Anne's Blog - January 07

January 2007, or the Depths of Winter

Illustration is from the illustrated book of the card game for A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, published by Fantasy Flight Games. Title is "Sworn to the Wolf".

We're now into our eighth week straight of serious winter this year, meaning the street outside has turned into a glacier and the snow is black, piled high in parking lots and it's been below freezing for way too long without much of a break unless you discount days when the wind was blowing 80 mph and driving the wind chill factor down 30 degrees. We've still had enough sun to warm our little apartment, but Sky's been looking at Hawai'i again, wondering if the astronomers in Hilo can support us. The answer remains up in the air. The job market is still pretty bad, but Sky is going through the agony of searching. I may write you next from some exotic location--Bali? Bora Bora? Hawai'i? Amsterdam? Auckland? Pick a country, any country....

Well, it's been a while, yes, but not for no reason. (How'd ya like them words?") The big reason is that, of course since Sky gave me a few months away from the work grind, I got quickly out of art mania and into the writing trance. For those of you who've had to put up with this, I see you shaking your heads. I confess, without Sky around, I'd starve to death, never sleep and pass out at the computer. Ah, well, we all have our little demons, or one big glomy demon like I've got. I'm taking a short break, now--into re-writes, but I was able to send sample chapters to an agent knowing that I could plough through 220,000 words in six weeks. Yeah, I saw some eyebrows go up there. I told you I was crazy. I get into the glazed-over zone and I can spew about 5,000 words a day and if I could type faster....Before you wonder, I'm the kind of writer who can't do it in one sweep. I have to do things over, and over, and over....

Anyhoo, some hard thoughts about the industry. For those of you innocent of the arts, the publishing, music and art industries went into the toilet in the mid-Eighties. What this meant is that much of the industry consolidated into the Big Seven or large, corporate umbrellas of multi-media pap-crap. I'm not saying that some some great stuff hasn't come out or that everyone got corrupted, no indeedy; it's rather amazing how people have managed to still force good books (and music) through the new machines. Always rough on the little guys, the industry has become rather like Hollywood where it's all who you know. After the sudden death of Jim Baen last summer, my last "who do you know" was gone and that was that. So, although the series is sitting on an agent's desk collecting mold and dust as we speak, Sky has encouraged me to just go for it and do it myself. After looking into more PoD publishers (I went with one in 2002), and finding that discouraging still, I found a short-run book publisher who can do my books for $7-10.00 a piece, which is great for a 500 page book with illustrations. Hot damn! The great news is that a short run used to mean 5,000 copies, now it means 200 copies which makes it afforable (sort of) for me. While Sky is ready to take the plunge and fork over money for the sake of Anieth (and my sanity), I'm keen on sparing him that grief since I promised myself to actually start making some money by March.

I had some serious thoughts and took a look around and decided to restructure the entire series. It's always amazing to me what you can do if you just give up what your attached to and take a look around. Suddenly, everything has come together. I'm very excited because this series was always extremely difficult in that I wanted to do several stories all concerning the same 39 years of history of my world. I also needed an edge. I had some good enough YA books and some good enough "women's" books but no real edge. I prefer historians to warriors and historians don't sell very well. I got into some heady work, came up with even more characters, but I was losing a focus and getting too many strings.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George. R. R. Martin

A few years back, my mom bought Martin's books for my dad based on her friend John Christiansen's recommendation. Since they were best-sellers, my mom thought they would be a good xmas presents. I picked them up that xmas and dismissed them as "fight for the crown" books, way too complex and too full of people running around with swords to bother with. But last autumn, Max got into them, so I thought I should give Martin another chance, just to try to show come interest in Max's fantasy tastes. He tends more to the gaming end, conflict and battle, that sort of thing, but also raves about books like Ursula LeGuin's Dispossessed which is neither. Max considers LeGuin's masterpiece to be about the best book he's ever read, so I don't discount his tastes as adolescent fantasy.

