Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It reads the better which is our own

"A book reads the better, which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog's ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins." -Charles Lamb
(and incidentally one of my favorite book-love quotes)

        If a book is your own, certainly you are in the position of caretaker. Do you keep your books like well-kept children: always scrubbed and shining with covers unsmudged? Or do you take the Mrs. Arliss approach to your book-keeping and lay they haphazardly on the tabletops or forget about them on the porch till the afternoon gale has had a peep in the pages? Or do you take a somewhat middle road with a comfortable wear to your collection that still retains a semblance of pride in the fact that you have begun a personal library. Speaking for myself, I have swung from one side of the pendulum to the other. I have mentioned before that touch is a big thing for me, and I have always loved the crackle of a page that has got damp from some spillage and then dried again; perhaps with the ink a bit blurry and spoiled but still legible. The same question applies to writing in books...I have gone through stages in my life where I was a non-scribbler and then a pro-scribbler, underlining and scoring dozens of lines and pages that really didn't mean much of anything to me, just because I wanted my books and Bible to look well-used. Have you ever read anything more pathetic than that? I'm sure I haven't, but at ten or eleven, that was my mind-set.

       Once I realized the idiocy of such a habit, I ceased entirely. But over the last several years as I have started reading things that really mattered, and as the Lord has brought certain verses to me that I had never thought of in that certain way, I've become a scribbler-in again. Last year I was privileged to meet the book I have mentioned before: Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy. I cannot stress how much each of you needs to read this. I read some books and I like them, but then I read some books and the thoughts from those books stay with me through the day as the book sits on the shelf, and then through the weeks and months after I have finished and have put the book away. I wish I had written in A Severe Mercy when I first read it, underlining all the lines and passages that were precious to me. Instead when I thought I could rely on Goodreads to have all those quotes, I was in error. Goodreads has, apparently, heard little of Vanauken's killer book, and I was afloat in a sea of half-remembrances. That being said, yesterday I took out the battered, 80's copy of this book and dove back in with my ball-point pen in hand. So far it is just as amazing as I recalled and I have recklessly dived in, underscoring all the best lines and writing in the margins.

       Some people complain about finding books written in, but I think it is a beautiful thing. I like nothing better than to open an old book in a store and find not one but three or even four names written on the inside of the cover, the ink fading in varying degrees to show the age of each inscription. I like to turn my mind to vaguely imagining what those people were like, and if they enjoyed the book, and if it effected their lives or if it was a thing they never finished and all but forgot they had started.

      If I find notes written among the pages, I am often unsatisfied till I've read them all and "gotten to know" the person who had once held the same volume. After all, reading is a relatively private affair (at least it is for me) and some of my most tender, young, and wise thoughts come to me as I read. When I'm in the clutches of a good story--a really good story--there is no one in the world but myself and those characters...for once all the restraints of society and Other People are broken and my brain runs wild. If others are like me, isn't there a good chance that the notes pencilled on the edges of the page are heart-thoughts of the previous reader? I have read stories that claim such a thing. I once even read a story (I can't recall if it was fiction...probably) where a man found someone's misplaced book and started reading it, and fell in love with the woman who had written the notes in the margins because her handwriting and her notations showed such a deep and tender soul. Of course that is a sentimental story, and perhaps writing in my books is sentimental as well. But I say, if college students can score and underline their textbooks, shouldn't Lewis and Chesterton and Bronte and Austen and all the rest deserve an equal chance to be tattered and loved? I think so.

       But everyone in the world must have their opinion, and I suppose you will be aching to speak your own so here's your opportunity: What do you have to say on the subject of Scribbling Or Not? Leave a comment and let's continue the discussion; I'd love to hear your ideas.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

If I wasn't a novelist....



We take ourselves so seriously.

Of course there is a certain measure of gravity we must keep in order to stay on track with schedules and plots and research and the actual writing that makes us what we are. But sometimes as broad as our imaginations are, our scope of reality can be rather small. So in this post I have compiled a list of things I would (will?) write if I wasn't an all-important novelist:

Funny Poetry:

Shel Silverstein and Lewis Carroll and Hilaire Belloc. Before I ever grew to like Sir Walter Scott or Tennyson, I scoured my poetry book for the bits that made me laugh. Truth is, I still like funny poetry best, and my own poetry is at its most natural and light-hearted when I'm just being a bit nutty.

Show-tune Lyrics:

I may not even wait to do this. I may sit down right after I'm done typing and write a song. My life as a musical would be hilarious. As much as I love Broadway, I haven't even tried to write my own Broadway tunes. I have a deep deep appreciation for the sheer brilliance of Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein's word-play, and to do It'd be awesome. I can sing and carry a tune, but I'm no Laura Osnes But to write the words to the songs that make the shows what they are...I would probably take news that Fly Away Home will never be published if I could write a ditty for Collin Donnell or Ryan Steele to sing. *happy happy day!*

Radio Show Announcements:

Just for mischief's sake, I would put one unpronounceable word in each announcement and giggle behind the glass as the show-host tried to read his lines. :)

Warning Labels:

Because we've all laughed over warning-label faux pas, I think it would be lots of fun to write purposeful ones just to see if anyone even reads those things. I don't. What I can't figure out from the pictures on the back of the box, I Google. I am lame that way.

