Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Vikings!

The results of the poll are in, and the Viking was the narrow winner. Thank you so much to everybody who voted, and if you were hoping for one of the other characters, fear not! There will be more stories forthcoming. Lots of ideas with dragons, Romans, Celts, and magic forests have been carefully filed away to be ready for use in the very near future.

I'm in the process of picking out the specifics of what the story will revolve around, I've got a couple of ideas that I'm trying to pin down and see how they fit together.

One of the things that I want to do with my writing is make it a story that the people it's about would recognize and feel familiar with. I want to make a 'Viking story' instead of a story about Vikings. I want the feel of the story to fit the beliefs, superstitions, and views of the vikings themselves. The next few days will be full of research and plotting (MUAHAHA) and hopefully I'll have a mostly formed idea I can tell you all about this weekend, or soon thereafter.
If there's any specific ideas or thoughts you've got, or something specific you'd like to see, let me know in the comments. Can't wait to get this story started!

Friday, March 10, 2017

March Author Spotlight: Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper is the author of The Dark is Rising series, a combination of time travel, alternate worlds, historical creatures, and one of the deepest worlds I've ever seen. For me, Cooper's draw focuses around her ability to evoke a sense of time, place, and history as she draws in characters ancient by the time the stories take place.
Her most famous series consists of five books, Over Sea, Under Stone, followed by The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree. The series' title book, Dark is Rising was made into a terrible movie made watchable only by Christopher Eccleston's performance as the Rider.

I'm ashamed to say that I've only read The Dark is Rising series and haven't yet had time to get to her other works, but hopefully that will change in the near future.
Like Sutcliffe, Cooper's prose is incredibly tight and readable as well as vivid. Her stories range from the camp of Arthur prior to his last battle, to the hills of Wales, to forests on other worlds and each has its own unique sense of time and place.
One of my pet peeves is reading a story that leaves  locals half finished and feels like it speeds through things, leaving days half finished or shortened. Cooper's stories don't do that.
Herne leads the Wild Hunt

The "Old Ones", Cooper's heroes are able to walk through time in their battle with the Dark (personified in the Rider, though he is by no means their only enemy), and it is perhaps the most perfect use of time travel I have ever seen. It is used sparingly, yet still fits seamlessly into the narrative as the Old Ones essentially use it as a fourth dimension in their fight.
As wonderful as Cooper is with it all, I still think my favorite part is how she pulls in ancient characters like Herne (pictured), the Greenwitch, the Grey King, Arthur, and others. Like Tolkien's works, Cooper's stories make me want to go learn more about these legends (Herne is now one of my favorites of all time).

Additionally, there are a couple of other interesting things about Cooper's work that struck me as I was working on the Tolkien series. First, Cooper's evil, while it is unquestionably evil, doesn't wear it's evil on its sleeve. The Rider makes appearances as a friendly jeweler or business man, a theme of evil hiding it's nature under a fair cloak that Cooper continues through the series. It is also worth paying attention to how humans both assist and resist the Dark through their every day actions even as they remain ignorant of the struggle taking place. There are not a lot of obvious, epic clashes, as most of the conflicts are played out in quiet struggles that serve to emphasize the way that every character can influence the outcome.

Cooper is one of my favorite writers, check her stuff out (ignore the movie, please) and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Let me know some of your favorite writers in the comments, maybe I'll do a spotlight on them in the coming months.

One last note, I'm currently getting ready to try something new: A story told here, on this blog, just for you. And since it's for you, I'd like you to let me know what kind of story you'd like to see. It will be a fun exercise for me, a chance to show you a little of the process that goes into how I write, and hopefully I can give you a story you'll enjoy at the same time. Just go to this survey, and let me know what kind of protagonist you'd like to read about, and then don't forget to follow my page on facebook so you can see all the updates I post on the project as I prepare to put the first installment on this blog.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Story Idea

Over the last couple of months, I've been working on just one or two projects and I'm ready to try something new. I've got a couple of ideas, but I'd like to hear from you.
I've put together a very short poll here, so you can pick what kind of protagonist you'd like to read about as well as give me some more feedback on what you'd like.
If you've got more input, feel free to comment here, or follow my page on Facebook, where I'll be posting updates on the project and sharing some of my thoughts as I start work. The story will be posted here weekly in short installments, so it will be a good exercise in consistency for me. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.
Can't wait to hear from you all!

