Friday, December 28, 2012

Year in Review: 2012

Made it through another year (just about; hopefully nothing happens in the next three days to prove me wrong).

Stories finished:
  • The Utopia Project, second draft: An evilgenius/madscientist sends kidnappers across the Atlantic Ocean to procure test subjects for an illegal experiment involving a new world.
  • Mind Butcher (Unwise Ones): Events in the life of Vincent Linden pertaining to the Mind Butcher incident.
  • Dominic the Wanderer (SatFK): a knight gets a course correction from the lady of the lake.
  • Taras, synopsis: Taras Radev, who has been sent to a reform school in tsarist Russia, uses various schools of magic to rescue his friend Aleksei and to find his independence.
  • Tournament (Unwise Ones): In preparation for the freshman tournament, Amy Lejano makes friends and discovers enemies.
  • Ingrid's Quest (SatFK): On a quest to save the Wise One, Ingrid forges a new path for herself through iconoclasm and unconventional magic.
Currently working on: Orsolya (Unwise Ones), synopsis. Next will be Matt of the Lekron, synopsis.

New Anberlin album!

Optimus (Best Posts):
  • getting into band staff and wind ensemble
  • going to Boston, China, and Cancun
I look very much at home at MIT, yes?

Significant quotes:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-George Bernard Shaw

"You have to go under for a long time into the dark waters of the mind and stay there."
-Natalie Goldberg

"Think not: this is ill fortune; but rather: to bear this worthily is good fortune."
-Marcus Aurelius

"Death is nothing. But to live, defeated and without glory - that is to die every day."
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Best books:

Evelyn's bookshelf: 2012-best-books

More of Evelyn's books »

Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists

Preparation for 2013:
logbook and calendar

Happy new year, everyone! I'll be back next week with some longer posts - it's been a while since I've felt that I had the time to sit down and think something through, and I'd like to get back to doing that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Good Hunting

Shall we embark?

Cleopatra's Own Galley, Warwick Goble

Some drawing tips from Gary Panter. I really need to sketch more.

How to get things done with index cards.

Yet another INTJ description. Hurrah, Augustus Caesar.

Advice from Austin Kleon on how to get noticed. First thing: "Be so good they can't ignore you."

Strange Horizons:
Catherynne Valente on mythpunk:
I've always considered the appending of -punk to whatever other word to indicate that X is not merely being explored or ruminated upon, but in some sense broken, harmed, and put back together again with safety pins and patches, a certain amount of anxiety, anger, and messy, difficult emotionality expressed in the direction of X.
The Gross Anatomy of Horror, by Nicholas Seeley

How would you like eating from this plate?
Poignant: click and drag. Zoomable version here, but I recommend exploring the original.

Justine Musk on writing the opposite sex.

Speaking of gender: boys in YA fiction, by Sarah Mesle.

Home of Gisele D'Ailley van Waterschoot van der Gracht, who gets points for having one of the coolest names I've ever read.

Several guest articles from the SFWA website:
Confessions of a Museum Bunny, by Deborah Walker
How I Went from Writing 2000 Words a Day to 10000 Words a Day, by Rachel Aaron
(Also from Aaron: musings on steampunk. I like the phrase "boss hog".)
60 Rules for Short SF and Fantasy, by Terry Bisson
Building Secondary Worlds, by Mark Charan Newton

From Broad Universe:
Worldbuilding advice from Sarah Monette
Culture via character by Elaine Isaak
Designing fantasy creatures with science!, by Trisha J. Woolridge
Medieval worldbuilding guide by Paula R. Stiles

Hecate Demeter speaks of trees, with the poem "On Houses" by Kahlil Gibran.

In the Northern Wilderness, Ivan Shishkin

Good night.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Matt of the Lekron

Imagine for a moment that you are seventeen years old and you find out that your biological father is dead and that neither your mom, nor your best friends (one of whom has been missing for a week), nor you are, strictly speaking, human.

Junior year was rough.


Once not so long ago, the prince of the Lightning Land came of the age when a man must take a wife. He thought that, because he would be the Lord of Lightning once his father died, he must have a wife both beautiful and obedient, who would never speak against him. For the Prince of Lightning, as well as being handsome and powerful, was arrogant.

Thus he proclaimed that he would take as his wife the most beautiful maiden in the Lightning Land. Many women came forth, but he dismissed them all for their minor imperfections: this one laughed too loudly, that one was plump, one other had poor teeth.

The arrogant prince began to despair of finding a suitable match when, during a storm, he went out onto the palace roof to see one of the maids watching the lightning and rain. Immediately he was entranced. She was beautiful, with long golden hair and a bright smile.

There were, however, two issues: she was low-born, and she was used to making trips across the Drowned Land to the Cities of Glass that appeared there on nights of waning moon.

But once the prince had set eyes on the beautiful maid, he would have no other. He made her promise never to cross the Drowned Land again and she, overwhelmed by her unexpected change of fortune, agreed. They were soon married, and one year later the girl - now Lady of Lightning, since the old Lord had died - bore a son she named Matthew.

For two years, the former maid - she never got used to thinking of herself as Lady Lightning - raised her son, the young prince Matthew, peacefully in the palace as her husband performed his duties as the Lord of Lightning.

But she began to feel restless, and longed for the adventure to be found on the other side of the Drowned Land. Yet she would not go, because she was loyal to her husband, and did not trust to leave her young son in the palace without her.

The Lightning Lord had a sister, Lady Leila, who exercised great influence in the palace. Lady Leila had a son, several years older than Matthew - a violent boy, very powerful, and much encouraged in his violence and power by his mother.

Lady Lightning suspected her sister-in-law sought to have him become the next Lord of Lightning.

However, when the former maid brought her concerns to her husband, he did not heed her: in fact, he became angry. "Do you think, then," he thundered, "that I cannot control even my own sister?"

Hearing his words, Lady Lightning began to doubt herself. Shouldn't she trust in her husband's power? But more time passed, and again her intuition told her: Lady Leila and her son were not to be trusted.

It's just a feeling, she thought.

But then, one day, a maid with whom she was friends came running into her apartments out of breath. "My lady -" she said, "My lady - I've seen Lady Leila speaking with a poisoner! From him she bought three vials!"

"Three vials," repeated Lady Lightning. Her husband. Her. Her son. Though her face was still, her mind was spinning with plans. "Thank you for telling me."

She was loyal to her husband - indeed, it could be said that she loved him - but she could not bear to do nothing when her son was in danger.

After a few days, she sent a footman she knew she could trust across the capital to contact her old friends. She provided one with enough money to rent some rooms across the Drowned Land.

Next, she asked her husband if she could visit her mother, who she said lived in the countryside. He gave his consent thoughtlessly, because she had been obedient to him all their married years. Already he had forgotten her warnings about his sister. And so within three days the former maid left the palace with her young son.

(Her mother had died before she came to work at the palace, and in all that time the Lightning Lord had never thought to ask, or if she'd told him he'd forgotten.)

Instead of doing as she'd told her husband, Lady Lightning and her son Matthew hid with her old friends, then took a boat across the Drowned Land and into the Cities of Glass.

The Lady Lightning found work quickly. Matthew went to a local school, where right away he was admired as the best boy at drawing and at math. He began to forget about his life in the palace, as the pampered son of the Lightning Lord.

Only one thing happened to remind him of his old life. One day, a month after their escape, he came home from school and his mother was home first.

"Mom?" he said.

She folded him into her arms and began to cry. He was confused, so he did what his mom did whenever he cried. He patted her on the back and said, "It's all right, it'll be all right. We're all right." Then, because he couldn't think of anything else, he added, "And I love you." She just cried harder.

There was a letter on the countertop. It read:

"There's been a coup. Lady Leila's son is the new Lord of Lightning."

Matthew's father was dead.


This is one of the stories that I'm tossing around in my head for when I finish revising The Utopia Project. I've been thinking about it because it, like the amazing Welcome to Bordertown, is urban fantasy.

Electricity demons, Californian history, and a trombonist main character who's not afraid to shoot for the ledger lines. I look forward to writing this one. In fact, as I leave for vacation today, I'm bringing along this story in my brain.

