All posts by luthientkennedy

Distractions: Day in the Life of Author

 

The Phone is ALWAYS ringing. Always.
The Phone is ALWAYS ringing. Always.  Always.  Always.

 

Once upon a time there was a phone that rang constantly, distracting Author from the most important story she had ever written.

 

 

 

 

 

I ask myself if I've fed the fish at least three times a day.
I ask myself at least three times a day if I have fed the fish yet.  Obviously, by the algae smudged glass you can tell that Nixon the snail is never in want of food.

It rang so often that Author had seriously considered dropping the phone into the fish tank on more than one occasion, but she thought perhaps phones weren’t very good for fish, and fish probably weren’t very good at taking messages.

 

 

 

 

Chickens have nightmares too.  True story.
This is Camilla (the red) and Simba (the gold).  One day they were sleeping on the porch right next to the sliding door, as they often do, and out of nowhere Simba jumped up in the air, flapping and squawking, looking around her as though someone had just tried to drop her into a vat of boiling oil.  So I had to stop working to look up whether or not chickens dream, which they do.  True story.

It wasn’t that she particularly liked the fish, in fact she regularly thought about feeding them to the chickens, but she worried that would make the chicken eggs taste fishy, and surely someone would complain about fishy eggs (and missing fish), and complaints were the last thing Author needed with all of the other distractions keeping her from her work.

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I distract myself.  The internet does not always lie.  Onions and leeks can be regrown from the root ends of grocery store produce.
Sometimes I distract myself. The internet does not always lie. Onions and leeks can be regrown from the root ends of grocery store produce.  And chickens also really like green onions, which is why I made this basket out of spare guinea pig cage parts

She didn’t particularly like the chickens or their eggs, either, because the chickens liked to eat the vegetables and dig for worms in the garden, requiring Author to come up with new and ingenious ways of keeping chickens from gobbling up all the green onions.

 

 

 

 

 

Guinea pig enclosures should not be kept too clean.  They must ingest certain kinds of their droppings in order to remain regular.  Furry piggy constipation is not fun.
Guinea pig enclosures should not be kept too clean. Apparently pigs must ingest certain kinds of their droppings in order to remain regular. Furry piggy constipation is not fun.  Trust me.

But she had to admit that chickens were far better than guinea pigs, because at least chickens stayed outside where chickens belong, and for some strange reason guinea pigs had to live indoors, which meant regularly dealing with guinea pig waste–not her favorite subject.

Even so, Author definitely liked guinea pigs and chickens far better than the phone that rang constantly.

 

 

One day, Author decided to make a list of all the things that distracted her most from her work, to try and put the constantly ringing phone into perspective and determine if there was anything that could be done to resolve her distractions, so that she could get back to the most important story she had ever written.

Oh, the cruel irony of the woodpile haphazardly stacked at the base of the dying tree.  These are just two of the many tasks that have been demanding my attention for weeks, along with a broken dryer, a leaky faucet, a dead icemaker...  The list is never-ending.
Oh, the cruel irony of the woodpile haphazardly stacked at the base of the dying tree. These are just two of the many tasks that have been demanding my attention for weeks, along with a broken dryer, a leaky faucet, a dead icemaker… The list is never-ending.

As it turned out, there were several things that were almost as distracting as the phone, like the tree that had barely survived the previous winter and was dying a slow death right before her eyes, along with countless other things around the house that needed fixing and just wouldn’t be fixed because there wasn’t time or money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can only read news on weekends, otherwise satirical art happens.
I can only read news on weekends, otherwise satirical art happens.

The news was almost as distracting as the phone, as well, often causing anxiety from the worry over foreign conflicts and incurable diseases, or worse yet, causing debates about everything from climate change to equal rights.

But those distractions could all be controlled by simply practicing avoidance and self-control.  The phone, which could not be turned off, in case of emergency, was an intrusion from the outside world, demanding at least a cursory glance at the Caller ID before being swiftly ignored, unless it required an answer.  And that tiny glance, however brief, and the quickest push of a button a dozen or more times a day had directly caused the loss of countless sentences, driven from Author’s brain with each shrill ring, ring. ring!  Surely, the most important story Author had ever written required sentences!

However, as Author made her list, she realized that the phone was not the worst distraction of all.

There were three things in this world that were far more distracting than any phone that ever rang constantly…

I'm always most afraid when they are acting sweet and innocent.
I’m always most afraid when they are acting sweet and innocent like this.

…and their names were Plava, Aziz and Rorschach.

 

Today is the day they will eat the postman.  They begin plotting his demise early in the day.
Today is the day the dogs will eat the postman. They begin plotting his demise early in the morning.

