Buzzing Words and Bookish Thoughts

22 August 2015

"my head is a hive of words that won't settle."
virginia woolf

Taking off work the last two weeks before moving to Michigan and starting college was one of my better decisions. Initially, it sounded counter-productive — is this not a period in my life when I'm singularly stretched for funds? shouldn't I put in hours as long as possible? — but time is not to be sniffed at either, and at this point, I put it at a higher value than mere money... because time, whether it is time to pack or time to shop, time to organize or simply time to read on the porch and chat and savor what little is left of summer, is ultimately running out.

I'm technically a college freshman, although it feels false until I'm on campus. I have one more week in the southern humidity (which has been quite mild these past several days, strangely), and then I'm off, kit and caboodle, for a little town in southern Michigan and a whole new life. Months ago, it terrified me; now it excites me. My only concern at this point is stretching each penny to accommodate what I need for school and remembering to pack persnickety little things like razors and shampoo. (Lists have been my constant companions these twenty years at least... or so it feels.)

You find me stopping now to update this quiet blog because of the aforementioned break between work's end and school's beginning. After a full, delightful summer of working six days a week at the café, things like not having to rush off to work every morning and eating an uninterrupted lunch at home seem like pleasant novelties. I love my job, but I'm also grateful for time to rest and mentally prepare myself for the journey ahead. Lest you think all I did these three months past was clean tables, make sandwiches, and shop for comforters, however, I give you my

summer 2015 reading round-up

In June, the Harry Potter books entered our house via the public library, and everyone (with the exception of my baby sister and my dad) got in on it. Even my mom could be found listening to The Philosopher's Stone on audiobook while folding towels in the afternoon. Carmel tore through the entire series in what seemed like the space of a week (in reality, it was closer to a month), and on the opposite end, I'm still deep in Goblet of Fire. Despite my minor quibbles with Rowling's somewhat juvenile narrative style, her characters — particularly Harry, Ron, and Hermione — became quick favorites of mine. All it took was the first trip to school on the Hogwarts Express ("Has anyone seen a toad?") and I knew I wouldn't be turning back around. I didn't travel much this summer, but I can say I spent a lot of time at Hogwarts and the Burrow, with the occasional unpleasant stop at Privet Drive.

Back when the school year ended, my British Literature tutor gifted me with a beautiful copy of Wuthering Heights; sharing this on Instagram sparked a small #summerwiththebrontës social media challenge which continued through August between Jenny, Katie, and myself. The concept was simple — read a Brontë novel, biography, or both, take a picture, and toss it into the ring. As a staunch believer in the maxim that there is no such thing as too many pictures of books, it excited me to both read and  follow the progress of my friends' reading as we all turned pages. Wuthering Heights itself, which I've nearly finished, both enraptured and horrified me. Emily Brontë writes with a stark, chilling beauty, and I find her characters oddly compelling. Nothing in Heathcliff or Catherine strikes one as attractive, and yet as each whirls the other toward the bleak end, like watching a train-wreck, I cannot look away. Bewitching is probably the best way to describe it; Jane Eyre was easy to love, but there's no ignoring Wuthering Heights.

How did you spend your summer? What did you read?

All Things New: Summer 2015 Reading List

27 May 2015

Come broken and weary
Come battered and bruised
My Jesus makes all things new
All things new

Come lost and abandoned
Come blown by the wind
He'll bring you back home again
Home again...
andrew peterson | "all things new"

Reader, I graduated.

It happened this past Saturday, but sometimes I still have to question whether it really occurred or whether it's coming in a day or two. School and dance each met their own bittersweet conclusions over a week ago, but with graduation parties (we had my own just this Sunday) and general festivities still in swing, the reality of summer is taking its sweet time sinking in. Still, the facts are facts: I am now officially a homeschool graduate and a rising college freshman. (I even changed my about me page!)

For the first time in a long while, I have no dangling assignments or textbooks to finish up this summer and no English reading lists to be completed before the beginning of the autumn term. My time — notably my reading time — is my own, and that's exciting. (As in, crazy after-dinner kitchen-dancing exciting.) I may dabble in research as I first planned back in the winter, but if we're to be completely honest, I'll most likely end up savoring these all-too-quick months with whatever books take my fancy. It's delightful to think of Flannery in the early morning light with a cup of tea — Tolstoy or Brontë on rainy afternoons curled up on the couch — Rowling or Austen read on long car-rides or else pool-side — the thought before the substance is no less happy in this case. God is gracious and good, we have prevailed through winter's storms (literal and metaphorical), and His mercies are new every morning.

to read: summer 2015

anna karenina by leo tolstoy

mansfield park by jane austen

wuthering heights by emily brontë

go set a watchman by harper lee

mere christianity and the great divorce by c.s. lewis

the harry potter books by j.k. rowling (we'll see how far I get between now and mid-August)

the ballad of the white horse by g.k. chesterton

a tree grows in brooklyn by betty smith

mystery and manners and the complete stories (to be finished) by flannery o'connor

[And while we're throwing practicality and feasibility to the wind...]

the two towers and the return of the king by j.r.r. tolkien

What do you want to read this summer? Do you find your literary tastes change when paired with warmer weather?

