#TeaserTuesday: Theron’s Folly, Part Two

A late #teasertuesday post, continuing off from a previous Tuesday, which can be found here.

Dragging the ladder sideways was easy. As soon as it hit the hook, she started to lift again. She strained until she could not lift any more and then let it drop. With the odd sound of wood hitting metal, the second rung struck the hook. Just as she hoped, it held; the ladder stayed suspended a foot off the ground.

After that it was simple: lift, pause, lift, pause. The hook held each time she needed to rest. As she finally got the bottom of the ladder onto the outcropping, she heard the tower door slam open.

They were in the final stretch, but so was she.

Quickly shoving the ladder against the back wall, she checked to make certain it would not slide and then scrambled upwards. It was not until she reached the top that she realized her mistake.

She had placed the ladder in line with the hook, not her original position. In between those two places was a large gap where the wall had crumbled. She let out a word that would have gotten her scolded until sundown had any of the village women heard it.

There was a loud call from across the gap. Theron looked up to see Nereus waving at her, one hand firmly on Damon’s Pole. His tunic had been half tugged out from his belt, obviously by someone seeking to hold him back, and sweat plastered his dark hair to his forehead, but he wore a bright grin on his face.

The rest of the group caught up with him, panting in exertion.

“Nice plan!” Nereus called. Theron scowled at her twin brother and resisted the urge to make a rude hand gesture.

She had failed. She was going to become a woman, busy with marriage and motherhood, without any last childhood victory.

It was only after starting to plan her revenge that she realized that she was on a part of the wall none of the other children had ever been able to reach. The revelation instantly made up for losing the race. Looking behind her, she saw it stretch towards one of the sheer rock faces that arose on either side of the ruins. Though there was nothing immediately interesting in sight, it was hers to explore.

What I Love About Criticism.

I returned home tonight with a stack of copies, many marked with red ink. The copies were the first couple pages of my short-story-turned-prologue, which had just been turned over to fifteen other writers to read and dissect as they would. It was my first time reading at the NWA Writers’ Group. I was understandably nervous; I had butterflies the entire way there, and they only increased when it was my turn to read.

“We need to see this part earlier,” was one comment after I had finished. “You spend way too long talking about this one item,” was another. “I want more description of the place, the time period,” said a third.

By the end of it, I’m bouncing. I had expected to feel hurt, anxious, even depressed. These people are looking at my writing and telling me all the things I did wrong. I’m facing what many writers, including myself, fear the most: that dreaded beast, criticism. Instead of those downtrodden feelings, however, I walked out excited, inspired, even pleased.

How did that happen?

For one, I love editing. Perhaps that should be mentioned first. The hardest part of writing for me is getting it out on paper: once it’s there, it’s free game to poke, prod, and polish. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with my work during the editing process; I often do. Yet there is something intangibly powerful about not having to get it right the first time, or even the tenth time.

Secondly, these writers just dropped a whole load of ways to perfect my tale right in my lap. They saw things I would never have thought about, and after I consider them? My story will only be better for it. You need to see that part earlier? Excellent. That means it’s interesting enough to get higher priority. That part is too long? Awesome. I don’t have to worry that I’m not getting the imagery across to my readers if I can par it down without hurting anything. You need me to clarify the setting and time period? Wait, you’re giving me permission to tell you more about this world that I’m excited enough to share with you in the first place?

Kick. Ass.

This critique did not crush my self-confidence. It actually helped it. By picking out the bad parts, it also revealed the good parts right along beside it. I get to dive back into my editing with a new, fresh view; I don’t have to sit here worrying about all those little things anymore. I know what I have to worry about, and there is power in that. Instead of going mad over a million things that might be wrong with my draft, I can focus on things that are wrong, at least in my reader’s eyes.

At the end of the day? Some of these red marks I might ignore completely. Some made me tilt my head in confusion. Some criticism is, and will always be, plain rotten. Yet in amongst the discussion and the slice of red pen is some golden critique. And that? Is worth too much to me to be anything but excited about.

#TeaserTuesday: Theron’s Folly

Theron’s Folly is a short story that may end up becoming the beginning of a novel. “May” as in I have two pages and about fifty-five note cards on said novel already, not counting this short. I obviously have a hard time sticking to a single project; I always need at least two going at once, because my mind likes to have things to flip between.

I’m just posting the very beginning to test the waters, especially as it hasn’t gone through rigorous editing yet, but please tell me what you think!

