December 26, 2012

A Merry Post-Christmas

I didn't post yesterday because, well, it was Christmas!  But it wouldn't do to go without mentioning the day at all here on Scribbles, so I'll just be belated about it.  I wish all of you Scribbles readers a

merry christmas

and a

happy new year!

I hope you all had a lovely time yesterday, and are adjusting fairly well to the dazed post-Christmas sensation.  I think I have accepted the reality of it.  It helps to wear my new "Legend of Korra" Fire Ferrets t-shirt and to stare very hard at the Christmas tree, looking a bit bare without any presents beneath it.

This year was an exceptionally good one, mostly because I was very pleased with the gifts I found for my family.  There's nothing like seeing people oohing and aahing over the presents you got them: scarf-and-earrings for Jenny (matching set for Anna) and a flat-cap for her husband (looks a bit peddlar-ish; he needs a penny-farthing bicycle now); a tie for my brother (sounds dull indeed, but it was ticklish business getting one that matched his suit coat), earrings and an adorable 1920's style hat for his wife; Kidnapped, movie and book (old, cloth-bound, altogether awesome) for my dad; new water glasses for my mom; "Treasure Planet" for the niece and nephew.  Jolly fun stuff all around!  The excitement has yet to wear off.

The new year is coming up just around the corner, and as it approaches or we approach it or whatever, I am fiddling with the idea of tweaking Scribbles' layout a bit.  While I like the notebook look, the current positioning is a tad cluttered - and I don't like clutter.  For those of you who dislike change as much as I do, panic not!  I have every intention of retaining at least a similar look and feel.  It simply can't stagnate.  My mind rebels at stagnation.  I will be hunting around for a new style and designer in the next weeks or month, so keep your eyes peeled! - Which is really a disgusting phrase.

December 17, 2012

Flawed to the Bone

pinterest: wordcrafter
In a comment on my last post, on sappy and sentimental straw men, Writer4Christ asked if I could pull together a list of books with characters who have "good flaws."  That turn of phrase makes me laugh a little, but at any rate, I thought this would be an enjoyable exercise.

A caveat (of which I have many) before I begin: this is a list of books I've read where the protagonists have excellently glaring flaws.  However, those flaws go hand in hand with the characters themselves; they cannot be divorced from one another.  And just as we ought not try to put asunder what the author has joined together, as authors we should not try joining together what should stay asunder!  We can't throw darts at a dartboard of character flaws in order to choose which ones our protagonist should have.  These grow out of the person himself, and develop with him; they must be intrinsically a part of him.

There's my caveat.  Now we can move on to fun stuff.

north and south

In talking of flawed characters, my mind flew immediately to Mr. Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.  Not surprising, since he is one of my favorite characters ever.  But anyhow, those of you who have either seen the film or read the novel will understand immediately how he represents my point.  His flaws are obvious: pride, a sharp tongue and quick temper, and perhaps overmuch ambition.  They reveal themselves in ways that hurt a number of people, especially the workers in his cotton mill, for they make him nigh oblivious to their suffering.  He is no saint, and his flaws are no mere trifles; they have keen effects on those around him.

With flaws like those, he could easily become odious to the reader.  Gaskell pulled it off, however, by balancing these elements of his personality with other, equally critical ones.  He is a hard worker, glad to break his back in support of his family; he loves ardently; and he is not lacking in compassion, though he shows it harshly.  He is certainly a conflicted personality, but it all comes together to create someone who is very real and very much a hero in his own way.

sherlock holmes

Another obvious choice!  Who doesn't think of Holmes when flaws are mentioned?  There are few elements of his personality that don't constitute flaws.  He is arrogant, rude, selfish, oblivious, manipulative, verbally abusive (sometimes), and a drug-addict.  He's not exactly the spitting image of a hero.  And again, these things are not whitewashed - they're out in the open for all readers to see.  We really ought to hate him.  But most of us don't, and for some crazy reason he so endeared himself to readers that there were riots and protests when Conan Doyle attempted to kill him off.  For he is also brilliant, witty, at times kindhearted, and even occasionally just plain wrong.

the chronicles of narnia

Of the Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy are by far the most thoroughly developed and the best-loved.  Edmund is a very flawed personality: he went and betrayed his siblings, after all, and was just an all-around brat who needed a good swat on the rear end.  But we love his redemption, and even the natural roughness of his personality toward a character like Eustace Clarence Scrubb is attractive.  (Because Eustace "almost deserved it.")  Lucy is not as obviously flawed, but she still has her weaknesses - her jealousy of Susan, for instance, which pops up in The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader.'  

a tale of two cities
Um, Sydney Carton.  Need I really say any more?  Even more than Thornton, even more than Holmes, Carton represents an anti-hero.  He's a drunkard and a ne'er-do-well, just the sort of Dickens character you are meant to loathe.  But instead you pity him for being, it would appear, incapable of change - for being chained to his vices - for his unrequited love.  And then you're blown away by the ending, sob over him, and love him for his nobility.  End of story.

the count of monte cristo

Here you have a main character bent on revenge, obsessed with the idea of being sent by God to bring evildoers to justice, ruining people's lives left and right.  He has so many flaws, there are very few bits of gem left in the whole lump.  If you dig around a bit, though, you find that he is capable of some form of compassion toward those he considers innocent (does that even count?), and of immense generosity - no stinginess there!  I am actually hard-pressed to think of anything else.  Please call back at a later date.

the thief

The first flaw in the hero of Megan Whalen Turner's series is self-evident: he's a bit light-fingered.  He also lies and swears, so you could call him light-tongued as well.  He is horrendously proud, often sullen, frequently bitter toward both the gods and the people around him.  Actually, he's very flawed indeed and makes the reader want to hit him upside the head.  He's also in love, and it's unrequited - both things that tend to make the reader soft-hearted.  In addition, he is incredibly loyal and at once brave and oddly fearful.  He is a well-blended mishmash of traits, and one of my favorite things about The Thief and The Queen of Attolia

howl's moving castle

I almost forgot this gem, and that would be a heinous crime.  How can you leave Wizard Howl out of a mix like this?   He is talented, but on the other hand, he's a coward and what another character calls a "slitherer-outer": he won't face any danger if he can help it.  He's also quite heartless and has a habit of making girls fall in love with him, then leaving them in tears.  But that's not his fault, now is it?  And his wit (ever a popular trait), his humor, and his character development make him loveable despite these things.