Friday, December 14, 2012


I realized I haven't posted my art in a long time. Have some sketches:
Lorenzo Donati, from the not-yet-story SF. A knight, the crown prince's best friend.

Clockwise from top left:
  • Andreas Kale (Unwise Ones) - healer, oboist
  • Orsolya Markov (Unwise Ones) - Peacekeeper from the Metallic Citadel
  • Amedea (Amy) Lewis (Unwise Ones) - trombonist, go-getter
  • Radu (Utopia Project) - elite gang member, kidnapped

Lots and lots of sketches: geometric doorways, buildings, images from dreams.

Friday, December 7, 2012

After the Ice notes, pt. 2

Continued notes from Steven Mithen's After the Ice.

Wrangel Island mammoths: “200 km north of Siberia” (252) at time of Old Kingdom Egypt

Planning a trip across spacetime

Itinerant among several cave systems

Volcanic crater called Palli Aiki in Patagonia

Cut sections out of the root system of a poisonous tree

“Beyond the rocks there is a grassy plain, and then a lake, which blends imperceptibly with the distant sky” (266) - puna of the Peruvian Andes

Massive dams

Epiphytes: “plants which attach themselves to another for support and extend wandering tentacles through the air” (275)

Butchery is a long business

Cascadia: southern Alaska to Norcal - “deep fjords, convoluted sea passages and many offshore islands” (297) - most complex hunter-gatherer societies ever - salmon fishing, diverse hunting and gathering

Wargata Cave, Tasmania: impenetrable rainforest, Kutikina Cave, hand stencils with blood pigment

Imbracite: glass from Darwin Crater, bedrock -> glass because of meteor

Teeth, shells, and stone; upland glaciers; extinct lakes; charcoal and red ochre

Megafauna and “civilized” people - in Australia (Liverpool Plains) ~ 4000 C - Diprotodon (rhino-sized wombat)

In harsh environments, knowledge of landscape spiritually ingrained - storytelling and dances to communicate vital knowledge

Ritual: burning grassland (implicit: new growth)

Animal masks, elaborate headdresses

Ritual fight gone wrong -> real -> unleash something

Polygyny -> lots of fighting to reduce the supply of men

Animal with plant limbs - “yams and waterlilies” (333)

Aboriginal Dreamtime: Rainbow Serpent changes among snake/kangaroo/crocodile, created bodies of water

Myths having basis in environmental changes: misplaced causality

A good thing once unjustly seized becomes bad

Dense population -> social tension and violence

Lowland source: muddy water; mountain source: sediments

Valleys hidden in the mountains, not just one unending range; an enclave, intermontane

“Ridges from which he can see the huge expanse of forest climbing over hills to disappear under heavy cloud” (340)

Axes made from shell

Sundaland: prehistorical Southeast Asian landmass - Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Java, Sumatra - “forest and mangrove swamp” (351) - primordial, dangerous, overpowering, few flowers, dark, humid

Aerial roots, so trees “appear to begin in mid-air” (351)

Butterflies drink sweat? Ominous - revisit butterfly story? everyone at the coast because butterflies rule the forest

In rainforest: birds, turtles, frogs, fish, prawns, crabs, wild cattle; tubers (for carbohydrates), ferns, fruits, shoots

Forest streams tied to culture; ghosts and gods

Rhinos and hyenas in China (Ailuropoda-Stegodon fauna)

Ichang Gorge: “fantastic towers of curiously splintered and weathered rock” (360) - limestone on Yangtze

Wild rice = Oryza rufipogen

Morphology: form; physiology: function

Two claims: one outrageous, one moderately unusual - state the outrageous one needs more investigation, support the moderate

Intricate Jomon pottery vessels - snake-rims

To make acorns unbitter: ash or burial

Use a caldera as a cauldron for big magic

Pig-traps: “narrowing walls to tightly wedge the pig once it [falls] in” (377)

Find mollusks and clams - depressions in the sand - stack shells lips-down in sand, put grass on top and light on fire

Dolphin bones

High Arctic, Russian Far East

Oak, elm, birch; bear, fox, boar; to north, conifers

Russian Federation: Sakha Republic in Siveria

“waves of fores-covered hills that rhythmically rise and fall before fading gently into sky” (382)

Siberian bison; mammoth steppe

Dwellings marked by boulders

Raw meat good for health at high latitudes

Mammoths frozen under snow and ice (Berezovka) - ate glowers; Berelekh mammoth cemetery

Conifers in article: slow growth (time capsules), toxic, unpleasant to eat, decompose slowly, big root systems

“Midsummer arrives and the skies become pastel, often like the mother-of-pearl from inside a shell. Strange haloes and coronas frequently appear around the sun and moon” (386-7)

Hunt swans and seals

Zhokov: polar bear as primary food source - butcher by removing lower legs and feet; cut apart head to remove canines and brain

Chalcedony; obsidian from where?; chert (what color?) and jasper

Clothes of reindeer skin - scrape with stone flakes set in bone handles, rinse, soak in urine; sinew thread soaked in seawater

Bladder-skin bags to collect water

Collect potentially useful stuff without having a specific purpose

Know specific polar bears

Indian ostriches in Thar desert - eggshells as beads

Kurnool Caves: limestone crags; the Charnel-house, Purgatory, the Cathedral

Boulders rising above trees

Generation ~ 25 years

Bolan and Kybar Passes: key routes into South Asia

Ancient burial at Mehrgarh: “red cloth shroud and a string of seashells” (409)

Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan; copper bracelet

Drive cattle through flames to kill parasites

“Mountain gorges open into wooded valleys edged by banks of scree which provide occasional glipses of jagged snow-covered peaks” (414)

Wild roses

Aq Kupruk: the White Bridge - Afghanistan

Knives, bracelets, and coins; bone pins, stone beads

Tying vulture/eagle wings to arms

Between hills and plain; walk between roofs on thick walls

Stone raptor heads (Nemrik, Iraq)

Umm Dabaghiyah: seasonal residences - hunting season - related paintings and shrins

Collected articles from various languages

“the distant Sinjar hills, furrowed with countless ravines, each marked by dark purple shadows that melted into the evening haze” (436)

“maze of mud-brick walls and alleys” (437)

Nile delta: “a vast expanse of lagoons, marshes and scrubby woodland, cut apart by a spider’s web of streams” (444) - annual flooding, so camp on dunes

Sansaveria: succulent plant in Rift Valley, also called olduvai; antiseptic juices, bind wounds

Headless animal images; combine human-animal forms

A tiger among cattle: evil v. good or Ubermensch v. the last man?

Chapter 50 title: Thunderbolts in the Tropics

Rock paintings attributed to gods and spirits

Lots small lakes: remnants of one big lake

Tadrart Acacus: Sahara’s central massif - sandstone and schist

Willow leaves: soporific, keeps sheep subdued; buckets of hide

Other writers: Paul Theroux
Among the Mountains, Wilfred Thesiger
Trans-Europe walking: Nicholas Crane, Patrick Leigh Fermor
Across Australia, Balwin Spencer and Frank Gillen
Archaeology of the Dreamtime, Josephine Flood
Stone Age Economics, M. Sahlin
African Trilogy, Peter Matthiessen
Maasai practical reasoning linked to cattle - J. G. Galaty

Friday, November 30, 2012

After the Ice notes pt. 1

A note on schedule: for the next four weeks I'm going to be swamped with school stuff, and then over break I'll be away. I've recently been thinking about a number of writing-related issues - but those must wait. For the rest of the year I'll be posting notes from my readings, or writing excerpts. Hope you enjoy.


Story ideas, information, &c I got from reading After the Ice, by Steven Mithen.

Carcass on the river

Ligaments and sinews for thread and cord; bone needles

Meeting of H. sapiens and H. erectus in Asia?

Gazelles in Central Asia

Ch. 3 Title: “Fires and Flowers”

Azraq: oasis, described by T. E. Lawrence

Hunters: gather at oases in winter, in steppes/desert in summer

Dwellings cut into the earth

Dentalium shells often used in Mediterranean jewelry

Between woodland and steppe: water, game, plants

Animals smaller when domesticated

Gardens with significant plants (sentimental as well as real value): traditions, gifts, etc.

