Friday, June 1, 2012

What's In a Name? -- 2nd June '12

What's In a Name? 1 June '12

A name depends on many factors--the language, the society, the era, the looks of the thing being named, or hoped for good will.

Sticking to English, the wee fairy tale child was oft called Tom Thumb or Thumbolina. Celtic fey clans are addressed as the 'Good Folk' in hope no ill befall the speaker. The fearsome Baba Yaga would be called 'Grandmother' by a young woman whose wits and good deeds saved her from the sorceress. Would anyone be interested in reading 'Humperdink Pottenschmeil' or a simple common boy called 'Harry Potter'? Bob is a peasant, Robert is a king, for while one would be using a nickname for a familiar regular sort of chap, the other is formal, taking no liberties and offering respect.

My characters often choose their own names, sometimes a character needs a name change to fit better. I'm changing one woman's name from Aria to Arkhana. Both resemble the assassin princess, a petite, sapphire-eyed blonde. Once her old name ceased being a part of a musical piece, whispered as a call between lovers, the tune reworked for a flower seller or a group of ragamuffins in play, she became something more. As the play on the word suggests--something hidden. Compared to Aria, Arkhana is less frivolous, she is more observant and keeps her own counsel versus sharing confidences with others. While some may consider Arkhana to be above the common herd by her bloodline, she knows that her education given by one at the top of the line for the occupation of assassin puts her in a place where few can stand, or remain so. Is she evil or good or shallow or introspective--or all and more as time and circumstances warrant? She has many facets strengths, weaknesses, all to make her accessible, real and holding the reader's thoughts.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

End of an Era 29 Aug. '11

End of an Era 29 Aug. '11

A little story...

They look like shards of a mirror, shattered with the screwdriver pushing in and up and snap--bits fly with wings of force counteracted by air friction and gravity laying them to rest. I should have worn the glasses but I didn't and I was lucky. That little bit resting at the outer corner just hurt when I blinked. I brushed it way. The one on the right side below my collarbone sat on the skin, adhering by a bit of sweat, and that peeled off as if a fragment of reflective skin.

First laptop bought and about 8 years old, can't keep up with the WWW and simple if bloated MS Word at the same time. Favorite saying became: 'Not responding' add whichever application before that duet.

On this I carried my literary children 8000 miles away. On this I expanded the fantasies, daubed the red of horror into new declivities, and twisted science into my fiction. I spread slow poems to ferment for later arrangement and dropped quick ideas for stories that sometimes opened into vistas and other times sat intriguing and coy with just a line.

I wrote to old friends, made new ones, went semi-paperless for personal business, tried not to panic when I needed to open it and clean the dust, had the harddrive replaced, replaced the CD burner and spent a small fortune in cursing the slowness that increased as other newer better machines jumped on a millisecond. I ended up getting one of those, and this old (then at 4 years) laptop was relegated to the term 'spare'. It came in handy off and on feeling slower every time to the point of needing to end it.

I don't need some enterprising thief getting into my private business, though admittedly it's easier to use a tracker bot or keystroke recorder than it is to pick over a scratched disk. Easy enough to undo a screw, then 4 more tiny ones, pry the lip up and the coup de grace with the Philips screwdriver.

What are harddrives made of?

Things we want to remember. Things we've forgotten, with or without reason. Things we though we'd need, want, had an interest or passing fancy.

All the information is stored elsewhere, elsewhen.

Like the shattered mirror of the SnowQueen, dropped by arguing demons, bits of me were scattered, picked up and discarded, but none reached my eye or into my heart. The bits are already there, accumulated and expanded upon, organized and categorized, set safe and wanted in other places.

To that discarded machine, well done, good and faithful servant.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the Call Apr 27, 2011

Two years ago, on a Monday, about 7:30am EST, (2:30pm CAT time where I live), my mother died. From that time til the home called my brother in NY and he to me, was about 3pm. It was a call I knew would come, and one I dreaded. My brother never calls that time in the afternoon, rarely did anyone else, so it was a foregone conclusion when I picked it up, heard his voice, and knew before he said anything.

My partner and I coordinated a seaside service the same day and time as my bother and his nephews held one alone by a sixteen foot Japanese maple tree. It was the same one we scattered my father's ashes under in '95. This one we planted, the second tree (since the first was undermined by insects), that we chose to plant for my sister two decades earlier.

Mothers and daughters.

