We're No Longer Flying

29 November 2012

I don't often join in with Katie's monthly Snippets of Story link-up (more's the pity), but I chose to do so this month as I have a rather ample supply of pieces from my Rifles in the South Field NaNo endeavor that I wanted to share. Keep in mind that these are not yet edited and being that they all come from my first draft, are in great danger of being deleted or drastically altered between now and that misty day in the distance when I choose to publish the book as a whole (some stand a better chance of this than others). With that, I give you my

snippets of november

“I sometimes wish men were born without tongues in their heads.”
Rifles in the South Field

The wicked copper flames danced perpetually on the hearth — they were not limited by human weaknesses — and they mocked her with every prancing step.
Rifles in the South Field

“Yes, the other ladies are beginning to eat — you had better join them.” He kissed her gloved hand, and she tried not to cringe at his touch. “Would you be so kind as to save a dance for me, Miss Dixon?” He did not wait for an answer; as soon as the words left his tongue, he melted back into the crowd of guests.
Rifles in the South Field

The scenery no longer swirled so viciously, but it still didn’t hold its own quite as it ought to. It remained an odd, wavering balance between daydream and reality, shimmering and bobbing before her eyes.
Rifles in the South Field 

There was much to be said for a father who went off to slay the enemy; it put Kenneth in the mind of the knights from the stories his nurse told him. They were always defeating great fire-breathing dragons and rescuing beautiful princesses (who, it should be mentioned, did a great deal of fainting and weeping both before and after they were properly retrieved). Kenneth had little interest in the fair maidens, but his soul thrilled at the idea of slaying dragons of his own someday. The other chaps had fathers who were doctors and lawyers, and that was all well and good, but it didn’t fetch the same sort of pride as having a father who was a soldier. A major. Kenneth rolled the word around on his tongue whenever he spoke it; it sounded so deliciously grown-up.
Rifles in the South Field

The thought stung her heart worse than alcohol poured over a fresh wound.
Rifles in the South Field

“Daughter, even you are old enough to know that men are formed by God and not society’s whims.”
Rifles in the South Field

He was already learning that reality has an unhealthy appetite for dispelling all preconceived notions.
Rifles in the South Field

She glared at him, her eyes turned to burning embers. “You are a miserable excuse for a man.”
To her surprise, his expression did not change. “That dagger’s been used on me all my life, ma’am: don’t be surprised if I no longer feel the sting of it.”
Rifles in the South Field

The young man remembered well the many nights when the ship was racked with storms, when thunder had sounded loud enough to shake Heaven itself and lightning had torn through the sky like shears slicing through satin. He was grateful for the calm on this leisurely afternoon, but he did not trust it to last long. A man can no longer stand confidently on firm ground after he has seen its cracks.
Rifles in the South Field 

“You needn’t grip me that hard; we’re no longer flying.” 
Rifles in the South Field

Guest Post: What a Character Needs

26 November 2012

Hello, all!  My name is Hope Ellison, the main character of the work-in-progress Cry of Hope.  On behalf of my matron who guides my life (her name is Emily, by the way), I am taking over this guest post on Elizabeth’s lovely blog.  Titled bluntly and simply What a Character Needs, it is not at all surprising that I should be the one to give you the list on what you must do in order to nurture a healthy, obedient character.  So without all the opening lines that speakers use when going into a long lecture, I shall go straight on to giving you my advice on this topic . . . and I hope fellow characters will appreciate my efforts to tell aspiring authors and real authors what we need.

Item 1

Do you truly expect we will follow your will all of the time?  Being forced to do things we do not wish to do, being forced to be something we are not: that is what causes us to take our lives into our own hands at times and rebel drastically.  If you give us a gentle amount of freedom at all times, being willing to change something if we choose not to go the way you say, or excepting with open arms the fact we may not be as you try to make us be.  This is giving us freedom; and we all need it dreadfully. 

Item 2
Allowed Fun

Lemonade without sugar is sour; and so is a life without some fun.  Please, dear friends, don’t remove all of our fun.  Constantly plaguing us with disease, heartache, famine . . .  while I suppose this may be necessary, why must you allow all lemons and no sugar?  Consider adding in some playtime to orphans, joking to cabin boys, parties to maids, or quilting bees to widows.  It really takes a load off our shoulders, let me tell you.  If this so damages your story plot, you might use it by way of some . . .

Item 3
Extracurricular Activities

Life gets tedious seeing the same things day by day, doing nothing novel and new.  This wears down our spirits, and if the grind goes on too long, I must warn, we may attempt to overthrow you.  Therefore, why not allow us some extracurricular activities?  A blog post such as this would let us socialize with people of your society, throwing us into another world would bring out our creative side.  Anything out of the ordinary would do! 

Item 4
Tender Loving Care

This one should be obvious to you.  Every person in your world need it.  It’s a well-known fact.  So why not take the techniques in your world and use those wholesome treatments on us?  

How, you ask, do you treat a character with tender loving care?  That is what this list is for, my friends.  Follow it with all your heart, do not stoop to the Cruel Author’s ways, and you may rest assured you are treating us with tender loving care.

. . .

Emily is a homeschool student living in Tennessee, who has a patriotic spirit and a heart for her Lord.  Her imaginative mind is constantly on the go, and she lives out that imagination through reading, writing, and a dabble of photography.  Her loves include Narnia, old-fashioned things, Dollywood, family and friends, being happy, her characters, and finding kindred spirits.  You can read more about her and her work-in-progress over at her blog, A Thousand Words, located in a wee little valley amidst Writerly Hill (you reach it by turning left at the end of Literary Lane).

Guest Post: An Accomplishment

24 November 2012

My name is J. Grace Pennington.  And I am an author.

Yesterday, I published my second novel, a Western mystery called Never.  The exhilaration of being published a second time is even stronger than the first.  Holding two books in your hands is much more impressive than holding only one.  Telling people “I’m an author” somehow feels more true when you have multiple books.

I have more people excited about this book’s release than my first.  There were more people anticipating it--some of them people I didn’t even personally know!  There’s been a little more buzz about it.  A little more talk around the internet.

