2020 Reading Review

Well, that was quite in crazy year, huh? Despite staying home for 11 of the 12 months this year, my reading productivity took a large dip compared to 2019. This was largely due to being a parent, not commuting (audiobooks), and switching from audiobook to actually reading books this year. The year is not quite done yet, and I am hoping to add a book or two to my completed list for 2020, but for now I wanted to post my review of the reading/audiobook listening I have done this year.

It’s not hard to see the revolution in my media consumption that came with my subscription to audible. From 2012-2015 I was in the world of podcasts and graduate school, so my actual book completion was conspicuously low. With the rise of a business commute, and real income I began to ravenously listen to audio-books. Long drives, commutes, or TV-muted late-night-FIFA sessions are great for listening to audio-books — and I took full advantage. Without much of those things in 2020, and with a new desire to actually read, my audio book consumption dropped. I’m happy with this as I push to finish more real books, and my To Read only grows larger every day.

TitleAuthorMediaGenreMy RatingAverage Rating
The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)Tolkien, J.R.R.AudibleFantasy54.44
GermaniaTacitusAudibleAncient History43.96
New Spring (The Wheel of Time, #0)Jordan, RobertAudibleFantasy 54.03
King Darius the Great: The Life and Legacy of the Achaemenid Persian Empire’s Ruler during the First Invasion of GreeceEditors, Charles RiverAudibleAncient History23.4
The Secrets of Story: Innovative Tools for Perfecting Your Fiction and Captivating ReadersBird, MattAudible/Paperback Writing54.42
Holy Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #3)Lawrence, MarkAudibleFantasy44.34
Norse MythologyGaiman, NeilAudible AudioMythology54.08
Age of Myth (The Legends of the First Empire, #1)Sullivan, Michael J.Audible AudioFantasy- Epic34.24
DragonslayerHamilton, Duncan M.Audible AudioFantasy- Epic33.95
Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of DiscoveryDuncan, DaytonAudible AudioAmerican History44.13
The Hod King (The Books of Babel, #3)Bancroft, JosiahAudible AudioFantasy54.52
Beggar’s Rebellion (Resonant #1)Jacobs, LeviebookFantasy- Epic33.89
We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire Book 1)Madson, DevinebookFantasy- Epic44.03
Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever NeedBrody, JessicaAudible AudioWriting44.54
Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala SiouxNeihardt, John G.Audible AudioAmerian History54.1
They Mostly Come Out at Night (Yarnsworld, #1)Patrick, BenedictebookFantasy- Folklore23.65
The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)Kuang, R.F.ebookFantasy- Epic44.01
The Unbreakable Arrow: Wulfric the WandererMoffat, CharlesebookFantasy – Sword and Sorcery22
In Shadows We FallMadson, DevinebookFantasy- Epic34.05
Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of RomeBoin, DouglasAudible AudioAncient History43.75
The Skald’s Black Verse (Dreadbound Ode #1)Short, Jordan Loyal
ebook
Fantasy- Folklore
3
4.25
The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the SteppeCunliffe, Barry W.Audible AudioAncient History44.25
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1)Wells, MarthaebookScience FictionAlmost Done!

We Ride the Storm (The Reborn Empire Book 1)

I’ve written about We Ride the Storm before in my Mongolian Mythology blog entry, but want to highlight it again. This was a book I found on reddit when searching for Mongolian inspired themes in Fantasy and I loved it. Devin Madson, an Australian author, writes expansive cultures in We Ride the Storm, primarily based on Japanese and Roman cultures. It’s a fun story that has light magic elements and heavy combat, court intrigue and assassination elements.

Alaric the Goth: An Outsider’s History of the Fall of Rome

Alaric the Goth sacked Rome in 410. His name lives in legend because of it, but this book dives into how he rose to power within the roman empire, and some of what Alaric’s childhood was like in the Black Sea frontier at a time when Roman influence was waning. We know a surprising amount about Alaric, and this book was a wonderful deep dive into a historical character.

Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

I continue to work on my native american inspired cultures, and to do so I need to learn a lot more about those cultures themselves. To do this, I began reading Black Elk Speaks, a first hand account of a Sioux medicine man that fought with Crazyhorse. He details many spiritual rituals, as well as the slow, inexorable displacement of the Sioux by Americans. This book culminates in a first hand retelling of the Massacre at Wounded Knee.
I would encourage any American interested in learning about how ‘winning the west’ happened to read this book. Especially in 2020 – as the movements for social equality finally began receiving the platform they deserve- learning what happened, and continues to happen, to the Native peoples of North America is gut wrenching.

Coming in 2021

TitleAuthorRelease Year
The Fall of Babel (The Books of Babel, #4)Bancroft, Josiah2021
The Unbroken (Magic of the Lost, #1)Clark, C.L.2021
The Girl and the Stars (Book of the Ice, #1)Lawrence, Mark2020
The Thorn of Emberlain (Gentleman Bastard, #4)Lynch, Scott202X
We Lie With Death (The Reborn Empire, #2)Madson, Devin2021
The Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire, #6)Martin, George R.R.203X
The Fires of Vengeance (The Burning, #2)Winter, Evan2020

There are so many books I am looking forward to reading next year. These are in no particular order. A few of these like Fires of Vengeance and the Girl and the Stars I have sitting on my shelf, others are pre-orders (The Unbroken and We Lie with Death). Others like The Thorn of Emberlain and The Winds of Winter are still on my radar though I have no expectations of completion in 2021. One can hope!

I hope everyone has a safe and healthy holiday season and that 2021 is decidedly better than 2020!

Best,

Josh

Completed Drafts and 2021

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been writing for a very long time. I remember writing stories with my close friend in his bedroom at the age of 8 or 9, and I never really stopped. I wrote short stories and attempted a novel all through high school. I remember bailing on parties in college to work on writing.

In 2016 I wrote a short story for a r/fantasywriters competition that spawned the College of the Gods. Every work since then has derived from that short, 2000 word tale. Now I have written well over 300,000 words in the world of Meridia and the College of the Gods.

In 2017 I wrote my first full novel draft exclusively on Scrivener for the iPhone called The Godkiller Conspiracy. I wrote during my commutes, and I was lucky to have a lot of down time at my job. I would furiously pound away for 30 minutes at a time whenever I had a chance, squinting at the screen and getting sore thumbs.

In 2018, I was assigned a project for 6 months where I worked in a dark room by myself for 8 hrs a day and I finished my first draft of The Heart of the Forest. I was so proud to have completed this, and used that momentum to begin the first proto-draft of Into the West. After a sputtering attempt at a first draft, I left Into the West alone for a while until I decided to do NaNoWriMo2019, and pushed through for a full draft of Into the West. Now, a year later, I have finished a second draft of Into the West and my NaNoWriMo2020 project, Dark Waters.

I am so proud of these works, though I know they are a far cry from publishability. I hope to use 2021 to refine and prepare Into the West for the SPFBO competition in 2022.

I have already begun Draft 3, starting with an editing read through and waiting for Beta Reader feedback. There is so much work to do, and editing a 500 page book will be painful but I am so excited for it.

I also want to drop a little plug for anyone else looking to print their work, I have loved lulu.com for printing my novel drafts. I have printed 3 different novels now and love the ability to see my work printed and bound. It’s really easy, and I have a physical copy of my work that was something I never fully expected to see.

As always, let me know if you’re interested in reading my work! I am looking specifically for people who would like to receive an advanced reader copy of a novel some time in 2021.

Best,

JL

writerlarkin@gmail.com

NaNoWriMo is Here!

After 6 weeks of preparation, it’s time to finally launch into National Novel Writing Month for the second time. Last year, with a baby on the way, I decided to write a novel as I expected it to be my last chance before life changed.

Life did change. I accepted a job last November and started a new job in the middle of a crazy sprint to reach 50,000 words and ‘win’ NaNoWriMo. Then the baby came and on came 2020 and all of it’s challenges. Here we are year later and I have completed a second draft of that novel, Into the West. I anxiously await feedback from my beta (really more alpha readers), though the feedback I have received has been very encouraging.

