Friday, October 31, 2014

Classics from the Crypt

In honor of Halloween, I am going to post for you my favorite "scary" songs . . . all classics, of course. And all enormous favorites of mine!

First of all, I give you . . . Saint-Saen's "Dance Macabre." Which is just so ridiculously wonderful! I have a particular love of this one because, a few years back now, my roommate Charity and I learned this duet for two pianos version that you see below. Not that we ever got it this polished or performed it on two grand pianos . . . but we had a lot of fun. (I'm pretty sure I played the part of the girl on the left.)


Possibly the most fun I've ever had as a pianist. (And no, I don't play to this level anymore. The "Minerva Louise" song is about where my range cuts off these days! LOL.)

But this song is at its most fabulously unbelievable when played by a whole orchestra, so . . .


I adore this piece soooooo much. I could hear the Dragon Dance in Veiled Rose being something like this . . .

My next scary song directly inspired the entire storyline and mythology of Hri Sora, the Dragonwitch from my series. That's right, dear imps, I am talking about Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain."

 The Disney animation aside, this song always conjured up images of darkness suddenly erupting in flame. I can almost see those tongues of fire rising into the night, burning the top of the mountain as some powerful conflagration strikes from above. Thus was born the storyline of the Dragonwitch, the powerful dragoness, her assault upon the Moon, the stripping of her wings, and her fall from the heavens. All inspired by this one song.

Mussorgsky is amazing. (We had a very different Mussorgsky piece played at our wedding.) But this might be my favorite of all his works.

My next pick is a song which has been a favorite since childhood. And seriously, what child with an imagination of any kind can help but listen to this mysterious, dangerous, wonderful song without feeling the heart-thudding thrill of those mountain caverns and the beings who dwell therein? Long before creating the goblins featured in Moonblood, I would sit and listen to this song over and over again . . . and later would listen to it with my ten-years-younger-than-me baby brother, Peter (who loved this song so much from the time he was so small, I would play it for him when he was teething to--I kid you not--calm him down. When he got a little older, we would dance to it).

Anyway, I give you--Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King."


And, because everything by Edvard Grieg is wonderful, here's "March of the Trolls" as well.


Honestly, I don't think I can top Grieg, so I'm going to end here, leaving you with, I think, the perfect soundtrack for a Halloween evening. I hope you enjoy this selection!

What are some of your favorite "scary" songs, classics or otherwise?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

You're My Favorite Ever!

The question I am blogging an answer to today is: "Who are your favorite Goldstone Wood Characters?"

This question makes me think of my relationship with my kindle of kitties. Every one of my six cats loves to take a turn sitting in my lap, purring sweetly while I pet him/her and croon, "You are my favorite kitty ever. Only you. None of the other kitties even matter to me."

Rohan tells me I'm being a bit faithless and misleading . . . but the kitties all believe it. Absolutely. Implicitly. And the truth is, while a particular kitty is in my lap, she/he probably is my favorite kitty! Save where husbands are concerned , I'm pretty flexible when it comes to favorites. (When I tell Rohan he's my favorite husband, he scoffs, "Well it's not like I've got much competition!")

The same is true for my characters. Whoever I'm writing at the time tends to be my favorite character ever. Only that character. None of the other characters even matter to me.

And this isn't at all a bad perspective to use when all is said and done! This way, every character and every character's storyline feels important to the reader as well. However, for the sake of the reader who asked this question, I will try to pinpoint a couple of key favorites!

First and foremost . . . Eanrin. I mean, really. "He's my favorite kitty ever!"

But seriously, Eanrin is just an extremely interesting character to write, not to mention tremendously fun. I've been writing about him since I was in high school, so I feel I know him rather well. That being said, he often surprises me with the twists and turns of his character and personality, not to mention the dramatic events of his life. The story of how he lost his eyes came as quite a shock to me. I wasn't planning it when it happened, and it completely altered so much of where I was going with the series . . . but I also knew I couldn't back down once it happened, and it was subsequently incorporated into the rest of the series (including Heartless, which I had drafted with a non-blind Eanrin a year or so earlier). His reactions to that traumatic event were also very interesting to watch and continue to be so through the more contemporary story lines (such as Moonblood).

And, of course, the ongoing relationship and dynamic between him and Dame Imraldera is the stuff of epics. Or at least it's very juicy storytelling, and I enjoy pitting the two of them against each other, so to speak.

