#Lessons Learned from #MotherNature: #Inspiration for the #Monsters of #Fiction Hide Under Every Leaf.

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With the eighteen gazillion snow days my kids have had this winter, reading’s been all but impossible. Cabin fever sets in sure and fast, nerves fray–you know the drill. It’s like the fall after our basement flooded, only now we can’t even utilize the outdoors much due to the extreme cold that sweeps in, sweeps out.

Yet here I am, determined to write a “lessons learned” post SOMEhow. Look to something I read a while ago? Well I could, but that would take some research time that I don’t have because my job interview for teaching full-time’s in…90 minutes.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Don’t worry, this is NOT like the panic of yesterday. It’s just that I haven’t worked full-time since Blondie was born, making even the potential for this culture shift intimidating. As Bo says, though, it is NOT worth worrying about unless I actually get the job.

So, let’s divert from that bridge for a moment and think of warmer climes, where dew drops hug the tree leaves and a million lives scurry around us, out of sight. Every day, every hour, these lives are in life or death struggles to eat, fight, and survive. Duels over prey, wars over homeland. Nonstop action at every turn….

…until winter when everyone’s gotta hibernate.

I’m talkin’ about bugs.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Bash is our bug kid. He’ll stare at books on insects for ages. He’ll watch ladybugs and ants traverse across the sidewalk (until Biff comes over to stomp on them). The tiniest life fascinates him.

I forget how, but I stumbled upon a cancelled show still on YouTube that brought his love for bugs to his siblings. This show was a savior during the snowdaypacolypse.

I’m talkin’ about Monster Bug Wars.

Just listen to that cool movie-trailer voice they got to narrate this show.

Every episode is like this! “In this life and death struggle….For the centipede, will it be fight, or flight?…The katydid, katydidn’t.”

Okay, I made that last one up, but this narrator is full of dark and dangerous turns of phrase to make every showdown the most epic showdown of them all. You’d think you’re watching a wrestling match, or some action schlock movie (probably why like it, then, ahem).

But more than the voice, my attention was hooked by the bugs. For instance, check out this snippet on the moss mantis.

Look at that camouflage, all the little mossy-like bits on its exoskeleton. How it sways in the breeze like any other leafy growth.

Imagine something like that the size of a dog. A bear.

Suddenly those hooked arms and mandibles are pretty damn terrifying, aren’t they?

~TWO HOURS LATER~

How in Hades did I forget about the time difference?!

Okay, the job interview is done and done. A bit of rambling, a bit of awkward Loony Tunes-style vocal staggers into the phone, but I was me, and that’s…well, dramatic, to say the least. No different than I am in the classroom.

Anyway. Back to bugs.

As a fantasy writer, the pressure’s always on to create worlds unique unto themselves. This means I–and I’m assuming other writers–feel like we have to create from scratch. Yet when I look at creatures like this mantis or spider, I can’t help but wonder: why are we starting from scratch when such amazing monsters already live among us?

No, I’m not saying you make giant bugs be the monsters of your stories. What I am saying is that these creatures are a wealth of inspiration: the way they melt into their surrounding environments. Their weapons. Their weaknesses. Their fighting styles. The way they hunt, breed, survive.

Our world overflows with creations both beautiful and terrible. In the writer’s quest to bring the unique and never-before-seen to readers, we too often forget the wealth of unknown predators that move in our oceans and forests. Utilize the mind-blowing traits of such predators, and you’ll create a monster that truly terrifies characters and readers alike.

Speaking of creepy monsters in the forest that want to feast upon you, nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” like a book about monsters, magic, and love. Check out my novel on sale for 99 cents!

we have all of us had our bloody days, charlotte. for many it is easier to remain in them than to change. to change requires to face a past stained by screams. (15)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 13

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Working from home has lots of pros. I can prepare my non-sugar non-dairy non-gluten non-joyful lunch with anything handy here. I can run errands whenever. I can sit in the recliner with my dad’s ancient laptop and ice my back while writing. I can work with my students at 5am or 8pm, whenever’s convenient.

