Monday, November 29, 2010

The Art of Writing Well

Something I've decided to learn was authentic French cooking from French recipes and what I've noticed is unlike the American versions of the very same recipes, the original French recipes are often long, involved, and take a lot of patience. For example take chocolate mousse. The American version of this recipe is made with very few ingredients and takes no more than forty-five minutes of active cooking time. The result is a nice dessert, but nothing spectacular. However, the French version is much more involved taking a little over an hour of active cooking time. You start with warm cream, then add that to eggs and sugar before heating it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit making something that looks like a custard. Then you slowly melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler, adding sugar and whisking. Once the chocolate is ready, you mix them all together. Now in the American version, you shortcut and add gelatin to give the mousse its texture and stick it in the freezer for an hour or two and its done. In the french, you have to whip cream until stiff peaks form (do not use cool whip, you do not need anymore sugar) than slowly whisk the cream into the mousse and chill for six hours.

The results of this intensive and slow going process is an immensely decadent dessert full of body and rich with flavor. Something that eating only a couple of teaspoons full will satisfy your sweet tooth (which is one of the many reasons french food is served in much smaller portions--its rich and filling) but it's a food that you'll crave more of.

What does this talk of food have to do with writing?

Well, I was illustrating a point. How many times have you stumbled upon a piece of writing, be it a novel or short story, that just seemed hurried and sloppily but together? You'll read it, but it doesn't leave you wanting more.

But a story that's been well crafted, every detail properly measured, descriptions that are rich and used only as needed, characters that are full of body--that leaves you wanting more. That's a story that's worthy of devouring.

The point is this, the art of writing is very much like the art of french cooking, while there may be shortcuts, they're not necessarily good for you. Sometimes you have to take the slow going long road. When you take your time and lovingly put in the effort needed for the entire process from conception to editing, the result is a tale full of body, rich and decadent, that once you get a spoonful, you'll want a whole helping.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Buy books!

Here in the US today, the day after Thanksgiving, is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. The very best gift for any and everyone is of course books. It's easy to get someone to make up a list of a few books they'd like to have, and easy to order those books online if you don't have the time or inclination to shop at a brick and mortar full of holiday crowds. If you don't have a list of preferred books for someone you can always rely on the trusty gift certificate. Amazon even lets you give Kindle books as gifts now (but if you live outside the US make sure you check into geographic restrictions before doing so.)

I've got far too many fiction books on my wish list to mention here, but there is one non-fiction book I'd love to have. The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll by Christopher Knowles would be a great addition to my collection of music books. What's on your wish list for holidays books?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Buffy vs Edward

I'm going back to Buffy for this week's post. It must be no secret by now, even to those new to this blog, that I'm a sad geeky Buffy fan.

Non-geeks, however, sometimes make the mistake of assuming if I like Buffy, I also like Twilight. After all, they're both about teenage girls who fall in love with sexy vampires, aren't they?

To a Buffy geek, this is a sacrilege. I could go on at length about why Buffy is miles away from Twilight, without even touching the quality of the writing.

Buffy is an independent minded young woman who kicks vampire butt. One of the main themes of at least the first few seasons is that she's not only the Chosen One, she's also an ordinary teenage girl dealing with the demons of High School. For most people, the demons of High School are metaphorical. Hers happen to be literal.

Yes, Buffy loves a vampire. But in the end she realises that the relationship is going nowhere and she has to leave him (and I am talking about Angel here - I never really believed Buffy was in love with Spike, but we'll leave that argument for another time). On the other hand, I believe Bella ends up marrying her vampire, even though a human/vampire relationship is problematic at best (and I've discussed that on this blog before).

But really, I think the best argument for proving why Buffy is better than Twilight can be found in the wonderful YouTube video 'Buffy vs Edward'.

I present Exhibit A.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Note, on this, The Witching Hour Release Day

Believe it or not, writing a book is easier than writing a 250-500 word blog post for me. This post comes a bit early because I am both full of nerves and exceedingly excited for what Monday brings.

The Witching Hour, my second novel produced by a publishing house will be available as of midnight 11/22/2010. Yes I am planning promotions for it, including a 24 hour twitter QA session beginning at 12E/11Central, but that's not what's giving me the jitters.

