Writerly Confessions

SpellcheckConfession

This post has languished in my draft file, in one form or another, for well over a month. It’s not meant as a pity-party post, but more as a State of the State of Mind. Honestly, I hesitate to admit to any of it, but here goes.

Confession #1: I don’t have a reliable computer of my own right now.

Sometime back in mid-February, the left hinge on my laptop cracked, which made the screen tear apart every time I went to open it. Just leave it open then, right? Yeah. The next day, the computer itself started acting like it had had a stroke, and the day after that, it gave me the fatal blue screen and claimed not to have a hard drive when I tried to restart it.

Thanks to a timely prompting, I had just backed up all of my writing files to a thumb drive. The laptop did restart on subsequent attempts, but my confidence in it was shot and I’ve only turned it on three times since then. Basically all of my work relies on Word and Excel documents. With the impending Windows OS update on the horizon, I have been borrowing computer time elsewhere and working off of file-sharing software. (And yes, I know I could get an Apple instead, but Office for Mac has a horrible reputation, and I can’t justify shelling out that amount of cash when my main program would be subpar.) Which means,

Confession #2: I haven’t started any new writing projects since finishing a manuscript last January.

In some respects, this is okay. I’ve been editing The Legendary Inge and prepping it for publication. I’ve worked on various freelance projects, which have provided me with actual paychecks. I’ve also started into a second-draft edit of a book I wrote 4-ish years ago. So it’s not like I’ve been totally delinquent in the writing arena. I just haven’t committed to any new projects (aside from one, brief foray that lasted for all of a page before I decided I can’t write on someone else’s computer, even if the file is saved elsewhere).

However, the creative valve has been in its “off” position for long enough that it leads me to

Confession #3: I often wonder if my well of creativity has run dry.

Is this a common concern among writers? I don’t know. When I first started writing, I never thought I had it in me to finish even one book, let alone 12, and I grapple with a near-constant fear that as I progress, I’m really just writing the same book over and over and over again. I see parallels in my characters, my plots, my themes. They each have their different quirks, of course, but I wonder how one book would stand under close scrutiny with another, whether I’m wearing into a “you’ve read one, you’ve read them all” sort of rut. What’s the point of treading across the same grounds again and again? And then I go and look at the list of 7 original plots and I just… I don’t know. Give up? Because, really,

Confession #4: I often struggle with whether to give up writing entirely.

By “often,” I mean basically every day. I look at what I’m doing, what I’ve done, and what lies ahead, and I think, “Okay, Kate, you’ve had your fun. Maybe it’s time to abandon ship and go live in the real world. Get a real job with a steady paycheck and give up on this pipe dream.” And my Id adds in a whisper, “You were never really that good at it anyway.” And I’m not. Most of the time I’m a mass of writhing insecurities cobbled together with apathy and cynicism. The apathy is what whispers back to that insidious Id, “And your point? No one gives a rip.”

Oh, Apathy, my dear friend for all these years, how much heartache you’ve spared me!

Ever since I started writing, I’ve wondered if I should stop, if it was a waste of time, if I was capable of producing anything of quality, how writing fiction fit into my worldview and my goals in life (or lack thereof, unfortunately). When I was in high school, I thought, “I’ll quit when I start college.” In college, it was, “I’ll quit when I graduate.” After graduation, “I’ll quit when I turn 22” and then “…when I turn 25” and then “…when I’ve finished my Master’s.” And every time, I reneged.

When I finished my MA I finally decided to give writing a fair shake, but 7+ years down the road, I don’t feel like I’ve hacked very far into the bush at all. Mostly because I haven’t. The path in front of me is clotted with obstacles, and I can still see the easy way behind me. I can also see others hacking their way through the overgrowth in front of them, and I admire them for it. I’m just still dithering, but without a specific deadline to renege on anymore.

The past 2-3 months have been pretty difficult, insofar as my writing struggle goes. I attended a writer’s conference (also in February, when the laptop fizzled) and saw the energy of the other attendees, and their enthusiasm, and their renewed determination to go out and create. I just wanted to go home and burn everything to ashes. (Thank you, Apathy, for intercepting that desire.)

In general, crowds drain me to a soulless husk anyway, but attending class after class of, “Hey, this is how you should write!” and “You need to do this but not that,” instead of motivating me to hone my craft simply instilled in me the message, “Hey, stupid, you’re doing it wrong.” And that created inner conflict, because I’m not doing it wrong, and some of the well-meant advice was poorly wrought, and most of it consisted of guidelines or suggestions rather than hard-and-fast rules. But that inner conflict churned up doubts and hopelessness, and I had to stay quiet for some time afterward as I sorted it all out.

On some level, it’s hard not to feel like the broken laptop and the dormant creativity and the vast alienation I feel in a crowd of writers aren’t a combined message from the universe that it’s time for me to give up and move on.

But I can’t. I can’t let it go. I don’t know why. I’m far enough removed from the process right now that I’m not going to claim something poetic, like that it’s etched into my soul, or that I would wither and die without writing. I think I could live just fine on that easy path. I really just don’t want to. And as much as it feels like the universe is giving me the perfect opportunity for a graceful exit, I haven’t actually received that message from The Only One Who Matters.

