Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vlog Poll, Essays, Ren Fest...

Because you're all lining up to vote
on an online poll. Ha.
Image Source

At least one of you has noticed the poll I put up last night, underneath my About Me. I thought I'd post and let you know I'm making no promises (for one thing, I'll have to ask my dad), and I can't really promise anything very exciting at this point besides hearing my voice and showing you my Robin Hood book collection or something. Yeah, that would be boring.

Anyway, if you have any ideas about things I MIGHT do IF I get the permission, the wherewithal, and the guts to do it (not to mention people actually being interested), feel free to post.

I'm working on editing three essays today for an application due I have an AP Economics essay to do sometime tomorrow since I'm off to the Ren fest again after a wonderful Math SAT Subject Test (HAHA) on Saturday.

In other words, expect no post tomorrow. I will work on becoming regular (and more interesting) again next week.

Thank you for your patience or at least the courtesy of not nagging me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Resource Review: London Excavations

Politics: 0
Society: 1
Daily Life: 3
Scholarly: 5
Overall: -Individually rated-
Time: 1150-1450 (England)
(Rating explanation here.)

Image Source
These are the expensive books that I was bemoaning the price of several weeks ago. I requested five on inter-library loan, and here are my brief opinions on them. They range from about $25-$36 on Amazon, sometimes in strange ways (the longest book is cheaper than the shortest one).

Textiles and Clothing - 223 pages * *
This title leans more scholarly than novel-useful. It shows some techniques for creating textiles, and the weaves of textiles--but I have little use for this, especially the latter! If you have a character who works to create clothing, this may be of use, but if you have one that only WEARS clothing (like mine), you’re not likely to find much of use. There are SOME line drawings of whole clothing ensembles near the back, but not that many. There are cheaper alternatives.

Knives and Scabbards - 168 pages * *
I thought I would like this one more than I do. Really, it’s a bunch of...knives. And scabbards. Go figure. Perhaps the weapons-lover would enjoy looking through this, but I don’t find it has a whole lot of practical use for the novelist. It’s probably worth flipping through if you can get a hand on it, but I’m not tempted to buy it.

Shoes and Pattens - 145 pages * * * *
Image Source
This one is, honestly, my favorite. This may because I have a strange fascination with shoes that I have not yet discovered, but nonetheless. It’s the smallest one of the set that I’ve looked at, and it has a handy chart for the kinds of shoes from 1100-1450 (according to excavations, of course), LOTS of line drawings and pictures of the shoes themselves, what they were made out of, how they were made. It’s a bit hard to find books on medieval shoes and I rather like this one. I am tempted to buy it.

The Medieval Household - 342 pages * * *
I find this book to be a kind of catch-all. I rank it first or second in usefulness, with Shoes and Patterns taking the other slot. It is more practical for novelist use than Textiles and Clothing or Knives and Scabbards. I suggest trying to get a hold of a library copy and flipping through.
An example of the artifacts discussed:
Keys (quite lengthy)
Lighting equipment
Weighting apparatus
Fixtures and fittings

Dress Accessories - 410 pages * * *
This is the largest of the five I requested. I would rate it third in usefulness to the novelist. It leans more girly (we’re more likely to accessorize our dress), but not exclusively. Some of what it discusses:
Mounts (very lengthy)
Hair accessories
Finger rings

In general this series seems to be worth a look, with some more helpful to the novelist than others. Some worth buying, if the pocketbook allows. I wouldn’t buy ANY without looking at them first.

P.S. Yes, two reviews in a row. Please don't die. All of my more creative juices are focused on college apps, a necessary evil. I have several ideas in my head for meatier posts, but they have to wait. Probably after September 30th I'll get more time for such things.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Outlaws of Sherwood


It’s 1 am in the morning, and the noise is not that loud, but I thump my wall for good measure. I’m sure I look frightful, the wires of my retainers flashing, but, again, it’s 1 in the morning.

Outlaws of Sherwood, like Rowan Hood, has been sitting uneasily in the back of my mind for several months. It somehow in the early days ended up in my “top 5” list, but I’m not sure why--most of my memories of the book, though not as foul-tasting as Rowan, are not exactly bright either. I check out the book and let it sit and rot--er, rest--on my shelf for a couple of weeks, because I’m daunted by the thick paragraphs the book starts off with. Then Josiphine asks what my “professional opinion” might be, and I grudgingly pick it up.

I’m glad I did, because now I know both why I like it and why I don’t.

First, the good.

I had forgotten how funny McKinley can be. The narrative often has a dry, wry humor to it that can actually make me laugh out loud--as well as most of Much’s lines and several of Robin’s. The dialogue is often (though not always) scattered gold amidst the forest of prose-rich pages of this book.

Also, I do like the characters. Even Robin. I thought, thinking back on it, that I did not, because Robin is different. After having lived with a “different” Robin for well over two years, perhaps I’m a little more forgiving. Much is hilarious (as well as the things Robin threatens to do to him when he’s being hilarious--so misunderstood, that Much), and the other characters are pretty well-formed, even with stereotypes. I especially liked how she developed Little John.

In connection with that is the developed relationships. There’s such an ache to Robin’s and Marian’s relationship that you just wanted to jump into the book and shove them together. Marian loves Robin too much to stay away from him, and Robin loves her too much to let her stay comfortably. The climax of this was beautifully done. There are the other relationships of the band as well (and their overall relation to each other), and I like them. (Though Cecily and Little John can be uncomfortably sensual at times.)

