October 25, 2012

Boring and Bored

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A quote, wandering around on Pinterest as quotes are wont to do, states: "If you think reading is boring, you're doing it wrong."  It amused me at the time, but then I continued on and didn't think much about it until last night, which happened to be one of those where sleep seems to have gone on a brief holiday.  It occurred to me then that in many cases (not all, just many), "reading" can be exchanged for "a book" and that quote would be as accurate.

Don't get me wrong: there are some books I have attempted that I ended up finding indescribably dull.  But some of them, probably most of them, would have been redeemable to some other reader.  I don't think there are many books that are totally, irrevocably, objectively boring.  Even if a book is badly written, there is almost always some sort of amusement to be had from it - if only the kind of amusement derived from laughing hysterically over the sheer badness.  Other books have been written for a very small niche, and people in the niche find them fascinating.  I wouldn't enjoy a book on the different kinds of amoeba or the habits of the triple-eyed, red-spotted hairy antelope (actually, if there were such a thing I would be very interested), but others consider such works the cat's meow.  As Anna quoted just the other day in a different context:

there are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.

We ought to be careful, I think, before allowing ourselves to be bored by a book.  We are far too ADD in the 21st Century; why else would authors be instructed to have a "catchy" first line and to be sure their story grabs the reader's interest in the first chapter?  As readers, we are no longer willing to give the book our attention - it has to grab our attention.  And if it doesn't do so quickly, we tend to put it aside and pick up something more in line with our tastes.

I don't like to let myself not finish a book, generally not because of any well thought out reason, but because it goes against my grain.  Sometimes I do set one aside; just recently I tossed away a book I had been reading for research, highly disgusted with its lack of helpfulness and the author's obnoxious use of the word "hegemony."  But most of the time I stick to the book with a kind of grim will, while a series of thoughts run through my mind.  I start out by telling myself, "Maybe it will get better," and that takes me through about half the book.  At that point I lose hope, but start telling myself, "I've gotten this far, and I'm just too stubborn to quit!"  That gets me three quarters of the way through.  Then, if the book still hasn't picked up, I've stopped being at all hopeful and started being desperate, but can't bear to give up so near the finish line.  That would be like the blonde who swam three quarters of the way across the Channel, got tired and swam back.  (My apologies to all blondes!)

All of that to say that as we read, we should be cautious of our opinions, considering them closely and not cementing them too soon.  If a book is neither dirty nor mere drivel, we ought to give it time to develop before "pronouncing an adverse judgment," as Mary Bennet would say.  If it is outside our usual range, good: we might find we like these new stomping grounds, and if not, we can at least have a glimpse of how they look.  If we find the style or language trying, fine: our brains can always use a bit of exercise with wrangling out the meaning of Shakespeare.  If the book is huge, it's good practice for keeping our minds engaged - and besides, the feeling of success is greater in the end.

None of this is to say that we should never put a book aside as long as it isn't obscene.  But I do think we ought to consider why we're not finishing it, and be able to give ourselves a good reason.  We should not let ourselves turn away for the mere trifling reason that a book seems "boring."  Perhaps the real issue will turn out to be not that the book is uninteresting, but that we are simply uninterested - and the book might even be one that we would do well to make ourselves be interested in.

October 22, 2012

Like a Woman Scorned

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My family and I are back from our beach trip, although still adjusting to the demands of normal life.  In the past few days I've been writing up posts for the November blog party, answering questions, and sending out emails, all of which leaves disgustingly little brain power for the task of writing a post for the present.  Hence the belated nature of this one.

However, I was very pleased to fall in once again with Rosamund's Character Letters meme, which I have not done since July - horrors!  This month's edition comes from the pen of Regina of Tempus Regina and has very little to do with the actual plot, which is nice in that it gives nothing of importance away.  Besides, it's nice practice for the upcoming NaNoWriMo.

Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.

- william congreve

Mr. John Ingram—

Although we parted yesterday on, I think, no uncertain terms, I thought it best I commit myself in ink and on paper, that there be no misunderstanding. If I have made myself clear already, I ask your patience. I will be finished in a moment; bear with me to the end, and then you may burn this if you wish.

