Friday, July 30, 2004


The Game's Afoot

Sunday's D&D game promises to be interesting. Last week C (the DM) let me know that he's been planning for some things to take place that will deal more directly with my 9th-level wizard's own story. He has provided some interesting challenges for us in this campaign for the last year and a half, and I'm really, really curious to see what happens next, especially in my character's storyline.

Other than this, I'm counting on the weekend to be rainy and relatively distraction-free in order to spend some more time on Eberron.

Update: OK, that was pretty sweet! My wizard's been given a certain artifact to protect; protecting it requires using it; using it more than doubles her levels in wizarding; with her skills so attuned, she vanquished a particularly nasty creature and, at the least, damaged and intimidated the main adversary. Oh, the power! Oh, how it has the potential to corrupt!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


The Girl w/ Combination Skin

Last night I went to the county fair with co-workers B and P. I'd never been to a county fair before, despite growing up in a rural area. The house my parents built is relatively isolated - and, unfortunately, is growing less so every year. Our nearest neighbor (my mother's youngest older brother and his family) had chickens and turkeys in a pen between our houses at one point, and he had two ponies, as well. The next nearest neighbor had dairy cows, and his pastureland borders on my parents' front yard, a picturesque rustic barbed wire fence separating the two properties. During summers when we were kids, playing outside often included sessions of mooing at cows (sometimes they'd moo back, which was the whole point, of course) as well as occasional calls over to the neighbor to let him know a cow or two had gotten out and was wandering down our driveway.

The farms were around us, we didn't live on one, and the only thing I recall doing through 4-H is growing a garden at the bottom of the backyard one summer. I won a blue ribbon. I remember that the extension agent was highly appreciative of my squash and cucumbers. 

There are rides and concessions and contests and animals at the fair. B and P were really into the concessions as certain foods are only available during the fair - like elephant ears and pineapple whip ice cream cones - and each had her favorites (not to mention the list of things P was supposed to pick up for her family). The corn dogs were excellent, I must say. We checked out the 4-H displays and the different contests. (I began to suspect that my blue-ribbon garden was not such a big deal, after all. Goodness knows the gardens I've planted since then have only yielded excellent tomatoes - it's hard not to have good tomatoes in this part of Indiana. Eggplant were puny and downright obstinate two years in a row. It's easy to lose heart.) The tractor parade was something my dad would have loved. The horses were beautiful; there was one named Shadowfax.

The evening was interesting; I learned more about my co-workers, and I saw a different side of this area. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't go look at the chickens and rabbits.  

The night before last, someone's dart game drastically improved while someone else's drastically unimproved. The first win was a bit of a shock. The third really built up my - er, someone's confidence, even with the other someone's nicotine-withdrawal excuse.

Writing? Oh, I'm Eberronning - so much so that I'm having weird dreams starring friends and acquaintances I haven't thought of in years. Apparently since we last spoke, many of them have taken up residence in an Eberronesque world. At least one of them is a changeling now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Dried wells and dead horses

Sounds like a title for a western, don't it?  ;-)

Grims posted something that reminded me of a book-length project I've thought about, a lot, and put off, a lot. When I was putting together a little booklet of the best and worst of my poetry the other day, I was reminded of it again. So maybe it's time to talk about it a little more! I have always envisioned it as the writer's Holy Grail - you know, The Next Great Novel (or, for 'mericans, The Great American Novel), complete with aspirations to appear on Oprah's Book Club before she started selecting from among the classics.

The inspiration is the life of my great-aunt Helyn. If our family had a matriarch, it was Aunt Helyn. One of my earliest memories is of Aunt Helyn standing over me at the end of the counter in the kitchen at our house (where my parents still live - wow!) asking me if I wasn't excited about my new baby brother. (I think this was when K was born, so I was about three years old.)When I was a kid, most of our summer vacations as well as one or two Christmas holidays included making a trip to visit her and Uncle Hous in Ft. Myers, FL. Theirs was a romantic kind of tale; they met when boarding at the same boarding house and eventually married, never mind the social rules of their era and the fact that she was in her forties and he was fifteen years her junior. (As time passes, their story always gives me hope for romance and a loving partnership to happen in my life, too. *grin*)

She grew up in a small mining town in southwestern Virginia. She left home and traveled with a theatre group all around the US, even out to the West Coast. That was the 1920s. Back in Virginia, she taught school in the Shenandoah Valley and became one of the first women school superintendents in the state. (We were also always fascinated by the fact that some of the original Statler Brothers had been among her students, and one of them had been the bagger at her local market.) She didn't worry so much about segregation and forged a lifetime friendship with someone she wasn't supposed to have taught because of those stupid laws. With her mother, she practically raised my dad when things were tight in his family. She'd hold her own with the filthiest sailor cussing you out one minute but then coo over a baby the next. And she adored cats.

