Saturday, December 31, 2011

Life Inspired by Literature

My family loves Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. You are either a bad Counts or you have been sleeping for the last fifteen years if you can't recite practically the entire first chapter and key points throughout the rest of the book.

"Marley was as dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The registry of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it..."

I could continue but I shan't.

We have seen every movie version ever made (including the Muppets version and the musical version) and been to more dramatic performances of it than I can count. In fact, my little brother was an adorable, waifish Tiny Tim in our local theatre for three years running. During each of those years, we attended his performances at least three times (my mother went to more) plus at least one other performance of it in the city and watched at least two of our many favorite movie versions.

One of the things that reoccurs many, many times in the story are references to Christmas goose and Christmas pudding. In fact, there is usually a scene where all the little Cratchits are sitting around barely able to contain themselves because their mother is cooking these delicacies.

In our love of Charles Dickens and his Christmas Carol and all things English, we were inspired to discover what goose and pudding tasted like.

We thought pudding would be easier but, when we found a recipe for traditional Christmas Pudding (the kind that you soak in brandy and light on fire), we discovered that the recipe wanted you to stew the pudding in your backyard for a month. That was never going to happen. Our neighbors complain if we even barbecue so they were never going to allow us to "stew" anything, especially for a month.

So we went back to the goose. We got a goose and a recipe for cooking goose and over the next few years learned how to do it. Now it's a family tradition. We have New Year's goose.
I'm writing my blog post to the delicious spicy, earthy scent of roasting goose and potatoes wafting out of the kitchen.

Elizabeth Drew once said, "The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it." In the new year, let yourself be inspired by literature, not just to become a better writer, but to live differently. Embrace your fears. Go on a journey. Be adventurous in your cooking. Challenge yourself to live intensely.

Have a blessed, brilliant, wonderful New Year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RTW #111: What were your top five favorite books of 2011?


Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.



In no particular order:


1. The Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

This is the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon's fantastic "Outlander" series. I love the vivid description and the people in the Outlander books always seem so very real. The fourth book is as perfect as the first one. I like them so much I generally I manage to read an Outlander book in approximately three days, despite the hefty page count.


2. Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

I love all of Juliet Marrillier's books, but this may be my new favorite. It is a ghost story with a lovely ending and the most beautiful descriptions.


3. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King


Sherlocke Holmes meets his match. Need I say more?



4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

I saw the broadway play and was inspired to read this book. It made me cry.



5. Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
This the third and concluding book in Lawhead's "Hood" trilogy. This is a new take on the Robin Hood legends that places the famous archer in Wales and makes him, not Robin Hood, but Ria Bran, King Raven. Of all the Robin Hood books I have ever read (and I have read a lot) I think this trilogy is my favorite.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Notice: Infrequent Posting Ahead

Hello everyone! 

We just wanted to let you know that due to several types of craziness my life at the moment, we won't be posting as much as usual until we get back to school in mid-January.  (Tyler-Rose will continue to post when she can, but I, Susan, will be almost completely absent.) 

So enjoy the rest of your holiday season! 

We'll be back to our usual 3-5 posts a week around January 16th. 


Since this isn't much of a post, I thought I'd share my new favorite song: 


And my new favorite book: 

                                                 

Cheers!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas!


"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 'God bless us, every one!'"

Friday, December 23, 2011

Give Your Characters a Holiday

 


With Thanksgiving coming up in a few days and Christmas just around the corner, I'm starting to get really excited. 




Family?  Friends?  Baking cookies?  Christmas carols?  Home........

I can't WAIT. 

Now, I'm no expert, but I suspect that holidays exist for a reason.  A holiday is a time to eat if you haven't been eating enough, sleep if you haven't been sleeping enough, laugh if you haven't been laughing enough.  A time to relax.  A time to catch up with people you love.  A time to do fun things not becuase they're functional or they make money or someone else wants you to--but just becuase they're fun.  It's a time to reflect, to sit back and look at the larger scope of your life.  Admire it.  Maybe re-evaluate it.  Maybe reward yourself for it.  A time to be thankful and hopeful.

We need holidays so we can recover from the ongoing stress of life.  I find they also act as lights at the end of each little tunnel of work or school or what-have-you... They're something we can look forward to.  They're a place in time where we can rest. 