Rise up, oh you sleeper
Awake, the light of the dawn is upon you
Rise up, oh you sleeper
Awake, He makes all things new.

Cover Reveal: Ain't We Got Fun by Emily Chapman and Emily Ann Putzke

13 April 2015

ain't we got fun
emily chapman and emily ann putzke
coming may 25, 2015!

It was never much of an issue for Bess: living contentedly on her family's farm, despite the Depression which loomed around them. But when her older sister Georgiana takes off to New York City to make a fortune and help Papa out, feelings of adventure and wanderlust strike Bess at home. Through their lively letter correspondence, the sisters recount to one another their adventures, surprises, and heartaches, leaving little room for depression. For in a world of such wonder, ain't we got fun?

Find Ain't We Got Fun on Goodreads and add it to your shelves!

about the authors

EMILY CHAPMAN, also known as Bess Rowland, is a young hobbit living in the dear old South, and she is entirely bonkers. She's a dreamer, an optimistic pessimist, and an introverted people person. Blue skies, dancing, Disney, and whipped cream make her happy, and she swears she's been to Narnia. She's been a reader all her life, became a writer because of that, and published her first novel, Cry of Hope, in March of 2014. But without her Savior, all of this would mean nothing. It is in Him that she puts her hope. “And hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out His love into hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” – Romans 5: 5

EMILY ANN PUTZKE and Gi Rowland have two big things in common – their love for God and coffee. Besides writing historical fiction, Emily enjoys being an aunty, photography, Irish dancing, spending time with family, attempting to play the guitar, reenacting, and reading. She loves polka dots, war movies, and all things vintage. Her first novella, It Took a War, was published in December of 2014.

Guest Post: Recovering Allegory

27 March 2015

Suzannah Rowntree, reigning mind behind the insightful blog Vintage Novels, has now released her debut novel, Pendragon's Heir, a new spin on classic Arthurian romance. The book just hit cyber shelves yesterday, so you're not too late to follow along with Suzannah's celebratory blog hop! (Just click the link to her blog to stay in the loop.) I'm pleased to welcome her to Literary Lane this morning to speak on a topic that has grown sadly unfashionable in the past few decades. Suzannah, as you might have guessed, has quite another way of viewing it...

recovering allegory
by suzannah rowntree

The Foreword to The Lord of the Rings, my favourite book, which was written by my favourite author, JRR Tolkien, is a small classic, and contains the following words:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.”

In younger years, I accepted this—as I am still prone to accept anything Tolkien says—quite uncritically. I think a lot of my friends actually accepted this opinion in the same way, and certainly nothing in the wider world of modernist storytelling disposed me to be any more charitable to allegory than Tolkien was. One does tend to think of allegory as being inartistic and contrived, and resent it when it intrudes upon fiction.

No doubt Tolkien had good reason to be exasperated by all the critics attempting to straitjacket his wonderful story into various ridiculous interpretive frameworks. But in more recent years, as I’ve studied history and literature in more depth, I’ve come to realise that allegory is by no means the simple and childish genre I first thought it. Rather, allegory has a very long and indeed a very noble history. For centuries during medieval Christendom, it occupied pride of place in every author’s literary arsenal.

A Short History of Allegory
From earliest times, people have used stories to illustrate truth. In fact, “parable” is a synonym for “allegory”, and the parables of Jesus Christ are an excellent place to begin any defence of allegory. Later, the apostles themselves set the tone for later medieval allegories, interpreting the redemptive history of the Old Testament as allegory of things in the New. In Galatians, Paul explains that Abraham’s concubine Hagar is an allegory of the Old Covenant, and his wife Sarah is an allegory of the New. Later, Peter, in one of his epistles, interprets Noah’s ark as an allegory of baptism.

These are just two of many New Testament examples. By the time St Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s AD, this allegorical mode of interpretation was widely accepted. As Augustine argues in his magnum opus, to interpret history allegorically does not mean denying that it literally happened. Rather, these church fathers were eager to follow the apostolic example in reading their history with the eyes of faith, discerning the deeper meanings beneath the historical events.

By the high Middle Ages, this hermeneutical approach had reached a high-water mark of sophistication and complexity. There were two major interpretive modes—the literal and the allegorical—but allegory itself was divided into three further modes. To John Cassian and other medieval thinkers, Scripture spoke in four different senses, summarised in a Latin lyric:

Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria,
Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia.

According to Peter Leithart’s translation in Ascent to Love: A Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy, this may roughly be translated as:

The literal teaches past deeds, the allegorical what you are to believe,
The moral [tropological] what you are to do, the anagogical what you hope to achieve.

According to Cassian, the literal or historical sense simply tells us what happened. The allegorical sense tells us something about current spiritual reality on a collective/macrocosmic scale. The moral or tropological sense applies to our own personal spiritual life, and the anagogical looks forward to an eschatalogical consummation.

