The Foolish Man

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I’m at a weird point in my writing process, one I haven’t been at in a rather long time: the very beginning.  I’m trying to write a brand new book, in a whole new universe, with characters I’ve barely begun to conceive, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.  Most of what I’ve written in the past has fit into one of two story universes (my epic fantasy and my superheroes) and even when I started new books, they still fit within those universes and involved at least one character I had worked with before.  Outside of the books I’ve written for those two series, I tried starting two other books that were potential works for my Goddard thesis three years ago when I started the program (I made some progress on Drowning Sarah), but I didn’t get very far with either of those.  In addition, in the past decade, I’ve started three stories for NaNoWriMo that were brand new and I lost with all of them because I couldn’t get past 20-30k.

This new story feels important.  I want to write it, but I think it’s beyond me.  For reasons I’ve mentioned previously, I need a fresh start in my writing.  I need a new story that doesn’t have any association to my previous writing life or to my previous self or relationships.  I need something that I can write that won’t make me feel dragged down by the past.  The problem is, every time I’ve come up with a successful new story idea, I had a writing partner to work me through the tough bits.  Getting through much of this program without a writing partner was a struggle, but I had all the work we’d done in the past to fall back on and we had a brief attempt at reconciliation, during which, I was able to work out the rest of the major issues with my book.  I can’t write on my own.  I spent three years and more money than I’d care to think about becoming a better writer, but I still can’t write on my own.

So here I am, with a brand new story–and I need a brand new story–about something that is deeply important to me and in a way I haven’t seen in much literature and I think it needs to be out there, but I don’t know how to write it and I don’t know how to proceed with this story without someone who knows me and my writing to work through it with.  I am writing random scenes as they come to me and beginning to ask the big questions about the story, consider potential plot elements, flesh out the characters and the universe, and at every turn, I come up against a massive, insurmountable wall.  All the other times I got stuck, I could just look at where the characters ended up or consider what else is going on in the world at the time that could affect it or would be affected.  But I haven’t got any of that.  It’s like trying to build a brick house on sand.

Sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this.  Accountants don’t have this kind of trouble.

J

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Master of Fine Arts

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This is my last night on campus.

I am sitting alone in the room I have stayed in 5 of the 6 times I’ve come to campus.  The other time was a room in the same building, but downstairs.  My roommate, Em, shared the room with me 4 of those times, but I have had it to myself since Em’s graduation.  It is a lovely room with sparse furniture in a fairly old style that has been worn down by countless residents, both from the full residency days and from this era of low-residency degrees.

Bittersweet is a word that has come up in my thoughts a lot.  Most of my time here this time has been more sweet than bitter.  I have been wrapped up in the excitement of seeing everyone again, attending workshops, and preparing for the experience of Graduation.  This hasn’t left much time for the sadness of leaving this place.  But now, as I sit alone in my room for the last time, after having said most of my goodbyes, I feel the edge of loss.

This place has been magical.  It has changed me more than I ever imagined and probably more than I know.  I came here to learn how to write and to get that piece of paper to frame on my wall.  Much of the reason I wanted a master’s degree was for the sake of the accomplishment and for the potential higher pay that comes with higher education.  I could have gotten it in anything and when I decided that I wanted a master’s, I wasn’t particular about what I studied.  Knowledge is knowledge.

Six years and 8 months ago, I sat in the Centrum of Southern Utah University waiting to receive my Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies.  As I sat and waited, I watched as dozens of students crossed the stage to receive their master’s hoods.  As I sat in that audience, waiting for my own conferral, I realized that that was what I wanted.  I wanted to cross a stage and be hooded a Master of Something.  After graduation, I dove into working as much as I could to begin my student loan payments and rebuild my savings.  I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have time to jump into a master’s program, so I let the idea percolate and kept an eye out for possible programs, without looking too seriously.  My advisor at SUU–the one who had to sign the paperwork to approve my request to complete an Interdisciplinary degree–had said that I should only pursue that route if I had no interest in taking my education beyond a bachelor’s degree or if I had any interest in teaching, because I would not be eligible for either.  I taught for three years starting the following Fall.  In the summer of 2012–two years after completing that bachelor’s degree–I discovered Goddard.  I began the application process, hoping to be accepted for the Spring 2013 semester.  Unfortunately, I met my fiancé right around the same time and things got serious as I got closer to the application deadline.  I realized I would have to put my education on hold if I were going to continue with this relationship and it seemed worth it at the time.  In the end, the relationship delayed my entrance into the master’s program by a year.  I have been frustrated by this on occasion.  There have been times when I wished it was already over, that I had my degree, that I didn’t have to deal with more annotations, but I could never truly wish that I had been able to enter the program when I might have, because that would mean wishing away all the incredible experiences I had during the time I went and the many wonderful people I met and bonded with.

