Jennifer Freitag's Blog

July 23, 2015

Tea at my elbow, letter to a friend in the mailbox, curled up on my parents' couch with a lap blanket and the rewrite of Adamantine open before me.  I think sleep deprivation is leaving me a little under the weather at present, but we'll get over that.  For now, a little update.

A small handful of people have been loosely indulging in a "#summerwiththebrontës" project, prompting us to make our way through any ol' Brontë novels we choose this summer.  I've read Jane Eyre and Villette thus far, and am now over halfway through that dark classic Wuthering Heights.  If you have not read the Brontës, I certainly recommend them.  I feel foolish recommending such renowned writers, but if you have not, then I say that you should.  The writing is deep, elegant, raw, profound, insightful, inspiring.  Need one say more?

And, of course, I've been making my way through the rewrite of Adamantine.  As usual, I am feeling my way as I go, which makes for slow going, but I think this overhaul holds promise.  ("Methinks the lady doth protest too much...")  I haven't yet got to the point of being excited for the plot.  Some of you perhaps know that phenomenon: at the moment I'm writing metaphorically in the dark, not at all sure where I am going is worthwhile; but eventually you hit that sweet spot when things start to come together, a clearing in the distance is seen, and you begin to catch fire for the story.  Well, I am not there yet.  Give it time...  Meanwhile, a small taste of what I've been writing:
adamantine snippets // chunks
In the grey distance I saw sudden, high-heaped hills, matte-purple like the mothy, soiled robes of a decrepit empire...
It must be only a stray dog, wandered, perhaps, from a menial’s hovel in the hills: a small, cold part of my mind reasoned with me as a bent, wizened, senile councillor reasons with a young, inexperienced monarch. Yet the royal youth in me was the stronger, the better at instinct: I had known that dog, and it had known me, as strangers who had already met, and a dangerous, powerful understanding—which I did not at all comprehend—had charged like lightning between us. More than ever I hated and dreaded this country!
Suddenly Miss Coventry was back. She swept through the door and clapped it shut behind her, leaning on the panelling. Her face was white and her eyes lit up splendidly with haste and rage.“Quiet, both of you!” she lashed out at her sisters. In two strides she was across the room and had flung herself in a whirl of sombre grey linen into her chair. “Father is coming with his guests. Mabel! stop crying at once!”Aunt Coventry also fell upon Mabel until I was sure the girl could do nothing but cry. “Lord!” exclaimed Agnes Anne. She bounced back onto the sofa, her tirade forgotten, her curls bobbing with energy. “Are they men? are they goodly? are they come for tea?”
His skin was as pale as breakers; his hair, in the weak light, was grey-flaxen and, no doubt to many, unremarkable—but to my eye it was unusual. Even my relatives, although British-white, had all brown eyes and hair running brown to black. [He] looked like an errant shaft of sunlight, travelling so long from its source to reach the pole of Earth, half-dead with the distance and panting for want of blood and breath, had come to stand out of the rain in my aunt’s cheerless parlour.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, gently yet pointedly.I looked away to consider. My body felt as though it had been cut out of paper and thrown away: I was the hollow silhouette left behind. My spirits flagged black and foam-flecked beneath my desperate flogging. “As well as can be expected,” I replied.
My body ached with fatigue and soul-weariness; I dragged it through the doorway, dragged off its black coverings, flung it upon the hard bed to drown it in sleep. For a space I lay awake, quiet, my throat raw but my eyes dry. Staring into the darkness of the window where September night was rushing fast across a doomed sky and dark grey banners of a storm’s victory were flying tattered beyond the shivering ranks of the trees, I picked up alternately two images to view: the yellow and blue of my mother’s painting, the other, Mr. Tennfjord’s austere and handsome face. Why the latter charmed me so completely, I could not say. “He was kind.” I heard my own words patter with old, blown rain against the window: cold, quivering, piercing to my heart. Those three words, more than my aunt’s blighting suspicion of my illness and my cousins’ ruthless, indelicate tongues, made me want to cry—as blood coming back into a frozen limb tingles and stings and cries as with serrated pain.
The breakfast mollified me. It was erring to bland, but hearty and filling, and when I was finished I felt the calm sleepiness of a duck ripened and fat for Christmas dinner.
“Do you go out into the country much?” I asked.“Lord! the country?” repeated Agnes Anne—Mabel had her lips screwed over a needle and was fighting with a spool. “No! Why should we? There is nothing of interest there. Life gets so dull here sometimes, except in high summer when there are actually interesting folk about to walk and dine with. People come up from Manchester and London,” she explained, with such stress as though she were speaking to a child.I pressed the point. “I changed carriages outside of London and went up a bit of hilly, wooded land they called Hampstead Heath, I believe.” I twisted toward the window for more light. “My carriage companion at the time was an elderly gentleman—I never got his name—who informed me that the heath dated back to Saxon or Danish times. He said the land was charted in the Domesday Book, and was an important piece of historic property. It was dusk, and rainy,” I added ruefully, “so I wasn’t able to see much, but from the sounds outside the carriage I got the idea it was a large place. Have you anything of the sort here in Aylesward?”Agnes Anne and Mabel had stopped working—the latter with the needle still clenched between her teeth—and were staring at me. Mabel finally took the needle from her lips and opened her mouth to speak, but her sister caught her up.“Lord! you are bookish! Who cares about some grass and trees? You’re as bad as Margaret, I swear. I don’t know but that we’ve got more lakes than I can count, and people come from all over in the summer to visit them, but they’re nothing special.”“You won’t find them in the Domesday Book,” said a brisk, ominous voice in the doorway. “The Normandians never took them.”I turned to find Miss Coventry herself watching us, cold and disobliging. More than ever she looked unfriendly, but I was glad to see her. “Are they quite old, then?” I asked. “Older than the Normans?”“Old as the hills,” she replied. She lifted her shoulders, as if it did not matter. “Coventrys are part Saxon, part Norman. We go all the way back.”I do not know if she meant to do it, but in that remark I was made to feel how homeless and rootless I was. In this place I was like Melchizedek, without father and without mother, with no genealogy and no portion.
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Published on July 23, 2015 08:51 • 14 views