But I’m with my own thoughts aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the time.

And with depression always lurking on the edge, this isolation can get nasty.

Take this morning.

The heater goes wonky.

I’ve got fifty posts from students to sort through, not including their projects. This all needs to get graded in the next few days.

I have an interview for a full-time position to prepare for.

I have a novel that needs serious course correction.

Will the boys be sent home again?

How will we afford Bash’s ER visit from that damn lego up his nose?

What if the heater breaks?

What if the roof starts leaking from all that heavy snow?

Blondie so badly wants to spend time with animals. Where to do that, when to do that…

I have to go to choir tonight on these shitty roads and I HATE driving on slick roads, I’ll spin out, I’ll end up in the ditch and how will we afford that?

My heart starts going nuts.

My breathing rushes.

I get light-headed.

I KNOW WHAT THIS IS.

NOT A HEART ATTACK. A PANIC ATTACK.

I WON’T LET IT GET TO ME.

I stagger upstairs, call Bo. He talks about work, about the roads, about anything as I slowly get up, open a window. Breathe.

Breathe, Jean, breathe.

Panic attacks fucking suck. They have a strong ally in depression.

But you won’t beat this lady. I’ve faced postpartum depression twice without meds. I’ve battled my own body. I faced the Monster who abused me. I’ve overcome loss and pain and FUCK you, panic, you will NOT own me.

I’m gonna keep breathing. Fighting. Mothering. Writing.

Never give up, my friends. Never, ever, give up.

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

Oh, PS, the novel’s on sale, yadda yadda. 

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

 

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 12

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Another snow day.

Another frickin’– ARE YOU KIDDING ME, GOD?!

Once again, my writing time is limited. My grading time is limited. How am supposed to get any work done when the kids are bickering over Lego and the library books about Ripley’s Believe it or NotEven Bo has off due to bad roads. What about meME?

MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE?!?

Ugh.

I sound like the Me-Monster comedian Brian Regan creates for one of his stand-up routines.

Stop complaining, Jean. At least with Bo home you were able to tackle a chunk of school stuff this morning. You got a little writing done–not a ton, but at least you know where you want to go next tomorrow.

You had help shoveling outside. Heck, you all went outside to shovel the several inches of heavy white stuff.

You got to have a snowball fight with your family.

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Biff and Bash defended their mountain…

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Bo and Blondie whitewashed each other’s faces repeatedly…

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The little Bs actually stood together long enough for you to take a picture…

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Bash evaded stepping in the neighbor’s dog poop…

 

It wasn’t such a bad snow day after all, really.

All it needed was a little love. x

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Don’t forget that my novel’s on sale all month for just 99 cents! You’re more than welcome to my short stories too, available for free here and here.

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 4

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

More mist today. A spring-like humidity clings to winter coats: still too much snow to be outside without them, yet the freak warmth makes one feel like it’s April, not February. That’s Wisconsin for you.

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Bash, Hoppy, and I on a happier day.

If only the mist didn’t seem to fit so perfectly with Bash’s constant talk of death.

“Noooo, I have to wear my mittens so I don’t get frostbite and die!”

“Can choking make me die?”

“Mom, how does Jesus get me after I die?”

Where this fixation came from, I don’t know. I’m surely responsible, at least in part, what with my Stop wrestling on the stairs before  you kill each other! kinds of threats. Bo’s not helping, either.

“Mommy and Daddy are on a diet so that our coffins don’t break pallbearers’ backs.”

Y-yeah, that’s a great thing to tell the kids.

Yet I can’t bring myself to be angry, or even annoyed. See, not only did my father die suddenly in February–Bo’s, did, too, just three years before Dad.

“Mom, your mom is Grandma. Grandma is still alive, but your dad’s dead. How did he die?” Bash asks while playing with Transformers, like this is a normal question during a normal day, like this is a thing to ask right before “What’s for lunch? Do we have string cheese?”

His heart stopped working,” I say quietly.

“And then he went to heaven?”

“Yup.”

