Monday, October 31, 2011

At Long Last...

I have overcome my terror of my W.I.P. Yes, after a long absence--too long--from Puddleby Lane, I summoned my courage to write a little. I was determined, come Cora's reticence or Ann Company's dreaded cliches, I would thrash out a bit, however small, of the story. Here's what I came up with. Not the worst thing ever for having been silent on the subject for over two months. :P Don't judge it too harshly, as this is entirely first-draft work here. :)

“Y’wanna walk from here? Might be a bit more distinguished,” Ann Company said. Cora winked at her friend as they clambered down from the cart and landed on the slatted sidewalk in front of a blue-painted house. Ann Company’s skirt swished around her legs with a fine rustling, and the sunlight played on her hair till it looked like dancing firelight. They had worked for an hour that morning replicating the elaborate style Maggie designed. It would be worth it, though, when they walked down Main Street.
“Ready?” Cora’s chest felt tight with excitement. Ann Company nodded, lifted her chin, and set off down the board-walk with her smooth, even pace. Cora ran her gloved fingers along the tops of the fence, bumping up and over each picket. She hung back on purpose, wanting to savor this moment of victory for her protégé.
Ann Company paused for a moment before the door of the chandler’s shop, then threw a faint smile in Cora’s direction. Cora hastened to join her, and together they ducked through the low doorway into the nautical shop. The interior was dim and cool and smelled of tar and brass. Cora shivered at the change from sunlight to cellar-light.
A thin, sharp little man perched on his stool, frail yet grounded as if he were a twig grafted to a stump. His lifted his eyes to the pair and his thick brows, like twin caterpillars, worked their way up the twig.
“Can I help you ladies?”
Ann Company threw back her head and laughed her Puddleby-laugh. “Don’t y’recognize me, Zeb?”
A glimmer of recognition flared in the man’s pale eyes and his mouth worked as if he chewed on a lump of tobacco. His Adam’s apple bobbed once or twice before a thin, husky voice forced itself between his slit of a mouth. “Ann Company, that you?”
“It’s me, Zeb.”
“Don’t hardly look like ye’self with all them doo-dads on ye.” The caterpillars worked harder and slid down the twig, hiding the pale eyes from view.
“It’s Miz Cora’s doin’.” Ann Company stepped to the counter and tossed her pocket-book on the wooden countertop. “But I can assure you it’s me. I’m here t’get that rope Pa ordered, and them fishin’ hooks.”
Zeb brushed the palms of his hands against his leather britches and sighed. The caterpillars wriggled up and down now in a worried sort of fashion. “If’n this here De-pression don’t start lookin’ up real soon there won’t be no chandlery for your Pa t’buy his ropes and fishin’ hooks from.”
Ann Company put her hands on her hips and stared at the man. Cora dropped her eyes and studied her gloves, brushing flecks of white paint from the wooden fence to the floor. All was quiet in the chandler’s shop for a moment. Then Ann Company spoke in a voice brisk as a breeze off the bay.
“And what makes you think this Depression won’t start lookin’ up? You ain’t lost yer faith, have you?”
Cora lifted her head, invigorated by the quiet strength in her friend’s tones.
 Zeb’s caterpillars slumped, chastened for the moment. “Now Miz Comp’ny, don’t you be ridin’ my back. Feller can’t be blamed fer feelin’ the e-ffects of this De-pression, can he? I’m only bein’ the mouth fer what all them hidin’ behind their religion are thinkin’.
Ann Company removed her gloves, and pulled each finger right-side out, keeping her eyes fastened on the chandlery-owner. “Then you’re a coward, Zeb. At least some of th’folks are tryin’ to be brave and not complain. Like Miz Cora’s family here. They lost their house and ever’thing they owned back in Illinois and moved all th’way out here, but I don’t hear Mr. or Miz Williams pulin’ about it.”