June 13, 2015

pinterestIt is almost with grim determination that my pale blue nails clack away at the keyboard on this post.  Several times over the past two months I have made an attempt at updating The Penslayer - every attempt has left me dismayed and, ultimately, silent.  A handful of you know, I have been dealing with possibly one of my worst nightmares, postpartum depression.  Thankfully, not only has it not been as bad as I feared it might be, I also have an excellent doctor and an effective prescription to combat it.

But part of the effectiveness of the prescription is that I can still feel: I still experience the ordinary impact of emotion.  Believe me, this is a good thing.  I wouldn't want to be a zombie, or insensitively cheerful, because I am drugged.  However, since I am up during the night periodically to feed my baby, since I am working hard to keep in shape and boost my happy hormones, since I am almost constantly with people so that I am not left alone, I am left tired and unwilling to write a simple blog post. 

But recently things have been on a slow upward climb.  (I suffered a few days back from extreme exhaustion, to the point of being sick, but that wasn't my baby's fault.)  I have casually picked up the rewrite for my novel Adamantine, and despite the setbacks and the occasional attacks of insignificance and fear of failure, I think this rewrite holds potential.  Looking at it as critically as possible, I feel as if its tone is written now from a place of calm and immutability.  I am taking my time.  I am not even truly committing to working on it, but Howling myself into it and writing on it whenever, however, as I please.  I have never worked well under pressure - which, I know, is not a good trait; I have always been more likely to lock up and put back my ears and shut down entirely when I feel I must do something.  I do not have to work on Adamantine - but it is there, so I am.  It's good.
snippets from adamantine
“Ah.” He passed the letter through the fence and I took it, holding my breath as well. “I’m from Essex, myself, and I’ve never been to Cambridgeshire. Quite out of my route. Well,” he settled into the stool again, and I began to think of a large stork trying to get comfortable on a Holland chimney-stack. “Welcome to Cumberland, all the same.”“Thank you, sir.”Whatever was left of my heart died as I said it.
...the portraits over the mantelpiece were glimmering in the lamplight and drew me toward them as visible, flesh-and-blood entities in whose presence I would not be alone. I stood below them and studied their faces. They were both gaunt, severe-looking people, the man and the woman, the sort to bear the tumult of their century with unflinching lips and steady mien.
She was an enormous woman; not unkempt, but huge, combining with her size an unusual quickness of movement and overbearing will that was like an avalanche to behold. Although not of slight build, although my frame was tall, well-proportioned, of Junoesque lines, I quailed in the presence of this woman who, if she had any blood in her of those Royalist forbearers, exhibited only the harshness of their demeanour and none of their grace.
...at last we came to the chamber which served as the dining room, the door was thrust unceremoniously open, and I found myself on what seemed, to my bewildered nerves, to be the dark shore of a blazing sea; I heard the wind outside like breakers and the seashell clink of crystal and silver within. I think for a moment—I was very tired—I supposed I had been asleep, and I was about to wake up: my usual bright, Greek island scene was invading the dream of this sooty, grimy, wet Albion. They were converging and one was about to give way.
Presently I set my empty cup on the counterpane and leaned back under the covers, my face turned toward the window. I listened to a sound which had become strange to me: the rushy, taffeta noise of raindrops falling from leaves as the wind swept through them. In my misery, I liked it.
Against the white ceiling my hot, burning eye saw the mottled menagerie of my mother’s painting space, saw the upright canvas and the splashes of colour she was working into the form of a blue Delft vase and a single, exquisite yellow tulip.
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Published on June 13, 2015 07:32 • 8 views

