Yesterday I went and spoke at my good friend Susin Nielsen‘s class. I’ve done this before; I go in and she asks me a few questions and I tell the convoluted tale of my road to publication. It was nothing I’d usually be nervous about, but I must have been a little bit worried because I had an anxiety dream the night before.
It began as the most hackneyed of all anxiety dreams: the one where you suddenly realize you have to take the final exam but you haven’t been attending the class. Maybe you forgot. Maybe you hadn’t realized you were enrolled. Whatever the reason, it’s too late now, the final is here and you’re going to flunk it.
In this dream, however, I was able to go talk to the professor beforehand. Lo and behold, the professor was John Oliver! So I thought to myself (in the dream), “Y’know, I’m not completely ignorant of World History. I might be able to fake my way through this exam. And he’s a comedian, so if I write really funny answers, maybe he’ll overlook the lack of facts.”
Then I thought, cheekily, “After grades are in, I wonder if he’d go out with me?”
Alas, the dream ended there, so I never did get to find out whether Professor John Oliver would go out with undergrad me. It’s probably just as well. What really strikes me about the whole thing was that I walked into a classic anxiety dream and then turned it on its ear. I was going to boldly bluff my way through the dreaded exam and then, ye gods, the gall of me.
I sometimes feel like I move in circles. Here I go again, toward another book launch; Brian’s comment on yesterday’s post made me realize that I’m coming toward it from a different mental angle than before. Maybe the dream was about my Shadow Scale tour, and not about Susin’s class at all.
One of her students asked a relevant question, about how to avoid feeling discouraged when a story doesn’t turn out as beautifully on paper as it seemed in your head. I gave her my mother’s analogy, how writing is like portrait painting: you have to compose very generally at first, figure out the basic shapes and where everything goes. Then you add greater detail with each subsequent pass, and only at the very end do you add the finest details, like eyelashes. The key is to be patient, and to remember that you will be going over the whole thing again and again, making it better each time.
Circling back around. This time you see more clearly; this time you understand more about what you’re doing. It’s very Groundhog Day. We get chances to do better all the time.
And so here I am, also, working on the first draft of the next thing, trying to roll with it and not worry. It really is a question of being patient and trusting that it will work the way it has always worked, and even if it doesn’t, that I’m capable and can fake my way out in a pinch.
It’s still hard to be patient, though, even when you see the point.
So I’ve been thinking how best to appreciate dragons today. If I were any kind of baker, I’d have made a cake, but since I’m a writer, I fear you’re going to have to settle for words. They’re less fattening, certainly, but maybe not quite as tasty.
Over at Suvudu, they’re celebrating by excerpting the first chapter of Shadow Scale. I know some of you are being patient and won’t go for that, since it will just leave you hungry for more (hm! Maybe words are tastier than I give them credit for). Your patience will soon be rewarded: less than two months to go. Still, even if you don’t care to read the excerpt, go give Suvudu a hug for me. I’m so grateful for their support and enthusiasm.
You can find lots of excellent pictures of dragons on Twitter by following #AppreciateADragonDay. The medieval manuscript art is my favourite, but there are also Komodo dragons, Smaug, Toothless, something for everyone. The good folks at Random House have also compiled a “Seraphina Playlist” of recent tunes:
(NB: “Cold War” was my suggestion; the rest were suggested by people more knowledgeable of recent music than I am. There will also be a playlist of songs I actually listened to while working.)
Updated to add: Here’s my playlist! It’s a more eccentric mixture, I’ll grant you that.
For my own part, I’m going to answer the question posed by my husband last night: Why dragons?
It’s a good question, and one that’s actually kind of difficult for me to answer because I started loving dragons when I was quite young, before I was able to articulate any kind of reason beyond the fact that they were powerful and super cool. Other supernatural creatures couldn’t compare, in fact I don’t think there’s a one that holds my interest like a dragon.
