Saturday, June 24, 2017

Top Three Languages to Inspire Fantasy (Erin)

I have always loved languages. I remember being a little girl and sitting with a German language copy of the Tales of the Brothers Grimm and writing out my own dictionary of what I thought many of the German words might mean in English. Also in elementary school, I was given a book of Welsh fairy tales and I spent hours poring over the glossary and pronunciation guide in the back. A while later,  I was delighted to realize Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series was set in Wales. Here are three languages that always thrill me, spark my imagination, and that I associate with fantasy settings.

3. Welsh: Welsh is the first language I associated with fantasy books. Cooper's The Dark is Rising series,  and Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain both rely heavily on Welsh language and legend. My youngest daughter's name is even Welsh, and means "little raven." Good thing she has dark hair!

2. Russian: After attempting to read my dad's copy of War and Peace one summer, I was inspired to take Russian language in high school. That led to a Russian minor in college, and traveling to Russia twice. Russian is a Cyrillic language, and looks pretty, especially if you can master Russian cursive. Recent fantasy books such as The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye and Leah Bardugo's The Grisha Trilogy use Russian, but sadly, most books will only use Russian phonetics. I am guessing it would be expensive and tricky to use the actual Cyrillic characters, but they would look more magical.

1. Elvish: Of course, a made-up language created by a brilliant linguist wins my top spot. J.R.R. Tolkien was not only an amazing author, but created an entire working language, with it's own characters, as well as grammar and syntax, along with several variations, for the land of Middle-earth. You can listen to the song "Lothlorien" and see the phonetic and Elvish translations, at this site. Or, you can listen to Tolkien recite a poem in Elvish here. Some day, when I have lots of free time, it would be fun to learn Elvish. . . or Welsh. . . or brush up on my Russian. Ah, free time. . . 

This Digiphile Wordpress site shows the first article of the Universal declaration of Human Rights, as well as lists several Elvish Translators
 What languages do you associate with fantasy? What language would you learn if you had free time? Let us know!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Writing How People Talk (Hannah)

For the last few weeks, one particular technique has been on my mind: writing character speech.  Setting, plot, character, and theme are the cornerstones of storytelling, but those can only be expressed through the writing skills: narrative, description, internal thoughts, and especially dialogue.  One of the easiest ways to introduce or develop a character is to use dialogue, especially if you don't have very many point-of-view (POV) characters.  

Most people have an instinctive knowledge of how dialogue works.  After all, most of us speak to other people on a regular basis.  Because of that, it doesn't seem too hard to write plausible dialogue and have it turn out well.  And honestly, it isn't that difficult.  The part that is very hard for me is tweaking each character's speech so that it is unique.  It is said that readers should be able to tell which character is speaking without any dialogue tags because each character has a very distinctive speech pattern.  I don't know if I quite agree with that, and I know I certainly haven't been able to pull it off, but the point stands that each character should talk differently.  It makes sense - no two people sound the same when they speak, whether it is because of their accents, word choices, subject choices, opinions, sense of humor, or any other verbal tics that fit them.

TV shows and movies are great places to study dialogue, since they do not usually have the benefit of constant narration or internal observation.  They have to rely on dialogue alone to convey who their characters are.  However, they have several tools that writers don't.  Tone of voice, speed of speech, and delivery from actors can completely change the meaning behind the words actually being spoken.  Accents and odd speech patterns can be conveyed more clearly and less obtrusively.  Slang and "lazy speech" (words like "gonna") are much easier to use without drawing too much attention.  Still, tv and movies can be good tools for in-house people watching.  In other words, they are perfect for allowing yourself to be exposed to many different mannerisms and speech patterns, to absorb dialogue different from what is familiar and expand your tool set.

When I think about my favorite tv characters, I can usually hear their voices and speech patterns.  I know how they talk.  What I want is to know my own characters well enough that I can instinctively feel what they will say and how they will say it, and they don't talk exactly like I do all the time. I've had friends tell me that what I've written seems far too "modern" sounding for my setting.  I've had to rewrite entire passages because I realized later that a character would not actually talk like I had originally written.  In fact, early on in drafting the course of my story was changed because I thought I would steer my characters in one direction, but over the course of the conversation they came to a conclusion other than the one I had intended.  It turned out to be a great blessing for my story, thankfully, but it illustrates how difficult it can be to keep character speech consistent and distinctive.  
Ultimately, I've found the best way to keep voices straight is to teach myself to hear them.  Last year, I took a class on Shakespeare and his writings.  I read many of his plays, watched movies of the plays, and even memorized large portions of them to perform for my class.  I was saturated with Shakespeare.  So, surprise, I started to pick up some of the speech and mannerisms I was immersed in.  I thought in Shakespearean English, read it just as easily as I do modern English, and even wrote a poem that sounded very much like Shakespeare.  (I worked very hard not to actually speak like Shakespeare, but I could have if I wanted to.) In a similar manner, I have found that reading or listening to someone whose speech is similar to what I want for my character is a great way to teach myself to hear the dialogue the way it should be.

