Number 37

As I was taking an inventory and reorganising my chapters after spending several months brainstorming, drafting, and carefully inserting an entire new plot line (essential, of course) throughout my original draft, I discovered a few things about myself as an author.  Most notably, when if comes to chapters I have a strong preference for even numbers.  More, if the final chapter count ends odd I will feel twitchy and disgusting and just plain wrong until it evens out.

For want of a better term, I flipped out in the middle of the school staff room not too long ago (usually not a problem so far as embarrassment goes, but Ueda-sensei who I flipped out to/in front of has a grasp of English far surpassing that of many Japanese English teachers – I think she had a good idea what I was so upset about, and found it very funny ) on discovering for good and certain my novel’s last chapter was now number 37.  It didn’t matter than the total number of sections (37 + prologue + epilogue) was 39.  That, if possible, made matters worse.  That three and seven were a foul and evil combination, and just had to be dealt with.

It took some shuffling and renaming, but eventually that number 37 was sent back to the dark fires.  The original interlude had already been extensively altered, extended, and dubbed a full chapter, probably causing my intense problem – 36 wouldn’t have been so bad, and I think I could have even tolerated the total count being 39 in that case.  Eventually, the main thing done to rectify the issue was that the epilogue (which with the new story line had become far longer and in general less epilogue-esque) was turned in lucky chapter 38 and an entirely new epilogue was born.  The new epilogue, I think, is the best kind of epilogue – two pages long.  Had the original remained it would have been 24, and while a fine number in itself, I don’t think when someone sees the word “epilogue” they want to read another 24 pages.  While this did even my chapter count and bring the total count to wonderful, beautiful 40, this experience made me reflect on a few other novel number/length issues as well.

I could never write only one sequel.  I could never write a quartet.  The only acceptable number of books in a series in my mind is one, three, or seven.  I started planning a sci-fi quartet when I was 15 – that’s never going to happen now.  It should be squashed into a trilogy easily enough, though.

I worry about chapter lengths, too.  The longest chapter in the original draft of my first story was 90 pages of size 12 double-spaced Times New Roman.  Changing formatting helped a bit, but that chapter has since been slashed away at and divided up.  I try to go by the “Council of Elrond” rule:  if it’s longer than the Council of Elrond, it’s too bloody long.  At present chapter lengths vary between 14 and 35 pages, and that’s 1.5 spaced size 11 Times New Roman.  I like having a bit of range in length, and think I’m fairly comfortable with that, though my 11 page prologue worries me a bit – is that too long?

I haven’t met many other writers (as in those who are/aiming to become professional writers), so I don’t know how you all stand on this matter.  Are there general standards I should know about in terms of chapter lengths, and the like?  If an editor got hold of a 90 page chapter, would they immediately set out to rearrange and cut it down, even if it made sense as a single chapter and the content was essential?

Maybe to some these issues are nonexistent.  Maybe they seem utterly trivial – what does it matter, so long as the story’s written and written well?  And I know that in the grand scheme of things – the grand scheme of only writing – it is trivial.  But I honestly did for a moment feel quite ill at the thought of 37 being the last number seen at the top of a chapter.  And maybe many writers have their own number needs or superstitions that must be seen to in order for a book to feel truly right and completed.

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Chorale VI (Sol-Fa)/Cantus – Song of Aeolus

It’s been decided.  My new song/s, the soundtrack to my very existence were we all to be blessed by our own personal choirs and orchestras shadowing our every motion as we live our lives, is Karl Jenkins’s “Chorale VI (Sol-Fa)/Cantus – Song of Aeolus” from his  1996 (1997?) album Adiemus II – Cantata Mundi.  Now all I have to do is make my life worthy of this magnificence.

I’m a big Karl Jenkins fan – I mean to blog about the music I find best to play while writing fantasy, and he will certainly make a resounding appearance in that blog.  I love his ingenious, unique Requiem, and have owned his Songs of Sanctuary album featuring the original Adiemus for many years.  I’d heard of his releasing other Adiemus albums, but had never seen them in shops.  The other week I bought Adiemus II (Cantata Mundi), III (Dances of Time), and IV (The Eternal Knot) on a whim, finding them cheap ($8.99 each) in Australia’s iTunes store.  While each album is nothing short of an absolute pleasure to listen to, each with its own stand-out tracks (I can’t get enough of “St Declan’s Drone” on Adiemus IV), for me, there is something special about Sol-Fa and Song of Aeolus, the Chorale and Cantus presented together as a single track.

