February 25, 2013

Beautiful People - Morgaine

pinterest: tempus regina
This weekend, one particularly grueling afternoon's writing session over and yet another chapter complete, saw Tempus Regina cross 100,000 words.  Of course the business now is to try to keep the wordcount down, but it is still momentous, for I can hardly believe I have (more or less) only been writing this story since November.  I'm not, however, going to posit a date for its completion.  That would be the perfect excuse for the story to rise up in laughter and rebellion.

With the two main-est characters already interviewed, I waffled this month on who would be February's Beautiful Person: the rest of the cast is by no means as forthcoming as the Assassin.  As this character is perhaps the third most important, and at the moment the only narrator besides Regina, it seemed natural that she should be somewhat introduced.

morgaine

1. What does she look like?

Morgaine is a bit too pale to be reckoned a great beauty, but her hair, thick and black and not without waves, is a great asset.  She is fine-boned to the point of looking like a wastrel; her chin and mouth are especially narrow and her eyes, well-set and North Sea-grey, are large and uncannily like a cat's.  On the whole, however, she is pretty in a vague, immature way.

2. How old is she?

Morgaine is nineteen or twenty - not far from Regina's own age, but with a young, sheltered air that Regina has never had.

3. In three words, describe her personality.

Giving.  Loyal.  Placid.

4. What is her life's creed?

Ever faithful.  Never forgiving.

5. What element (fire, earth, water or air) best captures her?

She is most fully captured in the element of water - constant, idealistic, and sensitive.  On the other hand, she has ironic streaks of fire and some of the stubbornness of earth.

6. What is her favorite season and type of weather?

If she must be out in it, she has no love for rain; however, if she can be at her own hearthside by the Fisherman's chair, with his arm on her shoulder, she loves a winter gale that shakes the roof and the walls and makes the flames gutter.  She must have warmth - to be cold is to be like the dead - but because her eyes are not strong, she prefers days of thick cloud cover: thin clouds merely reflect the light with a more painful sheen.  Trailing through a fog gives her a sense of secrecy and dominance, and the full moon on a midsummer's night is a good friend.

7. Does she have any habits?

If at all possible, Morgaine washes and brushes her hair every night with a brew of rosemary essence.  When sitting she must always arrange herself tailor-fashion, her ankles tucked up in meditation pose; and when she has found that perfect position, she can stare into the middle distance forever without stirring. 

8. What does she passionately love?

Fire. Warmth.  The moon and moonlight.  Her dignity.  The Dragon. Two men who call her in opposite directions.

9. What does she passionately hate?

Water (ironically) in any form.  The sound of coughing.  Her rival - and the Dragon, because they are linked.

10. If she had a song, what would it be?

"Peasant's Promise" by Blackmore's Night reminds me a little of both her and Regina, but her primary song, also by Blackmore's Night, is certainly "Locked within the Crystal Ball."

fire and water, earth and sky
mysteries surround us, legends never die
they live for the moment, lost in time, I can hear them call
locked within the crystal ball

February 20, 2013

More Than Pages Flying By

pinterest
This started out as a little post on the benefits of the shocking habit of underlining in books, but as posts are wont to do, it escalated.  I realized as I started out that I really wanted to say something else, and that underlining was tangential; and also that I couldn't say what I wanted to say without first saying some Stuff about some other Stuff.  This, then, is actually a post on reading in general - a snapshot of my thoughts on and approach to the business.

In more literate circles today, it is a common thing to hear people sighing over reading being a lost art.  In general, I tend to agree with the sentiment: the majority approach to reading is not what it was a hundred or two hundred years ago.  On the other hand, like most nostalgic sentiments, it is not entirely true.  Two hundred and three hundred years ago, books were hardly accessible to the general working public - the Enlightenment was significant precisely because of its impact on the dissemination of literature.  Books are familiar things to us now.

And besides that, the fact of the matter is that there are still many people nowadays who do read.  Some while ago in a doctor's waiting room I noticed a mother and her son, both with their noses in books.  Naturally I thought, "Ah ha!  Good habits, good habits!"  ...Then I managed to get a glimpse of the covers and found that she was reading Fifty Shades of Gray, and he was reading Catching Fire.  Now, I have nothing against the Hunger Games series (though personally I thought him too young for it), but the combination was disheartening in the extreme.  It is symptomatic of the "just as long as they're reading" philosophy - as though there were something essentially soul-bettering about the practice of taking in words off a page.  Pinterest says so, so it must be true!