Now, I am starting another project. We’ll see how things go with an election, a baby and a pandemic on. Maybe it’s the perfect time to dive into a novel. The third book in my College of the Gods Saga is titled (working title, of course) Dark Waters. It takes place in Vellicia, a Venice-like city on the southern coast of Meridia. We follow Ramtha Munatia, a noblewoman who wants desperately to be part of the in-crowd of Vellicia. Her mother is a Judge of the College of the Gods though, and that drives a wedge between her and her friends. It’s not a good look when your mom is locking up your parents friends for corruption.

We also meet our second POV character, Gant Gadezi. He is tasked with hunting down a rogue God in Vellicia who may be plotting against the College. He has been a Hunter for over a thousand years and been responsible for ensuring that the College can maintain control over Meridia.

I am so excited to continue to build my world. Where Into the West spanned nations as Por and Xero traveled west a la Lewis and Clark, Dark Waters is more focused. We don’t leave the city of Vellicia, but hopefully we get to dive deeper into a cities culture and politicial undercurrents.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in learning more about my work, or signing up to be a beta reader or advance reader of my books when the time comes, please shoot me a message at writerlarkin@gmail.com, or head over to my alpha-reader request page at the WriterLarkin home.

Best,

Josh

And they’re off!

Well, they’re almost off. I am lucky to have three trusted beta readers willing to read through Into the West and provide their feedback. One is my wife, so that isn’t going particularly far. The other is a local friend, and the third my cousin across the country. So when I say they’re off, I mean figuratively. Maps are drawn, instructions written and they’re all wrapped up and sealed with wax.

As I’ve told my wife, I have no idea if I will ever be published. Sure, I could throw it up on Kindle Direct to Publishing now, but I know it’s not good enough yet. That said, I have loved the process of getting these drafts printed and wrapped up. It’s so exciting. It’s really special to be able to hold my work printed and bound for the first time. This is the payoff I have been looking for, and publication is not actually my end goal. I have loved writing this novel. I love drafting the next one, and editing The Heart of the Forest (original College of the Gods Book #1).

The creative process is rewarding in and of itself, and that makes this whole process even more fun. I drive my wife crazy talking about my characters and books. I heap unrealistic expectations on myself about when this book could be done (looking at you 2021 SPFBO — not going to happen). In the end, it’s a fun and productive hobby that I now finally get to share with people. I’m so proud to hold Into the West in my hands, even if it’s not yet done. I can’t wait to get back to it and hear what people do and don’t like.

Building Meridia

I have been working on the world of Meridia, which houses the College of the Gods, since early 2017. It’s not even close to the first world I’ve created, but it’s certainly the best. It started with a short story that showed the death of the world and the death of the Gods. I’ve worked back from there, and the story is no longer a true event in the world of Meridia, but it helped me guide the development Meridia into a dynamic and full world.

Recently, I’ve been taking some downtime from writing and doing some outlining and world building. I’ve been tracking a lot of the world building here to use as a resource for readers and anyone else interested in my writing.

As I’ve outlined my next book (working title Dark Waters) I came to realize that I just wasn’t ready to leap into a city I hadn’t explored yet. I have an inciting incident and some general arcs in mind, but I haven’t yet explored Vellicia. So this weekend, while cloistered inside against the smoke, I decided to start drawing.

I started with the ideas about Vellicia I have established in Into the West. Vellicia is a city with canals. It’s know for it’s sweet citrus wine, and Vellician people have Italian sounding names (Isabella Constantia – Into the West). The obvious leap from that information is to take a look at Venice. I know little of the history of Venice itself, so I had to do a little digging on what Venice looked like historically.

Source

Without leaning too heavily on historical context, my setting will be similar to medieval Italian city. For this book in particular, I am trying to be inspired by and not too similar to Scott Lynch’s Camoor, of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen Gentleman Bastards fame.

Besides the Italian influenced setting and the canals of Camoor, I am hoping not too many similarities will be drawn. What I do hope is drawn as a similarity is the quality of the atmosphere I develop in Vellicia. I want it to be dark and foreboding like Camoor. A city with opulence, a dark underbelly, and intrigue at every turn.

