. I considered them again, and then again. These were the goals of the hero’s quest. And even when applied to a heroine, as it has become much more common in fantasy, it seems our heroines are still stuck on that same path paved with traditionally masculine ideals and expectations. I’m thinking of Katniss, Katsa, Arya, and even Sansa, who has suffered so much being toted passively through Westeros by everyone more powerful than she. Now she’s being groomed for a vengeance plot line– or so it seems to me. And look at Cersei, who dared to behave like a man and was tortured for it in a manner so often traditionally used to shame women: denigrating and violating her body to rob her of her power, much to the satisfaction of readers everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve avidly consumed these stories, even when at times I wanted to look away. But their stories are still framed in the grand old tropes of fantasy.

My main character is not walking the hero’s path. She doesn’t care about vengeance, good versus evil, or finding her true self—though she’s aware of the conflicting sides of her personality that want different things at the same time. She wants to be safe; she wants to be quiet; she wants security, love, and peace. Her ultimate goal is to raise her children and give them a good life. She wants to be good. In short—all the nurturing goals of the mythic feminine.

We have always been told that a great story revolves around a great conflict. I can still see my college short story professor brushing his hair from his prominent brow and saying, “Conflict! Conflict, people, it’s the only fuel stories run on!” Conflict is especially valued in fantasy, where the old battle between good and evil is such a prevalent theme. But conflict itself—the getting into it, the resolution thereof, is largely the domain of the mythic masculine.

There’s a line in my troublesome book where one woman says to another: “War and politics seem like petty games of men when there are children to raise.” And that, I see now, is really what I’ve been trying to figure out in this book: is it possible to write an engaging story that doesn’t glorify conflict? Is it possible to write a fantasy story that doesn’t follow the hero’s path, but instead a path much less direct and defined—a shadow path, if you will, into the mystic feminine?

The Mists of Avalon! I can hear you crying out right now.

No. Not The Mists of Avalon. We had female leads there, we had oodles of weird mystic feminine rituals, but essentially, what we had was women scrambling desperately for power in an increasingly patriarchal world. And that’s not what I’m talking about, because scrambling desperately for power is still a goal defined by the mythic masculine. I’m talking about a mode of storytelling that prizes different themes and outcomes. The themes: the difficulties of choice, the turmoil inside one person caused by the external demands placed upon her, and trying to balance those demands with her inner life (the quintessential “conflict” in a modern woman’s life, if you ask me).

The Gantean’s main character, fluid, quiet Leila, came out of me from my shadow side, to show me that we don’t always have to be heroes. Leila came from a twelve-year-old girl’s desire to read something different—a girl I had to return to as I worked, remembering what it was like to grow up surrounded by stories of heroes and their conflict-driven goals, all the while feeling alienated because these stories didn’t acknowledge what I was feeling as I barreled towards womanhood. My concerns, then as now, were not the concerns of a hero, just those of a regular woman.

And a regular woman, to me, has always been as interesting as a hero.

The Velocipede Races on Goodreads

alsonice

My quasi-historical sports-action femme-punk book, The Velocipede Races, is now on Goodreads. You can add it to your “want to read” or “read” lists to help spread the word about it, or vote for it on various lists. For those of you who don’t know, I originally published TVR through Luminous Creatures Press, but it has since been picked up by Elly Blue Publishing/Microcosm. This new edit is slated for release in April 2016, complete with three new chapters and an epilogue!

If you read and reviewed the original LCP version, I would be grateful if you would copy and paste your review into the Goodreads listing for the new version. If you are a blogger or reviewer who would like an advance review copy, please let me know.

See the book listing on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25943043-the-velocipede-races

Summer of Super Short Stories Week Eight

The final week of SSS is happening now over at LCP. The prompts are two of my favorites from the entire round.

The phrase from The Gantean is “do not speak of our magic,” another Gantean expression, one that sums up the traditional Gantean relationship to magic–the Gantean Elders feel it must be preserved, kept secret, and kept safe, but they face a changing world where their magic will either die out or become known.

This image is this lovely, dark circle of standing stones and a shadowy figure:

the night

Image credit: The Night by Andrés Nieto Porras Flickr CC 2.0 
Image has not been altered from its original form.

If you feel inspired this week, post a story of 350 words or less in reply to the post at LCP. My co-founder, Beth Deitchman, is judging.

Summer of Super Short Stories Week Seven

This is the second to last week for SSS 2 over at LCP. Don’t miss a chance to win your badge!

As always the line prompts come from my book, The Gantean. This week’s prompt, “death comes to everything,” is a Gantean expression one of the Gantean Elders says to Leila, the book’s main character,  to explain the necessary balance in the natural world.

I picked the image because it reminded me of Leila, who is teased and called “birdgirl” by other Ganteans because she is small.

I can wait to see what stories emerge from picture an prompt. If you’d like to submit a story, do so here in reply to LCP’s post.

The prompts are:

“death comes to everything”

birdgirl

Image credit: Nereid by Claire Elizabeth Flickr CC 2.0 
Image has not been altered from its original form.

 

Seven Questions: Charles Bane, Jr.

For my August edition of Seven Questions I welcome poet Charles Bane, Jr.,  the author of  The Chapbook (Curbside Splendor), Love Poems (Aldrich Press), and Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall (Collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project, and is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida.

