For Those Who Have Ever Been Afraid to Speak: The Poetry of Audre Lorde

1980, Austin, TX. I took it in very poor light...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My October celebration of poetry, sparked by the wonderful October Poetry Writing Month challenge, continues on. Today, I profile the great and wonderful Audre Lorde (1934-1992).

Lorde is an inspirational and illuminating figure, a scholar, poet, activist, and outspoken feminist.  She is notable for a million reasons, not the least of which was her lifelong battle against social inequalities, inequalities that she identified as endemic and embedded in the very structure of American society.

Race, gender, and sexuality were ever-present in her work, as were her scathing critiques of the feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s, which she decried for perpetuating a single definition of “woman,” one that took whiteness and heterosexuality as the norm. In refusing to acknowledge difference, Lorde argued that feminism could never reach its longed for goal of gender equality, for it would continue to reproduce other forms of inequality.

When it came to individual experience, Lorde also explored the dynamic of multiplicity that we encounter in our own selves.  A self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” her poetry and prose explored her struggles with reconciling the various aspects of her identity.

Lorde’s work on identity, inequality, and difference has resonated with me since I first encountered her as an undergraduate. It is her writing on silence, fear and courage, however, that truly inspires me. Silence, she reminds her readers time and again, is seductive. Silence is easier, safer, than speaking out, but that is both false and dangerous.

For Lorde, silence is tantamount to death. In order to live, we must speak our truth. Fear never fully fades, but as she wrote in her memoir, The Cancer Journals,

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

Although she died from breast cancer in 1992, her work continues to live on. This clip from “A Litany for Survival” (hyperlinked in case the embedded video doesn’t play), a documentary on Audre Lorde’s life and many contributions, illustrates her intense passion and creativity.


I end with with poem for which the documentary is titled. “A Litany for Survival” is, in my mind, the perfect expression of Lorde’s fierce exhortations to live, to write, and to speak.

-oOo-

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak
we are afraid our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

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“You Are a Child of the Universe”: Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata”

Max Ehrmann

Max Ehrmann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Monday! Today I wanted to share one of my favorite poems: “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945), a US-born lawyer, writer, and poet.

“Desiderata” came to me during my last year of high school, a period when I was struggling with the fear of change, endings, and new beginnings. Amidst the uncertainty of my future, Ehrmann’s words served as a welcome reminder to let go of my stress and anxiety.

It’s no accident that the title of the poem is “things desired” in Latin. Here, though, Ehrmann seems to say that the things that we should desire are intangible and immaterial: inner peace, quiet confidence, happiness and contentment.

As we start a new week, let’s keep in mind his call for appreciating the present, embracing the messiness of life, and fostering interior strength.

Pleiades Star Cluster

Pleiades Star Cluster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 -oOo-

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

 

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Fiction Fridays: The Music of Tell Me No Lies

Today’s Fiction Friday post is brought to you by the voices in my head. Yes, my characters not only try to dictate my storylines and plots, but now they are conspiring to stage a coup and take over my blog posts as well. :) Because Tempest Dumont, the main character of my steampunk WIP, TELL ME NO LIES, has demanded it, I’m going to talk about the music behind the story.

For anyone who’s unaware, TELL ME NO LIES is my crazy steampunk romantic thriller, set in 1890s San Francisco (the Barbary Coast, to be specific). Tempest is a popular saloon singer who finds herself targeted by a mysterious serial killer who is bent on murdering those scandalous “ladies of the stage,” Jack-the-Ripper-style. The police refuse to believe that the murders are connected, and so she sets off on a one-woman crusade to find the killer and bring him to justice. Along the way, she receives the help of Adam Davenport, the one detective who believes her claims and wants to see justice served. The two of them are like oil and water, and they struggle to set aside their differences (and ignore the growing of attraction between them) to solve the murders.

Tempest is one of those characters who just won’t shut up. She’s incredibly different from my other MCs — loud, brassy, and cynical. She had a rough upbringing, ran away from home when she was 15, and ended up falling in love with a ne’er-do-well airship pirate who eventually broke her heart and tried to frame her for one of his crimes. Now she thinks that she’s heartless and incapable of love… but she just might be wrong.

