Wednesday, February 8, 2017


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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Excerpt: I Have Only Gone Mad

We are skipping ahead for this excerpt. Today I felt like writing very much out of order. I won't give any more clues about what's going on here. As it stands, the only spoiler is related to a character's existence, so I don't think this one warrants a spoiler tag. I selected the passage carefully so as to avoid major spoilers. And I'll talk about this character, Astlyr, a lot. So here's your first glimpse of her, interacting with Euryale, who we'll hear from now:

I am gasping for lungfuls of air, the world is spinning on its head, and nothing will ever be the same again. The wet, slick accumulation on the ground chills my feet to burning numbness. I plunge my hands in, too, as I sink to my knees. Face to the earth, my stomach heaves, but nothing comes up. I have eaten nothing since the night before, I remember, and had very little to drink since then. The cold swirls around me like a mad dancer, and I rock back on my heels after the spasms have subsided. It has been only moments since I bolted, and Astlyr is beside me now, her face a shrine to worry. She is holding a thick cloak which she wraps around my shoulders, helping me to my feet and back inside. My glimpses of Rania’s face as she busies herself tending to me give me the impression that my actions have marked me as possibly unhinged, but entirely pitiable. Her concern does her credit, but I am hollow and afraid. 
They have sat me in a chair by the hearth, the one I think usually reserved for Rania’s uncle Sjurd, and I can feel the warmth begin to spread through my extremities only by the sharp pain of biting cold facing and falling to the heat of a roaring fire. Astlyr’s face floats in front of mine. Her hand touches my cheek, my temples, my chin; she lays it against my forehead, feeling for fever. I am not ill. I have only gone mad. I shake my head, trying to tell her, but my tongue is lost in the caverns hollowed out beneath my skin. My hand fumbles under the cloak as I try to lift it to take hers. 
“Astlyr,” I whisper through the fogging haze around my mind. “Lie to me.”

Status report! Today I wrote over 1,500 words just for the story - not counting the earlier blog post. A very satisfying day of hard work. I feel like I am improving, if slowly. There will be off days, I know. But there will also be days like today, and I think that will be good enough for me.

Middle-of-the-Night Magic and Miscellany

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” 
― Saul Bellow

While that's not strictly true all the time, I quite agree with the writer's sentiment portrayed here. When you're struck by inspiration - especially in the middle of the night - it is invariably good material, even if you can't always communicate it to paper well enough. That's more a matter of skill and developed habits, I believe.

“Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” 
― Ray Bradbury

It absolutely figures, you know, that I'd be up in the middle of the night dreaming up ideas for not book one, not book two, but book three of this saga. My brain is skipping that far ahead. And it follows, of course, that I would be thinking of the moon goddess Selene late at night. And from there it's no surprise that I would be unable to keep from thinking about plans for moon-related things in my story. The moon is waxing now, the time for new beginnings, growth, new intentions... How perfect and how in tune with my own workings.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that writing is not magic. Everything we do is magic, fueled by intention and purpose given direction. That's what magic is. When I write, I use my intuition extensively. My book knows where it wants to go, it's just a matter of me listening and then taking it there. I frequently make use of my muse in the form of flipping a coin, generating a random number, and most especially asking questions with my Tarot cards. If you're not pagan (or don't use Tarot cards), and I'm sure most of the people who will read this are not, I want to explain a little about that process and a little on the subject of my religion for those who might be curious. Why is that important? Well, it informs a lot of my writing, just as Christian writers might write stories which lean heavily on God's presence in their characters' lives. The only difference is, I am pagan, and my gods have more varied faces and personalities.

I believe in the gods, plural. I believe in the single, all-encompassing source of divinity from which all life and consciousness stems and to which it returns, including the gods themselves. Typically, in my worship, I speak of a Goddess and a God who encompass all the myriad faces of the named gods and goddesses, but I also work with a few goddesses and gods who I resonate with. I am very fond of Inanna and Brighid as well as Dionysos and to some extent Pan. I will not claim an especial relationship with any of them, not yet. In many respects I am still quite in the dark and brand new to all of this, though I've identified as pagan for many years now. I'm not good at talking to gods, at opening up that dialogue. But I hear them, in a way, when I gather inspiration for my novels. I hear, especially, my muse, who tells me how the story goes when I lose the thread of it. By using my Tarot cards, a deck consecrated to my use, I can ask questions pertaining to character personalities, events and timelines, and other details, and receive answers in the form of intuitively-selected cards laid out in order. For a simple question, I'll draw 3-5 cards and arrange them however feels right - usually in sequential order from how they were drawn. Sometimes I need to switch one or two around before I turn them face up.