Entire libraries could be filled with that relationship, whether by birth or choice.

Things we do, and don't do. Things I learned were topics best not discussed because my mother couldn't get past her dislike of the actions. Patterns set are hard to break, even years after.

Decades ago, a spot of blood on my brother's shirt became a point of hysterics when Mom found out it came from a scratch he'd gotten from his partner, same as now, with whom he'd had sex and she scratched him. Mom didn't speak to J for years, wouldn't even see his partner, whom he considered his wife, because of the scratch.

Same pattern, my sister G met a man she lived with until her death. Mom couldn't wrap her mind around that 'sin' of living together and didn't speak to my sister for years, wasting so much time.

I'd talk to G on the phone, travel to see her. Mom would send a card, money, but for years she held that 'living together is wrong' bullshit tight to her bosom.

Eventually, they did reconcile, Mom met G's partner who cared more about her than the man she'd married and divorced before. Mom gave G a kidney in '83 since G's were shrunk to the size of walnuts by Type 1 diabetes. G had 5 good years before she died in Nov '88.

So, what didn't I tell Mom whose closed mind was a rock in the river of my life? Like water, I went around, sent tentative drops up every now and again but they slid off, unremarked.

I'm pagan, wiccan. Mom was an atheist downgraded from agnostic and before that a Protestant. She wanted to believe, but there was nothing for her to hold on to.

I feel I'd worked my way up from Protestant to agnostic to seeing the Divine in everything.

Never told Mom I felt more attuned to women than men, again having gone from straight to neuter to lesbian. (Aren't labels wonderful?)

Mom asked, halfheartedly--and I denied, because I didn't want to get into that empty useless discussion and have her not talk to me for years. I wanted her to grow up, and failing that, I said nothing so as to keep her happy in her small space where she was comfortable. I knew we had very little in common, and what little we did was superficial most times.

My life sunk below the riverbed and the rock, finding another way, finding the one who is more a part of me than anyone ever knew.

When Mom met her, she said 'You two look so much alike' and that comment has since come from others on this side of the pond as well.

Mom wanted me to be happy, and I couldn't tell her who is making me so, and why.

End of every phone call, Mom would say, 'Give her my love.'

I could never say, 'Mom, I do.'

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It Bleeds...14 Nov. '10

And that is called the hook. The hook gets the reader’s interest. While the 'It' is undefined, the 'Bleeds' sets up a red flag -- not to be coy or a pun. Okay, what It are we talking about? A person or animal can roughly be defined as an It, as well as an alien or entity, or even a plant. This gives a mystery, the reader may not care about the It that much but the Bleeds indicates -- almost anything.

When I looked, only two wings were out on it, bright as a glass bead of fire, veined and elliptical framing the pale lilac tongue. Last night I left it so, I shut off the light and dismissed it from my mind. Today, four more of the orange wings had emerged, tearing silently through the green skin. Amber beads wept and dripped and stilled as they dried. I never thought of it, being so dissimilar a being, glorious, exotic in some parts of the world but common here. I never knew the Bird of Paradise could bleed into beauty.

How long do you want this mystery to last? That depends on the story. Ideally one hook should catch, and lead to another, and another as the writer keeps drawing the reader on. The writer doesn't have to make all the characters likable, but they must keep the reader's interest, keep those questions coming.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Alone with One Line - 26 Apr. '10

Alone with One Line

Writing is a singular obsession, and hard to share. Upon a landscape, an artist looks at a canvas or a photographer takes the camera, and another, an audience, can look upon the scene, albeit with a less discerning eye but it is shared. The musician, the dancer–both offer audible, spatial exhibits. Even when starting out, something is there screeching and puttering along.

For the writer, the mindscape is closed to all until the words come out, and even then it’s not visible, but still unformed, Proteus, the god of all shapes and none. A writer takes images with the mind’s eye, fleeting and distorted as they maybe, and often as hard to hold as quicksilver.

Grab the pen, the paper, jot them down and hope to catch them, a foot print, a lost feather, a wisp of scent. Sometimes the writers do this at their peril when it coincides with family, friends, strangers who wonder about the person scribbling, lost to the matter at hand.

"I wore the bones for fifteen years."

"The only light in the blasted cavern came from her hair, like gold spun with dawn's pale pink newness."

"Wires shot out and imbedded in her flesh."