Cora felt the blood mounting to her cheeks as Zeb’s caterpillars pleated themselves in disconsolate puckers and his pale eyes took stock of her. His mouth worked again, and a stream of amber-colored juice sang into a brass pot on the floor at the corner of the counter. Cora drew herself up to her full height and looked Zeb in the eye. He grunted and un-grafted himself from the stump of a stool. With stiff motion, almost wooden in its creaking gait, he jerked over to a wall covered in skeins of rope and yanked one from its hook. “How much did ‘e want, Ann?”
“Twenty-five yards of th’ three-inch, and eleven of th’one-inch.” Ann Company grabbed Cora’s hand and squeezed it.
Grousing under his breath, Zeb measured the rope yard by yard, pulling pieces the length of his arm, doubling the rope, and repeating the motion. The caterpillars had returned to their “at-ease” positions, and Zeb stared at Ann Company as his hands fed lengths of rope to the growing coil looped over his arm.
“How long’d it take t’get ye cleaned up?”
“Then y’like it?” Ann Company’s green eyes flashed triumph.
Zeb’s caterpillars zipped up the twig and hung, suspended by invisible threads, at the fringe of hair capping his head. “Didn’t say I didn’t. But ye’re lookin oncommon tidy t’day. Tell me true now. How long’d it take?”
Cora couldn’t stand it any longer. “I think Ann Company looks simply lovely whatever she wears. Why, we hardly did anything to her except give her a bath.” Cora put her hand to her cheek and quailed inwardly. Clumsy, clumsy tongue! Why had she mentioned a bath in front of this stranger…and a man at that? Hot blood coursed through her cheeks.
Zeb’s mouth worked again, but this time Cora suspected he was trying to keep from laughing. She wrung her hands and contemplated ducking into the huge round of rope coiled next to a case of Captain Livvy’s Deck Soap.
“And I s’pect ye’re one a’thems that never complain ‘bout this De-pression? One a’them Williamses.”
Cora shook her head. “No. I mean, yes. I mean, not truly. I’m Mrs. Williams’ sister. And I do complain more than I ought.”
One of Zeb’s caterpillars disengaged itself and slid back into place. He leaned forward and Cora heard his knees creak like an aged tree in the forest twisted by a perverse wind. “You and I’d probably get along real well if ye’re th’ complainin’ type. Ain’t that right, Miz Comp’ny?”
Ann Company slapped Zeb with the back of her hand. “Quit yer bedevilin’ and finish up with m’rope. We’ve got a sight of errands t’run and I cain’t be bothered with you.”
Zeb’s second caterpillar settled in place beside the first, and his arms continued with their pulling, doubling, and wrapping. The rope was soon cut and hoisted onto the countertop beside a packet of deep-sea fishing hooks.
“That be all?”
Ann Company nodded. “And if’n you’d get Nat t’haul it over to Eulalie and th’wagon I’d ‘preciate it. I’d not be wantin’ t’get Miz Williams’ fancy dress smirched with grease from those ropes.” She smoothed the blue skirt and smiled in spite of herself.
“Wait a spell till Nat gets here. I know he’d be a’wantin’ t’see ye all purtied up.”
Cora smiled at the rich color that flooded Ann Company’s face. So that was it! Ann Company tossed a few silver dollars into Zeb’s waxy palm and tossed her head. “I ain’t waitin’ fer anyone. Me an’ Miz Cora are goin’ winder-shoppin’. Good bye.”
Ann Company swept out of the chandler’s shop, tugging Cora behind her. The bells of the door jangled behind them as if the shop were begging for one last look at this new Ann Company.
“Where are we going next, Ann Company?” Cora asked, having to trot to keep up with the hearty pace her friend set.
“We’re goin’ straight to t’the hat-shop and I’m a’buyin’ myself a real hat like this’un I’m wearin’. Can’t be lookin’ shabby now they’ve seen me like this.”
Cora laughed. “Come off it, Ann Company. You’ll always be the same beautiful woman, fancy clothes or not.”
“For sure, Miz Cora?”
“Undeniably. Come on. Let’s get some coffee.” Cora pushed Ann Company into the coffee-shop, having set eyes on a young man who was gazing in awe at Ann Company from the opposite side of the window. A young man who, if she were not very much mistaken, must be the Nat whom Zeb had mentioned.