Now, with Firmament: Radialloy and Never both sitting beside me on the bed, I have a proud feeling of accomplishment.  My books.  They’re real.  I worked hard for them.  People are enjoying them, raving about them, even.  People who haven’t read them are interested in reading them, or at least learning more.  The name “J. Grace Pennington” is starting to mean something in certain circles.  It’s small, but it's new. And it's exciting.

I think back over the hard months of emotional hardships and hard work and worry and planning and learning, and I’m proud of my accomplishment.

As the feelings sink into my heart and lend themselves to words in my mind, one word in particular slaps me in the face.


I take mental inventory of the words and phrases I used to describe this victory to myself.  My books.  I worked hard.  People are talking about me.  I pressed through hardship and got it done.  I published these books.  My accomplishment.


Such is the pitfall of the artist.

What happened to never boasting except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?

For every artist, one of the greatest temptations is to drift into seeing our work as an expression of ourselves.  Who we are, what we’ve done, what we want.  You can start out with the best intentions, and still find that the feeding of your ego by admirers and accomplishments chipping away at any humility you may have possessed.  We pour so much of ourselves into our work, we give our time, our heart, our soul, we deserve some praise, some recognition, some recompense.


Myself.  My time.  My heart.  My soul.

Somewhere in the process, we forget that we are not our own, that we were bought with a price.  That our time, hearts, and souls, belong to Someone Else.  That despite all we might like to think, it isn’t our accomplishment.  Because we aren’t here to glorify ourselves, are we?

And yet no matter how many times we learn this, it’s so easy to slip back into ego, and pride, and self-serving thoughts and behavior.  It’s not a battle that’s fought once.  I had to fight it with my first book, and I’m fighting it again now, and I’m sure I’ll have to fight it with my third book, and my fourth, and my fifth, and as many as He allows me to publish.  It’s a lifelong battle.

But it’s a battle that we can win.  Because we aren’t alone in the fight.

And the reward -- the “well done, good and faithful servant” that we all want to hear -- is worth it.

My name is J. Grace Pennington.

And I am a servant of the King.

. . .

J. Grace Pennington is a young author living with her family of eleven in the Texas Hill Country.  When not writing, she likes to play with her siblings, bake her world-famous chocolate-chip cookies, and play film soundtracks and hymns on her various instruments.  She desires that her writing and her life would give glory to her King and Creator at all times.

Guest Post: Today You Are You

21 November 2012

Hello, fair readers of Literary Lane!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to--oops, sorry.  Got carried away there.  My name is actually Amy Dashwood, and I'm from Yet Another Period Drama Blog.  Elizabeth very kindly invited me to guest post here while she's NaNo-ing this month, and I was happy to comply!

I'm a writer, and I know many of you are too.  I've been writing for almost as long as I can remember.  In the early years of my scribbling, the stories I hand-wrote on computer paper and stapled together all had at least one thing in common.  And that was, to put it bluntly, plagiarism.

I didn't call it plagiarism, of course.  I called it Getting Ideas from Books I Liked.  One of my masterpieces was about a girl during the Great Depression who helped out at soup kitchens and whose family took in boarders.  I was an avid reader of all the American Girl books, you see.  Copying someone else's idea for a story didn't seem wrong at all (copyright laws were as yet unknown to my seven-year-old self).  After all, I loved the books I was borrowing from and wanted to write other ones just like them.

Of course as I got older I discovered that what I had been doing was called plagiarism, and was frowned upon in most societies (something akin to cannibalism, you know).  So I hastily abandoned any attempts to write books just like the ones I enjoyed reading.  And all of a sudden--can't think how this came about--I found myself severely lacking in ideas.

Over the next several years I wrote a little here and there, mostly in the form of short stories and Grand Ideas for novels that never went past the first couple of chapters.  At fourteen I got back into the writing groove with nonfiction, but coming up with plots all on my own still seemed elusive and unreachable.  When I would play pretend games with my younger sisters, I generally relied on them to come up with the storyline.  They had good imaginations, I reasoned.  I did not.  All was well and good.

Then came NaNoWriMo 2011, and all of a sudden I was swept into a whirlwind of writing.  And lo and behold, I discovered I did have ideas lurking deep down.  To use a severely overused turn of phrase, it was as if a whole new world had been opened to me.  I discovered a network of fellow writers in the blogging world, other girls who loved words and the magic they make when transferred to paper.

I feel as if my writing life can be divided into two distinct segments, polar opposites from each other: Before NaNo and After NaNo.  Before NaNo, I was struggling along by myself, coming up with vague ideas that were, to be frank, no good. After NaNo, I found myself in a community of fellow scribblers, reading blogs written by kindred spirits and learning more from them every day.

Happy ending, yes?


That's when a new problem began.  Because in reading all these wonderfullissimus writing blogs, I struck a snag in my own writing again.  It wasn't quite plagiarism, but it was something rather similar (no, not cannibalism.  Let's not be SILLY!).  Reading the stories and snippets of girls I looked up to (Jenny, Rachel, Abigail, Jessica, just to name a few) was making me dissatisfied with what I wrote and yearn to write just like them.

So I tried that for a while.  Oh, no, I didn't copy anyone else's ideas.  I knew better than to do that.  But there's no law against aping someone else's style, is there?  There's nothing wrong with trying to sound just like another writer, especially if she's a really good one, right?

Technically... no.  But it's about the most unhealthy thing you can do as a writer, and it didn't take me long to realize that.

At the risk of sounding like a shampoo advertisement, writing fiction is something very simple: it's about telling the story you have in you.  It's about expressing yourself through words, however cheesy that may seem.  It's about putting words together in the way that only you can do, because no two people can truly write alike (unless one of them is literally copying everything put down by the other, a thing we already established as a no-no).  Each and every writer in this world has a unique voice, and each and every writer's responsibility is to write with that voice.

"But I don't know what my voice is!" you might wail.  "How am I supposed to write the way I'm meant to write if I don't know WHAT to write?"

You know what?  I can't answer that.  Because every writer is different.  Me, I'm not meant to write thrilling, epic adventure.  I just can't do it.  It sounds silly and forced when I try.  My sister, on the other hand, revels in swashbuckling bandits and galloping horses.  Nor am I meant to write serious romance (at least not yet).  A little light sentiment, yes, but a tragic love story?  Not for me.