Vellicia is a city where wealth flows. Trade across Meridia and into the heartland of the east moves through the harbor of Vellicia and with it merchants build fortunes. The city is centered on the immense Temple of Nethun, honoring a powerful God of the Sea in Meridia. The islands off the coast to the south of the temple contain the peak of Vellician culture. Shops, estates and manor houses fill the islands to the brim with high class people buying high class things. To the west of the Temple of Nethun, the docks are a warren of the classic kind of seafaring workers you’d expect. Taverns, inns and brothels are commonplace. To the east of the temple, the Drowned Quarter is home to many of those who work to serve the elite noble class of the city. Finally, to the north is where the bureaucracy of the College of the Gods makes their presence felt. A Florentine-style duomo houses the Gods judges, as well as the rest of the ruling government bodies. All of these parts of the city are cross-crosses by canals and roads, making it a thrives paradise of escape routes.

Vellicia is a city that houses a confluence of ambition, wealth, grit and devotion. I can’t wait to explore it more in Dark Waters.

I’ve been thinking about how much I love buying maps and merchandise from my favorite book series, and imaging ways in which I can monetize my book series besides the actual books themselves. It’s a hard road to make money as an author, and I don’t really ever expect to, but selling maps of cities that I’ve drawn, as well as other inserts to go with my novels seems like a good way. Either way, works building is a great source of inspiration when I need a kick start.

Thanks for reading,

JL

Draft Two, Complete

It’s done. It was patchwork towards the end, but I completed my second draft of Into the West. I have send a proof off to LuLu.com to get 5 copies printed. Two for myself and one to send to each of my alpha readers.

It’s rough. I feel like my first draft was really more idea vomit than a full draft. Now we have, or at least I hope to have, a bit more cohesion in the plot, some better pacing and some added action.

I also realized about 90% of the way through the draft just how passive I was writing. Many sentences started off with Por thought, or Por saw, or Por felt. It’s OK some times, but most of the time it’s just weak writing.

I am now working on building out my Fandom Wiki as a place to keep notes on characters and places while beginning to think about my outline for NaNaWriMo2020. I am debating between a stand alone work and another novel in the same world as Into the West. I have two months to outline, and then November and December to write a new first draft. Come January, I will revisit Into the West and begin Draft 3.

For my own enjoyment, I like to keep meticulous statistics on my writing work. I’ve included some of those statistics below.

Draft 2 ended just a shade over 108,000 words and the proof paper backs I ordered clock in at 490 pages. Let’s hope that can be significantly refined. I’d like to target around 400 for a final product.
I wrote a total of 50.3% days between Draft 1 and Draft 2. Draft 2 was actually significantly lower at 47%

Thanks for reading, I hope to provide more regular posts and updates in the intervening time.

-JL

Mongolian Folklore and Myth in Fantasy

Edit: I have made some adjustments to this article after some feedback from a Mongolian friend.

Something that I have been doing research on for my own work is Mongolian culture and folklore. Mongolian culture, particularly during the times of Genghis Khan, is fascinating and had a profound impact on the modern world. From the unification of much of Asia under the Khans, to the complete destruction of the Khwarezmid Empire, and Genghis Khan’s son knocking on the doors of Central Europe, there is so much to dig into.

Image Credit

For this essay I’ve utilized these resources:

Mongolian Theology

The 3 Layered World and the Creation of Evil

When ancient Mongols laid down at night and looked up at the stars, they did not see constellations, like the Greeks or other western cultures. They saw the fires of hunters in the upper world high above them. Similar to Norse Mythology, according to Mongol folklore, humans inhabit the middle world, while other entities inhabit the lower and the upper worlds. The upper world contained 99 gods (Tngri) that are divided across the sky into Western and Eastern halves. The western Tngri were associated with ‘good’ Tngri while the eastern were viewed as malevolent. One neutral Tngri, Segen is fought over by the other 99 gods and this conflict is the root of evil in humanity. When Segen failed to join the 44 malevolent gods they poisoned his daughter causing him to side with the Western Gods. The ruler of the malevolent Tngri was then cut apart and his parts were sent down to the middle world, where those parts became all things bad.