I am hardly a master at this technique, which is why I am writing about it now.  It's a learning process for me, and one that has actually been really fun as well as a bit frustrating and very difficult.  Have you ever made a conscious effort to keep your characters from sounding the same?  What ways have you found to keep character voices distinct?  I am very curious to hear what others have done with their characters' voices!

For those of you who aren't writers: Have you ever paid attention to how characters in fiction speak?  Did you ever feel like certain characters had distinctive speech patterns that you could recognize anywhere?  Do you have any favorites? 

Thanks for reading!
~ Hannah

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill (Laura)

Once a year in the Protectorate, the youngest baby is sacrificed to a witch who lives in the woods. In return for the children, she leaves the Protectorate in peace. Or so the story goes. But the witch, Xan, who finds the abandoned children on the Day of Sacrifice each year doesn't understand why they are left there to die. She saves them and travels across the woods to the villages on the other side, where she knows they will find loving homes, feeding them starlight along the way. One year, she accidentally feeds the baby moonlight, enmagicking the girl, who she decides to raise as her own and call Luna. But as the years pass, Luna's powers become stronger, while Xan grows weak, and Luna's mother is looking for her. So is the true witch who has trapped the Protectorate in its own fear.

I enjoyed watching various stories come together in this Newbery-Medal winner that focuses on the good people in a corrupt society harvesting an environment of despair and turmoil for its own power. It reminds me of the words television personality Fred Rogers said, to "look for the helpers." Of course, there is Xan, the gentle soul made out to be a demon as she rescues the children the society discards. Luna's mother, the madwoman, is also a particularly symbolic and empathetic character having lost her child to the Protectorate that then imprisoned her for her resulting madness. Yet somehow, she has the strength and knowledge in her heart that keeps her from giving up on her daughter.

Another of my favorite characters is Antain, a young man with many questions and the courage and willingness to seek change. His and the madwoman's entwining stories are moving and interesting to follow. Antain's wife also has the strength of character, purity of heart, faith, and courage to outweigh fear, especially after her own child is born, the youngest in the Protectorate at the time of sacrifice.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a beautiful reflection on the difference between the stories we hear about people and who they really are, and demonstrates how true strength can overcome the power of fear.

What stories remind you to take a deeper look at people or inspire you to remember courage in the face of darkness?



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

On Revision: The Work of Thinking and being Kind to Yourself (Laura)

Hi everyone--sorry this post is a long one. I have been reflecting on a lot lately and wanted to share it, in case it is useful to anyone experiencing something similar in their writing work.

As you may have read in a recent post, I attended a writing retreat last month in the wooded countryside of Pennsylvania. (I will bombard you with photos from the trip throughout this post because I couldn't pick only a couple.) Aside from getting to spend time in a peaceful place with a group of talented writers and talk about books and writing all week (dream come true), I came away with some new revision practices and a better understanding of how I can approach feedback.

For the retreat, I focused on a manuscript that I had just recently started working on again for the first time in close to ten years, so I was already nervous to receive a full critique on something that had never been shredded to pieces. Something that felt precious and preserved. It also had deep emotional meaning to me, and I knew tearing it apart would be difficult. In the past, when I revised a different manuscript, I continuously made lists of the things I needed to work on and checked them off as I went, and I was determined to jump into this revision project with the same gusto. I was so proud of the gigantic list I'd put together with all the bits of feedback and ways I planned to attack the revisions. I knew I wouldn't get to make a real dent in just one week, but it was still a lot of dedicated time to get a solid start. Right?

Well, when I arrived in Pennsylvania, I was completely pulled away from my plans partly due to the sheer distraction of being in a different place. And partly because as soon as I got there, my confidence went into hiding. One of the faculty members caringly spoke during a group conversation about how a particular author she's worked with struggled with confidence while under contract for a yet-to-be-written book. I'm not even a publishing author; yet there I was, merely a retreat-goer with the luxury of writing for myself instead of an editor, and I was still buckling under similar pressure that I was simply putting on myself. And if you go out into the big publishing world, the pressure only increases from there. The things we write are personal to each of us, and the idea of putting our work out there to be criticized on a public level or by publishing professionals can be daunting and may leave us feeling raw and exposed, like we want to tuck back inside the privacy of our safe little writing caves for a while. I think I got a little scared, just seeing how real that pressure of writing for an audience can be and how much bigger it gets if you are brave enough to publish, given the chance.

