December 29, 2011

New Year Contest

So, since the idea of a contest aroused an enthusiastic response, Jenny and I have decided to go ahead and host one! It will run through the month of January, opening January 1 and closing at the end of the month. Here's how it will work:

wordcount

Each entry must be 200 words or less. Hopefully those of you who expressed worry about having time to devote to writing will find this doable. Also, don't panic - you're not expected to tell a whole story in such a few words.

subject

The theme will be first impressions. This can be a character's first impression of another character, of a thing, of an animal... Think of it as you introducing a new subject, whether animate or inanimate, to the reader.

quality

Writing styles differ, so don't try to fit your entry into a specific style. Bethany asked about prose versus poetry; in general we would prefer prose, but if you can write poetry skilfully, go ahead! Make sure to check your spelling and polish your grammar, and all such lovely technical things.

rules and regulations

Entries will be limited to two per person. Obviously, keep it clean; we'll be posting the winning entries (as long as the authors don't mind), so they have to be ones we're comfortable putting up. You may write in any genre.

prizes!

After the contest closes, Jenny and I will choose first place and second place winners. First place winner will receive one copy of each of our novels, The Shadow Things and The Soldier's Cross, as well as a critique of the first chapter of their novel. Second place winner will also received a critique of the first chapter of their novel.

If you have any questions, be sure to ask. And if not - start writing!

December 27, 2011

Possible Contest

The sad thing about Christmas is that it's over so soon. There are just four more days left of 2011, and then 2012 will be upon us - shock and horror! But with the approach of the new year, Jenny and I are considering hosting a writing contest here on Scribbles as a farewell to the old, all hail the new. The entries would be short stories of some kind and the prizes would probably be copies of our books (The Shadow Things and The Soldier's Cross) as well as a critique of the first chapter of your novel. The details are still being hashed out, but we wanted to know what you readers think of the idea. Would you like to participate in a writing contest?

let us know!

art from debbiehodge.com via pinterest

December 23, 2011

The Hound of Heaven

The funny thing about breaks is that they always seem to be busier than "normal" life. This week my inspiration has been divided pretty evenly between The White Sail's Shaking (the first draft has passed Wordcrafter in length - much excitement) and devising pretty ways of wrapping packages, but I did want to bend my mind toward a Christmas blog post. Being late to get around to it means that I have already seen quite a number of Christmas-themed posts, most of which deal (naturally) with Jesus Christ's birth. Therefore I am going to depart from the usual and post just a small portion of the long, lovely poem The Hound of Heaven by Francis Thompson.

the hound of heaven

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet--
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

... Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
"And is thy earth so marred,
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught," He said,
"And human love needs human meriting,
How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might'st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for the at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"

Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."

I am not usually a fan of poetry, as I know I've mentioned before. And yet this one captured at least an element of the majesty, the satisfaction, the glory of God in His redemptive work - the power of His grace that pursues unhurriedly and deliberately until it has gained its object. The grace of God is omnipotent, not impotent. Jesus Christ is King, the King of Glory. In this season we remember His incarnation and birth in Bethlehem; but let us not focus on the Child and lose sight of the Man, the righteous Man who has redeemed His people and sat down on the right hand of God in majesty.

December 15, 2011

Dust from the Pages

As Jenny observed over at The Penslayer, we're halfway through December already. December of 2011. Whoda thunk? On the one hand it feels like this year has whipped by in a crazy blur, but at the same time, 2010 seems very far away. Lord willing, before you know it 2012 will be here (and The Hobbit will be coming out!).

In 2010, The Soldier's Cross was published and I upped my - what do you call it? - "online presence." Part of that involved actually using the splendid site Goodreads instead of just having an account, so 2011 has been one of the few years in which I've kept track of the books I have read. I didn't set a goal, liking to go through books at my own speed or lack thereof, and so the quantity wasn't as great as some of you, but I did wander into the worlds of some excellent books. I read some classics; some brilliant fantasies; a heap of rereads that didn't make it on the Goodreads list (Jane Austen, mostly); and some histories and other nonfiction. I didn't enjoy everything, but it was a nice, eclectic year. Here's a taste.

Away back in January I commenced my education proper in Sherlock Holmes. He makes for easy reading, so I have now read all the novels and most of the short stories (having already seen the Jeremy Brett TV-series, I knew how those ones ended and only read the ones I hadn't watched). I read Mutiny on the Bounty at last and just this month read the second in the trilogy, Men Against the Sea; I also added to my collection of sea novels such books as The Line upon a Wind (lift with your legs!), the 1950s novel The Tall Ships, and about the first hundred pages of Master and Commander...until I determined that it is most distinctly a man's novel. I met Jack Easy some time last year, and Hornblower awaits me after I've completed my own novel.

I took a huge bound out of my comfort zone and read The Killer Angels, perhaps the most not-me book in 2011's collection, and yet one that I enjoyed nonetheless. I read a new novel (gasp!), Liz Patterson's charming debut, The Mark of the Star. Just a couple months ago I also got Anne Elisabeth Stengl's newest novel, Veiled Rose, read it and promptly backtracked to read Heartless as well. They're some of my favorites from this year. (Yes! Abigail does read modern novels! ...Sometimes. Rarely. Alright, moving on.) I succeeded in finishing the Puritan Paperback The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (take a bite, chew ten times, swallow, digest, repeat); grudgingly picked up The Odyssey (even Athena recognized that Odysseus was an idiot!); and dabbled in some light reading with James Herriot. I had to read something light, you see, because at the same time I was reading Little Dorrit (you can't just come in saying you want to KNOW, you know).

In June I read my first G.K. Chesterton work, Four Faultless Felons. I can't decide what I think of Chesterton. I'll get back with you at a later date. Then there was...Team of Rivals. (May I remind you about lifting with your legs?) It involved some trudging, but it was very interesting. Then, Jenny having been on to me to read Beowulf, I picked that up (I like Wiglaf better than Beowulf). I read Rosemary Sutcliff's novel Frontier Wolf, which was like having my heart wrung a couple times (but wait, it's Sutcliff, so we expect that). The Forgotten Spurgeon, by Iain Murray, earned one of my rare five star ratings. It was good, accessible, encouraging, convicting, and did I mention that it was good?

For some light reading and inspiration for Sunshine and Gossamer I picked up the little book Dew on the Grass, a sweet read with some inside-out theology. I reread a couple Agatha Christie novels, Towards Zero (a favourite) and Murder at the Vicarage (not so much). I ventured a little dubiously into my first Robert Louis Stevenson novel, the odd Master of Ballantrae. Last week I finished The Count of Monte Cristo, complete and unabridged in its 1400-page glory. I'm not sure if I would read it again; it had its high points and its low points. Last night I (finally) reached the last page of Harry Blamire's The Christian Mind. I believe the crowning jewel of the year, however, was Howl's Moving Castle. This little book was clever, light and serious at once, and absolutely hilarious; after finishing it I loaned it out to various family members, and have yet to get it back.

