If music be the food of love, play on

On the list of things I’m supposed to be doing…blogging is probably not one of them.

Pfft.

Oh captain, my captain!
Oh captain, my captain!

 

*cough*

 

As I’m getting ready to revise and submit IN SECRET KEPT I’m revisiting some of the musical inspiration for the novel. Because I write with a soundtrack. Sometimes it might be only a few songs that I have on continuous loop*. Sometimes it might be a playlist hours long. For SECRET I wanted lots of piano music since the piano is key to both main characters. I also looked for Celtic-style music since the world is very Saxon/Celtic/Norse inspired**. And the funny thing I learned in the early revisions is that music is literally embedded in the bones of this world, from its inception to its eventual end.

Stories have a way of surprising me that way.

So to that end, I’m sharing two tracks that are…central.

If I had to sum up IN SECRET KEPT in one piece of music, it would be this:

 

 

 

The other piece is this one (esp. the 2:16 mark):

 

This one was a late-comer to the party, but when it arrived it was one of those moments I just knew. And I wrote the scene in one go and it’s one of my favourite scenes in the book. (Some of you know may what I’m talking about…)

 

Aaaaaand….because why not? The following is the main theme for RHEDA, set several hundred years previously in the same world as SECRET.

 

And on that note***…

 

Waes hal!

 

 

*Don’t give me that look. Pbbt. 😛

**OLD NORSE FTW. *coughresearchbiascough*

***Pun maybe intended?

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Taking the Lead: Foreground Characters

So…the other week I posted about background characters, inspired by a post by RR Willica and S. Hunter Nisbet. This is part two. I’ve included the links to the initial posts at the end so you can send some love their way and check out their most excellent blogs!

 

When we speak of background characters vs. foreground, how do you divide them?

This is something that normally comes out when I’m outlining (and I’m just going to state, for the record, that in my case and outline is really more like guidelines. It evolves. IN SECRET KEPT and MIDNIGHT HOUR are both a case in point). I know who the story is about, who it revolves around. Background characters may have varying strengths of voice, and sometimes that will surprise me. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, which has a much larger cast than SECRET, I can still point to it and say “Raoul is the MC”, though he’s not the only POV.

 

At the start of a new story do you have your characters decided or do you just take off running?

Um…I mostly have them figured out. Mostly. But they get clearer in the writing and that’s when I realize some of things I thought they were don’t work. In terms of who’s protagonist or antagonist, though, that doesn’t change. I have that nailed down to begin with or I can’t write.

The thing with MIDNIGHT HOUR that surprised me, though, was the strength of the voice of some more minor characters. Though I wouldn’t call them mains, they’re getting POV chapters because they literally won’t shut up. And I realized that their voices are integral to the story. Given that I’m writing about a band of misfits, you need to understand how they all work together. Since the story is centered on those relationships and how they play out in the face of the evil they’re about to face, knowing who they are as individuals and collectively is crucial.

 

Do you find it’s easier to write multiple POVs vs one character?

Ha. Hahahahahaha. I’ve been writing mostly single POV for a long time. SECRET is mostly told from Alodia’s POV, though I’ll flip to Rinan because the story is about the both of them and it’s necessary to see both sides. MH is…so different. It’s a larger cast with about 5 POVs (that includes my villain). And it’s much more of a challenge because while SECRET was very linear, MH is not. The first 3 chapters are the same night from 3 different POVs. The challenge here is keeping all the threads from getting tangled, and making sure they all converge at the appropriate time so as to resonate emotionally and plot-wise. It’s something I’ve never done before and it terrifies me – which is, as a friend of mine pointed out, a sign that it’s the story I’m supposed to tell.

In terms of choosing who gets a POV…the characters chose it themselves. Obviously Raoul would get one and so does Esmera. But then Amadi and Min proved to be very significant voices as well, so there we go. Other, smaller, POVs may pop up as needed but it’s not something I’ll know right away. It’s something I’ll learn in the telling when I sense there’s a hole.

 

Do you write with a large time-scale?

Somebody get me a TARDIS, stat.

3486167-tardisfastflight

Time scale is my weakness. I always have a loose idea—actually, scratch that. “Loose idea” is being way to generous. I have a wibbly wobbly timey wimey spacey wacey idea of how long things will take. It’s something I continue to struggle with and usually have to go back and fix things in revision. I am RUBBISH with time-scale.

 

What genre would you classify your novel?

SECRET is high fantasy, definitely (and there are many more stories in that world to come, and I can’t wait to tell them).

