Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dancing in the Minefields

"we went dancing in the minefields//we went sailing through the storms//it was harder than it seemed//but i do believe that's what//the promise is for.."
-Andrew Peterson "Dancing in the Minefields"

We take great pride in saying how much we love writing and how we are called to be writers and many things of that nature. Sometimes I wonder if we understand what we have just said. As with many things in our current culture, our understanding of "love" has fallen prey to what C.S. Lewis aptly described as "chronological snobbery":
Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.
In current terms, to "love" something means that you have a certain fondness for it that--momentarily--absorbs you. If you really "love" something (or someone), you have that fondness for it to the exclusion of many other pastimes and/or people. You might think that, by this definition, you do love writing. As do I. But here's the thing: our chronological snobbery has totally eradicated the true meaning of love. The popular definition excludes the roots of the thing: it makes void all the rich impulses of honor, dedication, fidelity, service, choice. Shakespeare mused: "Is love a fancy or a feeling?" --neither, I'm bound to say. Of course one cannot justly compare the love of a pastime (like writing) to the love of people, but I am permitted to take poetic license and point out the shadowy similarities. 

Inspiration is like romance: it comes and it goes and you can't keep it past its departure date. At some point in a marriage, the warm-fuzzies will fade (at least for a time) and if your love was built off of romance (as too many are) you will find yourself quite out of love. If your concept of being out-of-love includes booting the thing that fell out of love with you, then you'll find yourself with a divorce on your hands. We see this everywhere. In the same way, you begin to write a new novel with great excitement. The plot and characters were made for each other. You just know this time it will work out. You write multitudinous blog posts on how awesome it is to be a writer, you interview your characters, and the whole darn time you're waltzing along without an idea of the commitment involved. See, like romance, inspiration will fade. By the fifty-thousand word mark you will probably be quite disenchanted and ready to "divorce" this novel.

Now we come to the cross-roads of those who truly love writing, and those who are content with being dilettantes

"He scribbles some in prose and verse,
And now and then he prints it.."

Proper love for something requires a choice to be faithful to that person (thing) even when the romance (inspiration) fades or temporarily disappears altogether. It is a choice, not an overwhelming, mystic thing. It is the husband who doesn't care that his wife is out of humor and refusing to speak to him and leaving the dishes undone. It is the writer who feels like doing anything but getting up at six in the morning and writing her one-thousand-word quota and yet hauls herself out of bed and does it anyway. It's a commitment--a promise--and we have to realize the cost.

Are we willing to "love" writing, knowing what it takes?

This is the main difference between published authors and unpublished. Between "writers" who begin a dozen stories and finish none, and the writers who keep at it and mound up full-length stories in their Microsoft Word files. This would be my number one piece of advice to a budding, beginning writer: you won't always feel inspired, and you won't always love your book. But if you truly love writing you will write blindly, knowing that even if you won't, you must. You must because you've promised, and it's time to take a dance through that minefield.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Snippetty-Snip: The best of the Spring

We all know I had little time to write and what time I might have had, I spent otherwise. I did, however, manage to write a bit this Spring, and I have every intention of disciplining myself so that I shan't have to look at you with hands spread, saying: "I got nothin' for ya, man." These, then, are the best of the Spring:


They squeezed through the wrought iron rails—to use the gate was a sign of weakness—and paused on the gravel walk.
-The Baby

Her voice had in it the offended dignity of a cat who has fallen off a garden wall.
-The Baby

“You, my little blighted toadstool, are in Crissendumm.”
-The Baby

...on the fourth day the ground that had been flat began to slope upward and the going got a bit more beaten-trackish with little footpaths scarring the face of the hillsides between banks of tangled twigs that would have been elderflower in the summertime.
-The Baby

The valley below was definitely Populated. Huge houses--each looking as if it could be a castle with a little coaxing--hung back toward the valley-rim, sending instead a long, straight drive to meet the coming world. There were orchards--bare now, but promising--and shorn wheat fields, and potatoes turned up in harrows from a late crop. Here and there a horse or two grazed alongside congregated bits of dirty white that proved to be sheep upon careful inspection.
-The Baby

“We’ll take lunch at Darrow-Dwelling,” the Admiral said. “Ahhhh, T-O-A-S-T A-N-D T-E-A--that’s th’way to spell Darrow-Dwelling, your majesty.” He tugged the brim of his weather-rusted hat in Jamsie’s direction.
-The Baby

