Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Said That? -- Dragon Quotes Contest

Dear readers, do forgive my bloggish absence this last week! My Rohan and I have been out of commission (A cold. And an infection. And another cold. It's that time of year.) since Sunday and are just starting to crawl back into the realm of the living once more. That's my excuse for lack of blogging.

I should be one of those Good Authors who writes up blog posts well in advance . . . perhaps one day I will be?

Anyway, to make up for my lack, I am going to host a Dragon Contest with free autographed books as prizes!

(Gratuitous Dragon Illustration of Coolness)

Below you will see a list of quotes said by Famous Dragons. It’s up to you to tell me which dragon said which quote! Whoever names them ALL first will get a free, autographed copy of both Heartless and Veiled Rose.

If you cannot name them all, no worries! Name as many as you can. If no one names them all, a free copy of Veiled Rose will go to whoever can name the most.
Here are the quotes:

1.      “No hunter of the sky should end his days as prey. Better to die on the wing than pinned to the ground.”

2.      “You have the effrontery to be squeamish. But we were dragons. We were SUPPOSED to be cruel, cunning, heartless and terrible. But this much I can tell you, you ape, we never burned and tortured and ripped one another apart and called it morality.”

3.      “I like cherries jubilee. And I like the look of her. Besides, the Latin scrolls in my library need cataloguing, and if I can’t find someone who knows a little of the language, I’ll have to do it myself.”

4.      “I kill when I wish! I am strong, strong, STRONG! My armor is like tenfold shields! My teeth like swords! My claws, spears! The shock of my tail, a thunderbolt! My wings, a hurricane! And my breath, death!”

5.      “Gleep!"

6.  "Now, shall you deal with me, O prince, and all the powers of hell!”

7.  “Understand then, old enchanter, they that sprung from me fear thee and thy kind. Thou art unto them the slayer folk, they that drove us hence."

8.     “The half cannot truly hate that which makes it whole.”

9.     “Believe me when I say I want you to stay a long time with me. I am sad when I am alone. My unhappiest hours are after I have destroyed a guest. I have never forgotten any of you. I have remembered my first guest for over seven hundred years. He had a short life breathing the air, but a long life in memory.”

10. "Never give up and good luck will find you.”

So many different dragons speaking here! Some quite posh, others . . . less so. Are any of them familiar to you? Your deadline is next Friday, October 7th, when the winner will be announced and the answers will be revealed . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reads and Recommendations, Summer 2011

Summer is a busy time for reading! As a professional writer, my #1 chore is to write, write, write. My #2 chore is to read, read, READ! So I spent a great deal of my  time this summer both reading and writing. Here is a list of the fiction I read and decided to recommend this summer! There were other books on my reading list as well that did not make this cut. I saved the best for you!

1.  Jane Eyre. I read this once before back in high school and appreciated it then. But the reading was different between 15 and 25! I appreciated Charlotte Bronte's skill with words and the very personal emotion she brings to her character, making Jane one of THE great literary figures in all British fiction.

Opening Line: "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

2. The Princess and the Goblin. This one was another reread, a book I read over and over again in my childhood. It amazed me as I read it to see HOW much George MacDonald has influenced my own work. I knew he was an influence, for sure, but it took reading his work in my post-publication days to truly understand. This book is one of the few I can honestly place in the Adored category.

Opening Line: "There was once a little princess whose father was king over a great country full of mountains and valleys."

3. The Last Unicorn. This was, I suppose, Summer of the Rereads! I read this book for the first time just two years ago and was captivated by Beagle's lyrical style. Needing a bit of refreshment after several Seriously Awful reads, I picked it up again. Just as captivating as the first read! Quirky and strange and heartbreaking. Unicorns rise up out of the ocean, a fiery red bull consumes with rage, and a prince lounges in a glade reading a magazine. This books makes me laugh and cry.

Opening Line: "The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone."

4. A Tale of Two Castles. My YA read of the summer, though this might be more Children's than YA. Gail Carson Levine was a favorite of mine when I was younger. This, her newest story, was not my favorite of her work (that honor belongs to The Two Princesses of Bamarre, with Ella Enchanted running a close second). But it was charming in its own way, especially Meenore, the Sherlock Holmsian dragon. Ms. Levine has developed a much more sparse narrative voice than she used to use. While I appreciate the poetry she is attempting to achieve, I miss some of the fullness and spunk of her earlier novels. But this is coming from a Lover of Victorian Novels, so take that opinion with a grain of salt! Her story is a fun mystery, and she indulges in just the right amount of world building so that the scenes come alive!

