Friday, April 29, 2011

Fiction Friday: One of the Best Book Series That Practically No One Has Ever Heard Of

Yes, I know I ended my blog title in a preposition.  I do that.

So a few years ago, while browsing in a used book store, I came across a copy of a book called The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  I vaguely remembered watching some horrible 80's Disney cartoon by the same name, and figured the book might be worth a read.  So I bought it. 

When I started to read it, however, I realized it was the second book of a series.  So I stopped reading it and went out searching for the first book in the series, which is called The Book of Three.  After finding this book at the same used book store, I read both of them.  I discovered that the Disney movie "The Black Cauldron" sort of meshed the first two books together, changed LOADS of details, and generally sucked.  It's not the worst movie ever, but I think it could have been a lot better.

Anyway, I absolutely fell in love with those two books.  I immediately went looking for the last three books in the series, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and The High King.  These five books make up the amazing Chronicles of Prydain series.  Most people give me a blank stare when I mention these books, which leads me to believe that a lot of people have never heard of them.  That's surprising, since The Black Cauldron was a Newbery honor book, and The High King won the Newbery medal.  (If you haven't figured it out, the Newbery Medal is kind of a big deal to me.  I kinda sorta really want one.)

The Chronicles of Prydain follow Taran, an orphaned foundling...who is also known as an Assistant Pig-Keeper.   He has many adventures (and misadventures) with a princess named Eilonwy, a beast-like creature named Gurgi, a bard named Fflewddur Fflam...along with many others.  The characters are endearing and believable.  I think of them as friends that I can go revisit whenever I reread the books.

What I like about Taran is that he goes from this scrawny, overly-ambitious kid to a man who has put a lot of thought into who he really is.  Taran Wanderer is probably my favorite book out of the series because it's the book where Taran matures the most, and Lloyd Alexander wrote it in such a beautiful way that the reader matures right along with Taran. 

I've read many of Lloyd Alexander's books, and they're all good.  None of them are quite as good as The Chronicles of Prydain, but those five books (along with The Foundling, a companion book of short stories) have become some of my favorite works of literature.

If you haven't read of them (or even heard of them), I strongly suggest you go out and find them right now. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shiny Objects

I used to have chubby fingers.  Compared to my mom, I still have chubby fingers.  I think she wears a size four on her ring finger.  I don't even think a size four would fit on my pinky.  My parents used to tell me not to crack my knuckles because it would give me fat fingers, but I didn't listen.  I wanted big fingers (for whatever reason--I was a strange kid).  Well, recently I've lost a lot of weight, and as a result, the vast majority of my rings don't fit anymore.  I'm too lazy/broke to go get them resized, and that's okay, because I really don't wear rings that often anyway.  Of the three women from my family of origin, I'm the least sparkly one.  I always wear a thin rose gold band ring on my left middle finger as a reminder that my life doesn't belong to me (it belongs to God), but other than that the only ring I wear often is my mood ring.

I'm 31 years old.  Even if I don't look my age (someone told me the other day that they thought I was about 23...nice!  I'll take it!), I've made a few age appropriate fashion sacrifices.  I've given up my graphic tees and generic Converses.  But I refuse to give up the mood ring because I like it.  And recently, I've been wearing the mood ring every time I remember to put it on (which is about 4 days out of the week--I'm forgetful).  The reason for this (besides the obvious awesomeness of wearing a mood ring) is because a mood ring plays a small role in the book I'm currently trying to write, and I want the mood ring with me for inspiration and such.

I am sad to say that the mood ring I wear is not the one that originally inspired my story.  I have misplaced/lost that particular mood ring.  It makes me sad because this mood ring had a really cool wide band that had swirlies of color that reminded me of the Elvin language on the One Ring from LOTR.  I liked to put this ring over the air vent in my car to make it change all sorts of different colors.  One day, as I was doing this, I came up with a concept for a story.

This is not the first time I've come up with a story idea from a piece of jewelry, and I'm fairly sure it won't be the last. 

In fact, my first book would have never existed if I didn't have chubby fingers. 

One Christmas, my dad gave me this gaudy fake men's ring that came as "surprise" in one of those "cheap crap catalogue" orders.  He said he was giving it to me because it was too small for him, but too big for anyone else in the family.  And sure enough, the ring fit me perfectly.  And I liked it.  I liked it a lot.

Now, this ring was originally goldtone.  In a few weeks, the goldtone faded to silvertone.  A few weeks later, the silvertone began chipping off and my finger started turning green.  The stones in it were obviously glass, but that didn't matter.  Even though the stones were glass, they were arranged in a way that intrigued me.  There was one large round clear stone in the center, surrounded by a diamond shape of fake rubies.  You know what?  I'll just post a photo because that's easier:

I think was 12 when my dad gave me that ring (I remember wearing it in my sixth grade class, but my memory could be faulty).  As much as the finish chipped and as much as it turned my finger green, I continued to wear it occasionally even into high school and college.  When I eventually dropped out of college (the first time around--I transferred to another school later and graduated), I still wore the ring a lot.  The design of the fake stones still intrigued me.

And one day when I was wearing the ring, I had a mental image of a goblin jumping out of a tree in a forest and stealing this ring from a girl.  That was the first scene I ever envisioned from what would become my first book.  I started writing it in those 2 years between colleges.  Over the years, A LOT of details changed--the stones in the design changed from "rubies" to "sapphires" and the ring itself was changed to a dagger, but I can honestly say that a piece of awful fake jewelry inspired my wonderful first book--and the sequels that I hope will follow it.