My earliest exposure to dragons — besides Andrew Lang’s fairy books, which surely had dragons in them, but I don’t remember the specifics — must have been C. S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I read at about age seven. Eustace Clarence Scrubb is turned into a dragon by his greed, and then in the book’s most vivid and memorable scene (to young me, anyway), Aslan peels off Eustace’s dragon skin and turns him human again. It’s a striking image and it underscores an important point about dragons: as much as we might wish to deny it, they’re a reflection of ourselves.
I think dragons combine two warring parts of our nature, the contradiction inherent in all of us, that we may be simultaneously monstrous and wise. Some depictions take both traits to extremes, while others lean more heavily toward the bestial or the godly. Smaug, I think, embodies both. The dragons of Pern, or of E. K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen veer toward the animalistic end of the spectrum (Owen, in particular, gives us dragons as a force of nature, as destructive – and brainy – as a hurricane). One of my favourite clever dragons is Vollys, from Two Princesses of Bamarre, who finds that vast intelligence can be unsatisfying without an audience.
That’s a lot of variation, right there, but that’s the beauty of the beast. There’s so much scope for interpretation and nuance. My own area of interest has been on the intersection of dragons and humanity — to what extent are we dragons and are dragons us? I do suspect (and honestly, this is NEW, the first time I’m thinking of this) that this interest might just be traceable to Eustace Clarence Scrubb.
Monster or Saint, creator or destroyer, bestial or transcendent, dragons — like the rest of us — are full of vibrant potential.
Happy New Year, friends! It has dawned sunny here in Vancouver, which should absolutely not be taken as a portent for things (especially weather) to come, but is welcome nonetheless.
For the last several years, I’ve been playing my friend Arwen’s New Year Naming Game (I don’t think that’s what she actually calls it, but that’s how I think of it). It involves looking at where you are and where you’re going and coming up with a single word that you hope will sum up – or at least be a recurring theme in – the year to come.
One word. It’s not easy!
I’ve been over-thinking it, as ever. Records on clay tablets indicate that I’ve been doing this since 2012, and my words have been (in order) Perspective, Art, and AUTHORITY (in all caps, as you might imagine). The latter, in particular, was super helpful (last year’s post explains why), and I think I may be at a point now where I am feeling confident in myself again and can afford to back down a little and relax.
And… I was going to pick something else, but now that I think about it, RELAX may just be our winner. Why not? In all caps, of course, with an implied OR ELSE! hot on its heels. There’s a lot coming up this year with the potential to make me anxious, but I see it coming and I have good tools for dealing with it now. I just need a periodic reminder to let go, take care of myself, and breathe.
What’s ahead, as you gaze through your spyglass at the year to come? What word will you carry with you, or scrawl across the top of your map?
IO, darlings! IO!
So we kicked things off last night with our feast. Atypically, we ate at a nice restaurant instead of sweating all day over rock-hard barley rolls. It’s not that we’re getting too old and soft to eat rock-hard barley rolls, it’s just that ever since the Great Flood hit our apartment, our classical cookbooks have been packed away. [Note to self: future Jethro Tull filk, “Too Old for Barley Rolls, Too Young for Rye”] Last night we also gave gifts. I got an ASTOUNDING octopus brooch:
If you’re wondering why I would want an octopus brooch, above and beyond the objective awesome of it, well, here’s a good place to start.
I also got a really big hug… after giving my son a whammy bar for his guitar. He really, really wanted to wham up some songs, apparently. [Note to self: Wham on? Whammerize? Whamminate? Look this up. And you call yourself a writer!] The best thing about Saturnalia is that we can drag it out for several days. Tonight we’re going to see The Hobbit: Battle of Ten Thousand Whammy Bars [NB: look this up, Rachel!], and then tomorrow night my husband and son are going to a Canucks game while I stay home, put my feet up, and pretend I’ve never heard of hockey. A good time will be had by all! I hope your holidays, whichever you wham upon, are full and lovely and happy, too!
Made it through November unscathed!