I have the jitters because believe it or not, writing a book is a very intimate and personal experience. Even if your book becomes published, there is still a piece of you that stays with the book. Perhaps its the late nights, the hours spent painstakingly ensuring that every word is the best one to optimally tell the story, or the emails at 2am on the day of a deadline saying its still not right from your editor (yes, I really did get an email at 2am and nearly lost it. I swear I had a temporary mental breakdown at that point and the BF helped me through it). That said, a book is like a little piece of the author--not physically or even spiritually--but its like a tiny fragment of the imagination that's been given a world and domain all its own, for the enjoyment of others. And once its out there, you can't take it back.

The Witching Hour stemmed from an idea that had nothing to do with the book's plot. Lucky Sands, Tuesday Peters and all the other characters that inhabit their world came from conversations with a dear friend over lunches and coffee breaks. I still remember talking about the book's world, which all came from little inside jokes and eventually evolved into much more. And throughout the book, there are hundreds of slivers of those inside jokes, that help make up the dialogue, scenes, and even some of the character's personalities.

The Witching Hour, besides being a story set up to be a modern day myth, is a book of secrets and hidden truths. Its a mystery, a love story, a tale of friendship, and more importantly a story about people thrust into a situation beyond their control only to overcome the odds. Its full of themes that anyone can identify with all wrapped up in a fictional tale.

I hope you enjoy The Witching Hour. You're reading a part of me. :-)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hatching plots

I've always been what's called a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants without knowing where the story might wind up. That's not working for me anymore. Too many times lately, work on a manuscript has come to a halt because I didn't know what happened next. That was okay when I was writing for my own amusement but now I'd like to get paid for my work, even it's just enough to buy books. One of the best ways to do that is to keep writing and keep publishing. Spending a week or more figuring out how to get from Point G to Point H, in the middle of writing the novel, and probably having to do it again a few more times, doesn't exactly help with that goal. I've tried outlining before but never successfully. I'd get a few steps into it and get impatient and start writing. Only to stop at some point because I didn't know what happened next, or I had a new character to introduce and didn't know enough about them, or some other problem. So I've decided I've got to start preparing complete outlines. I'm going to use the snowflake method and instead of stopping at step two and half, I'm going to complete the thing. And then write the damn book (that would be Step 10 on the list I made for reference.)

Are you a pantser or a plotter? If you're a plotter, what method do you use? If you're a pantser, how do you deal with an uncooperative story?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing Lesson #4: Going To Market

I discovered horror in grade 8, when I was 14. I picked up DIFF’RENT SEASONS in the school library. I enjoyed that so much I went looking for more. The next King book I read was CARRIE. That was possibly a turning point. I identified with Carrie, the high school loser with no friends. In fact I rather wished I possessed her ability to instigate the violent and painful death of everyone who gave her a hard time. In any case, I was hooked on King.

I was also in Mrs Riepert’s English class that year, and we were given an assignment to write a horror story. We started with brainstorming titles. As everyone called out titles, mine came suddenly, unprompted, into my mind: TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD. It’s probably the only time in my writing career I have come up with the title before the story – usually the title comes to me at the end. TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD was about ten teenagers who go on a camping trip, and unearth an evil entity that possesses them and makes them murder each other.

I had to read the story out loud in front of the class and it seemed to go down well with my classmates, in particular my science lab partner, Rob Vukovic, who was a fan of the genre. He told me repeatedly that year I ought to write more horror. He’s probably not given me a thought in 25 years or more, but I guess I was listening, because by the time I got to high school I was a horror convert.

I decided to turn TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD into a novel. I finished it when I was 17. I didn’t have a computer in those days (we are talking circa 1987 here). The first draft of TITF was written in pencil, as was my process by then, and then I redrafted it in pen. But my uncle had one of those newfangled devices called a word processor, and he volunteered to type it out for me. I handed over the handwritten pages, and he duly returned the manuscript to me in the form of three printouts and a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk (remember those?) with the files on it.

TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD became the first novel I sent out into the big wide world. I really had no idea where to start. I went to the library and picked up a few books in the teenage horror range – which at that point was still a strange new genre – and looked up the publisher’s address on the title page. That’s where I sent my manuscript- in its entirety. I didn’t know about the etiquette of query letters, or sending only the first three chapters. I’m not even sure if I remembered return postage, although older and wiser people may have pointed out to me the wisdom of doing this, if I wanted the precious package returned.

Those initial queries came back fairly swiftly, with kind and encouraging rejection letters that basically said the publisher was always pleased to hear from young people who liked to write (I had mentioned my age in the cover letter; the publishers had all decided to be gentle), and my writing showed promise, but I needed a bit more practice before it would be ready for publication.

