March 26, 2013

Lionheart

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I'm not a feminist.

Most of you are probably already aware of that; I kind of gave myself away with my post on Female Stereotypes back in October.  Apart from that, I think you will find my stance on the relationship of Man and Woman sprinkled through the romance in each of my novels - from The Soldier's Cross (which, in the main character's case, has little more than an undercurrent of romance), to Wordcrafter (where the quite modern main character struggles with the conservatism of Tera), to the Sea Fever novels (where Tip quite obviously takes the role of guardian to Marta). 

I have no patience with the flimsy cardboard women of old romantic literature, but neither have I the slightest interest in passing the time of day with such do-it-alls as inspired October's post.  I like happy mediums, and the romances in my novels thus far have reflected that.  Not by plan, certainly: to me as the writer, these relationships developed almost coincidentally.  "I can't take any credit for them," as Lucy Muir would say: "they just...happened!"  But develop that way they did.

Not so with Tempus Regina.  In so many ways this book has launched me out of my comfort zone, has, I hope, forced me to expand and expand some more.  I made a list several months ago of the things that are particularly tricky about it: the female main character, the span of time and research, the traveling the characters do.  One thing I did not write down was "romance."  At that time the romance between Regina and, well, Some Fellow was but the kernel of an idea, one I was fond of and longed to develop, but which had not yet come to life.

I've come quite a ways in the story since then: we seem to have gone to one end of the earth and are now headed for the other.  The chapter I am currently writing contains a scene I've been longing to write almost since Day One - you probably all know that feeling! - but the beginning has been slow, and so I've been thinking on this romance and wondering a little at it.  On the surface, these characters - and therefore this relationship - seem to depart so vastly from anything I have written to date.

Regina herself is a tough cookie.  She's not a steel magnolia - she's really just steel.  Having lived in London of 1849 for years, she has had some of its smoke, some of its colorlessness, some of its mercilessness ground into her.  Now she is the time queen, with a power and a persona that inspire fear.  Her strength and her dominance make her romance, not hard to write, but new.  Because if she is the power-figure, and if she terrifies those with whom she comes into contact, her romance could hardly be of the beaten-path variety.  She demands a man who can, in his own way, match her and surpass her in strength.

[because I'm pretty sure Tip would be thoroughly freaked out by her.]

That has been the joy of writing the romance of Tempus Regina.  At first blush, I suppose readers might think Regina is the dominant figure, that she is the one with all the brains and the chutzpah.  And at first blush, she is.  But down at the heart of the matter, in the things that count, the hero of Tempus Regina is more powerful still.  They're like Sophie and Howl, like Katherina and Petruchio.  They're a pair.

Yesterday I discovered the song King and Lionheart.  I had seen some of the lyrics elsewhere and liked them, and then when I listened to the song, I thought - naturally - of these two characters.

and when the world comes to an end
I'll be there to hold your hand
'cause you're my king and I'm your lionheart

But then I realized that matters are different in Tempus Regina.  Because Regina is a queen, but the man who stands beside her is her lionheart.  And for me, that's where the thrill and the joy of this story lie.

March 22, 2013

A Cross Section

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I have quite a few books.  Not as many as some people, and not as many as I would like, but I've got books.  Most of them line a six-shelf white bookcase just inside my room and to the right, either standing on end like they're meant to or lying across the tops of books-that-are-roughly-the-same-height.  A number occupy a brown entertainment unit, sitting two layers deep and being, all around, rather difficult to access.  Whenever I'm feeling blue or idle, I drift through my room, look over the covers on each shelf and occasionally pull one off just to flip through.  They are friends, and they make me feel at home.

I was just thinking about this fondness, not just for books, but for my books, the other day as I pulled Kidnapped off the shelf and ran my thumb through the pages.  I think most readers can understand this feeling of love for their own books, and special love for particular works; and as I was trying to get my sluggish mind to determine what I would write about today, I thought, "Why not these books?"  I wrote a post on some of my favorites back in 2011, and though naturally the list has changed since then as I read more, I didn't feel like redoing it.  Instead I decided to pick one book (semi-randomly) from some of the shelves and give it attention.

