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Moving on

Red, Tomoyo Ichijouji, No Rest for the Wicked
Already my time with livejournal is coming to a close. I know, I know, I just got here! I barely got settled! We didn't get to know each other! *sigh* Yeah. I'm sorry. We just aren't right for each other. I'm really, really happy to have an account here, so I can comment on others' posts (or posts locked to anonymous comments) as an actual person. But as for my regular blogging, it's going to be happening elsewhere.

Sorry, LJ. It's been good. Let's keep in touch, ok?

Good-bye.

Edit: Removed a link to my wordpress account, as I don't expect to keep it up much longer. I have finally come to the point where I can accept that I love writing blog posts and articles for other people, but I am generally bored to tears blogging for myself. I do tweet somewhat regularly. My handle is currently @wordsmith85. 1/20/14

Curiosity

writing
Randomly started thinking about writing advice this evening. Having read a decent number of author interviews/writing advice articles now, I don't feel like there's really much new out there. Read a lot, write a lot, get editing, show don't tell, etc etc. All pretty solid. Pretty much the only common advice I find a little suspect is "write what you know"--seems to me that works well for some people, but not for others. (Really its own post, but for a random example, "Red Badge of Courage" is supposed to be a very realistic portrayal of battle by someone who never fought in a war, or at least not the Civil War.) It's gotten to the point where I see that question and wonder if the asker is searching for some kind of get-published-qwik formula that by-passes the hard slog of putting words on paper. (If only!)

Considering all this writing advice out there, I realized that there is one aspect of writing that I don't think comes up very often: Curiosity. Frankly, I think this is a basic personality trait of most authors, but considering the advice is usually being solicited for young writers, it doesn't hurt to develop the habit. Curiosity is vital to writing. I know as a fantasy writer, I consider arcane knowledge to be necessary to my craft, but this goes even deeper. So often, story ideas come from seeing a man on the street or a story in the newspaper or a line in a history book and thinking "Why...?" or "If only..." or "What if...?" This is curiosity. It comes in when you have a strong main character and you just keep putting them through more and more until you get how they tick. Curiosity is when you write an alternate history and say, "If the world was like this, what would we have been?" There is a constant questioning of the world that must happen for you to be a good writer: a questioning of people, of society, of details, of unknowns, of everything. Some people frame this as social consciousness in the arts, and sometimes it is. But sometimes, it is just a humane interest in life.

That's all, need to go eat with the husband. :)

Eh, feck it all...

Red, Tomoyo Ichijouji, No Rest for the Wicked
...I'll write what I write when I write it and hope it all turns out well.

Happy New Year.

A Proposal. Regarding Fairies.

beauty, fantasy
So. Hi.

I am still interested in that whole "real life should really be the focus of, you know, living" idea that I mentioned in my last post. And I'm doing a sporadic job of actually applying it, which I suppose is better than doing nothing at all. I am at least doing a better job of doing dishes and cooking dinner, which is probably good for my physical as well as spiritual health.

However, I still really want to have a blog. Though that is technically time spent on the Internet, it does actually require more effort than the mindless entertainment that I usually pursue on the web, and it gets me writing. Plus, I might meet cool people, if I actually post regularly and have something interesting to say. Both of which are hitches in the whole system right now.

Fact is, I realized that I don't tend to do a good job at blogging unless I have something I can focus on, something to give me a reason for writing. For my very first blog, that reason was keeping in touch with a bunch of out-of-state friends I'd just made, and letting friends and family know about my travels in Europe. Those were good reasons, and a lot of people have told me they enjoyed my posts then. (which I won't link to here, since I was a younger person then. Google a bit, you might find me anyway.) Today, my life is a bit different. I actually live in the same place as a lot of those out-of-town friends now, and some of the others I've begun to lose contact with. I am not trekking across international borders every weekend, and my job is a mind-numbing study in tedious attention to detail, day in and day out. These things do not a great blog make.

