Month: December 2017

Festivals and Holidays of Verlis

Merry Christmas dear readers.

I did it this time. Here is you promised pre Christmas post. Since I have holidays on the mind, I thought I would write something about the holidays in some of my own writing. Since Lady of Courage is set in an alternate Italian maritime world, it doesn’t have any especially unique holidays. It does begin on Chistmas Eve with a Ball and that’s about it. In contrast, for Girl of the Rumours, I have had to do a fair bit of world building and that includes multiple sets of holiday customs.

Festivals in Verlis and Amra differ quite a bit. In Amra they are community celebrations and times of fun. In verlis they are more solemn. There is some slight religious significance to soem of the festivals, but it has mostly been stripped away. The old folk religions of the countries were never very ritualistic or held strongly and when the new beliefs came, the holidays were all changed.

There is a Harvest End Festival held twelve weeks after the summer solstice. It has a spirit of thanksgiving and rejoicing over the harvest. In Amra is is celebrated by huge markets in all major towns and feasts where ever people are gathered. There will be dancing and various competions or skill. Wrestling, archery, staff fighting, and the like. The celebartions frequently go on for several days. There are musicians playing all of the old and new tales until all hours of the night and religious leaders will take opportunities to speak to the people. Everywhere, the feast will begin with a prayer everyone joins in on and the day before the festival there are often special services in the chapels.

In Verlis, there are no markets and no huge gatherings. Throughout the day you are not to eat any food from the years produce, only that of the previous year. Everyone will give gifts of food to their friends and neighbours as they can afford. It usually will be something they themselves do not grow. If you are giving to those of higher class, the gift must be tasteful and well presented, but will often not be large. The extremely wealthy will often give enormous gifts. Everyone gives what they can to those less fortunate especially as this is a day when they cannot refuse it. The gifts are traditionally given anonymously, though people often know who various gifts are from. The festival ends with a time of solemn reflection at sunset followed by a meal of all new food.

The Spring Festival is held in the middle of planting. It is barely celebrated in Amra. Traditionally it is the time of drinking new milk and letting the animals out to graze in the mountains. However, no one waits for a particular day to come if the conditions are right and there is little mention of it these days. The remnant of the festival is the wearing of flowers and the dancing of the girls of each town. It is also common practice to plant herbs on this day. Prayers will be offered for a good growing season.

In Verlis, the prayers have a much greater emphasis. Everyone gathers and prays all day. The prayer are usually not just for a good planting and harvest, but for any need. In recent and not so recent years, the prayers have been for peace, for safety. Is is the one day of the year that a large portion on the population prays anything than ritualistic form prayers.

A few significant events in Girl of the Rumours happen on these festivals. Aydel dances with Nylf at the Harvest End Festival in the town of Jarrah. He tells her something that changes her life. To finish up the day, they get chased by guards and she meets Wil, Elind and Mim. (Who all happen to have an ‘i’ in their names. Funny that.)

Towards the end of the story, someone takes advantage of the Spring Festival’s distraction to further his own plans. That, put simply, wasn’t not a time the prayers for peace we answered. Not that day.

I feel that there ought to be more holidays. Something like Passover or Christmas. They haven’t come up yet and I don’t know if they will. I believe they differ between the different church branches and never became huge public celebrations. Passover would be close to the Harvest End Festival in timing. Christmas could be mid-summer, but given we do not know an actual date for Christs birth, they don’t not in most part have any celebration other than that of the new year.

There are also festivals and holidays in the neighbouring nation of the Dlinaat. The culture in entirely differnt, and the festivals have a great deal to do with their main religion. They worship the sea, or a sea god of some kind, or just simple water. It has all gotten rather mixed up over the long existence of their civilization. The migration from islands to dry plain has been a major factor in the development of the current rituals. Very few people In Verlis or Amra are familiar with their customs and I haven’t learnt the Dlinaat language yet, so I cannot study directly from the source.

It is also rumoured that there is a separate Dlinaat group who’s beliefs and practices are very reminiscent of Christianity. It seems they are the product of the knowledge of the way spreading along many paths. They do not mix with foreigners any more than the rest of the population, so they are few facts, but it is believed they celebrate Christmas. Because at least one group out there has to.