Martin--where to begin? Well, the books are rather typical "fight for the throne" with broadswords, raping, looting, eating bad Medieval food that's over stereotyped like peacock and lark's tongues, intrigue and very, very little magic. Hm. So what drives the "fantasy" of the books? Well, he's got just enough fantasy to get by, but relies on the three F school of story telling, which I'm too bluestocking to spell out here. Let's just say that the women in the books are not exactly liberated. While I can go on for a few pages about what I hate about Martin's books, I'll take the high road and be a little more objective. First off Martin is sticky. He has the emotions down enough that the first chapter is a real clinger--very much like Steven King--gut-wrenching fear. After the initial encounter with the evil wraiths, he backs off and we see very little magic for a long, long time. He uses the trick of making the POV's drive the book, telling eight stories and naming the chapters after the characters. He also has a neat trick of writing from some kids' points of view, tormenting them enough that you really, really, really want them to get out of being victims and get revenge. Very fairy tale in that regard. All in all, Martin has the ability to keep you on a hook for (on average) 400,000 words per book. That's pretty amazing. I found that some of it was that you had to read a hundred pages to get to the character that you picked out, but that trick is what caught me.

When I've had shows, people were able to pick their favorite picture. When I've shown them one picture, they felt compelled to tell me what was wrong with it. Something in human nature can't turn off the discernment factor. What makes Martin work, other than the FFF proven plot technique, is that you can pick a character or two out of his array. He does a fairly good job with getting some differences in his characters, although people like me can complain that most of them are Self-Pres 6 (Enneagram): basic driving emotion of fear, have to learn to be courageous, admire beauty and comradeship, but are stuck in a social economics of "you help me, I'll help you or you're my enemy psychology". Long and short, is that I decided that this structure would work extremely well for Anieth.

And, yes, it did. I'm so happy about it, I could kiss Martin, although given his writing I'm not sure I want to get within 100 miles of him! Finally, finally, finally a structure that actually works. So, that's why I've been a hermit. I sat down, looked at the stories I had of over thirty characters and realized that I could turn a Witch World type series into a five book linear series with about 12 POV's per book. What this allowed me is the ability to follow characters from childhood, get into their skins, but also to do the big picture of compare and contrast in the anthropological style that I love so well. I can set up differnt political systems, different cutlures, and really, really important, different mental states, which was the whole purpose of the books. I can show different magical styles, different esp abilities, different mind sets due to social influences, and different psychologies. My one rule is that every one has to be sympathetic--no dip into a bad guy's head--there are no bad guys, just conflicts. What's fun is that everyone can criticize everyone else from their own POV, so it looks very real.

M. Komarck - Arabe Haye Darrande

I found a new artist that I'm just floored by. Michael Kormarck. I'm going to show some of his work while I (hopefully not) bore you with this blog! This is an illustration for a card game again titled: "Arabe Haye Darrande". As you all know, like Martin, I started Aneith as a Medieval tale. I quickly realized that I didn't like the whole witch/Christian thing, which Martin gets around by inventing some religion. I backed up my world to the Roman conquest of Britain, which then led me to some cliches with the Romans, whom I find to be BORING. But I also find the Greeks to be equally so. Why? Well, not to get into this, but aside from a few geniuses, they didn't do much. Yes, I know, I know--what about Western Civ? Well, Western Civ is hogwash. I've gone into this ad nauseum, so I won't now. I went back to Persia and then futher back to Babylon and struck gold. I discovered, as many have, that "Western Civ" hit a height about 2,000 BCE and then fell into a Dark Age that we've only just come out of. For me, (and others) the Classical Age was part of the Dark Ages, or the long, long fall of science, technology and civilization that peaked with the Minoans, who had batteries and geothermal heating. If the Akkadians had stayed in Akkadia, we'd have been on the moon 2,000 years ago. End of story. If you object, write me and we'll tussle over it!

M. Komarck - Kaman-E Helal-E Irani

In our search for a new (warm) place to live, looking at New Zealand, I put on the making of The Lord of Rings movies to listen to the Kiwis. This is one case where the making of is way more interesting then the films themselves, if you're into this sort of thing. The first documentary was about Tolkien, with many people going on about no other writer would ever near the complexity of his world and Sky started laughing because, well, you know. He has to listen to me go on and on at dinner about different sorts of edible plants and designing stellar cartography systems that are based on poetry rather than any visuals or how many different ways can you make a hand-held disk throwing weapon, or using kelp bladders as blow guns--that sort of thing. However, what most strikes me about Tolkien is that he wanted to do a mythology for England (not Britain) and succeeded better than he expected to. He incorporates most of the Sigurd/Siefried motifs in the Silmarillion without getting cliche about it and gives a new slant to traditional English folk characters like dwarves, dragons and elves, again Gotho/Scandanavian motifs.

