September 27, 2011

First Impressions, Scribbles Edition

I don't like beginnings. That is to say, I don't like writing them; I would rather write anything - even a death scene - than a beginning, whether it be of a whole novel or just of a chapter. I have quite a horror of them, perhaps from hearing the constant refrain, "Create a good hook! You must hook the reader! Create a good hook!" After a while it begins to eat into your soul, and when you open that blank document all you can do is stare as the word pounds over and over in your head, "Hooooooooook!"

However, I do like to admire the work of other writers in this area and pretend that they had as difficult a time producing theirs as I do with mine. Jenny did a post a few days ago on the first sentence of each of some of her favorite books, and although naturally she took some of mine, I wanted to follow her example. So without further ado, and in no particular order...

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."
jane austen, emma

"It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet."
james fenimore cooper, the last of the mohicans

"As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom's cottage, I reflected that no one on that platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit."
c.s. lewis, perelandra

"The Jubel es Zubleh is a mountain fifty miles and more in length, and so narrow that its tracery on the map gives it a likeness to a caterpillar crawling from the south to the north."
lew wallace, ben-hur

"Hill House, though abandoned, had remained unscathed during the years of the Dragon's occupation."
anne elisabeth stengl, veiled rose

"Sing, O goddess, the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans."
homer, the iliad

"It was a dark and stormy night."
madeleine l'engle, a wrinkle in time

"In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the army."
arthur conan doyle, a study in scarlet

"There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always."
norton juster, the phantom tollbooth

"It is impossible to estimate the significance of the life of C. H. Spurgeon without knowing something of the religious condition of the land at the time when his ministry commenced in the middle of the last century."
iain murray, the forgotten spurgeon

"When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?"
william shakespeare, macbeth

"The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day - a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste."
jean webster, daddy-long-legs

Most of these are simply spectacular beginnings, each in its own way. The opening line of Emma sets the tone for a light, witty read that seems to indicate that the authoress had her tongue in her cheek the whole time she was writing it; The Phantom Tollbooth introduces you to poor Milo, who doesn't know how to spell 'February' and doesn't much care; A Study in Scarlet introduces you to good old John Watson and then gradually slides the reader into the shock of meeting Sherlock Holmes, who first enters the scene flailing a test tube and crying, "I FOUND IT!"

I'm not sure who doesn't love the first line of Daddy-Long-Legs and decide right away that it is the perfect book for a rainy day. And the person who doesn't know the chilling pronouncement of the First Witch in Macbeth obviously never acted the play out with stuffed animals as a child. And then there's The Iliad. One wonders if the person who first wrote down the poem realized how chillingly epic that first line is - wonders if he stopped, sat back, peered at the introduction and remarked, "Hey, that's pretty good!"

I can never decide whether Madeleine L'Engle's beginning for A Wrinkle in Time was frank or tongue-in-cheek, but it certainly is catchy. Veiled Rose begins with a prologue that is actually the almost-end of the book, introducing the reader to the Dragon, then moving back in time to the summer when everything began to happen at Hill House. Even The Forgotten Spurgeon, a biography, grabs the interested reader by the collar; what was the religious condition of Britain at that time?

Granted, at least two of these are not hooks. As much as I love The Last of the Mohicans, I did not remember that opening line and frankly I think I skipped it; and with Ben-Hur, a caterpillar mountain is not the most exciting way of introducing such an epic novel. But these are exceptions, and they work because the rest of the book is splendid and by the time readers are in the middle of the forest with Uncas, Hawkeye, and the rest or escaping a naval battle with Judah Ben-Hur, they don't really care what the first sentence of the book was. For the rest of us mere mortals, hooks are important and we have to muddle through as best we can. But who knows? Maybe some day people will go around quoting the first line of Wordcrafter like they do with Macbeth.

...Yeah, I'm not holding my breath.

