Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Samwise Gamgee :)

I have been working a great deal on Fly Away Home. Remember that novel? I suddenly got my inspiration back for it, so I've decided that I'll work on both FAH and Scuppernong simultaneously. When I get tired of writing for grown-ups I'll switch over the Scuppernong, and vice-versa. For now I wanted to introduce you to one of the characters in FAH that is more of a side-character, but whom I have fallen in love with. Meet Jerry Atwood, the lobby-man at Callie Harper's apartment building. Okay. So I admit, his character is much like Samwise Gamgee's, but honestly I had no thought of choosing Sean Astin to represent him until I had already written his first scene. :) Now it fits perfectly:

Awww...I love Jerry. :) He has rahther a large infatuation with Callie and would do anything in the world for her. He's genuine, loyal, sweet, and entirely unappreciated. Poor fellow. She sees him rather as an annoyance, but I have a suspicion Jerry is one of those heart-people who one can't forget. Ever.
Here are a few of his shining moments so far:

       I slipped past the reception desk, hoping that Jerry would not be on duty—he always managed to address me in a way that it would be absolutely blatantly cruel of me to ignore. Plus, he had the sweetest little British accent which made it seem even crueler to ignore him. Blast manners—I wonder what Emily Post would think of me if I told her I plotted my schedule—my comings and goings—around who was on duty.
-Fly Away Home
        “Miss Harper! How was work?” His round, jovial face beamed at me. Dear Jerry. I had to share my good news with someone and because Nickleby—even if he was a darling cat—did not exactly count as someone, my manner toward Jerry softened.
-Fly Away Home

     “Good morning, Miss Harper!”
      I wiggled my fingers in an obscure reply to Jerry’s white-gloved salute.
     “Going forth to charm the world, are we?” he asked.  “Be yourself, Miss Harper. They’ll love you for it.”
       Something in his words stopped me in my retreat through the lobby. Jerry’s round, boyish face lit up as I came over to the desk. “I don’t know, Jer,” I said.  I drummed my fingers on the desktop and bit my lip. “The world wants glamour and glitz. I want glamour and glitz. “
     “Glamour and glitz?”
      “Yes, yes. You know, dinner parties and glittering gowns, and awards and the opera. Gold cigarette cases and mink stoles, dozens of men sending flowers—all that. New York City will know Callie Harper as a dangerous, elegant woman.” My heart beat faster at this verbalizing of all my hopes and dreams.
      Jerry looked doubtful, but he was too polite to say anything contradicting my words. Instead he smiled again and put his gloved hand on top of mine, squeezing my fingers. “You now, Miss Harper; you’ll be whatever it is you make yourself into. Just take care you make yourself into something you’ll want to live with the rest of your life. And don’t forget me—us. The apartment and me…and the pigeons.” His face turned three shades of red and he began polishing his bell with embarrassed vigor.
      Pigeons. Honestly? I turned my back to him, vexed with myself for feeling unsettled, and lifted my chin high. “How could I fail to recall the shabby life I’ve lead till now?” I tossed the words over my left shoulder. “The trouble will be forgetting it.”
-Fly Away Home

Monday, May 28, 2012

Wisps of violet in between.

I keep scraps of paper stuffed everywhere with my writing all over them. Incidentals I've captured on paper, folded up, (half ashamed of some of them) and forgotten about. Honestly, some authors have a writing notebook in which they neatly file every little sentence they write. (Or such is my impression) I could call myself artistic, but I suspicion I am merely a tidge scatter-brained.
All the same, I do have to admit to feeling rather brilliant when I open a book and a scrap of paper tumbles out into my lap. Or onto my head. Or at my feet. Whichever way the cookie crumbles.
What's this?
I unfold it. Written sloppily on the paper I generally find a few sentences describing an interaction, a moment, some elusive emotion, a humorous or witty exchange of banter... And you know what? They are generally not too bad at all. Much better than I might have hoped. I wonder if perhaps these obscure scribbles gain genius from their close embrace with the pages of finer books...?
I think I have a condition. I think I have OWD. (Obsessive writer's disorder.) I am constantly having a conversation within myself that goes something like this:

Normal Rachel: "I wish you could take everything that woman tells you as truth, but you know she has alzheimers and is making most of it up."
Inner Rachel: "Who cares? It's hilarious."
Writing Rachel: "Not to mention the fact that this whole conversation would fit perfectly in a book about a writer. Totally gotta capture this moment on paper. Who knows when I might use it in the future?"
Normal Rachel: "Guys...guys..we're taking this too far."
Writing Rachel: "Excuse me? Where's a pencil? Where's paper? Let me through!"
Inner Rachel: "Yeah! What time is it? We need to get home so she can write."
Normal Rachel: "Really? You are so pitifully entranced by words. Go away."

Ahem. What? Why are you looking at me out of the corners of your eyes like that? You mean to say you don't hold lengthy conversations with yourself? You don't know what you're missing.

All the same, I do think it's a good idea to write anything and everything down. If it occurs to you to capture the moment in words, do so. Please. You never know when you might need to lighten a scene of your plot-heavy novel with a good laugh. You never know if that gorgeous sunset you saw yesterday evening will figure significantly in a book you've yet to write. I think it's this that drives me to hoard away little caches of writing. And actually, I have used several scraps in my novels. Because sometimes you just need that boost of antiqued, burnished inspiration. Stuff that has sat around cheek-to-cheek with the plot of Oliver Twist on your bookshelf might just give your current project a certain eclat.

So keep on with your obscure twists of paper and index cards and backs of receipts and anything else you vent your word-obsession on. I promise you'll thank yourself one day!

In which I get my first real taste of romance...