Do not call me a liar when I say I am sorry we should have come to this. I was happy these last two months; you know I was; my face is too hard to lie. On every other point you would have found me pliant, eager to bow to any wish you could have invented. How could I have done else? Gratitude alone (such a harsh word between us!) would have made me dumb. But you asked this, and you find me rigid.

 I cannot, I will not, give Kay up. I am all the world to him, and before you came he was all the world to me. He is but a child, Ingram, a poor, weak-minded child who will never be a man. You call him a burden. Oh! You can have no conception what a burden he is. You say that marrying you I will have riches, enough to send him away, to make believe I have no brother, to be free of all those obligations. But if you think I could so easily cast him off, then these two months have taught you nothing of me. Oaths and obligations are never so lightly fulfilled. Kay belongs with me. You take us both or you take neither, and last night you chose the latter.

 But comfort yourself, Ingram: in attempting to rid yourself of one nuisance you have unwittingly rid yourself of two. There is no reason now to speak with your parents. No risks to run, no shame to endure, no money and no position to lose. What an easy error you have made; only think if you had made the other instead, and found yourself saddled with a servant to wife and a fool for a brother-in-law! Reckon it to Providence, if you will, that you escaped so narrowly from such a trial.

I remain your servant,

Regina K. Winters

Postscript: I deliver this by a shop boy’s hand, lest you have the horror of crossing my path again. You will not see me again at the mill, nor, I hope, anywhere else. If we do have the misfortune of seeing one another, I will keep to the far side of the street as befits my station.

October 16, 2012

Elemental

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Over the past few weeks, I've been watching the TV show "The Legend of Korra" (for which I make no apologies) with Jenny and her husband.  And in our family, one does not simply "watch a TV show," any more than one simply "reads a book."  If it's good, it worms its way into our daily vocabulary; its best quotes get stored in our repertoire.  If it's bad it still gets into our vocabulary, only in more abusive terms.

But Korra has proven to be an enjoyable series thus far, not least because of the concept it presents of "bending" - the innate ability in certain people to manipulate an element.  Some are fire-benders; some water-benders; some earth-benders; and a very few, for reasons explained in a previous show, air-benders.  The Avatar, in this case Korra, is the only one able to manipulate all four elements.  Of course this means the Avatar is called upon to save the world, defeat the bad guys, etc., but that's beside the point for this blog post.

What started me thinking was the influence a character's personality has on his or her element, or vice versa, or whatever.  Because of course my mind naturally went from there to, "What element would my characters be?"  Running through the lists of my characters, I had, in general, an easy job pegging each with the element that best fitted their personality.  I think we all associate certain traits with each element right off the cuff.  For instance:

fire: impulsiveness; quick temper; passion; magnetism; ambition

earth: stability; strength; stubbornness; dignity; pessimism

water: constancy; loyalty; sensitivity; idealism; discretion

air: imagination; humor; optimism; spontaneity; enthusiasm

As I am doing some rewriting of Wordcrafter at the moment, the characters I first started thinking about were from this cast.  Here's the run down.

Ethan Prince - fire, through and through.  He's got all of the things mentioned, and a manipulative streak thrown in besides.  He has a charisma lacking in others; hence his natural magnetism.

Justin King - water, although I considered earth as well.  But Justin has the constancy and loyalty that springs to mind when I think of "water," plus discretion and sensitivity.  Idealism, I'm not so sure.  Like earth, however, Justin is stable, often stubborn, and given to pessimism.

Jamie Fairbairn - fire.  This is part of what makes her clash so horribly with Ethan, and what attracts Justin to her.  (Jenny and I were discussing the other day how "water" characters seem to gravitate toward "fire" characters.  Seems a risky combination for the fire, to me...)

Copper, the Jackal's daughter - water again.  You could hardly get more constant than Copper, and she is certainly idealistic.

So there's the major cast of Wordcrafter.  What about that of White Sail's, which is even fresher in my mind?  Off the topmost part of my head, this is how I would categorize these people.

Tip Brighton - earth.  I don't know about the dignity, but Tip has strength of character and of body, he's a pessimist, and he is both stable and stubborn.  He can be summed up in the image of a brick wall.

Marta Rais - water, I think, though she's a bit hard to pin down (as water generally is).  She is sensitive and constant, and perhaps a little too discrete.