Now, the other stuff.

Paragraphs. They are killing me. HELP! I don’t usually complain about lengthy non-talking prose (I’ve read LotR a dozen times, for crying out loud), but this is Robin Hood. Too much. Also, sometimes I couldn’t figure out some of the dialogue or why characters were saying what they were.

Two more minor points: up-staged Norman-Saxon drama. Yes, this is now a standing tradition of Robin Hood literature. Yes, it’s not quite accurate. And I don’t really mind it, usually. But it was a little in-your-face.

Historical accuracy. On some accounts, McKinley seems spot-on. In others, I did a little head-scratching. (One was the name “Nigel.” I have not checked, but it sounded very wrong to me.) However, as she said in her afterward that she was only striving to be “historically unembarrassing” I guess I’ll leave her off the hook on that.

AND NOW. I will sum up my other complaint in this:

Outlaws of Sherwood: The Practical Guide

There’s something in practicality that is fun. This is the first (and probably only) book I read where I realized those outlaws really did need somewhere to get their clothes and arrows from, and even “privy vaults” (though McKinley seems to have a strange fascination with the latter). This practicality influenced my own work a bit.

So, a little practicality isn’t bad. Neither really is the very practical Robin. But it begins to become something of a drag. Robin is SO practical, and protective, that I can’t see why exactly people are coming to his camps by droves. Isn’t it BORING? (Now, one could also say this about my Robin. And that would be right. However, on one hand, I don’t have droves. On the other, mine’s driven by passion, still, even if it’s not rash and bold like the average Robin Hood. If Robin has a deep-seated passion for anything, I can’t really see it. For heaven’s sake, it was his friends’ idea for him not to just sell himself to the Saracens.) Thank heaven for Much’s dose of humor and idealism to keep me sane.

Every strike of the outlaws--except Robin’s revenge on Guy of Gisbourne--is carefully calculated about helping their cause or raising their banner, and has none of the just-for-fun dash of normal books, except for something Marian does. In the aftermath, Friar Tuck says: “Tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are.” I really liked this line, except it seems a tad ironic in a book that doesn’t strike me as a tale in the way I think of the’s more of: “here’s how it could’ve come about.”

This practicality of the Robin and of the author finally spills over and destroys the end. Spoilers...Robin’s band lasts less than a year. He sends a lot of them away because he thinks they’re going to be attacked. They are attacked. They’re nearly butchered, Sir Richard comes to aid them, takes them to his castle, and then the King shows up. He purrs and prowls around the room (I found this amusing) and ends up assigning the whole lot of them to come to the Holy Land with him. I MEAN WHAT?

(I am not a fan of the historical King Richard anyway, but...still. Seriously?)

The last half of the book reads considerably quicker than the first, but it’s a downhill roll, and the snowball breaks into a million pieces at the bottom. You leave the book a little bewildered. It’s like seeing the legend die, right there. And that’s way more frightening than Robin dying, as per usual books. The legend dies. In practicality.

Which causes me to growl at unearthly times in the morning and pound my fist on the wall.

Plot: * * *
Characters: * * * *
“Fluently!”: * * *
Golden Arrow: * *
Others: *
Overall: * * *

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quintessence turns 3!!


I can’t believe it’s been so short a time. My summer was an absolute whirlwind, and it’s weird to think that September is almost gone already.

I’m 6 chapters and approximately 18,000 words into Quintessence, which is (again approximately) about halfway through.

Though it is comparatively short (the first draft of Forest of Lies totaled 45,000), Quintessence is definitely jockeying for “fastest book I’ve ever written” because that three-months time also includes the outlining process, which took the normal 4 or 5 months with Forest of Lies. So while I’m in the middle of Quintessence’s draft, I would have been about three-quarters through Forest of Lies’s outlining and development process.

Hywel is an awesome character. Really, he is. The story was really what kicked off this idea, and he just jumped in like: “This is my story!” and ran with it. (Me: Um, okay. Have fun with that...) He’s bold, he’s not stupid, and he does some crazy things that leave my mouth hanging open. He goes at it alone, and has a heart for the lost even while he’s searching himself. He doesn’t care for consequences and wants the Truth. All in all, a terrific guy with a very natural-flowing voice.

In celebration of three months, six quotes...

Chapter 1...
My grandfather’s dead. That doesn’t sit that well with The Good life, however, so my parents will fix it.

Chapter 2...
I’m gong back outside.

Chapter 3...
“A friend for the dark.”

Chapter 4...
You’re supposed to have the answer, but it’s only a question.

Chapter 5...
“This is Kioni.”

Chapter 6...
I ran.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September's Beautiful People: Robin (Again)

(Apologies in advance for this ridiculous post. I'm working on more productive things. I promise.)

So...Hywel doesn't really fit these. And I've been thinking about Robin lately. (Like you all couldn't tell that.) And I am, perhaps, lazy. Definitely obsessed, anyway.

Here's what I'm doing, by the way.

Here's last month's BP post (really liked the questions on this one!).

And now that I've dragged Robin back (don't ask how he gets away, that's confusing), I'll get to this month's questions!