Opening Line: "Mother wiped her eyes on her sleeve and held me tight."

5. Lord Jim. I have only ever read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness before. While I found it intriguing, it also scared the daylights out of me! Lord Jim was not frightening so much as heartbreaking. Conrad takes his character to the very edge, showing first how his greatest weakness becomes his greatest strength, and then how that same strength takes him back into weakness. Amazing. And Conrad writes a great deal of it in Stream of Consciousness, a narrative voice I usually can't stand. Yet it was brilliant!

Opening Line: "He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull."

6. Wyrd Sisters. I can't help myself. I always fall back on Terry Pratchett when under stress. There were a couple of stressful weeks this summer, and my husband, darling man that he is, bought this book for me to help relieve that tension! It worked like a charm. Wyrd Sisters is a comical (and yet sometimes frightening) retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but with its own remarkable cast of characters and more than enough twists to keep you on your toes. No one writes people with the reality that Mr. Pratchett does. And the more bizarre the story, the more real his characters become.

Opening Lines: "The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills."

7. Lords and Ladies. So, after finish Wyrd Sisters, I had to read the sequel. I had read this hilarious retelling of A Midsummer Night's Dream (scarcely a retelling . . . more of a nod-to) two years ago. Once more, I was enthralled by Mr. Pratchett's insanely other and dangerous faerie folk, the Lords and Ladies, pitted against the insanely ordinary heroes and heroines of his mountain kingdom of Lancre.

Opening Lines: "Now read on . . . Where does it start?"

8. Thief of Always. One word to describe this story: CREEPY. Rohan and I read it aloud to each other on dark and stormy nights. Reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Coraline, but maybe not quite as much fun. Still YA friendly, but only if you're in the mood for a bit of a scare.

Opening Line: "The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive."

Of all my summer reading, those are the pieces that stood out to me. I also pursued quite a bit of non-fiction, and might write up a list of those recommendations later. We shall see, we shall see!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

One Year

A year ago today, I got up at sunrise, brewed a cup of tea, and sat with my Papa watching the dawn light spread out over the lake at his and my Mum's Wisconsin home. An hour or two later, I went downstairs, washed my hair, put on a pretty white dress.

And a few hours after that, I married the love of my life there in my folks' back garden!

And it was the most beautiful day of my life!

Thought perhaps you might enjoy seeing a couple of pictures from the day:

We had a cheesecake and Ceylon Tea reception in my folks' house afterwards. Homemade cheesecakes by yours truly and my Mum! My sister-in-law-to-be decorated them for us.

For today, I baked a White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake like one we had at our wedding. Going to put on the wedding dress again too, just for fun! It's hard to believe it's already been a whole year. The best year of my life with my handsome love!

Okay, forgive the Blog Post of Gushiness! Next week, it'll be back to literary topics, I promise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Interview and Giveaway

Hello, dear readers! If you would like to enter a drawing for a free copy of either Heartless or Veiled Rose, skip on over to Scribbles and Ink Stains. Authoress Abigail Hartman is running an interview/giveaway, and you can enter to win either one of my titles!

On another note . . . thank you again for all the sweet comments that I am STILL unable to respond to. My handsome husband looked around trying to figure out what's going on, but hasn't come up with a solution yet. So please, know that I'm not ignoring you! I just can't currently respond.

Technology. Sigh

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Question #17

We are down to the last question in our series! If someone would like to add more, that is fine . . . I'll continue this series through September or the end of the questions, whichever happens first. But as of right now, this is our final question.

Faith asks:

How do you handle strong critical feedback or overtly negative feedback?

For those of you who don't know, Faith King is the co-author of Awakenings, the first novel in a fantasy adventure series, Restoration. Which you should totally check out!

So that question.

I suppose the first answer that comes to mind for me is, "I don't."

That is, I don't handle it well. Nor do I usually try to handle it at all. Most authors I know make every effort to avoid the negative feedback, many by not reading reviews at all, either positive or negative. I don't quite fall into this category yet. I am very curious, and I do still occasionally check my reviews on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever. But I usually wish that I hadn't. Not because I'm not receiving favorable reviews! The majority reaction to my work has been positive.

But there are those few . . . and those few are the ones that stick.

The problem with negative feedback in this context of reader-response is that is extremely unhelpful to me as the author. I'm not saying it isn't helpful to other readers. There are SO many different reading tastes out there and SO many different books. Negative reviews help steer readers toward books that they will probably like rather than allowing them to waste time on something they probably won't. So yes, when you look at it from that objective perspective, negative reviews are a good and helpful part of the publishing world.