The year is not quite finished; I hope to complete Thomas Costain's The Magnificent Century before January rolls around. But I am pleased with the books I've read and I enjoyed just about all of them. Unlike Jenny, many of my books had little (or little that I can pinpoint) to do with The White Sail's Shaking, and yet so many of them were beneficial in expanding my horizons. I read my first Dumas, my first Stevenson, and my first Chesterton this year. I found some new writers whose works I can watch for. I ventured into some very different eras, including the Civil War and the Age of Sail. And then of course there were those wonderful rereads.

what have you read this year?

December 12, 2011

The Finishing Touch

The other day Londongirl posted a question on You Haven't Got an Appointment! that concerns writing, editing, and publishing, then expanded on that in an email. She wrote

Can you send queries to publishing houses after you've completed a manuscript? Or should you send them when you are still working on the manuscript?

For first time authors, it's a bad idea to submit an unfinished novel. The agent or publisher who will be looking at your query may be fascinated by the story concept that you're laying out, but once they get down to "SUCH AND SUCH is an uncompleted historical fiction; its estimated size at completion is 100,000 words," they are very likely to balk. And why not? After all, they're going to be investing in you and your work; it's only reasonable that they should want to know that you have the dedication to stick with a story to the end.

While you're writing your story, focus on writing it. This is not to say that if you come across an agency that seems like a fit you shouldn't take note of it, but don't go out of your way to contact agents and editors while you're still in the business of getting your words onto paper. You've got enough to do just shaping your story; don't worry about getting it "out there" to professionals. Allow yourself to relax and enjoy writing for itself, rather than attempting to do everything at once.

How do you know when your manuscript is ready to be shipped off to a potential publisher?

This is a trickier question to answer, because there are so many components that affect a manuscript's readiness. A book is never really finished until it's printed and out in stores; my novel Wordcrafter is in the querying stage, but I still find little things to change. You're not going to reach a stage in the writing of one book where you finally feel that you have arrived, that the story is perfect, that you have written everything you wanted to say and said it in the exact manner you wanted. Even after a book is published, chances are you'll see things that you wish you could edit. Aim for perfection, by all means, but don't think that you can't start querying until you've attained that goal...because if you do, you'll never query at all. At the same time, however, Londongirl is right: there is a stage where the story is polished enough to be submitted to the eyes of agents and publishers. So how do you know you've reached it?

To approach first from the negative side, there is a way to know that the manuscript is not ready to be submitted. It won't be ready the minute you finish your first draft, so it would be very unwise to start sending out queries the day after you type "the end." (You really, really don't want agents and editors to see the rubbish of that first draft.) Give the story space and don't be impatient. Allot yourself plenty of time for editing and editing again. If you have seen the movie "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" you might remember the scene in which Captain Gregg is dictating to Lucy and she corrects his grammar.

Captain Gregg: "To or from, who cares? This isn't a blasted literary epic. It's the unvarnished story of a seaman's life."

Lucy: "It certainly is unvarnished."

Well, editing is the varnish, and even stories of seamen's lives need it (and yes, I am eying The White Sail's Shaking). Don't pass over this in your writing. But, as with most things, it is possible to carry the good principle of editing too far. A writer can become paralyzed with fear at the thought of showing anyone the novel, and so may continue to edit...and edit...and edit...and edit...until the story is worn out and the writer is worn out and it's ten years later and goodness, what happened? There comes a point in time when enough is enough, and you've got to send the baby off. The difficulty is knowing when that point comes.

A good way of telling if you're ready to submit is in the advice of other people. This can be hard if you don't know many people who are supportive of your writing, but chances are there is at least one person whose opinion you trust. Critiquers don't need to be writers themselves; they only need to be readers who know what constitutes good literature and what doesn't. Give them the story and let them critique it for you, and consider what they say. Balance it with your own feelings, but remember that they haven't spent months on the story and aren't worn out and nervous about the whole thing - and consequently, that their minds are clearer than yours.

There is no cut-and-dry answer. It would be nice to say that a story will be ready on the third edit, but the fact of the matter is that some novels will be and some novels won't. My advice is to take the writing process slowly and to enjoy it; write and then edit, then show it to someone and edit again, and then start to think about agents and publishers. At some point in time you will have to venture out and entrust your story to Professionals, but although it is nerve-wracking, don't work yourself into a sweat over it. Writing is a wonderful thing to be able to do, and worrying over every step of the way will only ruin your enjoyment of it.

December 6, 2011

A Troublesome Child

Several days ago, Rachel, the Inkpen Authoress, introduced readers to her story The Scarlet-Gypsy Song (and a fascinating introduction it was, too!). Not only that, but she invited several others to join in and give readers a glimpse into their works-in-progress through a number of questions. I'm still puzzling over some of them, but I will do my best to answer and to allow you to shake hands with and say how-do to my novel

the white sail's shaking

"Do you think I would have any bravery," Tip answered, "if I were not a fool?"

1. Who are the main characters?

The main main character is Tip Brighton, an awkward fellow tottering on the line between boyhood and manhood. The other point-of-view character is the headstrong, thoroughly Mediterranean Marta Rais, who finds herself under Tip's protection and isn't pleased about it. Those are the two from whose perspective the story is told, but there are other main characters: Charlie Bent, a proud young Southerner with a secret; quiet, cat-like Josiah Darkwood, whose Indian heritage has made life difficult for him; Lewis, the midshipman whose ambition far outpaces his companions'; and Lieutenant Decatur, debonair commander of the schooner Enterprize.

2. How did you get the idea for this story?

After reading Ian Toll's Six Frigates in 2010, my interest in Stephen Decatur prompted me to write a story set during the First Barbary War. The actual plot developed very slowly from that starting point, and didn't actually take shape until well into the writing of the story - indeed, not until after I introduced Charlie Bent. It's quite amazing how nebulous this whole thing was when I first began.

3. What genre is this story?

The White Sail's Shaking is straight historical fiction. As evidenced by the heaps of history books around the computer desk.

4. Describe your book in three thoughts:

A choice between winning glory and having true honor. A glimpse through the blood-shot, gut-wrenching times in life to the things that matter. Sometimes it takes a storm.

5. The bit that describes an obscure piece of real life best:

He went away, and Tip found himself not only alone, but lonely. He sat in the dim yellow light with his mother’s letter in one hand and the ribbon from Gibraltar in the other, and as he read over the paragraphs and the velvet brushed against his skin, the longing for home intensified until he found his eyes burning with it. There were damp blisters on the paper; he tried to brush them away, but another tear splashed and another watermark formed. He put his head in his hands and rocked himself back and forth, crying softly with homesickness that would not be denied.

Darkwood was right. How easily you despise the things you have, Tip Brighton—until they are lost.

6. The funniest line said by a side-character thus far:

Lawrence gave a rough laugh in answer. “A man after Mr. Decatur’s heart,” he said, and Tip could not decide how much mockery there was in the remark. “Well, then, let the fellow come ashore with the rest, but you’ll be responsible for him, Mr. Brighton—oh, ---,” he added languidly, glancing toward shore, “you aren’t allowed to come, are you? Deuced quarantine. There’s hardly a sick man on that ketch, but merely because it comes from Africa, it has to serve a quarantine. Governor What’s-his-face is a real stick in the mud, boil his guts.”

