Tishta the Crystal Orb: The Aldashi

Well, this has never happened before. After finishing the previous chapter, “The Aldashi Plain,” in a day, I’m writing the very next day to say I finished chapter 29, “The Aldashi,” of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” What an exciting way to celebrate #WorldBookDay.

After only two more chapters. I’ll be done with the edit. That is a big motivator to just sit down and finish it. I anticipate these final two chapters will take a fair amount of work. I will very likely come back to the Aldashi chapters to make tweaks and add details about the Dark Wizards, for whom there is not a single scene.

By this point in the book, the relationships between my characters have grown. They trust each other. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They are ready to pull together for the final push.

I like this chapter, along with the pervious one, a lot. It provides a respite for the group before they head into the most dangerous mission they have been on together. They have time for introspection. Especially, Coltan.

In the previous chapter, when the group entered The Aldashi Plain, Coltan battled with a repulsion spell—meant to keep demons from crossing the plain. While Criften was able to mitigate its effects, it told Coltan, in no uncertain terms, that he is a demon—not a man. I don’t think this would have bothered the Coltan who joined the group at the beginning of the book. He was a vampire. He had accepted that fact centuries earlier.

But something happened along the way. He was accepted into a group—which became a family. He remembered how to love. He developed a friendship with Gillan, and showed he would support her as the leader of the warriors—instead of trying to usurp her—when she lost her confidence and was was ready to quit. He and Malcan—whose ancestry includes vampire hunters—became brothers. The most profound was the relationship that formed between the vampire and a little girl—Mar. She showed him unconditional love, and even adopted him as her father.

In “The Aldashi,” when the group arrives at the Aldashi encampment, Coltan faces a whole camp full of people whose main purpose in life is to keep demons out of the plain. The Aldashi warriors stare at him with mistrust. When everyone else has dinner together, he is shunned from sitting at their fire. Everything reminds him that he is not a man.

Two of my favorite scenes fall back-to-back in this chapter—”Keeper of the Prophecies” and “I’m Not a Man.” In the first, Malcan rides alongside Freyl, the leader of the Aldashi warriors. Freyl does not understand Malcan’s relationship with Coltan. Here is a snippet from their conversation.

A quarter of an hour passed before Freyl asked curiously, “How can you stand to travel with a demon?”
Malcan took a calming breath. He glanced at Freyl. He decided he wasn’t being malevolent.
“He doesn’t really act like a demon. I’ve stopped thinking of him as anything but a man.”

In the very next scene, Coltan talks to Malcan about his thoughts since arriving on The Aldashi Plain.

“It reminded me, I’m not a man. I don’t want you to forget that. If anything happens to Criften—if his taming spell goes away—you have to protect the others.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to Criften,” Malcan said emphatically.
“Listen to me, Malcan,” he went on intently, just above a whisper, “I need to be able to trust you on this. You have to promise me that you’ll kill me. I don’t want to hurt any of you.”

By the time my readers get to these chapters, I hope they can understand the conflicted emotions going on in Coltan’s mind. This is the message I’m trying to present: the outsider—the other—trying to find his place.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

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Tishta the Crystal Orb: The Aldashi Plain

I blew through chapter 28, “The Aldashi Plain,” in a day. Right now, it might be the shortest chapter in the book, “Tishta the Crystal Orb,” although, I am very likely to add one or two scenes to include my Dark Wizards. I just don’t know what they would be right now. So, I am moving on to the next chapter.

On the Aldashi Plain, Coltan is faced with his demon-ness. Throughout the book, up to this point, he has been treated more and more like a human, and he has started to feel less like a demon. The acceptance he got from group, especially from Mar and Malcan, let him feel that way. Reminders that he is a demon will be a recurring theme throughout the rest of the book. Maybe that is why I liked writing this section so much.

Coltan is not the only character going through self-doubt. Malcan continues to struggle with his PTSD. Primarily, he is afraid he will let Coltan down again, but, if he does, it will put the mission to retrieve Tishta in jeopardy. Criften is dealing with his own self-doubt. He made a decision to defy his Master Wizard and The Council—he doesn’t trust them. He has lied and kept his knowledge about the location of Tishta a secret. He is following his instincts—which is one of his characteristics—but that doesn’t preclude him from questioning his own decisions.