In my case, I had put expectations on myself for my week in the woods, but what I hadn't taken into consideration was that I was still processing. I first needed to reconcile the feedback I had received with the meaning the book has for me. That feedback, which was delivered in very gentle ways, was valuable and made sense, but I still needed to find myself in it. That was the work I needed to do there. Once the book has left my hands, it means something to somebody else, and if I want to connect with my reader, it is my responsibility to bring out certain threads I may not have originally intended and, in this instance, create something like an omniscient narrator to make other connections for the reader that weren't coming through. That narrator has its own voice that ties the story together and creates the sound of the book, and I was only beginning to learn that I still needed to find that voice. My list wasn't going to help me do that.

As it turned out, the false starts and confidence trip-ups helped me connect with my character's world in a way I hadn't in several years. It brought me right back into that emotional core and by the last
days of the retreat, I was ready to pour that into a new narrator voice. A week after the retreat was over, all the walks and deep thinking I had done as well as the knowledge I had soaked up from the faculty and students were starting to come together. I sat alone some more with my ideas then talked through them with my writing group members. I discussed the meaning the book had for me, and they helped me see even more how certain concepts weren't coming through. As I brainstormed ideas with them on how to bring those themes out, that excitement was churning in my blood again, and I no longer felt like the revisions were coming from outside of me but were exactly what I wanted to write to tell the story. I continued writing pages of notes and new lists throughout the next week. I couldn't stop myself. I was back in it; I just needed to go through some growing pains to get there.

This process may seem obvious to some, but from what I've heard from other writers, I think many of us do at times struggle with confidence, especially when we start sharing our work. It's like a Chinese finger trap. Calming down is the only way to get unstuck, even though it's counterintuitive in the moment of panic. Depending on the environment each of us is in or how hard we are on ourselves, we may be expected to deliver results and not have that luxury of slowing down and taking a deeper look, and it's important that we find or create an environment that allows us to do this. I tend to be slow in general in several areas of my life, and I'm always punishing myself for this and apologizing for it. I'm always trying to hurry myself along to catch up with the pack. These feelings will continue to surface, and I will need to continue getting through them. If I don't, I will just keep making my lists and picking the work apart and moving without understanding where I'm going. You can take information and feedback in and produce work and produce work, but sometimes you need to do more than that. You need to stop and listen to your own feedback.

Be patient with yourself as you do this. You're seeing something in a new way and aligning it with your values that you want to come through the story. It's just growing pains. Maybe that's why we write for young people. We never really stop being them, ourselves, if we keep growing. It will all come out in the writing, in the process, and it will be authentic instead of the product of panic. So trust that journey. Be kind to yourself. You don't grow a plant by thrashing it. You water it, feed it. Give it air and light. You give it what it needs and nourish it at the roots. You treat it like it's precious and deserves a chance.

Maybe some of us could even practice this in other areas of our lives. Sometimes, I get frustrated because I am not reaching a goal, so I work harder. But no matter how hard I work. I can't reach what I'm looking for. Some things--the best things probably--don't come through that kind of work. Through lists and tangible proof at the end of the day that you've done something or made progress. You'll just run yourself ragged for no purpose. While that work is important too, sometimes you need to stop working. Get down from the conveyor belt and look inside, look around. Be still for a minutes and take care of yourself long enough to figure out what it is you need to do to move forward. It's hard to make yourself stop the constant, perhaps thoughtless movement when you're used to being told or believing that's what work is. Work is thinking too. Find people in your life who value your thoughts and vision, who value you. Shed the rest. That includes finding that respect in yourself. There's nothing wrong with you if you don't catch on or get something right away. Slowing down doesn't make you incompetent. It means you are thoughtful and careful, and you will end up finding yourself in your work, in the process. It takes a strong person to seek out criticism and also not get weighed down by it. To balance out the learning with maintaining who you are. Maybe I didn't check things off my pretty revision list at the retreat, but I journaled and prewrote and sat in a healing place with my thoughts then talked those thoughts through with supportive people. Now, I'm in a much healthier and more productive place.

Perhaps this could work for you too. And if bravery is something you struggle with in your writing, or in general, take care of yourself in these ways, and you may find at the end of the day you have the strength left to be brave.

What are some revision practices you find helpful when you work with a lot of feedback?

Thanks for reading,

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Top 3 Lessons from Fairy Tales (Lizzie)

Earlier this year, I had the chance to write an introduction to G. K. Chesterton's classic book Orthodoxy, which was being re-published as part of a collection of Christian classics. Chesterton (1874-1936), a brilliant, witty Englishman beloved as a novelist, newspaperman, and Christian apologist writer and speaker, loved fairy tales and viewed them as much more than simple, entertaining stories for children. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Orthodoxy (as well as Chesterton's famous Father Brown mystery series and his play Magic) and wanted to share some of his comments on fairy tales. I've chosen this passage from chapter 4 "The Ethics of Elfland." He actually gives four lessons, to be taken from four fairy tales, but since this is a Top 3 post, consider one a bonus.

