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It’s time once again for the Writing Process Blog Hop! I took part in this Blog Hop a few months ago, but I’ve been tagged back by my good friend, Sue Bolich. Enough has changed in the time that’s passed that I’m giving it another whirl.

Before anything else, I want to thank Sue for the nomination. Here’s a link to her blog. If you love character-driven fantasy, and especially if you have questions about horses in fantasy, hers is a great blog to follow.

Now I have four questions to answer:

1) What are you working on?
Currently I’ve been working on a YA fantasy novel called Silver Marsh, which is the second volume of a planned trilogy. I’m having difficulty with Silver Marsh, I have to say. However, if I don’t finish it, all the time I’ve spent will be wasted — so I’m forging ahead. If I can quit messing around, I should finish by the end of the summer.

2) How is your work different from others in the genre?
Writers are often encouraged to follow trends and write what seems to be selling at any particular moment. This doesn’t work for me because, frankly, the current trends in fantasy just don’t interest me. Zombies? Ick. Weird romances with supernatural beings? No, thanks.

What I try to do is find a fresh angle or explore a perspective that hasn’t been revealed before. Not easy, given the amount of fantasy that’s in print. But that’s my challenge to myself.

3) Why do I write what I do?
Just don’t know when to shut up, I guess.

4) How does your writing process work?
It’s been scattershot lately. I’m a school secretary, and my expectation was that I’d have the summer off to focus on Silver Marsh. However, I was called to sub in the district warehouse, instead. So I’m fitting my writing into the evenings along with yard work and chores. Pretty much usual, in other words.

I’m of the “just write something” persuasion. Rather than try to make every sentence into a carefully crafted jewel, I try to get my basic ideas down. Once the plot is solid, I go back and make everything pretty. This saves me having to cut material I worked really hard on, but which no longer fits the story.

Nominations for future Writing Process Blog Hops.
I’m supposed to name three, and here they are:
Jennifer Eaton, YA Novelist whose blog covers the journey to publication
Radiating Blossom, a photographer who shares her beautiful images and philosophical poetry from diverse sources
L. Palmer Chronicles, by another emerging YA and fantasy writer

These are the blogs I read every day, even when my inbox is jammed. I recommend them all. But even if I didn’t mention your blog specifically, go ahead and jump into the Writing Process Blog Hop if you’d like to. The more the merrier!

The Earthsea Saga of Ursula K. Le Guin is another seminal work of fantasy that you shouldn’t overlook in searching for all things dragon. This series began with a few short stories published in magazines during the mid-60s. In these, Le Guin solidified her ideas about the setting in an archiepelago and how magic should operate. Later, Herman Schein, a children’s book editor with Parnassus Press invited Le Guin to write in a genre we now would identify as YA. Le Guin took up the gauntlet, and A Wizard of Earthsea was published in 1968. Later books in the series are The Tombs of Atuan (1970), The Farthest Shore (1972) and the much later final volume, Tehanu (1990). Also there are two short-story collections, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975) and Tales From Earthsea (2001).

We can see some hearkening back to Tolkein in the detailed world and frequent references to historical and legendary events. Yet Le Guin, a self-described “subversive,” also questioned some of Tolkein’s assumptions. In her afterward to A Wizard of Earthsea, she recalls wondering why all the wizards had to be crotchety old men, and why every fantasy setting had to be Medieval Europe, and why all the characters were white males. Le Guin upended these tropes by making the main character a young wizard whose pride gets him into deep trouble. She gave all her characters some shade of brown skin — red-brown like Native Americans, or black-brown like Africans. White characters do exist, but appear only briefly as raiders.

As the series unfolded, Le Guin also addressed the paucity of female characters by introducing a variety of women. Some were malevolent, trying to trick Ged (a.k.a. Sparrowhawk) into slavery. Others, notably Arha of The Tombs of Atuan, held their own as protagonists. These days we take female leads for granted, and debate whether they are important to the stories or treated as eye candy. It’s easy to forget those days when there weren’t any women characters to debate about.

However, Le Guin and Tolkein both shared a great respect for dragons. In Earthsea, dragonkind are an ancient race from the dawn of the world. They speak the language of true magic, which most humans no longer understand. This doesn’t make them any less dangerous than other writers’s dragons! Le Guin’s dragons have such a powerful presence that people who look into their eyes can become hypnotized. As you would expect, they are massive and scaly. And they love to spread terror from the air.

In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged is hired to protect the Ninety Isles region from the threat of dragons on nearby Pendor Island. It’s known that the Great Dragon of Pendor is raising a brood of wyrms in ruins taken over from a pirate lord. Pressed by other difficulties, Ged goes to confront the dragons instead of waiting for them to strike. He taunts the young wyrms into attacking, then paralyses their wings, causing them to fall into the sea and drown. He also takes the shape of a dragon himself, and battles hard enough to make the others flee.

