Literary Terms: High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Frame (Portal) Stories

Long ago, in a different world, I was a German major (among other things) at University. One of my most memorable seminars was one focused on my favorite genre, fantasy. While there are those who argue that this is “merely” a genre, the incorporation of themes, structure, and leitmotifs in these stories has made them rich to study. From the perspective of my class, this stretched back to the German Romantics in the late 1700s with their freighted search for the Blaue Blume. In fact, my seminar was offered by the German department at my university, by the same professor who taught us about Sturm und Drang and literary Romanticism (long since retired). As rooted in academia as this seminar was, though, some of the things I learned have come up in the context of my writing life, and some of my author friends have requested that I cudgel my brain to share the snippets of what I remember having learned in the early 90s.

According to my professor, there are two main classes of fantasy: low fantasy, wherein the world of the story is recognizable to its readers, and high fantasy, wherein the world is completely made up and operates on its own rules/laws, and likely has its own languages, flora and fauna, and magical tropes including (but not limited to) spells, potions, etc. Because of its familiar world setting, magical realism is related to low fantasy, but follows a slightly different set of rules and conventions. Any of these can take advantage of the frame/portal story convention to make the bridge between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

The primary text of our class was Michael Ende’s Die Unendliche Geschichte (known to Americans as The Neverending Story). This is a classic frame story with a young boy who lives in a world we recognize being sucked into a high fantasy world through the portal of a magical book. There were a couple structural elements that made the story unique: printing the frame story in one color of ink and the fantasy in another, as well as starting each succeeding chapter with a word that began with the next consecutive letter of the alphabet.

Another text we addressed was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude. This one is considered a seminal introduction to magical realism, with the action taking place in a fictional (but reality-based, almost everyman style of) South American town over the course of a century. The language is at once lyrical and matter-of-fact, and incorporates ghosts and mystical experiences with as much believability as the buildings and courtyards in which those occurrences are recounted as everyday happenings.

From the primary divide of whether we can recognize the world in which the story is set (i.e. whether a story would fall into the low fantasy or high fantasy classification), a multitude of sub-genres have sprung. Interestingly, in refreshing my memory for this post, I’ve discovered that the same course taught by a different teacher or in a different language might very well use different terms. A few useful references that provide some insight into these differences are:

  1. It’s All Fantasy (fantasy genre guide)
  2. The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature
  3. Fantasy – Definition, History, Characteristics and Meaning
  4. Gizmodo’s list of 10 fantasy terms
  5. TV Tropes main fantasy entry

Given the nature of myths and legends, fantasy has long been a useful framework for humans to put themselves in an unfamiliar space to explore universal themes from a different perspective. Together with Science Fiction, it forms the Speculative Fiction genre world, which is where my author brain is happiest playing. In fact, I consider one of the themes of my published stories to be “there is magic in our world, have we but the eyes to see it.” From this perspective, while it’s useful to consider genres and tropes, I find I have the most fun exploring how those can be bent into new versions of themselves–though I don’t foresee myself spending too much time in entirely made-up places. In the meantime, I’m laughing at my ability to retain such snippets for so long, even when they have no real bearing on an author’s ability to produce a good, engaging story.

Sitting at the Keyboard

"This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard." -Neil GaimanI’m building up my keyboard habit in alignment with Neil Gaiman’s advice: In the past week, I managed 1,981 words–nearly doubling my goal, and getting me to the 72% mark of The Builders. It’s helped that it’s cold and dreary here, and we’ve continued with just the several short walks sufficient to let the dogs do their business, but not so much driven by our fitness goals–aside from at least minimal daily movement. Plus, I’ve had hours to make up at the office for the pesky snow/sick days of recent weeks, meaning extra time at the office and a corresponding shrinkage of time at home. Finding the balance between work, exercise, word-herding, and family time… I suspect that will be my ongoing life challenge.