When I am ready, I turn the cards over and read the message within. The message has layers and layers of meaning, and I pick out the ones I can read and the ones that seem relevant. It's really like being a child watching a Disney movie - there are things in there that only the grown-ups catch, but you can still get a lot out of it as a young'un. So then I take these answers to my questions and I run with them. My imagination takes off in twelve different directions, just as intended, and I write down everything I can, including the names and order of the cards drawn and the question I asked, so that later I can go back, re-interpret, and discover more meaning.

There's nothing scary in it. That's really all there is to it, and you can call the force behind the inspiration whatever you wish. For me, it is my muse, my goddess. Maybe to you it seems like pure imaginative association. Whatever you believe, it works for me. I don't often consult my cards for answers, because the muse drives me pretty hard and most of my ideas sprout organically from reading new information, or helpful conversations with friends, or they wake me up at 1:30 in the morning on Imbolc. (Blessed Imbolc to those who celebrate it! 🕯💛🕯)

Because of my beliefs, I approach writing about the gods a little differently. It's why my research is so important to me, why just Googling information is not good enough. I need to know the myths inside and out, I need to breathe in myth and exhale story. It's important to me that I do as much justice to the gods as possible when they come into play in my story. Even when I twist things, I try to do so respectfully. It's just a different approach. To me, it's the difference between lip-syncing and singing your heart out.

I'm aware that in sharing detailed information about my beliefs, beliefs that are most likely not held by a majority of readers, I may drive some people away. That's okay; you probably wouldn't like my work anyway if this makes you uncomfortable. Thanks for coming in, be well on your journey. This is who I am, and this isn't the time to censor that. This is the time to find deeper layers of myself and expose them, raw, in my writing and my blogging. So yes, I am proudly pagan, and it influences my work greatly in both theme and approach.

Tonight I've been thinking, as I mentioned briefly earlier, about book three of this saga. It involves a young girl named Menedora, whose name is modified slightly from Menodora, and a disappearance. I can't say much yet, because this is so far ahead in the timeline of events that I've yet to write that saying much of anything would give away earlier plot resolutions. I can share one small idea, however. The voice of the moon has been stolen and trapped inside a golden comb fashioned in the shape of a half-sun. A devious siren captured it when the moon disappeared from the sky, and she saw the last wave cross the sea. The moon's voice was in the last wave, and the siren wanted it for herself, so she took it. What kind of havoc does this cause? Who is this siren? Can she be reasoned with, bargained with? What power does the voice of the moon hold? These are the questions I've yet to answer.

I've been finding my research very interesting, but I've been distracted from it, too. I won't go into deep detail, but I suffer from several chronic illnesses that cause me ridiculous amounts of pain, and one of my doctors prescribed me a medication that has, for the first time in years, given me substantial relief from my joint pain. It's just a short run of steroids to sort of rule out other causes of pain or confirm that it's probably arthritis (and it probably is), so the relief may not last for long. I've been so wrapped up in making the absolute most of this relief while it does last that I've been grasshoppering from project to project. Knitting a little here, crocheting there, reading research books and taking notes over there, writing, blogging, trying to get the hang of mind mapping... I'm everywhere at once in this jubilant feeling of normality. But earlier today, or no, I guess that's yesterday now, I made a spreadsheet in Excel for keeping track of my daily, monthly, and yearly word count. I am serious about this, and trying to set myself up for success.

So I've come up with some interesting ideas and played with them a little. It's funny as hell to me to be coming up with ideas for so far ahead, but the beginning and end of book 1 are pretty solid, and I've got impetus for book 2, and something sparked the other day that made me realize there's definitely room for book 3. The rest, I'm sure, will fill itself out as I do more research and make more connections.

It really is exhilarating to be in the thick of so much creative energy. And speaking of energy, I am running low, so I had better end this post and get my ass back to bed so that I can get up tomorrow and put this story in high gear.

Oh, and I found a name for Euryale's father: Athanasios. I think it suits him. So there's another problem fixed! I'll leave you with that, and a "thanks for reading".

