Speaking of Swans

Did you know there are black swans?

I was playing with the idea before I knew it was real, then Google informed me it wasn’t all in my head.

I’ve switched noveling focus, from Lindorm to Shadow Swan (I imagine I’ll get a page up for it, next), while I wait for more of the complex issues of the first novel to settle.

That’s one cool thing about noveling around a busy life: confusing stuff often works itself out with time, so I re-engage with as much a sense of relief (at new discovery) as of guilt (at my neglect).

Shadow Swan is based on the Russian epic poem Tsar Saltan by Alexander Pushkin.

Here we have another multi-part story with loads of traditional folktale elements (the three siblings, with the youngest “winning”; transformations; talking animals; magical gifts; epic “misunderstandings”) and especially the great images. The best stories beg to be illustrated, and make me wish I were a visual artist.


I first played with this story (eventually working up to about 14,000 words) in the summer of ’05.  I thought that number fairly impressive (though I stopped working on it) until my first NaNoWriMo in November of ’06, when I galloped past that mark on day 8 or 9.

It really helped my perspective. Until you’ve done more and bigger, there’s no reason for 14,000 to seem small. But now that I’ve cut *thousands* of words from my (still) 100,000-word novel, I have a very different perspective on word-count:

14,000 is worth celebrating, but it’s not enough to tell this story, so it’s not a stopping point.

Anyway, I’d been reading about industry trends in the year before I tried NaNo again, and while fantasy (roughly defined as stories with magical elements) is still very popular (i.e., selling), in the YA market these tend to be stories happening in our world.

That is, “ordinary,” modern children/teens from Earth contend with or participate in magically-influenced adventures (think Harry Potter) more than adventurers or “ordinary folk” take on danger in other worlds and times (think Eragon or Lord of the Rings).

These latter are two very popular examples, and show there are clearly readers out there, but the article I’m referencing was discussing ‘trends.’

Well, I had already written one from the latter category (Lindorm), so I was interested in trying out the other kind.

Now, as a fairly literal Bible-reader (by this I do mean both that I am fairly literal, and that I accept the Bible pretty much as-written) and Christian, I am stuck with that (uniquely?) Christian challenge of writing a story containing magic, when the Bible prohibits sorcery.

One writing/Christian friend of mine says this made her consciously choose Science Fiction as her genre: iNtuitive types like us prefer speculative fiction; she’s not into horror, and didn’t want to deal with the theological questions of magic, so that left SciFi.

Easy peasy.

I dealt with the question at first mostly by ignoring it, then, thankfully, came across thinkers and writers who articulated very well my own (albeit foggy) justifications.

The short version is that I (like Lewis in his Narnia stories) mostly confine magic to a non-Earth realm,  and while it might stretch a little, magic used in unsafe ways is always by negitive (bad guy) characters.

It becomes a metaphor for power in general, and thereby shows my feelings about power more clearly than my feelings about magic: namely that  it isn’t something that healthy, humble people take on themselves, collect for themselves, or use just because they can. And it has the tendency (no matter its origin) to corrupt.

Shadow Swan is about a princess, rescued from another world and brought to our Earth, only to find that rescuing is not the same as restoring, and that danger has followed her.

My original description is here, and sometime soon I expect I’ll create a page for Shadow like I did for Lindorm.


NaNoWriMo 2011 in Review

Glad I did it, glad it’s done.   50,648 words since November 1. Happy to take a breather from creating reality.

Next project is getting ready for a talk on personality theory (Meyers-Briggs, as I’ve been writing about on my family blog). It’s scheduled for January 18 if anyone local wants to come here me speak.

But my next writing project is to finish moving Lindorm into first person so I  can start submitting it ASAP.

I saw an “unagented author” opportunity at a Christian publisher (whom I’d never heard of) getting ready to launch a YA line in 2013.  It sparked a whole series of internal questions about how ready I am to push my “baby” out to receive the spitballs of the world.

Answer: I’m not.