The playlist has a distinct folk/country feel to it. Even though the tale takes place at the end of the 19th century when San Francisco has become refined and urban, there’s this residual “wild west” vibe that I can’t quite shake.

The first song that I’ll share with you is “Tennessee” by Gillian Welch (Lyrics). In so many ways, this is the definitive Tempest song, just from the first verse alone:

I kissed you ‘cause I’ve never been an angel
I learned to say hosannas on my knees
But they threw me out of Sunday school when I was 9
And the sisters said I did just as I pleased
Even so, I tried to be a good girl
It’s only what I want that makes me weak
I had no desire to be a child of sin
Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek.

That scandalous, whiskered man? Gillian Welch is of course referring to Jack Davenport, the rakish airship pirate who broke Tempest’s heart and double-crossed her. In all seriousness, however, I love Gillian’s voice, and I am sorta convinced that this song was written for Tempest. It’s the perfect theme.

The second song is “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars (Lyrics).

Tempest is the sort of gal who doesn’t really believe in redemption, and who carries around a lot of baggage when it comes to dealing with her past. The chorus resonates with all those themes:

Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil’s gonna follow me ‘ever I go
Won’t do me no good, washing in the river
Can’t no preacherman save my soul

The final song isn’t folk or country, but pop — Pink’s “Glitter in the Air” (Lyrics).The entire album, Funhouse, is on the playlist, but this song is my favorite. Incidentally, I’m convinced that this may be the best awards show performance I’ve ever seen. Pink kills it here:

I love this song to the marrow of my bones. It is achingly beautiful, and the last lines of the song move me to tears sometimes:

Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and hold that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight?

This the song that plays in my head whenever I think of Tempest and Adam’s romance. They’re two souls who have been scarred, who are a bit bruised and broken, yet somehow fight their fears and allow themselves to be vulnerable to one another.

So there you have it, the music of TELL ME NO LIES. It’s not a definitive list by any means (the “official” playlist is over 60 songs long), but I think these three songs capture the overall vibe of the novel. Just listening to them makes me want to drop everything and start working on it again — or maybe that’s just Tempest talking. ;)

Fiction Fridays: Imagining Path to the Peacock Throne

For this week’s Friday Inspirations, I’m reposting a piece from July 2011, where I first introduced some of the ideas and images that serve as inspiration for my NaNoWriMo novel, PATH TO THE PEACOCK THRONE. Enjoy!

***

Art by Susan Seddon Boulet

I’ve been nursing the idea about country founded and governed by women for some time now, and it was in April that I started to build the basic structure of the land I have since named “Vao Artan.”  The central organizing myth is that the realm was settled by seven sisters, siblings who were in the goddess’s favor and blessed with dominion over the land.  Each sister had a specific talent — the cultivation of land and livestock; hunting and martial prowess; music, painting, and the arts; scholarly research; mathematics and science; magic; and diplomacy and rule.  The descendants of each sister correspond to a specific strata or occupation within the society.

This is where things get interesting.  Each of the seven sisters is associated with a type of bird — swans and magic, owls and scholarly research, nightingales and the arts, etc.  The bird imagery continues throughout the duration of the society, to the point where the military’s headquarters is known as “The Falconry,” and the royal mage is known as “The Cygne” (cygne being French for “swan”).  Each queen takes the name of a bird to represent her personality/rule.  The current queen, Vaedyn, is known as the “Eagle’s Claw,” which symbolizes her status as a warrior.  My main character, Liandre, will take the peacock for her standard.

So with that in mind, I’ve been collecting all sorts of bird-related things to help me out with world-building.  I’ve been thinking about fashion, architecture, and decor, among other odds and ends. Today, though, I’m going to look at fashion. Luckily, the fashion world has been drawing on avian inspirations for ages now, so there’s a wide range of ideas from which I can draw.

Feathers will be integrated into this tale, from the crests that adorn the helmets of the nation’s soldiers and warriors and other accessories, like jewelry and belts, to elaborate gowns, cloaks, and other items of clothing.