1. Do they have any habits, annoying or otherwise?
Marian: Oooh, let me answer this one.
Much: No, me me me!
Me: How the heck did you all get here?
Marian: It was hearing "what makes Robin annoying."
Robin: That's not what it says.
Much: Robin is annoying because he's married to his bow.
Marian: Hey.
Much: ...and won't try anything else, in spite of legends of his wondrous skill with the quarterstaff and sword as well. And he picks obnoxious girls to like.
Robin: Singular, thank you.
Marian: *bops both* MY opinion is that he picks obnoxious friends like certain towering, shaggy-headed sword-wielders with weird names.
Me: Okay, this is degrading quickly. *kicks Marian and Much out* Apparently they can't read what the question actually says.
Robin: I noticed that.
Me: My two-cents is that he has an annoying habit of being gentlemanly obnoxious. I don't know how he does it.
Robin: Yay me.

2. What is his backstory and how does it affect him now?
The problem with some of these questions is that answering them would give away things that I don't want to give away. I'll go with general. Robin's past was very, very hard and the result is he has a tendency to be very solemn and care-worn for his young age. (A certain lady brings out some interesting things in him, though.)
Marian: *smirk*
He does have a very clear idea of who he is and wants he wants to do, though--real purpose in life at a young age too, though he often struggles with how he can be worth anything as a human soul.

3. How does he show love?
Not very well. He's very, very guarded. He was hurt in a lot of ways from an early age and is terrified of opening up to people.

4. How competitive is he?
Not very, unless it has to do with archery.
Much: I swear it brings out the worst in him.
Robin: Let me insert here that I did NOT go to that infamous archery contest.
Marian: No, you just knocked my hat off.
Robin: *cough*
Me: Moving on...

5. What do they think about when nothing else is going on?
I...honestly don't know.
Robin: You probably don't want to.
Marian: *hug*

6. Do they have an accent?
Um. Sorta. Seeing as, if you heard him talk in his real language, it would sound (look?) something like this:
Robin: Ic mæl æfterield englisc.
Me: AAAAAH! Yes.
Robin: Ic scolde mæl efenlæcung þes éaca.
Me: Okay, stop that.
Robin: You don't even know if the grammar's right.
Me: Complications of a character this old living in your head, let me tell you.

7. What is their station in life?
Outlaw and general person of awesome.
Robin: That's not a station. >.>
Me: It is now. >:D

8. What do others expect from them?
Much: Laughs.
Marian: Care.
Will: Passion.
Much: Yes.

9. Where were they born, and when?
Near Nottingham, England in 1173 AD.

10. How do they feel about people in general?
Robin: They like to tease me.
Me: That's 'cause we like you.
Robin: People either live in truth or lies, and this affects the way they live their lives. They're frightening, but precious. God give me the strength to love them all.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Worth the Wait

Secret and mysterious Quintessence image
I have acknowledged for quite some time that my writing process is slower than many of my peers. I have even taken a kind of grandiose, lonely pride in the fact that “I must be a Tolkien.”

But the hard truth of “being a Tolkien” as I’ve called it, is that it takes a very long time to produce work, and during that very long time, you’re rather annoyed with yourself for the fact that you are producing nothing--or producing nothing that lasts.

For example, my “hungry gap,” that started with the end of Forest of Lies edits in August 2009, and really only ended about June 24th of this year. That was the day I woke up with the lingering tatters of an odd dream about a grandfather who died, and yet wasn’t dead.

I was more or less writing between the end of Forest of Lies Draft IIIB and this dream, but there were often long gaps and it mostly consisted of tiring re-tries in different POVs of The Bow/Etched in Black/Worthless (respectively, November 2009, all of 2010, and the winter/spring of 2010-11) and fruitless efforts at editing Forest of Lies. I had no consuming desire to write and no story constantly tugging at my mind save for brief intervals when I was overwhelmed with a longing to be writing Forest of Lies again.

I had recently given up on Worthless because of story goal troubles, and found myself adrift with absolutely no story for the upcoming OYAN Workshops. I began to look at bringing Forest of Lies chapters yet again, feeling rather lame. Then, with rapid-fire precision, Quintessence was born.

I finished up chapter 6 Tuesday morning, and got that gut-wrench, heart-pounding emotional reaction to the chapter that I hadn’t felt in ages. I didn’t cry, but I felt very much like a coiled spring ready to explode. It was absolutely exhilarating.

That’s when I decided it was true.

I had been considering writing this post for several days, possibly a couple of weeks, but it was that reaction to Hywel’s predicament and fear that really sealed that the title to the post, was, in fact, truth.

It’s been worth the wait.

Let’s see if I can remember that through the next dry season.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Where's the Reset Button?

*Warning: Strange authorly references to characters ahead. This may include conversations, talk as if characters were alive, and strange parallels to a schizophrenic condition.

Image Source
Robin doesn't like me to read Robin Hood books.

I've always found it amusing, because he, of course, came from Robin Hood books. They're kind of like his heritage or ancestors. I've told him: "oh, you're just jealous." He's said: "I don't know how you got me from them."

How indeed.

I bring this up now, because as I've re-entered the world of Robin Hood-ly goodness, I've noticed a twinge of regret. This was strongest while reading Rowan Hood. Granted, not a huge fan of that book, but to see that capering, fun-loving Robin Hood (as he usually is) I remember how when I started on the Robin Hood journey, that's who I expected my Robin to be.