And I realized all that just through writing.  Trying out different story ideas (many of which have never and will never come to light... heh, heh), scribbling down any plot thoughts that came into my head, writing random snippets of dialogue unconnected with anything, outlining family trees for my characters and deciding whom to kill and whom to keep.  (or is it who to kill and who to keep?  I can never remember...)

I found my niche in the simplest of stories, the kind about everyday people doing everyday things, generally with a dash of the ridiculous thrown in (because a book that doesn't make me laugh at least once will have a hard time becoming a favorite).  Is that all I'll ever write?  Probably not.  Writing is about expanding your horizons, after all, and using words to do things you'd never have the courage to try in real life.  But ultimately, writing is about doing all that in your own words.    

Today you are You, that is truer than true,
There's no one alive who is Youer than You.
— Dr. Seuss

Yet Another Period Drama Blog
Miss Amy Dashwood is a daughter of the King of Kings, a seventeen-going-on-eighteen-year-old homeschooler and a lover of period dramas, chocolate, long bike rides, babies, teacups, historical costumes and fiddle music.  Books are her passion, whether she's reading them or writing them.  She is the author of Only a Novel, which is available on Amazon, and you can find her at either of her two blogs, Yet Another Period Drama Blog and The Quest for Stories. 

Guest Post: The Treasured Ones

19 November 2012

Bonjour, lovely readers! I am beyond honored that Elizabeth asked me to guest post for her while she’s scribbling away for NaNo. I have admired her blog and her writing for quite some time now. Best of wishes in your writing endeavor, Elizabeth!

I am an avid bibliophile. Since I was just a wee lass, my mother has cultivated within me a love for reading, and I have taken that love to outnormous depths (can anyone say bookaholic?). Be it historical fiction, classics, modern tales, or biographies, literature has become a wonderfully huge part of my life. To me, books are no longer just words on paper put together in a binding, but friends. Friends I could not imagine living without! The characters are as real and alive to me as anything. I get lost in their stories, cry at their defeats, and rejoice in their triumphs.

But not only do books provide me with a wealth of new acquaintances, they also teach me. They inspire me. They challenge me. Not every book can do this, but there are a choice few in my life who have touched me far and above all the rest.

1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This was the first classic book to make me weep. The story of Jean Valjean resonated within my soul like none other. What a beautiful story of redemption, sacrifice, love, and loyalty. The treasures and values which can be gleaned from Les Miz are countless, and to add to that, it’s simply an amazing, gripping story. I know Les Miz like the back of my hand, and I could probably sing all the songs in my sleep. But no matter how many times I read this book, I will always find myself crying, cheering, and trembling with emotion from the magnificence and wonder that is Les Miserables.

2. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers. This is the only book on this list which isn’t a classic, although it very well should be. Francine Rivers is my favorite modern author, and The Last Sin Eater is her best work. This story moved me, and the characters lived and breathed. By the end, I was crying and inadvertently smearing mascara on the pages. This is the most triumphant, life-changing book I’ve ever read, and it’s all told from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl who is seeking redemption. And if you’ve seen the movie and didn’t really think it was that great, trust me: the book is way, way better.

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Who can help but be endeared to darling Anne Shirley with her striking red hair, impulsive ways, and rash temper. Anne of Green Gables is so precious to me because it reminds me that no matter how old I get, there will always be a bit of a child inside me. Anne shows me what it means to be imaginative and to seek out the good in every situation. Of course, she has her faults (as do we all), but she is always striving to correct them and improve herself, even down to the color of her hair. :) Anne of Green Gables is one of those timeless stories

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Every man, woman, and child on this earth should read Little Women. Does any other book so strongly impress the meaning and importance of family? The March clan is a tight-knit bunch, and they so remind me of my dear family, and what I want my own future family to look like. The Marches may laugh and joke and tease each other, but when the need arises, they come together to walk through hard times side by side. Little Women perfectly demonstrates the bond of family and the bond of love. Oh, no. Little Women is not simply for girls.

5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. How fitting this ghostly little book should be on my list as we are currently approaching the Christmas season! I can’t thank Charles Dickens enough for writing A Christmas Carol. Not only is it a delightfully descriptive and warm and welcoming book, but it emphasizes the beauty and value of having a generous heart and a giving soul. Cantankerous as he is at the beginning, Ebenezer Scrooge is one of my favorite literary characters. A Christmas Carol is one of those books that lifts the spirit and gives one hope and joy. And by the end, I bet I’m not the only one who feels like rushing out into the streets on a crisp, snowy day just to shout, “God bless us, everyone!”

So tell me… what are your literary treasures?

. . . 

Heya! I’m Petie, an aspiring author, wanna-be Brit, and die-hard Okie country girl. I love my Jesus with all I am, and I take great pleasure in good books, laughter, the color red, and coffee. I blog over at All Things Bright and Beautiful. Come visit me, yes? I love to make new friends. Cheers!

Guest Post: What Are You Reading?

17 November 2012

It's summer 2007, I've just finished sixth grade. Mama announces that we're switching curriculum from our usual hodge-podge of textbooks to a more Charlotte Mason-like approach, with most of our books and schedules coming from AmblesideOnline.

That may not sound like much, but it meant a transition for all of us. A transition in the material we were reading. Before the Big Switch, the most intellectually challenging I'd read was probably The Chronicles of Narnia. My favorite book series was The Boxcar Children. I was familiar with classics, but mostly had them read aloud to me or listened to them on CD. I wasn't using much brain power. But I did love to read. I always have.

Ambleside has children reading classic, "living" books starting from their first day of school. Poetry, old British and American authors, history, all of it. And each year there's a different reading list - no book is repeated, and all are considered "living books". It was with great sadness I heard that The Boxcar Children isn't really considered a living book. In fact, Charlotte Mason has a word for those kind of books: "twoddle". So if you jump in at seventh grade, you have six years of catch up to do.

