17 posts categorized "The Sixth Element"

October 21, 2007

The Dark is Rising

Dark_is_rising_the_pixSo I just finished The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, the second book of The Dark is Rising children's fantasy series, and my favorite book when I was a kid ... the book that was supplanted only by Pride and Prejudice, which tells you something about when and how my adolescence started.

I read right through to the last chapter yesterday (finished the last chapter this morning) and then had a bit of an epiphany regarding my own YA fantasy novel. To wit:

There are two plots in The Dark is Rising. The main plot centers around 11-year-old Will Stanton, an English village boy and the baby of a family of ten kids (seventh son, as it happens, of a seventh son.) Will wakes up on his eleventh birthday to find that he is an Old One, basically one of a line of wizards going back into human prehistory who make up "The Light" a side on the battle between good and evil. The other side is, of course, called "The Dark."

Will is the last of the Old Ones, and the Dark is rising for the last time, for a final, multi-year battle that will decide the fate of humanity forever.

But no pressure, right?

I make that snarky comment because Will's arc in the book is predetermined. Everything he does, he does only half understanding what he does. Every act he performs is part of a much older, and more elaborate ceremony that Will does not initiate, or even understand. In this adult reading I have just done, I'm seeing how Will's role in the book is that of someone stepping into a part in a play--or a role in a ceremony, of course--which is set. He can only complete it or fail to complete it. He can't really deviate.

Will's character only really comes out in the small opportunities he has to add his personal style to the actions he performs. He bows to a magical road, for example, to honor its magic, or he puts out a huge hearth fire, rather than a small candle, to practice his magic. He is fooled by The Dark at one point in breaking the circle of Old Ones, and puts everyone in danger, but it all comes right in the end.

For kids, seeing their proxy, the child-protagonist, stepping into a pre-ordained role is very, very satisfying, particularly for kids around the age of eleven or so, tweens, reaching their greatest maturity as children, but not yet raging with hormones. Kids of that age love order. They love to know the way things are supposed to be and to see things fall into place the way they're supposed to.

More than that, of course, this situation mirrors that of older children, who are not yet adolescents, and still look like children, but are being expected to perform responsible roles in family, school, and community, without entirely understanding what those roles mean. Giving this situation layers of depth, history, tradition, and importance is what is so compelling and satisfying for kids that age.

The Dark is Rising is particularly satisfying in this way because the book constantly references ancient English traditions based in magic and the supernatural, as well as legends and myths. These traditions are almost never explained in the book, but rather described in a slightly formal, intensely lyrical language, in a sweet, melancholy, and often cold and distancing tone. It's a tone that's reminiscent of that moment, during class field trips to old buildings, when you looked on someone's grave, or some historical figure's portrait--or the MS of the Declaration of Independence--and realized that a real human hand, or a real human spirit, was behind all of this, and that that human was long dead. That they were just like, but didn't think like, you. And the hairs on the back of your neck went up.

So the order that falls into place in The Dark is Rising is not merely the order usually displayed in children's books: that of contemporary morality and contemporary society, i.e. a very recent, and not deeply-rooted order. The order in The Dark is Rising is a pre-Christian, almost tribal order, created by the understanding of Dark and Light (not even good and evil, because the Light often performs cruel acts.) The book refers often to conflicts between Christianity and pre-Christian supernaturalism, or to class differences: Will is descended from yeoman farmers and artisans, and Will's father deeply resents the squire-like manorial behavior of the lady of their local great-house, and of her butler, who happens to be the first of the Old Ones, and himself a former feudal lord. The book makes the point that the fight between the Dark and the Light transcends these smaller conflicts, but doesn't gloss over the conflicts at all.

Of course, I didn't notice any of this when I was a kid.

When contemplating this book, and the movie that just came out which I'm afraid to go see (the trailer showed a scene of the now American, 13-year-old Will performing a Matrix-like roundhouse kick) the only filmmaker I can think of who could do the book true justice would be, of all people, Peter Greenaway. The Peter Greenaway, of course, not of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife, and her Lover, but of The Draughtsman's Contract, and especially of Prospero's Books. Because this strange and wonderful, and beautifully written, little book (which the movie's Merriman Lyon called "a slog," the bastard) is more of a series of set pieces rich in history, and cultural relevance and reference.