But I’ve also been seeing news this week that reminds me of some of the reasons I started writing my stories. First was a list of story issues pointing to underlying sexism. I remember reading several Heinlein stories in high school and coming to the conclusion that he really didn’t know women that well–or intentionally wrote his characters to meet his own wish fulfillment issues. And then there was a post about characterization and story weaknesses specifically from a romance editor’s perspective. Some of them parallel the sexism issues–and others point to why there’s a perception that all romance stories share the issues of the poorly written ones as outlined in that blog. This was all capped by a scifi author recently new to me documenting her experience with the NYT Bestsellers list.

The three together highlight the different ways women have typically been invisible in both storytelling and storyteller accolades. In the first instance, returning to my high school year memories, I ended up having to actively seek out female authors to get real satisfaction from my fictional heroes. In the second instance, while Anne McCaffrey, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula Le Guin, and Marion Zimmer Bradley were certainly widely lauded beacons pointing to fictional worlds where I could expect at least equitable participation from female characters, for a very long time they were also the only ones shelved in accessible book stores for easy access. Or I had to turn to romance novels, where I ran the risk of inadvertently humorous love tunnel descriptions if I weren’t equally careful in finding competent authors.

Now in the midst of working on my 8th, 9th, and 10th stories, I’m finding those past frustrations have played out in my creation of a series of female characters who are each flawed, but working on themselves. And are trying to carve their own places in worlds where experiences similar to those frequently listed at #everydaysexism and #yesallwomen (at least, when those hashtags aren’t being trolled by mansplaining. [For a longer history of that term, Salon has a good article.]). My brother commented a while back that it was a uniquely female author choice to have my female protagonist go shopping at a critical point of one of my Red Slaves books. It’s true, I’ve never read a male author write such a scene, and it’s not that I particularly enjoy shopping myself, but in this story, it was the perfect way for women to fade into the background of a safe crowd while they anticipated being stalked by the new version of the KGB, as well as contribute to the overall world building. There can be power in playing to expectations–and using them to find an unexpected way forward. These are stories I’ve never seen anyone else tell, but reflect a particular experience of the world that is too often either negated or avoided entirely. I don’t expect I’ll ever have the problem my female author colleague above did with the NYT Bestseller list–I’ll be plenty happy with a reliable mid-list readership who are interested in stories that highlight the magic available in a recognizable world we mostly don’t know. My target audience is probably mostly populated with women like me who want a realistically flawed adult female heroine who nonetheless has agency and has to overcome her own insecurities to find that place in the world where her talents can shine.

From that perspective, our choice to watch the second season premier of Agent Carter for our at-home date night seems to fit this week’s theme in retrospect. That story reflects a different era, and a different set of world-building rules that include much more overt sexism and misogyny, but the woman drives the action and the woman finds the answers. It’s refreshing and continues to be well-done at the start of season 2.

This week Gayla also found a variant on Earthships that are now my new dream for a sustainable retirement. Since writing income is part of that equation, I’ll be working hard keeping my butt in my seat and my fingers on my keyboard this week, to return again next week to report on my progress. Until then, I recommend visiting my fellow ROW80ers to track theirs.

Training My Mind

"Train your mind to see the beautiful in everything."I’ve been fighting my inclination to go full-snark on VDOT this week, as that shiny web application kept reporting plowing underway or completed… when, really, there were entire lanes randomly missing on major thoroughfares–and the spaces plowed meandered across the median and didn’t seem to care that cars were being encouraged to drive down the wrong side of the road when their side abruptly became impassable. Luckily, my office has a generous work-from-home policy, so the beautiful part of my week was a lot of extra time with my loves. Kou has mastered the “through the armrest hole” arm nudge for attention, while Tashie was just happy to hang out in my office on the fouton. Tino remains the International Man of Leisure and keeps an eye on me from the hall, while I get to listen to hubs rehearsing in his office.