“Where is heaven?”

“On top of the universe.”

“Ooooh,” Bash whines, and finds my lap without looking up from Optimus Prime mid-transformation. “That’s far away from you.”

I wrap my arms tight around my baby Bash, no longer so little,, but always my youngest, my snuggler, my storyteller. “Not that far, Bash. Never that far.”

~*~*~*~

Snuggle with your loved ones today. Give’em a kiss, show them what they mean to you.

Of course, I’m going to plug my novel here, too. but seriously, share your heart today. Life is too short not to fill it with love and hope.

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends.

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#Whole30 #Writing Log: Day 3

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (3)

Today’s been a day of mist, slush, and boiled eggs. While I trudge through term-opening hello’s and how-do’s with students, Bo cleans the kitchen and boils 3 dozen eggs for he and I to nosh on during the work week.

“Think popcorn is okay?” he asks. “There’s got to be something snackish that’s safe.

“Dunno,” I say while trying the cashew milk in my coffee.

Bo watches me sip. And grimace. “Well?”

I smack my lips. “Well, it’s, um, it’s there.”

“Yeah, that was how I felt about the coconut milk in my tea last night.”

Behind him is the door of the fridge. Behind the door of the fridge is my creamer. My GOOD creamer. “You’re gonna finish that cashew stuff off, aren’t you?”

Bo’s not making eye contact. “Yeees.”

“Good,” I say in a snit and snoot on out of there. Our grocery bill exploded for this diet. Meat’s pricey enough, but six bucks for a small jar of mayo? Robbery, I tell you!

And because Bo’s hardcore into this diet, he bought two jars. Multiple salad dressings. Multiple nut milks. We have to keep checking what’s “Whole30 compliant,” and of course none of these things are easily found, let alone cheap.

Here’s the site we’ve been using, in case you’re interested: https://www.oliveyouwhole.com/category/whole30/

When I look our fridge, my stomach churns. Is our tax return just going to end up funding this diet?

It’s a nauseating thought.

But I want Bo to want to be healthy, and for the first time in years, he does. He can’t just eat meals of pasta and bread anymore. I can’t be stuffing my face with chocolate chips anymore. Our kids deserve better role models of moderation and health. If they can face their fears atop the highest sledding hill by their grandma’s house, zipping down that slope no matter how nasty the previous wipe out, then dammit, we can survive a month without peanut butter and milk.

Oh! Speaking of which, we survived that mountain yesterday!

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Clockwise: Biff and I sailing down, Blondie just before her hat flies off, Bash and I wipe out, Bash narrowly missing another saucer kid 

You should have seen the broken sleds littering its bottom, like ships crushed by the rocks along a perilous New England shore. Ye gods, I thought I was going to pass out. But all three of the Bs trekked up the slope–surely the length of home plate to the outfield if not further–and just FLEW. Toppled a lot, too. One girl did careen into Biff early on, and Bash got a nasty face wash when we wiped out together, but nothing bad happened. No bloodshed. No screaming for the ER. Just mad giggles of delight.

So even though I couldn’t touch my mother’s pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, it was, in the end, a good Saturday.

A perk to this day? Seeing that my Tales of the River Vine bumped back into the top four slots of free YA Monster Fiction again. WOOHOO!

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To all who grabbed a copy, thank you! To those who haven’t, grab one now! They’re free, after all, so even the most meager of budgets can afford a quick read into a dark fantasy. 🙂 I’ve another short story free on my site for newsletter subscribers, too–click here for more info. 

And if you dig those short stories, you can check out my novel for just a buck!

Free Fiction Has Come from the Wilds (2)

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

#writing #music: Alan Silvestri II… Silvestri Harder.

As 2018’s National Novel Writing Month draws to a close, I thought I’d offer a little music to help those entangled in face-offs and final battles. We all could use a little muscle to pull us out and onward.

What better muscles can I give you than these?

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Alan Silvestri’s music defined adventure during my childhood: Back to the Future, Flight of the Navigator, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit come to mind. This powerhouse of a composer knows how to carry audiences off into the air with heroic brass and whimsical strings.