Take, for example, this headpiece by Arturo Rios, which is elegant and dramatic, as well as a bit gothic.  It’s just the sort of thing the aristocrats of Vao Artan might wear.

Makeup by Mark Lim

I also love the idea of drawing inspiration for makeup and cosmetics from birds, like makeup artist Mark Lim did here, using this absolutely gorgeous peacock headpiece and choker.  (This is actually a look I’ve attempted with the bright blue and green eyeshadow, but I’m not nearly this talented!)

Necklace by Lucy Hutchings

 

Other pretties include these phenomenal necklaces designed by Lucy Hutchings.  They are apparently inspired by the Bowerbird, “who loves to feather his nest with lots of blue to attract an egglayer,” according to Trendhunter.  I’ve introduced a similar sort of necklace into the third chapter of PPT, which is worn by the witch (or “Mother Cygne”) Simone.  Instead of being made from stones of blue-green, it is a rope of egg-sized, rough-hewn amethysts.

The women of Vao Artan, I think, like their jewelry big and bold, their clothing bright and colorful, and their accessories noticeable.  They are women after my own heart. ;)

Finally, here’s one last gown, created by Indonesian designer Anne Avantie.  It doesn’t have any explicitly avian details, but the color scheme is absolutely perfect for a young woman about to assume the “peacock throne.”  The model also reminds me of the way that Liandre appears in my mind, which is an extra bonus:

Kebaya by Anne Avantie

And there we have it!  A wee peek into the world that I am attempting to craft for PATH TO THE PEACOCK THRONE.  For more pictures and ideas, you can visit my tumblr, where I organize my world-building ideas.

Where do you turn for inspiration when you’re crafting a new tale?  How do you organize your ideas — scrapbooking, collages, digital photo galleries?

Monday Inspirations: “Still I Rise”

Today’s edition of Monday Inspirations is short but powerful. It comes in the form of one of my favorite poems: “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.

Last week, I chatted a bit about the idea of the beginner’s challenge, the difficulty that novices face (especially when approaching creative endeavors) as we shake ourselves out of our ruts and comfort zones to pursue our dreams. The idea of perseverance, of “fighting through” both the highs and lows that come from going out on a limb, is one that remains on my mind.

Angelou has written extensively on these themes throughout her long and prolific literary career. No matter how many times I read “Still I Rise,” I can’t help but feel tingles shoot down my spine. Angelou’s words leave me feeling uplifted every time, like I can conquer the world and overcome any challenges that stand in my way. This is the ultimate battle song of survival, a declaration that surrender isn’t an option, that a strong, vital spirit cannot be squelched.

I’ve provided the text of the poem below, but if you can, check out the video. It’s always a treat to watch poets recite their own work, especially when they are as engaging and delightful as Angelou.

Are there stories or poems that you turn to when you need a bit of inspiration?

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Monday Inspirations: The Moulin Rouge

For this week’s installment of Monday Inspirations, I’m thinking about setting.  While plot points and characters are important elements of a strong novel, setting is also essential.  My favorite stories are the ones where the setting functions like a secondary character, and so as I work through tell me no lies, my steampunk romance/murder mystery, I’ve been focusing on how to bring the world of 19th century San Francisco to life.

My main character, Tempest Dumont, is a singer at The Belladonna, a popular saloon located in the rough and tumble Barbary Coast (sometimes referred to as “Hell’s Half-Acre).  Given that this is a steampunk tale, I can engage in a bit of revisionist history, so I’ve decided that The Belladonna is a female-owned saloon that caters to the wealthy playboys of San Francisco, those who want to experience the vices of the Barbary Coast without having to deal with the dangers of the run-down dive bars.  It’s also a lot more glamorous than the other bars in town, with red velvet curtains and gold accents and fancy things like that.

While there are some fun examples of saloons in Hollywood’s classic western films, the movie that I’ve been drawing inspiration from is Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, which tells the tragic story of an idealistic young writer who falls in love with a courtesan who works at the infamous nightclub.

