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The Writer’s Tag – A Sort of Resume

I love tags and memes.  Have I mentioned that?  So when I came across Lana’s post, and saw that she tagged any reader who wanted to do it, I was immediately interested.

The tag covers all kinds of subjects, which is why it feels like a unique writer’s resume–but a fun resume.  🙂

What genres, styles, and topics do you write about?

Genres – Mostly Crossover!

Half the stories I write or plan to write are genre crossovers.  The story set in the tropics in the year 1781 looks at face value like a high-seas and island adventure with the necessary pirates.  But it’s actually a mystery, one with an island setting (and therefore called “Island Mystery” at the moment.  Aren’t I clever? 🙂 )  The semi-western story has the trappings of a typical pioneer story–but it’s actually a fantasy-of-manners set in the 1820s–30s west/southwest.  And with an emphasis on politics.  My British political novel looks like…well, a political novel–and it is, but it’s technically alternate history and social critique.  And my steampunk story looks like any number of genres, but is a solid combo of steampunk, social sci-fi, hard sci-fic, and social critique.

Now that I think about it, a lot of my stories could be listed under “social critique” as well.

The funny thing is, I didn’t plan on writing genre crossovers–I just thought, “Hey, what if X historical event happened differently?  And I’m annoyed by Y, so let’s make that a plot point as well.”  Or whatever.

The only problem is how to market these stories.  I read an article that recommended putting it like this: “It’s a (particular genre), but folks who like (other genre) might also enjoy it.”  Except that my crossovers thus far have been so solidly blended that to market one genre would ignore another key foundation of the story.  I’ll figure it out, hopefully before I publish anything.

Styles – It Varies

Really, this varies with the story setting and time period.  If the story is set in 1830s America, I try to match the general style of language in letters and diaries from the time.  If the story is set in the 1890s (such as my steampunk story), I try to match the style of novels written during the turn of the century.  I read a lot of period fiction written during the same decade of my story to get an idea of the style of the day.

However, the writing styles I aspire to generally are Dickens, Bronte, and Tolkien.

Topics – Rather Obscure

If any of you readers know of stories with these kinds of topics, feel free to say so!

Settings in the 1820s–30s

British, American, Irish, you name it–a lot of my stories are set in these decades. I think it’s my tendency to explore the ignored questions/aspects of history; compared to the more popular Regency, Victorian, and Wild West eras, the 1820s–30s are slightly obscure.  Which baffles me, because interesting things were happening socially and politically in both England and America!  On the other hand, I have a taste for social mechanisms and political complexities, so this could be a personal preference thing.  Speaking of…

Politics

I cannot keep politics out of my stories.  I’ve tried.  It keeps slipping in.  Of the 10 novels I’m planning/writing, only 3 don’t feature politics…and even then one of those three might make political statements in the subtext.

Tejanos (Mexican Texians)

This began after I watched the 2004 film The Alamo and re-read the American Girl Josefina stories.  Now, at least five stories feature Mexican characters!

Multitudinous Character Casts

Blame Dickens and Tolkien for this one.  I’m not afraid to cut characters who end up being superfluous (though they often reappear in a different story), but I definitely start with a large cast.

Couples who marry long before the story ends

This happens in nearly every story!  It’s just more interesting to see how the couple pursues their goals with a significant other.  Anyway, romance in my stories often contributes to the main plot–usually as a further exploration of a character’s values, goals, and motives–but at the same time isn’t the ultimate point.

As such, I’ve wondered whether to keep who-ends-up-with-whom a secret.  One the one hand, it’s almost pointless if the couple gets together before the end.  On the other, I do like to be careful about spoilers.  What do you readers think?


How long have you been writing?

Officially since I was 12 or 13; un-officially all my life.  I’ve been making up stories as long as I can remember, usually adventures with the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings characters.  One of my favorite stories to play was having these characters stumble into our world around the time the movies were released, and me and my other friends having to keep them hidden–otherwise, fans of the movies would freak out and mob them, or blackmail them, or try to turn them into celebrities.