September 23, 2011

Tales of Goldstone Wood Giveaway

Today was the close of the giveaway of Anne Elisabeth Stengl's two published works in her series Tales of Goldstone Wood. Out of the entrants, these two won an autographed copy of either Heartless or Veiled Rose:

Galadriel (veritas...)
won Heartless

Shadowlight (setonmom...)
won Veiled Rose

Congratulations! You can expect an email from Anne Elisabeth, and then your copies will be in the mail. Be sure to drop by her blog if you haven't already; it's as entertaining as her books.

September 22, 2011

Beautiful People - Charlie Bent

“She’s a little thing, isn’t she?”

Tip turned and found the alcove occupied by another man, who was also observing the progress on the Argus. He was dressed smartly—much more smartly than Tip—in a dark blue uniform and off-white gloves, with ruffled blond hair pulled back in the classic queue that had begun to go out of style in America. His voice was lazy with confidence, but on second glance Tip saw that he was no more than a boy, and a boy who barely passed his shoulder in height. Tip raised an eyebrow, half in distaste, half in amusement, and faced the ship again. “Know a lot about ships, do you?” he asked, mocking the boy’s sage way of talking.

“More than you, I imagine,” the boy replied easily, eyelids partially drooped. “You think she’s pretty big, don’t you?”

Georgie and Sky have written up the September edition of their Beautiful People series - something I look forward to every month, in case you couldn't tell. If ignorant as to how this works, you can take a look at the basics here. Last month I did Ethan Prince from my novel Wordcrafter and the month before that I did Justin King, also from Wordcrafter, so now I feel it my duty (or something) to return to the characters of my work-in-progress, The White Sail's Shaking. September's beautiful person will therefore be

charlie bent

1. Does he have any habits, annoying or otherwise?

Charlie is quick to notice deficiencies in others and rarely bites his tongue; he also has a rather colorful vocabulary and, though he tries to curb it, it bursts out when he is particularly angry. When agitated he pulls his cuff or shirt buttons.

2. What is his backstory and how does it affect him now?

Telling his backstory would give away a great deal of the novel, but as for how it affects him, for the most part Charlie tries to ignore it. When it is forced upon him, he tends to sink into depression.

3. How does he show love?

Charlie is neither good at loving nor good at showing it when he does. He does stand by the people he cares about, and though he will abuse them himself, he would gladly tear apart anyone else who speaks ill of them.

4. How competitive is he?

Extremely. Despite his cool exterior Charlie has the hot blood of Southern aristocracy in his veins, and he is jealous in all aspects of his life.

5. What does he think about when nothing else is going on?

Sometimes his past, sometimes complex trigonometry problems, sometimes how to cook a Barbary macaque. It depends.

6. Does he have an accent?

Charlie has a Southern drawl, but he is capable of turning it down, if not completely off.

7. What is his station in life?

This is a difficult question. Charlie has been at sea for four years, two of them as a midshipman; as such he is at the low end of the totem pole, but you would not guess it from his attitude.

8. What do others expect from him?

Another difficult question! I don’t know whether this question refers to daily labor or what, so I’ll try to answer as best I can. Not much is expected of Charlie as a midshipman; his duties vary, and the most that is asked of him is to obey without question, keep out of fights, learn (preferably), and eventually pass for lieutenant (hopefully). His relationship with his family is tenuous at best, so little pressure comes from that quarter. Darkwood is the one who expects most from him, encouraging him to progress and to both recognize and battle his faults. Tip is never quite sure what to expect of him.

9. Where was he born, and when?

A plantation in South Carolina, 18 January, 1789. At the start of the novel in 1802, he is fourteen.

10. How does he feel about people in general?

"How can anyone love a pebble in their shoe?" Ahem, sorry. Charlie is a firm believer in total depravity; he is also a believer in the Imago Dei, but unfortunately he has a more difficult time making that show in his relationships. He says himself that he is not good at thinking the best of people, and he tends to need proof. His hates are quite as fierce as his loves, but in between there is a cold region of simply not caring, into which most of humanity falls.

Charlie nodded, keeping a hand against his nostril. He held out the handkerchief and Tip pulled back in revulsion, exclaiming, “I don’t want it! I’m certainly not going to wash it for you now that you’ve bled all over it.”