It is a series of beautiful, half-strange/half-familiar tableaux of humans taking on ritual aspects of the natural world to acquire power and perform rites that will arouse and channel the supernatural. It's a series of aesthetic investigations into where human artifice and common culture intersect with the natural world, and where these two interact with and are enhanced by the numinous.

It's really an amazing book.

This would, of course, be enough to make me happy for the rest of my life, but the book has a second, sub-plot, which I never noticed before underpins the entire structure of the book and brings all this lofty, high-fantasy stuff down to a human level. This sub-plot centers around The Walker (SPOILAGE AHEAD!), the 13th century servant of Merriman Lyon, the first of the Old Ones. Merriman raised this guy, named Hawkin, as his own son, and is terribly attached to him, but in Merriman's cold way, more like a pet than a human.

Because of the love and trust between them, and because, although humans are stuck in time, Old Ones are not, and may move themselves and humans back and forth in time at will, Merriman weaves Hawkin into a spell he makes to protect a book that needs to be kept out of the hands of the Dark until Will wakens into his power. The book can only be taken out of its hiding place by Merriman if the he is touching Hawkin with one hand. This protects against Merriman's being turned by the Dark, because, if the other Old Ones suspect anything, they can kill Hawkin and keep the book safe. So for the sake of Will's magical education, Merriman forces Hawkin to risk his life.

Hawkin deals with it until the time comes to remove the book and give it to Will, and then he realizes viscerally exactly the kind of peril Merriman has willingly put him to. That same night he goes over to the Dark and endangers the Light by giving the Dark a doorway--his own mind--into one of the Light's strongholds. Throughout the book, we see him confronting Merriman three times, and each of these confrontations is painful in a way that nothing else in the book truly is. Where ritual and ceremony and magic are being performed elsewhere by our protagonist, always, in a corner, Merriman and Hawkin play out their human tragedy over and over, with magic having no real part of it. And in this tragedy, it is Hawkin who has all the power, because he has free will, and the endlessly powerful, all-seeing Merriman can't affect his decision at all.

Hawkin is hands down the strongest character in the book, and the thing that makes this book still the best fantasy I have ever read.

My personal epiphany yesterday was about exactly that: there needs to be a much more down-to-earth, adult conflict in my book to counterbalance the children's coming-of-age, magical education story that will be the main story. I have no strong adult characters who make it all the way through the book, and I need some. In children's lit, especially middle grade and YA, the child-protagonists' growth is measured against the performance of the adults around them. There need to be strong adult characters, and these characters need to show their quality in acting against their own conflicts, for the book to have true depth.

I'll have more to write about TDIR later but that's all for now.

January 27, 2007

In Which I Out Myself As A Thief

Okay, it's time. Time to confess.

I have stolen--STOLEN!--one of the basic premises of Nobble Jr. (otherwise known as The Sixth Element) from Justine Larbalestier!

In Nobble Jr. people who have magic go mad. Justine's first book and whole trilogy is called Magic or Madness. You do the math.

I mean, stealing the idea that having magic drives you mad is something I might could have gotten away with if:

  1. I didn't kinda know her personal-like
  2. I hadn't read Magic or Madness the moment it came out and loooong before I even conceived of Nobble Jr. and then left a public record of such by blogging about both
  3. It wasn't called Magic or Madness, making the "magic makes you mad" premise somewhat central to its existence. (I mean, some people do miss implications if you don't spell it out for them, you know? No? Well, just me then.)

Of course, in Justine's book you either do magic or go mad. In my book-ish you go mad whether you do the magic or not unless ... well no spoilers here, especially before the book is done. Plus, the reason for the madness in magic is different in Nobble Jr. There's a whole world system that's completely different. In fact, we're in a completely different, secondary world, not our world with magic added on. There is no New York or Sydney, for example. Or Earth. And there's an out. You don't have to go mad or die young, like in Justine's books. So it's really different. It comes from a different place.

Oh, who am I fooling? It's straight out theft. However will I tell her?

January 03, 2007

2007 Resolutions

Okay, here goes:

1. Finish "The Sixth Element," the boringly titled YA fantasy nobble, and begin sending it out. This is half-drafted and once I'm settled into my new apartment and job (moving this week sometime) I'll go back and finish the second half of my InNoWriMo.