Solution: fairies. I consider at least a passing knowledge of fairy tales and legends to be important to my (currently unpaid) job as a writer. Other people probably get their inspiration from other places, but to me fairy tales have always been at least as important as contemporary fantasy. I own almost an entire shelf of a bookshelf worth of different anthologies, and it's not unusual for me to buy more. The problem? I don't read them. I have collections compiled by the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, Jack Zipes (2 by him!), Maria Tatar, and Random Person Whose Collection Was Translated To English For Tourists. Plus many more. Some of them I've read in their entirety, though long ago.  Some I've read individual stories from. And some I have never read a single story from. (One of them a Zipes collection of literary fairy tales. *sniff* so sad.) It is high time for that to change.

My proposal, therefore, is for me to actually read some of my fairy tales. I'll take a few notes and try to communicate my reactions by blog post in an honest and entertaining way. This will hopefully achieve the goals of helping me blog more, read my fairy tales, and spend more time in a place right next door to IRL. This should be a win-win-win. We'll find out if it is one.

I will try to post my first entry by the end of the week. I am torn between reading "The Twelve Wild Geese" in my Yeats anthology, or doing a post on "The Tale of a Youth Who Set Out to Learn What Fear Was" (one of my favorite, favorite, favorite of the less common tales) from the Blue Fairy Book. We'll see what transpires.

I will also try to figure out how an lj cut works now that my posts will probably be longer.

A few notes: I will probably be including notes involving serious academic criticism in some of my reviews, but that will probably not be the main or only focus of them. I have been studying fairy tales and folklore in a sort of desultory, amateur way since high school, and I took one fairy tale and folklore class in college. (I will probably try to dig up my notes at some point during this project.) I am interested in critical and cultural notes, and I will probably be interested by what people can add in those areas in the comments. Be aware, however, that I do not really conform to the mold of the *true* folklore scholar. I will, as you may have guessed from the list above, be reading from Grimm and Lang collections, in spite of the fact they *changed* some of the stories they collected. I may occasionally mention the "D-word." (Full disclosure: I like the Disney versions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty.") I am just as concerned with the versions of stories that appear in cheap picture books you buy at Wal-Mart as I am in the proto-proto-proto-version of a tale. I will say silly, obvious things like, "gee a lot of people seem to die in this one. And what's with all the decapitating?" I like fairy tales because they are strange and non sequiter and sometimes creepy and sometimes beautiful. While I may, when relevant, point out feminist or archetypal themes, I will also treat them as entertainment. This is what they are, even the didactic ones. If this offends you, there are places on the Internet where you can go and hang out with people being serious and scholarly about fairy tales. You will probably be happier there.



This isn't as bad as it looks...

writing
I know it's downright cliche to start a blog and then instantly abandon it, but I swear, mydrea isn't abandoned, exactly. 

What happened to the blog was Michael Jackson.

(no, no, not a tribute post! come back!)

My husband and I were talking about Michael Jackson's death a few days after it happened, and he pointed out something that was bothering him: People weren't taking the death seriously. Sure, Michael Jackson was a flamboyant entertainer and a deeply flawed human, both circumstances that made him difficult to take seriously for different reasons. But whether you were distanced by his public persona, or horrified by his sins, he was still a human being. I believe there were people who knew him personally who would have been genuinely sad to see him go. If nothing else, it's got to be rough for his kids, who now look like they're going to be raised by the same guy who raised Michael (contemplate that for a moment). But, reflexively, almost, we treated him as a punchline. Immediately. Humor blogs posted him as dying at age twelve, or gave his age range ending in 1985. Yeah, these were humorous ways of saying that he had been a difficult personality to deal with once he really went off the rails. But for all that he was real. And he died. He's gone. Do we not respect that anymore?