At the moment they came, I wanted to write them down. Granted, these may be throwaways, never used. I may take apart the idea, rearrange, lose interest, seek another bit, but these lines meant something, and I wanted to hold them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Guilt - 21 March, 2010

Guilt--brings a lot to a characters works for and against a character laying waste and blame and heartache, a wonderful device…


It had been a year since Hannah's mother passed, didn't really matter how, she was gone, irrefutable, irrevocably and irreversible.

Mom…so many things I didn’t tell you…but then, how much did you tell Gramma? Did you tell her your first kiss made you want to throw up because the neighbor, Mr. Thomson said it was a ‘special day’ and he wanted to share it? He smelled like cheap liquor and that Paco Raban cologne knockoff that had a bitter edge to it—the kind that that company sold along with the other knockoffs that were more alcohol than decent work with blended scents and futures hoped for. He touched me…I didn’t tell you that either. I was 14, I wore that pale peach jersey, sleeveless. I guess from a distance it looked like I wasn’t wearing anything, to M. Thomson at least. I had tied that long dark cloth around my neck, listened to it flap behind me like a cape as I sped along on my bicycle, too old for the little kid’s game, too young for the others. Just right for him.

I was Viceroy, like the butterfly, only—just close to what a Monarch butterfly looks like, but one or the other, I’ve never remembered which, has a bad taste, so the birds leave it alone. I always loved that idea, how the look, not exact, but close enough, saved the one, for a mistaken identity.

You thought I was one thing, trying to make me into the image of the little girl you wanted, and—I couldn’t be that. Gods and little fishes, how much does it take for me to NOT say, “I’m sorry.” Why should I apologize for being me? Why couldn’t you accept me for me? You were you…maybe not the you, you wanted, but I could never be that either, didn’t you recognize that? A year passed, more and more, when I lived away from home, I tried to be what you wanted, sometimes I didn’t, but was that rebellion or being true to myself?

I didn’t want your life, I wanted mine. Why did that feel like a betrayal, a crime against the woman who bore me, who treated my sicknesses, who taught me about being—the kind of woman she was…

I remember the first time I thought of you as not my mother, but an entity with a life, separate and beyond, and simultaneously, I felt closer to you than I ever have, and farther away than ever from the you I thought I knew.

We are layers, webs, fractions parceled out among those we meet.

I did not know you, and was content with my separateness. Now, I wonder, how much of you is still in me, like the lining of the old trunk, pictures from lining paper out of stock, out of fashion, and never reordered for lack of interest. Then I open it, the scent of cedar and old silverware, scales from moth wings, and the handkerchief Gramma edged with lace to make it fancy.

What embellishments did we use, unknowing, to cover, to extend and pass as something else?

I’m still learning, and for that, I do thank you.

So, an excerpt from the mind of a daughter...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Does Your Character Celebrate? - Nov. 26, '09

What Does Your Character Celebrate?
For Americans, this is Thanksgiving Day, and I am thankful to have someone as my soul mate, a place that is our home, and the opportunity to do many things that I love with her. The turkey and chicken thighs marinated in spices, fresh squeezed orange juice, and honey, the dressing er, dressing-ated. Yes, I made that word up, and it came out all right for instead of putting in leftover breadcrumbs from an unlabeled container I ended up dropping in 1/2 cup of couscous. Added crushed cashews, chopped cooked onions, 2 eggs, cooked and crumbled lamb kebab instead of pork sausage for a less spicy taste, some chicken broth, and it actually came out well. Some kitchen accidents are edible.

I do put partial blame on the heavy duty antibiotics and cold meds I'm taking for bronchitis but the lesson too--label containers!

Holidays range from the personal to global, encompassing the silly, the profane and the sacred. We have birthdays, christenings, name-days, confirmation, and coming-of-age. There are anniversaries of meetings, engagements, weddings and vow renewals, holidays of love, war commemorations, jubilees for royalty, presidents' birthdays, days for remembering the dead individually and en masse, other occasions recall disasters and mass tragedies.

We celebrate Mother's and Father's Day, (my folks, to my question of why there isn't a children's day, said that every day is children's day), We've added Grandparent's Day, Earth Day, Secretaries' Day, and the quaint Groundhog's Day is never celebrated by the animal kingdom, though the Punxsutawney Phil groundhog of the day is given treats.