Bent twitched a mirthless smile. “You’re such a girl,” he said faintly, balling the handkerchief in his fist.

September 19, 2011

Oh, and I Hate Your Book

There is a lot of talk nowadays about whether the Internet is making us stupid. I don't know that I agree with that; I incline to the belief that rather than making people less intelligent, the Internet provides those people who didn't have much intelligence to start with to put that stupidity up where everyone else can see it. You can find examples of this anywhere on the Internet and one comes to expect it in places like Facebook and the comments on YouTube videos. Unfortunately, however, it also shows up in places where one would think people might show a little more tact and wisdom, like the reviews on Amazon. It has become such a simple business to put one's opinions out there that most people no longer think about it, and it really, truly, absolutely shows.

How do you write reviews that are both honest and tactful? Obviously this is not such a big deal if you liked the book, but what if you didn't? In some cases the nursery rule "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" ought to be referred to; I think this every time my eye happens to catch a YouTube comment about how awful this or that song is. Really, if you don't like it, you don't have to listen to or read it and you certainly don't have to tell the whole world about it. However, now most publishers send out copies of new releases to bloggers and owners of websites in return for honest reviews, so readers are obliged to give their opinion. What to do if you disliked the book?

determine why you disliked it

Whatever you do, don't go post an Amazon review that says, "This book was so stupid and I just hated it. I couldn't get past page 67." The whole point of reviews is to show prospective buyers what they will be getting, so avoid spoilers, but try to give the basic pros and cons of the book. If you disliked it, there is no call for venting your spleen in a public place. And while the publishing house does say that reviewers are not obligated to give positive feedback, do recall that you have received a free book and try to be respectful and appreciative.

opinions or truths

If you are going to review books, keep in mind objectivity versus subjectivity. It may be your opinion that the book was too slow in getting started, but recall that others are fond of novels that start off slowly and build over a longer space of time. If a book offends due to immoral content, on the other hand, this is more than a matter of opinion; it is a matter of conscience, especially if the publisher and the author profess to be Christians and to publish and write books grounded in Scripture. However, in both cases reviewers should maintain tact. Don't figuratively burn the book in your review (you may literally burn it if you want) and certainly do not attack the author. Amazon is not primarily a forum for your views; it is a marketplace and your thoughts on books should be presented in a helpful manner. Sites like Goodreads are geared more toward your own views and preferences, but even here common courtesy should be maintained.

remember that authors read reviews

Anne Elisabeth Stengl posted the other day about an author's reaction to feedback, and she made the point that the negative is much more memorable than the positive. Granted, authors should have tough skins; granted, if they can't take people not caring for their books, they shouldn't read reviews. I certainly don't think authors should ever respond to a negative review in order to tell the reviewer what an idiot they are for not loving the author's baby. However, on the part of the reviewer, they should always be as courteous as possible and not cause unnecessary offense. Don't end a review by warning readers away from other books by the author, especially if you have not read them, and be extremely wary of referring to the author directly. (For instance, don't say that the book was so bad that the author must be going senile.)

find the silver lining

Yes, I'll admit that some books don't have a silver lining. Sometimes the best you can say is, "Well... It has a nice cover!" But if there is something good to say, say it; don't be too stingy with compliments. Maybe the characters were all as flat as day-old pancakes and you have to remark on this (not in so many words, please), but if the author did an admirable job with research, mention that as well. Try to keep in mind that, even if appearances are to the contrary, the author probably did labor a great deal over their book. This doesn't mean that you should never say anything negative about anyone's book, but it does mean that you should be careful how you say it. Be honest, but be tactful. The traits can be combined.

choose the books carefully

When I started getting books to review for the site I help run, I didn't know much about modern novels and so I failed to be picky enough. I've since learned that, being more accustomed to old books than newer ones, I have to choose carefully which ones I want to review in order to avoid giving out single-star reviews. If you don't like fantasy, don't request a review copy of a fairy tale. It's amazing how many one-star Amazon reviews start out with, "I don't actually like [insert particular genre] but I thought I'd give this book a try," progress to, "I hated it," and end with, "Free review copy provided by [name of publisher]." Remember that the publishing house is spending money in order to send "free" books to you; don't be selfish or rude. Only request a book if you honestly think it might be good.