Separate wheat from chaff by agitating or sieving

Dwellings only for sleep: most life in open

Hunter-gatherers: intense periodic gatherings in large groups, rest of the time dispersed in small groups

“nether world between history and myth” (46)

When food shortages, less growth, males more affected

Hallan Cemi Tepesi: ancient village in Zagros region - architecture?

Walls to protect against flood

Skull cults, reburials

Early Neolithic Jericho and Jordan River Valley: “small circular dwellings, burials placed below floors, rituals associated with skulls, reliance on wild game and the cultivation of either wild or possibly domestic…plants” (63)

Mother goddess and bull god

Communal storage at center of village: also for rituals

Skulls on the wall, pillars carved with wild animals

Meet on the mountain: religious sites for gathering

Cappadocia: obsidian; coral and bone

Plaster: powdered lime and water; can be painted

Wadi Gharabi: valley of ravens

Petra (2000 years old): “rock-cut temples and tombs” (73)

Leaders know how much grain is stored

Cellar workrooms, placement of walls, models of animals; masks, robes, and headdresses

After domesticating animals, hunting wild game is prestigious

2-headed beasts (Marduk?), ghosts

Farming and herding must be separate to avoid environment degradation

Sculptures that combine human, bird, and snake in varied permutations (Nevali Cori cult building)

Catalhoyuk: “they climbed wooden ladders on to the roofs, dispersing and disappearing down a maze of rooftop pathways, steps and ladders that lead from tier to tier and house to house. Between the paths are plat mud roofs, some evidently used as workshops” (92)

A nightmare of bull heads, enormous deer; burning bones

“concentric wells and radial cells” (103)

Artemisia: successful shrub in 15000 BC Central Europe

Mountain avens: white flowers, Dryas octopetala

Doggerland beneath North Sea: when did it drown? After Mesolithic, when it was the heartland

[picture: Montgaudier Baton]

Reindeer butchery: remove head; skin body by cutting around hooves, along legs, peeling hide away while cutting sinews; lay hide out flat; cut open belly and remove innards, stacking “legs, pelvis,…ribs,…liver and kidneys” (125) on hide, while adding heart to meat, lungs to organs; cut out tongue; remove antlers

Food-sharing important for hunter-gatherers

In Stone Age, flint supervaluable - in chalk and limestone - may contain fossils or crystals

Minimum viable population about 500, usually meet once or twice a year, most of time in 25-50 person groups (4-5 families)

People travel very far for information - food, people, inventions

“flint, quartz, amber,…jet, [and] fossil shells” (129)

Groups cooperate for big annual hunts

Carr: “dense stands of trees in pools of water” (138)

Resin to attach arrow points; natural tunnets

Mas d’Azil: Mesolithic “supersite” - painted pebbles

Stories contain survival information

Mesolithic, floods, Neolithic

Black Sea was freshwater lake, then flooded by water from the Mediterranean: Noah flood?

“rounded grassy summits giving way to splintered stone” (158)

“swathes of wild lilac and honeysuckle that grew within the limestone ravines in which he listened to thunderous torrents and springs bursting from the earth” (159)

The Iron Gates: cliffs/gorges on the Danubs

Bone amulets, snail-shell beads

Lepenski Vir: melancholy fish-human stone statues [image]

Beluga sturgeon up to 9 meters long: river monsters

At Nea Nikomedeia: “polished effigies of frogs, beautifully carved from green and blue serpentine” (164)

Know: where, when, how

Pushkari in Ukraine: dwellings of mammoth bone and hide

Olneostrovski Mogilnik: Deer Island cemetery in Lake Onega, Karelia; heads point east; 2 lineages (elk and snake) - effigies, shamans interred almost standing

Bear tusks

Frontier mentality: speedy colonization, jumping from one favorable patch to another

Saami believe “swans and wildfowl were the messengers of the gods” (land, sea, air), “moving between different worlds”

Lots of fish -> parasites -> bloated stomach, pale face

Sandfire in canoe attracts eels

Deer v. boar cloak-pins at Hoedic and Teviec (respectively)

Hybrid hunting-gathering and farming lifestyle, pick and choose indicates local adopted selectively, instead of a takeover

Peripatetic: itinerant

Beringia: land bridge between Siberia and Alaska, now flooded

Sandstone cliffs, small caves, wall-paintings

Current American Indians different from First Americans to cross the land bridge - what was the conflict?

Labyrinthine mountains and valleys; high glacier valleys

Megalakes formed by meltwaters from ice sheets

Drunken woodlands: forest floor -> water, “on soil which lay upon stagnant layers of ice” (243) - tilted trees

Glyptodont: “giant armadillo-like creature” (244) central American rainforest

Something dwelling in a frozen lake

Friday, November 23, 2012


To the starlight, which
Has traveled a very long
Way: I'm glad you came.


Written November 2012.


Last night, after my family got back from a Thanksgiving party at which I watched Inception for the fourth time and ate about six chocolate-chip cookies, I noticed, for the first time in a long time, the stars. So I stood out in the yard for a while, my cat twining around my ankles, and stared up at the sky.

Everything fades. You are small, small, small - but it's not a bad feeling. The universe is so large. There's room in it for you to breathe.

A piece of scientific knowledge that never, ever grows stale:
"We are star stuff, a part of the cosmos...I'm not just speaking generically or metaphorically here. The specific atoms in every cell of your body, my body, my son's body, the body of your pet cat, were cooked up inside massive stars. To me, that is one of the most amazing conclusions in the history of science, and I want everybody to know about it."
-Alek Filippenko, quoted in The Canon by Natalie Angier


If you tilt your head back far enough, you can feel as though you're about to fall into the night sky. And maybe you can.

A small suggestion:

Friday, November 16, 2012


(Somewhat of a rambling post today. I have a lot of thoughts I haven't yet sorted out to my satisfaction.)

I am always in the process of putting my house in order - to-do lists proliferate with unseemly haste - so now that football season is over, I'm starting to look forward to a more regular schedule.

But I wonder: Newton's first law notwithstanding, is it natural to live in a state of flux? Looking ahead, I can see that the next ten years are going to be full of change: college, graduate school, working and living on my own in the real world. To be honest, it scares me sometimes.

Dangerous side effects include acute apathy: nothing I do will matter in ten years, so why bother? Why should I get worked up over a grade in a class that's not relevant to my future? Why should I bother myself about people I'm probably not going to see again after I graduate?

Yes, I should take a philosophical view when people annoy me. But I still can't stomach the "everything is futile" mindset. I do believe that what I do matters. Maybe not the tests I take, but what I think and learn and create.


"Don't ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
-Howard Thurman

See also: Jungian concept of individuation, Justine Musk.

As long as I am doing something that fires my enthusiasm, that makes me feel joy, then it matters. And the unavoidable boring stuff is just fuel for my stories, or my (personal) story.

Thus: change is good, so long as it brings me new experiences to enjoy or to stack up like firewood, or to absorb into my character. But routine days, dependable schedules, are also necessary so that I get the chance to pause and process what's going on.

Admittedly, a high school student has little business talking about getting her life together - as I said before, everything is going to be different in ten years; any stability I establish now will be wiped out later. Except stability inside of myself, because I'm going to be the one living through the changes.

So, what is my point after all? Evolve but keep what works? I am dubious about elan vital, or fate, or anything of the like...time keeps going, and all endings are the same. I don't agree with that.

The things you do matter. Your stories, and the story of you. Perhaps this is not the best way to end a post; but I shall hit publish anyway, because closed systems are subject to entropy and only by getting this stuff out there can I hope for any resolution.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Good Hunting

The Buffalo Hunt
George Catlin

To learn things: swarm!

Since I've got a lot of stories in which war plays a part, I'm reading up. Here are Murphy's Laws of War, including:

1. The important things are simple.
2. The simple things are very hard.
3. No plan survives the first contact intact.
4. Perfect plans aren't.

Some reasons why smart people have bad ideas: not enough planning, too much emotional investment in a prototype idea, timidity. Also, people are bad at choosing worthwhile problems to solve because school trains us poorly.