I know: you’re not here to start an adventure. You’re here because it’s time for you–and the characters of your story–to kick some villainous butt.

So let’s join up with the best of the best, the men of muscle who fly across the border and walk into a guerrilla nest without flinching. Men who chew cigars, sweat through camo paint, and say lines like “I ain’t got time to bleed” and sound tooootally bad-ass.

Predator isn’t a scifi-action classic purely because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance, or only because of Stan Winston’s monster creation. Silvestri’s score plays a HUGE role in this story’s atmosphere, too.

Arnie’s military group is sent on what they think is a rescue mission deep in central America–until they find men of a previous “rescue mission” skinned and hanging from a tree. We see no evil, but we see its horror. Silvestri gives only a single, drum-like percussion, far off. An alien’s heartbeat, an echo of another nature. It’s never completely gone; rather, it hides in the rest of the orchestra’s bursts of harmony in the brass, strings, and percussion. The music sweeps up, sweeps down, all stealth and caution….until the two minute mark. The low brass of epiphany emphasizes the characters’ realization the situation is not what they presupposed.

Silvestri nails suspense with a moment when Arnold’s crew sets a trap for whatever’s killing them. The strings remain high, tight. No aggression in these first few moments, only fear–though no one wants to admit it. The combination of high strings and oppressive jungle makes characters and audience alike ready to snap under the pressure to wait. This moment often helps me add extra setting details to make the characters look hard for the villain as they wait for  the trap to be sprung. And you’ll know when the villain comes, all brass and drums.

Silvestri and violins, man…he just knows how to set them running up and down in arpeggios to quicken the heartbeat. With opening in a dissonance, we put our survival instincts into a panic. We run with the strings, and the moment they stop we skid to a halt. The brass and piano takes up the chase, hunting us, hunting the characters, both.

And climax? Ye GODS, Silvestri knows his pacing. The first minute is almost sweetly mysterious with the strings as we think we’ve won against the fantastic thing, this hunter. We can stand over it victorious as its strange insides are exposed to us…until the brass and piano begin. They begin a steady build, add the percussion, build. Then the strings start to run and you know you’ve got to get the hell out of there before evil steals your victory in death.

We all want our heroes to win the day, but we don’t want it to be easy for them–there’s no story without conflict. We gotta make our heroes scared. It takes some serious fear to make the final victory all the sweeter for characters and readers alike.

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~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Last-minute call for shout-outs to go in my newsletter! I’d love to  share what you’re up to with my readers. Click here to subscribe my newsletter, too!

 

 

 

Your input could also be a huge help for my next batch of Tales of the River Vine. I can’t decide who to write about next! Do you have a favorite character from Tales or Fallen Princeborn: Stolen that you feel needs some extra page time? Please let me know in the comments below.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

#writing #music: #TheWho

A rare gift comes to the writer when the story and its mixed tape of music ka-chunk and transform. No longer is the music merely the writer’s atmosphere, her source of ambience while storytelling. Oh no. The music is the heroine. The music is the villain. The music is the tension. The music is the scene.

Quadrophenia_(album)This happened to me during 2010’s National Novel Writing Month when I first began drafting Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. At the time I was only using instrumental music for storytelling, while  music like The Who’s Quadrophenia helped me survive the piles of grading in my dropbox. The month had barely started, so I was early in the story of Charlotte and her sister leaving their abusive family in the Dakotas for Wisconsin. Their coach bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Another peculiar bus appears with far-too-friendly good Samaritans, and despite Charlotte’s suspicions, she gets on, too.

And….now what?

I tried magical feathers. I tried mysterious goo in the axles. How could I get Charlotte and her sister to the Wall if I can’t make this frickin’ Samaritan trap–I mean, bus–have a plausible reason (for humans, anyway) to break down near the farmland by the Wall? I shoved the story aside and opened up a batch of essays. In the midst of telling the umpteenth student to please remember her thesis statement in the introduction, The Who’s “The Real Me” came on…

…and I saw it.

