Tag Archives: The Crane Girl

Meanwhile, in happier news…

I recently passed 100,000 words on the first draft of Crane Girl.


Crane Girl research list

Current word count on the first draft of Crane Girl is 97,645 and growing daily. Final word count is tough to estimate, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 130K wouldn’t surprise me. I might actually get this monstrosity finished someday.

Part of the fun of this particular novel is the ridiculously over-the-top amount of research I’ve had to do. (Okay, “had to” might be a bit much. But it’s all useful.) Here is an incomplete list of stuff that I’ve read specifically for Crane Girl purposes. I took notes on most of these.


  • The 1950s, Stuart A. Kallen
  • Point of Order: A Profile of Senator Joe Mccarthy, Robert P. Ingalls
  • Lewis Carroll: Looking-Glass Letters, Thomas Hinde
  • Warriors Don’t Cry (abridged), Melba Pattillo Beals
  • Magic, Supernaturalism and Religion, Kurt Seligmann
  • The Emperor, Ryszard Kapuściński — A biography of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years.
  • Lewis Carroll and Alice, Stephanie Lovett Stoffel
  • What It Is Like to Go to War, Karl Marlantes — Written by someone who knows firsthand.
  • The Fall of Constantinople: 1453, Steven Runciman
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote — A so-called “nonfiction novel,” based heavily on real events that occurred in 1959, the same year Crane Girl takes place.
  • The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges — Hard to know which category to put this in.
  • The Book of Legendary Lands, Umberto Eco
  • The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, Ian Mortimer
  • Joan of Arc: Her Story, Régine Pernoud & Marie-Véronique Clin — Carefully researched, beautiful, and heartbreaking.
  • The Secrets of Alchemy, Lawrence M. Principe
  • Alchemy & Mysticism, Alexander Roob — An art book: lots of ancient alchemical illustrations, with extensive commentary.


  • Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThrough the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll — I had read these before, but I read them again to get them fresh in my brain.
  • Alice’s Adventures Underground, Lewis Carroll — An early draft of Wonderland, with Carroll’s own illustrations and in his handwriting. It’s not all that different from the final version.
  • At the Mountains of Madness, H. P. Lovecraft – Deeply disappointing, but still useful.
  • “Ligeia” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” Edgar Allan Poe

Religious texts, myths, legends, epics, and fairy tales

  • The World’s Great Stories: 55 Legends that Live Forever, Louis Untermeyer — I started skimming toward the end. Not as interesting as I’d hoped.
  • The Annotated Brothers Grimm, Maria Tatar
  • The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, Daniel C. Matt — A selection of authentic Kabbalah texts.
  • The Quest of the Holy Grail, Anonymous — An Arthurian tale from the 13th century.
  • Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament, Bart D. Ehrman
  • Russian Fairy Tales, Alexander Afanasyev — Of the five tales, the first, “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” is especially good. Stunning illustrations.
  • Faust, Johann Goethe
  • Gilgamesh, Anonymous — I had read it before, but I skimmed over again and took notes.
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton — Likewise, I’d read it before, but I skimmed and copied significant passages.
  • The Song of Solomon (from the Bible) — I read this several times, took extensive notes, and did background research.
  • “Descent of Inanna,” a short (and very ancient) Babylonian poem/legend

Long poems

  • The Annotated Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll
  • Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti
  • The Bird Parliament, Farid ud-Din Attar, the Edward FitzGerald translation


  • 1940 census records for the village of Lorraine, Kansas
  • “The Descent of Odin,” a poem by Thomas Gray — Final lines are “Till wrapped in flames, in ruin hurled, / Sinks the fabric of the world.”
  • Lots of W. B. Yeats poems
  • Lots of nursery rhymes

I also read the first dozen chapters of Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno (couldn’t go on, it’s really just awful); the final two chapters of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur; chapters XIII – XX of the fourth-century Gospel of Nicodemus (containing the first-ever coherent account of the Harrowing of Hell); half of a book about the Tarot; a good chunk of the Mayan Popol Vuh; as much Jung and Campbell as I could stomach (spoiler: it was less than a whole book); large portions of the Persian epic Shahnameh; and a chapter of Wells’ The Time Machine (I had read the entire book years ago).

Also, significant reading about: St. John of the Cross, the Arabian Nights, Robin Hood, various species of wild dog (especially wolves, jackals, and foxes), symbolism, Latin, theology, angels and demons, various religions, various world mythologies, various passages in the Bible, Aesop’s fables, the Reynard/Isengrim cycle, and roughly nine million other topics.

You can hate my book if you like, but don’t tell me I didn’t do my homework. 🙂

Have a good weekend!

The Crane Girl — not dead yet


Despite having a newborn in the house 24/7, I’ve actually had some time lately to work on my novel The Crane Girl again.

Last Saturday (Nov. 5), I decided to try for at least 500 words per day, every day, 7 days a week. (Weekends don’t mean much, anyway, when you have a baby.) So far, I’ve met that goal.

I put a star on my calendar for every 500 words I finish, and right now I’ve got 11 stars. That’s more than 5,500 words in the past week — roughly 22 pages. Good stuff.

I’m doing this part of the book, the second half, a little different than I did the first half. This novel — like other fantasy stories such as Wheel of Time and Song of Ice and Fire — has a number of different plot threads going at once, each focusing on a particular character or characters. Chapters alternate between the various threads. Well, with the first half, I was just writing all the chapters in order. With the second half, I’m writing each thread all at once, getting deeper into the mindset of that part of the story before I move on.