MIDNIGHT HOUR is dreadpunk/steampunk/fantasy. If you are unfamiliar with dreadpunk, it is homage to the Victorian horror novel (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). And the thing about Victorian horror is it was never (or not always) just about the horror – it was the Victorian’s way of dealing with the taboo. And that makes it so much fun to play with. A great tv example of dreadpunk is PENNY DREADFUL (still haven’t seen it, but I need to…Timothy Dalton and Eva Green? Hello.).

Most of my novels/stories are either a fantasy variant or science fiction. This is my happy place.

 

Do you specifically cast your foreground characters’ gender and appearance or do they create themselves?

I touched on this in my previous post about background characters, so you can read it there. But this also brings to mind the question of language because I’m a language nut and I speak four (and have a tendency to shout at idiot drivers in Russian, ahem). SECRET and MIDNIGHT HOUR both contain non-English languages. To give real-world equivalents for MH: Raoul is French, Esmera is Arab, Amadi is Nigerian, Min is Chinese. So sometimes they will say a word or short phrase in their own language, which, apart from the French, requires research. SECRET (well, actually RHEDA) was my first foray into writing with this dynamic and in getting into the issue of why we don’t italicize non-English languages. Daniel Jose Older has a fantastic video which you can watch HERE.

When it comes down to it, italicizing a language other than English is a way of marking it as other in the way that only mentioning the skin tone of a black person or Native American assumes that the default is white – and the world isn’t white any more than it’s English.

And it makes sense to me. I’m a native English-speaker from Québec, which is officially French. And in Québec we have major tension over language that really dates back to the time the French ceded the colony to British after they lost the war. So now we have this thing called the “Office québécois de la langue francaise”, also known as the language police. I kid you not.  It is entirely possible they will fine your business if, God help you, the English text on your signs is not half the size of the French. Government employees are not required to speak English and I have been discriminated against when it comes to jobs, simply because I’m not Francophone. Fluently bilingual and just as qualified, but as an Anglo — not good enough. So when I’m made to feel that my own language is “other” or “not good enough” then I’m not going to “other-fy” another language by italicizing it.

I would hasten to add that the reason for the existence of the OQLF is because somewhere down the line, they felt the same way. Also, not all Francophones discriminate nor are all Anglos open-minded. This works both ways. But the point remains.

And I mean…give the reader some credit. They don’t need you to point out a non-English word. They’ll get it.

Ok, so that was a rabbit trail. But it’s something else I’ve been thinking about.

Questions or thoughts? Leave me a comment!

 

Also, check out Part One of this series on S. Hunter Nisbet’s Blog

and

Part Two on RR Willica’s blog!

 

Send some love their way 🙂

Pushing to the Forefront: Background Characters

So, this was my response to a blog post by S. Hunter Nisbet & R.R. Willica (links at the bottom) and I’m reposting it because it’s a really interesting topic and particularly relevant to me now as I’m drafting MIDNIGHT HOUR (I promise I’ll get a summary on the Writing page soon! Promise!). Three questions were asked:

Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

 

Question the 1st: Do you consciously choose the race, gender, ethnicity, etc. of your background characters?

Not consciously, no. Much of it depends on the environment of the story and how well I know it. For example, IN SECRET KEPT is set in a very Anglo-Saxon/Norse inspired world so it’s pretty white. Regional distinctions are mostly based on life-span, hair, and eye colour. That being said, I have a broader sense of geography outside this particular part of the world and in the novella RHEDA (set a few hundred years before SECRET) the MC is (to put in real-world terms) half Saxon and half Arab. Ok, fine. That’s not a background characters. But. In MIDNIGHT HOUR, the entire setting is flipped and it’s a diverse steampunk city so background characters and main characters alike are all kinds of people. The thing with characters is that most of them just pop into my head with their faces already there and I don’t have to think too hard about what they look like. The challenge is in learning to write PoC well (seeing as I’m a white chick), but it’s a challenge I accept. The world isn’t white, nor was I taught to think that it was. Nor is it only male — and since my academic research is focused on women in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse lit and I grew up on things like Tolkien and Nancy Drew…well, let’s just say my ladies and my men share the limelight equally. And I’m a sucker for women with swords. EOWYN AND BRYNHILDR FTW. Ahem.

 

Question the 2nd: Do you have a character with a backstory you choose not to share?

