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Category Archives: NaNo

Or….

The Writer Faces His Muse.

A little over a year ago I started on my second book which began as my first NaNo. The book in question was born out of a need to explore multiple philosophical, religious and artistic ideas though the medium of a anime/manga inspired novel.  The unnamed hero would wonder the Earth, confronting all manner of abominations and in the process explore the concept(s) that served as the title of each chapter.

As it often happens, the end result (as of the first draft) had very little to do with the original concept. Once the main character came into being, there would be no aimless wondering. Ethan Allen would not have any of that. He would travel, seeking out to slay the demons from within and without.

He embarked on the Hero’s Journey.

Now I had heard about Joseph Campbell before. Anyone who has taken a peak behind the curtain of a certain piece of celluloid would have heard the name. But until this summer I had only heard of him though the words of others. Then I read his book (which I just finished, I’ve been on a slow reading track as of late).  The book is more than a delineation of the Monomyth/Hero’s Journey but an exploration of the mythical/spiritual side of human nature as expressed in myth and legend. Not only that, but he makes a Freudian/Jungian diagnosis of a collective psychosis that grips modern man (mid-20th century man around the time he wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces)  which has abandoned the Myth-Space (my term) consciously, yet the need for it survives in our unconscious minds.

So what does my novel have to do with Campbell’s work?

Well, consciously (or otherwise) I mirrored Campbell’s ideas about this myth-space or as I called it, The Beyond, in the book, which is the source of all things supernatural and the stories hero, Ethan Allen journey also mirrors the journey from Departure through Initiation and Return. The story also embraces the basic principle behind comparative mythology, that all myths reflect basic needs of man and therefore are reflections of each other. Ethan, who is a Japanese-America binds within himself two mythic traditions and encounters many others in his journey. Of course, I reject the Cristian-Precursor view of men like C.S. Lewis (one in a long line of Christian Apologist who claimed that the mythology of other cultures was a poor imitation of Judeo-Christian mythos) or the someone antiquated language use by Campbell himself (language that while considered appropriate for his time, would not be acceptable under the rubric of current euphemism), especially when he speaks of non-Western cultures.

Yet, I would be remiss if I did not point out the obvious, that the spirit of Campbell served as a muse for Strum und Drang, just as my own biography served as a muse for my first novel.  So I must acknowledge his presence and his impact in my own work, and I hope I can do his work justice. After all writing a novel is like embarking through the hero’s journey: One hears the call to write, traverses the difficult terrain of story creation and then returns to where it all began.

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Just a quick update of sorts. Since I switched from fantasy to sci-fi as the basis for this year’s NaNo, I thought it fitting to switch to my sci-fi blog for the rest of the month (which won’t be long as I will be out of commission during  next week starting on Monday).

I hope to see you there soon.

Now that switched from Fantasy to Science Fiction, I need an idea that breaches the divide. Well, I don’t have to have a smooth transition between topics, but it’s best if I try.

Luckily one thing that many a Science Fiction story shares with Fantasy is the Feudal System.

Our descendants in the far future will recognize what a pain in the ass democracy is and will choose to live under the benevolent hand of interplanetary royalty.

Of course everything is better with a princess, or two (thank you Disney!)

It allows to transfer all the Ye Olde Tropes from Yore to the far future. Much easier for a writer to deal with one Evil Chancellor as opposed to thousand of scummy, faceless politicians arguing in whatever governing body lies at a center of a galactic democracy.

It also explains why you have a Galactic Empire, although more often than not said Empire rises from the ashes of an earlier Republic. Then again, depending on the author the current system might be better, worse or about the same as its predecessor.

Then again interplanetary kingdom of sorts, whether controlling a single planet, system, sector or galaxy is a recognition that space is really, really, oh so really fucking big! In order to control a galaxy wide Empire you would need to be able to travel/communicate at multiples of the speed of light. Therefore breaking down the known universe into more manageable chunks under the control of military officials (spoils system) or members of your family (system of the spoiled) makes more sense than spending years on the space telephone while traveling around the galaxy checking up on millions (if not billions) of your subjects.

Finally, royalty tropes, whether a long time ago and/or in a place far, far away (in Star Wars you get both with loads of of Princesses and Lords to boot) appeal to a time in our lives when our parents where the absolute (benevolent ?) rulers over us and knew better. It also stimulates the authoritarian/totalitarian node in our brain. After all, a successful king/emperor is just a dictator/conqueror who managed to transfer not only acquire political power but also transmit said power to his descendants and that is not that far away from our own experience.

And now to show you a bit of the Feudal Future:

Write what you know….

Or write what you like.

But what if I’m not comfortable with what I know or like?

I like fantasy and I know a bit about Medieval European history, so it seemed like a good idea.

Except I was not comfortable with it.