For amusement's sake, I'll do a run-through of the most glaring flaws in all these characters.  Pride; excessive ambition; arrogance; rudeness; selfishness; drug-addiction (!); manipulation; betrayal; jealousy; drunkenness; idleness; hypocrisy; hatred; thievery; lying; bitterness; swearing; cowardice; and heartlessness.  Not the marks of heroes, we would think, and yet borne by heroes.  They are the marks, or some of the marks, of fallen men and women - and that includes those who are saved and being saved, but who are not yet "confirmed in righteousness."  There are still flaws that go down to the bone.

December 14, 2012

Burning the Straw Men

pinterest: the soldier's cross
Back in October, inspired negatively by a book I was perusing at the time, I scribbled a post about some of the most flagrant stereotypes applied to women in novels.  I don't believe it would be playing fair if after that, I didn't do something of the same for male characters.  I haven't seen this as commonly in modern books (probably because I don't read many of them), though it does crop up quite a bit in the more "sensational," romanticized literature of the 1800s.  However, I know many of Scribbles' readers, as well as myself, garner more inspiration from that era than from our own, so I think it still worthwhile to address the issue.

A plague that afflicts many male characters is one I've seen in several older books, and unfortunately, it seems to crop up most in books by Christian authors.  It might come from the writers being women; it might have grown out of the Progressive movements in the late 19th Century - I'm not sure.  Certainly one book I found guilty of it was written a long while before that.  So, without further ado,

the straw man

These are characters who, though men, act like women and are portrayed as something like feminine angels (and not the powerful angels of reality, either).  They are extremely good.  They are also extreme milktoasts.  They are as emotional as women, though I've found that the authors try to get away with this by calling them "manly tears" - protesting too much, mayhap?  You can't picture them going into battle, or fighting with everything they've got for something they love, or overturning money-changing tables in a temple.

The moral compasses of these straw men never waver.  They have no real struggles with anything so terrible as hatred; certainly not anything like drink (gasp!) or a foul mouth (oh noez!).  What "struggles" they do have are sanitized and even glorified to make the characters look even better: they might love another person too much, or be too sacrificial, or too trusting, or what have you.  But sin?  Oh, goodness, no, mustn't have that!

Caveats are in order.  Most of you know that I'm all for characters who, like the prince in fairytales, represent virtue in its purest form.  I'm all for them because those characters are true: they represent valor and honor and truth, all powerful and masculine virtues.  They've got backbone.  They are good, but that does not necessitate their being wimps.  In fact, it rules out their being wimps: there is no virtue in milktoasts.

This doesn't mean there can be no cowardly lions in our stories, only that it ought not be portrayed as a mark of piety and goodness.  My character Justin King from Wordcrafter is one of my own favorites, and yet he is also naturally the weakest.  His insecurities make him unwilling to stand for much of anything; he lacks conviction, and Agent Coulson has informed us what happens to men of that stamp.  You can't pretend that Justin's retiring personality and half-developed backbone is a good thing, while Ethan Prince's blood-and-fire impulsiveness is evil - and yet, by the Law of Straw Men, I suppose that's what you would say. 

The Straw Man reveals itself in different forms, some much more innocuous than this, and is quite apt to creep into our stories when we're not looking.  I prefer writing male main characters, and yet I make these kinds of mistakes in the rough draft and have to get them ironed out by my father-and-beta-reader; in particular, it seems my characters have a tendency to be pacifists.  Not to say they won't fight, but when it comes down to killing someone, my heart fails me.  I put myself in their proverbial boots and find war and killing so ugly that I usually take the easy way out, and have to correct myself later on to be more in keeping with the character.  I kick myself for it whenever it happens, but ho hum!  One of these days I'll get it the first time around.

do you find any straw men in your rough drafts?

December 10, 2012

Ink from Other Pens

Of course the year is not quite over yet (shopping and Christmas have to come first!), and before the New Year I hope to finish Bleak House; but it's near enough for me to scribble up a "yearly reads" post for 2012.

I find it interesting to go back to last year's post and look over the books I read during 2011.  Sherlock Holmes; Mutiny on the Bounty; Beowulf; Rosemary Sutcliff.  I read my first Tale of Goldstone Wood.  Robert Louis Stevenson introduced himself to me via The Master of Ballantrae.  I reveled in Howl's Moving Castle and waded through The Count of Monte Cristo, and read The Christian Mind and The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  I dabbled in G.K. Chesterton and Eiluned Lewis' Dew on the Grass.  I researched for the Sea Fever books.  And all in all, not counting re-reads, Goodreads informs me that I read 39 books in 2011.

I read more this year, and though not all were particularly lengthy, I loved a good number of them.  The very first book I finished in January was Rosemary Sutcliff's Simon, and later in the year I also read The Shield Ring (gah, so sad!) and The Lantern Bearers (gah, so sad!).  I only have two unread Sutcliff novels on my shelf now, those being The Shining Company, which I hear is even more sad, and The Mark of the Horse Lord.  Her books tend to wring me of all possible emotions and leave me rather limp, so I'm proud of myself having managed three in a year.  Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.

I took a semi-self-directed course (figure that out) in the history of science during last school year, so I read several books for that, with more or less success: I enjoyed Eureka Man, but The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was a struggle indeed.  And then of course there were Custance's Noah's Three Sons and Genesis and Early Man, both highly recommended.  I also read At the Evening Hour, a little devotional by E.D. Warfield, which would be highly recommended if it weren't practically impossible to find; and Bunyan's All Loves Excelling, among others.

I continued falling in love with R. L. Stevenson's novels, devouring Treasure Island, Kidnapped (now an adored favorite), and its sequel David Balfour.  I read that last at the beach, and I think it will always remind me of sunshine and ocean and lounge chairs on a balcony.  I got a lot of reading done that week, actually...  Good times.  The Black Arrow waits on my shelf - at least it did, but I think Jenny made off with it - because after all, I couldn't read all of Stevenson in one year.