But they are completely unhelpful to a developing author. They reflect an individual's tastes that are obviously not the same tastes as the author's. Just because you happen to like to read and write something that person does not, does this mean that you should only write what that person enjoys? Certainly not! You need to write what you love to read. If other people don't like it, well, they probably don't enjoy the same books you enjoy, or don't enjoy them for the same reasons you do. You are two different people. You have two different tastes. So you cannot let negative feedback alter your work.

Robin McKinley was talking about this on her blog recently. She was saying how readers often complain that her work is "too slow." But the reality is, she thoroughly enjoys books like George Elliot's Middlemarch. Big, meaty, heavy, sloooooooow books that develop the world and the characters in a style completely different to the fast-paced frenetic writing popular today. Is her taste wrong? Nope. It's just different.

But people can be nasty in their reviews. I have seen brilliant authors accused of idiocy and laziness by readers who simply did not like a particular work. Sir Terry Pratchett suffers from Alzheimer's. Reviewers who don't care for his more recent pieces will hurl that in his face, saying the sickness is affecting  his work. Utter and insulting nonsense! Yet people will say this and more. They will forget that there is an actual person on the other end of this whole publishing schematic and sling mud with vim. I have had reviewers call into question my intelligence, my morality, accusing me of ultra-conservative-patriarchal-repressions, bigotry, plagiarism, complete lack of originality, all sorts of horrible things.

Makes you really want to be a professional author, huh?

The fact is, receiving negative reviews, as painful as it is, also means that your work is getting out to a broader audience. If only people who like your work read your work, your audience is probably still too small. These days, I try (the key word here is try) to see it as a benefit when one of those nasty Two Star reviews pops up somewhere. That means that my work is getting out there. Yes, it's landing in the hands of some who do not like or appreciate what I am trying to do. But that also means its landing in the hands of some who might not normally read this type of work. And some of those people  might actually like it.

The best thing to do is simply not to respond. Stay out of arguing and defending your work. If someone doesn't like it, you'll never convince them that they do. If they have already disrespected you publically, they're not going to back down and apologize. Being a professional author means being willing to stand up on the soapbox and have rotten fruit hurled at your face. And you can't hurl it back. You have to take it.

Now, there is a time and a place for proper negative feedback. For professional writers, your editors and publishing house proof readers are a legitimate and highly useful source of objective perspective. It's still not fun to hear it when they dislike this, that, or the other about your work. But the nice thing is, it's not in print yet! You can rework it to be something that both of you like. Sometimes, this means taking their critiques exactly. Sometimes, it means defending your choice. Sometimes, it means tweaking a theme or character in a completely different direction at first not perceived by either of you. No matter what, negative feedback from that source should be considered a blessing and a help, not a burden.

Negative feedback from a trusted critique partner is also something hard to take but important to appreciate. If you write and ask someone for their opinion, you should not expect all positive comments. And yes, some of those negative comments will be unhelpful, which will color your perspective on  those that ARE helpful.

The fact is, a good writer is aware of the faults in their own work. Maybe she would like to ignore them, but she knows they are there. These days, when I send a manuscript to a reader for opinions, I let them read it, and then I send a list of problems that I am seeing or suspecting with the project. I ask for their take on those problems specifically, getting a fresh point-of-view. This not only forces me to be more critical of my own work, but also gets me objective opinions on problems when I am too close to see solutions.

When my reader agrees that the problem is very real, I ask for specific solution recommendations. How would they prefer to see this issue resolved? Again, their specific suggestion may or may not be what you use in the end, but it will help you start seeing from a new perspective.

I have started using this method with my more recent manuscripts and have found it VERY helpful. I am blessed with two or three excellent readers who know how to critique without trying to rewrite. Not everyone is so fortunate!

The worst negative feedback to receive is unsolicited feedback from well-meaning friends. That can be tough to handle. I have had friends who have believed it their duty to tell me perceived "faults" in my published work. Which, to their minds, may be very real faults. But at that point, whether they be just critiques or not, they are unhelpful. It's rather like telling a new mother that her newborn has crooked eyes. There isn't a great deal she can do about it, and after the enormity of her labor, she really could use a certain amount of petting and praising where this baby of hers is concerned!

Not always going to happen. This is the World of the Arts. A wretched and wonderful world it is!

I think the most important way to handle negative reviews is to keep in mind who and what you are writing for. You have an audience who will be touched and blessed by your work. You have an audience who will be insulted by it. You can't write for both at once.