“Thruppence t’pass,” the gatekeeper said. He was a round man with a nose like a conch-shell, and wore a cap with ‘Porter’ printed on it. Jamsie smiled and waved at him as the Admiral dug in one of his vest pockets for coins.
The Admiral looked up a moment later with a sorrowful expression. “Th’Fleet stole it again.”
“Stole what?” Richmond asked.
“My money. They like shiny things--anything shiny at all. And they’re always pinching my coins. I can’t pay. I’m afraid...” he sniffed and cast a sad eye over the hedge. “I’m afraid there will be no Darrow-Dwelling for us. No T-O-A-S-T A-N-D T-E-A. And no castle for you, either,” he said generously, as if to give them a part in his complete misery.
-The Baby

" my realm--in England--we have many places this nice.” She hoped it wasn’t a fib--she’d never been twenty miles past London.
-The Baby

“If Auguste Blenheim the Pig had not stolen my birthright, Dear Lord, would I be half as patient as I am?” I gestured to the window--open because there was neither glass nor shutter to close out the dripping weather. “And would my constitution be half as hearty as it is, if Thou had not given me such chance to test its limits? No, don’t answer that, My Lord, for I haven’t the temper this morning to hear the answer.”
-Lady Alis (the temporary moniker of a short story)

The first thing to do was try to find Father’s certificate of death, naturally.”
“But thur weren’t any!” Ellen protested.
“Precisely.” I scooped the tiny, curled tea leaves into the silver bobber and dropped it into the teapot. “There was never one filed. Not a single Bickersnath Carlisle in the whole Kingdom of Ashby has ever died, according to the Records.”
“They moost be a healthy race, them Bickersnaths,” Ellen observed. The excellent woman stirred the porridge and raked a cone of sugar with the tines of a fork overtop.
“Mmm. That, or everyone but my alleged ‘father’ had a gentler christening.”
-Lady Alis

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Character Pieces: Starling

Now that I am in town for a few weeks I have been working hard at my non-fiction project. I find, however, that I feel stunted if I'm not working on my novels. And when it gets down to bare basics, I'm a child at heart and I can't help but write children's stories. That's why The Baby (Thrice Removed) is getting more space and time than the other projects I had going on. In an attempt to get to know the characters of The Baby, I looked up some character-building writing exercises which I always enjoy but seldom actually do. I am planning on doing various Character Pieces to help familiarize you (and myself) with the cast of The Baby. I found a couple of really great ones that I hope to do later on, but the one I went with was:

In the First Person perspective, write a scene of the first hour of your character's day.

The character I chose for this exercise is one you've not met yet. One neat bit of trivia about this novel is that at least three or four of the characters are built off of two particular dreams I had that were peculiarly vivid and that made me think at the time, "Gosh, they need a story." Today you get to meet Starling. Her dream was one of the strangest dreams I've had yet. All I know is that I was going down through a peculiar castle that was all twisty and odd and I ended up in a cobbled kitchen with bookshelves that looked terribly unsteady and leaned out from the walls. There was a queer mess of dirty dishes, pots and pans, stacks of teacups, and books on the shelves, and sitting in a pile of rags with an absorbed determined look on her face was a girl of about fourteen. She had very little time to spare for me because she wouldn't leave off running her finger up and down the pages of a book, trying to teach herself how to read. She didn't know how in the world to begin and she was frustrated almost to tears, but the creature was determined. Somehow she was having to cram lessons in to odd cracks because she wasn't supposed to be learning how to read. I don't recall what my purpose was in the dream and it had no conclusive end. All I know is that is how Starling was born.

source // The Baby pinterest board

In looks, Starling is stunted. Think Young Cosette advanced six or eight years. Her costume in the dream was very very similar, and she was "all over with smuts". As I learned, she's an under under undermaid and is a terribly obscure but eventually important piece of the Castle of Crissendumm. Anyway. I just started writing with that exercise, and I've posted the bit here so you can all get to know Starling:

