Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ten Ways to Know You've Found Your Voice

If finding your voice is so important, how is one to know when that goal has been mainly achieved? Below, I collected ten points that could help you decide if you've found your trademark:

Comperto vocem

1.) The tone creeps into everything you try to write

2.) You find yourself thinking of events that happen to you in the same flavor with which your stories end up on the page

3.) Someone reads an author whose work has definitely impacted yours and says that their book reminds them of you somehow

4.) You are never quite as easy in another tone as you are in the tone that is currently under surveillance

5.) The majority of your plots fit the style that has become yours

6.) The plots that don't fit the style fizzle out and you find you cannot do them justice, even if they are perfectly good plots

7.) You are writing in a manner that makes your project something that would catch your fancy, were you to see it in a bookstore

8.) You can easily discern similar voices to your own as you read, and mentally differentiate between a style you could write well and one you could not

9.) You find that describing your style in a query-letter (or conversation) comes quite easily after all, once you've properly started

10.) The tone carries into emails, letters, and the like without a conscious effort on your part

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reading Stuffs

Since we all agree that reading is about the top most important thing you can do to improve your writing (besides actually writing...you'd be surprised how many people just complain about not being good writers and never write anything.), and since I (at least) am always on the look-out for good books, I thought I'd give you a quick look into what I've been reading in days of yore:

1066 and All That
W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman

The best way to describe this book is as the books describes itself:
"Histories have previously been written with the object of exalting their authors. The object of this History is to console the reader. No other history does this. History is not what you thought. It is what you can remember. All other history defeats itself."
Here is an example from Chapter VII entitled: "Lady Windermere. Age of Lake Dwellers":
Alfred had a very interesting wife named Lady Windermere (The Lady of the Lake), who was always clothed in the same white frock, and used to go bathing with Sir Launcelot (also of the Lake) and was thus a Bad Queen..."
So as you can see, if you aren't particular as to the exact precision of your historical facts, 1066 and All That is a rather wonderful little history--quite easy to understand. I have my brother's fellow flat-tenant to thank for introducing me to this peculiar book when I was attempting to flip him over to becoming an A.A. Milne fan.

I am currently in the process of reading my very first G.K. Chesterton book which happens to be a novel I was given for my birthday.
By G.K. Chesterton

"A puddle repeats infinity, and is full of light; nevertheless, if analyzed objectively, a puddle is a piece of dirty water spread very thin on mud." -Manalive
Though I am not very far into the book, Manalive seems to be in a class entirely of its own. It appears, thus far, to be an allegorical novel about a boarding-house of pessimists who encounter an incurable optimist in the form of Innocent Smith and think him rather mad. I have enjoyed the book though I am eager to see where on earth it trots off to. It is a strange novel but pleasant, and goes nothing at all like you'd think it would...last I left Innocent Smith he'd just been arrested under charges of being a terribly dangerous criminal...just as he was off to get a marriage-license too. Very strange. But attractive, somehow.

The Covenant
by Beverly Lewis

By now you know exactly how I feel about romance novels--the Amish ones in particular. I kind of sneer at them mentally, which isn't exactly fair when you calculate how few I've read. My sister-in-law-ish Abigail took it into her wicked little head that it'd be a fine idea to order the entire Abram's Daughters series for my birthday. She did, and laughed like a little she-devil when I opened them and groaned helplessly. But for her sake (and as an experiment in modern literature) I began to read and found nothing sneer-worthy in the novels. Exasperated, I admitted to Abigail that the first in the series, The Covenant, was not all fluff. Delicate topics were handled with a clean sweetness hard to find in most romance books, and I found myself curious as to what the second novel will hold. Darn Abigail's mushrooms--she might have the last laugh yet!