And ultimately, you can't write for your own glory. The world of publishing can be so much fun! But it is also a humiliating field. If you make your own glory your highest goal, you will be one disappointed and frustrated little cookie. Write for your readers. Write with eyes fixed heavenward. Write for those characters in your head who are itching to have a life of their own.

Write because it is the talent God gave you and  trust He has a purpose for your work.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Question #16

We are down to the last two questions of this series! Feel free, if you want to add a few more, ask them in the comments section. Otherwise, we're really nearing the end of this series, and I'll catch up on some book recommendations and things of that nature . . .
Question sixteen is from Matt, and he asks:

What are your favorite contemporary novels?

Oh, so many! But I'll try to keep it to a reasonable list. For the most part, let me dwell on the YA Fantasy side of my modern reading since a) that's what I read most from modern authors and b) it's the best stuff out there anyway!

I have mentioned Sir Terry Pratchett many times over on this blog, and I will mention him again now. He is, bar none, my favorite contemporary author. Not because I agree with him on every point, either. Actually, my favorite of his novels is his YA adventure, Nation, which preaches a highly agnostic message throughout. So, no, he's not an author I often agree with. But, nevertheless, he writes what he believes so profoundly, it amazes me. His books are always laugh-out-loud funny, but they will break your heart as well. He pokes fun at humanity while simultaneously celebrating it. He writes the truth as he perceives it, and much of the time he gets it spot-on. Pratchett gets compared to P.G. Wodehouse all the time, but I don't think this is an apt comparison. Of all classic novelists, Pratchett is most like Charles Dickens. Yes, he writes comedy/parodies. But in the course of his lively, funny narrative, he always has something he wants to say. Whether you agree with it or not, he says it well and without preaching (usually).

If you have never read any Pratchett, I don't recommend starting with this first novel, The Light Fantastic. Don't get me wrong, it's hysterical! But it doesn't give you a proper taste of Pratchett's genius. Start instead with one of his later Disc World novels. Guards! Guards! is an excellent choice. Or The Wee Free Men, which is YA. Nation is not part of the Disc World universe, but it is beautiful and bold, will make you laugh, will make you cry.

Another of my favorites is the brilliant Megan Whalen Turner, best known for her Queen's Thief series. This is a YA adventure fantasy series, but it is unlike any you have ever before read. Some people like the first one, The Thief, best and don't much care for the rest. The majority, however (myself included), while enjoying the first one, would agree that the stories get progressively better. All of them are fabulous reads, so well-written and suspenseful, but not according to typical YA fantasy standards.

It's difficult to explain Turner's writing. It's one of those things you have to read to understand, and many will not appreciate what she does simply because she is so different. She will invariably take you by surprise! I have never encountered characters I thought better conceived and portrayed than hers. Plenty her equal, none her superior.

I also adore the works of Robin McKinley and Shannon Hale. Both of these writers are a bit hit-or-miss for me. I like their work best when they write fairy-tale retellings, such as McKinley superb Beauty or Hale's lyrical Goose Girl and gritty Book of a Thousand Days. I am rereading Hale's The Princess Academy right now, which doesn't have as much heft to it as the other two mentioned, but is still simply delightful.

Of McKinley's work, I would specifically recommend Beauty, Rose Daughter, Chalice, The Blue Sword, and Hero and the Crown. Spindle's End is good too, but very strange. Some of her other work, while well-written, didn't suit me quite the same. I will probably give Deerskin a retry in another year or so, though. And I look forward to McKinley's newest book, Pegasus, but am waiting for the sequel to come out since the first one ends a cliff-hanger!

Of Hale's work, I recommend The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, and The Princess Academy. Again, the others are good too, just not favorites of mine on the same level. Different books for different readers . . . that's the beauty of fiction!

There is no spiritual content to speak of in either of these authors' works. Beautiful writing and excellent storytelling, however.

I really enjoyed Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn, both in first reading and rereading. I liked the sequel, Two Hearts, as well, but can't say I've particularly enjoyed the rest of his work. The Unicorn Sonata was interesting, but I read it when I was very young, so I need to try it again.

Neil Gaiman is another author I enjoy, but only some of his work. The Graveyard Book is a superb re-envisioning of Kipling's The Jungle Book. Coraline is ridiculously creepy, but in a fun sort of way. Anansi Boys is pure fun and silliness, but definitely for adults. With Gaiman, I always feel as though he thinks he is trying to communicate something, possibly something profound. But I don't feel like he ever quite knows what it is himself, so he never succeeds in communicating. Nevertheless, his writing is gorgeous, and his stories are tremendous fun. Young and sensitive readers beware: He can be extremely dirty! Read reviews before you pick up his adult works.