The lower realm did not play a significant roll in Mongolian folklore until it was fused with the Buddhist idea of hell. Interestingly, the concept of hell in Buriad culture has the same organization as Russian Tsarist bureaucracy, indicating a modern inspiration for these concepts.

While there is a three layered world in Mongolian theology, most of the religious implications of this theology is centered in the middle and upper worlds.

Mongolian Pantheon

In the Mongolian Pantheon, the most prominent gods are the Tngri. They are divided into different groupings, including:

  • Gods of the Four Corners
  • Five Wind Gods
  • Five Gods of the Entrance
  • Five of the Door
  • Five of the Horizontal

Gods of the Mongolian Pantheon

  • Koke Mongke Tengri – dwells in the sky as the Eternal Blue Heaven, highest of all heavenly beings
  • Sulde Tngri – Equestrian God of war. Protects soldiers from mortal enemies. Closely associated with Genghis Khan as the embodiment of Sulde Tngri.
  • Dayisun Tngri: A war god, depicted as a mounted warrior. Sometimes captives were sacrificed to Dayisun Tngri.
  • Qormusta Tngri: King of the 99 Tngri, sometimes associated with Ahura Mazda of Manichaeism or said to be influenced by Brahma or Indra.
  • Segen (Segeen Sebdeg): God of Winter, married to Ugan Sesen and father the Goddess of Spring Season Sesegen Nogoon.
  • Etugen Eke – the Earth Mother and sometimes viewed as a separate dualistic nature of the 99 Tngri (sometimes 77 Tngri). While Tngri determined the fate of people and nations, natural forces yield to Etugen.

Mongolian Folklore

In order to enrich the cultures I write, I think it’s important to know the structure of folk tales from around the world. I’ll share a few stories I enjoyed reading.

The Fox

As I have been doing research, my internet searches have continually brought me back to gutenberg.org for more established documents like the Secret History of the Mongols. These are public domain resources that are so valuable, but what about the less famous, less well known works? Academia.edu has been a revelation for me. In my quest for a deeper understanding of Mongolian folklore, I stumbled upon a Hungarian scholar, Agnes Birtalan from Eötvös Loránd University who has been publishing articles on the topic. One discussed the fox, and how there are many omens associated with the fox in Mongolian Folklore.

The Fox has a great deal of importance in Mongolian Folklore. Foxes are closely connected to misfortune and bad things, especially when it comes to hunting. It should never be the first thing killed on a hunt. One should keep their eyes closed killing a fox, so that the hunter remains anonymous to the fox. Seeing a running fox is heavily connected to misfortune as well. There are even significant rituals in how to deal with body of a fox killed, to ensure that the fox does not have a rebirth.

Demons of Mongolian Folklore

There are many different mythological creatures in Turkic and Mongolian folklore. Spirits that inhabit the realm of humans are one of, if not the most important phenomena in the Mongolian belief system. Most of these creatures are benevolent until a person stops giving offerings. Many of these creatures descending from the upper realm into the realm of humans, where they wander the earth.

A few examples of spirits and demons of Mongolian folklore:

  • Lus – A group of water gods. Generally viewed as beniegn, though can cause illness or death. OFten appear in the form a good dragon and change to a dragon-headed human, or a full human. Lus will be angry if anyone urinates or defecates in bodies of water, which has a strong scientific explanation to prevent infectious disease from spreading via water.
Luus as pictured in the scholarly article Systematization of the Concept of Demonic and Evil in Mongolian Folk Religion, Agnes Birtalan
  • sabdag and nibdag – Mountain Spirits and/or ‘Lord of the Territory’. Usually depicted as zoomorphic and carrying Buddhist iconography
  • Muu shuwuu – ‘harmful bird’ – another zoomorphic demon that’s very dangerous to men and hunters, defined by their bird-like bill.
  • Ada – one eyed spirit that causes sickness and death in women and children
  • mangyus -the embodiment of the enemy, a demon in human form. Sometimes depicted with several heads
Manhyus as pictured in the scholarly article Systematization of the Concept of Demonic and Evil in Mongolian Folk Religion, Agnes Birtalan

Mongolian Influence in the Fantasy Genre

A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin

The Khals and Khalasar’s of a Song of Ice and Fire are the most prominent example of a Mongol-like culture in mainstream media. In fact, one of the Mongolian language, Khalkha is abbreviated Khal, and while it’s possible that this is a coincidence, it would seem likely that this was in fact the inspiration for George R.R. Martin’s title. Khals and Khaleesi’s rule a Khalasar of riders on the grass sea. They are horse masters, formidable warriors, and a nomadic people that emulate much of what people of the Eurasian steppes embodied.