Beginners are overconfident. Confucius: if you know what you know and you know what you don't know, then you truly know.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Dorothea Tanning
I've only read one story by Christopher Barzak ("We Do Not Come in Peace", in Welcome to Bordertown), but it was excellent and his book Birds and Birthdays seems like it'll be awesome. He wrote stories based on paintings by Surrealist women: Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning.

First of all, writing based on paintings is an excellent idea. Second, need more Surrealist art.

For more writing inspiration, check out workspaces at Write Place, Write Time.

A learning log sounds an awful lot like either a blog, a commonplace book, or a personal codex.

Contemplating the Shrine
Appolinari Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov

PCWrede suggests adding regional elements to fantasy.

Also: an enlightening post on the difference between the writer's and readers' perspectives.

MBTI chart.

Another Ryan Holiday post: pay attention. Every situation is telling you something.

Old Russia, a site I shall use as research for a story I have distilled.

Michael Scott, author of the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, on magic.

Theodora Goss explains the difference between contentment and joy.
"Contentment feels like swimming in a warm lake. Joy feels like standing on top of a high mountain, breathing clear, cold air."

"Song of Wandering Aengus", by William Butler Yeats.

Terri Windling with quotes: wilderness and myth.

RavenWood Forest: Songs Without Words. That entire site is essentially medicine for a turbulent mind.

Read Me to Sleep.

Star of the Hero
Nicholas Roerich

Good weekend, good hunting, good night.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Go Deep

Sorry for the late post. It's been a long week, and looks to be staying that way - I'm going back to posting only on Fridays for now.

Lately, I haven't felt as though I've been able to sit down and take stock, to course correct, &c. Every once in a while, it's necessary to review, and lately I haven't been doing that. In the everyday rush, I've been forgetting to live as though I'm in a story; I've been a water glider instead of a shark.

I suspect that, if I am not careful, I could fall into the patterns of freshman year. School will eat me if I let it.

How do I keep my soul away from the meat grinder?

On the weekends, it's easy. I sleep in, I read in bed, I go on long walks through the neighborhood. I write stories longhand. But I'm getting tired of playing catchup on everything from sleep to reading, and I still want to destroy the system.

How do I bring the weekend calm into my school days?

I think I can see part of the solution. On Thursday I finished a short story in the Unwise Ones storyline, a rather conventional school tournament story that introduces the main characters. At no point in the story did I really enjoy my writing; at no point did I break through the membrane between creator and creation, and live in the story.

It was a mediocre piece of writing, and I am somewhat disappointed, but now I know that I have to go deep. I may have finished revising the Utopia Project, but I must take up permanent residence in the dark waters of the mind.

So that this is not yet another complaining post, I shall offer some resources I shall use to help me. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year after all (everything, it seems, sneaks up on me when I'm chasing grades - I didn't do anything for Halloween either), but in the spirit of high word counts:

How I Went from Writing 2000 Words a Day to 10000 Words a Day by Rachel Aaron, with good practical advice.

For spiritual inspiration, I give you Holly Lisle's blog and Writing a Novel, by Theodora Goss:
But when I do work on [the novel], which is at least every other day, it’s hard to come back out. For a little while, I’m living so intensely inside my head, and when I come out, sometimes I forget what day it is, what I was supposed to do. I just want to be back in London with my girl monsters...
...because the novel is an expansion, it seems, of her excellent short story The Mad Scientist's Daughter. Reading the blog post, you can tell that she loves the story, that it means something, that working on it is more than just a chore.

May all our stories do the same for us.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Remember that game where you take a dream and write something based on it?



1/18/12: Chinese grocery store with lots of different rooms - antechambers - like a labyrinth or palace


All I wanted was a packet of instant noodles
A bag of lychee candy, perhaps,
Or exquisitely seasoned eel
Not to wander through hexagonal doors
Through exhibits of boar’s blood
Tanks of doomed fish, staring
At me with a dull sort of sympathy:

They’re trapped, too.

The first sample table I passed
Employees in smudged smocks
Offered potstickers and soy sauce
But now the men have thin beards
And queues, and the women
Mince around on lotus feet,
Swathed in silks. I want to tell them
My ancestors never bound girls’ feet
Not on my mother’s side, at least,
So they can stop looking at me like that:

As if we have anything in common.

I roll the shopping cart, which has become
Wood, and a donkey is in front of it
So I stop pushing. People shove,
Shout in dialects I don’t know
Though I recognize the phrase
“Capitalist running dog”, from
That one episode of that one drama
That I watched, hoping I’d feel more Chinese
Though my mind holds no analects
Beyond the irrelevant phrase:

We are going to lose him.

- which, I suppose, will suffice.


No, it suffices not. I'd like to revisit that ending - it seems a bit facile.

Btw: in January 2012 I was reading Borges' book Labyrinths. Make of that what you will.

Written September 2012. Sorry for missing Tuesday's post.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The System

This post is a quasi-rant. Be warned.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the school system hinders me. Most of the time I’m okay with school in the sense that I’m not actively wishing I was somewhere else - but most of the time, I’m also thinking that I could be spending my time more productively.

For example: in Italian, why do we spend so much time on localized activities that purport to review, say, possessive adjectives, instead of talking and reading in Italian and therefore getting a sense of how to put sentences together? Language grows organically, and I want to be able to hold a conversation in Italian more than I want to be able to conjugate (though, ideally, I’d be able to do both).

Another example: my history class rarely deviates from the daily quiz, notes/lecture format. I’d rather talk about religion or ethics or philosophy with the guy who sits behind me (the guy with whom I had the gourment v. glutton conversation).

I get that it’s important to understand our country’s history. But surely it’s more important for us to develop our own thoughts and opinions about topics, leading naturally to research into the past to make sure we have a solid foundation for our beliefs.

A third example, since I seem to be on a roll in dictating how my school should be run: my math teacher is excellent as far as the system goes. But with examples and notes and problem sets, I can see why some people have given up on math. Surely there’s a way of teaching math that shows how interesting it is.

I decided a while ago to take my education into my own hands. First, I’m reading all the books I’ve bought; I am also teaching myself how to code (progress reported on my other blog, Knowledge is Power). I’m also paying close attention to myself so I can figure out what to do for optimum performance.

Trouble is, the school system and my system sometimes fight - and because I care about my grades (what a shame, that so much of my pride is tied up in school), usually the external system wins.

Trouble is, also, that it goes against my instinct to work with the system: I want to bring it down.

So, at this point I’ve reached an impasse. On weekends I read all I want, explore, talk things through to myself. During the school week, homework eats my time. What to do?

I’m not sure. To do the things I want to do is to pile more work on myself; not to do them is to let the external system beat me. What to sacrifice, my sleep or my pride?

This isn’t a real answer, I know, and I don’t want to leave you with just my whining and speculative insurrection. So here is an image that, in my sleep-deprived mind, is relevant:
Drifting Clouds
Caspar David Friedrich

At the very least, it offers a refuge from the frustrations of the high school student. I mean, who values my time more than I do? No one. Who can best decide how to spend it? Being an arrogant sixteen-year-old, I say me. Certainly I know more about what's good for me than school administrators...