Even though I'm probably going to have horrible arthritis one day when I really do grow up, I don't think I'll regret popping my knuckles...

Has jewelry ever inspired you?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

SEW Sunday: Balance

Happy Easter, readers!  I just ate a pink marshmallow chicky Peep, but that's neither here nor there.

This has been an interesting week, to say the least.  It started out with me heading for church last Sunday, only to find that there were power lines lying on the road in front of my church.  I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot and discovered that there was no church because the power was out.  The bad storms/tornado caused a lot more damage than I had realized.  I still didn't realize it, because I immediately went home from not going to church and figured I should use that free time to go running.  I ran six miles.  That's my far.

The next day, I realized that a lot of people had experienced a lot of damage from the storms.  Many people didn't have anywhere to stay; many more needed some extensive work done on their homes.  My church was set up as a station to help out a lot of the people in the community.  I had an opportunity to go help out.  In fact, I had a whole day off Tuesday.

The thing is, I had already planned on working on my writing on Tuesday.  I had been planning on it for WEEKS.  It needed to be done...and badly.  I guess it makes me selfish, because I am selfish, but I prayerfully decided to stick with my plans to work on my writing...instead of going to help out my community.  I didn't even get out of my pajamas that day. 

I reread my first novel on Tuesday.  All of it.  I have to say, in the past week, I've read three really good books.  Two of them were part of the Hunger Games trilogy.  The other one...surprisingly...was my own.  That first book, which was such a catastrophe when I first penned it, had been edited and edited and edited until I was sick of it.  But after putting it aside for several months and going back to it, I had a fresh perspective.  I was viewing it as a reader and not as a writer/editor.  And I found that I couldn't put my own book down...because, at the risk of sounding vain, it was really good.

That's not to say I didn't edit a little here or there while reading it, but all in all, I'm almost there.  I'm almost ready to try selling this book again.  It's because I'm confident that what I have is something worth selling, something worth reading.  I have a renewed focus and energy to actually try to get all the other stuff done so I can send out some queries.

And, yes, I think that was a day off well-spent.

But I have to admit I'm feeling guilty; whether that guilt is justified or not, it's there.  I know that I could have gone to my church to help out instead of spending that time on my own projects.  I don't know how useful I would have been, but I figure in a disastrous situation, almost any willing person can find some small way to help. 

The other books I read this week, the Hunger Games books, are very sad, very intense...even disturbing at times.  But they're really good and make you think.  The main character had all sorts of ridiculous trials that I've never had to face or even imagine.  And it's easy to say, "Well, that's just a book," but then my mind turns to the real-life atrocities.  There are children dying of starvation all over this world--even here in America.  Even worse than that, in my opinion, are the markets which sell children into prostitution.  There's war.  There's hunger.  There's need.

And I sit in my pajamas and write.  Usually with a big warm cup of tea. 

Sometimes I feel like what I am doing is such a waste compared to what I could be doing. 

Art isn't practical.  I think every artist who strives to serve the Lord probably goes through something similar to what I'm talking about right now.  Why create paintings or stories or poems or songs when there are so many physical needs that need to be met?

I, personally, can honestly say that I know the Lord was pursuing me at a very young age.  I don't even remember the exact time I became a Christian because it's just always seemed that the Lord was with me, guiding me, calling me to Himself.  And it's easy to fall into this trap of believing that God pursued me that strongly because there's something big I'm meant to do with my life, something important.

Or maybe...maybe...God just wants me because He loves me.  And maybe that's better than being important.

And maybe all I have to do is what I have in my hands to do at the time.  I get all riled up and start thinking I can somehow change the world if I work harder, act better, do more more more.  But all the good, hard work in the world is not going to change the fact that I'm a weak fool in need of a Savior.

Do I need to show mercy to others and share that Savior with them?  Yes.

Does that mean that I'm being neglectful of the needs of others if I'm working on something else the Lord has given me to do?  Maybe.  In some circumstances, yes.  But, in this case, I don't think so.  The guilt I feel is not of God.

Because the Lord is creative, and He has breathed that spark of creativity into me.  He has given me dreams and visions, stories and songs.  I'm not a writer because I choose to be.  I'm a writer because that's how God has made me.  And the time was given to me to work on something He had given me to do.  So I did it.  And now I'm just a little bit closer to achieving the goal of being a published writer.  I don't regret it.

I have to say, though.  This week, especially today, has really made me think about balance.  Oh, I'm so wretchedly bad at balance.  I could go on an on about how much I have to work, how little time I have, blah blah blah.  It's an excuse, and not even a very good one.  Everyone is busy.  The thing is, I've got 24 hours every single day with which to use.  True, some of those hours belong to my bosses, but I've still got a lot of time that's mine.  The trick is figuring out how much of that time I'm going to devote to helping others, how much time I'm going to devote to my writing, how much time of that I'm going to use to rest (because rest is important, too...God said so). 

Prayers are appreciated as I continue to try to figure this balancing act out.  I'm greatly encouraged that the Lord is working, both in the lives in this community and in my personal writing life.  Aslan is definitely on the move.

And by the way...

The Stone Table has cracked.  The Lion roars.