I saw the scene. I saw it all, frame by frame like a movie trailer. I knew what had to happen:  utilize the shapeshifters’ gifts,  the song to feel Charlotte’s fear race like a heartbeat.

For this song, I realized, embodies Charlotte.

The percussion, guitar, and style of singing are defiant to the point of raging. The song demands anyone, everyone, to look past the surface and see the pain, confusion, and ambition to be.  

In this snippet of the story, though, it is Charlotte who does the seeing. Only she sees the bus driver’s inhumane ability, and realizes they’re all trapped. I could feel all this when I first drafted the scene with the song on repeat in 2010.

Eight years later, little’s changed.

~*~ From Fallen Princeborn: Stolen ~*~

Stolen-KindleCvr-MARKETINGCharlotte bites back the snark and hides in her headphones again. She starts “The Real
Me,” thinking, The bus SMELLS old and gross, but nothing FEELS old and gross. Give me two seconds and I’d be out cold, it’s so damn comfortable.…

At least food has settled Anna down. Now she’s content to walk that quarter from Uncle Mattie up and down the fingers of her right hand. Then flips to her left. The quarter continues its deliberate tumble from pinky to ring to middle to forefinger to thumb and back again. Up and down. Then down and up.
Like practicing scales on a piano, observes Charlotte.
“Nice moves.” Studchin’s face betrays a lack of skills with a napkin.
“Thanks. My uncle taught me.”
Charlotte does a quick passenger check: Potential Homicidal Maniac sits as far from Anna as possible. Twitchy is de-threading his own coat. Mumbles starts singing “Lizzy likes locked things.” The Sweenils argue over who won that Waters Meet Bingo tournament. Mr. Smith sings too softly for her to hear.

Black feathers fly across their window. Violet flashes, a cackle rumbles.
Charlotte spins ’round and stares at the back of the bus.
Jamie is gone.
“Where is he?”
Anna bats those damn glitter-lashes at Studchin one more time before asking, “Who?” Slurp.
“The crazy acne boy with the bags. Where is he?”
Anna opens another cake. “Probably bathroom. Why, wanna ask for his number?”
“What’s this about numbers?” Studchin’s breath reeks of mouse turds and sugar. “Cuz I’ve got one, if you want it.” |Charlotte’s chest burns beneath the pendant. It’s burning like hell, she’s going to pass out— “Can you see the real me, can ya? Can ya?”
What the—? Who the—? Who has the audacity to sing a Who song OVER The Who? Charlotte swivels around in her seat, trying to locate the source. Not Studchin, he wouldn’t know good music if a chorus of show girls sang it from a Jacuzzi of custard. Not his bandmates and, thank god, not Mumbles. Potential Homicidal Maniac? Nope. Dead silent, head still.
It’s Mr. Smith, singing right along with Roger. But how can he hear what she’s listening to on her headphones, from that far up front? Charlotte shakes her head and stares at the back of Burly Man’s head. He stares right back at her from the rearview mirror. Not even the Sweenils notice him singing. No one but Charlotte, always Charlotte.
“Charlie?” Slu-urp. “What’s going on?”
“Shut it.”
“Char—”
“Can you see, can you see the real me?”
“SHUT IT.” To Anna or to Mr. Smith—Charlotte doesn’t care. Get away from my music, my head, my sister. Get away.
Ash-wind pulls on Charlotte’s nose. Black, green, black, green, black: the raven’s circling again. Get AWAY!
“Can you see the real me, Preacher?”
“I mean it, where is that Jamie guy?”
“I don’t know, Charlie. Why do you care?”
“Dude, what is up with your sister?” Studchin to Anna.
“Can you see the real me, Doctor?”
Ash chokes, feathers fly, song deafens, eyes glitter— “Can you see the
real me, Mother?”
Charlotte sees Mr. Smith’s fingers drum along in perfect sync with the song.
And he stares right back. His teeth are painted, ablaze in his smile.
“Can you see the real me me me me me me?”
The raven strikes.