Water-weak or Invincible?

My recently christened editor, Henry B. Baxter, was kind enough to forward some of your questions to me this morning. I was so pleased at his report of the response to a question-and-answer post so far. You can add your questions for me here: A Grand and Glorious Thingamajigger. :) I decided that I had better start answering some of these questions as they come, so as not to overwhelm the public with answering them all at once. That being stated, Henry B. Baxter tells me londongirl was first with her questions:
If someone was to write a Historical novel, what advice would you give them? (and) Is there any books or websites that you have found useful?

Let me start by answering the first question, as that has several points to it. The first piece of advice I would give a budding author in this genre is: "Do your research." It sounds dull, it sounds prosy (especially when the fantastic plot is swirling around your brain and the last thing you want to do is read up on the politics of the day) but in the end it will make the difference between water-weak literature and a book worthy of a Newbery Medal. I had to learn this lesson the hard way with my Victorian-era novel, A Mother for the Seasonings. My critique group partners told me (and none too gently) that they could not picture my setting in their minds. The characters and plot were happening in a void. It could have occurred any time, anywhere and been changed not a bit. Sure, hearing that hurt. But it was one of the best things for my writing experience. It taught me just how important suitable descriptions and correct information are.
I hate to say it this bluntly, (and I'm facing this daunting wall in Puddleby Lane) but it doesn't matter how amazing your plot and characters are--if you tell the reader your story is set in, say the Great Depression, if that setting does not influence your character and the events in the story, you've lost the whole point of historical fiction. I like to think of Historical Fiction as a way to learn history through literature. That being said, your facts need to be strong and true, and presented in a masterful way so that the reader doesn't feel like they are reading an encyclopedia. They are learning something as they live the story alongside your character. You must hide the pills of reality in the jam of fiction in such a way that the reader craves the pills and will go on from your book with an enhanced desire to learn about the time period. You can't achieve this by bending the plot. I'm sorry, but it's true. It isn't enough that you tell the reader your tale is set in a certain era. Timely descriptions of dress, speech, culture, will be your best friend when it comes to making the historic world come alive. There is so much potential in book set in times past. Do not be content with informing your reader of facts. Bring your Public through the trenches with German bombs whistling overhead. Shove them in the midst of the whirling mob storming the Bastille. Lock them in the Tower of London with Mary, Queen of Scots. It'll make all the difference in the world.

As for the second question: Is there any books or websites that you have found useful? I would have to answer: The internet in general. I can't tell you how helpful it is to be able to bring up a page of 2,000 French women's names, or an entire archive dedicated to fashions of the day. With a click of my mouse I can read up on whatever historical event I am writing about. It's amazing. As for writing help in general, I have found that the best way to get a hold on what good writing is, is to read good writing. As Benjamin Franklin said, "If you want to write things worth reading, read things worth writing." It's simple, but it's profound. Fill your mind with quality writing, and your pen will unconsciously learn. But we all need a little further instruction now and then, and for that, I must concede that I have found James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing priceless. Seriously, it's a must-have for any aspiring writer.
Beyond these resources, I will tell you that if you are brave enough, hand a copy of your manuscript to a person you know to be a good judge of literature, and have them tell you exactly what they think of it. It will not be easy to hear them picking your brain-child to pieces. But you know what? A lot of the time, they'll be right. And then sometimes they will be wrong, and you can put your little "baby" back together and move on. I can tell you from personal experience, though, that an unbiased opinion is worth a whole lot more than any timid changes you would choose on your own to make in your novel. :)
I hope this answered your questions, londongirl, and thank you so much for asking them! Mr. Baxter, I would appreciate your continued assistance in collecting the queries. Thank you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Grand and Glorious Thingamajigger

In keeping with the tradition rumbling my corner of the world, the tradition properly begun by...Jenny and followed by Abigail, I have decided to have my own question and answer Thingamajigger. :) You may here and now leave me a comment asking me anything at all about my writing, novels, processes, or even entirely random questions. Is there something pinging around inside your brain? "Why does she complain so much about uninspiration?" "Why does she capitalize things when they aren't supposed to be capitalized?" "What in tarnation happened to Puddleby Lane?" "Who is the protagonist of your newest novel? Jeanclaude or Tremaine?" [Yes, I confused someone with that one.] Something of that nature. I will do my level best to answer the questions honestly and as clearly as I can. Please leave me a comment with any (or all) of your questions and I will answer each and every one. :) I want to write about things you want to read about, so if you want an answer to a why or wherefore thereof, have at it, girls!
You may address all queries to my Editor, below.
Oh. And do me a favor and help me name him. ;)

November For Me...