Christ is risen!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fiction Friday: My Second Favorite Fictional Character of All Time

I would eventually like to branch out from the fictional character thing, but I'm not feeling particularly creative right now since my mind really doesn't want to write this blog.  My mind wants to be deeply, emotionally, intimately involved in the reading of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, which I am only about a third of the way through.  In fact, I will have to be at work in less than two hours and would be spending every last second of that time reading, if I had not remembered that today was a blogging day.  And since I'm only two weeks into this blogging schedule thing, I figure I'd better try sticking with it for a while.

So my second favorite fictional character is someone who I very much wish were real.  I wish he were real, just ever so slightly taller, and not married...because of all the male fictional characters in the world, I would most want to be married to him. 

When most people watch or read Lord of the Rings, they're gushing over Aragorn or Orlando Bloom--I mean, Legolas.  They're talking about how dashing Faramir is, or how mischievously cute Pippin is.  There are even a few throwbacks to the late 90's who actually still think that Elijah Wood's FREAKISHLY GINORMOUS EYES are attractive.

Who do I find appealing from LOTR?  Who would I spend the rest of my life with, without hesitation?  I'll tell you who--Samwise Gamgee. 

Now, I don't have anything against Sean Astin (except maybe the fool he made of himself in "50 First Dates." You can't go from playing Samwise Gamgee to that!  Ugh!) The dude is a phenomenal actor who has played THREE of my favorite roles in all of filmdom.  Is filmdom a word?  Now it is.  He was Mikey, the main character in Goonies (GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!).  He was Rudy (I can always appreciate a character who succeeds because he's too dumb to know that he can't possibly succeed).  He was Samwise Gamgee.  But I don't have a celeb crush on Mr. Astin.  He's a great actor, but my love for Samwise has nothing to do with him.  My love for Sam goes much, much deeper.

But in retrospect, I don't know how well a relationship with Samwise would work.  He's a hobbit, which would mean he's probably even shorter than I am...and I'm short.  He's also got hairy feet, which I could probably learn to tolerate.  Beyond that, though, is another problem.  I learned a while back that I don't really want to be with someone like Samwise.  I want to be like Samwise. 

And, okay, I want to be with him, too, but since that's not happening...

I could go on and on about Samwise's loyalty.  I could rant about how he almost drowned in order to follow Frodo, about how he killed the spider and followed Frodo even into an orc infested tower, about how he watched over Frodo in the darkness, sacrificing everything for his friend.  I could go on and on, but there's really only one thing I can say that would sum up who Samwise is.  There's only one quote from the book/film that comes to mind that is the essence of Samwise Gamgee, the reason I love him so much and aspire to be more like him.

As Frodo and Sam make their way up Mount Doom to destroy the Ring, Frodo's strength wanes.  He begins pitifully crawling forward, and Samwise reveals the depths of his loyalty for his friend.

I quote this from the book, The Return of the King by the incredible J. R. R. Tolkien:

"Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, though no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes.  'I said I'd carry him, if it broke my back,' he muttered, 'and I will!'
'Come, Mr. Frodo!' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well.  So up you get!  Come on, Mr. Frodo, dear! Sam will give you a ride.  Just tell him where to go, and he'll go.'"

I'm honestly getting a little misty just reading that over again.  I can't let myself think too far ahead, or I will think of the Gray Havens, when Frodo boarded the ship which parted him from Sam.  I don't really have time for a full emotional breakdown at the moment.

Sam's loyalty.  That's what makes him such an unforgettable character.  He was given a charge to protect his friend, and he did not waver from it.  That's the kind of person I would like to be.  I'd like to be the kind of loyal friend who, when I cannot carry burdens, I simply carry my friends.  But...I am far more selfish than Samwise.

...maybe, since I can't be as much like him as I want to be, I can just hold out that someday I'll meet a nice little hobbit boy.  Just in case, I think I'll keep wearing ribbons in my hair, because Samwise seems to like that.

Rosie Cotton better watch her back.  That's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tense Person

Earlier today, I was a tense person. 

It's Spring Break for a lot of the schools around here, which can only mean two things.  First, it means that two of my three jobs aren't happening this week, so I have to pick up extra hours at the drop-in child care center.  Second, it means that kids can't go to school, so their parents bring them to the drop-in child care center. 

Thirty-five children at the drop in center equals mass chaos, and I was in the midst of it all.

That actually sounds like a good opening for a horror novel.  It's a true story, by the way, but I don't really want to write a blog about how tense of a person I am.  If you want to read about that hot mess, then go read my Socially Awkward Adventures < / shameless self-promotion >.  Instead, I want to discuss person and tense as they relate to my writing and characterization.

I used to never think outside the box in my writing.  My first novel was written in third person, past tense.  That's just the standard I figured I had to follow, and really, I hadn't given much thought at all to writing any other way.  My second novel?  Again.  Third person, past tense. 

I probably would have never branched out if I hadn't read a book in May of last year.  House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle (I promise every blog post will not mention her, but since she's one of my favorite writers, her name will make lots of appearances--fair warning).  I really enjoyed this book, though it's got some themes in it that might make some readers uncomfortable (not for the young kids).  It was written in first person.

I was just finishing writing my second book when one of the characters in my story blatantly informed me that she wanted me to tell her story, too.  Does that make me a crazy person?  Probably.  But since this character was haunting me and I had just read Madeleine L'Engle's beautifully written story in first person, it made sense for me to try writing my character's story in first person.  So I did.  She pretty much possessed me, and I ended up finishing a rough draft in less than two weeks.  And it might be one of the best things I've ever written.