Holidays are just as important in fiction.  They're not always literal holidays, though they can be.  (Did anyone else always look forward to Christmas in the Harry Potter books?) They could also be totally unconnected with any formal holiday.  For instance, getting snowed in to my house always felt like a holiday.  Even seeming hardships, like power outages or minor illnesses can have the same effect.   Or visiting a friend or relative--staying at my grandma's house always feels like a holiday to me.  In such moments of calm and joy, characters and readers can rest, take a deep breath, and just enjoy life for a bit before things get difficult again. 

I think our characters--and therefore our readers--long for these breaks from the pain of reality.  We see it all the time in books.  This is the "calm before the storm."  This is the safe haven our characters can visit but not remain in forever.

This longing for peace creates tension in stories.  Our characters find a little, temporary pocket of joy, but they're propelled back out into the world by the evils they've been called to defeat.  And if they don't venture out into the world to defeat whatever they're fighting against, they run the risk of allowing their peaceful safe-haven to be destroyed.  Along with this, however, comes the hope that if they do defeat whatever they're fighting against, their lives might be more filled by the peace, joy, and comfort they desire. 

I know this tension is present in my own life, and I suspect others experience it too.  I also strongly suspect that it is this very longing that causes us to pick up books and read them. 

We've all heard a million times that you're supposed to give your characters "trouble."  I agree.  A story is, by definition, about a person in a hard scrape.  I do, however, think that in order to reach its full potential, every story needs some moments of quiet happiness--some holidays, if you will.  Such moments give our characters and readers something to love, something to live for, and something to hope for as the trials continue.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RTW: Where do you buy most of your books? No one is judging!


Road Trip Wednesday is hosted by YA Highway!

I have to confess that when I am actually buying a book I usually buy it on Amazon. The college that Susan and I go to is in the middle of the middle of a little town called Nowhere, and getting to the bookstore is quite a hike, generally through all sorts of inclement weather.

That said, I don't actually buy books very often. I am more likely to (*cringe* you said no one was judging, right?) browse a bookstore, write down a list of the books I really want to read but can't afford, and take my list to the local library. However, I don't feel too guilty because I have a mental block when it comes to returning books on time. I am fairly sure I am the library's main donor and have considered many times asking them for a plaque with my name on it.

The other way I get my books is through PaperBack Swap.
PaperBack Swap is a book trading club that allows you to send in books you don't want when other members request them, and get new books for yourself for the price of the postage of the books you sent in, which is usually about $3.00 a book. The books are used and mostly paperback, but, because of the site's "Golden Rules," they are always in an acceptable condition.

What about you? How do you usually get your books?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Defeating the Vacuum: Part 3

By "dust," I mean "perfectly good description." 
(source)

(For those of you who don't know what vacuum I'm talking about, seek clarification HERE.)


I know what I want for Christmas. 

I want a bright red (or aqua) self-inking stamp that says DESCRIBE in big letters, so the next time I have a manuscript, I can stamp it all over the vacuumed sections instead of wearing out my hand. 

(That could be bad... I might go crazy and start stamping myself on the forehead.) 

Seriously, though, after marking up my MS, I have sallied forth on a de-vacuum-iferous revision. 

And I've met with...SUCCESS!

It went something like this: 

Susan:  Did you read my new chapter two?!
Tyler-Rose:  Yes!  You did it!  You de-vacuumed Flavian's setting!
Susan:  [jumps up and down, runs out of room, executes happy dance, comes back out of breath...]
Tyler-Rose:  Now...
Susan:  Now all I have to do is apply it to the whole manuscript.  YAY. 


I'm up for the challenge, though.  I'm even excited.  Becuase I discovered all I need for setting description is a set of descriptive goalposts.  Landmarks if you will.  Targets, perhaps. 

Here's how it works: 
1.  I choose several definitive aspects of the setting that I want readers to see clearly. 
2.  I rewrite, making sure to weave in description of those important features. 

This really seems to work for my list-oriented, pre-planning, goal-organizing brain.  So now I'm on my way to well-described setting, at least! 

In the next "Defeating the Vacuum" post, I will hopefully share how I de-vacuum my main character's appearance. 


And while we're on the subject, check out this beautiful vacuum.  It reminds me of an orca or some other graceful thing of nature.  (It's designed by an Italian named Stefano Giovanonni, so go figure, I guess...)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Joy and Candy

Today, instead of talking about writing, I feel the need to celebrate the joy and awesomeness of our lives as I sit in a pool of wonderful, warm sun light streaming through my dinning room windows and look out over the ocean. Mmmmmh.  The snow on the ginger bread house below is probably the only snow I will see this Christmas.