respect opinions

...especially if those "opinions" are on moral issues that the reviewer saw in the book. Amazon has a function to comment on reviews, but I think this should be reserved for comments on reviews that are rude or otherwise uncalled for (and even then, commenting is usually a waste of time). If someone dislikes a book, you won't convince them to like it by commenting on their review to tell them all the wonderful things about the novel that they missed. If another person has given their honest, respectful opinion, don't get in a tizzy over it if that opinion happens to be negative.

What do you think? If a reviewer, do you find it harder to be honest or to be tactful about a book you disliked? If a writer, how do you respond to negative feedback?

September 14, 2011

Tomes and White Phosphorus

First off, I would like to remark that The Soldier's Cross has recently been reviewed on two blogs - Eva's The Watered Garden Letters and Ashley's The Epic Reader. If you would like to see their thoughts on the book, just trot over and take a peek!

And now on to the subject of this post. A few days ago the rough draft of The White Sail's Shaking passed 100,000 words (I do realize that the sidebar doesn't say as much, because I haven't added the current chapter to the main document, but thankfully even my math skills can handle adding 5,000 into 97,000). It's a little sad that since November 2010 I've only added 50,000 words to the total, but I like to think they have been good words...and anyways, milestones are nice. I am now about three-fourths of the way through the novel's first draft, which is quite exciting when I don't allow myself to look at what I still have to do, so I thought I would write a kind of celebratory post.

This week I've been doing some research - research on phosphorus, to be precise - and jotting down notes for chemicals to be used in a future story, so my brain is in search-mode. In general I have to admit that I would rather be writing than researching, but there are times when I find something quite fascinating and I can hardly drag myself away from it, like the ingredients in match heads or Naval Documents related to the United States Wars with the Barbary Powers. This is the mood I am currently in, and so in honor of white phosphorus and having reached 100,000 words in White Sail's, I thought I would shine some light on my favorite resources for my work in progress.

naval documents of the barbary wars

I only discovered this fairly recently. It would be a massive tome if it were in book-form and costs about $500, but fortunately the whole thing is available online. It has letters, journal entries, and legal forms from the time period of the two Barbary Wars and is helpful for finding the movements of ships on specific dates, as well as for checking the information in the books I have. Searching by subject gets a wee bit tiresome, so I don't usually go to this resource first, but when I do the results are almost always worth it.

edward preble: a naval biography [by christopher mckee]

Edward Preble was the Commodore of the American squadron in the Mediterranean during the time in which The White Sail's Shaking takes place, and I had originally planned for Tip to be on Preble's flagship, the Constitution. That was subsequently changed, but I still read this biography from cover to cover to learn more about Preble. And I wouldn't do it again just for fun. Nothing much happened to Preble prior to the First Barbary War, except for a few events during the American Revolution, and so all and all the first half of the biography made for pretty dull reading. The chapters dealing with the Barbary War, however, are wonderfully thorough - and they have diagrams and maps! (Yes, I am still inordinately fond of pictures in books.)

six frigates [by ian toll]

I can't forget about this one, since it inspired White Sail's to start with. This book isn't as in depth as Edward Preble, but then, it makes for a much lighter and more enjoyable read. I use this for looking up the major movements of the squadron and the Americans' relationship with the British, then look up the details in Preble. This book also has some good information on Stephen Decatur, which is very nice.

the barbary wars [by frank lambert]

Despite the fact that this is a whole book on the two Barbary Wars, it is not in-depth and deals with the events in fairly cursory detail. It's easy to search things in because of its small size, so I use it first to see if I can find what I need before turning to the larger books. Although not really applicable to my novel, it does have some interesting information on life in Tripoli itself.

biography of stephen decatur

I have yet to find a biography of Stephen Decatur that I like; they all tend to be oozing with hero-worship until I'm pretty sure even he would be ashamed to read them. I am inclined to think him an amazing man, but the triteness of the biographies makes him seem trivial. The number of mistakes in this particular book is also a downer. On the other hand, like The Barbary Wars, this is easy to glance through and when I find an interesting "fact" I can check it off some other, more reliable work.