Napkin-Script and Otherwise:

If any of you have had the honor to eat at Chipoltes, you will know what I mean. Some places are brilliant (like Chipoltes) and some are not (like Wendy's). Chipoltes writes the wittiest, most hilarious messages on their napkins and cups and tortilla-chip bags. I have several times stashed napkins in my purse just to re-read and laugh over on the way home. Sarah has stashed them in her purse to put in her SMASHbook. (A thing they have yet to addict me to, funnily enough)

Taco-Bell Sauce Packets:

'Nuff said. 

Attach myself to Stephen Moffat till he let me help him write Sherlock:

Okay. So that's ambitious, but WOULDN'T THAT BE AWESOME?! 

Write Parodies of Famous Songs:

Fo' Free. Because Tim Hawkin's parodies, while a little hyper, are admittedly very very funny. :)

Chalkboard Artist at Coffee-House:

Maybe it's my recent fundraising efforts (i.e. turning my sunny farmhouse into a coffee-shop for one night), or because I blog about recipes now and again, but I have been having so much fun making "original drink" descriptions like The Branson: A passionate blend of dark roast coffee and Irish Cream.  

Theatre Critic:

Not that I know over-much about the whole critiquing process, but I could totally stand going to Broadway or a traveling show company and reviewing their shows for the newspaper. I honestly could.

Food Critic:

Anton Ego, anyone? No? Okay. But seriously. Between The Food Channel and Ratatouille and Foodie-Blogs, I have cultivated an extreme interest in gourmet cooking. I think it would be a rather nice, cushy job. (And no, I'm not about to go ape like the guy in Psych who killed for the restaurant-critic job. ;) I would love to write articles about different restaurants, cooking trends, and neat ingredients


Again, such a neat job. I know there would be inconvenience of jet-lag, strange food and climate and cultures, (not to mention 'where do they get the money'?) but that's also part of the fun, and just the idea of traveling all over the place gives me a severe case of wander-lust. Thankfully I may quell that rather soon by my trip to Romania! :)

^^ These are some of my ideas, and I am positive I could think of more. What jobs would you take if you weren't a novelist? ^^

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Two Contest Opportunities (with awesome prizes)

I am sorry, I am sorry. But it's technically still Wednesday SO. I didn't get too far off my post schedule. Oh wait. It's Thursday. Where the BLAZES is my head?

In preparing to set up a makeshift Coffee Shop in my house, actually, to raise further funds for Romania. Thanks so much to each of you whom bought my custom stationery! And if you haven't bought any yet and would like to, I'm still taking orders. :) I know it's really short-notice, but I wanted to let you know about two contests that have awesome prizes!

First off is kind of a strange kind of contest to enter for writers like us, but then again, our craft might give us an edge when it comes to entering. Girls, the contest is for eShakti, a clothing company, and the writing prompt is What Do Women Want? You have 45 words or less to answer this question. Three winners will each receive a $150.00 gift card to eShakti! I thought, why not go for it? So I did. The only catch (and I wish I'd figured this out earlier) is that your entries have to be in by tomorrow, March 15th. But really, it's only 45 words so why not give it a go? You might end up with $150.00 worth of free clothes.

The SECOND contest is over at Go Teen Writers to celebrate the publication and release of Jill's and Stephanie's newest book, Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Novel. The contest gives you an opportunity to pitch your story in 25 words or less to Jill and Stephanie!  The top three winners from this contest will each receive a copy of the new book for their winning entries! Same thing with the eShakti contest, however: you only have till 1 PM (Kansas City time) to enter the contest, so hurry!

I entered the Go Teen Writers contest with one of the scraps of stories that has been floating around my head these past few months, and that I hope might come out to be something pretty neat. It's a novel idea! (no pun intended, please) :) Anyway, sorry I didn't warn you guys sooner about these contests, but I hope those of you reading this post tonight or tomorrow will try your luck for either or both the prizes! The worst you can do is not make it to the top three. I mean, really. :)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Winners of the First Impressions Contest!

This morning I sat down at my laptop, brought up all the entries from my First Impressions contest, laughed, blushed, laughed and blushed some more, and tried to decide on only two winners. In the end, it came down, not to a question of how well the entries were written (for all the entries were well written), but simply for the unique twist the author of the pieces put on the them.

First off, the winner of the Non-Fiction Category is:

Josie Boyer!
This chick and myself are relatively "new friends", and now love each other to pieces, but the beginning of our acquaintance was inauspicious in the extreme. Not only had I not wrapped my head around what the blazes modest fashion was supposed to look like, but I find it hilarious to see how I came across to Josie at first! I received two entries into the non-fiction category, and they were both from people I love dearly dearly so it was a tough choice. But I chose Josie's because of the fact that, judging from our first year together, you would hardly have thought we were destined to be awesome friends.... :D I also chose it because in this piece Josie is Josie. She teases me, she's sarcastic, and she's spot-on. Enjoy.

Meeting Miss Rachel Heffington the romantic rose sniffer.