Less commuting also meant more time for writing and blog duties. I finally finished setting up the two WordPress plug-ins Gayla recommended, so now my books page includes easy buy links for everything I’ve published, and the right sidebar has more colorful word-count trackers that come with a bunch of other functionality. In fact, if you click on the heart icon, you have the option of sending me a nudge to keep adding words. The “i” icon, on the other hand, takes you to an in-process book page with the blurb and any other information I’ve pulled together about a particular WIP. The best part: the MyBookProgress plug-in has a similar kind of mental button-pushing impact for me as the NaNo tracker… so I’m strongly motivated to keep adding words. This week I started to make up for my recent slow poke ways and added 1,558 words to The Builders. According the tracker, at my current pace, I will easily beat my April 2 deadline for finishing.

:)

Mostly, I’m encouraged that I’m finding a rhythm to writing fiction again. Hubs sent a link to ten sentences that help keep one’s perspective properly adjusted, which also helped focus me appropriately. Particularly, “accepting your limitations is the best chance you have of surpassing them”. He also found a full explanation of the Laws of Karma, which includes the notion that all reward must come from initial toil. The article that really caught my attention today, though, was a book preview for a German forest ranger‘s explanation of the biological network among trees–how they feed the old and dying as well as the young, and how they have friendships and increase their strength through their mutual connections. In a simplistic fantasy, that might have driven some of the fiction behind Avatar, but on an emotional level, for me, it’s another reflection of the nature of our interconnectedness. That there are ties between us–even between species–that we fail to recognize to our own detriment. Of course these thoughts are making their way into my fiction-building, which makes it all that much more fun to explore how my characters choose to play to their strengths and weaknesses.

From a fiction-writing career perspective, then, I ran across a blog post pointing out the MANY pitfalls in standard Big Publishing contracts. I’m more and more satisfied with my decision to avoid all that–even if it has meant that I’ve had to work through finding, contacting, and negotiating with rights holders for elements I’m interested in using as part of my stories. In the latest instance, I don’t think the actor’s agent had ever been contacted by an indie, and priced an image freely available online as if I were a big house able to afford the crazy license fee she suggested. So despite its perfection for the cover of The Builders, I will be continuing my search for cover art elements. But I’m still proud of the licensing agreement I was able to arrange for a few years back for the Elvis lyrics quote that provided such perfect and subtle insights into Ivan’s character in Blood to Fire.

The connection I most enjoy honoring, with hubs, is coming up on the 18th year of its official existence in 9 days. Finding my stride with writing–and more specifically, stepping away from the many distractions I’ve allowed to become bad habits–has also freed up more time for enjoying our handful of shows together. This week we caught up with both The Expanse and The X-Files in an epic evening of cuddlesome togetherness. The combination of mystery and action with shadowy antagonists makes both compelling in similar ways. I’m anxiously awaiting further reveals.

Another consequence of the terrible plow job (and/or the huge snowfall, depending on where your inclination to lay blame lies) is that we’ve been pretty well house-bound–i.e. no long walks, and our short walks are in the late hours of night when it doesn’t matter so much that we’re in the middle of the road. My phone has been staying home for our minimal walks, too, so it thinks I’m averaging fewer than 500 steps a day. I’m crossing my fingers that the ongoing temperatures in the 50s and predicted rain this week mean we’ll be able to reclaim the sidewalks and step up our family exercise.

As usual, I’ll be back again next week with my latest progress report. In the meantime, check out how the other ROW80ers are doing with their goals.

Stuck

"Stuck? I'm not stuck..."We got lucky with the snowstorm this week, though I wasn’t so lucky with the 36-hour flu bug that kept me company earlier in the week. Both together meant there wasn’t a lot of productivity. However, I am now caught up with most of my friends and family and colleagues as we were all checking in with each other to make sure we each still had power and the essentials to survive almost 30″ of snow delivered in one fell swoop. And the Huskies…? They were in heaven. I’m still not sure what the whole “burying head in snow up to shoulders” thing was about, but they were so funny making their race tracks around the yard, it was easy to spend way too much time laughing at their antics. Avoiding computers. Pretending like the rest of the world didn’t exist. Like the way physicists recently confirmed the findings that observing atoms affects their reality. From the more personal perspective, observing both the shadow self and our best intentions helps us grow.

