Thursday, May 31, 2012

Characters and Elements Found in Myth and Folklore

       I got the idea of sending my termites out on an epic journey, complete with all the bells and whistles, out of the blue as I was finishing up "The Termite Queen."  I wish I could say that the idea came from a learned source like Joseph Campbell's theories of the Hero's Journey and such, but instead I think the source was much more of a pop culture phenomenon.  I was a big fan of "Xena: Warrior Princess" at the time!  In that series (and its predecessor "Hercules," which is much inferior, I think, although I did enjoy Michael Hurst as Iolaus), Greek myth and occasionally myths from other cultures are reworked, processed through a compressed time frame (Caesar is contemporary with Troy, for goodness' sakes!), and given their own fresh interpretations.  So that was in my mind at the time.
       But another source has to be Watership Down, which is an epic about rabbits and one of my favorite books of all time.  It has all the elements of the heroic journey, told in the context of a rabbit culture here on Earth.  My books also have the elements of the heroic journey, told in the context of an isopteroid culture on another planet.  As Amb. Tarrant Hergard said upon the occasion of the admission of  Earth into the Confederation of Planets:  “An ancient Earth adage says, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’  Perhaps the phrase should now become, ‘There is nothing new among
the stars.’”
       In the article "Epic Poetry" Wikipedia lists the following characteristics of an epic:
  1. Begins in medias res.  [Actually, I don't do that one, unless you consider beginning right after the conclusion of "The Termite Queen" to be in medias res.]
  2. The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe.  [check!]
  3. Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation).  [No, not here]
  4. Begins with a statement of the theme.  [Umm, not exactly]
  5. Includes the use of epithets.  [No, I don't think so.]
  6. Contains long lists (epic catalogue). [Ah, yes -- I subject the reader to epic lists three times throughout the series.  One in each of the original volumes.  Maybe I can construct lists for the other three! Or maybe not.]
  7. Features long and formal speeches.  [At times, when appropriate]
  8. Shows divine intervention on human affairs.  [On only two occasions does the Nameless Mother personally poke her antennae into the mix, but the foretellings of Seers prevade the books.]
  9. Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization.  [Definitely]
       Then there are the stock characters who are encountered in epics.  First, of course, you've got the epic hero and ours is ready-made:  Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, the extra-large Da'no'no Shshi Warrior from To'wak.  Often this hero is a demigod; whether that's true of Ki'shto'ba you'll have to find out later.  The hero has to go on a quest and be tested in some way.  So far, so good.
       The hero may fall in love, rescue and marry a Princess.  (???)  Impossible!  There are some things sexless termites just can't do!  Although there IS one place where Ki'shto'ba rescues a fertile female nymph ...
       The hero must have Companions, be it just a sidekick or a dozen of them.  I opted for a dozen.
       There is the wandering Bard, who roams the world recounting the deeds of the hero.  Here we have Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer, who is also Ki'shto'ba's First Companion.
       Its Second and Third Companions are little Workers -- sidekicks par excellence.  Every termite Warrior must have groomers and feeders - squires, in effect.
       The Fourth Companion is the twin -- a pervasive theme in mythology and one stressed by Robert Graves in his Greek Myths.  Hercules had a twin named Iphicles; Ki'shto'ba has one named A'zhu'lo.
       Then there is the trickster.  Aren't tricksters fun, though?  Reynard the Fox, Coyote, Raven, Loki, Puck, Ariel, Q in StarTrek, Odysseus -- and last but hardly least, El-ahrairah in Watership Down.  And right up there with those: Za'dut, the Fifth Companion of Ki'shto'ba -- a Worker but so much more.  Its name means two things in the Shshi language:  Little Lizard and Little Thief.
       Finally, there are the Seers.  Fiver in Watership Down comes to mind.  And Greek myth is loaded with Seers, which fits right in with Shshi culture, since every fortress has an Alate who is gifted with Seeing (even if part of it does come from ingesting a hallucinogen).  Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes, becomes in my tales Thru'tei'ga'ma, the half-blind Seer of To'wak, who sets up the premises of the tale early on.  Ki'shto'ba won't acquire a Seer as a Companion until the fifth volume, but different Seers in different places have tremendous influence all the way through the story.  How much of their pronouncements are true foretellings and how many are merely self-fulfilling prophecies?  Again, you'll have to find out for yourself.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