~*~*~*~

Of course, using a song in a story is one thing. Getting permission to use that song is another matter entirely, as I explain in “Days of Walkmans Past.” 

I hope you take deeper look at Fallen Princeborn: Stolen on Amazon, and perhaps grab a copy to keep! Click here for paperback, Part 1 of the e-book, Part 2 of the e-book, or the complete e-book with bonus material. Please don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon, too!

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Blondie the Skeleton helps me say thank you!

My deepest thanks to all fellow writers and readers who have been sharing my stories and thoughts on craft. No matter how much I beat myself up for not writing enough, reading enough, living enough, you step up and share my words and make every struggle matter. Folks, these are writers well worth sharing, reading, and befriending, I promise you.

Historical Smexy Romance Writer Shehanne Moore

Family Drama & Mystery Writer James Cudney

Short Fiction Writer Cath Humphris

Short Fiction Writer Sally Cronin

Young Adult Fantasy Writer Laurel Wanrow

Poet & Photographer Sue Vincent

Fantasy Writer Michael Dellert

nanoIn the meantime, I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time in years. It’s time to rewrite the third novel of the Fallen Princeborn Omnibus. I promise you even more mystery and mayhem, perhaps even a murder or two in the dank Pits dark and deep…

Are you joining thirty days and nights of literary abandon? Let me know so we can be writing buddies!

 

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

#writing #music: Peter Gabriel’s “Wallflower”

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There comes a time when all veneers must fall.

So many of us want only our brighest, strongest, best of selves to be seen. We don’t want anyone to know how broken we are. We build up the face we know others like to see on us, are comfortable seeing on us. Others wouldn’t know what to do with our weak, broken selves. They’ll mock our pain. They’ll shrug us off, bored of us. They’ll stand off to the side with limp arms, silent, waiting for us to fix ourselves so they don’t have to.

But for many–me included–one cannot fix one’s heart alone.

I think that’s why I’m drawn to the concept of soul mates. I know not every writer, let alone the romance writer, is keen on the idea. Real and fictional young people do fall in and out of love, after all. It’s happened to our friends and family, to characters like Feyre in Sarah J. Maas’ court series. Or there are those like my mother, widowed, daily debating if she can risk her heart with another person when the one she’d once vowed to grow old with died before his 60th birthday.

One of the most difficult things to do–more than facing one’s monsters, more than fighting one’s own murderous demons–is sharing the broken parts of one’s self with another soul. Your own two hands must grab hold of your ribs. Snap them open. Hold out that charred, cut, beaten thing called a heart, that thing you’ve done your damndest to not think about for years. It’s not like you’ve really needed it to live. Look how far you’ve come without it. Isn’t that enough?

You may tell yourself yes. You might yell yes time and time again to fill your ears with so many yes‘s it must become true.

And yet there will always be at least one echo that comes back to you:

No.

Copy of We have all of us had our bloody days, Charlotte. For many it is easier to remain in them than to change. To change requires to face a past stained by screams. (1)

This is where I come from when I write with the voice of my novel’s heroine, Charlotte. She’s been showing everyone her angry self, her superior self, her musical self for years. Those selves helped her wake up every day without screaming.

But what happens when she meets someone else who wears his own version of a “best” self, whose past is nothing but glass shards sharp enough to draw blood the moment they’re touched?

I have never had much of a romantic nature–Bo can attest to that–but the orchestral music of Peter Gabriel‘s New Blood has a way with my imagination, inspiring it to draw the intimate moments when two at last find the courage to discard every veneer and share all that they are–not just the brightest, nicest selves, but the bloody and broken, too.

Give your characters some time alone with the piano and strings. Let the tentative build  guide their hands to open themselves and share those broken pieces. And when the strings and piano swell at last, may your characters find that even the sharpest edges fit together.

And become one.

