This is not a photo of Scotland. Sometimes I find myself looking at it in between spurts of editing and rewriting the zero draft of my novel. I’ve found there’s very little flow in my editing process – when you hack away half of the original form you start to forget the beauty of the inspiration.
So I flick through the photos from my trip to Switzerland this past summer. These are shots of the Lauterbrunnen valley, a beguiling green gash in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Seventy-two waterfalls cascade off the towering limestone cliffs on either side of the narrow cleft, their tops fuzzed by mixed deciduous and coniferous forest and spotted here and there with tiny alpine towns. When the clouds are away, massive snow-capped peaks gleam in the sun and frozen air high above the pastoral valley floor where cows graze in wildflower fields, the hollow clang of their bells bouncing up to the sky. Paragliders and basejumpers float down from the heavens to land in fields beside an ice-white river.
I suppose I look at these photos to remind myself of the feeling in Lauterbrunnen. There was something fantastic about the place, and I mean that in the most fantasy-centric way. By geological circumstance, the valley is literally cut off, isolated, and hidden. Sure, it has been Google Mapped, there are cars and buses and satellite TV, and loads of tourists from across the world, but Lauterbrunnen retains an echo of the past, of a time when life wasn’t simpler, as we often think of it, but perhaps less engineered.
Isn’t it funny how the fantasy genre, especially epic fantasy, romanticizes worlds of pristine natural splendor largely free of human industrial and technological advances? What does it say about authors who write in this style, or people who simply agree with it? Does it make us misanthropes? It’s an ornery pack of questions with no easy answers (though coming up with some kind of answer would certainly help with the clarity of my novel).
Lauterbrunnen is an aesthete’s dream, and I am not the first would-be author to appreciate its mien. In 1911, a 19-year-old John Ronald Reuel Tolkien hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen as part of a school trip to the continent.
The Lauterbrunnen valley is Rivendell.
And the spot where I took the photo above is essentially where Frodo looks over his shoulder at the Last Homely House as the Fellowship seeks to cross the Misty Mountains. This place inspired the first and greatest fantasy story of all time.
I look at these photos a lot, seeking just a shred of that unnamable, transcendent “thing” with which to imbue my story.
Scotland in 2014
This year has been quiet on the travel-to-Scotland front, and I’m excited to mention tentative plans to visit Scotland this coming spring. Visit Scotland is doing another Homecoming marketing blitz for 2014, and I’m revving up my pitching engine again to try and put together a collaboration between the two of us. For as much sense as this partnership makes to me, over the years it has been a winless struggle and the reasons are unclear.
Nevertheless, I’m planning to visit southern Scotland on this trip, taking in Edinburgh, East Lothian, the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, and possibly the Kingdom of Fife – all places I’ve been to previously but not in the guise of Traveling Savage (barring, of course, Edinburgh). I’m super excited about the prospect of this trip as I feel the south of Scotland gets far too little love despite being an amazing place filled with all the things I love about Scotland: Castles and abbeys, breweries and distilleries, gorgeous landscapes, and great people.
I have a couple other ideas for trips as well, and we’ll see if they come to fruition through happy circumstance.
Adventures in Novel-Writing
I alluded to the process of editing my novel above, and October was largely a bust in terms of progress. This past summer with all the travel and dealing with a very sick cat and my own Lyme disease really threw me off my game. After cutting one POV completely and throwing away all the chapters of another one, I decided to start revising my Calder chapters, who I felt was my strongest character. His early chapters, which I’d written at the start, more than a year ago, however, were really rough and I had a hard time getting interested in the storyline.
As I pushed into Calder’s later chapters, however, their quality has launched me back on track, and I’m now nearing the end of his revisions. In fact, just yesterday I started writing a new Calder chapter to fill in a gap in his storyline. Things are moving. The next big block of editing will focus on Rosslyn’s storyline. Finally, I need to rewrite all of Derek’s storyline – 10-12 chapters in total. Yikes.
I am improving the book and starting to see how this editing process works. It’s a bit like combing your hair. Each pass of the comb makes the tangle slightly less unruly, slightly more neat. I only wish I had an editor giving me scary deadlines so that I might pick up the pace.
Someday I will regret that statement.