Will be a normal month. I realize that by saying what I'm about to say, I could discredit myself as a writer. ;) That confession being made, I will move on.
I am not going to be participating in NaNoWriMo.
It's out! Let me now explain the reasons as to why I am not participating in this exciting project! :) First off, last year I hadn't the foggiest idea what NaNo was...I reckoned it had something to do with Narnia. :P Silly me. :D So below are my list of excuses and explanations:
  • I don't write well under intense pressure. Something I need to change? Maybe. Something I can change in a day? Nope.
  • I don't have a plot plotted for a whole novel that I could use in NaNo.
  • This year my life doesn't have the margin, and doesn't need the stress of fitting 50,000 words into one month.
  • I don't want to set myself up to fail, knowing that I am [practically speaking] not ready for this challenge.
There. You see? Four pretty good reasons why NaNo isn't for me this year. It sounds amazingly fun. I wish I had the time and margin to do it. I wildly applaud you girls who have managed it. I will follow the windings of your pen to the utter ends. But I'll just be an on-looker this time around. :)
(Correction: NaNoWriMo wannabe. ;)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Absolute Nonsense!

This is what happens to my literary prowess when I've got a 40's Vintage-hairstyle Tutorial on the brain. I was waiting for pictures to load and picked up my pen and began to scribble:
By A. Mourner

Gerbilrat Gillisplug,
King of Mice
Pinched his tail
in block of ice.
Squeaked and writhed
in sordid pain,
Got unstuck,
then stuck Again.
Wriggled, squiggled,
shrilled and squeed,
Till his tail
at last was freed.
Danced around
till frosty dusk,
screamed until
his voice was husk.
All his subjects
came to view
Gerbilrat's great
For he'd caught a mouse-y plague
And he died from tummy-ague.
And this decree his
Sad Death spawned:
Never pinch your tail
In Pond!

I told you! It is nothing but the keenest sort of nonsense my pen has ever leaked out. Good heavens. What a confession to make to the wide wide world. I ought to be ashamed of myself. Pity is, I kind of like it. ;)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of Thunder And Lightening

I am still in the planning and researching stages of my French Revolution novel, and I have promised myself I will not write a stitch of real writing until I've finished. I can have that much self-possession, can't I? However, I can still work on characterization, and here we are with a glimpse of the villain of the novel: Renaud Tremaine. As he is perfectly capable and more than willing to do the honor, I will let him speak for himself. Merci, Citizen Tremaine.
 “Bah! Lost another hundred livres at cards. Mon Dieu!” The speaker slammed the door behind him and cast himself, prostrate, on a chaise lounge nearby.
“I would not swear by that name if I were you, Jeanclaude. The Committee of Public Safety mightn’t like it. There is no God now, save the Goddess of Reason.” Renaud Tremaine’s lip curled in disdain for the fool before him. He laughed, the bitter tones mocking yet challenging the young man before him. Jeanclaude took a lace-edged handkerchief from his pocket and with great deliberation polished his monocle.
Tremaine fastened his gaze on Pierre Jeanclaude, inspecting him like a butterfly on a pin. Every detail of the young man’s person was captured, memorized, and scorned by Renaud’s dark eyes—eyes that, did they reside under hair a different hue than that of a winter's sun, could have been called “fine.” Beneath the pale shock of curls, Renaud Tremaine glared at the world from the brooding depths of his eyes, with the unearthly effect of lightening and thunder.
Jeanclaude was a fool, just like every other weak-willed “patriot” in Paris this summer. Renaud picked at the stitching coming loose on his shirt-cuff and struggled to keep his passion from flashing forth in an oath and a blow to the face of the foppish Jeanclaude. But Renaud Tremaine had a reputation to keep up—a reputation as a rising leader in the Revolution. Cool, polished, debonair, ambitious: these were words that Renaud taught to cavort around him a dance of popularity. One misplaced remark, one hint of the passion crouching behind his thunderous eyes, and all would vanish back into the mist of obscurity he had risen from. Risen, like a phantom from a grave of disgrace, as his rivals liked to quip. Ah, but that was all changing. He had Citoyen Marjorie Larrieu on his side. He would not call her Sweet-Marjoram, as the enamored Parisian youths did. Bah! Sweet! She was a vixen if ever a woman could be, albeit his cousinship to this self-same Marjorie. He liked her—ah, of course he liked her. They were cut of the same cloth, that Marjorie and him. She, with her quaint witticisms and pretty airs, like a petted peacock; he with his aspirations for power and homage. Neither had reached their full potential yet. But together, and if no blundering fools like Jeanclaude came in the way, they could reach a height as of yet unattained by anyone. Marjorie and Renaud Tremaine, holding the reins of Paris in their collective hands. Feeling the emotions of the people quivering up the lines, able to turn the country any way with their supple fingers.
Renaud’s fingers shook and he clenched his fist to keep them still, casting combined thunder and lightening at the empty face of Pierre Jeanclaude. No, he had nothing to fear from that corner, he was certain. Marjorie loved herself too well to stoop to a union with such a swine. He would woo her and win her, and Paris would be in his hands. A happy thought, indeed