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading. Check out my Books page for more on Fallen Princeborn: Stolen as well as links to my FREE short story collection, Tales of the River Vine.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

JeanLee-nameLogoBoxed

 

 

#lessons learned in #worldbuilding for #writing #fantasy #fiction: #Uprooted by @naominovik

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When I find out an author is a big fan of MY favorite author Diana Wynne Jones, then I am required to check him/her out. ‘Tis Writer’s Law….or something. Shush, I did it, and I’m not sorry I did it because Naomi Novik’s Uprooted has such a STELLAR first paragraph you can’t help but be invested. It’s not a matter of wit, or intrigue, or setting. It’s the world-building within each sentence that plants the seeds of interest in readers to blossom in nearly no time at all.

Let me share the paragraph with you, and then we can break this sucker down.

22544764Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.

 

No sweeping descriptions of the world. No colorful portraits of characters. Yet Naomi Novik fills this paragraph with information other authors would stretch across a dozen pages.

Our Dragon. A capitalized “d” means this isn’t a typical beast. This is a title, or a name, and this Dragon thing belongs, in some fashion, to the group of which the narrator’s a part.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes. Right here, Novik won me over. How, just how many told tales have a dragon taking a person to eat it? It’s a trope, a cliche, a whatever-that-term-is. When we hear about dragons taking girls, we expect to hear about bones and death and the like. But Novik has taken this expectation, turned it on its head, and given us an entirely unexpected payoff. One sentence in, and we’re being told we can’t abide by the “typical” fantasy tropes.

…no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. Now we begin to get a sense of space, a little of time. Not a technological age, certainly, if stories can run rampant outside an area without correction. We’re also in a larger space–the narrator didn’t say “village,” or “town,” or even “city.” If there was only one community, the narrator would have used  a term to say as much. So, we can conclude we’re dealing with multiple communities in this space.

We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Again, we get a sense this is not a technological era. We also begin to get a sense of our narrator–“as though we were doing human sacrifice” has this harrumphing attitude behind it. The narrator scoffs the very idea that there’d be a “real dragon” involved, let alone any sort of willful killing.

Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. I love this sentence! We have another taste of the narrator’s attitude with the “of course,” treating any ignorant outsider with disdain. We also learn what “Our Dragon” is: a wizard, immortal, man. (By the way, I love how that’s said: “he may be a wizard and immortal”–like this is normal. It’s the narrator’s normal, clearly, but the fact the narrator acts like this is the normal gives readers yet another taste of what Uprooted’s world is like.) The fact that a mob of fathers could take on a wizard also gives us a sense of the narrator’s respect for the men in her valley. Lastly, we learn our narrator is a girl with the “eat one of us.” So, we know this is a girl that’s been raised in a society that’s had to offer their daughters every ten years to a wizard.

Why?

He protects us against the Wood. Hold on. Wood? What Wood? Woods are common in fantasy, sure. Sometimes they’re just woods, and sometimes they harbor dangerous characters. But the narrator isn’t talking about what lives in the Wood. She’s talking about the Wood itself. Something about the Wood is so powerful and so dangerous that it requires a wizard’s protection in order for people to live in this valley.

He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful. Okay, I just love the narrator’s attitude here. Yes, she’s emphasizing that the valley folk aren’t willing to let their daughters be killed every ten years, but there’s a quirky snottiness here I really dig. This is a girl who’s not afraid to speak her mind about what sounds like a cornered life: growing up near a dangerous Wood, knowing you might be taken away from everything you know and love by a wizard for ten years. She should be happy her people are protected, and she knows it.

But she ain’t exactly pleased with her potential destiny, either.

Novik grows a beautifully unique tale with Uprooted, one I’m always eager to recommend to those who love fantasy. For those who love to write other genres, I’d still recommend this book to study its craft. This first paragraph shows what can be done if one’s not just thinking about establishing intrigue, or painting a scene, or introducing a character. Sometimes it takes all three elements to grow a paragraph that is truly extraordinary.

