June 27, 2014

"make it strong."

rising up, straight to the top 
had the guts, got the glory 
went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop 
just a man and his will to survive

- survivor, eye of the tiger

Maybe it's just me, but when I look back over the five novels I've written, I can trace a mental progression without a whole lot of effort.  Every writer takes a certain amount of time to get his literary feet under him, to grasp his style, to begin to understand the huge responsibility inherent in creating something with the intention of sharing it with the world.  This is particularly true of Christians who write, and who struggle with incorporating - or not incorporating - the gritty realities of life into their books without compromising their own beliefs.  No matter what you write, at some point in time questions - I suppose you could call them questions of ethics - will arise.  Do you write that sexually tense scene?  Do you show that that guy is in love, not just with the girl's "wonderful soul," but with her looks as well?  Do you write the word that comes into your mind in the middle of your characters' heated argument?  Are you (here's the clincher) making people stumble if you do any of the above?  And if you don't...are you just lame?

If you have been around Scribbles & Ink Stains for any length of time you already know how I feel about Christian fiction and the baggage that goes along with the label - but that is not at all to dismiss the struggles faced by individual Christians who also happen to be writers as they attempt to create a story that accurately addresses the world in all its fallen mayhem.  I see the above-mentioned questions frequently around Facebook and the blogosphere and I generally feel less than competent to respond to them, but I'm going to take a stab at a huge issue.

First off, I'll be honest: I am not an adventurous person.  There are certain things that I do not like reading; there are certain things that did not and still do not come easily to me in my writing.  But as I continue to write, and as my stories expand from the relative simplicity of The Soldier's Cross to the time-traveling tangle that is Tempus Regina, I grow more comfortable with incorporating elements that, frankly, some people may find offensive.  I've wrestled with it extensively, especially with the question of swearing.  When a word comes to mind as admirably suited to a piece of dialogue, do you go ahead and write it, or do you hurriedly shoo it out and substitute something that, let's be honest, is always rather stale by comparison?  I used to do that.  I have since come to the conclusion that that is not the best tack to take, that it in fact weakens the impact and believability of both character and story.

it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.

We all know four-letter words.  Really.  We do.  When you write, "Go to...!" no one is going to wonder what the person was about to say before they were so fortunately interrupted.  We all insert the missing word, and we're not sinning by so doing.  God is not going to condemn us because we know a word, nor even, I do not believe, because we (or our characters) use a word.  Attitude is far more important, and when it comes to it, slamming a door can be far more sinful than saying "damn."  We can - should! - incorporate into our stories things of which we do not approve; we should not pretend that the world and its language do not exist.

your story will thank you.

There is a constant debate about whether characters control the author or the author controls the characters.  I don't think "control" is the right word.  We know our characters, and as we continue to write them we get to know them better.  We write them as they are, and the story flows from that.  So it seems to me that when you think a character would say this or do that, he should probably say this and do that.  Hastily diverting the stream of his or her personality will only create awkwardness.  The story works better when you allow them to be true to their characters.  Seriously.  It does.

honey, sometimes "fiddlesticks" just doesn't cut it.

There is a very ludicrous idea that a sanctified man is cut of monkish cloth: celibate, with a halo, speaking in King James English.  I challenge you to find a godly man in the Bible who fits that description.  David?  Imprecatory psalms, people!  Paul?  He was not very fond of the Judaizers.  Jesus?  He washed the feet of the disciples and called the Pharisees a lot of whitewashed tombs. 

Bad words are for bad things.  When your wife is murdered, when you come up against a blackmailer, when your rival's about to win the man you love, when you've just been played for a fool, "oh bother" is not the first thing that springs to your mind.  Maybe we as the authors don't condone it, but we don't have to sermonize about it (that's even worse than not using the word in the first place).  We ought to write with understanding and compassion for the nature of man in all his God-made glory - fallen glory, yes, but glory all the same.  That includes the imperfections and the red-blooded passion of the real world.  It includes those cutting words, that total love, the acts they regret when all's said and done.  If we don't write like this, who will?

June 16, 2014

Bits of June

The rewrite of Wordcrafter crossed 25,000 words some while ago.  It goes in fits and starts: some days I'm fortunate if I can write a decent paragraph (I exaggerate not.  I can spend an hour wrestling with one or two sentences.), but at others I jump ahead wonderfully.  Some days I hate it.  Other days I brush off my shoulders and sniff approvingly.  It's an up-and-down fight.

I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their own validity no matter what.

- madeleine l'engle

With something like 15,000 words between myself and the last snippets post, I thought now would be a good time to throw out a few pieces from the last several months.  Cheers!

I made myself tea and hunkered down to my own work at my desk, and for a little time—an hour, perhaps longer—a library stillness settled over the flat. Ethan’s fingers chinked against the handle of his mug. I pushed a page aside and hiked backwards on the stool, blue jeans scraping at the torn vinyl covering; my hand went unconsciously to my tea, porcelain shuffling on wood, and I sniffed softly against the chill in my nose. 

- wordcrafter

  Ethan, I noted resentfully, could be devilishly cutting when he had a mind to be. 