Monday, October 24, 2011

Doth Mine Eyes Deceive Me?

"Or is that a foil to my genius hovering over my shoulder?" 
My Utopian Writing Spot. ;)
There comes a time in every writer's life when she is sitting at her keyboard and absolutely cannot write. Not because she has Writer's Block, not because she is physically impaired. No. Because she's met her Kryptonite. Or, as we old-fashioned people say, her Achilles' Heel.
For some it might come in the form of an empty spot where their mug of coffee usually abides.
For others it might have something to do with their nails being too long and clacking during the typing process which is most distracting.
Who knows? For some of you it could even be because you have the Broadway song, "Popular", stuck in your head and can't seem to make it go away. ;) But I can tell you what my Arch-nemesis is. What makes me cringe and puts a massive road-block in my brain? What is the worst impediment to my wit? What can cow me within a moment of its appearance? Ready for it? Okay, but I'm warning you, it's disturbing!

.....Someone reading over my shoulder.....

There! It's out and I feel muchly better. ;) Seriously, I could have a perfectly smashing idea banging against the sides of my brain to be let out onto paper or Microsoft Word or anything else, but the moment the face of an inquiring person peers over my shoulder, the Thing is effectively shut up in Jane Murdstone's metallic handbag, or locked in an airtight box, or strapped to The Rack. In essence it is Temporarily Destroyed.
I don't know what this People-Watching-Me phobia stems from, unless it be a creeping feeling that I am unequal to the task of transferring my thoughts into words. Or it could be the fact that during the writing process I am susceptible to every form of self-doubt, feeling silly for writing something mildly genius, or any number of other problems.
Whatever the case may be, I cannot write with someone's eyes on me. It bothers the dickens out of me [no pun intended. :P] and I have to get rid of the person ASAP if any progress is to be made. ;) The first method of warfare against Inquiring Minds begins with a cold stare at the computer screen, entirely ignoring the person. If that fails, I resort of tapping the keys loudly in an irritated sort of fashion. If that fails, I turn and stare at the Inquiring Mind and ask with cold civility, "What are you doing?" If this too fails I turn pointedly back to the computer screen or piece of paper and say, "You know I can't write with people watching me." And they usually leave without further protest.
I admit it. I am not an angel when genius burns. Not by any means. But it is partly the fault of the Inquiring Minds who, did they care to inquire into Memory's hall, would remember my aversion to being watched while scribbling. :D
What's you Achilles' Heel? And how do you get over it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Bit of Wool-gathering ;)

When ideas float in our mind without any reflection or regard of the understanding, it is that which the French call revery, our language has scarce a name for it.  ~John Locke
I am discovering that my pen, like an artist's brush, is limited in the things it can portray. It is my firm belief that there are some things that are so achingly beautiful they cannot be put into words. There are some emotions and sensations that are entirely unwriteable, even to the best of authors. There are some things that--were it even possible--should not be put into words for fear we'd break their fragile existence. I speak out of experience--Have you ever looked upon something so gorgeous it hurt, and then tried to capture the moment in words, only to find at the end that you have put something down on paper that is but a shadow of reality, and yet the reality has conformed to the words on the page and in your memory it hangs there, but a dim reflection of what Had Been? Sometimes we try too hard to describe the indescribable. There are some thoughts that are better left "void and without form" because they are too young and tender to be real thoughts yet. I have some of those reeling around my head right now, and yet I dare not even try to write them formally, even in my journal, lest they become something quite different than they are.
Even this post seems ridiculous and abstract and not exactly what one might call Coherent. I guess there are some things that must be felt, not understood. This might be one of them. Just don't try too hard to ferret out the whys and wherefores thereof. As Matthew Cuthbert said, "Keep a little room for romance, Anne." There's no fun in knowing everything, nor in being so all-powerful with your pen that there are no secrets too grand for your comprehension. Where would be the joy in that? We'd all be stuffy know-it-alls with nothing to think or say that hadn't been thought or said yesterday. And there I go with a Mr. John Knightley quote. I'd better end here before I get any more rambly. Happy Daydreaming! :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

By Hook or Crook...