Yes! :) I'm living a romance vicariously through my bestest older brother and one of my all-time, most beautiful, most bestest of all best friends.

Yes, there is officially a courtship going on between my older brother, Daniel, and Abigail Taylor...and I'm so happy. After all, when there's quite a possibility of your best friend becoming a sister, there's an awful lot to write about! :) *happy sigh*

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Too difficult for adults.

*This is why I write children's fiction*:

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, you write it for children." -Madeleine L'Engle

Friday, May 25, 2012

And so dissolves Clan Afton

I am linking up with Lightening Flashes at the Anne-Girl's blog! This is a new, monthly blog series in which the Anne-girl gives us a picture and we write a piece of flash fiction. The picture was flash fiction was...intimidating. Here it is! I hope you enjoy it in some measure.

The Inspiration:

What came of it:
     "Forget about her, lad. Put her from your wee mind." The young knight's voice came soothing, hushing, close to Eanon's ear.
     Eanon relaxed in the man's arms. He felt same with the low, masculine voice murmuring in his ear and the coarse prickling of the knight's beard pressing through his linen tunic. He might be young, but Eanon felt a glimmer of curiosity mingling with the red-hued fear as the gilded hill rose higher, step by step as the knight carried Eanon down the boulder-pocked slope. What would happen to Aunt Eileen--beautiful, cruel, crazed. She was lying there, crumpled near the fire was Eanon had seen her last before the Red Fury swept through. Another of her drunken passions, Eanon knew, but they never ceased to frighten him. Then the Red-Fury had come with their gruff voices and flashing armor. Stern, they stood beside the table and conferred among themselves.
     Eanon huddled in the corner of the croft behind the stack of peats. They made a pungent-odored fortress shielding him from Eileen and the Red Fury alike.
     "She's dead--the witch," one soldier said.
     "Nay, not dead. She's likely enchanted herself as she has so many others--Bah!" the second speaker spat over Eileen's still form. His spittle popped in the fire.
     "She is a poor, addle-pated woman. Do not disrespect her so." This last voice was measured, gentle, and strong.
     Eanon raised himself, curiosity to see the soldiers, pulling him to his feet. Was Eileen--cruel Aunt Eileen--dead at last from her reckless passions? But a moment later he saw her chapped, cracked lips move. Then she raised herself, her tangled black curls making a web across her tortured face. The soldiers took a step back and Eanon shrank from the bold, reckless gleam in her eyes. It was such a gleam gave him these welts if he stood too near her.
     "I am not dead, vermin!" her voice was weary and shaking. "But I, Eileen McAfton, will never stir from my father's croft though all the wights of the dusk pulled me away. You seek to destroy the clans of the Glen. But never--never while I live, and the brave chief Eanon. I am keeping him--training him to be a man of war and he shall slay every last one of you!"
     Her wide, soulless eyes sought him and Eanon felt no mere peat-stack could cover the scalding burn he felt as her intense gaze scorched him. She held her arms out to him and Eanon wavered for a moment with the eyes of the wild woman and the soldiers upon him. Should he got to comfort her? Aunt desperate. But the fitful fire sparked in her eyes again and Eanon's blood rushed to his bruises and made them throb. She laughed and swayed to her feet; beautiful, wild, she stood a queen.
     "You are here to take me--to do me a harm. Never, while I live!"
     Eanon scarcely recognized the glimmering object in Eileen's hand as the Ophthel dagger, but so it was and Eileen rushed upon the men, slicing at them with precise, measured strokes. An unearthly song flowed from her lips. Eanon knew it--Clan Afton's war-hue--and his stomach knotted. The Red-Fury drew their weapons and surrounded Aunt Eileen. A few more strikes with the Ophthel dagger and the woman fell to her knees sobbing and choking.
     Her despair frightened Eanon. He cried too and fled from the dark, low croft. Swift foot-steps pursued him and the youngest knight's arms lifted Eanon in a mail-clad, yet gentle embrace.
     "There, there, lad. We shan't harm you, be you chieftain or shepherd. Lie still now and forget her. Lie still..."
     Eanon watched the hill now as the red rays of sun burnished croft and slope alike. "And so," he thought, a cold weariness creeping through his short, childish frame, "And so dissolves Clan Afton."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beautiful People: Growlbeard; Lord of the Night.

So this month's Beautiful People appears to be about villains. Aha aha. Well, I never did tell you much about Growlbeard, Lord of the Night from The Scarlet-Gypsy Song. I am afraid you won't understand much about this panther-chap unless I tell you. 

1. What is their motive?
Motive? Must the Lord of the Night have a motive to do what he wants? I suppose his motive in jumping Darby and Peter Quickenhelm was to gain their information for himself before they reached Fitz-Hughes with it.

2. What are they prepared to do to get what they want? 
Absolutely anything. Though, like any cat, Growlbeard tends to want to play with his capture before killing it.

3. Are they evil to the core, or simply misunderstood? 
Manipulative would be a better word. He is a loner and gets what he wants when he wants it. Usually it is through evil means, but Growlbeard can put on the purring charm if he wants to.

4. What was their past like? What about their childhood? Was there one defining moment that made them embrace their evil ways?
Ever since his kitten-hood (and that being a thousand years ago) Growlbeard has known nothing but what the Scarlet Gypsy taught him. It was she who taught him voice-changing so that he can sing like a bird or speak like a man. Now that she has been dead for so long he still walks in the paths she taught him. In that way he is tied to her.

5. Now that they’re evil, have they turned their back on everyone, or is there still someone in their life that they care for? (Brother? Daughter? Love interest? Mother? Someone who is just as evil as they are?)
Growlbeard is only attached to the memory of the Scarlet Gypsy, and to himself. He's rather narcissistic.