I’m listening to it again now (on repeat), hoping it will help me better explain what makes this track so exceptional.

As with all Adiemus songs the vocals are female, and the chorale (which takes about the first two minutes of the track) begins in unison and a capella, a simple melody with a recurring theme sung in sol-fa (as the name suggests).  Then the voices separate into two and the chorale continues in canon, the voices washing over and into each other, totally separate yet blending strangely in the ears, creating a gentle, beautifully soaring experience that is both secretive and also a little eerie.  I’ve come across only one other song that gives me the same shivers, a section of a choral piece called “Links” (I can’t find an actual recording online, sorry) by Matthew Orlovich in which the sopranos drift above the driving, earthy chants of the altos, tenors, and basses.  What I think of when I hear that and when I hear the Sol-fa chorale is the same:  they float like wind in a desert night.

A brief interlude follows to join the chorale and cantus, taking (if what I can hear is right) three parts and singing together, continuing unaccompanied and finishing bright and major, swelling into the chord.

Then, the track explodes.

Percussion begins and tribal-esque chanting soon leads into a theme so powerful and wonderful if I’m not careful I find myself grinning savagely, wherever I am, as soon as it begins.  Unlike the original Songs of Sanctury in which the vocals were accompanied by strings, a full orchestra superbly backs this cantus and often takes the spotlight with its own driving sounds as the vocals take a much needed opportunity to recover before bursting back into existence.  Multiple verses of varying chants often accompanied only by basic percussion are positioned between the recurrence of the theme and orchestral moments, their lengths by no means standard, surprising with their unexpected timing and segways.

With a minute remaining, Jenkins repeats the sol-fa chorale at a much faster tempo.  Here it is no longer gentle and drifting like an Angel’s chorus, but urgent and determined, seeming more earth-bound to me despite the piece’s name, a momentary landing before it again takes off in a final moving blast of the theme.  The cantus ends with a note that would go on for all time but for the ringing clash that heralds the end.

I may have gotten carried away, but I won’t apologise for it.  Karl Jenkins is a spectacularly talented composer, Chorale VI (Sol-Fa)/Cantus – Song of Aeolus an example of his work that stands out the most to me and provides wonderful inspiration when writing.  I urge you, if you are unfamiliar with his work and write fantasy (or even if you don’t), please look into him a little more and keep an eye out for his albums.

This link here is not the complete version of the track (I think it skips the canon in the chorale, which is devastating), but it does have a fun music video featuring scenes from the film “Serenity.”

Cinquain for Rue

“The Hunger Games” was mentioned a fair amount in my tasty fooding blog yesterday.  Keeping in the same vein (and in my failure to think of anything new and exciting today – I’m blaming a cough), I thought I’d share the little poem I wrote (consulting with my mother and one of my sisters for some of the more significant word choices) a few weeks before the very successful Hunger Games film was released in hope of winning a replica of Katniss’s arena jacket.  I didn’t come close, but I did like the poem.  It’s a simple style I’d almost completely forgotten about – my memory was jogged by the two-page spread devoted to these poems in the now previous edition of New Horizons 3, an English textbook for third year middle school students in Japan.  After a rapid Google search  (“poem – one word, two words, three words, four words, one word” being the search terms) I have learned this five line poem is called a cinquain, but already different sites are calling the particular format I followed format A, or type 3, and there are probably any number of other attempts at further classification.  I think I’ll just stick with a type of cinquain.

Here’s the poem, in any case.  I don’t think it’s particularly hard to place it in the timeline of Hunger Games events.

deliverance

netted, speared

swaddled in blossoms

the mockingjay chorale swells

defiance



A Feast for the Eyes

While overindulging on roasts and rice, sweet buttery peas and rich chocolaty pudding too frequently might not be a surefire way to maintain a trim (or at least a reasonably healthy) figure, the pleasure I take relishing the bright, colourful, and altogether delightfully enticing descriptions of wafting, delicious scents and sumptuous flavours of food in literature leaves me suffering very little guilt.