Take the Poll here!
Check out my Facebook Page here!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why I was an English Major




My freshman year at Texas A&M, I arrived about a week before the start of classes with about six hundred other young students. My long-term goal was to be a lawyer, but my short term goal was to make it through freshman year in the famous A&M Corps of Cadets. I was in the Corps because I wanted to learn leadership, and I was an English major because I wanted to be a better writer. Before long, the two merged.

Writing can be taught in almost any subject. The best professors I sat under would return my papers overflowing with carefully explained, well defined corrections. My leadership classes assigned fiction books and had us watch movies like ‘Moneyball’, where I got the chance to not only read great books, but learn from them as well.

Meanwhile, my English classes seemed desperate to make themselves meaningless.

When we weren’t analyzing the minutia of a play about people with more money and time than they knew what to do with, we had to ‘deconstruct’ the ‘artificial constructs’ of good and evil, day and night, man and woman, to show that these distinctions were merely created by words. Professors taught us that every book must be examined apart from its author as a living text. We bring our own interpretations to these stories, I was told, and we cannot allow knowledge of the author to contaminate our experience.

However, early in my junior year I took a Chaucer class taught by Dr. Brett Mize. We read The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde and spent a lot of time unpacking what Chaucer was trying to say in each work. And there is a lot. Chaucer was a genius and, properly taught, his writings are hilarious, insightful, and instructive.

I enjoyed the class so much I signed up for whatever classes by Dr. Mize were available, along with others on King Arthur and Shakespeare. Classes on books like Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory claimed to offer some commentary on the world, to pass on wisdom the authors gained through their lives. Mallory and Chaucer were very similar, they saw aspects of their culture that they liked, some they did not, and wrote praise and warnings, respectively. They both believed that the evils they faced were correctable, if not defeatable, and believed that by writing about them, they could have an impact on their readers.

However, when Dr. Mize began our class on Beowulf, I was blown away. It functions a lot like the old cartoons, like Animaniacs, except with leadership and wisdom lessons instead of humor. There are lots of asides to the tune of ‘do this, so when you’re older you’ll have good friends’ directed at younger audiences, but there are also deep messages on wisdom that I don’t doubt the older men debated among themselves.

Take for instance the juxtaposition of Hrothgar and Beowulf throughout the poem. As Dr. Mize pointed out, both have early successes, both become king largely as a result of their martial prowess, both face terrifying monsters in their old age, and the death of both results in the swift destruction of the kingdom they preserved.

The difference lies in how each responds to the terrifying monster; Hrothgar realizes he can’t win, so he waits until a hero arrives to defeat the beast and then rules Hrothgar for several more years before his death. Beowulf, in contrast, goes out to fight the dragon, is abandoned by all but one of his men, and dies even as he slays the dragon. He thus frees his people from the curse of the dragon but dooms them to be destroyed by the enemies he has held at bay.

Dr. Mize presided over several heated discussions on what was the proper course. There are a lot of different things to consider, the fact that we don’t know of anyone of young Beowulf’s caliber who could have come to his aid, as he did to Hrothgar’s. Would the dragon have continued attacking or gone back to sleep after burning a village? Beowulf is clearly aging toward the end of the poem, how much longer could he have protected his people if even if he had survived the dragon?

Much like some of the discussion exercises I participated in for World View courses, the answer for this specific scenario is less important than the values being discussed. How much does pride or timidity play into our decisions? Do we think far enough ahead about the unintended consequences of our actions? How do we set ourselves up for success in the future by how we build relationships with others? All of these are as important today in our modern world as they were for the ancients.

Unlike today, with the myriad of theories and explanations about why literature is meaningless, or what the green light in Gastby means, the purpose and message of ancient tales was clear. Stories were told to exemplify proper behavior and to teach wisdom. Poems like Beowulf were the original YA fiction, told in halls and around fires to young men and women to teach them not only how they should act, but just as importantly, why. They allowed wisdom and experiences to be passed from generation to generation so that as the old men and women passed away, the lessons they had learned would not die with them but would be passed on, hopefully saving their children from their mistakes and providing some guidance for the difficult decisions of life.

That is the true purpose of not just all fiction, but especially YA fiction. Young people growing into adulthood are becoming aware of the complexities and challenges of the world from which they were sheltered when they were children. Fiction allows us to learn by experience, without the pain of actual experience. It allows us to interact with those older and wiser even if they lived centuries in the past.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February Author Spotlight: Abigayle Claire


Abigayle Claire has just published her first novel, Martin Hospitality, a story about a young girl who finds herself pregnant and alone in rural Kansas. When she is taken in by the Martin family, she struggles to fit in, but quickly finds herself drawn to their kindness and faith. However, as her past returns upon her, she fears she may find the limits of their hospitality.