Kidnapped (R.L. Stevenson): This is not at all random and is actually cheating a little, since the book is off the shelf being reread, but one can't help that.  In the grand scheme of things Kidnapped is a very new favorite: I finished reading it for the first time exactly a year ago, in March 2012.  It is a story of adventure - adventure on the sea, adventure through the highlands of Scotland - as most of Stevenson's works are.  The main character, a hard-headed Lowlander named David Balfour, sets out to gain his rightful inheritance and becomes embroiled in the political tensions of the Highlands - and particularly in the affairs of the outlaw Jacobite Alan Breck Stewart.  My love for the story was not at all slow in coming: I fell in love with Stevenson's ironic humor and sparkling characters at first sight. David is a stalwart, upright chap with a dry, biting kind of wit.  Alan Breck is wholly lovable, an absolute gem, and a swift favorite.  And I don't have many favorites.

My edition of Kidnapped is a paperback Modern Library Classic - nothing magnificent, but it is one of those that seems tied to the story itself.  I am extremely fond, not just of the tale, but of the book.  I take it down frequently to flip through (and sniff: I'm an incorrigible book sniffer).

Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte): I haven't read this book in quite a while, except one time fairly recently when I took it down to reread the part where you Find Out Who Is Locked Up.  When I did read it for the first time, several years ago, I didn't know anything about it.  I didn't even know about the plot point for which it is famous.  I was right there with Jane as she learned Mr. Rochester's secret; I recall I read that section in the evening, and it gave me such a shock I dove out of bed in search of someone to tell.  I'm pretty sure everyone else knew it, so it was probably just me babbling incoherently while they nodded in vague sympathy and thought, "Wow, she's ignorant!"

My copy of Jane Eyre is a hardback Courage Classics edition; originally it had a dust jacket, but I took it off in an effort to render the book slightly less hideous.  Seriously, Jane and Mr. Rochester looked like apes.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy): I think most of you Scribbles readers are Scarlet Pimpernel fans, so this one needs little explanation.  This book was another that I read years ago and had no knowledge of at the time - I somehow managed to be extremely ignorant when it came to classics.  The back of the edition I have gave it away, as synopses often do, and in revenge I whipped out a black Sharpie and blotted out that paragraph forever.  Now whoever gets the copy (an Aerie paperback with a huge orange "2 for $1 WAL-MART!" mark on the front, detracting a great deal from the picture of the two men dueling) will not have it given away.  Just in case they're as blissfully unaware of the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity as I was.

The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien): Jenny was the first one to read these to me - before or after we watched the films, I don't remember.  I think it was before.  We got through the first two books and about halfway through the third, but I seem to remember finishing it on my own; I also recall she skipped the Council of Elrond, and when I went back to it a few years later, I was shocked to find how much I had missed.  I haven't gone back to them in some time; after the movies came out I was a huge fan, but that wore off and while I still appreciate the books, the series isn't my absolute favorite.

I am pretty fond of the copies I own, however, since I scored a deal on a set of unread Del Rey paperbacks at a secondhand bookstore.  They're so perfect and fit on the shelf so well, it actually seems a shame to take them off and read them.

The Tall Ships (John Jennings): This book has an interesting story behind it.  I forget why it came up in conversation, but my father remembered that there was a novel he had read years before dealing with the Jeffersonian Embargo, and could not for the life of him remember its author or the whole of its title.  He only knew it had something to do with "tall ship."  We had a deal to do finding it, but we did manage to track it down and to get a nice Doubleday hardback.  While there are some elements of the story that I took issue with, it was interesting to discover a novel set in the Age of Sail that focused more on the characters and their growth than on any individual event (coughHornblowercough).  Jennings' style is much closer to that of The White Sail's Shaking and The Running Tide than either Forester's or O'Brian's.

Alchemy (E.J. Holmyard): I picked up this book for research and though I have only read the first chapter so far, that first chapter was enough to pique my interest.  I don't know that I will necessarily read it straight through - that depends on how engaging it is - but it is a fascinating topic.  (And it actually makes some amount of sense under Aristotelian philosophy!)  Being a writer is such fun: you have an excuse to research the most outlandish things.  This copy is, alas, merely a bright red Dover paperback with several USED stickers on the back and spine.  To have an old hardback would be lovely, but ho hum!

so there's a cross section of my shelves.  what about yours?