I dreamed I was not a under-under-under maid any longer, but a princess. I had a nose that turned up in a delicate point and a dress that crinkled when I walked, and long golden hair.
I was enjoying that dream.
“Thump.” Something hit me crack in the belly and the dream disappeared. I wasn’t a princess no longer. I was just me--Starling--and my stomach hurt. I screwed open one eye and saw Cook across the room. On my belly was Charlemagne, the cat. He’s fat and I’m puny--it hurt when Cook lobbed him at me like that.
“Get your lazy buns out of that bed, girl!”
I screwed both eyes shut, wishing the dream hadn’t gone away. I bet princesses didn’t get a cat in the belly every morning. Charlemagne was tired of just sitting there and decided to help Cook wake  me up by pushing on my cheeks with his claws out.
“Owgeroff!” His fur muffled my protest and I scrambled up in bed, shoving him off the edge with my blanket and put a hand to my cheek. It came away with little streaks of blood.
“Ain’t there a law ‘gainst Child Aboose?” I asked.
“Child Abuse?” Cook’s  face twisted in her ‘You Stupid Oaf” look. “Of course there’s a law ‘gainst it.”
“Then I ought to tell someone you beat me,” I said, trying to remember if I was in trouble with any of the constables and if so, who I’d tell instead.
Cook’s face was very red and I bet she had been drinking all the cream off my milk again. “I don’t beat you.”
“You throw cats at me,” I said.
“That’s hardly what you might call beating.”
I rolled off the cot and pulled my flimsy petticoat off its hook, snagging the fabric and widening the tear. I looked at Cook through the hole. “So it ain’t beating. But it hurts all the same.”
“An’ well it should if you’re such a lazy clot.” She flopped onto my nail-keg and it disappeared under her. Her fat little legs stuck out on either side and she swung them till she looked very much like one of the black beetles I turn on their backside while sweepin’ the hearth.
“I like this room,” she said after a bit. Her eyes were roving around and looking at everything and my fingers shook so I couldn’t do my buttons. She might see my Letters.
I cinched the rag of an apron around my waist. I could pull it tighter each day and I didn’t even have to wear a corset--when you’re fed off of crumbs and dribbles you’re never what they call Plump. “‘Course you like it,” I mumbled.
“What’s that?”
“OF COURSE you like it,” I said, and shoved the board I used for a shutter away from the tiny window. Early light seeped into the room and puddled on the floor, making a safe wall between me and Cook. “Know why you like it? ‘‘cause it’s mine and you don’t like me to have anything nice.”
Cook lumbered up from the nail-keg, for all the world like a great, heaving cow and the red in her face started to mix with bits of purple. “What are you sayin’?” She crossed the floor and came up evil-close to me.
I filled my lungs with breath and held it a moment, then it let it out, choosing my words with care. “I’m sayin’ you’re a mean, cross old woman and you’re jealous of an undermaid’s undermaid’s undermaid.” I folded my arms across my flat chest and glared at her. Later I’d pay for my words and then I might care, but for now I liked just looking at the old fool and watching her fish around for words like an overfed pigeon in a worm-garden.
“Starling-chit,” She grinned a grin like Charlemagne’s after catching a mouse, and fidgeted with the strings of her veskit. “This room is my room now. You’ll sleep in the dairy-house tonight.” With a sniff she whipped out of the room and left me half-dressed, starin’ after her.
I weren’t so very worried--I was joggled from place to place every couple of weeks because somehow Cook always liked where I slept best. The dairy was a new thing, but maybe after a few weeks she’d want to trade places again, and that heifer would finally be where she belonged. I stuffed my straw-colored hair into my cap and--after being sure no one looked on--took the Announcement from its hiding place and puzzled over the symbols that I prayed would someday make words for me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In which I present The Oasis

This, my hearties, was the Music Room.

Since Daniel moved out and his band hasn't been practicing, and no one else in the family has occasion to play one of his six guitars he left, it's been rather a lame catch-all room that everyone likes to forget about because it's so garbage-y. I don't know why it's taken me so long to happen upon the idea, but I suddenly thought to myself, "Oh golly. Why don't I turn this into an Author's Lair?" So yesterday I snapped that Before Picture, and after an hour and a half of hard work, I present to you, The Oasis:

The Window faces West. :)

I left the keyboard in there even though I don't play the instrument. I thought that it would be a nice, inviting nod to the fact that this used to be a music room, and that my sisters (who do play) are welcome to hang out as I write. :D I was surprised to find that I actually had plenty of things lying about with which to decorate the walls, and had a lot of fun organizing everything to my utter satisfaction. This is luxury, I tell you.

There is a corner simply for reading:

And on one side of the bookcase you have Audrey Hepburn smiling sweetly at my ambitious 101-item Bucket List.

This is the wall that contains all my inspiring quotes, pictures, and things. You'll see there an uncompleted watercolor illustration the Seasonings (throwback, what?) and then a sketch of a ship which was given to me by Wyatt Fairlead to prove as inspiration for Scuppernong Days which I have promised him WILL be written one day. It just needs massive plot overhaul. I have left the space directly above the desk empty so that I can pin up whatever bits of things I gather for current WIP's.