7. Your favourite piece of description:

For a moment Decatur was silent, and when Tip dared an upward glance, he found the lieutenant plucking at the ship’s rigging again. Did he keep it, Tip wondered briefly, just for times like this when he was irritated? The taut strings thrummed softly, wavering in and out of the shadows each time Decatur loosed them from his finger.

8. Your biggest fear in the writing of this story:

The next session of writer's block. And perhaps that I won't be able to convey the message that I want.

9. Last full sentence you wrote:

Tip had first watch that night, and he was glad of it; it was better than lying in his cot waiting for a sleep that would not come.

10. Favourite character thus far:

I am very fond of most of my characters. Darkwood is enigmatic, which makes him enjoyable to write, while Decatur, who is ever in the background just watching, is just plain fun. But I think I would have to answer "Charlie." This dandy of a Southerner came unbidden into the story, and since then he has managed to become so central to the plot that there would be no story if he were not there. A scene never fails to flow more easily when he appears.

11. What books have been written or have you read that are similar in style and flavour to your novel?

I have purposefully not read many sea novels prior to the writing of The White Sail's Shaking, because I didn't want Tip to be yet another Hornblower or Aubrey or Jack Easy. I do, however, want to read more for research when I am finished with the first draft. I have read The Tall Ships while deep in White Sail's, and it has some similarities.

12. If it was destined to become a book on tape, who would you wish to read it?

I'm afraid I am not much for audio-books - not that I have anything against them, but I don't own many. Therefore, I am afraid I can't answer this.

Thanks so much for the exercise, Rachel! It was splendid fun. I believe that, having finished this, it is my solemn duty to pick others to do the same thing. Therefore, I will choose

Keaghan of Whisper Above the Thunder
and
Gabrielle of The Ink Stained Parchment

December 1, 2011

After the War

It's December 1. That apparently simple statement has a world of significance behind it; it means that you NaNoers have survived one whole month of frenzied writing, and that I have survived one whole month of not participating in said frenzied writing. Whatever your wordcount may be, I hope you had a fun time.

The war is over. What now? You've got 50,000 words, maybe more, of a story that may or may not be worthwhile. I know the feeling of getting to December only to look back over those words and think, "Uuuuuugh. I wrote that?" or, if your story isn't complete: "I wrote that much, and I still have this much plot left? You're kidding, right?" Come NaNo's end in both 2009 and 2010, I was terribly burned out; both times, however, I tried to keep going. Bad idea. When the wordcount closed and December rolled around, I was tired and all my inspiration was toasted, while in the back of my mind lurked the knowledge that those 50,000 words would have to be seriously revised. December and January produced a whole lot of groans and whines, and maybe some tears and sweat (no blood), but not many words.

Probably the best thing to do when you reach the end is to take a break, at least from that particular story. Give yourself time to recharge. You might go back and look at the story you were working on before NaNo; if it is completed you can work on editing it, or if it isn't you can return to writing it. Time away might bring to light new inspiration or reveal things you want to tweak. In December 2010 I worked on editing Wordcrafter, getting my mind off the big problem that was The White Sail's Shaking, and didn't spend a whole lot of brain power on straight "writing". This isn't laziness. Editing and marketing are just as important as writing itself is; manuscripts once completed shouldn't just be discarded. So don't feel bad if you need to take a break and spend time on another story.

When I had gone through the initial edit of Wordcrafter, I returned with more vigor to the writing of The White Sail's Shaking. It's now too long ago (a whole year - dear me!) for me to recall exactly what my sensations were, but they were not pleasant. The rubbish that was the first 50,000 words tortured me until at last I gave in and started editing much of what I had written in November. Filling in holes, straightening out characters, and fixing botched details helped get me back in the feel of the novel, and when I had finished with the first few chapters, I was ready to return to actually writing again.

But what if you wrote your story just for fun and don't intend for it to go anywhere? I know some people approach NaNo as a time to just let the rules fly out the window and allow themselves to write whatever occurs to them, not worrying about whether or not the result is any good. I tried this in 2008 and it went splat at about 17,000 words, but hey, it works for some writers. Even if this is your perspective on NaNoWriMo, you can still glean things from those 50,000 words. Let the story sit for a while, then return to it, read over it, and make your assessment. If you find that it's actually not that bad, you might want to spin it out and make a proper novel out of it after all. If you decide that the plot is just as nonsensical as you thought at the end of November, then perhaps you can focus on picking out those bits of your writing that you still like - a description or a turn of phrase, a scrap of dialogue, a character. You may be surprised how many diamonds you find.

what was your wordcount this year? do you hope to make something of the story?

November 28, 2011

In Thunder, Lightning, or in Rain

We are having a November day. Everything outside is grey and dreary, with a lazy rain pitterpattering on the gutters and the stark, silver branches dripping - though the Christmas pig our neighbours erected in their yard kind of ruins the effect. (Seriously? A pig? In a Santa hat? You have to be kidding me.) But all in all, it's a day that represents November and makes you want to curl up with tea and a blanket and a good book. Preferably not a Geometry book.

Weather is a poignant thing, and a few good words concerning it can create atmosphere in a scene like magic. It could be rain, or it could be fog, or it could be full sunshine, or it could be a peek-a-boo pattern of light and clouds, but whatever it is, it is important to the life of a scene and should be treated as such. You can't just arbitrarily decide that the day is sunny or the night is dark and stormy; you've got to know that the day is sunny, and it has to be sunny with a purpose. Otherwise the descriptions will turn out bland, unimportant, and perhaps even invasive.

There are two main things to consider about blending atmosphere and purpose. The first is correspondence. To go back to the example of a dark and stormy night, what is the cliche supposed to signify? Drama, of course. You know - "It was a dark and stormy night. A door banged. The maid shrieked. A ship appeared on the horizon." To be more literary, when A Wrinkle in Time starts out with that sentence, you see Meg Murry in her attic room, scared out of her wits as she thinks about the wind and the rain and the tramp who has been stealing things around town. The weather mirrors her emotions; this is correspondence.

I went for correspondence in the title of my story Sunshine and Gossamer. (Actually, the title came before the plot, but still...) The mood of the novel is light; it's a children's story, of sorts, and I wanted it to be in the style of Daddy-Long-Legs or Dew on the Grass. Therefore, I wanted some whimsy in the title. Other forms of correspondence might be rain at a funeral; sun at a wedding; or fog around a haunted house. Put bluntly they sound cliche, but with the right touches they can be pulled off - just like the beginning of A Wrinkle in Time.

The other option is contrast. This is where you take the cliche and turn it inside out and on its head, making the sadness of a funeral clash with a sunny day, or turning a wedding whimsical or ominous by placing it in the rain. The death of a character can be made even more terrible by contrasting it with a gorgeous summer day and by making the protagonist feel the grossness of that contrast. I wanted this in the scene in The Soldier's Cross when Fiona is informed of her brother's death; I wanted two worlds to clash there - the sunlit world she had always known before and the dark chaos of the life in front of her. A rainy day wouldn't have conveyed the message with the same pathos.