It struck me again, watching these people talk, that well, some of us English speakers, aren't English. Tolkien rejected what he knew of Irish heroic sagas as way too bloody for his tastes (that the Gothic aren't!), but I personally think he was put off by the headhunter cult that runs through much of the Ulster Cycle. I rather imagine that he was put off also by the tendency for Irish heroes to be fated to kill off their best friends or brothers and end up tainted so that you're willing for them to die. And Irish women in the old stories are not exactly Tolkien's cup of tea. You don't see Maeve running around in Middle Earth with a hundred husbands challenging every man she meets to throw a spear farther than she can. Hm. Galadriel with a hundred husbands?...I REALLY miss these women in fantasy. I made one for my children's history book, Kigva Fireheart, six-foot tall Tangwen Horse Charmer who could bench press 300lbs, and was decked out with fifty pounds of gold just to ride her chariot into town and so rich that she could have as many lovers as she wanted to and not blink an eye.

Not to be too caught up, I want to put forth the other part of Britain. Backing the books up to 1900 BCE, I can get to the roots of being Celto-Viking without worrying about those lousy Romans. That far back, you even predate the Celts and Vikings and get to the roots of those people who had indoor plumbing in Northern Scotland and built Woodhenge which is to Stonehenge what trigonometry is to addition and subtraction. What I mean to say is that we've got this rich, rich heritage going back 5,000 years that shows up all over the place and we're taught to pass over. Well, it's a burr under my saddle blanket, so...

But the wealth! A living, breathing, walking world of fabulous technology and no metalurgy. And the food! Martin goes on and on about food. He loves food--bad food. I'm filling these books with food that is not roasted meat but is delectible. Can you imagine having a world designed from the food to the calculations necessary to predict an eclipse. Well, you can see I'm having fun.

M. Komarck - Daidoji Naito

Here is Komarck again, with a Japanese series done for The Legend of the Five Rings by AEG. What I'm discovering now is that I have my characters to a point where I can see their brothers in other art. It's very exciting when you design a warrior and realized that he's (or she!) is a type. What I got into in the last few months was desiging armor and weapons that were a far cry from the long sword and iron armor, that is old, old, old! I also have a problem with having my war be mostly a guerilla war in dense woodland. Although this picture of Daidoji Naito has him with a sword, it gives some of the feeling (like the Persian picts above) of a world that is not Classical or Medieval.

M. Komarck - Mirumoto Etsuya

This picture is one of the few I've seen with one of my armor ideas that didn't turn out to be original at all. No matter what you design, you can bet it's been done before in reality (fantasy not sf) or probably in a game or book. That's cool. I find that it makes my designs take on a reality that I find so enjoyable in fantasy worlds. This character of Mirumoto Etsuya also looks like one of my characters, Dian Tinneal Antuig. I just love this kind of armor that I named "crow armor" in my books because the scales ruffle up like crow feathers. Mine are made of all kinds of materials, again showing that our metal prejudice is just that and people got along very well for a very long time without it. This picture also shows that Komark is a genius with light, something very few modern artists don't get very well.

On the Art Front

What's going on with art these days? Not too much, but one thing I will write about. I discovered a way to structurally duplicate an actor's face. This may not sound like much, but sometimes it takes me a while to get these things.

Actors: Dalton, Castle and Reed

When watching A Lion in Winter I was struck by a basic similarity between Timothy Dalton and John Castle, playing the French king and the English prince Geoffrey in the movie. I wanted to play upon these similarities but I also liked Ollie Reed's face for another half-brother in this group of people: Glanbor Aveldonacc, Hav Agalli Aveldonacc and Stan Avimig. As you can see from this montage, Castle and Dalton have some real differences, but, structually, the differences are slight. They both have what I call the "Celt face" whereas Ollie is an extemely good example of the people that invaded Britain before the Celts and set up Stonehenge. The broadheads invaded and killed most of the long-headed "children" who built most of the Mesolithic monuments. The next wave of long-headed Celts that came out of the Aryan center didn't arrive until about 1,000 BCE, it is thought from Spain along the tin routes. (Cornwall was a major center for tin, necessary to making bronze.)