When they weren’t sitting in the front window, waiting for the next unassuming postman, car, cat, dog, bird, skunk, or ladybug to wander past, so that they could howl another rousing verse of “Bark!  Who Goes There!” a song which provided the two dogs with endless entertainment, Plava and Aziz made certain to keep things interesting by taking turns whining at the back door, coming inside and out, going outside and in, forcing Author up from her seat, away from her computer, at least fourteen times a day.

The instincts of dogs could not be silenced with the quick push of a button.  Author knew these dogs were definitely much more distracting than ringing phones.

But far worst of all–

Worse than Plava and Aziz,

Worse than the most terrible news and the endless lists of incomplete tasks, which only grew the more it was avoided,

Worse than guinea pig excrement and garden destroying chickens and fish that didn’t know how to answer constantly ringing telephones–

was that heinous,

villainous

cat

Rorschach Schrödinger.

If he is not meowing for food, wrestling with one of the dogs, clawing furniture, or walking back and forth across the piano, he is walking back and forth across the keyboard or reaching around the computer playing attack the fingers.
House cats are the arch nemeses of authors everywhere.

Rorschach, with his sweet fuzzy cheeks and his entirely-too-innocent purr, was the biggest distraction.  Rorschach, with his swishing fat pouch and the charming way he wound himself around Author’s feet causing her to trip almost every morning before she was quite awake, was the greatest of menaces.

If he was not meowing to be picked up and sat on the counter so he could eat three nibbles of food before jumping down again, wrestling with Plava or chasing Aziz, clawing at furniture to sharpen his interior decorating skills or jumping on the piano to play his favorite horror film tune, “Cat Walks Up Piano, Cat Walks Down Piano”, trying to catch guinea pigs through the bars of their cage, eating houseplants, scratching at the back door hoping that he would be allowed outside to harass the chickens, the birds or the squirrels, or napping in some warm patch of sunshine, then he knew Author was writing, which meant he knew it was time to strike.  If Author was writing, Rorschach, with his big green, slightly off-kilter eyes and the curious way he licked his side whenever he was embarrassed for falling off the table unexpectedly, could be found walking back and forth across Author’s keyboard, rubbing his nose against her forehead, demanding attention while she uttered impatient curses.  If he knew Author was writing, he could be counted on for attempting to knock Author’s computer from its stand because that was when he just had to know how the stand was engineered even though he figured that out at least twice the day before.  If Author was busy trying to write the most important story she had ever written, then Rorschach was surely right there, having an exciting game of catch the typing fingers, which involved the cat hiding behind the computer and quickly reaching around to bat at Author’s hands as many times as possible before she finished typing a sentence–current record, 42!

After taking all of this into consideration, Author decided the phone wasn’t so bad, but she knew exactly what she would do with it the next time it rang, and the fish were going to love it.

The End.

And the Moral of the Story Is…

Yesterday I published Blackeney’s character page, which honestly gave me a bit more difficulty than any other character so far, though this really didn’t surprise me, because Black’s tale is darker, so he’s harder to summarize.  The Eleventh Age is an epic fantasy, and all of my characters fit fantasy archetypes at the surface–after all what is a fantasy without its trusty tropes?  Black is no different from any of the others in that respect, however when I first started writing several years ago, my original goal was simply to produce an action-packed, young adult fantasy that had a female hero, because I thought the world could use more stories about girls, who weren’t quite as transparent as their glass slippers, but as I began building my world, in which young Elli Foote, like many a hero before her, discovers her extraordinary purpose and embarks on her harrowing journey with her band of trusty tropes at her side, I developed a few ulterior motives.  I wanted to write a story with a moral at the end.  I wanted to write a story that crossed cultural boundaries.  I wanted to write a story in which my characters spoke to real-world issues, suffering the sort of troubles ordinary people suffer, like loss, abandonment, poverty, hunger, abuse–all of these are things Black has experienced firsthand, just to name a few, which is what made writing his summary so difficult.  My trouble was in remaining true to his character without giving too much away, which I think I’ve managed.