(Updated August 17, 2010 for edits.)

Theron could hear peels of laughter from the tower, wafting out of the arrow slots as the boys raced each other to the top. There were a few cries of protest, and she knew that someone had attempted to push their competitors out of the way. There was more laughter; no doubt the pusher had been the one sent rolling back to the last landing.

From the sounds of it, they were only halfway up the spiraling stairs. She still had time.

The heavy oak ladder had not been made to be lifted by a fourteen-year-old girl, much less hauled up half the length of a fortress wall. All of her strength only lifted it a few inches from the dirt ground below. Once it was up that far, she was forced to let it fall back down, again and again. Still determined, despite her already tired muscles, she gripped the top run and tried again. It was the only ladder on the staggered wall, and without it her plan would fail.

The base of the ladder hit the ground with another thunk. Exhaling in a puff of frustration, she tried to think of an alternative. She had to win this time around. There would not be any more chances. Even now her husband-to-be traveled over the far fields from the hills beyond, bringing her closer to adulthood with ever step of his horse.

She was a half-step up the fortress wall, standing on a small outcropping that, as far as she could tell, had once been built for soldiers fleeing enemies on the ground. They could scale the ladder, and, if they were in luck, pull it up after them to leave their pursuers on the ground. .

The boys’ voices were getting clearer. They were nearing the top of the tower.

Theron looked at the ancient banner pole that sat, rusty and unused, on the top of the great stone wall. What banner had once flown from it none of them knew, but they had given it a name of their own: Damon’s Climb, after the first child who managed to shimmy his way to the top of it. She was so close to getting up there. All she had to do was get the ladder to cooperate.

Putting her hands on her hips, she cast her eyes downwards, prepared to give it a glare like it had never known before. She was distracted by the sight of an old hook, still firmly attached to the stone. Obviously it was meant to hang some flag or shield off of, though any decoration was long gone by now.

Whatever its original purpose, it solved her problem.

Seven Things About Me.

Madison Woods gave me this blog award! Here are the rules:

1. Thank the one who gave me this award. (Thank you again, Madison!🙂 )
2. Share seven things about myself.
3. Present this honour onto 15 newly discovered bloggers.
4. Drop by and let my fifteen new friends know I love them.

1. The first “book” I ever wrote was in elementary school. It was a picture book about flying cats, written and illustrated by me in crayon. The entire plot centered around the fact that the youngest of the cats, named Skittles (due to the fact I apparently decided he needed to be rainbow colors), was just learning how to fly. My teacher stapled it together for me, and I think my mother still has it.

2. I don’t watch television, though I enjoy movies. This is mainly because I’m often too distracted by the internet to sit down and watch television shows regularly.

3. I’m fascinated by Norse Mythology. My family is all very big into Medieval history (to the point of being Middle Age reenactors), and that of the Norsemen has always been one of my favorites. I’ve read the entire poetical Edda, and am beginning on the prose.

4. I’m a huge J.R.R. Tolkien geek. He’s my favorite author. I own all of LotR, The Silmarillion, and The Hobbit, and am working on collecting the series of notes his son put out. I am not yet geeky enough to have learned more than a few words in Elvish, though.

5. I have three cats and a dog, all of whom I love to pieces. My oldest is a fourteen-year-old black cat that I’ve had since I was seven. She’s currently trapped in a bright pink baby onesie because she has stitches from a tumor removal. She seems to take offense when I laugh at her.

6. I love web design. I haven’t done it much recently, but I started teaching myself HTML when I was ~13 by downloading free layouts and customizing their code. (Shameless plug both for myself and my dad: I created his website, Ward Metal.)

7. The semi-colon is my favorite piece of punctuation. It may be a little odd to prefer one piece of punctuation over another, but I’ve always found the semi-colon the most useful.

And now for 15 newly discovered bloggers. Well, to be honest, everyone’s new to me! So I’m just going to go down my twitter list, here…

@MeganCurd has a blog here: Megan Curd, currently with an amusing post about what “Team” you’re on.

@Jaleta_Clegg has a blog called The Far Side of Normal, currently with an awesome looking recipe for lemonade!

@SpinyNorman has a blog called Dad At The Chalkboard, featuring a funny letter he once wrote to the Department of Transportation in Tulsa.

@KA_levingston writes a blog called Wicked Words of Wonder, currently featuring her Teaser Tuesday post!

