It was impossible to predict, plan or even project through 2020. Hot damn if I didn’t try, though. I even hosted a 2020 planning workshop last January. Go figure. That said, I was in good company with much of the world scrambling to re-structure, re-think, and manage the almighty pivot. During the quarantine I wrote, sculpted, and plotted new creative community collaborations. Those should be rolling out in the near future. Until then, Happy New Year!!
May this year bring love, light, and all sorts of new and wonderful adventures for us all.
Warmest holiday wishes, from my little cottage to yours!
May your longest night be full of peace and light.
Oregon is set to enter a temporary lockdown on November 18th. I suspect it will be a longer one, as winter moves in bringing cold and flus and all manner of lower immune system issues during the colder months. I’m preparing as though the two-weeks will last much longer.
In meantime, I’m catching up on my Nanowrimo wordcount and tinkering away in the studio.
For Fans of The Pillars of Dawn
My favorite part of the Nanowrimo magic is that for one month of the year my writing doesn’t have a plot-point purpose. This means I get to wander off on side adventures with minor characters, or traipse around in the corners of my fictional worlds that I would otherwise not be able to show or work with in my novels.
Why? Because novels and publication reads are streamlined for story value and pacing. This means when I put a novel out, I would like my readers to be hooked enough to keep turning the page, read late into the night and wake up ready for more.
That kind of tension and pull is hard to design if I’m wandering off on side adventures and writing a meandering storyline. J. R. R. Tolkien was famous for meandering storylines. He made it work. Alas, I’m no Tolkien.
I think of meandering through the world and characters as a fulfilling the side quests in games. They aren’t central to the plot or purpose, but you gain experience and it fleshes out the world and characters more for entertainment.
Every Nanowrimo for the last 16 years I’ve been participating has been at least 50% meandering, and I love it. It’s writing for the sheer joy of writing. It’s creating for the unapologetic love of being creative. There are no limits to where the side-quests might lead. Some of the work ends up in the final novels. Some of it ends up in files for use later. Most of it crowds my brain with yet more detail to add to future Pillars of Dawn stories and so on. Every year I get to dive a little deeper into the fantasy realm and linger in my imagination. (2015/2016 were spent almost entirely in the tree-city of Barriette learning the layers of the city, the layout, and the characters who populate the scholarly zone.)
This year I finally get to soak up more time in Aria outside the Council States…the forbidden lands. Unfortunately, a lot of the details and energy that go into a rough-hewn V1 get trimmed back and cut out for speed and pacing for publication. However, the slapdash writing that comes with a V1 dip into a new region is exciting and lush. It is often over-detailed, which is my sort of jam.
As Plague of Gargoyles, Tangle of Mermaids, Chord of Leviathans, and Congress of Eagles will be introducing no less than six new territories and cultures on Aria and beyond, I’m having an utter blast with this year’s Nanowrimo. This will hopefully ensure that when I finalize these drafts, all the subtle details and nuances of my meanderings will cross-pollinate the books evenly and share the names of places, characters, threads, and sensory details of what I learn or create while in a meandering side-adventure.
For my readers—I’m currently meandering through the Demorphia Range, the Oracle territories. Beware: may contain spoilers. Also this is V1 draft writing; it’s full of typos (also my jam) and will be edited and corrected in later drafts.
This is for you, John Folsom, and Diane Elizabeth Malone <3<3<3
Liam stood on a hilltop overlooking the valley of twisting muddy rivers. The swampy jungle region was as much bayou as overgrown forest, and smelled of fetid gasses and vegetal decomposition. There was a current in the water, but it was slow. Swirls below the surface hinted at beasts prowling below the brackish sway.
The Demorphia Range was Oracle territory. It was one of the few regions on Aria that was not a country, state, or governed by a trade body, or a sovereign entity. In all there were a handful of hinterlands on Aria that were off limits to citizens of the Council States, and were of such little resource value even the tribal bodies, and lental lords didn’t bother to colonize, or claim the space.
Many believed the ancient pollution from the sundering legends left the lands unusable, toxic. Other’s believed the areas were damaged when the Inlicitus cracked—whatever the case, the Demorphia Range was settled by the Oracles. Whether the land was useful or not, no one would be brazen or foolish enough to cross the Handmaidens of the Fates to find out. If the Oracles wanted the Demorphia, it was granted a wide berth by all. Very few, if any, had ever ventured beyond the girdled mountain belt north of the Demorphic Wastes, and if they did—they didn’t return.
