My Secret Blog

I love the satisfaction of clicking “publish” on a blog post. Ding! Done, there’s the result.

secretblog

I miss that immediate payoff when I work on my novel, Glorious Fools. I’ve been slogging along for three years, which is way too long for a first novel. I want to write so many other things! Still, I can’t find the discipline to bang out the last few chapters.

It’s not like setting goals is tough for me. In college, I took some classes about Anglo-Saxon history – so I was going to be the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholar of all time. I’m a writer – so I’m going to be the greatest writer who ever lived. But the day-to-day journey toward big goals is exhausting.

As I ate lunch yesterday, I flipped through my mom’s SELF magazine and found a “What makes you tick?” quiz. My answers were all about instant gratification over big-picture goals: “When I want to drop a few pounds, I double down on the: Cardio, not veggies.” “My ultimate relaxation method: Massage, not acupuncture.” No shock there.

carpediem

I expected the analysis to say, “Well, that’s bad. Here’s how to turn yourself into someone who appreciates sustained effort.” But no! It was about how to harness the way you already are. It’s ok to crave instant gratification, if you find a way to get it while you work toward what’s important.

WordPress lets you create “hidden” blogs that no one else can see. So I thought, aha! I can blog everything I write, thus getting the immediate payoff of that “publish” button. Chapter draft? Post it. Paragraph revisions? Post it. Random ideas? Post it.

After Day One, here’s what I think about my new secret blog:

Pros

  • No one sees the writing! Those final novel chapters seem less daunting. I can let them be bad before they’re good.
  • I want to write more. I would write a lot of it anyway, but watching the posts pile up is addictive.
  • Less stress about a giant chunk of revision. Every little post feels like an accomplishment.

Cons

  • No one sees the writing! I don’t get to hear feedback or connect with people who might read my novel.
  • It’s easy to write a lot of crap. I need to practice the shift from free-form drafting to readable sentences, but the “publish” button rewards any kind of work.

What do you think, readers? Would you ever write a secret blog?

Faust, the Easter Chorus

Easter used to be one of my favorite holidays to celebrate in the rural West. The air is crisp and cool, the mountain snow is melting, and I can finally go outside without bundling up.

Menan Buttes Idaho

Years ago on the night before Easter, my parents and I camped on top of a cone volcano in southern Idaho. (I was always nervous when we lived near these volcanoes; I had seen the map of historic lava flows and was convinced that it would come to our house.) That morning, I rolled out of the tent and collected my eggs from new green grass that was still frosty. It was always special to be outside celebrating the holiday on one of the first warm days of the year.

It’s hard to recapture those feelings now. I’m not religious, and I don’t get to look for eggs anymore, so Easter seems like just another day. But earlier this week, I sat in the picnic shelter at the river and read the Easter Chorus scene from my favorite book, Faust*.

(*I’m not going to explain why Faust is my favorite book, because that would easily take up 50,000 words. If you know me, you know that I don’t shut up about it. Ever. It’s that awesome.)

In the Easter Chorus scene, Faust has been sitting in his dark study all night, in total despair, and has finally decided to kill himself. Just as he’s about to drink a cup of poison, he hears bells and far-off singing. It takes him a minute to figure out that it’s Easter. He hadn’t even realized that it was morning. First he says,

“Celestial tones, so gently strong, why do you seek me here amid the dust? I lack your faith.”

easterbells

But then, as he listens, he remembers the Easters of his childhood, how he would play with his friends and rejoice in the celebrations. He puts down the poison cup. He listens to the bells some more, and cries. Suddenly he’s realized how much he wants to live.

As I read this chapter, a car pulled up beside my table at the river. I was annoyed that these people were disturbing my solitude. But then, I thought, that’s not the spirit of the Easter Chorus. Faust strides out into the bright morning just as people are spilling from the church. He doesn’t turn away from life and the cacophony of people; he embraces it. That’s what I want to do, too. I’m already trying to get out of the house more to make new friends. The freshness in the air this time of year can be a nice reminder to throw off the anxiety that I’ve felt about myself and my lack of progress with my writing.

