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Writing Bliss

"If they do not write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves." -C.S. Lewis

Month

November 2015

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed

Thanksgiving Contest - What Are You Thankful For?

This post will undoubtedly join the thousands of others today on the topic of celebrating the things for which we are thankful.  I think it is still important to say, no matter how many times it is repeated.  The truth is we should not be thankful only one time of the year but all year round.  So what are you thankful this year?  My list could go on for quite a long time, but I guess I will start with the highlights.

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FAMILY– As many of you know, I am adopted.  I have always been grateful to my birth mother for giving me a chance at life when so many other young mothers chose a different road.  I am even more grateful for the parents who raised me, the only parents I have ever known, or ever wanted to know.  They have guided me through the most amazing life I could have asked for.  This year, I made an addition to my family.  I have been with my boyfriend now for almost a year and from day one I knew this was it.  His family has become my family and my family has become his.  We both strive for a Christ-centered relationship where we can support one another unconditionally and I could not be more blessed.

FRIENDS– After I moved to North Carolina, I knew I would leave behind many friends.  I knew I would talk to them less but that they’d still be there for me.  I had no idea that every time I talked to them, be it on the phone, through Skype, or even via text, that it would feel as if I had never left.  Some friendships are for life and you only realize it, I think, when something separates you, like great distance in my case.  I have made new friends here that I am also grateful for.  As an only child, I have always associated my friends with my family, so for me they are one and the same.  I could only be so lucky!

LIFE– I never realized how difficult life could be on a single part-time job salary or multiple part-time jobs.  Until I turned 26, I didn’t have to worry about health insurance, I was always covered on my parents’ plan.  All that changed last year and the several months I spent job hunting were extremely stressful, never knowing whether you’d get a call back or not.  Telling yourself, “This time you’ll get the interview.”  Or getting the interview and never hearing back.  It’s maddening!  All the hours spent filling out online applications only to have your Internet go down, or your computer crash and you lose everything and have to start all over again.  I have never been so thankful to have a full-time job.  As a public service employee at a library, I feel so grateful that now I can pay it forward.  I can reach out to the community and connect with them on a new level.  I’m not bound to the laws of retail where the customer is always right.  I am held to a higher standard of being there to serve and create a working relationship with patrons rather than squeezing money out of greedy customers.  It’s a whole new atmosphere and I’m so blessed to be a part of it.

GOD– I would be nothing without my God.  I usually don’t post religious topics, not because I do not want to, just because they usually do not come up in my writing.  But none of the above would even be relevant let alone worth being thankful for if it wasn’t for God.  This Thanksgiving weekend, we are being told to be vigilant and that every country is on high alert from terrorists.  In a world where our holidays are now a time of great stress and fear, I refuse to be afraid.  “Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”  Hold tight to your family this year and all year long.  Enjoy the time you have with them.  Cherish every laugh, every talk, every tear shed in joy or sadness, but most of all, cherish the memories that you make because those memories will be your legacy.  You can’t take anything with you when you leave this world, but you can leave something behind for the next generation.

The Magic of the Re-Read

I read The Hobbit every year.  Like clockwork, every January I pick up my favorite book and I read it.  It’s so appropriate!  The book is about an unexpected adventure.  What better time of year to read that than at the start of a new year?  What unexpected adventures await me?

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I have decided that I will increase my Goodreads reading goal for 2016.  This year’s goal was 30 books and, just since I’ve been working at the library, I have far exceeded that goal.

I have also decided there are several books I need to read again.  For example, I work with someone who, every year, reads through the entire Harry Potter series.  While we were listening to snippets of the audio books at work (yes, this is what I do for a living :), I realized there are several portions of the books I have forgotten over the years.  I’ve watched the movies tons of times, but it’s been years since I’ve read the books!  I should be ashamed of myself!

So my solution to this dilemma is to re-read as many books as I read new books in 2016.  My first book will inevitably be The Hobbit.  I will also add the Harry Potter series to this list and, since I planned on re-reading Game of Thrones before the next book is published anyway, I might tackle that series as well!  (Hint hint, George R.R. Martin…please PLEASE finish the next book this year!)

I’m thinking I also might throw in a few classics.  It’s been a while since I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and I’m always in the mood for a good Sherlock Holmes mystery.