And then we meet the Great Dragon. This creature so huge that Ged mistakes its shoulder for one of the ruined towers. But now the time for battle is over. Ged defeats the dragon with words instead of spells. For in his research he discovered the true name of this dragon is Yevaud. No creature can resist the power of its own true name. Yet Yevaud knows Ged is pursued by a horrible shadow, and it uses the shadow’s true name as a lure to try and trick Ged. In the end, though, Ged succeeds in winning the dragon’s oath that it and its brood will never attack the Ninety Isles.

Come back Tuesday for more of Earthsea’s dragons.

The first of Moorcock’s Elric stories was published in 1961. Like many series of that era, it was not planned to be such. The stories were simply popular enough that editors asked for more, and Moorcock obliged. So the series unfolded as a sequence of novellas and novelettes in various genre magazines. These were stitched together into six novels and published in 1976-1977 by DAW Books. The books are Elric of Melnibone, Sailor on the Seas of Fate, The Weird of the White Wolf, The Sleeping Sorceress (a.k.a. The Vanishing Tower), Bane of the Black Sword, and Stormbringer.

Moorcock had started writing these stories in his twenties, a stage of life when young people often begin to confront deep questions like the meaning of life, whether the world is basically evil or basically good, and how (or indeed, whether) a well-intentioned person can navigate life’s challenges when it seems that all men are only out for themselves. The result of his meditation is a strong and unique statement that, even decades later, I don’t want to spoil.

Regardless of the shortcomings, some of which I mentioned in my last post, Moorcock’s doomed hero left an indelible mark on the genre. Some of the now-familiar themes Moorcock gave us include: intelligent, malevolent swords; sorcery as a grueling and visceral process; travel through dimensions and time; Law and Chaos as two competing pantheons who strive against each other for control of the universe. Echoes of Moorcock’s dark vision can still be heard in corners as diverse as George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, various incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons, and the anime series Full Metal Alchemist; Moorcock’s hero is likely the person Edward Elric is named after.

If you are a venturesome reader, someone who can tolerate a very different approach or appreciates the writing styles of a bygone era, give Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga a try. You won’t be disappointed.

This summer I’ve been revisiting some of the books I read when I was in high school. Works that blew me away and made an indelible mark on the whole genre. And the first of these is Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. These are the ultimate swords-and-sorcery novels, where a massively flawed hero strides a stunning (and sometimes bizarre) mythic landscape, battling both demons and humans who have given in to their baser natures.

The title character, Elric of Melnibone, is emperor of a mighty empire, founded on sorcery and the creed of seeking pleasure at any cost. (And preferably with others paying that cost.) He’s an albino, afflicted with weaknesses that leave him exhausted after modest physical effort unless he takes special drugs. Later editions have attempted to recast these as herbal remedies, but the edition I’ve been reading refers to them quite openly as drugs.

Elric is a misfit as emperor, not only because of his physical differences but because of his thoughtful nature. Most Melniboneans expect their emperor to rule with hideous cruelty; Elric actually studies tomes about how to rule with honor and compassion. Not surprisingly, one of his kinfolk decides he would make a better emperor — and the series takes flight from there.

Speaking of flight, dragons are part of the Melnibonean life and heritage. They were present on the island when the first Melniboneans arrived, 10,000 years before the saga’s opening. These mighty flyers had venom that caused everything it touched to burn. Yet the Melniboneans had entered into a pact with Arioch, Duke of Hell. In time they domesticated the dragons and used them as steeds to conquer the surrounding lands. In the first volume, Elric of Melnibone, one of Elric’s best friends is a dragon keeper. Flying on dragons is referred by as a popular pastime. Dragons are used in warfare, although they must rest in between battles. Also the crown Elric wears is in the shape of a black dragon, and his robes and armor at various times are decorated with dragon motifs.

It’s probably been 30 years since I first read these books. What surprises me, after so long, is how many things Moorcock does that writers today are told we should never, ever do. He opens the books with scenery. He talks directly to the audience. He tells instead of showing and uses really long sentences. Here’s the opening paragraph from the second novel, Sailor on the Seas of Fate:

“It was as if the man stood in a vast cavern whose walls and roof were comprised of gloomy, unstable colors which would occasionally break and admit rays of light from the moon. That these walls were mere clouds massed above mountains and ocean was hard to believe, for all that the moonlight pierced them, stained them, and revealed the black and turbulent sea washing the shore on which the man now stood.”