This started me thinking about other stories I'd heard, where people did truly horrific things over the internet to other people. I'm thinking of things in addition to your average Nigerian bank scam or phishing site. Things like taunting troubled people with the cruelest words imaginable until they do terrible things (often including taking their own lives). Some of the more despicable forms of trolling. As I look at these things, my diagnosis (yours may be different) is that the internet encourages us to think of other people as imaginary. I have encountered some truly beautiful, thought-provoking conversations in various corners of the internet, so please don't mistake me for one of those people who petulantly want to know what the internet is for.  I know what it's for (I had better, considering my husband's a web designer!). It provides information and a sense of community that can span time and space. It redefines community while at the same time confirming our basic human needs are the same. It allows both truth and artifice to flourish to unprecedented degrees. It is a beautiful, dynamic place that has completely altered the way many of us interact with life. I know this.

That doesn't change the fact that there is a difference between a humorous, informative, intelligent, perfect conversation in blog comments or on a forum and that same conversation around a table in a pub. As one of those nerds with specialized interests for whom the internet seems to have been made, I have not wanted to admit that this was the case. Surely a cordial group of people on a forum is just as good as a cordial group of friends in real life? Especially since I would have never met this guy, he lives in Portugal, but he always just knows so much, and then this guy, I think he lives in Yorkshire, but he can always just take that information and add such insight, and then that always starts me thinking, and then so-and-so from Texas, she's in high school, but she always has great things to say and she found this one link... there's something magical about that, I know. But still, how real do any of those people feel? If you're a bit short with the girl from Texas in a comment, you don't see the look that crosses her face when she reads it. If you make a joke in poor taste, you can't see the expressions of distaste or hurt on people's faces, all you know is their outrage.

I sound technophobic when I try to explain this, and I'm really not. I am going to make an effort to keep up this blog, and I still have email and twitter and facebook and favorite websites that I like to visit regularly. But I decided that I need to be more engaged with the real world, and with tangible things. I have some craft projects I need to work on. I have dishes I need to do (always). Though it might not quite count as tangible, I need to write more. And, of course, I need to be around the "real" people around me, as well as my fascinating internet friends. That's why I've not been blogging. I haven't exactly broken up with the internet, but we're taking a break.

And now, I need to sign off so I can have a beer with some friends. (Seriously.)

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Day

beauty, fantasy
The first fantasy book I remember reading is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  I only read it because of a base trick pulled off by my loving parents. I was probably about eight years old. After having struggled with reading for a few years, my proficiency had suddenly taken off, and I was just beginning, in a confused way, to realize that reading could actually be easy and possibly even fun. However, I was still intermittently fiercely against reading, purely on principle, and I had no idea what was available or what I would like. My parents owned the first three books of the Chronicles of Narnia (that is, LWW, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and they had tried to convince me to read them, but I was having none of it. I had a rather low opinion of their taste, given some of the beginning reading books I had been subjected to, and I was suspicious of any story taking place anywhere other than the solid, dependable here and now.

There was one time, however, when I loved to hear any kind of story, especially fantastic ones, and that was right before bed. My little sister, who is four years younger, would be put to bed, and then I would have about half an hour of time with my parents before going to bed myself. Often, this time would be taken up by my father reading a chapter out of a book out loud to me. I am sorry to say I can't remember what books we read, but I do remember the evening he picked up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and began opening it to the first chapter. I was incensed! I already knew I didn't like this book and here he was actually going to read it to me! My protests were to no avail. Instead, I was admonished, rather tersely, to settle down and listen already.

To my surprise, though, it actually was a good story.  I don't remember now at what point I was drawn in. Perhaps it was when the Pevensie children have to move to a new place, as I had recently had to do (though not because of air raids). Perhaps it was the exploring or the hide-and-see (two favorite activities of mine). All I remember is when, at the end of chapter I, Lucy startles a strange faun into dropping his Christmas presents, I wanted the story to go on. Sometimes, I could wheedle a second chapter out of my father before bed, but not this night. Instead, he suggested that I finish the book myself.

It was probably a good week before I realized he was serious. He wasn't going to read the rest of the story. If I wanted to know what happened with Lucy and the faun, and whether she ever got back to where she had come from, I was going to have to pick up the book and read it myself. Finally, one rainy afternoon, I gave in, and, with a certain amount of bitterness toward my parental units (my mother had whole-heartedly backed up my father's suggestion; in retrospect, I think it may have been her idea), hunted up the book and started to read.