I don’t think so, no. All of my characters have a backstory and I need to know that in order to know who these people are. While the reader might not get the entire backstory as mapped out in my head, I try to weave in enough so that what is happening in the present makes sense and resonates emotionally. MIDNIGHT HOUR is especially challenging in that respect because all of these rogues (because they are all screwed-up sons-of-you-know-what to varying degrees) have connections with each other and backstory that is important to the present narrative (again, to varying degrees). Figuring out when and where to place a flashback scene or a comment in dialogue is tricky and sometimes I write a scene that I love and realize it’s actually not necessary and — more to the point — not doing what I wanted it to do. The thing about MIDNIGHT HOUR, though, is that I realized early on there’s too much story for one book so the sequel (HEART’S BLOOD) will touch on a fairly major backstory point that I can’t deal with in MH. It has me ridiculously excited.😀

 

Question the 3rd: Have you ever had a background character try to push to the forefront?

Oh, HELL YES. SECRET has one of those — actually, two. But they’ll be getting their own novella once I figure out what their story is. And actually, I wrote a short story called A ONCE & FUTURE KNIGHT and while it’s told from Gawain’s pov, the moment Jael walks onto the page I’ve been told she nearly upstages him. But that’s fine. Because that’s the kind of lady she is. In fact, the two of them are too big for a short so I’m going to rework it into a novel at some point. >:)

No, I can't say that I did...
                 No, I can’t say that I did…

 

So those are my answers. What are yours? Leave me a comment or check out:

S. Hunter Nisbet’s Post and Excellent Blog

And sure to check out Part Two (coming this week!) on:

R.R. Willica’s Likewise Excellent Blog

 

Ciao!

 

She’s beauty, she’s grace (she’ll punch you in the face)

Disclaimer: my thesis is about women in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse texts and how awesome they are. So yes, I’m biased. What follows is the ramblings of a grad student in love with her subject matter and Agent Peggy Carter.

 

In my thesising today, I was examining the Old English poem Judith which is based on the apocryphal Latin Vulgate text. For those who don’t know the story, the Jewish city of Bethulia is being besieged by the evil general Holofernes. Long story short, the city is saved by Judith who uses her femininity to seduce* the general and subsequently cut off his head. He gets drunk and passes out in her presence.

An interesting variation on this tale is found in The Saga of Hrolf Kraki. Queen Olof pretends to go along with her evil suitor, only to stab him with a sleep thorn when he passes out, drunk, in her chamber. She then tars and feathers him and sends him off packed up in a burlap sack. I kid you not.

Then there’s Jael and Sisera. In the book of Judges, Sisera is a general attacking the Israelites. The judge at the time, Deborah, leads Barak and the Hebrew army to victory, but Sisera escapes. He arrives at Jael’s tent and she offers him hospitality, though he doesn’t know she’s a Hebrew. When he’s asleep, she drives a tent peg through his skull.

And I started noticing a trend. You’d think they’d learn. If you’re an evil general/king/person, do not pass out in the presence of a woman. It will not end well for you. I guarantee it.

Which brings me, perhaps in a not-so-round-about-way to Agent Peggy Carter**. This character means a lot to me***. Not only is Hayley Atwell a dream (I had the ridiculously amazing pleasure of meeting her at Comiccon last summer in a brief 10 second photoshoot, and it remains the HIGHLIGHT of my Comiccon experience), but the character is unashamedly feminine while still kicking ass. She knows her value and retains her moral compass despite all the war took from her. And I love that. And I love that the writers of the show understand that love and romance and happily ever after do not undermine that. With so much media in the atmosphere, it’s hard to escape the still-present message that a woman is incomplete without a man, or that she needs to look or act a certain way, etc. And here we have the brilliant Peggy Carter putting her fist through it all and saying You are enough. And when love does come calling****, she reaches for it as a whole person which makes it so much more beautiful*****.

And this is something I love about the heroines I’m studying, some of whom I’ve mentioned. They say loudly through their actions that They are enough and that they, as women, will get the job done. Any job.

As Shakespeare put it so eloquently, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

beauty

grace

face

(all gifs from: http://ctgraphy.tumblr.com/post/109153691032/fitzwich-inspired-guess-what-i-started)

 

Peace out.

 

 

*the OE text is rather uneasy with Judith’s sexuality in this regard and downplays it to a certain extent while the Vulgate makes no bones about it. Just fyi.

**If you’re not watching Agent Carter then what are you even doing with your life?

***As in, she’s up there with Eowyn and Jane Eyre, but those are whole other blog posts and I’ll get to them eventually. 😛

****In the form of the delightful Daniel Sousa. Talk about a beautiful love story. *melts*married

*****I was totally grinning and cheering like an idiot during the final moments of the season finale (um…sorry Jack). NOW I NEED SEASON 3 DAMMIT.

Bump in the Night: Thoughts on the new novel

New project time!

Well, it’s been that time for a while now, but whatever.