Eats Shoots and Leaves
By Lynn Truss

All I can say is that this book has been on my To Read list for quite some time, as I'd heard that is is a remarkable little volume that packs a whole lot of grammatical punch. I bought it as my yearly Birthday Present To Me at the little college book-store in Northern Virginia as a helpful clerk looked on and wondered why the array of Chesterton, Lewis, and Tolkien entranced me so. I set to work with my feet propped up on one of Daniel's co-workers' desks and cracked the cover. So far, I've been amused, blushing, and feeling guilt-ed into good grammar...not exactly what I was expecting, but still helpful. You just kinda get the sense that you're disappointing some strict grammarian somewhere in the universe every time you use a superfluity of commas or misplaced apostrophe. But you know, if you want to correct your grammar dead or alive, this book certainly makes you aware of key danger-spots, habits you'll want to break, and just how important punctuation really is. I have definitely found myself laughing over some of her examples and I am glad I bought this book even if it is a bit more of a rant than an instructional. 
"If you persist in writing 'Good food at it's best', you deserve to be struck by lightening, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave." -Eats Shoots and Leaves
So these are the tomes taking up my attention at the moment (or recently finished). Several more line the wall of my Lair waiting to be placed on the shelves, and my birthday is not finished being celebrated so there is still a prospect of more to come. What can I say? The life of a book-lover always has room for more!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Introducing Affery's Dose!

Don't ask.

Sometimes we all need to take ourselves a little less seriously and admit that a writer's life can be amusing rather than constantly involving the hypochondria we press upon ourselves. Why is it that we seldom read amusing posts, instead reading ones about Writer's Block and all the Wretched Ways of Editors & Agents & Co.? Probably because no one has ever done what I'm about to do here. This feature was inspired partly by the pilot-story I will soon relate, and partly by Jenny Freitag's frequent Facebook posts about the interesting things that happen in her day-to-day life as a writer. The feature of which I speak is...

....(rolling of drums...beating of hooves...clashing of thunder...whispering of awkward audience...)....

Affery's Dose

"Affery's Dose" will be a somewhat familiar term to those of you who are Dickens fans and have read his Little Dorrit. To those who have not, I am sorry and will explain: Essentially, "Affery" is the wife of a wretched old man named Flintwinch, and when he decides he would like to beat her, he tells her he'll "give (her) such a dose!" so I thought to myself, if laughter doeth like medicine, and medicine is administered in "doses" and we all need that sort of physic often in life, why not make it a frequent feature here on The Inkpen Authoress? If you are still confused on this point, I will make it clearer in a step-by-step diagram:
1.) Live life as a writer and have funny/awkward/interesting things happen to you relating to that
2.) Remember those things
3.) Write them down and send them to me at theinkpenauthoress(at)gmail(dot)com with the subject line "Affery's Dose"
4.) Wait and see if your story is featured here!
5.) Spread the news

Now if you still don't understand, I think your hope is caseless. Or your case is hopeless as it may be. You probably don't belong reading this blog, at any rate. The long and short of it is: I want your stories. Funny stories. Awkward stories. Stories you chuckle over think, "Gosh. A writer's life..." Those kinds. The hodge-podge of amusing occurrences. They don't have to be long or agonized over. Just tell the story as you'd describe it to a friend, and click "send". And I need lots of them so if you would like to mention Affery's Dose on your blogs and encourage your writer-readers to contribute, that would be bombdiggitty.  As an example to spur you onward, I shall now relate the Only Case in Which Milne Embarrassed Me:

     On my way to Colorado to work with a group of students for a week at government camp, I was herded onto a tiny plane. Seats were assigned and at first my prospects were not too shabby: I got a window seat on the side of the plane that had pairs of seats. Leg room!, I hoped. Then a young gentleman of about thirty came ambling along the aisle. I stiffened, hoping he would notice the seat next to me. He did. We spent the next two hours pressed arm-to-arm and he would not sit still. At first I took out a hand-scrawled copy of Ephesians 1 which I had been trying to memorize, but my mind would not focus.     Instead, I pulled The House at Pooh Corner from my purse and wished for the first time in my life that the cover was not spangled with bumble-bees on a pale green ground. My mood improved upon reading the book from cover-to-cover, and I was somewhat emboldened by the thought that the young man had probably not bothered to notice what the plump girl hermetically sealed to his arm had brought for reading material.
    Then it happened.    I dropped The House at Pooh Corner. On the gentleman's feet. He could not have just let it sit there bumble-bee-ing on his toes till I rummaged myself into a position on the miniscule plane to retrieve it. Oh no. He put his iPhone aside, folded himself like a card table and went spelunking for my book, resurfacing with a grin and a slightly puzzled glance at the cover.
     "Oh, thanks," I mumbled, and stuffed Milne back into the purse so he could disgrace me no longer with his silly bumble-bees and Poohs and antics of throwing himself onto a complete stranger's sandals.
*bows and walks off the stage*