After racking up a few rejection letters, I started to wonder if maybe I was aiming too high. It was getting expensive to keep sending the novel out, and not many publishers were dealing with teenage horror in those days.

Then I thought, perhaps I should lower the bar. So I put TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD in a drawer, and looked towards my short stories instead. Perhaps it would be easier to start small, and get some of those published first, my 17-year-old self reasoned.

I still had a lot of lessons to learn about writing, and submitting, at that point. But one of the things I learned fairly on was that rejection was all part of the process.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Little Taste of Celtic Mythology

First off, let me apologize for missing last Monday. There were some family issues going on that needed to be made a priority.

Now, this Monday (which is being posted a little early) I'll be posting a story called The Children of Lir in its adaption by Mara Freeman.

The Children of Lir

Out of the world's thread, fates' fingers spinning. Some lives are shot with gold, others with shadow. This is a tale of enchantment and exile, of four lives woven together by white swan's feather, storm and ice and the sound of a little bell.

Long ago, when the high gods and goddesses known as the Tuatha de Danaan lived in Ireland, before they were driven into the hollow hills to become the faery folk, there was a great king whose name was Lir. And this Lir had four lovely children - Fionnuala, Conn, Fiacra and Aodh. Fionnuala was the eldest, and she was as fair as the young rowan tree; her brothers Fiacra and Conn were swift and strong as running water, and Aodh was a little bright-eyed baby boy. Everyone in Lir's court on the Hill of the White Field loved them - except their stepmother, Aoifa, who was jealous of their father's love for them. And her hatred pursued them as the wolf pursues the fawn.

One day, she took them in her chariot to the lake of Darvra to bathe in the waters. But as they played on the shore's edge, laughing and splashing, catching rainbows of mist and light between their fingers, she struck them with a rod of enchantment, and turned them into four white swans.

"You will swim on this lake for three hundred years," she said, "then three hundred years on the narrow sea of Moyle, and three hundred years on the isles of the Western Sea. This only will I grant you: that you shall still have human voices and there will be no music in the world sweeter than yours. And so shall you stay until a druid with a shaven crown comes over the seas, and you hear the sound of a little bell."

The swans spread their wings and rose up, circling the lake, and as they flew they sang their sorrow in the voices of human children. When the king found out what had happened, he banished Aoifa from his court for ever, and he rode like the wind to the lake and called his children to him. "Come Fionnuala, come Conn, come Aodh, come Fiacra!" And there they came, flying to him over the lake: four white swans, and they huddled sadly around him as he knelt by the water's edge.

King Lir said through his tears, "I cannot give you back your shapes till the spell is ended, but come with me now to the house that is mine and yours, dear white children of my heart."

But the swan that was Fiacra said, "We cannot cross your threshold father, for we have the hearts of wild swans. We must fly into the dusk and feel the wave moving beneath us. Only our voices are of the children you knew, and the songs you taught us - that is all. Gold crowns are red in the firelight, but redder and fairer far is the dawn on the water."

The king reached out his hand to touch them, but the swans rose into the air, and their voices were lost in the sound of beating wings.

* * * * * * * * *

Three hundred years they flew over Lake Darvra and swam upon its waters. Many came to listen to their singing, for their songs brought joy to those in sorrow and lulled the sick to sleep. But when three hundred years were over, the swans rose suddenly and flew away to the straits of Moyle that flow between Scotland and Ireland. A cold, stormy sea it was and lonely. The swans had no-one to listen to their songs, and little heart for singing on the wild and chanting sea. Then one winter, a great storm rushed upon them and scattered them far into the dark and pitiless night.

In the pale morning, Fionnuala fetched up on the Carraig-na-Ron, the Rock of Seals. Her feathers were broken and bedraggled with salt sea-water, and she lamented long for her brothers, fearing never to see them again. But at last she sees Conn limping towards her, his feathers soaked, his head hanging, and now Fiacra, tired and faint, unable to speak a word for the cold. Her heart gave them a great welcome, and she sheltered Conn under her right wing and Fiacra under her left.

"Now," said Fionnuala, "if only Aodh would come to us, we would be happy indeed." And as the first evening star rose in the sky, they catch sight of the little swan that is Aodh paddling valiantly over the waves towards them. Fionnuala held him close under the feathers of her breast. As they huddled together, the water froze their feet and wing-tips to the rock, so that when they flew up, skin and feathers remained behind.