Which I really need to do (as a writer) because now I have more stories competing for my attention. I’m officially part of the Hotel Paranormal series, with my book slated to launch January 4, 2017. It will be a tie-in to my Red Slaves series, with one of my dragon shifter characters tripping across a portal in Moscow. Hijinks ensue. The series synopsis is:

The Hotel Paranormal is the place for supernatural beings looking to get away from it all, existing in a plane separate from our mortal world, but connected through doorways in all major cities. Beings like werewolves, vampires, elves, sprites, djinn, and more check in for business and for pleasure — and sometimes for both. The Hotel has unparalleled style and is equipped to meet its guests’ special needs.

At last count, 27 authors have agreed to participate, and the first book will drop August 17th, then weekly thereafter. It’s a new path for me, and should be an interesting experience.

But the logistics of that, illness, working from home, dealing with blizzard… Well. There were no walks this week. We did watch the next episode of The Expanse, and we’re seeing very clever additions of new antagonists, so I’m definitely hooked. There are just… So. Many. Movies. (With so many more coming this year!) And then we tripped across the second half of E.T. I cried again. It was bizarre to see all the early-80s sets and the cheesy, blue-screened, quintessential scene of the boys flying their bikes through the blue skies of their Southern California neighborhood, and yet still have the visceral reactions of my first viewing. That scene as E.T. lays dying and Elliot says he can’t feel anymore…? Yeah. I hope someday I write well enough that readers are so deeply invested in my characters they will clamor for those emotional roller-coaster rides.

I’m in the middle of one of those with The Builders, and still only managed 193 new words this week. More than last week, but not to plan. I need to step up. At least I’m keeping up with my ROW80 host duties. On which note, check out how everyone else is doing, and come back next week to read about my progress.

Mourning Heroes, Artists

Let's Rock!It was a different kind of week of sadness, more global, more visible, and at the same time more introspective. We lost two influential artists: first in David Bowie, who timed his goodbye album to drop two days before his death, and then barely had time to catch our collective breath before Alan Rickman passed. Both at the same age. Both of some form of cancer. And then we heard the stories about Celine Dion’s husband and brother dying of cancer two days apart, also in this week. There were so many reasons to feel empathetic heartbreak it was hard to do anything other than wallow in memories and remembrances. Ache for the children left behind by their fathers’ too-early passing. Part of how I worked through it was reading many of the tributes written about the two. Max Gladstone had a powerful essay at Tor about mourning that concluded:

Mourning is a tribute. Mourning is an affirmation of self. Mourning is a battle against the end. Someone passes, and yet remains, and returns, through memory, through work, through fingerprints left on clay.

The interesting thing about honoring these specific two men’s lives, though, is that they left such strong signposts of hope. Rickman said, “A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world.” Bowie, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” I’ve saved those quotes as images for the future because they are useful reminders, in the same way Anne McCaffrey’s passing was to me, that the people who mashed up two of the iconic ways I’ll remember these men were on the right track. We can remember, but we must move forward. Let’s Rock!

I’m toying with the idea of a multi-book review based on Bowie’s Top 100 Books list, of which I’ve already read a startling number… and have them in my book shelves. I also read an interesting article about habits neuroscience has confirmed make people happy, as well as an article that affirmed the value of decluttering as a path to de-stressing.

None of these things led to much progress on my stated goals for this round. I started fiddling with plug-ins for my blog to improve my book listings. I found a group of authors who are poking my brain in different ways to produce a story that would be part of a new series in a new world. I spent more time editing Gayla’s latest. I wrote 100 words on The Builders, and averaged about a mile a day walking. These are all micro-movements in the direction I want to be heading, but for a week that was emotionally exhausting and included a heavy work load… well… I’ll see about getting back on my writing horse tomorrow.

