I had the privilege of singing the Japanese and American National Anthems for my unit’s Change of Command ceremony this week. It went well. I didn’t make any significant mistakes (that I’m aware of at least). I received several compliments. Some people seemed genuinely surprised.
It got me thinking about the distance between compliments for a job well done, and confidence that we can do a job well.
I spend a lot of time in front of other people–public speaking in the form of leading mission briefs and planning discussions, public singing and musical performance in church bands or for secular functions, and of course… writing.
At a recent writing group, we talked about how hard it can be to accept the compliments or to truly believe “My work is of sufficient quality.” People give compliments to be polite, right? It’s easy to shrug those off or downplay them… after all, that’s the humble thing to do, and no one likes an arrogant jerk, right?
“Oh, it’s no big thing, you know, I’ve been doing this for years… just another day to me. Glad you liked it.”
The reason these thoughts came to mind was because then someone didn’t say something to me about the performance. Immediately doubts and questions arose. Did they not like it? Did they think I sucked? Was I off key? Were they not impressed? Do they care at all? Do they know how good I am? Am I not that good? Why didn’t they say something when all those other people did? What did I do wrong that they didn’t like?
The truth is, none of those things are true. I didn’t do anything wrong and I did just fine if not awesome (if the compliments are to be believed). Yet that brief moment of silence creates so many questions where none are necessary.
Early on, in singing or speaking or writing, I needed those compliments – I need some praise and assurance. “You are good at this.” That can become a crutch, a dependency that nags at the back of my mind when I check site views or book reviews. When I participate in a critique group and put my work out there to other writers, I might come at that experience looking for validation instead of constructive feedback.
“Oh, you’re so good at this!”
*fake blush* Thank you, I know…
On the other hand, I don’t want to become arrogant or overconfident about how good I think I am. That’s the danger of believing the compliments a little too easily: acting as though I’ve mastered a thing when I’m really only an amateur.
So I presume and hope that there is a comfortable middle ground—a place where I can be confident in my abilities while remaining grateful for the praise I earn. Something like the prophets in the Bible following the phrase “Don’t look at their faces.” Don’t try to figure out how everyone feels about what you’re doing–figure out how to do it, and just go for your best.
That’s a place where I’m not dependent on what others think to find my own validation. A place where I know I do pretty fine at X, Y, and Z… but I still want to get better at them.
Today, I’ll be signing books at the Base Exchange and shaking customers’ hands. I have no illusions about how minor a thing it is to get a story published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. It’s not the first step to becoming a Stephen King or George Martin.
But a company paid money for my words and put them in print. Salespeople suggested “What if you came and signed books?” Maybe some people will buy it, even if just as a novelty.
When I created my Bullet Journal spread this month, I looked over previous diary entries and recorded thoughts to see if a recurring theme would reveal itself.
The one that caught my eye was the word “Forward.” I’d been making a lot of progress in various areas – losing weight (lost 30 pounds over the last six months), improving fitness, accomplishing personal goals, participating in more events that matter to me…
At the same time, I realized I waste too many hours on stuff that doesn’t matter, and I make too many spontaneous or thoughtless choices that hinder progressing in the areas I say are important.
“I could write…” but I play a couple hours of video games.
“I should eat the healthy meal I planned…” but I reach for cheap junk food.
“I’ve got more exercise to do if I’m gonna meet my goal for today…” ehh, but there’s always tomorrow.
“I’ve had enough food. I should drink water and let my body realize it’s full…” but another slice of pizza is sitting right there and I think I heard it beg for death.
Point being, if all these little things are like running a race, I don’t want to step off the track or leave the course when the finish line is in sight. And while it’s sometimes frustrating to realize that there is no true finish line, just a good habit that I continue doing into the future, I realize I’m only tripping myself up and pushing the short-term goals further away when I make bad decisions.
So this month’s spread is trying to capture the idea of stopping the old habit of “two steps forward, one step back” — or more true to my life, two forward and three back.
We also watched Moana near the end of March / beginning of April, so that influenced my pictures. Hei Hei is there because he’s awesome and hilarious, and an Alan Tudyk character is always a good choice. The quote I found which I put above Moana’s sail is: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean.