Fans of Margaret Mitchell will be happy to hear that I finally read Gone with the Wind; I think maybe the only reason I did was because the title is so gorgeous, and perhaps because I wanted to compare it to the movie.  Or the movie to it.  Or something.  I read Peter Pan about the same time: an odd book, but I loved the bitter-sweetness of the ending.  I Capture the Castle, recommended by our very own Mirriam, was very different from my usual fare; it made me think, and puzzled me a bit.  It might have been the time period; I'm not used to that setting.

I read a number of books that I had been meaning to get to for a while: Alexander Hamilton, Cooper's The Deerslayer, Blamires' New Town, Forester's Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.  I read several that I hadn't been planning to read, and had never heard of before: A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery, and McKillip's The Riddle-Master of Hed, and A Hanging Offense.  I read Anne Elisabeth Stengl's two novels that released this year, Moonblood and Starflower (hurrah!).  I managed Les Miserables in full, unabridged glory (exactly one page longer than last year's The Count of Monte Cristo.  Were the novels as long in the original French...?) and sobbed over A Tale of Two Cities.  And I absolutely gobbled up Sayers' The Mind of the Maker - which everyone should read, no exceptions.

This year's literature course has been entirely Shakespeare, so I've read more of his plays this year, I think, than all the previous years combined.  Which isn't exactly saying much.  I read As You Like It, Cymbeline, and Antony and Cleopatra without much enthusiasm; quibbled with Richard III ("HE'SPLANTAGENETHE'SEVILCURSEHIMCURSEHIM!"), Julius Caesar (who almost deserved what he got), and King Lear (ohmywordsodepressing!); but thoroughly enjoyed The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, and Twelfth Night

Reading was, unfortunately, terribly slow in November and has not been much better this month, although I am making fairly rapid progress through Bleak House.  Goodreads (a most knowledgeable place) informs me that I've read over fifty books this year, but I think that's a bit unfair, seeing as at least nine of those are Shakespeare plays.  Still, it wasn't a bad year.  I found new favorites in Kidnapped, The Mind of the Maker, and A Tale of Two Cities.  I ventured into Custance, braved my sorrow over Uncas and read another Leatherstocking Tale, and finally worked up the gumption to read Alexander Hamilton.  I read a number of varied and disconnected histories, ranging in subject from Rome to the English Civil War to the French and Indian War.  I soldiered through Les Miserables.  And despite my complaints and mocking, I really have enjoyed this foray into the world of Shakespeare.

Actually, I think "varied" is a pretty good adjective to describe this year's reading list.  Varied, and fast-paced; it was not as regular as 2011.  Probably next year I will keep to a more staid regimen, lest I give myself indigestion.  Too many books in a short span of time is almost as bad as too few!

what have you read this year?

December 5, 2012

A November Recap

pinterest: tempus regina
November is over - has been for a while, as a matter of fact - which means the close of the blog party giveaway as well as the close of NaNo.  For the former, it's high time the winners were announced.  Jenny and I gathered up all the names and points earned, shuffled them up in that wonderful thing called the Random Name Generator, and were informed that the winners are...

Elizabeth Rose & Lynette

Congratulations, gals!  Each of you will receive a copy of The Soldier's Cross and a copy of The Shadow Things.  You will be receiving emails or Facebook messages shortly to confirm your win (and to get mailing addresses for you both).  Thank you all for participating!

Secondly, let me just repeat: NaNo is over.  I know a lot of fellow participants are practically in tears as that thought begins to sink in, but I, for one, couldn't rejoice enough when I scraped and scrambled my way over the 50,000 word mark and into December.  It wasn't that I didn't manage to keep up or maintain a steady pace.  On the contrary, early on I got a day ahead of my goal and kept that lead all but one day out of the month.  It was tiring, at times overwhelming, but by no means undoable.  And yet I had a hard time.

The first reason is simply that it has become harder for me to write a great number of words in a day.  That might be because I've been plodding along at White Sail's and Running Tide for so long that 1,000 words a day now looks like a glorious achievement.  I wouldn't chalk it up to any increase in the weight of other responsibilities; relatively speaking, I have few.  But my writing and my approach to writing has evolved.

Some people believe that every novel a writer pens is a little easier than the one before.  I laugh at this foolish notion; every novel I have written since The Soldier's Cross has gotten a little harder in a slightly different respect.  Somebody - Neil Gaiman, I think; he's apparently a quotable chap - remarked that you never learn how to write a novel: you only learn how to write the novel you're currently writing.  I do not know, necessarily, that this is true for everyone, but I've found it to be the case with Wordcrafter, The White Sail's Shaking and The Running Tide, and now with Tempus Regina.  Each has taken a little more out of me.  But I found Wordcrafter more rewarding in the end than The Soldier's Cross, the Sea Fever books than Wordcrafter, and I'm (sometimes) optimistic that Tempus Regina will be still more rewarding than either of its two predecessors.

At the moment, however, Tempus Regina is being quite difficult indeed.  It might be in the terrible two's period of story-telling; I couldn't say.  It goes right now in fits and starts and bursts of inspiration and clouds of brainstorming, and I warn you all that I might be a bit oysterish about it for a little while.  Don't say I didn't tell you ahead of time.

None of this to say that I didn't enjoy NaNo!  I did.  Mostly.  But every time I finish a round of madcap writing, I fall back into my mental chair and vow never to put myself through it again.  I'll never be so foolish - I'll never be so insane.  I shall be wise!  I shall tell myself no!  I shall be PRUDENT!

But I don't doubt that come next NaNo, or perhaps the one after that, I'll be itching to join in once more.  Because I just don't know what is good for me.

November 29, 2012

The How and the Why

pinterest: the soldier's cross
I promised a third round of questions to be answered, and the month has nearly slipped by without me posting it!  But here you have another, and I believe the last, batch; if any of you sent in questions that have not been answered, send me an email and let me know.

Also, don't forget that the book giveaway ends tomorrow!  If you have not entered or written up a review of either The Soldier's Cross or The Shadow Things, hurry and do so before November is out.  We'll be announcing the winners next month.

And now, your questions answered.

writer4christ asked...