– See addendum below –

Wow, that’s a lot of words! In addition, racial and gender equality were not vital concerns. There are black characters, but mostly they’re brigands, and the few female characters are there only as bait or to be rescued. I say this not to chastise the writer — nobody in that era was worried about social justice — but because it seems jarring if you don’t expect it.

There’s a lot more to say about Elric… next time.

– Addendum –
As a comparison, here’s the opening paragraph from Jim Butcher’s Changes, a Harry Dresden novel published in 2010: “I answered the phone, and Susan Rodrigues said, ‘They’ve taken our daughter.’”

Totally different approach, isn’t it?

This will be a blog of in-betweens, as I share some news and tidbits of information.

First, if you are going to be in Spokane or Spokane Valley, WA during July, I have a signing scheduled. It’s at the Hastings Books on Sprague & Sullivan in Spokane Valley. I’ll be greeting visitors and signing books from 2 to 4 pm. Most of my signings are around Christmas, so I don’t know how I’ll do chatting up summer readers. Wish me luck!

Second, Wyrmflight has had a number of new followers lately. Although I’m not a big stat-watcher, it’s encouraging to know my blog is getting new followers. I’m even approaching the big number 100 of followers! So, welcome everyone, and I hope you’ll enjoy my meanderings about dragons.

In much of the US, it’s been hot enough for dragons to bask quite happily. I hope you’re all able to stay cool and comfortable.

Re-Tellings

When I re-tell folk stories for this blog, I find it a very different experience than writing original stories. While I may compare meanings and how they have changed over time — as when I remarked how the tale of St. George reflected European doubts and fears toward Muslim powers rising in Africa — I seldom attempt to revise them. Folk stories are not my personal creation. They’ve been handed down and it’s not my place to make changes.

Yet, while re-telling Maud and the Wyvern, I found myself doing exactly that. Partly it was to add elements of drama. The original source material did not include the scene where Maud begs the wyvern not to kill people and it flies away rather than obey her. Likewise, in the original, Maud arrives too late to save her pet. In my version, her arrival actually leads to its death. These additions simply felt more natural to the way we tell stories in the 21st Century.

Another change was a bow to modern sensibilities where child care is concerned. I was struck, in reading my original sources, how Maud’s parents let her to wander around in the forest all day by herself. These days, no responsible parent would ever allow this. If we did, eventually, the police or CPS would arrive at our doors to discuss allegations of child neglect.

Having Maud wander in the forest by herself wasn’t something I could change in my re-telling. Her ability to act independently and deceive her parents about the wyvern’s fate is crucial. Yet this concern did lead me to modify the ending slightly. In my source, while Maud wept over the dying wyvern, the knight shrugged and rode off to be acclaimed a hero. My addition there was to have the knight take Maud home, making sure she was safe, before he rode off to be congratulated on his victory.

Perhaps this is always the way with re-tellings of traditional stories. Each generation adds or subtracts in small ways, so that the meaning suits the times.

Previously: A sweet girl named Maud raised a tiny baby wyvern to become a magnificent adult dragon. Because of her kindness, the wyvern was ever gentle in her presence. But when she was absent, it indulged in darker pleasures such as devouring farmers who defended their livestock. When Maud begged it not to hunt, the wyvern flew away.

Maud wept, thinking she would never see her dear friend again, but the wyvern didn’t fly far. It settled in a darker part of the forest and expanded its rampage from there. After several more deaths, the villagers begged the local lord for help. The eldest son of this family was a knight. He rode into the village one day, garbed in shining armor and bearing a strong lance. The populace told him what part of the forest the wyvern haunted, and he headed straight there.

When Maud heard that a knight had come to do battle, she rushed after him. Through the tangled woods she raced, tearing her clothes and cutting her skin, but she dared not stop. She had to save her friend.

Meanwhile, the knight approached a dense thicket. He didn’t know the wyvern lurked inside, camouflaged by its emerald scales — until it attacked with a fearsome roar. It spat fire and lashed out with ebony talons. The knight was hard pressed, but he bravely wheeled his horse and lowered his lance to charge.

It was then Maud burst into the clearing, crying, “No, stop!”

She was calling out to the knight, but when the wyvern saw her, it instantly stopped fighting. Alas, the knight’s charge could not be halted. His lance drove through its open mouth and pierced its brain. The wyvern thrashed and spat blood and fire. The knight was triumphant, and probably relieved, too.

To his surprise, the young girl wailed with grief. She ran to the dying monster and threw her arms around its neck. When the spark of life had left the wyvern’s eyes, the knight put Maud on his horse and took her back to her parents. He was acclaimed as a hero. Young Maud was never the same sweet and loving girl after that day. Her childish innocence had died along with her best friend, the wyvern.

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