Getting Your Art On: The Art of Life

We all need some moments of silence in our life and last night was my moment.  It was something of a weird evening for me, for I spent most of it sitting around in front of the computer with no music playing and no interest in watching TV.  I was basically doing some research and preparing for my bus captain group meeting last night–held online at 9 PM Eastern time–and after I was done with that I managed to write a few hundred words and settle in the bed.

I’m not sure what I was feeling, but the spark of creativity was not there.  I think it was my moment to just sit around and veg out.

Yesterday was the introduction to the first day of art class, and we managed to learn a little about Matthias Ellison’s background and why he’s the artistic dude he has become.  Today we’re gonna learn what he thinks about art and why it’s important for everyone to have exposure:

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

For the first time since beginning his monologue Matthias began to pace around the studio space, turning to individual students as he spoke. “I love art. I love all forms of artistic expression, but art is one of those things that, like music, reaches right into my soul and touches me in a way few things can. It not only provokes an emotional response, but at the same time it’s stimulating your mind to create an intellectual response as well. And if a particular piece—be it a painting, a song, a passage from a story—is done just right, it can even provoke physical response as well. It might be joy, sadness, or anger, or even passion, but it can happen. And the best are can provoke all three of those things in individual at the same time. There’s little in life that can be said do the same.

“A thriving society needs its artistic community, because it needs the stimulation that come from the appreciation of artistic endeavors. Every society that has grown and thrived throughout history had, at its core, a vibrant artistic base, because—as I see it—artistic endeavor is an offshoot of imagination, and imagination comes from intellectual stimulation.

“The inverse is true: every society that is waning or dying has lost its artistic community, either through negligence or indifference. Once society has decided that art is an indulgence, that it’s something they can’t afford, that it will appeal only to the intellectual community and should therefore be shunned as being too ‘highbrow’ for the majority of people to understand and/or enjoy, then that society, as a whole, begins to die. They have decided that only the lowest common denominator of every form of expression is acceptable, and that the only purpose of art is to be ‘entertaining’. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before that society vanishes from the face of this planet.

“Art is essential for a witch, for any of the Aware, because we need our imaginations and artistic expression is one of the best ways to stimulate our imaginations.” Professor Ellison looked at his tablet so we can call on a student without falling back on the four he knew best. “Shauntia, what is the acronym we use to describe the process needed for crafting a spell?”

 

His feelings about the importance of art in any society is one that’s been echoed from time-to-time by other academics.  You see this happening today in the U.S. and it becomes apparent that things like art and music are seen as something to only be enjoyed by “snobs”.  Matthias believes this completely and isn’t afraid to say a society that doesn’t embrace it’s arts is one that doesn’t need, or won’t, continue.

And this leads him into one of the reasons witches need art;

 

Shauntia Okoro didn’t need to consider the answer as it came to her automatically. “VEW, Professor.”

“Correct. VEW: Visualize, Energy, Willpower. But what does this really mean?” He chuckled as he looked about the room, seeing some of the quizzical looks directed his way. “That was a rhetorical question, by the way, but let me show you where I’m going with this—

“Let me work this backwards. At the end there’s willpower, which we all know is the force of your personality that you use to make the spell become real. As I’m sure Professor Douglas and a few of the other instructors of said, your willpower is necessary because you need to essentially override reality. And the stronger your will against reality, the more effective and powerful your spell becomes.

“In the middle we have energy, which you need to power the spell. The energy can be either mystical or dark, but without energy your spell goes nowhere. Doesn’t matter how much willpower you have, if you haven’t allocated energy to your crafting, the end result is nothing.

“But the very first thing on this list, the very first thing you need, is visualization. You not only need to see the shape the spell is going to take, but you have to imagine the end result of your crafting. The very first step crafting magic is to imagine what it is like to reshape reality, and that is artistic expression.

“Every good witch is, at their core, an artist. You not only have to imagine how a spell is going to look, but as you advance through your learnings it becomes necessary to put these three things together in a matter of seconds. Which means, the greater your imagination, the faster you can conceptualize the reshaping of reality.”

Matthias waved his tablet away and set her down gently upon his desk. He began making a slow circuit of the room as he finished his monologue. “Everyone has some sort of artistic ability inside, and as with any talent it needs to be nurtured so that it grow. Now, I can’t say that by the end of this class you’re all going to be equally great artists: that won’t happen because you all different people. And it will be the same with what you draw: I can ask the entire class to draw a scene and each of you will come back with something different. Because you’re showing me your vision; your showing me what you see.

“But that’s what we intend to do in this class: we intend to find your talent, we intend to bring it out, and we intend to help it grow. When you first came to school all but one of you had absolutely no idea how to do magic, and now look at you. Well, you now you find yourself in this room and with the exception of a few, you’re once again unsure about how to draw or paint. We’re going to set about changing that. Together, we’re going to attempt to make an artist out to you. It may not be easy, and at times it’s going to seem super frustrating. But nothing done here at school has ever come easy, so why should what happens in here be any different?”