Last week before finals began, Susan, my roommate, and I bought four giant boxes of graham crackers, two enormous tubs of icing, and four big bags of candy.

This is was the result:

One triangular castle, one snowy arch, two huts (one with Dalek-like accessories), and a large extremely well-built house with rooms and a two car garage.


I was responsible for the both the huts, Susan built our Dr. Suess-esque triangular castle, and my roommate built the indestructible two car garage house.

A road made of Heath Bars and M&M landscaping
Icicles

(Please appreciate the artistry and skill that went into Susan's Icicles.)


Heath Bar door ways and Cream Saver windows.



The Huts

The Archway (also featuring Susan's fantabulous icicles)

Can you say, tidings of comfort and joy? 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RTW #109: Christmas gifts for our main characters!

YA Highway (btw, check out their giveaway!) has a really fun question for Road Trip Wednesday this week

What would be the ideal holiday present for your main character (or favorite character)? 

Instead of agonizing over a one-line plot description, I'll just tell you what I'd get them and let you imagine....


For Caspric, my (justly) exasperated knight:  An estate all of his own, so he doesn't have to be dependent on his older brother for the rest of his life.  Something with a big house and nice hunting grounds. 

For Flavian, my poor, confused, exiled prince:  A bottle of bright yellow sugar pills he could exchange for the medicine his psychiatrist gave him when he started seeing things.  That way, he wouldn't have to pretend to swallow them in front of his mom.  (They taste awful when they start to dissolve in his mouth.)

For Mera, my badass runaway princess:  Her father's head on a platter, with a note that says, "You had nothing to do with this one."


I had fun imagining what I'd give my characters for Christmas...even though if I gave them these things, my plot would dissolve! 

What about you?  What would you give your characters, or your favorite characters, for Christmas? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'm a Semi-Finalist!

To my own surprise and delight, I am a semi-finalist in Brenda Drake's first 250 words "Can We Guess Your Character's Age?" contest!  Squeeeee!  (Or squeak, rather.  I actually squeaked when I discovered this.)




Here is Brenda's latest update about the contest. 

Here is Gabriela Lessa's (the final judge's) blog.  Seriously, check it out!  She has some super-helpful advice for writers!!!!

And here is my first 250 words in the list of semi-finalists.  Feel free to comment with age guesses or friendly critiques. :) 


I seriously almost didn't find out about this.  I looked at Brenda's blog and the list of 20 semi-finalists and  said, "I'm not a semi-finalist.  I don't even want to look.  Blahhhh."  (My ice cream was wearing off.)  And then I looked at one, and then a few more, and just when I was saying blahhhh I clicked on one more--and it was me!  (That's when I squeaked.)

Always check, people!

(Also, as a side-note:  I've changed my first 250 words based on the feedback I got during this contest.  Should I post a revision?  What do you think about posting snippets to your blog?)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Flash Fiction and Squirrels


I have recently discovered a new kind of fiction. I don't mean I made it up, of course. I mean that in my finals -fueled Internet ramblings (After seven or eight, I ran out of tolerance for videos of squirrels eating lemons*) I stumbled upon a written form called: Flash Fiction.

Flash Fiction is the short short short story.

Flash Fiction pieces are generally under 1000 words and tend to have ambiguous endings. I've heard people say that a novel asks a question and attempts to answer it, and that a short story asks a question...  Well, from the pieces I have read I conclude that often a Flash Fiction story merely suggests a question and leaves it at that.

I had a great time reading short short short stories while I should have been studying. I think I will try writing one when I get home for Christmas break.

Here is the link to the website that provide me so much entertainment:

My favorite was The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

Happy Finals Week!

Also:  Check out YA Highway's Winter Giveaway!  It's easy to enter, and they have superb prizes, from books to query critiques to...Book Bottles!   Don't miss out!

******


*Have you ever seen a squirrel eat a lemon?
Or a squirrel with hiccups for that matter?
You must see them! Your life will never be the same again!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Twelve Days of Christmas for Writers

© BeNonsensical.com


Instead of recieving gifts from my "true love" during the Christmas season, I recieve "gifts" from my "write" brain.  Perhaps some of you have a similar experience. 