One thing that I love about the film is the glitz and glamour.  Luhrmann does an amazing job in creating a fantasy world of fueled by color and drama. However, there’s a dark side to the stage life, as we see in the clip below.  This is one of my favorite moments in the film.  The rendition of Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” is poignant and bittersweet (the chorus and background orchestrations are so awesome), and captures the darkness that pervades tell me no lies.  I also love the behind-the-scenes shots of the theater being prepared for the big show — the seamstresses at work, the stagehands placing finishing touches on the sets, the angst that lies beneath the performers’ smiling faces.

Jack's Saloon, circa 1890

The real saloons of the day, of course, weren’t nearly as glamorous as the Moulin Rouge.  Archival photographs (my favorite, as we all know!) show some run-down dives, and newspaper accounts also describe some seriously sketch places.  An 1889 article from the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, makes mention of the “hoodlum beer saloons” of the Barbary Coast where “sitters,” or “men who [would] go in, get 5 cents’ worth of beer once in a while and sleep all they want” would hang out.

Interior of the Cobweb Palace. Source: James Smith, SF City Guides

The Cobweb Palace was one of the popular establishments in San Francisco during the latter half of the 19th century.  Founded in 1856 at Meiggs Wharf by Abe Warner, the Cobweb Palace was named for the webs that were used as decoration inside the tavern.

According to James R. Smith, the bar was also known for Warner’s collection of walrus tusks and shark teeth, along with his set of nude paintings (apparently he amassed over one thousand of these).  Even better was his live menagerie of monkeys, talking parrots, occasional bears or kangaroos, and other small animals.

Entrance of the Cobweb Palace (note the monkeys). Source: James R. Smith, SF City Guides

One of Abe Warner's monkeys. Source: Calisphere, UC Libraries

By the end of the 19th century, the Barbary Coast had reportedly calmed down (translation: fewer cases of theft, violence, and murder).    Still, the rough-and-tumble half-acre of San Francisco lives on in memory and legend, and provides me with a wealth of inspiration for my own work.

How do you brainstorm setting?  What inspirations do you draw on when it comes to world-building?

Monday Inspirations: Steampunk Fashion

For this week’s installment of Monday Inspirations, I return to the world of fashion. Today, we’re exploring steampunk fashion, my current obsession. I’ve loved the 19th century ever since I was a little girl — the result of watching films like Anne of Green Gables and My Fair Lady obsessively.  I penned silly romances set during the period, and fantasized about living in a big Victorian house, complete with a glass-enclosed conservatory filled with palms and white wicker furniture; in my mind, I would host fancy tea parties and champagne brunches while flitting about in gorgeous gowns.

Years may have passed since those early childhood fancies, but one thing remains constant: my appreciation of 19th century fashion.  It should come as little surprise that I am unbelievably enamored with the whole steampunk movement, which marries Victorian sensibilities with steampowered technology.  As I work on tell me no lies, my steampunk romance/murder mystery, fashion is a central focus.  The following is a selection of some of my favorite pieces that I’ve encountered during the research process.

gowns and full outfits.

This bridal gown, designed by the Australian-based Gallerie Serpentine, is one of my favorites.  I adore the gold-striped overcoat (particularly the leg-of-mutton sleeves, and the lace ruffle around the cuffs), and gown is also exquisite.  And, of course, I love the model’s brass goggles — an essential accessory for every steampunk woman.

The full story over at Rock n’ Roll Bride boasts a number of wonderful photos.
This two-piece taffeta suit from Clockwork Couture is another of my favorites.  Details like the high Chinese collar and the fitted cuffs, along with the teeny buttons running up the front of the bodice, are really lovely.  I also can never refuse a bustle — the draping is just beautiful.  This is something that I can imagine Tempest, my protagonist, wearing during her day-to-day life in San Francisco, as it’s a bit more sedate than the fancy and brightly colored costumes she wears while performing.
I also enjoy this outfit, where trousers, rather than voluminous skirts, are paired with a corset and cropped bolero jacket.  I’m not sure how common it is for women to dash about in trousers in this tale, but I imagine that Tempest would enjoy wearing them, if only for the freedom of movement that they provide.

Monday Inspirations: The Bird Women of Vao Artan

I’ve gotten a number of comments over the past few days about my header, so I thought I’d talk a little bit about some the inspirations that I’m drawing from for my fantasy WIP, Path to the Peacock Throne.