Pinterest aside, there is nowhere that this trend is more noticeable than on a site like Goodreads.  I like Goodreads.  I like keeping track of what I read, and when I read it, and what I thought about it at the time; sometimes I'll even go back later and realize my opinion has changed.  But like most such websites, the practice of adding books, seeing your "bookshelves" grow, and preening over the amount of books read in a year becomes addictive, and the emphasis is frequently on numbers.  If I just read 50 instead of 30 books a year, I will be smarter - or at least I'll look smarter, and hey, that's what counts.  So readers tear through heaps of young adult novels or children's books, some of them good, some of them bad, most of them fluff and most of them forgotten too soon.  The magic seems to be in the reading, not in the books.

This is not the attitude we ought to have when we read.  Naturally, there are times when we need to relax with a light story, even a children's book; there is nothing wrong with allowing the brain a rest and a pick-me-up, anymore than there is something wrong with sitting down with a good movie after a tiring day.  But this pattern should not be characteristic of our lives.  Our list of books-read should not be 80, or 70, or even 60% composed of fluff.

Reading is not an automatic process by which we gain wisdom.  The words and books themselves are what exercise the mind, and in the words of another quote that pops up frequently on the internet: "One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us."  We should not approach reading with a philosophy of carelessness, and we ought to think more than we do about what books we spend time reading.  I am not talking about "bad" books, because most of us accept that concept: I mean the average, the fluff, the entertaining and non-taxing reads that can be whipped through in three days max and which thus teach us absolutely nothing about perseverance.  Methinks, too, that Mr. Darcy would not consider this to be "improving our minds by extensive reading."

Half the moral, then, is that more books does not necessarily mean more knowledge and wisdom.  We must first take care in what we read, and then (the other half of the moral) how we read.  Just as everyone has his own method of writing, everyone will have his own method of reading; these are a few of the tactics I employ.

vary genre

Note that by genre I do not mean the difference between YA dystopian and YA fairytale, but something more like the difference between a biography, a fantasy, and a classic.  Goodreads' "shelves" are helpful in this respect, allowing me to have different categories for history, historical-fiction, fantasy, classics, mystery, what-have-you.  A quick glance at the list of recent reads is enough to tell me that my last-book-but-one was a fantasy, the previous a mystery, and it is time for something rather more sizable.  I am not strict in this respect; my reading pace keeps me varied.  But if I find myself jaded in reading, it is generally due to an overemphasis of either light or heavy reads, and a switch is good for the brain. 

try not to rush

I confess, when I get toward the end of a book I tend to speed up - because nothing beats the thrill of finishing, especially a long and weighty book.  But rushing does not help cement it in my mind, so I have to force myself to go slow and actually think about what I read.

underline

Yes, the actual topic of this post!  I know many readers scorn and deride this, feeling that it somehow desecrates the book, but it is extremely helpful - the practice, like the repetition of a sentence, sinks it more deeply into the reader's mind.  And, too, it leaves the reader's mark on the book; I don't know about you, but I like to see what passages stood out to previous readers, and I like to feel myself continuing the trend.  I tend not to underline in novels simply because it brings me out of the flow of the story-world, but if there is a section I want to remember, I can always write it down in a notebook for reference.

review

After finishing and publishing this post, I realized I had made an unforgivable omission (I blame the headache entirely).  There is a fourth and final step to my approach to reading, which Goodreads also assists in - reason #25 to like the site!  When I finish a book, I almost always write up a brief review: summarizing what I liked, what I didn't, and what, in general, I really gleaned from the pages.  It is for myself, not for other readers, so I tend to be quite subjective here.  I try to keep it short and to the point, and I also try to make it fair, level-headed, and as peaceable as I can - even with a horrible book, there is no excuse for a rage-fest.  No reader should revel in atrocities, nor revel in making fun of them. 

Another part of this process for me is reviewing the book on the review site I help run, Squeaky Clean Reviews.  These are much more in depth, and as I try here to be more objective in my conclusion, it is really the more helpful of the two; I find that a book I review here sticks with me in much more clarity than a book I merely acknowledge on Goodreads.  There's a reason we had to do book reports in school, and when done correctly, it is as enjoyable and satisfying as it is helpful.  My course for literature this year is entirely on Shakespeare and includes detailed essays on each work as I complete it.  I still wouldn't call myself a real Shakespearean enthusiast, but I really do enjoy the process, and I am certain it has helped me engage and understand the writing far more than I would otherwise.  You may not consider it a fun idea, but I would encourage you to give it a shot and see if it helps you retain the book more thoroughly.

February 15, 2013

The Villain Parallel

pinterest: wordcrafter
Villains are a fascinating set. Probably they shouldn’t be; probably we should not be so terribly intrigued by the machinations of the criminal mind. But we are. As writers, we love to peel back the layers of an antagonist (like an onion!) and explore the dynamics of his character, the motives behind his actions, the backstory that helped to shape him. It’s like a train wreck: it’s just so awful that you can’t look away.