How many times do we learn new things after reading something we are already familiar with?  There is no end to learning and you can always find exciting stuff you didn’t realize was there upon your first read.  So gather a pen and paper, or a blog, and decide what books you are going to re-read this year.  There is some seriously special magic in rediscovering a book you’ve already fallen in love with!

NaNoWriMo: A Realistic Approach

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Let’s be honest with ourselves, unless you are a full-time writer, English teacher, Professor, Student, or otherwise “paid-to-write,” you probably don’t have the time to write a novel in one month.  Even if you are one of the above mentioned individuals, your time is still limited and your writing is usually limited to your area of expertise or skill in research.  Let’s approach National Novel Writing Month for regular folk, people like you and me.  I’m a librarian and I don’t even have time to write that much.  We’ve all heard again and again that we need to write every day, and while that’s true, and I agree with that statement, it is easier said than done.  You should exercise daily too and how many of us find an excuse every now and then to bow out?  My point is, that if you expect yourself to do something like dieting, exercising, and even writing every day, you’re going to set yourself up for failure.  Strive for that goal, for sure!  Just understand that realistically it might not happen every day.  Don’t let that discourage you.  If the hype and internet fervor of NaNoWriMo gets you fired up to write your novel, GO FOR IT!  It did for me.  One of my recent posts was about my latest idea.  I’m still researching and fleshing out details, but at least I’m working on it.

January’s issue of Writer’s Digest has “Write Your Novel in 2016!” plastered on its cover and that was a great motivator to me.  There are several articles in it about basic novel writing that many people overlook.  I recommend you read the whole issue but I will summarize the most important parts that I got from it.

  • Dialogue- BE REALISTIC!  Haven’t we all read the scenes in books where the words are mostly in the form of unrealistic or forced dialogue?  After I write a scene with a lot of conversation, I immediately read it through, out loud, until I am satisfied with it.  If I read it and get confused, or have to read something several times, I start over.  Dialogue should be fluid and should read like an actual conversation.  The author of the WD article says that dialogue does not have to stay on topic nor does it have to be short or concise, and it certainly doesn’t have to be grammatically correct.  You want your readers to feel like they are actually a part of the conversation.  Read it after you write it, and maybe even have a friend read it out loud and give you sound feedback.
  • Arc and Pace- According to Elizabeth Sims who wrote the WD article titled “Power Tools,” story arc and pace are the two most important tools a writer can use.  Every writer should shape their story to a readable plot while also having events occur in a timely matter.  Don’t rush through your story, but don’t neglect to add some fast paced scenes to keep your readers interested.
  • A to Z of Good Writing- This article is just plain helpful and I encourage you to look it up.  Covering topics ranging from A is for Artistic Vision to R is for Revise etc., this article touches on several aspects of writing that many over us can easily overlook.  Pick up a copy of the January issue of Writer’s Digest and see how motivated it can make you!

There is also a great post on Kristen Lamb’s blog written by Marcy Kennedy about POV (point of view) and the general dos and don’ts of writing really captivating and believable stories from different characters’ points of view.  That blog post can be found here.

I guess my point in this blog post is this: don’t get discouraged.  Writing takes time.  While having a month to focus on writing a novel is a “novel” idea (pun intended), it can be stressful to have expectations that may be too high.  I am (more or less) writing this post to convince myself that it’s ok if I don’t write a whole novel this month.  But the WD article definitely inspired me to get my butt moving for 2016.  So I encourage each and every one of you to do the same thing.  Write.  Constantly write.  Don’t set unrealistic goals because when you don’t reach them, you just become discouraged.  Be proud of what you do accomplish and use those accomplishments to build upon your next task as a writer.

Happy NaNoWriMo!!!!!

 

A NEW TOLKIEN POST!

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This is my first Tolkien-related post in a long time and I think, mostly because he is my greatest inspiration, I should make a post every now and then just to pay homage to his genius. This is my official book review of Joseph Loconte’s A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War, published earlier this year by HarperCollins.  This book was similar in subject matter to the most recent Tolkien book I read, Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth. I think I came away with a different message though. This book focused on Tolkien and C.S. Lewis (my other big inspiration), who, despite their closeness and the similarities of their wartime experiences, did not meet one another until 1926. These two extraordinary men experienced the horrors of war and came away from it with such a different outlook on the world then many of their fellow soldiers turned authors. They embraced the potential good in the world despite having seen such tremendous evil and they created new worlds that did not promote escapism, but rather purported what they knew to be true of our own world, though some elements had gone dormant.