Art by Susan Seddon Boulet

I’ve been nursing the idea for country founded and governed by women for some time now, and it was in April that I started to build the basic structure of the land I have since named “Vao Artan.”  The central organizing myth is that the realm was settled by seven sisters, siblings who were in the goddess’s favor and blessed with dominion over the land.  Each sister had a specific talent — the cultivation of land and livestock; hunting and martial prowess; music, painting, and the arts; scholarly research; mathematics and science; magic; and diplomacy and rule.  The descendants of each sister correspond to a specific strata or occupation within the society.

This is where things get interesting.  Each of the seven sisters is associated with a type of bird — swans and magic, owls and scholarly research, nightingales and the arts, etc.  The bird imagery continues throughout the duration of the society, to the point where the military’s headquarters is known as “The Falconry,” and the royal mage is known as “The Cygne” (cygne being French for “swan”).  Each queen takes the name of a bird to represent her personality/rule.  The current queen, Vaedyn, is known as the “Eagle’s Claw,” which symbolizes her status as a warrior.  My MC, Liandre, will take the peacock for her standard.

So with that in mind, I’ve been collecting all sorts of bird-related things to help me out with world-building.  I’ve been thinking about fashion, architecture, and decor, among other odds and ends. Today, though, I’m going to look at fashion.

Luckily, the fashion world has been drawing on avian inspirations for ages now, so there’s a wide range of ideas from which I can draw.

Feathers will definitely be integrated into this tale, from the crests that adorn the helmets of the nation’s soldiers and warriors and other accessories, like jewelry and belts, to elaborate gowns, cloaks, and other items of clothing.

I am completely in love this headpiece by Arturo Rios, which is elegant and dramatic, as well as a bit gothic.  It’s just the sort of thing the aristocrats of Vao Artan might wear.

I also love the idea of drawing inspiration for makeup and cosmetics from birds, like makeup artist Mark Lim did here, using this absolutely gorgeous peacock headpiece and choker.  (This is actually a look I’ve attempted with the bright blue and green eyeshadow, but I’m not nearly this talented!)

Other pretties include these phenomenal necklaces designed by Lucy Hutchings.  They are apparently inspired by the Bowerbird, “who loves to feather his nest with lots of blue to attract an egglayer,” according to Trendhunter.  I’ve introduced a similar sort of necklace into the third chapter of PPT, which is worn by the witch (or “Mother Cygne”) Simone.  Instead of being made from stones of blue-green, it is a rope of egg-sized, rough-hewn amethysts.

The women of Vao Artan, I think, like their jewelry big and bold, their clothing bright and colorful, and their accessories noticeable.  They are women after my own heart. ;)

Finally, here’s one last gown, created by Indonesian designer Anne Avantie.  It doesn’t have any explicitly avian details, but the color scheme is absolutely perfect for a young woman about to assume the “peacock throne.”  The model also reminds me of the way that Liandre appears in my mind, which is an extra bonus:

And there we have it!  A wee peek into the world that I am attempting to craft for Path to the Peacock Throne.  For more pictures and ideas, you can visit my Pinterest board (which is my method of choice for organizing world-building ideas).

Where do you turn for inspiration when you’re crafting a new tale?  How do you organize your ideas — scrapbooking, collages, digital photo galleries?

ROW80: Digging Through the Archives

Since there’s only been a couple of days since Round 3 started, I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the research and world-building that I did during the hiatus between Rounds 2 and 3.  My progress update, posted yesterday, can be found here, but the bottom line is that I was a good kid yesterday, and cranked out 1300 words for Path to the Peacock Throne (I’ve been stuck for a few weeks, so this is good), and roughly 1000 for my thesis.  So, yay, progress!

As I mentioned Monday, I’m taking a steampunk writing course this month, which will hopefully help me to start writing tell me no lies, my steampunk murder mystery tale set in late-19th century San Francisco.  I’ve done a lot of brainstorming, world-building, and outlining (I actually have most of the main events of the tale figured out, along with the identity of the murderer), but zilch by way of actual writing.  To be honest, I’ve been staring at the empty word processing page in absolutely horror, thinking, “But I don’t know how it starts!”  So to fire up my imagination a bit, and bring some words to the fore, I’ve been digging through digital photo archives for inspiration.