Now, I'm having a similar experience.  Presently (pun intended), I've just read a couple of remarkable books written in first person, present tense (The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins--I plan to read Mockingjay after rereading Catching Fire).  I've had a story lingering in the back of my mind for about a year now, and somehow it's all seeming to click.  I have the idea to experiment with first person, present tense.  Now isn't the best time for a new writing endeavor.  I mean, I have another writing project going on.  I'm trying to get things ready for query letters for my first book (again).  I've got editing and such.  I've got to go to work.  But now I'm obsessed with this idea of present tense, and all of the sudden--POOF!  Another writing project to worry about!

I say all that about my own projects because I really feel that I'm growing as a writer by stretching out into different styles, but I find that I can't just randomly choose a style to write for just any project.  The characters have to fit.  For my current WIP, I've chosen third person, past tense because it fits the characters and the story.  There's more than one main character.  It wouldn't work in first person unless I jumped around to different narrators, and let's face it--that's the most annoying thing ever.  I know a lot of people who can hardly even stand to read first person, but if they have to start reading a different point of view every other chapter, then fuhgeddaboudit.  ...and I don't know why I said it like that.  I've never even been to New York...I've been to they say that there? 

But with that book that I wrote in first person, the one that took me less than two weeks to write, first person was exactly right.  I was telling one character's story.  It made sense to tell it from her perspective.  In fact, if I had tried any other way, it wouldn't have worked.  She came to me, and I have to admit that I'm so insane that I had a literal conversation with her.  I heard her in my mind say, "Tell my story."  I said, "I don't know your story."  She said, "Just sit down and start writing, and I'll give it to you."  So I did, and she was true to her word.  I channelled her.  I channelled a fictional character. 

With the brand new project that I've started (yes, I've already started it in the midst of my chaotic life...because I am a mad, mad glutton for punishment), the main character is someone who lives in the moment.  I couldn't figure out how to write him until I had the idea to write from his perspective, in present tense.  It makes more sense to see things at the same time he sees them, to experience these things with him.  I think his character will develop a lot better if I'm seeing the action with him, not just as a view into his past.

As I said, not everyone likes first person.  I'm sure there are people equally (or probably even more) annoyed with present tense.  I can understand why.  For one thing, it's not what most of us are used to.  The reason I didn't even think about writing in anything besides third person, past tense is because the vast majority of everything I read was in third person, past tense.  Readers don't always like seeing a deviation from what they're used to, nor do some of them like getting inside people's heads or seeing the plot as it happens.

And I also understand that in experimenting with present tense, I'm doing something a LOT of writers are doing these days.  If Suzanne Collins can write an intriguing book in present tense, then it stands to reason that other people should try writing a book in present tense.  It's becoming a trend, a fad.  Fads and trends fade, and I think a lot of readers are just waiting for this one to go away.

With that being said, I'm not shying away from my experimentation in my writing.  I'm glad I didn't when I let that character possess me for two weeks.  I'm looking forward to see what happens with this character I'm starting to channel (WAIT!  I'M TOO BUSY TO BE POSSESSED BY A FICTIONAL CHARACTER AGAIN...OH NOES!).  I'm also going to keep writing old skool--third person, past tense.  I might even be open to some other styles or tricks, but I don't want to get too crazy...

...I think this blog has proved I'm already crazy enough.  Hmm.  Maybe I am a tense person...

Oh, fuhgeddaboudit.  You're just jealous because the voices aren't talking to you.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

SEW Sunday: Getting There

The library called today, leaving me an automated message that the book for which I have been anxiously awaiting (Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins) is now available.  The library is also closed on Sunday.  Well played, library.  Well played.

That's okay, because I decided I wanted to reread The Hunger Games anyway, and I won't be done until tonight.  I love rereading a well-written book, which makes me wonder why I hate rereading my own books to edit them.  Does that mean they're not well-written, or does it just mean I hate work.

Hopefully, just the latter, but possibly both.

Anyway, I have nothing to report in editing or querying, except I do plan on getting some things together.  A few weeks ago I felt expectant, but that it wasn't time to move.  The wind was still.  Last night, the wind was anything but still as we had tornadoes and such in the area (my prayers are with those who didn't fare the storm as well as I did).  The weather is just a metaphor, but right I'm very encouraged right now that it's finally getting time to make a move in the publishing world.  For once, I don't have the "this will never work" attitude.  Maybe my attitude is finally shifting from the "this will never work" attitude to the "I'm actually dumb enough to think this will work" attitude.  While that doesn't sound much better, I'm often amazed at how many people in history were too dumb to know that they were attempting the impossible. So they tried anyway.  And they succeeded.

The writing is actually going really well.  I've had some new developments in my current WIP, though there are still several details I need to work out.  I'm kind of taking a step back and letting the characters do what they want to do, because I've learned (once again) that when I try to meddle too much, I stifle them. 

I'm writing this book as a serial novel which I am sharing with a few of my friends (I didn't want to share it with a large number this time--as I did with my second just didn't seem right.  And if you're a good friend and I didn't choose you to read it, please don't be offended.  There were a lot of factors that went into the selection of readers).   There are a lot of issues with this, namely, that if I mess up, there's no way to backtrack.  I have to keep moving forward from where I messed up.  It's very experimental.  It's even a little dangerous because I'm putting my work out there in a very raw form.  But I felt it was time to actually do something with this project, and the best motivation was to have actual readers.  And they're very gracious, by the way.

