Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NaNoWriMo & Etched in Black

I've heard about NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) forever. Being obviously a writer from a very young age, it's been suggested countless times to me. I never liked the sound of it: I wanted to write good books, not bad books quickly.

So, I am first an OYANer. But after finding out through OYAN and my writing mentor that no matter how much planning and care goes into a novel, the first draft is going to be rough no matter what. I still remember the day he told us: "Give yourself permission to write badly."

NaNo does exactly that. It gives thousands of people permission to write badly and do something they've always wanted to do. I've realized just how valuable it is to so many people over the last year or so, and I've become much less snobby over the whole thing. After all, I chose to do the challenge to grind out some of my OYAN-ish novel, then called The Bow, now called Etched in Black. Though all that draft did was inform me that Gervais was awesome and that Yvette, not Rosamond, was the heroine, I'm very glad I did it last year.

This year, I've decided to give it another go, because of what it did last year: by that kind of goal, it made me re-establish my writing habit that had become lost in school. It reminded me of who I was and what I cared about so much. It was a very good thing for me.

Also, I have high hopes to have this novel finished by April or May in time for the online OYAN Summer Workshops--the 12-week editing program (or programme, which I seriously considered writing). I'm guessing that if I hit NaNo's requirement of 50,000 words, I will be about halfway through.

Yes, half. I do not decide to write 100,000 word novels on purpose.

Though I just realized today that I've already written about that on various versions of this novel already.

So I should be set, right?

Ha. Ha. Ha. [/end sarcastic laughter]

Well, I'm in it. Let's write!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Life of a Historical Fiction Writer

1) Begin making notes on a book you have inter-library loaned from California.

2) Decide you're going to copy the map of different kinds of stones in Nottinghamshire in case you need to know what they're like for details when your character is walking around.

3) Flip out because you realize there's a map of medieval Nottingham town.

4) After writing half a page of notes think "dang, if it wasn't illegal, I'd just scan this entire book."

5) Mark several other maps you are in fact going to scan, because Google has utterly failed you when it comes to medieval maps of Nottinghamshire. Become relatively giddy.

6) Make more notes, including weird things like the number of villiens and houses.

7) Almost die because you see the name of one of your characters, which you were hoping was legit when you found it on an obscure website, as being, well, legit.

8) Have trouble returning to notes.

9) Run down stairs to try and see if you can find book on amazon, ebay,

10) Find out that the amazon listing is strange, and that almost all copies are in the UK.

11) Head back up stairs.

12) Make some more notes rather giddily.

13) Come downstairs again and began scanning maps.

14) Decide to scan bibliography as well.

15) Tell mother about maps.

16) Act really giddy and happy until it's time to head for orchestra.

17)Drag book along with you to orchestra in hopes that you'll have a spare moment to look at it.

18) Return home, cut and paperclip maps and bibliography into story notebook.

19) Tell father about maps.

20) Spend another 30-45 minutes studying book, then go to bed at 11.

Yep. That was me, yesterday, from about 4:45 to 11 at night. Thank goodness for David Kaye.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Soli Deo Gloria

I’m in for it now.

My hands shook. Paper rustled. I tried not to look at my fellow students as they pulled out their copies of my second chapter. My face heated.

Page 31. Oh, God... 

After ten days of stories telling me that all that human life amounted to was sex, Vodka, and death, I brought page 31.

On page 31 my character said the opposite. Not preachy, not obvious, not a sledgehammer to death and darkness.

Only a plea from the heart.

“...the only reason I have gone this far in the first place is because I believe my God--” he stopped, looking away from me. To my astonishment, he sank to his knees, hiding his face. “Father God, help me.”

That lurked on page 31.

And they, writers of revelries, of drunkenness, of abortion, of homosexuality...they had read it.
Forest of Lies stood on its own in the real world. And I, its quivering and unconfident author, stood behind it.


November 21st, 2004
I just thought of something [to say]!...I am a writer! I love writing. I am writing a story called Runaway Castle...

For years, mentions like this peppered my sporadic diary entries. I wrote, rewrote, and never finished Runaway Castle. In 2007, my mother found a novel writing class. Shivering in the drafty room with only six other students, I learned the principles of good story telling: of structure, characterization, and meaning. I finished my book. I cried. I signed up for a second class, planning to venture into the shadow-wrapped mysteries of a completely new novel. My imagination had other ideas.