April 15, 2015

this is for...well, you know who you are


I descended in a storm of fireflies and cherry blossoms, light as a maple leaf, and glided along the snaking bend of a rivulet, forepaws brushing the grasses, nose full of the sweet, summery aroma of the earth and the last hot breath of the sunset which was dying between the mountain peaks.  I left behind the high winds, the darkening clouds, the tossing pines.  I left behind heavenly mountains and followed the rivulet, charted like a great river among hillocks heaped up to resemble massive ranges; on either side of me, my whiskers brushed the tops of tiny cultivated cedars, miniatures of great forests.  The little life-thing in my chest thrummed pleasantly.  Life tonight was sweet to me.When the rivulet was spanned by an arched bridge, sharp as a dragon’s back, I wandered from the water’s edge and followed the stone path through a garden half-tended, half wilderness, to the silhouette of a tiny shelter within, and the dim yellow lights which glowed through its lattice openings.  A soft, warm wind came with me: spirit bells chimed as I swept around the azalea hedge, followed the walk to the building’s slat steps nearly overgrown with ivy, and there I touched the earth at last, on the topmost step.  Four tiny lights flashed and sank as each paw set down on the planking, and the shelter itself seemed to shiver, as if with delight.There was no door: I looked inside and saw you, kneeling at a wide, low table with your back toward me, a huge and heavy lantern—quite out of place in the exquisite delicacy of your surroundings—hung above your head so that you could see your work.  You wore glasses, of the kind popular now in the West, also so that you could see your work.  No shoes: they sat beside me on the narrow fore-porch, as vibrant a red as my royal cloak, their laces as white as the tip of my bush.  You were busy, hard at work with books and papers, laptop and phone shifting, gleaming, clicking around you, shogunates of grades struggling for supremacy on your war-table.  But even in the midst of your pitched battle you caught the tremor in the earth—perhaps you felt the wind on whose wings I rode—for you sat up straight, took off your glasses, and turned round.  You saw me.As every sensible human will do when confronted with a wild animal, you froze.  The lantern light fell on your naked eyes, spirit-blue in a porcelain face, and illuminated the burnt gold of your hair which the wind was fingering, but you did not move.  You did not breathe.  You stared at me, and I let you stare your fill awhile, until you had got used to my presence in your sanctuary.With one fluid movement I bent forward, opening my jaws to set down the scroll which I had been carrying between my teeth.  I hesitated, then straightened.“Good evening,” I said, and I smiled.You narrowed your eyes at me, pursing your lips.  “I know you.”  “Of course.  I have come to bring you your dream tonight.”  I set my paw on the scroll.You looked at the scroll; you looked away again a second later, but seemed to think better of it, for you stared again, harder this time.  You showed off the brave strength of the porcelain of which you were made.  “I see now.”  You, too smiled, relieved.  You met my gaze.  “It doesn’t usually look like that.”“You know me,” I crooned: “I am fond of drama.”“Tell me the story,” you prompted eagerly.  But I rose and entered the genius of the shelter.  “I am cheerful tonight,” I evaded.  “I will do even better.”Noiselessly I rushed the table, whisking by you, and leapt up among your papers.  They fluttered and chittered liked cranes on the river, floating down around me as I settled, bush swept round my forepaws.  I sank down amongst my glowing fur, eyes warm with the lanternlight.“The tea in the pot is hot again,” I said.  “Pour us two cups, you and I.”I saw you smile, hitched round to look down at me where you sat.  You would not know it, but I knew, looking back up at you through the veil of lantern-light: it was the smile of a warrior worn out and ready to sheath his sword, and has been asked by someone he loves to make one last charge.You reached for the pot.  As the steaming amber liquid filled the tiny cups, I watched, one with the flow and at once detached.  In a high, absentminded way, I said, “Summer has come.  It is warm even in the mountains now.”“I don’t have to wear a sweater here,” you agreed gamely.  You held out a cup for me: I saw that your hand trembled.  As you set it before me, I, too, reached out, light as a feather, and touched the smooth back of your hand with the smooth pad of my paw.  A tiny light blinked and, for a second, I felt the thump-thump of your heart.  I think that you felt mine.  You took back your hand without hurrying.“Do you like it?” I asked.You looked up over the rim of your cup, raised to your lips.  “Do I like what?”But I evaded, suddenly, like a wind that changes direction in the long grass.  “The warmth is good for your bones.  It makes your eyes mellow.”You pursed your lips again and gazed down at me out of thinned eyes, not at all mellow, but calculating.  With a hard little sigh, you began to play the game.  “The cicadas made a racket this evening.  I was glad when the sun went down and they finally hushed.”“Mm, the cicadas.”  I liked this move.  I heaved up my shoulders and stooped my head to drink the tea.  Every hair rose on end as the warmth pulsed through my body, and my whiskers coiled like snakes in the sun.  “They are summer, don’t you think?  I hear their rattle like the shaking of sabres.”“You like that,” you pointed out.  Then, “Why are you wearing a red cape?”“Because I like that too,” I replied, and finished my tea.For a spell you were quiet.  You sat with your legs folded beneath you, teacup settled on your knees, and stared at me with the purse gone out of your mouth.  I settled in and waited, pleasant, while the warmth invaded your bones and your eyes became mellow.  “It’s summer,” you said at last, as though it had only just washed over you.  Your voice was full of relief.“Yes.”You looked away, through the lattice to the dark world outside.  One gardenia, white as your skin, could be seen growing over the porch; beyond that the lantern lost its strength and the world was invisible.  The mountain peaks could no longer be seen silhouetted by the sunset: night had fallen.  In the dimensionless black, fireflies lit up and faded away, like our memories of childhood dreams.  Honeysuckle filled the air with its drowsy scent whenever the wind dropped away.“It’s summer.”“Yes…”And then suddenly you were crying, chin thrust up and jaw clenched, fists tight about your teacup—choking on great, suppressed sobs.  You cried like an empress.  I did not say it—I let you cry, lowering my head so that, while I watched you out of the corner of one eye, I would not appear to be watching—but I thought that you were beautiful.  But finally the sobs died away, and the wind played gently with the spirit chimes, and the night-time silence fell about us once more.I whispered, “You did not think you were going to make it.”“No,” you gasped.  “No, I didn’t think I would make it.”I got up and arched my back, drawing all four paws off the ground.  “You will ask yourself,” I said in a sturdier tone, “if it was worth it.  I would not answer that question if I were you.”“Why?”  You turned and frowned at me—and saw that I was not on the ground.“Because females are dangerous with philosophy.”  I lowered myself back to the floorboards.  “One thing you do know,” I went on.  “You are strong.”You twisted your mouth on the taste of stale tears and bowed your gaze to your teacup again.  Reaching up once, you tucked a thick strand of blonde hair behind one ear.  “I do not feel strong.”“One never does.  You are enough,” I added.  “It is enough.”Your face darkened.  The strand slipped out and fell across your eyes so that I could see only the tremble of your chin, the hard line of your mouth.  “I want to feel like enough.  I want to feelstrong.  I am tired of—I am tired.  I am tired.  It never seems to be enough.  When I don’t have any more to give, I have to give more.  It’s killing me.”I could hear the tsunami in-rolling, felt the ground shuddering under my paws.  These were tears of desolation, not relief: I rushed up and swept round the table to your side, spraying blossoms of paper around me—one by one they folded into tiny cranes and darted toward the four corners of the room.  “Sho! sho! sho!” I crooned, as though to a baby.  I pounced upon your lap and placed my forepaws on your cheeks, drawing up your head.  Tears wet my long, drifting whiskers as they brushed your face.  The eyes which stared at me were those used to looking at nightmares.  I would not say it aloud, but the sight of them cut the little beating life-thing in my chest.  “You are human,” I said to you, “and so small, and fragile if struck just right.  But you are human, and so you are also strong—magnificently strong.  It does not get easier, my darling, but sometimes it is summer, sometimes the fireflies dance in the cherry trees—and sometimes your animal spirit comes down to make you tea when the witching-hour is upon the world.  You are not far from the kingdom: the plain beneath its citadel is the most fought-over land.  Have courage, brave heart.  It is summer.”I think you wanted to speak, but you were tired, and perhaps you tasted the spell which my words had hastily woven and you did not want to break it.  You gave a watery smile and reached up to stroke my mane.  The hand which touched me was sure now, and I knew I could leave you to the summer night without fear.“Put up the sword and the knife.  Rest awhile.”  I withdrew, hovering among a storm of paper cranes.  You gazed up at me with a crown of lantern-light around your head, the post-storm quiet in your eyes.  “Drink your tea.”I dove for the stairs.“Wait!”With a flurry of petals I paused, landing on the top step beside the scroll.  You had flung round and I saw your eyes go from me to the scroll.  “Aren’t you going to tell me the story?”I grinned, showing my teeth.  “But I already have!”You jumped to your feet.With a kick I took off, sending the scroll spinning into the room like a firecracker, and launched into the purple air with a cataclysm of heaped clouds and wind and firefly-lights.  Summer thunder roared through the sky. 
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Published on April 15, 2015 08:31 • 22 views

