Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Musings: On Writing Hats and Tea

This was not the post I intended to write this week on the Wither Inspiration Series. I am experiencing some technical difficulties with my widgets and blog and computer and, well, life in general, which forced me to come up with a rather hasty Plan B. This will be, perhaps, a more light-hearted and whimsical take on my creative process which has nothing to do with Wither in and of itself, but everything to do with how I prepared myself for writing it. I hope to have the nasties worked out by next week so that I can continue with this series as I originally intended.

As artists, we all have a system. A pattern. A favorite chair. Or sweater. Or hat. Or routine. I've read so many books on how to write well, and most of them seem to concur that a regular routine is vital. Although I cannot claim to having a regular routine, as my writing is mashed in between work and church and family and home improvements, I do have a system. Today, I'm going to share the components I need to set the mood before I can even begin writing. It is often difficult for me to get into the writing mood, but these four things are a must for even the most blah writing days.


It all begins with the Tea. In a particular cup. It can be any flavor of tea, but it must go in the Cup. Unless that cup has been contaminated by a fur face, in which case I have a trusty backup. Honestly, in this household, I end up using the backup more often than not.


The Tea is followed by the Cat, who is not an invited part of my writing day. The Cat merely accompanies the appearance of the Tea. She usually brings a friend, and then squabbles over who gets to be on the front lines of the assault. When thwarted in the tea theft, or after being swatted for succeeding, the Cat ends up in my lap or behind the computer. Toady, in the picture above, is modeling her "Thwarted" expression for us. She most graciously agreed to pose for me today in order to assist in this post.


Next comes the mood Music. I especially enjoy Celtic CD's and movie soundtracks, as they tend to be a bit epic and less distracting than my other albums. On a really bad day, I like to turn the TV on in the background and listen to Disney, musicals, or a BBC miniseries. I also enjoy creating playlists specifically designed for the project I am working on. Josh Groban is one of the few artists who somehow ends up in every playlist I create. Casting Crowns is another group I particularly find inspiring, as well as all of the LOTR soundtracks. I've been especially enjoying the ones from the Hobbit trilogy of late.


Lastly, I have a writing Hat. Actually, I have MANY writing hats to fit my many writing moods. I have quite a broad spectrum of interests and a hat to go with almost every one of them. There is the Sleeping Hat, the Newsies Hat, the Civil War Hat, the Cowgirl Hat...I could go on, but I think you get the idea. My husband has a nice collection of hats, too, and there is one in particular I like to borrow when he isn't home. I call it the Neal Caffrey Hat (from White Collar). I really, really want a Jack Sparrow hat someday, but I haven't managed to sneak a pirate hat into the collection yet. I decided I simply had to share a picture of the Neal Caffrey Hat, since I mentioned it, but don't tell my husband I pilfer it when he is gone.

The Tea, the Cat, the Music, and the Hat: all this just so that I can begin writing. You can see why my writing tends toward the sporadic. Often, by the time I get all my cats in a row, I decide I'm hungry and put away my writing hat and trot off to the kitchen in search of something sweet. Cookie dough will suit just fine, thank you very much. No need to ruin it with baking.

Does anyone else have a routine like mine? I would love to hear about it!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Musings: Why Wither?

A little over a week ago, one of my fellow bloggers asked me if Wither had been inspired by a specific passage of Scripture. The answer, quite simply, is no. So what was my contribution to the Five Enchanted Roses collection really inspired by?

The answer to THAT question is...I honestly don't know!!

I don't think it was inspired by any one thing, but rather a whole list of rather unrelated things that came together to construct the story. This is rather a difficult post to write, without giving away too much of the plot, but I hope to try to answer this question about the origins of my story as best as possible, with plans of revisiting the topic after the collection's release later this summer. I should be very interested to know if what I "thought" I put into the story is what you readers actually get out of it.

