Caveat: This essay was written in 2004, a year and a half after I graduated from the M.A. program in English at the University of Maine. As I recall, it took me a year and a half to contextualize my experience in such a way that I didn't simply rant in broken half-sentences when I tried to write about it.
The essay was up on my web site until late 2006, when I took it down because I believed my perspective on the subject matter was too emotional and too personal. Since then, I've logged about three requests a month for the page, which is significant. So, I'm offering it here again, against my better judgment, in the hope it's of help to you. I still mean just about every word of it.
Roughly a year into my master's program at the University of Maine, a professor I knew very little invited me to write a conservative critique of J.R.R. Tolkien's work. I nearly laughed in her face, but I managed to gather my composure enough to inform her that I wouldn't have any idea how to begin such a task and would, furthermore, find it distasteful in the extreme. It was then that I realized part of the reason why I had been marginalized by the department. They all thought themselves liberal and believed I was not.
I've always tried hard to walk the line between speaking my truth and remaining professional in my public journal space. I value truth-tellers and bold speakers who do not cower behind political correctness and herd mentality, even when I disagree with what they have to say. However, I am uncomfortable with finger-pointing and ad hominem attacks as well, so I try hard to refrain from those things. All this by way of saying that I hope you'll forgive the abstractions in the following entry; I'd like to discuss a couple of hard lessons I've learned this week, but I'd rather not mention names.
This essay does not represent the entirety of my spiritual perspective, nor am I entirely comfortable with the 'Heathen' label. To be sure, I am not always comfortable with any label. However, I do believe the piece speaks to the problem of racism in the Pagan community, and so while I am not always comfortable with labels, I am always comfortable with multiculturalism, and so the essay remains.
I am a Heathen, which means that I am a practitioner of reconstructed Northern European (NE) spirituality. Heathenry is a Pagan religion, which is to say that it draws wisdom from the animistic, nature-based spirituality of pre-Christian, Northern Europe. I'm providing this resource on my web site for two reasons; first, I hope to answer a couple of basic questions about my faith for interested readers, and second, I hope to address the problem of Heathenry vs. white supremacy.
If you have a question about Heathenry you'd like me to answer here, please contact me, and I will add it to the FAQ.
I wrote this course in compliance with Eastern Maine Community College's requirements as a Liberal Arts elective for second-year students who had already completed a composition course and a general literature course. I am providing this information for those educators who want to add Science Fiction and Fantasy literature to their curricula or to expand existing curricula to include such literature. All downloadable files on this page are compiled in Adobe Acrobat .pdf format, and you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer to view them.
Course Proposal & Syllabus
(Right click and choose "Save Link As" to download these files and stay on this page at the same time.)
I've just finished a paper read (as opposed to a screen read) of TWSP Part 1 and learned some valuable lessons. It has taken me a year to write the 160-odd pages I've just read, and that's far too long for anyone hoping to earn a living as a writer. That time wasn't entirely spent in drafting though. I draft at a respectable pace; I can put down 1000 words a day easily, and that's a sustainable level of work for a novelist. The problem has been the amount of time I've spent editing the manuscript along the way.
First, there was the initial edit of the previous day's work. Then there was the edit I did at the end of each chapter scene. After that came the chapter edit and the final edit I did of Part 1 over the last two weeks. Each of these entailed a plotting component to ferret out story problems and a mechanics component to look for sentence-level issues. Honestly, for every hour I spent putting words on the page, I spent another six to ten looking back at them.
Over time, I've developed a suite of tools I use to craft fiction and keep a web presence. At the same time, I've been developing my technical skills, so I've been able to leverage more powerful technologies, which has in turn increased my productivity. This article is an effort to bring some of these tools, both low-tech and intermediate/high-tech, to your attention in the hope they help you become a better, more productive writer as well.
I've participated in a number of group critiquing experiences and find them all to be somewhat lacking in efficacy, for different reasons. Primary among these is that each of them has suffered from competitive subtext, so that one could never be certain whether or not the critiques one received were motivated by a genuine desire to be helpful. Therefore, I don't usually recommend them to others, since a good degree in any subject from a reputable college or university, an earnest level of investment in the study and practice of the writing craft and a tenacious commitment to selling ones work suffice for most people interested in writing professionally.
Yesterday, I sat down at my laptop at roughly nine in the morning, and with the exception of periodic washroom breaks, hummus and toast at lunchtime and take-out Thai for dinner, I stayed behind my laptop until nearly midnight. In the interim, I came within spitting distance of the Chapter 1 rewrite, which I finished this morning. More importantly though, I redefined the two POV characters and the primary non-POV character in my novel. In doing so, I realized what does and does not work for me with regard to character construction in a novel, and I thought I'd share that information with you.
It is a commonly-held belief among speculative fiction writers that somewhere, out there in the great, dark heaven of the multiverse, there is a god who hands out apostrophes on big, pink memos and that when the writer in question has received said memo, her or his constructed language is, at last, complete.
Allow me to illustrate:
Sp’thra: Beggars in Spain (all props to Nancy Kress)
F’lar: Dragonriders of Pern (all props to Anne McCaffrey)
Dra'Azon: Consider Phlebas (all props to Iain M. Banks)
Everything I know about world-building and conlangs I am teaching myself, and that's no small task for someone who isn't a scientist but who writes speculative fiction. In the beginning, I was hoping for the One True Guide that would lead me on to the promised land of easy, accurate, and organized back-story creation, but I have since realized what all successful writers in the genre figured out long before I did.