Both methods are useful in any story. It is possible to try too hard to use the principle of contrast when having weather correspond with emotion would do just as well; it is also possible to err on the side of the cliche. As with all things, balance is important. Take time to consider the atmosphere as you write each scene; you may not end up using the weather, but it is good to know things outside the immediate sphere of the written word. After all, what you don't write is quite as important as what you do write.

November 21, 2011

A Dash of the Literary

Katie, over on her blog at Whisperings of the Pen, did a fun little post with recently-scribbled snippets from her stories. Then my sister Jenny picked it up and posted clips from her novels Adamantine (completed/being edited) and Plenilune (in progress). So, being unoriginal as I am, I decided to make off with the idea and give you readers a glimpse into what I have written and what I have been writing recently. (By the way, the first draft of The White Sail's Shaking bids fair to pass Wordcrafter in length by the end of the year!)

a sprinkling of words

The sky was cloudless and two large moons were already high in it, so that the garden was turned a faded grey and speckled by darker hollows. It was quiet except for the hum of the breeze running through the slats in the fence, and Justin sighed in relief as the door creaked shut at his back and he was separated from the warmth and turmoil within. But as he skirted the overgrown vines and bushes and drooping, frosty flowers to the rough hewn bench, his eye was caught by a motion on his right and he stiffened.

“Hallo,” said a female voice. She sat on the white fence post with her hands clasped between her knees, balancing precariously as she kicked her heels against the wood. She had no head-covering, so her hair, amber in the moonlight, was tousled and chaotic—part of her charm, Justin thought wryly. He moved nearer and she regarded him serenely.

“You’re getting bolder,” he remarked.

Wordcrafter

Ethan’s fist met the table with a crash that shuddered down its entire length and knocked over several goblets, sending wine and mead flooding across the wood and over the edge in waterfalls. There could not have been a man in the room who did not start, and the Gypsy-lord’s arms unfolded in a moment and he drew himself up; but the Hound had calmed himself with an effort and drew his hand off the table, exhaling slowly. “The Lord of the Cliffs will forgive me,” he said coldly, “if I find it difficult to be amused at what I am sure was not meant to be in earnest.”

Wordcrafter

I was very tired last night - tireder than I think I've ever been - but I was determined to get up early just to show Aiden that I'm not a shallow city girl. I had Miss Gwen get me up in the dark, and though my courage almost failed me as I peeked over the coverlet, I did not back down! I got up in the cold dark and I wrapped myself up in a sweater and wellies, and then I tramped down, had a bit of porridge for breakfast (yuck!), and went out to report for duty.

Sunshine and Gossamer


The glittering of the man’s eyes in his strange face, like the blinking of gems half buried in earth, unnerved Tip, and he took the words and that warning look to heart as he went inside. Unwanted, they said. Unwanted! A sensation of overwhelming friendlessness closed in on him when he shut the door of his own room and stood in the solitude, and he drew in a shuddering breath and brushed the heel of his hand across a cut on his forehead. “Never mind,” he murmured. “It doesn’t matter what they think. You’ll get by, Tip Brighton—you always do.”

The White Sail's Shaking

“Give them a shot across the bow, if you please,” Decatur said to the first lieutenant, with a touch of morbid humor. The order was relayed and a gun run out in Lewis’ division; spark touched vent and a white cloud burst upward as a cannon ball went singing smartly across the ketch’s bowsprit. A breathless silence ensued, and as the air cleared Tip could see the foreigners
heaving to.

The White Sail's Shaking

and a dash of words not my own

You do not make the truth. You reside in the truth. A suitable image for truth would be that of a lighthouse lashed by the elemental fury of undisciplined error. Those who have come to reside in the truth must stay there. It is not their business to go back into error for the purpose of joining their drowning fellows with the pretence that, inside or outside, the conditions are pretty much the same.

The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires


art by wagsomedog on flickr

November 17, 2011

The Once and Future Queen

I don't normally write short stories, and short stories of 600 words are things I particularly avoid. However, there was a contest and at the same time a kernel of an idea, so I scribbled down that kernel of an idea and submitted it to that contest. The result was Regina Quondam Reginaque Futura, the Once and Future Queen, a story I hope at some point to turn into a prequel of Tempus Regina.

enjoy.

Merlin was very old the first time Gwenhwyfar laid eyes on him.

She was sitting in the red glow of evening that poured through the windows of the great hall, looking, as she had often looked, at the carvings etched into the rough stone of the table before her. The places around her were empty, seats in shadow, and it was quiet now that her lord and his companions had ridden out; the sound of her hand as she traced the figures was loud.

Then he was there, a man as ancient and blasted as an oak and yet as large and strong as one, too, and Gwenhwyfar found that she was not surprised to see him. “You are Merlin,” she said without rising. “Did I summon you?”

“No one summons me,” said Merlin. “I come when the time is right.” He approached through the slanting light until he stood across from her, and it seemed to Gwenhwyfar that he cast no shadow as he walked. “You are looking at the Table,” he continued. “Tell me, Gwenhwyfar, queen: can you read me the runes?”

Gwenhwyfar cast her gaze downward; her hand still rested on a blood-dark symbol. “I do not understand them.”

“Can you tell me from whence the Table comes?”

Like a child giving the right answer, she said, “It was part of the dowry my father paid my lord. It stood in his halls for as long as I can remember.”

“And before?” This time Merlin did not extract an answer. “The Table has a history older than you or your house. It stood in great halls when Albion herself was not yet born. But it was meant for you, Gwenhwyfar, queen, though it is but a partial gift. Tonight I bring you that which completes it.” He drew his other hand from the shrouds of his robe and held it out, the thing in his palm gleaming fiercely gold and ruby in a shaft of dying sun. Gwenhwyfar could see only those flashes between Merlin’s fingers; she reached for it, then paused and answered his gaze.

“How do you know,” she said, “that it was meant for me?”

“Take it.”

Gwenhwyfar took it, and as its weight tumbled from his palm to hers she shut her eyes, testing it with touch alone. Then she reopened them. Nestled in her palm was the head of a dragon worked in the brightest gold she had ever seen, with eyes like the spark in Artos’ garnet brooch. The dragon mouth opened like a lid; within lay a clear pane, figures etched about the rim, and several long, thin black things in motion across them. It seemed to pulse in her hand, and it gave forth the sound of a heartbeat as the smallest black finger moved.

“Now, Gwenhwyfar, queen,” said Merlin, “can you read me the runes?”

Slowly Gwenhwyfar raised her eyes from the dragon head to the circle of dark stone.

tempus regina

holds the years

tempus regina

dwells in the future

tempus regina

come back to the past

tempus regina

beware

A portion was blurred and she could not discern it. She touched it, almost unaware that Merlin still spoke. “In your hand you hold the ability to move in time. It is a powerful thing; it comes to you as you stand by Artos’ side at the rise of Albion. Gwenhwyfar!”