2. Pull another InNoWriMo late in the year and finish the rough draft of the sequel to "The Sixth Element," which will be the second of a trilogy. Yes, I have the whole trilogy planned out. The second book is tentatively titled "The Black Circle" and the third "The Dragon's Breath." These titles all make sense within the context of the story, but they're incredibly boring from without. Maybe that's a good thing. We'll see.

3. Get my pictures framed and hang them on my wall. I've been buying artwork for years and storing it and it's time I started framing it. The suckers have been sitting around too long, taking up space. 2007 will be a visually pleasing year!

4. Buy a car. That is all.

5. Get health insurance.

6. Get on the insulin pump. I'm finally psychologically ready and all I need to do is get health insurance first.

7. Lose and keep off those stupid 15 pounds. Everybody else fluctuates 5 or 10 pounds. I do 15. That's just me.

8. Get all my currently finished stories (all three of them) placed. They're out, you understand. They're all out. But no one's buying. The bastards. I'm gonna have to start sending them to the no sim subs clubs, and thereafter expanding my spreadsheet. You'd think 80 markets is enough to work with, but no.

9. Get the two nearly finished stories finished and placed. Boy am I prolific. In my entire career of writing seriously, which, depending upon how you count "serious" is either 22 years, 10 years, or 5 years, I've only finished five stories to my satisfaction. The first one was sent out, rejected, and retired to a drawer. The second was published. The other three are still making the rounds. But never fear: I'm closing in on two more and 2007 will be the year I finish them. Perhaps I should have made this goal: "get your start-to-finish time on short stories to under a year", but I don't want to defeat myself with unrealistic goals.

10. Visit my sister.

11. Go on at least four trips, 'cause there's much to see and people to do ... er ... One of these will be the lightning field, Pato. Another will, finally, be Smithson's Spiral Jetty (anyone wanna go?)

12. By this time next year be substantially farther along with my yoga practice and the other forms of exercise I'm currently alternating that with. (These include Pilates, the 24 hour fitness fitlite circuit training thing, conventional weight training, power walking, and walk/jog intervals. I think I might add dance for fitness classes and maybe strip for fitness classes, 'cause I'm just classy that way.)

13. Go dancing at least once a month! I love it every time I do it. Why do we not do the things we love? Who's with me?

Thirteen turned out to be my lucky number on New Year's Eve so I'm gonna stick with that. I think these are doable. Love to hear what you all are resolving. Please post links to your own lists. I plan to update when each goal is met, but who knows if I'll remember to do that.

2007 is going to be a good year: productive, fun, and balanced. Yes.

December 08, 2006

InNoWriMo Plan Change

Okay, I haven't written anything for two days because there have been holiday parties and three potential jobs that I had to wrangle. I have finally been offered, and accepted, a job, and I am starting immediately. Like, today.

What this means is that I can, and have to, start looking for a new apartment. So, basically, I'm going to be busy and tired for the next couple weeks. I had reached day 16 of InNoWriMo on the fifth (and 33K words) when I became too stupid and insane to continue. So I'm taking a break before I complete the other 14 days. I suspect I'll be able to begin again in about a week's time. And, of course, I'm going to try to work at my writing date on Sunday (if I do, that will count as a day). I'll be going to my parents for Christmas, so I can get in a week's worth there.

So InNoWriMo is turning into an individualized learning plan or whatever that thing is that they do with learning disabled kids in school. That's why we call it InNoWriMo.

I do hereby pledge to finish the month by December 31, though. Hook or crook.

December 07, 2006

In Which I Am A Bad Monkey


I got two job offers yesterday and prepared for another job interview (which I am going to now) and went out with the Other mag folks for a group snark at The Fountain (about which I will be blogging in the Other blog), and in all of this, I simply forgot to do my writing yesterday.


I am a bad monkey! I do not deserve the red, bold type today!

December 05, 2006

12/5/05 Tally

Yeah, only 27,000 more words to go. Yee haw. For the past five days I've been extremely lame and it has to stop. Tomorrow will be a bit difficult, but I will manage. I will get it up, so to speak.

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's sorry wordcount: 1322
Total wordcount: 33,066

12/4/06 Tally

I'm superlame and my wordcount is lame. But I have another issue, which is that I noticed tonight that I finally hit page 100 of my MS. But I'm already at 31,700 words. A little strange. So I reformatted my MS (originally Times 12 pt, 1" margin all around) to Courier 12 pt, 1.25 inches on right and left, like I've seen lots of people doing it. And suddenly, my MS is 142 pages long. WTF?