Thus, for the medievals, the story of the Jews’ journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land might have been interpreted, literally, as the history of the Jewish nation; allegorically, as a picture of the Church’s quest to inherit the earth in the New Covenant era; morally, as a picture of the believer’s sojourn in the world on his way to heaven; and anagogically, as a yearning for the consummation of history in which the Church will for all time reach its Promised Land at the Second Coming.

Likewise, the parable of the Good Samaritan could be, and was, interpreted literally, as a story of travel in first-century Judaea; allegorically, as a picture of the church’s mission to the world (the church being represented by the innkeeper who cares for the wounded man); morally, as a picture of our lost and sin-sick condition, incapable of being assisted by the Law and the Prophets in the persons of the priest and the Levite; anagogically, as a forward look to the time when our Good Samaritan will return to repay His church (the innkeeper) and take believers to his home.

Still with me?

Given this intense focus on allegorical interpretation of Scripture, also known as interpretive maximalism, it’s no surprise that the medievals came to view allegory very highly, incorporating it into much of their fiction. Not until the Enlightenment in the 1600s and 1700s did allegory and symbolism finally fall from grace, giving way to the more rational and literal mind of modernism.

The Potential of Allegory
This historical framework gives us three important keys for unlocking the potential of allegory. 
First, we see that for the medievals, allegory was primarily a way of understanding actual history, via Scripture. Where we see it primarily as a way of inserting meaning into narrative, they saw it primarily as a way of extracting meaning from narrative. It’s important to note that for the medievals, the literal sense of the history was still important. The Garden of Eden had a symbolic meaning, but that didn’t mean it had no literal being. This, I believe, translated into a form of allegory in which the meaning did not tend to overwhelm the story on the literal, surface level. CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, for example, is much more typical of medieval allegory than is The Pilgrim’s Progress in that the story is fully engaging even if the deeper meaning evades the reader.

Second, allegory itself was capable of operating on many levels at once. We see this multilayered meaning in what may be the most magnificent allegorical work of all, Edmund Spenser’s epic The Faerie Queene. On the literal level, the Faerie Queene is a thrilling tale of questing knights, but the symbolism is wonderfully complex; if you drill down a level into one layer of meaning, you discover another layer lurking beneath. One character, literally a villainous witch, also symbolises a whole slew of things: Falsehood, the Roman church, and Mary, Queen of Scots, to begin with. (And yep—if you’re guessing Spenser was Protestant, you’d be correct.)

Again, our lack of familiarity with allegory outside The Pilgrim’s Progress has, I think, prevented us from recognising allegory as the highly complex artform it could be. The allegory in Bunyan’s work, as edifying and gloriously well-written as it is, operates on one fairly obvious level; it does not exactly rise to heights of artistic sophistication.

Third, in reading enough medieval romances, one begins to see that allegory was not usually treated as a genre in itself. Rather, it was often used as a literary device like metaphor, foreshadowing, or dramatic irony—just another tool in the author’s toolbox, used and then set aside to strengthen a particular effect. It is not unusual in medieval literature for the characters, whose adventures have until now been fairly free of allegorical symbolism, to experience some analogue of Bunyan’s Interpreter’s House at some point in the plot. This happens, for instance in Le Morte D’Arthur, where the warriors of the Round Table set out on the Quest for the Holy Grail and immediately find themselves in a series of surreal adventures which later turn out to have allegorical meaning. 

Allegory for the Twenty-First Century
As you may know, I’m the author of a novel based on Arthurian legend, Pendragon’s Heir. A few months ago I heard from a friend and advance reader who told me, “In addition to being my new favorite Arthur legend, I think it might be my favorite allegory, partly because it's not really all that allegorical.” That surprised me a little, because I had not consciously written the novel as an allegory.

But as I think it over, I realise that I did write the book, as near as I could manage it, from a medieval perspective on allegory and storytelling. I am never perfectly satisfied when a book comes with no meanings swimming, like watery leviathans, below the surface. Accordingly, some passages and devices in Pendragon’s Heir are intentionally highly symbolic. Sometimes this is because I borrowed freely from Malory and his Le Morte D’Arthur, and the allegory was inherent in that original material. And sometimes, it’s because an idea occurred to me which fitted perfectly into the themes and flavour of the rest of the book. But there is no overarching, coherent symbolic scheme in the novel: just glimpses of allegory, rising to the surface, throwing off a glint of gold, and fading back into the depths.

I’m still not sure exactly what Tolkien’s objection to allegory was. But he is the man who caused me to fall in love with medievalism, and medievalism is what caused me to fall in love with allegory, so I will trust that he had good reasons. All the same, I think it’s high time we gave allegory another look. True, it’s been out of favour as a literary device for centuries. But today, I wonder if it is making a comeback. Certainly more Christian authors seem to be picking it up and adding it to their toolboxes, perhaps under the influence of CS Lewis. I think this is an exciting development. I have found allegory capable of astonishing maturity, variety, poignancy, and beauty. Let it be a lost art no longer.