I'll pin you down, Cora Lesley! You with your bright smile and winsome ways! You who looked so innocent smiling across the page at me! You who promised me smooth sailing, for after all you are fourteen years old and ought to know how to behave!
But I'll tell you one thing, Little Missy: you are giving me more trouble than all of the Seasoning children put together! [Dill and Angelica included] What is it about you that is so hard for me to write? Why do I feel that as soon as you arrived at Puddleby Lane you shut me out and ran away from me across the smooth yellow sands, free and swift as a sandpiper? I can't understand you right now. I write you into a scene and make you say and feel things I know you never saw nor felt, but you aren't helping a bit. You smile at me with that sweet complacency and look over my shoulder at these fictional actions. When I ask you what you think of it you shake your head and say, "It may be like me and then again it may not. You decide."
But I don't want to decide! I want you to let me in on that secret of yours. I find I understand Ann Company with all her eccentricities far more than I do you. Cora Lesley, I brought you into being and I find you are an enigma. So simple and yet so complex. What in tarnation did I write you for?
And yet for all this I love you. I love you for your complex simplicity, even when I'm foundering in misunderstanding. I love you for your quiet strength that is so foreign to me. I love you for being bold when I'd be frightened, and for being weak when I'd be strong. I'm sorry I'm not able to read what's behind those soft brown eyes. You are the sweetest character [despite your prejudices against being written] that I've created thus far. But, dear Cora, couldn't you be a little more forthcoming? I'd appreciate it.
                                          Your Befuddled Admirer,
                                                            Rachel Heffington

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where's the Middle?

With the lively strains of "The Tinker's Wedding" tinkling in the background, I tap my fingers impatiently against the keys and think of which topic milling about my head I should harass and ask to make itself into a post.
Oh. You want me to harass you and make a post? Are you sure? You are not exactly a Well-Formed thought....What's that? Oh, fine. Here goes nothing!
Despite what things are important in real life, we must all admit that one's physical appearance in some minute way affects our impression of a person. I am sorry, but that is so. In saying that, I begin to think of beloved friends in literature and how they look. There is one thing that is consistent throughout literature:
The most famous, beloved heroes and heroines are good-looking. And if not, they are ugly. There is no middle ground. What on earth is this fascination with beauty? I wonder, and yet I succumb to the same temptations as other writers through the ages and bestow on all my characters whatever physical appearances I wish. I vex myself thinking that I am weak enough to give in to letting my gals be lovely and my guys dashing. And yet, I think L.M. Montgomery's Story Girl said it well when she admitted something akin to:
"If you are going to all the trouble to make up a character, why not make them beautiful? It's just as easy as making them ugly, so why not let them be pretty?"
I think that's what it is. We writers create alternate worlds, sometimes, amongst our characters, and those of us who do not possess over-much outward beauty wish to fix that "flaw" by living vicariously through one of our fictional women. It's human nature, lasses, and we've got to acknowledge that.
However, there is a time and a place for flawed appearances too. Some characters just would not come to life if they were blessed with exceptional beauty or physical stature. There is beauty to be found in every face, and the faces with character are often ones that have irregular features...things about them that would not be considered lovely.
But strange to say you seldom see anyone in literature who is merely plain. Well, excepting Ann Shirley. But it seems that in books with those people, they are only self-proclaimed as plain. I mean, Gilbert and I certainly thought her lovely and she grew up to be so. I think it's all a matter of opinion, personally. :)
I guess I just wrote this Unformed Thought down to get your thoughts on the matter and to point out that foible of always having to give our characters one extreme or the other. It's silly, isn't it, to make everyone so extraordinary. What a queer world of people we writers have made, where a gal like me would never exist: Not beautiful, not ugly, just ordinary. Now that's something to think about! :) ~Rachel