Provoking the mirrored response: So I should jump at this chance, just to get moving.

But the story isn’t done yet (for real: this isn’t stalling), and I am certainly not starting Lindorm at a Christian publisher.  This isn’t snark or hierarchy: I have broken my heart more times keeping this story “neutral”

In the form of most (Western) traditional tales: good and evil exist, and maybe even the outward showing of religion (churches, prayer), but within the story itself redemption is not personified in Christ.

So I am not going to “waste” all that by sending it somewhere that would have taken the incongruity of active magic alongside a real-world redeemer.

I’ve got two other stories I’d only expect Christian publishers to touch, so they’ll get their turn.

(If anyone’s lining up for the opportunity.)

So the writing progression is this: finish Lindorm’s revision.  Send out submissions, and once that’s out turn to finishing the novel I wrote last November.

NaNoWriMo 2011 Update #2

Two days left, currently at par (thanks to a 5,228-word day Saturday).

And I’m sick.

And exhausted.  Not exactly sleepy-tired, but exstruded; squeezed out.  I was thankful last night my huge “bump” had put me a little ahead, becasue it meant I could switch to consuming (from producing) that much sooner.

Of course, that means I have to give the full 1,667 words tonight.  But I’ve got time to recharge.  I hope.

Ready for a break, but also ready to press through and finish word-count even if it’s not finishing the whole story.

This month has done what I wanted it to do: give me a sense of accomplishment, almost “mastery” (to use a clinical term), to encourage myself in other areas of my life.  It’s allowed me to prove to myself I have more than two stories in me, thereby reducing the amount of power those first two have over me.

That is, I don’t have to hang my whole “identity” as a competent writer on how well *one* story works because I’ve now got more than one egg in the basket.

And it’s been fascinating to watch the different things that different novels address– how they are the same and how things change.

  • Lindorm (2006) was a full-on fantasy, magic and epic explosions and assassination attempts.
  • Shadow (2010) was a fantasy of world-crossing, bringing half of the action into our own world.
  • Water (2011) is a this-world-and-time suspense/romance, involving quite a bit of travel (nothing I’ve yet mastered), so I already know what revisions will require of me.

All involve personal transformation, managing life as a “couple” (story’s not over when sweethearts pair up) and what is probably more straight-up communication and motivation-reading than is realistic (I work on that in revisions).

Also, I just noticed this this month, none of my couples (and this includes the established-before-the-story-began couples like the parents shown in the story) have both partners from the same country and/or race.  This made me laugh.  I’m sure it is a subconscious application of my family’s line about Every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage.

But it’s kinda fun to see that trend.

Wish me luck (or just pray for me): only two more days after today.

NaNoWriMo Update

I just passed 29K tonight.  That means I’m almost caught up with yesterday’s  writing goal (30K)

I’m very glad to have learned two things–

  1. The second female character I introduced isn’t a complete idiot. (For a while I had to wonder if she was.)
  2. [spoiler] the guy I killed the same day I discovered/introduced him isn’t actually dead.  In the end his brother couldn’t kill him and instead decided to risk some girl’s reputation in order to keep him alive. (Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense.  Like most stories, It’s complicated.)

I was very glad to learn there was a line Charles wouldn’t cross.  He was pretty creepy for a while there.

Who the main characters are is getting thrown all around.  Now that this guy is back from the dead (in a manner of speaking) and his whole character’s been revised by the near-death experience, he’s showing a lot more depth and interest than the erstwhile hero.

So all that convolution to say I’m still on it.

And part of the fun is that I’ve basically written off the possibility anyone would publish this story: It’s blatantly Christian, with *ahem* edgy humor (Yes! I have funny stuff in my story, Yippee!– If you’ve been around a while you’ll remember this has been a sticky spot for me), so I have a hard time picturing a publisher that would take both.  So it’s made the creation process quite a bit more relaxed and free.

When I think of a new angle (that would require changing a character, role, or interaction that I’ve already written) I have a separate file where I make notes about that.