That is the sort of story I'd love to receive. I know you have misadventures, and that's what Affery's Dose is all about. So come one, come all, and do share your wild and wooly stories! I will be posting them periodically on this blog for as long as they last, and I'd love to grow the circulation of these tales till everyone knew about Affery's Dose and was lying in wait for stories to happen to them to send in. So do spread the word and be decent chaps! Publicity is awaiting your return!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Swing it, I said Swing it. :)

"The music continued to weave its witchery over the deck of the ship and us in the center--a spider or two in a web of vivdry." -Fly Away Home
     I learned how to swing-dance last night. Never done it before. Never tried. But there has been something in my blood that responds to the songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Glenn Miller and the others that told me that, were I ever to have the chance, I would learn and learn quickly. So when I arrived home from another two weeks' gallivanting to attend my own twenty-first birthday party and realized that one of my friends, Nick, who was coming is proficient in the Art of Swinging, I knew the time was right. A very brief session of instruction later and my cousin Matthew and I were ripping up the dance floor. Sure, we never got past anything tougher than a half-pretzel, but what we knew we rocked. It was so much fun to spin and twist and swing--I refused to stop until (while Nick was dipping me) a muscle in my knee sproinged and made it buckle.
    The thing had been proved: I am a passing-good swing-dancer, just like I knew I'd be. Now, the purpose of this post is not to talk about my skills or lack thereof in dance. The purpose of this post was found in another bit of the night:
    In a lull between swing partners, Nick called across the room: "Hey, do you know how to waltz, Rachel?"
    I did not, so he proceeded to teach me. After bumbling about for a moment, I eased into the dance and was soon gliding about like one is supposed to, eliciting a remark of "You catch onto these things really quick" from my instructor.
    Later, Dad asked me if I'd known how to waltz before that moment. No, I had not. But talking it over with him for a couple of moments, I realized the reason for catching on to the dances so quickly: I didn't worry about the footwork. I chose instead to feel the music and move with it, and to imagine in my head how the dance is supposed to work. Then the footwork comes naturally.

     Now the pith of the post comes out: this imagery with dancing can be applied to our writing. Too often we sit back and speak platitudes of  the nitty-gritty bits of writing; the editing, the story structure, the verbal sparring vs. banter, the character development, the world-building become more important to us than the tune rhythm of the tale. And when you lose the music of the story, all the footwork in the world is not going to make up for the loss of continuity and heart.
    We need to take a step back in our souls and conjure the image of what this story is: the notes and beats and things woven into it's fullness. See, that's what is so easy to lose sight of as we write. We forget that, in a way, this story is a full story in itself. We tend to try to build the story piece by piece, line upon line, precept upon precept, but that--as any true writer knows--is not entirely practical. A story does have its own identity. To some extent, the story exists in your mind as a whole. Its own being. To chance sounding sappy: Your story is a full piece of music waiting for you to dance it into existence. Don't make the mistake of leaving out all the music.
     It is tempting to want to have everything arranged to perfection so that little editing will be done. But if you are keeping in mind the way your story needs to run--feeling it and dwelling in the beauty of its passion and color and vibe--the footwork will take care of itself. Certainly it will require practice and your technicalities will need a little work--everyone's does. But you will have captured the essence and blood of the tale, and really that's the prettiest part of a dance.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Many Happy Returns

"So Owl wrote . . . and this is what he wrote:
"I'm just saying 'A Happy Birthday'," said Owl carelessly.
"It's a nice long one," said Pooh, very much impressed by it.
"Well, actually, of course, I'm saying 'A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh.' Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like that."
"Oh, I see," said Pooh."

She can fabricate wonderful stories out of a blank piece of paper.

She has style that's both vintage and pop.

She loves Jesus and is a light to all around her.

She's a connoisseur of all things Broadway.

She can whip up all sorts of foods as quick as you can say "bob's your uncle."

She can be found laughing at all hours of the day.

She happens to be my sister.

She happens to be turning 21 today.....

And she has just been hacked.

happy 21st birthday, rach!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"The beauty of earth and sky doth mingle among mortals yet awhile"

I like to give you a nice chunk to chew on now and then, and since you haven't been fed much of anything of The Baby, I thought I would hand you a rather nice slop of it to rummage through. Herein you will meet Darron Ap-Brainard at his home, Darrow-Dwelling, and will (perhaps) understand a bit more of Crissendumm itself. First thing you must know: Darron is based off of an actual acquaintance of mine, and I cannot wait to fully flesh out his character and see if--by recreating him in a book--I can understand his peculiarly grating personality in reality. We shall see. 