But enough. It will not be a restful weekend - but I must believe that I can be happy in the midst of it all. My life is, in relative terms, easy. And to bear this worthily is good fortune.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Myths, part I



East Asia:
-pearl as source of dragons' power
-Bardo Thodol: Tibetan guide to death + otherworld
-Kui Xing: exam god
-oracle bones

Asia Minor/Central Asia/Arabia:
-Barometz: vegetable lamb
-Bahamut: what lies beneath the darkness under the water under Bahamut is not known
-rukh: giant bird of prey
-Hadramaut: "death has come"
-Book of Kings/Shahnameh (Firdasi): Iranian legends
-Avesta: Zoroastrian holy book; Vendidad/Videvdat: Laws against Demons
-Angra Mainyu/Ahriman: Evil Spirit, archdemon, can be lizard/snake/youth
-all demons live in north
-demons: Aeshma (fury/outrage), Azhi Dahaka (three heads, six eyes, three jaws, lizards + scorpions)
-Ardvi Sura Anahita: water/ocean, source of life
-mace of Mithra: Mithraism popular with soldiers (sun god, slayed bulls, honor, courage)
-Tishtrya: god of rains, fights as white horse against Apaosha (black horse)
-seven regions of the world, central has humans, big as other six put together
-Saena Tree: World Tree
-Gaokerena: healing plant
-jadugar: magician/sorcerer
-riding through fire to prove innocence
-Tiamat: saltwater sea
-precious stones: those who sided with Ninurta, Sumerian war/hunt god
-Marduk: chief god of babylon, dragonslayer
-magi: interpreting omens/dreams, practice magic, astrology
-Enuma Elish: Mesopotamian Creation story
-Cybele: mother goddess

-"If Hell is a house, the house of Hades, it is natural that it have its watchdog; it is also natural that this dog be fearful." (Borges 59)
-Rhiphaean Mountains: where hypogriffs live
-Iolaus: companion of Hercules
-dryads - trees
-nereids/oceanids - sea
-naiads - lakes/streams
-oreads - mountains and caves
-napaea - glens
-alseids - groves
-Parthenope: dead siren, namesake of Naples
-Isis cult
-Bes: household god, amulets in battle
-Sekhmet: lion-headed war goddess
-Amalthaea: goat that nursed Zeus
-cult of Prometheus
-Asclepius: god of healing
-Roman festivals: Lemuralia, Feralia (day of dead, merged w/ Samhain), Floralia (spring fest, merged w/ Beltane)
-Vestal Virgins

Celtic Europe:
-Druidic nature worship: water heals, gods all around
-digging pits/shafts to commune with underworld
-stag gods
-mistletoe is sacred peace token
-horned one Cernunnos: fertility and abundance
-horse goddess Epona
-Morrigan: "phantom queen", horses, war, death
-Niamh: goddess of Irish otherworld

-Norns: Urd, Verdandi, Skuld; rule the fates of gods and men; also personal norns who decide individual fates
-Aesir and Vanir: two races of gods
-sacrifices by hanging at temple of Uppsala, Sweden
-Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
-World Serpent Iormungand
-Heimdall: watchman, herald of the end of the world
-Caucasian demon: Syrdon
-Gefion: virgin goddess, associated with ploughing
-Ginnungagap: "beguiling void" btw. Muspel (fiery south) and Niflheim (frozen north); site of creation
-Embla: elm or vine, one of first two humans
-Bifrost: rainbow connecting Asgard to midgard

-white stone latyr from which all rivers come
-submerged city Kitezh
-water-dwelling dragon Chudo-Yudo
-not allowed to let the fire go out
-leshii: forest spirit, must follow rules of the hunt or get led astray/killed
-"In still waters devils dwell." (Warner ?)
-rusalka: kind of like sirens
-Koshchei the Immortal: hides death "in a duck's egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a box, at the food of an oak tree, on an island in the middle of the ocean"
-"She came, that evil murderess, cold from the blue sea, hungry from the bare open field." (Warner ?)
-Marya White Swan: sorceress
-"walking near and far, low and high, shallow and deep"
-malevolent magpies
-unwillingly receiving sorcerous knowledge
-koldun: male wizard, killed only by brass button, hair has special powers
-throw handkerchief, create bridge/lake/sea
-Baba Yaga's chicken-leg house, gate of human bones
-"beyond the thrice-nine lands, in the thrice-ten kingdom"

South America:
-tigre capiango: werejaguars
-Popol Vuh: Mayan Holy Book
-Huitzilopochtli: Aztec war/sun god, "blue hummingbird of the left"
-Tezcatlipoca: "lord of the smoking mirror", summer sun, harvest, drought, darkness, war, death; obsidian mirrors used to predict future

North America:
-Great Serpent Mound in Ohio
-Iroquois myth: giant stone people of the west
-Sedna: Inuit sea goddess, queen of the underworld

Sub-Saharan Africa:
-Cagan: Kalahari creator god, magic power in teeth

-Dreamtime, walkabout
-Rainbow Serpent: creation and fertility

-dragon hiding stone in brain: carbuncle
-mirror worlds
-"For the dignity of science it was essential that Salamanders exist." (Borges 197)
-in the summer dragons drink elephant blood
-start with a formless deep (Nu/Nun)
-rejection of human sacrifice
-new year celebration in spring


Need to learn more about: East Asia, Rome, Scandinavia, Americas, Africa, Australia. This site looks promising.


Borges, Jorge Luis, and Margarita Guerrero. The Book of Imaginary Beings. New York: Dutton, 1969. Print.

Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh. Persian Myths. Austin: University of Texas, 1993. Print.

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About Mythology. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.

Page, R. I. Norse Myths. Austin: University of Texas, 1990. Print.

Warner, Elizabeth. Russian Myths. Austin: University of Texas, 2002. Print.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Little Things

Even with Monday off, it's been an exhausting week. I feel as though I'm getting more and more weeks like that - an avalanche of schoolwork, my own initiatives, all piling up higher and higher...

But I'm all right. So, partly for myself and partly because others might want to know, here are some little things that get me through:
  • angry music
  • rereading old Goss posts
  • writing
  • cold tap water
  • cloudy skies
  • imagining that I am:
  • here
    or here
    or here
  • reading poems like "Thanatopsis"
  • "...When thoughts
    Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
    Over thy spirit, and sad images
    Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
    And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
    Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
    Go forth under the open sky..."
  • writing, and writing, and writing

What little things keep you sane?

Good weekend, my friends.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


Stanotte, vediamo le stelle?

Corriamo giu' per la collina
La luna un occhio torvo e cieco
L'erba ci prude le camicie
Mentre ci sdraiamo per terra
Sopra di noi il cielo si apre
Piu' scuro dei tuoi occhi ma meno profondo
Non sai come sei meraviglioso?
Non sai che il tuo sorriso e' una cometa?
E' raro, e bellisimo
Un universo nasce nel tuo viso
Quando sono con te, tocco il firmamento
Sei piu' celestiale della luna
Non ho bisogno della nerezza giu'
Perche' tu sei il mio cielo
Amore, sei tutto

Vediamo le stelle, eh?


Da S a L. Si innamora(no) moltissimo.


I decided to translate Sidereal into Italian because the characters involved are in an alternate-history Tuscany. Thoughts? My grammar okay?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Verisimilitude and Falseness

All writers must deal with verisimilitude.

(Okay, I can think of a counterexample: the avant-garde meta writer who throws together every bizarre element possible to make a point about reality and its fluidity. But even then, without some sense of groundedness the work will be dismissed as something produced under the influence of drugs.)

Most fantasy writers want their magic systems to feel like they could kind of work, that the sorcery, given the rules the writer has made up, is plausible. Scifi writers, too, may loosen the screws of physics a little, but will maintain internal consistency.

Historical writers research. (Fine: Shakespeare had rifles in ancient Greece.) Contemporary writers adhere to the rules of the world as they are today - Riordan characters go to school, have issues with the opposite gender, behave like modern adolescents.

But I'm not sure if any of this (except the last part) has a direct bearing on what has been bothering me lately about my own writing.

Can you write a lesson you have yet to learn? Can you portray characters whose personal development is farther along than yours? Who have lived longer, more, more fully than you?

How can you write truthfully, respectfully, thoroughly, and realistically about people who are completely different from you? This is not a rhetorical question. I want to know.

Some experiences cannot be understood except by those who have gone through them. If you haven't, what can you do, how can you think, so that when you do write about the experience, it rings true?

How much do you need to research in order for your writing to pass muster when inspected by credible people? Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, incredibly, was not written by a soldier. What did he do, that I can use as a guide, when I write about war?

I may speak only obliquely of Death. Today, a small ensemble from my school's band played at a funeral. I did not know the man who died; his younger daughter, who plays trumpet, has exchanged perhaps five words with me. My grandfather, whom I met only twice many years ago, died late 2011. My sister's hamster died when I was in sixth grade.

What do I know of Death? What can I say? I put great faith in the power of my imagination, but it feels wrong, somehow, to imply that I have had truck with grief.

