I’ve heard about this sort of thing happening to other authors – i.e. a character appearing unbidden, “out of the blue” (or perhaps from the author’s subconscious) – but I had not personally experienced it before. Now, I have.
Recently a character “walked right in” to the novel I’m currently working on, second in my Women of Beowulf trilogy. Her name is Runa, she’s Finnish, and she’s a young slave in Beowulf’s home territory in Sweden.
The sudden appearance of Runa has opened up a whole new area of research for me: Finnish folk culture and particularly the national epic, The Kalevala. I’ve been devouring this fascinating document for several days and nights. The work had been on the periphery of my vision for years; I used to read aloud to high school students a story taken from The Kalevala, “Louhi, Witch of North Farm.” Now, I’m absorbing the richness of folklore and characters it has to offer.
Since Finland is now “on my radar,” so to speak, Finnish sources have been popping up all around me. For example, I recently discovered that a longtime friend here in the U.S. is of Finnish descent. She loaned me two books on Finnish history which are turning out to be a goldmine of information. So it goes. When “way opens,” as we Quakers say, you just don’t know who will walk through that door or where they will take you.
In Faces in the Fire I went to Denmark and Germany. With Book Two (as yet untitled) I’m journeying to Sweden and now Finland. I wonder where Book Three will lead me? Time will tell – or an unexpected character!
Monday afternoon I had a sobering talk with a CPA about record-keeping for next year’s taxes. As an independent author I fall into the category of “Sole Proprietor.” Basically this means that, as a self-employed person, I am responsible for paying social security and Medicare taxes out of my book earnings, in addiiton to any income taxes owed. Wow!
Until I actually turn a profit, some of my expenses can be written off as losses, but the IRS wants definite proof that I’m in the serious business of writing and not just publishing books as a hobby. What kind of proof? I asked the tax accountant. Separating my business bank account from my personal accounts is a start, I was told. Something as simple as having and using a business card is another. Good! I qualify on both.
Next, I was told that keeping a current, continuous log of expenses is vitally important. Oops! Although I have a box stuffed full of receipts, I need to make a detailed list of all my appearances this fall – including mileage, motels, food expenses, etc. Royalty checks should be copied. Expense files should be set up (e.g. office supplies, research materials). My office needs to be a space dedicated solely to my work in order to be a legitimate deduction. Should the IRS come calling, I must be able to show them my office and put my hands on any receipts they request. By keeping good, complete records I will also help my tax preparer in 2012.
If and when I start making money, I”ll have to file quarterly estimated payments toward the annual taxes due – on a 1040ES form. Whew! I’m glad I had that little talk with a tax professional! When I started writing Faces in the Fire, I gave no thought to the busines end of the process. Now, I’ve decided that paying a CPA for his services will be a wise and necessary step. If you, too, are a published author, don’t forget to do your own homework!
Growing up in rural Indiana during the 40’s and 50’s, the world of Beowulf was as unknown and foreign to me as the dark side of the moon. It did not enter my field of vision until gradute school in the 60’s, when I had to take a course in Old English Literature. Bingo! Beowulf – in the original! I struggled through the epic, got my degree and moved on.
Years later I found myself in a high school classroom, preparing to teach Honors English to 16-year-olds. On the curriculum: Beowulf. I immersed myself in the Burton Raffel translation, papered the walls of the classroom to simulate a sixth century mead hall, and drew a life-sized Beowulf with blonde hair and chain mail to occupy it.
On the day I planned to introduce the epic, I brought in a friend who played hammered dulcimer. We dressed in long cloaks and turned out the lights. As she “harped,” I intoned the opening lines:
“Hear me! We’ve heard of Danish heroes,
Ancient kings and the glory they cut
For themselves, swinging mighty swords!”…
My dumbstruck students knew they had entered a different world, one possibly occupied by a crazy teacher.
Every year I looked forward to making a deeper acquaintance with Beowulf. My students memorized passages to recite before the class. We made facsimiles of the helmet excavated at Sutton Hoo, we learned how to write our names in futhork, the runic alphabet. We immersed ourselves in an ancient world of gods, heroes and monsters.
Sixteen years down the road, I was standing before another class reading Beowulf when I had an epiphany. I stopped in mid-sentence as the idea hit me, then declared out loud, “I’m going to write a book about the WOMEN of Beowulf!” One of my sophomore boys jumped to his feet. “Yeah, Dr. Rogers – you can call it The Babes of Beowulf!”