Drawings: Dalton, Castle and Reed

Here I'm showing some finished sketches made up from the actors with modifications for my characters. The Dalton look alike is Glanbor with very little modification. Castle, I've turned into Stan, but made his nose longer, his eyes a bit different and his mouth more full. I've also left Ollie pretty much the same for Hav Agalli.

Chasing Shadows

Elvie Davis spoke of a problem in art with using photos called "chasing shadows". As you can see from these three sketches, in the first I tried to copy the picture above of Ollie, which was not good enough for duplicating. The lighting in the picture is natural and casts strange shadows on Ollie's face which led me wrong so that the sketch turned out awful. Rather than looking like Ollie, Hav looks just sad and strange. So I got frustrated and did a structural compilation of all the photos I could find of Ollie and drew it in the next drawing. Then I traced that and shaded in in the next drawing. These three were all done in the same afternoon. This should give you a really good idea of what I mean by chasing shadows and structure. I've exaggerated the structure in this sketch of Hav, but you can see him "jump out" of the paper, looking suddenly real.

Castle Structure

Here, I've done the same with Castle, abreviating some of the structural sketch and not exaggerating the final sketch. For those of you wanting to draw characters from photos, this is definitely the way to go!

Poetics, Linguistics and the Way Art Affects the Way we Think

Another controversial thing I'm into (that Tracy and I had endless discussions about) was how language affects the way we can think, or, more accurately, the way we can express what we think. Since I'm a visual person, I don't think in a logical, verbal way, but must translate. I also have a poor verbal memory. But counter to that, I find that my ability to recognize patterns makes me a better linguist than one would have thought and a better poet than I would have expected of myself. I've been playing around on a new favorite web world: www.ancientworlds.com, which is a community of, yes, you guessed, people gonzo over ancient worlds. They have a bardic college there where people can post and talk about Celtic poetics.

Yes, I see some of you yawning already, but, in my opinion, poetry is to the arts what math is to the sciences. Poetry is the perfection of sound, music of the human brain. The problem for us is oversaturation on really, really bad poetry, mostly in the form of lyrics. True poetry requires a discipline that is quite extroadinary and, for me, just too much fun. In High School, when required to write sonnets, I just about vomited, I hated it so much. I hate a lot of poetry. For me, poetry did not really get interesting until I got to study it in foreign languages. I also found some poets who were not the ones you get to study in school. Sorry, folks, I just can't bear to force myself to read Keats. Tennyson is barely better; Shakespeare is only interesting for the archaic vocabulary.

Before you start thinking that I'm a total snob, or maybe a total brute, I'm going to blame the English again, or rather the Normans. The Anglo-Saxons have some incredible poetry. To be a writer of any merit and not just an entertainer (that's not bad folks, just a different value system) you have to have an ear. Well, is a writer's ear one of those things like an artist's eye? Does one have to have perfect pitch? Like anything, it's a matter of attention. What do you pay attention to? Most people pay attention to meaning. Cool. No problem. I just happen to be one of those people who like so many layers of meaning that meaning dives down into the depths and rises up again forced to jamb the preconceptulized expectation into a new form. Many tales are supposed to do this, it's a form of going into the magical world and returning changed. I want everything loaded with meaning so that one is changed by the very process of reading or listening. But I'm into change.

True poetry is a way to twist the mind into change, like performing a function on a data set. You look at it a different way. It's a brain thing, several layers below meaning and the parsing ability of the verbal mind. But poetry, like story, must work on the superficial levels to work on the deeper levels, my pardons to Gertrude Stein. What are the lower layers like? How do they affect what we can express? Does it ever reach the conscious levels? I'm fascinated with poetry as a way to take language to the point where we can see the topology of language rather than the basic functions such as addition and subtraction. Which brings us back to linguistics, Tolkien, and all the rest. How does an Anglo-Saxon think? How does an Englishman think, deprived of the AS forms, but not the sounds? How does a Celt think? How does a Welshman think deprived of vocabulary but not structure? Can we see this in their poetics? I think so.