I picked up a pack of Stabilo markers from the base art supplies store, and I love the colors. While I enjoy colored pencils (which I used for the Moana and Hei Hei pics), I hate scratchy media. The Stabilo markers don’t seem to bleed through the paper so long as I’m not going over the same spots, and the colors show up brighter in my opinion.
Sorry for the quality of the pic – it’s just off my iPad.
Here’s my Blog Battle entry for this week, in the genre of fantasy, with the theme word of “selfie.”
I especially enjoyed writing something placed in my own fantasy setting from my novel Diffraction.
Update: My Life’s Work tied for the winning story this week. Thank you for the votes! The other winning story is World Views by Carl Bystrom. Check his piece out, along with all the other BlogBattlers participating each week.
– – –
I hear their voices long before I see them. Footfalls echo in the halls. Laughter and commentary resounds off the palace’s high ceiling and polished marble floors.
“Look at this piece,” the man says. “Astounding… like what a falcon in flight must see from on high over the City’s towers.” He sounds refined, educated, a man of wealth and relative ease. Probably one of the City’s many so-called Ministers–men and women whose title implies service, something of which they are invariably found only on the receiving end.
“So real,” his companion replies, her soft voice hushed in awe. “I
feel almost faint, as if I might fall through and plummet to my
death.” Too chipper for my taste, too airy. I imagine she’s the upper
class equivalent of dancing girls in the Outskirts–there for show,
not insight. Her voice calls to mind a songbird displayed in a cage,
able to delight for short durations, but insufferable if permitted to
make constant noise.
“Still better to you than the portraits?”
“Much,” she says. “I don’t like the faces. The landscapes at least are
“Reminiscent of Serathil’s work,” the man says. “I know that’s what
they all say of Marwen’s paintings, but I had no idea the similarities
would be so striking.”
“Perhaps Marwen learned some of the same techniques… or more likely stole them.”
Or perhaps I fought for years to master my craft, you coddled child. What do you have that wasn’t given to you for no other reason than the fortune of your birth or the depth of your bosom?
And then I remember the Visitor years ago–his unhinged personality, inhuman predatory eyes, and alluring offer.
Why did I ever agree?
“Do you believe the stories about Serathil? How she captured such
lifelike scenes on canvas?”
The man shrugs. “The Abbey’s Devoted declare it was a gift of the
Divine, some blessing of Aulis that allowed Light to shine through her brush. But the Arcanists claim she used some form of Refocusing
technique, blending the elements into her portraits and landscapes.”
I’ve heard plenty of similar answers. I wish it were something so
simple, so pure.
This month, the Lord Mayor put my life’s work on display–a welcome opportunity for a better perspective. The Academy and Arcanists’ Hall each presented a few well-known examples, and Lord Peledor graciously brought forth several obscure pieces from his private collection. For the benefit of the commonfolk of Aulivar, they all said. But precious few commoners dare walk these halls. All I’ve seen so far are stiff-necked nobles and haughty elites of the upper class.
All of them say what I already know. Her work is so like Serathil, but not quite. Colorful, but less so. Vivid, almost as if the canvas
moves… but not as much as her masterpieces. Forever a step behind.
They don’t know the decades I spent trying to catch up. Days of
fasting, hours of fervent prayer, begging–pleading with the Divine to
grant me a touch of the same favor. I studied with failed Arcanists
and any Elemental willing to explain the secrets of magic. I spent
vast sums to learn what little they deigned to share–all for naught.
And would they even care? Does anyone recognize the effort that goes into an art form? Do they admire the discipline, the growth, the long transition from unskilled pieces no better than blotches of color to amateurish, misshapen portraits, then finally to lifelike scenery and recognizable faces? Perhaps I never reached Serathil’s perfection, but I’m confident no artist worked harder or did more than me with the raw ability granted her by the Divine.
One woman is born with an effortless gift that leads to inevitable
greatness and recognition. Another comes to the art without noticeable skill, but through constant effort and relentless discipline rises and improves to grasp at the master’s heels. Is that journey worth nothing? Must one surpass all others to be praised, or is it enough to improve beyond one’s present limitations?
I already know the answer to this.