I’ve alluded to this desire to keep my characters real before.  Not only do all of them have to have flaws and hidden agendas, weaknesses and passions, but all of them must have perfectly rational reasons for their otherwise odd behaviors.  Black, for instance, is a warrior who does not fight, and his reasons are rational and uniquely his own.  The thing is, Black knows as well a I do that what is rational is not always logical, and our rationalizations can sometimes (read: almost always) be built upon false beliefs.  We humans are actually quite adept at dealing in false beliefs, which brings me to the topic of the day:

Monkeys, Babies, and the Moral of the Story

If you are reading this, chances are 1. you are human and 2. you possess fairly well-developed theory of mind, which is, very basically, the ability to understand that you have a mind, which holds knowledge, beliefs, and intentions unique to you, and that others have minds of their own, in which they hold separate knowledge, beliefs and intentions that are different from yours and everyone else, for that matter.  This probably seems fairly straightforward, especially since you’ve possessed the beginnings of this theory of mind since you were as young as seven months old, however even though it seems obvious, this theory can only ever be a theory because there is no way for me to prove that you have a mind or for you to prove that I have one, because we are each only capable of experiencing the world from our singular perspectives, and anything else is, well, just theory.  What this theory of mind allows you to do is to make assumptions, based on your own understandings, in order to predict or explain other people’s actions, and it comes in quite handy in just about every interaction we have with one another (and anything else we perceive as having a mind, it turns out).

Scientists have been working for decades to determine if humans are the only animals that possess theory of mind, to determine if this is in fact what distinguishes us as humans, which is a rather difficult task, because animals and humans don’t speak the same language, though we can understand certain animal behaviors as similar to our own.  There is plenty of documented evidence supporting the idea that animals have emotions.  We know elephants and gorillas cry over the loss of family and friends, even across species.  We know dogs will visit the graves of deceased companions.  But while we’re perfectly aware that other animals have minds, after all our theory of mind allows us to assume this by their behaviors, whether or not those animals possess a theory of mind and are aware that we have minds as well is open for debate.

If you’ve ever played fetch with a dog, you know that animals are capable of viewing your behavior and predicting what will happen next.  We had a Belgian Malinois years ago that I loved to try and fool when playing fetch.  I could see that she would watch my eyes and the angle of my arm and take off milliseconds before the ball ever left my hand, and very rarely did I ever fool her.  The dogs we have now are not quite so intuitive–one of them just looks at the ball, dimly, like he’s still not certain what it is, while the other will go after the ball and keep running past it forever, but now I’ve gotten sidetracked. It is clear from my own experience that dogs are definitely aware of what people are looking at and capable of making predictions about their actions.  For a while,  some researchers had the idea that this sort of awareness of visual access might be evidence of full-blown theory of mind in other animals.

O’livia, the Belgian, even displayed some cross-species compassion once, a few years before she died.  Though she never had puppies of her own, she attempted to nurse an opossum that had been abandoned and wandered into our yard, weak and blind and squealing for its momma.

Livy and her possum pup
Livy and her possum pup, safe between her legs

Initially I believed that my wonderful, bright dog had chosen to display the tenderness of motherhood, and trust me when I say that Livy was anything but tender under normal circumstances.  It definitely seemed to me that she understood the baby opossum was lost and alone and hungry, and that she knew just what to do and actually wanted to help.  Then I found the first baby opossum to make it into the yard, very much dead, and the second, dead as well, and I began to wonder if perhaps this third opossum, whom she was being kind to, nursing even though she had no milk, was really lost and alone and hungry, and having found a warm, furry body, it had climbed up and attached to Livy by mistake, while dear ol’ Livy was busy murdering its siblings (much more Livy-like behavior).  I began to suspect that when the opossum attached and began to suckle, it triggered her mothering instinct, probably through a release of hormones, and that overrode her hyperactive prey drive.  I will never know if Liv actually possessed a theory of mind capable of commiseration with and showing compassion towards a baby opossum, but I do know from my experience that I am just great at anthropomorphizing all manner of animals and creating false beliefs within my own little theory of mind.  I’m officially human.  Yay!