. . .

all about pendragon's heir

Blanche Pendragon enjoys her undemanding life as the ward of an eccentric nobleman in 1900 England. It's been years since she wondered what happened to her long lost parents, but then a gift on the night of her eighteenth birthday reveals a heritage more dangerous and awe-inspiring than she ever dreamed of—or wanted. Soon Blanche is flung into a world of wayfaring immortals, daring knights, and deadly combats, with a murderous witch-queen on her trail and the future of a kingdom at stake. As the legendary King Arthur Pendragon and his warriors face enemies without and treachery within, Blanche discovers a secret that could destroy the whole realm of Logres. Even if the kingdom could be saved, is she the one to do it? Or is someone else the Pendragon's Heir?

Available for purchase on Createspace (paperback) and Smashwords (e-book) // Read reviews and add the book on Goodreads // Check out the Pinterest board!

all about suzannah rowntree

When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, released March 26 on Kindle and in paperback.

Terrible First Efforts

09 February 2015

We all remember our terrible first efforts: those manuscripts we knew for sure would land us on New York Times bestseller lists, but in reality sat in various stages of completion and collected metaphorical dust on our hardrives. Over a month ago, Braden shared a vlog on The Storymonger in which he read some excerpts of his early writing. I thought the idea was a brilliant one and had planned to film a vlog of my own, but time got away from me (when does it not?), and I decided to go with a written post instead. The following are excerpts from varied sources, primarily The Story of Elena, my 2011 NaNo novel. Elements of Elena made their way into early drafts of Rifles in the South Field, but for the most part, the idea was set aside for reasons that will soon be made quite clear.

read & snicker

Oh Elena, don’t be so dramatic . . .”
“That’s Lady Elena, peasant,” I returned bitingly. 

The cottage was an open-doored, open-windowed affair, and rarely a day went by when it did not ring with the charming notes of a Celtic air. Though the girl was not much of a singer, her mother and father did not mind the regular warbling, for the former was half deaf in one ear, and the latter was so consumed with his books that he could not have told the difference between his daughter’s high notes and a screeching dog.
a bit of irish whimsy

It seems like such a silly thing over which to have a war. The holy city of Jerusalem. . . . Will it bring them great wealth and prestige just to say they control it? Certainly not. Besides, if it did, I would have found some way to gain it by now.

Aunt Bridget brought a rather large basket to the table at that moment, practically overflowing with vegetables, bread, cheese, and a host of other provisions.”
“Aunt!” I exclaimed in alarm. “How am I to get anywhere carryin' that?!”
“Pish posh,” she responded without concern. “Ye'll be glad of the food when ye're hungry on the battlefield.”
“I don't think I'll be thinkin' about that when I'm fightin' against men who seek to end my life!” I exclaimed again.
“Well, whether ye like it or not, ye're bringin' it, and that's final. I won't have me own nephew starvin' to death.” She eyed me firmly.
Seeing she wasn't to be swayed, I relented. Food might come in handy during the journey, after all.
[Food might come in handy?]

Richard Kingsley and I are here to enlist in the army, sir,” I said, looking the man in the eye with a steady gaze.
“Oh, that is good news—we need all the soldiers we can get,” the man said, looking relieved. “Do you have any experience?”
“Little, sir,” Richard said.
“Very well, then you shall start at the bottom. There will be plenty of time to work your way up.” The burly man pointed to a small tent. “Go in there; the man will tell you everything you need to do.”
["Welcome to Crusades 101."]

Just look around you, and then look over the horizon at the Arab camps. We look like a small crumb on a platter piled high with food.”
[Does anyone actually say that? Let's make it a new expression.]

But how are we to know if the woman of whom we are speaking and your wife are one and the same?” I asked, entering back into the conversation. “There could be hundreds of Mistress Bakers in England.”
“Did she offer you a place to stay?” our new friend asked inquisitively. 
“Yes, she did—why?” Richard asked. 
“Then she’s my wife,” he replied with certainty. “Never will you meet a kinder or more generous woman.”
[What does this say about the other English women?]

Forgive me, but it seems to have slipped my mind that the world will end with your family’s reputation.”
do you dare to share your own juvenilia?

The Write Solution (When Your Stories Run Dry)

02 February 2015

"I read more than other kids; I luxuriated in books. Books were my refuge. . . . And there was a moment during my junior year in high school when I began to believe that I could do what other writers were doing. I came to believe that I might be able to put a pencil in my hand and make something magical happen. Then I wrote some terrible, terrible stories." 
bird by bird | anne lamott

I used to shun books about writing. "Just sit down and write," I'd groan. "Reading about the process won't give any polish to your rough draft. Write and learn as you go." And for a while, I lived on that advice. Violets Are Blue, Rifles in the South Field, Anath's Song, and bits of other novels were all scribbled by the so-called seat of my pants. I had outlines. I had various marked up notes. I did bits of harem-scarem research here and there, sometimes specific (but more often broad). It worked — for a time. But when I realized I was rusty on the basics — when my dialogue failed to carry the story; when my characters fell flat; when the whole business frustrated me with its half-baked approach — I knew I needed to go back to the most basic elements of all.