The Library of Congress is an excellent source for all sorts of old and archived photographs, but my favorite collection at the moment is Lawrence and Houseworth collection — over 900 photos of California taken between 1862 and 1867.  The collection captures the ‘Wild West’ in all its glory — boom towns, mining sites, redwood forests, and (my favorite) amazing shots of San Francisco.  There are photos of the docks, aerial shots of the bustling city, interiors of ramshackle saloons, and exterior shots of the imposing hotels, mansions, and buildings that dominated the skyline before the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed much of it.

Each photo tells a story, like this one, a shot of the “Ladies Aid and Preservation Society”:

After doing a little bit of searching, I found a listing for the Society, along with roughly a half dozen other charities in San Francisco from this period dedicated to dealing with alcoholics, orphans, and other “needy” cases.  Given that I’m writing about saloon singers and street urchins, a character or two from the Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society just might pop up, ready to dispense Christian charity to the poor unfortunate souls of the Barbary Coast (though whether or not my rabblerousers accept that charity is another question altogether!).

Finally, I’ve been using Pinterest, a website where you can make digital ‘pinboards’ (sorta like scrapbooks) of pictures found on the internet, to organize my favorite photos from the Lawrence and Houseworth collection; the pinboard can be seen here. Just as a side-note, Pinterest has also become incredibly handy as I attempt to piece together inspiration pieces for costuming (the board for tell me no lies is here, and has lots of cool steampunk outfits).

That’s it for me!  Today is Wednesday, which means it’s the last day of summer school for the week, and another long weekend stretches before.  It will be filled with thesisizing, grading, writing, and hopefully multiple trips to the beach, if the sunny weather holds out.

The Story So Far

I’ve been nursing a story idea for a few months now, since I went home for Christmas break.  I originally saw it as a ‘grown-up’ version of Beauty and the Beast, the story of a young princess who has to free a beast who is, of course, trapped in a horrible spell.  As the weeks have passed, however, the story has become more and more complex in my head.  This is what it’s grown into:

the basic synopsis.

The storyline is a simple one: In order to be recognized as adults, and to be recognized as official heir to the throne, the princess of Vao Artan must undertake a quest by their twenty-first year.  Liandre, the current princess, has little interest in ruling the realm, and even less interest in undertaking her quest.  The story opens, I think, with only a few months remaining before her 21st birthday; her immediate concern is finding a quest, and figuring out how she can get through it with a minimal amount of energy.

Liandre is an interesting character, and the first I’ve written who bears little resemblance to me.  She’s exceedingly spoiled, self-centered, incapable of self-reflection, somewhat lazy, and content with mediocrity.  She is the opposite of her mother, Vaedyn, who is widely-regarded as one of the greatest queen’s in the country’s history.  Vaedyn is a fierce warrior, and undertook her quest at the age of 17.  The outcome of her quest is a little fuzzy, but she did something really brilliant, like save Vao Artan from complete danger and calamity.  Liandre and Vaedyn, of course, clash greatly; the queen was hoping to raise a daughter who would be just like her, but Liandre realized when she was young that she would never be like her mother.  Many of Liandre’s frustrations, I think, come from the fact that her mother won’t love her the way that she is.  Rather than conform and attempt to do what her mother wishes, she takes the opposite tack — she does everything that her mother will hate, and refuses to face her responsibilities.  That is, of course, until she has no other choice.

Supporting Characters.

I’ve thought of two other characters so far — Simone, Liandre’s many-times removed great-aunt, who is the mysterious, secretive, but compelling royal mage, and Kam, Liandre’s childhood friend and sometimes-lover, a young woman who is about to join the country’s elite warrior force. (Same-sex relationships and bisexuality are accepted in this culture.)