In her 89 years, she impacted a lot of people's lives, mostly in a positive way. She led the sort of life that, I think, not only deserves but needs to be chronicled, even as fiction. And that's what I want to do. I know how I want to structure the novel and the particular narrative devices I want to use in it. I know at least some of the stories I want to tell. Yet I keep considering it and putting it off. At one point, it seemed like such a visual idea that I decided to try to write it as a script rather than as a novel; changing formats didn't make me work on it any faster. I think the biggest part of what plays into putting it off is that, whenever I get around to telling this story, more than anything else I want it to be as close to great and perfect and as worthy of its inspiration as possible. Seems like a heavy burden for an idea, no?

Something I noticed in reviewing the poetry is that I seem to write about memory a lot. Not memories, specifically, but remembering as an act, something you do or don't do. I knew that I was writing a cycle of Alzheimer's poems, but I had not realized how many other pieces could be placed in that broad category, as well. I was about to say that the motif hasn't yet appeared in the prose, however, that's not entirely true. Wherever it surfaces in the prose, memory/remembering is approached differently from the way it appears in the poetry. It's not faulty.

You know, I love thinking about this stuff. Puts a new spin on the academic stuff I've written when analyzing the work of this or that writer. *hah*  Well, for the time being I continue to stand by Jungian archetypal criticism as a reliable way to interpret a text. OK, let's go tap into the collective unconscious...


Patience for the Unvirtuous

So it's been a month and five days since I put a little story I call "Anna Petrovna" in the mail to EQMM. Turnaround estimated at three months. Twenty-one days have passed since I submitted "Storyweaver" to the LRHWOTF contest. Results announced in 8-10 weeks.

My sense of time passing is distorted. It seems like more time has passed than a few weeks. And I'm just not a patient person.

Other work is basically done - formatting and a final review called for, and that's about it. So where to send them? Hm.

Eberron has turned into a long-term relationship that's reached the point where those idiosyncracies that once seemed endearing are becoming the tiniest bit annoying. (If I think too much about the dinosaurs, I just want to start throwing things. You'd be perfectly correct in assuming that dinosaurs probably won't have a place in my proposal.)  But I really, really like the characters I'm working with and the narrative I'm putting together.  I also seem to keep finding ideas for using Eberron in narratives, and that is exciting. (So maybe I can live with the dinosaurs. Oooh, it hurt to write that.) J is talking about moving his game (my character: Fizzsparkle Wherrymere, Rogue 2) to Eberron, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it plays. I've been so focused on working with the info in the Campaign Manual for the purposes of writing, it strikes me as funny to return to the same info, only for the purposes of gaming.

My brother C has invited me to relocate to the city where he lives, as his housemate is leaving in a couple months. Right now, I'm not sure how to begin to reach a decision about this. Moving might be good. Giving up a full-time job with its salary and benefits might not be good. And I don't know of any place to play darts where C lives!

Friday, July 09, 2004


You may be a rock star

Grimsy asked about Baba Yaga. I had no idea that Baba Yaga had been co-opted by D&D! I found some info on the 'net about the module and stats for Baba Yaga's hut. Those chicken legs pack a powerful punch, eh? I'd be curious to hear more from you all about what Baba Yaga is like in the D&D world.

Baba Yaga shows up in folktales like "Vasilissa the Beautiful" and "Vasilissa the Wise." Vasilissa's story is a little bit like Cinderella's, except it hasn't been watered down quite as much. Have you read the version of Cinderella in which the stepsisters cut off parts of their own feet to force the slipper to fit? I was always fascinated by that when I was younger. One of my other favorite tales was in this old book that had belonged to my great-aunt Helyn; I believe it's called "The Almond Tree," although there may be variations of it known as "The Fig Tree" or "The Ash Tree." It's pretty bloody and gory.

But back to Baba Yaga... As I recall [and the memory's a little rusty], in the classic tale, Vasilissa's mother dies and leaves her daughter a magic doll, which becomes her only source of succor and advice once her father remarries this old bag who has a spoiled, selfish, rotten daughter of her own. The father dies or goes on a trip or something, and the stepmother and stepsister make Vasilissa's life miserable. She doesn't come apart under their demands, and this provokes the stepmother all the more. She orders Vasilissa to go deep into the woods to Baba Yaga, and Vasilissa does so. The doll - spirit of her mother? - advises her to do exactly what Baba Yaga tells her. Vasilissa arrives at Baba Yaga's hut - gate made of bones, skulls running atop the fence, vermin in the yard, hut on chicken legs, and hidden door to hut that only opens at a ritual saying.

