November 29, 2012

The How and the Why

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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?

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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?

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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

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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

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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.

November 6, 2012

Fun Facts and The Soldier's Cross

pinterest: the soldier's cross
Yesterday Jenny shared with you some fun facts behind the writing of The Shadow Things: rewriting, map-making, contract-signing facts.  Now it is my turn to conjure up for you some trifling tidbits from behind the publication of The Soldier's Cross.  Did you know...

1. I had a great, detailed, intricate outline when I began writing, and ditched it almost before I had used it.  So sad, really; I spent such a deal of time over that outline...  Incidentally, I wrote it in a large pink-and-white spiral-bound notebook during our annual beach trip.  I still have the notebook, and somewhere around here, the outline also exists.

2. The Soldier's Cross was not my first, but my second attempt at NaNoWriMo.  In 2008, caught up in the charm of this newly-discovered challenge, I launched proudly into a story just as the founders would have wanted me to: no plot, no theme, no ending in mind.  It was about a modern-day idiot of a magician.  Bad idea right there: I can't write modern-day setting worth a hoot.  Anyhow, I think I got about 17,000 words total.  Yeah...

3.  Coming up with designs to show the cover designer approximately what I wanted for The Soldier's Cross was hard.  And fun.  I got to trawl through shelves at Barnes & Noble, writing down the titles of covers that caught my eye.  I also found that I'm particularly fond of covers with a "watered" technique, where different aspects run together.

4.  I went with my father to sign the contract for my novel, and when Jenny signed hers, I went along with her and her husband.  After that we went to Chick-fil-a, despite Jenny's cold.  Good times.

5.  I listened to a great deal of music while writing The Soldier's Cross; apparently something about me has greatly changed, because I can't listen to music and write now.  I recall large doses of Mannheim Steamroller (The Holly and the Ivy is a favorite), Fernando Ortega (Noonday Devil especially), and Twila Paris (Daughter of Grace is really the theme song for the novel).  When I picture the winter scenes, particularly in the convent, my mind goes to The Holly and the Ivy.

6. I still can't make a pretty signature, and it pains me to look at books from the 1800s with beautiful signatures in calligraphic font.  Enough said.

7.  My clearest memory of plotting The Soldier's Cross is of the scene with the Duke of Gloucester and the slobbering dog.  How charming.

8. Although I finished out NaNo 2009 with 62,000 words, I put the novel aside for a month or so because I could not bring myself to kill a character who most certainly had to die.  I believe it was my dad who at last informed me that I needed to buckle down and write the stupid scene.  (Well, I hope it's not stupid, and he wouldn't have said it in this terms anyhow, but you get the idea.)  That makes it very difficult to say exactly how long it took me to write the book.

9. I finished writing on a Sunday afternoon, and made the mistake of immediately calling up Jenny to tell her all about it.  I say this was a mistake because I happened to wake her up from a nap, and that's just not something you do if you value your skin.  She didn't flay me (hard to do through the phone), but she was not terribly excited.  Finishing novels on Sundays is not recommended.

November 5, 2012

Historical versus Fictional

The blog party (and, you know, NaNo) continues!  Jenny wrote up a post over at The Penslayer with some fun facts behind the writing and publishing of The Shadow Things.  I'll be following suit in a day or two, but today's post here at Scribbles is actually not here at Scribbles at all.  Joy of Fullness of Joy was taking a hiatus from the internet this month, and she asked if I would write up a guest post for her blog.  The topic was historical fiction, which turned out to be ideal for the theme of the party.  Here's a sneaky peek:

historical fiction: just how historical
does it have to be? 

The necessity of historical accuracy is a pretty well accepted concept in today's literature.  In past centuries it was typical for "historians" to twist and embellish history according to their own bias, or whoever was funding their literary efforts; nowadays there is at least an ideal of presenting a true, unbiased picture of the past (ironic, rather, since the importance of history has reached such a low in the minds of our generation).  Although we still come across novels where events or characters are blatantly misrepresented, there is a tendency to scorn the author when the mistakes are recognized.  This much is agreed upon by most writers: extensive research is indispensable.

All the same, I think just about every writer who has any scruples has wondered, just how accurate do we have to be?   How many dates do we have to incorporate?  How many events can we get away with leaving out altogether?  How much care should we take in handling a historical figure?  Why can't Abraham Lincoln be a vampire slayer?  Do we really have to specify the exact type of food banqueters in 1317 would be eating?  Is it necessary to record every single skirmish of the Civil War our particular regiment went through?  Is the whole world going to end if we get our hero's weapon wrong?  Are we actually creating a tear in the space-time continuum with our inaccuracy?

read the rest on Joy's blog, and don't forget to leave a comment!
because comments make the world go 'round.

November 1, 2012

Blog Party Giveaway!

It's finally time!  November is here, which means NaNo, Thanksgiving, an enormous amount of birthdays, and the birthday party for The Soldier's Cross and The Shadow Things.  We told you it was going to be big, and hopefully we won't disappoint.  We've got posts lined up for the whole month: everything from question-and-answer sessions to marketing tips to discussions on Historical Fiction, Christianity, and the whole shebang.

To kick off the month, Jenny and I are hosting a giveaway of two copies (each) of our novels.  (Because who doesn't love a free book?)  There will be two winners at the end of the month, which gives everyone a better chance at winning a copy, and each winner will receive one copy of The Soldier's Cross and one copy of The Shadow Things.  With Christmas just around the bend, you can get started on gathering presents early.  Or you could, you know, keep it for yourself.  That always works, too.

At any rate, here's the scoop on how to enter.  It's quite simple, really.

Give the party a shout-out on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter - the more participants the merrier!  Then let us know by leaving a comment on this post, and you'll be entered to win.

If you have already read either The Soldier's Cross or The Shadow Things, post your thoughts in an Amazon or Goodreads review.  Then leave a second comment with a link to the review, and you will earn a second entry.  Reviews not written in November cannot be entered.

And that's it!  Hurry and get your entries in; you will win brownie points, at the very least, and hopefully shiny copies of both novels as well.  The giveaway closes November 30, so in the midst of the mad scribbling some of you will be doing, don't forget to take advantage of this 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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