March 18, 2013

The Trouble with Imitation

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Back in September of last year - was it really that long ago? - I scribbled a post for myself and for others on writing as an art.  With so many blogs and self-help books inundating us with tips and keys and the essence(s) of story-telling (I think I saw two different essences in the same week), we can easily fall into the trap of looking at writing as a mechanical process.  Fuse this tricky piece called "a good plot" with this other piece called "good writing" and ta da! Bestseller!

This approach appeals to us because it seems at first blush to offer a quick path to perfection in our writing.  We all want to improve, and the idea that if we just follow three easy steps we'll attain to the literary heights is awfully tempting.  In my post, however, I talked about something we probably all know and must simply be reminded of: the fact that writing is not mechanics, but

a process of growing art.

This current post is something of an extension of that basic notion, for even after we're rooted in it, there is still the difficult issue of knowing how to encourage that growing art to grow. We get to the place where we realize, "Oh goodness.  My writing seriously needs help, doesn't it?"  Maybe the pieces we've written before aren't so bad, maybe they're total rubbish, but either way there ought to come a point sooner or later in time when we realize it is not the best that it can be.  We come to grips with the fact that there are writers out there who just frankly do it - or did it - better than we, and then we begin to wonder how to coax further growth out of our own writing.

"Learn from the best" ought, really and truly, to be trumpeted more often than it is.  Read the Greats.  Don't settle for mediocre writers, the ones who don't do it as well as you, or who write on the same level as you, or who are maybe a little better: digest those writers whose works amaze you, blow you away, and leave you inspired (and perhaps a little jealous) after you've picked yourself up and pieced yourself back together.  "A man of ability," wrote William G. T. Shedd, "for the chief of his reading, should select such works as he feels beyond his own power to have produced."  What ho, Mr. Shedd, you said it truly!

Unfortunately, even this excellent advice can be warped, and writers who do try to "learn from the best" frequently fall into another trap of believing that it is also necessary to copy the best.  I wouldn't say this is always conscious; perhaps the underlying reasoning is mere mistaken logic, where writers suppose that if this man writes this way, and is reckoned a Great, then to be great we must write this way as well.  We're told we are supposed to imitate these people, and to an extent - the extent of a child following in the footsteps of an adult, before that child has learned to walk and direct himself - that is true.  But we've got to be wary of taking the principle too far.

We learn from others, ones who have gone before and ones who are going along with us: true.  We glean ruses, tactics, and strategies from them: also true.  We are not, however, meant to piece together little bits and pieces of authors' styles into something we call "our own" (and if we do, it can only ever be a literary Frankenstein's monster - because no one can forge the original author's signature with the same flair).  Even less are we meant to pick one favorite author and imitate them in all things.  That is to say -

we should not try writing characters like Dickens

we should not try writing romance like Austen

we should not try writing emotion and description like Sutcliff

we should not try writing an allegory like Lewis

and we really, truly, for the love of peachy goodness shouldn't try writing fantasy like Tolkien.

For me, this meant a realization that I am not Jenny and should not try to write like her.  I do not share her poetry-prose flair, and to attempt it would appear forced.  I can certainly look up to her and try to write as well as she does, but always in my own style and what people call "voice."  I admire R.L. Stevenson's descriptions and the masterful plots of Dickens.  Austen's wit is positively hilarious.  Sutcliff can take your heart and wring it like a sponge.  Lewis and Tolkien were masters of their art.  We ought to read them, look up to them, learn from them (and never stop doing so!), but we must also find our own ground, plant our roots in it and say, "This is my place.  I'll gain nutrients from all the writers I come across, but I am confident enough in my own voice not to mimic that of others."

It's a growing art, this writing business.  But it is important to realize that it varies from one person to the next, and we're not meant to try to graft ourselves into some other writer's vine - so that when someone asks us, "Would you rather write like this author or this author?" our response should be, "Um, cake, please?"

March 12, 2013

Sparks

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Jenny just wrote a post on the elements that have inspired, and continue to inspire, her novel Gingerune.  We both did something like this for our participation in the "next big thing" blog hop back in January, but that was only one question amid several and there was little room for detail; it seemed a good idea to take more space to elaborate.