I like that Robin. I didn't write mine in defiance of him, I just...wrote him. Now, almost five years later, it's obvious that there is no going back.

People who know me well are probably shocked to discover that I have any desire, however small, to go back. I've had countless people tell me that they loved how Robin was done, how much more human he seemed and I've always liked to show off his strangeness.

I didn't expect, though, that in writing Robin Hood I would get a character who I can't seem to give up. Who seems to be most of the reason I keep going back to Forest of Lies, trying to figure out how to make it better. Who sometimes gets into my dreams. Who always demands my attention.

Robin just kind of popped up in the early drafts of my writing, refusing to be normal. I've never really done intensive "developing" of's been more of a discovery process. In the early days, he always had a seemingly unmediated upon response to situations and characters, though it took me a long time to discover the why behind what he did. I've often wondered if God gave him to me, like I needed him or something.

I think, however that is, that Robin comes from someplace deep inside of me, that I'm not necessarily aware of. He's interesting,  he's different, he's almost a little frightening.

And even though I began to ponder that reset button, even if it did exist, I don't think I would press it. There's too much solemn, scarred character to give him up for the idealized giant, even if he does pull good jokes.

Though I still ask...Robin, what am I going to do with you?

Robin: Hug me, probably.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rare Wisdom from Polonius

Silly old man that he be...I've had this hanging in my room for...lots of years. Five or something ridiculous like that. It's good!

Image Source and Place of Hamlet Awesome
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~Act 1, Scene 3, Hamlet

Friday, September 16, 2011

Focusing on One Character

I live in a crowd.

That’s not a bad thing, just a statement of fact. Seven siblings and everyone staying home for school can do that. It’s my band, my team. But a crowd nonetheless.

I’ve also tended to write in crowds. Part of this is because my first stories were more transcriptions from games we played with friends--and, well, when everyone who plays the game gets a character, you get a crowd.

Betsy Flowain, the heroine of (surprisingly) Betsy Flowain, had four siblings in the final draft. In the original she had five. It’s hard to develop four ally-like characters, so the truth is I didn’t much. Jarvis was the main one developed. Besides the siblings, I surrounded her with an army of allies.

Marian was (and remains) a single child, only living with her father. But she ends up in a forest surrounded by men. Again, I had a crowd that I didn’t develop that much beyond its principle players: Much and Robin. Will and Timothy stood out a bit, but everyone else acted rather like a prop to a play--just a lump of cardboard in the shape of people that I could move around however I liked.

I wonder if this tendency towards crowds has affected the way my heroes seemed to be outshined by their side characters in my books. Jarvis was more interesting than Betsy, and more people adored Robin than Marian (though in all honesty he deserves adoring. And I just put this in to annoy him.*).

In Quintessence, I have focused on one character. He has his supports, but he’s usually cut off from them, fending for himself in the search for truth and the struggle with the villain. He doesn’t get much help, and the audience has to live most of the time just focusing on him doing things--not necessarily interacting with other characters. Chapter 2 consists almost entirely of him trying to escape his room.

It’s a bit hard to hold the tension there, I’ve realized. I’m used the conflict of other people, especially after writing Forest of Lies, where Marian and Robin are always at each other, or usually, Marian’s at Robin.

Hywel has more focus. More gumption. More guts. He’s taking the story in his hands and changing things right and left. He almost literally demolished a difficulty that I/the villain threw at him in chapter 5. Undistracted by fellow characters, he’s grappling more effectively with the theme and the villain.

Forest of Lies was very much a relationship-centric book, and I think it belongs that way. However, I’m enjoying how Quintessence is centered on one character and his attempts to escape a world he knows is wrong. I’ve found his character developing very rapidly in the intense but fascinating place with no crowd. Part of the theme I want to get across is the empty world--a shell, with not much living in it. Hywel thrives in the almost constant spotlight on him--someone truly seeking, truly living.

Do you write crowds or solo heroes? Do you think it might be effected by the size of your family?

*It's a running joke/feud/argument. Yes I have running jokes with characters. Yes I'm weird. Over it now?

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Adventures of Robin Hood
Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Released on May 14, 1938
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Robin: “Come, Sir Guy, you wouldn’t kill a man for telling the truth, would you?”

Sir Guy: “If it amused me, yes.”

Robin: “You’re lucky my humor is of a different sort.”

And so Errol Flynn bounds onto the screen as Robin of Locksley, wit flying. Sir Guy: 0. Robin Hood: 1.

I still remember when I first watched this movie, about three and a half years ago. It was a crackly VHS, it was a siblings’ movie night, and I had bruised my second toe so badly that I had to hold an ice pack on it for the entire 102 minutes.

And oh, how I laughed.

From the moment he rode onto screen, Flynn was the epitome of every Robin Hood in every book I’d read. The effect flowed from him into the rollicking fun of the rest of this gorgeously and gaudily colored film. I laughed because it was perfect, I laughed because the dialogue was good, I laughed because I was having fun. And really, at its heart Robin Hood is about doing good and having a wonderful good time while doing it.

"'Twas he who did the falling in."
This movie is my ultimate Robin Hood experience.

