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?
 
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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