After a walk of a couple miles—much farther than Jamsie had anticipated—the Admiral summoned them to turn in at a grand gate. The panels of the gate were intricate designs of wrought iron made to look like willow-branches, and over the archway hung a placard designating this place as Darrow-Dwelling. A robin formed of hammered metal perched on either side of the arch and gave the way a comical, saucy air.
“So this is it?” Jamsie asked, more to fill the blank in conversation than because she had any doubt on the matter.
“ 'Tis.” The Admiral shook himself and sighed. “There will certainly be T-O-A-S-T A-N-D T-E-A here. The laird never has guests but there's loads of food.”
“Loads of food sounds rather perfect,” Richmond called as he trotted up the drive ahead of them.
“Walk circumspectly!” the Admiral shouted after him. “You can't run up to a place like Darrow-Dwelling. It isn't right.”
Richmond stopped mid-trot till Jamsie came up to him. He hooked his arm through hers and Jamsie leaned forward to allow him to whisper.
“It's all right for him to say. He cares about decorum and we don't,” Richmond hissed.
Jamsie pulled off and cast an eye back at the Admiral who was walking along the lane looking brighter than he had in the whole of their acquaintance. “But perhaps if Darrow-Dwelling really is so fine a place as all that, we ought to behave?”
Richmond hooked her arm again and dragged her closer. “We'll behave but only because we have to extract some information from these people.”
“Information?” Jamsie was entirely puzzled.
Richmond stopped short and stared at her, eyes goggling. “Jamaica Balder! You don't mean to tell me you've been walking through this...Crissen-Smissen—or whatever they call it—for the past three days and forgot all about the reason we got here in the first place!”
All at once Jamsie noticed how far away London felt—this whole time there had been too much to look at and think about to have any time leftover to worry about the thing that had sent them careening down the puddle.
That lump one gets when one realizes they've made a horrid mistake began to form in Jamsie's stomach.“Our Baby!” She felt like bursting into tears but restricted the emotion to a single hiccuping sob.
Richmond patted her arm. “Oh, come now. At least one of us has been thinking about it. We haven't entirely abandoned the poor thing.”
“But I did forget all about the poor Baby. I'm a wretched sister—I ought to be...punished somehow!”
The tears threatened to spill over again but Richmond gave her a nice shove. “Save your bawling for another time, Jamsie old girl. If you start sniffling the Admiral will wonder what's up and then we'll spoil the element of surprise. If these are the people who took the Baby, we have to spring the accusation upon them. We can't give them a head-wind, you know.”
Jamsie rubbed a sleeve across her face. “I know.”
“Good girl!”
It took another half-hour just to make it up the lane because the Admiral would keep swinging like a clock pendulum from one side of the way to the other to admire the 'T-O-A-S-T A-N-D T-E-A' of the view and be sure they admired it too. Jamsie was not generally a suspicious person, but she found her apprehension grow with each move the Admiral made. What if this was all a trick? What if the Admiral was not taking them to a castle at all? What if Darrow-Dwelling was a robber-baron's lair and they were to be held hostage forevermore? What if they were never to see their Baby again, or sit by the fire with Mum and Dad and burn their fingers on toasted bread? It was such a sad prospect when she thought about it that Jamsie let a few tears dribble down her face despite Richmond's sensible warning.
Just as the tears dripped off her chin into the dust of the lane, the Admiral popped up on her left side. “Darrow-Dwelling straight ahead, your majesty.” He pointed a gnarly finger at the fine old house, quite near now.
A muffled chorus of hounds assembled as if a whole fox-hunt was trapped under a glass watch-case and grew in pitch till someone opened the massive, age-blackened doors of Darrow-Dwelling. The torrent poured forth—dogs of every shape and size—and milled about the traveling party.
“Get your beasts off me, Darron Ap-Brainard!” the Admiral howled, shielding his face with an up-thrown arm and glaring at the flood of hounds.
Jamsie patted a leggy wolfhound on his grey head and stared past the melee to the doorway of the house. A small man with a deal of dark hair on his head and face lounged against one side of the carved frame, arms crossed. He wore a slashed doublet of crimson with yellow peering through the slits. A smile broke the darkness of his beard, but it stopped short somehow of being quite a real smile—no teeth showed, and the lips looked pleased with themselves.