1. How do you develop your characters?

I write them. Honestly, that is the most helpful thing I have found for developing characters; much as I enjoy memes like Beautiful People for learning things about these people, I really don’t get to know the people themselves until I’ve spent a good 50,000 words with them. Even now, despite all the planning I’ve done for writing Tempus Regina in November, I wouldn’t say I know my characters. By the end of the story, then I should know them. But I’ve got to plug away at Regina’s side, seeing her struggles and her thoughts and her words, to the finish line before I can say I know even a little inkling of who she is—just as I had to plug away with Fiona, and Justin King, and Tip Brighton. They surprise me and, to argue in a rather circular fashion, that’s when I know they’re developed.

2. Do you ever want to write longer books (like 200 page-300 pages and/or longer)?

As a matter of fact, my stories are pretty long already by industry standards (not by the standards of a Dickens or a Dumas, but alas, we don’t live in the 19th Century anymore!). The Soldier’s Cross, since it was a debut novel, is pretty small at 92,000 words. The entirety of The White Sail’s Shaking came in at a whopping 185,000, or thereabouts, and I’ve been obliged to split it for easier digestion. As it is technically one story, however, I still count it as an 185k story. Who knows how long Tempus Regina will be? I’m trying not to think about it.

I like large books. As Jane Austen wrote—in one of her incomplete works, I think: “But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” It would even seem that my brain produces large books. Perhaps one of these days I’ll produce a tome to rival the bulk of Les Miserables!

3. What is your favorite Charles Dickens novel? Have you read Bleak House?

It’s difficult to pick a favourite work of a man so accomplished. I enjoyed Little Dorrit; I was caught up in the sorrow of Amy Dorrit’s life and in the tortured honour of a hero like Arthur Clennam. I was amazed, too, at Dickens’ skill at bringing all the threads together to create a whole seamless story. However, I must give A Tale of Two Cities much credit for having made me bawl. I honestly had to go in search of a box of Kleenex when I shut the book on the last page. Who can not suffer with and respect a character like Sydney Carton? It made my heart ache, and though it was smaller than most of Dickens’ other works, I think it deserves its high position amid literature.

But I haven’t read Bleak House yet! It waits for me to be in the mood for something, well, bleak. I’ve heard it’s excellent and I really must get to it soon.

4. Why do you write?

I write because I can’t not. I write because of my love for the characters, and the worlds and stories of the characters, in my mind. I write because if I didn’t, the stories would probably burst out like Athena from Zeus’ head. I write because I was made to create—as I believe everyone, because fashioned in God’s image, was made to create—and the medium I’ve been given is that of words. That’s why I write.

alex (goldenink) asked...

5. What was it that got you into writing? 

I’m not one of those writers who has been scribbling from the earliest age, though I was always an uncritical admirer of my sister’s stories. When I was nine or ten, I didn’t have any real hobbies and was most disgruntled about it. I wanted to draw and couldn’t, wasn’t in love with violin enough to pursue it, and wanted very much to write. So I began, and though it was a very rocky beginning, I’m glad I did.

6. What inspired the story behind The Soldier's Cross

The story was mostly inspired by a snapshot image of a young woman in a sanctuary, holding a silver cross pendant. It had absolutely no relation to anything else, but it developed quickly after that first thought. I’m sure there was pain in the process, but fortunately I’ve forgotten it now!

7. Who was your favorite character in the book, and why? 

It is a little difficult to answer this, as I am torn between David, with whom Fiona has perhaps five run-ins all told, and Pierre, the young Lord of Gallandon. David was always a breeze to write; he was so brusque and his kindness so harsh. But Pierre had more character, simply because he was present more often, and I knew him best. I liked discovering his strengths and weaknesses and watching his personality develop. And, too—but that would be telling. Anyhow, I think I can say Pierre is my favorite.

8. What is your current writing project, and how is it progressing so far? 

I’m currently writing what someone recently termed a “fantasy-esque” novel called Tempus Regina: taking it through NaNo, in fact. It is something like a historical fantasy, because, while it deals with time travel, dragons, and all that good stuff, it also deals heavily with two legendary points in history. The story is still young and I have not properly “gotten into” it, but I am enjoying it and having fun with the characters. And the research. Really fun, outlandish research.

9. What hopes do you have for writing? 

Ah, this question sinks deep! I think (if I must be honest) that while I strive to write to honor God and for my personal enjoyment, I do have a number of “hopes” for what my writing will accomplish. I hope my writing expands my mind and my spirit. I hope my books find their way into the hearts of readers and inspire love, and many gleeful, inarticulate sentences. There are many things I hope for, and it can be difficult to keep that “rare jewel of Christian contentment” while still laboring to better my work.

10. Do you have any advice for beginning writers? 

If you’re just beginning to write, do your very best to ignore the host of writing tips and blogs and books out there and just write. If you focus too heavily and too early on “getting it right,” you run the great risk of losing the heart and soul of writing and turning it into a mere mechanical process.  

11. Do you have any advice for those writers who are about ready to begin their journey into the world of publishing? 

Think about what you’re doing, and don’t opt for one path simply because it appears easier. In my most recent (and controversial!) post I sought to encourage writers not to take anything for granted, and to question the things around them: even something as apparently fundamental as the Christian publishing industry. As believers, we should be marked for the thought we give and the wisdom we apply to everything we set our hand to do.

November 26, 2012

In the World? Really?

Last Tuesday, I began a two-part series in which I attempt to communicate something of my philosophy concerning what it means to be a Christian who writes.  The first half, "Changing the World? Really?", primarily focused on the individualistic approach we take to our art, and the misguided notion that we are called upon to change the world.  I wrapped it up with this essential belief: the Church is a people, not just a society of individual persons.  Then I left off with a question:

"Is the pressure on us, then, to change the world as a whole people?  For the Church to rise up and take on the world?  For all believing writers to band together so their books are more like a rock in the ocean of literature than like a drop?"

And I told you my answer was no, which is something of a spoiler.

This mindset is nearly as prevalent as the individualistic approach I discussed before, and would seem to be more biblical (and more in line with my own remarks).  I said that the language used in Scripture is that of a kingdom, nation, priesthood - large words, significant words, and words that have been used to justify the Church shouldering her way into all aspects of the world's business.  "The Church is a powerful force," they say.  "We just need to realize our power, stand up and combat the world."  Political activism is a major avenue for this kind of militarism.