I have never been in love. Currently, I have feelings that asymptotically approach a crush, so I know what it's like to stare at someone and feel you can never look enough, to feel the tension go out of your shoulders at the sound of a voice, to get teased by friends (or in my case, friend singular) who know of your interest.

But love? I've never felt that. I've never even had romantic feelings reciprocated. My image of "true love" is a partnership between equals who respect one another's independence and who, when necessary, rescue each other from fortresses.

Is it actually like this? I feel as though my image is more accurate than Romeo and Juliet's superficial all-consuming attraction. I don't believe in love at first sight. Am I right, or have I just not seen enough of life?

Research takes you only so far. Theory falls short of practice. Are there other ways to overcome the problem, or do you have to accept that there are experiences and themes about which you have no right to speak?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Villa, pt. I

Let me tell you about my villa.

It doesn’t exist yet, except in my head, and even there, not completely. Speaking about it will make it exist more: so shall I do.



The villa is perched on a hill overlooking the ocean. You get up to it by a winding pathway, broad enough for two bicycles side by side but narrow enough that cars are distasteful.

The paving stones are mostly gray, but you pass spirals, nebulae, suns. The path’s borders burst with graceful trees, some of which have signposts nailed to them: Giardino dei Sogni, La Mar, Zauberschloss. Dirt tracks edged in driftwood and seastones wind away into their shade.

Benches with metal sides and wooden seats recline almost out of sight along these paths. Some have claw feet. Others sprout iron branches, iron leaves, iron flowers with glass marble centers. One, facing the ocean, is shaped like the shell from which Venus stepped, and if you look closely you will see fish fossils hidden among the flutes.

When you finally reach the top of the hill, a semicircular courtyard greets you. In the center is a statue of a monster covered in eyes: if you count them, you will discover that there are 108.

The villa reclines across the courtyard, sphinxlike, more noble than elegant, more patrician than graceful. As you cross the courtyard, you feel your back straighten.

Stairs cascade down from the imposing double doors: broad steps, on which perhaps a cat sleeps in the sun. Marble steps, though rough-surfaced in case it rains. You walk up to the first terrace, and from this perspective you can see carvings hidden in the threshold. When you get to the second terrace, you see a mural on the ceiling of the doorway. Eyes look down from a mass of vines - strange eyes, that seem to follow you.

Two niches line the sides of the deep doorway. Sometimes they hold flowerpots; other times, they hold urns in which feathers are planted, and twigs, and rusted old keys.

There is no conventional doorbell. Instead, you fill out a calling card, and clip it to a string that dangles from the mouth of a snake carved around the doorway. Through a rectangular pane of glass you see the gears moving as your name and message disappear, shooting up out of sight into the villa’s insides.

Now, you have nothing to do but wait by the door for the master of the house to receive you.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Good Hunting

Dashi Namdakov

PCWrede on subplots: "subplots grow organically out of the events in the story, like the leaves growing out of the stem of the rose."

In case I ever get invited to talk on the radio, I'll refer to this post.

Monika Victoria's adventures in the museums of Vienna.

Hecate Demeter has excellent taste in poetry: "What We Need is Here" (Wendell Berry)

Also: "We Must Risk Delight" (Jack Gilbert)

The beginner's guide to wooing the poem. I found this passage enlightening and amusing:
"In passing, slip the poem a scrap of paper with a phone number on it. Your phone number? NO! Not your phone number, numbskull. A tattoo parlour for gazelles; a museum of impossible things; a Transylvanian undertaker; the Ritz. Anyone but you."

"Elegy. Blind Musician."
Mikhail Nesterov

Read more. "I see books as direct conduits to the past, and the most reliable way that we have to receive important information from other people, living or dead."

Remember to sample the local magic. This is what I want Protagonist Club, and this blog, to be about: looking at the everyday through the lens of story.

I suspect on the enneagram I am a type one winged nine.

Ever since creating the character Vin, seeing the name Vincent seems like a good luck charm. This post about the creative impulse reinforced that.

Appolinari Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov

Justine Musk on what fiction writers should blog about:
"And as fiction writers, we have our obsessions: those questions that we’re compelled to ask again and again, entering the same theme through different doorways, like Monet and his water lilies or Degas and his dancers.

How could you take one of those questions and put it at the center of your blog?

Instead of using it as a catchall drawer for random musings, why not turn your blog into a personal quest through asking, researching and answering or exploring different aspects of that central question?"
What is this blog's central question? What's yours?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The last one was just a child.

People had been disappearing from the coastal town for generations. Centuries, perhaps, ever since the reign of King Mateu as one legend went; maybe even millennia, when the Shoiy civilization whose ruins still dotted the headland was flourishing in the trade of apples, malachite, and stories. Why else would the silent old temples be carved with images of people being dragged into the ocean by long arms?

But it was usually an adolescent. About once every eight years, someone disappeared. Perhaps the oldest daughter went out to haul water from the stream and didn’t come back; perhaps the middle son decided to go fishing and was never heard from again. A fisherman would see his second daughter, recently returned from the Island of the weather wizards, standing on the shore, but she wouldn’t be home in the evening when he got back. Or a mother would see her soldier son home, eyes shadowed by what he had seen, and in the morning she’d shoo him out to get some fresh air, and in the evening he’d still be gone.

Runaways, they said in other towns.

Sirens, they said in this one.


It was impossible to keep your children away from the ocean. You could send them to the Island, but they’d have to come home sometime. You could send them inland, to the armies of the Metallic Citadel, but if you did that you might as well kill your child yourself.


She was eight years old and her name was Marcella. Her father was a weather wizard, and her mother was an herb woman.

Her neck was draped with amulets – a bronze falcon wing, a silver circle with the sacred words of Luna, a scarab, a crow feather to symbolize the oath of black Morgael. She had to stay inside an hour after eating fish because otherwise the sirens would, her mother said, think she was one of them and call out to her. Every morning her father sprinkled purified water on her forehead and spoke a prayer to the Wise One.

It was all useless.

All the gods they invoked had their own powers, their own jurisdictions. The Wise One, most powerful deity in existence, creator of all magic, was not helpful; Morgael, two-sided life and death goddess, had no effect. Caught up in their grand, but human, magics, Marcella’s parents could not see what was immediately apparent to anyone who chose to see.

No one can rule the ocean.


It was a beautiful day. The sky was overcast, the ocean a vast wrinkled span melting away into the distance.

Marcella was exploring. She scrambled over the seaside rocks, the wind whipping her hair into her eyes and making the amulets clink together softly. Above wheeled a seagull, white against white clouds, a drop of cream in milk. Behind her the village women were calling out to one another as they did their work. The other children, the ones who weren’t working anyway, shouted in their games.

But she wasn’t looking at them, she was looking at the ocean. It didn’t usually draw her in like this, but today the rhythm of the waves coming in on the shore seemed to have replaced the beating of her heart.

If Marcella could talk to any of the others who had been taken, they’d have told her that this was the first warning.

All sound faded away except the murmuring of the ocean. A friend called her name – “Marcella, Marcella, do you want to play tag with us?” – and she didn’t hear it because a deeper, slower, irresistible voice was calling from the depths.

That was the second warning.

She found she needed to be at the shore, needed to get as close to the water as possible. Ignoring her friends, Marcella scrambled down the cliff face, scraping her hands on the rocks and sliding on the lichens to bang her knees against the limpets. She didn’t care. She dropped onto the shell-and-stone beach and ran to the water’s edge, not even noticing how the debris cut her feet. Third warning, given with no heed.

For a moment she stood there, breathing hard, arms spread wide out to catch the spray. Her pupils were dilated, the brown of her irises just a faint ring.

(They thought it was only blue-eyed people whom the ocean took. False. Utterly false.)

There were no sirens on the water that day. Marcella, if any of the village people ever saw her again, could give witness to the sirens’ innocence. It wasn’t them, oh no, it was not the cold sea-maids with their streaming hair and webbed hands. It was a thing at once simpler and older and less trivial, more powerful more beautiful more necessary.

The ocean.

The ocean.

The ocean.

How could she ever have thought she could live without it? How could she ever have thought a life outside of it could be bearable?

Marcella took a step out and her legs were washed up to the calves by the incoming tide. She took another step and it was up to her waist. And other step – her neck. Another.