I have probably made this a little confusing. Is this our world or not? Truth be told, I haven’t quite figure that out. it’s some kind of alternate universe. Some major things are the same. Other parts of geography and history are entirely scrambled. I may end arranging things to make in entirely different as it changes more each time I think about it, but I haven’t reached that level yet.

This is likely my last post for the year so until next time, have a joyous Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Twisting Reality in Fiction

It’s about time for another of my Reality in Fiction posts. But this time I decided to mix it up. I’m talking about the lies in fiction. How reality can be twisted. The way a made up universe can reflect any world-view as true.

I have been reading a bit outside of my usual Christian fiction, to get an idea of what the world is thinking and what teenagers like to read these days. I can’t read these things without analysing them and making observations.

Secular fiction often shows a world without God. It can sometimes be a world without rules, sometimes a very believable world with basic morality (though no explanation for it), and sometimes a world with no hope.

This only breaks the laws in the universe, not the ones outside it.

I read a story where the protagonist did some pretty dreadful things to keep her family safe. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she sold her soul to the devil, but if that would have kept all the people she cared about safe, she would have done it. Her morality was no more than ‘Murder or torture of innocents is wrong and should be avoided if possible.’

It was not a cheerful story, I didn’t enjoy parts of it. But in the end I had to acknowledge that in the story would her actions made sense. The was no higher power which meant both that there was no ultimate consequence for her actions and no guarantee that the side of right would win out. If the devil could be greater God, serving him is not unreasonable. But that’s not how the world works. The consequences of since is more than the reactions of others and the trouble of one’s conscience. There is an ultimate right and wrong, and God will win, so his side is the only right side.

Beyond that there is the hope of eternal life. Even if we die, that’s not the end. It’s only the beginning. As I’ve been helping teach all year in the School Bible classes, “God has a plan.” He is in control. He uses even the most terrible of circumstances to his ends and for the good of those who love him. In a Godless world, when they’re dead, they’re gone and there’s nothing you can do. In our world, there still is grief, but there can be the certainty that behind that it will be okay.

Of course, there can be a created world where as long as you are a generally good person you end up in some kind of positive afterlife. I know that is another very common belief. It’s nice to think that everything will be absolutely fine with us doing whatever we like, but it’s false hope. It might even be worse than the lack of hope I have already mentioned.

I’ve also seen how easily simple things that I beleive to be wrong can be justified. With no ultimate right or wrong, the boundaries can be pushed all over the place. In a story, you don’t have to deal with the consequences. You can’t entirely ignore all of them because people do know what is real, but the effects can be lessened. Things like adultery can end up with okay outcomes, instead of betrayed or broken relationships.

More than that it’s quite possible to make you really care about the characters. In certain circumstance you want to excuse people, even if you do think what they’re doing is wrong. It’s so easy to come up with extenuating circumstances, and tragic back stories. You want these people to be happy and even if the route they take towards isn’t exactly moral, when they get their you can’t help but feel some of their happiness.

Some of this twisting is probably easier in speculative fiction than contemporary. Fantasy deals with the supernatural. It’s not just a world where people don’t believe in God or don’t have morals. You can have a world with false gods, or one where you straight out prove there is no God in the story world. You can have a heaven almost everyone enters, or an endless cycle of reincarnation. You can have whatever kind of world you want to believe in.

It is likely that readers won’t fully embrace the world you’ve created as real, but it will have an influence. People will be more likely to think the way of a book or movie they enjoyed. The world you immerse yourself in will effect the one you have in you own head. That’s why I tend toward Christian fiction with heavy themes. A complex, wonderful, but potentially dangerous world with God ultimately in control.

I’ve gotten very deep here, but I do think it is very important. Popular books and movies shape the way the world thinks. Or in case of many people, how they feel. Too many of them don’t really think. Fictional world affect the emotions of the current world, and the morality. Music probably does too, but  I am very eclectic in my taste and can’t stand the thought of a lot of the stuff that passes for music. If I do happen to hear some, there is a fair chance of it being unintelligible to me. Besides, I analyse the theology of my music too.

I won’t deny that there’s nothing at all good in mainstream stories. Even if authors don’t have a good backing to the morality doesn’t mean they’ve got it all wrong. They have a conscience after all and if they listen to it, there could be quite good morals in their story.