But since I am a writer, I prefer to question something closer to home and more innocuous, and that is the presence of a Christian label in the arts.  I've talked about it before, but the subject flows quite nicely from the first part of this series, and I could not leave off "Changing the World?" without adding this caveat.  It would be too easy to finish reading that post and infer that I find the introduction of the Christian book industry the answer to our individualistic problem.  In fact, my feelings are, to quote Lizzy Bennet, quite the opposite.  I believe the philosophy behind this labeling to be an error on the other side of the spectrum.

It is difficult to tread this minefield without stepping on one objection or another, for the phenomenon of Christian fiction has been around for several decades now and is pretty well engrained in many minds.  If you are a Christian, and your work has scriptural themes, you publish within the Christian book label.  By and large, it is now taken for granted that the industry gives Christians a voice (by bringing many pebbles together to make a rock, and then dropping it in the sea of literature) and allows us to stand out.  It marks our books as different - as soon as you see the publishing house, and sometimes as soon as you see the cover itself, you know the book is Christian fiction.  And there are a lot of such books out there.

It would seem that this is what I was advocating in "Changing the World?".  It isn't individualistic; Christians are uniting, bringing their works together under an obvious heading, not "putting their lights under bushels" and all that.  By banding together, we're seeking to impact the world.  Two fists are better than one, after all.  It's true that we can't hope to make any difference on our own, but once we get together...!

But this is not what I believe is advocated in the Bible.  We are not told to go into all the world, making our own genres and labels and whatnot; that is not being in the world at all, but is in fact a form of monasticism.  We pull back, wanting to be different not by what we think and say and do and live, but by the heading we live under.  We write our novels and tag them as Christian fiction, reasoning (when we do reason about it; I don't believe I did) that it makes sense because we are Christians and our message is Christian.  But our lives are not meant to be pigeon-holed in such a way.  Yes, indeed, the Church is meant to be united - but the Christian book industry is not the Church.

In creating this label, I believe we have lost a great deal of understanding when it comes to the Church's role, and individuals' roles, in the world.  If we are salt, we cannot keep ourselves in the container; we are sprinkled across a decaying world.  If we are leaven, we spread out to "leaven the whole lump."  If we are a mustard seed, we grow so that our branches cover the whole earth.  This is the work of the Kingdom of Heaven, and there is no room for monasticism in it.

The Christian's life is meant to be lived in the world, within sight of unbelievers.  Not after the same fashion as the world, certainly, but also not off in a cloister - or under a different label.  What impact does that have?  I think if we would be honest, we would realize that few unbelievers are likely to pick up a novel with a Christian label, unless it be by mistake.  (And then they seem frequently to be disgusted.)  Much as the genre as a whole may express a desire to stand out, have an impact, etc., the result is a far cry from the vision expressed by Jesus and the apostolic writers.

None of this is particularly easy to say or accept, because the Christian label is so prevalent; there is little we can do about it, even if we wanted to.  My own novel is technically a Christian novel.  If Christianity plays a major role in your story, it may be difficult to be accepted by a "secular" publisher: that is one reason for going the other route, and I freely confess that there are others as well.  This is by no means a condemnation of all Christian books.  It is merely my look at the idea of a Christian publishing industry, and a challenge to the philosophy that underlies it.

November 20, 2012

Changing the World? Really?

When a person finds out you're a writer, and they feel any interest at all in the fact, generally the first question they ask is, "What do you write?"  It's less frequent that you get asked why you write, although it does happen occasionally.

The latter question has in fact cropped up a few times in the interviews people have been submitting for this blog party, and it's not an easy one to answer in just a paragraph or two.  So to give it the attention it deserves, I'm devoting a two-part series to pulling together an answer and presenting something of my own philosophy of life and writing.  Of course it hasn't wholly solidified yet; I'm much too young to have a concrete and immutable philosophy of anything.  But for the moment, this is my outlook on what it is that I do and am - as a writer, and as a Christian.  (A silly turn of phrase, that "as a whatever," but we'll leave it for Dorothy Sayers to debate.)

In the circles I run in, including those in the blogisphere, there is a great deal of pressure being put on believers in general and young believers, I think, in specific.  It doesn't really matter what field or vocation you call your own, because the pressure is the same whether you aspire to be a writer or a musician, a laborer or a manager or a whatever.  The pressure is nothing less than to change the world.  Sometimes it is couched in different terms; always it entails a kind of militancy, a combating of the world, an aggressive sharing of the Gospel to anyone who crosses our path.

In writing, which is obviously what I'm most familiar with, this most often takes the form of incorporating the Good News into every story we produce.  Isn't that we're called to do?  Aren't we supposed to go into all the world and make disciples?  And even if we can't, we can hope our books will - and we want to be sure that anyone who picks up our works will find the Gospel in them.  We want to rest assured that our "Christian fiction" - neatly packaged, all loose ends neatly tied off - stands in contrast and opposition to the mass of worldly stuff hitting the shelves right beside it.  We want our writing to change the world, because we think that's our purpose as writing Christians.

But we don't change the world.

Of course there are probably a few works of Christian fiction that have been used by the Holy Spirit to regenerate hearts; I can't imagine there are very many, but God does work in some pretty mysterious ways.  However, His common - but not common; His chosen method of saving men and women is through "the foolishness of the Word preached" (I Cor. 1:21).  We can't expect that through our novels people will be saved in droves and gaggles.  And yet we still have this idea given to us that somehow our writing, almost by the very nature of its being produced by a Christian, will change our society.

That's a pretty tall order, and a great responsibility if it is indeed true.  Consider for a moment how vast is the culture we live in.  Think of the heaps of books - Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey and all other more or less innocuous works - filling and shaping that culture.  And now picture yourself putting in your two cents, your drop into that ocean.  What difference does it make?  In the scheme of things - and remember here the scheme is that of changing the world - does your contribution matter?  Or does the world sit and laugh (if it even notices you) at your attempt to change it?