When I think of a fun before-and-after, and plant the before I make a note not to forget the after, and also where it might fit best, if I’ve already thought of that.

Blessedly, I’ve not yet been at a loss when writing time comes around, and while I am a bit behind, it’s not killer.

This has been a wonderful experience so far, and I still hope to finish on time.

21K to go.

NaNoWriMo 2011

I think it was Steven King in his book On Writing  who said the Writer is as much an artist as the sculptor– and maybe more, since the writer must create the raw material he then shapes into his work of art.

This is one of the reasons I find NaNoWriMo useful: successfully completed it leaves me with a block of raw material that actually exists.  Throw in the power of deadline (this is my second year writing with the My Book Therapy community) to make me think of writing every day, and more gets done.

I’m choking every time I sit down to write; I’m woefully out of practice.  If it weren’t for the stat tools and the 10p.m. deadline for the daily reporting (any word count is fine, just reporting is the required part), I’d continue to whittle away my free hours with YouTube and Hulu.

Putting down words is hard.

Two different friends reading my Lindorm novel have commended me for sticking with it; getting the whole thing down.

As it’s happened over five years my perception of it gets a little fuzzy, but these last two nights have reminded me: they’re right! It’s work to get something coherent and all points driving a single story forward.

I also like how these WriMo novels have developed: my first was a fantasy. Last year’s was pretty straight-up a YA romance.  This time I’ve got a murder mystery/intrigue thing going on.  And yet all of them are based on distinct fairy tales I love that all go “beyond the rescue.”

Sure it’s nice to be human again, but then you have to deal with all the junk humans have to deal with.  The nice thing is that when someone makes you human, at least in my story worlds, they’re usually getting themselves in for the long haul.

And a partner makes any load easier to carry.

We’re all Reacting to Life

Recently I began to think about the (fiction-writing) imperative that a main character must make things happen.

One of the most consistent criticisms of Linnea, the central character of my Lindorm novel, is that she’s too passive.  “Everything happens to  her,” someone said, “and she’s always having to close the gap and react.

Linnea is my first (grown up) heroine.

When I created her I was telling a story. I wasn’t thinking of forms or expectations (hey, I was just trying to make word count half the time).  She grew out of my image of this wounded girl with too much strength to simply roll over and take it.  She continued to think and walk, and even fight when she could find (or create) the weapons.

I really admired her, because she did what I wanted to be able to do: choose the right way to respond.  I wasn’t thinking about how she was “always reacting” because that’s the way (probably unconsciously) I saw myself and people in general.

And I still do.

Lots of people have repeated the line about how our character is not shaped/displayed so much by what happens to us as by how we respond to what happens to us.

The fantasy of a proactive, powerful protagonist is part of our collective hunger to have more control than we have.

I believe most our life what we do with what we’ve been given: given to us either by powers outside of us, outside our control; or what we’ve given ourselves, in the form of decisions we’ve already made, and are now living out.

For example, being married and having children dramatically restricts the number of choices I have.  Because I’ve made the choice to live honorably.  This is a proactive choice I made. No one coerced me into it.  But it now restricts my “options”.

Every Yes we declare is a hundred silent Nos.   The more we live, the more choices we make, the more we are hemmed in by our own freedoms.

I would argue this is why the Young Adult category is one of the most exciting places to write; not only because your characters have more genuine, clean, and life-shaping choices to make over the course of the tale, but also because those choices are felt by those who read them.

Young people are trying on decisions through their reading, experimenting with how they fit.

Readers who are older, who’ve already experienced the profound familiarity breaking away, of falling in love, of screwing up massively and wondering if there’s redemption, relive the fear and excitement.  This is what good stories are for, and as long as they bring us along for the ride (and we like the ride) I’m less concerned about who started the story.

I care most about how the characters end it.

Staying Happy

I started writing a different post, about what I would change if I didn’t “owe” anyone, if I were free to be self-centered and do whatever I want to do.

