A blog about the hearths we come from and those we make for ourselves; the myths we create, both cultural and personal; and the stories I write about them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Journey of the Fool.

Leo Karchesky/flickr.com
I mentioned last week that I had started working on the new book. I'm pleased (and fairly relieved, to be honest) to report that as of the end of my writing session today, I'm 31,000 words in -- or in NaNoWriMo terms, the first draft is more than half done.

First drafts of even the best-planned novels offer some surprises to the writer along the way, and this book did not start out as one of the best-planned novels I've ever attempted. So I was surprised when I realized my protagonist, whose name is Julia, is on a Fool's Journey. I mean, I wanted to work a labyrinth into the story, and I intended for the action to stretch over the course of a year. And I had the setting all picked out (more on that in weeks to come). But when Julia first stepped into the labyrinth and found herself at the edge of a cliff, with a little dog nipping at her heels...well, I had to sit back for a minute. Because that's the scene depicted in Card Zero -- also known as The Fool -- of the Major Arcana in a Tarot deck.

A typical Tarot deck is made up of 78 cards. Fifty-six of them are split into four suits, similar to a regular deck of playing cards, and in fact you can match up the suits in a Tarot deck with the suits in a playing card deck: Wands (Clubs), Swords (Spades), Cups (Hearts), and Pentacles (Diamonds). Each suit in a Tarot deck has 14 cards: Ace through 10, Page, Knight, Queen, and King. So that, too, is similar to a deck of playing cards, except for the addition of the Page.

Those 56 cards are collectively called the Minor Arcana. The remaining 22 cards, the Major Arcana, have no corresponding cards in a regular deck -- except for The Fool, which evolved into the Joker.

Now, sometimes people get a little nervous when you start talking about the Tarot. The first thing they think of is gypsy fortune-tellers and "Cross my palm with silver" and all that junk. Yes, you can use the Tarot for divination, if you're so inclined. But the cards can also be used as a springboard for meditation, and as a tool for self-discovery.

That's where the Journey of the Fool comes in. Many folks over the years have strung together a narrative that likens the progression of cards in the Major Arcana to a journey through life. You can take the journey yourself. One technique is to pick a day each month on which you will sit down, clear your mind, imagine yourself in the scene of one of the Major Arcana cards -- starting with The Fool and taking each card in order, all the way to Card 21, The World -- and see what your subconscious spits out at you. (Fun fact: Going through this exercise is what convinced me to start writing seriously.)

I'm not going to step Julia through every card in the Major Arcana, but I am keeping the cards in order. It's been an interesting exercise so far, and it promises to get extremely interesting shortly. She hasn't gotten to The Tower yet.

***
Speaking of life's journeys, I was saddened to learn this week of the passing of one of my favorite authors. Graham Joyce was a British author who wrote dark fantasy; I stumbled across his work in my local library one day and, once begun, gobbled his books as fast as I could. His work was better known in the U.K. than here in the States, and I've always thought that was a shame.

I met him at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego in 2011. The Silent Land had just come out; he signed my copy for me, and showed me a cool thing about the dust jacket design (ping me in the comments, and I'll tell you what it is). Just a nice guy.

I loved The Silent Land, but my favorite book of his is probably still The Tooth Fairy. Really, all of his work is excellent. I'm so sorry that he's gone. RIP, Graham.

***
These moments of Foolish blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Flashy stuff.

At Indies Unlimited this week, I talked about ways to work reading into your day. One of the things that makes me crazy about our current culture is that the marketers have plunked a TV screen in every possible place where they can catch our attention for even a few minutes: in restaurants, at the dentist's office, in line at the store. (My dentist even has TVs in each examination room. Every time I go in for a cleaning, I get a dose of some talk show along with my fluoride treatment.) And if there's no monitor convenient to where we're sitting (or standing) and waiting, we can always pull out our phones and check some app to pass the time.

All those screens are there not only to entertain us, of course, but to sell us stuff. Why give in to the marketers? Why not bring a book or an e-reader with you (on your phone, if you must) and read instead of watch?

Anyway, I got to thinking after I posted that piece that people who profess to be writers spend as much time complaining about not having time to write as they do about not having time to read.

I have a solution for that, too. It's called flash fiction.