There were several aspects of war, and in fact the time in which he lived, that repelled the young Tolkien. One of many was his disapproval of machines and the tools of war. Loconte makes a point to reiterate Tolkien’s use of Saruman as a traitor in The Lord of the Rings because as a wizard he was supposed to love and respect the nature that he destroyed in his pursuit of power. I know Tolkien would not like me to use allegory to compare his work, but I cannot help but see a little of Saruman in the European leaders of the early twentieth century. They were responsible for the lives of their citizens and instead, sent their men to fight in a war. A war from which there was no turning back, as Winston Churchill saw early on. The ill-treatment of men on the front lines from the bureaucracy that was designed to protect its people was what upset Tolkien more than anything about the Great War.

I think it is extremely fitting, and no less ironic, that at a time in human history when the world is relying more and more on science and human knowledge and believing less and less in God, C.S. Lewis does not turn away but toward Christianity. But it was not without difficulty that Lewis rejected his agnostic beliefs. I say agnostic and not atheistic because I think deep down Lewis always believed in something. He was raised to believe but having experienced the Great War, he understandably did not know how to believe or what to believe in. I loved how this book explored the spiritual relationship between Tolkien and Lewis, beyond just a simple academic and platonic friendship. These were two of Oxford’s brightest minds and they formed a bond despite their different approaches to religion.

Having experienced the horrors of the Great War, it is easy to understand why the world suddenly plunged into spiritual darkness. As Loconte pointed out, how could you believe in a God when you were surround by devastation and chaos? So many young men had their lives thrown away by greedy politicians who only saw the benefits of war and not the grievous aftermath. How could you believe in a God when the church itself had sanctioned the war? They preached and advocated that good Christian men go to war because that is the morally right thing to do. Anything else is considered cowardice and ungodly. By the time Lewis met Owen Barfield (another member of the Inklings group formed at Oxford) and Tolkien, he was a hard shell to crack. The great debate of September 1931 was probably the final push toward Lewis’ conversion and he even admitted himself that Tolkien’s words that night had a great influence on him.

This brings me to my next point that Christianity shaped the writing of both of these authors. But look at the wide audience that it reaches; people all over the world or different cultures and creeds, different religions and backgrounds. Because above all, these writers did not write a theology, they created a story. At the heart of every good writer is a good story. As C.S. Lewis said, and the banner on my blog repeats, “If they won’t write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves.” This is what makes their writing so glorious.

The three main messages I received from this book were I think, the three most important ideas to Tolkien and Lewis. One was that mythologies are true. They are part of our world, stories sent from God. Lewis had at one point in his life acknowledged the existence of Jesus from the historical documents written by people such as Tacitus, but he could not accept that his message was real and that all the other belief that stemmed from him was real. The way Tolkien got through to him was to explain that myth is real. Christianity is the ultimate myth, the ultimate story, and ultimately, the only one worth believing in.

The second message was that evil is a perversion of good. Both authors took Jadis, the “Queen” of Charn, and Sauron and Morgoth, and made them come from something good. Just as Satan was once an angel who fell from grace, so too did the enemies of the characters in Middle-earth and Narnia stem from a once whole and decent world. This, Loconte says, is the ultimate reality.

The third message was simply, to quote Loconte, “imagination might be as good a guide to reality as rational argument.” We see everything through our imaginations! Maybe as writers Tolkien and Lewis were better able to not only capture and explain their imaginations but to enter our own as readers, but that doesn’t mean they were the only people on earth who extrapolate fantasy from reality. Again, their stories did not promote escapism. They captured what reality should be, or at the very least, how we as humans should see the world.