When I started my first residency, the then program director Paul Selig told us, “People come to Goddard at the right time.”  At the time, I hoped he was right.  Now I know he was right.  Had I come at an earlier time, I would not have taken away the same things I did.  I would not have grown as much as I did because–much like the characters I’ve written about–I wasn’t ready to fully accept the change I was capable of until I let go of everything I thought I wanted and opened myself to new possibilities.

I came to Goddard when I was ready to be here.  And as sad as it is, I think I am ready to leave.  There is always more that could be learned at a place like this, but I have taken in as much as I can at this point and I am ready to move on to the next chapter.

So as of today, I can officially call myself a Master of the Fine Art of creative writing.  I still can’t wrap my brain around it.  Can one really be considered a master in something after studying it in depth for only 2-3 years?  I feel like I still have so much to learn, so many places my skills fall short, but real writers feel that way too.  I am a real writer.  I have a piece of paper to prove it.  But now the real work begins.

J

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The Girl with the Corn Silk Hair

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The following was a detour I took tonight on my novel because I needed a better understanding of Reynard so that I can move forward with his storyline.  It is raw and, aside from a few spelling corrections, unedited.  It will likely never be seen anywhere but here because it was solely an exercise for my benefit to prepare me for the next portion of the book and to help me through a difficult block I’ve been battling today.  I hope that tomorrow I will return to my novel with a clear mind and nimble fingers so that I can do what must be done and carry on with my thesis.

J

John William Waterhouse

Though the descriptions do not match, this painting by John William Waterhouse was my inspiration for this portion of the story.

The Girl with the Corn Silk Hair

They arrived at the small, coastal village of [Pentref Arfordirol] weary and crestfallen.  The war had been long and taxing and the recent losses made Reynard wonder what he was even fighting for.

He had joined the troops of Harayan two years before, right at the start of the war.  He was the son of a farmer and the excitement and honor of fighting for the kingdoms drew him more than the life he had been raised to take over, the humble life of a farmer on the edge of a small town on the northern border of the kingdom of Harayan.  He had joined with great vigor and the heavy labor of the farm life had prepared him in many ways for his duties as a soldier.  His body was toned and his mind was prepared for long hours with little immediate reward, so he fit in well with the life of a soldier, the heavy training in strength and weapons, the long days and longer marching.

He did well in his duties and served willingly, but he was not the best.  Many of the others had grown learning to fight while he had been a simple farmer, learning the ways of the land and the ways with animals.  It had been a comfortable life and he had been sorry to leave it behind, but he wanted a chance to see Zinthe and serve the kingdoms and the gods before he returned to the quiet, simple, though by no means easy life.  In a few years, when this war was one, he knew he would return to the home he had grown up in, find a bride in a nearby village, and raise sons to care for the farm after his passing while his bride would raise their daughters in other duties.

It was a pleasant thought and one he brought to mind on days when the war seemed endless and the fighting seemed pointless.  He would dream of the beautiful life that awaited him when they came out victorious.  He would return a hero, a brave soldier who had served them well.  He would be honored and respected among the villages as the other old soldiers were.  He would even some day share old war stories with the other veterans.  His new title as soldier and hero would bring him to the attention of the maidens and he would have his pick.  He wanted someone who was strong enough to stand by him through the hard times that would inevitably come during drought and other hardships of the farm, but also someone who was kind and gentle and sweet.  A girl who was as beautiful on the inside as well as the outside, because beauty would fade with time, but a kind heart and a faithful companion would last him to the end of his days until they at last moved on to the great afterlife, leaving their children to carry on their legacy as he once had for his father.  He knew it was his duty and his destiny to carry on and care for their land after his father passed because he was the only son of the kind, hardworking couple that were his parents, and he was happy to fulfill it, one day, when this war was over.