      If my memory serves me correctly, it was the month of October, in year of our Lord 2009. In the Cabin of the first most number. I was 16 years old, with a bit of a jaded and cynical outlook on life.

     I arrived customarily early in the day with the leadership. Hours ahead of the time most everyone else would arrive.  All present comrades deserting in the pursuance of their most beloved octagonal pit and game of bloody knuckles. I have never to this day liked Gaga, and could not be drawn in. I loitered about all by my lonesome waiting to find out which cabin to move my things into and sitting on a rock, staring off into space, kicking pebbles and large sprouted acorns in complete and utter boredom. Thus I sat, until the long awaited moment was upon me and they (the leadership) revealed the cabin to which I was assigned. I forthwith entered and assessed said cabin with a mischievous grin  and a glint in my eye at being the first one in there, and thusly having first pick. I selected the bunk of my choice with the very best lighting, (because bad lighting is a pet peeve of mine) and moved my junk in there! It was a bottom bunk, along side of the bunk in the very most back corner. Which would soon be Rachel's.

      The initial moment we met is regrettably cloudy... I believe it was in the same time frame that I was being questioned by curious people as to my thoughts behind the numerous safety pins displayed "creatively" on my blue jeans. I remember her standing there. A very sweet round face... innocent, dear and naive. Undamaged by the harshness of life, and by the way she talked...maybe a little ditsy? Taking me in through wide, searching, and somewhat squinty blue eyes and very round spectacles. She was wearing an ankle length purple (corduroy?) jumper and fall themed turtle neck. She explained with eloquent finesse to match my own, and a lop sided grin, that she had recently acquired the outfit as part of a new fall wardrobe. Listening intently as I endeavored to simultaneously entertain and explain that the reason for the safety pins... was simply because I had holes in my pants! Nervously calming my embarrassment and convincing everyone of my "cool as a cucumber confidence" as a smooth talking "creative type" Haaaa! It seems I was unsure if I liked her as I sized her up. She was a bit of a pansy.  But then... I was unsure if I liked anybody in that season of my life. I had not yet taken down the barricade that was around my heart.

      Every night I was subjected by the main body of my cabin to hear with contempt the conversations of these lame things...
•Sweethearts (the lack there of)
•Letter writing
•Dance cards
• Little woman
•Nancy Drew
•Tea Party's
•Tea cups
•Baking pies

       Massive annoyance... Massive!
       I wouldn't say at the time because all that sissy talk hurt my image as a tough chick... But it sparked my curiosity. My earlier question of "is she really a pansy?" Uh... Yep. That's for sure! Buuuuut... She was beginning to grow on me. You just can't dislike someone THAT endearing and genuine. Even if she wouldn't shut up about Scotsmen and musicals! But I didn't let her know that... I was as unfriendly I could get away with, holding her very much at bay while I analyzed her further from my very close perch. I envied her joyful and peaceful heart. And secretly admired her adeptness  at womanhood. She was like a healthy happy sunflower... While I was a angry little dandy lion. I did like her. Greatly wary though I was.

      At one point she handed me her note book and asked for my information... I had made a habit of being an impudent prankster and taking everything extremely literal. I returned to her a full sheet of paper with ALL of my information right down to eye color and hat size(and then some)! She just looked at me in shock and disbelief. :)

     I did not get to know her well and embrace our friendship until about two years later. So incredibly blessed am I to have her in my life!  Rachel Heffington: One of few who was among the earliest to win my trust. Instrumental in proving to me that there are friends worth having, loving, and dying for. She holds a lead role in my testimony.

      Meeting Rachel Heffington is one of the greatest gifts my Lord has given me. A most precious friendship. And it just keeps getting better with age!

    Four years later, now spiritually whole and restored by the blood and Mercy of Christ,
            Josie Boyer

Ah. I love ya', Joz. We are definitely an unlikely pair. :)

 Now for the winner of the Non-Fiction Category:

Katie Sebelko

What I loved about Katie's entry was the fact that she has never met me, and yet she pegged me, pretty much, down to the detail of my somewhat saucy replies in a conversation. I only hope I get to meet Katie in real life someday. :)

How I Met Rachel Heffington 
A Not-So Fictional Story in Three Part

By Katelyn Sabelko

Part I: The Empty Chair 

“March is fantastically cold, darling, don’t you think?”

“Fantastic,” I mumbled, “Is not at all how I’d begin to describe it.” 

“Oh, you’re a bore, Katie. A complete bore. There is much to said about March! The sun shines bright--like Mother’s jewel collection! Even you’ll have to admit to that.”

“I’ll admit to nothing.” 

Laughter filled my ears, lilting and free and full of indecorous snorts. I closed my eyes.

“Knock it off.”

“Um, pardon me?” 

I blinked. A waiter stared down at me through his smudged spectacles. 

“No! No, not you. Not you. It’s just... it’s just Eudora. You know.” I gestured to the chair beside me. The chair that was empty. “Yeah. Nevermind.” 

He set a mug of tea on my table and fled to the kitchen. 

“Thanks!” I called after him weakly. 