 Some while back I wrote a post on the outworking of the villainous mind and on three critical points of his character – his motives and goals, his means of achieving those goals, and his opportunities to put those methods into action. If the antagonist is lacking in any one of these, he has failed at his purpose in literary life, which is to make the protagonist’s life as miserable and his subsequent triumph as glorious as possible. Much as the villain would like it to be otherwise, that is his true raison d’etre. Motive, means, and opportunity are the pillars of his life.

These points, however, are fairly intuitive and require little discussion: we all know what the villain is there for, and we all know that in one way or another he and the hero must butt heads.  It is, to quote Darth Vader, his destiny.  On a certain level, however, this is mere coincidence.  The hero and the villain are tossed together; the hero crosses the villain; the villain retaliates; and so the world spins down.  There is no real connection between the two.  It is the old story of the knight with the monster, or the more recent story of the hero with the evil overlord.

 Such a dynamic has been and can be done quite well, but the interesting thing about the villain-hero relationship is that, when you begin digging, you find it goes much deeper.  You find it isn't coincidence after all, and it isn't that the two just happened to peeve each other.  In some of the best villains, there is a marked parallel to the hero.  The phrase is cliche now and I don't recommend employing it, but it is no accident that "We are not so different" is a common remark from the antagonist to the hero.

To snatch an example, when we think of The Lord of the Rings, the main villain that springs to mind is Sauron himself - but for most of Frodo's journey, his closest antagonist is actually Gollum.  Sauron is way off in Mordor; Gollum is right there by Frodo's side.  And Gollum, unlike Sauron, has a close connection with Frodo.  Both are hobbits, both ring-bearers, and Frodo feels the same pull toward the Ring that destroyed Gollum years before.  In situation, they really are "not so different," and that is what makes Frodo's eventual triumph so much more poignant.  Gollum serves as the backdrop for the heroism of Frodo.

There is a quote attributed to Tom Hiddleston, the actor who played Loki in "Thor" and "The Avengers," that has been making its rounds of the internet recently: "Every villain is a hero in his own mind."  But there is a flipside of that, for I think that every hero has a bit of the villain in his heart.  We don't like to realize it; it makes our heroes less pristine, makes them more brutally honest and more like the villain than we are comfortable admitting.  We want the two to be separate, but oftentimes there is little that makes them to differ except the state of the heart - and when you get down to that bedrock, it makes both characters stand out in starker relief.

but there is a spirit in man, 
and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.
(job 32:8)

February 12, 2013

Snippets of February

pinterest: tempus regina
 An update on the development of a new look for Scribbles.  For those of you who didn't hear, Bree (of Bree Holloway Blog Designs and also Tea and Bree) is designing the template; she and I have been going back and forth about the look, and let's just say I'm pretty excited about what she has pulled together.  It is much cleaner and more open than the current look, and will hopefully be easier to navigate.  Keep an eye out for its debut!

In other news, the time has rolled around once more for Katie's Snippets post.  This month last year I was about halfway through The Running Tide, writing about ships and the sea, duels and blackmail; now I am firmly wedged into Tempus Regina (I won't actually know how far I am until I finish), writing about assassins and pocketwatches and the seven layers of heaven.  Last year my main character was in the ruins of a theater in Sicily; this year my character is kicking around the wilds of Scotland.  And interestingly enough, I look back on last February's snippets and think, "Has it been that long?  Huh!"

snippets for february

A breeze had begun to stir, turning the leaves belly-up and ruffling the hair that fell, shaggy as a wolf’s winter coat, on [his] neck; it carried the scent of the morning fire to brush Regina’s lips, and it tasted like iron. Distantly she heard the squirrel, still at war with the birds high up in the rowan... 

- tempus regina

Then the tremor ran out. He of the blue-eyes was an awkward boy again, beating a hasty retreat, and the Assassin was loosening from his broad, braced stance and crashing wearily onto a bench beside her. “Shoo,” he said. “I do not know what it is that makes a man believe he has rights to my table. He ate none of your pomegranate, I hope?” 

 Regina stared at him. Pomegranate… “No,” she said, and started when the word broke apart. “No, he didn’t eat the pomegranate.”

- tempus regina

 They made a fire some feet off the road, under a birch in half-bloom; the Assassin remarked, as he gathered great armloads of its dead wood and Regina pulled blindly at Piso’s straps, that the tree’s spirit kept the evil eye at bay. She gave herself a hiccupping laugh and threw a sideways glance at the carver. His was the only pair of eyes she wanted to be free from, and the birch twigs he had found seemed to have no effect on him.

- tempus regina

And she remembered, too, shards of glass on a dirty floor, casting back her reflection as the White Demon cast it back now.

- tempus regina

She dug her fingers into her throat and her elbows into her knees, watching, sick and fascinated, while the Dragon spun from its chain. Clockwise—and back again. Clockwise—and back again. Going one way the garnets laughed; going the other, they mocked.

