On the need for a new project…

TlatelolcoHaving a manuscript out on sub is a bit of an odd experience when it comes to continuing to work as a writer. It was true when I was querying agents, and it’s true now that we’re out to editors. I need something to do — writers write, after all. Not having something to work on feels like laziness. While it was nice to take a little bit of a brain break after the last round of revisions, I’ve been getting twitchy lately. But I quite specifically don’t want to work on the project that’s currently out. If I work on the manuscript as it is, I’ll just make myself crazy with second-guessing — worrying if we subbed too soon, if there’s something else I could’ve, should’ve done first, will they like this, will they like that, and so forth. And I can’t really work on the next book in the series more than I already have, because further revisions to Book 1 might negate anything I did there. I do have another WIP, the steampunk project, but I sort of lost the flow there, and I think right now I’d have trouble leaping back into it in a thoroughly productive way.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been letting a new idea percolate. And I’m tentatively excited about it. It’ll be a second-world fantasy, but with some different cultural influences than I’ve worked with before. I’ve been delving into some new areas of research, playing with some social constructs and diversity aspects that I like but couldn’t work into Aven, and thinking out a little bit more of a quest structure to mix in with a dynastic dispute. (At the moment it’s feeling a little bit “Wars of the Roses” meets Stardust, minus pretty much all of the English-ness from both). I’ve got a few characters sketched out, a few potential relationships to work on, and almost no plot points determined. I’m okay with the blurriness, though. I like to start projects open-ended so I can feel my way through it all. It may mean a lot of editing and a lot of scrapped material down the line, but that’s all part of the process for me.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to work on this new project for Camp Nanowrimo. It’s partially because I’m just getting stir-crazy writing-wise, and partially because I’m superstitious enough to think it’d be bad luck not to. But, should news from an editor necessitate more revisions on Aven, it’ll be something I can easily put back down. This will be something to occupy me, to keep me from fretting, and to keep the creative muscles active. So… onward!

A Progression of Heroines

Some reflective thoughts today:

When I was a teenager, the heroines I wrote tended to fall into a very certain mold. Lady Rebels and Golden Queens, butt-kicking leaders who defied all expectations and restrictions, who were full of fire and glory. Their lives were tumultuous, with soap-opera-worthy romantic tangles and nefarious villains to challenge them, but they always came out on top in the end. A lot of this, so early in my development as a writer, was imitative of the tropes and the women I adored in other stories — Princess Leia, Xena, Eleanor of Aquitaine. They were also all unrealistically prodigious at various skills, particularly when it came to warfare and to the arts.

Looking back, I can clearly see where all of this came from. I was angry and full of emotions I didn’t have a clue how to control, and so were my heroines. I yearned for approval and admiration, and so my heroines got those things. I feared reprisal and condemnation, so my heroines never suffered such. Writing is, I think, almost always wish fulfillment on a certain level, but when you’re young, even moreso. And I don’t judge myself for that. It was part of a process, not only of becoming a better writer, but of becoming myself.

And, as such things are wont to do, it evolved. By my college years, my heroines were turning a lot darker. Sorceresses who not only dabbled in black magic, but sometimes dove in head-first. Ruthless imperial majesties. The real “all shall love me and despair” types, or else the half-mad exiles brooding away in their dilapidated strongholds. Moral ambiguity was the name of the game. And that made perfect sense, for years when I was trying to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and how to get there. I spent a lot of time feeling lost and confused, I had a fair bit of existential dread, and I went to a school where your best hasn’t been good enough since 1693 — so the stress came out in the writing. I scared myself sometimes, so I wrote heroines who scared other people.

And it continues to evolve.

The most recent heroines, the ones I’ve written since getting out of grad school, are women who’ve let cages build around their hearts. They’ve deliberately shrunk themselves and their expectations of life. They haven’t stretched their wings in so long, they’ve forgotten they have them. They strive to live up to the vision of themselves placed upon them by society, by family, by lovers and husbands. They tamp down their emotions and they never lose their tempers… anymore.

But eventually, they snap. They remember what it is to be bright and burning. The path towards reclamation isn’t easy, but they grit their teeth and brave their way through it.

