Monday, February 1, 2016

Spring is Coming

February is a hard month for many people. I think it's partly the reason why Valentine's has become such a huge event, especially in American culture. This isn't going to be a post about Valentine's Day and singleness; though, if you are in a romantic relationship be aware of those who aren't for whatever reason. All the lovey-dovey can get people down.

Pour a warm cup of tea
Nope, this is a post about other things. It's a post about Spring, because, thankfully it is just around the corner. Now, granted, this has been our warmest winter in WNY for the past 140 years or so (records only go back to the late-Victorian era), neither have we had a great deal of snow this year. The last I heard, Buffalo was in a snow deficit of 25" or so.

This is a post about changes, because in twenty days, I'll be boarding a plane to take me to South Korea where I'll be living for the next twelve months. I'm both excited and nervous about the flight and trip, but I'm feeling a little more certain in my steps of late. It's a little nerve-wrecking when it all boils down to it. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to live overseas for a year - after that, who knows.

This is also a post, because it is Monday, about writing. We were recently watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I couldn't help me notice how it's a Christmas movie in its own right (and truth be told, probably one of the few "Christmas" movies I enjoy). It has the wonder (Narnia), the heartbreak (Edmund's betrayal), the shocking event (Aslan's sacrifice) which ultimately makes for a happy ending, though it is bittersweet.

Those thoughts led me to think about holiday movies in general. Now, granted, in America, we really only have Christmas movies. There are more Halloween movies produced, but there aren't all that many for the other holidays. How we celebrate holidays tends to reflect the values we place on those holidays. For example, Christmas is a time for families gathering around the fireplace to tell stories of old. We've transformed that past heritage into modern Christmas movies, which, in part does a similar thing.

Fourth of July is a day of celebrating our nation's independence, so we tend to go out in our red, white and blue to join with other Americans at picnics, fairs or games to ultimately watch fireworks on a summer's night.

Most of my current novels in progress have little or no holidays, but Azure Maris's most recent books (which, for those of you waiting will hopefully be out later on this year) deal with her role as a priestess among her people. In that, her most important roles tend to be around their holy days. How does someone go about creating rituals and other elements connected to holy days? What are the important emotions of these days?

In developing some of her holy days, both in passing comment as well as shown in the book, I tended to focus on a few elements:

  1. The role of the holy day. What was it's importance in regards to the culture of the character? For Azure's people, they had a day connected to the founding of their kingdom, the discovery of their tails, and the new year. In cultures where seasons change, holy days tend to focus on those days as well as days connected with planting seeds, growth and harvest.
  2. The importance of the holy day. While all holy days will be important to one extent or another, most cultures have a concept of high and low holy days. If you look at an American calendar, you have our big six holidays: New Year's, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Scattered around those are less-important holidays such as Veteran's Day, Columbus Day, MLK Day, and President's Day. How the various holidays play out in a culture may be dependent upon the importance a culture places on a holiday.
  3. The disruption of the holy day. Connected with the previous concept, is how the holy day affects everyday life. Take for example Fourth of July here in the US. Everything, except the bare essentials, it seems, shuts down. There are normally parades, fairs and other large gatherings happening so traffic is diverted or snarled. There are fireworks at night, so days are shifted to enjoy the evening events. It's a big deal, but when you compare Fourth of July to say Easter, while both are big holidays, how Fourth of July connects to most lives is different than how Easter does.
  4. The culture of the holy day. What is the culture that celebrates this holiday. Is it a religious or secular? If it is a mixed culture, is the culture itself more religious than not? Even if the holiday itself is not a religious holy day, a religious culture may turn it into a religious holiday. If the culture is especially religious, it might not have any secular holidays. On the other hand, a culture that is not especially religious may take a religious holiday and turn it into a secular one. Take for an example, Christmas. Originally a day for Christians to focus on Christ's birth and reason for coming to Earth, it has turned into a party celebrating the family with most of the changes occurring as it shifts from a religious holiday into a secular holiday.
  5. The history of the holy day. Why is this holiday even celebrated? If you're creating a world, you might not have the significance of the day fully fleshed out beyond having some holiday event. That's quite all right, especially if the holidays come in a list. Depending on how important the holiday is to the plotline, you might not even comment on it. On the other hand, knowing the history of the holiday helps develop the culture around it.
  6. The reaction to the holy day. This is a big one because it can be the catalyst to the story - how does the culture look at the holiday? If it's a political holiday, what are the significances of that day to the various groups within the culture? Columbus Day here in the US is a good example as it's becoming increasingly attacked, though even that isn't the best term. What was a day to honor the arrival of Europeans on the shores of the Americas has now proven to be a reminder of the destruction European culture has had on native culture. For those whose culture was irrevocably changed, the holiday can be a sore spot.
These are just some of the elements I've pondered while working on holidays in my books. As each section develops, I create a better idea how a holiday might be played out in another culture. One thing I tend to keep in mind is how the holiday affects those who don't fit the parameters, which brings us back to Valentine's Day as an example.