- tempus regina

 The room had gone silent, the world and its noise buzzing on beyond the flap; they were in their own firelit bubble, she and the Fisherman, or perhaps their own cocoon. She wondered, achingly, if there would be any glorious emergence for them.

- tempus regina

It took him some time, for the whortleberry fought to keep him, but when he was free he sat upright, looked at Regina and remarked, “Ah ha, so you’re awake properly now. Shades, but don’t you look worse by daylight!”

- tempus regina

where are your characters this month?

February 5, 2013

Flawed at Heart

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Back in December, after I wrote a post on strawmen in literature and followed it up with a list of just a few significantly flawed literary heroes, someone asked if I could do the same for heroines.  Since then it has been on my list of Things to Write About, but I find it is not so easy as I thought it would be. Perhaps it is because I prefer writing and reading from the hero's perspective, and find when I look on my shelves that most books have male protagonists.  It may also be because most of those books are classics, and classics tend to have sweet, charming, innocent heroines.  However, it really wouldn't do to put off this post any longer, so I will make do with what I can dig up.

Thus, Joy, here is the best response I can muster.

anne of green gables

We can hardly start talking about flawed heroines without running headlong into this red-haired girl, who broke a slate over a boy's head for calling her 'carrots.'  Anne Shirley is nothing if not flawed.  Her imagination is her most memorable feature, and while it brings charm and life to those around her, it is most certainly a double-sided blade.  She has a temper to match the color of her hair; which of us does not remember her flying in Mrs. Lynde's face and calling her a sour old gossip?  She could talk both hind legs off the proverbial mule (who is always getting, in my opinion, the short end of the stick).  Less prominent, but perhaps more basic, are her struggles with pride and her propensity to hold grudges for ridiculously long periods of time.

pride & prejudice

We brought up Mr. Darcy's flaws last time, so it would hardly be fair to leave Elizabeth Bennet from the picture this time.  She primarily represents the second half of Jane Austen's memorable title, for she judges upon appearance and is adamant concerning her own hasty opinions.  (This is a trait shared by another well-loved heroine, Margaret Hale of North & South - understandably, perhaps, since Mr. Darcy and Mr. Thornton also share significant flaws.)  Elizabeth has a sharp tongue, as well, a fault many of us - myself included! - can easily relate to.  These flaws, like Anne's, are some of the most fundamental aspects of her overall literary character.

the scarlet pimpernel

Another heroine this list could not do without.  Lady Blakeney, wife of the foppish Sir Percy, appears at first blush to be even more flawed than either Elisabeth Bennet or Anne Shirley.  Though a commoner during the Reign of Terror, she is quite as proud as any aristocrat.  Her revenging herself upon a man who wronged her and her brother leads to the death of the man's entire family by the guillotine.  And, of course, when we meet her she is estranged from her husband, scornful (albeit deservedly) of his ways, and something of a flirt.  When pressed between a moral Scylla and Charybdis, Marguerite is also willing to sacrifice her conscience to save her brother's life.  The tension of The Scarlet Pimpernel pretty much revolves around Marguerite's moral flaws.

the queen's thief

Again, Eugenides, the Thief of Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, meets his match in the character of the Queen of Attolia.  The Queen has attained her position as most monarchs of her kingdom have in years past: through brutality.  She is willing to kill - and more particularly, to murder - to attain the safety and prestige of Attolia.  Rigidly just, but almost never merciful, she will extract her pound of flesh from anyone who crosses her.  Indeed, the Queen has few good traits at all.  Turner only manages to procure the reader's sympathy by revealing the moral struggle that still goes on inside the Queen, and by showing how other, better-loved characters feel about her.

daddy-long-legs

Judy Abbott, the heroine of Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs, is not such an obviously flawed character as the above-mentioned protagonists; but like any good character, the defects are there.  In escaping the rigidity of the orphanage in which she was raised, Judy naturally exercises her newfound freedom and pursues her own way in all things.  She is frequently obstinate, sometimes rude, and quite willing to flout the little authority that "Daddy-Long-Legs" attempts to employ.  Quite feminist and strong-willed, she can actually be rather irritating.

the gammage cup

This character, Muggles, is even less clearly flawed.  In general, she is quite the stand-up gal, quiet, patient, the sort of character who minds her own business and lets others mind theirs.  However, this personality lends itself to other kinds of flaws.  Muggles can be too meek, too submissive, and more willing to be walked on than to risk defending herself - aspects of her personality that only serve to make her more uniquely amazing as a heroine.  There are no fireworks about Muggles, as there are with Elizabeth Bennet or Marguerite Blakeny.  She is a simple, normal person with simple, normal flaws.  She aptly illustrates the truth that a character need not have prominent flaws in order for the reader to see his or her growth; the struggles may be much smaller than a hot temper or murderous grudges.  The flaw need only be real, and the author need only bring it to light.
 
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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