We’re tight. I think He’d tell me.

In short, forgive me, Dear Reader, please. My faults are many. I will continue to struggle, to dither, to haphazardly post (or not). I know I should be better, more committed, more aggressive, more routine. I should be, but I’m not.

And really, that is cause for gratitude, not hopelessness. A work in progress, after all, still has endless opportunities to improve.

Deadlines Are My Mortal Enemy

Inge_Cover_Final

Happy June, everybody! Here’s a new book for you to read!

Click here for the Kindle version!

The print version should show up in a day or two. It has at least 2 typos, found 10 minutes after I clicked the “publish” button. I’m sorry. They never emerged in multiple layers of proofreads, of course, and I’m too done with this hoop-jumping project to correct them now. (They’re corrected in the Kindle version, though, because that was easy to do. So that’s the version I’m going to pimp, hahaha.)

I know, I know. I’m supposed to set up pre-orders and hype a cover reveal and join a blog tour, and half a dozen other marketing strategies. Sorry I’m such a cynic. The honest truth is that I don’t really respond to those efforts from others, so I’d feel like a raging hypocrite implementing them myself. Maybe sometime down the road I’ll ease into that sort of thing. Until then, it’s just me running outside, banging pot lids for five minutes, and then going back in to mind my own business. (That was an analogy. I only really bang pot lids on pre-1995 New Year’s Eves.)

Full disclosure: I have been in a love-hate relationship with this novel ever since its first wisps of inspiration germinated in my brain. I know I’m supposed to tout it like it’s the greatest literary event since Pride & Prejudice hit the shelves in 1813, and my candor here is a complete marketing taboo, but such it is. I do love it, warts and all. It’s a fun story, a fun setting, and a fun cast of characters. I’m not really sure if it’s too far in my comfort zone or too far outside of it. I haven’t ever read another book like it, so that’s probably what’s making me nervous. But I truly, truly hope you enjoy it!

A few words on the cover:

1. Imma be honest. It offends my minimalist sensibilities. I like clean and simple, and I waffled over this cover forever because of that. However,

2. It’s inspired by the Franks Casket, which I adore. In that respect, it really does reflect some minimalist principles (have you seen how crammed those panels are with people?), which makes me like it better.

As an aside, if you want to transliterate an English text into the runic alphabet, futhorc.com has provided a lovely little tool. You’ll need Junicode (the modern linguist’s dearest friend) to use the runes in any projects, but that’s just a matter of downloading a free font, for which they provide a link. And Junicode is awesome in its own right. Everyone should have it installed. (I’ve had it for about a decade. #humblebrag)

3. Blue is probably my favorite color. So that makes me happy.

4. In general, I strongly dislike faces on book covers, especially stock photo faces. With few exceptions, the models never look like the characters in my head, and the cover becomes a disappointing distraction instead of a reason to read the book. There are exceptions! But they belong to other authors. With my visual brain and high expectations, there is no possible way I could ever match my characters to a representative photo, which is why I take the illustration route. Not that I owe anyone an explanation, but I’m just putting the information out there. Transparency, you know.

Also, go to a stock photo site and search for “Viking girl” or “Viking woman.” Yeah. Haha. You’ll find about 12-15 kinds of ridiculousness, and much of it scantily clad, as though it’s not routinely -112° in that part of the world.

That’s all the procedural matters for now, I think. Happy Reading, you beautiful people!

Sneak Peek: The Legendary Inge

Prologue

Dirt and blood filled his senses, gritty and glorious. The heady reek of his midnight kills always exulted his spirits, confirmed that he was terrible, invincible. He thrived on shadow and darkness and the destruction he could wreak under their cover.

Tonight was no different. He had infiltrated the same hall, had slaughtered his nighttime meal, and now he picked its flesh from within its armored shell as its fellows scrambled away in fear.

The creatures were so pitifully weak. His razor-sharp claws made short work of the ones that tried to fight back. He would eat his fill, gorging on their flesh until his belly swelled, and then lope away into the night, back to the darkling warmth of his nest, there to sleep away the long day to come.

Another sinewy lump slid down his gullet. Shouts rang from the hall’s entrance and the fire of torches followed. The light pierced his eyes. He raised one scaly arm to block it from sight, only to meet the heavy blow of a double-edged sword.

Pesky creatures, to think that they could harm him.

Lightning-quick his claws lashed out at the attacker, but they met not the armored shell nor the muscled flesh it guarded. Power flared and forced them back.

Magic.

He feared neither blade nor spell. He was immune to magic and metal both, had been endowed with those immunities by his creator. The one who wielded them both would be a troublesome pest, however. His meal forgotten, he sought to silence that newcomer.

It was lithe, even for his swift movements. The blade caught his skin and glanced off again two, three, four times. Magic filled the room and the other creatures, emboldened, started forward with weapons of their own. His claws could not strike. Spells and that double-edged sword both moved to defend almost before he could attack. Torches flashed before him, waved with menacing cries as their bearers backed him into a corner.