In the morning they turned westward towards the island of Glora in the Western Sea, and settled on the Lake of Birds till three hundred more years had passed . Then at last the Children of Lir soared homeward to the Hill of the White Field - but they found all desolate and empty, with nothing but roofless green raths and forests of nettles: no house, no fire, no hearthstone. Gone were the packs of dogs and drinking horns, silent the songs in lighted halls. And that was the greatest sorrow of all - that there lived no-one who knew them in the house where they were born. They rested the night in that desolate place, singing very softly the sweet music of the sidhe.

At dawn they returned to the island, and it was about this time that blessèd Patrick came into Ireland to spread the faith of Christ. One of his followers, Saint Kemoc, built a little church by the lake-shore on the Isle of Glora. In a break of day, the saint arose from his heather bed, wrapping his rough brown robe around him to keep out the chill, and rang the bell for matins. On the other side of the island, the swans started up and stretched their necks in fear.

"What is that dreadful thin sound we hear?" said the brothers.

Fionnuala said, "That is the sound of the bell of Kemoc and soon our enchantment will be passing away."

They began to sing gladly and the sweet strains of faery music floated across the lake and in through the reed walls of the cell. St. Kemoc rose in wonder and walked down to the shore's edge, and saw them, lit by the morning sun: four white swans singing with the voices of children! They came to rest at the saint's feet and told him their story and he brought them to his little church. Every day they would hear Mass with him, sitting on the altar. Their beauty gladdened his heart and the heart of the swans were at peace.

Then one day Fionnuala asked the saint to baptize them, but no sooner did the holy water touch the swans than their feathers fell away, and in their place stood three lean withered old men, and a thin withered old woman. In a cracked whisper, the woman that was Fionnuala said:

"Bury us, cleric, in one grave. Lay Conn on my left, and Fiacra on my right, and on my breast place Aodh, my baby brother."

So they were buried, a cairn was raised above them, and their names written in Ogham. And that was the fate of the Children of Lir.

But it is said, that on windy days in the west of Ireland, by lake-shore or ocean strand, you can sometimes hear children’s voices in the air, singing sweeter than you’ve ever heard, as they play with their father at home in the blessed Summerland.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Moral of the Story

One of my recent library finds was a popular paranormal YA novel called Hush Hush. I read it because the jacket copy sounded good, completely unaware of any controversy about the book. It started out fairly well but at some point it seemed like the wheels fell off the wagon, so to speak. Ultimately I decided it was an okay read, but I won't be looking for the sequel.

What was my problem with it? Mainly a strong sense of déjà vu, otherwise known as "hey this is almost exactly like Twilight!" But I will say this: I thought the writing was better overall, and though heroine Nora was just as boring as Bella, in contrast with Edward bad boy Patch was not boring. He was closer to what Edward should have been, but since (in my opinion) Meyer didn't really want to write a "bad boy" character despite making him a vampire, Edward was flat and boring and far too much of a Mary Sue, robbing the story of tension. Hush Hush did not lack for tension, which is probably why I had enough interest in it to finish.

The controversy I discovered after reading the book is not about the resemblance to Twilight exactly, but about how both books seem to glorify the whole "stalker boyfriends are sexy" idea. It's true there is plenty of creepy behavior in both books - Edward sneaking into Bella's room to watch her sleep, Patch trying to kill Nora to break his curse. The fact that these two stories fell flat for me personally has nothing to do with this aspect of the plots. I mean, I love Spike, okay? Spike was the king of Inappropriate Behavior By A Suitor. I think these books should be judged on the strength of the writing and the power of the story, not on whether they conform to a certain morality or political correctness. It is not the job of fiction to teach people the difference between fiction and reality. We all know if a guy breaks into our room to watch us sleep, it's time to call the cops and for the guy to get some therapy. That's what I would teach a daughter who might want to read these books. Fiction is fiction, and reality is reality. Although fiction can be a mirror of reality, it doesn't have to be. The story doesn't always have to have a polite, well-mannered  moral. That is one of the freedoms we can enjoy with escapist fiction.

