Happy Birthday, Bard of Prydain (and beyond)

Today is Lloyd Alexander’s 89th birthday. Of course I had to write a tribute.

There aren’t enough words, especially in a blog post, to give the proper idea of the influence this man has had on me. My writing, for one, but in my life as well. His characters, his stories, and more important, the ideas behind his stories, the hidden and subtle threads that wove their way through every tale he told, have all conspired together to shape my world view and my personality.

His own character as well has been an inspiration to me. Everything I read about him indicates he was a kind man, with great humility and a marvelous sense of humor, someone who never lost his sense of wonder at the magic that exists in the world all around us, for those with eyes to see it.

He is one of those giants upon whose shoulders I attempt to stand. I am ever thankful for him.

I wrote, a few years back, a little story set in a post The High King Prydain. I skipped the entire dilemma of “how did Taran and Eilonwy put the kingdom back together?” by focusing on their children, in a settled kingdom that had accepted the departure of the Sons of Don long ago (cheating! I know!). It’s not the most perfect story I’ve ever written, but I am fond of it for the message it conveys. It is, in a small way, part of my tribute to the lessons I’ve learned from Lloyd. If such thing interest you, feel free to read it!

Thank you, Lloyd, for the gifts you scattered on the earth during your lifetime. May your legacy grow ever greater as the years pass.

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Magic & Mayhem, Background

I am mostly writing this to help me remember. My brain is terrible at holding onto these details.

In the spring of 2011, I was querying my completed MG fantasy, and researching and outlining a YA fantasy, as well as working on a children’s fantasy. Plenty of projects, especially when one considers that I had two toddlers at the time, one with whom I was starting preschool at home, the other of whom was potty-training.

And yet … I hated all my projects. Every time I re-read them, they seemed grimmer and more bleak. I have never been a dark writer, and I couldn’t figure out why what I was writing was so gloomy (I did find out soon afterward that I was on my way to a nervous breakdown, and though I was never diagnosed officially, I’m pretty sure I also had a mild case of depression – if not that, then at least severe despondency).

So one night, I tossed aside all my projects. Put away my research books. And I decided to write something for sheer fun, without even caring if it got published or not.

I’ve always adored Tommy and Tuppence (Agatha Christie’s creations), and any other male-and-female teams of adventurers/mystery solvers. Kate and Thomas, Cecy and James from Wrede and Stevermer’s Regency fantasy series also come to mind.

I decided to write an adventure story set in the 1920s, mostly because (thanks to LM Montgomery and her Rilla of Ingleside) I’ve always been fascinated by WWI and especially the between-war period. It would have to be in England, of course, because anything that an Anglophile writes for fun is going to be set in Great Britain. And just for some extra amusement, I’d throw magic into the mix. I knew I wanted a gentleman-and-lady team, like Tommy and Tuppence, except I wanted the lady to be the steady, practical one, and the gentleman to be the one who worked more off his impulses and instincts. I love turning tropes on their heads.

I had a few false starts, but eventually my characters and I came to an agreement about their personalities and roles, and the story sprang to life under my fingers. I set aside the research for that YA fantasy. I put the finished MG fantasy aside to look at and revise at a later time. I forgot completely about the children’s fantasy.

Most importantly, I had fun. I remembered why I loved writing. I even bought the first season of Downton Abbey (I had steadfastly resisted getting sucked in up to that point) as “background research,” and was hugely amused and somewhat miffed at some of the parallels between those characters and mine.

Maia and Len and all the rest took over my writing life. And I did not resist. The story that I started just for fun, with no thought of eventual publication, eventually became the story I am planning on publishing this spring or summer, whenever I finish the last bit of polishing. It spurred me to write If This Be Magic & The Traitor and the Spy, two short stories set in the same universe but featuring different characters.

Just a few short weeks ago, I sat down to do something else entirely, and suddenly the entire plot for a prequel unrolled in my brain. I frantically scribbled down the outline and started working – again, just for fun! – on a rough draft of that. That story is now spurring me to hurry up and finish editing Maia and Len’s current tale so I can work undisturbed on that one.

And just recently, I’ve started thinking about those three abandoned stories again, and wondering if I can give them another shot, make something less-grim of them.

The moral of this story is obvious – write for love, not for business. But I’m not recording it here as a moralistic warning to myself or anyone else. I’m writing it because it inspires me, that my best work to date sprang from writing for pure pleasure, and it helped to bring joy back into my life when I was in a very dark place. Just as the darkness in my personal life had been affecting my writing, when I started writing determined to just love it, that bled over into my personal life, and helped to bring me through that bleak tunnel.

I’m not even going to attempt sending Magic & Mayhem, Maia and Len’s tale, to a traditional publisher. Everything about this story has been personal, and I think the publishing part of it should be as well. I’m going to have it professionally edited, of course! But I’m not going to risk losing some of its joy by dealing with queries, rejections, changes, frustrations, and all the rest involved in traditional publishing.

An unprofessional decision? Yeah, probably. But being unprofessional was what brought this book to life. I’m not going to change that now. I have an entire career ahead of me to be professional in. I think I can afford to indulge my whims a little right now, before that career takes off.

Maia and Len are utterly unconventional. Their creator ought to be, as well.

Editing > Everything Else

Hello, friends! I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth (or run off in the TARDIS, which is a way cooler method of falling off the earth). I have been editing like MAD.

With first drafts, even second drafts, I can let time stretch between working on them without too many problems. I know some people can’t, because they find the inspiration and the flow are gone, but it works for me. What I can’t do is start major edits and then wait. Once I start, I have to work like a madwoman to get them all done before I lose the thread of how it’s supposed to work.