There would be no more feasting tonight, not with such resistance as this.

He leapt bodily over the pathetic cluster, felt the sword glance off his hide yet again, and escaped through the same window he had entered. Wrath coursed through him at the disruption, and his stomach gurgled its protest, unsated. Behind him, the creatures vaulted from the window and followed him into the waning night.

No one had ever given him chase before. He made his way slow enough not to lose them, could hear them behind him even now, the fools. If he lured them far enough into the forest, he could secure the rest of his meal. The hunted was truly the hunter. Dawn was near, with its cursed, piercing sunlight—nearer than he had thought—but his cave was not too far distant. There he could take refuge.

It would make the perfect trap for the meal that pursued him.

Even as he bounded on that course, though, a tantalizing smell drifted across his path. He skidded to a halt and breathed the aroma deeply. It was young, fresh and tender, a smell that made his mouth water. Accustomed to sinewy meals, he treasured those rare, supple morsels of youthful flesh. His heart lurched with anticipation and his legs instantly carried him in pursuit of that smell.

It was not far away, the young one. He crashed through the woods into a clearing and paused to take stock. Gleefully he surveyed the youth, saw the horror flash across its hairless face, felt a twist of gluttony in his gut at the rare treat of which he would partake. The pursuers shouted in the forest behind him, but he had more than enough time to kill this prey and carry it away with him to his nesting place.

The youth saw its death in his eyes. It swung the sword in its hand into a defensive position, body taut with terror.

With a leering grin he lunged. He feared no blades; the metal would glance off his skin, ineffective. As his claws extended to capture his delectable treat, the sword shot forward. It connected with the spot directly between his eyes, and he did not flinch.

There was a sickening crunch of bone, and agonizing pain. Surprise coursed through him in that fleeting instant before death.

Alas, the blade was not metal. It was wood, to which he was not immune.

My Swedish Grandmother Made Me Do It

“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”

(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)

It's all fun and games until someone's hair catches fire.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s hair catches fire.

My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)

We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.

When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.

Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.

Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)

So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”

And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.

She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!

IngeTitlePlate

Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.

Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.

Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Literary Influences: Beowulf

BeowulfHwæt!

(Did it work? Do I have your attention?)

Beowulf is one of those works of literature that, quite honestly, never interested me. Some beefy warrior kills a monster, and then he kills another one, and there’s a dragon in there somewhere, and at the end (spoiler alert!), he dies. I maintained a scornful disinterest for this epic over the course of a decade, until my conversion in my mid-twenties. Here’s how it went down.

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Verbs, Part 6: Conclusion (for now)

Objectives:

  1. Describe major verb features and their functions.
  2. Classify specific verbs according to the theta-roles they assign.

Skill level: Advanced

As indicated by the title, this is the final post in my verb series, though not necessarily my final post on verbs. (Who knows what the future holds, yeah?) This is mostly an overview post, so it’s short, quick, and to the point.

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Literary Influences: Lloyd Alexander

“Melancholy men, they say, are the most incisive humorists; by the same token, writers of fantasy must be, within their own frame of work, hardheaded realists. What appears gossamer is, underneath, solid as prestressed concrete. What seems so free in fantasy is often inventiveness of detail rather than complicated substructure. Elaboration — not improvisation.” ~Lloyd Alexander, “The Flat-Heeled Muse”

lloyd_alexander

Sometimes, you just have to curl up with a blanket and a nice stack of books.

When it comes to fantasy, everyone has a starter series, right? That first set of books that gives you a glimpse of worlds beyond, that whets your appetite and cultivates your imagination: the starter series sets the bar for every series that follows. Is it better? Is it worse? Does it have similar themes? Similar characters? Similar plots? Similar settings? Does it evoke that same sense of wonder, or a greater sense of wonder, or does it leave the acrid taste of disappointment in your mouth?

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Verbs, Part 5: Copulas and Existentials

This post covers two essential constructs most commonly associated with the verb to be.

Objectives:

  1. Demonstrate understanding of copulas and existentials.
  2. Eliminate the existential construct in favor of a stronger subject and main verb.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Copulas, AKA Linking Verbs

In English, the term “copula” (or “linking verb”) refers to a verb that links a subject  and a subject predicate. (The subject predicate, as indicated by its name, takes a nominative case.) The copula serves as a sort of grammatical placeholder and holds little lexical meaning despite its grammatical and rhetorical purpose.

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Verbs, Part 4: Theta-Roles, or How to Eliminate Passive Voice

My favorite syntax resource, Radford's English Syntax: An Introduction.

My favorite syntax resource, Radford’s English Syntax: An Introduction.

The discussion in this post requires a different view of language structure. For a deeper understanding, I refer you to Andrew Radford’s English Syntax: An Introduction (ISBN 0521542758), particularly pp. 190-193 . Much of this post draws from that source.

Objectives:

  1. Identify the theta-roles assigned to nouns by verbs.
  2. Revise Passive Voice from sentences by using verbs with alternate theta-role assignments.

Skill level: Advanced

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