@andrewmorrisey has a… “non-blog?” I’m not entirely sure what this is about, but it does look fascinating, and the trailer is great! Find it at Free the Wheel.

@WritingNoDrama gives you permission to suck in her new blog post at Writing Without The Drama!

@djmorel makes some interesting observations about Amazon’s new Kindle at D.J. Morel’s Scribbles.

@Neil_ODonnell asks the question of what “Show, Don’t Tell” means at his blog.

@StuartCooper205 has a sad story about reviews and plagiarism up on his blog, A Writer’s Journey.

@rebeccadiann has some fascinating posts on her time in Alaska on her blog.

@Derek_Haines reports on a strange phenomenon regarding the Iphone 4 in his small community on his blog.

@bitsyblingbooks reports on the Got Books? event on her blog What’s Charlie Talking About?

@CaraWallace celebrates Bloomsday on her blog, Sunset Stories.

@thesarahclark‘s “boss” has kindly given her the week off due to surgery, but you should go check out her blog The Mother Load anyway.

Last but certainly not least, @elizabethkarr has a blog following the production of her film, Radio Free Albemuth, an adaptation of a Philip K Dick novel. You should definitely go check it out!

Keeping It Secret: Thoughts On Criticism and Fledgling Ideas.

In many careers or hobbies there is a level of superstition. In some it is more obvious than others: many have heard of the superstitions of fishermen and sailors. Even modern fishermen, such as the late Phil Harris (best known for the show Deadliest Catch), have unshakable beliefs. Harris believed Friday was an unlucky day, and reportedly said, “I don’t leave on a Friday, ever, because the last two times I did I blew up the main engine. So I just don’t do it.” (q.in. E!Online). Baseball players are also know for this, especially in the case of the “Bambino Curse,” thought to be the reason that the Red Soxs went so long without winning the World Series. As I have come to both know more authors and to know myself as a writer, I have found some interesting “truths” that seem to be persistent. The largest of these is one that I have spent some significant time thinking about lately: the idea that a project should be kept secret until the very end.

After I became upset after criticisms of a story idea, I was speaking with a friend about the struggles of even getting an idea off the ground. She sympathized with my plight, and then told me that she never told anyone her story ideas until they were written. If she did, she always seemed to lose the desire to write the story at all. It was something that I had experienced myself; if I dared tell a story idea to another, suddenly my pages stayed blank, my interest wained, and the story never got told. The same thing happened if I posted stories in sections for others to read. While for a while I could keep up the momentum, suddenly my will to continue the story would fade, even in the face of good reviews where the commenters were asking for more. So why does this happen? Is this some way that our muse punishes us for becoming over-excited and revealing our blessed ideas too soon?

While the mental image of a muse snatching away an idea, huffing with anger at some author’s head, and flittering off with it is somewhat amusing, we began to delve into the more realistic reasons that it might be. The first we came up with is one of the most dreaded fears of a writer: criticism. For many of us, writing is a profoundly personal thing, and every piece of writing seems to hold some delicate piece of us. When we let that out into the world, especially when it is half-formed and new, any harsh words seemed to be magnified in our head. I once told my mother that it was like taking your baby to a mothers’ group and fearing everyone else was going to call him ugly. To show off a piece of writing to the world, you have to be, to some extent, in love with it: otherwise you would have never had the inspiration to put it down on paper at all.

Few of us take criticism of someone or something we love well. This is why many, many writing books will tell you that one of the first things you need to learn is how to handle criticism. Criticism can help a creator grow in whatever field they are in, and help them refine their art. That sort of education, however, is very tough to get through. My mother was an art major, during her college days, and she told me that fine artists have much the same problem: “The first time someone gets their art critiqued they just lose their minds. They do not know how to handle it.” Many writers, even those that “handle” criticism just fine outwardly, often struggle with hurt and doubt after having a piece, or even just an idea, harshly judged.

While criticism is an extremely powerful tool for writers, it is often a tool pulled out at the wrong times. My friend mentioned that few would look at a sculptor’s work and critique it when the artist had only just finished molding the feet. Plenty of the population, however, feels perfectly at home listening to a hundred-word synopsis of an idea and critiquing every flaw. Everyone seems to have a way it can be done differently, some even getting to the point of taking the story away from the writer and telling them how it should end. No words have yet been written on down, the greater explanations and build-up that can take hundreds of pages are not yet existent, and yet somehow these listeners think that they can completely comprehend the scope of the project and “fix” all of its flaws.