In the meantime, I encourage you to see how my fellow ROWers are doing with their goals, and I’ll report back next week.

Changing

"The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new." -SocratesThe weather has been schizophrenic this week, bouncing between almost 70s and low 20s so my lungs have been complaining to me. Odd news, like the fact that a) labiaplasties are a THING and b) that they’re one of the fastest-growing forms of plastic surgery in the English-speaking western world makes me respond with a SRSLY?? WTF?? and ARE YOU SICK?? But then there’s news that my most recent home is now recognized as the most segregated city in the U.S. Or that Michigan tried to save money by changing Flint’s source of drinking water to one recognized as having been toxic. Or that there’s a lawyer who’s uncovered evidence of serious culpability by Du Pont and is stuck in decades of legalese as that corporation tries to weasel out of its responsibility for having inflicted terrible suffering on humans and animals alike by spewing its effluvia across multiple states.

Of course we’re sick.

Several of these things have now made their way into my latest WIP because this news is all at once not surprising, horrifying, and self-explanatory. No wonder so many suffer depression, PTSD, and their related issues. So it also makes sense for my latest protagonist to be aware of them as she tries to put her personal suffering into some greater context.

I’ve reached the point in the book where the blurb has crystallized for me too, so I’ll share it with you now:

Earth’s alien progenitors have returned. For Tara Shifflet, abuse survivor and meeting planner, that wouldn’t be as big a deal as getting home to her therapy cat, except that getting anywhere in the U.S. is dicey in the wake of public uproar about first contact. For Navenah, a short-term assignment with vague directions to find generators to save her dying race leads to frustration and misunderstanding. The two women find unexpected pleasure together, but will that solve the galactic die-off?

I’ve also been digging through stock photography looking for images that might rightfully represent these two characters on the cover, so I feel like I’ve been making progress with the story. Revisiting the beginning of it after a few months and some critique feedback and I can see it’s not bad… it’s just not your classic first contact/scifi tale. Nonetheless, I managed to beat my weekly goal and added 1,135 words to the story. This feels like a crazy slow pace to me, but for the moment appears to be what I can manage. I really hope this picks up soon, because I’m now tentatively planning for a July release… which means I need to finish both the writing AND revision processes well before then so I have a well-edited document at the end.

Luckily, I have hubs, who offers both unstinting support and some very nice distractions. We finally went to see Star Wars this week. (My semi-spoilery review: It was great–though just a better redo of episode 4 with new characters… And I appreciated the debunking of the 40 plot holes story that had run in the Huffington Post, too.) He also created a new, burning desire in me for a unique art form: Lamps made out of African gourds but carved to create amazing light shows. (Though… the day I have $5K to spend on a lamp… well… My books will have to be selling MUCH better to make that possible.) 😀 And a reminder to watch the skies for all the planets that are now visible.

We also kept up with the walking goal. We’re definitely still shying away from the long ones we used to take, but that feels appropriate to me with my breathing challenges and the uncertain weather. I still owe a blog post to Kait for ROW80, but otherwise managed my commenting duties, and continue to blog.

I’m pretty happy with my progress so far, and am challenging myself to follow Socrates’ advice: Focus on what I want rather than fighting the status quo. I’m liking how that’s working out for me. Until next week, then, check out how my fellow ROWers are doing.

Sabbatical with a Side of Love

Love is when you sit beside someone, doing nothing, yet you feel perfectly happy.I was blessed with a week off in which I didn’t have to go anywhere I didn’t want to, do anything aside from rest and fun things, or spend too much time being a social butterfly. Although, for all that, the week kicked off with an annual family Christmas Eve gathering and some errands to prep for one of our rare just-the-two-of us road trips. Hubs and I had front row tickets to see the Slambovians perform their 10th annual New Year’s Eve Eve Eve concert in Philadelphia. We found a great adjunct service from Affectionate that allowed our babies to follow their normal routine at home, and we didn’t have to worry about leaving them at loose ends for 12 hours.