Monday, January 30, 2017

Feedback Request: Euryale and Chrysanthe

Hi again! I'm hard at work today, reading from my new books and writing down interesting quotes and diving back into the first draft of chapter one. I thought I'd show you a scene of the current incarnation for feedback. Where words are in brackets, it denotes a place I need to return to and fill in information later. Tell me your thoughts on this? It's a little daunting to share writing that may or may not hit the mark you're aiming for - but I mean to make progress with my abilities, and I can't do so in a vaccum. For your reading pleasure, or agony:

I was alone today, set to the task of gathering out-of-season chaste berries, so I swept my hand over the flowers again and watched the magic take hold a second time. The petals lost their color as the fruit began to swell into a rounded berry. I held my hand over one cluster and let the magics flow, observing the fruit as it ripened and then dried, turning brown inside the graying flowers. There was beauty in this, too, and moreover purpose. I had picked about half of the berries that I needed when I heard soft footfalls, and a familiar hand came up to help. But this wasn’t anyone I wanted to see.
“Chrysanthe,” I greeted her, heart rising and sinking all at once.
She smiled a little halfway smile, the one that was only ever for me, but did not turn to look directly at me. Nor did she speak. She simply gathered the rest of the berries alongside me, dropping leisurely handfuls into my basket, which was also of the chaste tree. I worked with nervous hands, wondering why she had sought me out.
“You needn’t be scared of me, Eury,” she said after a few minutes, observing the way I was missing the basket with every third handful.
I cursed lightly, under my breath, as I bent to pick up the scattered dried fruits. “You know I don’t like being called that anymore.”
“I’m sorry, Euryale. It was what he called you, wasn’t it?” She had stopped what she was doing.
“You ought to know well that it was.” I glanced sideways at her, and caught a guilty blush rising to her cheeks.
“I’m sorry,” she said again, apologizing more sincerely this time. She took a deep breath, and for the first time I noticed she was a little nervous, too. “I just wanted to say it one last time. That was selfish of me. Coming here at all today was selfish.”
She hadn’t been looking me in the eye when she said this, instead turning her gaze out toward the village down the hill we stood upon. She glanced back, and then away again, pain written between her brows.
“You look just the same as you did the day we parted,” she said quietly.
I said nothing.
“I can’t stay and wait for you to remember how much we loved each other, Euryale.” Chrysanthe sighed. “I came to say goodbye. I’ve agreed to marry [name], from [place].” She looked at me again, this time for a long moment. “I’m sorry.”
Something knotted and clenched deep inside me. Stomach perhaps, maybe heart; I couldn’t tell. I kept my silence against the assaulting memories that threatened to tear me down in front of her.
“You know this isn’t what you want,” I said instead.
Anger flared alongside tears in her eyes, sudden and hot. “No? How could you even say? Where have you been these past eight years but hiding away with your plants and your potions? Why did you run from me, Euryale? I would have kept your heart safe!” she cried.
I ignored the cutting words she spoke and demanded to know, “Why a man, Chrysanthe?”
“Because he’s the only one who doesn’t make me think of you,” she said.
“Am I such a bad memory? Then why come at all? Why not just run off with your new husband”—I said the word scathingly—”and leave me to hear of it through village gossip?” This gripping pain of the heart made me angrier than I should have been with her.
Chrysanthe shook her head. “This was a fool’s errand. This hurts me too, Euryale, but I’m not running anywhere. You were the one who ran… Just remember that.”
I opened my mouth to continue hurling words at her, then stopped myself as I realized it was too late. She was going, gone. I stood statue-still until she was out of earshot, and then I whirled, looking for something to take out my emotions on. 

Thanks for reading and responding! I'm sure this will change a lot before it's done, so I'm trying not to get too attached to any specific part of the writing. What works for you here? What doesn't?

Fresh Beginnings

I will give fair warning: this is not the first idea I've had for a novel, and it may not be the first one I have that succeeds, either. But I read a wonderful quote earlier tonight (many, in fact, in search of further inspiration):

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” 
― John Steinbeck

So, let's say I have around half a dozen of those right now. Ideas, not rabbits. This is the one that's grabbing me by the soul. My muse is dancing with delight that I'm sitting up, paying attention, and getting words on the page.

I'll jump right in, so you have an idea of what this is going to be about.

My idea, as it stands right now and without giving too much of it away, is about a young woman who is the daughter of a demigoddess of agriculture. Her name is Euryale. I'll be frank, I've no idea how to actually pronounce her name. I've been pronouncing it similarly to the name Uriel. It's a Greek name belonging to one of the Gorgon sisters, and I've read that it means "far-roaming," or something of the like. I'm not going to stop to check Wikipedia again just now. I thought it was beautiful and suited the story well, so our main character's name is Euryale, and she has magics. She can, like her mother, make plants grow at an astonishing rate of speed. From sprout, to flower, to fruit, to seed, Euryale can encourage plant life wherever she finds it.