Eanrin has developed quite a lot over the last several years. I wrote Starflower soon after marrying my Rohan, and I know my husband had a profound influence on the evolution of that character. Not that Eanrin is modeled on Rohan--he really isn't. But they do rather reflect one another pretty often. (And Rohan says that I'm like Imraldera, all earnest and serious and a bit sharp-tempered at times, with a tendency to fall in love with any poor creature that crosses my path, the dirtier and more flea-bitten the better. So I guess there's a bit of "writing what I know" going on in that relationship!)

Another character who jumps to mind as a favorite right now is Masayi Sairu, the heroine of my upcoming Golden Daughter. Sairu was one of those characters who just danced out of my imagination so fully-fleshed-out and fascinating, it was impossible not to love her! She was almost the opposite of what you'd expect from a character in her role--the deadly, mysterious, highly-trained body guard. She should be all seriousness and mystique, right? But Sairu can hardly keep the smile off her face, has a soft spot in her heart for fluffy things, and boasts quite a potent maternal instinct. She is also a surprisingly damaged person, though the extent and nature of that damage are not readily apparent.

Sairu was an absolute blast to write, and I miss her already as I move forward into the next novel.

And, interestingly enough, just like Eanrin reminds me quite a lot of my husband, so Sairu reminds me hugely of my best friend. Are we noticing a trend here?

I really love my struggling Prince Lionheart as well. I loved him even as far back as Heartless, and I distinctly remember stalling out partway through writing the first draft of that story because I wanted so badly for him to come through and be a hero by the end! But he couldn't be. That wasn't who he was, and I had to write the character true. But I loved him anyway and was eager to pursue his storyline through Veiled Rose and Moonblood . . . not to mention revisiting him in Shadow Hand. He is a character full of turmoil and drama, but he really is quite lovable. I hope to write quite a few more books about him in time to come! (At least two more, but we'll see . . .)

Let me see, I'll pick just one more . . . .

I really loved writing Nidawi the Everblooming! She was an absolute riot and ever so much fun to play with. She is a wonderful blend of Faerie madness and tragedy, innocence and sensuality, kindness and cruelty. There is nothing predictable about her; she is completely herself. The character incorporates the "triune goddess" motif of classical mythology--the maiden, mother, and crone. All at the same time, which is just bizarre and wonderful to write. While being a completely original character, she has a strong classic sense about her. It's not difficult to believe she came right out of The Golden Bough or some other tome of mythology and legend. She was an experiment and a tremendously fun one. I don't know if I will ever enjoy a character quite the same way again (though I can always hope!).

Anyway, I could keep going for quite some time, but I'll stop there. Who are some of YOUR favorite Goldstone Wood characters?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Short Question - Short Answer

"Gaheris House" by Brenna Jones
Today's short question pertains to my third novel, Moonblood. This young reader asks: "Is Carrun Corgar Gaheris?"

Good guess! But no.

For those of you who don't know or are uncertain, Carrun Corgar is the ruins of a tower mentioned in Moonblood, apparently a former stronghold of goblin King Vahe's . . . and a place of certain significance to Sir Oeric, one of our fine knights.

Corgar is also the name of the goblin who led the attack on Gaheris House in my fifth novel, Dragonwitch. So there is a strong correlation between the two locations.

But the two are not the same. Gaheris House is located farther north, while Carrun Corgar is built (apparently) on the same spot in the Between where Oriana Palace stands in the Near World.

But in all likelihood, Vahe named the tower for Corgar . . . and why he would do that is probably not too hard to figure out! (Though you'll have to read Goblin Son to find out why . . . and I, sadly, won't be writing Goblin Son for a little while yet. Got to finish Untitled Book 8 first!)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 4

This will be my last post on this topic . . . for the time being. As I have stated previously, this is one of those topics I suspect I will keep coming back to over and over again.

Today I want to discuss the fourth method of characterization that I use. This series is specifically talking about creating characters by putting myself into my work, and I have already discussed three different methods by which I do this. This method may not seem to fit that theme at first . . . but stay with me! It will make sense when I'm through.

I 'll call this the What I See In Someone method. This is the method in which I take traits and struggles I observe in other people--specifically those close to me--and use them to create a character.

This is a method more commonly used by writers hither and yon. Lots of novelists will set out to base a character on someone they know. But my reasoning for why it works may be a bit different.

You say, "Well if you're basing your character on someone else, how can you claim to be putting yourself into your characters?"

Simple! You see, when I base a character on someone I know, I am still basing that character on my perspective on someone I know. Which is ultimately still me. I can't know the entirety of a person's heart or struggles. I have only my outsider's perspective to go on and whatever I can extrapolate from there. In the case of novel writing, the extrapolation itself forms the character--though, if I am as honest as I can be, the character will become quite a strong reflection of the original.