Here in the US, and elsewhere, Valentine's Day is dedicated to romantic love. While it started out as simply a saint's day (St. Valentine), it's turned into a secular holiday devoid of its religious origins. Beginning not long after New Year's Day, red and pink start popping up in stores along with hearts and chocolates. There are reminders everywhere about how many days are left, and with each passing year, the holiday seems to grow in size. It is a day dedicated to couples, and woe unto those who don't fit that limited field.

How do those who aren't a part of Valentine's day cope with the onslaught of love? Some ignore it as much as possible. Some shift the focus away from romantic love to other kinds of love such as self-love, familial love or friendship. Others embrace it in hopes of finding their one true love, and still more just enjoy the feeling regardless of their situation. Some make fun of it, and some draw attention by Singles' Awareness Day and the wearing of black.

Despite their focus on their own romantic love, what couples do to those who don't have a significant other? Do they make fun of them, try to incorporate them, ignore them or some mixture? Is it a big day for blind dates, and setting up friends? What about those who have a significant other that doesn't fit the appropriate mold a society has created? How do they fit within the parameters of celebration?

The history, social expectations, reactions and a variety of other elements come together to play a role in how a holiday is created and honored. From Valentine's Day to Samhain to any other holiday out there, the culture both dictates the holiday, and the holiday it's culture. It's a never ending circle of renewal and rethinking.

Happy writing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Focus, Focus

It's the last Monday of January, and it's looking warm (relatively speaking, I assure you, since it's only in the 30s). Western NY managed to bypass the major snowstorm that many of my family and friends faced. It was interesting to see all the photographs from PA to North Carolina.

Galway, Ireland, 2007
It's been two months since NaNoWriMo ended, and now it's time to start editing (if you haven't been editing already). Now, granted, for some of us (myself included), we're still writing. That's all right as well. Others are finished, and may have had time to let the story simmer.

There are several ways to edit. Most authors tend to focus first on the big picture (theme, characters, scenes). Secondly, they focus on minor details such as word choices, sentence structures and punctuation.

During my first read-through, I tend to focus on both. Before I print, I do the standard spellcheck, but then later as I read, I often catch errors. At the same time, I focus on the larger picture - slow spots in the story, places needing more description, and areas of confusion. At this point I'm also focusing on character names, descriptions and other elements which may have changed over the course of the book.

After I finish that editing stage, I might have to rework the stage several times depending on how many changes, additions and moving chapters I made. Once I'm satisfied, I have one last edit on the minor details before giving the book to someone else for a read-through.

I recommend having someone else read your story, especially if you plan to submit it anywhere. Make certain it's someone you trust and someone who will give you the full truth about the book. For me, this person tends to be my mom. She can correct my grammar, but at the same time is willing to tell me when something doesn't make sense or something feels out of place.

At this point, I would say it's time to submit your novel to publishers or agents. If you choose to self-publish there are a few steps there as well. Either way, there comes a point in which you need to submit your novel, otherwise you'll keep fiddling with it. The world may or may not need your novel, but there is someone out there who will be touched by it.

Just keep at it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fiber Friday

As I write this, I'm thinking about the fact that in a month I'll be in Korea. Wow. It's moving closer than I thought it would be.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, 2007
To that end, I'm working on what I need to take with me. I've read about Gwangju and I've e-mailed a couple people who have lived or are living there. They tell me it's wild as far as the weather goes. Hot, cold, humid. Oh joy.

I grew up in Southeastern PA, and know what their summers are like. No problem. However, living the past twenty years or so in Western NY where it's not nearly as hot or as humid, I'm glad I'll be heading over in March that way I can acclimate a little.

All that being said, how does one plan for clothing overseas? I've had to deal with snow boots in the winter and sweaters in the summer (no, seriously, I still get cold in WNY even in the dead of summer because it's only in the 70s without much humidity). Added to this, I know I may only be there for a year, and I don't want to have to lug much around; neither am I expecting to be able to run down to the store if I need something.

The big plan is to layer, something one of the folks in Korea suggested. Making certain I have clothes which go together was part of the reason I worked off a theme (see this post). As long as the colors generally go together, no matter what I wear, I'll look put together.

So far, I've focused on woven items which are easier to coordinate. I also tend to stick with solid bottoms because I can mix and match easier. The fun part has been deciding how to use the fabric I have woven. By creating a series of short-sleeved tunics, I can use them year-round. Also, short sleeves are easier for me to create at the moment.

Despite it all, I'm looking forward to my time overseas. New cultures and lands intrigue me, and I know I'll find even more inspiration there.