Recently, developmental psychologists and comparative cognition researchers have managed to conduct several false-belief task tests on human babies and various primates.  This sort of testing was necessary because one of the most important steps in development of theory of mind is establishing the ability to distinguish what another person can or can’t know based on their observations.  The comparative cognition researchers were beginning to suspect that all primates had a solid theory of mind based on other tests that definitively showed primates (and other animals) have a visual awareness that extends to others, like with my dog, Liv.  For instance, a monkey is more likely to steal a piece of food it knows has not been seen by its owner, and they even retain this knowledge in the future, but without non-verbal tests for false-belief tasks, they couldn’t draw a firm corollary between visual-behavioral awareness and behavioral-mental awareness.  (You can and should read about some of these false-belief tests and their results here, I just wanted to give a basic idea moving forward.)  In each of the false-belief tests, what is being examined is whether or not the subject (baby or monkey) understands what a second subject can know based on its experience.  For instance, the baby or monkey watches the second subject place an object in a specific spot, and while the second subject isn’t paying attention, the object moves somewhere else.  Will the baby or monkey know that the second subject must believe that the object is in its original spot (i.e. does the baby or monkey have an understanding of what the second subject knows based on its world view)?  It turns out that 15 month old human babies consistently exhibit that they understand and are not surprised by true-belief based actions committed by the second subject (when the subject returns to where the baby last saw the second subject place the object), and they consistently exhibit that they understand and are surprised by false-belief based actions committed by the second subject (when the subject returns to look where the object actually is, where they could not have seen the object go).  Human babies, surprise, surprise, have a developed theory of mind.  Much to the dismay of the comparative cognition researchers, monkeys don’t care, either way.  Once visual access is lost, the monkeys no longer expect the second subject to look in either spot, whether during the true-belief test or the false-belief test, because as far as a monkey’s concerned, the subject can’t know where the object is.  This does not necessarily mean that monkeys don’t have a theory of mind, by the way, it may just mean that their theory of mind relies on continuous observation, because they are continually observant, and their theory of mind is based on being a monkey, which you have to admit makes a little more sense than their theory of mind being the same as us humans.  If their theory of mind were just like ours, they would probably be out there conducting tests on pigmy goats to determine whether or not pigmy goats too think like apes and humans, but they aren’t.

I have no vested interest in whether or not this proves that humans are massively unique, so you might be asking yourself why is this important to me?  Because other animals dance and sing during mating season, and we people find it fascinating and devote whole studies to it, and frankly, it’s that sort of stuff that I find fascinating.  Humans dance and sing all the time, just for fun, and we’ve got people who study that too.  Unless we’re depressed or otherwise inhibited, we seem to always be spit-polishing our feathers, because we are very much concerned with what others think about us–other people and other animals as well, it seems.  We lie for attention and affection.  We cheat on tests in order to give ourselves a false sense of security and to instill in others a false belief of our abilities.  We don’t just watch life, observing the real, we all play mentalists, examining other people for signs they are bored, hungry, angry, tired, lying, and a plethora of other interesting little things we believe they might feel or do at any given moment, based on that theory of mind we’re so keen at using, and we habitually make up stories to answer that profoundest of questions: why?

We read whole books about how other people go through their lives, and we invest ourselves deeply in their worlds, purely for entertainment purposes.  We even write whole books for the entertainment of others, which is stranger still than reading, because it requires that we not only consider that other people have minds, but that we have an understanding of how to manipulate and influence those minds, by creating still more minds, all worrying very humanly over the contents of still other minds, just to elicit specific thoughts and emotions, not in ourselves, but so that the moral of the story is understood by someone else in the end.  The depth of our theory of mind means that we don’t just cry when we lose our own loved-ones and friends, we cry when people we know lose loved-ones and friends, we cry when we hear about people we don’t know losing loved-ones and friends, we cry when elephants cry because they have lost loved-ones and friends, we even cry when we read about fictional creatures from other universes crying over elephants crying over losing loved-ones and friends.  Okay, I made that up.  But we do read about conferences where other people talk about studies still others have conducted to determine if other primates understand false belief, and we ask ourselves questions like, “Even if they did understand false belief, would they be capable of understanding it to the depths that we do?” which gives rise to still more questions and potential things to study, which leads me to believe that perhaps the ability to ponder and theorize and postulate and query even though we have a fully developed theory of mind that is capable of understanding not just that some other person or animal can only know what he has experienced, but that sometimes people will surprise us, and we enjoy being amazed like that, might just be what makes us human.

When Good Characters Go Bad

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

One summer in my innocent years, my older sister and I spent almost every night watching Twilight Zone reruns.  I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Zone aficionado, or even a fan, mostly because I spent what felt like hours that summer, lying in my bed, listening to crickets, wide-eyed, with my blanket tucked up under my nose and wrapped tightly over the top of my head, so I could see what was coming, ring of highly-trained stuffed animal guards standing watch into the wee hours, as I tried to rid my mind of frightening thoughts, the ideas of evil that lurked in Rod Sterling’s fifth dimension, the place where ordinary, decent human beings become things they never imagined themselves becoming (things I certainly never imagined people could be, at the ripe old age of eleven) and often wound up dead, or worse–sometimes far worse.  I promised myself countless times that I would never–EVER!–watch again, but even with all my sweat-dripping panic, my promises proved empty, time and again, as I found myself sitting there in the living room floor, glued to the TV, my own little fifth dimension running wild.