Food scenes (along with shopping scenes) are often sections of a book I read again and again.  From the magnificent opening and Christmas feasts at Hogwarts and the awe-inspiring spreads on the high-speed train and at the Training Center in the Capitol, to lembas from Lothlorien and mudnuts from the mud farms beneath the city of Aramanth, I love it when authors take time to describe the main character’s dinner.  If unnecessarily overdone, while still fun to read this might sometimes take away from the story.  However, if used cunningly, a short paragraph here and there devoted to food I think can do a lot to set a scene.

Perhaps Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” is the most recent series I’ve read to make full use of food to enhance a story’s meaning.   Collins effectively uses food (among other things) to demonstrate difference in social standing between the the Capital citizens and the people of the twelve districts.  We see Katniss hunt for and plan her family’s simple meals for the day, and see her (and all like her’s) plight by her gratitude and almost reverence for Peeta’s gift of bread as she recalls that terrible, hungry day she received it.  Then there is an abrupt switch, and in the Capitol’s care she is suddenly inundated by food so plentiful and extravagant it almost makes her sick.  One of the most poignant moments I feel is when Katniss tries to figure how she would replicate a wonderful lunch she eats with Cinna if she were back District 12 with such limited access to good ingredients.

I enjoy writing food scenes as much as I like reading them, but I don’t have as many as I’d like in my first story.  Much of it, despite being a fantasy, takes place in an everyday setting with people neither rich nor suffering.  At one point they dine on curry from a jar, another day they have a stir fry with hokkien noodles from a squishy pack.  My personal favourite is when a protagonist (who does not usually cook) whips up a batch of spud-bog (and yes, that is exactly what it sounds like).  But all in all, I haven’t gone into much detail.  In my more fantastical scenes, however, I did have a little fun with food, attempting to use it not only to denote the differences between the upper class and the outcasts, but also to highlight those between various cultures.  I tried to do this not only with the food itself, but also with its presentation, idiosyncratic ways of dining, and frequency of meals.

As much as a good fooding can lend to a story, I think I could be going overboard in my current work.  I’m only up to chapter five, and already there’s so much mention of food I can barely keep it straight.  The main character’s family does own a general store, and his stepmother is a chocolate maker – I’m sure I’ve mentioned the word “chocolate” as often as some reasonably important characters’s names – so I suppose there’s reason apart from my great liking for food scenes.  More likely I made it all so just so I could talk about food more.  But it won’t go on much longer.  They should enjoy their tasty good fortune while it lasts, as should we all.

Food is tasty and awesome – dare you to disagree 🙂

Pink Book

Some things ought to be obvious.  Some things should just go without saying.  Yet, it is the first time I’ve kept all my notes together in one tidy, neatly arranged, damage-resistant location.

When writing my first book there was a lot of additional, unrelated brainstorming and planning going on for other projects, and all my notes wound up gathered haphazardly together in the same flimsy few exercise books with no conceivable order and some near unreadable even to me, dashed off so quickly.  I still have all these notes and their resident books in various states of falling apart.  They carry essential ideas which I may or may not be able to recall independently when I need them.  I have to keep them, and keep them well.

But no more.  I’ve had enough of chapter-coding endless notes scrawled across reams of pages torn from multiple notebooks in an attempt to keep respective plot lines in one place.  Of hunting through these ripped pages with ever-increasing irritation, sure I wrote that note near the end of February in green ink, near that possible quote circled in red and perhaps beneath the bare bones of that new conversation to add to chapter twenty-eight recorded in now faded pencil marks.  The time has come for order and legibility.

The tidy, happy new home for all current story working (and only this story) is a hard-covered, sturdy pink TYPO journal with lots of space for notes, but also blank pages for sketches, and there’s even a handy pocket at the back where I’ve stuck all my pre-journal notes (after I searched my disordered notebooks and tore all the appropriate pages out).  It had been sitting unmarked on my shelf for some time, a gift from Erin, but I hadn’t thought to use something so nice for something as rough as brainstorming before.  But carrying my pink book, I’m always prepared to plot, to plan, and to ponder.  I’m in control of my story, as opposed to last time, when my story was (and still is) most definitely in control of me.