The heroine of the upcoming Golden Daughter is a great example of this sort of characterization. She is heavily influenced by my perspective on my best friend. Her struggles, her personality, her sins, her fears, her strengths . . . so many things about Sairu are things I have watched and observed in Erin over the years. Is she perfect fit for Erin? No. But she's an excellent reflection.

Erin herself read a polished draft of the manuscript a few months ago and agreed with me--Sairu is very much her. Not exactly her, but very much her. And she was pleased by the similarities, for it enabled her to see herself in a more favorable light. To see things she thought of as weakness used to create a dynamic and singularly heroic character. Sairu is, without a doubt, the most exciting heroine I have ever written. She is also, quite possibly, the most damaged (though it takes an insightful reader to see this). But because of her damage, she has the potential to become so much bigger, so much larger than life.

I won't go into specifics both for the sake of avoiding spoilers and for the sake of my best friend's privacy. But all this to say, basing a character on someone you know takes just as much honesty as basing a character on yourself. More than that, it takes an ENORMOUS amount of empathy--the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else.

In the case of Sairu and my best friend, it was a fairly easy journey. Almost an unconscious one, really! I was probably 1/3 of the way into writing a manuscript before I realized how very much Sairu was like Erin. At that point I was able to be a little more conscious in my efforts, drawing on my longstanding history with Erin to create a mingling of vulnerability, humor, strength, protectiveness, and fear that make Erin herself such a larger-than-life person.

But I have used this technique for other characters in the past.

Lionheart was very much based on my perspective on a young man who hurt my heart years ago. Not on him exactly--merely my perspective on him. But putting that character, someone I resented so deeply, into my book forced me to step into a position of empathy--both for the real-life person and for Lionheart himself. I started with what I knew, stood a while in that other person's shoes, and extrapolated from there as honestly as I could.

And suddenly Lionheart wasn't merely the weak-willed villain of Heartless. He was someone I wanted to write more about, to learn more about. Someone to whom I found I related. So I began to blend methods together, maintaining the personality and character traits of the real-life young man, but adding in aspects of myself.

Because a universal character is just that--a universal. Someone to whom many people can relate. Make sense?

Daylily is another character who started out based on someone I knew. Someone I didn't really like. Someone I wanted to better understand. So I started with my perspective on someone else, moved into that position of empathy, and found where Daylily and I were alike. And so she became someone far more multidimensional than I ever would have expected. She became someone I wanted to write more about. Thus Shadow Hand was born.


Anyway, that's about all I have to say on that topic. Quite a long-winded response to the two part question: "Do you put yourself into your characters?" and "How do you create such diverse characters?"

I've said it before and I'll say it again--Good writing is about honesty. It's difficult to grasp this truth, more difficult still to put it into practice. But I hope this series has given you some food for thought along the way.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 3

Continuing with my short series on characterization, focusing on the topic of putting yourself into your work. Again, these are simply methods I have used to create characters. They may not work for you. Your job is not to mimic another author's methods. Your job is to find out what writing honestly means for you.

Anyway, here's a third method I have used which I will call the Situational Method.

This method is similar to the One Key Struggle method in that I take something from my own life and extrapolate from there. In this case, I don't take a sin or a struggle--I take an experience, usually a painful one. From there I imagine greater stakes, greater consequences . . . and usually throw in a couple of dragons.

Remember: situation shapes character. So by putting a character who is otherwise nothing like you into a situation similar to or reflective of yours, you are going to create a character who is reminiscent of you. You won't be able to help but relate to that character, even if that character's reactions are all polar opposite to what yours were in your similar situation. And if you are relating to your character, the likelihood is your reader will as well.

An example:

A while back, I found myself caught up in an extremely oppressive society for about two years. It was a church that had very strict views on women's roles, and they used various interpretations of the Bible to support those views. And I swallowed it, thinking this was my godly duty, despite my father's warning that this was not a church I wanted to get mixed up in. And everything went along smoothly for a little while . . .

Until suddenly I found myself in a situation where it was my word against a young man's word. And everyone sided with the young man, because he was a man. Including girls whom I believed were my friends. And those girls were so intrenched in this mindset of women's roles, they even began to spread stories about me amongst themselves, saying that I had invented this whole situation, that I was delusional, perhaps a little crazy. And the fact that I fell into a depression and became dangerously skinny from lack of eating did nothing to help. This was taken as a sign of my "lack of trust in God" and my "refusal to accept reality." Etc. etc.