There's a lot happening in Euryale's world when we first meet her, though I'm sure I'll write the beginning over and over until I find some brilliant way to hook you, Dear Reader. But we'll quickly come to the crux of the story. Her father becomes gravely ill, and does not show any hint of recovering. Euryale's mother, Hermione, has powers of greater scope and magnitude, but even so, she is not granted the ability to heal humankind. What she can do is keep him alive, and that is, naturally, what she does.

But Hermione is also responsible for the region's agricultural health, and without her tending the fields and warding against threats, things begin to go wrong, and her husband isn't getting any better.

Hope is in short supply until Hermione reveals a slim chance at saving [I had a name, but I've decided to change it. Bear with me.] Euryale's father. In a faraway land, far to the north, there is a tree blessed by a foreign goddess. If Euryale's father is to be saved, she must find her way to this tree and gather some of its sap, which has magical properties unlike anything short of ambrosia itself. 

It's an old theme, older than the hills, but I've got plans. If you think this will be easy for Euryale, you don't know me. You might end up throwing the book at the wall by the time I'm done with it - but I hope you'd pick it back up and keep reading after that. 

In further posts I'll tell you a little more about Euryale, and what sort of journey I've come up with for her. I'll introduce other characters, too. When I get in deep, I will use an obvious "spoilers" tag, so you can avoid learning too much. But sometimes, this blog will also be about what I'm learning craft-wise and about sharing interesting facts and tidbits I've found during my research. This is one book that's going to take a lot of research. 

The time period will (likely) be sometime between 900 AD - 1100 AD. We start in Greece, and eventually reach Norway. It's an alternate world, but it will recognizably be our world. Our own world is deeply infused with magic - real magic; I do believe this - but in Euryale's world, things are a little different, a little closer to the surface. And as I am not a professional historian, I am quite sure I will get details wrong, however much I strive for accuracy. I do intend to be as rich in interesting detail relevant to the times and places that have been chosen for this story as I can be. That means a lot of trips to the library and a lot of notes and a lot of new books, because you simply can't expect me to not want my own copies of the good ones. 

I've started building my collection with the following two books: 

I only just got them tonight, so I don't know for certain how useful they will be, but they have pretty great reviews, and look promising. 

I also got a new five-subject notebook - which I have promptly started filling with declarations, commitments, and inspirational quotes about writing - and new mechanical pencils, plus highlighters. Really, the only difference keeping you from confusing this notebook with the diary of a teenage girl is that I have hearts around the word "research" instead of a crush's name. But you know, shout-out to the teenage girls or boys or gender-binary-crushing badasses who DO draw hearts around research notes. I know you exist!

Two final things before I wrap up this post. One - all the writing contained within this blog, unless quoted or shared or linked or what-have-you from another source explicitly, belongs to me, Heather Landon. This means no stealing. Don't do it. If you do like something I've written, please attribute it to me and link to this blog and the post you got it from. I want to share snippets of my work here occasionally, for your enjoyment and review, but I've got to be able to do so with a reasonable amount of confidence that my stuff won't be stolen. I don't think I'm a master, by any means, but once in a while I do come up with some lovely turn of phrase or funny scenario. And I'd just like to keep what's mine.

And one more thing - comment rules. I'm pretty sure I've set to receive notifications when I get a new comment, so I'll be monitoring the blog. I don't expect a lot of traffic and I expect I know most of the people who'll be reading along, so I don't anticipate any problems. But I would like to state clearly here: this is not a place to spread any views which are homophobic, transphobic, sexist, racist, ableist, or discriminatory or hateful in any way. This is my space, and I expect respectful attitudes when dealing with other commenters if there are ever disagreements. No body shaming, no slurs. So on and so forth. If that sounds like too much work, you might be in the wrong place.

Other than that, I would welcome your feedback. Sometimes as a writer you can get caught up in your own "genius" or your love of the story - I've got a tiny bit of one and an awful lot of the other and that's the way I prefer to have it weighted for sure - and in your eagerness to tell it, sometimes craft slips through your fingers! I can get really choked up thinking about a scene, for example, but if I don't use my craft properly to convey what I feel when I think about what's happening, you're not going to get the same impact. And I'm here to hone my skills so that I can make people care and experience things, so feedback is absolutely invaluable. Tell me what works for you, and if you can, why. Similarly, I really need to know when something is NOT working for you. I can't please everyone all the time, but if you're my eventual target audience, I need to have some appeal.

I love writing. I have since I was very young, and it started with a love of stories. For a long time, I thought maybe I didn't have any stories to tell, but I was wrong. There are so many of them inside me, so many more waiting to be discovered...

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 
― Maya Angelou

I'm telling this story.

Heather Landon