When they say writers are insane, they mean it. I can see them now, all covered in ink spots or riddled with carpal tunnel, chuckling softly. ‘Is it only now that she has come to realize this?’ That’s what they’re thinking. You know it is. The writers of the past, the future authors, the struggling-to-become-writers. They’re having a good ol’ laugh. 

And I took a sip of my tea.

“Katie!” A single word danced a thousand jigs into my melancholy thoughts. A single word, my name, uttered with all the warmth and joy of the sun itself. 

“Good heavens!” It couldn’t be her. But it was. “Good heavens! Rachel!”

Part II: The Chair is Empty No Longer 

“Rachel! Rachel Heffington!”

She beamed. “In the flesh!” 


She grinned. “We’ve established that.” 

“But... but... Rachel!” 

Now she bubbled into laughter. “Katie! Katie, Katie, Katie!” 

“You’re sitting in Eudora’s seat!”

“Oh, am I? I can move.” 

“No, no. I’ve had quite enough of her antics for one day. Quite enough.”

Rachel nodded. “I see.” And somehow I knew that she did.

With a smile that could melt even a Wisconsin winter, Rachel Heffington was sitting in Eudora’s chair, drinking tea. Rachel. Rachel Heffington. In the flesh.   

“I suppose you’re wondering how I came to be here,” she said. 

I was. 

“I’m here because you need me. I’m here because you’re not writing. I’m here because you’re sitting in a cafe, talking to an empty chair.” 

“Oh.” I could feel my cheeks burning. “You know about that?”

“Please,” she looked up at me over the top of her glasses. “Katie, you never blog. When you do you, you complain about not writing. This is hardly the way to run a writing blog, dear girl. Hardly.” 

I groaned, and slumped back into my chair. “I know.” 

“So, I have come to help you.” 

“You have?”

“Yes,” she chuckled, then cleared her throat. “Miss Katelyn Sabelko, I have come to help you out of your writing-slump.”

I sprang upright, “My fairy god...friend?” 

“You may call me whatever you wish, but we must get down to business. I don’t have much time.” 

I suppressed a cry of “... and defeat the huns!” and nodded soberly. 

She began right away. “How long have you been not-writing Lara’s Story?” 

“ARROW,” I breathed, “Arrow to the heart.”  

“Exactly: far too long. How long have you been only haltingly focused on Essie’s Adventures, your script?” 

I mumbled something that could have been “over six months” but let’s hope it wasn’t. 

“What about that Arthurian legend story you started? The one that betrayed your obsession for freckles?” 

“I gave up on that.”

Rachel took a sip of tea. When she spoke again, I believe she was trying to sound firm, but her adorable face quite reversed the effect. “Why aren’t you writing?”

A million excuses were on the tip of my tongue, and not a single one of them valid. “I don’t know.” 

“Are you afraid.”

I looked her squarely in the eyes. “Yes.”

“Dash your fears. You’ve absolutely nothing to be afraid of.”

She took another sip of tea, a rather long one. “Do you believe in your stories?”

I nodded.

“Believe in them more.”

I nodded again.

“Take the time to think, to plan. You know you can find time.” 

“We make time for the things most important to us,” I mused. “No matter how full our schedules, we make time.

Rachel smiled, her eyes small and bright. “Now you’re talking. However, merely conversing about dedication is one thing, applying it to your daily life is quite another.”

I groaned again. “Rachel, I’m doomed to be a failure.” 

She laughed gently, kindly. “No.” 

The March sun beamed through the window and settled on Rachel’s hair, brightening her entire countenance. She was radiant. She was confident. She was poised. She was kind. She was Rachel Heffington. 

Before I could stop myself, I demanded the secret to her success.

“That is why I’ve come, to tell you the secret.”

“Your secret?” 

“My secret, every aspiring writer’s secret, every published author’s secret.” 

She leaned forward, and I caught a glimmer of mischievous energy in her bright eyes. “Ready?”

She told me the secret. In unison we blinked, smiled, and filled the cafe with our laughter. 

Part III: Empty Again 

Rachel had gone. Eudora’s chair was empty once more. 

“Where will you go now?” I’d asked. 

“There are scores of struggling young writers that I’ve yet to visit this afternoon. And I’ve scheduled tea with Abigail Hartman and a long walk with Jenny Freitag. Mirriam Neal and I haven’t had an honest-to-goodness laugh in far too long...” She paused, “Or perhaps I’ll have a good chat with my characters in public.” 

I looked at her in surprise.

“Oh, Katie. We’re all mad here.” 

Her smile, her mischievous little eyes, lit up the room. Then she was gone. 

Now I stared at the chair, vacant as ever, and a smile pulled at the edges of my lips. Not a trace of morose emotion could I detect in my heart. Rachel had burst into the cafe on wisps of sunshine and left a warm glow in her wake. 

How in the world had she done that?

“Who cares how?” I whispered, running my fingers over the rim of my tea-mug. “She just did it. Why? Because she’s Rachel Heffington, that’s why.”

As I left the cafe, grinning from ear-to-ear, Rachel’s secret to writerly success rang through my mind: 

You must write. 


Both Katie and Josie will receive as their prizes a small, commissioned water-color painting from me! Girls, contact me about what you would like me to paint, and we can discuss the details.