Since 2006, I had lived and breathed the Robin Hood legend. I relished the words “aye” and “knave,” spent worn dollars to secure my favorite books, pounced on new ones, and worked on writing my own. In 2008, my book blossomed and ripened, overtaking my thoughts and my intentions. The day before 2009 dawned, I wrote to my writing mentor, Mr.S., and explained my dilemma; I had been submitting work for another novel, but now I wanted to do Robin Hood. At the end of my question I said: “[this story] feels like one I MUST tell. One that will become truly mine.”
He gave me the go-ahead.

Forest of Lies poured through my fingers over the next three months, a journey in darkness and light. The leaves of Sherwood rustled around me wherever I went; Robin and Marian seemed to stand beside me; I could hear Much’s jokes and feel his fear. I loved them. I lived with them. I ached for them.

In late January of 2009, I wrote the climax of my novel. It took me three hours to get out less than 2,000 words. This wasn’t normal for me. I was in tears and an emotional wreck at the end of it. The experience seemed to have drained my heart. It was all on paper, hurt and fear, darkness and light, truth and lies. I shook. I laughed. I sobbed.

This was true writing. It was so beautiful, so painful: a brilliant white light. It was my writing lifeblood poured, somehow, onto a dozen printed pages. I’m a writer. I love this. I don’t want anything else. It hurts awfully, but it’s so marvelous! That day, Forest of Lies became my soul as the written word. But there was more to come.

Up to this point, I had typical young author goals: brilliant books, publishing, checks for thousands. I loved writing just for writing’s sake, but when I thought in terms of goals I thought of glossy hardbacks and shimmering movie posters; when I fantasized, it was about fans running up to me, books in hand. I always said that I wrote for the glory of God, on writing forums, in emails. I meant it, in my head. It also was just a way of sounding noble and like I had a high calling. “Soli Deo Gloria!” I proclaimed: but I proclaimed without true meaning.

My nearest guess for my true change is April of 2009. I sat on my bed, reading Forest of Lies before I began revision. Again, the climax brought tears; I stopped reading. I slid off my bed and kneeled on the peach-colored carpet. God, this isn’t me. I couldn’t write something this beautiful. Who am I fooling? This isn’t my story; it’s yours. It has always been your story; your story through my fingers. I held the manuscript in my hand, the product of years of work even before Robin Hood entered my thoughts. I had been guided, shown along a path, led by someone that I wasn’t even acknowledging.

God, I give this to you. I say I belong to you, but I don’t. My heart I kept to myself. I now am as close to holding my heart in my hand as I ever will be. Take Forest of Lies. It’s always been yours; now I give it to you. Show me what to do, Lord. I write for you.

I meant those words. I worked hard to live by them. I didn’t know what it might cost me; I didn’t know that when you give God your soul, you have to learn to trust Him. I didn’t trust Him yet.


I entered my third draft of Forest of Lies in the One Year Adventure Novel contest. I told myself I didn’t care if I won; the experience of writing had been enough. Other people, however, constantly told me that I would win. I rebuffed this, trying to remember that there were other young authors, just as good as I was, even better.

On a stormy October night, I received the world’s verdict.

One of the seven finalists.

Not first. Not second. Not third. Just a finalist. My friend, Lydia, began talking to me over chat.

me: Do you think I can write something else good?
me: but FoL...
Lydia: What about it? You poured you heart into it, and everyone could tell!
It was fantastic!
your characters are amazingly developed
your writing is fantastic
me: it wasn't enough!

It wasn’t enough. My friend talked sense to me that night, but the words echoed in my mind for months, even after I thought I was over the whole thing. It came back in waves, crushing my imagination, drowning my will to write.

If that was the best I had, why should I keep writing? I didn’t have passion for anything else. Passion made it great. But not great enough.

I retreated from the battle, afraid to keep fighting. I’d been wounded, and I couldn’t trust God. I’d always been a writer. Then I had become a Writer for God. Now I was a writer in the shadows, hiding my light under the bushel, scribbling a few words in the dust. I spent too much time on the internet, doing writing that was uncommitted, and safe. The world needed me, but I was afraid of the world.