April 6, 2015

pinterestBlogger tells me I haven't written a snippets post since October. That doesn't seem right...  To make up for that, here is an oddment smattering of writing for you to nibble on.  Enjoy!

"No, I'll twist his head off for treating a de la Mare like that. But what were you thinking, Bruin, teasing him like that? Damn!"lamblight
A bridle path branched off up the hillside, disappearing into the woods; the causeway bore across the head of the slope and ducked down again through the descending elms, barred by the quiet morning light, flecked by the noiseless shadows of birds. Of a human’s passing there was no sign. talldogs
Now it was the time for her to face him, and she did, swinging round on one heel and leaning back against the lip of the table. As she tossed up her head in that characteristic way of hers, vaunting silently over the dirt under her feet, he looked through her defensive glamours and saw her for a moment clearly, devoid of gilt shine. He saw her eyes were hollow, and that she was profoundly tired.drakeshelm
“It is rare for me to find people that I like. I could count on my hands, I think, the number of people I am truly fond of, and have fingers to spare for the stem of a wine glass. But when I do find them,” she explained—gently, he noticed, having come to realize how softly she thrust the knife home in people whom she favoured—“I am loath to let them slip again.”drakeshelm
Again Eleud shrugged. “I guess until then I didn’t really believe Geoffrey would do it. And I hadn’t told, either. It didn’t seem fair. And then—” the belying, noncommittal shoulders. “I guess—what you did—it made a difference.”talldogs
The short, burnt grasses of the slopes looked like ivory, and the road was a ribbon of silver poured out in the sun.adamantine
“I understand,” I said slowly, “that it is ignoble to be a bastard.” I met his gaze again. “But I also believe that we make our own nobility.”A grim smile cracked his features. “An idealist,” he said, as if to himself. And I think he spoke it with compassion.ampersand
"The heart of man is proud, it runneth like a stag through the forests of the mountains. The Lord shall bend the bow, and I shall be his arrow, and the heart of this man will know the judgment of humiliation."cruxgang 
“Shield!” I yelled. “Shield! shield! shield!”—and I sprinted in agony through blood and muck toward the place where I had seen Marius go down.ampersand

Through the gloom, a shaft of serendipitous earth-light filtered down, illuminating the heraldic tapestry hung above the hearth. The alabaster sea-unicorn seemed to glow with a beatific light. I stood in the midst of the great room and stared struck at it. Its scaled tail coiled tightly downward, spiralling in a nautilus pattern reminiscent of the pilgrim's winding trek to heaven; and on its head, the golden crown, spired and majestic, as though it wore Jerusalem on it brow.ampersand
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Published on April 06, 2015 09:45 • 28 views