Mama printed up a list of about sixty books I should read before I started seventh grade, and off I went. My entire summer was spent curled up on the couch, opening up a whole new world, falling in love with authors such as Edith Nesbit, Wilson Rawls, Lousia May Alcott, Jules Verne, and Booth Tarkington. Books I'd never heard of such as Rifles for Watie, Five Children and It, Penrod, Mysterious Island, Number the Stars, and Goodbye Mr. Chips that were on lists for Year 5 and Year 6 became new favorites. I was on a roll, checking off books right and left.

And then Mama said, "You need to read a harder book. You've been transitioning, but now it's time to get really deep."

And she gave me Oliver Twist.

I'm not a big fan of Dickens. I mean, he's an incredible writer with an interesting perspective on the world, but he's not my favorite. And it might be a safe bet that this feeling originated with that summer reading of Oliver Twist. I was reading some of the other books on the list in a day or two, never more than a week for any one book...but the Dickens classic took me four weeks. There were tears involved, but not for Oliver's difficult circumstances, nor for the pain of London's poor. There was anger involved, but not towards Bill for murdering Nancy (my favorite character). No, I'm afraid I missed out on a lot of Oliver in my desperate, flailing attempts to just *read* it. Oliver, Dodger, Fagin, and Nancy is a far cry from Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.

And that was just the beginning really. Because of my October birthday, I'm just weeks behind the grade cut-off in our state. So many of my friends were a grade ahead, but just a month or two older. I really wanted to "catch up" (whatever that means in homeschooling). Also, when we switched to Ambleside, it meant I was going to have to repeat the historical time period from the previous school year so I'd get on track with new curriculum. I really didn't want to do that.

So I begged. And pleaded. And moaned. And groveled. And finally Mama agreed to let me do seventh and eighth grade in the same year. I'm glad she believed in me. It was the roughest school year I've ever had.

I was twelve (almost thirteen) years old, reading books of a completely different caliber than anything I'd read previously, and still working on the mile-long book list, and doing history that was just a little above my head - and double of everything else. That was the year of History of English Literature, How to Read a Book, Story of Painting, Ourselves (by Charlotte Mason herself) and other titles that still to this day bring memories of long hours at my desk, struggling over sentence structures and vocabulary I'd never encountered in regular "twoddle" reading before. There were some exciting books that year - books I still return to, and smile when I see my younger sisters reading them for the first time, such as The Brendan Voyage, Captains Courageous, Watership Down, The Case for Christ, The Holy War, A Man for All Seasons, Galileo's Daughter and my absolute all-time favorite historical mystery The Daughter of Time. 

But the real trial came mid-way through the year, when history got tough. I was reading Oliver Cromwell and A Coffin for King Charles - two books that are hard to read enough to read without being violent and sad and emotional to boot. I cried and sorrowed my way through A Man For All Seasons and will forever be a loyal fan of Thomas More. And after wrestling with Coffin, Mama finally started reading it with me and I started getting the gist of the story - and found myself changing from a roundhead (Cromwell follower) to a sympathetic royalist. And that's when that very tough year began to look up. And then Charles I got beheaded and I was done with history. *wry grin*

You may be wondering where I'm going with all this. And here's your answer. 

Many of you read my blog, Scraps. If you do, you know I'm a voracious reader. I love words. I love stories and characters and plots, and I've always been that way. I love classics, and living books that make you think and wrack your brain and work hard to get your answers. But I wasn't always that way. If you've never read a hard book before, it's never too late. I was twelve when the golden gates of masters opened to me - but it doesn't matter how old you are. Start now! Any of the titles or authors I mentioned in first few paragraphs, or go for something classic like Little Women or Johnny Tremain. And don't stop when it gets hard. Start reading it aloud, ask someone to join you and discuss it. Don't quit. You'll never regret it.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.  
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hi! I'm Jo March from Scraps, visiting my lovely friend Elizabeth. It's an honor to be here and share a bit of my heart and passion with you all. Aside from reading and blogging, other interests of mine include playing piano, singing and acting in musical theater, being active in my church, hanging out with my family, competitive swimming, hiking, and sewing - a little of everything. Romans 12:2 is my favorite verse, reminding me to live "in, but not of" the world. To God be the Glory!

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! ... When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library." — Jane Austen

Poem of the Week: Transformed by Alan Groves

16 November 2012

This week's poem was written by a young gentleman with whom my father is acquainted. When I read the verses for the first time, I knew I'd have to share them here. The lines are short and yet still maintain the searing poignancy of a two-edged sword, revealing the depth of the author's own talent. Please don't simply read over these words and forget them an hour later. Ingrain them in your mind; afix them to your heart. Will we stand for the principals of liberty, truth, and virtue, or will we allow ourselves to be forged by the world's gavel?

By Alan Groves

My name is Democracy, for we are many.
I am the People. Sovereign. Supreme.
My will be done
On earth
For surely there is no heaven.

This World is the furnace of my imagination
And Society the utopia of my heart’s desire.
Its Inhabitants — my metals —
Whom I forge,
With the gavel of Law,
Into my own image.
I the People.

On the anvil of obedience they are
Transformed by the melting of their minds.
The evil obey.
The ignorant obey.
The righteous comply.
It is all the same to me.

The evil come rejoicing
At the hammer of my gavel
They understand. They see. And they willingly welcome
My grand image
 Of uniform perfection.
The Law, yes the Law, is the weapon of that perfection. 

The ignorant are fooled.
My Gavel — no, my instrument —
Melodious harmonies of hope and change.
Their basest desires and most groveling propensities.
A steady crescendo of progress and perfection.
And enchants
With the whisper of a lullaby.
Then they are Transformed.

The righteous, O the righteous!
They see my Gavel for what it is
— Not an instrument of beauty, but a weapon of destruction.
But they do not want to see.
They are cowards. Hypocrites.
They do not want to remember how they lost it.

Yes, They are the true stewards of my Gavel;
Their God gave it to them.
Yet they lost it, like a child loses a toy.
There was another who took it from them.
I, the People.

The Father of Lies gave birth to me
 — The Son of Thieves.
You see, my father begot me
— Democracy.

For when there were only two, it was good.
But when he Fell there were three.
He deceived, and sin conceived.