I'm still not a proponent of self-help books. I still live by the same writing advice I first swore by years ago: read good books and keep at your own writing until you can produce good books. But if you're like me and you're realizing there are aspects of your craft that could really do to be sharpened, well, there are masters aplenty at your fingertips.

Any athlete who tries to run before he can walk will fail. He'll fall to the sidelines and cough in the dust churned by his superiors' pounding feet. That's exactly how I've felt for the past three years: determined to write full novels, but with little on which to go. My plots were in shambles, grown dusty after months of neglect. I once wrote fluidly, but as my essays have improved, my fiction has fallen to the side. My best writing comes in the bursts of spontaneous dialogue and impromptu flash fiction that I scribble down from time to time and occasionally post.

The day came when I decided to put the madness on hold. I'd talked with my dad about my frustration over my seeming inability to produce any decent story material (sound familiar?). He recommended I change my approach to fit reality. Each morning, I've been waking up an hour earlier than usual to read fiction. Currently it's Flannery's Complete Stories; next I'm hoping to begin Anna Karenina. I know if I wait until the day starts, it won't happen, but if I make a point of rising early enough, an hour of leisure reading sounds quite appealing. At night, I read a chapter or two from a book about the art of writing. I recently finished Dorothy Sayers' Mind of the Maker (highly recommended) and have started in with the ever-hilarious Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. I'm imbibing quality fiction, as well as refreshing myself on the elements of good stories.

In short, I've given myself permission not to write a novel right now. Rifles in the South Field sounds too forced when I try to pound out a few thousand words; perhaps, like a good wine, it still needs to mature. After this semester ends and I've gone through my shelf of books and essays on writing, I'll be ready to attack that list of research books: not half-heartedly as I once did, fitting in a chapter a month in the midst of school reading, but patiently and methodically. It's true that we make time for what we want to do, but we do our work with excellence when we're not stretched too thin.

I'm glad to know that the learning process can still be an exciting one. For once, I don't feel anxious over the fact that I'm not currently working on a novel. I look forward to reading Flannery in the morning and Lamott at night, and I've learned much from each. I've pulled away from my own fiction, and as a result, I'm able to see the flaws. It's both humbling and fulfilling to accept the fact that I am still the student, to stop speaking and instead draw up a chair and listen. Youth used to seem an anxious space of time in which I needed to fill files with complete pieces of literature, but the rush to finish high school with so many documents heavy with words means nothing if they're not good words.

So, reader, don't discredit the writing books. More importantly, don't discredit the books. I struggled alone for too long with little to no results. If you've noticed your own words coming stale and flat, know that you're not the only one. The cracks in your prose may have to do with a decline in the words going in. Is your fiction intake healthy? Are you well-versed in the art of the written word? There are good, credible authors at your disposal, and these time-worn gems won't empty your pocket like the newest how-to-write-a-book-fast manual. Newton spoke truthfully when he called these wordsmiths giants, and you'll see so much farther if you step on their shoulders.


27 January 2015

photo credit: alyssa joy photography
"When we asked Pooh what the opposite of an Introduction was, he said, 'The what of a what?' which didn't help us as much as we had hoped, but luckily Owl kept his head and told us that the opposite of an Introduction, my dear Pooh, was a Contradiction; and, as he is very good at long words, I am sure that that's what it is."
the house at pooh corner | a.a. milne

When I began this blog five years ago (today!), I didn't know where it would take me. I was an ambitious twelve-year-old who loved books and wanted to talk about them with other people. In the space of a morning, "Lizzy's Library" was born (Living On Literary Lane didn't come until several months later), and for a time, I was known as "Lizzy Bennet" in the realm of homeschooled bloggers. Not long after, I changed that name to the more permanent "Elizabeth Rose," a step in a new direction that still retained some semblance of the old. Under that moniker I have been writing these four and a half years.

(You probably know what's coming next.)

I've been planning this "unveiling" of sorts since last autumn, but since Carmel was working on her own website overhaul, I delayed my January 1st reveal until today, January 27th, so as to avoid confusion. I can still recall in detail that ordinary day five years ago when I wrote a brief introduction, laying out the goals of my brand-new weblog: book reviews, poetry contests, giveaways, and writing excerpts. Some of these have changed dramatically between 2010 and 2015, and I imagine they'll change a bit more between 2015 and 2020, but the heart of Literary Lane — storytelling, the writer's craft, imagination, and the role of Christianity in these and all other aspects — is still the same. With that knowledge, I hope you will not feel strange around these parts, since both Literary Lane and myself have had a bit of grooming.