Her mother wept and wailed when she did not come home that night. Her father sank down to his chair with a grief no less large for all his reservation. But they needn’t have bothered.

She was smiling as the water closed above her head.

My, how beautiful it was!


Written November 5 2011 for English class. Set in the GW world, though a couple centuries before the main storyline. Thoughts?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Calling All Protagonists

Sometimes, I get desperately envious of characters in my stories. Right now, I'm working on a synopsis/distillation of a story I plan to write, set in Russia under Tsar Alexander III, in which three boys who room together at a reform school learn magic and find their ways in the world.

A few weeks ago, I was working on a short story called "Mind Butcher". In one scene, the main character Vin goes off to college, where he will finally be able to talk about fascinating subjects with intelligent people.

Once I'm done with the distillation I'm working on, I'll begin another in which a group of radical thinkers belonging to the pan-European Promethean Society attempt, through a young girl called Marilla, to break the aristocratic monopoly on advanced magic in the Age of Metternich.

Conclusions? 1. I really liked AP Euro. 2. I want that.

"That" defined by the following points:

-a small group of companions
-common enthusiasm for fascinating topics
-state of high imagination
-discussion, debate, conversation, collaboration


Protagonist Club:
Life is an adventure. Magic is real. Mystery lives.

1. think in terms of story
2. seek out small adventures
3. plan extraordinary adventures


I said I didn't know exactly how to execute this idea. Here are some ideas:

-sharing ideas for how to live with a high magic to mundane ratio
-group codex/constitution (guess what we're learning in history...)
-book group elements: everyone contributes a top-10 favorite booklist
-writing circle: collaborate on a story, or create a common world (a la Bordertown)

I'd love to hear yours.


Recently I read Rules of Thumb by Alan M. Webber. The book focuses on business, but when I was thinking of Protagonist Club in terms of a club meeting physically, I thought that a startup atmosphere might approach what I imagine.

In one rule of thumb, about maintaining emotional stability, Webber set forth four requirements:

1. a team that works together well
2. ability to laugh at everything
3. loud music
4. good food

How precisely does this tie in? I don't know myself, but I feel as though it is relevant.

In another book I read, for group meetings the venue should be comfortable, private, and accessible.


How about here, for the first meeting?

Or, perhaps, here?

Tell me your thoughts. After all, we have much to discuss.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gourmet v. Glutton

Today I had a discussion with a friend about varying qualities of literature, and it has left me with many thoughts (thus: three posts this week, instead of two). I'd like to hear your opinions, also.

My friend asked me what my favorite books are. I said that while Meditations (Marcus Aurelius) has influenced me more than any other book I've read, I also enjoy reading children's fantasy books - which my friend promptly decried as pulp fiction.

Fair enough: while I found Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx (James Rollins) a diverting read, it was not particularly nutritious to my intellect, not in the way that a literary book - I forget what example my friend cited, but it was one of those books that you assume only smart people read - might.

Me: "The percentage of high literature I've read is probably close to five."

My friend: "You read that much junk?!"

At which point I said that books are not divided into solely categories of high literature/the classics (which, for our discussion, we defined as books that have scholarly commentary/analysis) and junk.

For example: good books that do not have dissertations written about them; nonfiction; complex genre fiction. From the standpoint of someone who only reads classics, yes, the other stuff may all look like junk - just as someone who eats only food prepared by a highly-trained chef will not know about quality fare produced with fewer credentials.

Both my friend and my sister have said to me that they don't want to waste their time on books they don't know will be good. Hence, the disdain of non-literary books.

I have a different perspective, in part because reading is my recreation (instead of watching movies/TV or...or...what else do people do in their down time?) and in part because I am a writer, and perhaps the only "rule of writing" on which there is consensus is that to write, you must first read.

Reading gluttons, like me, read because we like reading. I could defend my affinity for action/adventure books by saying that they teach me about form/narration/characterization/&c, but really, when I read a book that boys in my grade venerated five years ago, I read it for the simple reason that I want to find out what happens next.

Reading gourmets, like my friend, read in order to, I'm hypothesizing, have the experience of enjoying something well put together, or to broaden their intellect.

If it sounds as though I am judging the gourmets - I'm not, at least no more than they judge us gluttons. They wish to read, but they do not wish to read anything but the best. It's a better reason to read the classics than for status -

(I always favor doing things for yourself over doing things for others.)

- and at least they read. But I cannot pretend that it does not irk me when the guy eating caviar looks askance at my Costco sushi.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Order isn't a wonderful thing, pulling nothing in front of a
Crown of existence and this means much from you
Precisely because it's your microcosm, yet you don't risk
Gaining little by its reconstruction.
No, you aren't a selfless person, drawing away from
Day, and wakefulness, and alertness, and order not your own.



Let me explain. Once at school a poet spoke with us and had us write acrostic poems, which we then put through the f(x) = -x box. The poem above is the result. The original is below.


Entropy is a terrible thing, drawing everything behind a
Veil of nonexistence but that means nothing to me
Even though it's my universe, and I stand to
Lose much by its disintegration.
Yes, I am a selfish person, reaching always for
Night, and sleep, and rest, and entropy of my own.


I have a rather large backlog of posts including notes, stories, poems, etc. Thus, until the backlog is cleared, I will go back to posting twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays).

Friday's post will be about the Protagonist Club.


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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Early Middle Ages

I accept Jackson Spielvogel's divisions, even though he is a Dummkopf with organization.

Germanic Kingdoms:

The Ostrogothic Kingdom of Italy: Emperor Zeno of the Eastern Empire used the Ostrogoths to defeat Odoacer; however, the Ostrogothic king Theodoric then declared himself ruler of Italy. He kept many Roman customs, but established the Ostrogoths as the controllers of the army.

This, coupled with religious tensions (the Ostrogoths were Arian Christians, considered by the Italians to be heretics), made Ostrogoths rule unpopular. Shortly after Theodoric’s death, Byzantine troops under Justinian reconquered Italy. Ravenna replaced Rome as the Western capital.

In Spain, the Visigoths were more successful at mixing with the native population because they converted to Catholicism and intermarried with the Hispano-Romans. However, disputes over succession undermined the stability of the Visigothic Kingdom.

The Frankish kingdom long outlasted the other German states. Under the rule of Catholic king Clovis (482-511), the lands of the Franks extended to include all of modern France and much of western Germany. The line of Clovis, called the Merovingian dynasty, ruled the Franks (who were divided among three kingdoms) for two hundred years.

However, the nobility formed by the mixing of Germans and Gallo-Romans was growing more powerful at the king’s expense; the major domus was also becoming more powerful. Meanwhile, commerce and cities declined. In the 700s, former major domus Charles Martel became the de facto king of the Franks.

After Roman troops withdrew from Britain, the Angles and Saxons moved in. They fought against the Celts.

Germanic societies were much different from Romans. Because the social structure leaned heavily on the extended family, crimes often lead to blood feuds; to preempt the violence that often resulted from this, the system of the wergeld arose, assigning a monetary value to a murdered person.

Trials by ordeal were common. Childbearing women were highly valued, since that was their primary function. Men usually arranged marriages to benefit the family.

Development of the Christian Church:

The Church’s “Latin Fathers” influenced medieval thought. Augustine argued for the necessity of secular powers and celibacy, while Jerome translated the Bible into Latin.

By the 400s, the bishops of Rome had become more important, saying they were meant to be the successors of the apostle Peter. This position would eventually develop into the papacy.

Many church authorities sought to increase their power over secular leaders; the decline of the Empire allowed them to do so in Italy. German leaders still held power over the church in the 400s. Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) increased the powers of the Roman Catholic Church by turning the areas around Rome into the Papal States and making converts in England and Gaul.

The monastic movement was important in aiding his efforts. Early monks, the first of which were Egyptian, were solitary ascetics; Benedictine monks, however, emphasized moderation and communal life. Nuns were the female counterparts. Monks and nuns were seen as ideal Christians, and spread the religion throughout Europe.

Irish monks were more ascetic and preoccupied with education, including the creation of illuminated manuscripts. England also converted in the 600s; several pagan holidays were appropriated into the Christian calendar to aid the conversion.

