December 30, 2010

A Bit O' The Classics - Emma

Emma isn't my favorite Austen novel, nor my least favorite; it ranks somewhere in the ever-shifting middle, below Pride & Prejudice and Mansfield Park, and possibly below Sense & Sensibility. However, all of Austen's novels are enjoyable, each for different reasons - Pride & Prejudice for its vivacity and wit; Mansfield Park for the sweetness of its heroine and the story's mellow tone; Sense & Sensibility for the drama, theme, and contrasting characters of Elinor and Marianne; Persuasion for its touch of melancholy; Northanger Abbey for its sprightly, somewhat off-the-wall humor; and Emma for its own hilarity.

There are plenty of other things about Emma that make it enjoyable, such as Mr. Knightley's (pardon the pun) chivalrous character, the twist Austen gives to the romances, and the sheer number of errors that Emma Woodhouse brings about in her attempt to be a matchmaker for her friends. But one of the most interesting points about the novel, I found, was that Jane Austen managed to have such a bratty, spoiled character...and yet make her so likable as well. Surprisingly few people dislike the book, whereas one would think that Emma's inconsiderate nature and harebrained schemes would turn people off. Some modern authors have attempted to have such characters, either with the thought of redeeming them in the end, or merely with the hope of crafting something different from the usual sympathetic character; but generally speaking, these efforts fall flat where Austen's Emma Woodhouse did not.

Several reasons can be found for why Jane Austen succeeded where others cannot, the first and most broad-brush of which is that she was a classic writer and managed to get away with things that the little people cannot. However, not only is this a very depressing and irksome reason, but even if a book is a classic, readers are unlikely to enjoy a bratty main character unless the author does a remarkable job in pulling it off. (An example of this for Austen would be that, classic or no, most Austen fans put Mansfield Park at the bottom of their list because they feel that Fanny Price is a doormat.)

A better reason why readers like Emma Woodhouse is that Jane Austen did not make her wholly snobbish and selfish. Emma is shown as a generally kind and goodhearted young woman whose virtues are sometimes hidden under the fact that she is spoiled and that she has a somewhat wild streak of fun in her nature which often leads her to act before she thinks. Austen does not merely show her in her faults, such as ridiculing the interminable Miss Bates; she also shows Emma's gentler side as she regrets her harsh words, when she watches over her father, and in her affection for Mr. Knightley. An author simply cannot have a character with irritating faults without making amends in other places, or they will alienate readers.

Another, and perhaps greater, reason for Emma's likability is the way Austen contrasts her actions with Mr. Knightley's and has him play the role of guardian and corrector, rebuking Emma and showing her the errors of her ways. These reprimands are gentled by the revelation that Mr. Knightley is and has been in love with Emma, and their fruitfulness throughout reveals Emma's growing character. On the other hand, a last minute change of heart on the part of a character who has been annoying for the entirety of the novel does not work, as it is unbelievable and leaves no room for growth or time for the character to redeem himself.

December 27, 2010

Christmas Books

All Christmas presents are wonderful, and every year the gifts seem more lovely than the ones previous. This year I got a nice selection of books from various people, some that I've already read but that I lacked copies of, some that I've never read before. All are books that I placed on my shelf proudly.

All Loves Excelling: My friend Anna gave me this little Puritan Paperback by John Bunyan, more popularly known as the author of Pilgrim's Progress. However, he also wrote such books as the allegory The Holy War and the work Grace Abounding. All Loves Excelling is a look at Ephesians 3:17-19: "...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." I just love having a friend who gives such wholesome, lovely, hearty presents! She truly is a dear.

The Pilgrim's Progress: I was also given this more commonly known work of John Bunyan in fine, pretty hardback. It is a recent reprint by John L. Dagg Publishing of a 1891 edition and has at least some of the original illustrations; I didn't own a copy, and I'm very pleased to have such a nice one of Bunyan's classic allegory of a man fleeing from the wrath to come and journeying to the Celestial City.

A Shiver of Wonder: Interestingly, this relatively short biography of C.S. Lewis by Derick Bingham was published by Ambassador Emerald, the same house that published my Soldier's Cross and Jenny's The Shadow Things. Jenny picked it up at a nearby bookstore and gave it to me. I have not yet read it, so for its theme I can only quote the back cover: "...[Bingham] seeks to show the deep influence the environment of Belfast and the nearby County Down had on Lewis’s imagination and sets out to trace the hand of God in seeking one who so actively denied Him."

Till We Have Faces: I have another copy of this one, but it is very tattered, so I was very glad to get a nice new edition; I'm still keeping the old one for sentimental reasons, though. Till We Have Faces is probably one of the most - if not the most - difficult of Lewis' works of fiction, but it was his last and favourite novel. It takes a great deal of getting into to understand any of it, but I love it all the same for its depth and the pictures Lewis paints, and the deeply rooted allegory and truth in the narrative. "Now I know, Lord, why you give no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face all questions fade away..."

The Chronicles of Narnia: Since Jenny moved out and carted away our only set of Lewis' Chronicles, I have been attempting to piece together my own collection - to little avail. I mostly had duplicates of three books in the seven-book-series, some hardback, some paperback. Thankfully, my sister-in-law took pity on me this year and got me a lovely Barnes & Noble leather-bound book of all seven. (Of course, she got Jenny one as well...)

I love books. And I'm running out of room on my bookshelf.

December 23, 2010

A Bit O' The Classics - Cooper

I admit to being more familiar with, and more fond of, British classics than American ones. America is young enough that many of its famous works are heavily flavored with post-modernism and can be quite dark and hopeless, like Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. However, a little while ago I was forced to read James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. I waded through the first couple of chapters with an effort, struggling onward through Cooper's often laborious descriptions because I had to and because my father had enjoyed the novel. It looked like it was shaping up to be just one more example of how American classics are inferior to British - but then the action started. And I was absolutely caught up in it.