When I was little, I did write and illustrate a six-book series (in the style of the American Girls books) starring me and my 100-Acre Wood friends.  These stories were published by School Scissors & Stapler, Inc., despite having no plot whatsoever, only vignettes that somehow connected in my six-year-old-mind.  🙂

Then at age 12, I got a idea about a some kids who stumble into another world (so original!) and journey across the mountains with grown-up comrades.  It seemed like the best idea ever, so I began to write it down, and never looked back.  Even though that story never panned out, it gave me the discipline and momentum to write more stories!


Why do you write?

Because I have stories in my imagination that I want to read someday!  I also love exploring my own thoughts and ideas and intriguing concepts through writing (one of many reasons why I cannot write a short story–simply not enough time to flesh out a concept!).

I also love creating and playing with characters.  They provide a good mirror of reality, and often help me see life in a new way.


When is the best time to write?

I grab any time available.  I prefer to write in the early morning (don’t laugh; I do prefer this even if my habits are night-owlish) and definitely prefer silence and solitude.  However, I’ve learned to tune out my surroundings–closing my eyes helps and helps me focus on my mental image–and stick earbuds in to block noise.  🙂


What parts of writing do you love, and what parts do you hate?

Love:

  • That flash of inspiration for a character idea/story idea I know is good
  • On a similar note, the thrill of a new idea
  • Ideas coming together, especially after a struggle to get them there
  • Creating and developing characters
  • Writing a scene I know is awesome!
  • Writing more than I thought I would during the allotted time
  • Getting other people interested in my ideas and getting great feedback
  • Exploring my own ideas, clarifying my thinking through writing, and inspiring myself by it!
  • Writing characters I absolutely love
  • Writing fun or fluffy scenes as a break from dark or dangerous plot threads

Hate:

  • Short stories.  Not enough to work with, people; come on, give me concepts to flesh out!
  • Having to write scenes that are boring, but necessary to the plot
  • Having to cut a plot or character I like (though I often re-use them in another story)
  • When the characters won’t talk to me and explain what they want to do in the story!
  • Non-writers assuming that (a) I’ll have a book finished fairly soon and (b) I’ll definitely get it published
  • Repeated questions about when the book will be finished and published
  • Consistently having to say “no, not finished yet” to the above questions
  • Knowing people are judging/confused about this
  • No, I’m not annoyed by that; why do you ask?
  • Having a whole day/hour/block of time to write and NO IDEAS
  • Writing slower than I expected to

How do you overcome writer’s block?

One of two ways: muscle through it, or take a break.

I  start with the first and often ask, “Okay, what is the problem?  Why is writing this character so hard/planning this segment so difficult?”  After a little thinking, I’m usually able to realize that I’m forcing the character into a box rather than letting him do his own thing, or that I don’t know the character well enough, or that there isn’t enough conflict in this part of the story, or that a plot thread doesn’t contribute to the point.  Identifying the problem shows me what to focus on instead, e.g. I need to get to know this character better, or to remove those ideas that don’t contribute.

If I’ve tried all that and remain stuck, I take a break.  I’ll get unstuck eventually.   🙂


Are you working on something at this moment?

Yes, the semi-western (with a working title of Gentle Fire).  I also jot ideas for other stories as they come!


What are your writing goals this year?

Well, I intended to finish a draft of Gentle Fire  by the end of the year…but the year is half over and I’ve barely started.  Not sure whether to keep that ambition and get as close as possible to the goal, or to drop it in favor of something more attainable.  Beyond that, I’m really not sure; new health problems have cropped up, and I need to manage the symptoms and work around difficult nights/days.  So I generally take it day by day, e.g. today, I’ll do a little character development and draft the rest of that scene, and then we’ll see.

Okay, I tag Julia and Bella, if they’re interested!

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T-Swift Book Tag!

Bella tagged me the other day for this really creative tag—one using titles of various Taylor Swift songs.  And I’m a sucker for blog tags, so this is going to be fun!

1. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

(Pick a book or series that you were pretty sure you were in love with, but then wanted to break up with)

This was a fantasy series, and a fantasy series written by a Christian.  So the stories wouldn’t have demonic magic and other fantasy elements I objected to, right?

Well…no, there weren’t any of those elements.  But the writing style was hard to read; there was so much description (repeat: so much description) in the prologue that I actually lost my mental image of the scene.  A form of sensory overload, I guess.  The writing style continued flowery and redundant through the rest of the story, and it read as an attempted mimicry of Tolkien’s simple grandeur.  (Spoiler alert: it failed.)  The writing was so bad in some parts, that I took a pencil and actually struck through phrases and rewrote them in the margins.  That soothed my tortured editor’s soul.