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's weeny wordcount: 1230
Total wordcount: 31.744

December 04, 2006

12/3/06 Tally

I'm lame. I know. I'll get more written tomorrow. I swear. Only half a month left (sixteen days). Although, I am a little ahead of the original game, since I'm 30 K into a 50 K task. But my individual task was a minimum 60 K, so I'm right where I need to be. Can't fall behind now.

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's sad and sorry wordcount: 1129
Total wordcount: 30,514

December 01, 2006


I'm actually a bit on a new roll with da YA nobble, but my brain is fogged in right now. I'm fighting off something icky and chesty and phlegmy. Went home early from a reading tonight and I'm now going to hit the sack with the latest episode of "Ugly Betty." In bed before 11 on a Friday night. Needless to say, there will be no 2000 words tonight, so tomorrow and the next day I will need to do minimum 3000 each.

That is all.

I Am A Sad Fish

I don't know why fish.

When I'm writing, I don't read. It has taken me a week to get through six chapters of "The Quiet American." A couple of observations on reading slowly and reading while writing:

1. I can see the seams. Yes. I can see where Graham Greene himself (yes, himself!) was thinking, was making shit up, was reinventing stuff that actually happened, was straining to get to the end of a scene, etc. Yes, I am projecting. Nevertheless, I can see the seams. They are there.

2. Graham Greene is a fucking good writer. Fucking. Good. I just read a scene which is pure, unadulterated symbolism from start to finish (an American spy and a British journalist meet in the Brit's apartment to discuss the disposition of the Brit's Vietnamese mistress, whom the American covets. The Brit is married to a woman at home who won't give him a divorce, so he stays in Vietnam and lives with his mistress comfortably, with no intention of ever going home. The American is young and single and wants to marry her. The two are discussing her fate in her absence. The American brought his dog along, who growls at the Brit -- in his own house -- when he starts to get aggro. The mistress comes home in the middle of the negotiation, watches them making fools of themselves, and then simply says "no.") Like I said, point-for-point symbolism of the coarsest, most obvious kind. Yet it works like gangbusters.

3. I am going to write about this, "Mavala Shikongo," the Terrence Malick film "The New World" and all kinds of stuff like that. Just you wait.

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's torturous wordcount: 2023
Total wordcount: 28,433

November 29, 2006

11/29/06 Tally

Arggh. The first day I fell below quota. I'm tired, though, and I came to the end of the part I had planned out from the beginning. I am now fully in terra incognita. I stopped writing tonight when my two main characters really got into a discussion about plumbing. No shit, plumbing. I'm gonna go to bed and watch "Heroes."

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 1392
Total wordcount: 26,410

November 28, 2006


The honeymoon is over. I've been in this cafe for nearly an hour, reading crap on the internet, in an attempt to avoid getting to my 2K words today. Yep. Writin' a nobble.

Now, for something completely different ...

November 27, 2006

11/27/06 Tally

Took a break yesterday because I was so tired. It's okay, I was planning on taking a break at Thanksgiving, but didn't, so this was it.

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 2025
Total wordcount: 22,799

November 25, 2006

11/25/06 Tally

Well, I'm learning a lot about plowing through a novel fast. For one thing, the writing is crap. For another, I'm not getting to think things through, so the characters aren't maintaining their moods consistently. In a single dialogue people will go through five or six emotions in rapid succession. It sounds stupid.

Plus, there's waaaay too much dialogue. I have whole chapters of dialogue. Dumb. Anyway, learning lots.

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 4002
Total wordcount: 20,774

November 24, 2006

11/24/06 Tally

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 2097
Total wordcount: 16,772

November 23, 2006

11/22/06 Tally

InNoWriMo Tally:
Today's wordcount: 2037
Total wordcount: 12,330

November 19, 2006

InNoWriMo Begun

So yes, I started today. I spent the late morning, early afternoon collecting together all my notes on this YA novel, which is working-titled "The Sixth Element." I added a bunch to the notes, then I wrote half of the first chapter. Then I went to dinner and the theater with some friends, lost track of the play halfway through, started daydreaming about the new nobble. Then came home, poured a glass of wine, and finished chapter one.

Off to an excellent start. I'll give you a hint: an oil refinery shaped like a dragon.

InNoWriMo Tally:

Today's wordcount: 2824
Total wordcount: 2824

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