More on Formatting Covers for CreateSpace

       First a progress report on the text of v.1 of the series ("The War of the Stolen Mother"), which I've now begun to prepare for publication.  The editing hasn't amounted to much so far -- some rephrasing to smooth things out and a few changes to the Foreword to account for the fact that there will be six volumes in the series instead of three.  I haven't shortened anything, but I didn't really expect to.  I think this story is practically perfect as it is.  (Self-praise, etc., but I can't help it.  I really like my premises in this series, and if the Shshi can at time be wordy little beasties, that's part of their nature.)
       I'm working on the cover.  I've resized the picture that you can see in an earlier post, which means that it comes out narrower and taller.  I figured out the best way to do this.  Group your picture into one entity, then open Format Autoshape and then Size.  In Size, use Scale, marking Lock Aspect Ratio.  Then gradually reduce the width until the Absolute Width shows as close as possible to what you want (in my case that is 5.75'').  (If you increase the heighth, you end up with something really wide and you have to redraw everything.  If you don't lock aspect ratio, then you'll stretch or narrow the figures instead of merely reducing them in size.) 
       Then make a square on your document that is the size of the cover allowing for bleed (in my case 5.75 " by 9").  Move your adjusted drawing onto the square, fitting it against the left margin of the square.  It will be a perfect fit in width, with lots of empty room at the top.  Then draw another square the size of the actual cover (in my case 5.5" by 8.5")  Position this square on top of the drawing, aligned against the left margin and allowing .25" at the right and .25" at the top and bottom (this is the bleed, the area that will be trimmed in the finished book). 
       Now you have saved all the items in the picture -- you won't have to cut anything off -- and the proportions will be correct.  All you have to do is adjust the positioning of the objects in the drawing to fill the space at the top and to fit in the title.  That will still require some work, but you won't have a huge redrawing job.  And be sure not to let anything important lap into the bleed, but also be sure that the bleed area is filled in with something because you don't know exactly where it will be cut.

This is not what I was planning to write about this morning, but since my posts on Ruminations of a
Remembrancer on formating text and covers for CreateSpace have attracted a lot of hits, I decided to elaborate a little on the cover aspect.  I mean to write another post in the next couple of days; I want to talk about the characters that occur in epics, mythology, and folklore.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Ki'shto'ba Series Has Now Evolved into Six Volumes!

       After feeling the weight of a book that is 196,000 words long, I decided that shorter is definitely preferable!  So I've divided the initial three volumes of the Ki'shto'ba Trilogy into six.  As I said in the last post, the story is episodic and can be easily split up.  Here's my list of titles (either fixed or tentative), with word counts:

Volume I: The War of the Stolen Mother (147,500 words after extracting the list of names, some of which I will re-insert) 
This volume is too organic in structure to break up, so it will remain the longest.  But it's only 17,000 words longer than the first volume of "Termite Queen" (about 80 pages longer, I would say), so that's not so bad.  I have the cover drawing that I displayed in a previous post.

Volume II: The Adventures of Ki'shto'ba Monster-Slayer (111,000 words)
During the course of the quest to reach the sea, Ki'shto'ba acquires many new surnames and Monster Slayer (No'dai Oin'zei) is one of them.  In this volume Ki'shto'ba is forced to kill four such creatures, so the new title was pretty easy to come up with.  I also have a drawing showing the attack that's comparable to Hercules' fight with the Stymphalian birds; I think I can turn that into a satisfactory cover.

Volume III: The Tale of the Valley of Thorns (about 100,000 words)
I'll refrain from commenting on this one -- I don't want to play the spoiler.  I have only one drawing that might work for a cover, and it's not one I'm particularly happy with, so I may have to devise something new.

Volume IV: Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear (tentative title; 113,000 words)
Again, no spoilers allowed, but it involves an adventure that every epic hero is requred to undertake!  I have a great cover for this one.  It will need only a little adjustment.

Volume V: The Quest for the Golden Fungus: The Companions Reach the Sea (tentative subtitle; 77,000 words)
The original Volume V would have been 171,500 words and while I could have left it in one piece, I thought it would be better to make two out of it, while keeping the basic title intact, since it really is one exciting sequence.  This volume will include all the matter preliminary to the actual Quest.  I have two different drawings that might be adaptable for this one.

