Friday, December 18, 2009

it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

'Tis the season for the frantic... end of semester assignments to grade... final grades to submit... cakes to bake... parties to attend... cookies to bake... parties to attend... cakes and cookies to bake... more parties to attend... oh, and gifts to buy!

I used to enjoy the run-up to Christmas, but it just hasn't felt like Christmas, this year (despite four, yes four separate Christmas events at the kids' kindergarten). Or maybe I should say it didn't feel like Christmas until it started snowing the day before yesterday. I never realized how strongly snow factors into my mental image of the Christmas season, but the moment the flakes started swirling through the sky and sticking(!) to create a white blanket on the ground, I felt like Christmas was actually here (or on its way, at any rate).

Not that this year will feel very much like Christmas come next week: we'll be in Greece, sitting on the beach, in ridiculously warm weather. Coming from cold (four-season) country, that will be difficult for me. But we will be able to relax and enjoy a true vacation with my in-laws. I can't wait!  Less than 24 hours until take-off (not that I'm counting).

But this fits the season, it's my favorite carol (I know, I know, it's a total waste of electricity, but I am a sucker for Christmas lights):

Merrry Christmas to all! With luck I'll be back before the new year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

the power of what if

In thinking about the types of books I most enjoy reading, I realize that many of them are based upon "what if?" What if the stories from an ancient mythology were true? What if local legends were based on reality?

In today's world of science, we think we know everything, and those mythologies, which helped people cope with the mysteries presented by their world, no longer seem relevant. In her book, A History of God, Karen Armstrong (who provided the inspiration for the Charter for Compassion) describes the importance of God (or gods) in helping people cope with the trials and tribulations of life. As science has broadened our understanding of things like weather and natural disasters, our need for mythological stories to help us grapple with the great unknowns that change our fortunes has diminished.

But if we think about the vast number of cultural beliefs regarding mythical creatures (gods or otherwise), we find a fascinating array of ideas that can become the basis for new stories. All we need to do is ask, "What if?"

Stephanie Meyer did this with tremendous success in her Twilight stories (which I am still reading, hence their frequent appearance in my thoughts). What if there really were vampires and werewolves? What if the legends were true? She based the werewolf part of her books on the existing legends of the Quileute tribe. J.K. Rowling did the same in her Harry Potter series by asking, What if there really were witches and wizards, existing right along side us (or at least in some kind of parallel world)? Diana Gabaldon, in her historical Outlander novels, examines what would happen if someone really could go "through the stones" and travel through time.

"What if?" does not need to be limited to mythology. It can apply just as well to current scientific hypotheses. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is based upon the idea of multiple parallel universes, as is The Man Who Turned Into Himself, by David Ambrose. The concept of parallel universes is a difficult one to wrap one's mind around (I certainly have difficulty with it!), but when someone assumes it is a reality and uses it as a basis for their stories, the potential for new and exciting adventures multiplies.

Personally, I have always been fascinated by Native American Indian mythology. So now it's time for me to ask, "what if?" What if the stories and legends were true? What would that mean for someone in the present (or the future), if they were suddenly to discover this alternate reality? I'm not thinking about werewolves, but of other, more widespread beliefs shared by many native peoples.

What other kinds of things are out there, on the fringes, just waiting for someone to ask "what if?"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Catching up

So much for writing every day... or even every other day... I do have a good excuse, however, as I traveled in and out of a day and across an ocean (but not in a boat with Max and his wolf suit) to visit my family for the Thanksgiving holiday. My wonderful husband took the kids for the week, so that I could spend some quality time with the people who are most important in my life (outside of my husband and kids, of course). I must admit, it was a strange experience to discuss something non-child related with other adults... and to finish the conversation without interruption. I had completely forgotten what that can be like! Now I'm back to the world of barely-controlled chaos, and I must say that I'm glad to be home.

Unfortunately, I wrote next to nothing the whole time I was away. I guess I can chalk it up to a true vacation, although I had envisioned walking around in the mountains where my parents live, mind alive with new ideas for my current story. Maybe the fox that haunted the driveway kept the creative spark at bay.

But I have been reading. Voraciously so! Quite unintentionally, I ended up with all four volumes of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series in my carry-on luggage (yes, the books took up almost the whole bag). I began reading the first novel as I waited for my plane in Chicago. I managed to sleep for a couple of hours on the way to Brussels, but found I couldn't put the book down, even while eating my meal (it was a good distraction from the airplane food). I finished it before landing in Berlin. And I've already finished New Moon (that one took three days).

I find myself completely drawn in to the story. I must confess, I'm a sucker for fantasy. My favorites include Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and now the Twilight series (although not truly fantasy, I am also a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series). I love the way the authors create a world (or worlds) that differ from our own, even if only in small ways. Those changes result in unexpected events, rife with conflict, that allow the characters to discover themselves. I find that when I read a novel from one of these authors, my mind begins to create worlds on its own. And I love nothing more than to get lost in those worlds.

Twilight and New Moon have jump-started my creativity, getting me writing again, with a clearer idea of who is in my story, what is happening to them, and why.  Now I just hope that I can portray the events as well as the aforementioned authors do, to create for others the same excitement, anticipation, even fear, that I see in my head. And for that, I'd better get back to writing... before I get sucked into Eclipse.