And out of the 15+ characters, I half-liked only one and truly liked only two—and one of those two characters was a really minor one.  I did enjoy this series reading it for the first time while the twists of the story were new.  But when I read it a second time, I could barely get through the first ten chapters.  Definitely never getting back together, and if I read this series again, it will be only to review it.

2. Red

(Pick a book with a RED cover)

REEED!  THE BLOOD OF ANGRY MEEEEEN!  BL–oh, wait.  Although that’s not too far off the mark…

I never thought I would like The Hunger Games series.  But though Suzanne Collins wrote some pretty dark and depressing twists, they serve a purpose in the story—they make a point about humanity.  Nobody decent ever wins the Games because in a gladiator style fight-to-the-death contest, nobody really can.  She’s brutally honest about how each Victor bought his or her freedom at a dear price, and were often haunted the rest of their lives by what happened during their fight in each Hunger Games.  She did not create a world that a young, feisty teen heroine could escape with nary a scratch, physical or moral.  If anything, her characters are struggling to survive in a world that makes beasts of them all—and fighting for survival more than anything else.

But the story isn’t nonstop darkness either.  The exception to all the points above is Peeta Mellark.  Peeta chooses not stoop to the level of the shallow Capitol citizens or the Tributes and Victors so desperate for survival.  And his actions show the other characters that they can do the right thing regardless of circumstances, that they can choose another path.  Most of them don’t, but Peeta’s example is still there, as a silent contrast to the mistakes everyone else makes.

3. The Best Day

(Pick a book that makes you feel nostalgic)

Long before The Lord of the Rings hit the bookshelves, Professor Tolkien made up a wondrous world for his children: the world of the North Pole, home of Father Christmas.  Letters were left by the fireplace on Christmas Eve, written in shaky old handwriting, that related the anecdotes of Father Christmas, his assistant the North Polar Bear, the Red and Green Elves, and various other characters.

I love this book because of those funny anecdotes, Tolkien’s style of writing, and the pictures that accompany the letters.  I read this book every Christmas, and I often read parts of it to my brothers as well—they laugh heartily at some of the rhymes at the end!

4. Love Story

(Pick a book with forbidden love)

Can I skip this one?  Stories built around romance aren’t my thing, and forbidden romance strikes me as awfully melodramatic.  I would rather read about a couple who marries early in the story and learns to love each other and put up with each other on a daily basis (and not as a comedy either.)

Which is why I’m writing such a story.  🙂

5. I Knew You Were Trouble

(Pick a book with a bad character you couldn’t help but love)

Heh.  Bad behavior in fictional characters instantly severs my respect.  (Same thing happens with real people.)  But one character I’m fascinated by (though certainly don’t love) is Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff is rotten to the core, but intelligent, cunning, forceful, and charismatic enough to get away with it.  He’s often described as “gipsy” brown, but nobody really knows his ethnicity.  Which adds to the mystery of who he is—and on that note, nobody knows who his parents were.  (People have speculated that Heathcliff is Mr. Earnshaw’s illegitimate son, but given the way the Emily Bronte portrayed Heathclif’s character and influence, I think she purposefully kept his parentage a mystery for the sake of mystery.  Anyway, if Heathcliff was Mr. Earnshaw’s son, even illegitimately, that revelation could have been a game-changer for the plot—for instance, the romance would become near-incest.  The Brontes were messed up, but not that messed up.)

So Heathcliff is intriguing because of the mysteries surrounding him and because of the forcefulness of his character and cunning.  Being passionately in love does not dull this man’s wits; rather, it sharpens them.  Unfortunately for the rest of the characters.  Ladies, do you really want to crush on a guy who nearly bashed in the head of a five-year-old as revenge on the kid’s father?  You might want to change the caption of your Pinterest pins from “Heathcliff my Love” to “get this guy a restraining order, pronto.”  Although odds are, he would ignore that piece of paper.  Heathcliff is a fascinating character, but a terrifying one.  It’s almost like watching a tornado—you want to get out of there, yet you can’t look away.