April 3, 2015

pinterest(a follow-up to not without honour)
As a reader, you have probably reviewed books by numerous sorts of authors, including the quick as well as the dead.  The dead, as a comment on Not Without Honour pointed out, are easy to handle: you don't have to worry about their feelings when summarizing your own feelings about their works.  But the living are not so immune, and when you are reviewing their works, especially if you know the author, there is the danger of hurting the author's feelings.
The first truth an author should realize is that, once his book is out for public reading, it will be torn to shreds.
This is one reason why I feel compelled to go back and rewrite my novel Adamantine.  Regardless of how much people have enjoyed the first draft (or whatever draft it is at now), I can see numerous flaws, too many to patch up, and I know that once I have published it, all I will have to depend on is the assurance that I have done my utmost, that I believe in it, that I know it is good.  Because once it is public, people will rip it to pieces.  Some will like it, and that will be delightful, but others will hate it, and that will be crushing.  It is always crushing.  There is no tempering the blow of discovering someone has looked at your work, into which you put more energy and care than they could imagine, and has despised it.  As the author, you have only your own conviction to fall back on.
The weight of the world is not on the reader's shoulders.
I stated in my last post that our views of a book are often extremely subjective and often reflect only our opinions of a work, not the quality of the work itself.  It is not easy to get past our own self-centeredness when we review and realize that this is only our opinion, and that our view is usually not the clearest or the most accurate.  Unfortunately, sites like Blogger and Goodreads have aided and abetted this egotism in allowing reviewers to post their opinions online in public, thus inflating our opinions of ourselves as critics.  Humans are self-centered, prideful creatures: who of us has really stopped in the middle of a review and thought, "Is this me, or is this accurate?"

Then what is the point of reviewing if we are all so subjective as I say?  Perspective.  A reader's reaction to a book can be useful to other prospective readers.  I am self-professed quixotic, and I realize the likelihood of a single blog post (e.g. this one) will not change the presiding paradigm of the reviewing public.  But I say it anyway.  When I review a book, in general I am giving my basic opinion, and I am conscious of that.  I liked it, or I didn't like it - if I'm especially lucid, I might even be able to say why.  In the end all I am doing is getting my thoughts out and hoping that they may prove useful to other readers like myself.
There is a difference between reviewing and critiquing.
This cannot be stressed enough.  There is a difference between reviewing and critiquingReviews are generally public opinions of a work, how individuals reacted to it, a layman's compass.  They are vitally important, but admittedly subjective.  They are the footprint a work leaves when it passes through the midst of you. 

Critiques, on the other hand, are professional business.  We are speaking specifically of literary works: critiques are done by educated, qualified individuals who have studied not only literature, but how literature ought to be done.  (Very important note: in case anyone is suspecting me of being aloof and elitist, I do not consider myself qualified to critique a literary work. )  Critiques useful for the author come before the work has been published.  They are solicited and private.  They are done by dependable, educated, qualified persons.  They are not reviews.  They are not opinions.  Once the work has been published, any actual critiques, once again done by qualified persons, are for the reader, not the author: they afford the reader as unbiased an overview of the work as can be hoped for, but they do not help the author because the work is already done. 
How do I review a work and still stay friends with the author?
Remember this vital difference between critiquing and reviewing.  Remember you are giving your thoughts on the work (I am assuming few of us are actually trained in the art of critiquing literature).  And above all, be rational.  No one likes to hear that a reader disliked a book, but I know that I, as an author, appreciate it when I read even a differing opinion that was still presented rationally, logically, in some cases almost clinically, and which left me as the author out of the picture.  I appreciate it when a reader takes the time to address my work as a serious object, and did not resort to treating me as a straw-man.  Even if I have to suffer the sting of knowing someone finished my book and ended up not liking it, I still respect their view because I know they put reasonable thought into it.  I often say that I will always take an honest pagan over a hypocritical Christian any day of the week, including Sunday, and this same idea applies to dissenting views that are rationally formed.  I can respect them.  We can still be friends.

(it is also a very good idea in any walk of life to never give unsolicited advice)
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Published on April 03, 2015 07:42 • 16 views

April 2, 2015

After talking with other authors and members of the community devoted to the excellence of the written word, I've decided to tackle this topic head on, regardless of how close I may be to the issue.  I'm a person painfully conscious of etiquette and good manners, and I often think other people could do to be plagued by the same nerosis.
They took offense at him.  But Jesus said, "A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his own household."
I have noticed a marked distinction in the way readers treat dead authors and authors who are complete strangers to them, and how they treat authors who are acquaintances, or even friends.  It is painfully embarrassing and puts the contemporary author at a disadvantage.

If you happen to be a dead author, you are in luck.  Most readers will treat you more or less with objectivity and a degree of respect.  In fact, readers may even go so far as to give the author that sublime compliment and read the book for its own sake, ignoring the author altogether.  

If you happen to be a complete stranger to the reader, you are only a nebulous presence, a dim straw-man briefly torn down or a miniature house-hold god to whom passing honours are attributed.  Your work is viewed a little more subjectively than that of the dead author, but you still are afforded a decent volume of anonymity and respect.

