14 October 2014

Deirdre's Firebird

It’s been a while. Don’t worry—not going anywhere permanently, just busy writing elsewhere…as in, my story! We’re about halfway done with writing the supplemental scenes, and once those are complete I will splice them into the primary narrative. The end result should be a much better novel. In the mean time, here’s a snippet of Deirdre’s Firebird song to tide you over:

As I wandered beneath the sky,
The saddest, sweetest song heard I;
The firebird with feathers fair
Was passing sadly, sweetly by.

I followed her without a care,
Though branches tangled in my hair;
No rest nor peace nor sleep knew I
While she floated through the air.

Oh yeah, and the wedding and honeymoon were both awesome. Pictures will be posted eventually.

30 June 2014

In The Night Forest

In the night wood I tread softly;
the leaves no rustling make.
The moss absorbs my footsteps,
and the stones cover my wake.

Yet throughout my silent travels,
in my head there is a tune;
my blood sings with the magic, while
the wolves sing with the moon.

I do not fear the fanged ones
on their swift and silent paws,
for I was there in the darkness
before the birth of the stars.

I was there at their dawning, and
I will be there at their end.
I am neither creator nor destroyer,
but in the night forest I tread.

17 March 2014

Webs And Those Who Weave Them

Viking Loom. Culturally, the
sierrens from Aorea are similar
to the vikings from Earth.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely strands in it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.
~ Chief Sealth

As I have discussed before, whenever I begin a project, I begin with the bones. In sculpture that usually means I first create a wire frame; in art, a pencil sketch. In my fiction writing I begin with a different kind of sketch: dialogue.

Because I am a perfectionist and can never be satisfied with the state of my story—if you’ll recall, I recently announced finishing it and sending it out to a second round of readers—I have started changing things again. Drastically. The story some of you have already read will still be there, largely unchanged, but it will now take up little more than half of the novel’s overall weight. There’s so much mythology and backstory and a whole slew of interesting (at least, to me) characters that make the “modern” day journey necessary, that when I go back and read my story as a stranger would—without knowing all the backstory of the world of Aorea—it seems very thin and contrived to me. Sure, some of my characters explain bits and pieces of the history, but I’m a writer; I’d rather show the readers that history than have someone else tell it, even if they’re using my words.

Thus, I have started writing new scenes, a whole army of new scenes, that I will splice throughout the story such that the end result is almost two stories comprised into one book, alternating between the “flashbacks” (the history and mythology of the world itself that leads up to the journey being necessary) and the “present day” story that is already written. I have written thirteen dialogue sketches so far. Thirteen. I have about ten or so more to go, and then, of course, I have to flesh them out, edit them, put them in order, figure out how and where I want to cut them in to the main narrative. I think the final product will be significantly better than the first and even than the second, and although my novel will be much longer than I originally intended, and although I will be introducing a shitton of semi-new elements, I think the final product will ultimately make more sense and convey the main theme I’ve been trying to convey from the very beginning: we’re all connected. Everything is connected. Decisions made and actions taken generations ago affect the outcomes of actions taken today.

Fingers crossed, anyway.

I have always tended to borrow heavily from traditional mythology (with a twist) to supplement my own stories, whether through world-building or just by having my characters familiar with certain mythological themes that help them in their own quest. Some of my characters will look quite familiar to those versed in Slavic mythology, even down to derivations of their names; however, I tend to pick and choose those aspects of a particular myth or mythological figure that best fits my needs, except for those instances where strong cross-cultural similarities exist. In those instances, I keep the predominant traits as well.

One of the central histories from the world in which my stories take place—Aorea—involves a retelling of the myth of Arachne mixed with various versions of spinning Fates, granted I use a very different cast of characters. The central myth binding my created world together involves a woman weaving at a semi-immortal loom and watching the fate of multiple worlds unfold upon the cloth. While the first of these demi-goddess women weavers (there will be seven total) was quite the mage in her own right, as was her heir and daughter, nevertheless the magic of the visions is tied to the loom, not the Spinner. The visions in the loom, in fact, stem from the powerful soul trapped within it whom the Spinners are truly there to guard; watching the visions unfold across the cloth is just a fun side-gig.