The plot is loosely bound together by cause-and-affect. Robin saves poacher, Robin goes on bad list. Robin now on bad list, he *of course* enters castle with a deer perched on his shoulders. Robin escapes, Robin is declared outlaw. Sir Guy declares he’ll “have him dangling in a week.” (Sir Guy: -1. Robin Hood: 2.). It goes on. It packs 3 high-action (though, granted, “old telly”) scenes in its hour and a half, and pays tribute to main stories: Little John, Friar Tuck, King Richard, a magnificent robbery, and an archery tournament. It’s beginning credits say the screenplay is “based on ancient Robin Hood legends” and that’s a very fair assertion (with the exception of the Hollywood-necessary Maid Marian character, who is a late edition to the legend).

The characters, are, perhaps cliché. At the same time, they are spot on with regular interpretations. One notable thing is that while the Sheriff isn’t the least bit scary in this version, Prince John and Sir Guy make up a villainous duo quite well. They also manage to have a “Marian’s maidservant” character who isn’t highly annoying, and actually enjoys an amusing and sweet subplot of her own.

Bad guys in pretty clothes.
Originality isn’t top in this, but considering I don’t think that was necessarily the point, it doesn’t matter that much. Its un-originality isn’t boring and doesn’t have the feeling of “re-hashed.” It takes the best from the books and plays it out on the big screen with gusto and delight. It succeeds far more than the “more original” attempt of last year did.

Another thing not high in the list is historical accuracy. Some of Marian’s costumes in particular is quite peculiar. (On that note, Marian changes clothes every time you see her in a new scene, saving near the end. Most of the dresses are gorgeous, even if not quite accurate--maybe the person in charge of the costume department was showing off?) This film relishes in all of the birthright of the Robin Hood legend--and that includes persisting inaccuracies. It is, however, better than the BBC Robin Hood.

I am not a fan of this ensemble.
As this is the film that got me interested in film history and Technicolor in particular, it deserves (re) mentioning that this film is shot in color, and it just teams with bright life. I’m always a bit struck by how rich the colors are. Sure, it has a tendency towards the ridiculous, but it gives even more of the feel that we’re in a kind of fantasy history--the good and the bad both exaggerated to extreme lengths. It’s very fun to watch. (And this is perhaps the only Sir Guy who wears clothes which can be called “pretty.”) As a film history tidbit, if I remember correctly, this was the most expensive film ever made when it was made--at 2 million un-inflated dollars. This came a lot from the use of Technicolor cameras that make it so vivid.

This, however...gorgeous.
(This is getting ridiculously long now, but I have to say: the soundtrack is awesome too, especially if you buy a new recording of it!)

I’ve saved the best for last. The dialogue. Ooh, the dialogue. More than anything else it makes this cheesy old film. It is filled to the brim with the perfectly evil, the bold good, and the witty. Mostly the witty.

Sheriff: You think you’re overtaxed, eh?

Robin: Overtaxed, overworked, and paid off with a knife, a club, or a rope.

Marian: Why, you speak treason.

Robin: Fluently.

(Robin: 3. Marian: 0. Sheriff: -346)

Half of the credit for this goes to my sister.
I could quote for ages, because Flynn’s Robin is perhaps the wittiest Robin ever to exist, but it really deserves to be in context.

So. Watch it. Now. This is Robin Hood done right.

 (This is where you say...may I obey all of your commands with equal pleasure, sire!)

 Plot: * * *
Characters: * * *
Golden Arrow: * * * * *
"Fluently!": (For crying out loud, this category is named for this movie!) * * * * *
Others: * * *
Overall: * * * * *

Sunday, September 11, 2011


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
~George Santayana

Remember when the world collapsed.
The burning buildings.
The people who jumped.
Those who died.
Those who sacrificed.

The Fear.
The Love.
Remember all of the things that didn't matter.
All the things that could wait.
All the things you dropped and ignored.

Remember when it wasn't You against Them.
It was Us.
Standing tall.

Don't repeat the past.


"I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Arnor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens: not a mistress of slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves. War must be while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men Númenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise."

~Faramir, The Lord of the Rings

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Tale of Three Questions: 2068, Operation Robyn, and Quintessence

They say good things come in threes.

After I wrote my Tale of Three Boys post, it occurred to me that I had yet another tale of three. Maybe my mind works well in threes and fours. I know it works well in multiples, for Runaway Castle V became Betsy Flowain and Robin Hood IV became Forest of Lies. I've said before I'm like Tolkien, and maybe my creative mind is like Treebeard. It isn't hasty. It mulls, it considers, it simmers...all in the back of my head, ready to pop up with a combination of several ideas

So without further ado...a tale of three futuristic, dystopian societies...and very important questions.

2068: Mari's Question: What is our past, and who am I?
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The idea for 2068 came from watching, strangely enough, a PBS presentation the Black Death. Me being a writer, I thought: wow, this would be interesting to write about! That night I scribbled down a bunch of ideas for a story about a futuristic world with a villain who is trying to resurrect the Black Death through use of time travel. (And thus, as super-villains do, get all of Earth into his grasp. MUWAHA!)

My heroine, Mari, was to fall into this balance of powers because she herself was snatched from the time period of the Black Death--and was found not to infected (nuts!). She enters the quest to find out what's going on because no one will tell her about what went on before the year 1500 and why she has strange visions she doesn't understand. Only a 7 pages exist of this idea, some outlining and a couple of scenes. A strange, red-and-grey-haired librarian named Gillette in an abandoned library plays an important role.