It was awful. God saved me from that situation and those people. His grace is perfect, sufficient, and mighty to save.

And He also gave me remarkably good fodder for many, many, many stories to come . . . Looking back over my work, how many of my stories are reflections of this situation? Oh wow. So many of them!

We'll speak first and foremost of Starflower. The titular heroine of that story comes from an oppressive, patriarchal society in which the women literally have their voices stolen away. That was me. I wasn't poisoned to lose my physical voice, but I lost my voice in a very real sense when it came to defending myself. I knew what I was talking about when I wrote Starflower.

I was interviewed by a lovely woman a few years back who had served many years as a missionary to Afghanistan. She had worked specifically with oppressed women from the extremely patriarchal cultures over there. Having just read Starflower, she said to me that she didn't understand how I could have written something so real on the subject of patriarchal oppression having never lived in that culture.

The truth is, I don't know what those women suffer. But I do know the roots from which that suffering springs. And I can extrapolate from there. My own, small-scale experience is ultimately a universal. It's a reflection of something so many women across the world have experienced to various degrees of horror and pain.

That same situation of mine has influenced others of my stories. Look at Lady Leta in Dragonwitch. Look at Daylily in Shadow Hand. The situation of my heroine in Untitled Book 8 is even comparable. All of their stories are different, but the situation springs from the same source.

I start with a truth. I add imagination and extrapolate. What comes out is something unique and universal. What comes out is something honest.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 2

I am continuing my series on putting myself into my characters.

I have realized that this series could be taken as a "how to" by some of you aspiring novelists. I want to clarify here that this is not my intention. While these are tricks and methods I have used to create my cast of characters, I am not writing these out as a formula for you to go and try to mimic. What I want you to take away from these posts is not another writer's formula that will solve all your characterization problems. What I want you to take away is the honesty. A great character is an honest character.  A great character is a mirror, not a mask.

Anyway, let me now continue with a short summary of another method I use for characterization. Let me call this method the Personality Method.

This method is the simplest when it comes to creating a dynamic character. It can also be the most painful, so you do have to be prepared for backlash. With this method, I write a personality much like my own into a key character. I then place that character in a situation dramatically different from mine. And I watch the character morph from someone very like me into someone completely unique--keeping in mind that situations will have a profound effect on shaping the soul.

I remember beginning to learn this method back in high school when I co-wrote a completely horrendous novel with my best friend. It's horrendous because it is so badly written, but we both learned a lot in the process. What I learned had to do with the Personality Method.

While my best friend wrote a heroine who was beautiful, talented, misunderstood, and completely and utterly desirable to all the best-looking young men in town . . . I wrote a heroine who was like me. She was shy. She was insecure. She was really, really wanting to be pretty, but far too awkward and insecure to actually get there. She had talents, but wasn't brilliant at any of them, and was far too insecure to let anyone see them anyway. She was generally quite well-liked by those around her, but not in a lauded or acclaimed sort of manner. She felt just kind of there and terribly shy about it.

And the only young men who sought her favor were the most awkward, ugly, immature, and obnoxious ones.

Heheheh. It makes me laugh to remember this! But that was very much me back in those days. It was what I knew and what I could write with honesty. And you know what? The precious few we allowed to see our horrendous novel all rather liked my character better. Because she was unique and universal all at the same time.

Most of us girls are not and never will be beautiful, talented, misunderstood, not to mention completely and utterly desirable to all the best-looking young men in town. But most of us girls have felt insecure and a little wallflower-ish now and then. Most us girls have felt a bit frustrated that the only guys who look our way are the last guys we want looking! At some time or another, that particular character's woes have been our woes.

So you put that character in a weird situation--and let me tell you, the situation my best friend and I came up with was weird--and it makes for both fun reading and fun writing!

While that book was a complete disaster, the method was a good one and one I kept in mind. Fast-forward now a handful of years to the summer just after I left college. I had been experimenting for some time with more Dramatic with a capital "D" characters, but struggled with writing any honesty into my work. The characters were all larger than life, but they were none of them very real. Archetypal, not universal.

So when the plot of Una's story came to me, I decided to write her as honestly as I possibly could. Who was I around eighteen/nineteen (so I looked back from the exulted maturity of twenty-one)? I was bored with my lot, looking for an exciting romantic interest to sweep in and solve all my problems. I fell in love too easily and had my heart broken more easily still. I gave my heart to a young man who told me to trust him, and I watched him forget this had ever happened and let others believe that I had made the whole thing up--thus making my subsequent depression seem like nothing more than an overblown reaction to my friends, many of whom thought I was delusional and spread gossip about me amongst each other. I became angry. Extremely, furiously, flamingly angry.