Thus, I present to you a snippet of dialogue sketch from one of my newly written scenes. Without giving too much away, in this scene three siblings from the world of Daem have found their way through Earth and into Aorea, where they are plotting their next move from a room in a sierren inn. The two brothers are Dimeldor (oldest) and Derrien (youngest), and their sister is Antiln (middle).

Dimeldor: These creatures are little wiser than the last.
Antiln: I feel there is much we can gain here, much to learn.
Derrien: Have you had another vision?
Antiln: Not since we left Daem, but the path I saw on that day is beginning to unfold. Our journey will not go unrewarded.
Dimeldor: I tire of your empty prophecies, sister. I would rather take what is ours and leave.
Antiln: Caution, dear brother. We must first observe, and then our path will be made clear.
Derrien: You speak of paths. I thought this was our path?
Dimeldor: You told us if we joined you in your quest, we would find magic of our own to take.
Derrien: You promised us we would become like gods and rule our world.
Antiln: And now I promise you that we will rule not just Daem, but all three of these worlds. One will reign over our home with all of our brethren bowing at his feet; one will rule the land we left with those primitive tribes as his servants; and I will reign supreme over this rich, bright, shining land we have just found.
Dimeldor: Why do you get to rule this place? I am the eldest. The best world should be mine by birthright.
Antiln: I will rule where I will because I have the power. Do not forget that you are nothing without me. You would become but ash in the wind were it not for my aid.
Dimeldor: Empty prophecies, empty threats.

***Antiln taps into the magic of the land and causes Dimeldor’s blood to sear and boil in his veins. Writhing in pain, he falls to his knees and yields***

Antiln: Pledge your loyalty to me, dear brothers, and I will let you live and even rule over Daem and that second, wretched world. Betray me, and you will know agony, misery and despair before I finally grant you the release of death.
Derrien and Dimeldor: We will serve you, dear sister, until our dying breath and beyond.
Antiln: Then you will know power greater than you have ever imagined. The magic here is a gravity, drawing all things to its center. I will find that center, and I will make it mine.

18 February 2014

Tradition vs. Self Debate

Circle: The Spinner's Journey
So I have some good news, and then I have some choices.

The good news is that I am finally done rewriting and editing (for the bazillionth time) my first novel, The Spinner’s Journey. Considering I have spent the last decade perfecting this 229 page young adult adventure story set in the fantastical world of Aorea, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

So now I have another decision to make: attempt to find an agent who will not screw me over with the publishing companies, or just self-publish and by so doing, accept that I will never make money as an author since I have precisely zero time to promote my own work and host book signings.

I have mixed feelings about both options, and it seems my peers are mixed across the board as for which option is better. So here is the list of pros and cons of each one, traditional production versus self publication, as I see them. Perhaps writing them down will help me figure out which way I’d rather go.