So I hid.


I couldn’t hide at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio. I had tested Forest of Lies in the welcoming community of Christian writers with the OYAN contest. Now I sat in a boat surrounded by roiling darkness and choppy waters; I had entered the real forest of lies. I saw firsthand why the world needed my small light.

My novel was the same as it had been those few months ago.

I was different. I was scared and uncertain. Forest of Lies had failed in the contest, its pilot voyage; how would it survive the real thing?

I submitted my writing anyway. Chapter 1 had been received well.

Chapter 2 had page 31.

I don’t remember much of what they said, but I do remember one student saying:

“I liked the part where he’s getting mad, and then he starts, like, praying...”

The others began flipping, looking for it. She shuffled her copy.

“It’s on page 31--I just really liked it. Strong emotion.”

My classmates nodded. I took a deep breath. After class, several people expressed interest in reading more.

Forest of Lies, which I thought had failed the trial, now stood strong in the real world. It was enough, because God was enough. My book wasn’t strong enough, good enough, on its own, just like I am not strong enough or good enough on my own. But I have the ultimate Author, and he guides my path.

I have begun to build my next boat of light. It is called Etched in Black.

I am no longer just a writer. I am a writer with purpose, a writer for my Father.

I write for His lost children. Not for their approval, but for His. Because He loves them as much as He loves me.

And He loves me so much.


This is an essay I wrote for my AP English Language course. I think it is appropriate. Soli Deo Gloria!


Saturday, October 2, 2010


Well, now I’ve treated you to/tortured you with two of my spin-off writings that stem from Forest of Lies. I think only if you were very unobservant you wouldn’t have noticed that both of them dealt very closely with Robin Hood. He’s MY Robin Hood, whom I more often call Robin.

Who is he?

He’s a character that the more I learn about him, the more I find there is to learn. The more questions I answer, the more pop up. He’s never boring, and he’s never fully understood.

Part of that is just the nature of his personality. Even when he talks a lot (and he can get going), he keeps a lot back. He’s willing to trust people with his life even when he knows they’re not trustworthy, but he’s not willing to trust people with his heart and soul even when he knows they are. Having grown up in an emotionally abusive home and then moved on to a situation that tore at him both emotionally and physically, he’s not willing to give people what he can keep from them. He reached the point where almost everything was pulled into the light with to be played with like a toy, and he guards against that ever happening again even in casual conversation.

One would think that I, as the author, would easily be able to dive inside his mind and figure everything out and put it in order, or perhaps even change his personality to make him easier to understand, but that simply isn’t the case. I’m not sure why that is, though I think it has something to do with the belief I hold in general about Forest of Lies--it’s not really from me, because I couldn’t write something that beautiful. I don’t think Robin’s really from me either, not at the source. I truly believe God put him in my story to show me truth about the world, Him, and myself, because he has.

That’s a little off topic, but probably good for you to know as I attempt to describe this character. Another, less important reason why I don’t just jump in and put things in nice little boxes, I think, is because that sort of violates a character. Let me explain. If I jump inside his head and begin making up things and putting them in boxes, making it all make sense, I’m not going to end up with a character who is a three-dimensional person; I’m going to have a three-dimensional robot. I think this is part of the reason so many writers talk about character that came in and “took over” the story. You have to respect your characters if they’re going to do that. Only if you treat them as real people will they (eventually) respond as real people. Sure, you’re still in charge, and in a way it’s just different parts of your imagination reacting with itself, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. The imagination is a wonderful, God-given thing, and it working like it does doesn’t mean you’re all mystic or something, which I hope I don’t end up sounding like.

So. Back to Robin. I figure this is the best place to mention what I rarely remember to mention when describing a character (I am actually backing up and adding it in). He has light blond hair, intense blue eyes, and is 5’4,” which, considering Medieval height standards, isn’t really that awful, though it’s fun to tease him about. He often seems a shade pale because of health issues, and has a long scar on his right cheek. When he’s feeling well, he can be quite active and really does love archery.