Operation Robyn: Robert's Question: Is God worth trusting?
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Operation Robyn grew in several surprising and a little unsettling bursts from one scene I wrote called "The Hyby" (hybrid car). In it I had Mr. Hode and Mych. If you haven't figure it out yet, yes, this was an idea for Robin Hood set in futuristic times. A whole flurry of scenes poured out of my head in a couple of days--all whammy scenes and character intros (Amy Naire, Johanna Lynne, Professor Gisy--yes I had fun with names) with car chases and memory wipes and all that good stuff. I actually outlined the book in its entirety, but ended up writing Forest of Lies first--and I haven't ever gotten back to it with the same passion.

This book actually had several questions: the whole first couple of chapters are centered on Robert asking questions and getting rebuked for it. Questions of ANY kind. It was highly focused on questions, truth, and lies. It also happened to have a female ally who is not a love interest. Another key component was, as I said, memory wipes. Or blocks, as I called them--since the memories could be retrieved.

Quintessence: Hywel's Question: What is quintessence?
Then, of course, along came Quintessence. It has more of the world feel of 2068 (not the beat-up, post-apocalyptic type like Robyn--instead, shimmering in strange perfection) but the focus of Operation Robyn (no time travel!). It, too, has a focus on questions, lies, and Truth. Other things, like librarians and messing with memories, also come into play.


My mind works in interesting ways, doesn't it? I can only attribute this fascinating process to the One who created it!

Also, when looking at this, I can't help but be hopeful that Quintessence doesn't crash and burn on me like some of my favorite ideas do--since it actually has different kinds of backing in 4 different stories--Betsy Flowain, Worthless, 2068, and Operation Robyn. It makes me think that maybe, this time, after a two year hiatus, I actually get to write something--beginning to end. It's time for my hopeful, Truth-loving, and God-fearing dystopia.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Tale of Three Boys: Jarvis, Gervais, and Hywel

In the same vein of Writing is a Process, I bring you a story of three different characters from three different novels in three different genres...and how each has influenced the other--and convinced me, once again, that I have not wasted a single word.

Jarvis was the brother of my heroine in Betsy Flowain. Once during the rough draft phrase, he actually stole the title from my main character because, I realize now, he was the most interesting character in that book. I often said that if I ever re-wrote Betsy it would be from Jarvis's point of view. It's not that Betsy wasn't likable, she was just...boring. Anyway, so this story starts with his existence.

I started to write this book called The Bow--a copy of which only one person in the entire universe has (that is, my #1 fan Leah)--at this time, I was actually thinking about Betsy Flowain and about Jarvis. If you're a writer, you'll get this next bit. If you're not, sorry, this is really how I think. I couldn't help this feeling that Jarvis was intolerably bored over in his "finished" novel where he was the only character that had real life. And he was bugging me. So, I thought, "what the heck, I'll stick him in this novel." I re-named him as Gervais, and put him in The Bow to pacify him. He was supposed to only be around a little, you know, a very minor character. Just to quiet him.

Then he jumped onto a frozen brook to save my heroine, Rosamond, from drowning. After which I fell in love with him. And found out he wasn't Jarvis. He just looked like him. CONFUSION GALORE!!

After the monstrosity that was The Bow, I started on Etched in Black, which was basically the same book from Yvette's POV--except it was in third person...Gervais kept "stealing the show" when I switched to following him around. And, so, again...

Now the book has the ironic title of Worthless, and was told from the first-person POV of Gervais. Which, if you remember, I dropped in late June because of story goal problems. However, when I first found myself plunging into the first person perspective of a BOY, I kinda freaked out. This is important, because...

Hywel myspace graphic comments
Hywel is a boy. Hywel is NOT Jarvis or Gervais, and he never will be (at least, I hope so, because if he did become them it would be horrendously confusing). I realized a few days ago that I had absolutely no freak-out whatsoever with writing a male hero for Quintessence. I can't even remember considering a female having that part. The hero of Quintessence was male, and that was that. It is, for the most part, flowing very naturally. Plus, I haven't had complaints from male readers (so far!) so I must be doing a decent job.


Why am I dragging you through the labyrinth of some of my creative process? Well, one reason is because (some of)  you asked for it. The other (real) reason is because I'm a little in awe. Until I discovered this, I still felt like The Bow/Etched in Black/Worthless was really a little worthless. Sure, I still have plans for finishing it eventually, but I've written something like 120,000 words on it and have nothing to show for it.

Now noticing this, it again shows me how writing builds. How each story I've attempted or succeeded at has bolstered and pushed the next one higher.

And, once again, how nothing is wasted.

Have you ever fallen into the trap of considering old and failed novels wasted effort? Do you still see them that way?

P.S. If any of you are feeling sorry for Hywel 'cause I put a baby announcement under his name...I do too. It was just too funny not to miss. And he says it's okay. He guesses. And "hey, you're writing that?!"

Why yes I am. Readers, meet Hywel. Hywel, meet readers.

Hywel: Robin's right. You are annoying.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Writing is a Process

A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to go through my documents and try to guesstimate how many words I've written in the last decade.

Yes, decade.

It's hard for me to even fathom that I have been writing for over half of my life--and that it's almost four years since I started the OYAN curriculum for the first time.

