Is Beauty

camille_pissarro_the_boulevard_montmartre_at_night

 

The Boulevard Montmartre at Night

Camille Pissarro

There is a quote from Pissarro I like. I read it once on one of those little white placards they have in galleries, the small micro-essays that sit beside the painting. Have you ever noticed how people tend to spend more time reading those little placards than looking at the paintings? Others have noticed this too. Some galleries have been removing the cards entirely in an attempt to remove some of the filter between the visitor and the art. Anyway, the quote: The whole of the world is beauty. The art is in the seeing.

I remember reading that and being quite struck by it. It agrees with my own experience of the world. Everything has a beauty in it. Ugly things are not ugly the whole way through. Look at them from another angle and they become radiant, beautiful, enchanting. There are whole swathes of art based on the search by the artist for the beautiful in the overlooked and the mundane, the grotesque, the weird and the frightening.

I am going to attempt some sort of regular update around the writing hereon. I have returned to Fair Upon the Tor, and done some more detailed outlining. I recently discovered Jim Butcher’s writing advice, and although I don’t necessarily want to write books like Butcher’s, some of the advice was interesting enough for me to decide to give it a shot. I already had a rough outline of the story, but I’ve now returned to it and tried more clearly to add a ‘big middle’, as Jim calls it, as well as character tags (features, whether emotional, moral, physical or mental that only belong to this particular character in this story), and traits (words that are only or almost only used in association with this character in the story). I’ve thought a bit about introducing characters using characteristic action (an action that is highly definitive of the character), and I’ve thought about Butcher’s emotion/reaction/plan sequence.

I have also started, very gently, a novel that I’m aiming to be for sale to a traditional publishing house. I’m not sure how easily I’ll be able to flip from one story to the other. Doing that never used to bother me, but, on the other hand, I used to write every day (and did so for years and years), but then ceased writing entirely about six to eight months ago. The reasons why I simply stopped were mixed. I have been reflecting, for a while now, that I have been writing for a long time, twenty years or more, and I have not really got anywhere with it. Surely, if I were any good, if I were going to succeed, then I would have by now? And yet, I keep writing books, and I keep trunking them… I have over a million words worth of various novels on my hard drive and I’m not at all confidant that any of them are very good. I also had a fairly scathing workshop experience at about the same time, as well as being overwhelmed by real life responsibilities and a feeling that I wasn’t living up to my more general life and work duties. It all added up to make me just stop. I stopped writing. Stopped drawing and painting. Stopped working on games. Stopped everything. It’s going to be a process getting back into the swing of things, but I am resolved to do it.

So, as a part of this I am going to attempt to update this blog regularly. I may not have a lot to say, but, at the very least I can still check in and let people know I’m still working at things.

Rather neglectful update

starry_night

Starry Night
Jean-François Millet

 

It has been quite some time since I posted any updates or writing. I did consider spinning a story about how Auberon sent me off to beguile a bean-feed mooncalf, or similar, but the truth of it is that lecturing this semester has run me off my feet. I have an outline and some of Fair Upon the Tor written (The Winter King 3), although not enough for me to be very certain when it will be ready. My teaching semester has slowed down, and it is time to get back on the writing horse, so to speak. Ironically, I have all of Book 4 and a fairly comprehensive draft of Book 5 written, but Book 3 needs work, which means that I can’t release the down-the-track and complete works without there being quite a substantial jump in narrative.

On a side-note, I recently trawled through my inventory of short stories and have realised that I have about fifty completed short stories sitting in various files. Of these, seven have sold and been published, but I haven’t submitted a short story since 2011. I’ve kept writing them… I just haven’t sent them anywhere. I will try to remedy this within the next few weeks. I’ll also relaunch my other blog, the one I shut down when I split my writing into Hob Goodfellowe (e-book) and Christopher Johnstone (traditional publishing). My short fiction is published under my actual name, and I think it’s about time that I uploaded my previously published short stories to that blog so that the stories don’t vanish utterly into the obscurity of long defunct publications.

Boulders and Hills

I was quite struck by this video. The phrase ‘exploring the wilderness of your intuition’ especially caught in my mind. I have been thinking a lot lately (maybe to a slightly unhealthy degree) about failure and how we know when we’ve failed at something. How do we know when the better course would be to accept defeat? I suppose the message in Fired on Mars is that defeats, even large ones, can still be spun into opportunity.