Flash fiction usually has a word limit, and it's usually understood that the writer is to tell a complete story within that word limit. That's how we do it on Saturdays at Indies Unlimited. Every Saturday morning, our admins post a prompt written by our Evil Mastermind, Stephen Hise, and illustrated with a photograph by his able co-administrator, K.S. Brooks. (Here's this week's flash fiction prompt.) The limit is 250 words, and players have until Tuesday afternoon to post their work. Then on Wednesdays, we open it up to a popular vote. On Fridays, the winner for the week is announced, and on Saturday mornings, it all starts again.

Winners get more than just a congrats post at IU, though. All of the winning pieces are collected into an anthology and published at the end of the year. But even if you don't win, you can take all of the pieces you've written from IU's prompts and publish your own flash fiction anthology. If you play every week, you would have 52 mini-stories at 250 words each -- or 13,000 words. It's a fairly painless way to add another title to your bibliography.

I've been indulging in writing flash fiction more often lately, and I'm blaming fellow indie author J.D. (Dan) Mader. He has instituted a Friday afternoon feature on his blog called "2 Minutes. Go!" It's flash fiction with a little twist: instead of a word limit, there's a two-minute time limit.

Dan has attracted a bunch of talented writers to the Friday festivities (well, and me). Nobody's watching the clock except you, and nobody cares if you've clearly gone over the time limit. It's all very laid back and generates a lot of entertaining little stories to read.

To give you an idea of how it works, here's my story from this week. I did go over the time limit, but only by a minute or two.

***
"We're done here."

"Wait. What?"

"You're not paying attention. There's nothing more I can do."

She shifted in her chair. "No, really, I'm listening. You wanted me to...."

He threw up his hands, eyes rolled to the ceiling. "Just go home, Cindy. You're not concentrating. You're not even here right now. Just get out of here. Take the rest of the day off and come back in the morning."

Biting her lip, she headed for his office door. If only he knew why her head was in the clouds today.... But she couldn't tell him what was going on. If he knew she was protecting someone who was stealing him blind, he'd probably fire her. And if he knew that person was his own son, they'd both be out on the street.
 ***
It ain't deathless prose, but hey, it's a story. Right?

The point is, everybody can find two minutes -- or five, or ten -- somewhere in their day.  If you want to be a writer, think about using that downtime to read -- or to write. It all adds up.

***
Speaking of adding up, I've begun working on my new novel. The current title, which may change, is Seasons of the Fool. It's a stand-alone novel, not in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe. I'm still feeling my way along a little bit -- but as of tonight, I'm about 18,000 words in, and it's starting to come together. I'll post more about it next week.

Have a great week, everyone. And don't forget to bring a book with you!

***
These moments of deathless bloggy prose have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yarny things.

Brace yourselves. It's a post about knitting.

You can blame Kriss Morton, a.k.a. the Cabin Goddess, who wants me to post a photo of the mittens I made for her this summer. Kriss, here you go!


Yes, that's right -- I knitted a pair of mittens that say, "Cold as Fuck." As you might imagine, there's a story behind them.

Kriss lives in Alaska, and last winter she found the pattern for these mittens on Ravelry. She doesn't knit, so she asked me to make them for her. As it happened, my daughter Amy had the yarn that the pattern calls for. And I thought mittens would be a good summer project (mainly because they don't create a pile of knitted-up wool that pools in your lap). So Kriss has her mittens and I had my fill of knitting in two colors and reading a chart.

After the mittens, I thought I'd work on something easier. So I decided to knit myself a cowl. I bought some bulky yarn (because it knits up quick), and a pattern called "Grace." But of course I couldn't just knit the thing in one color, like the pattern calls for. No, I had to go all psycho and make each side of the cable a different color. Here, you can see what I've got so far. (The glasses are holding down the edges so you can get the full effect.)

You can't see it in this picture, but there are five strands of yarn coming off the top of the project. Five. How this is easier than the two strands I was using for the mittens, I have yet to figure out. I might finish this "quick" project in another month or so.

So that's been my knitting foolery this summer, except for the shawl project that I took with me to Albuquerque and never pulled out to work on, except on the plane. Here's a shot of the finished product. The yarn was awful -- it kept breaking on me -- but the finished product looks okay.

