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.


Reveling in Rest

I had a very, um, productive second-half of the week, and a corresponding sense of accomplishment and pride (and relief) in what I’ve completed.

This week I’ve been hauling feed bags, carrying loads of straw, and shoveling chicken poop. I’ve joked with people that I’m getting fit the old-fashioned way– though manual labor. And I have had that tired satisfaction that comes from muscles used correctly without overdoing it.

And I had the weird experience yesterday of getting in bed for a rest and shaking worse after an hour horizontal than I did before I lay down.

I think I get the biological element of that: Most bodies can give more than we expect, especially when there’s a real need. But once those same bodies are taken off *imperative* status, the reality of physical limitations becomes unignorable.

Getting half or two-thirds the amount of sleep my body needs will catch up with me. Using muscles to exhaustion will mean an enforced time of rest before they will be effective again.

And this is so reassuring in my mothering, because I’ve often got this voice in my head insisting, But look what you haven’t done yet! And that voice is not lying or saying anything that is impossible or even that I’m not good enough.

At times it’s even this sweet little, Oops! I’m sure you didn’t mean to forget, since we both know it’s so easy if you’ll just get started…

I had four hours last night without kids. (Mom picked them up after dinner to spend the night.)

I could have (in theory) gotten a lot done on my messy messy house. But I was physically empty. And I knew it.

I could have (in theory) gotten a lot done on a novel, or another writing project. But I was about 8-hours in the hole sleep-wise, so connections and focus just were not coming.

So I rested.

I sat with my sick goat (I think she’s been pining for human contact. She’s gotten better with more attention).

I listened to music.

I looked at my novel, and there was a moment (of deep relief, I must say) when things finally began to click and I was able to give it a solid hour of productive attention.

But all that was after rest. Nothingness in measurable productivity.

~ ~ ~

I’ve decided that my desire to write isn’t just (or even really) an indicator that running a household isn’t “enough” for my “personal fulfillment.”

At this season of my life, it is largely an indicator of fatigue.

I like to work. I love to see things *completed* or progress made. But I have to rotate, to cycle through the different muscle groups. Just like arms or back or legs, focusing on one thing wears it out faster. And using them all means greater endurance (usually) but also demands a fuller rest in the end.

And this awareness gives me a new respect for my need of rest. Rest for more than just my body.

“It’s this simple: you and I have an inescapable need for rest.
The lie the taskmasters want you to swallow is that you cannot rest until your work’s all done, and done better than you’re currently doing it.
But the truth is, the work’s never done, and never done quite right. It’s always more than you can finish and less than you had hoped for.

So what? Get this straight: The rest of God – the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing – is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”   

-Mark Buchanan, in The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath (via Laura Ziesal)

So, here I go into the rest of the day, continuing to let many things I could be doing just hang. And I am inexpressibly thankful to even have  tasks that can wait. And I feel joy too, because I am being obedient by resting, which means (and I almost get choked up thinking about this) My rest is worship.

My restoration brings God glory, just as my service does.

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.


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.