There are only three chapters left. I am so excited! In the next one, we meet the plains folk. It includes my favorite scene in the book. Then, on to the climax and resolution. The addition of the new dark wizard apprentice, Keldra, has helped me formulate some ideas on how to make the ending more satisfying—it was one of my editor, Anne Bean’s, comments from her review of the first draft of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.”

I like the way adding darker characters makes the story come together. The first time this happened was when Coltan walked into the story—he surprised me. He paved the way for the whole story and stole the limelight from Malcan. I purposefully added Contara to add some conflict when my characters where getting along all too well. Keldra might do the same for the ending. I can see how she will cause conflict for The Others starting really soon and continuing into “Into the Wolf Dream.” Never be afraid to add new characters.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Invasion

Whew! Another slog to finish chapter 27 of “Tishta the Crystal Orb.” I spent a large part of my writing time going to NorWesCon40 last weekend, so spent it listening instead of writing. I believe these events are well worth the time. During my edit of “Invasion,” I made many changes to the last chapter, “Denalton,” to tie the two together. I probably added more new stuff to “Denalton” than I did to “Invasion”—although the current chapter required all its editing.

The new writing has been fun, but challenging, to add to the story. There have been some new interactions within the main group, but the biggest part in these chapters was adding a lot more story around one of the Dark Wizards, Baldru, who has been hounding them.

Working from some notes, I added a totally new character—an apprentice for Baldru, called Keldra—as well as giving some more personality and description to a couple of other wizards that work with him. Keldra surprised me by turning out to be a girl—in this world, girls don’t tend to be very powerful as wizards, usually becoming witches, which is a totally different thing. Baldru looks right past that. She can conjure demons, just like him. He is ecstatic. They were featured in two new scenes.

I knew Baldru kidnapped Gentu, but not how he pulled it off. When Keldra joined the story, I found the answer. With Keldra joining his forces, Baldru can put up quite an army of demons. This will help towards the end of the book, where Criften and Baldru get into it—but, that’s getting ahead of myself.

In “Invasion,” I expanded Coltan’s interest and concern over Gentu. In the original draft, after Gentu goes off to be with Maglin—due to his injury with the poisoned dagger—Coltan didn’t do much grieving. It was something my editor, Anne Bean, found lacking. I’ve added quite a bit about it in this version. It helps that I also added Criften’s communications wth his allies, Maglin and Eido. Coltan now regularly checks in with Criften to see if Gentu is getting any better. He’s also very upset when he finds out he was kidnapped. I think it adds a lot to his story, and to the story in general. Gentu’s rescue is becoming a larger plot point and I have plans for it to interfere with Coltan’s judgment.

A fun scene that I added to this chapter was “Not Your Servant.” In it, I show the interaction between the god, Rindahl—currently inhabiting the body of a young boy—chastising his wizard, Anakru, after he sends him on a task.

Anakru turned to Rindahl. The god held his eyes. His orotund voice shook the wizard.
“I am not your servant to bow to your beck and call.”

I like the incongruity of the apparent young boy having a deep, resounding god’s voice. Even the choice of the vessel in which to make himself corporeal is telling. When gods inhabit humans—or whatever—in my world, they can’t just pick anyone they want. It’s someone weak, and it’s difficult for their wizards to keep them there. This is also true for Rahl. Baldru works hard to keep the god in the eunuch’s body, and he can only maintain him in Gentu for short periods of time.

It’s demanding to keep track of all my characters and what rules apply to them in this world. I keep copious notes. I write backstories. I try to ensure that if a character comes from the same region as another character, that they share similar names, physical traits, customs and speech patterns. I work way ahead in the series to ensure the things I know are going to happen will still make sense when we get there. I don’t know how much other writers do this. I always knew this would be an epic story, so have taken great care with it. I’ve heard stories about publishing a first book in a series and then abandoning the series because some key point was overlooked in the first book. I am doing everything possible, within some constraints—time being the most crucial one—to make certain that doesn’t happen to my story.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Haiku

Daffodils spring forth
The sun shines through budding leaves
Yet the cold wind blows
#NationalHaikuDay

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Apparently, due to the cadence of the English language, haiku doesn’t work so well with the 5-7-5 structure of traditional Japanese haiku. It ends up feeling stiff and choppy. There is also supposed to be a pause either after the first line, in the middle of the second line or at the end of the second line. Mine could conceivably be said to have a pause at the end of the first line, so maybe it’s “OK” haiku.