And my very convoluted desk set up currently contains a laptop with the screen cracked so I plug it into a monitor and type on one while looking at the other. I am used to it now, but it is rather like patting one's head while smoothing one's belly at first.

And this, people's, is my new muse:

He was already nailed to the top of the bookshelf, and I thought it would be sad to take him down so I gave him a headdress. I think his name should be Adolphus. 

Now, to get back to writing. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pay Up, Globe-Trotter

"Where HAVE you been?" Their voices were cold, accusing, and I knew I was in for it.
"I've been....I've been..."
"Don't say busy," the Larger One warned, his breath coming in chilly-looking puffs from his over-red nostrils.
"I was about to say gone," I corrected. "I've been gone, that's what."
"Ohhhh. Gone." Their eyes commiserated with one another as if to say, 'That's no excuse at all, but I suppose we must take it.' "Well, next time at least tell us."
I nodded, relieved that All and Sundry hadn't booted me off the blogosphere and blotted me out of their minds. "Next time I'll tell you."
"Is that a promise?" the Larger One inquired.
"It is."
"And your word is good?"
"It is good."
"Then," he said, "I suppose we must forgive you."

-Pay Up, Globe-Trotter (an unofficial series of reprimands to Myself from Me)

I have been globe-trotting once again and instructing 130-some students in the mysteries of Political Involvement as Youth in America, and shepherding their hearts toward Christ, and buying more Wodehouse and Machiavelli and a bit of Shakespeare to balance it out. I did forget to tell you I was leaving, but you see, I didn't think there was much purpose in posting about writing when I hadn't been doing it in practice because that is called Deception in most nations and is generally frowned upon. I have, however, been doing a lot of Conversation and much Converting. I have found a mutual Wodehouse-Lover quite by accident when we were lolling about my brother's apartment and said Lover of Wodehouse made fun of me for adoring Scotch accents and then promptly remembered The Coming of Gowf, which he then proceeded to read amidst much chuckling from me and the rest of the assembled company. Then, after having taught kids how to be a lobbyist (or, rather, how to discern whether you ought to take money from a particular lobbyist or not) I lobbied feverishly to convince the very wise and learned minds of Jeremiah Lorrig & Co. of the worth of Winnie-The-Pooh. I could hardly believe that anyone of so broad and genteel a mind could have managed to grow up and entirely escape an acquaintance with A.A. Milne. I remedied that by having another unacquainted friend read us a bit. They laughed even harder than they did over Gowf. I think I have converted them. This pleases me.

As far as the production of Writing, it has been very slow in practice, but productive in the fact that I've been thinking and reading a great deal, and my store of expendable-matter is now finally filling back up. I'd quite drained it a month or two back. I failed to mention to you that beyond my novel-writing, I am also going all-tackle into a non-fiction book that you can read about in this post. I am excited about this very different way to use my talents that will, hopefully, be fruitful. It is a project I need to read myself, and thus I sort of have fallen into having to write it as well.

In addition, I have been rummaging up all sorts of peachy ideas for Fly Away Home-themed this-and-that which you might be able to buy someday. I will keep you updated on all things pertaining to that. I am in the process, actually, of making some rather large decisions. (Don't get too excited, I haven't been offered any contracts.) In other news, I would like to do a plug for two friends. First off, Mirriam Neal:
She is releasing her pro-life, gripping, threatening, victory-claiming novel, Monster. I was so excited to hear that this novel was finally coming out because by Jove! I read the first edition and cried. It is such a good story. Dark and terrible at moments, but so full of light in the end! It's a book I think every American needs to read since we are facing large decisions about the preciousness of Life. Please buy a copy when it comes out. You can read more about it here.

Also, my details-loving friend Rachelle Rea (whose work I totally recommend, as I've experienced its healing scourge) has started in as a freelance editor!  I may or may not have mentioned her already, but of all the beginning-editors I know, Rachelle has the credentials. She's done unofficial editing (but professional quality) for several years, and if you're needing an extra brain to coincide with your own when it comes to judging your book, please give her a chance! In closing, (because Alfredo-sauce-making calls) I will leave you with this Cleverness of Wodehouse which I happened upon on the drive home. It says it's about portrait-painters, but I swear he meant Aspiring Novelists:
"A portrait-painter, he called himself, but as a matter of fact his score up to date had been nil. You see, the catch about portrait-painting--I've looked into the thing a bit--is that you can't started painting portraits till people come along and ask you to, and they won't come and ask you to until you've painted a lot first. This makes it kind of difficult , not to say tough, for the ambitious youngster."
-Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

P.S. How would you feel about another contest?