But I digress! I inherited my father’s deception.
And I used it to take the Gavel.
Taken from the judges, I passed it to the kings.
From the kings I handed it to the People.
And with the People, I used it to crucify their Lord.

The Gavel belongs to the righteous.
It is a tool, nothing more:

To the backwards, the human expression
Of natural order and divine justice.
To the enlightened, a weapon of beauty
That can only be forged in the fires of
Chaos and destruction.

Yes, the righteous know this.
They are not fools.
They are cowards. Hypocrites.
They fear to take what is rightfully theirs.
They fear the consequences of confrontation.
They fear responsibility.
They fear stewardship.

And in their shame, they hide from themselves.
In their own bellies.
From responsibility.
While they and all the rest
Cuff the very shackles
That drag them to the furnace.

Blind though they may be
By their self-righteous peace,
All are transformed
Until Progress shall cease.

What poems have you been reading this week? Feel free to share them in the link-up below.

Guest Post: How to Take Criticism As An Author

15 November 2012

I’m going to take a stand and proclaim what I have learned as one of {perhaps the} the single most important keys to becoming a great writer. Ready? All right.

We all love our stories. We all, for the most part, go through stages where we think we’ve stumbled across a stunning plot idea that’ll be the next David Copperfield. For those of us who actually make it through writing the entire thing and fleshing out all the characters, the events, the timing, we put another feather in our cap. Not only was the idea press-worthy, but the finished novel is magnifique! We’ve got a novel that’ll rival To Kill a Mockingbird. The third tier on our Happy-Go-Lucky kudos-cake arrives when we’ve finished the first edit of the manuscript. We’ve moved on from thinking our book is as good as those Other Famous Novels. Forget Where the Red Fern Grows. We’ve written the new Les Miserables

Go ahead and deny the charge if you will, but you know deep down you’ve felt this sensation. It’s fun. It’s rare. It is lovely to enjoy….for a week. But if I’ve learned one thing in my years of writing, it is that this misplaced arrogance cannot last if you hope to become an honest-to-goodness great author.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it is a growing craft. The most famous author is still honing his skills and working on one aspect or another of his writing. Even if you’ve got a killer plot, even if you’ve got the best characters in the best pinch with the best villain and the best hero, your book is not perfect. The sooner we realize this, the easier it will be to accept criticism. Because that is the place where the ways part and the truly great writers diverge from the mediocre and amateurs.

That’s the secret to being a great writer: Learn how to take criticism.

My first real foray into writing seriously –not just as a fun hobby—was when I joined a Christian Young Adult Writers’ critique group. The men and women in that group were gentle but pointed with their remarks.  Many of them were published and/or agented authors who had been to conferences, read widely, written more still, and knew darn well what they were talking about:

My punctuation was atrocious. 

My formatting was a nightmare.

I used exclamation points like a California valley-girl.

And if there was an Adverb Protection Service in America, I’d have been clapped in irons and stowed in jail, guilty of the most heinous abuse.

My poor novel was raked over the coals in no uncertain terms.  I think I ended up editing that manuscript six or seven times before I was {mostly} satisfied.

It’s not stretching the truth to say that I loved every criticism I got.

It was tough-love, though. The comments stung sometimes. My heart would seize up now and then when the leader of the group said something not-so-gentle and actually rather rough about my writing, the slowness of my forsaking a certain habit. {*Ahem* Comma-usage *Ahem*}

It hurt!

What had happened to my dreams of grandeur? My certainty that I was born to be a novelist?

I hadn’t even seen it coming. But I was clever enough to realize this was a refining fire for me as a writer, and a fabulous opportunity to get the wisdom and input of real authors. 

I swallowed my pride and applied their wisdom to my writing and I realized that not only was my writing better by the time the group disbanded, but I could actually apply the principles as I wrote my next novel so that there was less editing to be done. I’m telling you, criticism changed my writing-life forever. 

For good.

I cannot tell you how many mistakes I would still be floundering in if I’d not made myself vulnerable and had other writers read my novel. One reason my writing is as good as it is—and I am the first to admit it is full of room for growth and improvement still—is because the criticism from these men and women exposed all the juvenile mistakes I was making and showed me how to correct the errors. My writing doesn’t look as amateur because I learned what the amateurs do and have sought to avoid those things.

When you finish a novel, rather than preening yourself over it for four months and realizing—four years later—that you haven’t grown at all, I have another tactic:

Get as many people to read your novel as will put up with you.  

But don’t get the friends and family members who will pat you on the back and affirm your suspicions that you’re the next Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway. Get the people who are grammar Nazis. The people whose aura of Well-Read-Person hangs about them like a shimmering, frightening mantle. Get your bilingual grandmother who has lived through two World Wars. Get published writers or friends who are farther along the writing road than you.

The thing is, as a young writer you just cannot rely on your own judgment as to what is good enough. If you don’t know you’re making mistakes how can you correct them? That’s why I say that the biggest key to success for an aspiring author is to learn to love criticism. The harsh, the gentle, the stinging kinds. The good critics who point out what they like as well as what could use work AND the snobs who weigh you in the Victor Hugo balance and find you lacking. Sift the wheat from the chaff. Look over their comments with a humble mind and heart, open to new ideas and hard choice. Sometimes they'll recommend things that you'll choose not to change. I know. I had that happen to me. But that's the beauty of being an author and getting as much input as possible: you'll grow to be able to discern what to apply and what to lay aside.

With each tweaking of your mind and heart and the words on the page, your book will start to live up to its Great Expectations. Take heart, valiant-ones. It’s a battle worth winning.

* * *

Rachel Heffington is "not yet one-and-twenty." She writes like a fury, reads whenever she can, loves her family, loves God, and wishes there was money and time enough to travel the world and write about her adventures. You can read about her own writing, writing tips, and all things inky at her blog, The Inkpen Authoress.