Anyway, I am really starting to like this project (it's had a rocky start, and is still moving very slowly towards what I want it to become).  Unfortunately, another project is working itself into my mind and I'm wondering if I should be working on it, too.  I went out running this morning and couldn't clear my head of this story, the characters, what will happen to them.  I wish I could just be the sort of writer who focuses on one project at a time (it would make things so much easier).  My head just gets so busy with so many stories that I don't have room for all of them.  And then I need to find time to sell the ones I've already written.  And then I need time to prepare other stories I've written to be ready to try to sell.

But I can't complain too much.  I'm busy, but that's life.  The busyness isn't going to stop, so I'm back to where I started: trying to do all these writer things in the midst of the chaos of life.  When I stop having the mental image of a hamster on a wheel, hanging on for dear life as it spins out of control...I start to feel a lot better about things.

The question is, how do I get that image out of my head?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fiction Friday: My Favorite Fictional Character Of All Time Ever

I had planned on blogging something about The Hunger Games today, but I've decided not to do so at this point.  Apparently, I've been living under a rock for the past few years and did not realize that such literary awesomeness existed.  Now that I've joined the rest of the cool readers and discovered this amazing book series, I'm anxiously (very anxiously) awaiting the next book in the series to be available at the library.  With that being said, 1) all the cool readers have already read all three books and have already posted their thoughts/feelings about said three books 2) I'd like to have read the whole series before writing anything about it.  So right now, I'm just going to say that the first book in the series, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, absolutely blew my mind.  I can't wait to read what happens, but I'm going to have to wait, so I guess that technically, I CAN wait. 

Moving on now.

I've had the same favorite fictional character since I was  in elementary school.  Her name is Meg Murray, and if you haven't been introduced to her, then you're missing out on something amazing.  The first appearance of this extraordinary person can be found in my favorite fictional book, A Wrinkle in Time by one of my favorite authors (I can't decide if I like her or C. S. Lewis better--all right, we'll call it a draw!), Madeleine L'Engle.

A little side note here, just so everyone is aware.  If you've seen the movie/miniseries of A Wrinkle in Time that Disney put out a few years ago, please don't judge a book by its movie.  While I acknowledge that a lot of time and effort went into that movie, I have to say that it basically stunk.  I have it on dvd because my father bought it for me one Christmas, and I'll watch it occasionally because I like the music and because I want to relive parts of the story without taking the time to reread the book (although it would only take a few hours).  But please, if you have seen the movie and think it's horrible (because, well, it is), don't let that fool you.  The book is simply amazing.

Okay, moving on again.

What exactly is it that makes Meg Murray so extraordinary?  I think it's the fact that she isn't all that extraordinary.  In fact, she would consider herself less than even ordinary.  When Madeleine L'Engle first introduced Meg, she was a plain, self-conscious, unpopular, angry fourteen-year-old girl.  She had above-average intelligence (especially in math and science), but didn't do well in school.  Almost everyone misunderstood her, and she even misunderstood herself.

Basically, she was me (except I'm not that good in math and I actually did well in school--except for the math). 

Meg also had a little brother who didn't speak very much outside the home.  People picked on him and on Meg for having a strange younger brother.  I have to say that I could also relate to this pretty well, having a younger brother with high-functioning autism.  Today, autism is fairly well-known.  The diagnosis of autism is getting scarily common, but back in the mid-to-late 80's when my brother received his diagnosis, it was still a disorder that many people had never even heard of.  So people would ask me all the time what was wrong with my brother, and I had to try to explain it because no one knew what autism was.  And while I don't think a lot people actually picked on me because of my brother, I think I thought they were picking on me because I was a defensive, angry, overly-protective-of-my-little-brother kid--a lot like Meg Murray.

As I said in an earlier blog, there are many different reasons why people relate to characters.  Sometimes I don't understand why a character acts or thinks certain ways, and I find their behavior intriguing.  With Meg, it's not like that.  I do find her behavior intriguing, but that's because I understand her very well and think I would do things in the same ways. 

Meg is called to do things that she thinks are beyond her capability to do.  She doesn't do them without first throwing some literal tantrums, which I have been known to do even in adulthood.  All of her emotions are on the surface, especially the negative ones. 

But then she accepts her tasks with grace, she does what she has been given to do, and she succeeds. 

The most interesting thing about Meg's accomplishments is that she didn't have to change in order to do them.  She did have to change her attitude, but she herself didn't have to change.  The guides on her journey told her to keep her faults, even to stay angry.  This was something that I didn't fully grasp until I was probably almost an adult.

For years I didn't like who I was.  While I was NEVER a conformist, I know there were so many parts of myself I didn't like and wanted to change.  I wasn't as pretty or popular as I wanted to be.  I wasn't a people person.  I wasn't a natural leader.  And I used to think that I was basically useless because I had all these things I didn't like about myself.  I didn't think God could ever use someone like me.

I haven't really changed that much (I mean, I do consider myself pretty, but that's the vanity talking).  I'm still shy.  I'm still not a natural leader.  In fact, sometimes it's still a struggle to leave the apartment in the morning--because I know I'll have to deal with people.  But Meg is still with me.  I still see the person who was scared and angry, hurting and flawed. 