He’s reserved, soft-spoken, and trustful or distrustful depending on what you’re talking about. He’s also intense. This might not seem to match, and I certainly don’t mean he’s intense like another character of mine, Yvette, who is pretty much a walking bomb who explodes every five minutes (sorry, Yvette). Instead, he’s intense like some kind of fire: maybe smoldering. He gets focused on things, or decides about things, and then throws himself forward continuously. Often, he’s trying to hard, or maybe is a little off in what he thinks he should be doing. It takes a bit of a mental smack to get him to stop if he’s going the wrong way, and superhuman strength to stop his going to hard.

Connected that, he can be intensely stubborn...gently. Which, I admit, can be confusing. He doesn’t usually get all flared up and mad because you’re trying to get his mind to change, he’ll just keep plugging away.

Like any human being, he has a great desire to be loved, especially considering how starved he was of even just plain kindness in his early years. At the same time, he isn’t good at expressing love, because of the exposure that causes. Put it simply, he’s afraid. He’d rather bear the hurt of not ever knowing if the other person cares for him (either in friendship, or another kind of way) and not ever expressing what he feels then dare to step out and say it. It’s a miracle he ever approached his wife...

As is a usual assumption in Robin Hood, he also has a heart for the poor and oppressed. The main difference probably is that instead of moving in and out of their lives leaving food and money (though he does that too) he also chooses to struggle along with them, plowing fields, making food, chopping wood, playing with kids.

As is probably obvious, I can continue describing almost indifferently. A few more things, and I’ll let you go. The next bit may seem like some kind of paradox or oxymoron: he’s humble to the extreme, even boardering on some kind of arrogance. He doesn’t see himself as worth much, but he doesn’t just serve others; he insists on bashing himself all. the. time. He has confused ideas on self-worth. He understands that without God he’s nothing, but he doesn’t understand that God also thinks he’s precious. Because of guilt of his own sin and his abused past, in his darker moods he can’t grasp or be fully sure that God really loves him for being who he is. Having this unresolved for several years helps lead to the breakdown that my sequel Unbroken deals with.

So. There’s a tad of who Robin is, not to mention lots of his past and what he went through behind the scenes of Forest of Lies.

I love you, Robin.


Friday, October 1, 2010


Ralph saw the boy almost upon entering William’s Great Hall. He couldn’t have been more then eight years old. He stared straight in front of him, his small body rigid. Something about him required a second look; there was more to his servant-stare, something that Ralph could not quite identify. His bright blue eyes glittered beneath the messy mop of flaxen blond hair. His fists were clenched.
Then William had welcomed him, and the boy had passed--almost--out of his thoughts. In the middle of a conversation concerning the wheat crop, however, William called for wine.
“Sir?” The voice was brittle, strained. A young voice. Ralph looked up. The boy again, in fancier dress, holding the pitcher towards Sir William. It trembled in his hand.
William, his dull eyes altering a bit, reached up and touched it, stopping the shaking.
“Something the matter, Robert?”
The boy said nothing. Ralph saw his jaw working. Something inside his darkening soul reached out, in a strange way he could not understand, in a way he didn’t know how to respond to.
“Good,” William said, the slight disapproval leaving his eyes. He turned back to Ralph and began talking again, in his throaty, aging voice. Ralph didn’t hear him.
The boy was struggling with the pitcher, trying to pour the wine without spilling it all over the table. He still trembled; his eyes were moist.
Rage, Ralph thought suddenly. He’s angry.
At last he got the cup half-filled, turned abruptly, and marched out of view.
“--and so, in consequence, I was considering--”
“William,” Ralph broke in.
William’s gray eyebrows shot up at the interruption. He was, after all, the High Sheriff.
“That boy,” Ralph said, fingers playing with the cool surface of his goblet.
“Which boy?” William asked.
“Blond, blue eyes--”
A blank look.
“The one who poured your wine,” Ralph fumbled.
William promptly turned to it. He gave a snort of disgust. “Well, what of it? Awful servant, isn’t he? Well...slave, rather.”
“Who is he?”
William gave him an odd look. “A nobody.”
“Well, who was he?”
“Oh, the son of Sir Robert of Locksley, who’s off somewhere involved in those struggles of our Higher Ups,” William said, blinking. He moved the grapes on his trencher around in circles.
“So he’s also a Robert of Locksley,” Ralph said.
“Eh?” William said, preoccupied. “Ah--yes,” he said, before Ralph could reintroduce the subject. “Lady Rosamund of Locksley died a little over two months ago, and he couldn’t afford the taxes--there was hardly anything on that wimpy estate. If he behaves well, he has about five years to pay off that debt.”
“Quite, yes--look, Ralph, about what I was saying--”
“Does he need to work it off here, or might he do it elsewhere?”
“Oh, confound it, Ralph!” William said, more than a little annoyed. “Since when did you have such high interest in servant boys?”
“I’ve a mind to buy him--at least for the five years you spoke of...”
William snorted. “Him? He’s a wagonload of trouble, those haughty Saxon airs, and grave disobedience.”
“Still,” Ralph said, “I have a mind to buy him.”
“You can have him, a gift from me to you, if you’ll just let him drop and listen to what I have to say!”
“Agreed,” Ralph said, tearing his mind from this Robert of Locksley to whatever mindless chatter William intended for him to endure.
Whenever this Robert (Robin, thought Ralph, I wonder if he answers to Robin.) came back into the Great Hall, Ralph watched him, in all his grief-filled anger.
Maybe I can make it right, Ralph thought, maybe I can make it all right. For him and--for me.