"Holy cow," you say now, "aren't you bleak today?  I think I'll just go read Dostoyevsky now to CHEER MYSELF UP."  But my point isn't bleak, once I actually get to it.  I'm pretty cheerful when it comes to my writing.  Because my philosophy of what it means to be a Christian who writes is not one of world alteration.  I don't expect The Soldier's Cross to be out there "winning souls," or even just stemming the tide of bad literature.  That's far too much weight placed on one little 92,000-word novel - far too much weight placed on one little just-barely-five-foot girl.  I can't change the world, and I don't expect to.  I don't think God expects me to.  If we could change the world, I expect He would just leave us here until we had finally converted everyone and the world was a happy place.

What it comes down to in my mind, as far as this part of the matter is concerned, is that God has not placed me as a sole individual with the purpose in His thoughts of me accomplishing all these great things.  He has brought out for Himself a people.  He stuck Israel smack dab in the middle of everything - in the sight of all the nations, in fact.  He has stuck His Church smack dab in the middle of everything, too, so that she should be a city set on a hill.  It is hard to grasp or even to say because of our mindset, but He has not called out for Himself individual persons; He has bought a people (made up of individuals, yes, but greater than the sum of its parts!) to be a witness, to be salt and light and leaven and a mustard seed that grows to fill the whole earth.

We lose sight of this; I lose sight of this.  But I think we must stop thinking about ourselves in such a personal and individualistic manner, stop thinking that we're set out alone with our own candles with the weight of the world - literally - resting on our shoulders.  The language of Scripture is that of a nation, a priesthood, a kingdom, a spiritual house.  The pressure is not, and should not, be on us as individuals to change the world.

Is the pressure on us, then, to change the world as a whole people?  For the Church to rise up and take on the world?  For all believing writers to band together so their books are more like a rock in the ocean of literature than like a drop?  Well, I'll sum up my answer as "no," but the rest will come in a later post.

There's a comic that features Moses holding the tablets of stone and telling the people of Israel, "Please hold your applause until I've read all ten."  Please hold your applause (or rotten tomatoes) until I've finish up the next installment, and then see what you think.  And, while you're waiting, don't forget to enter the novel giveaway.  Because you've only got ten days left, and Christmas is coming...!

November 17, 2012

And I Answer

You ask, I answer!  Here comes Part II of the question-and-answer session - and there is going to be a Part III as well, so if your particular question hasn't shown up yet, fear not.  In some cases several people have asked a similar question, and so I consolidated my answers for ease and space.

becca asked...

1. Do you plot and plan, or do you work off of a basic idea?

In general, I’m a plotter and planner. For The Soldier’s Cross I wrote a massive outline, but I seem to recall scrapping it about two points in. For Wordcrafter, which is my complete-but-never-complete novel, I had general ideas in my head and a list of chapter titles to guide me. The White Sail’s Shaking and The Running Tide were written by the seat of my pants, and it was a very difficult ride; I don’t think I’ll be doing that again any time soon!

I like to have some ideas written down before I begin, even if it’s just a corkboard of individual words to boost my memory. Right now I’m outlining Tempus Regina, and trying not to make it as detailed as the one I had for The Soldier’s Cross; I like a bit of room to maneuver!

2. How do you come up with character names?

Characters tend to present themselves to me with the glimmerings of a personality, most times with a name attached, sometimes without, sometimes with a name that I’m not sure I’ll keep. With the scraps of personality, I can usually determine what kind of letter would suit them; then I run through that letter page of a site like Behind the Name until I find one that just “clicks.” I don’t usually do it based on the meaning of the name, but it’s interesting how often that name ends up having an appropriate meaning for the character or story.

3. Has anyone ever compared your writing to another popular author’s?

Not to my knowledge! I’m sure one of these days someone will; it seems to be a common feature of professional reviews.

4. What time of day do you usually write in?

I don’t have a set time where I open up my work and dig in; in general, it’s whenever I can snatch a moment. However, I do like to start writing immediately after I get up and prepare for the day. It starts the day off productively and encourages me in my other work as well.

5. Is self publishing for mediocre writers?

Ooh, touchy question! I’ll try to answer thoroughly and honestly. I do not believe that self-publishing is only, or has to be, for mediocre writers; sometimes it is for writers who cannot find any other niche. One example of this that spring to mind is Arthur C. Custance, an anthropologist and Christian whose works probably weren’t immediately taken by a publishing company because they were so unorthodox. He self-published, and was eventually taken up by Zondervan. Self-published books can be good, and there are a number of good reasons for going this route.

That said, I do think there is an alarming trend in publishing wherein writers skip the “traditional” process either through laziness, a lack of commitment, or a belief that editors have nothing to offer them. This is a dangerous position. Traditional publication is difficult, and often frustrating; I know that. But it also offers great benefits, not least because it provides a sort of filter for the literature being funneled onto bookshelves. I’m not saying it’s a perfect filter, or that it doesn’t often seem to be broken entirely. Bad books (heaps of them!) get by, and some good books probably don’t. But if you bypass it entirely and have every Tom, Dick, and Harry author (a hairy author? Ew!) releasing their books as soon as they’ve finished typing, we will be even more swamped with poor “literature” than we are now.

Self-publishing is something I believe should be considered long and hard before an author chooses that path. It can be used well, and sometimes bypassing the publishing houses is a good idea. But it can also be, and I think is being, abused.

6. If you found out that something was going to happen, and your writing would no longer be of any importance, would you still write? 

I love this question. It’s so unique! Simple answer: yes, I would still write. I don’t do it now to make an impact, although of course I hope it might. I write because there are stories in my head and I have to express and share them, or I wouldn’t be complete. I do “write for publication” in that the desire to share my work is part and parcel of why I write in the first place. But if somehow the whole industry went bust and everyone stopped reading entirely, I’d still write. Maybe I would only be able to express the stories to my family; and that would be all right by me. Maybe I would have to work at another job during the day; that would be all right, too. The need to create is too strong for me to stop because of a piddling matter of importance.

7. Can you write as well in a notebook as you can on a computer? 

I typically find that my writing is more polished on the computer than in a notebook, probably because of the ability to backspace and rewrite. I do, however, enjoy writing in a notebook; they say you use a different part of your brain when doing so. At any rate, I feel more free when writing by hand, but have a greater sense of accomplishment when typing.