Well, no, not entirely. But it was a better November than some I’ve had, despite the fact that our apartment suffered a major flood from above. Flooding sucks, although I’m sure it’s better than fire. It may even be better than famine, but it’s still a giant pain in the rear. I’m tempted to say, “It’s just stuff,” which is an attitude I try to have about my belongings in general, but in this case it’s not just stuff — or not primarily stuff. It’s time and space, and stress and uncertainty, all of which turn out to be ten times the headache “stuff” ever was.
I hate not knowing how long we’re going to be living like this. I hate not being able to plan.
I don’t quite understand it, but somehow I was still able to work. In spite of all this stress and nonsense, I got 30K words written. It’s not quite NaNoWriMo speed, but I think it’s as close as I’ve ever gotten (especially in darkest November). In a way, writing was the one thing that didn’t seem to be floating away, a little island among whirlpools and eddies.
I’m hoping it continues, that this stream of words will keep sweeping me along. I know, I know, I’ve just transformed writing from a welcome island into the stream itself. For my next trick, I’ll turn it into a marmot.
But my point is: it’s December. We made it, darlings. November, mon ennemi, adieu.
Here we are again, at the month I love to hate, when the days grow dark and the intractable rain sets in and there isn’t even Thanksgiving (here in Canada-land) to break up the gloom.
Last year I proclaimed it the True and Holy Month of Nothing, which went really well. I hope to loaf a little less aggressively this year, however, because I have something I want to work on and I’m not nearly as burned out.
And hey, the month is off to an auspicious start! Suspiciously auspicious, if you ask me. I am ever sceptical of November’s motives. I had an excellent writing morning, however, and then it was so sunny (contrary to November’s usual practice) that we all went for a bike ride. We found a delicious tapas place for dinner. Can’t ask for better than that.
Does November get you down? Well, pull up a rock beside the fire. I’m planning on toasting marshmallows and singing stupid songs all month long.
Hello, friends! It’s been a while. Life is keeping me busy these days. I don’t know whether news from my province reaches you, wherever you are, but here in British Columbia our teachers are on strike. School was supposed to have started September 2nd, but the children are still home.
I lay the lion’s share of blame on our provincial government: they have been under-funding the school system the entire time we’ve lived here; they have deliberately provoked strikes; they’ve broken contracts and ignored the court rulings saying this was against the law. In the 6 years my son has been in school we’ve seen a steady erosion of services. First they stopped serving lunch, and then they cut back on teacher aides and support staff. B needed speech therapy, and we couldn’t get enough from the school; we had to go private. Luckily, we could afford it, but what about all the families who can’t? B needs support in two areas, but we’re told we have to choose one. It’s a travesty.
It’s rumoured that the province wants to destroy public education so they can introduce a school voucher system. Like in Sweden? That doesn’t inspire confidence.
Anyway, sorry to get all political on you. The upshot of this is that I am home-schooling the lad for the foreseeable future. I’ve heard some folks are eschewing academic work right now in solidarity with teachers. I get that, but think that in fact it would be more helpful to teachers if the kids come in already used to work and ready to go. So far, it’s going okay — where “okay” is what you get when you average out The Best of Times and The Worst of Times.
We’re having a Dickens novel of a time, apparently. That’s probably appropriate.
It’s not very conducive to writing, however, or at least not yet. If we kept at it long enough, our day would surely fall into a routine (ye gods, I hope he’s not out of school THAT long), but so far it’s all pretty labour-intensive. That’s one reason I’m here blogging — I’m trying to reclaim some space in the day (and in my own brain). When he was a baby, blogging was the way I kept up the discipline of writing every day.
I’ve also been getting up early to write, and have completed a book proposal! My agent is sending it to the usual suspects today, and I hope they find it promising. It’s another novel set in Goredd, dealing mostly with new characters, although there’s a bit of Phina in it as well. I don’t want to say too much, because things could still change, but fingers crossed that they give me the go-ahead. I really want to write this book.
If home-schooling is teaching anyone in this household anything, it’s teaching me that I really want to get writing again.