I love a great many books, but there are few that have actually made me tremble by the end, and Last of the Mohicans was one of those. I laughed at some parts and cried at others, and I didn't get over the ending for a couple days; I still get a tight feeling in my chest when I think about it. I refuse to see the movie, knowing that I will either rant about all the things they altered or sob uncontrollably for a week over the drama, or perhaps both. Looked at simply from the perspective of a reader, the novel was beautiful and poignant.

However, it also offers a wealth of interesting points for the writer that leaped out at me while I read it and afterward. Cooper packed an unusual amount of power into his novel, whether he realized it or not, and the effect, especially as seen in the character Uncas, is startling. The events are seen through the eyes of the officer Heyward, who is appointed by Colonel Munro to watch over his daughters, Cora and Alice; but the main character is of course Natty Bumppo, known for the entirety of the story simply as Hawkeye. The young Mohican Uncas has very few lines in the story, less even than his father, Chingachgook. Yet for all that Hawkeye and Heyward are so much in the spotlight, Uncas is perhaps the most powerful, sympathetic, and fascinating character of the entire cast. It was what happened to him that mattered most to me while I read the novel, and even Hawkeye, though a wonderful character himself, seemed to fade into the background.

The ways Cooper managed to bring this about were surprisingly simple. First of all, he wisely showed the story from the viewpoint of Heyward rather than Hawkeye or Uncas himself. Seeing it from Uncas' perspective would have absolutely ruined the magnificence and mystery of his character, while seeing it from Hawkeye's would have made himself less impressive. In essence, Heyward was expendable and not meant to hold the same interest for readers as Hawkeye and Uncas; and, too, the savageness of the American frontier and of the villain Magua were made more horrible as witnessed by a young, inexperienced officer.

Secondly, Uncas' very silence went far to emphasize his character. A person who talks a great deal simply cannot be as impressive as one who speaks little - think Mr. Darcy versus Mr. Bingley. Cooper showed who Uncas was through his actions and the few short sentences he spoke, and it was these things that made him the hero of The Last of the Mohicans.

"My child!" said Munro, speaking quickly and wildly; "give me my child!"

"Uncas will try," was the short and touching answer.

December 18, 2010

Day One

Day One of the busy weekend is officially over, and though it was quite tiring, it was also immensely satisfying.

In the morning Jenny and I had a TV interview with the Channel 7 spot Your Carolina. It was a short segment, but it's certainly interesting to be able to say that I have been on TV. And, unlike Mike of "Monsters, Inc." fame, Jack and Kimberley were kind enough not to put the logo over my face. You can view the clip on the Your Carolina website.

The afternoon was, I am grateful to say, uneventful. At 7:00 we had a booksigning at Barnes & Noble, and we occupied a table right by the door for over two hours. It was very enjoyable and rewarding to talk with the people who came to look at the books and the evening was a success, so thank you to everyone who managed to come - and I hope you enjoy your books!

Tonight is Spill the Beans downtown. A booksigning at a cafe on a winter evening has a cozy sound to it, doesn't it?

December 8, 2010

What Do You Read?

Reading has somewhat gone out of vogue nowadays as more and more people spend their time in other, quicker pastimes, such as watching movies and playing video games; reading good books seems to have lost even more charm. The classics are still revered as classics, but few people dare to open one. Biographies and histories are considered pretty dull things. Theology, philosophy, sermon-collections, and the like seem to be the most disliked of all categories, even among believers. If people do read, they generally turn to the action-packed, romance-stuffed, gore-filled, often plotless novels produced in mass quantities today.

This is unfortunately true of many writers, as well. Reading is not considered necessary for someone to be able to write. However, what you read, and if you read at all, will color your writing - for good or ill. If you want to write, it is important to read, and to read extensively. Just as some people don't read at all and other people read only the latest vampire novel, others lock themselves into a certain category - be it Christian fiction, mystery, romance, or any other genre - and read very little outside this appointed comfort zone. However, this is almost as bad as not reading at all; your writing (and your whole outlook on life) will be so affected by this one genre that it is likely that there will be little originality and little of yourself in your work.

Just like with any diet, reading demands variety. While I'll never recommend reading a trashy novel for the sake of "something new" (that's kind of like eating a tub of lard for the same reason), there are plenty of novels that are not specifically Christian, yet are clean, inspiring, and thought-provoking; take many of the classics, for instance. A good dose of nonfiction can not only be very enjoyable, but will also enlighten you and make you think - and, too, histories can easily inspire a story in undeveloped territory. A knowledge of history, as a whole and in detail, will give your stories depth. Something more than a glancing acquaintance with the writing styles of "the Great Ones" will help your own writing progress.

What are you reading? What are some of your favorite books?

December 2, 2010

December Book Signings

November and NaNoWriMo are over, introducing the month of December, which is promising to be still more eventful. Jenny and I have three book signings coming up in one weekend and a TV interview with Your Carolina as well, so the schedule looks like this -

Barnes and Noble
The Shops at Greenridge
1125 Woodruff Road Suite 1810,
Greenville, SC 29607

Spill The Beans (coffee shop)
531 South Main Street
Greenville, SC 29601
Spill The Beans is also offering free regular coffee to those who buy books - a plus for all caffeine-lovers who want to stay up late reading the novels!

2465 Laurens Road
Greenville, SC 29607

December is looking very interesting right now, between these events, editing and sending out queries for Wordcrafter, and working on White Sail's Shaking. Not to mention Christmas. NaNo seems tame in comparison!
meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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