Madeleine L'Engle weaved a powerful story through Meg.  Meg's flaws didn't change; God used her anyway.  My current "life verse" from the Bible (that's always subject to change as stages in life are subject to change) is 1 Corinthians 1:27.  "For God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong."  L'Engle used this verse in the story to encourage Meg.  It also encourages me. 

I'm not strong.  I'm not wise.  I'm nothing more than a weak fool that God has chosen to use anyway.  A lot of people say we're supposed to believe in ourselves.  I can't believe in myself.  There's not much there to believe in.  My worth is in Christ; my hope is in the Lord.  That's what I believe in.  When I look at Meg, I see someone who shines like the stars because of who she is in Jesus, even if L'Engle doesn't come right out and say Meg is a Christian.  It's implied.

In other stories in the series (and even in other stories L'Engle wrote that aren't directly connected to the "Time Quartet"), we see Meg grow and change.  She gets married and has kids of her own.  She still has some insecurities, but there's so much she accomplishes, so many people she helps.  And she started out as an awkward, self-conscious nobody.

God is in the business of using the weak and the foolish.  There's hope for all of us yet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Conversations with Myself

Lately, I've really been thinking a lot about characters.  In my opinion, they're more important than even a good plot (though a good plot is very important).  As I've said before, characters are what make readers keep reading.  If the reader has an emotional attachment/investment towards the characters, it's going to compel the reader to want to find out what happens to those characters.  Good characters drive the story even more than a good plot, in my opinion.

So for the next few Wednesdays, I'm going to try to talk about different aspects of characterization.  I don't know if I'd consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but since I've written three books and portions of other books, I have had a little experience in what works and doesn't work.  Today, I'm going to write about dialogue.

I want to say right off that dialogue is not my strong point.  I'm not the most articulate person; I write far better than I speak.  But most novels include dialogue, and I'm not creative enough to believably find a way around it.  So my novels have all included dialogue, as well.

Dialogue is important for many reasons.  It shows the inner workings of characters' minds, as well as relationships between characters.  But it's interesting to think of what dialogue really is.  The writer, who in my case is just one person, has to create a conversation involving more than one person.  I've got to pretend I know what each person in the conversation is going to say and how they're going to say it.  I'm often bewildered because I have no idea how people talk to each other, and I'm not sure if the conversation I'm essentially having with myself is even believable.

Sometimes, I go to edit some of my dialogue, and I realize it's not anything like what people would say in real life.  For instance, I'm pretty sure that in real life people don't sigh every other sentence, nor do they call each other by name after every other word.  And I think I've exhausted my mental thesaurus for phrases that could be used instead of "he said-she said." 

Other times, however, there is a sort of magic that happens.  The characters' conversations just flow from my brain onto the computer screen (or paper, if I'm going old skool--which doesn't happen often because my writing wrist is a pansy).  Sometimes I'm caught off guard by things the characters say, how they say them, or what they do while they're saying things.  These are the dialogues I don't have to edit much.  These are the dialogues where it seems as though there really are two people talking, and not just me writing down what I think these people should say. 

When dialogue like this happens, I know my characters have ceased to be ideas and have taken on lives of their own in my story.  I'm no longer having conversations with myself, but observing something outside of myself, yet guided by my pen (or more likely, my keyboard).

I'm not really in control of when these magical times happen, but I do have a few things I've learned to help me write better dialogue:

1. Observation.  Maybe this seems stalkerish, but a good way to figure out how people talk is to listen to people talk.  If I'm writing a YA book, it might be a good idea to listen to how teenagers are talking.  If I'm writing a science fiction series, it might be a good idea to listen to how nerds are talking.  If I'm writing a fantasy, it might be a good idea to listen to how Dragons are talking (lucky I've got five of those in my room).  Another part of this observation (that is slightly less creepy) involves reading other books.  It's easier to write good dialogue if I'm reading good dialogue.  The danger in this is that sometimes it's easy to steal lines from books and/or movies without realizing it.  Again...that's what editing is for.

2. Practice.  This means I ACTUALLY have to talk to ACTUAL people...and essentially observe myself.  How do I talk?  How do others talk to me?  It's important to think about these things while writing dialogue.  And I've found that the more I write dialogue, the easier it gets. 

3. Edit.  I think I've already mentioned this, but it's so important.  Sometimes even good dialogue contains repetition (a person can only run their fingers through their hair so many times before the reader starts wondering if the character has lice), poor phrasing, unrealistic or uncharacteristic word/sentence choices, etc.  I reread my dialogue more than my prose (though rereading both is important).  Sometimes I have a friend read over it to make sure I haven't missed anything.  I want to make sure I'm representing my character's words as clearly as possible so my readers can see them for who they are.

I'm sure I still have much to learn about dialogue and good characterization, but these are some things I've been thinking about lately.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

SEW Sunday: Maybe A Name Change is Already In Order?

So I almost forgot that I was supposed to start this NEW and IMPROVED blog today. It's SEW Sunday, the day when I give anyone who cares an update about what's going on in my writing world. that means, like 3 people...2 if you don't count my mom.

So this is supposed to be about three aspects of my writing: Sending queries, Editing, and Writing.  However, after having a remarkable experience with an incredible book that I did not write (but, oh, I wish I had), I'm thinking I've left out an important element. As an aspiring author, I need to write (goes without saying), edit (should go without saying), and send queries (doesn't go without saying because most people don't know what a query is--FYI it's a letter writers send to literary agents shamelessly begging them to represent a book). Unfortunately, due to the fact that I have very little time, I've forgotten a very important aspect of writing: Reading.