I used to delete things I didn't like when I wrote them, but I always regretted it. I have decided to save EVERYTHING. I label it carefully, giving myself dates as often as I can remember when I jotted down this or thought up that, because it's fascinating for me to go back and look at where I've been.

I've noticed that my brain tends to save space when writing lengthy prose by simply layering my most recent work over anything older. Let enough time go by, and I'll have forgotten it. There were 18,000 words in a story that I barely remembered (it came back to me as I flipped through it--but still!). It's like those messages on the computer. They pop up saying: "Forest of Lies by Nairam already exists. Would you like to replace it?" My brain says "yep!" and I forgot entire plot points that I abandoned early on in the process (it's amazing to me to look though the outlining I did for that novel. I adhered to the basic things, but all of those character sheets and theme studies? Wow, they changed.).

Also, writers tend to be extremely harsh and self-critical. Because we both have memory-saving brains and self-criticism, we (and I really mean I) forget how far we've come.

So I save things. Like this.
The font at the top is what I actually wrote in. It was yellow on blue. I just had to convert it when printed so my mom could actually read it.

I worked on Runaway Castle for around six years. And thousands upon thousands of words. It would eventually become Betsy Flowain, my first OYAN novel.
Hosa = Jarvis; Jonathan = Michael; Wind (narrator) = Betsy

How times change!

Writers often talk about how looking back on work, they "cringe." I used to say the same. But I don't cringe anymore. Instead I...

1) Laugh. The stuffed animal stories my sister and I did *are* pretty hysterical--sometimes when we were intending to be, sometimes when we were not...


2) Appreciate! Even when I'm reading Betsy Flowain, I get some of the same kind of "why on earth did I write THAT?" moments. The same is true of early drafts of Forest of Lies (especially when I still called it Robin Hood--oh my.) I get that kind of want-to-cringe feeling--then stop myself.

In everything, you must appreciate the past to understand the present and work for the future. Because my brain is intent on layering my novels right on top of each other, I keep my paper print-outs and my 101 MG story folder. I keep the old things to remind myself that I AM getting better. I keep the old things to put my worry about quality to rest--even if what I'm writing right now ISN'T the best, it will help my next work be that much better.

I discovered something else when I looked at those old folders.

I have written approximately 441,000 fiction words (not counting however many I lost in a computer crash, my deleted stories, or the short scenes that OYAN asks for in the outlining process) in 10 years.

About 300,000 of those words have been in the last 4 years.

It takes about 100,000 words for a novel or novella (40,000-50,000) of mine to come to completion, sometimes more.

NONE of those words or years were wasted.

Writing is a process.

I have come far and I have far to go.

And you know what? That's exciting.

My first novel-sized story. After I got this far, I decided using a computer would be a better idea.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Sometimes it is not loss and pain that bring tears to your eyes, it's Love, and Beauty, Truth and Sacrifice. They're a deeper, cleaner throb that resonates within you even when you don't know quite why.

I think it is because real Beauty and Truth hit the cord within each heart, and remind us that we don't belong in this fallen world. That there's something greater out there. It awakens that longing, pure and wonderful, for beauty without stain, truth without lies, love without selfishness.

I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them... will read things out of the Red Book, and keep alive the memory of the age that is gone, so that people will remember the Great Danger and so love their beloved land all the more. And that will keep you as busy and as happy as anyone can be, as long as your part of the Story goes on.

~Frodo Baggins

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

My Lord of the Rings Obsession

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As if obsessions with Robin Hood and Doctor Who (and Hamlet) weren't bad enough, I now present to you: Lord of the Rings.

I have said, many times, that I am not a fantasy person. I do not like fantasy. So it's kind of weird that the epitome (basically) of fantasy is one of my favorite books of all time.

I grew up on Narnia. I've never claimed it as an "obsession" because it's just to the point where it is ingrained in my very being. However, Lord of the Rings came into my life before Hamlet and Doctor Who and the worse bout of Robin Hood.(I had two times I was obsessed--first quite young, and then in my teens.) It started out with my mom reading a single-volume book to make sure it was okay for reading consumption (yes that sounds weird). This was around the time the films were coming out. I at the time thought it was a theology book. She decided that it was a good idea for a read aloud, so we started off with The Hobbit.

By the time we reached Lord of the Rings, all of the movies were out on extended edition DVDs, which my mom and dad owned. We then proceeded to do a read aloud with movie supplements as many nights as was possible.

This was, quite frankly, a splendid way to get introduced to the story. It instilled in me love for the book but also introduced me to masterpiece of adaption that is the movies.

We (I) became a little obsessed with it.

I often talked my sister until 11 or 12 at night after a reading/watching, we played games, we acted out scenes, and, as we neared the end, I cried. It was one of the few stories that drove clear into my heart and rested there. It was a story of courage in the face of despair, of wise and kingly characters, of, yes, the ultimate triumph of good over evil, but the inevitable cost of the evil, even when it was defeated.

After my dad finished reading it to us (and I did some more crying) I proceeded to re-read it every few months for the next couple of years, including spending basically the entirety of my money ($61.47, if I remember correctly) on buying myself a set of my own (three hardback, red-covered volumes illustrated by Alan Lee. Yes I still gush over them.). To this date I would guess I have roughly have two dozen readings behind me.

Looking back, it makes me wonder what my life would be like without that terrific story harbored in the back of my mind, the noble characters that I admire. The only other story with similar impact was the legend of Robin Hood. It is hard to tell with Narnia, because those books were more a mold or shaping to my life, while Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood were to impact it in different ways.

