I Owe It to Them

Writing is incredibly difficult.

There are many days when I sit back and just wonder why I do it. Deep into the darkness of my soul, in the spot where I periodically question the meaning of life, drifts the question of why, exactly, I’m doing this.

It’s a valid question. What I’m doing really doesn’t make a lot of sense, when you think about it. I’ve been working on this particular story for approximately eight years, if you count that short story that got it all started my sophomore year of college. I’m on draft six of book one of a trilogy, with nothing on the other books but a lot of brainstorms. I do not write fast, I am not very good at making time to write, and I think in long, sprawling, epic plotlines. There is no end in sight, and I’m not too likely to have large spans of open time to spend on it. To make it worse, I really do want to finish it. I want to get it published someday.

I have a lifetime of work ahead of me. And that’s not counting the prequel to the trilogy or the completely unrelated sci-fi series that’s sprung up in an untended corner of my mind.

So I periodically must ask myself why I embrace this particular form of madness.

I would love to say that it’s because the world needs my stories because of the deep and powerful themes that run through them. I would love to say that I must write because it’s a divine calling. And while I wouldn’t doubt that those things are marginally true, the real reason I keep coming back to the story, despite the pointlessly long road ahead, is my characters.

Just thinking of them makes me happy. Selva the warrior-princess-politician, with her misguided passions that I understand so well. Hob, with his mind of an engineer, and trust of a child. Quynn with his noble ideals that send him crashing from the stars into the depths of evil. Gunther, with his cynical smile and will of iron. Nia, whom life crushed and left by the side of the road, but whom hope found again. Dar-Jabin, the rascal with no morals who made Nia’s happy ending possible. Dane, my bright-eyed scientist girl who cared so selflessly that it nearly destroyed her mind.

Yes, I love them, the messy darlings. I love them like the very real people they are. And, sinceĀ it’s not THEIR fault that I’m working two jobs and have needy friends and have to eat and sleep, it’s really not fair of me to deprive them of the fantastic stories they deserve.

So, hobbit-like, I will keep pressing on through swamps and over mountains, through dark spider-infested forests and abandoned mines, for really the same fundamental reason that I do most of the other unreasonable things I do: on behalf of people I care about. No matter that these people are fictional. I’ll keep writing till they have stories worth sharing. I owe it to them.

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All It Needs Is a Dragon

Several weeks ago, I had an “art night” with Amy, a young friend who has Down’s Syndrome. Amy loves art, so I figured we could do some watercolor. I got out two 11×14 pieces of rough-press watercolor paper, taped them to foamcoare, got out the brushes and paints, and went and picked Amy up.

The plan was to have her over for two hours. She tends to enjoy just working on projects quietly at her own pace, so I showed her how to use the different tools and how to mix and apply the paint, and then I turned to my own blank board.

I was just messing around. I never do a painting without first drawing, but this time I decided to give it a whirl. For some reason, I felt like painting a foggy, rainy landscape with lots of evergreens, kind of like the ones I see around me constantly here on Whidbey Island. I used primarily two colors, oddly enough–green and grey.

With no pressure to get a painting done perfectly, but with the goal of finishing whatever I was going to make within two hours, I threw down a generous wash of grays, deliberately making the lower parts of the rainclouds darker. At some point, I decided to have the rain receding, only falling on half of the picture. I think I must have had an image of Thomas Cole’s “Oxbow” painting in the back of my mind, because my painting developed in a similar composition.

The painting with several wet-on-wet washes, building in the shapes of the fog, coastline, and an undercoat for the trees.

The painting with several wet-on-wet washes, building in the shapes of the fog, coastline, and an undercoat for the trees.

"View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm," Thomas Cole (1836). Looking back at my painting, I'm pretty sure that this famous work of art, commonly known as "The Oxbow," was in the back of my mind. Mine, however, is a Pacific Northwest version. With a dragon.  Because... why not?

“View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm,” Thomas Cole (1836). Looking back at my painting, I’m pretty sure that this famous work of art, commonly known as “The Oxbow,” was in the back of my mind. Mine, however, is a Pacific Northwest version. With a dragon. Because… why not?

At some point, it turned into a coastline with a seascape, with the rain primarily over the sea. I don’t usually paint this much wet-into-wet, but I had two hours and nothing to lose. I let myself throw down more paint before letting it dry for a few minutes while I got out cookies to serve to my friend.

As the paint dried, I added details: some crisp lines in the clouds, strokes for the rain, trees. I added the first layers for a large tree in the lower left, then put in lines of distant trees on either coastline. To capture the effect of fog, I painted in the trees using a round brush, then blotted the lower edges. Then I used a wet brush to blur it even more. I’ve never painted fog like this before, but I think I will need to remember the technique, because I was certainly happy with how it turned out:

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As I added details on the trees and more lines for the rain, I noticed that I’d accidentally splashed a few drops of green into the sky. At this point, the painting took a turn for the whimsical, because, honestly, although it was beautiful, it was still missing something. Why not try some whimsy? So I splashed more green, and a little bit of pale, bright blue into the lines of the rain and in the upper right corner. Lovely.

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But something was still missing. Something in the upper third on the right hand side. Something flying blissfully through the sky, like the bald eagles do over Penn Cove here on the Island. One little problem, though. I can’t draw birds to save my life.

I looked at Amy. “I think I’m going to put a dragon in it.”

Amy grinned. “A dragon?”

“Yep.”

So I got out my pencil for the first time in the evening, sketched a quick shape with wide wings and a long neck flung back in happiness– after all, I imagined this dragon must be about as happy as the eagles to be flying up there in the fresh air after the rain– and painted him quickly in with more grey.

I looked down at my painting and couldn’t stop grinning. Two hours. I’ll have to try that again sometime. There’s nothing like no lines, no restrictions, and no critics to make you try something new.

I’ll also have to remember that adding dragons improves landscapes. I think I’ll call it Water Dragon #1. Because, who knows? I might decide to paint another.

Water Dragon #1, completed. Prints of this painting will be available in my Etsy shop by 9/24/14.

Water Dragon #1, completed. Prints of this painting will be available in my Etsy shop by 9/24/14.

In Which I Return to My Blog

Hello, everyone… the few of you who actually read my ramblings!

I am back, after a several-month absence, and I plan to be back for some time. You’ll excuse my absence; I wrote a book. Well, at least a draft of the first book in a trilogy. It’s not the first draft of the book, but I’m hoping it will be the final rough draft– a draft where I have nailed down plot and characters to a certain extent, and will be able to move forward with more detailed editing instead of just moving around and changing large story chunks.

And yes, I will begin work a new draft of Book Two as soon as the school year is off to a good start.

I do plan to add posts about my writing process as well as writing in general to the blog as time allows and the ideas strike. I have been working on this story for about seven years now, and there is no end in sight– although it’s come a long way from the original college-class short story that spawned the epic. It’s fantasy, very traditional fantasy, that allows me to develop a delightful cast of characters and put moral questions to myself and ponder them in a story context. It’s a chance to swing around a sword, save a few lives, and experience a world where good and evil are at least partially personified. It’s worth the work.

The art will continue, the teaching will continue, the kitty stories will continue– and I look forward to sharing elements of my writing journey with you as well.

Here’s to more blogging and the stories to be written still!