6. Do they like hugs?
Come again? I can't imagine Growlbeard getting a hug from anyone, even the Scarlet Gypsy herself.

7. Are they plagued by something? (Nightmares, terrible thoughts?)
Nothing concerns Growlbeard except the worry that someone else will eclipse him in spying on both sides and relaying information.

8. Who are they more similar to: Gollum or Maleficent?
Both. He's got Gollum's treachery and Maleficents...malice. :D
9. If your villain could have their choice of transportation what would it be?
His own four paws. They are more than adequate enough to take him all through the Stridings of Scarlettania.

10. If you met your villain in the street, how afraid would you be? Are they evil enough to kill their creator? 
I would be intrigued rather than afraid, I think. Growlbeard wouldn't kill me right off. He'd probably taunt me and tease me and then prick me with his frightening, moon-white claws. 

       " mistress loved me and I was greatest success--the most beautiful, gorrrgeous, and enchanted of all her creaturrres."        "You mean...there were more of you?" Darby whispered.
        "We were a legion." The hissed reply hung in the corners of the grotto and filled Darby's being with shadow-winged dread.                                                              -The Scarlet-Gypsy Song

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What's to be the pill in all this jam?

When a random person chucked us a random magazine that had something to do with Creationism, the very last thing I expected to find inside was a very lucid article regarding the topic of How To Write Christian Fantasy. A very good article, by-the-by, and one I found most intriguing. The writer had several points I hadn't considered. But the one thing I found myself nodding along to was the mention he made of common pitfalls in writing Christian Fiction. As in any sort of writing, there are ways to do it and ways not to do it.
So how does one write Christian Fiction? I'll give you a few tips.
"Rule Number One: Obey All rules."
Now how did Barney Fife get into this post. Honestly. I believe the Crustimony Proseedcake in such cases is to over-moralize. The first thing is to be sure you don't over-moralize. There is nothing worse than a moral tacked onto the end of a book. Or the beginning of the book. Or all through the book. The thing is, morals don't have to be taken like pills. I shall revert to the Duchess of Wonderland's advice on this:
"'Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. 'Everything's got a moral if only you can find it.'"
That is the key to writing good Christian fiction. A moral or two jabbed on the plot at a jaunty angle does not make your book "Christian." A mention now and again of your characters saying grace before a meal makes for a weak testimony. The fact that they go to church and a scriptural allusion now and again is not much more helpful.
Inversely, books like C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe never once out-right say they are "Christian" and yet one can't help but see the parable all through. That book is simply dripping with a rich understanding of Christ's kingdom. The morals in that book are quite obvious because they are distilled like a sweet fragrance all through the tale.
Honestly, who wants to be served a dish of morals on a silver platter? How would you like it if you came to read a story that chopped along something like this:
"He raised his sword and poised it at his enemy's throat--"You will die, villain, because you are prideful--Pride goeth before a fall...well....I'm your fall."
That is plain and simple awfulness. You don't need to be so obvious in your writing. You see, it all comes down to a simple question of world-view. If your mind has been exchanged from a callow, worldly mind to one focused on heavenly things and on glorifying Christ, His standards will flavor every word that comes out of your pen. You don't need to constantly try to plug in Bible verses in every other sentence because the whole of the book will reflect your world-view. If your world-view is flawed, so will be your morals. If it's a good, healthy, well-developed world-view than that will carry your standards into the plot. In fantasy this is particularly important, as you don't usually have the option of deeming your characters devout Protestants who always pray before every meal (even snacks) and quote Scripture at each other all the live-long day. ;) (Not that quoting Scripture is wrong. It has it's place, definitely, but I detest books where the dialog is entirely made up of try-to-fix-holes-in-the-plot quotations.)

To again reference the Duchess, "everything has a moral." Even things you don't think have morals. They are either good morals or bad morals. The key is to finding the moral and sprinkling it evenly through the plot, not building sandcastles with it at either end of the book. Do that, and people are likely to doubt your sincerity. After all, what sort of person forgets about their objective till the very end of a thing? Obviously they mustn't care too much about the point.

Just a thing or two to think about. :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

So as to choose.

The Portrait of a Lady...where to start? I finished this book the other evening, sitting on the front porch in the light of a beautifully dying day. The lighting was strangely in company with the bittersweet ending. My favorite character died as the sun sank behind a hill and the sunset color spread across the canopy of the sky like a fond farewell.
I also got bit by a spider.
(But that is beside the point.)
I am not much  good at plot summary so I took Wikipedia's words to show you:
The Portrait of a Lady is the story of a spirited young American woman, Isabel Archer, who "affronts her destiny" and finds it overwhelming. She inherits a large amount of money and subsequently becomes the victim of Machiavellian scheming by two American expatriates.
The book begins with young Isabel Archer, about nineteen years of age. A long-estranged aunt "adopts" her as a pet project and takes her home to England where Isabel meets her cousin, Ralph Touchett--a life-long invalid--and her uncle, Mr. Touchett: an American millionaire. She soon wins them over with her charm...wins them and their neighbor, Lord Warburton.
But when Lord Warburton proposes, Isabel do not accept--she has bigger aims in life. She wants to see the world, and though she loves Lord Warburton as a friend, she is not willing to marry him. Another suitor comes to claim her hand--one Caspar Goodwood whom Isabel has known from childhood. However, she is not willing to marry him either.
Instead, Isabel's Uncle Touchett dies, and (through Ralph's kindness) Isabel inherits a large fortune. She goes abroad and ends her two-year "independence" by marrying Gilbert Osmond--a man she is convinced must be the finest, most artistic, and clever man to walk the face of the earth.
But there were many things Isabel had misunderstood about this man and she has not been married many months before she becomes perfectly miserable.
Her friends crowd around her, trying to ascertain that she is happy in her new life, but Isabel is too proud to admit her defeat and misery and hides all from them, realizing only too late who it was that loved her, and whom she loved.