This latter holiday is actually quite old and is related to Imbolc or Brigid's Day on February 2nd when the peasants hoped winter was losing its grip. By this time food storage supplies are low, hunting is slim, and the ground still too hard to plant. If a groundhog or badger (European origin) can make it through the frozen earth--then soon it will be pliable enough for mattock and spade.

The oldest celebrations center around the seasons and the elements, for without water and food, we cannot exist. In pagan traditions the solstices and equinoxes honor the longest day on June 21st, and the longest night on December 21st. May 21st and September 21 have equal amount of day to night but one slips into a greater luminance, while the other's hours of light decline. The moon phases of new and full, waxing and waning also mark time.

What do our characters celebrate?

I've a QuarterMoon festival celebration in one book and two on a royal birthdays. The former is a license for excesses that will bring in revelers who will spend money and leave poorer though longing for next year's celebration. Some will bear Quartermoon babies in nine months, the pickpockets and sharpers will live high off their ill-gotten gains, and the slaves must work harder and quieter cleaning up and avoiding their masters and mistresses with massive hangovers.

On the latter, one princess on her balcony watches a parade in her honor. Despite the occasion celebrating her maturity, there's also the reminder of those gone before as youths and maidens pass below wearing masques of the gods, demons, and her predecessors. So too she knows her mother, died near her age, giving her life.

Another birthday for triplets is skewed, for only one is there, and the realm is turned on end by the visit from an otherworldly guest.

Would your character enjoy or hate the holiday? Would s/he celebrate alone or with someone? Is there feasting, fasting, prayers, or sacrifices? Is there a special place, a special costume, setting, ritual bathing or other custom that must be followed before the day? What makes the day so important for your character?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rule of Thumb - Nov. 15, '09

An incident with an infection brought this idea out...

What makes the top species? In our case it's the opposable thumb. It's how we grasp, adding flexibility, agility and strength to our handling of everything from hunting to building shelter, from touch interactions with others -- for good and ill, delicate manipulations, etc.

A species which can bring items close --those two or three feet of keeping the head upright means we're predators too.

You want a species to be the dominant one, they need that capability to bring things close, to throw or toss them away, to hold and all the while have and keep that important view against potential foes.

Having a thumb makes tool use easier, tentacles work much the same way for starfish, octopi and squid in opening recalcitrant shells--so having a tentacle-bearing ruling species isn't out of the realm of possibility.

A common punishment for thieves in the Middle Ages was to deprive the perpetrator of his thumbs. He could still carry heavy loads for honest work, albeit clumsily, but the light-fingered application was severely limited.

The elephant's trunk has 20,000 muscles--tremendous flexibility, sensitivity, reach and weight-bearing capacity. And sitting on one during a summer festival, and she's hot, and she takes a snoot-full of water and snorts it over her back to cool off is an um, not quite an illuminating experience. Of what doused me, I never knew how much was water, how much was elephant snot, and how much was gooey grass and grain from her snack...

The Roman 'thumbs up' live, or 'thumbs down' die gesture is still in use for approval today. 'I bite my thumb' was an insult in Shakespearian times. Hitchhiking needs a thumb to show what way you want to go even if you don't know your destination.

How far can you operate without your thumbs? Tuck them in and type--ok, but that space bar is lonely, and moving the mouse is harder, and grabbing that full coffee cup using the thumb for opposition balance guidance, a little tougher. Eating without a thumb, dressing, driving, lifting, handling the tv remote! All suffer without that odd, sideways mounted digit.

The thumb does rule.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Freedom, What Does Your Character Have? - Nov. 10, '09

In a broad stroke the word brings up patriotism, lack of responsibility, and such, but let's get down to a personal basis.

Freedom is one of those broad foggy ideas, but so much depends on the individual's upbringing, the environs, the society, culture, beliefs, fears, outside influences, triumphs and disasters.

A medieval serf follows the lord of the manor who is under the thumbs of the Church and the King, the latter two fight for who's greater ala Henry VIII. A king may marry a peasant girl, and raise her to the throne, but the other way was not so common until Elizabeth II.

If a character is free to follow her conscience, that depends again on what seeds were planted there--by family, by friends, and those from whom she learned. If the first love turns out to be a cheating bastard, that can be a motive for acting the same way. If parents overindulge in food, alcohol, recreation drugs, or any other excess, that implies acceptance (though by a limited few those few are immediate and have a huge influence).