"So fret not, like an idle girl,
That life is dash'd with flecks of sin.
Abide; thy wealth is gather'd in,
When Time hath sunder'd shell from pearl."

Here's Alfred, Lord Tennyson at his best. School stuff, but good reading if you like him. He's an Englishman. He got rhyming eight-syllable lines, not in iambs, but in more interesting forms, not sounding Latinate, but a good blend of AS and French going here. I like the mix of AS words and softer French words and the subtle use of some Celtic internal sympathies like fret and fleck, wealth and shell, etc. He also has a good AS ear for hard and soft vowel sounds. He also passes the poetry test: does it read aloud?

What's the difference between the Anglo-Saxon and the French? The Anglo forms care about the front end, the French about the back end. French and Latinate poetry rhymes, Anglo-Saxon poetry alliterates. What I find appalling (well, amusing) is that people don't understand alliteration. They think that scrape and stick are alliterative, forgetting that English, being of a Gothic root, has consonant blends and is vowel senstive. Thus a word like kick and a word like cop are not alliterative. Say them--the "k" sound is different. Thus words like grope and grab are alliterative, as are give and get, ten and tin are alliterative and so are thought and thank. Tap and tip are further apart, but only as far as dap and tap. I hope I'm getting you saying these things out loud. It's not about spelling--it's about sound. And English spelling rarely reflects the sounds, especially if you factor in dialect. To people like me, the words "motivate" and "motive" are "d" and "t" respectively, which leads to some interesting spelling variants in people with ears and not eyes! The science of modifying vowels and consonants to make things easier to say (roses and ross's) is called orthographics. To be a poet of the ancient sort, you must be hip on orthographics. No problem if you're learning to say them out loud!

Although we appear visual, we are not. People hear what they read. I'm amazed at some poets who have forgotten to read stuff out loud, listening to it. You can get away with a lot if you have a rhythmic ear. Anglo-Saxon poetry can play the front end game because the language favors the dactyl over the iamb. DA-da over da-DA. English has been modified into an iambic language, but with the dactyl emphasis so much so that the French shake their heads over some modifications of borrowed words. As a child, you have to learn to undo the basic AS prejudice and learn that PHO-to becomes not PHO-to-GRAPH-y, but pho-TOG-ra-phy, counterintuitive to the AS speaker. English speakers, in order to become educated, have to adopt the Southern rhythms and often destroy their own sense of appreciation for the alliterative. Listen to how wonderful the alleriteration is with the dactyls:

Rising weath, pregnant moon, labored in autumn skies-
Reigning queen, precious gem, lady your augur cries

The Anglo-Saxon structures were extemely complex. da-da HA-da-da da HA-da (pause) HA da-da-da-da FA-da da CA-da-da-da da-da-da CA (pause) CA-da da NA-da-da. Much of this is way beyond what we are used to, but when you hear it, you feel it if you are English as a first language. Tolkien took advantage of this with his Riders of Rohan (see even the name is dactyl alliterative!).

We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.

I don't know about you, but when I read these verses, I see the horses and hear the singing slaughter and I feel something in the bones, something half-dreamed or half-remembered, the inheritance of a ax culture full of dragons and heroes who fight on even when death is come. Whew! But note, he's careful to avoid any French words, but he's more than that--he's careful to avoid the Celt as well.

As I have gone on (and on) about, the sleeper in many of us is the Celt. No, I don't mean that Lucky Charms guy, I mean that tattooed, head-hunting, six foot six laughing man who'd as soon drink as fight and maybe both at once while he's shouting poetry to keep you company into the next world. He's another berserk, like the Gothic heroes, but he's not "hammer oder anvil sein", he's quicker than strong and sarcastic rather than terse, and just as likely to trip you as to shake your hand. To the English, he's too emotional, he cheats, he drinks too much and those women...well, let's just say that they don't know their place. Most people don't like this fellow and use him as a villanous rogue, a sidekick, or something inscrutable and distant like the elves. Bits and pieces. What does this mean to us? To our language? To our thoughts?