This sounds like a bleak plot for a book. Honestly, I mean, a miserable young woman trapped in a horrible marriage? Nevertheless, in The Portrait of a Lady Henry James showed a stellar knowledge of human nature and great skill in showing it. I found myself constantly intrigued by the...well...portraits of so many different characters...

 Driven, passionate, loyal Caspar Goodwood. 
Noble, beautiful, kind Lord Warburton. 
Weak, clever, gentle, loving Ralph Touchett. 
Scheming, cold, malicious Gilbert Osmond.
Deceptive, manipulating Madame Merle.

They were each distinct, accurate portraits of humanity that cut me to the heart and pieced me back together again. Even Isabel herself surprised me with the way she managed to be submissive and independent all at once. Strong as iron and weak at the same time. She truly was a woman of contradictions, and I loved and pitied her as much as I've ever loved and pitied any character.
The other intriguing element of this book was the fact that the characters you had at first viewed rather as threats to the plot changed after Isabel's marriage. You soon viewed them as her only friends, and valuable ones at that.

The writing of this book ran a little to the philosophic, or rambling side of things now and again, but as a lesson in character-study, it was unrivaled. The ending, however, left me winded. Things come to a head with Gilbert and Isabel. His cruelty and deception, her realization of this...Isabel defies her husband's command not to go to England to comfort her cousin on his deathbed. She arrives at Gardencourt just in time to say goodbye to Ralph. In one of the most touching scenes of the entire book Ralph tells her he loves her and that it was he who had made his father leave her the money...he apologizes for it, knowing that money was the only reason Gilbert Osmond married Isabel. The cousins are finally united in spirit again for the first time since Isabel's marriage, I began to look out for a telegram saying Gilbert had been killed, and then Ralph would get well and they would be wed and then...and then...and then Ralph died. *begins to tear up* It was inevitable, but so so sad.
That same evening Caspar Goodwood comes to ask Isabel to leave her cruel, unfaithful husband and let him take care of her.
Isabel refuses...returns to Italy...and the book ends.

After reading the last words I closed the book and gazed, slightly stunned, at the last embers of the sunset. Was I satisfied? Did the book end well? My heart ached deeply for Isabel, being faithful even to her devil of a husband. For her loss of Ralph...for it all. And yet I was glad Henry James stopped the book when he did. Doubtless there would have been developments that would have disappointed me. It is better this way.

So the final verdict on The Portrait of a Lady? A fascinating picture of trans-atlantic, American life in the 1800's, a stellar character-study, and a touching, sorrowful plot. I would recommend this book to anyone who feels they are up for a well-spun tale despite its lack of a happy ending.

Bits of beauty:

“I always want to know the things one shouldn't do.""So as to do them?" asked her aunt."So as to choose." said Isabel” 
*   *   *

“I don't care about anything but you, and that's enough for the present. I want you to be happy--not to think of anything sad; only to feel that I'm near you and I love you. Why should there be pain? In such hours as this what have we to do with pain? That's not the deepest thing; there's something deeper.” (sniff-sniff)

*   *   *

“She envied Ralph his dying, for if one were thinking of rest that was the most perfect of all. To cease utterly, to give it all up and not know anything more - this idea was as sweet as a vision of a cool bath in a marble tank, in a darkened chamber, in a hot land. ... but Isabel recognized, as it passed before her eyes, the quick vague shadow of a long future. She should never escape; she should last to the end.” 

*   *   *

“For all I know,he may be a prince in disguise; he rather looks like one, by the way- like a prince who has abdicated in a fit of magnanimity, and has been in a state of disgust ever since.” 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It does rock about so.

I am joining up with Rosamund Gregory in her Character's Letters blog event. Rosamund had the bright idea to do a sort of beautiful-people event in first person, that we might get inside our characters' heads better. This fits perfectly in with my ideas for Scuppernong Days, as I was already planning on having a few letters to and from Nicodemus Murdoch thrown in here and there. So without further ado, Nick's first letter a'sailing to Imperia. He writes in a boyish, scattered hand on kitchen-paper--all he's been able to scrap since being hired on The Scuppernong for a cabin-boy. There are blots here and there because of the rolling of the ship, but over all he keeps things tidy...for a ten-year old boy:

My Imperia,
        I am finally sitting down (on a keg of pickled herrings) to write to you. I know I promised I'd write more often but it's harder than I expected, being a cabin-boy. Garrick--the ship's cook--keeps me busy running errands all over the ship for him. But he's a good enough fellow and he's kind to Black Swan. Black Swan is the ship's cat--you'd love her, Imperia. She is sleek and fat from all the mice she eats in the hold. She's fat, too, from all the kittens inside her. At least that's what Nesbit says. Nesbit is the pilot and knows ever so much about stars and the ocean-paths. He's my favorite aboard ship--he knew Father, Imperia! Fancy that. I was pleased to hear it, and I think he was pleased to see me. His eyes crinkled up like leathery moons and he smiled.
There are lots of first-rate chaps on the Scuppernong but this paper isn't long enough for me to tell you all about them. They'll have to wait for another letter.
I go to bed every night thinking of you. I pray too--I pray that you'll have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, and that the Blackbird Woman will be kinder. Here's what's left of my pay--it isn't much but if you save it you can buy something pretty for yourself--a doll, maybe, or a hair ribbon. When I make our fortune you'll have all the dolls and dresses and ribbons money can buy and I will buy you a pony--one finer than the bay you admired so much at the fair last May Day. So wait for me, Imperia, and don't worry if I don't write often. I will write when I have something to tell you and when the ship is still enough--it does rock about so. But I'm not sea-sick and that is fortunate indeed. I was so afraid I would be and then I'd disgrace Father's memory and the whole Murdoch name, as we've always been sailors. You know.
Save my letters and someday when the Scuppernong comes back into harbor you'll be waiting for me on the wharf and I'll pour a whole pile of gold into your apron.We'll go directly to the inn and buy hot mince pies, as I'll be hungry for food of that sort--I'm already hungry for food of that sort, having nothing but salt-pork and biscuits for the past fortnight. Write if you get a chance and remember always that I love you.
I am your loving brother,