Yeah. I knew what being a dragon felt like.

So I wrote Una. I made her honest. I made her like me. I didn't just take one key struggle. I took a whole BUNCH of key struggles and combined them with a somewhat similar personality. I put me into her in a big way.

And to my surprise, I watched her become herself. Because again, the situation shaped her. And her situation, while reflective of mine and brutally honest, was significantly more dramatic and fantastic! So Una became uniquely herself. And she became universal.

Una is one of the most honest characters I have ever written. As a result, she is either beloved or reviled by readers--there's no middle ground where my foolish little princess is concerned!

Another character who was written with this method is Lady Leta from Dragonwitch. And, interestingly enough, Leta is the other female character besides Una who gets some pretty harsh criticism from the readers (though nowhere near as bad!). And she is, other than Una, the heroine most like me. Again, did I mention that using this method can create backlash? Writing honestly is not always fun!

Rose Red and Imraldera were also created with a more mild variation on this method. But really all of my characters are made up of such a hodge-podge of these various methods, it's impossible with most to single out one method that was used.

But Una, as my first major heroine written since high school, was definitely created using this Personality Method . . . it was the only method I knew how to handle at the time! And it's a great one, particularly when paired with others.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unique and Universal - Part 1

Today's post comes from two separate questions which I felt would work together to make an interesting topic. They are as follows: "Do you often find yourself giving traits or problems of your own to your characters?" and "How do you come up with such diverse characters?"


I have written on this topic before and I rather suspect I will write on this topic again many times over throughout my career. It's one I feel is tremendously important for writers to grasp and understand, but it can be tremendously difficult.

So I'll start with the first question. Do I find myself giving traits or problems of your own to your characters? My answer is: Absolutely!

And how do I come up with such diverse characters? To that my answer is: By giving traits or problems of my own to each of them.

This is not to say that I recreate my own situation in my stories. Nor is it to say that I try to write my own character or personality into my stories. But I do try to put myself into my stories. Ultimately, it's all a matter of honesty.

As I have been writing this post, I have realized there are several specific methods by which I go about this process. So I've decided to break this topic up into several parts to cover each aspect most thoroughly.

The first method I use I will call the One Key Struggle method. Using this method of characterization, I take aspects of myself--a struggle, doubt, or fear . . . honestly, the more sinful parts of my life. I'll take these little pieces of myself and begin to ask myself the all-important question: "What if?"


What if a young man who is as afraid of ever being wrong as I am was placed in a situation where his mistakes damaged the lives of everyone he cared most about? How would he, in his determination to self-justify all actions and decisions, cope?

What if I could no longer hide the truth of my vicious side--the side that secretly wants to see certain people in my life suffer? What if, despite my best efforts, I could no longer maintain my persona of perfection and serenity, because the truth was beginning to manifest itself in a completely terrifying form? What would I do? Where would I go? How would I try to protect both myself and those around me?


Like Lionheart, I do struggle with the idea of ever being wrong. And I particularly hate being publicly called out as wrong. I dread it. Absolutely dread it and would do just about anything to avoid people knowing when I've made a mistake. (One of the many reasons the writer's life is a tough one for me . . . Talk about public airing of any and all mistakes, real or perceived!)

Like Daylily, I have a secretly vicious side which no one is supposed to know about. It's private. It's my own inner wolf. If it started to manifest, if it started to gain the upper hand in my spirit . . . wow, I don't know what I would do!

Those are just two instances of characters who have traits of mine which have been extrapolated into something far more dramatic. I have never been in Lionheart's and Daylily's positions. But I have felt the same emotions, I have struggled with similar sin, and I have a good imagination . . . I can see where such emotion and sin, given the right impetus and situation, would lead.

Lionheart and Daylily are examples of personalities that aren't very much like me but who share with me a core, universal struggle. This is one way of "putting myself" into my characters. It's also a way in which I can universally reach out and connect to my readers.

Most of you, if you are honest, share one or the other of those above-mentioned struggles. Perhaps you don't want to admit it. But the truth is there. The universal is there. The manner in which your sin and struggle manifests will be very different from those around you--because you are unique. So are Daylily and Lionheart. But the struggle is the same, because the struggle is universal.

When it comes to crafting universal characters that spring off the page and become relateable to readers, there is nothing more universal than sin. And there is nothing more profoundly desirable than grace. The greater the sin in a character's life, the more profound the grace . . . and the more dramatic the contrast!

And great writing is all about dramatic contrast.