- wordcrafter
Then, because I had not the least idea where we were going, she took the lead, tugging me past tourist shops and vaguely Parisian tenements and across roads in the teeth of traffic (“The crossing signs are just suggestions,” she said). 

- wordcrafter

With the grace of a horse surging off its haunches Ethan bore up again, eyes opening in a flare of white and grey, right hand falling back and leaving, in the secret hollows at the inner slopes of his nose, two pale oval patches that bloomed for a moment and disappeared. They were telling, those patches. 

- wordcrafter

“You’re looking quite the Jacobite,” I added. 

Her eyelids slanted coyly, bold black against white cheekbones. “I take that as a compliment.” 

- wordcrafter

I saw [Jamie's] hand reach for the dial, the bangles chink and slide on her wrist as she turned up the volume. When we left the suburbs behind and merged with the other glittering headlights on M8 she cracked her window, propping her elbow on the door and straining to put her face up into the wind. It boomed against the glass and whipped at the pheasant feathers, filling the car with the damp, electric smell of the storm, and over the music and the engine, I heard thunder. 

- wordcrafter

His face sparked in piqued pride and that grip on my arm suddenly hurt like a devil’s. “You’re my friend,” he said coldly, “and I don’t play games with friends." 

- wordcrafter

I dumped my armload into the sink, barely remembered to fish out the book before opening the tap and plunging elbow-deep into the wash-up. The edge of the plate banged recklessly against the sides; a wedge of porcelain sang on the stainless steel and my finger caught for a moment in the new notch. Tera! Prince! This was not Roman Holiday, for God’s sake! I hurled the rinsed plate into the drainer and reached for the next, crumbs of toast shimmering across the counter. 

- wordcrafter

June 5, 2014

The Most Beautiful Curve

I'm not an outgoing kind of person.  My first day of college, back at the start of the Fall semester, was agony: I had no idea what I was doing, I didn't know anyone, and I have that very British problem of not being willing to ever admit my ignorance.  I will continue walking in the wrong direction just so others won't know I'm lost.  Being obliged to speak to people - especially to my peers - has always been nerve-wracking for me.

This is still the case, but to a lesser degree.  Through a combination of "the college experience" and simply growing up, I have begun to realize that one can - and must - learn to be shy without being rude.  I mentioned in my last post that ours is a very rude generation; I can't tell you the times I've tried to strike up a conversation with a fellow classmate, only to have them give a monosyllabic answer before returning to the oh-so-fascinating world of the iPhone screen.  Of course, those of us who are less tech-savvy can scoff at these people and pretend that because we are engaged in reading an educational book rather than scrolling through Facebook, we're not being rude - we're just introverted.

but we should never let a label become our excuse.

The naked fact of the matter is that, whether we classify ourselves as an extrovert or an introvert, we must make room for the human interaction required by our daily lives.  Maybe this isn't on a university campus: maybe it's at Wal-mart, or church, or at the fast-food drive-through.  Sure, you can go through life in your own impenetrable bubble, never acknowledging unless obliged, never learning to make small talk ("bit the bowl off the spoon!"); but on a wholly pragmatic level, people do not like the self-absorbed.  Even if they're self-absorbed themselves and totally unaware of it, they will still observe it in others - and let me tell you, it's very off-putting.

In addition to the pragmatic winning-friends-and-influencing-people argument, however, it seems to me that our profession of faith demands that we look outside of ourselves to consider the good of others.  Now, I'm not talking about handing out tracts and evangelizing people: I'm just talking about how our attitude toward life and toward those we meet reflects on our Christianity.  Of all people in the world, we should be the most joyful, the most enthusiastic, the most willing to uplift others simply by acknowledging them as human beings like ourselves.  "Someone will say, 'You have faith, I have deeds.  Show me your faith without your deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.'" 

Far too often we are a whiny, negative people, filling up our social media with complaints about being sick (bet someone else is, too) or having a headache (maybe we shouldn't be on the computer...?) or not wanting to take this exam (does anyone?).  And then we do the same in real life.  (Because when someone asks how you are that day, chances are they are not requesting the low-down on your entire week.)  But in reality this doesn't make us feel better and certainly doesn't uplift anyone around us: it just creates an impression of us as an Eeyore, and no one really wants to be chummy with an Eeyore. 

rather, let our speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were with salt, that we may know how we ought to answer each one.

This morning Rachel Heffington posted a link to an article on how to make small talk with strangers, and I thought it spot-on in that, while it does not claim that by chatting it up with random folk you will win ultimate happiness, it does point out that you feel better if you engage with the world around you.  So let us lay aside this label of "introvert" that so frequently besets us, and learn to be a light in a gloomy world.

Learn tact.

Dress with respect for yourself and others.

Look for things to comment on positively.

Be enthusiastic if at all possible.

Appreciate the efforts of others.

Put away your books and your "cellular devices" when with others.

Smile (even if you don't feel you have a very nice one). 

So let us lay aside this label of "introvert" that so frequently besets us, and learn to be a light in a gloomy world.

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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