Having said that, I do think a lot of the critics of this Stalker Boyfriend subgenre are missing a salient point. To me, these are redemption stories. Maybe that distills things too simplistically for people who want to write a dissertation on how Twilight is anti-feminist, or anti-whatever, but I think those people are reading way, WAY too much into these books. My problems with Twilight can be summed up in four words: boring vampires, and Breaking Dawn. Neither of those things has any relation to the vast majority of criticism thrown at the series. I think it would be perfectly fine if an author wrote a book about a teenage girl who falls for the bad boy, realizes he's a creepy obsessive stalker, dumps him, and then starts dating the sweet nerdy guy who's always been a good friend to her. I'd read that book and if it was well-written and engaging, tell everyone about it. If an author wants to write a book about a girl that falls for the guy who frequently crosses the line from Alpha Male to Stalker Boyfriend, and she loves him anyway, well, if it's well-written and engaging, I'll read it and tell people it's a good book. I'll repeat this point: it's not the job of fiction to teach people the difference between fiction and reality. Even Young Adult fiction.

Thoughts? Comments? Disagreements?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coveting Neil Gaiman's Library

I am very, very far away from earning enough money writing to give up the day job. Indeed, I may never actually get to that stage.

But this doesn't stop me occasionally fantasising about what I would buy if I not only got to the stage where I could earn a living on my earnings as a writer, but live very well off my earnings as a writer.

The first thing I'd do is buy myself a house that was big enough for me to be able to set aside one room to be a dedicated library. A few years ago I came across this picture of Neil Gaiman's library (picture credit: Ever since then, I've coveted Mr Gaiman's library.

Just thinking about it gets me all excited. Imagine - a room stuffed full of books, floor to ceiling. All my books in one place. All ordered by subject, genre or author (they would have to be, naturally). Probably even catalogued. There'd be a nice comy sofa or two for a reading corner. And it would be all mine.

My husband and I are both bibliophiles, and we have a three-bedroomed house that is overflowing with books - hence, one of the appeals of e-books is the fact they take up no space. There are books in pretty much every room of the house. And boxes and boxes of them in the attic, where we've already had to stash the ones there's no room for but we can't bear to get rid of.

So, I dream of my own personal library. Much like Mr Gaiman's. If I had this library, though, I would have to set up my writing station elsewhere in the house, where there aren't any books. I wouldn't get a lot of writing done in the library; I'd get distracted by all the pretty books.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The business side of writing

I came across an article that I don't want to link to because a) it's terrible and b) the point of the article is not what I want to talk about in this post. There were a couple of sentences that made me think of something - the proliferation of how-to books for writers. That led me to think about all the ways writers can spend money on advancing their career.

There is no shortage of people who will take your money if you're a writer and think you need to pay for help. I can remember buying Writer's Digest magazine years ago. Mostly it just added to my recycle pile. I'm not saying there's nothing there of value, but it was of no use to me at that time. Maybe now I would find more in it that would be useful, but I don't want a magazine subscription anymore.

There's probably several forests worth of how-to books on writing. I've spent a grand total of twenty dollars on such: Stephen King's On Writing and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. There may be a few other good ones out there but I think this is a real "buyer beware" area. I'm not the biggest fan of self-help books and I think there is a very fine line between self-help books and many of the writing how-to books that are out there. The very best money you can spend on books that will help you learn the craft of writing is on fiction. Read a lot, read widely, read, read, read. In your genre, out of your genre, just read. It will do more for your writing than any how-to on the market.

There are plenty of websites that claim they can help you with networking and publicity for a nominal fee. Maybe they work, I really don't know. It would be interesting to hear from someone who has used those pay sites and find out if it helped their sales. To be honest, I don't have the disposable income to afford a bunch of memberships. As a reader, I rely more on review blogs to learn about new books, but maybe other readers do look at these sites. It does kind of seem like they are more or less marketing to other authors, which is something you can do for free on your own in various ways. But again, I don't know. Just because I don't use these sites as a reader doesn't mean other readers don't.

There are organizations you can join, too. From what I can tell most of the big ones require you to have a deal with a traditional publisher, in which case you can probably afford the organization's membership fees. I do think it would be worth it to join the Romance Writer's of America (the RWA does not require you to already have a traditional contract, but be serious in pursuing a career in writing romance and it's sub-genres.) There's a chapter in Nashville where I could attend meetings. Two things hold me back: money (as always) and the fact that I still write mostly urban fantasy. I do find myself edging into paranormal romance territory more and more often, though, so it would probably be okay for me to join the RWA.

There is an organization for writers in digital publishing, called EPIC. I haven't joined it because of a) money and b) I don't know why. I think I feel like I'm still too new at this to think of myself as being remotely professional. To be honest, I'm not very good at the business side of writing. I try, but I don't think I'm doing a very good job at that side of things. I may join EPIC next year but I'm not sure.