Do you know how long it's been since I read a book for fun? I don't. I can't remember. But recently someone (okay, okay, so it was a 12 year old) recommended a book to me. I plan on writing more about this book on Friday when I will attempt to write my first Fiction Friday blog...but we'll see how that goes.

Now, I had heard of this book before and it sounded interesting, and I know the last book in the trilogy had come out fairly recently (I won't have to wait for the sequels to come out!), so I figured I'd give it a shot. I reserved a copy at the library. I was something ridiculous like #192 on the waiting list. After waiting for a couple of weeks, I finally got the phone call that the book was available.  I picked it up.

And. I. Devoured. It.

Not literally. Books are for reading, not for eating. Keep that in mind when I'm published.

But oh my word, this book was phenomenal. I have already reserved the sequels from the library, but I'll have to wait for those, too. At least I'm not waiting years for the author to's hard to remember what life was like before J.K. Rowling finished Book Seven. Ah, what did I do with my life while waiting for Book Seven? My memories are fuzzy; I must have tided myself over with Eragon...which makes me wonder, when IS the fourth book of that "trilogy" coming out? Come on, with me.

Anyway, the reading of the book this week has meant that I have not had as much time for writing, but I can't bring myself to regret that at all. Sometimes, one of the most inspiring things for a writer is to read something excellent that someone else wrote. It helps me see areas that I can work on--things I need to call attention to about my characters and their thought processes. Yes, I think reading a book was just what I needed to start climbing out of this apathy pit I've somehow gotten myself into.

Because honestly, my head has not been in the game (did I just use a sports metaphor??) since November. I've written some, but not as much as I've wanted to. Editing? Psssh. And Querying? I've sent out one query all year. One. And I knew the literary agent I sent it to would never even get back to me.

It's April. I had goals of sending out at least five queries a month. I'm...a lot of queries behind schedule. The reason? I haven't cared. I know that's horrible, but it's true. I have had so many other things going on in my life that I haven't cared enough to put forth the effort.

But after reading that book, I started thinking about the characters in the book I'm trying to sell. I've started thinking about the characters in the book I need to edit. I feel as though I've really let them down.

These are good characters; I know they are. Sometimes I get hard on myself and think my stories are awful, and sometimes I'm right, but the characters in the books I'm trying to sell are not awful. They're remarkable.  They deserve a chance for others to know their stories, their relationships, their dreams and failures. The only one holding them back is me.

I'm still busy. I'm still going to have a hard time getting things done that I need to do. Life is just going to get in the way. There's no way around that. But I think I'm starting to get back on my feet. And in a couple of weeks, I'm going to have a day off. A. Day. Off.

No work. No church. No plans. So that will be a good time for me to organize some things for querying. In the meantime, I'm finally starting to have a breakthrough on my current WIP (work in progress). It's been slow going for a long time, and it still might be, but I think I've figured out a few of the problems. I still have more to work out, but that's how writing goes. I am starting to figure out the characters a little better, so that's good. One of them is pretty hard to understand--she's too much like who I was when I was a teenager...

I've also got an itch to start writing a new project. I'm wanting to experiment with point of views, tenses, and all of that. The last time I wrote something in first person, I was possessed by a fictional character and wrote the whole book in less than two weeks. It was scary...and fun...but mostly scary. So I'm going to be cautious because right now I just don't have the TIME to be possessed by a fictional character.

So yeah, that's how the SEWing is going, although I think I might need to change the title to also include an R for reading. I need to make time to read a good book every now and then. It has been a lot more beneficial than I realized.

SERWing?  Hmm.  Sounds like I'm from Minnesota.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I've been reading a lot of real blogs lately. Do you know what real blogs have that my blog doesn't have? Structure.

I'm usually not the sort of person who just follows the crowd or does things because everyone else is doing them. In fact, I'm often the sort of person who rebels against the norm just because I don't like the idea of doing things the way everyone else does them. But I'm learning more and more that if I'm going to make it in the writing industry, I'm going to have to follow the rules. If I were this great revolutionary writer, that would be one thing. I just don't think I'm fantastical enough of a writer to take the publishing industry by storm...and even if I were that talented, I'm not that spirited. So there you have it.

I don't really claim that this blog is a real blog, but let's pretend it is. What do real bloggers do? They add structure to their blogs. How do they do this? By blogging at the same time (or at least on the same day) as they did the week before. By blogging about certain topics or ideas on certain days.

I think it's clear that discipline is NOT my strong point, but I'm going to try this for a while. I might fail and have to try again, or I might just decide to scrap the whole idea. But I'm going to try to add a little more structure to this blog.

I am not going to blog here every day. That's just too much for me, and honestly, I would like spend some more time on my other blog which is hilarious and good, if I do say so myself...and I do. My Dragon-Muses would also like me to continue to help them type out their blogs (most of them don't have keyboard friendly talons). So, I'm thinking right now that I need to do about three blogs a week for this particular blog.

I want to write a blog every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday, and all with themes. I might add another day later, but we'll see how it goes.