Charlie Bent - fire.  When I picture him I think of water, but his character tends more toward the explosive and impressive qualities of fire.  He's passionate, ambitious, and competitive, as well as arrogant.  He does not, however, have the magnetism of an Ethan.

Jo Darkwood - water.  Quiet, constant Jo, always there to put out Charlie's fire when necessary - no other element fits him so well.

William Lewis - fire.  He combines a quick temper with ambition and a calculating mind, but unfortunately for himself, he has none of the hard-working tendencies of earth to make him succeed.

Here are a few of my characters, then, as summed up by an element.  I never seem to have any air characters, at least not at the forefront; one background character in Wordcrafter definitely has all the characteristics of air, however.

What elements summarize your characters?  Do tell!

October 11, 2012

Snippets of October

pinterest: wordcrafter
In case you haven't checked your calendar, today is 10-11-12.  I don't know what people think is so special about dates that line up (next year everyone will be excited about 11-12-13, and the year after that it will be 12-13-14, so really, what is the big deal?), or why everyone wants to get married on one.  I guess it makes it easier to remember one's anniversary.  But anyhow, I thought you might like to know.

Today is also a good time to join in the monthly snippets meme from Katie's Whisperings of the Pen.  This month and last, I've been focusing on blog-related things for the November blog party, outlines for Tempus Regina, and major rewrites for Wordcrafter - a sort of constant work-in-progress.  The latter has only been featured in smatterings here and there, so I hope you will enjoy this more complete array of snippets.

october snippets

Colour—not merely red, but blue and yellow and faded, sickly green—crashed through Justin’s mind like a broken kaleidoscope; he reeled away, stumbled on something and, catching himself on the shelves, dropped his face in the hollow between two books. Dust got in his eyes and his breathing was laboured, but at least it was breathing, and the smell of the room was there to soothe him again. 

“You swear?” 

Justin struggled to lift his eyelids, staring sightlessly at the title of the tome before him. Murders among the Dark Folk. What irony. He put his head on his arm. “I swear,” he whispered, and then there was silence for a long, comforting time.

- wordcrafter

Ash laughed his fox-laugh, and there was no puckishness about it today. “How brave you’ve gotten, Justin Wordcrafter! To think of you actually making a threat! But we taught you how to fight; don’t think you can beat us at our own game.”

- wordcrafter

Justin’s echoes ran tittering across the floor and up the walls, and into silence in the dark crannies of the room; his own hard breathing remained, mingling with the king’s and with the husky voice of the leaves on the window outside. Light and shadow splattered the chamber, and the puddle forming about Justin’s feet shone unbearably white while he kept on dripping. Splip, splip, splip... The sound broke into his consciousness after a long while and it occurred to him how horribly pathetic he must look, like some half-drowned rat dumped on the king’s threshold.

- wordcrafter

 “You bitter fool,” he said. “What has he ever done that you see him so, except have Gypsy blood? And was that his fault? By Tera! Was it mine, that you throw me in the breach between him and you? You are nothing but a bitter fool and a coward—and a hypocrite, to cast up Tera’s laws to me!”

- wordcrafter

The water-voice had grown distant, but the flow of it sounded like a song: far off and wordless, but comforting; and something in him woke to the memory of it. It was the lullaby Ethan had played on the Fairbairns’ harp. He could see the colour of it, blue like Tera’s sky, and it was leaning down to touch him; a face took shape in it, pale as the sun, and all rimmed with fire that burned him to his heart.

- wordcrafter

"...Will you lend me your shoulder, or are you going to hold a grudge?” 

How swiftly he could burst the bubble of another man’s anger! Justin felt lost without it; his shoulders slackened, and the haze flooded through his mind again until he could barely sort out Ethan’s face from the fluttering golden background of the grass. “No,” he sighed, and stooped to give the Hound support. “You hold enough for the two of us.”

- wordcrafter

Everything underneath him—he had not known there was anything underneath him—went suddenly askew, and Tera tilted wild on her axis. Did Tera have an axis? Did it matter?

- wordcrafter

She broke the stare first, deliberately turning the handle and stepping inside, and then, when she had shut the door at her back, standing very still to look at him once more.  The bouquet she held flashed in the light, reds and yellows and greens; but Justin was most conscious, oddly, of a pair of brilliant purple wedges peeking from beneath the hems of her slacks.