Despite all my effort, my skill proved insufficient to garner public
awareness. But with the Visitor’s gift–the brush, its wood stained
and charred black like a log from the hearth.
For a moment, I feel my fists clench, the old fury building and
burning like bile in my chest. Every so often it strikes me that I can
still feel anything at all.
I try to avoid the eyes of the portraits around the room–the ones
that face me, at least. My best work, indeed, but also my worst. I
dare not dwell on it, but every time I behold one of those faces, the
rush of grief and guilt threatens to consume what’s left of my heart.
“Serathil’s methods are inscrutable,” the Visitor hissed so many years ago, his hand extending his dark gift. “Even to the best of your kind. But there are other ways to capture a… life-like, soul-full
In the gallery, I watch the man lead his companion across the hall to
my most famous piece–Dawn Kisses the Snowtips. The ivory walls of Aulivar gleam and the City’s towers cast long shadows that seem to move with the viewer. Sunlight flares off white peaks on the horizon, and clouds shift in hue from crimson to amber to gold based on where one stands.
The woman gives a satisfied sigh. “Marked improvement, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes,” her noble replies. “Consider the light shown here, the way it
sparkles off the windows of the City. Aulivar at the height of the
Alliance, centuries before this land fell from greatness.”
The woman looks around the gallery and shivers. “I like these faces
much less, though.”
“Why is that?”
“The resemblances are far better, yes. But… there’s a sadness when I look at them. They’re all wrong. See that despair in the eyes? Or
perhaps it’s anger. Most unnerving.”
“Not surprising, given the tragic stories behind some of these. That
one,” he says, pointing, “is the youngest daughter of an Aelwyner High Lord, painted when she received the sigil of Strength on Markday. She took ill not long after, and withered away before the year’s end.”
“And this fine elder gentlemen? Grand Sage of the Academy. He
succumbed to dementia in the months that followed. Probably well on his way when this was commissioned.”
He strides toward the one I hate most. “The wedding of House Hallaben and House Veray, nobles who lived in Alathon during the time of the Magistrate. The city fell soon after, and their entire bloodlines spilled on the streets in the overthrow.”
They all stare out from the celebratory scene, not with the joy and
mirth I remember from that day, but eyes full of hatred. Eyes that
look straight at me, knowing, accusing, condemning.
I took pieces of their souls. I dealt them fatal wounds, my
brushstroke more deadly than the rebel swords that eventually finished what my painting began.
The woman shudders and turns my way. “What about this one?”
“Marwen herself,” he says, examining me. “Her final portrait–an
unclaimed commission at that. Typical arrogance, devoting her finest
work to her own image. They found her dead in her studio, with the
paint still wet.”
“Do you think the tears are for what she never achieved, always
sitting in Serathil’s shadow?”
He strokes his chin. “Or perhaps for all she might have done, given
more time to capture the beauty of the subjects who came before her.”
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Early this year, a click-bait style post came across one of the writing groups I follow. “This one notepad will get rid of all your productivity apps!” or something like that.
For whatever reason, I clicked and watched the introduction to the Bullet Journal (a.k.a. BuJo).
The system is intended to be minimalist: fast, easy, helpful for tracking what you’ve done, focusing your efforts now, and planning your future.
“Interesting,” I thought, and moved on with my mindless Facebook browsing. But then the concept kept bouncing around in my head. Soon I found myself looking at ideas in their blog posts, discovering co-workers who already follow the system, then looking through piles of new ideas posted to Facebook groups. The artistic versions caught my eye.
Also a set of colored pencils and pens appeared randomly, demanding use. (And I learned to make an origami bookmark, because reasons.)
One of the spreads I’ve seen in numerous Bullet Journals is the “word of the year,” something that captures a person’s intended focus area for attention or improvement. I liked the concept, but there are so many words! Who could choose just one to capture everything they really want for 2017?
I chose intentionalas my word of the year, because of how often I find myself wasting time and energy on superficial garbage through lack of decisions or purposeful effort. For example: “I never have time to write, I’m sooo busy. I think I’ll take this hour to play phone games and scroll through Facebook some more.”