Baba Yaga is a skinny old hag - quite the long-toothed crone. She rides around in a mortar and pestle (which has always struck me as a clunky mode of transportation), although I think I've also seen her depicted as travelling by way of a very large spoon (perhaps that's more streamlined than the mortar and pestle). Baba Yaga does her best to torture Vasilissa with fear, but Vasilissa doesn't flinch. She's so good and pure that even the vermin help her. Baba Yaga sets impossible tasks for her to complete, but with the help of the doll, the vermin, and her own pluckiness, she is able to complete task after task. She does so well that Baba Yaga rewards her and sends her back home.

The stepmother sees the jewels or gold or whatever it is that Baba Yaga gave Vasilissa and sends her own daughter to the witch, thinking to get some of these goodies for herself. But this girl is mean-spirited, sullen and hateful, and she provokes Baba Yaga instead of completing the challenges that Baba Yaga sets before her. So she gets tricked and eaten. I think the stepmother gets some additional kind of comeuppance, as well - losing her only daughter not being quite enough punishment for her treatment of Vasilissa.

In another variation of the tale, Vasilissa ends up marrying the tsar. But I think this is accomplished through her own cleverness - kind of different from Cinderella's marrying the handsome prince.

What's it all mean? You can read your Vladimir Propp, Bruno Bettelheim, Carl Jung, or Erich Neumann and discover a few suggestions. Does Vasilissa's tale warn children to behave a certain way? Does it instruct girls to embrace all aspects of their femininity, even the menopausal hag? The symbology certainly suggests something about the Mother/the Feminine and about sexuality (isn't that pretty much the only way that the mortar and pestle make any sense whatsoever, after all?).

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


What if Cinderella had left the ball with both shoes on?

I'm having an identity crisis.

When it comes to creative writing, I've usually identified myself as someone who writes poetry. I wrote some angstful stuff in high school, and it was usually picked up for publication by the editors of the school literary magazine. I won the prize in English my senior year. In addition to a playwriting course, I took poetry writing seminars in college and completed an independent study in poetry writing during one semester of my senior year. Unlike high school, my submissions to the college's literary magazine were often returned. However, I did eventually manage to get two poems published in it. And my senior year someone - probably the poetry writing professor I had worked most closely with - nominated me for the English Department's award in creative writing.

So I left college thinking of myself as someone who writes poetry, and I entered grad school in order to complete a degree in Russian literature, first, and comparative literature, eventually. At the time that I was making these decisions, I considered applying to MFA programs in creative writing. But I couldn't. Even though I thought of myself as someone who writes poetry, I didn't believe enough in myself or any talent I might have to try to do anything more than "write for the drawer" - and not in that noble, samizdat kind of way but more out of cowardice and (at least a little bit) embarassment. (I cannot rhyme or produce a reasonable verse in a classical form like a sonnet to save my life. Give me sestinas to play with any day, however.)

Writing poetry was one creative outlet. I also wanted to write narrative - the next Great American Novel, in particular. But how scary is that when the longest thing you've ever written is either a one-act play (creative writing) or a master's thesis about Jungian archetypal analysis of the early short stories of Nikolai Gogol (academic writing)? What's a girl to do? Well, don't do any creative writing at all, of course. But that's not really a solution to anything. Eventually not doing any creative writing became not doing any writing. That's really not a good thing for an academic career, particularly when you're supposed to be doing research towards completing a book-length dissertation.

So here I am, several weeks into a critique deal, writing short stories and sending them out into the world; planning to produce something for the Eberron open call; and re-reading my old poetry files and wondering, just a little bit, why I came to think of myself as someone who writes poetry. Yes, some of that work is, I think, good and should be brought out from the drawer to the light of day. But some of it really isn't. Reading through some pieces yesterday, I was struck by just how personal the poetry I've produced has been. And the "spice" that Ed usually says he wants to see more frequently in my prose tends to show up in the verse.

Maybe what I'm learning is that I don't have to be someone who writes poetry or someone who writes prose or someone who is writing her dissertation. Maybe the emphasis should be on the verb. Let me be someone who writes.

Thursday, July 01, 2004


In the mail

Yesterday I mailed a story to the L.Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest. It's a fantasy story that sort of answers a question you often hear when you're in college: "What are you going to do with a degree in that subject?" - where "that subject" refers to a degree in anthropology with a minor in something like creative writing.

Since I'm traveling this weekend, I don't anticipate spending any time writing. I sometimes wish I had a little tape recorder to carry with me on road trips. I do some of my best thinking while toodling along I-64. :-)

My Eberron Campaign Manual arrived in Monday's mail. ( worked quite well; I got the book for a little over $24 with postage in just under a week.) The first thing I did was check the pages. All present and accounted for. So I'm taking the manual with me in case I actually have time to do some reading.

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