Matthias laughed as he headed back toward his desk. When he reached it he waved his hand and a holographic projection of the woods to the north of the history and arts building appeared in the open space at the front of the room. “Here’s a good first exercise. If you were to go to the roof of this building this is what you see as you looked towards the observatory. What I want you to do simple: set a sketchpad upon your easel, grab your pencils, and draw what you see. I assure you there’s no right or wrong, and there’s no good or bad. There’s just what you draw.

“And the reason for this is simple: each of you sees the world differently.” Matthias smiled as he looked about the room and saw the sometimes grim, sometimes confused faces of the students. “And once I know what you’re seeing, then maybe I can show you how to see better.”

 

It is so true here in my world that imagination is the key to being a good witch.  Those who have the strongest imaginations are gonna rip reality a new one, and that probably gonna affect anyone standing close by.  We know Kerry has a great imagination and Annie has already demonstrated her artistic ability, so could it be that the reason these two are such great witches is because they can visualize better than their fellow witches?

You might say Annie could literally make this painting jump off the canvas...

You might say Annie could literally make this painting jump off the canvas…

The start of art is over–now we’re on to the next scene and a different kind of seeing…

Getting Your Art On: Setting the Interest

The last two nights of writing have ended up seeming a bit surreal, because of back inside Helena’s A Level sorcery class, and I’m remembering all the stuff I wrote about her the first time while doing it all again.  And make sure realize that some of the instructors at the school have been on the job for close to twenty years: there are two who fall into that category easily, and two more were creeping up on that goal.  Helen is one of those instructors who has been teaching for about ten years straight, but during the 1990s she actually had a few other stints between Guardian field operations where she put in a year or two of instruction during her down time.

And when you consider that every instructor, as well as the staff, were students before they became instructors, that tacks on anywhere from six to eight additional years spent at school.  When you had that on, Helena has spent nearly twenty years at Salem, and Jessica and Erywin have been at Salem for closer to thirty.  But you know, what’s thirty years when you’re likely to live for a hundred and fifty?

Speaking of one of the instructors is actually been at the school for over twenty years, first as a student and then instructor, we now get in to actually meeting Professor Matthias Ellison, the head of the Arts and Music Department.  The reality is that save for a few people who come in from time to time to help out with things, he is the Arts and Music Department, as the only other people who are associated with this department are those student tutors who Matthias reaches out to to help other students.

Believe me when I say I had fun putting his background together, because it gives you a little hint of how he actually got to where he’s at and you get to see a little of the Normal background that drove him to be who he is today.  So let’s kick back and enjoy Professor Ellison’s opening statements.

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016, 2017 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

Professor Ellison waited for everyone to find their workspace before he begin taking the first attendance of the year. As soon as he was satisfied that everyone was in the proper classroom he moved the tablet about three quarters of an arm length from him and turned to face the students. “Good morning, everyone, and I would like to welcome you to Introduction to Art. I am Professor Matthias Ellison, but most people call me Matthias. It’s easy to remember because it sounds like an important name, and I prefer being called that because ‘Professor Ellison’ sometimes sounds a bit too stuffy.

“A little bit about me. I was born in Canada and come from a Normal background. When I came to the school I was placed in Blodeuwedd Coven, were managed to maintain fairly good proficiencies and graduated in 1991. After leaving here I went to college in Canada and managed to get my Masters before coming back here to teach in 1998. I was present during The Scouring and fought with honor alongside a number of instructors and students—and some of those students with whom I fought for now colleagues of mine.

“I mentioned I’m from Canada. Specifically, I’m from White City, Saskatchewan, which is situated on the Trans Canada Highway about ten kilometers east of Regina, a city famous for its NHL hockey players, a song by The Guess Who, the hometown of actors Leslie Nielsen, Stephen Yeun, and Tatiana Maslany, and the fact that everyone messes up the pronunciation of the city by not realizing it rhymes with a body part found only on women.” He waited for a smattering of laughs to die down before continuing. “White City is also known for The Ice House, which serves the greatest hamburgers in all of Canada, and anyone who says that isn’t true is a liar. There’s little that makes the town spectacular: it’s what people in America would call a ‘bedroom community’ and today it’s filled with a lot of upscale people, two of whom are my parents who work in downtown Regina.

“One of the more interesting things about White City is the origin of its name. One says that it came about because of a misspelled store sign, but another—the one I like best—is that it was named after the White City section of London, England. I mean, it’s not unusual: a lot of places in North America are named after cities and towns in Europe, so it makes sense that perhaps someone decided to name my hometown after location back in the old world.

 

Everything in the preceding three paragraphs is true.  Not only did I do my research, but I happen to have a couple of Facebook friends who live in the Regina area, and when I told them that I was actually researching Regina for this section of my novel, they gave me a few hints on what to include.  One of the friends remarked that she was surprised to see me include the MacKenzie Art Gallery and the University of Regina, which both appear below.  My other friend is actually from White City and found it interesting that I wanted to write about it.

And it’s this friend who told me to make certain that I wrote about The Ice House, a local burger joint that is well known through this part of Saskatchewan, and which she actually said serves the best burgers in all of Canada.  So I looked up a little information on The Ice House and discovered that it is not only a burger joint but a liquor store as well, because Canada.  I mean, why not?  Load up on a burger and fries, maybe a little poutine while you’re at it, and then grab some beer  and wine for the drive home.