For all that, we knew the time off would fly by. It was relaxing in the way that makes it challenging to do anything because you’re just enjoying each other’s company. Though I did pull an all-night reading marathon for the first-time in a while. Kait Nolan put the first book in her Wishful series on sale, and I was surprised that To Get Me To You kept me up until 4:30 to finish it because I’m not normally a southern or small-town fan.

😉

That means, too, that I’m back to way-too-late-to-bed habits and will undo my well-rested week pretty quickly if I don’t get to bed very soon…

This being the goal-setting week of the current ROW80 round, then, here are mine:

  1. Write at least 1,000 words of fiction per week.
  2. Keep up with ROW80 Sponsor duties weekly.
  3. Blog weekly.
  4. Post three book reviews.
  5. Walk at least a mile at least 6 days a week.
  6. Continue the habit of one stay-at-home date night.

Given that this round is roughly 12 weeks long, that doesn’t get me to the end of any of my WIPs if I just stick with the minimum goal. I’m hoping setting a small goal gives me the space to build my fiction-writing muscles so I’m able to meet my big goal:

  1. Complete at least one WIP. (Likely The Builders, since that has the most momentum behind it at the moment.)

I spent more time editing that one over the weekend and actually crossed the 31K mark on it, so managed … a whole 400 new words during my week off. eyeroll Then I spent time exploring Bigstock with Gayla trying to figure out an appropriate set of cover images for a first contact story. We have some ideas, so stay tuned.

I feel like I’m starting the year off on a good foot, having taken my break from the working world, and having found a Buzzfeed article that just has all the warm fuzzies you could ever want… So I’ll leave you with the link to my ROW80 cohorts to see what their plans are, and get ready for a little more productivity in the coming weeks from myself.

Motivation and Inspiration

"Your friends should motivate and inspire you. Your circle should be well-rounded and supportive. Keep it tight. Quality over quantity."This week I read an article that outlines the severe under-representation of women in positions of power in the arts. It’s written in the style of a year-in-review, but includes some singularly disturbing stats:

“Only 25% of the 178 songs in the Top 40 were sung by women, and there was only one song of the 178 written entirely by women without a male somehow involved in the process. No woman produced a song in the Top 40 by herself (and only 3.2% were co-produced by a woman and a man). … This year, women directed only 5% of all studio films and directed only 16% of all television episodes (in the 2013–14 season, 70 shows hired no women at all). The number of women writers on TV staffs dropped from 30.5% to 29%. The numbers are even more condemnable when it comes to women of color; in the 2014–15 television season, for example, women of color directed only 3% of all episodes.”

The article concludes with the call to ensure women are paid and recognized for their contributions to the arts without reference to those incidental male colleagues who may have contributed, but at this point are being granted the public recognition for the women’s achievements. And for women to seek out (and create, as necessary) collectives that support this goal.

While this all is fodder for my inner feminist, it also made me recognize how extraordinarily lucky I’ve been in finding a group of women writers who are willing to cooperate, collaborate, and support one another. First among equals is, of course, Gayla. She’s a generous, frank, imaginative, and down-to-earth mentor who’s willing to give honest feedback and guidance about things that work and things that don’t for an indie author. Kait is the brain behind the ROW80 support group, which has been an outstanding source of ongoing cheerleading and accountability for me for a few years now. Dionne is giving back to the writer’s world by developing and supporting Booktastik. And, naturally, the other ladies in my blogroll made it there for a reason: They’ve answered questions, volunteered their time or support, or otherwise facilitated my path down the author’s road.

I hope I’m as generous as they all are, and will be looking more actively for ways to pay it forward this year. To start, I’ll be back again next round as a ROW80 sponsor.