Beautiful People — Kenneth Hughes

14 November 2012

Writing Rifles in the South Field for NaNo this month has kept me on my toes, and as such, I haven't had the time I would desire to write a logical blog post. The thoughts in my head are all directed towards my dear W.I.P., and if I were to start writing an instructional post on some aspect of word-crafting, I'm afraid each of you would find it entirely illogical. (I'm also saving Snippets for the end of the month.) With that in mind, Beautiful People is a wonderful answer to the question of posting something related to Rifles without giving entirely too much plot away. Today I'm focuing my attention on a certain British soldier known as

kenneth hughes

1. Do they have any habits, annoying or otherwise?

Kenneth knows just the right words to effectively penslay those with whom he comes in contact. Unfortunately, he has not yet learned to do this graciously, and his acquaintances often find him irritating.

2. What is their backstory and how does it affect them now?

Kenneth's father died an honorable death fighting for England in the French and Indian War. After the father's death, the son feels a particular responsibility towards his widowed mother and spoiled younger sister. The courage and passion that propelled his father seem not to be present in him, though, so his choice to fight against the patriots in the Revolution was more out out of obligation than real spirit.

3. How do they show love?

He isn't particulary emotional or outward in the way he shows love. He loves a precious few, but he would lay his life down for them.

4. How competitive are they?

Kenneth, like most young men of his age, is extremely competitive. When provoked, he will say and do things that he often regrets later on.

5. What do they think about when nothing else is going on?

Kenneth longs to have truly known his father. The elder Mr. Hughes died when his son was but seven years old, though his renown lives on in the words of those who knew him. Kenneth hears a good deal about his father's great deeds, and it wears against him after a time. He would love to have known the real man, rather than being constantly reminded of the large shadow in which he daily walks.

6. Do they have an accent?

Being that he's British, I hardly need answer that question.

7. What is their station in life?

Kenneth is a private in the British army.

8. What do others expect from them?

Mrs. Hughes expects that her son will follow in her late husband's footsteps and join the army, eventually becoming a well-respected and courageous leader. Eva, Kenneth's sister, would have him marry sooner than later. One and twenty is frightfully ancient in her young mind.

9. Where were they born, and when?

Kenneth was born in Bradford-on-Avon in July of 1756.

10. How do they feel about people in general?

I'll leave that for you to decide.

"I don’t go seeking friendship, if that’s what you were asking."
Rifles in the South Field

Sunday Blessings

11 November 2012

For all the strides we’ve made
For all of our blessings
We’ve fallen far away from truth
Turning our face away from this hurting race
We turned our face away from You

For every broken heart for every widow
For those without shelter from the rain
We lift our eyes to You looking for answers
When we have been called to ease the pain

We want to be Your hands your feet
Without words we'll let our actions speak

Here we are
Words can only go so far
Draw us closer to Your heart
Bring us back to You
Bring us back to You . . .

— "Hands and Feet" by The Brilliance

I tend to share only classic hymns in my Sunday Blessings posts because for the most part, I believe they have much more enriching and poetic lyrics. I enjoy Christian contemporary music quite a lot, but I still think that the older hymns are the most beautiful for worship. However, after dancing to this song quite a bit at my studio and letting the lyrics wash over me, I decided that I wanted to share them today. I love the raw, broken simplicity, the humility, and the courage to ask for help that pervades these lyrics. Jesus said, "Whatever you do for the least of these, you do also for Me." Words are one thing; actions are quite another. If we are professing believers in Christ, our lives should mirror our words. And in order for that to happen, we need Jesus to draw us back to Him so that we may be reminded of the true focus of our lives.

Have a blessed Lord's Day.
"For if any be a hearer of the Word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed." — James 1:23-25

Guest Post: That Strange God Education

10 November 2012

I have always been of a quixotic disposition.  I wonder if that will at all temper with time.  I am about to tackle a touchy subject, the prevailing view on which is so deeply entrenched in our minds I have little hope that my little guest post here will have much effect to topple it.  But one can always try.

The landscape is college.  By this time it is pretty well assumed that a student exiting highschool will immediately enrol in a college.  What for, no one always knows.  They just do it because that is what is expected of them.  When I was in grade school, for some time I operated under the misconception that school was instituted to help you learn.  Of course, that is wrong.  School is all about getting good grades; college is all about getting a degree so that you can get a job.  To a large extent this truth is sad but unavoidable.  But people don’t like you pointing out this sad truth, neither do they like you pointing out the fallacy of going to college “because everyone does.”  Quite apart from being a blind move on a student’s part, it is an unjustifiable waste of money!  So, first off: if you are going to college, know why before you go.  Don’t waste your time nor someone else’s money.  College is not mandatory.

Yes, I just said it.  College is not mandatory.  For a lot of jobs that otherwise inconsequential slip of paper that says you graduated college is necessary.  I don’t know why.  I suppose it gives some credence to your claims that you actually learned something in those four years that you were institutionalized…  If you need it, by all means, get it.  My sister is considering getting a degree so that, if she at some point feels inclined to write biographies and histories, she will have that educational weight behind her name.  My sister-in-law and I, on the other hand, have no such need, neither did either of us go to college.  My sister-in-law is a highly intelligent woman, juggling a home with a husband and two kids (she’s a brilliant cook, too) and a demanding role in the family company.  She never needed to go to college; in fact, she tells the story of my father telling her point-blank, “You don’t have to go to college,” and that moment being one of the most freeing moments of her life.  She is amazing, she continues to learn, she is articulate and educated.  And she never went to college.

I am poorly suited to the institution.  I do not like being cramped or forced to swallow indigestible material.  It only makes me angry and people do not like it when I get angry.  I much prefer a free-range style of education which, having graduated highschool, I am capable of pursuing.  I was once asked what I study by one of my husband’s professors, and with my tongue unusually in my cheek I said I wasn’t enrolled in any institution and I am now free to study whatever I like without paying money to anyone.  

Let me be clear: I am not saying that college is evil.  (Actually, I know for certain that college is evil, but what can you do…?)  It is not mandatory that you go, neither is it mandatory that you not go.  But keep your options open and know what you are capable of handling.  College is there as a means to an end and was never meant to be a stagnant pool of purposeless “adolescents” looking for the best means to get a job and earn money.  Do not let the religion of college pull you into its cult.  It is a grim, unloving god anyway and does not often give you back what you deserve.

. . .