- wordcrafter
 

October 8, 2012

The Stereotyped Female

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"So God created man in His own image; in the image of God 
He created him; male and female 
He created them."

- genesis 1:27 

The other day when I was over at Jenny's house, I idly picked up a novel about Mary, Queen of Scots that neither of us had read and started in on it.  The writing was so-so; but the subject was the murder of Lord Darnley, and historic "cold cases" are, to me, fascinating things to study.  I was enjoying myself, until the author introduced the main female character (not Mary) and, I suppose, the love interest.  And then I started to groan.

The woman was the archetypical kick-rear-end character, constantly overawing the men with her fearsome wit and amazing skills.  She was, apparently, around to protect the main male character from his own naivete, but when I tried to look beyond her "coquettish smile," she seemed quite brainless.  ...And we'll not even go into how historically inaccurate such a character is for the 16th Century.

The character started me chugging on a long train of thought regarding the sexes in modern literature and the amount of stereotypes that crop up.  Judging more from reviews than from contemporary novels themselves, since I read few of them, it would appear that there are two ways to write a female character: either make her irritatingly "awesome" and capable of wiping out the entire male population with her pinky finger; or make her inept, the sort who sulks 80% of the novel and cries the other 20% and whom the hero must rescue at every turn.  I've seen a host of reviews that say of the heroine, "She started out kind of wimpy, but about seventy pages in she got her act together and kicked the villain's rear."  So apparently a lot of authors manage to cram both stereotypes into a single book - even into a single character!

The author of the novel on Mary, Queen of Scots is a man, and as I thought, it occurred to me that a man writing a female character is in a much tougher situation than a woman writing a male character.  Feminism has taken such a tight hold on our society: frankly, even if we're not "feminists," I think we must admit that we're more influenced by the movement than we would like to believe.  Women can be very jealous of their self-image, and there's the underlying belief that a woman can do anything, be anything, just as well as a man.  For men, this has to present a difficulty when they try to write a woman - because if they err toward the stereotype of a woman being helpless, they'll be labelled misogynistic, whereas if they err toward the stereotype of a woman in steel-toed boots, they'll be more leniently called "ignorant."  Women get off with being called "ignorant" no matter how they abuse a man's image, it seems.

And yet women are by no means innocent when it comes to stereotypes, female (painfully ironic) as well as male.  For in order to make men and women the same - which is really what feminism is attempting to do, and goes much beyond equality of the sexes - authors must either make women out of their men, or men out of their women.  Why is it that so many authors can't seem to avoid turning their characters into such caricatures?  Might it actually be because a great many of the underlying beliefs in our day and age are patently false?  That women and men are not the same, emotionally, mentally, or physically, and that maybe maybe women can't do everything just as well men can?

Saying such a thing tends to break a great many toes, but I think it's reasonable to look around and realize that most of the women we meet are neither spineless sponges nor steel-booted superheroes.  (We'll leave Black Widow out of the picture for now.)  They're somewhere in between, perhaps nearer one end of the spectrum than the other.  And it doesn't denigrate who a woman fundamentally is to be there.  The only reason we think it does is that we've got our notions of equality and capability and worth all mixed up and snarled.

I'm not saying there is no place for strong female characters, nor even that there is no place for Black Widow heroines.  But these characters have to be real, and not caricatures.  They've got to have foibles and weaknesses, and times when they just can't handle all the lemons life is throwing at them.  It is unrealistic that a character should be able to take care of herself a hundred percent of the time, or that she is never a failure at anything, or that she never has need of a man's help.   It's worse than unrealistic; it isn't real.  And no matter how many awesome fight scenes there are in which the heroine kills forty men at a time, and no matter how many times she tells the hero, "You can't save me; I've got to save myself," readers can spot the flatness of her character.  For even with all the effects of feminism, we still have some sense of what is real - and this isn't it.

what traits do you appreciate in a female character?

October 2, 2012

Beautiful People - Kay

pinterest: tempus regina
"I'm so glad I live in a world 
where there are Octobers."

Thus sayeth Anne Shirley of Green Gables, to which I answer, "Ah ha!  I always knew there was a reason I liked Anne!"