I know damn well where this impulse comes from. I’ve been writing my way through recovery. It wasn’t an intentional thing, but rather a trend I’ve noticed in retrospect. I can see the detritus of an emotionally abusive relationship, and I can see where I’ve been writing my way free of it. Which isn’t to say that I’m done, or that the process is complete — I know full well I’m still sloughing off the chains, and there’s still plenty of authorial juice to be squeezed out of this self-evaluation.

But, with that awareness, I do wonder who my next heroines will be.

I had a new idea…

I had a new idea…

Still very much nascent, but there are a few images, perhaps a few beginnings of characters and conflicts starting to swirl around in my head.

Gladiatrices

I knew gladiatrices — female gladiators — were a thing.

I didn’t realize how big a thing they apparently were.

I’ve been reading a book called Working IX to V (because who doesn’t love a Roman numeral -based pun?), which examines a lot of odd professions in the Roman world. The tagline for the gladiatrix is “flirting with death but not going steady.” The book points out that male gladiators were generally slaves or freedmen, whether born to slavery or captives of war, or else volunteers who, by signing up as gladiators, lost their civil rights and were declared infamous under Roman law. “Women, however, had few civil rights to lose” — and as such, many if not most gladiatrices were not slaves, but rather freeborn women who took the job for reasons of their own. Some might have been in it for the money. Some may simply have wanted to test and to prove themselves, as men did, but without the military route available to them.

Halicarnassus-reliefWhat’s particularly fascinating is that this seems to have caught on as a fad among the upper classes. Daughters of the nobility, bored to tears with their lives and seeking a bit of risk and scandal, trained as gladiatrices and performed in public. It was evidently enough of a problem that several emperors felt the need to legislate against it. That, for me, is a powerful indication of just how prevalent the practice must have been — not so much as male gladiators, to be sure, but more than an occasional novelty.

The 19 CE Tabula Larinas placed penalties on anyone of the senatorial or equestrian class who performed publicly, in addition to the counts of infamia that would already be laid against them. It also prohibited the recruitment of any daughters, grand-daughters, and great-granddaughters of senators or equestrians who were under the age of 20. In 200 CE, Septimius Severus banned all female gladiatorial matches, citing “a recrudescence among some upper-class women, and the raillery this provoked among the audience” as the reason for his edict. Considering that later inscriptions at arenas continued to advertise women competing, the ban seems to have been totally ineffective. Female participation in gladiatorial matches seems only to have ended entirely with the end of the games at the start of the 5th century.

Other emperors, of course, decided they’d rather support the scandal than challenge it. Nero and Domitian, ever the classy ones, defied the laws of their own empire by sponsoring games and late-night torchlit matches between well-known gladiatrices. (The term, incidentally, is modern; the Romans referred to such women as ludiae, or by using mulier or femina to modify the usual terms for gladiators).

Outside of these laws, written records of gladiatrices are somewhat sparse and generally critical. The satirist Juvenal lambasts women of the upper classes who performed as gladiators, decrying them as unwomanly and unattractive. Historians like Cassius Dio and Tacitus called the practice shocking and disgraceful. (Cassio Dio also noted women of the upper classes as performing in dramas, playing music, participating in beast hunts, and driving horses in the races). The archaeological record fills in some gaps. This article provides a good look at some of the material evidence. Inscriptions on tombs provide some glimpses into their lives as well as their deaths. Many studied privately, though a few attended gladiatorial schools. Like their male counterparts, most were teenagers, and most died young. Gladiatorial battles were not always or even often to the death, as modern media would have it — gladiators were expensive, and you got better investment by keeping them alive. Still, death and serious injury were very real possibilities, and so it makes sense that gladiatrices would have short careers, ended either by death or, in the case of those noble  ladies, by means of their relatives pulling them out of the games.

I’m finding this whole notion terribly interesting. It’s interesting to think outside the bonds of the condemnations given by the ancient writers, to think about what circumstances might have compelled women of varying classes to enter the arena. Something to keep in mind for future books, certainly.

Writing Habits Questionnaire

Saw this over at Jodie Llewellyn’s blog and, well, I’ve always been a sucker for a good survey, so here goes!

1. Typed or Handwritten?

Mostly typed these days, though it was not always so. Between the ages of 11 and 18 I filled about two dozen five-subject notebooks with reams upon reams of handwritten stories (a lot of Star Wars fanfic, a lot for various Broadway musicals, but a lot of original stuff, too). At first it was because I didn’t have a computer of my own (oh, the days of sharing time on the family desktop), plus it was, well, easier to sneak writing in during classes, since it just looked like I was taking notes. I know; I was terrible. My punishment is that I never learned how to calculate terminal velocity. (At least writing fanfic during class kept my narcoleptic self awake).