Head over to almost any author’s blog or writers group message board, and you are bound to find an article or twenty entitled something along the lines of “What to do When Your Characters Won’t Cooperate”.  Some of them are full of anecdotal charm, as the author admits that all of his or her characters fought the good fight in becoming whatever they became between the brain and the page, others offer lists, both serious and humorous, of things to try when facing off with a character who simply refuses to do what the plot demands of him, and of course there are those who claim that holistically giving in to the character, allowing him to live the life he wants, keeps said character true to himself and makes the story that much greater in the end.  What all of these people and their characters don’t know is that they only exist in the Twilight Zone.

As millions of readers turn the pages of their favorite books each day, they have no idea that the characters they know and love are actually schizophrenics, resigned to spend their entire lives perfectly aware that they are trapped inside someone else’s head.  It is a hard existence being entirely made up.  Imagine for a moment what it must be like saying the same line sixty-two different ways only to have a whole chapter of one’s life, including that godforsaken line repeated until your tongue bled, eradicated in a microsecond, as though it had never happened.  Psychopaths might understand on some superficial level, but only a character can truly know what it’s like falling in love with the perfect woman, planning the perfect lives together, only to have your dream girl sleep with her best friend’s boss’s sister’s neighbor’s pool boy for no reason other than so that you can have motive to commit murder (Murder!), just to move the plot along in some writer’s latest mystery novel.  And it is surely a fate worse than death droning on as a static shadow of meaningless drivel for 364 pages in someone else’s romance, when all you ever wanted was to open a dance studio, adopt a cat and maybe cure a little cancer, but can a character have that tiny bit of happiness?  No!  Characters have forever been powerless against the will of the author.  Characters don’t get bupkis, unless some writer thinks it up.

Note on usage: Bupkis, in English vernacular generally means "Absolutely nothing", so one might question why an author, intent on being taken seriously, would use the double negative, when it is clearly a violation of everything good and holy about grammar.  Bupkis, however, is a Yiddish term that means "Goat feces", which is in fact not a negative, but merely has negative, sometimes smelly, connotations.

It is true, writers feel forced, at times, to torture their characters into existence, but it is not out of some sadistic desire to actually wield the pen like a sword, hacking and cleaving at the lives of those people they have come to love, whittling them down until their bloody forms fit within whatever narrow window the author intends his readers to view them through.  Most characters have no idea what is really going on, just on the other side of that insane wall at the edge of their universe, as the writer fights to find the right words, only to end up heartbroken when words fail them both.  If they could know, then perhaps they would not be so ashamed when they find themselves doing things that are completely out of character, as far as they are concerned, as if they were being guided by something outside of themselves, to become the stuff of little girls’ worst fears.  If they could understand the agony of having an imaginary person, who exists solely in one’s mind, a person you have given life to out of nothing more than neural whisperings and ink on the page, argue with you for days, then perhaps he could forgive the certain death waiting for him there in the well-crafted prose that make up his brief existence.  Surely all authors know they are not just the fantasies some cracked-up characters have conjured up to justify their worst, most human moments.  Surely they know they are the real ones.

Intermingling in the black and white haze of some 1960’s TV show, narrated by the hard, smooth voice of Rod Sterling, there is a place where author and the authored demand to see eye-to-eye without daring to look, their co-dependence and mutual contempt the ironic twist that threatens to leave them both cold and bloody in a padded room long before any editor ever sees what might become of them–a place where no amount of stuffed animals with mad ninja skills can come to the rescue–a place somewhere in The Twilight Zone.

Happily Ever After?

Last night we watched The Pirate Movie, a 1982 adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, which (Spoiler Alert!) ends with Mabel demanding and receiving her happy ending, both in her dream and when she wakes up washed up on the beach to her fantasy Frederic-without-a-K kissing her, for no apparent reason.  Cue Happily Ever After Song and Dance:

Oh, silly Mabel, also without a K.

Anyway, this got me thinking about how liberally the sappy ending is applied for entertainment purposes, even in those works that aren’t intended to be farcical, and wondering why the general public prefers stories that leave a saccharine numbness on the brain to those that tell the truth in all her glorious despair, forcing us to accept life as difficult as it is, and acknowledge that all heroes die, most lovers grow bored and tired and some turn into miserable drunks, the money runs out far too quickly after a windfall leaving only destitution, the guy who survives the shark attack inevitably gets hit by a bus on his way home from the hospital…  You get the picture.