But who am I, exactly?

chloe m. kookogey

I have to say, it feels so nice to be known at long last by my real name: to draw in-person friendships and online friendships together and bind them in one. I've written up a fresh "about me" page, which you can check out hereHannah Rose Beasley Art & Design created Literary Lane's new look, and it proved to be the perfect fit. Hannah herself was a joy to work with and I appreciated getting to see my thoughts and ideas built into a format that is open, beautiful, and welcoming. I had been thinking my inglenook was in need of some sunlight, and I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome. Friends, get thee to her website and consider purchasing one of her design packages: her work is worth the investment.

Besides the outside polish, not much has changed around these parts. You'll see posts going up regularly on Monday and Friday, and you might see hints of college peeking out here and there (because yes, that is happening in the fall, as strange and quick as it seems), but otherwise, I'm still the same person I've always been. That's why this post is less of an introduction (but not quite a contradiction) and more of a welcome.

“So perhaps the best thing to do is to stop writing Introductions and get on with the book.”
winnie-the-pooh | a.a. milne

Dusty Fiction

19 January 2015

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
flannery o'connor

You may have noticed that Flannery O'Connor has been making several cameos hereabouts. For Christmas I received a beautiful copy of her Complete Stories, and though my pace has been so slow as to be hardly dubbed "currently reading," I am making my way through the book.

I first met Flannery on the page in my English class last year by way of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." At the time, I wasn't terribly invested. Flannery herself — her life story, her thoughts on writing, her faith — made a strongly favorable impression on me, but I couldn't escape the uncomfortable twinges her fiction sent down my spine. There's no getting around it: Flannery wrote about the gritty, the deformed, and the grotesque. Even after reading her prayer journal, I still couldn't stomach her fiction. Did I like it when my impassioned teacher shed light on the raw redemption and grace? Of course. But the stories themselves on no other merit than their own? They weren't what I'd expected, and I finished the assignment on a neutral footing.

In giving them another try half a year later, I've determined to read each story carefully with my eyes wide open. (Hence the snail's pace.) Two stories were not enough to win me to Flannery, but I've read eight now, and her misfit-riddled prose is growing on me. Last Sunday before church I read "The Crop," and I think I've found a so-far favorite.

“If Miss Willerton were going to write a story, she had to think about it first. She could usually think best sitting in front of her typewriter, but this would do for the time being. First she had to think of a subject to write a story about. There were so many subjects to write stories about that Miss Willerton never could think of one.”
"the crop"

Miss Willerton, as I'm sure you've realized, is a writer. After crumbing the table after breakfast, she sits down and taps away at her typewriter for the rest of the morning. The only problem is that for every ten minutes she spends writing, she spends the other fifty deciding what to write next. She has a particular inclination towards the colorful, the pathetic, and the artistic, but as time inspiration starts flowing, she finds herself in the story in place of the female heroine, and her hands lie idle as her mind runs free. On this particular day, she decides on a sharecropper and his wife for her main characters, but she soon kills off the woman and inserts herself as the object of the man's affections.

Had the story stopped there, Flannery could be called an honest writer, perhaps even an insightful one, but her fiction would follow the same trend as every other archetype about the spinster author who can't escape her attic and thus lives vicariously through her characters. Flannery doesn't stop there, though. Miss Willerton, called Willie, has just (fictionally) given birth to a daughter when Lucia wakes her from her reverie and sends her to do the grocery shopping. The last shreds of illusion fall to the ground when Willie goes to collect a dozen eggs and two pounds of tomatoes.

Eggs. Tomatoes. Grocery sellers. They reek of every common thing she despises.

When she's leaving the market-place, Willie comes face to face with her characters' living and breathing doppelgangers. Only, these people don't have the glamour of fictional sharecropper life in all its imagined lore hanging about them. The husband is "long . . . wasted . . . shaggy." The wife's ankles are decidedly thick, and her eyes can only be described as muddy. There's nothing remarkably picturesque about this flesh-and-blood couple, and Willie hurries home in disgust, scraps the half-written story, and begins one about the Irish.

Books, even history ones, have a way of painting an ideal image of people, and we drink it up and spit it out anew in the form of our own creations. I spoke in past post of humans' hidden backgrounds and veiled mystique. That is but half the picture. In Flannery's own words,

Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction. It's not a grand enough job for you.”

In "The Crop," Willie abandons her sharecroppers as soon as she encounters them without the guise of literary cosmetics. Were I in her position, I might have done the same. Humans simply aren't as romantic as they're made to seem on the page. Men don't always whisper sweet nothings in ladies' ears like Kenneth Ford. Women don't always retain their beauty after fighting or fleeing or fainting (in fact, I'm sure they never do). Willie turns to the Irish for sake of their "musical brogue" and "splendid history," but were she to encounter a legitimate Irishman, she would probably throw that idea out as well. We've drunk so much of literary romance that we can't stand the reality of humanity.