Jennifer Freitag writes fantasy and historical fiction from her home in South Carolina, where she lives with her husband and two cats. To learn more about her views, what she is doing, and what inspires her, check out her blog: thepenslayer.blogspot.com.

Guest Post: The Art of Short Story Writing

05 November 2012

Hello everyone! When I first got an e-mail from Elizabeth asking if I'd be willing to guest post on Literary Lane, it left me feeling highly thrilled and honoured by the prospect, not to mention a tiny winy bit nervous, having never guest-posted before. But, here I am, and I shall do my best! Today I am going to talk about short-story writing and about what a great writing medium it is, if only we give it a chance... along with a tad bit of advice on how to go about writing one! I may take detours and almost certainly will make this post long (which is ironic, considering it is about short stories!) But I promise to try and make it interesting. So... pretty-please... try not to fall asleep, folks, agreed? Agreed!

Short story writing! Why do some of us shy away from this art of writing? First let me say this. There is something wonderful about the space and freedom of expressing oneself in the medium of novel-writing. In it, we find a breadth and height for flowery words, brilliant diamonds of description, dialogues that keep us riveted for pages on end, and the strength of good story narrative. When writing a story of 50,000 words or more, we have the opportunity to delve into our story-line with ease and have plenty of space to get know our characters, dwell on scenes and enjoy description in detail. These are only some of the many reasons why we, novel writers, choose to write novels and love it so. Most of us may not really have anything against short-stories, but we tend to cordially distance ourselves from the possibility of writing one of our own with success and enjoyment. It appears challenging, restrictive and definitely nothing as rewarding as writing a novel! 

For most of my writing years I held this notion, as I focused intently on writing in my historical fiction novel, The Crown of Life. I really couldn't see how penning short stories could be any fun or even remotely helpful to one's writing skills. This year, however, my opinion of short stories changed drastically when through a literary contest my local library was hosting, The Redlitzer, I challenged myself to write my first ever short story of 3,755 words. This story, A Love that Never Fails, has since then been published in a special edition anthology with other local writers. Of course, that has been such an exciting highlight of my year, one that I am deeply thankful to God for! But perhaps more than the excitement of getting something published has been the experience and knowledge I gleaned throughout that time. In ways I never would have previously thought, I have learnt to appreciate the benefits of short-story writing. Also, through the process of writing one myself I have discovered and learnt so much about writing in general that I now find applicable to the process and skills that writing a full-length novel demands. 

From observation, I have often noticed how with young writers, myself included, our first literary works tend to be major ones (whether we'd planned it so at first or not)--complicated novels with huge character casts, many sub-plots and twists, or even a series of novels or a trilogy. Accompanied with our projects, is the excitement and vision for the task. And I say hurrah to that! It is wonderful if we challenge ourselves and undertake works of great depth, length and intensity. Yet, somewhere near the middle of our novels, we will be sure to find ourselves facing some mountain-sized challenges and unexpected hurdles. The problem is, a lot of us often don't have the writing maturity in taking on such big-sized, multi-layered tales through the many hurdles that are before us, do the story justice and bring it to completion. The discipline of Beginning, Middle, and End is just not in us. And when confronted with the face-to-face reality of bringing a good story idea through the entanglements of plot, characterization and goodness knows what to its end, we often either panic or simply give up on the story to try some other one. Or at least we toy with that idea, feeling all the while guilty and daunted by the fact that we are unable to go on... to continue... to finish our novels.

This may not apply to everyone, yet I personally believe that short-story writing can help us with these above problems. It can help us develop a stronger, and more focused writing skill and maturity that we may be able to carry onto our novel writing later on. Short stories are short.... so I will not pretend that authoring one can sound difficult and restricting. You will be narrowed in by a limited word-count of probably no more than 3,000 or 4,000 words, and the final result will not be as rewarding as finishing a novel would be. But, depressing as this may sound, it is a great medium of writing as well! It has immense benefits for anyone who is struggling with the ins and outs of story-structure and writing. One important benefit of a short story is that the plot has no need of being overly extensive or complicated. For a reader it will be quick to read and won't take up their time or energy. For you, the author, it will not demand of you the intensity of work that writing a novel requires. Writing a short story has helped me to see what is really important to the story-line and what is unnecessary that can be chopped away (oh, the horrors! but I had not intended on ranting about editing so soon...). It has helped me develop on the skill to proclaim the theme more succinctly and powerfully than one may from a novel as a young writer impaired by complicated plot and character twists and turns and all that. You see, it can be interestingly easy to begin a story well, but when proceeding, not so easy to write a solid and captivating middle and great ending. That's all due to a novel's largeness and the entanglement of tying out all the threads of a tale to its end of course. A short story story can help us with all that!

Up to now I have shared in some length the benefits of short-story writing. But the question lingers, how does one write a good short story? I am not expert--goodness, what a thought! But I will share what little I learnt, with the hope that it might prove of some help to you too. There are some important elements of a short-story... well in any story in fact... but we are right now dealing with short ones. Those elements have to do with the proper structure of a beginning/start, a middle and an end.

The Start - What usually hooks us immediately onto any story is the strength of the first line... the first paragraph... the first page. It has to be so gripping that we want to read more. It ought to be amusing, quirky, eye-catching or just plain original and unique, like C.S. Lewis' "There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it".  This is especially true with short stories as we don't have much time like we do in a novel to settle into the mood of a story. We can't afford to have our readers uninterested. If you have not gained the attention of the readers by the end of the first paragraph, it will be hard to get them interested at all in the story. Transport your readers right into the thick of things... of danger and emotion or drama or sentiment. Let them root for the main character at once and be interested in them and see the world through their eyes. Do not bother about detailing unnecessary facts about the characters, the situation, the landscape, circumstance etc... which otherwise might be thought important to document in a novel. Strip them down to the barest and key facts.

Characters- Unlike in a novel where you have space to expand and work on different major and minor characters, developing them and making them grow, in a short story you have to be fast-paced. You will find yourself with little time to delve into many characters. So keep them few, 2 or 3 being preferably the most. You can have background characters of course, but they really should be what they are... in the background. Try to focus on one or two characters, work on developing them within the limited word-count you may have, and allow them to star. Characterization should otherwise be more or less the same as novel-writing; only you have to be brisk in your writing, without giving the impression of haste or that you rushed the story in the reader's mind.