On the first day of Christmas, my write brain gave to me....  

A main character I can’t see,

Two awkward scenes,

Three plot holes,

Four knit brows,

Five magical things!

Six ugly titles,

Seven long discussions,

Eight bad descriptions,

Nine random commas,

Ten brilliant problems,

Eleven cliché comebacks,

Twelve silly daydreams,


Feel free to write your own!  If you do, make sure to leave a link in the comments so we can sing--er, read--them...  Ahem...

Friday, December 9, 2011

Follow Friday #4

Follow and Feature Friday is a bloghop hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.  This week's featured blogs are Keeping up with Roxy's Books and Anonymous Reads


This week's question:  Keeping with the Spirit of Giving this season, what book do you think EVERYONE should read and if you could, you would buy it for all of your family and friends?


This is a very hard question to answer.  However, I just finised a truly amazing course that covered part of this book, so as a hangover from that inspiration I must say: 

Dante's Divine Comedy

Wow.  It just blows my mind.  The man can make multiple classical and/or Scriptural allusions in a single line.  And then he starts alluding to himself.  And then your brain explodes.  I love it. 


Others.....

For kids (in age or at heart):  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

For people who think they don't like to read:  Harry Potter

For people who think they don't like to read "old" books:  The Count of Monte Cristo

For people who have yet to fall in love with fantasy...or literature, for that matter:  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

For anyone who needs a re-affirmation of their faith in love:  Pride and Prejudice


There are so many more...  Which books do you think everyone should read?

Also, check out my earlier post of the first 250 words of my WIP!  See if you can guess Caspric's age, and learn more about Brenda Drake's contest!

Guess my character's age!

Brenda Drake is hosting an awesome blogfest/contest!  Check it out here

(source)





Here's the idea:  writers post the first 250 words of their manuscript to their blogs, and everyone tries to guess how old the main character is.  I think it's a great idea!  So here goes...





(NOTE:  THOUGH I DON'T INTEND TO POST REVISIONS HERE, THESE FIRST 250 WORDS HAVE ALREADY UNDERGONE SIGNIFICANT CHANGES.)
        Caspric looked down at the servant blocking the door.  “Why exactly can’t I come in?”
        “I have orders from Sir Drake that you’re not to be allowed.”
        “Oh really?” said Caspric, raising a dark eyebrow. “Well, although you take orders from Sir Drake--" He reached around the servant and put his hand on the door knob. “I don’t.”
        Caspric stepped inside the library and inhaled the familiar smell of old paper. Shafts of sunlight beamed through the dusty air. 
        Drake sat at a table perusing a thick volume.
        It was clear that they were brothers—both tall and dark-haired, with handsome, sharp features that made girls swoon—but the difference in clothing was almost enough to disguise this.  Drake wore a red silk vest over spotless white sleeves and had a ruby-studded ornamental dagger in his belt.  Caspric wore a plain white shirt, open at the collar and barely tucked into his pants, which, like his boots, were dappled with mud.  He was still sweaty from a morning of sparring practice. 
        “What possessed you to open a history book?” Caspric said, peering over his brother’s shoulder. “And why do you have someone guarding the door?”
        “Go away,” said Drake. He flipped the page, sending up a poof of dust.
        Caspric frowned.  “You never read.”
        Drake traced his ring-laden fingers down a column of text.  He closed the book and grinned up at Caspric.  "I do today." 


So what do you think?  How old is Caspric?  You can guess for Drake too, if you think you can from such a quick view of him. 

Also, constructive critiques are welcome.  :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RTW #108: What would you do to get published?

This Week's Topic from YA Highway:
How far would you go to get published?


We writers can form quite an attachment to our characters and stories. But we also know publishing is a business, and sometimes to make it in said business--to really build a career from it--we have to bend a bit. How far would you go to break into the publishing world?



What I would be willing to do: 


Story-wise: 
1.  Change character names.  (I think I may need to do this with one of them...sigh....)
2.  Add/delete/change minor characters.  Fine. 
3.  Alter the setting.  Though there are a few points I would be stubborn about. 
4.  Improve the plot in any way that does not destroy my big-picture vision for the story. 
5.  Try new things to improve my writing. 
6.  Undergo as many revisions as necessary.  Yes, I said AS MANY.  (As long as they don't cross into the territory of things I wouldn't do--see list below...)
7.  I'm sure there are other things I would do, in specific context. 