Volume VI: The Quest for the Golden Fungus: Revenge of the Dead Enemy (pretty sure about this subtitle; 95,000 words)
This volume narrates the Quest itself, up to an inescapable conclusion that leaves a huge fringe of loose ends.  I have two different drawings that would work for this one, too.  In fact, it's going to be hard to choose between them.

[Volume VII: The Buried Ship at the End of the World] 
Bracketed because it's not written yet! This would tie up all that fringe.  The series title on this would be "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, the Sequel." 

I think the reader will find that each volume ends in a way that creates an eagerness to get on to the next one -- best thing for a series!  I can't wait to get started on preparing "Stolen Mother" for publication!  I need to revise it one more time -- maybe I can actually shorten it a little.  And I'll have to make adjustments for the fact that more than three volumes are now involved.  In the meantime everybody should read "The Termite Queen" in order to set up the premise for "Labors."

In the near future, I'll talk about the fictional form in which I couched the books. I also want to work on the maps and post at least the first one here.  I want to talk about the different Shshi peoples and languages (there's more than one!)  And I may discuss some of the characters, as far as I can without -- yes, you know what I'm going to say -- playing the spoiler!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Trilogy Has Evolved into a Series!

       In my last post (long, long ago, it seems) I mentioned that "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" would be a trilogy.  Here are the intended titles:
       v.1: The War of the Stolen Mother
       v.2: The Tale of the Valley of Thorns
       v.3: The Quest for the Golden Fungus
       The first volume will not undergo much alteration; I consider it as near-perfect as anything I've ever written.  And I've always considered it quite short.  In fact, its word count is longer than the first volume of "The Termite Queen," which ended up being 386 p.!  "The War of the Stolen Mother" is 150,000 words, but that includes a lengthy list of names and places that I intend to abbreviate.  At any rate, that book is pretty much set in stone -- I really don't want to change a thing.
       But as I was checking all this out, I discovered that v.2 and particularly v.3 were simply TOO LONG!  So I'm going to divide those two into three.  Volume 2 will still have the title "The Tale of the Valley of Thorns," but v.3 will probably be "Beneath the Mountain of Heavy Fear."  It isn't quite parallel with the other titles, but it has a solid impact.  Then v.4 will be "The Quest for the Golden Fungus."
       Another possibility would be to cut them up into even smaller chunks.  This could be done because the books are quite episodic, actually picaresque in form -- a hero and its Companions journeying across the countryside encountering one adventure after another (and I do mean adventure -- it's basically non-stop action!)  But I'd have to ponder that kind of reorganization for a while.

       So what are these books about?  I'm torn between letting you find out for yourselves and talking about it.  I think talking about it will win out!  Just what do you think books with the titles "War of the Stolen Mother" or "Quest for the Golden Fungus" would be about?  What famous war fought over an abducted female comes to mind?  And what famous quest was undertaken to recover a golden object? 
       These books interpret Greek myth from a termite perspective.  And not only Greek myth, but also in a couple of major instances certain medieval tales.  Termites may not experience sex, but they worship the Female Principle and their Mother.  What if a fortress stole the Mother of another fortress?  It would precipitate the war of all wars, because the Shshi Way of Life would be at stake.  A fortress without a mother is doomed to a slow and total death.  And I can't see termites being very interested in fleece no matter what the color, but they are very interested in fungus, so if there were a golden fungus reputed to have magical properties, the obtaining of it might be a briskly contested undertaking.
       And what is the role of our Champion, Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head of To'wak, in all this?  Well, who could Ki'shto'ba be but Hercules?  Hence the title, "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head."  I can't portray every one of Hercules' Twelve Labors -- some just don't fit with termites.  But you'll see the Hydra and the Stymphalian Birds and the Erymanthian Boar. 
       My source for all this is Robert Graves' "The Greek Myths," one of the most complete compilations of myths ever put together.  I must acknowledge his influence at every step.
       There is nothing more interesting and more fun than the reinterpretation of myths!  So stay on board for a great ride!  And read both volumes of "The Termite Queen," because Kaitrin Oliva has a role to play in the new series, also!