All of this, as well as the traditional holiday whirl of parties, though, reminds me of a different mantra of mine: “Introverts Unite! Separately. In your own homes.” Hubs probably understood that when he sent me an article of 50 quotes geared toward our introverted tendencies. Or why I’ve been thinking about dog facts (hubs forwarded interesting Husky facts) like those being researched as part of a collaboration between GE and Mic. There are some elements of human/dog relationships that just aren’t available through other domesticated species’ partnerships, and the comment that both humans and dogs treat the interaction with the same level of dedication, focus, and intensity as a standard human parent/child relationship certainly rang true from my experiences with my huskies over the past almost 18 years.

As for actual progress toward my goals… Well… I added about 900 words to my WIP. We walked daily for short stretches and took one longer walk. Our stay-at-home date night(s) introduced me to The Expanse, a SyFy production both gripping and gritty. We’re up-to-date on the episodes released so far and I’m anxious to see what happens next. The science parts of the fiction are understated, but conspicuous throughout–the rules against torturing people using gravity itself being but one minor example (i.e. for folks born in low-gravity circumstances, the burden of full gravity is literal torture). After the more cerebral tensions of the series of British stories we’ve enjoyed recently, it’s strange to see blood and gore and action in classic American style. But since the story (as far as I can tell three episodes in) has an arch about the progression of a cold war to a hot war, it’s also appropriate. And a sad testament to the fact that even if humans could unite under a global banner, our territorial possessiveness incline us to want dominion over even remote habitations.

I’m not sure whether it’s the time of the year for all things to slow, or if I’m being unusually laggard in finding my footing in regaining my writing muscles, but I missed on the majority of this round’s goals. As I said before, though, I’ll be back and continuing to push forward. Mainly because my circle has succeeded in motivating and inspiring me. (It helps, too, that all of a sudden my book sales are picking up through no discernible action on my part… I can’t leave new readers hanging as long as I have the old ones!) In the meantime, I’ll continue posting next week (even though technically it’s an off week for the ROW80 crew), and you can check in on how the rest of them wrapped up their round this week.

Season’s Greetings and Holiday Wishes

My Grown Up Christmas List: No more lives torn apart. The wars would never start. And time would heal all hearts. And everyone would have a friend. And good would always win. And love would never end. ... This is my grown up Christmas list.The rush through to the end of the year is on, and the gatherings with colleagues, friends, and families are compounded. Luckily, for the most part, I’m blessed to know people who look past the commercial end of how the season is advertised, but I do find it fascinating that regardless of creed, as the year comes to a close, people find reasons to get in touch. It also means there are that many fewer hours for me to add words to my stories, though–even as I try (with decreasing success) to keep my commitment of nightly writing sessions.

With as many violences as have been done to the world this year, though, when I saw the Sun Gazing image above on Facebook, I knew I had to share the wish with everyone I know. Hubs unwittingly supported the underlying optimism of the post by sending me a post with quotes from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, too. My favorite from this list:

Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because the desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth.

Which is also interestingly tied to this week’s Sports Illustrated announcement of Serena Williams as 2015’s Sportsperson of the Year. That particular story puts a context for greatness around the adversity overcome to get there–on physical, societal/social, mental, and emotional levels. There’s a lot to admire in how far she’s come, and how she continues to strive for excellence.

On the flip side of that was an article Rebecca Clare Smith shared this week about gaslighting. I’ve always felt particular horror at the idea that a person can be so tortured as to lose confidence in their own perceptions. My first memory of this kind of attempt (in a fictional context) was in the Star Trek Next Generation episode where Captain Picard was being tortured by the Cardasian. I know the history of gaslighting as a word goes back further than that through the 1938 stage play, and the movies released in 1940 and 1944–or even Orwell’s 1984 when the Party insists 2+2=5. In today’s world, where mental health is already fragile, it seems an ongoing challenge to not be drawn into groupthink on the one hand, and to be able to retain perceptual autonomy on the other. As a corollary, I wonder what it would take to reach a point where humans as a species learn to grow up enough to detach from their egos and respect not only one another, but the planet that sustains us. Hubs sent a different link this week showing how far we’ve strayed from that understanding in the past 75 years: The Service of Pharmacy poster from the 1930s lists common herbal cures that have fallen out of favor in the push for Big Pharma profits. Given the ubiquity of ads sprinkled throughout our media urging us to “ask our doctors if BLAHBLAH is right for you,” it’s no wonder–we’ve all been gaslighted into the belief that some chemical concoction is going to cure all our ills.