I love reading it and playing fantasy theme games (computer and tabletop).

But my real comfort zone exists somewhere between Today and Some Time in the Future.

With guns, politics, intrigue and travel (I like to put my characters on the road as soon as possible).

Doesn’t require a lot of world building or language manipulation (Ye Olde English gives me a headache).

So for now fantasy remains distant, while urban fantasy and science fiction are comfortable and easy.

So what (or where) is your comfort zone?

Oh boy!

Yep, I think I’m about to change directions. I am not giving up on NaNo, at least not yet, but I am throwing the idea of a fantasy WIP away and reviving an old idea of mine. How old? How about decades in the making? At least 10 maybe 15 years old.

It’s not first time it happens. Last summer (08) I thought I had the perfect idea for NaNo (mecha-based sci-fi) only to abandon it for Sturm und Drang (urban fantasy) . What sounded like a great idea months ago now has come undone.

It never gelled properly in my, which is where I do most of my organizing and planning. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made.

Then a single image struck me.

A young man walking down rain slick stone stairs.

That was image I could use. But that meant abandoning a recent story for a older one, one waiting to be rescued from the muck of half-forgotten memories.

It seems after a long time, its time has come.

And this is what inspired it:

Race and ethnicity in fantasy settings/books basically boils down to the the old Good vs. Evil divide that we see in Tolkien/D&D inspired works.

One one hand you have the good races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves.

In the other hand you have the evil races: Orcs, Goblins,Trolls, ect.

Some stories even have exact evil counterparts for good races (especially those based on D&D) such as Light Elves vs. Dark Elves. Some authors like to subvert this by having a few characters distance themselves from the “norm” thus proving that not everyone in an entire race can be evil yet still maintaining the fiction that allows a convenient target(s) for the heroes to slaughter at will without any moral or personal repercussions. After all destroying evil is always a good thing, right?

As you probably guessed by now, I don’t like to go the simplistic route. Since my story is based on Dark Age Europe I like to play with this concept a bit. Yes you have good and evil, but no faceless evil races. In fact prejudice plays a big role in how each ethnic/social group views the other.

Akrosians/Republicans view the new nations of the Nordlands as barbarians. Both of these groups have reached a level of homogeneity which encourages this view of outsiders. In fact the word barbarian originally meant outsider with the twist that these foreigners were inferior to those who gave them the epitaph because they did not share the same culture or language as those who considered themselves civilized. The irony of course is that due to the destruction of Western Roman Empire the term change to mean “an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.” Yet to the modern observer the Roman gladiatorial games and their justice system looks as barbarous as the destruction brought by the Germanic invasions.

Things look different in the Nordlands where the distinction are largely on ethnic/religious lines. Due to the recent fall of Empire and transformation into the (New) Republic you have a mix and match of people living in former Imperial territory.

The rulers are, for the most part members of the military leadership that lead the tribes from beyond the “Three Rivers” and into Imperial territory. Funded by Republican silver they serve as a buffer between it (the Republic) and further barbarian invasions. They claimed vast kingdoms loosely allied with the Republic. While they are the ruling elite, their power is largely military and they lack the administrative skills or money to sustain these kingdoms intact. They seek to appeased the newly conquered by adopting Imperial ways and costumes and converting to the new religion of the Nine.  Yet they retain their language and legal traditions.

The vast middle class is made up of assimilated (to the former Imperial ethnic identity) locals. While the lack military power, they still have money and a strong connection to the the Republic and by extension the Church. They are the equivalent to the Romanized Gauls. These are the people the new rulers want to accommodate because they still retain much of the wealth and they outnumber their conquerors. These former Imperial citizens support the new regimes in exchange for protection.

The lower class is made up of disenfranchised farmers, former slaves and isolated groups that retain some of the customs from the time before the Imperial conquest. To the new Church they are seen as threat undermining their vision of the cosmos, especially the shamans/druids that lead these groups. They have called on the new rulers to persecute them with varying degrees of success.

A fourth and fifth group include the Elves and Dwarves. The Elves that live within the Republic borders (i.e. the Peninsula) have integrated into that culture as have the Dwarves, although this last group numbers are small and their origins are shrouded in mystery. On the other hand Elves living in the Nordlands have turned xenophobic. They now hide from the rest of the world.

As you can see, this is a world where your ethnic loyalties determine who you consider a friend or foe  (with individual exceptions, of course).

In fact this might be a typical scene in my book.

And now for some music:

Every story needs them, and in fantasy tales they come in two varieties:

The Complete Monster variety with no redeeming qualities who serve as the very definition of all things evil and destroyer of worlds (yes, plural, he/she/it/they is THAT evil).

or

The lying, scheming, conniving usurper type out to pervert, despoil and corrupt all that is good in the world from within.