Right now I could go off on a tangent about how morals alone don’t matter, but that would be quite off topic. It’s something I’m passionate about though, so I’ll just recommend you watch the movie Time Changer.

So anyway, when I read these stories, I end up thinking through the ideas behind them, as well as the actual content of the story. I find it fun. Maybe I’m weird, but I like having my mind stretched by time travel and the different philosophies that lie behind it. There is the ‘time is fixed and unchanging’ idea and I’m going off on a different tangent. I’ll stop that. Keep on topic.

This line of thought does factor heavily into how I create the world for my stories. I write in worlds where my core beliefs are true. If I departed from that, I would probably have a character who shares by beliefs as a frame of reference. Or I would have some other purpose behind exploring this world. I might make a world that really fundamentally breaks down, just to show it does. However, I’m more likely to keep that level of though outside my stories. I don’t think I have the skills to write something that completely skews with people’s heads. Even though I like contemplating the ideas.

​Applying This to Writing

The key to influencing someone’s mind slightly with your views is subtlety. I pull out of stories that violently disagree with me and shove that in my face. I just can’t stand some things. With other stories, well I still am paying attention so I consider what world-view the story is using and do my best to keep my mind straight. But it doesn’t offend me. And even the stories that do likely have a subtle part to them. Very few people say straight out what the underlying ideas in their stories are. They may not even recognize those ideas are there at all.

Perhaps I’m doing this all wrong by stating some of my underlying ideas, but I just can’t help it. They are important to me. I’m not shoving them in every story though. Lady of Courage particularly has very little discussion of this kind of thing. My beliefs about the world and God are underlying somewhere in the background, but over that are various social and political things and a whole conflict that only hinges on that indirectly. It like how you can’t the see the framing in a house because it’s all hidden in the walls. Or perhaps it’s more like a floor underlay.

Terrible metaphors both of them. Framing makes me think of story structure than the background of the world. And as a background it plays more into how some of the characters act and some of the social, ethical and historical foundations of society. (social and society). Maybe it’s more like the glue holding the wallpaper up. And now I’ve gotten to the part where I use building references that are outside my personal experience. I’ve helped construct walls and lay floors, but I’ve never papered them.

These underlying ideas may even be more like the air we breathe. Everywhere, invisible, essential. Or like the beam of light C. S. Lewis spoke of in an essay once. Here, I’m certainly talking about the beam. My prayer and hope for the stories is that the light will just be in the room as something you don’t even consciously think of most of the time.

A Little Sidenote

There’s another thought that came up with all of this, but really doesn’t fit because it’s not a lie in fiction. It a thought I had, a truth almost. It still is about twisted reality, but in a different way.

Some of the stories I’ve read have people travelling back in time to change things that went wrong. I started thinking over what I would do if I had the option to change some of the past. My conclusion: I wouldn’t. I’ve made some mistakes, there’s small moments I wish I had done something different, but I’m pretty content right now. There’s no friendships I completely messed up, or family members who died in an avoidable accident.

If I look further back, say to the World Wars, I want to interfere even less. One, I don’t think I could have much effect unless I actually killed Hitler and I don’t think I could do that. Two, Messing with time could entirely change the world in unforeseen ways. I’m not God, and I don’t trust myself not to make a mess of things even in the short term. I certainly couldn’t direct history.

The closest I would get would be accepting an offer to live just this past six months over again. That just because I’ve not been as productive as I could have been. And even then, the opportunities that could be lost if I did things just a little differently scare me away from that. I may have missed conversations, and even conferences. I most certainly would have written this blog post if I had been writing or studying instead of reading the books I did.

Now this post is about half a week late, but I promise I will have another one before Christmas. By the way, I am having serious trouble comprehending how close to the end of the year it it. We haven’t put decorations up yet, and I’v been the only one playing Christmas music at home and I’m usually not playing music. There aren’t even any wrapped presents sitting around yet. I better go take care of that.

Later then, bye. *waves furiously*

Recent (or not so recent) Happenings

Here’s a long overdue update for my blog. I know I’ve been far too quiet for a while, but I’ve been busy. November was taken up by NaNoWriMo and October was full of my preparations for that and for the Omega writers conference.