The initial inspiration for Wither was the setting. I had already created the story world for After, which I wrote last year and have not yet published. After I wrote that first story, I realized I had a world which had so many more stories to tell, and that story world became The Neverway Chronicles, which tentatively involves four individual stories each based, quite loosely, around a fairy tale. While Wither is technically (and chronologically) the second story in the series, it will be the first to be published. It is a stand alone story, involving a different set of characters from the first story, but with a bit of foreshadowing into what came before and what will come after.

The plot for the story was, obviously, Beauty and the Beast. I tried to keep as many of the themes from the original fairy tale as I could while still allowing the story to be its own. There are several deviations, the most obvious being Bet herself, who is not the Father's youngest or most beautiful daughter. This deviation is quite important to the plot, but I cannot tell you why. Sorry.

The real heart of the story, however, is the Beast of Briarstone Abbey. In word count, I think Bet has more of a presence, but the story is certainly his. I decided to write the story in an alternating first person perspective, a technique I have been playing with for a couple of years now on another quite different project. My reason for doing this was because I needed to get into the Beast's head. It was his story I really needed to tell.

Every story I write, I write with a specific person in mind. Not that the story is ABOUT them but rather it is FOR them. Inspired by something they like, something they fear, something they've experienced, something they've taught me, etc. I wrote After for my brothers. For Wither, I set out to write the story for my husband...but the story became more for me than my husband. In our relationship, my husband was the one who fell in love first and waited a terrible, terrible long time for me to come around. That is certainly the heart of the Beauty and the Beast tale, but this particular tale became about my struggles and passions and fears rather than his. This story was also very strongly influenced by my Marmie, but I cannot tell you why. Not yet. Sorry. Again.

So what is the heart of the story, you are asking. What aspect of my own life became the driving force behind this tragic but hopeful tale? Quite simply, it is a trial of faith. Some of the people I used for my inspiration were Bible characters like Job and Peter and Moses. Each of these men was given a trial, and each responded in his own way. Some, like Job, remained faithful in spite of the overwhelming loss. Others, like Moses, took matters into their own hands and had to face the consequences this caused. And others still, like Peter, ended up doing the unthinkable when faced with a tragedy they did not understand. The Beast of Briarstone Abbey, sadly, is not a Job. He is a servant, tasked with an overwhelming duty, who buckles beneath the weight. When he realizes he cannot succeed on his own, he feels he has been forgotten. He takes matters into his hands.

On a lighter note, Wither is also a story about love. Not really romantic love, although there is a bit of that. It's about the love of family, the love of duty, the love of God. It's about the power of love. It's also about the dark forces that war against love--the forces of fear, and doubt and prejudice.

And, yes, it is a story of me. I have wondered at God's will for my life, asked painful questions and marveled at the answers I still cannot completely understand. The one thing I have learned, that I have not questioned, is that God IS there. That He does care. That I am not forgotten, even in difficult times.

Whether or not I understand is not important. That I have the faith to keep on believing in spite of my confusion is.

And, that, is the trial my Beast faces. He doesn't just face loneliness--although he is lonely. He does not just face despair--although he certainly despairs. He faces himself, the dark parts of his soul that do not understand, that ask painful questions and seek desperate answers.

He may be a Beast, but his heart is as human as mine.

And that is the heart of the tale.

Beginning next week, I plan on introducing a series of posts about some of the other, more tangible, things that influenced this story. If you enjoyed my Pinterest Board, I think you will enjoy this series of posts, too, as it will allow you to actually join me in my creative process.

See you next week!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Storing Up Your Dreams: A Lesson From Ecclesiastes

It has been such a week. So much excitement, so many nerves, so many dreams. I was walking on air for a few days and then reality finally called my name and yanked me back down to where I ought to be. Ooh, that can sting sometimes, can't it?

On the heels of my excitement over being chosen for the Five Enchanted Roses collection, I've been remembering the many times I've received rejection slips, those nice ones that say "Although your story was very good, it was not right for our publication." They say that writers need to have thick skins...I don't know about the rest of you, but I never seem to quite manage it. 