8. With writing, and blogging, and other computer related business (mine is selling photography), do you find half of your life is spent on the computer, and do you ever fear your wasting time writing? 

I do spend a great deal of time on the computer, but schoolwork, reading, and family time give me a wider range of activities. I never really feel myself to be “wasting time” if I am indeed writing or doing other related things. When I start spending time rambling through my blogger feed or Pinterest pictures, then I realize I’m procrastinating and must move on to something productive. But because writing is what I do, and because I’ve always been encouraged in it, it never gives me the sense of time lost.

9. Do you find one page chapters permissible in some cases? 

Most things are permissible in some cases! I have seen one-page chapters in a few books—only The Gammage Cup is springing to mind—and they were quite acceptable. As long as that one page is really set apart and on its own, there’s no reason it can’t be its own chapter. I personally wouldn’t make a habit of it, but one or two in a book isn’t going to end the world.

November 13, 2012

Mad Author with a Blog

Jenny just posted yesterday about the relationship between art and marketing; today I'll be following it up with a post on the latter subject - though I should hope it will be helpful for those of you who are currently blogging purely for fun.  We all envy you.

For those of you who have done some research on publication and read blogs dealing with the subject, you've probably already heard the concept of building a platform.  It's popular - I know of one book on the subject, and I'm sure there are plenty more - and can be made to sound quite frightening, but the basic idea is that of planting yourself deeply and squarely in your field.  In writing, this means marketing to your audience: fiction or nonfiction; middle-grade, young adult, adult; men or women; fantasy, historical, dystopian, what-have-you.  This is what makes "knowing your audience" so important, because marketing your young adult dystopian to middle-aged fans of World War II history is not only silly, it's also a waste of everyone's time.

Building a platform can take many different forms, but one of the most common nowadays is starting a blog.  It has a number of advantages over sites like Facebook or Twitter; authors can write lengthier posts on weightier topics (it's hard to be weighty in 160 characters!), but still interact with readers.  A blog also allows more of the author's voice and personality to come through and gives potential readers a better idea of what the author's book might read like.

But there are very rarely advantages without some disadvantages.  While blogs are fun at the start, when ideas are simply brimming in our minds, they can lose their charm fast and leave us quite disillusioned.  If you want to maintain a blog and use it as a platform, you have to be dedicated to it.  You can't just quit when the ideas won't come; you have to go after inspiration with a club, as Jack London would say.  ...Did say, even.  Blogs are also quite a bit of work to maintain, unlike a Facebook or Twitter account (although I confess I fail in the latter respect).  You can't just log in, type a one- or two-line comment, submit it and go your way.  You've got to make time to sit down and think out, and type out, a post of at least a couple paragraphs and some worthwhile content.

Content, too, can be a difficulty.  Glancing over the blogs I come across, I find an alarming number of ones where the writer seems to have started and then lost either interest or ideas or both.  This may mean that the last post was put up in February 2009, or it may mean that the writer has struggled along with a post per month on random and unimportant aspects of their lives.  Readers learn about the author's fifth cousin who has a deathly illness, or the author's new poodle-greyhound-Great Dane puppy, or sometimes hey! look! my new book released: whaddya know?  This is obligatory blogging combined with purposelessness, and it results in boring reading and a jittery platform.

If we want to undertake a blog for anything more than a sort of public journal (which I confess I don't understand), we have to think about it beforehand and use some sort of plan and schedule in the process.  It isn't necessary to post every day, or every other day, or even every other third day; in fact, posting too frequently, especially if the blog doesn't have more than one contributor, can get repetitive.  But neglecting the blog for weeks on end has the same effect.  It's good to have in mind a general idea of how frequently you want to post.  You don't have to stick to it religiously - at least, I know I don't - but it can be helpful to know what goal you're working toward.

In the interest of building a platform, it's also important to know what topics you want to be posting on. Again, I don't recommend setting this in stone; some people like to set a schedule of posting on one thing on Mondays and another topic Fridays and pictures on Sundays, but that doesn't suit everyone.  Just make sure you know what you're blogging for and what topics you are best suited to write on.  If historical fiction is your genre, perhaps research (but I'd advise you to take this in small doses, because out of context it can be found dull), incorporation of historical characters, and general writing tips.  Don't spend posts rambling about things that readers of the genre don't care about, like your poodle-greyhound-Great Dane.  That's what spots like private Facebook accounts and Twitter are for. 

Spontaneity is fine; it makes the blog more fun.  
Randomness is not; it is the mark of an unfocused mind.

November 8, 2012

Curiosity, Cats, and a Cat Lady

Day Eight!  It is difficult to realize that November is yet young.  We've only been at this NaNo-ing and partying business for a week - goodness!  Anyhow, I thought it was about time for you people to feature.  A number of readers submitted questions, and I was kept very busy during October with answering them.  Today you can read part one and have at least some of your curiosity assuaged.  (Great word, that.)

First of all, however, there is a feature over at the blog of Anne Elisabeth Stengl, cat-lady extraordinaire and the award-winning authoress of the Tales of Goldstone Wood.  She very cheerfully agreed to host myself and Jenny, and gave us each a question to answer.  Mine?

I'm sure you get this a lot, but I know it's what everyone is wondering, so I'm going to ask it anyway! How did you, a busy young high school girl, find the time, gumption, and drive to write and polish a manuscript? And what steps did you take to prepare it for publication?

But I'm not giving you the answer.  You have to stop by her own lovely blog for that.  And don't forget to check out Jenny's feature while you're there! She was asked about the reasons behind her writing The Shadow Things.

Meanwhile, here are a few of the questions the readers of Scribbles sent in during October.  Mirriam asked...

1. What is your workspace like? (This was a popular question.)

It depends on whether I work on my dad’s computer or my laptop. At the desktop, I’m at a computer desk with books (either mine or dad’s) and a scattering of odd papers all around. There’s a window on my right, so I get the sunlight and can see the street. As for the laptop, it gets carted around wherever I feel like being. If I’m in my room, as I am at the moment, I sit on a bed with my cat on my lap (he doesn’t like the laptop).