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nazarene Noon: a short story

Sorry for the unexplained absence this week! I was counseling at a girls' camp and had no internet access, for which I was very grateful, as it could not be a distraction! It was such a blessed time and so busy, but I had just enough time to scribble this piece about a Bible character the speaker spoke on. Tell me how you like it! :)

"Nazarene Noon"
 By Rachel Heffington
Mary took the earthen jug into her work-worn hands and turned it over. She felt the familiar warmth of the sun-soaked clay, the same ridges on the rim that had always been there. She smiled--an expression laced with tears--and marveled that the jug could remain unchanged after...Mary put her hand to her belly as a movement, gentle and soft as the spring's first butterfly, reminded her of all that had changed. 
She sighed and ducked through the low door-frame into the hot Israeli afternoon. The cistern in the garden, crowded over with a riot of almond-blossoms from Papa's tree, was where it had all begun. Mary approached the well with hushed footsteps, half-fearing, and almost expecting the angel to be there. She had never been more frightened in all her fifteen years, she recalled. First the blinding, flaming light, then the deep voice speaking in tones far richer than any Abba could coax out of his lyre. Mary had thrown herself to the ground at the first sound of the awesome voice. He told her not to fear, and all at once a deep peace, more encompassing and filling than any she'd ever known flowed through ever fiber in her being.
Then the angel, Gabriel, told her things so wondrous they could not be true, or so it seemed. Mary smiled as she felt the fluttering again. They could not be true, but they were true. She knew that more wholly than ever after the angel had spoken.
It was strange, of course, and Mary felt she must ask the question that crowded her tongue before it asked itself. "How can this be, since I do not know a man?"
The angel's countenance brightened with laughter till it shone, no longer like a flame, but with the joyful light of the year's first snow. Then the angel told her the strangest thing yet: the Holy Spirit would come upon her and overshadow her and, well....this.
Mary glanced up at the sun and rubbed her belly. "How are you, my King?" she whispered, then giggle as a tiny kick replied.
She filled her earthen jug with haste, spilling a little on the dusty ground, and returned to the house. She must leave early tomorrow morning to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, of whom the angel had also spoken.
Her cousin, pregnant? Elizabeth--with her wealth of iron-grey hair and deep smile lines, her calloused hands and bent back--to have a son? But if she herself, a virgin yet, was with child, who was she to question it? After all, stranger things had--Mary broke off there. She wasn't sure anything stranger had happened. She would stay with Elizabeth till her cousin's time came--three months at least. She would miss Abba and their quiet home, and Joseph. Oh, how she would miss Joseph! He of the warm brown eyes and gentle smile, the big strong hands that could do such delicate carpentry. Joseph of the courageous heart and just nature, who treated her with love and tenderness! How the news of her pregnancy would hurt him!
Mary bowed her head, the folds of her mantle falling forward and her thick, dark hair almost covering her face. She clasped her hands across her heart and rocked.
"Oh Lord," she sobbed, "Let it be unto me as Thou hast said! If I am never to be Joseph's wife I will not cry against Thee! But oh, do not let me despise me for what has come upon me!" Mary lifted her head and dried her years. Abba would be home soon and she knew he would be hungry.
She mixed flour and olive oil in a bowl, and stirred a pot of stew simmering on the fire. Should she tell Abba tonight? No, she would keep this news from her family a short while longer. She must tell Joseph in just the right way. By the time she returned from Elizabeth's house her condition would be too plain to be concealed.
What a day for the Galilean gossips! But God would not forsake her--she knew that. And despite the bewilderment and anxiety, the deep peace flowed again, and Mary smiled, knowing she was indeed blessed among all women.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Inkpen Poetry Day: Autumn Landscape

I know you all are bored to death with my raptures over autumn, bored to death over my autumn-inspired poetry, bored to death over it all. But bear with me this one last time and I promise I won't speak of it again....for a week at least. ;) 

"Autumn Landscape"
 By Rachel Heffington
A glimm'ring, golden, vibrant sheen
Upon the leaves once rustling green;
A quick'ning, blood-red, 'passioned glow
Where summer's verdure loved to show;
A dusky, haunting, crimson stain
Dyes every maples in the lane;
A flick'ring orange, dizzying flame
Puts all of spring-time to a shame.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dialog--the spice to your story