2. Cursive or Printed?

Hybrid. Sort of a connected print, I guess? Perhaps because I used to handwrite so much, my handwriting is, er, pretty distinctive. Here, I’ll just show you…

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Yeah. It’s been described many times by various unconnected people as “beautiful, but completely illegible”. I can read it. (Most of the time). And there are patterns to its oddities. Internal vowels tend to disappear. I forget to dot ‘i’s — or else I will dot an ‘i’ that got omitted in the word itself (this happens in my signature all the time). Anything with a lower loop is going to seriously encroach upon the line beneath it. I show a definite right-leaning slant. I have a really strange tendency to add serifs to capital letters. The words “if” and “it” often morph into single characters, as has “ng”. And any word with more than one loopy or bumpy letter in a row is just pretty well doomed to turn into a helpless squiggle (another problem with my signature).

All of which is why if I actually need to handwrite for someone else’s eyes, I tend to use block letters.

3. Show us your favourite pen.

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Blue ink Pilot G-2s all the way, baby. Since, like, ever.

4. Where do you like to write?

The beach. Not literally on the beach, sand not being particularly conducive to laptops, but my parents have a house on the Outer Banks, and it’s pretty much my favorite place in the world. I either write upstairs, at a lovely big table, or out on the deck. Both are comfy, conducive to spreading out any reference material I need, and within easy distance of the snack cabinets and drinks cooler.

Unfortunately, with that option only open to me about two weeks out of the year, I spend most of my time writing at the card table that currently serves as the centerpiece of my living room. I have a desk. But it’s currently in a room I don’t like being in as it’s mostly used for storage, so… yeah, lack of functionality there. I also sort of feel like it’s worn out its styling for me.

Here’s my desk at my day-job office. I just switched to this one from something much larger and bulkier, and I quite like this — something like it would be okay for home, though I’d really love if it could be something convertible to a standing desk.

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5. Who are your five favorite authors in terms of authorial style?

Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, Jacqueline Carey, Julia Quinn, Preston&Child (counts as one). A couple of those do, I know, trend towards somewhat effusive prose and overblown rhetoric, but, well, so do I.

6. What are you your three favourite books on writing?

Honestly? I haven’t read many. None that I could tell you the authors of off the top of my head. I know I had a couple of really excellent screenplay writing guides back in undergrad, but screenwriting is a different beast. The pattern and form is everything; originality is of less value. Mostly I figure when it comes to novels, you get better at writing by writing and by reading a lot of excellent voices (see above). Not through instructional guides.

7. Have you ever competed in NaNoWriMo?

Many times! Off and on since 2002. I think the years I missed were when I was directing a play, when I was writing a Master’s thesis, and… I can’t remember the third, but I feel like there was one. And I’ve done several Camp Nanos, too, often to help round out projects I started during Nano proper.

8. Have you ever won NaNoWriMo?

Several of those many times. Every time in the last few years, since I’ve been out of school and have been able to get really serious about my output.

9. Have you ever had anything published?

Fiction? Working on it. 😉 Nonfiction – a couple of articles and papers in my day-job field, along with 18 teacher’s guides which my company has self-published.

10. What projects are you working on now?

Working on the second book of Aven, since we’re currently subbing Book 1 to publishers, so that if, y’know, all goes well, I’ve got a head start on myself. Also working on The Antares Project, a steampunk novel (in case all doesn’t go well with the first project; I’m a firm believer in always having another project to fall back on).

11. What is your soundtrack to writing?

Documentaries. I actually have another post in the pipeline about this, but I’m someone who definitely needs background noise. Sometimes special-made playlists will do the trick — I tend to make new ones for new projects, characters, themes, etc — but often, I turn to Planet Earth, The History of Britain, and others of that ilk. I like them because I can tune them out so readily, but when I need a brain break, I can tune back in and learn something.

12. Do you have a writing pump-up song?

The second half of this:

Here I go and there’s no turning back
My great adventure has begun

I may be small but I have giant plans
To shine as brightly as the sun
I will blaze until I find my time and place
I will be fearless
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
I’ll shout and start a riot
Be anything but quiet