Here’s to many happy Easter memories.

ericasignature

(Thanks to Vicki Lesage and her wonderful author blog for the idea of a little signature and image at the end of each post. Vicki’s book, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, is available on Amazon. I really enjoyed it!)

The One-Syllable Poem

scroll1

I’ve mostly abandoned writing poetry. Once I learned about meter and scansion, it felt too restrictive. (Before I learned about meter and scansion, my poems were crap.) I don’t have the patience to compress profound truth into just a few lines. I’d rather dream up novel chapters.

I do, however, enjoy the One-Syllable Poem Challenge. I first did it years ago in a poetry forum that I belonged to. The challenge: write a poem about whatever you want, structured however you want, using only one-syllable words.

The English language is peculiarly suited for this exercise. Our one-syllable words tend to be the ones of Anglo-Saxon, rather than Latinate, origin. These are old words, full of depth and power. They can sound more natural than metrical patterns that originated in the rhythms of Greek and Latin.

When I first did this challenge, my words gravitated toward the sinister:

As I dug in the mud,

I saw the red sky: the sun

had run its way and now

was by its low bed. I saw

my son as he lay in the mud:

my axe was so, so red.

Not the most complicated poem, but it was quick and fun to write. It was like a puzzle: I couldn’t rest until I had thought of enough one-syllable words that fit together. I composed most of it in my head as I walked along my driveway.

Today, for no reason other than that I was outside on a warm spring day and wanted to write something, I tried another one. This time I wanted to see if the monosyllables could support a greater range of meaning, a mix of light and dark. Here’s what I came up with:

THE DREAM

Down, down from the deep, dark sky, the stars fall to me.

I hold them fast in my hand, but the light bleeds out,

So bright, it burns me.

I cry out: Hope! Joy! Love! Now it is gone from me,

Too stark for the earth. I droop, I die. – Then I wake,

And life stirs in me.

Again, not my best work. The one-syllable format imposed some limitations that I couldn’t quite escape: the “deep, dark sky” cliche, for example. Still, I was able to make a basic structure – lines of 12, 12, then 5 syllables; the repetition of “me” – and put in some alliteration, as any Anglo-Saxon poet would.

I don’t plan to become a poet any time soon, but the One-Syllable Challenge filled me with a new zest for language. Plus, it was a quick way to start and finish a writing project in one sitting. (So satisfying, yet so rare.)

Readers, if you create a one-syllable poem, post it in the Comments section! I’d love to see what other people come up with.

The Kings of Cantium

“Isa threw back her head. The first stars were peeping out; she could have traced them with her finger. Normally she loved nights like this, when the heat sank to the ground and the people stopped work at last. Then they’d gather around the fires, letting the night cool their steaming skin, and sing the old songs of June. The young ones, like Isa, would whirl in a mad dance, their only reward for long hours of toil in the hot sun.” – The Kings of Cantium

I just wanted to write a quick thanks to all of you who have downloaded my novella, The Kings of Cantium, this weekend. When I set up the free promotion, I didn’t know what to expect – a dozen downloads? Then I happened to check the book on Amazon and saw that it was #62 on the Best Sellers list for Historical Fantasy. I’d never had that happen before, and would have been content to have it stay there.

Then the ranking creeped up: #53, #27, #24. It topped out yesterday at #15 out of all free Historical Fantasy ebooks!

The Kings of Cantium is a short book (100 pages in print) that I wrote to tide me over until my full-length debut novel is done. People had told me that it was very good, but not many people had read it. I’m just learning how to market books and had gotten discouraged for awhile. To have such a large number of people download my book in one weekend – more than I had thought would read it all together – is really wonderful.

Today is the last day of the free promotion. Tomorrow, the price will go back up to 99 cents (although I’ll be having another free promotion later this month). If you’re interested, the Amazon page is here. They offer free reading apps for your computer, tablet, or smartphone, if you don’t have a Kindle. And I’d really appreciate it if you could post a quick, honest review after reading, since that helps give other readers an idea of what the book is like.