Come for the burgers, but don't leave empty handed.

Come for the burgers, leave with the adult beverages.

Their primary burger is known as The Iceberg, which is a homemade confection that appears to be the sort of thing that I would eat if I visited this place.  But if you have a huge appetite you can try the scaled up version of The Iceberg called The Glacier Burger, a CAD $29 monstrosity that will guarantee you don’t leave this establishment hungry if you can find the energy to regains your feet and stagger out to your car.  In fact, it looks almost like one of those novelties that you see restaurant served from time to time: you know, like a five pound/two and a half kilogram steak that if you can eat the whole thing you get for free.  Though I’m pretty sure with this burger you pay up front before you start eating.

Oh, and make sure you have a beer with it to, eh?

Oh, and make sure you have a frosty beer with it too, eh?

And one last thing to point out and that’s the correct pronunciation of the name Regina.  This one I got directly from my friend Nicole, who lives and works in Regina, and who has said on occasion that since far too many people pronounce the name “Ra-GE-na”, there is an easy phrase to help you remember the correct way to pronounce the name: “Regina like Vagina.”  Yes, just like Professor Ellison said, it rhymes with a particular body part found only on women–well, on csiwomen.  There’s just some of us gals who haven’t quite caught on with that particular trend…

Now that Matthias has given us a little background on Canadian geography, he gets into one of the main reasons why he is the person he is today:

 

“I really didn’t think much about my hometown’s name origin until I started here as an A Level. That’s because two months after I started here an album came out titled White City: A Novel, which was written and performed by Pete Townsend—he’s a guy who’s been in the band The Who for like forever, which is something I’m sure almost all of you didn’t know.

White City—the album, not my hometown—is what was known as a ‘concept album’, which means all of the songs tied together to tell a story. You don’t hear of those too much these days, mostly because the music buying public can’t really listen to a song that’s more than four minutes long before they tune out, but back in the 1970s and through a bit of the 1980s, they were all the rage; it seem like every famous band then put out at least one during their lifetime.

“Now here’s a dirty little secret of mine: before coming to Salem I wasn’t really that into music. I listened to music, but it was little more than background noise to my life. It wasn’t until I was able to sit and listen to White City that I started to get into music. It wasn’t that the music was great—because it was, it was fantastic—but it was the idea that one could convey a story using music and lyrics, and make it a coherent, meaningful experience.

“You might say that this album was my musical epiphany, because it wasn’t long after that I realized that all music tells the story. It does this because music triggers an emotional response in each of us and makes us feel things that we didn’t realize we could feel.

“While I was home on Yule holiday that year I parents took me to the MacKenzie Art Gallery, which at that time was still connected to the University of Regina, my other alma mater. This was the first time I was exposed to paintings and sculpture, and the experience left me speechless. When you’re twelve years old you’re supposed to find art stuffy and boring, but I didn’t: I found it amazing. When we were leaving the museum I bugged my parents to buy me a book that would show me how to sketch, and I spent the rest of my Yule holiday working on sketching. And I brought that book back to school with me, managed to get a hold of a sketch pad and pencils, and spent the rest of my A Levels sketching whenever I had time.

“When we returned home from school that summer I couldn’t work on magic, so I worked developing my artistic talent. I also asked my mother if I could take piano lessons that summer, and she paid for me to see a teacher. So that summer I was not only learning to draw and paint, but I was also learning to become a musician—or, I should say, I was learning how to play piano.

“After returning to school I asked the then head of the Arts and Music Department if I could perform during Ostara, and if she could get a tutor to help me work on a piece between the start of my B Levels and March of the following calendar year. She agreed to both my request, and in 1987 I performed at my first Ostara. After I left the school I went back to the University of Regina enrolled in the music program graduated with honors from there, and then worked on a Masters that would allow me to teach music and composition.

“And when I was finished with all that, I decided that the one place in the world where I could make the greatest impact with what I’d learned was right here at Salem. And I’ve been here ever since.”

 

There you have it:  Matthias Ellison discovered music because the guitarist from The Who created album that, I feel, is one of his best and most underrated works, and because his parents decided to expose him to art.  And from that he learned to draw and play, then went to college to understand it better before coming back to Salem to pass along what he learned.  Which is how real teachers do this.

Now that we have his background, it’s about time for him to explain why he likes the arts–and why you should as well…

There’ll Be Artwork and Pain

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: a couple of days ago I passed sixty thousand words.  It took eighteen days to get there, but there was probably less actual writing since during those two and a half weeks I was kind of preoccupied with real-life.

But I got it done.  And I got a feel good about that.

Right here's the proof of feeling good.

Right here’s the proof of feeling good.

I think it’s really funny that if you look at the picture above, you see that the word count I ended with last night was exactly two thousand words less than the word count from the previous scene.  Since then–which is to say this morning–I’ve added a few more words so that counts don’t jibe, but still: I love little coincidences like that.

Also last night, I wrote a total of twelve hundred and sixty-four words.  That is probably the biggest amount I have written in a long time, though all that writing was done with the help of Dragon software.  It took me exactly two hours and forty-seven minutes to finish the scene–how do I know that?  I’ll tell you in a bit.