I have other books as well, not to mention a random website here and there, but these are the ones that get carted around the house from one computer to the other (and which always seem to be at the wrong one when needed). I researched prior to 2010 NaNo, but there were so many facts that had to be crammed into my brain that naturally a lot of them fell out again and I have to keep restocking. It's a fascinating business, though - almost as fascinating as white phosphorus.

September 12, 2011

Interview with Anne Elisabeth Stengl

As senior editor over at Squeaky Clean Reviews, I sometimes get free copies from publishing companies like Bethany House to read and review. I don't frequently find books by contemporary authors that I really, truly, positively like, however, so when I received Veiled Rose I was hopeful but pessimistic. To make a long story short, I was more than pleasantly surprised; I was captivated. Anne Elisabeth Stengl writes in the timeless style of the classics, creating an intricate, intense fairy tale full of equally flawed and loveable characters, and the last page left me with admiration for her deftness.

Anne Elisabeth has published two novels in her series Tales of Goldstone Wood - Heartless and Veiled Rose - and more are to come (the third, Moonblood, releases April 2012). She has kindly agreed to an interview here at Scribbles to give readers a peek at her inspiration and writing process, and she is also offering a giveaway to two winners, one to receive an autographed copy of Heartless and the other an autographed copy of Veiled Rose. If you would like to enter (and I highly recommend that you do), all you have to do is leave a comment on this post with your email address. The giveaway will end next Friday, September 23.

the interview

1. Would you mind telling us a little about yourself? Hobbies, personality, tea or coffee?

I think the primary definition of me as both a personality and a writer is my love of all things Fairy Tale. I spent my childhood living in England right next to a great, wild, beautiful Common full of ancient oaks, wild rabbits, a stone church (complete with scary graveyard), and all the magic a 3-to-10 year old and her brothers could possibly hope to find. From this early age, I sought out stories of fairies and knights and heroes.

Today, not much has changed. I met my handsome husband at fencing class, where I was researching for my first novel, Heartless. In a whirlwind romance of Fairy Tale proportions, I “stabbed” him at a tournament, we fell in love, and were married seven months later! How's that for fairy tale?

I am a devoted tea drinker. I tell my Rohan this is the real reason I married him. He comes from Sri Lanka and introduced me to fine, black Ceylon teas. Hmmmm. And I had thought I was a tea snob from years of living in England! What did I know? My family, also avid tea drinkers, are very pleased to have Rohan added to their number.

I am a consummate Crazy Cat Lady (My name is Anne Elisabeth, and I am a cataholic). My current count is four: Molly Boots (my blonde), Minerva Louise (aka The Evil One), Lord Marmaduke Chuffnell (yes, we are posh!) and Mr. Fluffy Monster Boots (he prefers Monster at home). I spent a significant portion of my time this last summer fostering a litter of feral kittens and finding them homes as well.

And I'm allergic to cats.


Writing is my primary love, but I used to give art classes and paint portraits for a living. I also love to play classical piano, can handle myself in a table-tennis or badminton match, quilt (in cool weather), cook, bake, and a variety of such things. Enough to keep me busy, anyway!

2. Have you “always” been a writer, or was there something that specifically prompted you to start writing?

I started writing my first story when I was seven. It was about three pages long, an epic saga of a wild golden stallion who became a famous race horse, dedicated to my favorite Breyer horse figurine, and complete with illustrations. My second story was a little longer, a romantic tale about a baby flying horse named Purity. By age nine, however, my Crazy Cat Lady side was emerging. I wrote two short novels about an Abyssinian kitten named Berry and his various adventures. At thirteen, I wrote my first epic fantasy, a dreadful catastrophe of literary hodge-podge (but I liked it!) about a wish-granting cat and all the various baddies who wanted to control him.

