The State of the Sam

Starving artist, day 23. Just ate salted caramel topping out of a jar, but that’s pretty normal, not really peculiar to my metaphorical starvation. I am being stared at by a large and Simba-colored cat named Zeus who is either concerned for my safety or waiting for me to die. His expression is unreadable.

No overarching topic today. In two weeks, I head back to Walla Walla, home base for the next chapter (that’s a writing pun). I wanted to use this post to assess the current state of all my various projects, along with my actual life, and some less consequential stuff. In no particular order:

Novels: Visiting Austin has been incredibly productive for The Valley of Steel. Forcibly keeping myself to a schedule on pain of shame, I have discovered I can actually, eventually, be disciplined–I’m less than a hundred pages away from marking the whole manuscript, and plan to apply the changes to the document just as fast, producing a working second draft in ten days. At that point, I’m going to need critical beta readers. I will reach out to all of you when the time comes, for anybody who wants to have me owe them a mob favor.

The Glass Thief, for its part, is down to 129,000 words, and I am mostly concerned right now with (what the hell else?) the query letter. Accentuate the crustacean angle, or keep it hidden? Trying to sell this book first has been like running a double-black slope on my first day, and also my skis are lobsters.

I have three ideas to follow up on next, and only two of them are RPG-inspired. The other is mostly stolen from Ghibli movies. I love them all–it’ll be a tough choice.

Short stories: Ray Bradbury said that an aspiring author should write one short story every week for a year, reasoning that producing 52 losers in a row would be harder than coming up with a good one. I hope the law of averages applies to a run of 12, because that is as far as my ideas go right now. I’m repurposing several characters from elsewhere, including my beloved Starkwether, Rafter, and the trolls of Archevis–just in time to stress-test them for their novel runs.

“A Tale of Rust Town” is with Beneath Ceaseless Skies, with several backups–I’m determined that I will start my career with this story, even if I have to wear a mask and sell it behind a dive bar to a Slavic man who thinks I’m Dean Koontz. The other thing I’m sure of is that I’m not submitting to Tor.com until I’m more established. They have great stories, and the pay is fantastic, but their turnaround is just too long for a newbie trying to live off this. That said, if they love “The Foaling Season,” all is forgiven.

Letters: People deserve them. I’m not writing them. I should be. Soon!

Spiritual: Not the longest step forward in the world, but I have stumbled upon the internet presence of the Pacific Northwest pagan communities by way of the nationwide site Witches’ VoiceWalla Walla has a selective coven of the Columbian Wicca Traditionthe Wheat & Wine Coven. The People of the Woods Church of the Old Ways in Cheney, WA, is also accessible to me, and recently held a large weather-magic event to push the gulf stream back toward Washington. Expect more on this.

Reading: Le Morte D’Arthur, still, and the reason is that it’s still amazing. Sir Dinadan is my favorite character–he’s constantly saying what I’m thinking. “Damn it, Tristram! Every time we hang out I end up fighting, like, fifteen dudes on my own. You never want to just go bowling.” He also writes an intentionally terrible lay about Tristram’s nemesis, King Mark, which I think makes him history’s first hipster. Also, this Hark! A Vagrant comic represents Tristram and Palomides perfectly. “You and me could make a bad vengeance…”

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, which inspired both Monkey Island and Pirates of the CaribbeanI’m only a few pages in, but there’s already been voodoo and betrayal and ghosts and dancing pirates. I’m sold.

Mountains of the Mind by Robert MacFarlane, who is auditioning for my new favorite author, and who is gonna get at least a callback. He is charting the allure of mountains in this book, beginning three hundred years ago, when they were mostly seen as obnoxious obstacles we’d eventually blow up and turn into farms. He has another book, The Old Ways, which is going to be one of the planks of my platform to learn about modern Shamanism and Druidism, plus I’m told it has boats.

Worm by Wildbow, which is getting its own post soon.

Watching: I’ve seen two fantastic movies recently, The End of the Tour and Everestwhich offered extremely divergent perspectives on depression and extremity, and similar gamuts of emotion. It’s amazing how two guys in a car and dozens of grizzled mountaineers in a record-breaking storm can traverse such similar ground. I also saw a worthless little movie called Black Massabout a man who likes to shoot people. It neatly elides all the compelling questions about Whitey Bulger and instead elects to give Johnny Depp a combover and shove a camera up his right nostril for two hours.

Doing: Not much else, at the moment. This manuscript has caused many other parts of my life to fall by the wayside. Upon my return north I’ll be fencing, shooting, and guitarring again, but until now all my energy goes to the book.

So long for now, and remember that thing about beta readers. Seriously, mob favor. If you need me to bust up a snitch’s place, I’m willing to go that distance for you.

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A note on the title and banner

I wanted to share a couple of other things which I think are cool about the “physical” state of this blog.