And one last thing before we get to the excerpt: I noticed when I begin speaking Annie’s dialogue, I speak in “her” voice.  Which is to say, I soften my tone and try to speak with just a bit of an accent.  Not much, but there’s a little bit there.  I guess you could say I’m getting into her character what I’m speaking as her, and I do think about what she would actually say as opposed to what I am going to write.

Then again, I caught myself speaking of slightly English accent when I was doing Penny’s voice.  But just like with Annie, I speak of slightly softer tone when speaking is Penny or Alex, and I’ll probably do the same with him speaking as Anna or Elisha.  Funny how that works out.

Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s look at part of what I wrote.  I’m not going to give you everything today, you’ll just have to do with what I’m giving you here.  I assure you, it’s going to be enough.

And it should be good.

 

(The following excerpts from The Foundation Chronicles, Book Three: C For Continuing, copyright 2016 by Cassidy Frazee)

 

“He’s fine.” Annie look back toward Penny and Alex before turning toward Anna and Elisha. “Could you give us a few moments alone, please?” Alex nodded and turned away with Penny doing the same. Anna and Elisha did the same and headed off in the opposite direction from the other two girls.

The moment everyone was out of sight Annie began gently pulling on Kerry’s arm. She moved close to him so no one else could hear her speak. “Let’s sit, my love. Please?”

Kerry nodded just enough to acknowledge that he heard Annie. They sat on the floor between two of van Gogh’s paintings while still keeping Starry Night Over the Rhône before them. Annie was about to ask Kerry something when he suddenly leaned forward, closed his eyes, and began sobbing aloud.

She was unsure of what to do beyond wrapping her arm around him. Annie had never seen Kerry act like this before—no, that wasn’t entirely true. Kerry had experienced a number of sobbing breakdown for, but all of them had occurred at school and in private. While she had seen him shed a few tears in public before, this was the first time she’d ever seen him break down completely with other people around.

Annie pulled him into her, holding him close. “What is it, my love? Please tell me what’s wrong.”

 

It goes without saying that Kerry is something of an emotional mess right now, the comforting of the soul mate not withstanding.  His worst fears came true and he’s dealing with them with varying  degrees of success.

However, this is something different:  this is something that’s overwhelming him, ’cause Annie knows, he’s not one to up and breakdown like this in public.  She’s good at getting him to open up to her, and this time is no different:

 

It took a few more seconds for Kerry can bring himself under control. He held his head up and back, drawing in deep breaths, and after the third one he was ready to speak. “I don’t want you to think this strange—”

Annie chuckled. “I won’t think it’s strange, I promise.”

Kerry pressed is fingertips against his forehead. I really like van Gogh’s paintings. I don’t know why, I just saw them on-line one day and I thought about how fantastic they looked. I know it seems strange that I would like art—”

“I don’t think it’s strange at all. You’re intelligent and creative. Look how you enjoy my artwork; look how you enjoy playing music.”

“I know.” He looked across the enclosure at the painting on the far wall. “It was when Elisha asked where van Gogh was when he painted the other Starry Night, and I said he was in an insane asylum—” He rested his head against Annie shoulder. “Have you ever heard the song Vincent?”

She stroked his hair. “No, my love. I haven’t.”

He drew in a long, slow breath and exhale completely. “It’s an old song by Don McLean. He wrote about Vincent van Gogh and it’s a really…” Kerry’s voice caught as he tried to control his emotions. “It’s a beautiful song. I don’t listen to it much because it makes me feel sad.”

Annie knew there was more to what Kerry was feeling now than just being sad about a particular song. But she couldn’t come right out and say that: it wasn’t the way to get through to him. However, having known Kerry all her life, she knew how to pull information out of him. “I’d like to hear the song one day. But something else must have occurred, something even more sad, that is connected to this painting. Is there?”

He looked off into the distance for a moment then turned back and focused on the painting. “I was looking at this painting and the other Starry Night on-line one day—it was like a month before I was invited to Salem. I had Vincent on a playlist shuffle and it started playing while I was looking at the pictures. I started thinking about what it must’ve been like—” He looked down and closed his eyes for a second. “What it must be like to go mad. And I got all, you know—” He turned to Annie with tears in his eyes. “You know.”

She brushed the tears from his left cheek. “I do indeed know, my love.”

He nodded. “Some sitting there, trying to get control of myself, and my mom walks into my bedroom without knocking or anything. And she sees me there, crying, with the music playing, and she’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ And I told her I heard a sad song and made me cry. And she—” He closed his eyes as he fought to keep from sobbing again. “She says, ‘What the hell is wrong with you? You’re worse—’ He shook as he strained to get out the last few words. “‘Sometimes you’re worse than a girl’.”

 

And here’s where it was a good thing I had a few glasses of wine inside me when I wrote those last few paragraphs, ’cause something like what happened to Kerry happened to me.  Only it happened while the aforementioned song was being performed live at the Grammys and I started crying in the living room in front of both parents, and I ended up getting a disgusted look from my father and pretty much the same last statement from my mother.  Yeah, thanks a lot, guys, for knocking me down with that burn.