That is what I have finally come to love in Flannery's stortelling: she's not afraid to get her hands dirty when she writes. Her characters are full of flaws; sometimes they seem made of nothing else. She doesn't paint an elegant picture of mankind, but the image she does paint stings so sharply with truth that we're drawn to it all the same. I find bits of myself in Miss Willerton. I'm sure some of you may as well; if not now, perhaps in the days of your own juvenilia. We've all sat down hopefully for an afternoon of scribbling and found the process harder than we anticipated because it requires us to face humanity's deepest flaws — our own deepest flaws, for that matter. Sin bleeds from every layer of skin. But when we understand that — when we are willing to write in the tangles and knots and throw away our old notions of excotism and mystery — then will the light of grace shine through strongest of all. You will, as C. S. Lewis once pointed out, be writing truth, and the miracle of Providential mercy will stand in stark contrast.

Is your fiction dusty?

Emboldening Stories: An Interview With Jennifer Freitag

16 January 2015

Jenny approached me a week ago with a novel proposition (pardon the pun): a post-publication Plenilune interview that deals with some of the questions readers have raised after finishing the book. Now that Plenilune has made a variety of impressions on its audience, I had fun doing a bit of research through reviews of all colors, and came up with the following list of interrogations, which Jenny willingly answered. Have you wondered about the pacing, the exposition, the romance, or the warfare in Plenilune? Still considering whether it's something you should pick up or pass over? Then read on, Lizzy! Plenilune — and its author — just might surprise you.

1. Welcome to Literary Lane, Jennifer! After more than two months on the market, Plenilune has received its share of reviews. Have any readers’ comments surprised you?

Well, considering I had not read Jane Eyre during the years I was working on Plenilune, the comparison surprised me—what surprised me still more were the similarities, not in plot, but in detail, between the two novels.  

Another thing which surprised me is the polarization between people who like or don’t like Plenilune.  No one is middle-of-the-road on it, even if they must be divided in their own opinions: it is an all-or-nothing novel: you either love it or hate it.  That degree of emotional response took me by surprise.

2. Several readers have compared Plenilune to Jane Eyre in style and form. In what way is your prose akin to Brontë’s? Where do you differ?

This is the only Charlotte Brontë novel I have read—and I’m not finished with it—but I have the endorsement of someone who has studied Charlotte’s writing, so I’m assuming my assessment is not totally off the reservation: Charlotte Brontë and I are both passionate artists, and no matter what we write, we see things in a visceral.  Our emotions are powerful and important to the way we see the world.  But at the same time, I noticed, we don’t quite trust our own tempestuous spirits, because alongside that rich, colourful flare of vision and prose is a sense of the calm and collected, almost as if holding ourselves and the world at arm’s length so that we can see them clearly and so that our passions do not wholly cloud our perception.  

3. Your characters have been labeled wild, god-like, and larger than life. In the context of planetary fantasy, how do these lords and ladies maintain enough humanity so that we still relate to and empathize with them?

To really do this question justice, the answer would be longer than I should make it here.  Suffice it to say, mankind has, since the antediluvians, looked backward to a golden age in which men were great, grand, god-like, and bent the world to their will—just as we would expect of a race crafted along divine lines and turned out onto a planet with the injunction to dominate it.  No longer living in those times, we have legends, epics, and the fantasy genre to sate our desires to be more than merely dust.  The characters in Plenilune are “larger than life,” but they exhibit those ancient human attributes that we want, and we still associate with those personalities at a deep, essential level.  

4. Civil war lies at the center of the novel’s plot. In that vein, have readers expressed surprise or consternation at the violence in the story?  What is your stance on literary bloodshed, both in your novels and in others’?

There has been some surprise expressed, which has puzzled me, given the subject matter of the novel.  You couldn’t not have violence in the novel, given that is revolves around war, and given the nature of the culture and characters involved.  The impact of the novel would be lost and the taste would be spiceless and insipid without physical expression.  

Obviously, I don’t have a problem with bloodshed in writing.  Some of the stories we like best are the ones in which people are willing to go to the point of shedding blood (their own and other people’s) for what they hold dear, and it would be an injustice to human sentiment to leave that out of Plenilune.  There is a time for peaceableness, but there is also a time for war; I’m surprised that any student of the Scriptures and the history of the war-lords of Israel would find my bloodshed “over the top” or too much to handle, especially as I do steer clear of “gratuitous” violence.  When people take issue with the violence that arises due to the war in Plenilune, I am more often perplexed as to the nature of modern fiction today, which would render people shy of my approach to bloodshed.

5. Romance, though not the primary focus of the story, plays a significant part in Plenilune. Does your handle on love affect its interpretation in the book?

I don’t read a lot in the romance genre, so the tropes and clichés of the trade are lacking from the relationships in Plenilune: I think that lack throws people off at first.  Someone said that Plenilune is like nothing they had never read, and therein lies the key!  My approach to my written romances tend to be far more intuitive, the conjoining of two souls more subtle, than you may find in a novel slotted solely under the genre of romance.  

6. How does the pace of the novel deviate from most twenty-first century books? Why does this best suit Plenilune?

I want to be safe and say right here that the answer contains a slight spoiler.  The underlying drive of Plenilune is the gradual, inexorable melding of Margaret and Plenilune itself; the war between the contenders for the Overlordship of the Honours becomes progressively more and more contiguous with the possession of Margaret as she herself becomes the visible icon of that world.  This naturally takes time to explore and build, and the pace of the novel is occasionally like the pace of life: Margaret has to come to know and grow into Plenilune, and vice versa.  Because of this important aspect of Plenilune, such a pacing would not be suitable for novels that don’t hinge upon this plot point.

7. Readers have voiced mixed opinions on Plenilune’s ornate prose. Do you feel your use of exposition adds to the story’s merit?

[review by elisabeth grace foley]
Plenilune and the people who populate it are rich and raw and like nothing Margaret has experienced before: everything she experiences with them hits a nerve in her and rarely lets up.  The rawness and richness of the prose style I chose for Plenilune is tailored to deliver the same impact to the reader.  It would be lying to say this hammering was always pleasant for Margaret; I gather readers, suffering a similar barrage, feel the strain of the overwhelming splendour of the story’s surroundings as well.  

The characters you meet in Plenilune, as has been pointed out, are larger than life: even more than that, the character of Plenilune itself is going to have a genius that will almost break your bones, it is so immense.  The intensity of the prose is an exposition of the world Margaret is getting to know, and it is a character which is often unforgiving in its revelation to the reader.  But without it, it would not be Plenilune.

8. Looking back on the book post-publication, are there elements of it you would change? 

At this point, no, actually, there aren’t.  I’m still astonished by the cohesive scope of Plenilune, and as I continue in my career, I can only hope to attain that again even as I grow in my craft.  There is a mindset in the writing community today that tacitly stipulates that one cannot write one’s own novel: one must have beta readers, and be constantly going to other people to insure plots are “good,” or to glean new ideas.  While I would not be so arrogant as to deny the use of outside eyes and minds, I do not believe I need help writing my novel.  It is my novel, and if I cannot write it myself, I have no business in this craft.  Having edited and scrubbed and tightened and polished the novel more times than I can remember, I would now not change a person or a plot-point.  In the words of Lord Frith,

There is no bargain.  What is, is what must be.”

9. Plenilune has been called a “love letter to goodness and grace . . . to legend and pain.” Is this an accurate reading? Specifically, in a story where warfare and animosity are not veiled, how does grace come through?

A “love letter to goodness and grace…to legend and pain” is probably one of the most touching and rewarding things I have heard about Plenilune.  Plenilune was an opportunity to express in unveiled terms how passionately militant grace can dominate the human spirit.  While closely joined within the characters, there is a sharp contrast between the swift harshness of justice and the tenderness of mercy: the godless, unbending, and haughty are leveled with the full weight of retribution, while the weak, helpless, and unprotected are shown grace.  

It is possible that the harsh side of characters is interpreted by readers as being part of their flaws.  These characters are fallible and fallen, and will have flaws, but their occasional hammer-and-tongs attitudes and the seeming brutality of their justice when it falls are not flaws at all.  In our acceptance of the idea of Christ-likeness, we readily gather to the concept of meekness, gentleness, mildness, compassion, forgiveness; while these are all beautiful attributes, people often overlook the wrathful side.  There is no other word to describe it than “wrathful.”  A reader will find certain characters in Plenilune zealous for the Lord’s house and jealous of the protection, rights, and comfort of those who have no power to defend themselves.  The picture of a consuming fire is not a flaw, it is an aspect of holiness; the disavowal of the haughty and wicked are not signs of unforgiveness, but an imitation of God’s own heart.  On the other coin-side of this wrath is grace.

10. How do you want readers to come away from Plenilune?

There is a Rich Mullins song which asks, “Did they tell you stories about the saints of old, stories about their faith? They say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.”  I want both myself and my readers to come away from this story bolder and deeper.  In the words of Evangelist (referencing the Lord out of Isaiah): “Look well to your own hearts and set your faces like flint.  You have all power in heaven and earth on your side.”

You can learn more about Jennifer at her blog, The Penslayer. Plenilune is available for purchase through Amazon.

Cover Reveal: The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea

13 January 2015

the sound of diamonds
rachelle rea
coming june 15, 2015!

In Reformation-era England, a converted rogue wants to restore his honor—at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk Godfrey knows he has only one chance at redemption.

An independent Catholic maiden seeking refuge in the Low Countries finds herself at the center of the Iconoclastic Fury. Jaded by tragedy, Gwyneth’s only hope of getting home is to trust the man she hates, and she soon discovers her poor vision is not the only thing that has been blinding her.

But the home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, will the saint and the sinner hold to hope…or be overcome? When Dirk’s plan fails, could all be lost?

Find The Sound of Diamonds on Goodreads and add it to your shelves!

about the author: rachelle rea

RACHELLE REA plots her novels while driving around the little town she’s lived in all her life in her dream car, a pick-up truck. As a freelance editor, she enjoys mentoring fellow authors in the craft. A homeschool graduate and retired gymnast, she wrote The Sound of Diamonds the summer after her sophomore year of college.

Find Rachelle: Website // Facebook // Twitter // Goodreads
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