Getting off my soapbox and looking at my goals… I rebelled against a month of having to carry my phone everywhere to count steps, and have to laugh at how big of a difference it makes in my weekly step count totals. But it was also a cold and wet week with long hours at the office, so what walks we took were mostly quick efforts to make sure our doggies were able to relieve themselves outside. Yesterday was the first nice weather, so we managed almost 2 miles, then, but that was the most we managed. Writing was also a lot lower than I hoped, only adding 730 words to The Builders over the course of the week.

It didn’t help that I ran across historical pictures of Russia and the Soviet Republics, and started thinking about Red Slaves again, too.

So I have one more week of this round of ROW80 left. It doesn’t look like I’ll complete any of my goals, but I’m putting a lot of hope into enjoying a staycation with hubs next week for putting some juice behind next year’s goals. In the meantime, check out how my compadres are doing with theirs.

Refusing Normal

"I refuse to become what you call normal."It’s startlingly easy for me to fall back into the pattern of going to bed at 3am. And therefore struggling through my work week, when I really ought to be able to easily make it into the office by 10am. But then I get another brainwave and keep poking at my stories, and before I know it I’ve written way past my bedtime. The good news is, even though I’ve been exhausted, I’ve continued to add to my word count, and have gotten past the climactic midpoint of The Builders.

I’ve also gotten my first beta reader feedback: she likes the story. But she’s as perplexed as I am about how to classify it. Technically, it’s scifi, since it’s a first-contact story. And there is an alien. However, it just veered into explicit and it’s in the world we know now, so I’m not sure how scifi fans will take it. With only the one explicit scene, I don’t think it qualifies as erotica either. So, once again, I’m cobbling together my own mish-mash of genres and hoping for the best. I’m just glad the words continue to flow. Even if I’ve fallen off the pace I’d established last month.

Because, again, life.

The walking has also slowed, slightly. I didn’t take as many steps as last week, so my total for the month-long challenge at work is a smidge over 130K steps–as opposed to the goal of 141K steps. It’s something I’m going to have to continue to keep an eye on for the future, given how easy it is to vegetate in front of a computer.

Another thing keeping me in front of the computer: Gayla has started writing something completely different. Well. Still Paranormal. But more like drama than the romance and funny and mystery that is Cordi. Based on how well it worked to start the editing process early and often with the most recent Cordi installment, I’ve been spending a lot of time in this new world this week. It’s fun to have a new fictional distraction, since hubs and I finished with this season of Agents of Shield this week, for our stay-at-home date night of cuddles.

Hubs also sent me a link to 10 survival skills our grandparents had that make me suspect I would end up a vegetarian should the sh*t ever truly hit the fan. I can garden, I know how to take care of basic carpentry, and know quite a few herbal remedies. In a pinch, I could probably dust off the ancient rust from canning skills learned in childhood, but proper butchering, let alone killing an animal I had raised or hunting for meat…? Nope, nope, nope, nope. I’ll never forget having caught my first fish from the lake at my grandparents’ house and being horrified at how the hook had pierced the mouth. The fish was still alive, but obviously in pain. I couldn’t kill it, but still doubt it survived our catch and release.

On the other end of the survival scale, hubs also sent an interesting interview with the Finnish Pirate Party candidate and Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde. As regular visitors might have noticed, I have a plug-in from the Internet Defense League on my blog that alerts visitors to threats to net neutrality and related issues. From what Sunde said in his interview, we may be way beyond the need for that because the fight is already lost… but I’m going to keep the banner flying anyway, and encourage you to, too, just so society at least keeps the ideal of the open Internet somewhere on its radar.

This week should allow me to up the pace on word production, but in the meantime, I suggest visiting the other ROW80 participants.

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