Farewell

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Don’t be dismayed by good-byes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.

–Richard Bach

*     *     *

“Stories don’t end,” he says. “They just turn into new beginnings.”

–Lindsay Eagar, Hour of the Bees

Here’s to the ending of things.

J

The Reason for the Season

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I have been debating what I should write about today because it has been an incredibly long week, which is not over yet, so I don’t want to take the time to come up with something “profound” and try to peddle it to all of you.  Being Christmas Eve, I thought it might be appropriate to say something meaningful about Christmas and the holidays and whatnot, but I’ve become quite a cynic in recent years, so I’m not sure anything I have to say about this holiday would be the sort of uplifting read you’d like to read this holiday weekend.

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.  It narrowly beats out Thanksgiving (the day of Awesome Food) and Halloween (the day on which it is socially acceptable to go out in public in a costume without coming up with a damn good excuse and getting a lot of weird looks–yes, I’ve tried it on other days and no, I’m not telling you my excuses).  My favorite things about Christmas have changed over the years, but I’ve always loved it, loved the whole season.  I love the smells of cinnamon and peppermint and pine, the sounds of Christmas music and the hush of falling snow (I’m still hoping for a white Christmas this year, the weather report promises a good snow storm later today…), the warmth of a fire and new PJs, the taste of pumpkin and wassail and cocoa and eggnog and homemade candies and cookies, and all the lights and the bright red and green and silver and gold.  It is a beautiful time of year.

When I was a kid, I was always excited for the presents I would get Christmas morning.  I admit I was spoiled.  My parents never gave us really big-deal things like video game systems or our own TVs or whatever, but they always liked to go over the top.  As I got older and started earning my own money and getting better at making things, I learned the joy of giving gifts.  It is still fun to get things, but these days, I mostly want useful stuff, like a job I don’t hate or a book contract or new dishes.  The real fun is in figuring out the perfect gift for each person–now that I’m all grown up, I get why my parents get so carried away with gift-giving.  I love figuring out that one unexpected gift that would surprise someone and make their day and show them that I notice them and see who they are and what matters to them.  We’ve always passed around lists in our family, so we know what things people need or are hoping for and I usually get at least a little something from people’s lists, but I also like to be creative and come up with something outside the box.  And, if at all possible, I like to make those gifts.  I can cook, sew, knit, crochet, and do a variety of other craft-related things.  I enjoy making things.  Personally, I would much rather get a gift that someone had put time and thought into making than something they just went out and bought.  I have had a few things that were bought that were amazing and wonderful and I always appreciate a gift with any thought at all, but there’s something extra special about gifts that someone has taken the time to make.

This year, there isn’t really anything I want.  Usually half my list is books, but I’ve bought a lot of books in the past few years for school and the books I already own are still living in boxes that are cluttering my room from when I moved into this house almost two years ago, so even though there are a lot of books I want, I’m trying not to acquire more until I get some bookshelves up and deal with the books I’ve already got.  I also need a lot of practical stuff, like a new car and my credit card bill paid off, so I can’t really think about adding more stuff to my house that I don’t need when I really need money for other stuff (and it doesn’t help that I’m addicted to Loot Crate–btw, if you want to join, shoot me a message and I’ll send you a link so we can both get $5 off!–so I’m basically filling my house up with useless crap I don’t need anyway, so not much point in asking for more).  On top of that, I’m crazy broke this year.  I’m usually a really great gift-giver, but with limited resources, I feel like people are going to be disappointed with my offerings this year.  So, I’m not particularly excited about getting anything this year.