As it turned out, I used a different title, Faces in the Fire, but I did write that novel about the women of Beowulf. In fact I’m now at work on Book Two of the series. I still love Beowulf and the world it represents, a world of gods, monsters, heroes – and women.
When you live on a rocky island, special attention must be paid to the matter of waste disposal, human and otherwise. We have a choice: inhouse or outhouse? Rain and darkness dictate the former, but in the interest of season-long septic system sustainability, it is often best to use the outhouse.
Ours is located about 60 feet from the main cabin. It’s a little red shack surrounded by wild roses and evergreens. A tree branch handle secures the door – which does NOT feature the stereotypical half-moon carving. It’s a one-seater. There is no unpleasant odor because the waste is property treated, biologically.
The interior is downright decorative. To the right of the “opening” (a regulation toilet rim and lid) stand rows of covered coffee cans containing rolls of toilet tissue. To the left, stacks of old Reader’s Digests – some with antique status – provide for leisure reading. The walls are adorned with calendars: scenic, floral, and girlie. Two pseudo-license plates record the travels of one occupant. The green and orange model reads “Rio De Janeiro, Brazil 2008. Another, in black and yellow from Australia, features a kangaroo, koala, emu, wombat and crocodile.
The most creative decorations are produced by the spiders. Daddy Longlegs are sociable companions familiar from childhood. Don’t be alarmed if you see a big, brown, hairy spider as big as your hand. These “dock spiders” don’t bite; they’re just looking for a cool, dark place to hang out – much like the human occupants.
Historical footnote: In Viking times, such as those depicted in my novel, Faces in the Fire, the “outhouse” was the only choice available. Usually a shed-like privy, it was attached to the outer wall of a family’s longhouse. Even in winter you still had to go outside!
Tops on my “To Do” list for summer: WRITE! Book Two of The Women of Beowulf is actually well along, but advice on “how to write” keeps coming my way. Last night on MPR I heard an author interviewed who had taught himself how to write by typing out other people’s stories word for word. He did this for two years. Such a regimen would drive me crazy!
In a book I recently picked up, Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life, he recommends reading all the great books as the best education for a writer. That, and learning how to use specific details. One of my favorite “how-to’s” is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which advocates that the writer address one thing at a time and just keep at it. Stephen King also had good advice in his book on writing, but I can’t now remember what it was!
My own technique for producing historical fiction is to research, research, research, and absorb, absorb, absorb. I spent five years doing this, including on-site exploration in Scandinavia, before writing Faces in the Fire, Book One of The Women of Beowulf. When my brain-sponge is almost full, I sit down, make a rough outline, and start squeezing.
(You may have heard that once you create characters they take on lives of their own. I’ve found this to be true. Mine love to talk, so dialogue is a prominent feature in my work.)
Interior writing – writing in my head – is also essential for me. I do it when I lie down to sleep, when I wake in the morning, when I’m driving a car. Scientists have fancy names for this process, but it is really just rehearsal – trying to get it right before going on stage.
My recommendation? Trial and error. It’s the only way to find what works for you.
Goddess worship is distinctly out of fashion in our western, Christianized culture, but it has not always been so. We learned in school that the Greeks, and later the Romans, personified various aspects of the feminine as goddesses (ex. Aphrodite/Venus, Hera/Juno) and gave expression to the concept in other forms as well (ex. The three Fates: maiden/mother/crone).
In Norse mythology one female figure stands out, high above her competition: Freyja, twin sister of Freyr, both associated with fertility and prosperity. Think about it: the power to create life – be it human, animal or vegetable – is a power above all others.
Perhaps reflecting the earthy character of life in northern climates, Freyja is a goddess of lusty appetites: for sex, for gold, for all things beautiful. She is also a shape-shifter with magic powers. She can transform herself into a falcon or the shape of a feather in order to fly to different lands. She can also drive a chariot drawn by cats or ride upon a great boar when she journeys. Freyja was a popular goddess; her amulets and pendants can be unearthed all over Scandinavia.
The power to leave one’s physical self and be transported elsewhere is a mark of the shaman, who journeys in spirit to other worlds to obtain information – perhaps from the dead, perhaps from the gods themselves. In my novel about the women of Beowulf, Faces in the Fire, the heroine Freawaru is developing her power through trance states.
Just as the Greeks and Romans separated woman-as-lover-and-mistress from woman-as-wife-and-mother, the Norse did the same, assigning the former role to Freyja and the latter to Frigg, wife of Odin. Both goddesses could be called upon to assist in childbirth, and both could receive women after their death.
Want to be a goddess? Develop your powers!