Many writers’ answers seem to be the same as my friends: do not tell anyone until the work is completed. After that it can be read, critiqued, made to bleed with red pen; the raw emotion of creation is gone and one can step back from it, taking the criticism in a calm, rational manner. One of the writers in my critique group, Duke Pennel, echoed this sentiment when he leaned over and told me that I should not tell family about my writing until it was done and I could hand them a finished piece. To a large extent, I do believe they are right. At the very beginning of a project, an idea can be too fragile and too easily crushed, especially by those close to you. Any criticism they give seems to be valid, even when in truth they likely do not have all the information needed to make a well-educated decision. At least for me, however, this is a double-edged sword. I grow extremely excited and involved with new ideas, and often I want to share them with others. It reminds me of a quote I found in The Write Type by Karen Peterson, credited to John Irving:

It’s my experience that very few writers, young or old, are really seeking advice when they give out their work to be read. They want support; they want someone to say, “Good job.”

This is often how I feel when I have a fledgling idea. I do not want criticism, not then. I want someone to say “That’s cool!” so I can cling to those two little words and brandish them against my self-doubt. It is a bit contradictory: how can someone be certain it is a great idea if they do not have enough information to say that it is a bad idea? The answer is, they cannot. At the end of the day, that is not the point. The point is that everyone needs someone to hold their hand once in a while, to say, “You can do this.” That person has no idea what the future will bring, if the person they are reassuring will be able to overcome the odds or not. Yet all of us need that irrational faith, to know there is someone right behind us that thinks well of us, whether it is a parent, a friend, or even a stranger. It is our protection against ourselves, to fend off that self-editor just long enough to get our words down on paper. Maybe then we will be strong enough to hand our stories over to the red pen and let the real process of refinement begin.

The Reason I Own Six Baby Name Books.

The first of thing that most of us receive, many even before we are born, is one of the most important features of our lives: our name. Despite the fact that most of us will bear those titles until our death, our names normally do not have much to do with us. We may be named in memory of past relatives; living relatives; after characters in books, television shows, and movies; or simply given a name because our parents think it is pretty. Even if we are named after we are born, it is not as if we have much of a personality, as a little infant; many names mean “the dark,” “the fair,” “the beautiful,” or something so simple as “born on a Tuesday.” While we may later pick up nicknames or honorifics, for a good while we are simply known by whatever name our parents saw fit to give us, whether it “fits” our personalities or not.

So if generation after generation can feel confident that they are giving a good name to child before knowing what they are going to act like, do, or even look like in their lives, a writer coming to the table should have the easiest time of all naming a character, right? After all, we generally have more information than any parent: we often know their personality, their looks, their secrets, achievements and downfalls. With that much information, how can we fail with coming up with a good, descriptive name that fits our character like a glove?

I do not know about other writers, but in this case I think I always end up at the roadblock of Too Much Information. I have spent an unreasonable amount of time sorting through BehindtheName.com, desperately searching for that one, perfect name for my character. There are so many things to consider: region, time period, uniqueness, readability, meaning — oh, and occasionally, actually considering what their parents would have named them in the first place. There is a pressure to balance so much on a name: you want it to be interesting enough to be memorable to a reader, common enough they can pronounce it, and unique enough that they will not be mistaking your character for someone else’s. The entire process can be downright stressful.

I have had characters whose stories I have been developing for years, some even for a decade (no promise of a quality base there, now; I was eleven), that have existed entirely without names. When I have written them, instead of pausing and struggling with a name, I assign them a letter. N still runs a tavern with her love interest T and her nephew L; S and O still work and flirt at the bar. Other times they end up with nicknames: in my current project, a lot of my notes reference RH for a redhead, Child for a little girl, and Evil for the villain (I have managed to give RH and Evil names by this point, but Child is still out of luck). Others end up with the first name that comes to mind because I dread sitting down and puzzling out the best, most proper name for the character. It has gotten to the point where naming a character is one of the things I only do when I sit down and force myself.