Googling images others have used to capture the idea of “intentional” resulted in two personal faves: a brick wall being built out of Lego, and a direction sign shaped with a pointed end. The bricks convey the idea of step-by-step effort toward any goal. Results don’t appear out of thin air, but usually out of doing the same, simple task over and over until it becomes easy. I liked the sign as a way of capturing motion in a chosen direction instead of flailing around aimlessly through life.
To incorporate both, I drew a brick wall with the pointed sign hanging on it. Over the year (or however long my journal lasts) I can incorporate new words that strike my fancy or contribute to a fuller picture of what I mean by intentional living.
All of it goes back to my favorite verse right now: 1st Corinthians 9:26 (ESV) – “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” The Chinese translation puts it, “So I run not as one without a destination.”
I’m still digging into what works for me and what doesn’t. I’ll do a full intro / personal take on the process once I get my new journal set up and going. (The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 dot grid seems to be the most popular option.)
Anyone else BuJo? What spreads work for you? Let me know in a comment.
I’ll be honest. At first, I was put off by grammar errors and amateur mistakes. Even more, the commenters who gush over the simplest sentences with “I so get u” and “omg this ^^^ right here” and other such text-style feedback.
Then my wife kindly reminded me that everyone’s on a journey to being a better writer, and any mistakes I see now are only because I’ve had quality writer friends supporting and educating me along the way. I’m guilty of some of the same–if not right now, then certainly in the past.
And let’s face it. Feedback is feedback. If a character, quip, or interaction resonates with a reader, I am happy, whether they tell me, “Poignant and touching; Splendid work” or “oh wow sooooo many feels.” Any connection with a reader is a good thing, and the teen fangirl who says “omg” today is the young adult who clicks “buy” on Amazon tomorrow.
The short stories I’ll be posting in “Pieces” aren’t all new. Many appear somewhere on this blog. But I figure WattPad is another avenue to gain a following, and a fun way of doing so. My “Echoes” story (mentioned in a few previous blogs) will be posted entirely to WattPad.
Plus, my wife’s comment reminded me of the point of all this. WattPad is full of unique content and interesting takes on existing material. It’s a bunch of people who are expressing their passion for good characters and stories. Is that what I find valuable? Is that what excites me? Or is it grammatically correct, properly formatted, everything-just-so writing?
No, the point is to have fun and share the experience with others.
So I went ahead and drew an amateur cover for my project, incorporating scenes of most of the various stories into sections of different puzzles. No, it’s not professional quality. No, it’s not what will garner attention.
But I loved the process of expressing myself through a different medium, and I’m having fun with my own amateur mistake.
Here’s the cover to Pieces:
I hope you’ll visit me on WattPad, especially if you have an account and post your own work.
In the aftermath of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices, social media filled up with images and hashtags proclaiming solidarity with the victims and the importance of free speech. Yes, perhaps the act of drawing a caricature of the Prophet of Islam might be offensive to many, but that offense did not justify brazen violence and murder in retribution.
The countries of the West always love to proclaim the value of freedom, especially freedom of speech. Yet the conversation changes more and more toward: “Freedom of speech is an essential foundation to civilized society, but…”
That “but” is the problem.
Garland, Texas is fresh on my mind even if most of America has moved on to the new royal baby or whether or not Tom Brady and the Patriots were punished enough for Deflategate.
It’s on my mind because of news reports that cast the failed attackers as the victims and the event organizer as the true villain. It’s on my mind because of opinion pieces that question whether this sort of free speech is really an American value. It’s on my mind because the reaction–not to the violence but to the expression that supposedly instigated it–flies in the face of my experience of what it means to live in a pluralistic and tolerant society.
Tolerance and pluralism do not excuse blaming and shaming the targets of attempted murder.
But victim-blaming works for news stories, like the headline: “Pam Geller won’t apologize for event that ended in 2 dead.” As though their decision to attack and attempt murder was completely taken out of their hands the moment the event was announced. Maybe she should apologize for failing to die in a hail of gunfire along with several cartoonists and the Dutch politician that also attended?
And it works for op-eds that argue “that’s not the kind of American values we want to encourage.” Yes, free speech and all, we’re told… but not THAT sort of free speech, because it offends sensibilities. (Forget that plenty of other free speech offends plenty of other people’s sensibilities, but it’s still protected because that’s how this works.)