October is a beautiful month.  It means the proper beginning of autumn, and preparation for November's NaNo writing, and - best of all - my family and I going on our annual beach trip.  When a month is full of such lovelies, who could not adore it?   It being October means, however, that there are several Announcements.  First off, I already mentioned that I will be on vacation Oct. 12-19, and I doubt I will be posting during that period.  If I am very on-the-ball, I might have posts ready-made to go live; but since I doubt I'll be that proactive, and because last time I tried scheduling a post it didn't work, I don't think you'll see any Scribbles posts that week. 

Secondly, and much more fun for you, Jenny and I are celebrating the second anniversaries of our novels The Shadow Things and The Soldier's Cross this November!  Scribbles will be full of giveaways, chatty posts about the book and publishing and that good stuff, speaking French and German, covering screens and I know not what.  (Kudos if you got that reference.)  There will also be question-and-answer posts, so if you have anything to ask, hurry and send me your questions!  You may post them here, send them via Facebook, or email me, and I'll answer them during November.  It's going to be big, folks!

On now to the subject of this post.  I didn't do anything with Beautiful People last month; Sky and Georgie's meme is on hold due to the busy-ness of their lives at present, but I do like to shuffle the previous questions about and go on with it all the same.  This month I'm bringing in another character from Tempus Regina: Regina's younger brother, who isn't actually present through most of the story.

kay

1. What does he look like?

Kay is very thin and pale, all limbs and sharply-defined bones.  His hair sticks up in odd tufts and, being black, makes his face even paler and thinner; he has large eyes, brown with an odd, heavy coloring of watered gold.  If his mind had grown with his body, he might by this time have been the quintessential Byronic hero.  As it is, he looks something like a ghost.

2. How old is he?

Kay is fourteen - in years, at least.

3. What kind of personality does he have?  Introverted or extroverted?  Cheerful or morose?

Extroverted, despite being mentally ill.  Kay is friendly in the same careless, open way a child is friendly, for he knows no reason not to be.  Living in the slums of Victorian London, such naivete can get him into worlds of trouble, and Regina is often hard-pressed to keep her brother safe.  At the same time, Kay has the usual childish streak of selfishness about him and can be difficult to cope with; he is, in essence, the typical child of four in the body of a fourteen-year-old.

4. What animals does he like best?

Kay is fond of most animals.  He especially likes moths, and loves to watch the light through their wings as they fly around lamps.  Also, some years ago he saw a fawn in a picture book and now talks about it frequently; he is set on seeing one and petting it.

5. Is there something he is afraid of?

Kay is not afraid of much; he isn't self-aware enough to be afraid.  As long as he knows Regina is somewhere nearby, he can cope quite well with darkness and the usual childhood bogeymen.  He doesn't like spiders or beetles, and always makes Regina kill them.   He had croup frequently as a little boy and whenever he coughs, he's afraid he'll have it again.

6. If he had magic, how would it express itself?  (Alright, so that's original to me...)

I've asked the question, and now I'm having a hard time answering it.  His would not be an "elemental" magic - commanding the elements, that is; nor would he read other people's minds, for that wouldn't interest him.  I think he might be an animal-whisperer, with the power to call creatures and command them.  

7. Is he musical?

No.  He has not had access to any instruments in the past nine years, nor is he by nature musically-inclined.  He is, I believe, more of a painter, and would perhaps produce pleasant water-colors if given the opportunity.

8. Does he have any annoying habits?  Any habits at all?

Regina could list a host of annoying habits, but the childish selfishness mentioned before is at the root of them.  He asks far too many questions - why's and wherefore's and when's and who's, and all sorts of things that Regina cannot or would rather not answer.  He is often pushy, and excels at sulking when he doesn't get his way (which is often).  He hums to himself, too, which grates on Regina's nerves after a long day of work.  Sometimes, however, he will brush her hair, and that is one habit she does not dislike.

9. What sort of laugh does he have?

Kay rarely laughs, but he has a wide grin when amused.

10. How do other characters feel about him?

Regina's feelings for Kay are mixed.  He has been her burden for nine years and he makes a heavy load indeed, for it is difficult to care for a child and know at the same time that he will always be a child.  At times she feels herself close to hating him - but perhaps she only thinks that because she is not truly aware what either hate or love is.  But whatever her feelings, she'll still go to any lengths and make any sacrifice to keep him safe.  It's just that those lengths and sacrifices hurt her more than she would care to confess.

 
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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