Rowan in Autumn

Blood-red showed the lustrous leaf
luscious bloom, light-gowned then blowed

Fiery-wood, the quickened life,
flushed rife, must end, blazed in blood

This is called a rannaigheacht mhór. The definition is: "a quatrain stanza of seven-syllable lines consonating, no rhyming, abab. There are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet, and the final word of line three rhymes with a word in the interior of line four. Two words alliterate in each line, the final world of line four alliterating with the preceding stressed word. The final syllable, word or line must duplicat the beginning first syllable, word or line." --Holy moly! Now this is poetry. Not exactly iambic pentameter. Here's another, a rionnaird tri n-ard. "A quatrain stanza of hexasyllabic lines with disyllabic endings. Lines two and four rhyme, and line three consonates with them. There are two cross-rhymes in the second couplet, none in the first. There is alliteration in each line, and wthe last syllable of line one alliterates with the first accented word of line two. he final syllable, word or line must duplicat the beginning first syllable, word or line." (Which, if you note, makes the non-existent cross-rhyme in the first, impossible!) Well, here's the attempt:

Nightmare

Shunning night, mares hurried
reined back by drear vision

dark done by; Dawn, ransom
dream herd from vile 'suasion!

Anyhoo, I'm having fun. The point of this kind of poetry is to help us understand that those who existed before the Norman Conquest were not exactly drunk and dingy. To recite poetry like this, on the fly, while in the midst of battle, fully berserk, is a wee bit difficult. Makes you wonder what else they could do....My guess is that part of it is training, but, sigh, what training! Well, every culture has it's strong points. But what do these forms mean to us other than providing an afternoon of a puzzle? For me, it's almost impossible to understand this kind of mind outside of the language. Celtic languages are murmuring, indirect languages. They are not in-your-face dactyls or militant sounding polysyllabic rhymes. I've noticed, in many people I've known that were Irish, that they were incomprehensible to many people, not because they had an accent, but because of the muttering tone. The linguistic ear is more subtle, hearing an utterance of line where the pattern is discernible, but not the individual words. Does this mean that the unit of understanding was not a word, but a sentence? What would this do to one's ability to express things? You note in the above poems an emphasis, not on the word, but on the sound. The language is much, much closer to music in the mind.

I believe that this is what allowed people like this (and like the Mongolians) to memorized hundreds and hundreds of poems (songs) that were thousands of stanzas. The language moves out of the same part of the brain that is used for logic and moves more into the part of the brain that is tuned to music (pardon the pun). In music, the notes are important, but the phrase is the unit of measure, so to speak. Over and over we hear of the "lyrical" content of Celtic/Anglo writers. This is part of it. Language is fascinating because it bridges meaning in word with patterning in music. Some people cannot listen to lyrics and music at the same time but are forced to appreciate the lyrics separate from the music. This is one end of the spectrum; the other end is where the meaning cannot be separated from the verse. What happens when a person who values words as meaningful chunks meets with someone for whom a word, on it's own is an orphan, something out of context that has no meaning alone? Hm.

I had some other stuff to write, mostly about astronomy, but I'll just leave you with a picture of the Girdle of Arianrhod (silver wheel) that is hovering over Hawai'i now. I'd love to go to Mauna Kea and see it. Also, for those of you so inclined, you absolutely have to check out Sky's site. www.astone.com/sky/ He has all his stuff up again, and take a gander at the robotics site. What a man! Wowie! I've watched it happen, but it's impressive all laid out like this. We go next week to buy a package for the 'bot. I think I'm more excited about it than Sky is.

Well, the sun is shining, but I don't think any groundhog is going to let us out of winter yet. We've had more snow this winter than ever before. The mountains get about 400 inches of snow every winter, but we usually get about 40, being in the rain shadow. This season we've already had about 60 inches. We get most of our heavy snows in March and April--I wonder what's going to happen this year? Hoo-boy! Floods and icebergs!

Star Picture of Hawai'i

© 2007, A.R. Stone