He first saw her when they came into town.  They were welcomed wholeheartedly by the villagers.  The people of this small town honored the arriving soldiers for their service and looked forward to the help they would offer in return for supporting them during their stay.  She had been only one of many men and women who came to greet them and direct them to their lodging.  Most stayed in the small inns the village supported, but some were taken in by widows and other lonely villagers who needed the help and the company.  Reynard joined William at the inn with many of the senior soldiers– they were all veterans now, though some had been so for much longer.

He only saw her for a moment in all the bustle, but her hair shone like corn silk on a summer afternoon and drew his eye.  When she turned and he saw her face, she was more beautiful than he could have hoped, the most beautiful maiden his eyes had been fortunate enough to see.  Her smile was sweet and kind as she welcomed weary soldiers into their town and homes, and then she was gone.

He watched for her, hoping she would come by again in the evening because he had missed the opportunity to speak with her, or even catch her name.  That evening, the inn was chaos as they found places for the new arrivals to sleep and sorted out the business of feeding the weary, hungry men.  Even in the bustle, he knew that he would have seen her again had she been there, but she was not.  He watched for her the following day and offered whatever help he could around town in hopes that he would come across her in so many varied tasks, but he did not.

On the third day in the village, he at last found her again.  She came to down to bring yarns from her father’s sheep for dying.  He then learned that her name was Melinda, great gods, what a blessed name, the name of highland sprite, a gift from the heavens.  He offered his assistance to her and she graciously accepted.  He found that her home was some distance from the town.  Her father was a shepherd with a number of sheep he tended out in the hills and she came into town every day or two to buy supplies or offer her wares– the finest wools in the region and some of the finer craftsmanship in knitted pieces.  Once he had found her, he offered his services exclusively to her.  He was not one to deny assistance where needed and so helped other villagers when requested, but his whole purpose was to stay with this delicate and beautiful young maiden.

After some days in the village, William spoke with him about their interactions.  He urged Reynard to confess his love for her, that if he hid it from her, then she could never reciprocate and if she held no love for him, then it was better that he know now so that he could forget his desires and stop torturing himself.  At last he did confess his feelings for her and to his delight and relief, she admitted that she felt the same for him.

After that, they were truly inseparable, enjoying the happiness and contentment and only young lovers can.  Rumors spread about them, though through the villagers and the visiting soldiers.  Reynard was happier than he could ever have dreamed that he had found such a sweet, kindhearted maid to spend his days with.  As the time passed, he could not imagine finding another he desired more to be his wife, but with the war looming over their heads, however quietly it had been lately, he feared that it would not be wise to pursue his courtship with the young Melinda.

At last the day came that he had both anticipated and dreaded.  A messenger came with orders for a portion of the men to return to the main camp to prepare for a new battle campaign.  Reynard was eager to do all that he could to finish this war so that he could return and wed his sweet Melinda, but he could not bear the thought of leaving her side.  Melinda was heartbroken when the news arrived, but she tried to hide her sorrow and fears so that her love would not return to war with a heavy heart because, while she could not bear the thought of losing him, she believed that a man should fulfill his duty, no matter how difficult.  Reynard volunteered to return to camp with many of the others, but William, taking pity on him and his sweet companion offered to go in his stead.  William convinced him that he would not be needed for this battle and that they had more than enough men to carry out the commander’s wishes.  Reynard was grateful beyond measure, though he felt pained that his friend would risk his own life so that he could remain with Melinda for a little while longer.

After at least half of the battalion marched northward to join the other companies in the main encampment, life in the small coastal town returned more or less to normal.  With fewer mouths to feed, the village felt more at least and began to prepare for the coming winter festivities.