Kam, in many ways, is the daughter that Vaedyn would have wanted — serious, sober-minded, lethal with a two-handed sword, and dedicated to Vao Artan.  She is Liandre’s foil, the one who tried to keep he princess from trouble when they were children, yet who was always implicated in Liandre’s schemes.  She loves Liandre despite the fact that she’s a hopeless mess, but there will be some sort of decisive quarrel and split that occurs between them when it becomes clear that Liandre has little interest in completing her quest.

Simone is the quest-giver.  It is she who saves Liandre’s skin by proposing a duty for her to undertake.  I’m not 100% sure what this quest will be.  Originally i had conceived of this tale as a spin on “Beauty and the Beast,” with Liandre heading off to find the Prince-turned-Beast  and break the spell.  Since then, though, my thoughts have changed slightly.  I’ve got a few ideas for how to tweak this, but I’m still working on it.

As a mage, Simone is blessed with a lifespan longer than most mortals; she was sister to Liandre’s great-grandmother.  There is, however, a strange tension between Simone and Vaedyn.  Vaedyn doesn’t trust the mage, and cautions her daughter to beware of the woman’s intentions, as she operates “on her own agenda.”  Due to Liandre’s antagonism towards her mother, she of course ignores this advice… to her peril?  I’m not totally sure, but I do know there are details of this quest that Simone hasn’t disclosed.

The world.

It’s a fantasy tale, set in a pre-industrialized world (like so many fantasy novels are).  Inheritance is matrilineal, and the country of Vao Artan has always been ruled by a woman.  (I am currently uncertain about where the men are, and what they do.  I imagine, however, that this will reveal itself in time).  I have an inkling that their religion is monotheistic, focused around the worship of a goddess-figure, but this might change.

The capital city, Avicella, is a port city located on the western coast.  I have this image of a bustling, thriving city that sees a great number of visitors from other countries there to trade and, perhaps, to lay eyes on a land that is legendary.  I don’t know who the neighboring countries are, but I have a funny image of male-led kingdoms that periodically try to invade, only to have their asses handed to them (“A country led by a woman?  What do women know?”)

The creation myths.

This leads me to the creation myths, which occupied much of my time yesterday morning.  Again, all of this is a work in progress, but I am getting chills down my spine thinking about it all, which means that the ideas must be at least somewhat interesting.

Every culture has a set of tales that describes its origins, and whether or not they are completely factual, there are important organizing forces.  Vao Artan’s myth, I think, is that the realm was settled by seven sisters — daughters of the goddess, perhaps, or siblings who were in the goddess’s favor and blessed with dominion over the land.  Each sister had a specific talent — the cultivation of land and livestock; hunting and martial prowess; music, painting, and the arts; scholarly research; mathematics and science; magic; and diplomacy and rule.  The descendants of each sister correspond to a specific strata or occupation within the society, or something of that nature.

This is where things get interesting.  It’s a little fuzzy, but there is a whole thing going on here about birds.  I’m not sure if birds are the favored animal of the goddess or what, but each of the seven sister is associated with a type of bird — swans and magic, owls and scholarly research, nightingales and the arts, etc.  The bird imagery continues throughout the duration of the society, to the point where the military’s headquarters is known as “The Falconry,” and the royal mage is known as “The Cygne” (cygne being French for “swan”).  I’ve also got this idea that each queen takes the name of a bird to represent her personality/rule, or commemorates her coming-of-age quest, or something.  Vaedyn’s is some sort of bird of prey — hawk or eagle, perhaps — to symbolize her status as a warrior.  Liandre’s, of course, will be the peacock — a bit vain, a bit show, rather proud.

The ideas are rough, but the whole idea of integrating birds into the tale reminded me of Susan Seddon Boulet’s artwork.  I had a calendar of Boulet’s goddess paintings years and years aog, and I absolutely fell in love with her style.  Some examples, all taken from here: http://www.tendreams.org/boulet.htm

These are my current inspiration pieces as I think about this country’s religion and culture, and as I imagine what can be done with this whole bird concept.

At any rate, that is more or less what is happening in my head right now.  I’m jotting down ideas as they come, and kicking around the thought of writing out the lore, mythology, and fables so I can have a better handle on where these people come from.  There are still many, many questions to work through (like, er, where are the men?) but I feel rather confident that the answers will come.  They always do.

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