We even have world leaders like the President and the Pope giving this argument some weight.
When the President says “The future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam” then it makes one wonder. Who does the future belong to? What level of critique or even satire is acceptable? What other religious figures are equally off-limits?
Yet the name of the Christian savior is most commonly heard as a form of profanity. “Jesus Christ, did you see what that other driver did?” The figures of Christianity are regularly made into caricatures believers rightly call blasphemous. No one’s name-dropping Buddha or Mohammed as a swear word.
I see multiple episodes of South Park with a soft-spoken Jesus Christ running a public access show to announce his return. A quick Google search gave me pages of image results from the show as well as links to the wiki describing Jesus as a regular guest apperance.
But the show’s creators made one episode with one segment several years ago depicting Mohammed and giving him a taste of the same biting wit they regularly employ against everyone and everything else. And that show has been removed from Comedy Central’s archives and blocked from (easy) access online because… why?
Surely it’s not out of respect or concern that “these aren’t the sort of American values we should encourage.” Otherwise, all those Jesus episodes should likewise vanish. So… what’s the difference between the two circumstances?
When the Pope responds with (and I paraphrase) “if you make disparaging remarks about my mother, you’re gonna get punched in the face,” he admits that sometimes violence is an acceptable response to words we don’t like. Then it’s hard to deny that there must be some cases where this logic justifies taking action. Maybe it’s in response to words we don’t like. Or drawings, or belief systems, or lifestyles, or being female.
This line of thinking matches well with a different (arguably) religious figure: ISIS propagandist Junaid Hussein. His statement in response to the attempted attack in Garland was, “If there is no check on the freedom of your speech, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.”
It echoes Muhammed Atta’s false promise to the passengers on the hijacked plane: Just stay quiet, and you will be okay.
I’m not okay with that. We’re finally growing past excusing violence based on the victim’s behavior and characteristics in many segments of American society. And by growing past, I mean more of us are more vocal about calling out and condemning that sort of misplaced shame.
We’re not there yet. But fewer people buy lines like, “Look at her short skirt–she wanted it” as an excuse. We won’t let a husband claim, “she made me hit her because she burned dinner again.” We don’t accept “I thought he might come onto me and it creeped me out” as a justification for bullying homosexual kids. We question the narratives we’re given when use of police force seems unjustly applied.
And yet, when statements or drawings are deemed offensive by the strictest interpretations of one religion, we fold like paper and shrug. “Yeah, I mean, why would someone do that? They knew it would set those guys off. It’s pretty rude. In fact, it’s downright un-American. I mean, violence is wrong, and everything. But if they wouldn’t do stupid things like that, then it wouldn’t be a problem.”
Does that sound like someone roaring “I am Charlie” in defiance against unjust aggression and attempts to instill fear? No. Is that a valiant defender of free speech standing up in solidarity with those who have died for expressing their views? No.
“Just don’t do what we don’t like, and we won’t hurt you” — terms of surrender, not peace, whether the threat comes from Muslims or Christian fundamentalists, liberals or conservatives, whites or blacks, heterosexual or homosexual.
We can post a je suis comfy hashtag, and call it American values if that makes it more palatable.
This marks 300 posts on this blog, so here’s a bit of a celebration:
Last night after work, I spent my entire evening working on an art project.
Like many writers, I have a world in my head, full of people that seem (to me) to take on a life of their own. Voices that want to be heard, dreams that want to be fulfilled, destinies awaiting their moment to shape history. It only happens when fingers go to keyboard and words become sentences, then paragraphs, then chapters.
And so many other distractions vie for those moments I want to spend tapping keys, documenting the history of other worlds and their people.
It’s easy to get off focus.
My teenage daughter never seems to have that problem with what she loves. “Can I watch Merlin? What about watching Merlin, can I do that now? How about we watch an episode of Merlin together? Here’s this picture of Morgana I drew. She’s in Merlin. You should watch it.”
She has become the dreaded Rabid Fangirl, who speaks in Meme and consumes all things Hiddleston, Sherlock, Divergent, Potter, Fault in Our Stars, Cumberbatch, and Capaldi.