The master Basho said, “On your lips a thousand times.” I haven’t even said this one out loud thrice. And I haven’t revised it. I do understand what he means, though. As I write my book, I not only read each scene out loud, I record it. It’s amazing how much I hear when I play it back, that I don’t see when I read silently and I don’t hear when I simply read out loud. It is my favorite form of editing

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

NorWesCon 40: Over the Hills and Far Away

I spent all day yesterday, April 14, in writer’s panels and workshops at Norwescon 40. It was intense and exhausting, but time well-spent. I attended three workshops, seven panels and a reading in the twelve hours I was there. Except for an hour break to eat a burger at six, I was in meeting rooms all day.

I got a late start and arrived at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, in SeaTac, Washington, just before ten. The parking lot was full, and, rather than go looking for parking elsewhere, I did valet parking. It cost $30—I’ll plan better next time. The hotel is a great venue for the conference, with lots of rooms for the panels and other attractions. The location is good for folks flying in—it is right across the street from SeaTac International Airport—but a little inconvenient for people getting there from Seattle. It would take nearly an hour-and-a-half for me to use public transportation to get there—versus twenty-five minutes by car—requiring transferring in downtown Seattle from the bus to light rail, then walking a fair distance once I got to SeaTac. I sometimes think the transit system is rigged in favor of forcing people to use cabs or Uber instead of mass transit to get to the airport.

I arrived at the conference checkin just in time to get my ID before my first panel started. Checkin was a breeze—I had printed and signed my consent form before arriving—with a very short wait in line. After another quick stop to confirm my workshops, I found my way to the conference rooms.

“Story Form, and the Pros and Cons of Each” was my first panel. It was moderated by Mark Teppo. The rest of the panel included Caroline M. Yoachim, Peter Orullian, Nancy Kress and Esther Jones. The discussion was about different forms of narrative fiction—novel, flash, short story, novelette—and how they are similar or different. One of the points everyone agreed on—no matter the length of the story—was that the ending is very important, so put a fair amount of work into it. The beginning is also very important. Everyone agreed you need to pull the reader in, pretty much immediately. You’ve got three paragraphs to hook the reader (or agent), or they’ll move on to something else.

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At eleven, I attended my first workshop, “Escaping the Cage – Write a Short Story”, with Patrick Swenson. It was an intense hour going through several exercises that are meant to set the stage, provide a middle and follow through to a conclusion, for a short story—all within an hour. “The Cage” refers to the predicament plaguing your character at the start of the story. We spent five minutes writing this before moving on to “The Escape,” where we wrote for another ten minutes about how the character makes a first attempt to get out of “The Cage.” The first attempt is a miserable failure and might even make things worse. “The Quest” comes next, with fifteen minutes of challenges and learning, including another failed attempt to solve the problem presented in “The Cage.” In part four, “The Dragon,” the hero comes face-to-face with the problem and has the know-how to kill it, either figuratively or literally. We took twenty minutes to complete this. As a wrap-up, we spent the final five minutes on “Home,” where the hero is validated at a homecoming—the awards ceremony at the end of the first Star Wars movie is the perfect example of this. I ended this workshop with a skeleton of a short story about a character I am going to add in the third of The Wolf Dream Books. It is by no means complete, but I will flesh it out and, hopefully, make it into a real short story. I haven’t figured those out yet, so this workshop gave me some tools to make progress there.

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My noon hour was spent in another workshop, “Fear and Writing in Les Genres,” presented by my friend, Evan J. Peterson. Evan writes a lot of speculative fiction, including a lot of horror. His about-to-be-published book, “PrEP Diaries,” is decidedly non-fiction—in it, he describes how PrEP is changing what it means to have safe sex. He moderates “Shriek: Women in Horror,” that explores the roles of women in horror films. He co-moderates the monthly film series with Heather Marie Bartels at Naked City Beer. In the workshop, he explored the “Three Levels of Scare”—attributed to Stephen King—Easiest – revulsion, gore, torture; Intermediate – actual horror, that moment when what you were afraid would happen, is happening, or confronting the fear thing; and Most Difficult – suspense, or horror not yet faced (being chased or whatever). After some discussion around what type of horror an author is trying to present, based on which audience is being engaged, we moved on to some examples of very short works. This was followed by a couple of exercises that helped the students come to grips with their own fears about writing. This workshop segued into the next panel nicely.