Woe to the author who is known and alive!  At best, friends you know will be ardent fans and you can hope they will promote what (you certainly think) is a good work of literature.  At worst, people who think they know you will turn on you and tear you - you, along with your work - to shreds publicly.  At this stage, the reader who knows the author as well has difficulty (or does not try) to separate the work from the creator.  Any review of the work is also a critique of the author as a person.  And the more a reader thinks he knows the author, the bloodier that critique becomes.  It becomes personal, it becomes unprofessional, and any semblance of an objective assessment of a work introduced to the corpus of literature is not to be found.
the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work
When you read the work of any author dead or alive, you are not meeting that author: you are reading his work.  A good author is capable of writing characters, views, and circumstances which do not reflect himself.

It is embarrassing and painful to see authors sainted by nothing better than death, while living authors have to run a trial by fire already prejudiced against them by their readers.  It is not the business of the reader to critique the author, but the work in question.  This is a rule by which I read.   The excellence or poor quality of the work will reflect upon the author's ability to employ his craft, but it will not reflect upon him as a person per se.  It is not my responsibility to go so far, nor is it doing myself or the author a service.

It ought to be our first assumption that the author, doing what he does best, actually knew what he was doing, rather than supposing that we, as the readers, having put forward no work at all into the matter, automatically know best and could have done it better. This should be recognized intuitively as rude.

One final point.  It is possible to admit a work of literature is excellent even if you do not like it.   Contrary to what may be supposed, no one died and made the reader God, so that the reader's opinion is automatically the one right, true, clear view of a book.  Not mine, not yours, not anyone's.  As readers, we ought to be as objective and informed as possible, and even if, in the end, we do not personally like the content of a work of literature, we can still acknowledge that it was deftly crafted, artfully presented, a tribute to the phenomenon of the written word. 
tolle lege!
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Published on April 02, 2015 09:23 • 13 views

March 23, 2015

pinterestI mentioned in a comment that I have (I think) twelve novels in the running, and then I thought, Why not mention them in a little more detail so you can get an idea of what I'm up to, what I'll be up to, and what you have to look forward to?
plenilunar
Ethandune.   You probably remember that I wrote this one in 2013 over the course of two months.  The first draft needs lots of work: revision, expansion, overhaul, etc.  It needn't be large: my whole goal in writing it (besides writing a good story) was to keep it on the small side.  But I'm not satisfied with the first draft (who ever is?) and I won't show it to you until it is as perfect as mortal can make it.

Talldogs.   This is my current work-in-progress.  I am almost finished with the first draft - in fact, I should probably be working on that instead of writing this post. 

Lamblight.   What is shaping in my head to be a kind of murder thriller.  I know I am in no way ready to tackle this one, however, so even though it follows on the heels of Talldogs, I probably won't write it directly after my work-in-progress.  We'll see what I end up taking on next.

Maresgate.   This one is hard to nail down.  I have components of plot, but I haven't determined how to write it yet.  You know how this goes.  Again, while this comes after Lamblight in the Plenilunar sequence, I may not write it in chronological order.  Here's to C.S. Lewis and all that jazz.

Cruxgang.   Partially more clear in my head than Lamblight or Maresgate, but still fuzzy.  I can say that you should be able to revisit some of your favourite Plenilune characters here, and get a taste of Honour-Carmarthen interaction.  Cheers!

Amaranth.   This is a more tentative novel.  I have only a few catalyst ideas and don't yet know how to unfold them.  We'll see how this one grows.

Drakeshelm.   Possibly the meatiest of the Plenilunar novels in terms of what I have in my head thus far.  Of all my pending documents, I think Drakeshelm has the most contributions to its size; consequently it is the clearest in my mind.  I may wind up writing this one after Talldogs.  Stay tuned for inevitable developments.

Dondonné.   Like Amaranth, this is a tentative idea, but I would like to flesh it out and pursue it one day.

Ampersand.   This one may be my darling notion.  I'm not sure why - it feels almost nostalgic, which means it feels familiar and sweet and it breaks your heart at the same time.  I don't know when I'll write this one.  It needs a lot of brainstorming, plotting, and organization.  I hope you'll like it.
et al
Between Earth & Sky.   I am already 74,328 words into this novel, but I stopped to work on Plenilune.  Looking back over the some odd seventy-four thousands words, it still looks promising.  I look forward to returning to this novel.

Gingerune.   Also put on hiatus for multiple (good) reasons.  I don't know when I'll get back to it, but assuming I live long enough, I will get there.

Adamantine.  This story has gone through several drafts, more than I can count.  It was my first serious foray into novel writing, after years of preparation.  Unfortunately, the current draft is still what I consider threshold material, somewhere between my excruciating elementary work and where I am now: it isn't quite up to snuff.  My tinkering-ideas have so overhauled the plot that it will probably look very little like the original when I am done with it.
in conclusion
There are a number of stories here that I began and had to put aside.  In case people were worried that I got bored of them and might never return, I want to assure you that is not so.  I had to put those stories aside for rational, legitimate reasons, and I eagerly await returning to them. 