Yes, I went to a writers conference. It was about a three hour drive away and I went all by myself. It was a great experience. We had sessions by Margie Lawson on literary techniques and using psychology and visceral feelings to pull readers in. I’m focusing more on the plot level with my writing at the moment, but it will be very useful when I get into editing.

There was also a workshop on writing for the YA and middle grade audiences by Alex Marestang who has written for Disney. We heard that he just emailed the conference organizers asking if he could do anything to help.  The organizers had never heard of him and looked him up to make sure he was legit because offers from complete strangers are not common. He had never been to Australia before and I’m not sure how he heard about the conference. But it’s not the first time he’s just sent off a letter blind. It’s actually how he got his job at Disney. He just sent them a letter asking if there was anything he could do to help them.

So that was his first point. Sending letters offering help to random companies might be a good idea. Maybe. Actually I think statistics on the best selling YA and middle grade books was first, followed closely by the elements that make them work.

Alex Marestaing also spoke at the awards night for the CALEB prize. He talked about finding your voice. That was an inspirational talk. Your words are powerful when they have something behind them. An emotion, an experience, something you beleive in strongly. You must believe what you are saying before you speak out with it. Otherwise it will be half hearted.

The awards evening was good too. I won one round of a game we played in the middle of it and happened to be sitting next to the winner of best Picture Book, and the runner up overall. CALEB stands for Christian Authors Lifting Each-others Books and it’s an Australasian book award. They have a category for unpublished manuscripts which I aim to enter in the future.

I also made contact with a few other writers and some editors and publishers. I’m not at the stage to be looking for a professional editor or pusher, but these friendly contacts will be useful even if they are with editors who do not understand the fantasy genre. I still made friends even if they’e not directly useful friends. I do need to work on my networking skills a bit more.

I also bought a stack of books. One novel for myself, a writing book by Orson Scott Card, Narnia, Middle Earth and the Kingdom of God by Mark Worthing (which is a fascinating book about the history of fantasy in regards to Christianity, and the only book I’ve read so far). a book about Martin Luther also by Mark Worthing (That one was a present for a brother), Phantastes by George Macdonald updated with more modern language and style by, once again, Mark Worthing (present for another brother). Also another book I haven’t given to anyone yet and won’t mention.

There were also a bunch of books by various Realm Makers authors which I would have loved to have bought, (even though I had read some of them). I had a budget though, and decided to stick with Australian authors. (Except for Card.) The three by Mark Worthing were published by Stone Table Books (or the parent publisher Morning Star). Of all the publishers there, that was one I thought really might fit some of my books.

I also heard about one of Stone Table’s upcoming release. It’s a book called Playing God by Morton Benning a.k.a. Ben Morton who was representing them at the conference. It’s a kind of crazy sounding story answering the question: What if God was a self absorbed jerk named Jeff? Or something like that. It’s not quite my usual thing, but I’m putting it on my wish list. And go look at it along with other less crazy books here: stonetablebooks.com

​NaNoWriMo Report

Well I wrote 50,000 words. And I started using a useful tool called 4thewords.com It helps me make my word counts and has kept me writing something everyday even after November is over. Even though it’s usually quite late by the time I do it.

However I didn’t finish anything. A Brigand, No Longer still wasn’t very ready to be written. I have scenes, and I have extra outlining and I even have an explanation of what was wrong with some of the choices I made with what I did write. I had character problems. Aydel was being unreasonably stubborn. Sure, her head is stuffed hard with cotton, but there’s no reason for her to be quite so angry with God after the ending of the last book. And Joane came around far too quickly on that one issue and it clashed with everything else.

But all in all, that’s fixable. I still got some good words down, and I do have a much better idea of what’s going on. New side plots and character relationships are coming to life and complicating the whole thing beautifully. And I shot out a basic outline for the prequel. Writing that’s going to be fun someday. And difficult. Silly me thought it was a great idea to invent another language, and smart me recognizes that it wouldn’t make sense to not have another language. So I’m stuck using it now even though there’s only a few dozen words so far.

The Future

I’m going to be getting back into more regular posts. And I really mean it. I’m also going to work on editing more of Girl of the Rumours, and I’ll work on SubM when I need breaks.

That is that and good bye.

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