* * *

“Lad, I mean to be kind to you. You and I--we’ve had it rough.”
The boy stared at the floor.
“My--my father--”
The boy lifted his intense gaze for a moment and then looked back at the floor. Ralph stopped short.
“Can you understand what I’m saying, lad?”
The boy said nothing.
The servant who had brought the boy from Nottingham stepped forward and stuck him across the face, babbling in a tongue Ralph did not understand. The boy still said nothing, didn’t even move to touch his reddening cheek. A drop of blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth.
Again, Ralph Murdoc of Ashby-de-la-Zouch felt the lurch within his soul, and almost without thinking about it, he stepped forward, swept the servant out of his way, and took the boy’s shoulders, looking into his face.
There were tears. Two bright, shimmering tears threatened to fall out of his blue eyes and tumble down his pale face.
“Lad,” Ralph said, pain filling him.
“I--am not--an animal!” The boy said, the words explosive. He spoke Norman surprisingly well. “Not a monkey, not a workhorse--”
He struggled in Ralph’s grip. Ralph held tighter, loathe to let him go. The boy threw off the man’s hands and took a step backwards, the tears in his eyes freezing to hard ice that not even the hot rage behind them could melt.
“Robin--” Ralph felt the word come, from some aching place in his heart. Robin, help me. Please, I need you.
“No!” the boy screamed. “No, no, no! I am not Robin! Not to you!”
He turned and ran out of the room, whirling around the corner, heading down the corridor. Ralph took a step forward, arm outstretched. A drop of blood lay on his hand.
The flying footsteps, echoing down the hall, growing further away...he had to catch him...
He turned to the servants, dumb and dazed. He gave some order, pointing, and they ran after the boy. He floated to his room and locked himself in.
Several hours later, thinking had returned to him, and anger. How dare the boy...he had only wanted to help...he had just lost his mother...just been converted to a servant...but he had no right...Ralph had hurt the same as dare he...
At last the wondering thoughts led to Ralph’s ringing for a servant. He did not want the dinner that the servant was eager to bring him, but the new boy. The servant sighed and exited the chamber.
Ten minutes later, he was dragged in. Ralph had the servants leave and closed the door.
“One--more chance,” he said haltingly, avoiding the boy’s hard eyes. “Do you want my friendship?”
“I want nothing from you,” the boy said.
“Oh, you’re going to get--” Ralph stopped himself. “I want to help you.”
“And I--do not want your help,” the boy said.
“But I must!” Ralph leapt at the boy, shaking his shoulders. “I must help someone! I must do something right in my life!”
The boy said nothing, did not retreat, did not change his gaze.
Ralph was panting. “You will--”
The brilliant eyes lifted, looking deep into Ralph’s own. They seemed to pierce through him, leaving him defenseless, unable to do anything, awaiting the boy’s verdict.
“I will not.”
The words were quiet, but they released him, tearing away a piece of his heart.
He lifted his hand.
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