Chronic comparisonitis (writing and homeschooling)

Kids learn by comparison. They learn to walk, and talk, and use a fork by watching their parents. As a child grows older, they learn to read and dress themselves and drink soda (or kombucha) and eat steak (or chitlins) and watch football (or Doctor Who).

This is just how human beings are wired. We learn by comparing ourselves to others. We pit ourselves against other people, against animals, against the environment, against the stars, in our struggle for mastery and knowledge. This is one of our great strengths as a species.

It’s also one of our downfalls.

The Realm Makers writer’s conference is this weekend. It’s been out of the question for me for the past few years, but I still watch wistfully from the sidelines as all my friends get together for what amounts to a retreat. There’s fantastic teaching. There’s costumes. There’s a nerf battle.

It got me thinking about the way we writers compare ourselves to each other. The trouble is, being a writer is like rally racing. You don’t race the other drivers. You race your own best time. On the surface, we know that. But underneath, our nature is urging us to look at other authors’ writing, or their sales, or the size of their Twitter following, and wonder why ours isn’t so good.

Now, if we take it as an opportunity to learn, then comparison is fine. Everybody needs better tools and techniques–its how you grow. But so often we use it to feed our envy and pride.

I’ve been reading a stack of homeschooling books from the 90s in preparation for this school year. Every time I read one, I get monstrously discouraged. Finally I asked my mom about them, since this was the way her generation thought. These books trumpet the same things:

  • Have as many children as humanly possible (the Quiverfull movement)
  • Homeschooling is the Path of Righteousness
  • Mary Pride says that working outside the home is bad (see The Way Home)
  • Embrace the chaos!
  • We’ll make the colleges accept us!
  • Extra-curricular activities!
  • Socialization!
  • Be more! Do more! Check your blood pressure!

homeschooling-zombie-apoc

I grew up in that school of thought, and I don’t like it. Comparing myself to that, I’m the biggest underachiever on the face of the earth. I don’t want as many kids as humanly possible–five is about as many as I can manage. Homeschooling works for our family, but it’s not for everyone. Working outside the home is necessary for survival (especially if you’re a single parent).

Mom pointed out that there were women who killed themselves and their kids because they couldn’t measure up to these teachings. The Quiverfull movement is horrible and is being taken apart for the cult that it is. Too much comparison. Too much groupthink.

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Tigers at the zoo enjoying frozen meat popsicles. They were more comfortable than the humans. It was like 110 that day.
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Best part of a hot day at the zoo–the splash pad.

So I look around to see what my generation is talking about in homeschooling. The big deal for us is special needs. Autism, ADHD, Aspergers, everything that can go wrong with a child’s brain. There’s a big move toward simplicity–in learning and living. People still have lots of kids, but it’s not the virtue that it once was. Instead of magazines, there’s blogs and bloggers. Many of the modern homeschoolers were homeschooled as kids, but not all. It’s a movement that has grown beyond Christians and into mainstream. (There’s homeschoolers who … GASP … aren’t Christians!)

So I’ve been grappling with not only comparing myself to others, but the clear outcome of groupthink. I have at my fingertips the thinking of twenty years ago, and the results. All I have to do is look around at my peers. In particular, the adults at Realm Makers who as kids were denied fantasy and science fiction. As backlash, they’re walking around in costume and quoting Star Wars.

I guess what I’m seeing is that life has to be about balance. Protect your kids, but not to the extreme of never letting them glimpse real life. Let them read Narnia, but let them read Harry Potter, too. (As kids fantasy goes, Harry Potter is absolutely benign. Christians scream about it, but nobody ever dissects the weirdness in Madeline L’Engle or the So You Want To Be A Wizard series.)

So I’m going to continue with my simplistic approach to homeschooling. I’m going to read aloud Harry Potter, Little House on the Prairie, Wheel on the School, and the Magic Thief.

As John Taylor Gatto points out, every teen is taught to drive a car. It’s a hugely complex task that, if done poorly, results in DEATH. But every teen is taught to drive within a couple of weeks, and they will successfully perform it for their whole lives. Why must math or grammar be any different? They’re just tools to perform a task. In real life, if you don’t know the equation to calculate the diameter of a circle, you look it up. But knowing how to look things up, and where, is the trick.

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Cover reveal for fantasy steampunk Flare!

Today I’m having Rabia Gale guest post on my blog. I’ve enjoyed her books, but I haven’t read this series yet. However, now that the last book is launching, that’s my cue to read them all. I mean, it’s steampunk fantasy. What’s not to like?

Now, without further ado, here’s Rabia!


Thank you for having me on your blog, Kessie!

I’m delighted to have the chance to introduce my series, The Sunless World. This epic fantasy with a steampunk flavor features a world on the brink of extinction. Centuries ago, the ancient mages saved their word from an imminent threat by plunging it into eternal night. But the mages are long gone and the world is slowing dying without its sun. Veins of luminous quartz provide light and heat, and desperate states vie to control this precious resource.