The first is the title. Originally it was going to be “Till the World is Mended,” taken from a Tom Bombadil song in The Fellowship of the Ring, which was also the title of my undergraduate thesis in Environmental Humanities. The thesis took three major works of fantasy and analyzed the way that they related to a revolution in how we perceive the surroundings of our lives: The Lord of the Rings, the Earthsea cycle, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. In fact, for those who have read the latter (which should really be everyone), another choice for the title was “Tree Speaks to Stone, Stone Speaks to Water.” But that didn’t seem quite in line with what I was going for.

Tom Bombadil himself, incidentally, is a character I used to love to mock, but then somebody pointed out to me that he is basically a good version of Cthulhu. How often in fiction do we really encounter an incomprehensible, eldritch force of kindness? Tom has had my respect ever since.

In the end, though, I went with “To Find the Colors Again.” This is taken from a quote by George R.R. Martin, the reigning pope of fantasy, which is worth sharing in full:

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.

Great stuff. GRRM deserves all the fame he receives and more, I think. He’s certainly worked for it.

In a way, I write fantasy to find the colors again, because my imagination has always been my strongest muscle. If I were a D&D character (such gaming being something else you’ll hear more about later) I would have all my points in it. I don’t have any better way of constructing meaning, and that’s not a bad thing. We’ve been using narratives to understand the world since the dawn of consciousness–only we called them myths once.

I took the banner photo a few days ago at a place called Indian Beach, in Ecola State Park, Oregon. Astute viewers might recognize this as the beach from the final scene of Point Break, when Keanu Reeves lets Patrick Swayze out of the handcuffs to go and surf himself to death. The movie says it’s in Australia, but the movie lies.

Incidentally, it’s also only a half-hour drive down the beach from Astoria, where they filmed The Goonies, and where they are currently celebrating that movie’s 30th anniversary. Crossover potential, maybe? Johnny Utah and Mikey Walsh team up to find a stash of gold bullion hidden by a surfing pirate? Stay tuned.

Currently reading: Neil Gaiman, American Gods; John Keats, Complete Poems; Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur (it’s wonderfully wroth)

Currently watching: Gravity Falls, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley

Who am I?

Hello to my future audience! I can’t wait for you to exist.

So, I’m finally a blogger. It took me far longer to get to this than I should have, but after months of telling people I’m starting a writing career and hearing that I need to have a blog yesterday, I decided to make the jump. Graduating from Whitman College last month was a great catalyst as well. This is going to chronicle several things: primarily my journey of trying to get published, but also my job taking care of coastal properties for the North Coast Land Conservancy in Seaside, Oregon, things I read, watch, or enjoy, or basically anything else I want to discuss that seems slightly relevant to the writing thing.

Currently, I am the author of a fantasy novel called The Glass Thief, which I am querying to agents right now. It chronicles the deeds of Staever, a lobster living in a city made of sand, and the gang of thieves he runs, as they embark on a quest to save everyone they love from dying of dehydration. There are battles and derring-do, crab races and sword fights, giant birds, the odd manatee assault hovercraft, songs and tales, a gleefully drunken bomb expert and the severe, disfigured martial artist he loves, and perhaps a menace from the dawn of time.

My other work includes short stories–of which the best are “The Foaling Season,” “The Catiline Plague,” “A Tale of Rust Town,” and “Creacean”–in varying states of completion. Also in progress is The Valley of Steel, hopefully the first in a series, which takes the landscape of the United States, warps it with myth and magic, and sends a group of unprepared teenagers through it on what is essentially a Volkswagen with sails. If you’re interested in samples of any of these, let me know, and we’ll talk: I’m always on the lookout for good beta readers.

Oh, and there’s Cold Snow, which is basically me defeating the Mafia. In Canada. I finished that book when I was fifteen, which explains a lot about it.

Some other important things about me: I believe in finishing the things I start, that the middle path is always superior, and that the worst thing you can do to someone is take control of their destiny from them. I love green tea, rain (whether or not I’m out in it), Shakespeare, Final Fantasy, and Greek pastoral poetry. I can fence with a foil, epee, or sabre, and a bit of longsword, plus I have strong opinions on the difference between classical and sport fencing. I have sailing experience, and can use a sextant, or fix my latitude with my fingers if the stars are out. Certain things I hate include whistling (it’s not you, it’s me, I really can’t explain why it sets me on edge so much) and when people shout at strangers (let’s face it, if they’re not in immediate physical danger, you’re either catcalling or getting unreasonably angry about something minor, and in either case I dislike you).

That, in brief, is me. More stuff will likely come up later. If you’re reading this, I want to get to know you, too, so don’t hesitate to start a conversation (because I might). Hoping to have good news soon, but I’m signing off for now.

–Sam Chapman