Scuppernong Days: The New Brain-Child

  "I'm running away, Imperia-lass." Nick called her that in the way Father used to before he'd gone missing at sea. It made the coal-glimmer of courage inside Nick flare to say it, so he spoke again: "Imperia-lass, I'm running away."......
      They were silent for a moment more, then Imperia released his hand and sat up. "And will I stay here?"
       "Do you mind so very much, Peria?"
       "Not so very much, Nick. Not if you promise to come home to me by and  by."
Thus starts the newest of my stories and one that I think will stick to me and I to it. I have told you before that I can write in many many styles, but the best and bonniest and most natural of them all tastes of Edith Nesbit and Louisa May Alcott. It's the style that runs in my blood. It is my voice. My voice is best suited to children's fiction and thus I feel lost as a writer without some story for the young ones kerbobbling about it. Ever since finishing my Gypsy Song I've been toying with "grown-up" stories and feeling out of it. But as soon as I fastened on this plot everything felt right again. :D

I don't have a name for this tale yet, (The working title just so we know of what I speak is Scuppernong Days) but I will introduce you to the characters and a bit of the plot.

First off we have Nicodemus and Imperia Murdoch: Ten years and eight years old respectively. Then comes The Blackbird Woman--a nasty, wicked old woman who has the keeping of the children since their parents died. The other character I have so far (yes--she's a character) is the ship: Scuppernong. She is a 3-masted merchant ship boasting 12 guns and 12 sailors (besides the captain, ship's cook, and cabin-boy.) with a burden-rating of 240 tons.

Imperia and Nick are the children of a sailor and his wife, living in New England at some point in the mid 1700's before the war with England. (haven't fastened on an exact date) When their mother dies and their father is lost at sea they are scrapped to The Blackbird Woman's home where they are put to hard labor and cruel treatment. Nick decides to run off to sea to make their fortune so he may come home and rescue Imperia, and so he sets out to do. But little does Nick realize the long, hard road it'll be to getting home, let alone making a fortune. Still, with the image of little Imperia trapped in the sooty cottage with the Blackbird Woman nothing--not forty Spanish galleons, not pirates, not fever, not hurricanes--will keep Nick from fulfilling that dream.
      Imperia snuggled close to him one last time before the blinding light of a June morning blazed through the darkness.
      The Blackbird Woman's face was painted with shadows, but her voice was clarion-clear and cracked as parched wheat kernels. "The cockroaches' company is too decent for you. Come hither and fetch me the water or there'll be the devil to pay for it."
      Nick jumped to his feet and pulled Imperia up beside him. The bright light whitened her peaked face until she appeared less like her seven years than ever. He patted her shoulder lightly, careful not to touch where the bruises showed through her torn sleeve, and followed the Blackbird Woman into the upper-world.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Characterization: A sort of mental squint

I say I can sit there and Do Nothing, but the truth is, even when I'm not physically writing, my brain is. One way in which I can boast of being like Elizabeth Bennet is that I am unusually accurate in first impressions. You see, I like to sit and make people's character out. I challenge myself to garner a proper first impression of a person and to afterward observe them and see if I came close. I generally am fairly accurate. :D
A rather fun exercise (and something I do compulsively most of the time) is to describe people you meet as characters from books. I had ample opportunity to amuse myself this way the past few weekends as I was down amongst a whole group of strangers working on a wedding. All you have to do is look at people with a sort of mental squint and capture it in words. Really, it's a great way to practice characterization--I prescribe one round of doing this at least once a month to freshen things up. :)

       "She studied him as he stood on the ladder and fiddled with the lights on the stage. A tall, well-built young man. Young. And immature. She smiled to herself over the quick pronouncement, but she knew she was right. Only youth carried a splendid figure with that loose, careless gait. As he turned she caught sight of his face. He was not handsome--or was he? She could not make up her mind as to the whole of him, and as he dismounted the ladder and strode up the aisle she examined his individual features. Straight, white teeth and quick smile--very nice. Brown eyes with long lashes--lashes too long for a gent, but still pleasant to behold. A fine nose.
        She settled back in her chair and bit her lip, eyebrows crinkled. Every feature in the young man's face was regular and handsome. How then, did he fail to please her?"

"The tall, lanky fellow lazed into the room. She'd been warned of him--told he was a charmer, a flirt, a wit. And as he made his round of the girls in the room, voice loud and bold and smooth, she knew what she had heard was true. Here was a man who demanded a full measure of attention from everyone in the room and who would get it or perish in the attempt. Yes, he was, she did not like him at all."

(And no--I don't generally find such fault with people. I examined quite a few more and found them charming. ;)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Power of Doing Nothing

This is what we authors need now and then...and this (as far as the great realm of writing goes) is what I have been doing recently. With weddings and rehearsals and recitals going on, there's been no time for writing...but now and again this is just the ticket. It may be a familiar quote (and I may even have shared it before) but I think we can all use a reminder. :)

"Don't underestimate the power of Doing Nothing, of going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering." -A.A. Milne Winnie-the-Pooh

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Scent of the Thing

 Many writers are asked where they gain inspiration. Do they have a special spot? A certain nook in their house? A certain path they walk? I do.