Then I realized, I kinda am.

That is, unlike the people I genuinely pity, I really am living the life I want to. And it’s not easy.

So I didn’t pick an easy life.
Moving on.

This brilliant (unpublished) post enumerated the three directions I feel pulled in, and I said–

What? My world’s falling apart over three things?

Now, granted, my world was not falling apart (just my focus), and there are a LOT more than three things on my mind right now (each category has numerous subsections), but to see clear sections has settled me down, and I’m back to believing I have a reasonable number of things to manage.


There it is: I did it. 50,024 words in 30 days.

I have discovered things I didn’t know were in it (Basketball tryouts, just today), and found new things that were in me (attitudes toward the challenges and delights of witnessing).

A summary:

It’s not until 17-year-old Gydeon Calder visits his mother’s homeland for Christmas break that he discovers she is from another world. One where magic is very real. Back home on Earth his father wrestles with suicidal thoughts and the question of whether his family is better off without him.

When Gy’s mother becomes ill in her homeworld of Eshe, he brings her back to Earth with the help of a magical girl who for a time was a swan. Sharizalli is used to an openly violent world where she hid her true thoughts and feelings. In Moscow Idaho, Shay discovers a world where threats are less-open and relationships can hang on speaking the whole truth.

While Gy seeks to restore his parents’ will to live, and with it their marriage, fear mongers from Eshe infiltrate Gy and Shay’s high school in positions of authority. Shay must decide how much of her old life to reveal, and whether she can sacrifice the ease of her new life to save those she has just begun to love.


So does that sound melodramatic? Maybe confusing?

Between The Veritas Project and The Fairy Tale Novels (among other titles)  which I’ve read in the last year, I’m firmly convinced of a vibrant, if small, audience for solidly Christian and morally grounded fantasy and adventure stories.

I feel like I’m supposed to be a part of that, and prayed a lot through this month that my stories, however and whenever they become more widely read, will be useful and encouraging to those who read them.

November 30, 2010

1874 words until a NaNoWriMo win this year.

That’s all.

Except to add:

A friend asked me this month if now I have a system for writing novels. And someone else asked me what the point was of this exercise.

It’s too soon to say about a system, but I will say this: the first time I did NaNoWriMo (2006) I learned how to stick with a novel longer than I felt like it. This time, I think the biggest accomplishment was to display and emphasize to my world (i.e. my significant relationships at church and in my extended family) how important writing is to me.

I’ve hinted at it, and even tried various metaphors or similes to communicate my need to write (“How long can you go without showering? Okay, now just imagine writing is that important to me.”), but being somewhat on display this month has made it very apparent, even to those who may think I have misplaced priorities.

I do pray that those who misunderstood at the beginning of the month have modified their perceptions, but even if they haven’t I feel thankful that my own understanding and expectations of writing has been clarified.

So here’s to bed and one last day of creating before a serious rest (along with a well-needed bout of house cleaning) and a closure of this experiment for the second time.

With God all things are possible,” especially when it’s what He’s created you to do.

Distinctly Christian Fiction

This NaNoWriMo novel has been fascinating so far– to me as a writer. Dunno yet about the reader.

It has been an exercise in just-writing and not thinking about an audience. I think as soon as I put a sex-ed classroom scene in, I plucked my chances with a CBA publisher, and when I mocked birth control I drowned any possibility with ABA, but the story’s an exercise, first. I want to put together another book, and this is my effort.

I’ve been funny for the first time ever (a co-WriMoer laughed with me at what I read out loud) and it’s distinctly and emphatically Christian.  (No unbeliever would have laughed, I don’t think, and it was funny without even mocking anything. What a concept.)

Yesterday I wrote a “witnessing” scene and it felt surreal. I practically had flashbacks to my high school days and the helplessness I felt– the unworthiness to emphasize Jesus to another student when my solution hadn’t “fixed” me yet– that I was still imperfect and broken.

The scene did not end in a conversion.

Current word count: 32,722