All this to say, yes, I have always wanted to be a writer. My mother, Jill Stengl, has sixteen published historical romances to her name, and I grew up watching her write, so it was natural for me to pick up a pen myself. I write very different work, however. After about age 13, I knew that fairy tales were my real love . . . well, those and cats!

3. Without giving spoilers, can you tell us what inspired Veiled Rose?

Veiled Rose is actually the second book in my Tales of Goldstone Wood, though chronologically, it takes place mostly before Heartless. It was inspired quite simply out of my desire to take a character from Heartless, Leonard the jester, and learn more about him. This is unusual for me. Most of my stories begin with a plot concept, and I discover the characters as I pursue the plot. But with Veiled Rose, the entire plot emerged from wanting to know Leo better.

Of course, it didn't really take shape until Rose Red stepped into the picture as Leo's foil. I knew I wanted her to be his opposite in every way. Not just being a humble peasant girl . . . she needed to be a complete outcast. Thus was born the mysterious child covered in veils from head to foot, rejected by her community. Once she introduced herself to me, the story took flight!

4. Did you find the writing process of your two published books to be similar or very different? I know the first draft of Veiled Rose was a colossal undertaking; did the deadline make it a harder or easier book to write than Heartless?

Each book is an entirely different project. Deadlines do make a difference for sure, but that isn't the number one factor in the level of intensity. Every time I begin a new manuscript, it is something more complicated and more interesting than the one before. Every time I begin a new manuscript, I learn all over again how to write a book.

I like how Neil Gaiman paraphrases this quote by Gene Wolfe: "You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing."

In some ways writing Veiled Rose was easier than Heartless. I was a better novelist when I wrote it, so Veiled Rose went through fewer rough drafts. That being said, Heartless was more fun to draft from the get-go because I was just having fun with it, not doing it for a job. Each one of my stories is a labor of love . . . but the love never diminishes the labor!

5. Can you pick a favorite character from the Tales of Goldstone Wood?

My favorite character is probably Sir Eanrin, Bard of Iubdan Rudiobus, Knight of Farthestshore. If you have read only Veiled Rose, you have only gotten tiny glimpses of him. He gets a much more dominant role in Heartless, a still greater role in Moonblood, and is the lead player in Starflower [the fourth book in the series]. I kind of adore him.

That being said, I also really love writing about Prince Lionheart because he is so real to me. Rose Red and Una also have tender places in my heart. The Prince of Farthestshore is more difficult to write, especially because he is so significant in every novel, but must not remain static. But when I succeed in writing him well, he is the most satisfactory character of all.

6. The Tales of Goldstone Wood are fantasies. Do you see yourself continuing to write fantasy alone, or do you think you’ll try your hand at other genres?

I have dabbled in comedic fantasy, strict fairy tale retelling fantasy, historical fantasy, etc. But it always comes back to being fantasy. Once or twice I have toyed around with thoughts of writing a historical and even a contemporary or two. But my mind doesn't tend to work that way. I can enjoy reading just about any genre, but the tales that take shape in my mind always morph into the fantastic. I wouldn't necessarily be against writing another genre . . . it would just have to be a dominant enough idea to shoulder aside all the fairy tales currently taking precedence!

7. What inspires you most: books, movies, your cats, your family…dish-washing?

Great writing. If I have hit a wall in my own work, the best solution I have found is to back up and read the greats. Whether rereading favorites or discovering brilliance for the first time, I am always inspired by the beauty of well-written plots and compelling characters. A novel I am reading (or poem, depends on my mood) can have absolutely NOTHING to do with anything I am currently writing . . . but it might still be exactly what I need to spark my interest again. For instance, I just finished Joseph Conrad's heart-breaking Lord Jim. I will never even consider writing like Conrad (he uses stream-of-consciousness), but the gorgeous depth of his prose and the power with which he communicates his message in the context of a vivid story is a huge inspiration.

Good writers are my best encouragers. The more great writing we read, the more motivation we have to excel.

I also spend large chunks of time brainstorming with my long-suffering mother. I think with my mouth (I am a girl, after all), so sometimes just talking through ideas and conundrums is all I need to get me started in the right direction. My dear Rohan has, in this first year of our marriage, proven himself a willing and insightful brainstorming partner as well.