6. Innocent

(Pick a book that someone ruined the ending for)

Actually, I tend to spoil the books myself.  If I’m not sure a book will be worth my time, I look up reviews before buying it (therefore running into multiple spoilers).  Or if I don’t really care about the story, but kinda want to know what happens, I’ll skip ahead and read a bit.  (So naughty.)

A book that fell into the first category, was The Ale Boy’s Feast.

That cover art, though…

I loved the first book in the series, skipped the second because I disagreed with some plot elements, liked the third book, but wasn’t sure this last would be worth my time.  So I tracked down enough reviews to get a basic idea of what happens .  I finally decided to take the risk—and boy, was it worth it!  And the story still revealed twists that I hadn’t anticipated.

A book in the second category (don’t care enough to finish; curious enough to peek ahead) was Two Crosses.  I really didn’t care about the characters but vaguely wanted to know what happened.  So I skipped ahead a bit to read.  And got freaked out by one of the story twists, and then lost interest and never finished the book.

7. Everything Has Changed

(Pick a character from a book who goes through extensive character development)

You knew this was coming–Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities

Sydney first appears in such a slovenly state that he looks almost debauched.  Second impressions don’t change this image; he’s drunk, rude, and apathetic about his work and his life.  Or rather, he seems to be apathetic.  Early on, Dickens shows us flashes of remorse, humanity, and lost hope that keeps readers from writing Sydney off as a hopeless case.  (And unlike Heathcliff, there is nothing charismatic about him either.)  Through hints dropped through the story, we learn that Sydney was once a bright young student, but lost hope or lost purpose, and came to hate himself, to drink because of it, and to despise himself further.

But through Charles Darnay’s silent example, and Lucie Manett’s compassion and kindness, Sydney begins to see himself in a newer light: to see himself for what he is, but also to see what he could be.  Neither Charles nor Lucie writes him off as hopeless; they treat him as a normal human being while not glossing over his faults either; this creates a very clear mirror for Sydney to appraise himself.  Lucie’s compassion and kindness touch him in particular; and he begins to hope again.

He makes little efforts never to appear drunk before the Darnay family, but he does not actually change his habits and behavior until near the end of the story.  When conflict is at its hardest for the Darnays and their friends, Sydney sets in motion a selfless plot, sticks to it like steel, and remembers Scripture for the first time in years while wandering the streets of Paris.  I really can’t describe his transformation with justice; read the book yourself.

8. You Belong With Me

(Pick your most anticipated book release)

My own novels.  🙂

Hoho, sorry, couldn’t resist.  Only that won’t be for another 17 years.

One book I anticipated before its release was Rachel Starr Thomson’s Coming Day, the final book in her Seventh World Trilogy.

I’ll probably always have nostalgic and grateful feelings for this series because I read it while writing my first trilogy.  Reading these books and keeping up with Rachel’s blog gave 17-year-old novice writer me the encouragement to keep plugging away.

9. Forever and Always

(Pick your favorite book couple)

I have to say Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre.  What I like about this pairing is that they fall in love, not because of their looks (she was plain, he was “ugly” according to the male beauty standards of the day), but because of their intelligence, and because of their personalities.  Falling in love also happens overtime and in very mundane ways.  And they must go through trials before they can be together.  While these difficulties are indeed external, they reflect the important need for internal change.  Jane has to fix her priorities (she confesses that she’d made an idol of Rochester), and Rochester must be humbled before they can be together.

I complained about melodramatic forbidden love earlier, even though, to a degree, the romance in Jane Eyre is exactly that.  But Bronte got away with it because she made me care about both characters, and because Jane’s and Rochester’s actions grow organically, out of the circumstances and personalities already established.

BONUS QUESTIONS! (Added by Bella)

10. Never Grow Up

(A book you read when you’re feeling sad/emotional)

This book is hilarious, guys.  A series of personal anecdotes by the authors (cousins, who were both home schooled) shows just how funny mishaps, accidents, and family quirks can be if you look at them with the right attitude.  The authors describe their crazy, fun, hectic life with good humor and a wise outlook on life.  When I first read this book, I laughed out loud at every other paragraph!