Intriguer

I’m not much of a lyricist.  I have nothing but respect for those who can fully express themselves and get their points across within a three or four-minute song, but I need a leeway of around 100 000 words to do the same thing.

Having written a few simple songs on piano and guitar, I have tried multiple times to produce lyrics.  The results are generally quite unpleasant.  I never aim to produce such self-indulgent, pompous-sounding lyrics, and am always quite taken aback by how awful they sound.  I’ve had a few attempts this year, most notably after listening to the Triple J Hottest 100, mishearing a lyric and deciding that “Inuit Bones” would be a good name for a  song.  Most of the time though, I try to avoid writing lyrics.  I have enough distraction from my novels already.

There is only one set of lyrics I’ve written that I truly like.  In 2010 when Crowded House were working on their album Intriguer, there was a competition (I think) to write and sing the title track’s lyrics.  This track, I believe, was dropped from the album, and I don’t think lyrics were ever chosen (please correct me if I’m wrong).  Though I didn’t submit them, I did attempt to write lyrics for “Intriguer.”

Sitting on my futon in my room, I wrote a commentary of what I could see around me and what I’d been doing recently, along with a few randomly drifting thoughts that were insistent they be recorded.  Then I cut up the paper, put all the slips in a hat, and drew them out, one-by-one.  The magic hat technique, it seems, is the only way for me to produce half-decent lyrics.  Still a little pompous maybe, but I don’t think it’s so bad here.  Listen to the tune, see if you can hear where they fit in.

Intriguer

Plug in your ears and let’s go, she won’t be talking when you start your next conversation

Happy suns and dancing hearts aren’t something to be gained by swindling

And I won’t talk for you, no.

Pull until every lash comes out, eyes all brittle and your lips morose

But keep a tight grip on her heart, you’re not a snapped cello string or some peg that won’t turn

And I won’t talk for you.  I won’t talk for you.

I won’t talk for you.  I won’t talk for you.

Happy suns and dancing hearts, come see light fall like a dart, come on now and play your part

You spent all day preparing and the next to recover, like an epic sing, like Carmina

Filled beyond measure with eloquence and understanding, but she’s still waiting, the plastic keyboards hammer it home

Visit her world for a day, be staggered, struck across the face

Hear the song of a beast, lion, lamb, or a friend

But I won’t talk for you

If you can’t help yourself, tell me why the three jackets over the back of your chair?

In over your head, and God knows you’ll end up sleeping on the floor again

Can’t just finish on a minor note, can do much more than that

But oh, for the cry of a whale, no creature louder to cover up

Time has it’s limits, but if your mind’s made up call to her

See light fall like a silver bullet

It’s no exquisite mistake

The Origin of the Doll Thermometer

A first post is prime reason to celebrate.  I have an empty KitKat wrapper beside me, so I just took care of that well enough myself.  But if you wish to celebrate, but all means:  I’ll not think to stop you.

My primary reason for (attempting) to take up blogging is – as I wrote in my profile and will try to recall as accurately as possible – to comment on random observations and thoughts as I write my fantasy novels, and to try to give some insight as to my personal process turning the stories in my head into something more generally accessible.  Though I’m currently busy stressing over how to work this wonderful free and no doubt simple to use blogging tool (I’m hopelessly inept when it comes to most anything related to computers apart from simple typing and opening a few games), I plan to get on with that soon.

However, seeing as how this is a first blog, on this site or on any site that I can recall, a simple explanation as to the blog title I feel would be a fair way to start.  “Doll Thermometer” is not anything related to my books, current, future, or scrapped.  It is not an in-joke.  It is not a casual observation as to what will become of humanity should we continue to stumble and trip down the steep path towards the very roots of immorality and shoots of destruction.  There is no real history to the title at all.

I have a sweet little doll I bought in Akihabara that stands on my shelf above my computer, a Pinky Street doll. She leans against a green, teardrop-shaped thermometer I bought in Loft, a nifty shop in Sanjo (and various other locations). So when I was having difficulty coming up with a good, original name for this blog that wasn’t too long, by looking up my problem was solved.  Maybe it can represent how inspiration and new ideas come without order and from every conceivable source.  I added the pen to take the picture – thought it was appropriate.

So.  First blog done and title explained.  Now, to figure out how widgets work.