Cassiodorus categorized secular knowledge into the seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic; arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Bede created a history of England.

Byzantine Empire:

Constantinople was the largest and commercially most important European city throughout the middle Ages. Its famed Hippodrome was an amphitheater whose chariot races provided citizens with political parties.

Justinian reigned as emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 527 to 565. His major accomplishments include the codification of Roman law in Latin, which formed the basis of Western law; rebuilding Constantinople after the Nika Revolt in 532, including the construction of the Hagia Sophia; and reconquering many parts of the Western Empire. However, these territories were quickly lost after his death.

In the 600s, emperors began turning away from the West and focused instead on consolidating their power in the eastern Mediterranean: in fact, beset by Muslim Arab tribes and Bulgars, the Eastern Empire could do nothing else if it wanted to continue to exist. It was this transformation that led to what is called the Byzantine Empire by the 700s.

The Byzantine Empire had several differences from European states. First, its official and common language was Greek rather than Latin. It also showed great unity between church and state, since the emperor chose the patriarch of Constantinople (equivalent to the pope in Rome). The main church controversy in the Byzantine Empire was that of iconoclasm.

Rise of Islam:

The Arabian Peninsula’s importance as a trade center increased in the 400-500s because of instability in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Desert nomads, the Bedouins, clashed with urban merchants. The Ka’ba was a sacred site in Mecca.

Muhammad (570-632) was the founder of Islam, which spread quickly throughout the Arab world after he conquered Mecca from Medina. The Qur’an contained the Five Pillars of Islam (shahadah, salat, zakat, siyam, and hajj); the Shari’a provided a law code. There was no division between political and religious power.

After Muhammad’s death, Islam spread quickly out of Arabia. Under his father-in-law Abu Bakr, Muslim forces took over the Persian Empire and Egypt; though they took the province of Syria, they could not completely overrun the Byzantines. In 661, a Schism occurred that split Islam between Sunnis and Shiites.

Islam continued to spread, however, under the caliphate of the Umayyad dynasty (capital: Damascus). In the 700s, Muslims captured the rest of Northern Africa and Visigothic Spain, though their expansion was stopped at the Battle of Tours in France. The Byzantine Empire was a buffer between Muslim lands and Christian Europe.

Europeans and the Environment:

Europe had low population density in the Early Middle Ages. There were many forests, and so little cultivated land that Europeans needed to hunt and fish to survive. Farming was difficult because Europeans couldn’t clear forests, and the soils of northern Europe were heavy. Drought and overmuch precipitation threatened; life expectancies and crop yields were low.

World of the Carolingians:

Charles Martel’s (see Germanic Kingdoms) son became king of the Frankish state in the mid-700s. He was anointed by a church representative. His son, Charlemagne (768-814), succeeded him and expanded the Carolingian Empire: he captured Lombardy quickly in 773 and Bavaria in 787-88, completely destroying the Avars in the process. He was unable to gain much from Spain, and only after much effort did he acquire Saxony in northeastern Germany.

To govern, Charlemagne gave land to nobles, relied on counts (though he tried to limit their powers by making them move around), and made efforts to reform the church. The papacy drew closer to the Frankish kings: in 799, the pope fled to Charlemagne’s court, and the year after crowned him as Emperor of the Romans.

Charlemagne presided over a Carolingian Renaissance, since he promoted learning. In monasteries, monks copied Christian and classical manuscripts. Books were expensive because they were made of parchment (not papyrus, because Egypt was Muslim); they were often illustrated and covered with jewels. The scholar Alcuin served at Charlemagne’s court and used Cassiodorus’ system of the seven liberal arts (see Development of the Christian Church).

The Catholic Church attempted to promote monogamy and marriage in contrast to the looser mores of Frankish marriages; it also tried to stop divorce. These measures increased the importance of the nuclear family.

Bread was the staple of the diet. Lacking that, peasants also had gruel. Upper classes ate pig and game; also, dairy products, vegetables, honey, and spices. The monastic diet contained 6,000 calories. Drinking was widespread; bathing, not so much.

Medicine often meant use of herbs and bleeding. Manuscripts contained advice for potions, surgeries, and magical rites (i.e. amulets).

Disintegration of the Carolingian Empire:

Charlemagne’s son, Louis the Pious, was a weak ruler. His sons divided the empire amongst themselves in the 843 Treaty of Verdun: to Charles the Bald went the Frankish lands; to Louis the German, the eastern; and to Lothar, the “Middle Kingdom” in between. Local aristocrats increased their powers in these years.

In the 800s, Muslim attacks began again in the Mediterranean. From western Asia emerged the threat of the Magyars, who fought against the Bulgars and Pechenegs and occasionally threatened Western Europe from where they’d settled in Hungary. In the late 900s, they converted to Christianity.

Vikings were a third threat. The frequency and magnitude of their raids increased in the 800s. Swedish Vikings established trading contact with the Byzantines and Arabs, via Slavic territories. Christian Viking converts served as buffers against other Northmen.

Emerging World of Lords and Vassals:

When governments decreased in importance and strength, people turned to lords for protection. Vassalage, from Germanic tradition, had lords give lands known as fiefs (very important in a society with little trade) to vassals in exchange for their military service. Knights emerged. Subinfeudation describes a hierarchy of lords and vassals, down to knights who did not have enough land to divide.

In 911, the dukes of the Germanic lands elected Conrad of Franconia to rule over the eastern Franks; he was soon replaced by Henry the Fowler, the first of the Saxon dynasty. His son, Otto I (936-73) relied on the clergy rather than nobles to govern; he also tried to Christianize the Slavs. The pope crowned him emperor in 962.

Similar circumstances occurred in the west: after the death of the Carolingian king, nobles chose a Frenchman, Hugh Capet, as king. However, the king’s lands were smaller than many held by other nobles; nevertheless, he made his title hereditary.

England became a kingdom through struggle against the Vikings. Alfred the Great of Wessex (871-899) fought off the Danes and encouraged learning; under his line England became an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. Sheriffs assisted the king in the shires.

The manorial system emerged as free peasants went into the service of lords in return for protection. Serfs, tied to the land and the lord, gradually came to outnumber free peasants. They paid taxes to the lords and tithes to the church. Up to 90% of the population was in agriculture; trade outside of local markets was often limited to luxury goods for the wealthy, traded with the Byzantine Empire and the caliphates.

Zenith of Byzantine Civilization:

The Byzantine Empire had a golden age in the 800-900s, beginning with the reign of Michael III (847-67). It was able to withstand attacks from Bulgars and Arabs, and conflicts with the pope. Under the highly skilled Macedonian Dynasty of 867-1081, the Byzantine Empire’s trade, Christian missionary activities in Eastern Europe, and land all increased.

Slavic People of Central and Eastern Europe:

Asiatic nomad tribes frequently invaded the European Plain and joined with the native Slavs. In the west, the Poles and Czechs were converted by Germans to Catholicism.

The southern Slavs and Bulgars became Eastern Orthodox, largely through the efforts of Byzantine missionaries such as Cyril, who created the Cyrillic alphabet.

Eastern Slavs faced the challenge of Varangians (Swedish Vikings), particularly the Rus, whose leader Rurik established his dynasty at Novgorod in 862. Rurik’s follower Oleg set up the Rus state at Kiev; later rulers accepted the Orthodox church largely as a way to establish order.

Expansion of Islam:

In 750, the Abbasid dynasty overthrew the decadent Umayyads and began to open the Islamic empire up to the influence of conquered people. The new capital of Baghdad led to much Persian influence. Though led by capable rulers, the Abbasids could not stop the Islamic world from fracturing along political lines: the Spanish emirate of al-Andalus broke away in 756 and the Fatimid caliphate of Egypt in 973.

However, the Islamic civilization as a whole thrived in the latter part of the millennium. Many great Muslim cities, such as Cordoba, Cairo, and Baghdad, were centers of learning and trade. Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian, is credited with inventing algebra. More than the Byzantine Empire or certainly Western Europe, Islam preserved and added to classical scholarship.


Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization, Seventh Edition. Canada: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.