Thanks to everyone who entered! Your entries were marvelous, and I enjoyed reading every one. :)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

In Which I Turn This Blog Into a Marketplace and Try To Sell You Something.

Dear Ladies and Gents,
       Here on the Inkpen Authoress, I seldom talk about my personal personal life. You know, the things that go on for Rachel Heffington, Proper, not Rachel Heffington, Author. After all, that is why I have kept two blogs for some time. This is where you think I'm an intellectual, the other is where you think I'm...not so intellectual. ;) But the time has come for me to break the maxim of a place for everything and everything in its place. At risk of committing the same sin that, over two thousand years ago, caused the tables to be turned (quite literally), I am turning The Inkpen Authoress into a temporary marketplace. (Hear, hear!)

This is the scoop: I am going to Romania for a 2-week long mission's trip beginning on April 5th of this year. That means that in 3 weeks (give or take a couple days) I will be off this continent and onto The Continent and starting what I hope will be one of the grandest adventures of my life so far. I am going with team of six other young people and one adult, and we keep a blog logging all the ins and outs of planning, and God's hand through it all. He has provided generously the funds for buying the plane tickets and the date is locked in. Non-refundable, non-transferable. What does this mean? It means that like it or not, I'm going to Romania April 5th, and there's nothing that can be done to lengthen these very short 3 weeks.
Costs for our room and board and fuel have not been covered yet, and that is why I am turning merchant here on this blog in the hopes that you might be tempted enough from this post to buy some of my wares. I won't wheedle. I promise. But I thought I would give you the opportunity to help support this very good cause. I need to raise (ideally) $150-$200 more, personally. If you would like to donate toward that cause (as some of you have, thankee so much), you may visit The Road To Romania blog and donate with the sidebar button. BUT if you are a bit more shrewd with your money and would like a return for your donation, by all means please read on!!!

Custom, Hand-inked, Tea-stained Letter-Paper

This is the perfect gift for yourself, your friends, your family, or (Gents, take note) your "Partickler Girl". Each piece of stationery is hand-stained, hand-decorated, and hand-lettered by me using (yes, you guessed) an ink-pen and colored inks. Each "packet" includes ten sheets of custom stationary, and will cost $8.00. And one of the best things about this stationery is that it crinkles. It crinkles, people. Any letter-writer knows that the BEST thing to write a proper epistle on is paper that actually makes that delicious crackling noise you hear in movies. My letter-paper does.

I can decorate your order any way you would like. You may request any of the examples below, or contact me about a custom packet using any emblem and/or quote you would like! If you are looking for a personal gift for someone you know, this letter-paper might be just the thing.

Would you, the noble author, like to write your letters on vanity-paper? Shoot me an email with an icon that best describes your book and a quote from your novel, and I'll whip you up a set of stationery that would please the most narcissistic person out there.

Do you have a life-verse, or a favorite author? Send me your favorite quote and I will concoct a paper-encapsulation of it, daintily inked by the humble hand of your's truly.

Just want something with a shaving of wit and whimsy? I can set my brains to work at something other than writing novels, you know. I'll make you a set of stationery that will make you the envy of every Jo March and Percy Blakeney out there.

And guys, this isn't only for the girls out there. I can do nautical (maybe something with a bit of yo-ho-ho and an anchor motif?), Narnian, Tolkien... maybe even some Sherlock if you beg me.

I'm not above menial work. Believe me.

Herein I stop talking and show you a few examples of the goods:

"Anduril, Flame of the West"
10 sheets hand-crafted stationery

"First Impressions"
10 sheets hand-crafted stationery

"Be Like the Bluebird"
10 sheets hand-crafted stationery

"Lantern Waste"
10 sheets hand-crafted stationery

"Demmed, elusive Pimpernel"
10 sheets hand-crafted stationery

If you would like to donate to my "Eurrrrrropean Rrrreptutation" (tell me where it's from!) by ordering this fine stationery, shoot me an email at and we can have a chat about what you'd like to order, and how to pay me for it.

The only thing left to do is make a quick mention of the pricing: I purposely am not selling this cheaply for two reasons:

1.) Your purchase is a donation to a "non-profit" organization, in the person of me. I am only selling this stationary to make enough money to send myself out on the mission field to preach Jesus. :)

2.) This stationary is adorned with quality work done by an honest craftswoman, and will make even the most poorly-worded letter look divine.

In short, I would ask you to consider buying a bit of paper off of me to support Christ's work, ensure I don't go homeless or foodless while in Europe, and to receive in return of your charity some "demmed fine" paper with "no begad nonsense about it." I take delight in doing this sort of "pretty work" and I would love to do some for any of you. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

At the cost of destroying them.

Finding your voice is one topic I've covered at length in various other posts, but in the event that there is one of you whom has not found his voice, I will do a recap:

Your voice is not Jenny Freitag's voice. (unless you're Jenny)
Your voice is not Sarah Sundin's voice. (unless you're Sarah)
Your voice is not Kathryn Stockett's or C.S. Lewis's  or  anyone else's voice but your own.
This might seem a bit of an ambiguous explanation, but the the truth is, your voice is the flavor of your writing, and the only way to find it is by blocking out the recipe of everyone else's brew and taste-testing your own.