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In “Horror’s Role in Perpetuating Fear of the Other,” Arinn Dembo moderated a panel, which included Tegan Moore, J. F. High, Evan J. Peterson and Jason Bourget, in a discussion about how minorities—of all kinds, including racial, religious, disabled— have been portrayed in horror as the evil. This has been done both openly and through metaphor and allegory, to create an Us vs. Them narrative. The panel talked about how that has rippled out into a larger cultural narrative. The often mentioned “Get Out” is a new horror film that turns this upside-down, portraying the Black person as the victim, and the whites as crazy, evil monsters. Kudos to writer/director Jordan Peele for the care he took in the making of this film. All the panelists agreed that, when writing horror, great care should be taken to not perpetuate the tropes and stereotypes that have been used in the past.

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My third writing workshop, “Diversity and Narrative Voice” was with Nisi Shawl. She is a well-known author and writing teacher—see WritingTheOther.com for current classes—whose debut novel Everfair, is a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. For the discussion, she introduced the things that define “other”—Race, Orientation, Age, Ability, Religion, and Sex (gender). These are the elements of character to consider when writing about a character that is not “the unmarked state,” which is to say the dominant paradigm. In general terms, this implies white, but could also mean male, age twenty-five to forty, christian—whatever the “default” image the general audience would assume. The narrative voice is also a consideration when writing about “the other.” It is usually written in our culture’s “unmarked state.” Be mindful to ensure that this voice conveys and facilitates the inclusionism you want to portray. As an exercise, students wrote a scene based on a photograph, first from the perspective of one of the characters in their work in progress, then from either a different character or from the original character with one or more of their defining factors changed, e.g., a young man, then an elderly woman. I noticed the scene perspective changed drastically from my vampire seeing the location in my photo, to my little girl experiencing the same place at the same time.

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“Shady Characters” was a fun panel. Besides moderator Raven Oak, the panel included Kat Richardson, Tod McCoy and PJ Manney. In it, we discussed what goes into the creation of scoundrels, tricksters and rogues, and why they are fan favorites. In general, a writer needs to be careful not to make the hero too “clean.” All characters have flaws, so don’t leave them out. They add complexity and conflict to the character and to the story. One example of this was Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movie. The panelists agreed she would have been a lot more interesting if she had at least one flaw. An interesting part of the discussion was around whether the scoundrel is being  malicious or selfish, or if he believes his actions are necessary, whether or not he considers them “good.” All characters believe they are the hero.

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“Writing LGBTQ Characters in the Post-Patriarchy” was my next panel. It was moderated by Dean Wells. The panelists were Evan J. Peterson, Sienna Saint-Cyr and John (J.A.) Pitts. It was an interesting discussion around the rather sudden influx of “the other” in modern media, including writing, stage, film, television, ads and, to a lesser degree, comic books. The panel suggested it might be partly due to societal changes, but also changes in media, which have allowed unbridled creativity and access to media on the internet. Early instances of inclusion were noted to have presented those outside the norms of the last century as clowns or villains, but today, those same characters have become part of the fabric of storytelling. They are simply part of the story and might even occupy the coveted position of main protagonist.

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I decided to take a break from characters to attend “Outlining for Pantsers.” Manny Frishberg moderated the panel which also included Evan J. Peterson, Jude-Marie Green, John (J.A.) Pitts. It was interesting to me that the three panelists who don’t regularly outline before they write all expressed a desire to try to do so more often, and the one who always outlines, Pitts, wanted to do less of it. I am definitely a pantser, but perhaps my lack of outlining can be forgiven, since I am so new to the art of writing. I understood all the reasons Pitts gave for why outlining is a good practice. He comes up with a beginning and a solid ending (of course, this could change), and then plans out where the major plot points should occur. Then, he fills in some details about each one, develops  characters, and creates the world. It seems like a good way to go and I might try it sometime. The other writers had practices similar to mine—although they all have a lot more experience in story structure than I do—and come up with an idea, start writing, see where it takes you, come up with a likely conclusion, then just fill in things as they come. This process, in my own writing, was wonderful for me—to see the story unfold before my eyes. Now, I am learning what parts of the story are missing. Editing the first draft has been a long and arduous process. Outlining might help some of this.