This is a project that was, I kid you not, inspired by a single image I saw on Pinterest. This one:

Originally found on http://haufsbeautifulcreatures.tumblr.com/
Originally found on    http://haufsbeautifulcreatures.tumblr.com/

And once I started thinking about it I couldn’t stop and it just snowballed from there. In fact, it snowballed so much it’s grown to be two books because there’s too much story. Its working title is The Midnight Hour and is…as different from In Secret Kept as it’s possible to be. And I love it. I knew I wanted to write something completely opposite and so I find myself writing “penny dreadful meets steampunk” (always for adults). It’s dark and twisted and my characters are seriously messed up*: thieves and assassins and smugglers. Anti-heros all.

I love them so.

 

Ok. Maybe my characters should start running....
Ok. Maybe my characters should start running….

 

And by “penny dreadful” I’m not referring to the TV series (I haven’t seen it yet but I want to, because Timothy Dalton, hello), but the 19th century serial publications that were, in many cases, horror. Think Dracula, Dorian Gray, etc. And the thing with Victorian horror is it was never (or not usually) just about the horror – much of it was their way of exploring the taboo. If you’ve read Dracula** it’s fairly obvious what major themes are going on in there: sex and death. Frankenstein*** deals with life and death and the relationship of science and God.

So I’m thinking about all this as I’m writing. And the writing is coming, though it’s painfully slow. Academia is taking up much of my time, but the characters and the story are straining, trying to break free. It’s time to tell their story.

On that note, I’m going to go and heed their voices. But first, here’s some of the musical inspiration:

 

SINISTER KID by The Black Keys

 

WHO WILL SAVE YOU NOW? by Les Friction

 

 

Ciao!

 

 

*They also really, really, really hate me.

** Which is amazing and Mina Harker FTW.

***Also excellent. And recognized as the first science fiction novel. Mary Shelley FTW.

Confessions of a Writer Tag

Alrighty then. I was tagged by the lovely Nicole Wilson, so here you go…

 

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

I started writing when I was five. All of my elementary school teachers thought that writing stories was a good project (it was), so starting in kindergarden we would make these little story books. As I got older, the stories kind of got longer and longer. And by the time I was in high school, I decided that being a writer was what I wanted. Though it wasn’t until 2013 that I started to realize that it was what I really wanted. And I have Bethany Morrow to thank for shoving me off the deep end. 😀

 

What genre do you write?

I write high fantasy and sci-fi, generally. Though the fantasy may end up with touches of the gothic and/or horror. I occasionally write historical, but only short and not often. SFF is my happy place.

 

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

Oook. I have two that are WiPs (ish). The first one is entitled In Secret Kept and this one has an…interesting and slightly convoluted genesis.

Back when I was 9 or 10 (or something), Darby O’Gill and the Little People aired on Disney around Halloween. There’s one scene where the old man’s daughter has fallen off a cliff and the Banshee is coming to collect her, because the girl is nearly dead. The father stands over her, shouting “Take me instead”. In my head, I flipped this and I saw, instead, a man who had once been cold and cruel standing over the body of the woman he’d come to love. Fast forward to me at age 16 and I wrote the novel. And it was a blatant homage to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (my fave Disney movie OF ALL TIME and fave fairy tale, to boot). And that was fine. Then.

Fast forward to me now, at 32. After a trip to Scotland which inspired me to finish the novella I was writing at the time (Rheda), I realized where I wanted to take Secret. So I started plotting it out again, changing things, and then I realized it was set in a world I’ve been slowly building since I was 14. A world that has been (recently) very influenced by my graduate research in Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse.

And the thing exploded. It’s taken on a life of its own and it is so much better than it ever was before. And that makes me happy 🙂

The second WiP is still in development, but it currently titled Haven and is a fantasy-steampunk-horror about brothers, family, friends and lovers, and the criminal underbelly of a prosperous city. I started working on this one over the summer while I was letting the draft of Secret rest. And this time, all it took was a single pin on Pinterest to make me wonder…

 

What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

My first piece was a story about a lost cat. I wrote when I was five, for school.

 

What’s the best part about writing?

Seeing my stories take shape and grow wings.

 

What’s the worst part about writing?

The writing. Seriously. It’s HARD. But the end result is so worth it.

 

What’s the name of your favorite character and why?

Wait. What. I CAN’T DO THIS. But if I had to pick one, I’d pick Alodia from In Secret Kept. I love the way she’s evolved over the years. *resists the urge to name more*

 

How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

Ha. Hahahaha. *cough* Sorry. This question is just really ironic since I’m supposed to be thesising right now. Whoops.

That being said…three times a week, ish. It depends on my school work load and how tired I am. As to what time…it depends on the state of my brain, though night is usually best. By that point I’ve finished with the day and can just work uninterrupted.