Gwenhwyfar looked up.

“Heed the warning. Power corrupts; you must remember.”

Her eyes turned again to the table while he was yet speaking, and she saw the rune that was clearest: Beware!

November 13, 2011

Things That Inspire

On You Haven't Got an Appointment! Yaasha asked about the things that inspire me most. I've done posts before on the things that have particularly inspired my novels Wordcrafter and The White Sail's Shaking, but I thought I would do a post just on the little things that inspire me in general. So, in no particular order, here goes!

1. books

How could I write without books to inspire me? There's so much beauty and power in the written word - so many emotions they invoke, pictures they paint. I just love books.

2. teaching

The teaching of the elders at my church frequently convicts me and doesn't always give me a warm and fuzzy feeling - I should be alarmed if it did - but it does inspire me as much as anything else. It is such a wonderful thing to see some of God's Word come alive and to understand something a little better, even if only a very little bit better. After all, Christ is the supreme Word through Whom the world was made and by whom all things are held together. It would be rather silly not to be inspired by the revelation of the Word of God.

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father's Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.
- The Final Word, Michael Card

3. music

Especially dramatic, thrilling music. I don't always write while listening to songs, but I do find them invigorating and sometimes I'll find one particular style that seems to fit a story. For instance, the music from Escala always turns my thoughts to Tempus Regina.

4. autumn

I do believe I write best and most in the fall, whether or not I do NaNo. The cool weather just gets my blood flowing and inspires me to actually sit down and write after the heat and lethargy of summer. It's my favorite month, hands down.

5. history

Sometimes crazy and funny, sometimes not so much. Certain periods I find especially thrilling: the Age of Sail (in case you couldn't tell) but also eras like Roman Britain and the Plantagenet dynasty, to choose two random ones. Currently I have a couple ideas of stories that have almost nothing but a setting, but which will hopefully percolate into worthwhile novels.

6. the random

Or you might say "miscellaneous." Sometimes I can't pinpoint any particular inspiration; I might suddenly have an image in my head of a girl with a cross (The Soldier's Cross), or a man injured in a wolf-hunt (Wordcrafter), and a story may or may not build from there. I'm sure there must have been something to bring about those ideas, but I couldn't tell you what it was and so I take the easy way out and label all such thoughts "random."

7. family

I love my family. I love the Saturday evenings we spend together, the joking and the serious conversations. I love just being with them all. We're not the sort of family that novels are made of, I suppose, and yet I find inspiration and encouragement in our kinship.

and that, dear readers, is a peek into the things that inspire me.

art from flickr

November 3, 2011

Help Wanted

Question Number I-Haven't-Been-Counting on You Haven't Got an Appointment! was asked by Carrie. She wrote

Do you have any good how-to books on writing that you could recommend? On how to write well, or create characters, or anything like that?

On this question I fear I will disappoint, because I am one of those rare people who doesn't use how-to books. Probably more than ninety percent of the writers whose blogs I follow use and advocate the use of books on writing, so I recognize that I am in the minority when I say that I do not like the practice. Since being in the minority is a risky business, I will attempt to explain my position and you can decide for yourself what you think of it.

First of all, writing is an art and must be treated as such. Grammar and syntax may be taught and learning how to use the English language is essential; but being able to trap light in your ink, to capture beauty with words, is not something that can be conveyed through rules. I believe that practice is the best way to excel. Filling your brain with what to do and what not to do can be damaging to the life and voice of your writing because it teaches you to concentrate on the mechanics rather than the spirit. I find this with myself: the more worried I am about "getting it right," the more stilted my writing becomes.

Secondly, many people seem to forget that the idea of self-help books is a very modern and American concept. The literary greats like Shakespeare, Dickens, James Fenimore Cooper, and C.S. Lewis did not read how-to books on the craft, nor is that because they were superhuman and didn't need to learn how to hone their words. They progressed through love of good literature and practice. While it is true that we in the 21st Century can't write in the same style as a Dickens or a Cooper because times have changed, it is not true that we as writers and readers cannot learn from them or follow in their footsteps. If you want to have your words withstand the test of time, it is perfectly reasonable to take lessons from those whose words already have.

Thirdly, there is a quote by Neil Gaiman that I have read in various places and think is quite applicable: "You never learn how to write a novel. You merely learn how to write the novel you're on." Every writer is different, every story is different, and to attempt to write a book that will give The Answer on how to properly write a novel is, in my mind, a little arrogant. Ideas and suggestions can be quite helpful, and I would not say that I have the same antipathy for books that give ideas on, say, how to edit as I do for books that attempt to tell people how to write good fiction (or non-fiction, for that matter). After all, most writing blogs, including this one, are full of suggestions for going about various tasks in the novel-crafting business. But there is a fine line - a very fine line - between saying, "Well, this worked for me and it may help you," and pronouncing, "This is the Way to Write."

My final word is not that all how-to books are the spawn of the Devil and should be burned immediately and their ashes spread upon the wind. I simply say that the best teachers are the ones who have come before, and that the best way to learn is to apply oneself and write. Reading and writing cannot be separated. The more you write, the more your voice will develop, the deeper your plots will be, the more your characters will live and breathe from the page; the more you read, the more you will find that others still stand above you. We'll never attain perfection in this life - and it's a sorry place to be in when you think you have - but in striving for it we get a little better...and a little better...and a little better...

art by shutterhacks on flickr

November 1, 2011

A Different Point of View

Here I am, returning at last to the questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment! The next one I was going to answer is Yaasha Moriah's first:

As a female, how do you craft your male characters in a way that is true to the male perspective? How do you know if you have their viewpoints right and are not carrying feminine elements into their characters?

Yet another question that I am very excited to answer - you gals have done a grand job coming up with applications for the Circumlocution Office. Yaasha's is particularly applicable, as the protagonists of my last novel and my current one have been men; and in The White Sail's Shaking I have to write from Tip's perspective in some scenes and Marta's perspective in others. And it can be awfully hard.

So, how do I write from a male perspective. First off, I have to say that I find it easier than writing from a female perspective. That may seem odd, and frankly I haven't quite figured it out myself. The best way I can explain it is that men are much more concrete, logical, A-B-C thinkers and so their point-of-view is easier to demonstrate, whereas women tend to be more visceral and (let's face it) illogical. Balancing a woman's emotions with her thought processes is a much more delicate business than threading a man's feelings through his actions, at least for me. Because I do less in the way of character sketches and character "crafting" than some writers, I have difficulty explaining the ins and outs of how I manage a man's perspective, but here is what I have to offer.

Observe. As a female writer, observe the men in your life - brothers, fathers, husbands - and how they interact with the world. Also, observe the male characters in good, solid literature. An excellent example, albeit somewhat hackneyed, is Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame: he is a strong, silent type, but he is also shy and uncertain when it comes to his relationship with Elizabeth Bennet. Men do have emotions. In some ways, the very fact that those emotions tend to be steadier than a woman's make them more powerful; if you've ever seen a grown man cry, you know what I mean. Characteristics of men and women are not cut and dry; both are made in the Image of God, and they share elements.