Oh, and even though she recently died, let me mention the acclaimed Diana Wynne Jones. Another fantasy author unlike anyone else I have ever read. Each of her books is unique and strange and wonderful. When I was younger, I didn't appreciate her. I thought she was "boring" and that her books were "slow" and "dull" and all kinds of uncomplimentary adjectives. But I am a better reader now.

Any one of Diana Wynne Jones' books is sure to tickle me on some satisfying level. Not all of them are Forever Favorites, but each of them is so much fun on its own. My favorites include the incomparable Howl's Moving Castle, and it's sequel, Castle in the Air. I adore her Dalemark Quartet as well, and her romantic/suspense/fairy tale, Fire and Hemlock (of which my darling husband bought me a hardbound first edition for my birthday this year!!!!).

If you try Diana Wynn Jones and don't like her right away, don't write her off immediately. Wait a little and try her again. She is so unique and so individual. She is so unlike any other author I have ever read. That also makes something of an acquired taste. But it's a taste well worth acquiring, believe me!

Again, no spiritual content in her work. Just beautifully written fun!

Last one: Gary Schmidt is a children's author I find particularly pleasing. His Wednesday Wars made me laugh and cry in public. At work. Embarrassing. But O! so good! Schmidt is a master beyond compare.

I think those are enough for now. Gives you a slight taste of my more contemporary reading tastes. I do read a handful of other contemporary authors, but most of them write in the flat, sparse style so popular today that I can't enjoy it. All of these authors create great depth and richness within their prose, not to mention their tremendous storytelling.

I hope some of you might find a new favorite among these greats. Did one or two of them strike your interest? Who are some of your favorite contemporary authors?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Question #15

And here we are at question fifteen which is from Christinathemum:

Who/What does "Life and Death" and "Lady Life and Death" symbolize?

Excellent question! I'm so glad someone asked this one.

For those of you who need a refresher, the Dragon King of my world has several other names. He is also called the Death of Dreams, and the Death-in-Life. By contrast, his "sister," is called the Lady Life-in-Death or the Lady of Dreams Realized. They are two sides of the same coin, however. Together, they create the sum-total of Death.

The initial inspiration for these two-in-one characters came from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, an epic allegorical poem. I have written a little about that connection HERE, for those of you who have not read that article. At the risk of repeating myself, let me say quickly that the most dominant image in that poem to me is the one where the hero, the Ancient Mariner, witnesses a ghostly ship approach his. As it draws near, he sees those on deck. Here he describes the ship and its occupants:

Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
Is that a DEATH and are there two?
Is DEATH that Woman's mate?

Her lips are red, her looks are free,
Her locks are yellow as gold:
Her skin was white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
"The game is done! I've won! I've won!"
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

When I first read this poem, I was struck by the duality of Death portrayed here. We have ingrained in our heads from western mythology the notion of gods playing games with men's lives. And we have seen Death portrayed in many forms, most classically the Grim Reaper. But I had never seen in fiction this other side of Death so clearly portrayed; this living death.

I suspect (though I have no proof of this) that Coleridge himself was inspired by lines written in St. Augustine's Confessions.

"For what do I wish to say, O Lord my God, but that I know not whence I came hither into this life-in-death. Or should I call it death-in-life? I do not know. And yet the consolations of thy mercy have sustained me from the very beginning . . ."

Clearly this concept of a dual nature in death has been around for a long time. But usually, we fear (and write about) Death in only broadest sense. And yes, Death is a fearful thing. But to me, it seemed much more dreadful to write about Death in a smaller, more intimate fashion. Like Coleridge, I wanted to split it into different aspects.

Death-in-Life as witnessed in the form of the Dragon is despair in the form of destruction. The Dragon burns and destroys, breaking the soul in fire and fury. He is overt and dreadful. His victims are made fiery and dreadful like him.

Life-in-Death, by contrast, is more subtle. She works through a man's desires, giving him what he wants. Unlike the Dragon who strips away dreams, she fulfills them. And in their fulfillment, in this seeming fruition of life, she brings death. She says to her victims, "Let thy will be done," and sees to it that they have their way.

They are the same Death in the end. In her offered life, there is dreadful death. In his offered death, there is burning life. In the end, as the Dragon says, they all come to him. They all become creatures of fire and darkness. Look at the path down which Lionheart treads? Is it any worse than the fiery fate to which Una succumbs?

The physical descriptions of the Dragon and the Lady are loosely based off of Coleridge. I also took the notion of them playing dice for souls directly from the Ancient Mariner as a nod to Coleridge's genius.