But finding your characters' voices....ah. That's a different breed altogether. See, to effectively write a book, there must be the author's trademark voice murmuring beneath the surface, but if you ever hope to let the world fall in love with your book-people, you must let them speak. As such, their voices will vary widely, and it's the most amazing thing to sit down with a book and encounter several different voices in the pages as the viewpoint switches from character to character. I'm not talking about literal "voices" as in specific accents, speech impediments, etc. I'm talking about a more...well, for lack of a better term, a more spiritual voice. The mental voice. The world-view voice. Who is your character and how do they perceive the world? What brought them to this stage in their lives? What effected them to the point that they behave in this manner and none other?
A crime some authors commit is to make their characters come alive only when they open their mouths or when we can read their thoughts. A blessing other authors bestow is having the character's personality transcend even into the narrative. Keeping my preferences on this subject in mind, here are a few examples of narrative from several of my stories, and a brief sketch of the scenario:

The Glass Half-Full and A Lemon-Wedge: an optimist and pessimist collide in the city and discover their lives are a bit more entwined than they'd expected.This bit is from the Lemon Wedge's narrative at the very beginning of this story:

A small town is near about the hardest place to hide anything, but a big town is ten times worse. I know, because I tried to hide the fact that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, and The Glass Half Full found me out exactly three hours before I admitted it myself.
“Miss Garibaldi,” he said, and actually took off his glasses to say it (which is rather an uncommon thing)”I don’t believe you know what you’re doing.”
From now on I’ll refer to him as T.G. (The Glass) because everyone knows that trees are dying and if there aren’t trees there won’t be oxygen, and because I am dictating this to a secretary with stubby fingers and a wilted collar and he’s breathing like a racehorse with the blows, I would rather not waste extra words on the already diminishing atmosphere.

As you can see, this character is stressed, high-strung, and flips out about anything and everything she can get her claws into. Notice the fact that the Lemon Wedge uses run-on-sentences. Her life is out of control and she's at the point where venting is her coping system.

The Green Branding: my new historical fiction project. A shy, unready girl of the Colonial era is called upon to save her county from the marauding terrors of Banastre Tarleton and his men.

She seldom thought about Nathaniel’s leg since he’d lost it the year the War began. It had been four years since, and their beautiful corner of Virginia--the Isle of Wight--had changed little. The young men had disappeared by twos and threes, but then, Mary had never been bold enough to take much notice of gentlemen. Perhaps that was the reason she was nineteen and still unwed. So many girls fretted night and day that all the lads were gone to war and would likely be killed, and then there should be no men to marry. Sometimes Mary found it easy to forget there was such a thing as a War of Independence.
Easy, at least, in the daytime. It was the nightmare that plagued her and made her shun the River.
The same dream.
The same face floating  in the weeds.
The same sense of shame when she admitted the war inspired her with nothing but a wish to flee the county and fly somewhere far away where the only neighbors were red-winged blackbirds, and she was alone with none but Nathaniel for company.

Mary is an admitted coward and shrinks from Society. This will, of course, be one of the things that makes the task required of her so difficult. Her mental process is clouded and drear because she is living under the sense of a calling she refuses to fulfill. Recurring dreams in which she feels herself summoned to some fearful task...the knowledge that there might approach a time that demands her to break out of her comfortable shell of self-sufficiency and do something heroic for everyone else...

Fly Away Home: (yes, you knew Callie would appear, didn't you?) A buried past is not always a dead past. Callie Harper is set on a career of glamour and glitz. Will she sacrifice everything--even the reputation of her only friend--to attain it? A historical romance set in 1950's NYC.

      But even raspberry creams could not minister to a mind diseased. I swallowed my half only because I hated to waste perfectly good chocolate, and curled up in a tight ball in the chair. Life was miserable. I was miserable—more so, because I had come to a decision. I would have to go apologize to Mr. Wade Barnett. I wondered how humble pie tasted? But it wasn’t the humility that hurt the most—it was the fact that I was in the wrong. I had always prided myself on having the upper-hand of my emotions in every situation. Not so today. And I had hurt the only man I’d ever met who remotely seemed to care about me. Just peachy. I was certainly not a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize the rate I was going.

Callie's voice is jaded, but with unexpected springs of humor and whimsy that haven't entirely died under the pressure of professional life as a "liberated, modern woman." As she works alongside Wade Barnett, her voice softens--this was one of my favorite parts in writing Fly Away Home... getting to show the cultivation of a character's perceptions as her life changed.

This is the great beauty of being an author--and, of course, the great responsibility of it:
"Nevertheless, the free will of a genuinely created character has a certain reality, which the writer will defy at his peril. It does sometimes happen that the plot requires from its characters certain behavior which, when it comes to the point, no ingenuity on the author's part can force them into, except at the cost of destroying them."
-Dorothy Sayers The Mind of the Maker
The quote was, of course, talking more about events and scenarios into which the author tries to force the characters, but the same thing can be said of creating your character's voice. In a way the character creates his own voice. Or--to be clearer--the character's voice grows along with his personality. Just as the events of your life and your upbringing have effected the your perception of things today, so also runs the course of your characters' lives, and their mental state. You can't force a certain voice onto a character any more than you could force yourself to think like another person. Let the voice come naturally--it will. As you write you will become familiar with the people in your stories, and will be able to hear and write their own keen twist on life. It is such a fun thing, and one of the best moments for me in the whole writing process: when I have realized at last the way this or that person ticks, and how to incorporate that into the narrative.