(ok, maybe not ALL things Capaldi – the “definitive Malcolm Tucker” on YouTube is a 14-minute art exhibition of what my Scottish friend called being “sweary.”)
I looked at some of what the fans produce, the stories they tell that go beyond the bounds of the “canon” the authors actually write. Characters take on an enduring quality in the hearts of these fans, who come up with some quite touching and poignant wordplay and imagery to capture the power of relationships between fictitious people.
Elsa reaching over to touch her fingers to the sleeping Anna’s wrist, only content once she feels a pulse proving a heart is still beating.
George Weasley, who lost his twin Fred at Hogwarts, coloring his hair in some outlandish manner, then whispering, “It’s because every time I looked in the mirror, I kept seeing him…”
Scenes from Freeman and Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, with grieving John being given medicine to help his nightmares since Sherlock’s demise. And he answers that the reason he won’t take the medicine is because the nightmares are the only time he can see the face of his friend.
It struck me that I should “fangirl” as much about my own characters as my daughter does about these others. If I don’t care about my characters so much that they take on a life of their own, why should a reader? If I don’t believe it is worth reading, why should anyone else?
I decided to do some “fanboy” art of my own, focused on the central relationship of the novel I’m writing.
Lyllithe is the adopted daughter of the Eldest in the Abbey, the friar who runs the village church. Lyllithe is being groomed to fill a role as a servant of the Light, but the lure of a shadowy form of magic has drawn her away from her father’s intended path. And Josephine is a Soulforged, a warrior imbued with divine power, capable of searching out evil, delivering swift justice, and defeating creatures of darkness.
Lyllithe is darkness; Josephine is light. In many ways, through a number of growing conflicts, they’ll clash and debate. But the bond of loyalty and love may prove stronger than their differences.
Here’s the as-yet-uncolored “Sisters” image.
Happy 300th post, me.
But thanks go to you, my readers. Thanks for the views along the way, and for sharing this blogging journey with me.
This post is already longer than I intended. But I’ve included an excerpt of Chapter 10 that captures a bit of Josephine and Lyllithe’s relationship:
Lyllithe sat in her favorite tree perch near the Woodwall but far from the gate. Fresh air blew through the tree, rustling leaves and rocking her branch. Wet soot covered her pale arms and stained her shirt. I stink of smoke and sweat. And I don’t even care.
Even obscured by the ash, her Gracemark glowed enough to cast a hue over her. She studied its shape, tracing it with a finger.
So do I lose you now? Does it hurt to become Scarred?
Words resounded in her mind like punches in the stomach. Light-veiled. Once-devoted. Cut off. She felt like crying but ran out of tears an hour ago.
Lyllithe of Northridge. Who did that name belong to? What sort of woman had no family name, no ties, no bonds, no Order?
The Gracemark’s glow tugged at her attention. And why do I still have this thing? Can I be Marked and declared Light-veiled at the same time?
An old question from her studies came to mind. “How far must one turn away from their Aspect in order to become Scarred?” Seems like the answer depended on whichever Devoted was teaching at the time.
I still believe. More than ever, I believe in the Light. Lyllithe looked up to the stars, half praying, half persuading herself. I believe it has the power to change the world. And I believe we can’t keep that to ourselves.
She looked back at the town. Lanterns in homes lit windows with an inviting glow. Yes, the Light can draw those in darkness to itself. But we also bring lanterns with us to shine in places where no light reaches.
She contemplated her arguments with Marten about the Order over the years. Or at least we should.
Another gust stung Lyllithe’s nose with her own odor. She considered heading home, and paused.
Do I still have a home?
Lyllithe glanced about, using her innate connection to the elements. With each rush of wind, poofy tangles of aera fluttered past. She Bound a large mass and twisted it into aqua, Loosing it before any discomfort.
Refocused water pattered on the tree leaves like fresh rain. The drops swept away the soot, ash and sweat. Though the water had no scent, Lyllithe breathed deep and sighed with contentment.
At least I have this.
Master Hachi’s words from the night of the Calling echoed in Lyllithe’s mind. I said I am not an Arcanist, and he answered ‘not yet.’
Perhaps the Hall is my best option now.
She sat in silence and watched puffs of aera float on the winds. In that distant corner of her awareness, she felt the other-ness once again.
