Influences: Terry Brooks

I’ve always liked the name Will. William seems stodgy to me, and Bill boring (or, as one William I know once put it, “a bill is a duck’s mouth, NOT a person’s name”), but I do like Will.

I put the responsibility for that squarely on the shoulders of two authors: Susan Cooper, for her fantastic Will Stanton; and Terry Brooks, for Wil Ohmsford of The Elfstones of Shannara.

I still vividly remember finding this book for the first time. It was at our old library, the one we’d been going to since before I was born. I had looked through the entire children’s section and realized that I had read, if not all the books, almost all of them, and certainly all the ones that interested me (the Goosebumps books were completely safe from ever being borrowed by me). So, for the first time ever, I crossed the middle of the library into the adult section. I have no idea how old I was.

The above cover was the first thing I saw in the adult section. The very word “elfstones” caught my interest, followed very quickly by the Robin Hood-esque characters pictured. I added it to my pile, brought it home, started reading, and was instantly immersed.

The second Brooks book I read was The Druid of Shannara, which confused me horribly until I realized we were talking two separate Ohmsford generations, here. I didn’t care so much about Walker, but I loved all the tidbits about Wren, and, not having Wikipedia at my fingertips back in those days, went back to the library and found all the Shannara books they had and began skimming them, trying to find the one that would tell me more about Wren. I finally found The Elf Queen of Shannara, and as you might have guessed, loved every word. I think I named a character “Wren” in every story I wrote for ages after that. She was awesome.

Over time, I’ve read all of the Shannara books except the short stories and graphic novels (and finally got them all in the right order), and most of the Landover series, too. I also read Sometimes the Magic Works, which is still probably my favorite book on writing, from a writer, ever (I also really love Madeleine L’Engle’s A Circle of Quiet, but that’s more of a book on life, from a writer, than just a book on writing).
As I’ve grown and broadened my fantasy horizons, I can see a lot more of the flaws in Brooks’ writing than before. He certainly has no shame in utilizing tropes, or in using the same ideas and themes over and over (and over and over). His best books are, I think, his Word & Void books, which are gritty and dark, magic mixing with modern reality in a completely believable (and terrifying) way. The fantasy ones get repetitive after a bit, and I think the ones set in the more “modern” fantasy times (The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara books, and the High Druid books) are his weakest. My personal favorite is still Elfstones, both because it is the first I ever read, and for its characters – Wil, Amberle, Eretria, and Prince Ander.
Brooks is one of those rare writers who combines brilliant world-building with unique and dimensional characters (for the most part. Like I said, the later books get repetitive). And while someone today might dismiss him as following too many tropes, you have to remember that he is directly responsible for some of those things becoming tropes – other writers have copied off of him, turning his originality into tropes.
Sacrifice on a personal level for a greater, impersonal good is a continuing theme woven throughout his works. So is familial love, stronger than any spell. So is the seductive lies of evil contrasted with the harsh reality of good. So is the idea of one person, no matter how seemingly insignificant, refusing to give in to hatred and darkness, and turning the tide of the battle.
Cliches? Maybe. Truths that are important for people to be reminded of, even in fantasy version? Absolutely.
Not all evils can be fought with a sword (or elfstones). But evil can and must be fought every day, in all its various forms, by those who love peace, love goodness, love love itself. And I for one always appreciate the reminder of that I always get in Brooks’ works, and try to incorporate some of those truths in all my own works, whether it be the obvious point of the story or simply the truth hidden behind my writing.
Heroes don’t always look heroic, but the world needs them just the same.

Encouragement

Many, many thanks for all your encouraging words on Monday’s post. I was talking with my sister yesterday, and we got discussing the difficulties in finding that proper balance with any artistic vision (she is a silversmith and jeweler) – do you lower your standards to create what’s cheap and popular, or what’s going to be popular in five months, or do you create what you love even knowing that means nobody else might ever see it? How long can you keep working at something if it’s only a private passion, when can you stop justifying the time spent on it? If you are working at something only for your own enjoyment, does that mean you lose some drive to make it as close to perfect as possible, do you need that hope of outside consumers to force you to keep polishing until it’s practically perfect?