 

Did you go to college for writing?

Nope. I’ve learned a lot from hanging out on Absolute Write and chatting on twitter and/or skype with other authors. And by reading.

 

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?

All of it. Next question?

threatenproperly

 

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

Stop agonizing. It will come. (you know who you are <3)

 

What advice would you give to another writer?

Give yourself permission to suck. That’s what drafts are for. Write. Edit. Repeat. OH. And find a beta reader who is NOT a family member. Someone you trust for solid crit.

 

What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?

Absolute Write. Fabulous community.

Cathleen Townsend posts a lot of really helpful writing tips.

Nathan Bransford is fabulous, and has really great advice on query letters (*shudder*)

 

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

Reading. D’oh. Playing piano. Gym. Tearing my hair out over 2000 piece puzzles. Being in as much sunshine as humanly possible.

 

What’s the best thing you’re watching on television?

I’m going to go with Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter. Also watching Castle Season 8, and while the episodes are solid and the characters are more center-stage this season, I’m not quite buying this whole “separation” between Beckett and Castle.

 

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Sorry, can’t pick just one. Also, since I’ve read a lot this year I’m going to limit this to those I’ve read for the first time:

Vicious by Victoria Schwab. Creation of supervillains.

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge. High fantasy.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Tsar-punk heist novel. GAH.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley. Historical suspense/romance.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston. Shimmering retelling of Sheherazade.

All five of these are fantastic and have stayed with me long after I closed the cover.

 

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?

I’m going to say…Age of Ultron.

 

What is your favorite book or series of all time?

LORD OF THE RINGS. AND YES ALL CAPS IS NECESSARY.

 

Who is your favorite author?

Tolkien.

C.S. Lewis

Rosamund Hodge.

Leigh Bardugo.

Robin McKinley.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

(yes, I cheated. Sue me. 😛 )

 

What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

Finishing this draft of Secret and beginning to write Haven while my lovely beta readers read and crit Secret.

 

Where else can we find you online?

You can tweet me here: @afhumphrey

Still working on the rest!

 

Tagging:

@CathleenTowns

@wanderingquille

@abnersenires

@ShunterNi

@out_ofthe_fog

 

To make life easier, here are the questions:

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
What genre do you write?
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
What’s the best part about writing?
What’s the worst part about writing?
What’s the name of your favorite character and why?
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
Did you go to college for writing?
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
What advice would you give to another writer?
What are your favorite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
What’s the best thing you’re watching on television?
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
What is your favorite book or series of all time?
Who is your favorite author?
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
Where else can we find you online?

Far vel!

Something old, something new…

…by which I mean, I had a meeting with my thesis supervisor today and it got me thinking. About a lot of things.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

My research focus is, broadly speaking, women in Anglo-Saxon & Old Norse texts. And since I’m only just beginning this venture, I was feeling very. Overwhelmed. By. Everything. That. Has. Already. Been. Written.

And I’m supposed to think of something NEW to say?

 

tumblr_n2w2xwzMWv1rsujm4o1_500

 

Thankfully, my supervisor made me feel a whole lot better and I came away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for why I’m researching this topic in the first place. And not just because I’m huge nerd (which I am. In case that wasn’t obvious).

It’s because the women in these tales are freakin’ awesome.

My fascination with all this grew out of my love for Tolkien. He writes beautifully for women (Melian, Luthien, Galadriel, Arwen, Eowyn, to name a few), giving them depth and presence, and so I wondered at his source material. The ancient tales that inspired him.

And that’s how I discovered Wealhtheow in Beowulf. In the midst of this very masculine heroic world, there walks in a queen. And not just a pretty face, but one with grace, intelligence, and authority; her speeches are written in the imperative, signifying that she is not just a pretty face. She is telling them what to do.

Moving on, there are such Norse figures as Brynhilde, Unn the Deep Minded, Yrsa, and the list just goes on. And yes. There are some who are vicious, jealous figures. But my point is that they have a very distinct presence in the sagas and the elegiac poetry. Some wield swords, some wield magic, some wield words. And they are a force to be reckoned with, even within the constraints of their time.

And they are amazing.

And that, in turn, makes me think of the women I write. They look so different from the characters I used to write. They’ve grown (I hope!!) in presence and strength and power. Some of them will use swords and be bad ass in that way. Some of them use words. Some of them use magic. And I might not agree with all of their choices. But they are based on the things that inspire me from these bright, beautiful, ancient tales. They are based on the awesome women I am privileged to know. And they are all rooted in the fact that being a woman is a beautiful thing. Not without its difficulties, but still a good and beautiful thing.

Waes hal!