I hope that explains this fairly complicated theme for you! If it still seems unclear, do please ask more questions. I will do all I can to clarify.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Question #14

All right, question fourteen comes from Paris, who asks:

What inspires you when you write? Books, other authors, music, movies maybe, and/or people?

Inspiration comes from a lot of sources, I believe. I would say my primary inspiration is other authors, however. Authors whose work I have read and gone, "That is what good writing is supposed to look like!" Those are the authors I keep close on hand when I am writing my own projects, and they can be an eclectic bunch!

With my most recently drafted manuscript, Starflower, I found myself turning to a variety of poets. Frances Thompson and his brilliant Hound of Heaven was a major source of thematic inspiration. But stylistically, I found myself drawn more to the works of Terry Pratchett (forever my idol), Charlotte Bronte, and Peter S. Beagle. Not that Starflower is anything like these authors' brilliant stories (I wish!). But simply their way with words, their ability to look at the world and see truth even when they write about the fantastic. I have rarely read a book I found more achingly truthful than Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Not that I agree with his world view per se . . . but I agree with his assessment of the human condition, which he beautifully presents in a tale of knights, princes, magicians, harpies, bandits and, of course, unicorns.

Truth revealed through fantasy. That's what I want to do!

I am often inspired by music. When writing Moonblood, I found myself oddly inspired by a rock song, Ten Years from Now, sung by a group my military big brother likes. Just before drafting Moonblood, I flew out to where my brother was stationed in Okinawa for a two week siblings-getting-into-mischief-while-exploring-a-foreign-country vacation. We toured castles and gorgeous Asian gardens, ate at amazing sushi restaurants, swam in the ocean . . . and did a lot of driving between places. My brother played this CD by Rev Theory, and I found myself repeatedly drawn to that one song.

Now, you must understand that Yours Truly is not much of one for rock music. I'm not against it on principle, I just don't tend to enjoy it personally. My tastes tend more toward opera and classical with a dash of jazz thrown in for good measure. So the fact that I got hung up on this particular song took me by surprise. Yet it said something so simply that I knew I wanted to communicate through one of the main characters in Moonblood.  While drafting the novel, I listened to that song many times over. And I think, ultimately, I managed to say what I intended to with that character . . . though you will have to be the judge of that when the book comes out!

Life circumstances can also be an inspiration. I believe that every good book is written from a foundation of truth, even a fairy tale fantasy. I am always striving, in the midst of all my goblins and dragons and faeries and sylphs, to discover the true heart of the matter, the universal that will speak to my reader on a personal level. I believe that, while not everyone physically disguises themselves in veils, everyone hides themselves in disguises of public presentation and the opinions of others. We all have a piece of Rose Red in us. I believe that, while not everyone makes a fool of themselves over a handsome prince, we all latch onto one dream or another and kick and scream and refuse to let it go to our own detriment. We all have a piece of Una in us.

Movies tend to be less of an inspiration to me. Off the top of my head, I cannot honestly think of a specific time a movie has inspired me. It's just such a completely different storytelling method. Equally as important in our culture, but so very different. And with the style of story I write, basing anything off of cinematic inspiration could get muddy very quickly. I am trying to model my work after classic archetypes. They didn't go to the movies for inspiration either!

I spent quite a bit of time reading other types of work besides fiction. Recently, I have begun a theological study of the Atonement focused on the idea of penal substitution. Not entirely certain if it's going to pertain to my current work-in-progress, but simply trying to keep my mind alive (and my spiritual walk active). I am also studying some of the more significant historical events in medieval England. Again, not because I write books set in England or even particularly medieval-ish settings (many reviewers have mistakenly labeled Heartless a medieval story . . . but, I mean, really? They use carriages. And forks. And napkins and table cloths. Una wears a hat and crazy crinolines and writes with a pencil. They drink coffee. It's not any one time period specifically, but it is definitely not medieval!) It's good to be aware other ways of life and thought, old and new.

Inspiration is one of those tricky subjects to write about. Each story I have written draws from different sources. Each one comes from my heart, but my heart is influenced by circumstances and my own maturity level. The manuscript I just completed and the one I am just beginning are both story ideas that I initially noted down when I was 17. But, while the basic plots of have not changed, the stories I am now writing at 25 are VASTLY different from what I would have written at 17.

I honestly believe God brings specific circumstances into my life according to the story I am trying to tell at the time. Sometimes those circumstances are painful. I hope to never relive that period of my life when I wrote Heartless. Yet I wouldn't trade it for the world, because it was what I needed in order to write Heartless and, I hope, to bless other people through what I learned.