Pros of Traditional Publishing:
  • If I find a good agent who believes in my work and my vision, I may one day be listed as an author for one of the same publishing companies that published my favorite books, which would be epic.
  • Greater chance of recognition and distribution to book sellers to get my work out there, so to speak.
  • Greater respectability/credibility as a byproduct of an existing system that incorporates a multi-layered editing/critiquing process designed to make my novel as great as it can possibly be.
  • Contracts that protect my creative work more effectively from copyright infringement than if I were to just, say, post it on the ‘net.
  • The cost of publication doesn’t come out of my own pocket, which let’s be real, isn’t exactly empty but certainly isn’t deep.
  • All the promotion and marketing that I don’t have time to do by myself, someone else will do for me. Dude. Maybe my book could be a movie…
Cons of Traditional Publishing:
  • Every author I’ve ever seen/heard/read/interviewed seems to absolutely hate the big-name publishing company who stripped away all their creative rights to their own work (and yet they still used them), and then changed a bunch of random things and published something very different than what the author originally wanted, because by that point it’s not the author’s work anymore anyway.
  • Having to sign away my first born child and gods know what else in return for a faceless corporation to sell a book, sorta in my name, that is nothing like the manuscript I originally sent them.
  • Having my work dumbed down so it appeals more to the barely-literate masses…and please keep in mind that “barely literate” is not the judgment I would pass, but rather the assumption big name publishers seem to make about the masses, considering every novel that pops up on my kindle recommendations is basically the same novel, just with a slightly different title. Hello, am I the only one sick of teen paranormal romance? Yeesh! There’s hardly even a kissing-scene in my novel and even that one little PG scene, I’ve debated removing entirely (although, as I finished my most recent round of edits, I realized there is a lot of completely asexual nudity in my story; my characters always seem to end up naked and yet not banging…I guess they’re too busy being badasses who upon occasion accidentally end up separated from their clothing).
Pros of Self-Publishing:
  • My work is mine. Always and completely. No one has publishing, reprinting or other related rights to my work except for me.
  • My novel will never go out of print as long as I want it to remain printable.
  • The novel I publish will be the same novel I send to get published.
  • No shady deals with third parties, unless you count the people running the printer, and I’m not particularly worried about them wanting to sign away my future children.
  • I get to design and format and illustrate and all that other fun stuff my artist-side just adores doing.
  • Upon a very rare occasion, self-published authors have been known to get later picked up by actual publishing companies anyway, and it’s easier to maintain some creative rights to your own work when a version of it already exists in print.
Cons of Self-Publishing:
  • The downside of no third party involvement is a lack of credibility, since literally anyone can self-publish…and if anyone can do it, is it worth doing? I’ve always believed in rising to the occasion, meeting the challenge, taking the hard road over the easy, over-used trail, so naturally the fact that self-publication requires no challenge or filtration process disturbs me.
  • If literally any bloke can crap out a hundred pages of gibberish then shell out some cash to get that gibberish in print…do I want my own novel, that I slaved over for years and poured my heart and soul into, to be associated with that level of non-work? I know it’s a rather elitist perspective, but I want my novel to be a good novel, not just something that a few of my friends read out of pity and then quickly throw away or worse, forget.
  • I have to fund the production, marketing and distribution of my book completely by myself. Again…pockets. Depth. Not so much.
  • Generally book sellers like Barnes & Nobel don’t buy from self-published authors unless they come with a helluva sell-back plan, which oh yeah—costs yet more of my own money.
  • I don’t have time to market my own stuff! If I ever want to be publicized, not just published, that involves a huge time commitment that my very-busy day job of oh, say, being in the Army, doesn’t really support. I can’t exactly take an extended lunch break to conduct a reading and signing at the local book club to promote my latest publication.
So that’s where I’m at right now. Some of my friends—Orion included—are totally on board the self-publish train. Others, such as Amphitrite, are urging me to seek an agent and begin the lengthy process of reading rejection letters (at least I have a lot of experience in dealing with rejection and not letting it get me down). A lot of the best agents don’t take queries from first time authors, or else they only read a query if it comes with a referral. So yeah. Lots of rejection letters in my future. However, apparently there is a third option that is somewhere in between the two extremes that other of my friends and acquaintances are familiar with, so I’ll be looking into that third, hybrid-option as well.

Having read back over my pros and cons list, I think I’m going to start drafting a query letter. The worst that can happen is I receive a world of no from every agent and waste a book of stamps.

10 February 2014

Slavic Tarot: Major Arcana, Part 2

Firebird, by yours truly. If you really
like it, you can buy it from here!
So I took another unannounced, several-months-long blogging hiatus. Sue me. Actually, on second thought, please don’t, because I really don’t make that much money and trust me, a lawsuit over my being a bad blogger and ruining your day for my bad blogular habits really won’t be worth the court fees, let alone the price of a lawyer.