Needless to say, Annie’s got some choice thoughts for her future mother-in-law, and while she calls her something that sounds like “witch”, it ain’t.  Louise Malibey doesn’t know it yet, but she’s shaping the life of another person she’s never met–and she’s doing as shitty a job with her as she has with her son.  Having an emotionally traumatized witch who knows Morte spells in the house is one thing:  having his cool and collected Dark Witch girlfriend who can River Tam your ass in a fast second is another, and that’s one that could come back to bite one on the ass at some point.

Now, for the song in question:  I picked this version because of the slideshow of van Gogh’s artwork the presenter put together.  Enjoy.

 

Now, as to my claim that I finished the current scene in exactly two hours and forty-seven minutes–yeah, I got this backed up.  Last night I also modified my YouTube Music From San Junipero playlist based upon an extended playlist that Black Mirror creator and writer Charlie Booker put together on Spotify.  He says that his playlist has all the music that was in the episode, all the music he tried to get into the episode but couldn’t because of licensing issues, and a couple of songs “that inspired”.  The time it takes to play all the songs?  Two hours and forty-seven minutes.  I started writing as the first song began and finished as the last song ended–which is a nice bookend in a way as the first and last songs are bookends to both the playlist and the TV episode.

So here you go, some great music coming from one of the best hours of television ever written:  not just my opinion–one I gave when I recapped this episode a short time back and you should read if you haven’t–but the opinion of many others who enjoyed great TV.

Now, what’s Annie gonna do to help Kerry out of his current mindset?

Guess you’ll find out tomorrow.

From Under the Covers

Yes, yes, I know:  you were expecting to find something here concerning Annie’s and Kerry’s breakfast, and whether or not Annie was gonna burn down the Great Hall to get back at Emma.  Sorry, I’m so, so sorry, but I didn’t.  First, I went out for drinks with a woman from the office.  Second, we both got a tinsy blasted and were well on our way to being “The Hammered Chicks at the Bar,” which wouldn’t have bothered us in the least as we were joking with the bartender–who made the best Cosmos–and throwing shade at some of the people around us.  (My friend’s best remark, concerning an obvious state intern dressed to the nines and looking like she needed a good meal:  “Of course the bitch ordered a salad.”  Oh, and a couple of dudes to my right kept looking like they wanted to hit on us.)  Third, by the time I got home it was seven-thirty, and I really didn’t feel like I was gonna get anything done, because I had business to do.

Which leads us to Forth via a short roundabout.

The last thing I published was Her Demonic Majesty back in May, 2012.  Since then I’ve written a hell of a lot–by my own estimation, of the six full stories and one finished story written, eight hundred and fifty thousand words–not one of those things has come to light.  I’m just a novelette short of a million words in three years, and nothing is out.  When you think about it, that’s pretty damn sad.

Lately–well, for months, really–I’ve been on the kick of saying that I would publish, but I need a good cover.  And really, you do, otherwise you end up on Lousy Book Covers and people shame your ass because, as some point, a writer looked at the work in front of them and thought, “Yeah, it’s not getting better than this.”  And I seriously don’t want that.

But I’ve been in a real “Shit or Get Off the Pot” moment, where it’s either time to walk away and admit you aren’t doing anything but literary masturbation, or you are totally serious about getting your work out.  Which is why there was a Forth last night:

I’m having book covers made.

I contacted Desi’s Art Deigns and spoke with Desi herself.  I told her what I was looking for, and she quoted a price of $200 per custom cover, with a ten percent discount if it’s part of a series.  When we finished, I told her I would get my ideas to her and that by sometime next week I’d pay her, up front, for her work.

So what am I getting?  A dark, urban horror cover for Kolor Ijo, for one.  This was my NaNoWriMo 2012 entry, and I’ve wanted it published for some time, so why not soon?  Desi told me that she could have real fun with this, as dark urban horror is pretty sweet.  I’m coming up with ideas for it, and will start making notes on those ideas.

Notice, however, I’m using a lot of plurals–“Covers”; “ideas”; “series”.  Just how many covers did you buy, Cassidy?  Four.  One of Kolor Ijo, and three for . . . you know what’s coming next.

I’m going to edit and publish The Foundation Chronicles:  A For Advanced.

I mean, I spent fifteen months of my life working on that book, so what the hell?  Is it seeing the light of day or what?  So I will stick to my original plan of publishing the first book by act, which are all over a hundred thousand words.  I already have an idea for the Act One cover:

Only less sparse.

Only less sparse.

It would come as Annie and Kerry are walking through Founder’s Gate for the first time.  They both stop in the archway and look around:  Kerry to his left, Annie to her right.  This way you get them both in three-quarter profile.  Kerry will have on his hoodie and backpack, and you’ll see his green eyes through his rectangular putter-gray glasses, while Annie will have her nice purse slung across her body over a nice jacket, her long, full chestnut hair exposing enough of her face that you can see her hazel eyes.  There is the garden on either side of the long walkway, and Isis and the rest of the European/African A Levels are about half way down the lane, while in the distance is the Great Hall, shrouded in darkness and mist, all indirectly lit.