I was riveted. I adored Lucy right from the beginning, of course, and was infuriated with Edmund until I began to feel sorry for him. Everything, from the talking animals to the little Britishisms, was completely foreign to me, yet I loved the characters with all my heart. And then I met Aslan, and I experienced awe through a book for the first time. I lay on my stomach on my bunk bed and read the browned pages. One page fell out and fluttered to the floor; I had to retrieve it and figure out where it went. It got so dark I could barely see the print, but I didn't want to stop reading long enough to turn on the light.  It rained.  But Aslan was going to the stone table, and I needed to know what happened. I cried, and then I rejoiced.  In my memory, this first read was one long, glorious slide from page one through the end. In reality, I am fairly sure the deed was done in two or three full afternoons. Regardless, this book joined Anne of Green Gables (which I was familiar with before learning to read) as one of my first and deepest literary loves.

Next, it was on to Prince Caspian, where Lewis says right out in the first chapter that you need to know what happened in the previous book! It was like a reward for having finished the first book. I felt so special!  As I kept reading, the world kept expanding, and by the time I was done with all seven volumes, I was a confirmed reader.  From there, I went on to a whole range of books: American Girl, Babysitter's Club, Christy, The Hobbit, mysteries, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, more fantasy...

It's difficult for me to say why I like fantasy fiction. There have been so many reasons, some better than others. But, looking back at the book that started it, all, I can think of two that are probably pretty consistent. One is the desire for that deep, simple awe that comes from encountering something deep and beautiful. I have since heard this described as the numinous experience.  While artists in many genres pursue this kind of expression, I tend to find it for myself most consistently in fantasy writing. The second thing is keys. Not the skeleton key that unlocks the forbidden passage where lurks the Young Hero's destiny (though that sort of thing is fun, too). I mean keys in a more metaphorical sense, works of art that unlock something for me in a thorough, graspable way.  On a most basic level, books take you to new experiences. You can live anywhere: Paris, revolutionary America, Narnia. All you need is a book and a little time. This was a huge part of why I read growing up: I wanted to be able to experience a thousand lives and a thousand perspectives. This was possible with books.  As I got older, I also began to appreciate stories that stayed true to the needs of storytelling, but also explored ideas like personal responsibility, or fear, or prejudice. Whether or not I agreed with the author, I loved having my mind expanded by having these ideas whirled around. And I often felt that the stories that did this best had at least some element of the fantastic in them.

Then again, maybe I just like fantasy because of C.S. Lewis and the book of his my parents finally got me to read.  You never forget your first love.

writing
This is really a test post, but I wanted it to be more than just *knock*knock* hello, does this thing work? *knock*knock* so I thought I'd briefly explain how I got here.

I first began keeping a blog in order to keep in contact with a variety of new and dear friends while I studied abroad for a semester. I got a xanga. I don't remember why; I think lj intimidated me for some reason. The blog worked wonderfully the whole time I was abroad (in western Europe, based in Luxembourg). It was much less cumbersome than mass emails, and I had a lot of fun trying to vividly describe my experiences for my friends stateside. The problem came when I got back home.  Suddenly, instead of talking about my weekend in Paris, I was just talking about how bored & overworked I was at school. This was much less interesting, so eventually even I got bored of hearing myself talk, and the blog died gently in its sleep.

Now I'm trying again. Unfortunately, I do not have a glamorous lifestyle of international travel to back up my prose, but I do have more spare time and maybe a little more horse sense. I've brushed gently against the edges of sf/f fandom on lj, and I've liked *most* of what I've seen. :-) My impression is of a vast network of overlapping micro-fandoms, some employing terminology and customs that are strange to me, while others seem like long-lost friends. Being new both to lj and to fandom, I expect to make many errors, for which I hope I can be forgiven. :D If we end up being friends, please be patient and feel free to give advice. If I think it's good, I'll take it. :-)

First *official* post coming tomorrow. I'll talk about how I started reading fantasy, in honor of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Day.