Thursday, June 27, 2013

Helgi Again

Thanks for the comment. I may not translate the poem by myself. I clearly do not understand the cultural context. Your explanation of the line makes the poem sound more disturbing than ever. Having bones and pebbles for toys! I realize why. That's what was easily available. But still...

I will use those toys in my story, if I finish it. One problem with me writing about Iceland is -- I don't know enough, in spite of a lot of reading and a couple of visits. It simply is not enough.

As far as the poem goes, I can take the English translation I have and clean it up, make it into smoother and more powerful English. That I can do. My Icelandic is awful, but my English is pretty good.

There are troll children in the story. They can be playing with human bones...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

For Helgi

Here it is. I found it in a lecture on Icelandic folk songs. The lecturer said it was from a group of folk songs recorded in the 1920s and 30s. I have a translation, which I have not included because it might be copyrighted. I got the sense from my very poor Icelandic and my Icelandic-English dictionary that the translation could be better, and I thought I might enjoy translating it, which I think I can do, working between the Icelandic text and the translation I have.

I did this years ago with mid-20th century Icelandic poetry. I missed a lot of idioms, of course, which my father caught when he double-checked my work. But it was fun, and the end result -- after checking -- was not bad.

The black sand on green fields makes me think it's about an eruption, at least in part. Grimsvotn went off in the same period as Laki, which might give the line about glaciers crying out. Anyway, I have a neat story idea about trolls and humans meeting, when they both flee the Laki fires.

I don't know if I mentioned it on my blog, but a friend of mine wants to experiment with becoming a small press publisher, and his first project is going to be a collection of my fantasy stories based on Icelandic sagas and folktales and the Eddas.

One thing I can't find in either of my two dictionaries is Voluskrin. What does it mean?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Writer's Block

This is mostly from facebook. It begins with a post by Judith Tarr on writer's block.
I thought Tarr's post was terrific. I refuse to believe in writer's block, because I think believing in it gives it too much power. This does not mean it isn't real. It is a lot easier to write if you are able to sell. Beating against a wall is exhausting. People tire out, and writing becomes a lot less fun. When I lost my last day job and decided to retire and write full time, I discovered it was hard to write. I had lost my drive to write in the years I worked day jobs full time and wrote little. Gradually the energy and enthusiasm has come back -- mostly, I think, because I'm selling.

(For example, my sudden enthusiasm for trolls. Let me tell you about trolls. Maybe I need to write a novel about trolls.)

I never had the kind of physical panic response to trying to write that Judith Tarr describes. I just found it hard to write and not all that interesting. Though I did keep on, largely due -- I think -- to my writing group, the Wyrdsmsiths. And now I am enjoying writing again. The stories inside me are beating on the inside of my skull and trying to chew their way out.

At times one simply needs a vacation from writing. At other times, the stress of life can make writing very difficult. And at times the problem is the one Tarr describes: a failure to sell, a failure of positive feedback...

In another post, Tarr writes about using Book View Cafe (an e-publishing collective) to get her large backlist out in e-books and using Kickstarter to fund two novels. I do feel there are more options these days. At the moment, I am sticking with independent publishers, and I would not say no to a New York publisher. Publishers of all varieties reduce the work I have to do. But I am keeping the other options in mind.

Friday, June 21, 2013


I spent the day before yesterday bent out of shape by a stupid argument I should never have gotten into.It was a classic Internet argument, with a facebook friend of a facebook friend of mine. He maintained that poetry was an elite art form, and there was no popular readership of poetry and no folk or popular poetry. Nada. None.

I should have left right then. Instead I mentioned poets who have been popular, such as Pablo Neruda, and I pointed to the lyrics of ballads as poetry written by the folk. He had a reason why every example I gave was not a good example. He was also rude. A classic Internet troll. I became furious. I finally had the wits to leave, but I remained angry.

As a result of the argument I started researching Icelandic poetry on the Internet. That led to a really bleak Icelandic lullaby, all about death, darkness, bones, black sand covering green fields and glaciers groaning. It came with a translation, but it was a less than perfect translation, and I decided I wanted to translate it. Then I decided I wanted to put it in a story. What kind of story? An Icelandic story, of course. but what kind? I thought the lullaby might be about the eruption of the Icelandic volcanic rift Laki in the late 18th century. That's a wild guess. I have no reason to believe I'm right. But the obvious thing to do is write a story about the eruption of Laki. Laki carpeted the country with poisonous ash. 80% of the sheep and 25% of the people died from poison and starvation. Imagine a story about an Icelandic farm family, fleeing the eruption. I can see them, the parents carrying their children, who are wrapped in blankets, the parents breathing in toxic ash. Their animals are dead. They have nothing except what they are carrying. The land is black and the sky is black.

Of course, there have to be trolls...

I got the first couple of pages of the new story done yesterday. I was going to call it "The Troll Maid." Now I think I will call it "Laki." Laki sounds friendly to me. As mentioned above, name does not refer to a single mountain such as Hekla or Mount Rainier. Rather it is a rift that runs north from the volcano Grimsvotn. During the 18th century eruption, 130 craters opened along the rift, spewing lava, ash and toxic gas.