Drogo’s Enormous Khalasar – by Tomasz Jedruszek. © Fantasy Flight Games

We Ride the Storm – Devin Madson

The Levanti culture of the plains in We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson is another seemingly Mongolian inspired culture, but after asking the author what resources she leaned on in the creation of this culture, I was surprised to find out that she didn’t. While the Levanti seem to be created in the image of a Mongolian culture, the similarities seem more tangential than anything. I’m very much looking forward to the second book in her Reborn Empire series and hope to see this culture broadened and deepened.

Warrior of the Altaii – Robert Jordan

Before Robert Jordan wrote the fourteen book epic The Wheel of Time, he started out with a much more modest story, Warrior of the Altaii. It was never traditionally published until 2019, 12 years after Robert Jordan’s death. The book follows a barbarian warrior named Wulfgar. This book is written in the vein of Conan the Barbarian. The paralell to Mongolian culture is that the Altaii people are nomadic horsemen. The Altai Mountains (Altay), a mountainous region in western Mongolia, which seems a logical inspiration for Robert Jordan to name this nomadic culture.

The Poppy War – R.F Kuang

In R.F Kuang’s ‘The Poppy War’, the main character Rin meets someone from the ‘Hinterlands’ that not only has a Mongolian inspired name (Qara) but also has special powers that allows her to talk to birds. While I haven’t finished the book yet, the Hinterlanders seem to emulate Mongolian culture quite a bit. To see a Mongolian inspired character with a falcon, or other type of bird very much aligns with my expectation for that character.

How this relates to my writing:

I am currently working on a book called Into the West that includes a plains people that I want to model off of pre-Genghis Khan Mongolian culture as well as plains native American culture. The Kayee people live in camps similar to plains Native Americans, though much of their cultural practices are a derived blend of Mongolian and Native American culture.

I will be following this post with an examination of Native American folklore and religion, particularly plains Native American Peoples like the Lakota and Oglala Sioux, Comanche as well as the Cherokee.

Thanks to Caodu Buren for the corrections to the original post.

Draft Two: Still…..Going

I haven’t posted to my blog in a little over two months now, so I feel like it’s finally time to have an update.

I am closing in on 75,000 words for my second draft of Into the West and boy, the more I work the more I realize how much work there is left to be done. It’s very easy to stand here most of the way up the side of Second Draft Hill and see the Peaks of Completion far away, beyond the valley of Draft 3, and the Draft 4 switchbacks. Obviously, Beta Reader Ridge is in there as well, and that will be a challenge in and of itself. Looking back down at First Draft Gulch, I feel like the parking lot is still firmly in view. Never a good sign.

I like to keep meticulous track of my writing behavior, as seen above. Most of this new draft is fresh words, and basically a whole new draft. It feels like editing but on the whole, it’s a re-write. And every new scene I add broadens the scope of the novel, so I will need to triage the scenes and narrow it back down. For the time being, it’s a write everything, throw ideas at the wall to see what sticks process, which I am fine with. For the first two months of this draft, I was writing about 60% of days. As the COVID-19 quarantine dragged on, my interest in video games unexpected died and parental duties increased, we’ve balanced out to about 40% of days writing. Ideally, I’d like to be writing every day, but it’s usually not feasible.

One of my biggest struggles right now is my first act. I want to tell a story about an expedition to the West and what happens there. That expedition doesn’t start until Act 2 right now, nearly 25,000 words (~85 pages) into the story. So I am struggling to figure out what should and should not be in the story to set up the expedition as best as possible while maintaining character motivations and introducing the players in the book well.