In my opinion there's only two things you absolutely have to spend money on: the filing fee for  your copyright, and that's only after you get the final copy of your work from your publisher, and a domain. I spent ten dollars to turn my personal blog into my own domain. I went that route because I don't know how to code or design a website but I do know how to work Blogger.

People will tell you that you have to do this, that, and the other in order to "build your platform" or "advance your career" or whatever phrase they want to use. When what they are telling you involves you, the writer, spending a lot of your own money it's either because they want you to buy their service or they have plenty of money of their own to spend. Money can be a very touchy subject. Aspiring writers often don't like to hear that if they're in this because they want homes in three states like John Grisham, they might as well give that dream up. Very, very few writers make anywhere near that kind of money. If I ever get to the point where I make the equivalent of minimum wage from my writing, that will feel like a major accomplishment. I have to take that into account when I consider how much money to spend on my "career" - how much of a return on investment am I likely to see? I spent way too much money on promotional book cover cards that very few people wanted - lesson learned. It always pays to think through your promotional investments. If your book will be digital-only, why are you considering promotional bookmarks? Maybe business cards would be a better idea.

There's a lot to think about when it comes to handling the financial side of your writing career. This post just scratched the surface, with no mention of business licenses and taxes, or working within US publishing from another country. The most important thing you can do is homework - find out as much as you can before spending any money. And think things through. Imagine this scenario: you're in a bookstore, you've got twenty dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and there are two books that have drawn your attention. One is a how-to, with some crazy title like Write That Novel In a Flash! (Exclamation point included.) The other is the newest release by an author who never fails to drag you into their fictional world. Think about which one you're more likely to learn from about the art and craft of writing.

With any luck that novel is a paperback and you can afford a cup of coffee, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing Lesson #3: Isaac Asimov & Short Stories

I never saw "Star Wars" when it first came out. I first saw it on video, in 1982. I was on the brink of puberty, and it triggered a life-long obsession.

It also led to an interest in science fiction during my teenage years, and I devoured a great many of the classic sf writers – Ray Bradbury; Frank Herbert; Arthur C Clarke; Isaac Asimov.

Up to that point, everything I wrote was novel length. It never occurred to me to write anything shorter. I would have an idea for a plot and there would be a definite beginning, middle and end. All the characters had to have full names, and life histories, and all of this information would find its way into the story, as would a detailed physical description of each character.

However, when I discovered – and was completely bowled over by – Isaac Asimov, I made a point of reading every book of his I could find at the library. This included a couple of collections of short stories. I hadn’t read much short fiction before then. Indeed, I never realised there was a market for it. But I was impressed at the conciseness of Asimov’s short fiction. Through his stories, I learned that you didn’t have to include a convoluted life story of your characters. If a novel was a movie of a character’s life, a short story was a snapshot. It was just a moment in time. What they were doing before, or after, that moment wasn’t particularly relevant. It wasn’t necessary to have a detailed physical description of the character, nor was it necessary, in some cases, for them to even have a last name.

And this was a revelation. So, in a very real sense, Isaac Asimov taught me how to write short stories.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mythology Monday #3

Welcome to this edition of Mythology Monday and Happy NaNo everyone.

This week I am going to post the Greek story of Apollo and Daphne. Daphne was Apollo's first human love thanks to a cruel trick by cupid and as all stories that involve gods loving mortals, it doesn't end well.


Daphne and Apollo (adapted from Thomas Bullfinch's Mythology *Work is in the public domain)

Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them, Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons." Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, "Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you." So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and ship pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland sports and in the spoils of the chase. lovers sought her, but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking no thought of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her, "Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren." She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me this favour, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana." He consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid it."

Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives oracles to all the world was not wise enough to look into his own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders, and said, "If so charming, in disorder, what would it be if arranged?" He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands and arms, naked to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; she fled, swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his entreaties. "Stay," said he, "daughter of Peneus; I am not a foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk. It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark; but, alas! an arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm. can cure!"

The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered. And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and the virgin- he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear. The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and his panting breath blows upon her hair. Her strength begins to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god: "Help me, Peneus! open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!" Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her foot stuck fast in the ground, as a root; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty, Apollo stood amazed. He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The branches shrank from his lips. "Since you cannot be my wife," said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.