Cats are great for purr-therapy. Never underestimate the importance or power of purr-therapy. Or a cup of tea. Dish-washing, however . . . meh. Not my favorite. I get VERY inspired by a handsome husband who does the dishes for me, though!

8. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?

Favorite: Finishing!

This isn't to say there aren't significant moments of joy throughout the process. Writing my fifth professional novel, however, I am discovering that those moments of joy are fewer and farther between than they used to be. What I once did purely for pleasure is now my profession. It's work. And it is hard, hard work, even while it is what I enjoy most and do best in this life. I used to get to the end of a scene that went really well - all the plot threads twining together, all the thematic elements shining, all the characters as real as real can be - and sit back with a sigh, content. Now, I might still have those fantastic scenes, but there isn't as much satisfied sighing. I'm a better writer now. The work can always be better still with rewrites. I'm always looking for that one trick necessary to improve what I have done. It's good work, even glorious work . . . but it's still work.

Least Favorite: Starting!

I really have come to hate beginnings. Used to be that they were the easiest part for me, back when my stories were simpler. Now, each of my manuscripts goes through at least five very different opening scenes. I believe in an organic development of plot and character, which means each scene needs to build naturally on top of the one that came before. Which means that the opening scene needs to be right before it leads to chapter two. Not that it needs to be perfect, by any means. But it needs to be solid.

So, yes, openings are my big hang-up these days. I can sometimes write 50,000 words’ worth of manuscript before realizing that I have the wrong opening! Once I hit on the right one, though, I can write a novel in two to four months. It's just getting the right one!

Beginnings are killers for me, too. (Can't we just skip that bit and go straight to the middle?)

9. If you were forced to pick a single favorite author, who would it be?

Such a cruel question!

Well, I suppose if I'm being forced, I must say C.S. Lewis. His beautiful Chronicles of Narnia alone earn him that place! But on top of those, he wrote such gems as Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce, Perelandra, not to mention his fascinating non-fiction. He amazes me with his extreme versatility, and yet his voice is always truly and distinctly his own. He knew that fiction was meant to be fun and wonderful . . . he also knew that it was not meant to be the Poor Man's Television. He knew fiction was to challenge and inspire and invigorate. Entertainment need not be mindless.

Yes, I adore him and his work.

10. What is your primary goal in your writing? What ideals and beliefs dictate how and what you write?

My primary goal is to bring glory to God by writing to the very best of my ability. I believe the whole purpose of mankind is worship, and I believe each of us best worships God when doing what we do best to our very best. Writing is my great skill, a gift from God and a talent for which I know he has plans. So it is to his honor when I study and strive and work and learn to better my craft. And I hope and pray that my desire to communicate truth through these simple fairy tales becomes ever-more evident to those who read them.

I also long to bring a sense of classicism back to the CBA market. There is a sad tendency in Christian publishing to simply follow the modern trends, to focus entirely on entertainment and not on true beauty and true art. A lot of lazy writing is being called "great," and knowledge of the classics is fading swiftly from both our readers’ and writers’ memories. I hope that stories like the Tales of Goldstone Wood, written in a classic omniscient narrative, will motivate people to go back and read the much better stories that influenced and inspired them—the works of Lewis and MacDonald, Coleridge and Milton, Spenser and Shakespeare, and so many more!

11. I know Moonblood is the next book due out. Which book in the series are you actively writing now?

I am currently drafting Book 5 in the Tales of Goldstone Wood, which is under the working title Dragonwitch. I suspect that title will change, however. Most of the time, my publisher likes the titles I pick, but I'm not even sure I like that title, and I don't know what they'll think of it. We'll see what happens. I just finished drafting Book 4, Starflower, which will come out October 2012. It is in a polish-up stage and about to be sent out to my editors for their perusal. I can hardly wait to share it with all of you! It is my personal favorite. But then, my newest piece is always my personal favorite! It will probably be supplanted by Book 5 in another month or two . . .

