Sweeter Than Wine

18 March 2014

There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.
proverbs 30:18-19

Even as the writer thirsts for reality, drawing it up in dripping handfuls and painting it on her story's canvas, she ignores it. Even as the writer longs for that sense of something breathing, burning, and Real behind the mask of her characters and plot, she rejects the qualities that would infuse it with life.

Even as she plots a map, she destroys the road.

One of the quirks among Christian homeschooled authors — and it is not new — is an aversion to romance, attraction, and love. It's the taboo subject, the elephant in the room, eternally ignored under the guise of good taste. Books are measured not by the quality of the stories, but by the presence or absence of violence, profanity, and affection extending beyond platonic friendship. The irony of it all is found in the result that comes when one pairs these tight-lipped condemnations with the amount of how-to posts on writing stories that breathe with life, for if authors really wanted their books to depict truth, they would not be so hesitant about romance. (They also would not have the opportunity to tout their scruples had their own parents shared their trepidation!)

Why do we shy from writing romance well? Is it because we are faint of heart and want to mince words and gauze over subjects that God Himself did not ignore? Is it because we have no experience and cannot write something of which we know little? Or is it a combination of these two, a measure of societal restraint that says some subjects cannot be mentioned in the same room as the lace curtains and clinking china?

Over time, our bookshelves come to mirror these concerns. Literature rarely treats love as it ought to be treated, either cheapening it to artless grocery-story drivel or doing away with it altogether. Even (dare I say especially) Christians have encouraged this mindset, veiling their delicate daughters' eyes from an honesty that at twenty-one should no longer make them blush. The results are quick and apparent. From this sort of lifestyle comes the family of daughters nearing thirty who hide behind their embroidery because they cannot relate to the other sex. We've all seen the requests posted on social forums like Goodreads: "I'm looking for a good story with dynamic characters and a solid plot, but please no romantic love."

Good luck to the girl who makes the plea, for I've never found such a book.

Love is spun through every aspect of us. It was not good for man to be alone even in Eden's paradise and it still is not good for man to be alone in the gritty world of the twenty-first century. We can hear this preached from the pulpit and come across it in our morning Bible study, and we nod in prosaic sagacity, but when we sit down to write, we shudder to apply the wisdom and its value crumbles away into nothingness. Romance is evil. Romance is ugly. Romance is ungodly. We hear these words pound through our minds, the last statement the most startling of all in its blatant inaccuracy. The God Who called us into being created the woman for the man and the man for the woman, bringing them together in holy and blessed matrimony as a small shadow-glimpse of the love between Christ and the Church, but if we mention such things, we soon bear the wrath and curse of the conservative Christian community.

You already know that one of the layers of Rifles in the South Field deals with blossoming romance. You may not know that my next book centers on a married woman. As I write certain scenes in Rifles and plot scenes for other works in progress, I meet a point of conflict. I can fill the mold that Elsie Dinsmore set, or I can clear the weeds from an ancient path and hold on tight to an ancient mast. Every author must make this decision, and her answer will determine the direction her story takes. Do I strain my dialogue and description down to artificiality for the sake of my own sensibilities, or do I dare to write honestly and beautifully about the most powerful thing God created: the natural attraction, kinship, and two becoming one of male and female?

It can only come to fruition if we have the fortitude to pursue it. Love does not have to make us stutter, blush, and quickly change the subject. If you are of the precious few who will write love stories akin to that of Isaac and Rebekah, Boaz and Ruth, and David and Abigail, do so. Do not let man-made strictures hold you back from spilling light on the all-encompasing love that comes from God and can be reflected between a man and woman He has guided; a love in which there is no shame, but rejoicing.

Inspiration's Calling Hours

12 March 2014

I learned something about myself recently.

I'm a late-night writer.

It took a shifting of room-mates to jolt my comprehension, and believe me, I resisted it as long as possible. For years I've tried to cultivate early morning writing habits. I'd set my alarm for six A.M. with wide eyes and high expectations, but when the dreaded hour rolled around, the last thing I wanted to see before my bleary vision was a computer screen. Maybe I needed more sleep (after all, it wasn't terribly logical to go to bed at midnight and try waking up to write five or six hours later). Maybe I wasn't inspired. Maybe . . . maybe . . . I hunted for some determining factor that would explain my limp inspiration. I kept hoping it would be different, that somehow, this time I'd have the gumption to yank myself from warm covers and type away. But to be honest, it rarely — if ever — happened.

Next came the phase of afternoon writing. It's a mottled one in its own respect; a clever sort of procrastination disguising itself as productivity. Schoolwork must come first, I argued. Then chores. Then personal reading. Then research. By the time writing came along, it was a lone half hour squeezed in before getting ready for dance, and one I'd most often spend on Pinterest, reading blogs, or answering emails. Thirty minutes in the middle of the afternoon just wasn't going to cut it. It was too easy to let things slide earlier in the day until even those short minutes were no more. By leaving my noveling as the last thing I did before going out the door for the evening, I built up a sense of anxiety around the whole writing process. My neatly written schedules rarely mirrored the day itself (do they ever, for that matter?) and something would inevitably come up that bumped my precarious routine out of order. When it came down to the wire, writing was the first thing I pushed off my to-do list. (Apparently teachers don't think "I was fulfilling my daily thousand word quota" a valid excuse for not finishing homework unless you can mention that said quota was inspired by Jack London, cite the website where you first encountered the quote, and give a detailed sketch of London's life and worldview.)

Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, and before long, writing was no longer a priority in my life on any level. Sure, I talked about it enough to give myself some sort of merit, and my classmates took my essays as proof that my creative writing was in good shape, but at the end of the day, I wasn't adding anything significant to the various projects that littered my computer's hard drive. I had plenty of ideas and notes and half-plots, but nothing solid that required real blood, toil, sweat, and tears. I talked about stories and writing concepts in abstract terms because to bring my own books into the picture would cut a little too close to home. Keep it secret, keep it safe. No one needs to know how long it's been since you've opened that Word document.

All that changed when Bree decided to move in across the hall with my two younger sisters and my baby sister claimed the top bunk bed in my room. Quite predictably, I dug my heels in at first, since Bree has always been my room-mate and confidante, but before long I began to see the benefits to this new arrangement. Ava falls asleep easily and sleeps soundly, leaving my own bottom bunk bed a quiet haven for whatever scribbling I want to do. I've built in a habit of pulling my laptop onto the covers and writing until I reach one-thousand words or thereabouts. Writing at night means there are few valid excuses to keep me from accomplishing something. There's no schoolwork or dance at ten o' clock P.M., no laundry to fold, dishes to wash, or spilled milk to wipe up. We writers complain often enough about how inspired we feel before we go to sleep — why not harness that inspiration, I thought, and see what comes of it?

For now, I'm slowly and steadily rewriting Rifles in the South Field from square one. We'll take it one day at a time — who can say what tomorrow will bring?

March Chatterbox: You Were the One Next to Me

03 March 2014

You can feel the light start to tremble,
Washing what you know out to sea.
You can see your life out of the window tonight.
one republic, "if i lose myself"

Rachel Heffington introduced her monthly Chatterbox meme last autumn, and I've loved seeing these excerpts pop up on the blogs I read, but my own lack of real creative writing hindered me from joining. The temptation of writing a spontaneous dialogue relating to mirrors is too great, though, so I'm breaking my silence at last to share some solid writing without edits or pretense. It's a freeing sensation.

Before I show you the excerpt itself, I have a newsy update from the writing front. I've spent the past week looking up good resources to use as additional research for Rifles in the South Field, and I've managed to collect a good haul. Eliza Lucas Pinckney's letterbook, chock-full of the day by day life of a plantation mistress, books on the Revolution in the South and the backwoods skirmishes between patriots and Tories: the topics keep coming. There are too many foreign avenues to take, too many creative opportunities that extend beyond the sadly overdone scenes in Boston and Philadelphia. I'm excited again about working on this novel, and the taste of it is unfamiliar. I've discovered my school-year writing niche. I can research, I can take notes, I can keep eyes and ears open. Rifles in the South Field may not be written in chronological order during the test-heavy weeks, but it's not stagnant. And if you don't hear much on Literary Lane about up-and-coming projects, don't think they're not in the works. It's only that they're fragile butterflies now, newly emerged from cocoons and sunning their wings before they can fly. When the time comes, each one of you dear Inklings will be the first to know.

washed out to sea
march's chatterbox

The sea was loud tonight. Kenneth could hear it coming in ripples and murmurs on the breeze over the undulating land. A whisper mingled with freedom and sorrow. Were the two always brothers?
He heard a new sound behind him and turned to see Susannah, her hair tumbled about her shoulders and her eyes wide with questions. "I thought I'd find you here."
"Am I so very predictable?" He hated to be thought so.
"Decidedly." She laughed, but it was a low, tremulous sound, as if too great a volume would break the evening's peace. "Habits are pleasant things, though. Dependable. If I know where to find you—"
"You'll never lose me?"
She blushed at that, though he'd meant nothing more than a reason to fill the silence. "I was going to say I'd never have to worry about you getting into michief."
"It is much the same thing."
She let his words settle for a time. "Why do you sit out here alone?"
"I can hear the ocean and the sound of it makes me feel—closer, somehow."
"To home?"
"I've no desire for home." He shook his head fiercely. "No, when I sit out here, I feel closer to understanding. The mottled page of life is temporarily spread clean."
"You're a strange man, Kenneth Hughes."
"With all due respect, ma'am, you're not so normal yourself." The light was fading, but he could still see the pale outline of her features, and he locked eyes with her. "Have you ever glimpsed yourself in a mirror?"
"Of course—"
"Do you know that moment of hesitation, of subtle fear before you face your features? That haunting question that the glass might reveal? The one that says you were wrong and all you ever knew of yourself is a lie?" He ran his hands restlessly through his dark hair and sighed in exasperation. It was too hard to explain. 
"No, wait." He took her hand suddenly, impulsively. "I can say what I mean. Before we see our reflection, we can believe anything about ourselves. Once reality shatters those illusions, nothing can build them up once more. They're gone — irreplaceable."
"Why so serious tonight?" She pulled her hand from his and smiled, but the expression flitted from her face as swiftly as it came.
"We're held to the only standard the world can see. It doesn't mean there isn't more."
"What has this to do with the sea?"
"When I see my reflection in a glass mirror, there is no other answer. I am weighed and found wanting. But the sea! A likeness found in ocean water is never the same; it is always changing, always moving. There is hope. And the roar of those waves reminds me of it."
"Hope, maybe, but little security." Susannah shook her head decidedly. "I'll take the glass mirror you despise over miles of ocean. I'd much prefer consistency."
It was his turn to laugh. "Of course you would! You're a creature of habit if ever I saw one, Miss Dixon. There's not a minute in the day to which you don't have prior claim. Your life balances on the pendelum of a clock."
"Lecturing does not suit you, sir, and you're entirely too stuffy as it is." She inclined her head demurely. "I'll keep you from looking foolish and bid you goodnight." 
"Goodnight, Miss Dixon."
Beyond the fields, the sea rumbled in soft reply.
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