Now it is time to stop talking about the story and work on it. There's a theory that you shouldn't talk about a story in progress, because you will talk the story out of you. I'm not sure I believe that, but I'm not going to risk using up the creative impulse and the good ideas. Anyway, a person who talks too much about what they are going to write is boring.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Grimdark and Noir

I asked the following question on facebook:
Do women write grimdark fantasy? Do women read it?
One of my facebook colleagues asked me what I meant by grimdark. I wrote:
You know, I'm not sure. I call the Blade series that Kelly McCullough is writing "noir fantasy." I think "grimdark" is related. I guess I'm thinking of George Martin's series, Patrick Rothfuss... I read Kelly's books, but I haven't read Martin or Rothfuss... I think I would include Doug Hulick in "noir."
The colleague then told me (and he really knows science fiction and fantasy) that Martin and Rothfuss are not considered grimdark. Martin is epic or heroic fantasy.

I replied:
Okay. I don't know what grimdark is, then. Maybe I should stick to "noir fantasy," since I sort of know what it is. I like noir. I grew up on Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But I find it interesting (and surprising) to read fantasy that is dark and gritty and reminds me of Chandler...

I did the obvious thing and Googled grimdark. It comes from gaming, specifically the game Warhammer, and has spread. The Cthulhu Mythos and the Dresden Files are described as grimdark in the sites I read. It describes fiction set in a dark, violent, unpleasant environment...

I just came across a forum discussion of the term. Several people discussing said grimdark was over the top grimness and darkness and violence, and that it was an adolescent idea of reality.
Another of my facebook colleagues said she had the impression grimdark was rather too full of misogyny and violence toward women. "Rapey," she called it.

So I'm not sure where this leaves the conversation. I think there's a lot of dark fantasy around: vampire and zombie fiction; other forms of horror; stories from the Cthulhu Mythos, which has oddly reappeared; dark epic fantasy; grimdark, which is over the top grim and dark fantasy; noir fantasy, which I see as a mixture of fantasy and tough guy detective fiction...

Well, we have been at war for twelve years -- an undeclared and illegal war, in which many civilians have been killed, and many American soldiers have come back badly damaged. This must have some effect on the society. And all around the world, we see economies contract, and ordinary people get increasingly poor, while a tiny group of the very rich grab most of the planet's resources. And we know Global Warming is making the planet less habitable.

I guess all of this could produce a dark and grim fiction.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Happy As A Clam

I spent Memorial Day weekend at the Wisconsin Science Fiction Convention (Wiscon) in Madison. As always, it was wonderful. I then spent another four days on a writing retreat in a B&B in Madison with four other people from Wiscon. Also wonderful. But I was glad to get home this past Friday. Sunday morning I woke (in my own bed!) with a poem forming in my mind.
I'm the happiest clam in the ocean.
I'm the happiest clam in the sea.
All of the oysters in all of the bays
Cannot compare to me.

I don't have a pearl to offer.
I don't have a pearl to share.
But here is song to help you along
As you travel from Here to There.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Rude Questions

I got in a facebook discussion about rude questions directed at people of color. "What are you?" "Where are you from?" I wrote:
I grew up in an environment where people asked, "What are you?" The choice was Norwegian-American or Swedish-American in most cases, but people found the answer interesting. ("You are? So am I! What part of Norway does your family come from? Have you been to the homeland yet?") I don't find the question rude, but many people do, so I try to keep myself from asking it. I broke down at Wiscon and asked a guy who was getting a book signed, since I really did not recognize his name at all and had to be very careful when writing it out. So I asked him about it. I could see him freeze a bit, but he told me. It is a culture I have read about and find really interesting, which I told him. I hope he has forgiven me for the question. What difference does national origin make? It's fascinating. The world is full of all these neat different cultures. I'm not a comfortable traveler and I don't have a lot of spare money, so I mostly stay home in Minnesota. But I read about the rest of the world, and when I meet someone who knows about a different culture, who is from the culture or has lived in it, I'm interested.
One of the other people on the thread pointed out that "this was apples and origins." The questions I learned to ask were designed to form bonds or -- at most -- to discover interesting and not very very important differences. (Norwegian vs. Swedish vs. Danish vs. Icelandic.) Directed at non-whites, they become code for "what are you doing here, where you don't belong?"

Another person on the thread (a Canadian) said she couldn't ask a Canadian Person of Color where he or she was from, because the question came out, "you are foreign," even though the intent of the question was to find out which Canadian province the person was from.

As the US becomes increasingly nonwhite, a lot of racism is bubbling up. I think the safest thing for me to assume is that questions about other people's backgrounds have a hostile intent. I need to stop asking them.

The facebook discussion started with the Cherrios ad with the mixed race family. Apparently there are people who freak out when faced with a mixed race family or refuse to believe the family is a family. It's a good idea to assume a unit that looks like a family is a family, even if the members are not identical. Asking people if they are related to their kids is rude.