As it was, Liam was in direct violation of treaty just to be on the ground south of Fifthbar’s Peak. As a Guardian, he was breaking a lot of rules lately. Before he let himself get too deep into the worries of just how unqualified he was to be Fable’s Guardian…and husband, he launched skyward and flew toward the grove of Aborrack and Burnack trees clustered near the marshy mudflats. The sun was setting in a spectacular parade of plum and cherry hues. Small bursts of amber light were popping up in the settlement along the river near the largest bend.
He prayed the Oracles would hear him out, and not simply turn him into mattress stuffing before he could make his case.
The last of the light faded over the horizon as he circled the village of tree-homes along the river frontage. He spotted a long wooden pier that appeared to be mostly rotted through in some areas, and several habitats in Aborrack trees. The vegetation was so thick, there weren’t many other places to make a landing.
He circled out of courtesy, waiting to be noticed by someone before rudely and dangerously, dropping into foreign, and potentially hostile territory. There were no calls of alarm. There were no words of welcome or a sense that anyone had noticed his approach. The gassy stink of the slow marsh wafted up. Something moved in the water below, breaking the surface briefly with a ridged back covered in spikes.
At last, unsure if he was even in the right area, he landed on the pier. It creaked and strained. His right talons broke through a rotten board and Liam flapped his wings, staggering to keep his balance. A rapid swish of water, and a massive maw of teeth burst out of the river and snapped at him before disappearing just as Liam decided the pier was too unstable and launched to the shore. It all happened in an instant, but when his talons touched down on the squishy muck, his heart was racing.
“He would have taken your whole leg and part of a wing if you’d been any slower,” an amused voice said from the shadows near the muddy path.
“What was that?” Liam asked, squinting into the gloom.
A moment passed, then another. He began to think for a moment he’d imagined it. Then, as if the heavens fell to the ground, and the stars lit the world on fire, the whole swamp burst to life and light.
Giant night-blooming flowers, bulbous mushrooms and snaking algae trails across the bracken erupted into a light show of magenta, phosphorus blue, and electric green. There was darkness for just moments at dusk, then the glowing night garden bloomed as if an explosion in space.
Florescent flowers opened in a starburst of pink light and curling petals. Lime-green vines pulsed with a lemon rhythm as if bright liquids sped through pulpy limbs wrapped around tree trunks and dangled through mossy limbs.
Liam covered his eyes as swarms of blinking fireflies and glowing moths left their day shelters in the trees and zipped around the marsh as the land shed its day garments and slipped into something more extraordinary.
“He’s a trephalia gunarey. Likely one of maybe four or five remaining,” she said.
Liam lowered his hands and blinked against the change in light and colors. The creature before him was Avian, yet more bird, more snowy egret than human. She wore a short robe, showing her legs to be avian all the way to her knees. Her eyes were huge, cheekbones high, and her mouth drew to an exaggerated point at the end of an elongated chin. Humanoid features were recognizable—but she was more animal than woman.
“Your first Oracle visit, I see.” She lifted one white eyebrow, smiling wryly.
“I…yes…” He ducked his head. “I’m sorry. You are the first. I’m Liam.”
“Kontrae aut alestra,” she replied. “I’m Aldora, sent to bring you in.”
“Oh, someone did see my approach. I wasn’t sure with the dark.” Even as he said it, the brilliant glowing marshlands in the bloom of a midnight fairy garden made the statement seem ridiculous.
“Oracles…” she muttered. “saw your approach decades ago.” She shrugged and her robes slit open to allow long, slender white wings to glide the full length of the pathway. “Please try to keep up.”
She didn’t jump. She didn’t lunge. Her launch was not a blast, or a gust of force like so many Avians, but a nearly motionless levitation. She did not leap, but rather drifted up above the muck and slid through the air as if hovering with only an occasional elegant stroke of her wings.
By comparison Liam launched, blowing the nearby glowing magenta flowers around on their willowy hanging vines. Aldora was fast, nibble, and barely moved the air with her passing. Whereas Liam struggled to keep up with hard heavy strokes, dodging limbs and hanging vegetation, leaving mossy curtains billowing in his wake—she didn’t so much as stir a blade of grass or a trailing fern in her passing.
