Monday, April 29, 2013

The Gentle Life

I walk into Barnes and Noble and my eyes briefly scan the center tables loaded with colorful books. Some are hardbacks with embossed covers. Others are paper-bound and adorned with a bright foil seal that marks them as something special.

My chest tightens as it always does when I see the titles:

Fifty Shades of Grey

The Hunger Games

Harry Potter

A Game of Thrones

Whiskey Beach


I hurry past all these books till I reach the aisles that embrace me like the old friends they truly are. Josh Groban's voice comes softly over the speakers that I happen to be standing directly beneath, and my nerves settle. Then the c.d. changes and Anne Hathaway dreams a dream while I flip through the books on the classics shelf or the titles in the youth section. Once in a while I venture into the christian romance aisles and realize over and again how much Beverly Lewis just isn't my thing, though I'm sure she's a wonderful writer. 

Then the questions start. "What the blazes am I doing trying to be a writer?"

I cast a quizzical eye toward the next aisle over and am assaulted by books on how to make your love-life "better", right alongside another obnoxious book adorned with a lady in a skimpy bikini.
"Oh Lord, what the heck am I doing?" I mutter. "That is what the world wants. Where do I fit in?"
I think of Fly Away Home, sitting in the inbox of an agent, hoping to be read. I think of the trouble I've had trying to find comparative titles for this witty, pretty little story. It's almost an impossible task because let's face it...there aren't many books like mine written these days.

Like mine. What are mine like?

I puzzle over the question and put The Story Girl back on the shelf, or close the covers of Persuasion. I am tempted to think my books had their heyday in the 1800's when people actually agreed with Jane Austen: 
"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everyone not greatly at fault themselves to tolerable comfort."
See, as cheesy and outdated as it sounds, I write from my heart. I'm an optimist, and there just isn't dark fantasy or apocalyptic ideas to be found in my brain. I don't contemplate the end of the world so I don't write about the end of the world. I've had no experience with drugs and alcohol and murder so I don't write drugs, alcohol, or murder. I don't write writhing pain and lurid depression. I wouldn't want to. There's too much of it in real life for there to be any need for people to read whole novels circling around the idea. At least that's my opinion; the way my taste runs. 
But is there anyone who shares my desire for witty, cheerful, optimistic literature that deals with real life but in a way that doesn't leave you thinking you'd better build a bomb-shelter in your backyard just in case? I've read books that leave me scrambling frantically for pepper-spray, karate lessons, and antidepressant pills. Am I alone (and are my books alone) in our cheerful corner of the world's literary appetite? I shrug, mentally stick my tongue out at the writing books that preach "Death! Destruction! Depression!" and wander toward the check-out line with a YA novel under my arm. I'll try this one and see if it's any better than the last I read about a dreary, depressed eleven year-old.

Then I pass an end-cap with the Downton Abbey cookbook. Oh....Julian Fellowes is a bit more plucky than most others. I forgot about him. The rumbling wit of the Dowager Countess, and the boyish 'hail-fellow-well-met' cheer of Matthew Crawley. Sure, it's a TV show and he kills off every character you like, but it's not murderous or suicidal. One for the Cheerful score!

I'm feeling a little better when I pass another end-cap with Winnie-the-Pooh books loaded on top with their lovely bumble-bee-spangled covers. Oh, yes. Entirely different category than Downton, but these books have never gone out of popularity in their hundred-year reign. Score Two!

But the third endcap is what sends a satisfied smile to my face: down the next aisle I see a Mitford book. Jan Karon! I'd entirely forgotten about her. She's modern. She's successful....she's.....cheerful! And then my mind flings back to a conversation I had with a blogging friend related to my additional trouble of trying to peg what genre most of my books fall in. Though I eventually decided on pegging Fly Away Home as "historical romance", it could also fall under the oft-overlooked category of "gentle fiction", as defined by the all-knowing Wikipedia:
With charm and humor, these novels explore the everyday joys, frustrations, and sorrows of lives quietly led. They typically revolve around the activities of a small community of people, such as a small town, a church, or a gathering of friends. The realities of sex, violence, and other passions are downplayed and are never presented in a graphic manner. Although the genre was once largely dominated by British authors, American authors in the vein of Jan Karon are now extremely popular
And there you have it. Me and Jan Karon in a nutshell. Having that comparison, my smile sticks.