11. Begin Again

(A book you’ve read multiple times but always go back to it because it’s that good)

The Chronicles of Narnia, and…

The Lord of the Rings!  I grew up with these books, and I’ve been reading them for 17 years (in the case of the Narnia books) and 13 years (in the case of LotR).  And every time I reread them, I notice something new, either about the characters, the story themes, the writing style, the symbolism, or…I could go on, but I’d like to keep these descriptions short.  🙂

12. Starlight

(A book you hid in bed with/fell asleep reading)

This one, but only because I just wanted to finish and be done with it.  No offense to the author, but 3/4 of the way through, I still didn’t understand what the point was.

13. I Know Places

(The number one book you would take on a long trip away from home)

Going to borrow one of Bella’s answers and say The Hobbit.  Maybe because journeying is a prime theme of the book?  Or maybe because, like Bilbo, I would rather be home than abroad.  Unless the destination was San Antonio, Texas, in which case, I’m off like a shot from an 18-pounder.

Look at this gorgeous edition my grandmother bought me!

14. Change

(A book you’ve never read but want and plan to)

I want to read this one only because it looks like an interesting social critique/commentary, as well as a remark on human nature.

I also want to read Watership Down someday; Julia recommended it, and it’s her favorite book.  (I would showcase a picture, but our copy seems to have disappeared.)

BONUS QUESTIONS 2!  (Added by Christine)

15. Long Live

(A modern book you think should be a classic or a classic that should be more widely read today)

First category:

Part adventure and part mystery, this story is about four children recruited as secret agents by kindly Mr. Benedict.  He suspects that the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened is hiding a dreadful secret, and since it is an academy for children, child agents are the only ones who have a chance.  That, and children are so easily overlooked by adults that his team should be able to find critical information before it’s too late.

The mystery grows darker and deeper as the story goes on–and though the book was written for children, and children are the heroes, adults will find this story very deep and thought-provoking.  Particularly how the students and staff on the island are manipulated by very cunning mind control.  When I first read this story, I couldn’t put it down, and I think it deserves to become a classic.

Second category (classic that should be more widely read):

This is Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.  (You can’t tell by cover; this edition is from 1944.)  It’s one of the most confounding mysteries I’ve ever read, with false clues and red herrings galore.  The whole reason the mystery of the stolen diamond arose is pretty mundane—but the red herrings, and misleading clues are what make it so fascinating.  Also the fact that each part of the story has a different narrator, and, just as in real life, you kinda have to sift motives and figure out just how colored everyone’s perspective is.  And even the most biased narrations reveal new story layers and clues that carry over into the next bit.

I think this one should be more widely read because of the unique narrative style and the twists and turns the mystery takes.

16. Mean

(A book you have a personal vendetta against for whatever reason)

Hoo boy.  I actually have a long list of books that annoy/anger me.  But the top series for this category would be the Elsie Dinsmore books (the Life of Faith reboots, that is; I’ve never read the originals).

Elsie annoys me because she’s too perfect at age eight for me to relate to.  I get that the writers are trying to set an example, but come on.  That amount of perfection in an eight-year-old is bound to make us hate her.  Because unlike Elsie, the rest of us have a sin nature.

Okay, I’m being snarky.  But Elsie never really messes up or makes serious mistakes that she has to learn from—her struggles are usually inflicted upon her by the other characters.  And she’s so spiritually mature at age eight that there’s no room for growth or improvement.  That, I think, is the fatal flaw of the series.  In real life, sanctification and growing more like Christ is a process, learned through studying the Bible, observing others, making mistakes, going through trials, and so on.  Stories intended to enlighten and encourage should reflect that, should show that growth process rather than portray near-perfection at the start.  And yes, there’s a place for setting an example via a noble character (Frodo Baggins from LotR is one of my favorite characters of all time), but here on this earth, nobody is going to attain perfection.  And I think stories should reflect that, but should also show characters striving to be more like Christ.

17.  Safe & Sound

(A “comfort book”)

Definitely the American Girl Josefina series!  I love Josefina’s character: sweet, but determined; shy, but with a spine of steel and high hopes.  She has such close, loving relationships with her sisters and her father, and the rancho where they live is a setting both unique and familiar–it’s pretty much a farm, just set in the Spanish West world.  I love the descriptions of weaving blankets, celebrating Christmas, trading in Santa Fe, the New Mexico summers and fandangos.

I had so much fun with this tag!  Thanks to Bella for tagging me!

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