Plot - It is preferable if you create a simple out-line or blurb or general direction for your short story as you write. But this indeed may be a personal preference, and you may find that it hinders instead of helps you. However, keep in mind not to get lost in the story's plot. Instead, you guide it along as inspiration comes: because it is after all a story of concise length. One mistake I made while writing my own short story, A Love that Never Fails, was to squeeze many scenes and many characters into the space of a 3000 word story... not a good idea! When you try and put a bit too much into the plot line, it will prevent you from elaborating more on your characters. 

A Theme - As you progress in the story, you may find yourself trying to figure out the theme of your story (or you may have known it from the beginning). A story must have purpose and theme in my opinion or else it falls flat like a pancake. Short-stories are perfect ground for proclaiming a message... even more than in a novel. As Christians, we have a wonderful opportunity through short story writing to impart lessons and themes of faith and the Truth of God's Word into them, whether obviously so or more subtly depending on your audience and your personal preference. As you write, try to hone in on that purpose and theme quietly, let it develop and shine, without letting the reader be aware of what you are doing. Just keep to that theme with assurance and certainty, even if some will try to undermine or deter you from proclaiming the message through the story. Don't get discouraged. There will always be those who will appreciate the message of your story, and may even be blessed or changed by it. Here is a quote by author Jenny Freitag that goes down well with these thoughts: "Whenever you want to tell a truth, wrap it up in fiction. People take it better that way and the medicine goes down almost before they know it." - Jennifer Freitag

The Middle - From personal experience I know it can be easy to get bogged down when one comes to the middle of the story. It is easy to unintentionally make the plot sag or not give the story as much intense focus as the beginning and end. I do not have much to say except strive to keep the tension, the strength of character and quality and interest up. You are reaching for the climax. In the middle, you will be in the midst of the tale, you are developing the characters, reaching for the climax of the conflict and bringing in scenes to exemplify them. Try not to spread yourself out a lot and just enjoy this more arduous part of the story :).

The End - Here is the tying up of all the threads! You may not have the answers for all the questions in the story, there may be cliff hangers, but you must at least bring a resolution to the conflict (negative or positive). That conflict need not end in a way expected. I find it a delightful thing when a story ends in a unexpected way. So if you can bring about a twist in the tale, a unique or new one, non-cliche or cliche-ridden but written well that catches the reader unaware, I say, hurrah for you!!

Editing - I cannot emphasize the importance of editing enough! It is perhaps the sorest trial of a writer, but so very vital if you want your story to be any good. While I mentioned the need of keeping a fast pace in the story, I found it immensely helpful for inspiration to write in more detail and description and later cut out huge chunks as I edited. So this may help you too. When you're editing a short story, there is often the temptation of thinking that your story will be better with all those little bits of information and details and scenes. However, when taken as a whole, succinctness and a brisk pace (which at times demands sacrificing dearly beloved sentences!) will enhance your story, make it more coherent, structured and neatly-packed, without those dangling bits of beautiful words that have no bearing on the tale as a whole. Be ruthless with editing unneeded words, sentences and even paragraphs if need be, especially if you are tight on word-count. Though it will feel like a part of you is being torn apart, you will eventually be grateful that you were a bit heartless and took these drastic measures to make your short story a truly enjoyable one.

Some other elements - That fact that we need to have our stories short, does not eliminate the need for snippets of description here and there or a moment's pause for beautiful prose. But keep them brief and entwined within the story, like splashes of colour here and there. It will make them stand out all the more with beauty and vividness and really lend a canvas of imagination to your story. What about when inspiration runs out in the thick of things, when you are feeling overwhelmed with fitting all your flighty ideas into this little pack of words? Allow yourself to be inspired by beautiful music, a book you read,  a photo you saw, a movie you watched or a YouTube you streamed online so that it not only inspires you, but also affects the writing of your short story itself. In the Walt Disney movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the scene where the four Pevensie kids say goodbye to their mother in the London station inspired me greatly as I wrote A Love that Never Fails. So did the Narnia soundtracks. This Pinterest image, and this and this carved images in my mind as I wrote my short story in ways I will never be able to comprehend effectively. They gave me scenes to go by, a mood of the time, the people, historical context.... the list goes on and on. Lastly, this may sound cliché, but it is not... Prayer is such an important element in all that we do and that includes writing. Jesus said, "Without Me, you can do nothing." Oh, how true this is... without Him, nothing we do will have any lasting or eternal worth. Through Him we live, and move and have our being. So, when you come to write a short story remember to pray and ask the Great Author to aid and help you in what you write. He really does answer, you know!

Short story writing is a wonderful opportunity to develop your literary muscles and learn to focus on a story's structure. It also has its other benefits (contests, the lack of complexity etc...). Yet, perhaps the best part of short-story writing, is the writing of the story itself. Writing short-stories is like allowing oneself to take one beautiful peek at a scene from a character's life, a bird's eye-view of unfolding events and emotions. It is so hard to explain, but short stories can have such a delightful charm; they are a wonderful way to pen in a few hundred or thousand words what would otherwise take chapters and chapters to write. Short story writing is recording a beautiful tale through the eyes of a small canvas of tiny bright gems of scarlet and gold. Gems of words. So,  writing short stories is an art. And though novel-writing will always be my first literary love, I can now happily say that I have found a good friend in the scribbling a short story.
What about you?

Joy is a young daughter of the King, a needy sinner saved by His Amazing Grace. The greatest goal of her life is to love and glorify her Heavenly Father, as He guides her on the path of life. Joy is home-educated by her dear parents, and has three amazing sisters who're her closest friends. She resides in a sunny little corner of Queensland, Australia, which is as lovely as it sounds. Imagination is her favourite cup-of-tea, a world which she traverses daily. Joy wars with words through her pen (and naturally the laptop!) and scribbles stories, plays the violin, sings with her heart, photographs and draws God’s Creation as she sees it, and is an avid lover of books. She also keeps a blog, Fullness of Joy, where she scribbles about faith, writing, music, her family, raindrops on roses and of things in between.
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