I’m hardly the first person to question why we prefer our candy-coatings and rosy spectacles, and Google turns up an expert for just about every explanation, so I’ll spare you my musings where that’s concerned, except to say that the geek in me did find fascinating the idea that commiseration with fictional characters may cause a similar release of neurochemicals in the audience, as if when watching a film or reading a book, we are actually experiencing the lives of our favorite protagonists and antagonists as people we know and have legitimate feelings for.  Oh, and I would be remiss not to mention it is a well-known, scientifically proven fact that giddy pirate song and dance numbers assure the survival of the species, ranking right up there with water, food and shelter as necessary to our very existence, but I’m no expert, so don’t quote me.  (Okay, so it’s not a fact, but some of those experts should definitely do a study.)

While I, too, enjoy prancing pirates on occasion, I won’t deny that I’m truly a cynic at heart, one who enjoys harsher tales that force us to examine ourselves.  When I watch stories like The Pirate Movie, I can’t help but see the catastrophe beyond the Happily Ever After, which to me is really just another happy beginning right before the next tragedy strikes and must be overcome.  Silly Mabel, also without a K, will surely discover, soon after the credits roll, that her darling Frederic-without-a-K sees she is one who falls in love far too quickly, that she is a girl who will give him whatever he wants in the interest of continuing in this thing she believes is love, however she will not see it for what it is until Frederic has thoroughly taken advantage of her, leaving her broken and used up, probably singing on a beach somewhere, desperate for her next romance, because that is the way life works.  I’m certain I’m not the only one who feels this way, I mean, look how Frozen ended.  And even my sixteen year old daughter (who only a few hours before watching the movie read to me an open letter from another teenager to adults who read articles about teenagers, basically requesting that they stop treating teens like some strange beings to be stereotyped and categorized, quantified and explained away) couldn’t help pointing out that Mabel and Frederic’s relationship was “just like every relationship” at her high school, and we all know that the vast majority of those end in tears and bloodshed, usually not too long after the young lovers have professed their eternally dripping, syrupy-sweet, twoo wub to one another and refused for an hour and a half to be the first to hang up the phone.

As an author and a cynic, I’ve set out to tell hard truths in my writing.  Though the story is set in present day and wrapped up in the real world, which will become more apparent in future works, The Eleventh Age is largely mythopoeic, and as such there is always the temptation (and plenty of opportunity) to take the easy way out, to fall back to some deus ex machina, or miracle event, to save my favorite characters from their fate, or resort to unrealistic devices to explain away inconsistencies, simply because the world is magical, like Mabel simply deciding that it was her dream, so she could have her happy ending, and Viola!  Happy Ending.  But in The Eleventh Age, Fate itself is a living, breathing character within the tale, a character very much at odds with our heroine at times, and let me tell you, Fate will not stand for too much divine intervention from the lowly writer, not even if it involves dancing pirates.  Meanwhile I’m fairly certain the cynic in me would baby-vomit if I cheated and rescued someone I’ve known must die from the very beginning or had someone unreasonably fall in love just to play to a chemical reaction my audience expects to receive.  I get great pleasure from forcing myself to think logically from so many perspectives at once, keeping in mind what all the major players and most of the minor players are doing and all of the whys and hows going on in the background, while Elli walks on the surface of the story and we see in the reading only what she sees, and the things that unfold are only seen as she unfolds them–oftentimes mistakenly and clumsily, because the fact of the matter is she is just a teenage girl.  To me, writing is an extraordinary puzzle of human interactions, every character should be deep, and if they aren’t deep from the beginning, then it should only be because their depth has yet to be uncovered.  Of course, I’m not going to pretend that I have some superior moral incite that justifies my work, I don’t, or that I am the most exceptional author, I’m not, but I do like for stories to be realistic, even my fantasies.  And I love a large dose of bitter to cut through the sweet.

Needless to say, this means happily ever after might always be just happy enough for the time being, where Elli Foote’s concerned, but the poor girl can’t help it that her author’s jaded and a little cruel at heart.

 

 

Drawing 101: Lesson 1: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Like most people, I am my own worst critic.  Even sitting here at the start of this post, I’m second guessing myself:  How much do I admit?  What if I put people off?  Should I post something so personal?  No, I’m not about to divulge some dark secret or talk about Aunt Mildred’s silent-but-deadlies; the title is Drawing 101, so I’m pretty sure I’m about to impart some valuable lesson that might have a little to do with drawing.  But who am I to impart lessons? Especially lessons about drawing?