I think I like that better. Hard to say.

Some people actually read books that way. Madness, I say.


I don’t think this was a very interesting post. But they can’t all be winners, can they?

Status Update

  • I’ve started work as a contractor for Dragonfly Editorial – not quite full-time, but a lot of hours, and excellent pay. Mostly business writing. This is a big step up, the kind of break I’d been hoping for. I’m learning a lot, too.
  • Still doing various other jobs, for Creative Sparks Writing and Run Life magazine, for instance.
  • Mr. Trube’s  fractal adult coloring book, published by Green Frog and proofread by yours truly, is now available.
  • Due to growing demands on my time (see above), I am no longer working for Pen-L Publishing.
  • Research and planning for Crane Girl gallops on. My sources over the past few weeks have included, in no particular order: Paradise Lost, the Song of Solomon, the Talmud, Aesop’s Fables, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England, the Popol Vuh, the Rimas of Becquer, Thurber’s “Many Moons,” the Rig Veda, and so very, very much Wikipedia. Yes, I’m having fun.

The paucity of blog updates lately has been largely due to the business and busy-ness outlined above. Life proceeds apace.

Declaration of Interdependence

At some point in my K-12 education – maybe my high school health class? – they taught us that there are three stages of maturity.

  1. Dependence
  2. Independence
  3. Interdependence

The idea is that you start as a child, depending on someone else for all your needs. As you get older, you learn to provide for yourself. The last stage of maturity is to become part of a larger community or team and accept the idea of give-and-take.

Like all psychological models, it’s an oversimplification. In particular, I imagine many people go straight from #1 to #3. But it’s an interesting idea.

I was thinking about this yesterday as a kind of rough guide for helping me figure out my character arcs in Crane Girl. And it occurred to me that the independence phase can be further subdivided.

  1. Dependence
  2. Independence – caring for self
  3. Independence – caring for others
  4. Interdependence

Or, to use a metaphor I just made up: wolf pup, lone wolf, wolf mother (hunting alone), wolf mother (hunting in a pack).

I suggested this to Betsy, and she said there can be a fifth step, too: a return to dependency at the end of life. Good point, and something we might not like to think about.

Still working out precisely how all this applies to character development in the novel. We’ll see how it goes.

“Crazy” is Lazy

In The Crane Girl, I have a character called the Empress. And she’s crazy.

Basically, this means she’s a typical supervillain – megalomaniacal, power-hungry, cruel, manipulative, uninterested in anybody’s needs but her own. She schemes against the heroes, puts them in danger, moves the plot along.

And she’s boring.

One of my tasks in revision is to make her interesting, which means making her real, humanizing her (though she isn’t, technically, human). And that means moving past the “crazy” label. Because calling a character “crazy,” and stopping there, is just as lazy and shallow as calling a character “evil.” It might be true, for some definition of the word, but it’s not very insightful. It’s a reaction, not a description.

“Crazy,” you see, doesn’t tell you what somebody is. It tells you what somebody isn’t – they aren’t mentally healthy. (As if “mentally healthy” weren’t vague enough on its own.)

Describing a character as “crazy” is like describing a car as “not a Corolla.” It’s just a negation, and not a very helpful one. That’s what I mean by saying it’s lazy. It sidesteps the real work of developing the character, turning them into a genuine person.

Having had mental illness myself, I can tell you that it comes in a million different flavors, and even two people of the same “flavor” – depression, schizophrenia, whatever – will never be alike, aside from sharing certain symptoms.

Moreover, the actions of the mentally ill make just as much sense as the actions of the mentally healthy, in the context of their skewed internal parameters. Staying in bed all day, every day, makes sense if you’re exhausted and nothing you do brings satisfaction. Cutting yourself makes sense if it’s the only way you know to break through a universal numbness. Killing yourself makes sense if every second of your life is torture. These aren’t healthy or wise behaviors, and if you’re tempted, you have to fight that temptation with all your strength. But they are understandable behaviors.

As I mentioned above, “evil” characters often fall into the same boat. Authors slap an “evil” label on their villain, and he’s good to go. Except, nobody’s evil for the sake of evilness. They may do evil things, but there’s always a reason, no matter how irrational or selfish. What’s more, nobody is just evil. Murderers may cry over sunsets and church music. Wife beaters may work sixty-hour weeks to take care of their kids. This doesn’t excuse their terrible crimes, but it hints at the truth: nobody’s all light or all shadow.

We’re all people, with all the sanity and craziness and complexity that implies, and well-written characters are people too. Darth Vader is a cruel mass murderer, but he’s protective of his wife and loves his son and saves the galaxy. The Borg Queen really believes she’s elevating the beings she assimilates. Even Satan is a fallen angel.

So a big part of my revision is about examining my villains, and asking myself: if I know who they aren’t, then who are they?

Come to think of it, that’s pretty good advice for heroes, too.

Wednesday Update

  • Editing – This morning I’m working on a sample edit for a prospective client. Thanks to everyone who spread the word about my freelance business.
  • Writing The Crane Girl – 42,000 words and counting on the first draft.
  • Painting the fence – Almost done! My right thumb is sore from holding the roller so long.
  • Bible reading – Still in Genesis, making progress. Betsy and I are up to Jacob now. I’ll do a Genesis post tomorrow if I have time – they seem to eat up a lot of it.
  • Watching Bob’s Burgers – Betsy is now successfully hooked. Mission accomplished. We’re in season 3.
  • American campaign finance system – Still horrifically broken.
  • Writing this blog post – Done!