Yarn seems to be a theme this summer for us. The girls and I, along with my friend Kim, trekked to downtown DC yesterday to visit the Corcoran one last time before the National Gallery of Art takes over and closes it for renovations. As we were going to be down there anyway, Amy mentioned that the Smithsonian staff had yarn-bombed the Castle to promote a show at the Sackler next door. So of course we had to see it.

Our first clue was the gate to the Haupt Memorial Garden, which was covered in knitted fabric. The little tags hanging from the knitting are cards advertising the show at the Sackler.





A pillar outside the Sackler.
When we went into the garden, we discovered that the gate wasn't the only thing that had been yarn-bombed. The railings along the grass and the pillars leading into the Sackler were also wrapped in red knitting.




With a knitted effort like that, we had to go in to see the show.

The artist's name is Chiharu Shiota, and the installation, called "Over the Continents," is pictured on the right. It's made up of shoes, all tied together by red yarn to a central point on the wall.

The shoes were all donated by people in Japan. Shiota asked for shoes that the person didn't ever intend to wear again, but didn't want to throw away. The donors all filled out little cards with the stories behind their shoes, and the cards are tied to the shoes -- but they're all in Japanese. Thank goodness there's a computer terminal nearby with translations of some of the stories.

The artist apparently attracted quite a crowd while setting up the installation -- a bunch of kids gathered around to watch her.

The installation will be up through next June, if you're interested in seeing it. But the yarn bombing will only be up for another few days. 

***
These moments of yarny blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On beginnings, endings, and carrying on.

Before I get to the post, I wanted to mention a couple of housekeeping things:
  • Indies Unlimited is featuring the trailer for SwanSong today. (Thanks, guys!) If you haven't had a chance to see it yet -- or if you would like to see some pictures of swans, accompanied by 30 seconds of classical piano music -- click on through and check it out.
  • Voting in the BookGoodies Cover Contest continues through September 7th. My covers for Seized and Annealed are finalists in the Fantasy category. Big thanks to everybody who has voted so far -- you're all my new best friends. If you haven't had a chance yet, I'd appreciate it if you would click through and leave a comment on the cover of your choice.
 ***

"Letting Go" by gnuckx - commons.wikimedia.org
It's been one of those weeks here at hearth/myth.

To begin with, my nephew is starting college this fall, and he and my sister-in-law stayed with us for a few days before he was allowed to move into the dorm.

I've always considered college to be a rite of passage. The ultimate objective of child-rearing, after all, is to turn a child into a functional, independent adult. Going off to college gives a young adult the opportunity to take a big step toward that objective while still living in a relatively structured environment.

Of course, this means the parent has to let go of the kid. A lot of parents today pay lip service to the idea, but in practice, they still want to shield their kids from everything bad that might happen in their lives -- up to and including running interference for them. The technical term for this is helicopter parenting. Sending the kid to college is often a rude awakening for these parents, because the administration treats students as adults, even when the parents don't want them to: "What do you mean, you won't send me a copy of my kid's grades? I'm paying for his education! I have a right to know whether I need to call the professor!" Um, no. No, you don't. Your child is an adult in the eyes of the law, and his success or failure in college is between him and his professors.

College administrators work to establish this with parents during freshman orientation. They set up a separate set of meetings for the parents, and they also note on the orientation agenda the date and time for the parents to go home. Otherwise, some parents would hang around until classes start. Maybe even beyond.

Anyway, kudos to my nephew for attending orientation on his own, and congrats to my sister-in-law for not insisting on accompanying him.

While all that was going on this week, I got word that the friend of a dear friend had died. Yesterday, I attended her memorial service. It was lovely, with much singing and laughter along with the requisite tears.

I'm told that the woman who died believed that her purpose in life was to give and receive love. That's a pretty good life's purpose, I think. And judging by the outpouring of grief and love that I saw and felt in the church yesterday, I have no doubt she succeeded.

Going away to college is an end to childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Death is the end to life on this planet and the beginning of the spirit's next adventure. In each case, we leave things behind -- not the least of which is people who remember us as we were, and who must now carry on without us. And that -- the necessity of carrying on when the people we love have moved on -- may be the hardest rite of passage of all.

***
These moments of bloggy carrying on have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.