In my newly restored passion for being a truly great writer, or perhaps more honestly, in my newly restored passion for reading great writers, I've come across a weakness of mine that I plan to mend. That weakness?
My dialog is not the worst that I've come across by any means, but it lacks meatiness. I spend more time in simple dialog without making much of it pack a punch. My characters tend to speak (at the most) three sentences at once. Granted, the sentences they do speak sound realistic and like real dialog, but there is a median ground between realism and monologue.
The book I am reading right now, The Gates of Zion by Brodie Thoene, is full of amazing dialog. His character's words count for something. They are not senseless babble or one-word replies. The dialog is loaded with insight, wit, emotion, and greatness. And the people generally speak more than a couple sentences. ;)
Dialog is such a fertile ground for telling a story. Giving your characters the chance to tell the story rather than you telling it yourself is effective indeed. And I want to remedy my simple little conversations and make them a bit more powerful. That is not to say I want my villain to go off on a three-page rant or my quiet little-girl character to suddenly become a great orator. But there are ways and means.
Ways and means?
Aye, ways and means. 
[Pardon my lapse into North and South there. :] I think of good dialog as having lots of conflict or emotion in it. Perhaps there are moments when you can have both. A good, riveting conversation will be like a fencing match--little thrusts and parries and poking-each-other-in-the-back. To and fros, ups and downs, steel clanking upon steel...that sort of thing. Thus far my characters' words have been effective, somewhat, but rather of the tea-party species instead of the dueling style. Now of course you don't want every conversation to be an argument, nor the quiet, sweet moments to have to have a diabolical plot and reason behind them. Let me give you a quick example of the same setting, one with polite exchanges, the other with conflict.
Let's see...the setting will be a young man trying to send a mysterious letter at a small-town post-office. The mail-girl is unduly curious and it's irritating him.

"I'd like two stamps please."
"Right. That'll be twenty-four cents." The mail-girl leaned against the counter and held her hand out, palm-up.
He fished around in the depths of his suit-pocket and brought out a dusty quarter. "Here. Keep the change."
"Thanks." The quarter landed with a glittering rattle in the cash-register. The mail-girl took a penny out and weighed it in your hand. "Who's it to?" She indicated the letter in the young man's hand and smiled, curious.
"My grandmother."
"She lives in Germany? Wow. That's a long way. Funny. You don't look German." She squinched up her nose and tilted her head, taking in every dark feature of the man before her. "You look Italian to me. Are you sure the letter's for your grandmother? I'd bet this penny it's your girl-friend." She laughed archly and tossed the penny in the air.
"Listen, missy. I haven't got all day. I'll just send this myself if you please." The young man swept out of the post office and dropped the letter in the mailbox, careful to hurl it into the very depths of the blue-tin box.

Right. So that's the polite conversation there. Just the bare minimums to show the guy was getting irritated. Here's how I'd rather write my dialog:

"Two stamps. And hurry--I've got a train to catch." The young man scanned the room with his burning, dark-eyed gaze, as if searching for something.
The mail-girl pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow. "Right. That'll be twenty-four cents.
"Don't know why postage has gotta' cost so much these days," he mumbled, fumbling in his pocket for change. He brought out a quarter. "Here, keep the change. Who knows? Might be a lucky penny...though in that case I could use the luck."
"Oh? Who's your letter to? Bet it's your girl-friend." The mail-girl leaned over the counter and peered at the address.
He pointedly covered the direction with his hand and licked the stamps, keeping his eyes fastened on the envelope. "It's to my grandmother for your information. Don't know what business it is of yours, though."
She crossed her arms and drummed her fingertips along them. "Huh."
He glanced up and rolled his eyes at her offended interest. "Listen, honey. It's to my ailing Germany. 'Kay? She's sick."
The girl's eyes brightened. "Funny. You don't look German...your nose is too big and your eyes are too dark."
"Hey, tootsie, this isn't a beauty pageant. Can't blame my parents for my looks."
She continued, undaunted. "You look Italian to me. Are you Italian?"
"Maybe that's why I love spaghetti." He clenched his jaw and licked the last stamp, then whirled around. "Listen, missy. I haven't got all day. I'll send this later."

See the difference? I personally would rather read the second example in a book. :) Any great tips for writing dialog? Let me know! ~Rachel