There is a place for me and my books.

There's a place for Mitford, and Cynthia and Father Tim.

There's a place for Penelope Wilcock's Hawk & Dove trilogy and other books of the kind that bring to mind firesides or sunny porches with a glass of ice-tea sweating close-by. My plan is simple: I only have to find a gentle agent who will confer with a gentle publisher who will then spread some goodwill to the gentle readers like you. It's only a matter of patience and perseverance, and ceaseless optimism. Maybe that is an optimistic point of view...but maybe, just maybe, the world needs a little cheering-up after all. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Home from Europe!

Hello, fellow writers! I am home from Europe, changed in so many ways. I know everyone says that, and it annoys me to have to admit it, but if I am to be honest I must acknowledge that I am not quite the same person I was two weeks ago when I left America. My soul expanded, for one thing, and if you have not felt that tearing, joyful, painful feeling of a soul's expansion, I do feel sorry for you.

 I was true to my word and wrote in my travel journal religiously, recording anything and everything for future enjoyment. At the end of the two weeks I had 104 pages. So there. Here is proof from one of the four cameras that were constantly catching me filling the notebook:

Many places were inspiring to me, writing-wise, but I think perhaps the place that most caught me off-guard and will end up in a book was the cathedral, Maria Radna:

From the outside, it was grand and imposing. 

This basilica, built in 1520, was massive. I stepped through the immense wooden doors and the temperature dropped twenty degrees and my breath came in puffs, and I was dizzied with the splendor. It's hard to  get an idea of just how huge this place was. Put it this way: When I tipped my head back to look at the painting in the topmost dome, I tipped over because it made me too dizzy. Furthermore, the photo below is half-way down the length of pews in that gigantic sanctuary:

I was torn between complete admiration for this gorgeous place, and sadness that the glory of it is so passing, and the people who trust in the glamour will find themselves grasping wind. Behind the big alter-thing, there was a door. A DOOR! and then up in the ceiling were a series of random numbers and mind immediately began chucking and whirring like a Dutch-watch. Mark my words: Maria Radna will resurface in my literature someday. I promised.

Another event that inspired me to no end was the night we had dinner in a gipsie mansion. No lie. The pastor of the village-church we were visiting that night was friends with a gipsie man who had offered to open his home to us. It was....bonkers. We ate off of real silver and drank out of real gold, and stood under behemothian porcelain chandeliers that I expected to crash onto my head in a Xerxes-esque manner any moment.

(This is only about two-thirds of the house)
Our hosts were so generous and kind...and I laughed my head off when they closed the heavy oak doors of the dining room and a village pastor asked us to sing "I'll Fly Away" while he played the guitar. The incongruity of it all was so hilarious. But we did. We sang a Bluegrass hymn in the dining room of a legitimate gipsie-mansion, surrounded by a sea of rum-bottles. 

At the end, we took a group photo on the elaborate staircase. Again, these photos aren't quite giving credit to the enormity of the house. I was so blessed by the gipsies' hospitality, especially since they are Orthodox, and the Orthdox hardly ever even talk with the Baptists. Definitely a special night.

There were many other things that will end up in my books someday, I am sure. So many things that I will tell you in small doses. I am so glad I purposed to write in my travel-journal, and that I got so many pages. I won't forget, this way. Little impressions and memories that can't find a way to come out in words just yet. People I met and places I saw. Oh my goodness. I can now heartily recommend travel for giving one inspiration. Not just the fact of gathering experiences to incorporate in writing, but also the very fact of getting up and about. Gaining thoughts and impressions and emotions that might never show up directly in a book, but will forever color your heart. Yes, travel is a very good thing. 