Life-wise: 
1.  Work really, really hard. 
2.  Make sacrifices in other areas of my life. 
3.  Trust an agent, editor, and other professionals to know what they're doing. 


What I would not be willing to do:


Story-wise: 
1.  Change the identity of the protagonists.  Each of my main characters has something to say, and if any of them becomes someone else, they can't say it. 
2.  Change the title....of my current WIP at least.  (The Madman's Crown)  I mean, okay I guess I would change it if that were the only way to get published, but there would have to be a seriously convincing argument for doing so...
3.  Fundamentally change the story in a way that removes it from what I'm actually trying to say. 
4.  Again, there are probably other things I wouldn't do in specific situations. 


Life-wise: 
1.  Neglect what is most important to me in life:  family, friends, and God. 
2.  Put myself in a bad position by failing to prepare for a future that might not include publication. 
3.  Violate my moral principles. 


What about you?  Where do your boundaries fall?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Banned


In my Rhetoric and Great books class we are writing research papers and were given free choice of what topic we would like to write on as long as it was a current, relevant controversy. I chose to write on book-banning and censorship in American schools.

So off I went to Hell to get books on censorship. I came away with eight books of varying widths and arguments and have spent the last few days reading them. I can't say it was thrilling reading, but it was definitely interesting. I am now thoroughly convinced that this is a controversial topic (in case I needed convincing), since my books disagree with each other rather spectacularly and I disagree with all of them.

Here is a brief summary of the arguments of the sources I got:

1. Our children's text books are being to censored. They are biased to the left because the text books surveyed mention Eastern and New Age religions too often and don't mention Protestantism in America enough.

2. Our children's text books are being censored. They are biased to the right because they ignore women and minorities in their treatment of American history. And they make the Imperialists look like the good guys when in fact they were horrible murders.

3. Resist censorship in all its many and various forms!!! Don't let the Totalitarians take books off your children's school library shelves!!! Don't forget a child's right to know! Here is how to take your school district to court should they curtail your child's rights!!!

4. The things they make children read in school are inappropriate for their age group. They don't take the local beliefs into account at all and just promote all sorts of controversial things that children are not ready to deal with at that age.

5. HERE IS THE WORLDS MOST COMPREHENSIVE DETAILED LIST OF EVERY BOOK EVER BANNED IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!!!! READ THIS NOW FOR ALL THE GORY COURT DETAILS!!!!

I learned all sorts of interesting factoids. Did you know (according to Herbert N. Foestel in Banned in America) Huckleberry Finn is the forth most banned book of all time? And that, along with Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and other works that make frequent stays on the “banned” list, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (gives kids nightmares and promotes the Occult), Little Red Riding Hood (she carried wine to her grandmother and therefore the story must support consumption of alcohol by minors), and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (promotes New Age worship and a belief in magical powers) all live there as well? (Foestel)

In fact, a lot of the books I enjoyed most as a child have been banned at one time or another. I practically memorized Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and I read A Wrinkle in Time at least twice. I would say I have read at least half the books on this list I am looking at. It makes me glad that I live somewhere where the banning of a book doesn't mean the government hunts down all the copies and burns them. But, I think parents should still have the right to advise their schools of books they don't want their children to read in class or check out of the library.

Yup. Controversial all right.

How do you feel about book-banning? Is it always wrong? Or are there some circumstances under which the banning of a book is right and even best?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Follow Friday #3: Pet Peeves



Follow Friday is a blog hop for book-related blogs hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read

This weeks's question:  What is your biggest pet peeve(s) when it comes to books?
My number one pet peeve is Nature vs. Man conflicts. 


I become totally bored and frustrated when the adversary is inanimate.  It's like having a fight with your chair.  One sided, boring, for the most part meaningless.  I find is especially infuriating when the book was rolling along just fine, and then suddenly the plot is all about defeating the Mountain or the Snowstorm or the Volanic Eruption...  You need at least two characters--by that, I mean cognizant entities with personalities and opinion and motives--in order to have a good story, or any story at all actually. 

Tyler-Rose would like to add a few things to the pet peeve list: 
  • characters who are supposed to be tough just becuase they swear
  • when the hero is "rescued from his humanity" (especially in fantasy)
  • "ineffable beauty" (which is then described in great detail)
  •  and... "heaving bosoms"

Happy Friday, everyone!