Not a lot of cut-and-dried answers in this world of artistic creativity. But mostly, it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Support systems are great.

And last night I took a break from editing to brainstorm ideas for characters and plots for short stories – given my tendency to ramble without ever giving much information, I think short stories might be a good way for me to practice writing concisely, and keeping a plot tight.

This opening is my favorite out of all the ideas I got down last night (admittedly, there weren’t many. NCIS was a good one, hence it was very distracting. Usually it’s more just in the background on Tuesdays):

At first, Darcy was more interested in the book she was reading than in all the other people in the park. That was why, after the muttered warning breathed almost in her ear, she couldn’t have told who had said it—the mom in yoga pants and a ponytail pushing the stroller down the path? The slender man in the long brown duster, looking at the tree leaves with a magnifying glass? The teenage skateboarding menaces flashing by, causing the baby in the stroller to shriek in indignation? The kindly old grandmotherly type shaking her head and knitting needles at the skateboarders? 

None of them seemed likely. Then again, the message itself was utterly bizarre. 

“Your life is in danger. Leave at once. Tell no one.” 

What could it mean? Was it even serious? It had to be some crazy joke. Darcy brushed her bangs out of her eyes and bent her head back to the book. 

It wasn’t a very funny joke. What if she was the nervous type? She’d be paranoid now, afraid that some unknown peril was lurking behind every bush and trash can. Good thing she was more sensible than that. 

She glanced up again and scanned the area. Nothing seemed out of place. 

Of course, if she was the too-serious type, she would report this to the nearest police officer. That would teach the would-be prankster! 

The police would probably just dismiss her anyway. Once again, Darcy tried to focus on the words on the page, but they blurred and danced away out of her understanding. She slapped the book shut, dropped it in her bag, and stood up, slinging the bag’s handle over her shoulder. Stupid fake warning. She wasn’t scared, but she was annoyed, and she just couldn’t pay attention to reading now. She’d have to go back to her apartment, and actually take care of that house-cleaning she’d been postponing ever since the warm weather had started a week ago. 

Maybe that was the warning’s purpose. Maybe it was her subconscious reminding her that if she didn’t clean soon, she’d run out of clean dishes and clothes, and the dust bunnies would take over her life, hold her captive. That was danger enough for anyone. 

Cheered by that thought, Darcy went on down the path with the bounce back in her step.

I’m not even sure where to go from here – who it was who warned her, or why she’s in danger, or if it’s all a big mix-up, but I’m gotten rather fond of Darcy, just from the short time we spent together last night, and I’m looking forward to figuring out what happens to her. In a short story, Louise, not a novel! Too many novels in the works already. (I have to keep reminding myself of that, or else I get carried away. Rambly writer, rambly plots!)

I am mostly posting this snippet to prove conclusively that even though I have my times of discouragement and overwhelmedness, I do, in fact, always pop back up with pen (or computer) in hand, and keep working at it.

I can’t seem to do anything else, and I wouldn’t want to anyway.

Destiny … Or Not

Do you believe in destiny?

Not necessary “twoo, twoo wuv” destiny, but fate, the idea that your path is already laid for you, all you can do is walk it.

Depressingly, I sometimes wonder if I’m destined to be the “less-than” all my life. Or maybe rather, the “almost-good.” Almost a good skater, but never quite made it to good. Almost a good singer, but not really there. DEFINITELY quite a bit less than a good pianist (but hey, all those years of piano lessons at least taught me how to read music, so there is that. Even if I do struggle with the bass clef still). Almost a good actress, but not wholly convincing.

When I start to add up all the things I’m not quite good at, it gets really depressing. In fact, I don’t recommend doing it. At all. Because then, as I said, I start to think “Gee, maybe that’s just my destiny, to always be halfway there, but never quite fully successful at anything.” And THAT leads to –

“MAYBE I’M NOT EVEN VERY GOOD AT WRITING.”

And then I panic. Because what if this one thing I love so well is just like everything else, something that I do okay at, but will never be able to excel at?