Since January I have written some 20 or 30k words and I find myself late in the story, staring at what I believe is the descent - ascent, I suppose, but it feels like a descent - to the climactic chapters.  It's altogether mind-boggling.  But at any rate, I am at that thickest of thick parts where just about everything I come across reminds me of the story to a greater or lesser degree.

books

Tempus Regina involves and will involve a great deal of research, since it covers so much time.  One of the earliest to get the story off the ground was, not surprisingly, The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff.  It invoked images of one world I wished to create, giving me the first glimmers of light as I ventured into the writing process, and I would thank Sutcliff for it if I could.  At the other end of the spectrum, Dickens' Bleak House helped sketch the underworld of Victorian London in my mind; I do manage to thank him by letting him make a cameo appearance, albeit not a very flattering one.  And then more recently, and for no particular reason, I found in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew a kindred spirit.

poetry

I don't read a great deal of poetry, but there are a few snatches of verse that fit Tempus Regina: mostly Tennyson, but also Eiluned Lewis' The Birthright and the classic final line from Lord Byron's When We Two Parted:

if I should meet thee
after long years
how should I greet thee?
with silence and tears.

There is also a particular line from Tennyson's Morte D'Arthur that I keep pinned to my corkboard and refer to from time to time:

...the other swiftly strode from ridge to ridge,
clothed with his breath, and looking, as he walk'd,
larger than human on the frozen hills.

songs

Everywhere I turn, there seems to be a song that fits one part of Tempus Regina or another.  I think in many cases it is wholly my own bias.  The first ever to be connected with the story was Escala's Requiem for a Tower, and then Street of Dreams by Blackmore's Night.  The march style of Sarabande, also by Escala, is appropriate as well.  Andrew Peterson's lovely Carry the Fire makes a wonderful theme for the story as a whole, and several relationships within it in particular; Maire Brennan's Hear My Prayer fits nicely with Regina.  They make sense enough, but other songs are rather crazier - like Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Falcon in the Dive (Chauvelin swears), and Adele's Set Fire to the Rain and Skyfall.  

It's all about the bias, I tell you.

March 7, 2013

Like Nobody's Reading

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I read a quote the other day.  It was probably on Pinterest - most quotes are - and I have not the least idea who said it.  (Which is good, because I'm going to disagree with it, and I hate disagreeing with famous people.)  I can't locate the quote now, but in essence it said
write like nobody's reading.
I thought, when I came across it, that is sounded good and pithy and like something we need to hear.  Most of us have had times where we get ourselves into a bind wondering if what we write will be appreciated. I know I've had panicked moments when I think, "What if people think I hate cats because Regina dislikes them?  What if they think I don't like to read because Tip doesn't?  What if people misunderstand these characters' relationships?  What if they twist my words and come out with something horrible?"  The questions range from the petty to the dire, and if allowed to grow, they could quickly become overwhelming.  In one sense, therefore, this "Write like nobody's reading" quote has a point.

But I believe there is another side to the coin, a side I had not particularly noted until reading Dorothy Sayers' book on the Trinity and the creative mind, The Mind of the Maker.  (I wrote something of a synopsis for this after I finished it back in September.)  In her work she draws a parallel between the economy of the Godhead and the economy of the mind of creative man - a reasonable object, seeing as we are made in the Image of God.  The first two "persons" of this imagining, creating mind are simplest to see and to explain; they are the Idea, that thing that exists in our heads before ever we begin to write, and the Energy or Activity, where the Idea is translated into something understandable to others.  But of course the third is rather more elusive, which to me makes Sayers' parallel more credible.

The third "person" deals, in essence, with the power that brings about proper communication and appreciation in the mind of the reader.  It is that thing which conveys the spirit of the Idea as expressed in the Activity.  It is that thing which, when present, creates the vital connection between the reader and the writer through the book.  And it is absolutely necessary.