On Writing Excuses recently Mary Robinette Kowal drew a distinction between ‘mistakes’ and ‘failure’, where a mistake may well be the doing of something wrong, or poorly, whereas failure is repeating the same error, over-and-over, without learning from it. This distinction has given me a framework to dwell on. I wrote my first novel manuscript twenty-odd years ago. I’ve been writing fiction consistently since then. I passed the ‘million words of awful’ line years ago. I must now be approaching ‘two million words of awful’, I suspect. I’ve written every day for years at a span. I’ve read other people’s stories extensively. I’ve pulled other people’s stories apart to try and work out how they knit together. I’ve read books on craft. I’ve been part of multiple workshops over my last twenty years. I’ve written stories that were mimicries of other voices. I written stories totally from my own heart, without reference to any other notions of narrative. And you know what? I still can’t write a decent story to save myself.

I enjoy the act of writing fiction. I really do. I feel a happier, better… more full human being at the end of any day in which I managed to scribble just a few short sentences. But there is a point where it becomes hard to keep going. The overwhelming feeling that I’m simply going to repeat all the mistakes I’ve already made, and that for some inexplicable reason, I have a block against learning how to do this right… it is a hard thing to fight past.

This isn’t to say I’m at the point of giving up. As I said, I enjoy writing. At worst, I may have to accept that I am writing stories for myself and the crickets, post them to various places, and try not to pay too much attention to whether or not they ever get read. I’m okay with that. In a similar vein, I also do some amateurish oil painting, but I’ve never tried to sell a canvas to anyone. I give them away, when finished. I usually discover at some later point that the canvas is bundled away in a cupboard somewhere. But that’s fine. I shrug and smile and keep working at making the next painting a little bit better than the last one.

I think the way forward may be to foment a similar mental attitude to writing stories. It’s okay to try and fail, and fail again. Just as long as there is some, even incremental, improvement, and as long as it is still possible to enjoy the creative process. That seems okay to me. So perhaps this isn’t a matter of accepting failure, so much as accepting that the task I am engaged with is a Sisyphean one. As long as I still enjoy pushing the boulder, perhaps it doesn’t matter so much if I never reach the top?

Something to think on.

A House of Snow & Apples

02_HOUSE_OF_SNOW_smashwordsI have, at long last, released the second tale in The Winter King. This has taken quite some time, and much longer than I anticipated. Largely, the delay is because I wrote an entirely different book, A Charm for the Nameless Child, which was supposed to be Part Two, and ended up being a little too disjointed from the first novella to make for an easy readerly transition. The solution, as strange as it may seem, was to write a couple stories to slip in between A Treasure of Bone and Promises and A Charm for the Nameless Child. And so, here we have Part Two: The House of Snow and Apples. Hopefully, anyone who enjoyed the first book will find this latest part to their taste. We rejoin Caewen and Dapplegrim, just a small time after their adventure with the Wisht-Folk.

I’ve uploaded The House of Snow and Apples to Smashwords, Amazon and also Drive-Thru Fiction. Each of the first two stories in The Winter King are simply too short to justify setting up two separate print editions, but once the third story is finished, I will bundle all three into a printed book, very likely via Ingram Spark. I have also been quietly looking at illustrators, and I may approach an illustrator to pay for some interior art at the same time. We shall see how things pan out.

Cover: The House of Snow & Apples

HOUSE_OF_SNOW_01_smashwordsI’ve just finished a (perhaps still slightly rough) copy of the cover for The House of Snow and Apples. This will now be Book Two of The Winter King. Book Three will be Fair Upon the Tor (incomplete). Book Four will be A Charm for the Nameless Child (complete, 100,000 words).

I didn’t really do a lot to the tree that forms the core of the picture. After photographing and importing into Photoshop, I erased all the white background, but found I was left with a reasonably nice looking pencil grey sketchy tree. I opened this in Corel Paint and added some touches of grey, streaking in some black and greenish colours, mostly using gouache brushes at about 50% transparency on the layer. Because apple tree bark is more grey than brown, I didn’t want to add too much brown. This might be confusing, maybe, for readers later on as a grey tree on a white background appears as a heraldic symbol in A Charm for the Nameless Child. Maybe I can come up with some in-universe excuse. Maybe the family who inhabit the House of Snow and Apples are a long sundered and lost minor scion of the Grey Tree? It would sort of make some sense, so, yes, perhaps I’ll go with that (if anyone should ask).

Updates and Suchlike

Just a quick update to say that Allie Sumner posted a very thoughtful review of A Treasure of Bone & Promises at her book review site Allie’s Opinions.