Just write. Write your character as he is, and then sit back and analyze it. Critiquing him before you even write two scenes with him in them will probably not help; writing a character, I find, is the best way to work out their kinks and quirks. Also, the more male characters you write the better you are likely to become at discovering how to do it without either making their point of views too feminine or making them stereotypically masculine. Practice makes almost-but-not-really perfect, after all.

Get others to help. My dad is my best critic. Some people won't show others their novel until they are finished; I like to give my dad chapters as I write. He'll tell you (or maybe he wouldn't, but he tells me) that I tend to make my male characters too pacifistic in the first draft*, and he helps me iron that out in the second. Having him read my stories is extremely helpful and fun, and gives me, well, a different perspective. So if at all possible, I advise getting a father or brother or husband to critique your writing for you. It's extremely embarrassing at first, I will grant, but it pays off in the end and becomes enjoyable as you get used to it.

I don't know how well that answers your question, Yaasha, but I hope it does! I had fun scribbling up some semblance of a reply, and I hope to answer your other one soon.

*but just wait until you get to the duel, Dad.

art by Chris Rawlins, deviantART

October 29, 2011

A Collection of Beautiful People

Don't worry, I haven't forgotten the rest of the questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment! I'm looking forward to doing them (I believe Yaasha Moriah's first question is next), but I thought I would take a break and do my monthly Beautiful People post.

This month Georgie and Sky, the organizers of Beautiful People, are doing something a little different in preparation for NaNo. Unfortunately I am not participating in NaNo this year, so I took up the other part of the challenge: answering all of the questions to date for one of my characters. I had planned to do Darkwood from The White Sail's Shaking this month, but doing all the questions would have given too much away about him; so instead I'm focusing on the character who has given me the most trouble in this story, Tip not excepted...

marta rais


What is her full name?

Marta Clara Kilpatrick, but she goes by Mara Rais (her mother’s maiden name) or by Roy Martin.

Does her name have a special meaning?

No.

Does your character have a methodical or disorganized personality?

Marta is very methodical.

Does she think inside herself more than she talks out loud to her friends? (more importantly, does she actually have friends?)

Marta has always lived a secluded life with her mother; she spent her childhood playing with rocks, makeshift dolls, and petals from the rose bushes outside her Syracusan home rather than spending time with children her age. Perhaps as a result of this, she is very private and does not confide easily in others; she also has a tendency toward snobbishness.

Is there something she is afraid of?

Seamen. Rats. Ghosts.

Does she write, dream, dance, sing, or photograph?

None of the above, though her mother was an excellent singer.

What is her favorite book? (or genre of books)

Marta likes to read, but she has not had enough access to books while growing up to have a favorite.

Who is her favorite author and/or someone that inspires her?

See number 7.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?

Marta has never had ice cream. If she did, I think she would like black raspberry (gross!).

What type of laugh does she have?

In her current situation she does not have much reason to be amused, but when is she has a very soft, shy laugh.

Who is her best friend?

The only friend she has at present is Tip Brighton.

What is her family like?

Marta’s mother was an actress, but she left the theater to marry Kilpatrick, a British officer, and to raise Marta. Both mother and father are now deceased and Marta is on her own. Her father’s family lives in England, but she knows nothing of them.

Is she a Christian, or will she eventually find Jesus?

Difficult to say…

Does she believe in fairies?

I think not.

Does she like hedgehogs?

Marta has never met one herself, but she has heard about them and finds them far enough away from rats to be acceptable.

Favorite kind of weather?

She likes stormy days when she is safe inside by a fire. Also springtime. Her impressions of each season is formed by her mother’s rosebushes.

Does she have a good sense of humor? If so, what kind? (Slapstick, wit, sarcasm, etc.?)

She does not have a very well developed sense of humor. Tip’s love of irony and his strange laugh confuse her.

How did she do in school, or any kind of education she might have had?

Marta’s mother taught her the basics—reading, writing, and basic arithmetic—as well as how to keep house. She has a studious personality and did well.

Any strange hobbies?

No.

Favorite season of the year?

Winter, until she goes to sea and finds that winter equals storms.

How old is she?

Eighteen and nineteen over the course of the novel.

What does she do with her spare time?

Plays the spy, a very unlikeable pastime.

Does she see the big picture or live in the moment?

Somewhere in the middle, I believe. She is not one of those people who can take something in with a glance, but neither does she fixate on what is happening now.

Is she a perfectionist?

Not wholly, but she is much more concerned with neatness and accuracy than Tip.

What does her handwriting look like? (round, slanted, curly, skinny, sloppy, neat, decorative, etc.)

Marta prides herself on her neat penmanship.

Favorite animal?

Cats.

Does she have any pets?

No, she has never had a real pet. As a child she used to put out crumbs for the birds to eat, and she liked to pretend they were her pets.

Does she have any siblings? How many? Where does she fit in?

Marta is an only child.

Does she have a 'life verse' and if so what is it?

Psalm 4:8 is the best I can come up with on the spur of the moment: “I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Favorite writing utensil?

A pencil stub, but she rarely manages to procure one.

What kind of music does she like?

Marta doesn’t listen to much music, but she has enjoyed the snatches of operatic pieces she has heard.

Does she like to go outside?

Yes, but she likes to know that she can go home whenever she likes.

Is she naturally curious?

No, but she becomes curious by necessity. She would rather keep herself to herself.

Right or left handed?

Right.

Favorite color?

Dark red.

Where is she from?

Syracuse, Sicily.

Any enemies?

She considers everyone to be a potential enemy. And for the most part that isn’t paranoia: just common sense.

What are her quirks?

She is bitter because her father loved the sea (and his family’s good opinion) more than he loved his wife and child and thus thinks of all seamen with contempt, yet she is also proud of the British and looks down on the Americans. Above all, she is fiercely Sicilian.

What kinds of things get on her nerves?

Tip’s laugh, although she becomes used to it, and Charlie Bent’s snobbery. Also, half-answers, seamen, and being called British.

Is she independent, or does she need others to help out?

Marta likes to think of herself as independent, but she really isn't.

What is her biggest secret?

She has two: the first is that she is a girl, a fact only Tip knows, and the second I can’t say.

Has she ever been in love?

No, never. She has never had anyone to be in love with.

What is her comfort food?

Anything but hard tack with worms in it.

Does she play a musical instrument? If so, what?

Marta can play the piano forte, although she has not had a chance to practice in some time.

What colour are her eyes? Hair?

Marta has light brown eyes and very dark brown hair.

What is her favorite place to be?

In her home in Syracuse by the fire.

What are some of her dreams or goals?

Her goal is to get to England and find her father’s family; her dream is for them to accept her.

Does she enjoy sports?

No.

What is her favorite flower or plant?

The red rose.

What is her biggest accomplishment?

She does not consider herself to have accomplished anything yet. Making it as far as Gibraltar was something, but that didn’t end well.

What is one of her strongest childhood memories?

