86-Ezra

Random, Rambly, Writing Thoughts

I’m sorry for my absence, guys.  I got sick out of the blue, and recovery has been kinda slow.  And I considered trying to finish Part 2 of “A Few Notes About Christine” during the down time, but had no brain cells for it, and ended up screen capping Daniel Deronda and Season 1 of Mercy Street instead.

Anyway, I came across this post by Hayden Wand and thought it would be fun to borrow the concept.  Because I too have noticed elements that repeatedly surface in my own stories:

Recurring Concepts

Alternate History

This pops up again and again, from my British political novel to my steampunk story Empty Clockwork.  I think it’s the natural result of the writer’s question “what if?” It’s also the result of an overactive imagination that also doesn’t want to be reined in by details.

Fighting Fears

I realized this only recently: the internal conflict is often against fear of one kind of another.  I think this idea sneaks into my stories because it’s a flaw I’ve struggled with all my life.  The “what if?” question is great for creativity, but it’s not helpful anywhere else.  🙂

Adult Fears

Forget Ye Olde Villain with his doomsday weapon; how about incompetent government officials?  Mob mentality in society and politics?  Fearing you made the wrong decision for your loved ones?  Or being afraid you can’t provide for your kids?  Losing respect for someone you once admired?  Unable to use your gifts and talents, either through physical limitation or societal apathy?  The list goes on.

Marriages During the Story

I guess I just want to see my fictional OTP weather it together as a married couple.  It’s an interesting dynamic–on the one hand, you have a companion through the conflict; on the other, differences of opinion on how to handle the conflict can cause further conflict.  That, and the time span of my stories is often a decade or more.  I don’t have the heart to keep lovebirds apart that long (though some of them do have to wait longer than they want!).

Recurring Settings/Topics

The 1820s–30s Time Period (usually in England)

I’ve mentioned this before, but it really is funny that this era pops up so frequently in my stories!  It’s a relatively overlooked period; the only books I can think of set in that era are Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Dickens’ Little Dorrit.  (Some of Dickens’ other works start in the 1820s, but the main action moves to a later decade.)  Writing about the 20s–30s for me is like researching and exploring undiscovered territory.  And that’s just pure fun!

Politics

I can’t keep politics out of a story.  I’ve tried.  The most obvious example is the British political novel set in the (you guessed it) 1820s–30s– the entire backdrop is the debate over the Great Reform Bill and other national/international issues (like the July Revolution).  I can sense a frenzied market growing for this stuff already.  🙂

My western story Gentle Fire  heavily features frontier politics–I’ve drawn lots of inspiration from the Mexican Empire, the structure of north Texas and New Mexican ranchos and towns, and Anglo settler towns and counties.

And politics wander in and out of various others stories, or at least are implied to be in the background/part of the backdrop.  Even in one story where politics is not the driving force, my own opinions can be discerned if you read between the lines.

Sibling Relationships

Sometimes this is a driving point of the story; other times, it’s more in the background, but I can think of only two stories that don’t have sibling relationships–Empty Clockwork is one, and the other is a mystery set on a south seas island during the late 1700s.

Recurring Characters/Traits

Lower Ranks of the English Aristocracy

I have yet to write about a duke.  Not that there’s anything wrong with dukes, but since the title of duke is the highest in the English peerage, Lord X would be too busy with society and politics to do anything my plot requires.  The highest rank I’ve written about is the rank of earl; and I’m thinking of demoting that family anyway, because, again, the story needs them to live somewhere other than London and not to be tied up with society and national politics for most of the story.  (Local politics, on the other hand…)

Lord Fredericks (from my steampunk story), for example, is a viscount.  Lord Wetherell, from my literary novel, is a baron (the lowest rank), and various other titled characters usually don’t stray above the rank of viscount, unless they are minor characters.

Hero Lawyers

All the lawyers I’ve written about thus far have been the good guys.  No stereotypical corruption or dishonesty or hunting for ridiculous loopholes…in fact, most of my lawyer characters seek to reform this kind of corruption in their trade.  (I’m probably biased here, because my dad is a lawyer, and he’s as honest in his job as readers expect the hardworking everyman to be.)

Sarcastic Characters

From the outspoken sassmaster to the deadpan snarker, at least one character in each story has a tendency for quick and dry wit.  Usually more than one!

Outgoing/Energetic/Outspoken Characters

I’m as introverted as the next writer, but I’ve written a fair share of extroverts.  Who are allowed to be extroverts, mind, and don’t annoy the stew out of the quieter, therefore obviously more intelligent, characters (sarcasm!).  Actually, I have a habit of pairing introverted/extroverted characters as friends, siblings, or couples–this allows funny results and a nice way for the different personalities to balance each other out.