Which is probably why I procrastinate editing so often.

I’ve discovered some interesting things about this book while editing it. Number One – it isn’t a YA after all. This surprised me, but my goodness, the book felt much more comfortable in its own skin once I stopped trying to force it into a genre and let my heroine grow up by a couple years. I could, I suppose, label it NA, but really, it’s a light-hearted historical fantasy adventure, and I don’t think I need to add any more labels to it than that – and when marketing it, I will probably drop the “light-hearted!”

The other thing that surprised me is that it is equally the female AND the male protagonists’ story. At first, it was all about Maia, and Len just got a few chapters here and there when I needed to show something from somebody else’s perspective. Now I’m splitting it up so they get strictly alternating chapters, and I love the pattern that has emerged. I’ve adored Maia from the time I started writing her, and now I’m falling for Len as well.

One other interesting thing – though this didn’t surprise me – is that I tend to write tense emotional scenes from an observer’s point of view, rather than the participant’s. I know that I do that – I always shy away from writing too deep emotions – but I’m trying to get better. I left in ONE emotional scene from the observer’s perspective, partially because it gave him a better insight into the characters, but I’m trying REALLY hard to rewrite the others so that they are more immediate and personal.

So much for the writing end of things. On the reading end, I finished Diana Wynne Jones’ collection of essays and am partway through Susan Cooper’s. Then it’s on to The Wand in the Word. (Any recommendations for good essay collections after that?) I’m sure it will not shock any of you to know that as a result of these readings, not only do I want to immerse myself in mythology this winter, I’m feeling inspired to turn back to some of my MG fantasies after I’ve finished my current two projects. There’s no guarantee that I WILL – I have a lot on my plate, writing-wise and life-wise as it is – but I am remembering just why I love MG fantasy so much, and why I think it is so important.

I’m still keeping up with taking one photo a day and posting it on my other blog – I’ve only missed one day so far, which is pretty impressive for me. I even wrote a poem the other day and posted it!

This winter, thus far, is proving to be pretty good for me, creatively speaking. It’s a nice change. I think I’ll take it.

How has the winter (or summer, if you live on the other side of the globe) been for you so far?

A handful of my daily pictures that HAVEN’T made it to the other blog.

Expanding Her Horizons

We recently did some rearranging in our house so that Joy and Grace could have separate rooms. This, sadly, will last only for while we remain here, in this nice roomy four-bedroom house. Once Carl starts seminary and we’re living in campus housing, it’ll be back to sharing! For now, though, they both seem to be thriving on the separation.

Joy, in particular, delights in having her own space. One of the first things I did was take the tiny bookcase that had been removed from their shared bedroom after I found them trying to use it to leapfrog between beds (and it, shockingly enough, crashed and narrowly missed Grace) and put it in her room. Her special picture books are on the bottom shelf, tiny books like Beatrix Potter and Brambly Hedge are on the top shelf, and the middle shelf is reserved for big girl, read-aloud books. Books that Grace would lose interest in after two pages, but Joy is finally old enough to listen to while someone else reads. Books like The Secret Garden, Betsy-Tacy, The Wind in the Willows, Five Little Peppers, Swiss Family Robinson, Hitty, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Railway Children, etc.

This is real life. A few book jackets displaced, the Frances books on the floor because she was reading them most recently, and Bunny Douglas forlornly squeezed between the bed frame and the book case.

This edition of Anne of Green Gables took its place on the shelf on Christmas Day (Grace received Peter Pan).

The book I placed on the shelf with the most secret hope was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That was the very first long book I ever read all by myself, and it is the book that started my lifelong love of fantasy. I so want my girls to love it as well! But I didn’t say anything to anyone, not wanting to influence Joy, and in fact didn’t even push any of the books on that shelf. I borrowed Little House in the Big Woods from the library and we started reading that together, but I left the middle shelf alone.

Then, one night, out of the blue, after Grace was tucked in and Carl came into Joy’s room to tuck her in, she handed him The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and said “Daddy? Can we start reading this?”

Carl’s never read it either, so now BOTH of them are experiencing (and enjoying) it for the first time. Both of them (separately) tend to come and fill me in on what they just read. Carl is mostly blown away with how different it is from the movie. “This is SO MUCH better!” he enthused. “Why did they even call the movie ‘based’ on the book, anyway?” The other night Joy chattered to me all about how Dorothy melted the Wicked Witch with a pail of water and won back her sparkly shoes, and how the Cowardly Lion isn’t really scary, he just pretends to be scary so he won’t be scared by everything else, and isn’t it silly that there’s a man made of tin instead of skin?

And I am dancing with glee.

Only a few more years before we can start reading Lewis, Tolkien, and Alexander!

If I keep thinking of more books to add, eventually we’re going to need a bigger bookshelf.

New Ideas for the New Year

Just a quick post today to let you all know that I’ve started a new blog (in addition to this one! Not a replacement!). I’m doing the 365 photo challenge this year – my way. One photo a day, but no prompts or rules or anything like that. I needed a place to record those photos, and another blog seemed the best fit.

I’m also going to use this other blog to post more personal thoughts, little snippets of meditation that either don’t really fit here or are too small to merit a full post. Also poetry, if ever I try that. And any other forms of art that occur to me.

Please don’t feel obligated to check it out or follow, but if it sounds like your cup of tea, then I hope you meander over there and take a look.

And the link: Art … of a Sort