The tree homes were Aborrack, a sibling of the Burnack trees of the Hedgeland Strait. They grew comfortably in water, sending out leggy roots upon which bridges, piers, and other structures were connected. Several of the trees were clumped together with lighted windows and doorways. As they drew near to the circle of tree-homes he realized the roots were elevated and interwoven. The great bubble-like windows were aglow with golden light that was not from within the tree, but from the sap pouch filled with marsh gas that sparked to life at nightfall. The gasses of the marshlands were piped directly into the giant sap resin casings, and the result was as if coming upon a well-lit fairy metropolis. Even Barriette had not been so well lit at night.
Thank you for reading. More to come. Thank you for supporting the dream.
These last eight months have put nearly everyone in some kind of pinch point. The psychological pressures, strains, shifts in rhythms and patterns and the interruptions in resources—along with polarizing politics and the heightened push for awareness of human rights has left even the most logical and reasonable people at a loss for what to do.
Six months ago, I started a social experiment mostly out of curiosity, but also out of the desire to know the origins of what was coming across my feeds and why people were behaving so ridiculously on both sides. I wanted to know about the tricky algorithms on Facebook that were hijacking my news intake. Interestingly, the documentary “The Social Dilemma” released on Netflix a few months into my own experiment, which informed a shift in my engagements and helped me map the methods a little better.
I already knew I’d be dumping my Facebook account probably by the end of the year, but I wanted to know how the algorithms worked so I could use them later if I chose to market for one of my labels. Engagement was really the key.
Let me back up a bit to my first paid writing job. I was twenty years old when I was hired to write “rant/rave” columns. It was 1998, and I was so stoked to have a $30 check once a month for content that I didn’t ask any questions. (It turns out it was for an online porn magazine—which I discovered when I asked for a copy to put in my brag book) Anyway, I was hired to write (poorly) a column each month that would make people angry, argumentative, irritable, or reactive. “I piss people off every day! You mean I can get paid for it?”
I was paid to be a troll. I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time. Mind you, we were still in the days of dialup and if I could make people angry enough to write in and stay online (seeing advertisements from the e-zine) long enough to spout replies—I was winning. True fact=I never once, not once, read the comments. Why? Why in god’s name would I stick around for that?
My job was to find trigger points, form an opinion, then drop the bomb and leave the room. That was it. Then I took my 30$ check and blew it on candy and movie rentals, since I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet.
I did it for about a year before the negativity really wore me down. It was exhausting trying to come up with a topic every month to piss people off—angry people, and being in a headspace to taunt them is tiring. I wanted to use my craft for more than trigger trolling. I wrote that we needed to legalize weed, tax the hell out of it and pay for education upgrades. I wrote that churches collecting tithing should also have to pay taxes. (And so on and so forth) All of it was aimed to polarize.
A year later I moved on to my first set of novels and the rest is history.
The point is this: word craft and storytelling are, by function, a form of connecting with the primal reactive points of the human experience. Whether that’s to educate, or control, manipulate or enlighten is really up to two factors; Intent and engagement.
Think of it this way. The dominant reactions will always boil down to FEAR and LOVE. It seems overly simplistic but there’s a plethora of fiber and energy in each one, right?
Love= trust, compassion, willingness, generosity, kindness, joy, fulfillment, openness, forgiveness and so on. Love embodies BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. Love also embodies the ability to empathize, see alternate viewpoints, and find compromise. Love attempts to understand, not control outcome.
Fear= distrust, withholding, stagnation, cruelty, unkindness, us vs. them, pulling back, anger, retaliation, being closed off, bitterness, stubbornness, anxiety, depression, rage. Fear embodies ASSUMED IGNORANCE and a baseline for battle readiness. Fear attempts to control outcome, not understand.
It’s simple, and yet not. Because we all have both within us at any given time on a number of topics; relationships, business, government, home, health, finances, and so on and so forth. PLUS, we bring to each argument the unhealed/unrecognized baggage of the topic from our previous experiences.
Remember the two factors that imbue communication—Intent and engagement?
Intent can be either love or fear and the resulting engagement will respond with either love or fear? Some of that is in response to the intent, and the rest is nearly 100% based a preconditioned emotional set-point.
As a paid trigger troll, my job was to find the language and set off that preconditioned set-point in order to keep people online longer, to keep them engaged. It didn’t matter if I made up facts. It didn’t matter if I pulled data out of my butt. The guy was paying me to write content that would keep people emotional. Dial-up = $$. Well, it did anyway. Now that $$ is in time spent scrolling, data mining and so on.