A subset of my extroverted characters is “extroverted bookish”–extroverts who like to socialize, sure, but also like to read and aren’t just bouncing off the walls the whole time.  🙂  Extroverts are great people, guys.  Be nicer to them in your stories.

Early Bird/Night Owl Couples

I do this on purpose to be funny.  *evil laugh*  But it’s a great way to get natural humor and natural conflict in a romantic relationship.  There are exceptions; both Mary and Wilson from Gentle Fire are early birds, but generally, if one half of a relationship is a night owl, the other half is the opposite!

Ages 25 & Up

Maybe it’s because the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know?–but my protagonists often end up in the late 20s and early 30s age range.  Any character younger than this is likely to be inexperienced and still figuring out his or her life goals.  In Empty Clockwork, Lennox is 23 years old and fits this bill perfectly.  Susan is a slight exception; at age 17, she wants to use her money to support something worthy before she marries, but she is still looking for another purpose in life.  Lord Fredericks, however, is 31; Henry is 36, and Ye Unnamed Character is in his mid-to-late 40s.

Durant from Gentle Fire is 22 when the story starts, and through mature for his age, he is inexperienced.  But he’s in his mid-30s when the story ends (maybe closer to 40; it just depends on the story’s time span).  Mary is 23 at the beginning of the story and also close to 40 when it ends, and Barros is in his early 40s when he enters the story and probably in his early 50s when it ends.

Inspired By…

Sometimes I watch a movie or read a book, and know that I have to write a character inspired by Sydney Carton.  Or Daniel Deronda.  Or Jarrod Barkley.  Or that inspiration comes from an actor’s performance or portrayal.  For instance, after I watched The Phantom of the Opera: The 25th Anniversary Concert, I knew it was a matter of time before I wrote a character inspired by Hadley Fraser’s portrayal of Raoul.  Same for Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Raoul in the 2004 film, a performance that has actually inspired two characters.

Other inspiring characters/portrayals:

Samuel Diggs from Mercy Street

Mr. Green from Mercy Street

Milo Thatch from Atlantis: the Lost Empire

Billy Bob Thorton’s portrayal of Crockett from the 2004 film The Alamo

John Blake from The Dark Knight Rises

In other news…

Now, on a totally different topic, I’m thinking of making some changes to my blog.  The color scheme, for instance; I may go for a blue scheme rather than a red one.  Blue can symbolize depth and imagination, and that’s definitely an aesthetic I want .  And on that note–I might change the blog title.  The url will stay the same, but “Overflowing Mind & Pen” is a mouthful, and doesn’t really describe my content as much as the fact that, I think too much.  Instead, I like the title “Analytical Imagination”–which describes both content and the fact that I think too much.  🙂  Your thoughts?

86-Ezra

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!

86-Ezra

Life Lately: Reading, Reality, & Nostalgia

My blog is once again a sad, quiet place inhabited by cyber-tumbleweeds. Ideas for posts hit me in a abundance, but whenever I put fingers to keyboard, my brain acts like it doesn’t know English.  Or good paragraph structure.  Or how to log in to my dashboard.

When the grammar/literature side of my brain thus malfunctions, I turn to artwork.  Yesterday, I created a watercolor work-in-progress post, taking snapshots of my work space and of each step of the painting process.  (And scribbled a page of hieroglyphics that I would later translate into coherent explanations.)  But at the last minute, the watercolors bled into each other and caked up, ruining the painting.

Moral of the story: “Quit while you’re not ahead.”  Actually, maybe it’s “Don’t paint and post simultaneously.”  Maybe even “In order to further artistic skill and understanding, practice and use your selected medium more frequently than once in the duration of the moon’s rotation, and the chances of such utter and abysmal failure will lessen drastically.”

Or most likely: “Wait for the paint to dry completely before you add another layer.”  🙂

I have a couple of other posts drafted.  One is about Christine Daae and the deeper layers of her character in the musical.  Another is a post about Movie-Raoul and how Patrick Wilson was underused and underappreciated.  I’ll get them up as soon as I edit and tidy the concepts, sentence fragments, unconnected paragraphs, and random notes like “something about what she might have been feeling <insert picture later>.  <too sarcastic; don’t be biting>  <forgot what I wanted to say here, argh>.”