I am eagerly awaiting Moonblood and its sequels. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl's blog is over at Tales of Goldstone Wood, where you can read more about her writing and an author's life (and her cats - life isn't complete without a few cats). She is currently doing a series of answers to questions readers have, so if you are curious about something regarding her books or about writing in general, be sure to drop her a comment or an email.

Don't forget to enter the giveaway!

September 5, 2011

In Defense of Nonfiction

I don't write nonfiction. At least, I haven't written any yet and I didn't see it in the near future when I looked at my scrying mirror; I have too many novels to write. Yet a defense of the genre seems to be needed in this day and age, both to writers and readers alike, for people are much more eager to read fiction now than to pick up a biography or even a "religious" book. The reverse used to be true, of course. There was a time when the novel was considered to be a frivolity and the primary books read by literate men and women were works of philosophy, science, history, and religion. Now the tables have turned.

This is not, of course, to say that I dislike fiction or that I read as many nonfiction works as I would like. I agree with Jane Austen's tongue-in-cheek comment in Northanger Abbey: "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." Novels can have many truths in them, and stimulating the imagination is a good thing. I would rather see a person reading a decent novel than flipping through the comics section of a newspaper. The classics, especially, are classics for a reason and (generally speaking) ought to be read and enjoyed.

But what about nonfiction? This genre seems usually to be reserved for the middle-aged and elderly, while younger readers prefer novels. Many read widely - classics, fantasy, historical fiction, what-have-you - but don't read nonfiction, not realizing how much they are missing by never reading a biography longer than a hundred pages or delving into a Puritan Paperback. Few people take note that if fiction is an ode to man's imagination and creativity, the real world is an ode to God's. And fact, as they say, is stranger than fiction.

There are numerous reasons why the reading of nonfiction is an almost lost art, not least of which is the argument that biographies, histories, etc. are dull and tedious. I think, however, that this is more a holdover from textbooks than a truth about the majority of nonfiction; after all, writing something like a biography is still classified as "creative" writing, which implies that the author puts imagination into the crafting of his or her book. Writers like David McCullough and Robert K. Massie are so skilled at writing that their books read with the ease of a novel while still presenting the facts in all their fascinating detail. Nonfiction certainly is a different style than fiction and one that takes getting used to, but it is no more unusual or difficult than the style of classic authors like Jane Austen is today.

"Religious" works (the term seems rather loose and open-minded, but I don't really know what else they might be called) are just as important as histories, if not more so, for they feed the soul. Yet if anything, they are less read than biographies - or, if readers do pick up a book on some aspect of the Christian life, it is usually a modern, insipid work about what religion can do for you. Granted, these are easier to read than Jonathan Edwards, but they are, as a whole, neither well-grounded in Scripture nor lastingly worthwhile. Books by the Puritans or such men as John Piper and Charles Spurgeon are a little harder to read, but provide meat for the soul rather than what my sister-in-law calls "candy-reading."

As a caveat to all that, I will say that I don't advocate that someone who only reads novels run out and buy Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire or Jonathan Edwards' Treatise on the Will. The best way to slide into a habit of reading nonfiction is to start with something relatively small on a subject that interests you. My first adult nonfiction read was Robert K. Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra... but it's over 600 pages and was a long, hard slog to get through. That was, by the way, not because of any deficiency in Massie's writing, but because I wasn't used to such big books. I made it to the end through a combination of sheer determination (also known as stubbornness), interest in the Romanov family, and love for Massie's writing. On the other hand, the excellent book Amazing Grace, a biography of William Wilberforce by Eric Metaxas, is only about 300 pages and makes for a much lighter read.

As for books on the Christian life, there are plenty of good ones for laymen and laywomen; they are not all as overwhelming as Karl Barth's Dogmatics or John Owen's works. (Which I haven't read. Just in case you thought I was actually smart or something shocking like that.) Some good authors are John Piper, J.I. Packer, and A.W. Tozer, and the series of books called "Puritan Paperbacks," put out by the Banner of Truth Press, are well-worth getting as well. Once you've dipped your toe into the water, you may find that the pool isn't as terrifying as you first thought.
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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