Anywho, following my last post concerning my latest long-term project of developing my very own tarot deck devoted to Slavic Mythology, I have been quite the busy beaver. I spent two weeks in the field with my old unit, outprocessed, started a fantastic new job with a new unit, celebrated the return of my fiancé Orion from his deployment, and started training for a marathon. My new job keeps me significantly busier than did my old job—I am now the happy Executive Officer of a wonderful Company—and furthermore, marathon training has monopolized my weekends. Luckily, the marathon is now only a few weeks away, and so you should be hearing more from me in the ensuing months than in the previous, well, three.

And now I shall, in keeping with the theme of my previous post, continue with a follow up detailing the rest of my my dreamed-up Major Arcana for the eventual Slavic Tarot production! Hope you enjoy my summaries.

XII. The Hanged Man: Rusalka (Русалка) - The Rusalki (singular: Rusalka) have sometimes been compared to the Sirens of Greco-Roman myth, and tales of such creatures as the Rusalki indeed populate every mythology I have yet come across (the fox-women of Japan and the seal-people of the Celtic islands, for yet more examples). In Slavic myth, a Rusalka is a beautiful female spirit who haunts a particular body of water, usually a pond, river or waterfall. She is sometimes said to be the vengeful ghost of a drowned maiden, generally one who was unhappy in life, was cheated on by her lover, killed herself via water like Ophelia, or was even murdered. Tales of the Rusalki frequently depict them luring men—particularly young, pretty ones—to watery deaths in an attempt to assuage their own loneliness. For more information, you can see one of my previous posts dedicated to these ghostly femme fatales here.

XIII. Death: Baba Yaga (Баба-Яга) - Oh boy, where do I begin with this one? One of my favorite scary-Cthonic-demigods of all time, I wrote an entire thesis paper in college about this particular hag. Twenty-five pages. In Russian, mind you. Pretty much the most difficult thing I have ever done, and I’m not exactly the kind of person who shies away from challenges. Thus, all I will do here is link you to some of the previous posts I have written concerning this most delightfully complex figure from the Slavic Pantheon: here and here.

XIV. Temperance: The Zarya (Заря) - Now, you may be wondering why I have chosen to use the Zarya—which represent the Morning and Evening Stars—to represent the Temperance card instead of, well, the Star. I made this choice because of the qualities the Zarya, also sometimes called the Zorya, the Svezda or any other number of names, represent. The Zarya are guardian goddesses who personify not only the two stars that flank either end of the nighttime, but also the dawn and the auroras. They guard the doomsday hound, known as Simargl, who is chained to the star Polaris (you can find this star located in the constellation Ursa Minor). Should the chain holding Simargl break, he will eat the constellation and the entire universe as we know it will come to an end. The Zarya serve the sun god Dazbog, and are sometimes even said to be his daughters. Zarya Utrennyaya opens the gates of his palace each morning and Zarya Vechernyaya closes the gates each night. Supposedly these two maidens dwell on an oceanic island paradise along with the Sun and his attendants: the North, West and East winds. Not sure whatever happened to the South wind. Maybe he wasn’t invited.

XV. The Devil: Veles (Велес) - Veles is the mischievous god of the damp underworld, and he was also associated with agriculture and cattle. He is the opposite and enemy of Perun, and their battles were known to wreck havoc on the world and accounted for multiple natural disasters. Bringer of storms and slayer of oath-breakers, Veles’ wrath is swift and final. He would upon occasion send the spirits of the dead to the living realms as his heralds and messengers, which I imagine would be a rather spooky experience for the recipients of said messages. He ruled from the roots of the World Tree.

XVI. The Tower: Zmey Gorynych (Змей Горыныч) - Zmey Gorynych was a giant, green, three-headed dragon who breathed fire and reigned down utter destruction on all who fell into his path. Slavic myth contains many tales of dragons and wyrms and other such wonderous and scary beasts, but Zmey Gornych was probably one of the most infamous. He was supposedly slain by Dobynyna Nikitich (literally, “Good/nice/sweet Nikitich”), which I bet was a pretty difficult feat to accomplish considering that the Zmey’s heads will regrow if all three of them are not severed simultaneously.