Other times, the circumstances aren't painful. Starflower was inspired in large part by my daily life this spring and summer when I began working with and fostering feral kittens. I am a consummate Crazy Cat Lady with plenty of feline experience. Yet I learned so much from working with those kittens. I learned about the vital need a living creature has to be loved before it can become complete. These little creatures were wild as squirrels when I caught them, hissy and growly, without personality. Dumb beasts bent purely on survival in a harsh world. No room for any little spirit or personality to thrive.

But the seed was there. When watered with love, I watched four distinct and beautiful little personalities grow out of these four different kittens. Three of them from the same litter, and yet no two were alike. With a little love (and a flea bath or two) they went from wild beasts to loving, purring, cheerful little babies with their own little mannerisms, thought processes, and ways of interacting with others. Cliché as it sounds, it is truly miraculous the difference that love makes in even the humblest life.

This truth, learned while sitting in a basement bathroom cuddling sick and flea-ridden kittens, watching their snarls turn to purrs, became the very heart of Starflower. There isn't a single kitten to be seen in the manuscript (there's cat, but no kittens). My inspiration wasn't the kittens themselves. It was what I learned while caring for the kittens.

Anyway, that was a rambling post if there ever was one! I hope it gives you some idea of how my creative process works.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Question #13

Our next question is:

Why did you pick a wood thrush anyway?

It's funny, I hadn't thought about this detail in so long! I have been writing about the wood thrush for several different stories, and it seems like such a natural part of the narrative to me now. But you're right, when I stop to think of it, it does seem an odd choice.

But there was a reason for the wood thrush, albeit, not a literary one. My final year of college, I took an ornithology class. More than half of the class was focused on bird song identification. By the end of the semester, I could identify by sound alone any number of North American birds. I was a hoot-and-a-half on a hike, let me tell you!

Sadly, however, the knowledge stuck with me long enough to earn me top marks on final exams . . . and then fled with the wind. This tends to be how my mind works. Stored bits of knowledge get treated about the same way as the clothing in my closet: If I haven't worn it in a year, it must go.

Anything that pertains to my writing in some form or another sticks in my brain. I can quote the poetry of Tennyson, Browning, and Carroll, tell you the names of the primary earls who supported Harold of Essex when the Normans crossed the Channel, ramble on about various concepts of literary theory, and bore you to tears with babble on theological topics like predestination, penal substitution, etc. etc. Because, through some twisted method or another, I can see how they relate to my work.

Algebra . . . pffft. Geometry . . . glkkk.

Alas, birdsong identification, romantic a concept as it may be, was not something I used. Within a week, I'd forgotten almost all of them.

Except one.

The song call of the humble wood thrush is, to me, the most beautiful birdsong known to man. I know plenty would argue in favor of the nightingale (you know, the one who Sang in Berkley Square?) or the whippoorwill or the multi-talented mockingbird. Talents all three, I will grant you.

None them hold a candle to the wood thrush.

So I never forgot that song, even when the rest of the bird calls went the way of geometric theorems.

I began writing Heartless in its short fairy tale form directly after moving into my first apartment post-college. This apartment was right next to a beautiful wooded park, and when I left my bedroom window open, I would often find myself serenaded by any number of birds.

The story of Heartless was a dark one, even in that initial drafting. I didn't know at that time where it would end, what would become of my poor, foolish little heroine. I was experiencing a "dark time of the soul" myself, and pouring a lot of my frustration into the turmoil between Una and the Dragon. And I wasn't sure there could be an escape for either of us.

But then I heard through my window the song of the wood thrush. And it was like water to my soul, hearing that lovely voice I recognized. Suddenly, the themes of Heartless took solid form in my mind. Before I had yet written a word about steadfast Prince Aethelbald, I wrote about the wood thrush, singing to Una even in the midst of all that dark smoke that clouded her heart and confused her thoughts.

This is what I wrote originally after hearing that song through my window:

Long days and longer nights, the princess lay on the stone floor at the top of her tower, cut off from all she loved. Dragon smoke rose up around her, clouding her vision, and a layer of black ash covered her face and hands until she was hardly recognizable. Her wide eyes, staring out from the filth, were those of a phantom.

Yet every morning as the sun rose, its beams could pierce the dragon-gloom and shine in a small pool on the princess’s floor for a few brief moments. She would crawl to it and sit with her blackened face raised to the light, and tears would flow down her cheeks. With her tears, she could wipe away some of the grime, though never enough to see her full face again. And as she sat there, weeping, the silver song of a wood thrush flowed down the ribbon of light and touched her heart. While she listened, she would forget herself in the beauty of that song.