The first act is troubling me so much that I’ve sent it out to be read by a trusted, knowledgeable alpha reader while I continue working on the second and third acts of the novel. Part of me knows what needs to happen, which is strip out 80% and make the whole first act punchier, but I want more opinions before I begin to hack.

Of my other writing endeavors, I have been working on my third mythology installment for nearly four months now. I’m not surprised to have had this fall off as I started working on the draft again, but I am disappointed it’s taken this long. There is so much interesting material on Mongolian folklore and myth that I want to do the topic justice before publishing, but be on the lookout for that here soon (hopefully).

Lastly, I wanted to share this amazing piece of artwork from Peter Mohrbacher that I have been using as inspiration for a scene I recently wrote. Whenever my book is published, bonus points to whoever finds the similarities first, assuming these similarities make it into the final draft.

Best,

JL

Racist Jokes are Racism Too

The events of the last few days weigh heavily on me, and apparently writing is my emotional outlet. So this is where I need to process, and that’s what I will do.

My heart is breaking for all the people across the United States that feel like they system is set up against them. Because it is. It’s not some grand conspiracy that includes cell phone towers, the New World Order or lizard people. It’s really very simple. Racism is passed down from family member to family member like a disease. And for so long everyone acted like racism was an active thing. Like a lynching or a hate-inspired beating was the only way you could be racist. For a long time, that was unacceptable, but that’s no longer the case. Now, it’s much more insidious than that. Police have decades of experience at obfuscating the truth, and it’s the advent of cell phone video that has allowed the truth to be known.

“I have a black friend.” is a refrain so common as a way to say ‘I’m not racist’ that it’s a joke. It’s been a joke for a decade, and I still hear it said. There is a part of it that is profound. The person knows someone of another race. They break the mold. They are not the stereotype that the person expects. And the people who hold theses beliefs see evidence they’re wrong right in front of them, but reject it. They are more willing to accept those beliefs they were raised with than the evidence, a literal friend. And that is profound and sad to me. But it is also informative. As a new parent, it’s critical to know that someone’s upbringing guides their experiences through life, even when faced with evidence to the contrary.

The events of the past weekend have me reflecting on my childhood. I can say unequivocally that I made a lot of inappropriate jokes as a high school-er and college student. I look back on those moments with a degree of shame. I know that I said those things in jest, trying to be inflammatory or illicit a reaction from my friends. I know that even saying that is a form of permissiveness that I would be unlikely to forgive now. And I know I would never want my daughter to say those same things.

Another moment from my childhood that bubbled into my mind is a birthday party. Like most birthday parties around the years 2000-2002, it was a Halo party that included a lot of Blood Gulch (a map on Halo) and probably pizza and soda. At some point during that party, someone decided to make a fort that would be a Ku Klux Klan fort. It included pillows, blankets, and a ping pong table, and if not for the KKK designation, it would have been a great fort. I’ll be honest, a lot of the details are fuzzy, but I know that of about 10 kids (5-6th grade), only myself and one other person refused to join the KKK fort. I remember the feeling of refusing to join, sitting on the couch feeling left out. This is not intended to be some sort of convoluted humble brag. It’s a self-conscious look back on my upbringing and the event’s I experienced as a child that seemed so benign at the time. This was hardly the only experience with what I viewed as benign racism as young person. Xbox Live was rife with racism and inflammatory language. As a kid it’s easy to go with the behavior being modeled.

Knowing what I know now, those ‘benignly racist’ moments were anything but. I am thankful that my parents modeled the behavior that allowed me to sit there on the couch and refuse to join the KKK fort that night, when all the peer pressure in the world said join. But that is clearly not enough. It’s not enough just to not be terrible. We, as middle class white people, need to be more. We need to be anti-racist, as so many instagram and social media posts are saying right now. Confronting benign racism isn’t easy, but it’s the only way forward to equality.

My wife and I just watched a great webinar on raising children to understand race dynamics from EmbraceRace.org. Link to webinar. The most important take away that I had from the webinar was that if you want your child to behave a particular way, model it. If you want them to stand up to racism, model it. I am proud of the behavior that was modeled for me in my life that allowed me to sit on the couch and not join the KKK fort, but I want to take it one step further. Racist jokes are the target, because that was OK for me growing up. Even in the basement of houses where no person of color hear the words spoken, it was damaging. The same as using the word ‘gay’ as a slang for the negative. It wasn’t until college that I realized how ignorant it sounded and changed my behavior.