There are those who are experts at naming their characters. Having grown up during the Harry Potter craze, there are plenty of names I will not forget: Severus Snape, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin to name a few. If you look up each name, you find great tie-ins to each character (spoilers herein, if you’ve somehow missed the crazy). Severus is the Latin word for “stern,” which fits the professor’s strict, bullying behavior. In the case of Sirius Black, the name becomes more of a pun: Sirius is the name of the brightest star in the sky, called the “Dog Star.” Sirius can turn, at will, into a giant black dog. In a similar manner, the name of Remus Lupin refers to his werewolf nature: Lupin is a play off of “lupine,” a word meaning “Characteristic of or resembling a wolf” (thefreedictionary.com), while Remus is the name of a mythological figure said to have been cared for by a she-wolf as a baby. These clever, descriptive names set the bar high for anyone writing modern fantasy.

If we want to peek at an even higher bar, we can look at my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien not only made-up excellent, memorable names for his characters (for the most part; I think it takes a true geek to appreciate the name “NelyafinwĂ« Maitimo,” especially if one considers that he was called Maedhros most of the time and Russandol on a few occasions); he created entire languages in order to give form and meaning to his character’s names. Taking my previous complicated example, we see that NelyafinwĂ« means “FinwĂ« the third” (as his grandfather was FinwĂ«), while Maitimo means “well-shaped one” in reference to his attractiveness. Maedhros is a translation of Maitimo into one of Tolkien’s other self-created languages. Russandol is a nickname given to him by his brothers, which means “copper-top,” in reference to his red-hair. Not only that, but it is pointed out with the word epessĂ«; not only did Tolkien give his characters nicknames, but he decided to make up a word specifically for all his nicknames.

Now, we cannot all by J.K. Rowling, or, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien even when it comes to simply naming our characters. But I know that every time I sit down, pondering a character and deciding whether to gingerly bestow a name onto their image, I will stop and think of those two authors, shake my head, and wish I could get away with calling everyone “Bob.”

What Do You Know About Forty-Year Old Men?

My mother asked me this question when I was giving her a synopsis of the book I am currently working on. It’s actually a question I have been asking myself ever since I sat down and began to plot this thing out instead of letting it circle around my head. I am a twenty-one-year old girl; my main character is a forty-year old man. The question is really, if we break it down to its core: can you convincingly write about something outside of your personal experience?

A lot of the authors I meet are writing very close to home. Many are writing memoirs, or semi-autobiographical works. Women are writing women, men are writing men. Twenty-somethings are writing about other twenty-somethings. If a writer steps outside that bubble, are they suddenly in a danger zone? Is there a certain limit to how far they can go before everything comes tumbling down around their ears?

I do think it is possible to convincingly write a character that is nothing like yourself. After all, how would we ever write villains if it were not true? Most of us do not traipse around killing people, yet the best horror authors can get inside a killer’s head. How would we write about a different gender? Men have proved they can write strong, realistic women; I just finished reading the first novel in Mike Shepherd’s Kris Longknife series, and there was nothing in the book that made me think “that’s not how a woman would think.” C.S. Friedman’s novel, Black Sun Rising, has a great male protagonist, as well as a wonderful male villain. There are many examples of authors who have transcended many borders to tell a story.

That brings us to the second question: is there a limit to how far a writer can go? Is there a boundary set purely by experience? Where I have actually seen this argument most poignantly was in a conversation between role-players. Now, I have role-played for over half of my life now (pretending to be a Pokemon trainer in my backyard notwithstanding). I am not talking the Dungeons and Dragons sort of playing, but what I’ve always referred to as free-style role-playing: both my friends and I would decide what characters we wanted to play (often our favorite characters from television shows, movies, or books), and, using MSN Messenger or AIM, we would throw them into “scenes.” There are entire forums where you can have your character, whether he be original or from a media source, “write” a post and have conversations and scenes with others. It is a lot like a collaborative writing process.

The argument came up after someone bemoaned the fact that there were not a lot of role-playing characters of color around. Some people said that it was because that forum mainly had characters from television shows and that there weren’t a lot of prominent black character out there. Some said it was because the majority of the role-players were white and frightened of playing a black person, in case they might somehow get them “wrong.” That brought up the questions of: should white players play black characters? A lot of people said yes, but there were those that said no, that white players could never “correctly” write a black person because they’d never experienced life as one.

I would elaborate more on this issue, but to tell the truth I am extremely upset by my mother’s words. As someone who is already afraid of showing my work to others, to be told that I do not have enough skill as a writer to place myself in someone else’s shoes and write a story from their perspective brings up a lot of those feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness I know every writer struggles with from time to time. I’ve already put a lot of love and time into this tale, and I want to tell it; no, I will tell it. But for now I think I need sit back and lick my wounds.