In 1998 it didn’t matter to me at all, at the tender age of twenty, that people were getting worked up, emotional or starting fights online over my content. It mattered that I had a paid writing credit, and that I could wander down to the market for candy and the lasted VHS new release. My thoughts were, “If they’re dumb enough to sit there and fight about it, that’s on them. I’ve got things to do.”
That experience was pivotal in later years as I learned yet more about emotional anchorage, and writing novels that pulled readers in. Toggling the love/fear switch in the human experience is what makes storytelling so gripping. If we don’t connect with the story, believe in the protagonists, get hooked into their adventure—it’s not a book worth reading, right? It’s not an idea worth championing. You put it down and walk away.
So what was the point of all this?
If I played the engagement part of the algorithms on Facebook correctly, my posts should now be showing up on 75% of my Facebook friends’ feeds. That was a lot of clicking, sharing, pushing, and triggering.
IF you are one of the friends who normally never comments on politics, or otherwise but somehow felt compelled to weigh in on my feed at some point in the last 6 months—chances are you’ve been stuck with my feed since. Gotchya! Not gloating…but maybe a little gloating.
If you’re one of the people who don’t believe intent/engagement are the primary factors of communication or that the love/fear part of the underlying motivations, or that it’s too oversimplified—keep in mind I’m now showing up on your feed because you responded to something I posted…good/bad/otherwise. You are part of that 75% matrix by design.
I will fully admit this was a shitty play. Not the way to use the Kung Fu magic of storyteller energy. However, in my paltry defense I’ll say this:
The surface appearance of cultural division in America is not quite as drastic as it may seem. In fact, this experiment has renewed much of my faith in my community and in humanity. I’ll get into all that in other posts, but for now I just wanted to let folks know, there was a reason to the madness.
Thank you all who trusted me to explain the strangeness. Thank you to all the private messages, notes, and emails expressing frustration and concern over things people were saying on my feed. I really appreciated the feeling of knowing I wasn’t an island. Thank you to all who took bait, weighed in, commented, chewed their own fingernails, bit back retorts, and generally held on for the ride. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your patience.
I sincerely hope the following posts expressing what I learned about our wider community and political divisions will be worth the strain and high blood pressure for you all.
As an aside: if you want OUT of the feeds and to block any further posts from my now that you know what I was up to there are two ways to shift your algorithm.
However, if you’re curious what I discovered or want to go a little deeper, just like, share, subscribe. It’s silly. I know—I’m using the same engagement principles to keep you reading as I did to get bumped into your news feed.
I never worried about the people who really know me wondering about what I feel, think, or believe. They already know me. They already know my general and consistent intentions. They already know my life’s work to this point.
But a few months of digging, triggering, pushing, and sitting in some pretty uncomfortable positions has led me to believe—as a whole, humanity is still pretty fucking awesome. I know it doesn’t seem like that when you’re burning through the scroll—but bear with me. Hang in a little longer, and if you’re able, grant me the benefit of the doubt.
My intent from this point forward is to show the love—if you can trust in my intent, let me show you what I’ve discovered.
To be continued….
This is also an excellent time to plug Gideon For-mukwai's book 'The SCIENCE of STORY SELLING".
Creativity Challenge Week of September 23, 2020
Your creativity mission, should you choose to accept it is: Alter just one pattern in your life for two days.
What does this mean? If means if you brush your teeth with your right hand, use your left hand for two days. If you wear the same jacket every day, wear a different article of clothing for two days. If you usually drink your coffee out of a special mug—use a different mug for two days.
Pattern interruption creates innovation gaps where new processes and energies can breathe into a new space.
What does altering one habit for two days do to you? Is it a major inconvenience? A breath of fresh air? A complicated challenge? Discovering how baked in your patterns are will reveal whether or not you feel locked out of new creative energy and mobility.
Respond by Monday the 29th at Noon PST with a written explanation of your attempt at shift and the result, if any, and receive 5 tickets to the giveaway cauldron!
It’s been a hairy month already, so I don’t have much to coherently update. Right about the time I put words together and makes sense of one thing, something else knocks me off balance. That said, I am okay. My home in the Elder Glade in Oregon is okay. The fires are a safe distance away, although the air is thick with smoke and it is sometimes a challenge to breathe or blink. (My eyes are raw from the air quality.) The power is back on, and air filters are running full time in the house.
I have been very lucky. So very lucky.