So my hope for my daughter is that I can bring her up not only avoiding doing harm, but being the kind of ally needed in the struggle for equality. Because while there are claims of equality, anyone with a critical eye knows that’s not true. The people in the street know it’s not true. The police profiling minorities know it’s not true.

Do you know it’s not true? I’d be happy to discuss with you in a civil setting. The only way forward is together, but together won’t include everyone. Will you be a part?

The Editing Grind: Confronting Sirens and Uncertainty

I am currently about a third of the way through my second draft of ‘Into the West’, and let me tell you, editing sucks. It’s healthy, it’s important but it’s brutal. As I continue to plow forward very slowly – the goal was to have the second draft done by June – I am finding so many things that need to be changed. Character motivations, story structure, inciting incidents, even basic scene and story beats need significant changing. I have a lot of good stuff here, but it’s an uncut gem in just about every way. OK, it may be more of a uncut quartz. Or perhaps an uncut river stone. TBD on what kind of stone it is. It may just be a piece of asphalt trying to be a diamond. I think it would settle for quartz, because at least some people think they’re valuable, so that would be a win.

So far, I have nearly completely reworked my first act. My primary point of view’s path to the inciting incident has completely changed multiple times. Initially, his path to the Lewis and Clark-like expedition was being pursued by a criminal underworld, stumbling into a parade and being swept up in it. I liked the spontaneity of that scene, but Por was being pursued because he stole from a rich family. As I considered his character and motivation (money for tuition), it just didn’t make sense for him to steal. It’s not something he would choose to do. The second option was that he be shanghaied out of nowhere, and that just isn’t compelling or interesting to his character. So Por must now swallow his pride and ask for help in the form of funding from a Noble House, at the expense of serving as their House Scholar (essentially an indentured academic).

As I ended my first act, I realized that it may be superfluous. Do I need to show Por struggling with the decision to ask for help, or can it be relevant backstory later so we can get to the good stuff? I’ve intended to set the stage and the normal world my characters come from, but the story is really about the journey from Sidenia to Galatia and the conflict over the mountains, and that doesn’t begin until the second act. The magic, monsters and gods are all in Galatia for the time being, so let’s get there fast, not after 25,000 words (~100 pages).

You can see my uncertainty set in below, where my word count flattens. I began to question much of the structure of the novel, and whether or not it has the necessary components that I think it does.

To not mince words, April was a rough month in terms of word count. I like to keep meticulous data on my word count, which may or may not be beneficial, but it’s nice to track progress.

It’s not all bad. One of the characters I met in the late stages of draft one is now a point of view character, and will serve as an important catalyst for the original POVs. We are introduced to her in Galatia, where she serves as an Emissary for the King, and we get to see the big bad conflict of the story rear its ugly head, complete with lightning from clear skies and magic users, long before Por and Xero cross the Khulsan mountains.

One of the other challenges I’ve had the last month is that I got a bug in my ear on a new project. Like Odysseus’s sirens, it keeps drawing my creative attentions which keeps me from making progress. I’m still working on keeping myself strapped to the mast of Into the West though, because I feel that if I move on from the project the likelihood I ever go back is low. After quickly creating a simple plot for the story, I feel like it’s in a point I can leave it and jog back to Into the West.

As far as my endeavors into learning and compiling folklore for writing research, (Gaelic Folklore or Norse Mythology) I am currently working on an essay on Mongolian Folklore. This has led me to reading We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson, which is a lot of fun. In We Ride the Storm, there are 3 primary races of people Kisian (Japanese inspired culture), Chiltaens (Roman-inspired culture), and Levanti (Mongolian-inspired culture). So far (63% done at time of writing) it’s been a fun ride and definitely diverged from some expected fantasy tropes nicely. I recommend for anyone looking for a fresh voice in the fantasy genre.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Tell me if you did below or on twitter @larkinwriter, I am curious.

Best,

JL