Enter Rafe Grenfeld, junior diplomat and spy. He’s just learned that a legendary quartz pillar, known as the Tower of Light, actually exists. Determined to claim it for his own country, he begins his search for it. That’s difficult enough, but then lost magic, dark demons, a hostile foe, and an unpredictable ally with her own agenda show up.

The Sunless World series contains many elements that are fascinating to me. I love writing worlds where magic exists alongside more advanced technology, like trains and industrial machinery. I enjoy putting characters, cultures, and whole worlds in tough situations (like losing their sun!) and seeing how human ingenuity copes. And I adored writing from Rafe’s viewpoint, a character who is energetic, competent, and prone to making wisecracks.

Without further ado, I’m happy to share the cover of Flare, Book Two of The Sunless World series, with you!

 

Flare COVER REVEAL

Rafe and Isabella are back

The mages of old saved their world, but left it in eternal darkness. Now it’s time to bring back the light.

After two years of training his magical gifts, Rafe returns home to a land wracked by war. Desperate states struggle to protect their resources of luminous quartz. Magic pulses and earthquakes devastate a world on the brink of extinction.

Rafe’s old enemy Karzov has gathered a band of prodigies obedient to his will. He seeks the power of the ancient mages for an audacious and sinister purpose. It’s up to Rafe and his ally, Isabella, to stop him—and undo the mistakes of the past to put their world right again.

Flare will be out in September 2016!

The Sunless World series

The Sunless World BLOG

Quartz: The Sunless World introduces a rich and credible backdrop to the adventures of her characters, with a deadly political mire underlying the bright colours of high society.” – By Rite of Word Reviews

This story is fast, fascinating and highly recommended.” – Amazon.com review

The Sunless World series begins with Quartz (Book One) and Flux (A Sunless World Novel).

About the Author

Rabia Gale Headshot I create weird worlds full of magic and machines, and write characters who are called on to be heroes. I’m fascinated by light and darkness, transformation, and things that fly. Giant squid and space dragons appear in my work—you have been warned!

A native of Pakistan, I now reside in Northern Virginia, where I read, write, doodle, avoid housework, and homeschool my children.

Find me online at:
Website: http://www.rabiagale.com
Newsletter: http://www.rabiagale.com/thank-you/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rabiagalewriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rabiagale

Sketches of dinosaurs, dragons, and drakes

In my teens, I took art classes from a terrific teacher named Ron Moore. He taught everything–painting, pastel, wood carving, clay sculpture, you name it, he’d teach it. Anyway, while learning to sculpt animals, we studied anatomy. I learned proportion tricks, what joints did, how shoulders behaved, and on and on. I sculpted animals, cartoon characters, dinosaurs, anything that struck my fancy.

That training still resides in my head. So when a friend suggested that I draw an amargasaurus, this training kicked in.

First off, this is an amargasaurus.

Amargasaurus
Amargasaurus from Wikipedia

Pretty gnarly-looking sauropod.

Mr. Moore always taught me that if I did artwork from another artist’s work, I would copy all their mistakes and make them worse. (Boy, have I seen new artists do that.) So I went hunting for the bones of this sucker.

Amargasaurus1_Melb_Museum
Amargasaurus skeleton from Wikipedia

Okay, so, all the spikes are attached to the vertebrae. Notice the way they lay. If he kept his neck straight, they’d more or less lie down. But if he bent his neck, they’d fan out and display whatever skin stretched between them.

amargasaurus-display

Like this.

So now we have this idea of a dinosaur bending his neck around to show off his frill. He’d have to bow his head a lot. Now we get ideas of what a courtship display might look like.

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They might have danced like this. Ever seen an iguana display his dewlap to attract a mate? It’s pretty funny. Or like that red-capped manakin bird.

moonwalking-bird-o

It’s really fun to extrapolate from dinosaur bones. It’s not like anybody can go look at one and disprove my idea, right?

Anyway, the same process applies to building dragons. Here’s a reference sheet in progress for a story I’m writing with little drakes and big dragons.

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Drakes and dragons

As you can see, my drakes are very lizard-like (with pterodactyl wings), while the dragons are the traditional European dragons. Lots of comparative anatomy studies while drawing these, trying to make them work. Well, as well as any six-limbed creature would work. There’s a lot of biological hand-waving when it comes to dragons.

While dragons would be majestic predators, drakes would fly on highly-maneuverable albatross wings, able to pull off midair gyrations like those of a flycatcher.

I suppose I ought to put some kind of a tail fin on them, so they can steer. But then, not all pterosaurs had them, either. What do you guys think?

How bits and pieces add up to a story

I think most writers have bits of old stories collecting dust somewhere. We write snippits and scenes, and hide them away in our notebooks and hard drives, stumbling upon them years later with cries of delight.