Something I was reminded of this week might be an encouragement to you as well. That sometimes our dreams are good dreams but not for today. Sometimes they are meant to be a part of our tomorrows. What you've written may not be right for today but it may be right for tomorrow. Every time we write a story, we improve our craft. Everything we attempt, even the failed attempts, are making us better people. Better writers. Would the excitement of winning be nearly so sweet if we had not first felt the sting of rejection? I had to ponder that for a moment, because I'd rather never feel the stinging part, but it really is quite true. We have so many dreams--dreams for our stories, dreams for our loved ones, dreams for our careers and our homes and our futures. Not all of them are meant to happen right here. Right now. That doesn't mean dreaming is bad. It doesn't mean the story was bad. It means we need to keep dreaming, keep storing up our hopes and plans and ideas for the day when they ARE meant to happen. Is this easy to do? Goodness, no.

This puts me in mind of my favorite passage in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3. This may seem an odd choice, as Ecclesiastes is not the place we first think to go when we need uplifting. That would probably be the Psalms. But I like Ecclesiastes 3 because it reminds us that everything has its time.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." The ESV uses the word matter instead of purpose, and I think they both fit. There is a time for every thing, every dream, every matter. We don't see the whole tapestry. We only see the part being woven right now. How much more glorious it must look from a distance, by the One who knows where the tangled threads will end, how each one will but tugged into place, making something beautiful. Not because the weaving was easy--My! There are so many threads in so many colors and textures, so many little hands trying to yank threads out of alignment into a plan of their own design. But with His infinite wisdom, He can take those tangled threads and puts them in their proper place, at the proper time. There is comfort in that. 

I will leave you with this final thought, Ecclesiastes 3:14, my life verse. I like it in the KJV, because I like the flow and poetry of the text. "I know, that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him." Not only is there a time for every failure and every success, there is also a purpose.

What we do with the disappointments and successes in our lives will determine the quality of the tapestry. It is meant to be beautiful, if we will let it.

I was going to end there, but on the way home from church this morning, this song "Dream for You" by Casting Crowns started playing and it seemed like such a perfect way to conclude this post. This is only a small portion of it, but it seems to sum up my turbulent thoughts better than I could ever hope to:

"My child, if you only knew,
All the plans that I have for you,
Just trust me, I will follow through,
You can follow Me.

So come on, let Me dream, let Me dream for you.
I am strong when you're weak and I'll carry you,
So let go of your plan, be caught by My hand,
I'll show you what I can do."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monday Musings: Wither on Pinterest

In honor of Wither being selected for the Five Enchanted Roses collection, I have added a header to my blog with a link to my Pinterest Board that helped to inspire some of the plot, characters and setting of my story. I know it is a dreadful tease, as only SOME of these pictures actually inspired my story while others merely helped put me into the right frame of mind. I do think you visual people will enjoy some of these pins. There are some gorgeous dark castles and beautiful fan arts of the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.

Be warned, there are also some spooky pins that inspired my monsters...and some of them actually made it into the story...but I can't tell you which ones, because that would be no fun at all.

So I hope you enjoy this board as much as I have. Whenever my inspiration was flagging, I would scroll through these pins and search for something to spark my creativity again. Perhaps you shall be inspired as well!


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Five Enchanted Roses Winners

I am thrilled to announce that I will be a part of this amazing collection. I have been up half the night, tossing and turning, waiting for the winners to be announced...and, lo and behold, I was one of them! This is such an amazing opportunity and I am honored to be a part of it. All of the stories chosen sound as if they will flow together so well. Ghost ships?! Ghouls?! Stone Curses?! Jungle Kings?! Wulvers?! I cannot contain my excitement. If you would like to learn more about the stories in this collection, visit this site Five Enchanted Roses Winners. I hope you are all as excited as me about the release of the Five Enchanted Roses collection!!!