What inspired you to write this story?
In March of 2015, I had a really bizarre dream. I had been reading a Beverly Lewis book and my aunt and uncle were moving to Kansas. The dream was a combination of those two things and gave me the basic idea for Martin Hospitality: a pregnant teen who had to rely on the help of a large, Christian, homeschooling family.

What was the creative process for Martin Hospitality like? Did it come to you all at once or did you take some time to work out the story?
It definitely took some time. I had the dream that was my initial inspiration but it took character sheets and plotting to give me themes, twists, and true development. Ultimately, it took writing the first draft to fully develop the tangle of ideas in my head.

You mention character sheets and plotting, what did those look like? Did you continue to use them as you untangled the first draft, or were they more of a jumping off point?
For plotting, I used Microsoft Word to create an actual outline. I broke it down by chapter by chapter and wrote down large scale things (like theme, pivotal scenes, cliffhangers) and smaller things (tour the farmyard, go shopping). I only made it through about twelve or thirteen chapters before I began drafting. I didn’t use the outline as much as I thought, but because I had listed all those things out, my brain had a pretty good idea of where to next. I never outlined the rest of the story, hehe … And it all came together fairly well at 34 chapters long.
For character sheets, there’s a whole bunch you can use. I used this one and this one for planning Martin Hospitality. While some writers go all out and answer these questions for all their characters, I only did them for my two characters whose POV I was going to be in and my “villain.” My favorite character chart to use now is this one. I definitely recommend them no matter what you’re writing as it really helps solidify the details and unique traits of your characters, allowing all of that depth to seep into your story. I continued to refer to these all throughout my writing.

How did you go about deciding on Self-publishing? Had you heard of Create Space before?
It really wasn’t much of a decision for me. I knew I wanted the flexibility that came with self-publishing. While it meant I had to do more myself, it meant I had control over all the details and that was more appealing to me than a jump-through-our-hoops traditional route where they do a lot for you if you can meet there standards in the first place. I have nothing against traditional publishing, though, and might even give it a shot eventually.
I had heard of CreateSpace and while I checked out other places like Lulu and Bookbaby, I really liked CreateSpace’s print-on-demand policy, that they received part of the royalty instead of a down payment (or both), and that they were so closely linked to Amazon. So the decision wasn’t very hard for me in this respect, either.
You’ve mentioned your editor before, what was the experience with Create Space like?  What were some things you wish you had known going in?

My editor I hired outside of CreateSpace, but she was the first person I had to employ and trust with my novel. Throughout the entire marketing/publication experience, I wish I had known the standard amount of time each detail took. That way I could have planned more exactly instead of giving myself a set amount of months and lining everything up. It all worked out alright once I changed my hopeful publication from Christmas to February. Still, I was little nervous about how the timing would all work out a couple times in January! The hardest part was having to let everyone else meet my deadlines while I sat around and waited for the artists to finish their final files.

I would like to shift focus a little bit; on your blog you describe yourself as a  ‘Christian Author’, what does that mean for you?
For me it doesn’t just mean that my writings fit into the Christian genre (although they do). It means that the two are inseparable. My faith is an inherent part of who I am and therefore it’s an inherent part of my writing. But beyond the fragments of my worldview that are bound to filter into my writing, I also strive to intentionally have my novels as a whole reflect Christ and focus on some key virtue or quality. In Martin Hospitality this was primarily redemption.


Martin Hospitality is available on Amazon here. You can find more of Abi's thoughts as well as updates on her work on her blog The Left-Handed Typist.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Favorite Reads for February 11th

Articles

The Saving Power of Story on Memoria Press
One of the things I think is important in life is purpose. We need to understand not just our purpose in life, but the purpose behind what we do everyday, behind even our hobbies and the things we do for fun. This is a good reminder from Memoria Press of what one of the purposes behind stories is.

Derrida vs. the rationalists on The New Humanist
  In my opinion, Derrida and Deconstructionism is to blame not only for the decline in reading which is so often bemoaned but also for a plethora of other ills that plague our attempts to discover, transmit, and build on truth and wisdom. This article does a good job of laying out how Deconstructionism began and how it functions. The author believes that deconstruction has a lot to teach us about the human condition, and lays out some of those points in a clear manner. I disagree with almost all of his conclusions, but the article is well written and lays out the argument very well. I think it is important to read things we disagree with, not only to understand opposing view points, but to understand the things that matter to them, the questions they are asking, and the assumptions they are making. Too often our apologetics answer questions nobody is asking, and assumes things people began questioning decades ago.
I write a little bit on deconstructionism at some point if there is any interest. I think it is incredibly important, especially for writers, to understand and argue against it because of the pivotal role it has played in how reading is approached and taught in the last century.