This scene, though altered, found its way into the final draft of Heartless as well. That moment of beauty and clarity carried through darkness by a simple bird's song was something I wanted to communicate. So the wood thrush became a symbol of the Holy Spirit, carrying peace and whispering truth, even when everything else around screams despair and lies.

I am not the only one to have been moved the bell-like song of the wood thrush either. This is what Henry David Thoreau had to say about the wood thrush:

"Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him."

I think that is what Una felt when she heard the wood thrush. It took her some time to begin to truly understand. But she heard the voice again and again, and she slowly grew, she slowly learned. When she heard that voice, she knew the Dragon could not overpower her.

And that, dear readers, why I picked a wood thrush!

"The leaves through which the glad winds blew
Shared the wild dance the waters knew;
And where the shadows deepest fell
The wood-thrush rang his silver bell."

 John Greenleaf Whittier
The Seeking of the Waterfall

Friday, September 2, 2011

Technically Illiterate Part II

Let me interrupt briefly to let you know, dear readers, that I am not purposefully ignoring all the lovely comments I am receiving. I usually make it my practice to respond to EVERY comment!

However, due to a little incident involving Minerva the Evil One, a tangled up computer cord, a table, and a hard floor, my last laptop, Indefatigable III, met an untimely end the other day.

"Feel my wrath, puny mortals!"

Anyway, I have now acquired Indefatigable IV (yes, I do love a good irony), and am learning the use of it. Which includes desperately trying to figure out how to post comments on my own blog. This updated technology is tricksty . . . Reminding me all over again why I got married!

Until such a time as my handsome husband may sweep in to Save the Day, as it were, please, faithful commenters, do keep commenting! It will just take me a bit to respond.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Question #12

And it's September already. And I didn't come anywhere NEAR to finishing up all the questions sent for this series. And I keep getting more every day. And they're all fun questions.

So, we're just going to continue this series through the month of September. Or until I run out of questions. One or the other!

Anyway, our twelfth question (forgive me . . . I couldn't remember who'd asked this one and foolishly didn't note it down originally. Sorry, whomever you may be!) is as follows:

Why did you decide to split Veiled Rose into 5 parts?

This is an interesting question. Heartless, my readers may remember, was told in one long continuous flow of plotline. This is how most novels are written these days. Veiled Rose, on the other hand, is split into five separate parts which gives the book a slightly different feel than Heartless. I debated whether or not to do this several times in the drafting of Veiled Rose, but finally came to the conclusion that the only way to tell the story correctly would be to break it up.

This is primarily because each section covers a distinct period of time. Part 1 is about Leo's first summer visiting Hill House when he eleven. This section introduces characters, builds to a miniature climax, and comes to a pseudo-resolution. Then we skip ahead five years to meet Leo again as a sixteen-year-old. This section also builds to a mini-climax and contains a resolution sorts. Then we skip ahead again by a full year for Part 3. Another build to a climax, another sort-of resolution. Part 4 covers a period of five continuous years for Leo and, seemingly, just one long day for Rose Red. That bit was the tricky part, with one character living within Time and one character living without. We see yet another rise to a climax and a semi-resolution. Part 5, everybody is back within Time, and we get our last climax and our final resolution.

While the entire story builds to a BIG climax (Rose Red and Leo's subsequent encounters with the Dragon), each of these sections tells a mini-story all of its own. Unlike Heartless, which takes place pretty much all within one year, this story covers more than ten years of these characters' lives, focusing on specific portions within those ten years (the summers at Hill House, Leo's exile, etc).

To me, this made for a much smoother narrative flow. Without the clear delineation of Parts, a jump from age eleven to age sixteen would be a bit awkward to manage. Not impossible, certainly . . . but awkward.

You will notice that Moonblood is also split into Parts. I did this for similar (though not exactly the same) reasons, that I am not at liberty to elaborate here (you'll have to read the book first). Starflower (coming October 2012) goes back to the format of Heartless, telling the story in one long sequence of events. But with my current manuscript-in-progress, I have been debating the pros and cons of splitting it into parts. My original plan had five distinct sections . . . I am now leaning away from that idea and considering writing the narrative in such a way that I won't need the parts split.

It all comes back to what best serves the individual story you are telling. There is no one way to write a book! Every book is distinct, every story has a life all its own. A technique that works brilliantly for one might be the death-toll for another. Never get too comfortable with your style or technique, or you might just be strangling your newest story!

I think this quote sums up what I mean to perfection:

"You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing."
Gene Wolfe, paraphrased by Neil Gaiman