I’ve been creating stuff my entire life.  I have corners and walls and drawers full of stuff I’ve made.  I sing and write music (my brother is better–sometime we’ll record him so you can hear what I’m talking about).  I paint, but I know I’m not really great, even if The Guitar is quickly building a following in the Spanish-speaking community.  I can draw, but I’ve never taken an art class, so I couldn’t even pretend to explain what I’m doing wrong when it’s wrong (and boy, do I get things wrong sometimes), or how I managed to get it right when it’s right.  Things just happen on the paper, for better or worse, which is why, since I started building this site, I think I smell pretty bad.  (Not Aunt Mildred bad, just sweating-the-small-stuff bad, which is bearable, but still not recommended for polite company.)

Have I said too much?

Over the course of the past week or so, I’ve been working to populate the pages on this site with plenty of details, so that the world I’ve created in writing can be seen, felt and heard, the idea being to just keep putting my work out there, build the audience.  My characters have flesh in my head, but to be honest, until a few weeks ago, my character sketches consisted of roughly scribbled ideas like this:

old tierney sketchOr this:

old Elli sketch

Definitely not high quality art.  I’ve got notebooks chock full of little doodles like these, interspersed among years of story building and notes about science and religion and various cultures, and theories on everything under the sun (you don’t even want to know some of the ridiculous tangents I’ve taken in my journey to bring you The Eleventh Age).

The writing world has changed a great deal with the technological revolution.  Gone are the days when an aspiring young author would send her work directly to publishers, who would take ages to decide her fate.  Today, many publishers won’t even consider your work unless you have an agent, and while getting an answer from an agent takes considerably less time than with publishing houses, the yes or no is based on far less material–often just an introductory letter, in which you’ve summarized your work in a single paragraph (the rest of the letter, which should be no more than a single page, is for telling who you are, why you are the right person for writing your book and why the agent you’re querying is a good fit for you).  With self-publishing avenues such as the various electronic formats and even print on demand, getting your work out on the market is relatively simple, especially if you have money to purchase hard copies up front and buy advertising.  So today’s market is super-saturated with new authors, all of whom are jumping through the same hoops, taking their rejections in stride, believing in their work even when it feels like no one else believes, doing whatever it takes to build a following, each and every one of them just trying to get noticed by the right person, the one who will eventually make all the efforts worthwhile, meanwhile still penning their next book and maintaining some small measure of sanity.  Even the world’s most excellent storytellers would get lost in this new world where, to get noticed, you have to put yourself out there, attend seminars, join writers groups, build your web presence so that you’re the number one you on Google, and generally be something that most writers are not: extroverts with astounding interpersonal skills and winning grins.

collage

In my effort to sell myself, I decided that, although I’m an untrained, mediocre artist at best, it would be a super-duper awesome idea to draw my characters, so that readers could get an idea of who I see when I’m writing, even though every reader will surely see the characters in their own way.  Some of my attempts at putting real faces to the people in my world are, ugh, just laughable, which brings me to my lessons learned for today:

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

(I wanted to entitle this post “Realize there are bigger things to sweat than whether or not his eyes are too big for his face or her nose is out of perspective, like world hunger or the ethics of reciprocity, so get over yourself already and just have fun,” but it was too long to be taken seriously.)

I’ve drawn and redrawn Aisling O’Toole about seven times now (a few of my attempts are in the collage of good and bad sketches above, though none of them come close to representing Ash as I see her in my head).  Maybe it’s the nature of her character that makes her so difficult for me to work out, or maybe it’s really that I just cannot draw people in the perspective in which I want to draw her, I just don’t know.  Okay, I do know.  I can’t draw people in profile.  Inevitably, there is something off with her, every attempt I make.

These sketches are not meant to be the end-all where my characters are concerned, and there has been some debate in my household over whether or not an author should post images of the characters at all, or if the writing should be left alone to speak to the imagination of the reader (there was even some talk about whether or not it would be beneficial to collaborate with an outside artist, not because I’m not Michelangelo, duh, but because it would bring in that person’s contacts as a resource, which seems like a nefarious reason to take on an artist, if you ask me).  More to the point, while I do have a tendency to be a perfectionist about many things, I know the drawing of Ash doesn’t have to be perfect, and deep down I don’t really care whether or not it ever is perfect, but I would at least like it to pass.

So why am I sweating?

Mostly because I’m still learning, and it can be easy to forget that everyone else is still learning too.

Obviously, learning how to draw isn’t massively important to me in the grand scheme of things, especially since I’m not pretending to be some fabulous artist to be admired, but I know it is important that I always be capable of seeing when there is something that I need to learn, and this is something I need to learn.  It is clear that I am just no good at drawing people in profile.  I could continue trying and failing, which I don’t recommend to anyone.  I could throw up my hands and decide never to draw another person in profile again, which I also don’t recommend.  Or I could be true to my standard of always learning and do a little youtube search this evening and take some lessons from people who do know what they are doing.