Sundays, I plan to give an update of what's going on in my writing world (and maybe in the rest of my world). I've been doing okayish on my writing lately, but I could do better. I could DEFINITELY do better on my querying and editing. My friend Desiree (who is amazing), has been encouraging me in all my writing efforts. She suggested the term SEW. Sending queries, Editing, and Writing. So my Sunday blogs will be SEW Sundays, you dig?

On Wednesday, I just plan on writing a blog as usual. Whatever Wednesday. It's not that clever of a title, so maybe I'll go with Writing Wednesday, but that's not that clever either. We'll see which one I go with...or if I go with something completely different...

On Friday, I plan on writing something about my favorite works of fiction, fictional characters, fiction writers, etc. Fiction Fridays. I might even start doing book reviews, but I don't really know if I know how to do that. We'll see where it goes, or even if I have the discipline to keep up with it.

So that's what I'm planning right now. I'd also like to ask if you have any suggestions. Is there anything specific you'd like to see me write about? Are there any other clever names that utilize alliteration with the days of the week? I'm trying to make this blog into a real blog--or at least pretend to. Let me know what you think!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Annoying Hope

I have a good friend named Hope, but I haven't seen her in a while. I probably should go visit her since she lives really close to me. Like...within walking distance. She's not an annoying person at all.
This post is not about her.
I'm not a big science person. I like it well enough. I mean, I like it a LOT better than math. But when you really get down to it, science and I aren't good happy friends. I don't really understand a lot of it. I adore Science Fiction, but it's not like I really get what Geordi LaForge is talking about when he wants to eject the warp core. All I know is that if he doesn't, the Enterprise is going to go boom. And going boom is apparently very bad. Because everybody dies.
In school, when teachers started talking about the Periodic Table, I started thinking about other kinds of tables. So I either got really hungry, or I started thinking about King Arthur and the Round Table. And when my brain finally drifted back to what the teacher was talking about, I noticed that Kryptonite was on the periodic table, and that distracted me all over again. Superman and the Knights of the Round Table? That. Would. Be. Epic.
I did minor in Psychology back in undergrad (I was just a minor psycho), which brought the areas I studied to THREE different concentrations, since I had one of those weird Interdisciplinary degrees (in English and Christian Studies). Basically, a person with a Christian Studies/English/Psychology education is well-suited for...childcare.
Most likely, I will be living in a cardboard box someday.
Although Psychology is a Science-y sort of field, I do understand it a little better than some other branches of Science. I really like the idea of behavioral conditioning, which actually HAS helped me a lot in childcare. Negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement. It amazes me that kids actually do respond to both of these things, and in time, I see results. I see behaviors change and improve. I see kids go from being toy hoarders to toy sharers, and that just warms my heart.
But I'm not talking about childcare, either.
What I'm talking about is how we learn to respond to life because of past experiences. Grown ups respond to positive and negative reinforcement, too. If I've been hurt in the past, I'm going to be reluctant to try again. Once bitten, twice shy.
If you know me well, you'll know that I'm one of those obnoxious realists. I'm not an optimist, but I'm also not a pessimist (feel free to disagree with me on the latter, but you're I deal with life and situations as I see them, not how I'd like them to be. This is difficult for a lot of Christians to wrap their brains around, because they think it rules out hope.
The thing is, I'm still a fairly hopeful person. It's not because I'm an optimist. It's because I know the end of the story, and we win. It's because I know the reality that whatever I'm going through, God's walking through it with me, and that He's already overcome.
But translating that into a walk of daily trust and obedience is a VERY HARD THING.
I've had hurt in my life. It's not NEARLY as much as some other people have had. It's more than some others have had. I'm not going to play the "my pain is worse than yours" game, though. It's ridiculous, because almost everyone knows what it feels like to have their heart broken, one way or another. The thing is, since my heart HAS been broken, it's really hard for me to trust again.
I've been given reason to believe that certain things in my life are going to get better. I've been given reason to believe that God is about to do something major in my life. I've been given reason to hope. And hope can be a very annoying thing sometimes.
Hope isn't safe. What's much safer is staying at home. In bed. Under the covers. It's safer believing that nothing good is going to happen. It's safer not trying.
Hope doesn't allow that. It makes you get out from under the covers and go outside and lift up your head. It makes you believe that there's something worth working towards. It makes you expectant, it makes you look forward to something. That sounds all well and good, but the negatively conditioned side of me is fearful. It doesn't trust. It would rather go hide under the covers because it is afraid of being disappointed again. It's afraid of being hurt.
But I am a realist. And this realist realistically believes that God is good, able, and loving. This realist believes that HE is in control. I believe it because He has proven Himself to be all the things He claims to be; He will do all that He has promised to do. Though part of me wants to run and hide, I won't. I won't because I believe in something greater than myself and my worldly fears.
Hope is annoying because it is risky. It is risky and relentless. It won't let me run and hide.
Because even if I do end up living in that cardboard box, even if my dreams are shattered again, even if I do get hurt once more, I can be confident in One Thing. That One Thing is a hope greater than anything in this world.
I can hope that one day I'll get married. I can hope that one day I'll be able to adopt a kid or two. I can hope that one day I'll get a book contract and become a wildly famous author. These are all good hopes, but, realistically, there's no guarantee that any of them will come true.
True hope is the hope that believes that no matter what else happens, everything is going to be all right. And everything is going to be all right because I have a God who loves me, who is able to do anything. Because I trust Him, I'm able to hope. And hope does not disappoint, even though it's really annoying.
So lift up my head, my God and King, and let me hope in You.