Normally, I’d be happy at the prospect of getting stuff, but not particularly focused on it because I would be absorbed in my projects for everyone else.  This year, I am in far worse debt than I have ever been in my life.  I was dealing with my final semester of grad school, which mean finishing my Thesis (319 pages), then finishing my Process Paper (20 pages, written from scratch 3 times this semester), then finishing all my Graduation Paperwork, then submitting my Final Product (which is basically all those things, plus the other two major papers I wrote during my program–which still needed revising, btw–combined into PDFs and uploaded to the school’s digital archives for final approval and which is required to graduate).  All of which, I finished about two weeks ago (I think? I can barely remember yesterday, let alone a week ago or whatever).  And then I doubled my hours at work.  I sorely needed the hours.  I told my boss I was available for more and then started covering other people’s shifts (I was rewarded when I got my paycheck yesterday and realized I would be able to afford my basic expenses for January, even though I won’t have an income that month because I will be across the country waiting to go to a writing conference that I really hope will be worth it).  With all this craziness, my budget for Christmas gifts is basically zero and I’ve had a week or two to think about what I might do, and far less time to gather supplies and do projects.  Here I am, at 2am on Christmas Eve, and I’m only about half-done with the things I’m planning to do or get or make or whatever else.  I have one day–one day of complete insanity as everyone else in my position is running all over creation trying to find those last few things they need–to finish preparing for Christmas.  There’s also the issue of decorating the tree that showed up in my living room last night, but my mother got into town a day earlier than expected (by which I mean an hour ago), so I’m leaving it up to her–maybe I should move the ornaments out there, just in case anyone is inclined to decorate…  Even eliminating non-essentials from my to-do list, I have far more on my plate than I can handle for this holiday and I feel that even with all this effort, people are going to be disappointed in the results because of what I’ve been able to do in the past.  If we could just push this whole thing off for another three months or so, I would be past all my major deadlines so I would have time to do a proper job of things, plus I would have a higher income (not a great one, but better than what I’ve had the past six months, which doesn’t even break even).  Too bad life doesn’t work that way.

I know Christmas lore is filled with stories of struggling people who do their best to do good for other people and it magically all turns out.  I should note that I have always hated “The Gift of the Magi.”  I love O’Henry.  He was a brilliant writer and has quite a lot of great and entertaining stories, but that one I never liked.  It’s about two people who sacrificed the thing they valued most to give a gift to the person they loved.  Then it turns out that the gift they sacrificed to give is now useless because the other had sacrificed that thing they loved.  So now they are left with nothing.  As an adult, I read the story and in they end they laugh about it or something stupid.  The story always made me feel sick with disappointment.  It still makes me feel sick.  So “uplifting” stories like that are no good to me now.

I know you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make someone happy, but I haven’t had time to offer either.  I feel like I’m being selfish this year because I don’t have much to offer.  I don’t have much to offer because I was focused on finishing a degree for myself.  It has absorbed most of my time and money over the past few years.  The timing couldn’t be helped.  Finishing the degree now was my priority–and a reasonable one.  Unfortunately, I have not had time to catch up from that.  I don’t have hope for something magical to save the day, but I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got and I hope things will at least turn out well enough.  I will be glad when the holidays are over and my life can fall into a better routine.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

J

 

And There You Have It.

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“All you need to be a writer is perseverance, a low-level alcohol dependence, and a questionable moral compass.”

–Anna Kendrick

And there you have it.  All you need to be a writer.  I already adore Anna Kendrick, but this just made me extra happy.  I guess I’d better work on my perseverance.

J

Meh.

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This week has been incredibly long.  I blew out a tire on Tuesday, which I don’t have time to do anything about until Monday.  My new computer crashed.  I don’t need it because I still have the old one which seems to be working perfectly well (despite my concerns that it was going to crash at any moment about a year ago, right before I got the new one).  My biggest concern with that is that I had a few documents on the new computer that were not saved anywhere else: one was the journal I’ve been keeping up for the past year (which was mostly me bitching about things I don’t want to think about anymore, so it might actually be better if that was gone) and the other was the Word version of the final version of my thesis.  I do have the Word version of what I submitted as my “final” manuscript in packet 4 and I have the PDF of the actual final version that I submitted for digital archive with Goddard, so I do have my most recent changes, it’s just a matter of combing through that for the handful of typos and stuff that I fixed and applying them to the older Word version.  I don’t want to do that.  I don’t really have a need to do that.  All I really need my thesis for now is deciding what to read for my graduate reading at Goddard in a few weeks, which I can do from the old version or the PDF.  On top of these major issues with my technology, I’ve also been working about double what I usually do and trying to prep for Christmas.  It has kept me very busy and in a rather non-creative mood.  With my brain not in the mood to write–and with a mountain of books still to read to meet my Goodreads goal for the year–I’ve been focusing on reading as much as I possibly can.