“What does this mean?” we exclaim. “What was I thinking? What was the rest of this idea?” And if enough time has gone by, we’ve forgotten what it meant. And it’s up for grabs for incorporating into our current work.

The Spacetime series has been under construction for so many years that it has lots of extra plots lying around. One plot that got cut was the story of Echo. She was Carda’s girlfriend who mysteriously died–come to find out that she was this weird timeline copy of a girl named Alatha. Alatha had had some kind of magical accident that split her into echoes, and each echo had developed its own life.

carda-xironi-and-pets
Old art of Carda, Xironi, and Ben the time elemental lizard thing.

All that was crammed into book one, The Strider of Chronos. If we had left in all the plots, the poor book would have been a thousand pages long. So I set it aside for a different book. Lo and behold, along comes Magic Weaver. It’s finally time to tell Alatha’s story.

Except my husband and I couldn’t figure out how to tell the story in a way that made sense. If a person is split into copies, are the copies alternate realities? Are they good/evil clones? Are they personality aspects?

We tossed around all kinds of ideas. A lot of them were too silly, like, everybody has seen the evil double plot in cartoons.

I decided to try writing Alatha as split into two people, Alatha and Echo. One would be good and one would be evil. Except upon trying to write it, I discovered that good and evil are enmeshed too tightly in the human psyche. The bad one would sometimes do good things and the good would would occasionally do bad things. And what are good and evil in this context, anyway? If the good one knocks out an attacker, was that a bad action?

Also, we wound up having Echo and Esca. This was really confusing and hard to read.

I scrapped that draft and started over. This time, Alatha’s timeline had been cut up. The other bits of her were actually possible futures that had been removed, and were wandering around as ghosts. Finally, I had a plot that worked.

There was another plot that had been cut–Xironi’s robot cat, Esca. Esca was originally supposed to be in the series from the beginning, but I wanted to show where she came from. This meant that Esca had to wait until Xironi got her own book, and they could properly meet.

So Magic Weaver is made up of lots of bits of stories that had to be cut away and saved. If you’ve had stories that you’ve had to set aside, or plots that you couldn’t make work, just put them away for a while. Eventually you’ll find a place for them, if you want to use them badly enough. Sometimes ideas just need a truckload of refining. Alatha/Echo took a lot of brainpower to make work right.

Magic Weaver is available on all retailers here!

Magic Weaver and Saint Death both launch!

I was pleased to see that my friend Mike Duran launched his urban fantasy Saint Death today. So did Magic Weaver–so why not promote them both?

First up, here’s Magic Weaver!

magic-weaver-fullsize

So far it’s only available at Amazon, but the other retailers will be up in a day or two. This is a young adult contemporary fantasy–technically urban, but it’s less about a gritty city setting and more about friendship and chasing ghosts. You don’t have to have read the other books to enjoy this one. But if you have read the others, it’ll be fun to visit all the characters again. Magic Weaver is on sale for .99 for the rest of the week, so grab it now!

Second, here’s Saint Death, by Mike Duran:

St.Death3D-717x1024

This is the second book in his urban fantasy series. Unlike Magic Weaver, this IS set in a gritty city setting. If you ever wondered about the secret occult underbelly of Los Angeles, this is the book for you. Also, all the heroes have superpowers that are like all the fun bits of quantum physics.

Two new books! It’s so fun getting to launch books. Especially when I’m excited about my friends’ books, too.

How worry steals your magic

It’s July National Novel Writer’s Month! Props to all my frantic writer peeps who are taking time out of vacation to scribble out random stories.

To get into the creation mood, I’ve been listening to all my brain-food music. One of them is Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins. I listened to it over and over as a teen while composing tons of crazy fanfics.

You know how listening to music can make those mental connections, and place you right back into a time and place where you last heard it? It also can have really powerful emotional connections. For me, it was like a snapshot of my mental state as a super-creative teen.

I lived in a world of good and evil, fantastic adventure, and heart-tearing drama. This album was some of the backdrop. I lived in Neverland, where once you’ve been there, you can never grow old. This was my land of pure imagination. I didn’t worry about genre or market. With fanfics, you don’t have to worry about that stuff anyway–it’s all built in. My plots were bonkers, but so fun.

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Floating Island by Bezduch

But things changed.

I’ve spent the last decade learning to be afraid. Learning to worry. Learning all those dark, negative things that help you survive adulthood–but they cut off your shining Neverland. In its place, I built a narrow, dystopian world of darkness and fear.

dark_fantasy_landscape_concept_by_doppingqnk-d6yal55
Dark fantasy landscape concept by FPesantez

I didn’t realize how far I’ve come until I put on Kenny Loggins and revisited that snapshot of how the inside of my head used to look. I want to go back to being that intense, happy person. I think my kids would like her. So I’ve been trying to be thankful, like Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.