Lyllithe explored the sensation. I can’t focus on it directly, or I lose ‘sight’ of it. But I can look at where it’s not, to guess at where it is.
Elements flowed and swirled all around her–terros in the ground and even the tree, aera on the breeze, aqua dripping off leaves and soaking the earth below where Lyllithe Refocused earlier. Even weak glimmers of lux streamed through the moonlit night.
No flagros around, but after the fires in town, I’m alright with that.
Lyllithe sat in awe of the sensation. I’m connected to everything. Energy everywhere, stirring and shifting in rhythms and patterns, a tapestry of life.
The picture of fabric hanging beyond sight over the visible world sparked an idea. Lyllithe reached out figurative fingers and drew the curtain of reality wide.
There you are.
Her grip on the visible world lurched and her insides churned as if an Arcanist tried to twist her lunch into acid.
I won’t come too close, she told the stagnant mass, backing away in her mind. I just want to watch you for a while.
Despite all that happened earlier, Lyllithe found a place of peace near the unknown power. She leaned back against the tree trunk and clasped her hands in her lap.
And she smiled.
* * * * *
“Should’ve known,” Josephine muttered. She started across the field, heading for Lyllithe’s tree.
What do I say to her? A smart fighter knew both her strengths and weaknesses. Compassion’s not really my thing.
A Glimpse of sorts came unbidden. Josephine shivered, but dismissed the thought. Of course something feels wrong. She just got kicked out of her family and her Order.
Josephine grinned. Maybe I’m not as bad at empathy as I thought.
“Lyl? Want to talk?”
Josephine took out her hammer and rapped the tree twice. “You awake?”
Up in the branches, hidden in the darkness, someone gasped like waking from slumber.
“Yeah, it’s me. Come down, let’s chat.”
Josephine talked while Lyllithe picked her way through the branches. “I’m leaving Northridge tomorrow. Yesterday, before the bandits attacked, I spoke with Master Falsted. He wants to hire on a Soulforged for his caravans. Too many lost to Deviols lately,” she said, then added, “and other dangers out beyond the Wall.”
Lyllithe dropped to the ground. “So this is goodbye?”
“Actually quite the opposite.” Josephine smiled. “There’s a job he wants done first.”
Lyllithe shrugged. “And?”
“And I thought you could be really useful.” Josephine sat down in the damp grass, and Lyllithe followed suit. “I saw what you did in town, Lyl.”
“I had to do something,” Lyllithe said. She bowed her head and the white points of her ears poked up through her drooping black hair. “It was all my fault.”
Lyllithe shot Josephine a glare. “Thanks.”
“You can’t change that. But you were awesome back there, putting out fires, putting down bandits. It was like we really had an Arcanist in our town.”
“So,” Josephine said, “come with me.”
Lyllithe looked away.
“What do you have here? I heard what your dad said, Lyl. Everyone heard. There’s nothing left for you in Northridge, a life of isolation as ‘the Ghostskin.’ Come with me.”
Lyllithe turned red eyes back to face Josephine. “And what will I be then?”
Josephine clasped a hand on Lyllithe’s shoulder. “My friend.” She pulled Lyllithe into a tight embrace. “My sister.”
They sat in silence until a streak of orange kissed the horizon.
Lyllithe giggled. “When do we leave, little sister?”
“What?” Josephine sputtered. “I’m clearly the big sister here.”
“I’ve been Marked for years! You only got yours last Markday.”
Lyllithe shook her head. “Nuh-uh, that doesn’t matter.” She held up her hand. “I win, ’cause I’ve got two.”
Josephine shifted to a crouch. “I win ’cause I can pound you!” She pounced, tackling Lyllithe, who screamed in delighted terror.
After a few minutes of wrestling with no clear victor, they lay in the long grass panting, staring up at the sky.
“Yup.” Josephine gave her a solemn nod. “So it’s perfect.”
Lyllithe let out a long breath and gazed at the sunrise.
Josephine watched and smiled. Good to see you laugh, my friend. She rose to her feet and extended Lyllithe a hand.
“Joram’s associates should be arriving before noon. We’re to set out tonight, so we should head back and get ready.”