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My final panel was “Diversity 101,” moderated by Sheye Anne Blaze. The other panelists were J. F. High and Evan J. Peterson. This was more about educating people about diversity, in general, as opposed to a discussion about how diversity appears in media. Both Blaze and High are Indigenous people, and both talked about their own experiences of not seeing people like themselves portrayed in media—and, if film characters were Indigenous, they were almost exclusively portrayed by white actors, some great examples of which are Johnny Depp’s portrayals of both Raphael in “The Brave” and of Tonto in “The Lone Ranger.” This led to more talk about appropriation of culture. Interesting to me, some of the audience weren’t familiar with this concept. The panel moved on to women, briefly, then to gender and sexual orientation. Again, an audience member was unfamiliar with some of the terms, such as cis. Since both Blaze and Peterson are not cis, they were able to talk about the issues of being part of “the other” in this regard. It was a good, safe place for people to share what they had experienced with others who were looking for the information.

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When J. F. High told us he was doing a reading just after my last panel, I decided to stay for a while longer to hear him read. He was originally planning to read something more current, but the recent events in Standing Rock—where ancestral bones were intentionally bulldozed—had shaken him. He decided to share his short story, “NDN Bones,” which is part of the Spring 2016 “Hot Mess” anthology. I’m glad I stayed. His story is about communing with ancestral bones. I could hear the emotion and respect in his voice as he read. It was a moving experience.

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I had a great day at Norwescon. It was my first time attending this conference. I wish I had the time to go again today and tomorrow, but family calls. If you’ve never been, try to make it out there before they wrap up tomorrow afternoon.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.

Tishta the Crystal Orb: Denalton

Twelve days after I finished the previous chapter, “Answers,” I finally finished Chapter 26, “Denalton.” I had a lot of distractions going on over the last two weeks, including my Mom having surgery. It turns out, I understand writer’s block now. This is the second time it’s happened this year, although, this one wasn’t nearly as bad.

I was so excited to start into Part 5, “Heading East.” It starts the warriors heading toward the object of their journey. I thought I would dive right in and be done in no more than a week. That’s not what happened at all. The first scene was a bit of a struggle as I completely re-wrote a scene that had been torn asunder when I moved a significant portion of it to earlier in the book. Once I figure out it needed to actually be two scenes, with a mostly new one leading into the bulk of the remains of the original one, I was able to write that new scene. The harder part was writing the second scene.

In the original draft, this scene included the telling of the rather long story about Tishta’s origins. It needed to be told much earlier to help set the stage for the journey. As I tried to re-write the scene, it still seemed to need a story. I decided it should be a story about the original hero, Actalim, from The Great Battle, which took place centuries earlier. I felt like I couldn’t write a legend about Actalim without writing some of his backstory. So, I dived into that. While it was a good thing to do, it ate into the limited time I had available for writing. It was frustrating to have the novel sit idle for days on end.

Last night, after spending two days with my mother while she recovered from her surgery, and not getting any writing done, I was feeling really depressed about my progress. This morning, I wrote the legend. It didn’t even take that long, once I got going. I guess I just needed a few hours to focus on it. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. If I ever write a book about Actalim’s adventures, I think it can follow this story pretty closely. It’s a legend, anyway, so some of it would be incorrect or exaggerated. When I wrote the little backstory that I did, I could see how it could suck me in to writing a whole story around Actalim. I’ll probably need to write more of this before I’m through with these first Wolf Dream stories.

Once I finished the second scene, I blew through the other three scenes in a couple hours, including recording them and doing a first edit. As I go through the book, I’m adding backstories. I did this in a couple of places in these scenes, especially for Coltan and Malcan. I also included more speculation about a new prophecy I introduced in the previous chapter, and had Malcan be reflective about the legend that he told in the second scene. I like that Malcan is not just the keeper of prophecies, but also of stories.

I currently believe this chapter is complete, although, in practice, I know I’ll jump back here to make updates and modifications as I move through the next chapter. I  may also need to add a scene with dark wizards, but I don’t know what it might be right now.

I’m back to being happy about the progress and hopeful about the next chapter going more smoothly. I’m also back to having fun writing the story.

Copyright ©2014-17 Ramona Ridgewell. All rights reserved.