Freedom to follow one's heart: will you love someone whom is accepted by your family, by your culture, by your species? An old saying: 'a bird may love a fish, but where will they live?' comes to mind.

What freedom is important to one may be insignificant to another: Joan is free to eat shellfish, but her immune system thinks otherwise and reacts with an allergic over-the-top response that results in hives the size of goose eggs, swelling of the throat and lungs and a very good chance of anaphylactic shock.

Danni is free to travel anywhere but she prefers to stay in her old cottage by the lake that her grandma owned. Danni spent every summer since the age of 4 there until three years ago when her grandma passed. Danni makes a healthy 5-figure income but doesn't feel the need to spend it on a place that is not loved as this is.

Freedom of speech also asks, behind the scenes, for a curb on the tongue, that no one yells 'Fire' in a crowded place,(without cause) or jokes about a hijack or other broad endangerment in an airport or train station.

Then there's the innermost feeling of freedom, of release: When Kari's dad passed, she felt a freedom that she hadn't had in decades. She didn't have to live up to his expectations, she could do what she loved to do--and that wasn't being a surgeon like him, or a lawyer like his dad. She wanted to open a shelter for greyhounds whose days after the tracks were short and severe. Once the bettors and trainers had gotten their money, and the dogs were left with less speed, there was no profit. Kari didn't give a damn about money, she cared about the beauty, the grace, and the need these throwaway's had. There was more joy in having these dogs come up to her and love her for caring, than in all the awards and social recognition racked up by the paternal line.

So...what freedom does your character need?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Character Limits - Nov. 09, '09

"I'll follow you to the ends of the earth!" Quoth the lover. So does the prince actually move one foot in front of another to track down his lady, or does he throw up his hands as a lost cause, not worth it, etc?

Limits: knowing them, overcoming them, stretching them, are all dramatic devices to keep the reader reading.

It's wearing out seven pair of iron shoes to find the one you love, as an ancient faery tale goes, (and it's a woman wearing these by the way. We can go into footwear, sexism, culture and those meanings another time).

Think about it--first, say normal cobbler-work transformed into metal. So half-inch soles, iron isn't as sturdy as steel, so we've a few less years to walk. Then there's the whole chaffing and bunions, the weight, lack of flexibility, they will dry fast if you're not dragged to the bottom of a lake if you fall in, they are useful for kicking out a fire--as long as you don't dance all night on the coals--metal does conduct heat. If the lady fair needs to kick some attacker in the groin--the recovery will be non-existant, so that's a perk...

Rate of wear--and are we talking holes and rust? Aesthetic dissolution--"Gee, my iron shoes need polishing and I still can't find a purse to match" is far from being held on with twine and stuffed with rags. Oh, say 25 yrs per pair, over lots of rocks, rust helps to degrade the metal and our heroine is indefatigable.

Plus there's the little thing of the wearer aging. Of course in a faery tale--life expectancy varies wildly, and quests last centuries as if to imprint the lesson on the seeker ad infinitum, ad nauseum. If she's still alive, and in fair health, by the time she finds the object of her desire, she's still hobbling at 200 or so years of age, and shows it...will she give a flying phoenix fart for the old beau? Is he still alive, and what of the intervening years? Is the fellow alive? Was he as true to her? Is he surrounded by great great grandkids squabbling over the kingdom?

Lots of options here--limits give us something to play with, and it can be traumatic or eye-opening, just don't let it be boring.

An omnipotent being--no age, no health issues, no need for sustaining atmosphere, no need of liquid or food--is changeless, and stagnant. One way out is that the being imposes limits on itself.

A chaos omnipotent character I'm working with can be any sex, any form, become smoke, fire, etc, pretty damn near invincible--but she--since the character is usually in a female form, has a fascination with mortals. She also has an agenda with other supernatural creatures, and while she knows much more than she tells, she is not all-knowing.

Most of her limits are self-imposed, for by knowing all, by controlling everything, there is ennui, boredom, lack of expectation, and without looking forward, for good or ill, why exist?

The rider on horseback must be cognizant of weather, of terrain, of the condition of the horse, of the hoped for shelter and provisioning when fatigue hits. Your thief can steal and steal--but he's going to run out of pockets to stash the loot, and if there's no challege in taking the artifact--where's the fun? Then there's getting rid of the stuff.

Finite limits for power, for essentials, for life, keep the character going to replenish those areas. It keeps the drama on the page.