Now the business at hand is to find where the dickens I left off with my writing. I had given myself a break of nearly two months as I focused on preparing for the trip, and I was stuck finding comp titles for Fly Away Home, and I was in between a dozen stories if I was one and....well, I won't fret my head. I'll just start writing because you know, and I know, that that is the only way to be a writer. :)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Off I Go

I don't suppose it's quite fair to drop off the face of the planet without a word of explanation.

I also hardly think it's fair-game to expect a girl who is leaving for Romania in two days to be able to have written much of note in the weeks leading up to her departure.

That is my alibis. Leaky as a sieve and it would hardly stand up in court, but I know you to be of a forgiving nature so I suppose you will let me slide this once. And notice I haven't only been neglecting this blog: none of my blogs have seen anything of me of late, and that is the best way I could find to handle the fact that life has had no time to include blogging or writing. I have done so little writing that it's embarrassing. Thus, the second reason I have left The Inkpen Authoress to shift for itself: I thought that there is nothing more idiotic than speaking when you have nothing to say. Since I haven't written lately, there is not much honesty or wisdom in pretending I have and hoping I can fool the lot of you. But you are writers and you can't be easily fooled.

I will become a world-traveler over the weekend. Sarah teases me about saying I am "going to Europe," but two stops in Paris, two in Budapest, and two weeks in Romania seem to me to constitute the expression. I may never make it back to Europe in my life (though let's hope I do) so it behooves me to make good what of it I expect to see while gone. I have high expectations. Of course I'm nervous. Of course I'm stressed. Of course I feel an awful lot like Bilbo leaving Bag End and wondering if perhaps home wasn't nicer than an adventure after all. But I know that God has lead me this far and He will lead me beyond, and so i am looking forward to my Continental Fling.

So what does a writer pack for her Gallivanting? I hoped you would ask.

This writer brings:

  • Altoids (which thrill her because of No Mere Mortals) and Tic-Tacs (because the white ones smell just like a baby-doll she owned as a child) and Trident Original Gum (because its taste is associated with her brother who is a comfort and is not going on the trip)
  • A leather travel journal and no less than 4 extra-fine-tip G2 pens
  • A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken and The Hawk and The Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock, and Winnie-The-Pooh. (her fellow-travelers will laugh at her, but she thinks it might come in handy one night when Home seems very far away)
  • Clothes and clothes and clothes because she doesn't like to be seen out of fashion
  • Her brand new sheep's leather Baccini hobo-tote which makes her feel positively European, and was a gift from the almost-sister-in-law's-sister
  • A tape-measure because no one knows when someone will want one
  • A Sharpie because again, someone will want one and she will be Mary Poppins and have it to their Astonishment and Surprise
  • Lemon Luna-Bars because she doesn't want the trouble of trying to exchange money in the Parisian Airport to buy lunch during a one-hour layover in which she must switch airlines and find her new flight
  • Celestial Seasonings herbal-tea sampler which includes Peppermint tea (for anyone's upset stomach), Sleepytime Tea (in case anyone has insomnia), Camomile tea (in case anyone is stressed and needs to take a relaxer), and some other obscure variety which will definitely come in handy.
  • Striped neon stocks (which are a comfort since they are perfectly absurd)
  • Toenails painted like slices of watermelon (which is a comfort for the former reason)
  • Light, natural eyeshadow and mascara (because she won't be among people who wear much makeup but she still wants a face)
  • Comfortable shoes (so she can climb those possible castle-ruins without blisters ruining her concentration)
  • Sweaters (because who doesn't like a cute, cozy sweater?)
  • Copious amounts of hairpins (because this writer has a lot of hair that always will blow in the wrong direction)
  • Jeggings (because as much as she hates them,{and looks wretched in them} they were all Walmart had left of the leggings she was told to bring to wear under her skirts against the cold weather)
  • Plum-colored Peacoat (because it's news, and it's chic, and it's something she has always wanted)
As a writer, what do you carry when you're on holiday? I would love to hear in the comments, and I will see you all in two week's time with lots to report from the Continent! :)