Life with Reynard and Melinda continued as they had and they were happy, but Reynard lived with the fear that any day he might receive orders to return to the camp and fight again.  He had never doubted that he would come out of the war alive and well when the Zinthians were at last victorious so that he could have the happy life he had long dreamed of, but now that he had found the companion he wished to bring back with him to his humble farm in Harayan, he feared that the dream might not come to pass because this war was harder and longer than any of them had anticipated when they joined it.  He wished desperately to ask the gentle Melinda for her hand and dreamed of the beautiful, but simple wedding they could have here, in her home village, the celebrations of its many kind and generous inhabitants.  He thought of the children they would raise together.  He knew his mother and father would be pleased because while she was sweet and gentle, she was also strong and hardworking, which would serve them well in their long life together.  They had spoken of it in quiet whispers on evenings under the stars above the craggy cliffs on the edge of the small village.  She would be sad to leave her mother and father behind, but she was willing to make the sacrifice for their future and her skills would be greatly appreciated in the village of Reynard’s home.  They spoke of their future together in dark, hushed moments, when no other soul might hear and only the gods were witness to their promises, but they didn’t dare bring their plans to the light of day for fear that it would shatter them and take away their happiness.

Too soon, the inevitable end came.  Another messenger rode into the village with new orders for the remains of the battalion.  They were to return to the main camp at once to continue the battles.  They had regrouped and gained a foothold on the Citadel Isles– their greatest victory since the war had begun– and now was the time to attack with full force.  All the soldiers were required at the main headquarters so that the battalions could be reorganized and put to work.

The remainder of the battalion living in [Pentref Arfordirol] spend the day preparing for the journey, packing their belongings and food for the long march north, so that they could depart first thing in the morning.  Reynard and Melinda’s last night together was bittersweet and many things were left unsaid, but they confessed their love again and again as they had so many times before and prayed to the gods that Reynard would return safely soon so that they could begin their happy life together.  Before they departed, Melinda presented him with a locket her mother had given her as a child.  Inside, she had placed a small lock of her corn silk hair so that he would always remember her and be strengthened to return to her soon.  He clasped it around his neck and vowed never to take it off until they met again at last.  They said their goodbyes in the breaking light of dawn and Melinda could not restrain her tears, though she tried.  Reynard would not shed a tear, though he wished he could, because he could not leave his love more heartbroken than she already was.  He promised to return and that he would do what he must to win this war, but no more.  As the separated, Melinda watched him go, more afraid than she had been of anything in her life that he would not return and cried until she could no more.  Then she returned to her home and her work and prayed that the gods would protect her soldier, Reynard.

It took more strength to walk away from her than he had ever needed before in his life, but Reynard knew he must fulfill his duty to the kingdoms.  He rejoined his battalion for the long march north, and though many reveled in the latest victory and the coming excitement of returning to battle, he could not join in the celebration because he had left his heart and soul with the sweet little shepherdess with the corn silk hair.

Death and Taxes. Or, well, just Death.

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Assateague Island

I had my first story inspiration in weeks this morning.  I decided to poke it and see what happened.  As I followed it along, it resulted in the death of one of my favorite characters.  Which also adds complication to the parallel novel because at the point I thought the idea was coming, that character is still needed elsewhere.  So.  I’m really not sure what to do with it.  Half of me is intrigued and excited because, while I adore this character, his death would certainly add to the conflict of my current MC and it might explain why he is no longer in the other MC’s life at the point of her main story.

I am beginning to realize just how very complicated this story is.  I’ve already written about 5 first drafts of novels contributing that happen in all different sorts of times.  There’s a war (which I’ve been putting off writing until this book) and lots of little battles, some very distinctive societies and races that have to be developed clearly enough to work with, really complicated family trees, and who knows what else.  What have I gotten myself into?

It was either the story with no plot or the one with way too much plot.  I figured at least with too much plot, I’ve got something to work with.  Everyday I wonder if I chose the right one.

Trust the Process, right?

J