“You still haven’t told me what this job we’re on is about.”
“You’ll like it,” Josephine said. They started back toward the village, which seemed far too peaceful given the night’s events. “Kal is running a huge organization across the Bordermarches. Those men who attacked us are connected to other bandits and highwaymen who steal Joram’s goods and take hostages of his workers. They took a few last week, on the road to Aulivar.”
Two days ago I posted about some outrage from religious groups toward the movie Frozen. They claim the story pushes a “homosexual agenda” on children, and their proof, among other things, is that Queen Elsa never goes after any of the men in the film.
But the fact this is even up for discussion leads me to a question, one borne out of purely selfish motives. In order to tell a story that is both compelling and marketable, in light of this sort of debate, I have to ask:
Does the heroine need a hero? Does the female lead require a love interest?
The “compelling” part is easily dealt with. A story needs whatever makes it work, whatever gives it power. Effort spent jamming a hackneyed romance into a story will be obvious, through a hollow feeling, a lack of resonation with the audience, or an eye-rolling “This character is stupid” reaction from a reader.
The wise editor and skillful writer can look at parts of a work-in-progress critically, seeing when some subplot does too little to advance the overall narrative. Every word counts, and must earn its keep. Maybe the part that gets cut is a romance, maybe it’s a really cool action sequence, maybe it’s entire characters getting merged into one. There’s only so much time in a movie, so many pages in a book.
The more difficult question is how a work will be received by the market. Disney’s princess movies are known for a formula. The princess meets a prince. With his help, she overcomes her internal conflict, resolves the external problem, and they live happily ever after. Now, they’ve stepped away from the formula a bit with Brave and Tangled. But apparently Frozen went too far, despite the romance between Princess Anna and Kristof. After all, Queen Elsa never shows interest in any man…
Because the story isn’t about her falling in love.
Consider some of other movies (and books) with a female lead: Hunger Games and Divergent.
Even though both leads fall in love over the course of their respective trilogies, Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior give the distinct impression that they can handle things without Peeta or Four, thank you very much. Both are concerned with staying alive in an unfamiliar situation. Neither goes into their adventure searching for a man, because that’s not the theme of the story. Instead, they meet and bond with allies, who through shared adversity become something more.
The authors fit romances in, and that weaves nicely into the plot, giving added conflict and tension as characters’ goals diverge (hehe). The stories aren’t dependent on their romantic arcs. They can be just as compelling without that element.
But the romance boosts the books’ marketability. Some readers might not care about a dystopian setting, but they’ll look past that to read a coming-of-age story they can relate to. Some readers might not care for either of those all that much, but they’ll take it alongside a plot of budding romance. And some readers might just be catching up on the books in order to understand the movie – or better yet, to avoid a years-long wait to find out what happens next.
I said I had a selfish motive. When this controversy about Frozen first “came out,” one of my first thoughts was my current writing projects. One book series has two female leads. Another has a female lead. None of the three have love interests (at this moment in writing drafts and planning).
Is that wrong? I don’t think so.
In fact, the thought of conjuring up a lovely face to accompany them, stuffing scenes and chapters in to create romantic tension and bonding… that feels wrong.
None of those characters are interested in romance during the timeframe of the story. When your world is falling apart, love isn’t always your first thought.
That’s not saying it can’t happen. Certainly it can, and it works in a lot of stories as one element, perhaps even the main theme.
But that leads right back to the original question: What’s the point of the story?
Once I know that, I write what fits and cut the rest. (ideally)
Back to Frozen, can you imagine fitting a romance for Elsa into that plot line without taking away from the impact of the sisterly bond at the center of the story?
One of the bloggers at the center of this controversy responded to some of her critics. And she quoted a friend, Jonathan Wilson, who took a reasonable stance:
“Frozen can certainly be successfully applied as an allegory for homosexual struggle. The authors may or may not have had that in mind when they wrote it. But Frozen is good enough art to rise above a specific allegorical meaning. It demonstrates broad applicability to many different human experiences. That is why it appeals to so many people.”
Remember, entertainment has to be marketable. A wide variety of stuff can be covered by this blanket.
Art is compelling. That means the field narrows significantly, and the artist keeps only what fits.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.