Do your characters have distinct voices? Whom was the most fun to write?

Monday, March 4, 2013


Hey guys! I am extending the "First Impressions" Writing Contest through next Monday....the 11th. :)

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Dueling Gravekeepers of Windsor

This is for Jenny, per a discussion we had. Enjoy this bit of morbid humor. ;)

"The Dueling Gravekeepers of Windsor"
By Rachel Heffington

At all times we have counted ourselves a ‘good county’. Our people--fed on peanuts and ham from earliest memory onward do not often find themselves lacking in wisdom or stature, and seldom lacking in favor with God and man. In fact, be it not too proud a thing for a simple, local historian to say, our Windsor Castle could vie with that in Britain and still come out King--or so those of us who observe the aristocracy like to think.
But I, Olivia Gwaltney, was not given a place in the newspaper simply to chatter on about the greatness of our county in general. I was, rather, called upon to settle a long dispute or at least, if I may, to present both sides of a question and let the populace of our respected county decide for themselves.
It is written in the Official and Brief History of Isle of Wight County that our town of Windsor boasts (and I quote): “...four general stores, two groceries, two barber shops, one shoemaker, one millinery, three churches, one high-school, one peanut factory, one planing mill, two eating houses, one blacksmith shop, one bank, two telephone offices, one telegraph office (Western Union), two undertaking establishments, one livery stable, one furniture store, and one hotel.”  At first glance, one may not see anything to strike concern, but when one thinks of the implications of having two undertaking establishments, one begins to ask either or both of two questions:
1. Are there so many deaths in the town that we require two undertakers?
2. What is the relationship between the two proprietors of said establishments?

If I may lay aside my personal feelings in the matter and introduce the two men who comprise our Dead & Dying field....

Mr. Digg, and Mr. Delve are two men who are known about town by the fact that they walk together each and every day at the lunch hour. Do not mistake the two for friends, however, for the sharpest animosity of the houses of Lancaster and York exist between them. It is more to be guessed that they walk in tandem from a vague desire to never let the other have a chance at one’s back.
Mr. Digg is characterized by the overwhelming cheer that beams forth from his noble (and well-fleshed) countenance. Being a Christian, and a Protestant at that (who are not bothered by ideas of Purgatory), Mr. Digg holds a most cheerful view of death. “Death is not,” he shouts to bereaved families at every opportunity, “an end! Death is a beginning!” And so great is his benevolence that he assumes the man who lays dead on his examining table with a tag on his toe must have been a Christian and therefore looking forward to eternity with all the eager expectation of a boy let out from school on an April afternoon. Mr. Digg’s establishment is called Shivers Funeral Parlor, and the course his joyous persona bestows on all his doings  has occasion Mr. Digg to make a provision that even after his own death, Shivers Funeral Parlor will continue to sponsor catering for the local Independence Day Picnic, which every citizen of Windsor will admit is a pleasant and dutiful thing.

Mr. Delve, on the other hand, takes a more conservative stance on all things pertaining to his trade. “Death,” he says, “Is an end and a beginning, and since no man can tell who might float to Heaven or be packed off to Hell, there is little reason to make a hullabaloo.”
In person, Mr. Delve is cadaverous which gives one the idea that he is a walking advertisement for his establishment--a very effective albeit discomfiting system that has brought him the majority of business for years. This moribund characteristic of Mr. Delve has brought some to criticize and even avoid his presence at a deathbed. Friends of Mr. Digg who do not approve of Mr. Delve have said “he resembles a turkey buzzard who--watching a small, weak creature struggling on the side of the road--is only waiting for his chance to pounce.” And indeed, one might say Mr. Delve, with his customary suit of rusty black and his bald head, could answer very easily to the description of a raptor. But no one in a judicious frame of mind could deny the fact that Mr. Delve is an earnest servant of his trade, and has never once mixed up his cadavers unlike his colleague who, it is rumored, once replaced the Mayor of Windsor’s mother with the body of a nineteen year old journalist, and caused much joy and jubilation at the funeral over how the breezes of Heaven had already refreshed and renewed the mother’s poor, earthly body.
A miracle indeed, if you had known the mayor’s mother.

Here I have given you two alternatives: I set before you death and....death. Choose...death. I’m afraid there is no question of life, at present, for Mr. Digg and Mr. Delve both are concerned with taking care of the departed in this life, and have no need to bother with birthings. I have attempted to represent each man as he is, and shall conclude my representation of each with a short anecdote in that perhaps describes the duo better than any length of examination might.