Mine is heavily scented with rain-painted honeysuckle...

...I've fought duels there...

...I've been proposed to...a dozen times.

...I've spoken a deal of wit I'd never have the nerve to use in real life...

...I've fallen in love...

...I've been beautiful, bewitching, and charming...

...I've tread a measure with a lord and out-witted a highwayman.

...I've held my breath; imagination and reality so intermingled that I cannot separate the rustling of rabbits in the hollow from the footsteps of a lurking villain.

I take that path through the wood almost every day with Churchill. He gallops up the trail before me, pausing, panting in the bends of the path, a silly dog smile on his face. He doesn't mind my absent smile. He does not think it queer when I whisper under my breath:

"I've come for a tryst with the gloaming,
 All purpled in shadowy gloom.
For that half-light time, half song, half rhyme,
In a breeze of spiced perfume..."

I have settled scores and age-old feuds on that path through the wood. I hold great councils and speak brilliant things, and the green all about me keeps me company and tells me I am clever.
Some days, like today, when the rain has softened the carpet of nettle-teeth holly leaves I take my walk barefoot. Soft moss and decades of leaves pad my feet from the ground. I tip-toe over the holly, my unfortunate feet now and again finding a holly-leaf stubbornly resilient to the softening rain. But I do not mind. The teeth of the holly would become the lances of a legion if I desired them to do so.
Words flood my mind and I hurry to fasten them with pins to my memory, that some of them might make it home and onto the page. But I grasp at wind. I reach for fern-lace and verdant moss. I wish to bottle the scent of the honeysuckle and keep it forever.
And I cannot.
Some part of the magic of that wood will follow me home, I know, for my mind is clearer and poised when I return. But the life of it, the breath of it, the green glory of that inspiration must stay behind, waiting for the next time I step foot in the fairy-glen. And really, in my heart of hearts I would not wish to capture it, for all the grace and glory it might lend my words.
 There is something wild and bewitching about the untamed splendor. Something that would only spoil, were I so bold as to clutch it to myself. After all, some things are best left "woodsy and wild and lonesome."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A man of deepest gloom...

In the plotting/beginnings of writing Keeping Tryst, I have a clear idea of what I want my villain to be like, only I'm starting to see that Lord Peregrine Rouncewell and I will be going hammer-and-tongs to cooperate with one another. You see, he's rather a complicated beast.

In the land of Coombelynn there are two major ruling families: The House of Keeptryst and the House of Rouncewell. I'm still exploring back-story, but here's the main history of the whys and wherefores. The Keeptrysts and Rouncewells were once feuding families, but in an era of peace a new pattern of rule was set up: every three generations the ruling of the Coombelynn is transferred from one House to the other.
For the past two generations the ruling has been in the Keeptryst Seat. Lord Bretton Keeptryst is the First Lord of the House of Keeptryst and is currently the ruler of Coombelynn. As is tradition in this House, his reign and his fathers' has been one of merrymaking, pleasure, revelry, and ease. The land prospers under this gracious family, glad for a respite from the harsher, pious and legalistic rule of the Rouncewells.
But Lord Peregrine Rouncewell sees the country turning from the fearful, cowering holiness of his family's reign. He fears they are losing all touch with piety and holiness and the pursuit of such things. In addition, Lord Peregrine is in love with Bretton Keeptryst's pledged bride, the Lady Merewald. He is tempted to kill Bretton himself to keep the land from falling to further ruin and to make reparation for all the revelry and loosening in the land with a strict regime of militarily enforced piety:

Were Bretton Keeptryst not the First Lord of the Coombelynn, Lord Peregrine himself might have taken his chance with the pricking of him. He’d like to see a bit of that proud red blood flowing outside of that proud red body. “You may keep the Lady Merewald,” Lord Peregrine said, bending low over his mount’s neck so Bretton mightn’t see his scowl. “She will prove witching enough, I have no doubt, to ruin the whole of the Coombelynn.”
-Keeping Tryst

So when a certain catastrophic something happens to Bretton while on a hunt, Lord Rouncewell sees it as fair judgement from the Lord on Bretton's pleasure-filled existence. He does nothing to save this young man and instead returns to the house, feeling avenged. He demands the Lady Merewald do her duty by her countrymen and marry him, that they might repair the country.

There is more. Much more. But I have fallen into a quandary that I'm sure will prove quite interesting in the formation of the plot.

Y'see, Lord Peregrine is not intentionally a villain. He is bound up in generations of tradition, legalism, fear, and desperation. He sees the Keeptryst family as a genuine threat to the inhabitants of Coombelynn--the people he desires to protect and lead. So in leaving Bretton to die in the forest Lord Peregrine truly believes he has done the right, just thing in ridding his land of the House of Keeptryst. After all, there are no male heirs since Bretton had not wed Lady Merewald yet, and now the House of Rouncewell can tighten the reigns again and return Coombelynn to the sorrowing, straining land it was two generations back.

There are two sides to Lord Peregrine that--I believe--make him quite an interesting villain. He murders a man (for all intents and purposes, that's what he does) while believing he is behaving righteously. He forces a land into misery, poverty, fear and trembling--and believes he acts aright. He forces a woman who does not love him to marry him, believing he has rescued her from a life as the wife of a reveler and a fool. And yet for all these things, Lord Peregrine is becoming the villain of this book.