Here are my current twelve ideas in varying stages of undress: half done, nearly done, dabbled begun, unbegun, etc.  Considering how long it takes me to write my average draft, revise it, and polish it off (upwards of years), I should be kept busy for some time - and hopefully you all have something to look forward to!
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Published on March 23, 2015 07:07 • 31 views

March 17, 2015

pinterestThere hasn't been a lot of will for creativity lately.  I should certainly like to be writing, but mostly I am empty, so I've been reading.  Such times happen.  However, on a whim I was able to craft a tiny something for Rachel's Chatterbox this month.  I'm toying with a new method of work for the future, one which will include more study and less buckle-down writing, but will hopefully make room for "sketches" to keep me toned and hopefully to help exercise what I learn in my studies.  You could call the following a sketch.  I hope you enjoy!
chatterbox: superstition


The best way to understand the nature of the trinity is when one is in a dream.I was coming down an uneven screeside, covered over now in thick grasses and clumps of broom late-blooming and alight with the red sunset.  The world was half and half around me, the hills topped with the burnished glow of the sun, the zigzag valleys between drenched in dark.  Going down into that dark was not, as often is in dreams, like going into a smothering closeness: it was like wrapping a rug round one’s head and burrowing into a pillow.  But I lingered, watching myself linger, on the shore of light and darkness, and surveyed the landscape.  The ground was soft, the air cool, both heart-breakingly coloured.  I, all parts of me, that which I was and which watched me at the same time, might sit down a moment and rest from the bite of frost, the unrepentant ring of metal, the slab of stone under a palm, which accented my life.Without turning my head I saw behind me the approach of small, rough-coated goats, trotting through the runnels of sunlight and dusk of the scree, the foremost with its bell jingling and flashing like a star.  They bore marks of woad-blue on their flanks, and soon their herder emerged from the rocks above them, hovering on the brink of cumbrous earth and thin heaven.I turned my body to see.It was a woman who stood on the barren jut of rock, the crook in her hand tufted at one end to make of it a hearthside broom.  Her hair, blazing uncannily white in the yellow dusk, ran riot around her features, loose and wild in the wind.  She wore the ample folds of a gown about her tall, tragic frame, woven of coarse, country stuff, belted in a fraying length of tartan cloth which the dream muddied from recognition.For a moment I was unmarked.  I watched, my limbs enchanted, as the wingless fey surveyed the vale as I had, her young, snapping brown eye glancing with sunsetlight out from the shifting veil of her hair.  The goats milled around her, streaming past her over the grass.  She oversaw them, vigilant and exquisitely sad, and she did not move.  I felt a movement would break her.I watched her see me, suddenly, outside my body looking on at the interview with painful interest.  The eyes swelled with surprise—not terror, I noticed, but something like a rally against terror.  Never in my life, and perhaps never again, would I experience the power of exerting something like fear over another so adamantly endowed with native endurance.  It was a moment shortly lived.“Thou.”  As she spoke, she lifted her arm, the free arm—she clutched her staff, half shepherd’s crook, half witch’s broom, in the other arm immobile.  “Thou.”  With deliberate step she came forward, down the scree, moving smoothly through the knee-high grass.  The yellow broom-flowers snapped and swirled in the air as she trod them loose.  But I watched transfixed as I stared into those eyes, come closer, closer, wild alight with what I first thought was passion: as she drew to me, but a yard off, I saw it was desperation.  She stopped and the wind hurled her white hair from her face.  I saw she was merely a girl, high-crafted, too noble for her vocation.  She knew it, too, and though the Latin which she spoke to me was heavy with some other accent I did not know, rendering it almost inarticulate, her voice was imperative.“Thou!  Help me!”  She stretched out her hand again, fingers shivering with the power of her request.  Now I saw her eyes were wide with genuine terror, terror of some other thing not myself.  Her hand shook in the air; the clasp on her crook trembled.  The wind was gaining strength, turning cold.  I heard the goats begin to bleat piteously and raw, unfettered fear stung my heart.  “Help me!” she cried.  “Help me!  I beseech thee!  Soldier-fey, help me!”In total darkness the woman was swept up: burnt hillside and dark vale alike were lost.  I heard the wind: within it I heard a canine howl that struck my heart with frozen dread.  A clamour of hoofbeats rang in my skull.  Feeling as though I fell, I stumbled into the vestibule of the nightmare to see two eyes, hellish red and bodiless, staring bloodshot at me a hand-span from my face.“Lord Duke!”Called back by lungs infused with living blood, I swung round, within my body once again, sitting up in my cot in my own sleeping cell.  Weak dawnlight stroked the stone wall opposite my window.  In the distance, the bell rang the morning sacrifices.  “Sir?”My eyes cleared and I saw Hilarion standing in the doorway, mottled wings livid with the torchlight shining from the wall beyond.  There was frost on their edges: real, cold frost that somehow anchoured me to life.“Are you awake?” he asked.  “You sat awhile staring, and I did not think you were.”“Yes,” I replied shortly, breathlessly.  I looked back to the wall at the end of my cot, at the striped rug which covered my knees, at the stark memory which broken dreams leave on the mind.  “Yes, I am awake.”But in truth, I was not so sure.
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Published on March 17, 2015 16:52 • 23 views