Mr. Digg and Mr. Delve grew up in houses flanking a house of their friend, Abernathy Cumberbund. Abernathy was my first cousin, and Mr.s Digg and Delve were acquaintances of mine from a very young age onwards till the day that poor Abernathy departed this world. Not wishing to offend either undertaker (for both remained good friends to my late cousin throughout his life), my family and I determined to let the business of preparations and funeral arrangements be collaborated on by the two men.

Thinking that two men so capable in their own ways could handle so few details without needing direction or our opinions, my family and I left Mr. Digg and Mr. Delve to do what they do best until the day of the funeral.
It was hot. I remember that much. Hot as Hell, and I’m not sure that Mr. Delve wasn’t thinking that himself and much wondering whether Abernathy was going North or South on his journey into the Ever-After. He bowed to me as I passed, and though it was probably my imagination, it seemed to me that I could smell Chloroform and Ether, and all the other chemicals of his trade wafting on a cold breeze over my skin. It frightened me.
Mr. Digg stood just to one side and beamed at me as I passed. “MISS GWALTNEY!” he shouted. “Many happy returns on this beautiful day.”
“Sir, my cousin just died.”
“Oh, but he’s not sorry so why should you be?”
Vague annoyance and dissatisfaction with Abernathy not being sorry he died pricked at my neck--or it could have been my black lace collar. At any rate, I raised my chin in the air and wondered if the smell of Vick’s Vapo-rub would ever leave Mr. Digg even if he was boiled and bleached and buried six feet under himself. Perhaps if he was cremated the aura would even linger in his urn as a testament to the business of his living days.
Futher frightened, I hastened to join up with my family in the graveyard. A quick peep in the coffin assured me Mr. Digg, at least, had not mixed up Abernathy’s body with that of the boy who had been drowned in a silo of grain.
“Abernathy...are you sorry you left?” I pressed my handkerchief to my nose and sniffed once or twice. Somehow it smelled like a combination of Mr. Digg and Mr. Delve, and I stuffed it back into my pocketbook and took a seat on the front row.
A morbid-looking pianist struck up the wedding march.
Something was wrong.
I half-rose in my seat, but Mr. Digg raised a hand and grinned from side-whisker to side-whisker. “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered her to witness the marriage of life to death. From before eternity to the glorious ever-after!”
Mr. Delve oozed up to Mr. Digg and folded his  hands like a corpse over his own chest. “To Abernathy Cumberbund, death came unexpectedly! Death came like a thief in the night. Death came when he was--to wit--unprepared--”
“FOR THE PARTY AT HAND!” Realized he had shouted in a saloon-style tone, Mr. Digg’s face reddened, and he bowed his head. “For the glorious, never-ending riches of Heaven.”
“Or the glowing, neverending torments of Hell,” Mr. Delve mumbled.
“Delve, that is hardly a question for public inspection,” Mr. Digg muttered, but so still and humid was the day that his voice was audible even to the line of post office workers sealed to their seats on the back row like postage stamps.
“It is a question we must all ponder,” Mr. Delve continued as if his colleague had not spoken. “Heaven or Hell. How frail this human life is.”
“How beautiful his was,” Mr. Digg said in repair.
“How beautiful and wasted.”
“He means waiflike. Abernathy was mortally thin, as we all know.” Mr. Digg’s confident smile was less confident now, and he puffed Vick’s-scented breaths through his nostrils onto me and Abernathy’s poor mother.
“Now his body will lie in the ground, communing with the worms and beetles of earth while his--”
“His SOUL,” Mr. Digg butted in, “Is dancing in heaven with the angels.”
“Or otherwise,” Delve hissed.
“Or,” Mr. Digg removed his hat and shook his head so his jowls trembled. “Otherwise. BUT!” and Mr. Digg waved his hand over the crowd and from somewhere at the back toward the vicinity of the railway station the sound of a full brass band playing, “When we all get to Heaven” oom-pah-ed up the aisle.
Mr. Delve waved his hand, and the cadaverous pianist tinkled out a crawling, groping, bloodless tune on the piano that jangled against the approaching brassband like broken glass over a jack-in-the-box.
The bands approached, the undertakers glared, and we lookers-on waited to see what might happen...
The band finished their song...
The pianist finished his and slid to the ground as if someone had removed his spine cleanly and pickled him in a jar...
Mr. Digg breathed once, twice, thrice through his nostrils and the whole cemetary smelled like a poster-child for Vick’s Vapo-rub.
Mr. Delve uncrossed, then crossed his hands again, and hunched his shoulders forward in his buzzardlike manner.
The clergyman puffed up, red and sticky--no one had thought it queer he had not been present till now--and cleared his throat.
“Let us pray,” the clergyman said, and I let out a little sigh of relief that at last someone was here who might take control.
“Ashes to Ashes,”
“That’s what he’ll be once he’s down there in the hell-fire,” Mr. Delve whispered.
“Dust to dust.”
“That’ll be his job in Heaven,” Mr. Digg corrected.
The clergyman raised his eyes to the pale sky with a beatific smile: “We shall bury him since we must.”
And since this was a thing neither undertaker could very well deny the importance of, the quarrel was finished, Abernathy was buried, and I watched Mr. Digg and Mr. Delve wander out the cemetery shoulder to shoulder. The Dueling Gravekeepers of Windsor.