Sitting in her mother’s lap in a big rocking chair on Christmas Eve, listening to the rain outside and her mother’s singing. Also, playing dress-up with trunk-loads of her mother’s old dresses.

Does she believe in love at first sight?

No. Marta regards the idea with scorn.

What kind of home does she live in?

Currently she is living on board the schooner Enterprize, but she has no permanent home.

What does she like to wear?

Playing the part of a seaman means that she is forced to wear uncomfortable, baggy, ugly clothes; her only article that she likes at all is her black cap which she wears all day every day (which gets a little old for her). She likes to think about all the beautiful dresses and hats she will buy in England, and all of her mother’s jewelry and clothing that she might have owned.

What would she do if she discovered she was dying?

She would break down in tears and want someone to hold her as if she were a child again.

What kind of holidays or traditions does she celebrate?

Christmas.

What do your other characters have to say about her?

Lewis would say she is a nuisance, with a few other words thrown in. Charlie says she is pretty much worthless as a seaman and distrusts her instinctively. Tip alternately thinks that she is horribly Mediterranean, a redhead at her core, and rather pretty in her own way.

If she could change one thing in her world, what would it be?

Beneath her bitterness, Marta has too much faith in Providence to truly desire to change anything; but she does sometimes wish that her mother were still alive.

Does she have any habits, annoying or otherwise?

She tends to pull her cap down over her eyebrows, which Tip, who likes to look people in the face while he talks to them (and thinks Marta’s eyes are lovely), finds irksome.

What is her backstory and how does it affect her now?

Marta has always been very close to her mother, a Syracusan beauty, and though she did not inherit Clara’s looks, she does have her Mediterranean blood and her love of Sicily. Her mother’s death has left her withdrawn, for she no longer has anyone with whom to talk freely. Her father’s neglect bred in her a distrust of seamen; she is convinced that when a man falls in love with the sea, it becomes his one obsession.

How does she show love?

Marta’s love is difficult to win, but once it is won she will stand by that person until the day she dies. She isn’t shy or stand-offish, so she doesn’t mind giving or receiving kisses.

How competitive is she?

Marta is quite competitive, somewhat irrationally so at times.

What does she think about when nothing else is going on?

The “ghost” that haunts the Enterprize. What she will do when she is discharged and how her father’s family will receive her. How very irritating Tip Brighton’s laugh can be. And what kind of a name is “Tip,” anyway?

Does she have an accent?

Marta has a very smooth voice and her English is impeccable. If it weren’t for her looks (and her temper) you might not know she was Mediterranean.

What is her station in life?

Neither she nor her family has any pretensions to greatness, although her father’s side is wealthy. She is nothing more than a common seaman on the Enterprize.

What do others expect from her?

Her superiors expect her to do her work and not to desert. Tip expects her to be unexpected, although what he hopes about her is another matter. Lewis expects her to keep her mouth shut, and Charlie expects nothing from her because he rarely thinks about her.

Where was she born and when?

Syracuse, Sicily, October 23, 1785.

How does she feel about people in general?

She considers Americans to be arrogant and crude; she thinks the British are arrogant and refined. Otherwise, she deals with people as they come into her sphere and not in generalizations.

October 25, 2011

She Thought Her Heart Would Break

Question number four (-ish) on You Haven't Got an Appointment! was put by Londongirl, who asked

How do you write a sad, emotional scene without making it seem sappy or forced?

First of all, I'm flattered that you thought the scenes in The Soldier's Cross met this difficult hurtle! Emotion can be a very hard thing to capture, but, when done right, it also provides some of the best dramatic scenes; done incorrectly, the scene becomes melodramatic instead. So how does one manage to convey emotions, whether it be fear or anger, tension or sorrow, without falling into the trap of being ridiculous and cliche?

Probably the most important element of writing emotion is knowing your character. I won't go so far as to say that the whole issue boils down to that one thing, but I will say that if it boils down to anything, that's what I would expect to find left in the pot. Individual characters will react differently to traumatic events, just as individual people in real life will; there is no cut-and-dry solution which allows you to say, "If the event is a death, the main character will feel this way," and, "If the protagonist is insulted, he will react like that." In every story you write, you should find the protagonist a little different from the one in the novel you wrote previously. Get to know your character; this may mean filling out pages upon pages of interview questions, or it may mean simply continuing to write and learning by trial and error. When you begin to understand what makes that person tick, you'll be better able to write those dramatic scenes.

As to the nuts and bolts of writing an emotion-packed scene, these are a little more difficult. I wouldn't venture to give a dogmatic answer, but I can give some suggestions that you may or may not find helpful - hopefully you will! First off, recognize that in the early scenes of a story, you probably won't get the character's reaction quite right on the first try. I wrote a good 40,000 words of The White Sail's Shaking before I had a handle on Tip's character, and I had to go back and rewrite the early chapters. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you won't have to edit, and you'll begin to realize that there is no point in being too hard on yourself the first time through. Relax.

Second, as you write (or before you write, if you like to warm up before you start in on a scene), put yourself in the place of the character to the best of your ability. What would you feel like if someone were coming at you with a knife? Or, to use the example that Londongirl did from my own story, how would you react if someone told you your brother was dead? Try - again, to the best of your ability - to see things with the eyes of your character. K.M Weiland on her blog Wordplay frequently emphasizes the importance of using all five senses in description (not all at the same time) - smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling as well as seeing. It might help to consider each of these as you write out a scene, then hone in on the ones you feel are most important.

Third, don't forget the little things. I mentioned in a post some months ago how marvelously Rosemary Sutcliff conveys emotion through small things. You may be inclined to think that in the midst of something traumatic a character wouldn't notice details, but this isn't always the case; the mind often fixates on strange details like an odd smell or a particular color. Incorporating something like that to a highly emotional scene helps to set off the character's emotions without forcing the author to relate his or her feelings point by point.

And then, of course, look beyond the cliche! Think about how you can describe reactions and emotions in a fresh manner. Give the old phrases a new twist or look at an emotion from a different angle, and see what you come up with when you do. After all, isn't that part of the fun of writing?

October 21, 2011

Tempus Regina

I was very pleased to get a couple questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment! dealing with my planned novel Tempus Regina. Melody Joy got the first one in:

What is the plot idea of Tempus Regina? I tried looking around here the other day when you posted The Dragon's Eyes but I couldn't find much about it.

As I said, I was very pleased. But at the same time, Tempus Regina is at that stage where it is difficult to talk about coherently, which is why I have not yet written a plot summary for My Books page; it is still developing, and right now it has just a little more than bare bones. However, I will attempt to formulate a synopsis.

First off, Tempus Regina involves time-traveling, so it does not have a set time period. It begins in London during the Victorian Era, probably in the 1840s or early 1850s. The main character, Regina, is nineteen; she and her little brother Tommy have been on their own since the death of their mother some five or six years before the novel begins. Regina's life revolves around taking care of her brother and earning enough money to keep them both alive in the London slums. A job as a temporary maid at the house of an eccentric gentleman is one of the less grueling tasks she has had to undertake, and she looks forward to it with relief.