His latest book, The Ends Of The Earth: Collected Poems, will be released by Transcendent Zero Press in early August, and it will be available on Amazon and at select Barnes And Noble bookshops.

Ends of the Earth - TZP Ad1

And now Charles answers my seven questions!

1) Can you tell us a little about your book, The Ends of the Earth?

It’s a book of risk, which as I write more and more, I realize is the requisite of serious poetry. A poet is more downhill skier than artist, risking catastrophe at the end of every line break as he/she races to an end that explodes into meaning. I wrote a poem–“Thunder, Lightning”–in the voice of Sappho, a long- held ambition. I sent it to a journal editor whose bio reads: “she’d love to talk to you about fourth – wave feminism or the tattoo of the vagina on her finger.”  She accepted the poem, and it went into my new manuscript.

2) Is your book indie-published or traditionally published?

I don’t believe in self-publishing. I think the reading public deserves to buy a book that’s been peer reviewed. There’s more than 400 small presses in the United States alone. Many are geared to give voice to feminists, gay and transgender writers. The opportunity has never been greater to find a publisher who will recognize and champion your voice.

3) Why poetry?

I wrote my first mature poem at eight; I was too shy to show it to my parents directly, so I left it on the kitchen table where they took their morning coffee. There were no journals for children – It’s wonderful they exist now– and my father sent it to an adult journal which published it. Serious poets, I think, begin early. I’m not comparing myself to any of the following but E.E. Cummings wrote a gifted poem to his father at six, Richard Wilbur at eight. We are besotted by language. Dylan Thomas said to his sister when he was small, ”  ‘ Dragoon’ , isn’t that a wonderful word?”

At the same time, it takes years to convince yourself that you have the “right” to follow in the tradition of the great poets you read, from the Greeks forward, who help lay the foundation of your craft.

4) When and how did you first begin to think of yourself as a poet?

Book publication is exciting and satisfying. But as new books follow, you should be embarrassed by your earlier work. It’s like looking at tree rings: it’s the only way to measure your growth.

5) What makes a great poem?

A great poem is a masterwork. The voice is obvious: you wouldn’t mistake a Chagall for a work by any other artist. A great poem has an unmistakable tenderness as though it were salving a wound, and above all. it can be read and understood by everyone of every age and walk of life. Every reader feels the mood of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”, and “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”

6) Who are some of your favorite poets, and why?

It’s important as your poetry matures that you don’t go through an imitative phase. I think Elizabeth Bishop was the finest poet our country produced in the 20th century. “Crusoe In England” is sublime. My polar opposite is Anthony Hecht. I edit, edit: I never add. Hecht adds layer on layer to his work, but his craftsmanship is astonishing. As a boy, he went to the movies and when a silent comedy was over, the projectionist let the children stay in the theatre as the tell was rewound on the screen. He describes it perfectly in poetry in his book, Venetian Vespers. At the end of a rewound Keystone Cops comedy, ” they fall backward into silent patrol.”

I wrote Hecht at the University of Rochester. He was generous and paternal. So was Karl Shapiro who I met at a reading in Chicago. I deeply regret not contacting Elizabeth Bishop in the 1970’s when she was at Harvard for a spell.

Today, my heroes are the feminist writers who are creating the web of a new world, and who are ignored by institutional sexism: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/features/lack-of-vision

7) How does poetry fit into our twenty-first century lives?

Modern poets have to make–and many still don’t–every use of the web, social media, and emerging ways to distribute their work to a global audience, online. I’m grateful beyond words to my wife, for promoting my work on Twitter.

And American poets need to accept that that the general reading public in our country does not read contemporary poetry. 7 % of Americans have read a single poem in the last year.

But for the enterprising, Oyster –which has formed a new model of renting, not selling e- books, should excite them. China Mobile. com brings English language  e-books to millions of Chinese English- fluent readers.

Many thanks to Charles for sharing his thoughts and answers here on my blog!

Dear friends and followers–don’t be in the 93% who have not read a poem this year! Search the Facebook hashtag #sundaypoetrysunday for new poems to read every weekend, and below, Charles has graciously allowed me to share one of his poems in its entirety:

Undying Light

Undying light, undying

words that carry into

times to come the

power of undying such as

we, who loved and

fell. Spilling like

wine from the largest

skins, or clouds holding

seas. Beloved, all the

surface wears away. The

stones of fear stand

in the way of running

streams and the cupped

hands of explorers drink

cold and thirsty when

they kneel. Only mystics

see, but the air is charged

and forked and I have always

known what is written in

me is you, again and

again, repeatedly.

 

 

Summer of Super Short Stories Week Six

Week Six prompts are up over at Luminous Creatures Press. This week we head into magical territory with an evocative image and a phrase prompt straight out of The Gantean: “six crystal pillars.”

The six crystal pillars in The Gantean are huge, colored spires that are the anchor points of the hexagonal walls that gird the High Palace of Lethemia. They have lots of magical energy and mystique. Each one has a cavern garden carved into its top.

Here are the prompts. You can submit a story of up to 350 words over at LCP.


“six crystal pillars”

magic stone

Image credit: Untitled by Julian Povey Flickr CC 2.0 
Image has not been altered from its original form.