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
Related Posts with Thumbnails