Posts

What Is Deep POV And Why Is It Important by Tessa Emily Hall
Deep POV is one of the defining aspects of great story tell and something I'm struggling to master myself. This post is a good introduction to it and an explanation of how it works. I think Rosemary Sutcliff is one of the best at utilizing this technique, pulling you into her stories and creating a rich sense of atmosphere.

Also...
My friend Abygaile Claire just published her first book! Martin Hospitality is now available on Amazon. Check out Abi's blog The Left-Handed Typist for more information on her book, and a peek at what she has coming up next. Also, look for an interview I did with Abi to be post here in the next week.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Understanding Tolkien: Conclusion


I hesitate to use the words 'Understanding Tolkien' and 'Conclusion' together in the same sentence, but the purpose of this short series wasn't to make any of us masters in Tolkien studies. Rather, my intention was to give a taste of how he communicated on important subjects using his skills as a writer. Hopefully this encourages you to study Tolkien in greater depth, with an eye to the richness that lays behind the printed words on the page.

At the end of the day,  there are two vital lessons to learn from Tolkien as a writer. We must interact with the world around us, and we must read.While interacting with the world is a post for another time, here are some of the best books I've read on Tolkien which I think would benefit every writer whether they write fiction, fantasy, history, or essays.


By Tom Shippey
J.R.R Tolkien : Author of the Century,  and The Road to Middle Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology
Tom Shippey was one of Tolkien's successors at Leeds University, and at one point taught from the syllabus that Tolkien had constructed. What makes Shippey such an engaging read is his vast understanding of Tolkien's academic background as well as his wealth of historical knowledge. It is my humble opinion that no library is complete without a copy of these books, and any writer who has not read them is sadly missing out. Author of the Century  focuses  on Tolkien's impact in relation to the times in which he lived, and how it interacted with his professional studies, while The Road to Middle Earth is a closer look at how philology shaped Tolkien's world and how language inspired many of his best creations.
Shippey is one of the most knowledgeable writers I have read, for he possesses not only a deep understanding of philology and history, but also literary criticism both historic and modern  coupled with a keen mastery of the writer's craft. I am currently reading through several more of his works at the moment and enjoying every one of them.

The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft
Peter Kreeft is one of those author who I will read no matter his subject, anything he writes is worth the time it takes to read, and this one is no exception. Kreeft is perhaps the one author on this list who's knowledge surpasses Shippey's, and even then only in Christianity and Catholicism, though one might say he remains near-peer in every other area. Kreeft is an exceedingly knowledgeable and readable (why can't those two traits coincide more often) author with a deep and vast mind. I highly recommend that you look more into his writings.

J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
The definitive biography on Professor Tolkien, this short work is valuable because it focuses as much on Tolkien's mental life as it does on his physical one.Tolkien's early life contained much of the
"action", but it was the second half of his life that saw the many threads of his earlier years woven together.
 
The Battle for Middle-earth; Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings by Fleming Rutledge
The thing  that I really enjoy about this book is the way it examines LOTR chronologically, exploring themes as they develop with the plot. Rutledge begins with the first chapter and works his way through the story, examining how Tolkien builds his message. I believe this is an important read, along with Philosophy of Tolkien, because as Christian authors, we need to understand what we are saying and communicating in what we write.


 The Master of Middle Earth; The fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien by Paul Kocher
I almost didn't include this book, I've only read it once, and never owned it. However, Kocher's chapter on Aragorn fundamentally changed how I looked at LOTR and how I look at heroes. I've seen this one at a few libraries, and it is well worth your time. I didn't write an article on Aragorn for this series but he remains in my mind one of the most important characters in the story for understanding Tolkien's thoughts on leadership and service. The contrasts between Denethor and Theoden, Aragorn and Boromir, Aragorn and Eomer, Gandalf and Sauroman may be something I explore in the future.

I hope this series has given a few of you a slightly better picture of Tolkien's background, and how it allowed him to become such a great writer. I was asked recently why I chose Tolkien to focus on, there are so many other great authors. I believe Tolkien understood history the way few others did, I believe he understood the modern condition better than many of his peers, and I believe that his Christianity allowed him to understand and balance both of those in a way that his peers could not. He studied and lived deeply and richly and that is what contributed to his excellence as a writer. If we too wish to be excellent writers, we must do the same.