XVII. The Star: The Firebird (Жар-птица) - Ah, the Firebird. Another of my mythological obsessions—I even incorporated a firebird feather into the tattoo on my foot—the firebird is said to sing with a woman’s voice and sometimes wear a woman’s face, leading unwary wanderers (usually male, and usually heroes) on endless journeys through the deep woods of Eastern Europe with nothing but her beauty and her song. These poor, sad heroes fall in love with the sadness and beauty of her music, and are thus doomed to follow her until they can follow no more and simply waste away. She is a symbol of freedom, independence and femininity, and no matter how many times she is sought and even temporarily caught, no cage can contain her for long.

XVIII. The Moon: Werewolf (Волколак) - The origins of the werewolf mythology are frequently traced back to Eastern Europe, so I felt that there was no more appropriate legend to depict the mysterious cycles of the moon than the lycans whose transformations are ruled by that same cycle. Dangerous, deadly and often misunderstood in popular culture like so many other figures whose origins trace back to the land of the Slavs, the werewolf continues to be a source of fascination and fear. I’m really looking forward to paining this one; I think my depiction may just surprise you.

XIX. The Sun: Dazbog (Дажьбог) - Several other summaries have included references to Dazbog, god of the sun. He is the master and sometime father of the Zarya, who open and close the gates to his palace each morning and night so that he can ride in his chariot across the heavens. Like Svarog, Dazbog is sometimes compared to Vulcan or Haephestus. Some sources even state the Dazbog is the son of Svarog, which would make sense considering both deity’s associations with fire, the sun and sky; however, it is generally Dazbog who is said to literally embody the sun and heavenly fires, whereas Svarog is generally the embodiment of the forge and earthly fires. Mythology is complicated. If you’ve read my blog or any other blog or hell, any book about any mythology at all, this concept should not be particularly mind-boggling.

XX. Judgment: Vila (Вила) - Popularized by a cameo in Harry Potter—Fleur ring a bell?—the Vili (singular: Vila) are related to the Rusalki, although they are seldom traced as the spirits of drowned woman. Both Rusalki and Vili could be described as beautiful and terrible female spirits who sing, but there the similarities end. The Vili can form large gusts of wind that lift houses into the air, and are said to be fierce warriors who cause the earth to shake with their battles, earning them comparisons to the Norse Valkyries. However, they also have healing abilities as well as the gifts of prophecy, and have been known to help worthy humans (but you don’t want to piss them off; they’ve also been known to lure young men to dance with them, which can be either very good or very, very bood for said young man). As keepers of judgment and punishers of oath-breakers, they slaughter those who merit their wrath.

XXI. The World: Mother Moist Earth (Мать Сыра Земля) - Mother Moist Earth is the personification of the natural world in Slavic myth. She is the field and the forest, providing a home to all who dwell upon her. In the Skazki when a hero would be instructed to kiss his mother, the correct response was for him to fall to his knees and kiss the ground beneath his feet. This demonstrates to me the level of respect and veneration ancient Slavs felt for their Mother Moist Earth, who—as the mother of Mokosh, who also served as one of her handmaidens—would be like the Titan Rhea/Gaia and the mother of all the gods and goddess. Thus, she seemed a very obvious and clear choice for me to represent the culmination of the Major Arcana that is the World card. More on Mother Moist Earth here.

This concludes my summary of the Major Arcana in my Slavic Tarot dreams. I am still deciding on what Slavic symbols I want to use specifically for each suit of the Minor Arcana—right now, the only thing I’ve settled on is using kukri, which were the curved blades used by Cossacks and other Slavic warrior tribes, in place of the traditional western swords—and so there will likely be a few more posts concerning this latest project of mine. Eventually. I still have lots of nuptial preparations to finish before I can really throw myself into making the paintings for each and every card, writing up more thorough and professional-sounding summaries, and then getting all those paintings shrunk down into nice, tarot-sized cards. Should be fun! Should take me a while.

Thus, until next time, fare thee well and blessed be!