February 20, 2015

Almost everything in me is saying, "What are you doing, Jenny.  Why are you doing this.  Don't drag yourself into this.  You don't even care.  Nobody even cares."  Not questions: full on rhetorical statements.  And yet the burr of annoyance won't go away.  Against the colossal monument of my better judgment, I'm doing this.  Let's hope it's worth your while.
"i made the mistake of assuming everyone is out here to be the best version of themselves"
I make this mistake all the time.  Disillusionment can make you angry, repeated disillusionment can make you cynical.  But I do think there are a select number of things which fallible human beings can legitimately lose their tempers over, and fundamentally cynicism is not an attitude I've yet to uncover in my studies of Jesus' walk among those fallible human beings.  I know that if anyone acutely sensed, saw, and appreciated the deep depravity of mankind, it would be him.  I also see that he did not lash out in railing judgments upon sinful civilizations, hurt and vengeful.  He came to do what all civilizations could not: fulfill the law and provide a means of redemption for man.  He came with grace and graciousness to a people who despised and rejected him.  Of course, retribution is coming for those who are damned, and that is their just punishment for turning aside from holiness.  But an offended holiness belongs to God, and until his great and terrible day, he has left us with an example of graciousness.
"charity adorns christianity, and recommends it to the world"
Looking back over (what I have of) my manuscript for Talldogs, I discovered a character who is both compassionate and unyielding.  He will be your friend, back you in your need, care for your wants both physical and immaterial in ways you do not realize, yet you never for a moment get the sense he has surrendered moral ground.  Contemplating this phenomenon, I concluded that it was because he does not entertain the fallacy that your sin will ever be charged to his account.  He is not surprised that people are sinners, nor does he think their sins are his to bear.  Only one man could do that: that has been provided for.  All this character has left to do is be holy before God and man, and all that that entails.  "There," said Paul concerning the godless wretch, "but for the grace of God, go I."  Before God and man this character is just a man, he owes allegiance to one and compassion toward the other.  All else rests in God's dominion, and his humility exempts him from shame.

For what is is worth, I was heartened to discover this example.  I am convinced it is a godly one, one worth emulating.  In whatever walk of life, in art, in the street, where those two worlds converge, a man with his feet upon the ground, his face toward the cross, and his heart full of holiness and compassion, is one who will be marked.  And in this era of the Church's marginalization in our country, isn't that what we desire?  That our voices crying in the wilderness might one day be heard?
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Published on February 20, 2015 13:19 • 19 views

February 19, 2015

pinterest
In case anyone anywhere was wondering, Yes, I am still alive.  I started out trying to squeeze internet time in during my daughter's naps, maybe a little while my husband was holding her.  That lasted - gee, I don't know how long that lasted.  (Does anyone say "gee" anymore, or is it just me now?)  My husband fixed up an Instagram account for me while I was sitting on the table for my last pregnancy exam, and while I got off to a slow start with it, I eventually found it to be an excellent way to share my life with my friends and avoid everything about Facebook that makes me want to claw my eyeballs out some days.  I got the Pinterest app on my phone.  I even have Facebook on there if I absolutely need it (I usually don't).  Within a short amount of time, "online" became irrelevant.

I know, right?  Don't I care about you any more?  Don't I want to keep fighting to eek out time to sit gazing vapidly at the computer's wide-screen internet instead of reading a book or playing with my baby?
you funny
This is me, adjusting to my new life.  And I absolutely do not want to make it sound as though I am compromising, because so many people casually hate on pregnancy and child-rearing, and for anyone who is interested in either, I don't want to add to that negative atmosphere.  It's not negative.  It's not easy, I'll give you that - some days it is flat out grueling, some days (let's be honest) I wake up in the morning ready to cry before the day has started because it's going to be just like the one before, and the one before was hard.  But still, you adjust, things take on or lose priority - like the internet, basically falling off the bottom of the chart, my daughter at the top.  I will admit that maintaining my identity feels hard some days, because I am 1000% taking care of my baby's needs, and even when I am drop-dead exhausted with a tension headache the weight of Christian's burden hauling down my back, I take her in my arms to make sure her needs are met, regardless of my own.

But part of the adjusting and rearrangement of priorities has been (to use that dreadful Christianese phrase) to adapt to a different season of life.  The internet has lost much of its vapid, time-consuming interest (bleh), I spend less time writing (horror of horrors), and more time reading and moving about. For whatever reason, not only does my daughter need to be on the move and mobile to be soothed (if that were only the case, I could put her in a swing), she prefers to be held in order to fall asleep.  This is very flattering, of course, but also extremely exhausting.  So I walk.  A lot.  I carry her in a wrap, and if she is not completely out when I go to sit down, she will rouse and cry.  She is here to make sure Maman never gets diabetes.

This, and nursing, gives me the opportunity to spend more time reading.  I've never been good at equally dividing my time between reading and writing: I'm always focusing on one more than the other.  Right now, I'm focusing on reading.  I finished an excellent treatise on the composition of poetry by Robert Hillyer, bought and worked halfway through My Antonia (having seen Chloe and Carmel enjoy it so much), and picked up Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages and The Name of the Rose, both by Umberto Eco.  Most of My Antonia was read on a particularly bad day: I walked almost all of it with my daughter, and read as I walked, so while I thoroughly enjoyed what I read, I rather gorged myself and have backed off, spending a little more time reading Art and Beauty.  The latter I am enjoying more than I thought I would: it is what feels like a flawless translation from the original Italian, concerning the medieval view of aesthetics.  Sounds dull?  It's not.  It is a book which beautifully answers for so many of my readers why my novel Plenilune is so rich and lavishly coloured.  I picked up The Name of the Rose (a fiction by Eco) because I was eager to read more of this author, and I feel that once I have finished Art and Beauty, it will shed more light of understanding on the uniquely styled novel of The Name of the Rose.  Hand in hand with that, even though I will not grasp all of the author's deep intentions in his monastic mystery, I am thrilled to discover another writer who is not afraid to bring all his (to the outside reader) eclectic, didactic prose to bear on his story and not cater to the public's mainstream tastes.

It may not make us popular, but at least we feel we have something worth sharing.
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Published on February 19, 2015 09:50 • 19 views