I have my ideas for the Act Two and Three covers as well, but I’m not going into that now.  Be it that the covers are coming, which means I will edit and publish, probably throughout much of next year.  Because now I’ll have to publish–

After all, I’ll have covers.

Starting Seems to Be The Hardest Word

This thing happened last night.  This thing is actually what is known in the biz as “Beginning a New Scene,” and it should have went off without a hitch–

But you know that’s not gonna be the case.  Not with me.

"Okay, that's eight words.  Does 'Urrrr' count as a word?  If it does, that's nine . . ."

“Okay, that’s eight words. Does ‘Urrrr’ count as a word? If it does, that’s nine . . .”

I run into this all the time.  I know what I’m going to write, because I’ve already went over this scene in my head probably eight or nine times.  Sometimes I’ll even say the parts out loud, because that’s the sort of crazy person I am, where I’ll act it out because–why not?  Who doesn’t talk to themselves all the time when they’re at work and they’re working on scenes while they should be, you know, doing something else.

I’ve got it all down in my head, and then . . . it’s time to write all the descriptions need to bring the scene into focus.  Which I normally don’t have a problem with, but when I’m starting everything up–

It doesn’t come out right.  It comes out slowly.  It comes out in spurts.  I comes out feeling like I’m missing something.

I managed about six hundred an thirty words all in all, getting the next breakfast scene rolling.  I’m usually like that at the start, and tonight I’ll read over it again and probably redo some of it before launching off into the new stuff.  That’s when my chaperon, Ms. Rutherford, pretty much throws shade as some of her charges–which you would think is something she wouldn’t do in front of another student, but Annie ain’t just “another student.”  (I was told by my fourteen year old daughter that none of the cool kids ever say, “throw shade”, and that she’d never heard of the term until I asked her about it.  I’m just being a proto-hipster here, yo.)

Besides, like a lot of my scenes, nothing really gets started until the first thousand words are out of the way.  There’s always the set up, the build, and then I launch into the goods.  The real business starts when Annie is getting ready to lay down the law to everyone else, and Kerry pops out of the lift–then I get going.  Then I know what’s going to happen, and there shouldn’t be any hesitation in getting it done.

This is nothing new:  it’s all been there, done that about fifty or sixty times since the story started.  And since I’m in rebuilt mode right now, I’m working hard to get things right.  Essentially I’m taking three scenes, completely scraping two of them, writing a new one to replace the first and rewriting the third with parts of the second scene to make it seem more interesting.  It’s a bit of a detour, because I should be a few tens of thousand of words into Act Two right now.

Getting this stuff right in the first part is more important, however.  Particularly if I want to polish this up and publish it while I’m still finishing the novel–

Wait–did I just say that?

Frolicking in the Danger Zone

Let’s do the niceties right now and say this post will speak of real things that happened to me.  It may feel like a rant to a lot of people, and there is a high likelihood I’ll upset more than a few of those folk.  But seeing as how it’s been close to a week since the last time that last happened, I may as well close out the week cranking up the irate a bit.  With that in mind, here’s a kitten to put you into a great frame of mind:

It's a Siamese kitten, though, and we know they're sort of evil, so this kitty is probably ready to take you Straight to Hell.

It’s a Siamese kitten, though, and we know they’re sort of evil, so this kitty is setting up to take you Straight to Hell.

With that out of the way, onward.

I spent a lot of time as a kid scared.  Never mind all the crap going on in my head with gender identity issues and just generally being considered a strange kid because I did things in my shitty little town like read–I was scared.  A lot.  I had a very active imagination, and since I read a lot of different things like science fiction and comic books and the occasional horror story where people were being walled up alive or having bad things happen to them because they were screwing around with a monkey’s paw, I’d start imagining things–you know, stuff.

The sort of things that prevented me from being in a dark room with an even slightly cracked closet door because there might be something in there–something that was going to eat me.  I couldn’t stand to look out a window in the dead of night for fear something was going to jump into my line of sight, something I didn’t want to see, something that was going to do me harm.  And this last still happens to me; occasionally I’ll get the feeling that something is out on the balcony getting ready to jump me, and I don’t dare look ’cause I don’t want to see . . .

That stopped me from reading, right?  No.  I didn’t stop me from watching all those funky 1950’s science fiction and horror flicks on TV, either.  If I knew it was going to cause problems, why did I continue to scare the shit out of myself?  Because I had a jones that needed feeding, and learning and being entertains was worth the price of imagining something could jump out of my closet and get me.

I also ran into my share of personal tragedy.  By the time I’d turn ten I’d watch an uncle lose a long battle with lung cancer, and since it seemed like everyone in our extended family either died of cancer or heart disease–and I heard this stuff being talked about all the time–it was a simple matter to know what was happening.  Oh, and my mother was also a nurse, so there were plenty of books around the house with pictures–just in case I needed to know what a cancerous lung looked like.

I lost two close friends before I was out of high school:  one drown and another was involved in a rather horrific auto accident.  A girl I’d dated for a year at the end of high school died a year after we broke up when her sister’s car spun out and flipped over into a drainage ditch.