I have finished six books already this month, among them are three audiobooks, two manga, and a novel I’ve been very slowly working my way through for the past year or so when I’ve had free time to read for fun.  I still need to finish 11 books to meet my goal of 30.  When I first started doing the yearly reading challenge, it was my plan to start with something somewhat manageable and then increase my reading goal each year.  I’ve been stuck at 30 for the past few years and only just managed to reach it at the very last moment, so I haven’t increased it.  Reviewing my past challenges, I see now that I’ve been doing it every year since 2011 and it has been set at 30 every year.  I didn’t meet my goal the first two years, but I did 2013-2015 and I am determined to make it again this year.  Having to read for school has been both a help and a hindrance to meeting these goals.  It does require me to read a certain number of books each semester, but I’ve also gotten stuck reading a number of books I didn’t like, so I didn’t quite push myself to the end, so I would spend a good chunk of time working my way through 300 pages of something, then give up because I had a deadline to meet and once the paper was in, then I just put it book on my “currently reading” shelf and moved on to the next thing I had to read.  Those reading assignments plus all the piles of homework and the crap with changing jobs and everything else hasn’t left much time for reading for fun (and it’s left me burnt out, so when I do have free time, I spend it on Netflix or Facebook instead of reading like I probably should be).  So, now I am fighting my way through the remaining 11 books.  One of my biggest struggles with that was that I was already in the middle of two audiobooks (maybe three?) on my other computer and now that I can’t make it work, I can’t go back to my bookmarks and the biggest reason I wanted the new computer is that the audiojack on this one doesn’t quite work, so listening is hard to do.  But I’m making it work.  I found a collection of Richard Matheson short stories (previously known as Button, Button: Uncanny Stories, but now changed to The Box because of the movie by the same name which was based on the short story “Button, Button”) that I had been in the middle of, so I’m working on that, plus some more manga and a couple of new audiobooks.  I am very determined.  I have to read about one book every 1.36 days to meet my goal.  That’s not hard.  Not at all.  If you don’t hear from me this time next week, it’s because I’m reading.

J

 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…

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Another week has gone by.  It is beginning to sink in that the semester is over as I am realizing that I suddenly have a lot more free time than I would have anticipated, even with taking on extra shifts at work.  Perhaps I’m missing something important…  Now that the pressure of pushing myself through the end of my final semester is over AND I’m mostly recovered from that push, I’m starting to think about what I might write now.  I have decided that the world of Zinthe needs a break–or perhaps that I need a break from it–so I have begun considering what I might write now.  I have my superhero series that has been percolating for a few years and sitting on the back burner during most of my time at Goddard.  I have Drowning Sarah, which was very nearly my thesis and which I think still has potential–if I can only figure out what the actual story is.  And then I have a few jagged pieces of ideas that I have begun to play with in my head.  I am considering starting a new novel.  I have also begun thinking about doing a collection of short stories.  I’ve really only written one short story, unless you count The Girl with the Corn Silk Hair, which I don’t, because it was really just notes on backstory to myself.  I’ve been told short stories are a good way to break into the publishing world because they’re quick and you can publish a lot of them and you have many options for where to publish them, so if you can get them written and get them published, then you start getting your name out there, which is a boost to your writing career in general.

Now that I don’t have the deadlines and the pressure of school to keep me writing, I have to find a way to keep myself motivated on my own.  I have graduation coming up which will give me a few days of residency, the last one I will have a Goddard which is a bitter-sweet thought.  Residency always has a way of getting me excited to write again and bringing up great new ideas, so I want to be prepared to take advantage of that.  I’m also considering going to the AWP conference in February, which I hope will keep me excited and motivated to write.  So, my goal over the coming weeks as I prepare for graduation, is to gather my writing ideas and get a few that interest me and if not get started on writing, then at least have my notes on them and my ideas ready to go so that I will be ready when the muse strikes.

I can do the school thing.  I’m very good at the school thing.  But I don’t know how to do the writer thing, not as a realistic career option.  I’m striking out into new territory.  Goddard has done amazing things for my writing and given me the tools and a new perspective to go out and really write, but I’m not sure how to keep myself working on it without the regular deadlines of packets or the invaluable feedback from advisors.  I don’t know what to write to get myself published and it isn’t really a career if I don’t get myself published.

So now, the real challenge begins.

J

The Culture is in the Details

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Now that the semester is officially over, I am taking a brief hiatus from writing to have a breather and catch up on all the other life stuff that lived on the back burner during my last year–and particularly my last semester–of my graduate program (like making enough money to pay my bills).  As such, I don’t have much in the way of new news or ideas on writing, so I thought I’d share my final (and 48th, I can’t even believe I wrote that many) annotation.  I think the information is particularly useful if you’re writing about a culture that your readers may be unfamiliar with as might be found in a historical or speculative (especially fantasy) setting.  It could also be useful for stories set in the present world that you hope will be read in the future, or set in one culture that may differ from that of the anticipated audience, to ground readers who may not be familiar with the culture of the story.