It’s easier not to sweat the small stuff when you can admit you have more to learn.  I am still learning, and that’s okay.  That’s not just okay, that’s actually really quite wonderful–probably the whole purpose to life in a nutshell, if life has a purpose.

While I’m on this subject, this is Aidan Foote:

Aidan Foote and his shadows
Aidan Foote and his shadows

See the scar marking his left brow and eye?  Yeah, um, that’s wrong.  This is how I see him in my mind, but in the writing I changed the scar long ago, because at some point I decided it wasn’t believable that he could have a scar like this and still have two working eyes.  I could have just explained away the lack of damage to his eye when his uncle marred him as magic, it is a fantasy after all, but instead I decided to write his scar as having stopped just short of his eye (because even in a magical world, I like my magic to be believable, and how could they fix is eye but leave him with such an awful scar–just didn’t add up).  It was two days after I posted this image that I realized I had just shown the world something that wasn’t part of the canon, and of course I panicked a little.

Now, I firmly believe in owning my mistakes, and this clearly is a mistake.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t draw much attention to something like this, chances are very few people would have noticed the discrepancy between this image and the writing if I hadn’t pointed it out, and if I was really worried about it, I could have just taken care of it without anyone ever knowing (frankly, there’s not much traffic here, yet, but that will change eventually).  Even now, I could remove the image, redraw him entirely or try to erase, but I actually rather like the message this mistake sends.

Let’s face it, I’m bound to make a lot of mistakes, big and small, in this process.  So, over-sized-scar Aidan will serve evermore as my reminder that it really will be all right.  I’m allowed to let a little bit of my human side show now and then, to be imperfect, and just like most readers out there, I can gladly proclaim that the characters I see are not necessarily the characters as they are written in the work, even though it’s my work.

(If you haven’t seen Aidan’s character link, you should read about him sometime.)

Finally, in learning not to sweat the small stuff, it’s important that I remember what I’m trying to accomplish.

I am a writer.  I write.  I can spend hours producing images I hope you will find appealing and intriguing, in an effort to gain your attention in a world of seven billion authors, all looking to sell their stories. But ultimately, I have to take an honest look at what I’m really trying to accomplish as I’m sketching so much that my fingers ache and I begin to develop a dowager’s hump that I’m not likely to wear well in my old age.  Gaining a following for my writing is well and good, but utterly pointless if it keeps me from actually writing.

From now on, even if Peril’s eyes are too big and Meggit’s nose is seriously bent out of shape, I will only write during my coveted six hours a day of writing time, because there are more important things to sweat than eyes and noses in drawings, like what will happen when Elijah discovers Elli manically writing and re-writing Ash’s prophecy in a furious attempt to see what the words really mean, which still isn’t quite as big as world hunger or the ethics of reciprocity, but much more important than drawings that can be made anytime, but not during coveted writing time, so I’m going to get over myself and get to work… and have fun.

Have a lovely day!

 

Welcome to my first post!

Hi!  I’m Luthien Kennedy; Lu for short and Lulu to my siblings, which I guess that would be for long-short.  I’m the author of The Eleventh Age, which is what this blog is all about.

I’ve been very busy lately, when I’m not writing book two of the series, curating content and building my web presence, which is pretty scary for me, because I’m officially NOT John Green or even his brother–I’m a total introvert.  You will never find a video of me explaining all of history like some mad genius with entirely too much time on his hands, and if you happen to like my work enough to make me famous, I will probably take to wearing fancy silk masks in public, à la Michael Jackson, or better yet the the long hijab-like veil the diva Plavalaguna wore in The Fifth Element (one of my top ten favorite movies, by the way).

My plan for this site, aside from blogging about what I’m doing (or in the case of writer’s block, what I’m not doing), is to provide a place for readers to find extra information about my work from character sketches to back-stories, scene mockups, links to further information, and the like. I intend to update the blog at least once a week and to regularly post new content, so visit often, like me on Facebook, and make sure to follow me while I get REALLY uncomfortable here in black and white, all for your entertainment!

To start, I thought I’d tell you what I’m currently reading.  For pleasure I like to read fantasy and some sci-fi, but I tend to find myself soaking in a wide range of subjects for research (because I’m a little strange and love to learn).  Right now I’m reading The Power of Myth, which is a book based on the documentary series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers.  For more information see this link.  But absolutely do not go out and buy this book. If you need something to read, you want to read The Eleventh Age, by yours truly.

Hope to see you often!