PS: I’ve got a new monthly newsletter to share updates on my fiction as well as other writers. If you’d like to spread the word about your work, just drop me a line at jeanleesworld@gmail.com Click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

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#writing #music: #EnnioMorricone

Composer Ennio Morricone–how to describe Il Maestro? He is an institution, an inspiration. He gave us THE showdown music, music so powerful the Sergio Leone would construct his films movie around Morricone’s music. You don’t edit Morricone. You follow Morricone. That’s how we have some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history, such as the climax from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

Aren’t you just on the edge of your seats as the trumpets and drums build and build and build, the close-ups quickening and quickening until you can’t stand it anymore and SOMEONE HAS TO SHOOT and bam bam bam–just like that. Your heart remembers how to work, and you realize you’d stopped breathing for the last several seconds.

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That’s the power of Il Maestro.

I use Morricone often for writing my Fallen Princeborn Omnibus, both the short stories and the novels. No, not the western soundtracks–powerful as they are, one cannot think of anything but Clint Eastwood staring down the likes of Eli Wallach and Lee Van Cleef. When the narrative turns down the dark road and finds itself stranded in menace–that is when I turn up The Thing.

The score composed for John Carpenter’s The Thing is not what I would call complex, and that’s fine. An orchestra would feel strange for a Carpenter film, and Morricone knows how to draw out unsettling harmonies for maximum effect. Just listen to this theme (roughly the first four and a half minutes of the track). It’s so simple. So, so bloody simple. The synth rhythm, steady as a comatose heartbeat. The synth chords moving in their own quiet pattern in sync with the heartbeat. Nothing loud. Nothing heroic. Just this slow, slow add to the harmony: more synth around the 2:00 mark, and more around the 3:00 mark, this time off-rhythm, just slightly. Just…not quite right, just like The Thing that hides so damn perfectly at the Arctic research base. Morricone’s rhythms of sounds, of notes-not-quite-notes: he takes the synth and forms them into a bleak landscape. We see nothing with this music. We hope for nothing. We escape nothing.

Now let’s see how such a dire emptiness feels with an orchestra in Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant western The Hateful Eight.

Strictly strings at first. The endless bass with a steady rhythm of violins: The Thing‘s influence, perfect for this moment of travelers approaching a lonely outpost on a mountain with a blizzard at their heels. Around 0:50 the xylophone begins a simple harmony, its repetition reminiscent of the chime of Lee Van Cleef’s watch in For a Few Dollars More. The minor key of the string’s harmonies further presses the boreboding into our psyche. We can’t not think something bad is going to happen.

This has to be my favorite track from Hateful Eight. The drums a bit faster here compared to The Thing, which gives us the feel of impending…something. Something, we don’t know what, is coming. We also get the feel of characters not sitting around, waiting for that Something to come. They’re hunting Something as much as Something is creeping up on them. There’s a multi-layered mystery here of who’s hunting who, who is who, and the treachery you know lies in every heart of the Eight just bleeds through the music onto the story.

Now for the record, I should note that Morricone considers this composition to be a bit lighter compared to some of his other work. As Michael Ordoña of the LA Times quotes Morricone:

“What I wanted to do with the two bassoons at first — and later there is a tuba and later on the contrabassoon and then the trumpet, and in the end, the male voices — I wanted to de-traumatize the dramatic content of the music,” says Morricone. “To add something lighter, more curious, more interesting. The contents of the theme remain tragic and dramatic, but the way these instruments are played, to the extreme ranges of their timbre, makes them quite lighter and ironic.”
-Article: Ennio Morricone says a hands-off Quentin Tarantino let his ‘Hateful Eight’ music flow

When I first saw this quote, I couldn’t believe it. Lighter? Ironic?! What in the brewin’ blazes is he on about?

But then I realized that whenever I write with this track, I am writing a scene with my villains from my heroine’s perspective. We are sizing up the villains through her wise-ass frame of mind, so in a way, Morricone’s music fits even better than I expected. He creates the unbeatable menace, yet also defies it with a glint in the eyes and a smirk on the lips.

Il Maestro gives writers the music of dire emptiness, where a setting must not only be seen, but felt. Heard.

Feared.

Braved.

Hateful-Eight-Poster-Comic-Con

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