In her book - which I continue to recommend for all writers - Sayers generally uses the example of a playwright, being one herself (as well as a novelist and an essayist, but that's beside the point).  It is critical, she writes, that when a man is penning his play, he keep in mind the perspective of the audience.  What is the audience going to understand by this wordplay?  How are these props going to appear?  Will the scene be conveyed?  She uses a humorous example of a play that failed to do just this; instead, the writer (who really should have been a novelist instead) substituted a long passage of "stage directions" - those sections in italics at the start of a scene in a Dover Thrift edition of Shakespeare.  Thunder.  Darkness.  Woman in bed, tossing and turning as if in pain.  Woman cries out, twisting sheets in hands.  End of Scene I.

This is an exaggeration, and yet it is an exaggeration that applies to all creative fields: whether you are writing a novel or a play, a failure to figuratively place oneself in the viewer's chair will result in a terrible disconnect.  At the heart of the matter, the fact is that mature writers, the ones not just starting out (and that is an important caveat), must write as though someone is reading.  Because isn't that the very thing we desire?
he that uses his words loosely and unsteadily will either not be minded or not understood.
- john locke, an essay concerning human understanding

We want to be minded.  We want to be understood.  And in order to do so, we have to be able to have minds in two positions at once: that of the writer, designing and creating; and that of the reader, following and learning.   That is why, while we cannot allow worries about what others will think to paralyze us, we also cannot ignore them.  They have their place in helping us to convey our story, and the vital spirit of that story.

March 1, 2013

Developing Minor Characters

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I love characters.  I love getting to know them, however tricky and long the process is.  I love seeing them develop what writers might call "independence" or "personality" or what-have-you.  I love rubbing shoulders with them.  I just love them. They're always such - characters!

At least, that goes for the major players.  Regina and the Assassin, for instance, or Tip or Marta or Charlie.   These are, after all, the ones I really spend time with: not just the narrator, but the people whose lives are intertwined with that narrator's and who I must deal with in just about every chapter.  As in real life, being with them and trying to get to know them over such a long period makes them (relatively speaking) easy to write.  I know them.  Sometimes they surprise me, but in general I can tell you how they will react in a given situation.  I know Regina has no use for Dickens.  I know the thing Tip misses most when he's miles from land is the trees.  After a while, I just start finding these things out.

minor characters are a different matter.

Just about every story has them - people who exist on the periphery of the story, whose interactions with the protagonist are infrequent, who have a part to play but do not sit at the heart of the tale.  I don't know about you, but I find these ones the tough cookies.  When you have a fellow who drifts in and drifts out, how do you get to know them?  How do you make them memorable?  How do you make them a person?

I've read some tips that advise writers to "give the character a defining trait" - a drawl or a habit or a word they're particularly fond of - to make them stick in the reader's mind.  I suppose if that is the goal, it's a reasonable approach, but it rather smacks to me of "tagging."  You scribble down the defining trait, punch a hole in the card, put a string through it, tie it to the character's leg and voila!  An easy something for the reader to note!  No great brainpower needed on either side of the equation, but the reader remembers (a little remotely) who the character is and so it's all good.

Note, I'm not at all saying that there is something inherently wrong with defining traits; I know there are several in my own books, and I also remember a novel I read some while back where a character habitually said, "Listen now," and it worked.  It fit him.  It was natural, and I liked it.  I'm just not a fan of the dartboard approach to writing - picking a trait and plastering it to the character without even a by-your-leave.  A quirk doth not a person make.

And that, I think, ought to be the goal with every character, major or minor: to make a person of them.  They won't all be equally vibrant.  My word, some of Dickens' heroes were downright pale!  But we ought to do justice to the characters in our stories, and not make caricatures of the poor fellows.

I still find this a tricky business, but one thing I've found helpful in the process of writing Tempus Regina, whose cast is larger than any I have dealt with yet, is to take the time to dig into each person's backstory.  Not that it comes out in the actual novel, mind, because that would be downright tedious.  But when I feel a person is flimsy, it is helpful for me to take them, go back into the bits and pieces I know of their past, and write them a short story.  Casting them as the point-of-view character forces me to study their thought-patterns, and following the snatches of their undeveloped history gives me something to work with.  Then, when I go back to the novel and pick up where I left off, I think, "Nyaha!  I know who you are now."  And even if what I wrote ends up having no bearing on the plot, it still gives me confidence and grants that character that much more reality.
but sometimes what I write does have bearing, and that's even better.
 
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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