Joseph Loconte does a marvelous job of giving us a side by side comparison of Tolkien, Lewis, and their literary inspirations and messages. He visualized for the reader the lives of these two authors, showed how their young academic lives were interrupted by war, and how their experiences directly affected their writing and in turn, affected generations of readers. Neither Tolkien nor Lewis glorified war, but neither did they shield their audience from its horrors and realities. They placed reality under the microscope of fantasy, if you will. I’ve always loved J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but this book just raised my respect for them even higher, as both writers and as veterans. The rather long subtitle of this book claims its purpose is to discuss “How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis rediscovered faith, friendship, and heroism in the cataclysm of 1914-1918,” and what an appropriate subtitle it is!  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia and wants to explore them further. I promise you will walk away with a better understanding and appreciation of both classic fantasy sagas.

Book Review: Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

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Jaw-dropping. From start to finish, what an adrenaline rush! I had to read this for an online book club and WOW!! At first I hated Claire. I thought her character was flat and I could not feel sympathy for her. But after she is shoved headfirst into the series of unexpected events, and handles it like a champ, I realized that she had more strength than even she realized. I know someone whose husband (was not this bad!), but did some things to earn him a seat in jail and the community turned their back on his wife very quickly. I loved that this book took the reader through the eyes of the wife of the accused. Sometimes, they are just as much victims as the people he hurt. I loved the plot and the twists within it. This was a difficult book to read at times because of the graphic nature of some of the scenes but it was a front row view into the depravity of certain human souls who are just evil at heart. I loved the theme of family and how the importance of forgiveness came into play. Maybe not on this scale, but it’s something we all struggle with at some point. I highly recommend this book to anyone who professes to love the thriller/suspense genre of books. It is high paced and keeps you on your toes from beginning to end.

Writer’s Anonymous: What I’m Working On

I have just recently started a new project because, like my reading habits, I cannot read, or write, one book at a time.  I have always had a fascination with witches.  My favorite play has always been Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and I loved studying the Salem Witch Trials in school.  I enjoyed learning about the Druidic and pagan religions of the pre-Christianity Celtic Isles and I am reading a book on modern Wicca.  Many branches of modern witches claim their religion reaches back into ancient times, but mostly their beliefs have stemmed from groups of underground covens of the 1950s.  I have always respected their love of nature and wanted to explore that more fully in a fictional story.  Living in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, I frequently wonder how many covens of goddess and nature-worshipping witches live off the land surrounded by the beautiful landscape of Appalachia.  Then I wondered what it would be like to throw a nature-loving God fearer in their midst.  Having friends who are practicing Wiccans we have always agreed to disagree when it comes to spiritual matters, but surrounded by the beauty of nature, how could these two different worlds coexist; could they at all?  I also wanted to explore the discord that follows every group of humans and I wanted to use the Appalachian Mountains as a backdrop for a potential moving drama.  If you were to flip the book open and read the cover sleeve, even in the early stages of my research, this is what I have come up with.

Blake Terrasen has moved to the Appalachian Foothills of North Carolina following a particularly nasty divorce from a husband who has committed unspeakable crimes.  Her parents have retired to the area but, in light of Blake’s recent tragedy, they feel the need to smother their recently singled daughter.  She struggles for several months to find a job until the urge to just escape the world overtakes her and she decides to fulfill a lifelong dream and hit the Appalachian Trail, live off the land, and hopefully have a spiritual experience.  Along the way she runs into a coven of witches.  This religious group is far more traditional than the average practitioners and like the Blake, are living off the land.  She decides to live among these witches when the priestess takes a liking to her.  Her year of living with the coven shows her the depth of love and betrayal in every circle of human interaction and the devastating effects.  She also learns respect for other people’s beliefs and she gains a deeper understanding of the type of people she has been raised to distrust.  This is the story of a young woman’s emotional journey to discover herself and find faith in humanity beyond her small familiar world.

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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What a creative and super imaginative journey with a superior plot and bright, vivid characters. I listened to this book on audio so the jumps in time and place could be disorienting at times, but I did not even care. The writing was fluid enough that if I was momentarily confused, I quickly got back to where I was and just enjoyed the ride. Erin Morgenstern has exponential talent for creating such vivid images. I felt as if I walked into each tent myself. This story made me wish there was such thing as a magical Night Circus. I highly recommend this book to people who like to read. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but this is not a fantasy story for lovers of the fantasy genre. This book is the reason writers write. No one can call themselves a writer without having an imagination. Every writer, and reader, should appreciate this book for what it is, a good story.

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