That is a long prologue to: I am currently reading this beautiful story. Tolkien may not be the best storyteller (do we really need all of these descriptions of landscapes, John?), but he had one of the best stories to tell. I will be forever grateful for it.

On Labor Day, I will also be attending a Lord of the Rings extended edition marathon. Third year running.

My life would not be utterly bleak without Lord of the Rings--but it has been intensely enriched by this tapestry of good, wholesome, virtuous people standing against a Darkness so vast with a Hope so small...and defeating it.

"They cannot conquer for ever." ~Frodo

Friday, September 2, 2011

Making a Reader Cry over a Character's Death - Part 2

Part 1 is here.

-I put the focus on someone else. Everyone, including both my main character and this ally, were focused on a different character that was just recovering from a close brush with death. The main character was debating with herself over a decision that would endanger this other character (I'll just call him the mentor). Through the last couple of chapters, it was all: "is [the mentor] going to die? I don't want [the mentor] to die! Oh thank goodness, [the mentor] is getting better!! Should I betray [the mentor]?" It got so focused on the mentor that I think it was a shock to see someone else go first, someone who was really something of an innocent bystander--not a person involved in all of the main character's frantic soul-searching. Just a friend of both her and the mentor.
---- Maybe make it look like someone else is going to die, and focus on memories of that person. Then BAM suddenly someone else we love is gone. This helps with the unexpected.

-I kept it short. Actually, that's a lie. I wrote a lengthy paragraph of a death-speech, and Mr.S. suggested I shorten to a "few, gut-wrenching" sentences. And I did. He didn't get to say all that he wanted to, my hero didn't get to say all she wanted to. And he died thinking of his friend. Also, the point in the chapter before where he’s wounded is very sudden.
---- Maybe don't even INCLUDE a death-scene speech. I've always wanted to try that. This character was dying slowly, so he WOULD'VE said something. But I've always wanted to try a sudden death. Those kinds of deaths are hardest to absorb. They feel more unexpected, too, when they're fast.

-I made someone "miss" the death. My main character was with him when he died, but the mentor, his closest friend, was not. This devastated him. The last thing he remembers about his friend is him being there, sticking with him through a nightmarish situation...and then he (the mentor) wakes up, weeks later. His friend is already buried.
---- This isn't touched much on my story, but it's an idea. It hurt my mentor more 1) because he was closer to the ally, but also 2) because he wasn't with him when he died, and he never even saw him dead. It made the death harder to accept.

-Focus on the realities. I don't know if this will do much with readers, but...well, it's like this. My Grandfather died in February. I didn't really cry. He had cancer, so I had done all of my crying when I found out he had it. It was slow and expected. Also, he asked to be cremated, so I never saw a body. All I could think of, actually, was when we stopped in at Christmas and he looked so sick. The night we left, I hugged him and he took my arm hard, looked straight at me, and said "God bless you." I'll always remember that, and it still chokes me up thinking about it. Then, I didn't really cry until the second-to-last week in June. We went into Nebraska, where he grew up, to scatter his ashes in a lake where he used to fish. He'd asked for that, too. It was kind of weird, the box of ashes and the cups, and I couldn't decide if I wanted to do it or not. Then my mom related a conversation she'd had with my 5-year-old sister, Adelle.
Adelle: Mom, where's Grandpa?
Mom: [thinking she might've forgotten] Adelle, Grandpa died.
Adelle: I know, but I thought we were going to throw him in the lake.
It was a funny moment, and my Aunt Lori (Dad's sister) said: "oh, I love that--I bet he's smiling right now." I started laughing, but then I cried. It was all mixed up.
I think I'll also always remember throwing those ashes at the lake. It's a beautiful, gorgeous place. Ever so much better than a box in the ground.
----That's probably too deep, for this character, but I think the plan to "stay real" with death is what makes it ache more. You don't have to be dramatic. Just real.

So...Make him important with a real life to be lived, show his gentleness and faithfulness BEFORE he dies, make his death unimportant, focus on someone else, keep it short.

But most of all: keep it real.

What are you techniques for "good" deaths? Have you ever made a reader cry? If you've read Forest of Lies--did *I* make you cry?

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Thursday, September 1, 2011


Since it seems a little lame not to post at the beginning of a new month (I don't know why it does...just does), here is a post.

Ta-da! It is September.
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(This is getting lamer by the second, isn't it?)

Anyway, I chose that 'cause he has what looks like school stuff and I'm actually pretty excited about school--especially since I finally finished Churchill a couple of days ago and can get started on the 11th-13th century English study. Which, being the history buff I am, I'm pretty ecstatic about. (If only my online AP courses would start--I'm getting antsy waiting for them!)

Also, on Labor Day, I'm going to an extended edition Lord of the Rings marathon. First I'm trying to finish reading Lord of the Rings, and I have 430ish pages to go. Sounds monstrous, but after Churchill reading it is a breeze. It helps that I'm hopelessly in love with it and have already read at least two dozen times (strange for the anti-fantasy person, isn't it?).

Anyway, I'll undo the lameness of this post by posting a picture of The Doctor. Then I'll seem like more of a nerd or a geek or whichever. (See, I don't even know.)

"Did I mention the rhinos?"
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