2. Do you have any writing idiosyncrasies? 

I don’t like to be talked to when writing, I can’t write when people are looking over my shoulder, and I often have difficulty when anyone is in the same room. I’m a picky writer. I tend to murmur snatches of dialogue aloud when having a hard time ironing it out.

3.  Do you have favorite songs you listen to while writing? 

I don’t write well to music; it distracts me, and I find myself singing along or following the rhythm rather than typing. Occasionally I like instrumental music, like Two Steps from Hell, and up-beat music like Owl City. It all depends on the book I’m working on, though. I seem to remember listening to a lot of Manheim Steamroller and Fernando Ortega while writing The Soldier’s Cross.

4. How long does it generally take for you to write a first draft? 

This has been expanding for every book! I wrote The Soldier’s Cross in about six months; it would have been sooner if I hadn’t balked at writing—well, a particularly sad scene. My next novel came in about the same period, but the combined draft of The White Sail’s Shaking took a year and a half. But hey, it did end up being two books!

5. What sort of character is your favorite? 

What sort of character? As in, do I prefer sad and brooding, happy and bubbly, or brusque and sarcastic? That’s a hard question; it takes all sorts of characters to make up a world, and as I look around I’m at a loss to see that any one kind particularly calls out to me. I like fiery characters, but as prominent side characters, not narrators. For my main characters, I suppose you could say I like some stubbornness, some pigheadedness—traits you’ll find quite loud in Fiona. “Bubbly” is not my personality of choice, but I try not to do “brooding” much, either; all the characters from my idiotic early works were brooding, and that rather put me off writing them. Male characters are easier for me to write, and, I find, most enjoyable.

6. What is your favorite character you've created so far? Why? 

You do like the hard questions, don’t you, Mirriam? You expect me to look at my casts of characters and choose a single favorite? Pshaw! It greatly depends on which book I’m in closest proximity to. When I finished The Soldier’s Cross it was Pierre; when I finished Wordcrafter it was Ethan and Justin both; now that I’ve just completed The White Sail’s Shaking, it’s a terribly hard draw between Tip and Charlie. (I’m pretty fond of Josiah Darkwood, too.) I like contrasts. I like to see the sparks fly from two such different personalities as Tip Brighton and Charlie Bent, and to see the give and take on both sides. I love Tip for his rough, uncultured, well-meaning bumbling and the pigheadedness I mentioned before; but I love Charlie for his elaborate elegance, his poise, and his snide arrogance. They’re opposites, and I think that’s what endears me to them both.

Bree asked...

7. The Soldier's Cross is your first book: had you tried writing any other books before it, and if so, what was one of them?

I did attempt a number of books before writing The Soldier’s Cross, but I never managed to finish them—perhaps I simply needed the pressure of something like NaNo (I don’t believe I previously managed to write more than 30,000 words on one story), or perhaps it was because the plots were so terribly lame.  The first thing I put my keyboard to was a sort of fanfiction based on one of Jenny’s own early stories.  It was populated by archetypical Mary Sues and Gary Stus, and I abandoned it eventually.  Then I tried a murder mystery, for at the time I was in love with Agatha Christie’s works, but I was far more interested in the characters than in the murder or the plot. 

Better than either of these, and thus still in existence, was a collection of pieces centered around Stonehenge, a British girl, and the coming of the Romans and the Gospel to Britain.  I wrote no more than five or six pieces, but I still have them.  I think this was the piece that saw me begin to improve.

8. Are you planning on publishing any of your other books in the near future?

But of course!  The White Sail’s Shaking is being shoved across literary agents’ desks now, or into their inboxes.  Since I have decided to pursue traditional publication, the timing is very much not up to me.

9. Has writing been a long-time love or a newer excitement? (i.e. how long have you been writing?)

I’ve been writing for five or six years now.  I don’t think I began, however, because I really loved writing.  I began because Jenny was a writer, and I wanted to imitate that and to be able to capture, as she did, characters and places and far-reaching adventures.  I wanted, too, to be good at something.  I began to write just at the time when young people generally start to get their legs beneath them and make sure of their own bearings, and writing was something that grew out of my own search for a passion.  It’s a pretty good one, I think!

10. Which do you prefer writing: fantasy or historical fiction?

Unlike many, I have to say I lean toward historical fiction.  I confess I’m not very good at stretching my mind to the fantastical, and world-building from the ground up is a great undertaking indeed.  Of course with historical fiction there is also an element of world-building, but at least you’re given the mud and the straw before being told to make bricks.  Besides, I love the richness of history.  I love historical figures like Edward the Black Prince or Simon de Montfort, Stephen Decatur or Alexander Hamilton.  I love time periods like the Age of Sail.  I love the unfolding saga of humanity, chilling though it often is.  Writing stories that live and breathe among such characters, such times, is a thrilling vocation.

11. What author(s) inspire you?

Many authors inspire me.  Close to home, there’s Jenny—but most of you know that.  Then there are authors I’ve known a long time, like C.S. Lewis (for his way of getting down to the glowing heart of a matter); Rosemary Sutcliff (for her richness and the bitter-sweet flavor of her writing); Jane Austen (for her wit and romance); and Charles Dickens (for his amazing skill at weaving together immense casts and plots).  I also enjoy James Fenimore Cooper, especially The Last of the Mohicans, even though it did rip my heart out.  More recently, I’ve discovered Robert Louis Stevenson, and something about his writing speaks to my heart: maybe it’s the spice of adventure in the words. 

For inspiration, however, I have to say that I can glean inspiration from whatever I happen to be reading, or watching, or listening to: things as far-flung as Sherlock Holmes and Owl City.  Perhaps it’s the trait of any artist to be stimulated by life in general.

12. Do you prefer hot chocolate, apple cider, tea or coffee while writing?

Tea!  Twinings, preferably Ceylon, though I’ll drink anything black (except the Greys; I can’t stand the Greys).  I like coffee to wake me up over office work, but I don’t drink it while I write.  Apple cider and hot chocolate tend to flay my throat.  So when I do need a hot drink, it’s tea for me.

There are a number of questions still waiting to be answered, but they shall be "got to" soon! Stay tuned for Part Two, and maybe Part Three, as well.
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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