“Conceited,” Richmond remarked at Jamsie's elbow.
“Exactly what I was thinking,” she said. It was a bit disappointing, as Balders were notorious for not being able to tolerate anyone's conceit but their own. She had been so looking forward to a nice time at Darrow-Dwelling—even with the possibility of robber-barons.
“Hither, hounds,” the conceited-looking man said. He didn't shout—hardly raised his voice—but the dogs stopped barking and backed off, tails swinging low and teeth bared in apologetic grins.
“That is much better, Ap-Brainard.” The Admiral smoothed his feathered jerkin and sniffed. Jamsie and Richmond fell in place behind him and together they advanced up the stone steps till they were face to face with the small man.
“Have you any messages for me, Admiral? Your fleet carries from the far and wide, does it not?”
A shade of red seeped into the Admiral's grey face. “My fleet temporarily....abandoned me.”
“Abandoned you?” The man's eyes were small and glittering—dark as his hair—but his moustache quivered as he laughed. “And has the kingdom gone to ruin without its mail?”
“I should hope not, m'lord,” the Admiral whispered.
“You're a post-man?” Jamsie asked. Now it all made sense—the Admiral 's Fleet was in charge of delivering messages throughout the kingdom and they'd gone off and that was the cause of the Admiral's consternation.
“Your Fleet is like the passenger-pigeons?” Richmond asked.
Darron Ap-Brainard moved his sharp gaze to Jamsie and Richmond and stared at them in a bold fashion as if he had hours in which to do nothing else. Their questions remained unanswered for the time-being. It seemed as though there were nothing in Crissendumm but the trio on the steps of Darrow-Dwelling. The Admiral and the dogs—even the house itself—took backstage and there was nothing real except the small man who stared at them so curiously. Jamsie touched Richmond's fingers and by the tightening of them around her own, knew he was glaring back at the man too.
Of a sudden, the man laughed. “Whither do you come?”
The Admiral moved back into view. “They hail from England, m'lord.”
His eyes widened. “From England? The Pool worketh mighty wonders again, I see.”
Jamsie did not think he sounded as surprised as he might. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, the great desire for a cool seat in a quiet place coming strong over her senses.
“You must be tired, my lord and lady,” Ap-Brainard said with a low bow as if he could read her mind. He straightened, and winked at them. “Welcome to Darrow-Dwelling, fine folk. Mayhap you will find it a place to your liking.”
Richmond thrust his chin forward. “We hear it's a comfortable place enough. It ought to do for a quick stop.”
Ap-Brainard laughed again. Jamsie didn't like the short, cynical merriment of it. “Darrow-Dwelling will more than 'do' for you, my good fellow. Darrow-Dwelling is the essence of comfort itself, as I know the good Admiral will have told you.”
He had made short work of anything at all to be said, so the group followed their host through the heavy doors into the merciful dusk of a stone foyer. Here, the shadows were deep and rich with shapes suggestive of bookcases and armchairs. A globe stood in the center of the foyer, illuminated with a single stream of golden light which poured forth from a circle cut out from the domed ceiling. They followed Ap-Brainard to this globe, and Jamsie touched it as she went by. The countries on it were queer, unfamiliar shapes—not at all like the seven continents of the real world--and there seemed to be two dimensions to it: the solid beneath, the vaporous above; the two layers connected by opalescent gems here and there. “What is this a map of?” she asked before she could help herself.
Ap-Brainard was at her side in a moment, and he reached over her shoulder and spun the globe with a caressing finger. “ 'The beauty of earth and sky doth mingle among mortals yet awhile'. This, my girl, is Crissendumm. Our world graven on the underside, yours above. The gems mark the holes from one to another. Cannot you see it?” And as he pointed and stirred the layer of vapor, she saw the pale homelike shapes of Africa, Asia, and the rest floating just above the surface of the proper globe.
“And the Pool?” Richmond asked.
“The nearest portal.” Ap-Brainard cocked his head to one side and to Jamsie, he looked somehow familiar in that attitude. “Have you never heard of Crissendumm in England?”
“Their majesties are none too keen on questions.”The Admiral toyed with his pocket-watch and looked up with a sad smile.
“Ahhhh. I see. Dinner then?”

But the man's expression was so cat-like and self-satisfied that Jamsie edged closer to Richmond, just so she could feel the comfort of another Londoner.