 

“The Culture is in the Details”

The Epic of Gilgamesh* is a story found written in cuneiform on ancient clay tablets discovered in Nineveh during the mid 19th century (9).  It was written in the distant past by and about a people none of us today would know anything about, were it not for the endurance of ancient writings like these.  This story is a heroic epic that, in many ways, could sound like any other heroic tale from ancient history and many modern ones as well, except for the details that ground us in this particular ancient culture.  Many of these cultural details can be found in the introduction of Enkidu, who becomes close friends with Gilgamesh, the hero of this tale:

So the goddess conceived an image in her mind, and it was of the stuff of Anu of the firmament.  She dipped her hands in water and pinched off clay, she let it fall in the wilderness, and noble Enkidu was created.  There was virtue in him of the god of war, of Ninurta himself.  His body was rough, he had long hair like a woman’s; it waved like the hair of Nisaba, the goddess of corn.  His body was covered with matted hair like Samuqan’s, the god of cattle.  He was innocent of mankind; he knew nothing of the cultivated land.  (62-63)

From this, we learn that in this culture, the act of creation may be done by a woman: the goddess Aruru (62, 120).  As so many cultures are patriarchal, it is an interesting glimpse into the perception of a woman’s responsibilities and value within this society.  Aruru creates this man from water and clay, reminiscent to the creation of Adam in Christian lore.  This would suggest similar influences to those of Christianity, but it is clearly not the same culture because the creator here is a woman while the god of the Bible is a man.  In this society, women are held with a certain amount of respect for their creative powers.  In this description of creation, there is also mention of Anu, the sky god (120).  From this we understand that this culture has multiple gods.  In this passage, we can see that there is a balance of male and female influence for the act of creation, which shows us that the reality of the human experience is reflected in the gods of this people.  It is also likely that they value the coupling of men and women for the creation of future generations.

This passage brings up Ninurta, the god of war.  War must be an important to these people as they have a specific god that represents it.  We assume that warriors are valued in this society because the storyteller points out the similarity between this man and the god of war and describes this similarity as “virtue,” so we see that being warlike is a positive trait for these people.

The passage describes Enkidu as having “long hair like a woman’s.”  This gives us a better picture of the people in this culture.  Women have long hair while men keep it shorter.  It is clear that the fact that this man has long hair is unusual, because the storyteller felt the need to point it out and also describe it as being similar to a woman’s rather than a subset of men in the culture.

We learn about Nisaba, the goddess of corn.  We know that Nisaba is a woman and that she wears her hair long as do the human women of this culture.  Corn is also an important good in this culture, because there is a goddess specifically for it, rather than one for all crops or all plants.  It could be that corn is their main crop, or it could be that all the other crops have gods or goddesses as well, but this particular one was pointed out because of the hair.  This small detail shows us a bit about this culture, but also makes us wonder about the bigger picture.

Samuqan is described as the god of cattle.  These people must raise cattle in addition to their crops, so we can begin to picture what their country may look like: a combination of fields and pasture for cattle.  We can assume that these people consume meat, either cows or a similar type of animal, because this is the most common reason for raising cattle.

In the final sentence, we see the divide between civilization and the wilds.  Enkidu is described as wild in appearance and now we can see that those living among beasts can be compared to them.  Men are not born civilized, but must learn to be tame.  These people consider themselves to be properly civilized and this is valued.

Just from this one passage, we can learn a great deal about Gilgamesh’s people.  Along with introducing a primary character of the story, it shows us the religious and industrial experiences of these people.  Using techniques such as these can help ground new readers in an unfamiliar world.  By using cultural details to describe this new character, we get a clearer picture of the person in question, but it also serves to bring us deeper into this new world in a straightforward way.  Following this example in our own work will allow us to use a simple character description to serve multiple purposes and quickly immerse our readers in the new and unfamiliar settings of a new world.

*The Epic of Gilgamesh. Trans. N. K. Sandars. London: Penguin, 1960. Print.

 

I hope some of you have found this post useful.  Along with my planned regular posting, I intend to start posting some of the annotations I’ve been working on over the past three years.  I’ll try to post the ones I think are more interesting or that are pertinent to what I’m working on at the time.  If any of you readers out there have questions about any particular aspect of the craft of writing, send them my way.  I bet you anything I’ve got an annotation that will apply.  If not, I’ll write you one.

Happy reading, happy writing, until next time,

J