House_of_Snow_01I’m still some way off having The House of Snow and Apples ready for release, although I have at least started in on the cover art. I’ve uploaded a image of the greyscale, non-coloured early draft of the art. This was sketched on paper with an HB pencil, photographed and then manipulated in Photoshop (mostly just deleting background grey colours, adjusting levels didn’t work so well here). The next step is to import into Corel Painter and start bringing it up with scratch with some painterly work.

The House of Snow & Apples: Second Draft Complete

I’ve now finished taking my on-paper edits and using them to make changes into the Pages file for The House of Snow & Apples. It’s only a 40,000 word novella (or novelette? I can never remember the divisions and categories), so it didn’t take nearly as long as a full 100,000 word novel would have. One thing I noticed that I haven’t quite been aware of before: it seems I’m much less content with my dialogue than my exposition. In places where the text was dialogue-heavy, I made substantially more changes than in the exposition-heavy areas. I don’t know if I’m being more critical of the dialogue, or whether I’m just getting more attuned to the tweaking needed to separate out character voices. It’s something I’ll keep an eye on.

At any rate, I’m going to take a short break from the Clay-o-the-Green. By my calculation I have written about 220,000 words in The Winter King over the last year and a bit, plus multiple edits and drafts. I need a short break, a palate cleanser. The spirit-haunted landscape of the Clay-of-the-Green is starting to infiltrate my dreams. I need a brief respite.

So, to that end, I’m going to try to not think about the Clay-o-the-Green for a week or so. I have 2-3 contemporary short stories I’d like to write, which will make for a nice change of pace.

And finally, at long last, I’ve set up a dedicated Gmail account. If you want to reach me for whatever reason, the hobgoodfellowe@gmail is now active.

Edits, Edits Everywhere

It’s a hot day outside, the sky a sort of molten, carved-out sapphire blue. It’s one of those days that you either need to embrace fully with a trip to the beach or sitting under a tree in the local park, or failing that, hide from in an air-conditioned space. I have edits to wade through, so I think I may be stuck in the ‘hide from’ category today.

My immediate, if still somewhat vague, plans are:

  1. Finish the second draft edits on The House of Snow & Apples
  2. Produce some cover art
  3. Record audio files for A Treasure of Bone & Promises, post here
  4. Complete a read-aloud edit for The House of Snow & Apples
  5. Hopefully, go straight to an audio recording for tHoSaA too

I should be getting back to the edits now. Onward, and so forth.

Second Drafts & Colours

I’ve finished the on-paper edits now for The House of Snow and Apples, and am slowly transferring them across to the Pages document I write in. It’s now sitting at about 40,000 words, though cutting and adding may change that slightly.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about lately is racial diversity in fantasy. I mean this first at that basic level that there should actually be people present who are not white, blonde and blue-eyed in a fantasy world, and working in a setting that is a riff on Medieval, or Dark Ages Europe does not preclude diversity. In actual historical Europe there was quite a lot of diversity, as invasions, migrations and empires tends to mix people up a bit.

But in fantasy, we can be yet more imaginative. I’ve been thinking about the colouration in our closest relatives, the (other) apes and the monkeys, and looking though images of primate faces. Although I’m not sure that I want to add in human peoples that have red and blue posteriors to match their noses, the diversity of colours is interesting, and if sexual selection or natural selection had run another path, red eyes, bright yellow and black markings, purplish-grey skin, or soft grey skin surrounded by a flair of red hair could all, potentially, be human traits. Of course, there’s a risk that the people no longer come across as ‘human’ in a story if they get a bit too far removed from what we expect to see. The key would be to make sure they are presented as human, and maybe play it subtly for a while before introducing any really unusual colourations? At any rate, I feel this is something I’ve been doing badly so far in The Winter King stories, so it is something I’d like to play around with and address.

The House of Snow & Apples: First Draft

Well, The House of Snow and Apples, Book Two of The Winter King, is complete as a first draft at 39,000 words. I just typed the last line. It took me longer to get to the end, and the story is much longer than I initially estimated. Certainly, when I started the story in mid-January I did not expect it to be any longer than 25,000 words, at most.

trollwife_07I’ll print out a copy tomorrow and start the first edits. I’ve been reading and editing as I’ve been writing, so the editing process should (hopefully) not be too arduous. I might even end up with something like a finished manuscript sometime in the next 2-3 weeks.

I’ve been playing around with colouring my little practise pencil sketch in Corel Paint too. I’ve attached an image of where I am at now. A long way from finished, but it is starting to develop.