There was also the occasional suicide popping up from time to time.  When I was about eight a second cousin of my mother’s decided she was going to take her two daughters for a ride, got them into the family sedan, and never left the garage.  There was no way I didn’t know about this because it was all over the Chicago news, print and television, at the time, and my mother didn’t stop talking about it for days.  As for the other suicides–well, they were attempts, and not successful ones at that, otherwise I wouldn’t be here typing this post.  Though I’ve not tried anything like that since the 1990’s, I did voluntarily check myself into a mental heath facility in 2008 for a “Forty-eight Hour Observation Stay”, which is a polite way of saying, “We’ll make sure you’re not given a chance to permanently hurt yourself.”  Actually, it was an interesting experience–I was roomed with a schizophrenic who kept telling the doctors he was okay because he’d found his cure in the Bible, and they could give him any test they wanted to try and prove him wrong, and I was hit on by a couple of women:  one wanted my opinion on whether I thought she’d make a good lesbian and should she castrate her boyfriend before doing so, and another girl kept trying to convince me to have sex with her, telling me, “You’re not that crazy, so it’ll be good ’cause I can trust you.”

Fun times, let me tell ya.

These are all little bits of my life experiences.  No mention of the time a “friend” beat me up because I wouldn’t dance with someone at a club–yeah, that sort of sucked.  But all of this come to mind when I’m writing.  All of this makes up little things that pull at my psyche when I’m dealing with characters.  I don’t think I have an interesting life, but I certainly have one that’s seen it’s fair share of bullshit.

I’m not the only one who’s been there.  A Clockwork Orange was written in three weeks by a highly intoxicated Anthony Burgess, who admitted that a lot of Alex’s story brought back memories of his wife’s rape, and drinking helped get the words out with a minimal amount of pain.  Harlan Ellison wrote in the preface of All the Birds Come Home to Roost of the terror he felt having to write, at an editor’s request, a short scene where the main character describes what his first wife–who was going insane–did that nearly drove him insane, because brought back all the memories of the things his first wife did that nearly drove him insane before she was committed to a facility for a while.  Stephen King mentioned that The Body may have resulted from from him witnessing a childhood friend being hit by a train, but damned if he can remember that happening even though other’s told him it did.

Writers put themselves into their stories, like it or not.  When they write about something horrifying or miserable or just downright cruddy happening to one of their characters, they’re usually pulling upon some well of memories.  They may remember these things clearly, or they may not.  They may not be affected by the retelling of the memories, or they may find themselves overwhelmed as they transfer the story from their mind to the page.  This last has happened to me:  there have been more than a few passages written over the last couple of years where I’ve had to stop and collect myself because the place from where I was pulling my inspiration was far too personal.

At the same time a writer shouldn’t be afraid to put all that shit out there for people to see.  A writer shouldn’t hold back; if you have something terrible to show, show it in all its gory glory.  I went through this when I wrote Couples Dance because of one scene in particular, one that I’ve never actually described–until now.  The scene involved three woman and a man in 1920’s Paris getting high on a combination of wine and drugs, and two of the women decided to pull the third woman into a ménage à trois.  In the process of getting their crazy freak on, the two woman who instigated this party begin dismembering the third woman while continuing to sex her up.  The person reading this account doesn’t know if it’s complete bullshit or not–the person who wrote the entry in his journal can be considered the most unreliable of narrators because he was higher than a kite at the time this all went down–but there’s also a nagging suspicion that it might just be the real deal.

I had trouble writing the scene at first because I thought it was a bit over the top.  And it is–face it:  it’s suppose to be.  Later I had trouble because I understood this craziness was coming out of me, and who wants to admit they can pen this sort of insanity and then head down to Burger King to pick up a Whopper with Cheese and a large Sprite like nothing out of the ordinary just went down.  After a few days I got good with the fact that there is a lot of craziness inside me, and in time it’s all gonna come out.

In the course of my life and work I know I’m going to offend people.  I know I’m going to say things that will piss them off.  But what I say or do won’t be racist–I lived through that shit with my family, and try as they might I abandoned their “If it ain’t White, it ain’t Right” ways.  It won’t be misogynist, because I love women and the more I slide into womanhood the more I understand the privileges they don’t share with men.  I’m damn sure not anti-LGBT–hey, some of my best characters are LGBT, and considering I was hangin’ with my trans support group last night, nah:  no hate there, people.

No, if I piss someone off it’s because I don’t give warnings about what’s coming.  I gave one today, and on other occasions I’ve given them as well, telling people if you have easily blown minds you might wanna step off the page and find something else to read.  Most of the time I’ll call things out as I see them, and and if people lose their shit over it–as has happened when I expressed the opinion that if you’re truly convinced that your characters actually write your story, and that they get into arguments over what they want to do, you should acquaint yourself with some high powered meds–then so be it.  I can’t protect every precious snowflake, and I don’t bother trying.

Writers shouldn’t be afraid to throw life out onto the page as raw as it comes.  They shouldn’t hold back.  They shouldn’t censor themselves.  You have to be more real than real; you have to show the nasty without a pretty little gauze curtain between you and the reader.  Be like Rick Grimes and rip out that bad guy’s throat with your teeth, because there are times when you just gotta lay it all out in black and white with red all over.