What I have been doing (instead of blogging) is reading, mainly non-fiction about my historical interests.  One of my favorite time periods is the British political landscape of the 1820s—30s.  This period is called the “Romantic Era,” because of the influence of Romanticism in art, literature, fashion, society—and politics.  I’d go so far as to say the 20s–30s politics laid the foundations for the politics and reforms of the Victorian Era.  Pretty significant, right?  As such, it annoys me when people either ignore the period or lump it in with the Regency or Victorian Eras.  No, guys.  The 1820s—30s was its own period, especially politically.

Okay, rant over.  For my birthday, I received Norman Gash’s Aristocracy and People; Britain, 1815-1865.  A nice, hardback copy to boot.

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Gash’s research is thorough and balanced; he presents all the arguments in a conflict, notes both the successes and mistakes of everyone involved, admits when information is insufficient or when records conflict, and supports his conclusions with a lot of facts.  He also includes an impressive bibliography; I accidentally annoyed my family the night of the party by browsing the bibliography before opening the rest of my presents.  Gash did not disappoint; the bibliography of Aristocracy and People was several pages.

On a different note, though still historical, I changed my desktop background.  If you recall from this post, the background was the Alamo compound under attack.  Here’s my new desktop:

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Yeah, this obsession is not ending anytime soon.  🙂  I recently ordered Three Roads to the Alamo by William C. Davis, and it arrived a couple of days ago.  This book is not about the battle for the Alamo or the politics of Texas independence, but rather about the lives of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis.  Davis too includes an impressive bibliography, with the list of primary sources much longer than the list of secondary sources.  Good show.  And I’ve started decorating the pages with Post-Its.  Which I tend to do with my non-fiction resources.

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I still need to get my hands on resources discussing the battle and the politics of the conflict, but Three Roads to the Alamo is a good place to start researching.

On yet another historical note, I started re-reading the American Girl books.  “Reliving my single digits,” as Mom says.  I forgot how good those books are–not in-depth by any means, but since they were written for 5 to 10-year-olds, they teach the basics of a time period and provide a starting point for more research.

Plus, they’re good stories.  Yes, rather simplistic sometimes, but I was struck by how reasonable the parents (usually) are in each set of books.  Josefina’s Papa, for example, is a reasonable authority figure: he is respected as the patron of the rancho, yet he listens to his children when they have something to say and often does little things to please and cheer them.  Felicity’s parents are also reasonable.  Though she often disagrees with them about what is proper, it’s clear that Mrs. Merriman works hard to keep the household running and to be a wife, mother, hostess, and neighbor.  A doormat of the times, she is not.  And Felicity herself matures through the series, becoming more patient and sacrificial rather than thinking of her own wishes.

It’s sad that the company now owning American Girl has stripped away much of the historical emphasis and resources.  In the ’90s, along with the dolls and their outfits, the company offered paper dolls as well with snippets of information about the historical fashions and customs.  There was also a line of cookbooks and craft books from each girl’s time period.  And companion books titled Welcome to [Girl]’s World, providing even more information about the time period than the “Peek into the Past” sections of the books.

Now most of those resources are gone.  Yes, you can still buy the girls’ stories and find the cook/craft books secondhand online.  But the whole foundation of the American Girl series has been chipped down to almost a side line.  In the recent catalogues, the first pages contain the Girl of the Year and Truly Me dolls, as well as doll salon sets, doll school rooms, and doll snack carts, all with hundreds of accessories and with sound effects built into the hair dryers and popcorn makers (I’m not making that up.)  The historical characters come now with fewer historical outfits and period-appropriate accessories (such as Samantha’s sampler and Addy’s old-fashioned ice cream maker and Kirsten’s spoon bag).  The dolls themselves have been recreated with thinner bodies and faces.

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See?  My doll from the ’90s (on the left) has a wider face and more “chipmunk cheeks”–she looks more like a child, a nine-year-old than the other doll.

Samantha will always be my baby, and I looked like Molly as a kid (round glasses and all, though I have brown eyes instead of grey)–but Josefina is my favorite.  She’s sweet and caring–she loves her family dearly–yet she has a spine of steel and she’s excitable on occasion.  And she has a child’s hope and interest in the world.  In Josefina Saves the Day, it’s adorable that she wants to buy a little toy farm, partly because it looks fun but partly because it reminds her friend Patrick of his home.

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It’s also cute that in this picture, she wears her hair in two braids instead of one!

As I re-read the Josefina books, I became enthralled with 1820s–30s Mexican culture.  So I ordered Welcome to Josefina’s World, which should provide a starting point for further research, especially if it has a good bibliography.

So that’s what I’ve been up to (and what I’ve been fangirling over), and hopefully, I’ll have slightly more coherent posts later in the week.  🙂

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