And then I panic some more.

And then I read all these quotes that are supposed to be inspirational, about how if you love something you’ll succeed at it, and that everyone is a genius if they just find what they’re suited for, or that JUST WORK HARD and you’ll eventually gain your heart’s desire! And all that sort of thing, and then I get all cynical and sarcastic, because honestly, when has life ever worked that way? Some people are going to work their whole lives at something they love, and they will never be very good at it, and that’s just life, and what if I’m one of those people? Destined to be mediocre at everything? There’s no reason why I SHOULDN’T be the other type, the type who can achieve dreams and glory through hard work and perseverance.

And then I finally turn off my brain and just sit down and WRITE, because doggone it, even if I’m not ever going to write anything worth anyone else reading, I love this, and I’m going to keep pouring my heart into it, and keep trying, and I will be writing until the day I die, even if it’s all crap, even if it’s destined to be useless.

So there, fate.

What do you do to turn off those negative voices that tell you your writing is no good?

A Bird’s-Eye Look at Editing

Easter is over, the eggs are hunted, the family has gone back to their respective houses, the fridge is chock full of ham and sundries, the coffee/tea stash is seriously depleted, and it’s time to start thinking about editing again.

I have adopted a methodical practice for editing this particular MS. First, I printed out the rough draft, and went through it with a pencil, marking specific changes as well as leaving just general comments like “awkward phrasing; fix it,” or “this whole passage sucks; change it,” or if I was feeling kindly toward myself “insert more about specific reasons here.”

Next stage is the one I’m in now, putting the suggested changes into the document.

The next stage is the one I’m dreading, and the reason I read Line by Line: copy-editing. This is the mind-numbing part where I go through and look critically at each line, pulling it apart to see if it is as concise (in case you haven’t gathered as much from my blog posts, I’m a rambly writer), understandable, and lovely as possible.

Then will come one final look-through, and then I will send it out to my beta readers. Assuming I have beta readers at that point, that is. Anyone want to volunteer for that? I’m always happy to read others’ work in exchange. (and yes, I know it’s not considered etiquette to beg for betas in this way. What can I say, I’ve been looking for a critique group for over a year now with no luck, and I’m desperate. Also, my tongue is rather in my cheek, though that doesn’t mean I’d refuse if anyone offered to become a critique partner with me!)

After the betas tear it apart and send it back and I stop sobbing into my pillow over all their suggested improvements, I’ll go through it again, fixing the problems they saw in it. Then I send it back to them, and then we decide if it’s good to go out for submission, or if it needs yet more work.

It’s a fairly exhaustive (and exhausting) process, and it’s more intensive than I’ve ever attempted with any of my other finished MSS. However, of those, one was never meant for publication, but was simply finished as “my first finished novel;” one is languishing in a closed file; and one I’ve ended up tearing apart, breaking down, and starting it again from scratch. So I’m thinking that a more severe editing process might, in fact, be helpful for me. And after reading on Shannon Hale’s blog that some of her works go through nine drafts, I really don’t feel this is too over-the-top.

I’m planning on this taking a long time. I’d been feeling an almost panicked need to get this MS done, to get it out there as quickly as possible so that by the time Carl was ready to go back to school I could maybe, possibly, be helping the family finances. However, by working so hard and feeling so rushed, I was losing a lot of the joy that characterized the first writing of this story in the first place, and more importantly, was finding it harder and harder to enjoy being with my family, because every moment spent with them was a moment I wasn’t writing.

Um, bad priorities.

So I’ve accepted that for right now, my role is not to assist in bringing in any extra money when Carl is in school, at least not through my writing. Depending on his schedule, I can always go back to retail – after eight years before my marriage, I’m pretty comfortable there – once he’s in school, and help out that way. Right now, I’m going to slow down the frenetic pace I’d been applying to the writing, enjoy it, enjoy my family, enjoy life as it is right now, and take as long as I need to in order to make this story as close to perfect as I can, while still savoring being mumsie to my two little chickadees.

What does your editing process look like?