If you want a foe that your heroes can slay without a second thought go with #1, but if you’re looking for some court intrigue and delicious backstabbing, #2 is the way to go.

Plot driven stories prefer the first option as well. You don’t have to worry about the motivations of the Big Bad who is a murdering fount of madness. Of course you have to be careful that you don’t stumble over unfortunate implications if your evil race shares too many cultural markers with real world religion or ethnicity.Easily avoided by making them monstrous or outerworldy.

Character driven stories rely on #2 because the villain’s motivation(s) lie at the heart of the conflict. The heroes must play a cat and mouse game to uncover the plotters plans before it is too late.

Of course the evil prince might turn into a complete monster once he gets the throne and the unspeakable horror might have a few words to say after all.

Plus, you can have both in the same story. Either #1 plays the Dragon to #2 or #2 plays the role of the inside man for #1. The evil mastermind has someone to do their dirty work for them (and someone to blame if things go wrong) while the Unspeakable Horror has an agent on the inside easing their path to victory.

The specifics are left to each author, of course. But whatever Big Bad shows up will shape the character of your story. After all, it is the challenge that the Heroes must overcome.

Here is a trailer from Dragon Age to show you what I mean by Unspeakable Horror. Enjoy! 😀

The countdown has begun (at least my countdown).Just 31 days until November 1st and the official start of National Novel Writing Month. And since my NaNo entry will be a Dark Age Fantasy story, all the posts between now and October 31st will deal with Fantasy related tropes, themes, and ideas, specifically those involving my story.

So saddle up folks, it will be a wild and crazy ride!

Almost didn’t make it, but here is a sneak peek at something I’m working on right now. This is not game related, at least not in its current form, although it has its roots in some very vague campaign ideas from yesteryear.

I hope you enjoy it and I welcome your input.

——

Maximilian looked down at the valley before him. Thousands of campfires as far as the eye could see. He walked down from the summit of the hill that overlooked the plane. Groups of warriors huddled around each fire. They worse many types of armor from leather, to bronze and even steel and were armed with bows, swords and shields. Some turned toward him. The long distance stares betrayed centuries of war and suffering.

He spotted an opening in one of the circles and sat on a log. His hands reached toward the flames seeking the some comfort from the cold night’s air. A voice spoke from across the undulating waves of heat that emanated from the embers.

“Hail brother, it has been awhile,” said the man. His features were gaunt as if he had not eaten in days. His black eyes reflected the glow from the fire.

“Hello Airell,” Maximilian said.

“So Bevan, or should I call you Maximilian?”

“You can call me whatever you want.”

“You did the right thing.”

“Did I? You,” Maximilian wrung his hands, “called me brother and I…” Maximilian averted his eyes.

“Killed me. Better by the hand of my blood brother than the enemies and if you had not done so neither you nor I would be here right now.”

“You are a shade.”

Airell looked around at the faces of the others sitting in the circle, “We are all shades. All those who take up the spear know that this is their fate. That is why you swore never to take it again. But you did, and here we are.”

One by one, the men and women around the campfire looked up into the moonless sky. “The stars are aligning brother,” Airell said. He pointed upwards with a long skeletal finger, “Fate beckons.”

Maximilian looked up to the sky. He saw the familiar constellations: the Tree, the Chariot, the Hunter, the Dragon, and the Warrior. Their arrangement caught his eye. They seemed to be grouped in a circle around the center of the sky. Each one had a corresponding star, separate but also equidistant from each other.

All but one.

“Stars and omens, is that why am here?”

“You are here because the play has already begun Bevan. Almost all the players are on stage and the second act is about to begin.”

Maximilian stood. His voiced boomed across the valley attracting the stares of the others, “No! I make my own destiny.”

“The play will go on, with or without you Bevan. Your choice is simple, actor or choir, player or spectator.”

A dense fog rolled across the valley swallowing the soldiers within it. Their voices drifted back across the ether, “The choice has been made, the spear taken.”

“There are but two ways to end this now, at least for you. Yield the spear by blood or face death itself,” Airell said.

“What? Face death itself, what d you mean?”

But the fog obliterated his sight and he received no answer.

——-

And now for a blast from the recent past-Fable by Robert Miles:

And NaNo which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It starts on November 1st. But what exactly is it? I’ll let the folks over at their About page explain:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

A great way to kick start the inner author and put the inner editor on ice, at least for a month. Depending on your past writing experience (as well as daily time allotments) 50K words may seem to little or too much. But the idea is to write, just write.

This year’s entry will be a Dark (Age) Fantasy, although like many works in this sub-genre it flirts with historical accuracy (it actually pinches it in the bum and gives it the old bedroom eyes, but still).

So what are you waiting for? Gear up for NaNo ’09 and make this year the year of writing dangerously.

And now for a bit of Nostromo for your enjoyment: