Tolkien & Allegory

Last week, I started re-reading Lord of the Rings for probably the fifth or sixth time. It has been about three years since I’ve read it, so I am definitely due for a read. That the series is my favorite work ever is reconfirmed every time I give it a read. Although I know what will happen, the writing draws me in every time. It feels like a sort of coming home, a tradition of familiarity in the comfort of immense talent–a perfect nostalgic sense to evoke during the holiday season!

This go-around, I actually read something new in the book–the author’s note in the forward. I claim to love Tolkien, but for some reason my anxious mind always wanted to get to the story and skipped over this part. Now, being an author myself, I found this segment fascinating to hear another author’s perspective. One quote really stood out to me. Tolkien was speaking about readers’ questions about whether or not the story was an allegory to the current events during the time of writing (WWII). Tolkien had this to say:

“I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” –J.R.R Tolkien

This quote really spoke to me as a former English major. I couldn’t begin to guess hour many hours of explication and class discussions we spent trying to figure out the “author’s true meaning” in everything from works of poetry to novels. Admittedly, historical evidence does show that some works are meant to be allegorical (Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” comes directly to mind), however, I like Tolkien’s view to consider applicability. Part of the beauty in a work of literature lies in the unique impression it gives to each individual reader. If a Lord of the Rings fan wanted to apply the context of WWII to the trilogy, and that gave the work more meaning to them, they are free to do so (although Tolkien might argue some of their points on the matter!).

Literature is not only the author’s freedom to write what words he will, but also the reader’s freedom to interpret or apply the words in the way that makes sense to him. It should not be the author’s task to move every single reader to the exact same conclusion or interpretation as that would take the magic of the human mind out of the equation.

Processes.

I’ve been off my writing grind for awhile, caught up in a busy time for my other job (driving grain trucks for harvest, believe it or not). It has given me time to realize, in a much more prolonged way, the processes I go through as an author. It was nearly a year ago that I made the big step which started me on the transition to “someday I will do this” to “I will do this now.” Over the past year I have learned a lot–to say the least! A lot of this learning has been about the industry, but much more has had to do with myself.

I go in cycles with my work. It starts out in trepidation, a lot of doubt and not much self confidence. But the need to write builds up and eventually I put words out there and feel an immense sensation of mental release.

Then I go back and read the words. This is an essential part of my process. When I’m writing I get so involved in the flow that I scarcely remember all the details the story accumulates. Thus, when I go back not only does it remind me of the plot twists, but it also builds my self confidence. I read my own words and my mind allows a not so humble thought (“hey, this doesn’t suck!”) to emerge.

This gives me confidence to write more. In my most confident moments I will go on a writing spree, accomplishing a chapter a day. I am high on the feeling of actually accomplishing my goals, and doing them well. This is how I got two manuscripts (rough drafts admittedly!) done in only six months.

After the high necessarily comes the low. For me, this comes with the denials, and the frustration of being stuck in the plot. When the writing isn’t flowing, I feel like it never will. When denial after denial flows into my inbox, I despair that is the only response my work will ever get. This is a recipe for sluggishness, a part of the process where I shy away from my Word document.

Thus, I’m back to trepidation and lacking self-confidence. Square one of my process. However, it is fascinating to inspect this circular way I work, and it is heartening to know that the next step is one in the right direction. Happy Friday!

New Week, New Strategies

This week I am starting off with some new strategies for querying agents. Referring to my post on writing dystopian, I feel like it is going to be difficult to find the agent that is searching for that particular genre. However, they are out there, I just have to find them!

Today I googled “literary agent dystopian,” and got some hits. While I didn’t check out many links today, I did find an agent who loves dystopian worlds and immediately made out a query letter for her. I think this is a better strategy than I have had previously where I would search good agencies and then go to whatever agents were available there, regardless of whether they specifically said dystopian. I also plan to use this strategy with the New Adult category. Since that is a growing genre, surely I will be able to find agents specifically searching for it.

Another new strategy I am using quite frequently is the Writer’s Digest new literary agents spotlight. I am on the fence about new agents. For one, they have less experience than more established agents. However, they are more actively building their client base. For me, it’s definitely worth a shot. I am a young writer with little experience and if a similarly young agent wants to take a chance on me, I’ll take a chance on them. I will definitely be referring to the new literary agent spotlight list from now on. Not only for the agent information, but also because it leads me to other agencies to explore. For instance I clicked on a new agent profile, then linked to her agency website and from there ended up querying another agent and heading over to a new agency’s website that was listed in the bio of the agent I queried.

Using these new strategies, I am looking forward to heading into a productive week of querying and writing. Happy Monday!

Updates in Life and Writing

Hello all! I have been gone for quite an extensive amount of time as I was on my family vacation to Colorado. It was a great time and my Dad, Uncle and I ended up summiting nine 14ers (mountains over 14,000 ft. high!). While I did not get any writing done during the trip as my time was spent either climbing, eating or sleeping, the trip was great for meditative purposes. Being in Colorado was also interesting for exploring more of my setting. This is a fact that I tried to make rather subtle in the books, but the setting is based on a post-apocalyptic Denver area. I have always loved Colorado and the mountains, so I wanted my book to be set here in this MidWest/Rocky Mountain region. I don’t digress down this line of thought often as I like readers to engage with the characters rather than the history of their setting. However, I like to think that the Midwest would be the obvious place for a post-apocalyptic world to be set in–a major world crisis or war would wipe out the coastal metropolises, thus people who survived would be centrally located. This is about as far as I will go right now on that line of thought as I do want the history and what happened to create the world Mara and Runey live in now to maintain an aura of mystery so readers can ask and fill in their own questions.

While my thoughts on the trail didn’t focus specifically on Resistance itself, now that I am back I feel like some ideas and themes have really settled themselves in for me. Taking a break from the story was definitely a good thing; as I have mentioned, it has gotten very dark and getting away from that for a bit was good mental relief. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say this book is causing a lot of pressure for me. Resistance is the last book in the trilogy and i feel like there are a lot of loose ends to tie up in a powerful, elegant and gripping way. This is a trifecta that is hard to achieve. However, by setting the scene of the first few chapters as so dark and heavy, I think I have done the first step in giving the right tone for an elegant yet gripping finish. Now I just need to get back in the swing of writing! This is my first year of being a serious author, and I have learned a lot so far. One of the most important things I have learned is that I am definitely going to be a writer who has “seasons.” There will be times of the year (summer!) where I don’t get as much written, and I need to accept this. It doesn’t make me a better or worse author and it doesn’t make me lazy. Finding a balance between life and writing is a delicate process and I am gradually learning to realize that my winter page output is simply going to be more than that of my summer output.

Finally, I did contact the agency who had requested my full manuscript. Their submission guidelines said to do this if two months had passed without a response after a manuscript request. I have heard that you aren’t supposed to be too hasty with follow-up as it takes agents a long time to get through their piles of slush, so I was very glad the agency website had such specific guidelines about when to touch base. I haven’t gotten a response yet, so the waiting continues! Some things in my personal life are starting to come together for me, so I am hoping the agent hunt can be another thing falling into place! Wish me luck! 🙂

Chapter 8 & 9 Musings

Before I write these author responses to my posted chapters of Capacitance, I always go back and re-read the chapter for a refresh (it’s hard to remember what I wrote nearly two books ago!). When I went back and started reading Chapter 8, I didn’t get through the whole thing because there is a point that I really wanted to make in response to my saying that some people aren’t perceiving Mara as a likable character. In Chapter 8, we see Runey making an effort towards Mara (despite his own mental distress). Although she is standoffish towards him, he still sticks up for her with the other group members, then even in his own mind he finds her strengths behind her weaknesses. While Mara may not be the most likeable person in these first few chapters, Runey’s perceptiveness allows the reader to perhaps view her differently than their first impression. Not only does it shed light on the potential for connection (another “Capacitance” term reference!) between the two, but it also demonstrates how perceptive Runey is–Runey’s inner monologue helps build strengths for both characters.

Chapter 8 is all about people’s imperfections. Runey explores Mara’s flaws and finds the strength behind them, and then he betrays a weakness of his own. How can we blame Runey for taking Juleia into his room when he finds her in his dorm hall? Runey’s response lends a human element to his mission to get to Mara–to be human is to err, and Runey becomes more complex as he is not completely perfect. The imperfections continue in Runey and Juleia’s exchange in bed. Here we see why their relationship might not have been perfect even were it allowed to continue. Juleia harbors jealousy–a fact that is not new to their relations as Runey is well versed in dealing with it. Through this exchange the reader is invited to go back in time and imagine how Runey and Juleia were before the story began, and hopefully they begin to wonder if Juleia was truly good for Runey in the first place. The questions brought up by Chapter 8 are many that we as humans are familiar with, and as always, it is great to lend more humanity to one’s fictional characters.

Chapter 9 is a nice parallel to Chapter 8 as we see Mara thinking about Runey now instead of vice versa. It is easy to see the correlation and differences. Runey and Mara are both fascinated with the others’ physical appearance and physical imagery is what dominates their thought processes at this time. However, whereas Runey is having to train his mind to focus on Mara, Mara’s mind is wandering to thoughts of Runey of its own free will–much to her consternation. The differences continue as we compare Runey and Juleia–clearly two people who crave a relationship in their life–to Mara’s feelings on the matter. When she meets Langdon in the elevator, the scene drives home for the reader even more that Mara is not interested in dating and sees the whole business as trivial. Possibly the reader is anticipating that, given Mara’s viewpoint on love, Runey will have a hard time achieving his mission.

Now I am going to switch gears entirely for one final train of thought–Mara in her lab. People have asked me how I make the lab scene sound so convincing and wonder if I have taken science classes or spent time in a lab myself. While I am very flattered that my prose comes off so convincingly, I must say that my best preparation for writing these scenes was from watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, and perhaps a Biochemistry 110 class during my college years (although the associated lab was much below Mara’s standards!). Imagination came into play as well. Writing science fiction, a writer has a certain amount of license. While I didn’t want my story to be too “tech-y” or futuristic, I did want it to contain some speculative elements. Thus we have slide drives, DNA sequencing programs, etc. Perhaps why this sounds so “convincing” is because the technology is not too outlandish, and I try not to lose readers by launching into an epic exposition bit where I explain the history, implementation, and meaning of all devices used. Last note: I nearly passed out writing the sequence where Mara draws her own blood. LOL. But seriously, I do not do well around needles/blood/hospitals in general. A fact which kept me out of the fascinating field of medicine, but allowed me to pursue writing instead. 🙂 Book review coming tomorrow, stay tuned!

Current Progress: #amwriting #amediting

Things have been going as per usual in my writerly life this week–a little progress, a little frustration. Editing Inductance has been my main focus. As I noted last week, the first ten chapters were a little rough around the edges, but now that I am in the thick of things, it is all sounding very good. Shockingly, I do better with a lot of action and tight suspenseful scenes, even though these are the hardest for me to write! Ironically, I enjoy the characters’ relationships with each other and especially the romance aspect of the story, but these sectors are where I see the most need for editing. I suppose this problem arises from the simple fact that–in all actuality–human emotions and relationships are more complex than an action-y, main characters being chased and escaping from danger type of scene. Thus, as opposed to the tight, driving action of the prose, when I am writing emotional scenes or internal dilemma, those sentences tend to get longer and more complex, and need more editorial attention.

On the whole, however, editing has been a very painless process. In fact, it has bolstered my self-confidence! As I am editing along and find myself not wanting to stop because I want to stay immersed in the story, I feel a great sense of pride–I even have myself (the author) hooked on the story! Pride and a sense of accomplishment are great sensations to feel in the author’s cruel world of agent denials and constant self-doubt. The only thing about Inductance which gives me trepidation is the word count–78,000 words is a little slim, compared to Capacitance which stood at 89,000 words. I feel great about the way the story arcs and finds its own sort of resolution and set up for the next novel, but the word count still makes me a little nervous. Perhaps I need to explore the idea of inserting another storyline somewhere in the novel. I have some ideas–for instance one my secondary characters from the first book has not shown her face in the second book. Characters have talked about her, but she is not present. I can’t decide if that’s something I should take up and insert to create a higher word count. However, I had in the back of my mind thought about bringing her back in a certain way in the third book which I think would be very effective. Hopefully, once I get through the initial edit and have the full sense of a straight read through the story I might have a better idea of what to insert.

The final note of progress (which is also a note of frustration) which I have to report this week is that I officially started Resistance! While I had composed the first sentence already, this week I went ahead, swallowed my procrastination and wrote the first chapter. And I absolutely love the way it came out! Now I need to continue this sense of trust in myself and go on to the next chapter. Procrastination still rules as yet, however. For my series, it is more like having to write two first chapters since I have two main characters; each of their individual situations must be initially presented to the reader and that makes things a little more challenging. A jumping off point for the entire novel is always a very delicate and difficult thing to construct. I finally have a free weekend ahead of me though, so I intend to make use of it in true writer’s fashion and get some more words on that page! I hope everyone has a very lovely weekend and I will post Chapter 7 of Capacitance on Monday! 🙂

Dealing With Dialogue + Chapter 6 Thoughts

Every week when I post a sample chapter I go back and re-read it. Every time I do this, I learn something new about the chapter and think a little deeper about my process as a writer. My initial thoughts from Chapter 6–aside from the impression that I need to go back and weed out some adverbs!–was that the dialogue stuck out to me in this chapter.

Chapter 6 was one of the first chapters that is heavy on the dialogue. We have Runey, Elba, Vance and Mara together for one of the first times and I am just starting to give them their voices. Traditionally, I have always found dialogue a little challenging. If you have even skimmed some of my former blog posts, you will know that I find exposition very compelling, so it is hard for me to break from that and let the characters–literally–speak for themselves. Since I wrote a lot of critical essays in my English literature major in college, I was constantly writing pages of solid prose with no dialogue involved. Thus, dialogue did not come easy to me. I say this in the past tense, because after completing two manuscripts, this is simply not true anymore. While I do love my exposition, my characters’ conversations are easily implemented as well. So this is one area of improvement I have seen in myself as a writer since I composed Chapter 6 of Capacitance.

One other area that I have seen improvement is that my characters’ voices are perhaps a little bit cleaner now. It is a fine balance between giving each character a genuine voice and excluding some of the filler words which are natural in spoken conversation, but can be distracting in a written work. I am talking here about Elba’s “Um”s, Vance’s “Well, you know”s and things like that. We say them all the time in normal conversation, but the characters in a story don’t necessarily need to. As the story goes on, I do clean some of that up. I leave bits like that in if I think it really adds to the voice or the situation, but I think these fillers got a little overboard in Chapter 6.

My biggest insecurity about voice is that I am not going to differentiate it enough between characters and they will all end up sounding the same. It is a huge challenge to attempt to have one’s own voice as a writer and then have to balance the individual voices of all the characters in the novel. I think specifically Elba’s and Vance’s voices are two places I need to watch in Capacitance because I have a sneaking suspicion they may change just a bit as the book goes on, simply because I became more comfortable and in tune with them as characters. However, that’s another round of edits for another day as I am still knee deep in the initial edit of Inductance. With that being said, I am back to editing!

From #AmWriting to #AmEditing : The In-Between Manuscript Process

It’s been a little over a week since I finished up Inductance, but it seems like much longer! So much has happened since then, with my travels to Austin getting into the editing process. Being in between books is a strange and rather uncomfortable place for me now–I am used to always writing and filling parts of my day with putting words on the page. However, I think it is very important for me to take a little breath before I start writing the final book in the trilogy, Resistance.

The first reason for this is, I would like to have a bit more of an idea where the story is going and how it will get there. Right now, I have the first chapter planned out and maybe (maybe) ideas for the second chapter. Ultimately, I know where the story is going to end. However I am not sure how that will come about. As I work through the editing process, I hope to find inspiration for the final installation of my trilogy and have a better grasp of where it is all going. As a pantser writer, though, I don’t need too much direction before I begin!

Already, I feel the compulsion to begin Resistance. I think this is how one knows that the writer’s block and the insecurity and questioning whether you are really good enough to do this has passed. I am now a writer, it is part of my life and essential to my being. When I don’t write (as I haven’t this week) I feel the day lagging by as if some element is missing. So, it won’t be long, I’m sure before I am diving into the writing of my third manuscript. In fact, I already have the first line ready to go. Since it contains no spoilers, here it is: “The house was a beautiful glass prison.” With any luck, you are now asking, “Whose house?” “Why would a home be a prison?” and maybe you’re even intrigued by the conflicting imagery of an institution of confinement (a prison) made out of fragile glass. I’ve not had much luck with first pages before, but I think for once I am more than happy with this opening line. Hopefully the rest of the page, the rest of the chapter, the rest of the novel itself flows out with such confidence.

Until I let that stream of words flow, I am engaged in navigating the rocky waters of the editing process. The first ten chapters of Inductance were ROUGH. My goodness. I couldn’t even get into line by line editing them for content on the page. So much needs to be changed and refined. Refinement is the main issue here–at first I was just writing to write, to get into the characters and the narrative voice of another book. While it is kind of frustrating to look back and see so much work that needs to be done, I know that the reward will be worth it. I know the problems that the MS has presented and now I need to really get in touch with my characters and go back and give them the refined depth they deserve. All the concepts are right there on the page–they are just a little messier than I would prefer! However, I am happy to say that after Chapter 10, I have found everything much more pleasing. It is so crazy that even after having written one full book, it still took me some time with the second to get back into my true narrative voice. This is one reason I won’t be waiting too long to start Resistance; I need to keep the narrative voice fresh.

I hope all my readers in the U.S. have a fun and safe holiday weekend! I will be posting a fresh chapter of Capacitance on Monday! 🙂

Balancing Act: Writing With Two Main Characters

I always knew Capacitance would center around two main characters–from the very first image of inspiration, I knew that the story would involve a romance, and I also knew that I wanted to explore both aspects of that love story, namely both the male and female perspective. By default, the more characters introduced into a story, the more complex it gets, especially if point of view jumps between more than one main character. I have spoke of J.K. Rowling’s masterful handling of this multi-main character challenge in The Casual Vacancy. My story is not as challenging as that since it only concerns two main characters, however, the balance is important to keep readers invested in each of the characters in their own right. 

While writing Capacitance, I more or less stuck to a basic formula of alternating chapters; I would have a Mara chapter then a Runey chapter. These chapters would compliment each other because they would build on the action, but not rehash it. If the narrator never follwed Runey’s tale, the reader would be confused as to Runey’s motives for pursuing Mara, and the love story would not be as fleshed out. By allowing readers to see both sides of the story, they are given more insight and validation for what is happening between Mara and Runey. 

The male protagonist is something that is not always commonly seen in novels. By and large, the majority of today’s readers are women, thus selling to that market is most profitable in the way of book sale numbers. Even in many of today’s bestsellers, the male co-leads are somewhat shallow; you know they are the love interest, and the female lead is beyond dedicated to them, but the story doesn’t really flesh out their characteristics or qualities which make them so compelling. I wanted to create a complicated male co-lead for this series; one that the readers would come to know as innately as Mara. Thus the chapters from Runey’s world show insight into his emotions and way of thought. Writing from the male point of view is a challenge, but I really enjoyed writing Runey’s segment of the story. He has flaws and he makes big mistakes, but ultimately, he becomes a better man for it. 

While writing, I sometimes found myself enjoying Runey’s segments even more than I enjoyed writing Mara. In Chapter 4 we see the first really emotional, inward action on a character’s part, and that is Runey laying in bed with the realization of his loss of Juleia trickling back to him. I related to this scene so deeply and with Runey himself that at first he seemed to almost be taking over as the main character. However, as the story progresses, as you will hopefully someday see, the two really come to balance out and the storylines become equally as compelling, even though I stress out a lot over one not being as exciting as the other. As is so often the answer, the characters will work and speak for themselves and make the story flow as it should. 

One final thing worth mentioning about maintaining this balancing act between two main characters is the use of third person point of view. Since the reader is not being forced to bounce back between two narrative voices, the book has more flow and continuity. The third person narrator bridges the gap between Mara’s chapters and Runey’s chapters creating a cohesion which guides the readers along in a much less disjointed manner. This also makes things less confusing in segments where the two are physically together when a first person voice narrator could get a little tricky. 

Today may be the day I start the final book of the trilogy, so hopefully I can keep my character balance going strong through the final act! I will be posting more on my current writing progress and the in-between books process tomorrow, so stay tuned! 🙂

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

I am sorry for the lack of posts this week–everything is off balance with my travels of the past weekend, but I am going to try and get back on track with the traditional Wednesday post about a book which has inspired me. Today I am talking about a series. A series which was tragically cut short and is very different from any of the other inspiring books I have written about on here. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, or Millennium series. I picked up the first book in the series randomly one summer when I was in college and looking for a snappy read to pass a long road trip–the book perfectly fit the bill. Not sure what to expect, I was instantly swept into the action and the non-conventional characters. Aside from being a compelling thriller that is sometimes physically impossible to put down, the three books in this series have lessons that all writers can take inspiration from. 

First and foremost are the characters–they aren’t your typical protagonists. Lisbeth Salander, the tattooed, bisexual, computer hacking genius with a photographic memory is not the standard archetypal female protag. And Mikael Blomkvist, while on the whole a very classic, likeable protagonist, is not without his confused, rather infuriating womanizing tendencies. Thus, these two protagonists are presented to readers and given ultimately compelling situations and challenges, making the reader invested in them, even when they don’t deserve it. These kinds of characters which blur the line between black and white right and wrong are, in my opinion, some of the most interesting types of characters–readers indentify with them, trust them and root for them while in reality, if they were to meet these people on the street, they might shy away or be judgemental. Through the art of writing and the act of reading, one is transported to a much more open-minded place. 

Next, I must credit Larsson for his treatment of controversial issues. He is not afraid to introduce rape, murder, and socio cultural issues onto the page. He shows this underbelly of society which most people might not want to talk about and makes it front and center to his plot line. Larsson’s advocacy for women in these books is incredible; through Lisbeth Salander, he shows a woman being put through hell and by placing her in a contemporary setting, he reminds readers that her story is not fiction for some. 

Larsson’s treatment of the contemporary setting is something I take inspiration from as well. Many of the books I read are historical or fantasy, so it is important to read things set in the present. Larsson does this in a very gripping manner. The reader feels like they have actually visited Sweden after reading the book, and (in my case anyway) leave the reading feeling very inclined to actually make a visit over. The books portray the very essence of how an American feels after traveling to Europe–that they have just experienced something very familiar and yet distinctly foreign. 

The only aspect of Larsson’s series that I don’t enjoy is that fact that it ended. The ten books originally planned are now just three due to the author’s untimely death. I read somewhere online that the outlines for the remaining seven books exist. I was talking to my Dad about how I was cheated out of the remaining books and said I hoped someone would write them for Larsson someday based on his outlines. Dad’s response, “Maybe that someone could be you.” If only I could do them so much justice!