And should someone come back to you and say, “I’m offended by that!  You didn’t give me a warning it was coming!” then you should introduce them to Mr. Stephen Fry:

 

“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?”

[I saw hate in a graveyard — Stephen Fry, The Guardian, 5 June 2005]”  (Article found on link, which details things he discovered while tracing his Jewish ancestry.)

 

I should point out that maybe people are offended by his statement.  Yeah, big surprise.  Could be worse–

I could have found an inspirational quote from Tyler Durden.

To Map, Perchance to Plot

Let’s met Annie.  Say hi to her–

"Hi, Annie!"

“Hi, Annie!”

When I was working towards understand Kerry’s far, far, better half, I started throwing around what I knew about her, and began format that knowledge into the world I was creating.  This is where Scapple, the mind mapping program created by the same people who make Scrivener, came in handy, because I could make notes and interconnect them to other notes, work them around and get an idea about where I was going with the character.

I’ve seen where others have also used Scapple to work out plots for their stories.  I’ve played with this a little in that area, but I’ve yet to work out a story where my notes and ideas would find themselves interconnected in such a way that a coherent tale springs forth.  Though there are a couple of scenes I’m considering working out this way . . .

On to the current work in progress.  When I prepared to start the novel, I did so–as I usually do–with two things in mind:  I needed a title, and I needed an ending.  The idea of the title I got from Harlan Ellison, who commented on more than a few occasions that he couldn’t write until there was a title on the page.  Now, my titles may change as I get deeper into a story–that happened a few times with The Foundation Chronicles:  A for Advanced–but I always have a title.  And the ending idea comes from Issac Asimov, who was quoted saying that it was necessary to know how his story finished so he’d know how to get there.

I knew how I wanted to start the story.  There would be a prologue with two scenes:  the first would have Annie standing next to a tree near her lake house, and the second would be The Foundation people convincing the parents of a sullen and likely depressed Kerry that he was getting a free ride to a school for special students outside Salem, Massachusetts, and that he should pack his bags because he was leaving for London in a couple of hours if he said yes.

The last two scenes would mirror the intro:  the first scene would show Kerry returning from school, somewhat depressed because he’s parted from someone special to him, and now it’s time to go back to his old, “Normal” life, while the second scenes would show Annie standing next to a tree near her lake house, equally sad from saying goodbye to her “Ginger Haired Boy”, and having to face the summer without him.

With that in mind, it was time to start plotting.

Since I was working in parts, chapters, and scenes, I decided to work in Scrivener through Outline Mode, because as folders and text files were added, and metadata added, it was a simple matter to move things around when and where needed, and lay out dates and times as needed.  As the Prologue and Chapter One were almost all Annie and Kerry there wasn’t much of a need to keep track of other characters, because the one who did walk onto the written stage didn’t require a great deal of attention.

Carefully taking my kids on the trip of their lives, one scene at a time.

Carefully taking my kids on the trip of their lives, one scene at a time.

It was easy to plot things out like this, but keep in mind this is a small section of the story.  There’s a lot more in the next two acts–which were added about half way through writing the first act.  This is something that’s nice about Scrivener:  you need to add or move something around, you do.

Something else I used for the first time were document notes.  These came in handy when I was writing about Annie and Kerry’s day trip around London, which was done almost entirely via tube travel.  Notes stay attached to a scene, so once in place they’re always there inside the Inspector (the area on the right) all the time.

Sure, you could make up how you get around London, but it's easier if you do it with notes.

Sure, you could make up how you get around London, but it’s easier if you do it with notes.

Another thing I did on this novel was layer scenes under a top scene.  I used it extensively for the scene “Over the Pond”, where all the action took place on-board a 747, and point of view switched from my kids to some traveling instructors, and back.  The date and time were already set, so here it was just a matter of knowing who was in each sub-scene aboard the plane, and that information was kept in the metadata for each scene.  The great thing with these layered scenes is when you don’t need to see them, you just collapse them under the top lead-in scene and all is right in the world once more.

There's a party in the sky, and you're all--well, you'll get invited in time.

There’s a party in the sky, and you’re all–well, you’ll get invited in time.

One last thing to mention about this layered scenes is that they were added as I wrote.  I did the lead-in scene, then decided I’d write about Annie and Kerry finding their seats, or the instructors talking about Phee–I know who that is–and I’d add the text file, do a copy and paste on the metadata, set the Label and Status, and away I’d write.  Easily Peasily!

And that leads to cross-checking what I’d laid out in Scrivener by seeing if the time lines matched up.  There was always the possibility that something was off, and sure enough, once I started plugging things into Aeon Timeline, there were a few things that didn’t make sense.  Now, this didn’t affect the plot, but in terms of when things happened, it was a good idea for me to see if everything worked.  I didn’t actually need to do this for what became the first act, but this was practice for something that was coming in Act Two, and the practice of laying out this first section of the book helped me understand how I was going to lay out an important set of scenes that required things to happen at certain times, within a certain time frame.  And that would be important to the story . . .

Time be time, mon.  And here be the time for Act One.  Looks so different here, doesn't it?

Time be time, mon. And here be the time for Act One. Looks so different here, doesn’t it?