Dakota, Buttercup, and Furiosa are all okay. Unfortunately, my other cat, Pandora has gone missing, and I suspect the coyotes that have been coming into the yard. The wildlife has been confused, embolden and shifted in range by the fires.
This update is short and I’ll add more when I can. Please be safe out there, folks.
The morning chill means the autumn equinox is not far away. The change in light and the shift in bird song also means my creative season is here. It’s been a difficult year, and I’m not alone in the struggle. So, I’m hungry for the creative window, the time in studio and the healing that comes from building with my hands.
I suspect the challenges of this year will greatly influence my art and outputs, and I’m more than a little curious about what that will look like.
I’m also eager to get back to Aria and re-open Plague of Gargoyles and Tangle of Mermaids. I left my characters in such predicaments as to keep my brain hooked on processing their arcs even when I’m not writing. After months of hiatus and COVID19 worries, my brain is back onto the cliff hangers where I left some of my dearest in a state of impending doom—now I can’t wait to get back in there and in true storyteller fashion…make their situations even worse.
There is defiantly a case to be made that writers are really the villains of any story, since we must think of all the awful ways in which to torture our best characters for the entertainment of the masses (and ourselves).
Still, as Plague of Gargoyles and Tangle of Mermaids finally opens the throttle on The Pillars of Dawn series the volume and speed, the sheer force of the story is making it difficult to shape into narratives one book at a time. This has required me to open several works in progress simultaneously. It’s been a great, thrilling pleasure to open a new document titled: Chord of Leviathans. This will be the WIP (work in progress) I tackle this year for Nanowrimo 2020.
I once went horseback riding when the prancy energetic steed I was gingerly perched on (I am not a seasoned rider and the horse definitely knew it) decided to break away from the group and go for a blazing gallop toward the woods. I should have jumped—it would have been the wise thing to do. I panicked, dropped the reins and clung desperately to the pommel. Luckily, the lead rider of the group came to my rescue and raced to catch my horse.
After being whipped by branches, and saddle bruised and my heart thundering to the point of nausea—I was saved. By the time I slipped out of the saddle and sat heavily on the ground, legs shaking, I decided…that was a shit ton of fun! I didn’t walk right for days, and haven’t ridden since, but the rush of adrenaline and the feeling of flying makes me think fondly on that moment when I dropped the reins and just held on for dear life. That glorious moment when the future was out of my hands, but I was still along for the adventure.
That is how I feel when I’m writing The Pillars of Dawn. As these next two books pick up the arc and make a bolt for freedom, I sit at my desk, drop the reins and the story just---flies.
I’ll be saddle sore and breathless, maybe even shaky when it’s all over, but goddamn…what a fucking ride! I dearly hope readers will feel the same when they finish my books.
Anywhoo, I hope this update finds you all safe, well, and healthy.
Let the 2020 creative season begin.
Be assured that the continued violence and inequality against people of color in the United States is a persistent and corrosive, baked-in evil that has and will continue to stain this country’s worthiness in historical reference beyond a footnote of disgust for a nation that could not treat its people with humanity and justice.
There is no honor in this tyranny.
There is no nobility in this oppression.
Such a nation has not EARNED the right to a seat at any table on the global spectrum.
Such a government has not EARNED the right to collect taxes, support, or duty from the people they have oppressed and continue to murder without cause, and with obscene impunity.
Such a policing body as we have today, a militarized police force, has not maintained the trust and responsibility to its citizens of color, and therefore should be demoted in rank and status until such time as they can effectively serve and protect with honor and nobility, as a united service, to all peoples under the banner of civilian protections—most urgently, the people of color who have been repeatedly and disproportionately targeted.
Be assured that a country that continues to rely upon such immoral and discriminatory actions toward an entire population, and those in active support of that population, will discover the limitations of inclusion in a global sphere, and the long-lasting unrest of a country divided.
If you think we have moved beyond the civil war and the civil rights movement, you are mistaken.
White Americans who believe there is no divide, no imbalance, no injustice wear the stain of this failure to evolve on their persons; making such a generational disgrace so much more debasing for all the years in which these racial injustices could have been generously, peacefully, and nobly corrected to the betterment and healing of all. The failure to do so is squarely at the feet of the people unable to acknowledge the imperfection of those who came before—and our COLLECTIVE NATIONAL responsibility to do better than our predecessors.
The United States of America is currently living a modern version of the Mason-Dixon nightmare, which guarantees our place in history as the country that has failed freedom.