Thanks again to all of you! The StarMuse blog will be back with regular posts next week.

“The Kings of Cantium” on Amazon, Dec. 14, 2013:

rank

Literary Settings: The Land of June

When I looked across the road today, I was sad and mad at the same time. In the snow, it’s easier to see the road that cuts across the beautiful rolling fields. It’s a giant white gash amid the gentler textures of snow mixing with tall native grasses.

This is how the fields used to look: a vast, rippling expanse, delightfully green in the spring, rich and golden in the summer.

june1

My first summer home from college, this view was a revelation. I’d been unhappy in the big, dirty city and spent hours gazing gratefully across the fields. I finally learned to appreciate where I came from.

june2

I imagined a whole story-world, called the Land of June, where the fields were plump and golden and sun-bronzed people toiled with their scythes. Eventually, I turned this idea into a novella, The Kings of Cantium. My imagined fields could come alive:

Isa’s cousin, Denn, was the first to see them. He’d been off beyond the fields where the river crossed a willow grove, gathering reeds for the bundles of hay. Probably, too, he’d sat on a rock, dipping his toes in the glittering water. Here was no one to tell him he must work faster, must help with the harvest all day in the sun. He was five years old, and the river soothed him…

Isa was in the fields. The sun burned hot on her bare arms, baking her sweat into her skin. Her back ached, but the sun would shine for many more hours, and still she’d be slicing her iron blade through the hay.

Isa wasn’t supposed to swing the scythe, of course. She should have walked behind and filled her skirt, piling the cut hay into little mounds, leaving the swinging to the men. But Isa was strong. Why, her brother Tuni said when people complained, should such strength be wasted? Work hard, work hard. Today, as every day, Isa longed for the night, when the moon shone high in the summer sky and the people danced by their fires.

“Isa! Isa!” cried little Denn, gasping as he ran up beside her.

“What is it?” she asked. But for a long moment, he was unable to answer, too winded by his sprint from the river.

“Strangers,” he finally got out. “Lots and lots of them. With weapons.”

Isa hovered over him. “Where?”

“Down by the bend in the river.”

Strangers, on occasion, would come to the land of June, trading their baskets or bowls or gems for sweet summer hay. Isa tried to tell him this, but Denn was adamant. No ordinary strangers, these. They were tall and had odd houses. Thousands of them, Denn thought. And hard to kill in all that metal.

Isa sighed and laid down her scythe. These didn’t sound like the river people, nor the scrapers from the salt plain. Likely Denn was mistaken. Still, she’d better tell her brother, Tuni, or he’d scold her later. She patted Denn’s head and sent him off home, toward the southern fields. Aunt and Uncle would be reaping still, too harried to stop for a little boy’s chatter. Never mind; he could sit by the hut, take a nap, maybe have a barley soup ready for them when they finished. Isa herself headed west, toward the sunset shrine and her brother.

By the time I wrote The Kings of Cantium, my Land of June was gone. This is what it looks like now – sliced by a road, marred by houses:

june3

I try to cut out the houses when I take pictures, but it’s hard to ignore them. I have to be very selective in my imaginings now: “Okay, take that tiny piece of a field, and pretend it’s much bigger, and that you can’t see all these modern roads and buildings, and that this is really quaint, rural farmland.”

Although, I suppose, I was always selective. In the original pictures that I took before the development, the power lines are rather conspicuous. I saw what I wanted to see, and made something special out of it.

june4

What’s your favorite place? Do you ever write about it, and if so, do you portray it exactly as it is, or do you change it?

(A side note: My historical fantasy novella, The Kings of Cantium, is free as an Amazon ebook today through Sunday. If you’re interested, please check it out! Amazon offers free reading apps for your computer, tablet, or smartphone, if you don’t have a Kindle. And I would really, really appreciate it if you could post an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads after reading the book – just a few lines, doesn’t have to be anything time-consuming. Of course the ebook will be free anyway, but reviews really help me out because they give potential readers info about the book. Thanks, and have a great weekend!)