...rather sad and interesting, I think. I've always liked a villain I can sympathize with! :P

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Danger of Lying in Bed :)

Mark Twain was a sour-puss and a satirist and sarcastic to boot, but we all agree he was a genius. Honestly. This only proves my point:
(No, this is not Mark Twain. Moving on.. ;)

"Danger of Lying in Bed"
-Mark Twain-

The man in the ticket-office said:
"Have an accident insurance ticket, also?"
"No," I said, after studying the matter over a little. "No, I believe not; I am going to be traveling by rail all day today. However, tomorrow I don't travel. Give me one for tomorrow."
The man looked puzzled. He said:
"But it is for accident insurance, and if you are going to travel by rail--"
"If I am going to travel by rail I sha'n't need it. Lying at home in bed is the thing _I_ am afraid of."
I had been looking into this matter. Last year I traveled twenty thousand miles, almost entirely by rail; the year before, I traveled over twenty-five thousand miles, half by sea and half by rail; and the year before that I traveled in the neighborhood of ten thousand miles, exclusively by rail. I suppose if I put in all the little odd journeys here and there, I may say I have traveled sixty thousand miles during the three years I have mentioned. AND NEVER AN ACCIDENT.
For a good while I said to myself every morning: "Now I have escaped thus far, and so the chances are just that much increased that I shall catch it this time. I will be shrewd, and buy an accident ticket." And to a dead moral certainty I drew a blank, and went to bed that night without a joint started or a bone splintered. I got tired of that sort of daily bother, and fell to buying accident tickets that were good for a month. I said to myself, "A man CAN'T buy thirty blanks in one bundle."
But I was mistaken. There was never a prize in the the lot. I could read of railway accidents every day--the newspaper atmosphere was foggy with them; but somehow they never came my way. I found I had spent a good deal of money in the accident business, and had nothing to show for it. My suspicions were aroused, and I began to hunt around for somebody that had won in this lottery. I found plenty of people who had invested, but not an individual that had ever had an accident or made a cent. I stopped buying accident tickets and went to ciphering. The result was astounding. THE PERIL LAY NOT IN TRAVELING, BUT IN STAYING AT HOME.
I hunted up statistics, and was amazed to find that after all the glaring newspaper headlines concerning railroad disasters, less than THREE HUNDRED people had really lost their lives by those disasters in the preceding twelve months. The Erie road was set down as the most murderous in the list. It had killed forty-six-- or twenty-six, I do not exactly remember which, but I know the number was double that of any other road. But the fact straightway suggested itself that the Erie was an immensely long road, and did more business than any other line in the country; so the double number of killed ceased to be matter for surprise.
By further figuring, it appeared that between New York and Rochester the Erie ran eight passenger-trains each way every day--16 altogether; and carried a daily average of 6,000 persons. That is about a million in six months--the population of New York City. Well, the Erie kills from 13 to 23 persons of ITS million in six months; and in the same time 13,000 of New York's million die in their beds! My flesh crept, my hair stood on end. "This is appalling!" I said. "The danger isn't in traveling by rail, but in trusting to those deadly beds. I will never sleep in a bed again."
I had figured on considerably less than one-half the length of the Erie road. It was plain that the entire road must transport at least eleven or twelve thousand people every day. There are many short roads running out of Boston that do fully half as much; a great many such roads. There are many roads scattered about the Union that do a prodigious passenger business. Therefore it was fair to presume that an average of 2,500 passengers a day for each road in the country would be almost correct. There are 846 railway lines in our country, and 846 times 2,500 are 2,115,000. So the railways of America move more than two millions of people every day; six hundred and fifty millions of people a year, without counting the Sundays. They do that, too--there is no question about it; though where they get the raw material is clear beyond the jurisdiction of my arithmetic; for I have hunted the census through and through, and I find that there are not that many people in the United States, by a matter of six hundred and ten millions at the very least. They must use some of the same people over again, likely.
San Francisco is one-eighth as populous as New York; there are 60 deaths a week in the former and 500 a week in the latter--if they have luck. That is 3,120 deaths a year in San Francisco, and eight times as many in New York--say about 25,000 or 26,000. The health of the two places is the same. So we will let it stand as a fair presumption that this will hold good all over the country, and that consequently 25,000 out of every million of people we have must die every year. That amounts to one-fortieth of our total population. One million of us, then, die annually. Out of this million ten or twelve thousand are stabbed, shot, drowned, hanged, poisoned, or meet a similarly violent death in some other popular way, such as perishing by kerosene-lamp and hoop-skirt conflagrations, getting buried in coal-mines, falling off house-tops, breaking through church, or lecture-room floors, taking patent medicines, or committing suicide in other forms. The Erie railroad kills 23 to 46; the other 845 railroads kill an average of one-third of a man each; and the rest of that million, amounting in the aggregate to that appalling figure of 987,631 corpses, die naturally in their beds!
You will excuse me from taking any more chances on those beds. The railroads are good enough for me.
And my advice to all people is, Don't stay at home any more than you can help; but when you have GOT to stay at home a while, buy a package of those insurance tickets and sit up nights. You cannot be too cautious.
[One can see now why I answered that ticket-agent in the manner recorded at the top of this sketch.]
The moral of this composition is, that thoughtless people grumble more than is fair about railroad management in the United States. When we consider that every day and night of the year full fourteen thousand railway-trains of various kinds, freighted with life and armed with death, go thundering over the land, the marvel is, NOT that they kill three hundred human beings in a twelvemonth, but that they do not kill three hundred times three hundred!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Stylin' ;)

I have come to terms with two things recently:

1. Just because I love a certain writing style does not mean that I was cut out to write that style, and 2. that I don't have to stick to one book and one style.