When she arrives at the house on her first morning, the housekeeper informs her that she is to begin by cleaning out the garret - a very eerie, untouched part of the building, full of dust and curiosities. One of the latter is a wooden trunk inscribed with strange markings, and inside it Regina finds a beautiful gold pocket watch in the shape of a dragon's head and inlaid with garnets for eyes. Opening it, she finds it has stopped; she tries to set it to the proper time, but when she presses the dragon's eyes she finds herself thrown into the middle of London, circa 400 B.C. And the watch won't turn forward to let her go back.

Without the missing piece of the dragon watch Regina cannot return to her own time, and she made a promise to her dying mother never to abandon Tommy. The secret of the watch and the symbols inscribed both on it and on the old trunk in the garret lie in a place that exists only in legend, and to find them Regina is forced to seek the help of an assassin who knows more than simply how to kill.

Lilly asked what I could tell about the Assassin, who kindly featured in the excerpt "The Dragon's Eyes." Unfortunately, the answer is, "Not much." The Assassin is an enigma, and is meant to be so. Regina herself knows little about him, only that he is a hired killer and that he is disturbingly well-versed in lore and, she suspects, alchemy. Beyond that...well, the story will tell!

October 20, 2011

Advice and Other Wise Things

...that is, we hope they're wise things. Today I'll be answering one of Carrie's questions on You Haven't Got an Appointment:

Is there any general advice you can give to young author-wanna-be's, who may be on the brink of setting out on the adventure of publication?

People are usually pretty shocked that I've gotten a book published by the age of fifteen, and fellow writers out there of my own age often ask me how I would suggest they go about doing the same thing. But there are a few things that must be kept in mind as you consider submitting your stories for publication, and I admit that they aren't all particularly cheering.

First off, don't be too inspired by the fact that other people have done it. By this I mean that you shouldn't be so excited that you forget to consider, as objectively as possible, what stage your own writing is at. It's easy to fall into the trap of obsessing over publication until you think that as soon as you finish a novel, you should start submitting it to agents or publishers. This isn't a good idea. As a young writer, your focus should probably be just on writing and reading, practicing and learning from example. It's a process that will last all through a writer's life and it is to be hoped that you won't ever reach a stage where you feel like you have arrived, but as a young writer it is particularly important. Never put the cart in front of the horse.

Second, when you do start wondering if you're ready to start sending off query letters, get someone else to read your writing and to give their honest opinion. Don't choose someone who you expect to be crushing, but also don't give chapters to your eight-year-old sister who thinks everything you do is fantastic (although I suppose an eight-year-old sister could be pretty crushing, too). It does not, however, have to be a non-family member, just so long as you can trust them to give you a good critique. It is a bad idea to try to be the judge of your own writing one hundred percent of the time, and especially when you're trying to decide whether to attempt getting it published; you will either be too hard on yourself or too lenient.

Third, don't be too sanguine and don't be too depressed. It is hard to get published - no two ways about it. If you go in thinking you'll be accepted by the first, second, or even third publisher you query, you will likely be disappointed. Expect to have to work hard before your book is published, while you're trying to get it published, and after it is published. On the other hand, don't lose heart; starting young means that you have a greater chance of being accepted and getting your works out there than you would if you started in middle-age. Keep plugging away, writing stories and getting a little better with each one. You're never guaranteed success, but at least you're doing something you enjoy. Through the ups and downs, I wouldn't trade being a writer for anything.

October 18, 2011

Well, Why Not?

For those not in the know, I am doing a series of question-and-answer posts: you ask the question, I (hopefully) invent the answer. If you have one to ask, you can just drop a comment on this post or on You Haven't Got an Appointment. Rachel got the first comment in with a couple of inquiries, but I'm going to take her last one first:

Do you disagree with Sarah Stanley from The Story Girl [L.M. Montgomery] in the thought that if you're going to the trouble to make up a character, why not make them good-looking?

What a fun question! First off, I will say that so far none of my characters have been either very good-looking or horribly ugly. In fact, I rarely describe his or her appearance in detail; the pictures that the reader gathers are based on other characters' comments and the main character's actions. In The Soldier's Cross there are only a few comments made about Fiona's lack of any striking beauty; in Wordcrafter it is not much that Justin is ugly, but rather that he pales in comparison to Ethan. Nor is it so much that Ethan is handsome, but that he is so full of life that one forgets he isn't handsome. Tip of The White Sail's Shaking is a very awkward, clumsy fellow, not hideous, but plain and stiff and not exactly a lady-killer.

[Charlie] lowered his drink again and swished it, replying with a clever sidelong look at Tip, “Aye, and it’s not as if you have any looks to recommend you. Anyhow,” he continued, “at least you scared those women away. There is some advantage to your clumsiness.”

That being said, my main characters' looks were not intentional. They just showed up that way. Personally I think that, in moderation, Sarah's remark is true: if you're going to create a character, I see no reason why he or she shouldn't be handsome. One can either go too far to one side and have the character be ridiculously beautiful, or too far to the other and have them constantly bemoaning the fact that they're so hideous. I like a mix of both pretty and plain, and I think the best way to go about it is not to spend too much time fretting about the character's looks. The more you say "his grave and handsome face..." or "her beautiful sad eyes," the more the reader will be annoyed and dislike the person.

I remember reading several of Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence novels and absolutely loving the characters, and then noticing a phrase like "Tommy's homely face..." My first thought was that Christie had gotten it wrong, because I always thought of Tommy as very good-looking. She had never described either him or Tuppence before, but I created a very pleasant picture of each in my head from their actions and attitudes. So less is more, as the saying goes.

October 17, 2011

You Haven't Got an Appointment!

'I say. Look here. You stick to us in a devil of a manner,' said Barnacle Junior, looking over his shoulder.

'I want to know--'

'Look here. Upon my soul you mustn't come into the place saying you want to know, you know,' remonstrated Barnacle Junior, turning about and putting up the eye-glass.

'I want to know,' said Arthur Clennam, who had made up his mind to persistence in one short form of words, 'the precise nature of the claim of the Crown against a prisoner for debt, named Dorrit.'

'I say. Look here. You really are going it at a great pace, you know. Egad, you haven't got an appointment,' said Barnacle junior, as if the thing were growing serious.

'I want to know,' said Arthur, and repeated his case.


- Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

Some days I feel about like Barnacle Junior with my heaps of books and papers, but I like to think I'm not quite as scattered and brainless as the people of Dickens' Circumlocution Office. And unlike Barnacle junior, I like to be asked questions and to have people wanting to know, you know (so long as they have an appointment). Therefore, I thought I would follow Jenny's example and gather ideas for posts by asking you lovely readers to post your questions about my stories and writing. Naturally questions like "Does the main character of Wordcrafter die?" are taboo and I shall reserve the right to not answer any questions that would give away spoilers and other such nasty things, but anything else is quite open; you can ask about

the soldier's cross
wordcrafter
the white sail's shaking
tempus regina

or

sunshine and gossamer

So feel free to come into the place saying you want to know - just post a comment with whatever you would like me to answer. And have fun!
 
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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