As far as the first point goes, I love reading writers like Jenny who have a full, blood-red style. But that style isn't mine and I can't make it mine. I can get inspiration from reading literature like that, but that does not necessarily mean I was born to write that way. :) (doesn't stop me from trying sometimes, though. ahem. ;)
For the second point, take my current projects for instance. Keeping Tryst is the working title of a new book. (It may or may not go anywhere, but that's beside the point.) Its style is much richer, more dramatic, more regal. This book satisfies me when I'm in a dramatic, elegant mood. The Traveler is that strange little piece of nothing that I work on when I am feeling satirical. :) When I'm in a comical mood I work on Third Time's the CharmFly Away Home is the other book that I write when I'm in an off-mood. ;)

Of course I can't work on all these books at once and I know some of them may not make it to fully fleshed novels, but rather than losing my humor, satire, drama, and other flavors in one big mash of them all, I thought I'd try to keep things separate. I have worked with all of them at once, (i.e. The Scarlet-Gypsy Song) and though it worked very well for that book--because of two different worlds and vastly different characters--I think on a whole it is best to pick a predominate strain of style and work the others into specific scenes.

It can be hard for me to do that--to pick one--because I love writing in each style so much. That's how I get a dozen stories clamoring for attention. That's how I exasperate my sisters who are much more practical than I. ;) What are your thoughts on style and working different styles together?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Three strangers for you. :)

There is always that moment in the birth of a new story when you realize you've got something on your hands and you haven't an idea what to do with it. I myself am in the process of getting a new plot going. I've got several Scribblings rambling around my head and I think I'll work on them all a little bit. You see, I have found I can write in several strains: Humorous, Children, and Other. Thus, I've got at least one project in each category going right now and I only have to decide what mood I'm in to determine which book I'll work on at the present moment.
But I'm angling for a story right now and I found something that might become my Trout. I will introduce you to several of the characters I have so far:

Bretton Keeptryst:

By my troth thou art a stiff-necked beast!”  It was a man’s voice spoke the words through the greenwood—a voice laced with humor and luxury. 
-Gloaming's Tryst

Lord Peregrine Rouncewell:

And what is it that so captures you about the lady Merewald?” Lord Peregrine tossed the question as careless as he threw bone and gristle to the hounds beneath his table, but his whole being leaned forward to catch his companion’s answer.
-Gloaming's Tryst

...and the Lady Merewald Goldehelm

She runs too much to eyes for my taste,” he said. He pulled his black leather gloves off his hands and tested the tip of his lance. “Stares a man out of countenance with those soul-pools.”

-Gloaming's Tryst

I only know these three right now, and what's even more fun is that I'm not telling you anymore about them yet. You will have to guess. :D

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beautiful People: Lord Blythe Halyard

This Beautiful People is going to be quite interesting because I'm doing it for the sole purpose of finding out about a very new character. Everyone, meet Lord Blythe Halyard--formerly Blythe Bunting of Tillburrow Topham. I know very little about this chap, only that he's not quite cut out for Society life. He thinks he is--oh certainly--but he's not. Deep deep down he's still Blythe Bunting who frequents the Plow & Onion and likes a cozy evening by the fire. Lord Blythe Halyard is young yet--only in his early twenties, and he is delightfully dotty. I know we'll all come to love him by and by.

He looks something like this, only with longer, wavy hair.

1. What is his favorite type of shoe? Shiny riding boots. His never get much of a work-out so they are always shiny, as Blythe is not much of a horseman...yet. He demands that--shinyness, that is. :)

2. Does he journal? Goodness no. At least, not properly. He likes to keep a running tab on people and events in his mind, but it never makes it down on paper. His handwriting isn't good enough.

3. What is his favorite animal? Fried, stewed, boiled, or basted? Christmas Ham, I'll warrant, or else a nice hot pheasant.

4. What does his average day look like? Get up, dither about finding something for the valet to do--anything, only so he'll stop staring at you like that. Take walking cane and amble about the large country-house of your friend. Take the guns out and Shoot. At what? Anything--you're not a very good shot, you know. Eat luncheon. Take a nap or another amble. Linger around the stables discussing horses--a topic you know nothing about. Go in to tea. Try to make small-talk with the ladies. Go into supper. Smoke afterward. Listen to the ladies air their musical accomplishments. Play cards. Go to bed. Repeat.

5. Night Owl or Morning Person? Night owl, I'd say. Lord Blythe Halyard is up for any sort of a reckless night-scheme. He likes the dark--feels less like people are studying him.

6. Does he have a sweet tooth? Mercy, yes. He's very fond of tarts and biscuits and muffins and puddings and everything else. Thank heaven he burns it all off with all the ambling and shooting and what-not.

7. What colours are his bedroom? Honestly? He'd never noticed, though he'd place his tuppence on a burgundy color if hard-pressed for an answer. But then again, Lord Blythe Halyard is always on the move from one country-place to the next so one can't blame him for not noticing the decor.

8. Can he cook? He's rather good at bangers-and-mash, and he can crisp up a nice rasher of bacon. He learned all this, baching it in the old days before the Benevolent One took him up, and he still likes to prowl about Tillburrow Grange at midnight when his housekeeper and all the maids are in bed.

9. What is his favorite household chore? Polishing his boots. There's something soothing about the smells of leather and shoe-polish and the methodical rubbing that stimulates his mind.

10. Favorite kind of tea? Anything so long as the sugar-bowl is at hand and it is a strong brew.

“Lord Harry Mopfloppham and Lady Harry Mopfloppham!” The sepulchral voice oodling down the length of the hall sent a shiver up Lord Halyard’s spine. He assumed the voice belonged to the butler, though goodness knows there was enough bone-and-grave-clothes about it to pass for that of a hobgoblin. And he’d always been of the mind that butlers were comfortable, porridge-y sorts.               -Third Time's the Charm