Walter Crane's 1874 edition of Beauty and the Beast presenting the Beast as a boar
"But I deal here with what ethic and philosophy come from being fed on fairy tales. If I were describing them in detail I could note many noble and healthy principles that arise form them. There is the chivalrous lesson of “Jack the Giant Killer”; that giants should be killed because they are gigantic. It is a manly mutiny against pride as such. For the rebel is older than all the kingdoms, and the Jacobin has more tradition than the Jacobite. There is the lesson of “Cinderella,” that which is the same as that of the Magnificat—exaltavit humiles [exalt the humble]. There is the great lesson of “Beauty and the Beast”; that a thing must be loved before it is lovable. There is the terrible allegory of the “Sleeping Beauty,” which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not concerned with any of the separate statues of elfland, but with the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak, and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts."

Chesterton is also famous for (supposedly) saying this about what he learned from fairy tales:

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

But that is actually a paraphrase by Neil Gaiman. The actual quote is this (with extra lines for context) and from "The Red Angel" in Tremendous Trifles.

"The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it– because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."

Do you have any favorite lessons from fairy tales or quotes on fairy tales?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Interview with Carrie Anne Noble

Photo credit: Tonya Wilhelm
We are SO thrilled to welcome Carrie Anne Noble to Lands Uncharted today! She is the award-winning author of The Mermaid's Sister, and has a new release, The Gold-Son, coming out next week! Carrie took the time to answer some questions for us, so before I resort to gushing I'll let you hear from Carrie herself :)

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I live in the beautiful mountains of Pennsylvania with my husband and kids, where I enjoy reading, gardening very badly, taking quirky Instagram photos, and spending a lot of time creating imaginary worlds and characters. I love hedgehogs, the woods, Irish cheese, and tea!

I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with gardening! What prompted you to start writing? Are you one of those authors who knew you were meant to write since childhood, or did it come as a discovery later in life?

I’ve always had a love for books and writing since childhood, but I didn’t think of it as anything but a hobby until I was over thirty. Now that my kids are all older and more self-sufficient, I have the time to write and do the creative daydreaming making up fiction requires.

We're all about exploring new worlds here at Lands Uncharted—if you could choose one place to visit, real or fictional, where would you go?

I’d love to visit the Elven realm of Lothlorien from The Lord of the Rings. Enchanted forest, soaring tree houses, beautiful Elves…what’s not to like?

It does sound like an amazing place! Do you have any go-to foods or beverages while writing?

Lots of chocolate! I partially (and gratefully) blame this on my friend Jenny—who sends me frequent author care packages containing special chocolate bars, sweet notes of encouragement, and other delightful niceties.

Mmm, I'm rather fond of chocolate myself :) What advice would you share with an aspiring author?

The truth is you’re probably going to write a lot of garbage before you’re ready for publication—and it’s okay! Keep practicing, get into a good critique group, and be sure to read studiously in your chosen genre and beyond. Most of all, don’t give up!

No visit to Lands Uncharted is complete without Top 3s! Give us a Top 3 list, in the category of your choice.

My Top 3 Favorite Methods of Transportation in Fantasy Novels

1) Great Eagles (The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien)

2) Unicorn (Stardust by Neil Gaiman)

3) Gypsy-style caravan (The Mermaid’s Sister by…me!)

Great choices, the fantasy genre has so many fun ways to travel! Your debut novel, The Mermaid’s Sister, has won multiple awards and sold over 100,000 copies! Congratulations!! Plus it’s just an amazing book :) Can you share some of your writing / publishing journey that led up to this point?

Thank you!

Well, after taking a correspondence course on writing during my stay-at-home-mom years, I did my first “professional” writing as a reporter for a local newspaper. It wasn’t my favorite kind of writing, but it was good experience and helped me gain confidence. Then, in 2008, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, an online event in which you attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, mainly to see if I could actually do it. I succeeded (although the book was BAD), and I’ve continued to do NaNoWriMo every year since. The Mermaid’s Sister began as my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel. After revisions, I submitted it to the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, and won the Young Adult category. The prize was a publishing contract with Skyscape. The Mermaid’s Sister came out in 2015, and the same publisher bought The Gold-Son in 2016. And here we are! It sounds simple, but it was a lot of hard work.

I bet! The Mermaid’s Sister follows Clara as she comes to terms with her sister’s identity as a mermaid and searches for her own place in the world. What do you hope readers take away from her story?

I hope Clara helps readers realize that they are stronger than they know, and that on the other side of tragedy, they will find joy again.

You have a new release coming out on June 20th! (I can’t wait!!!) What inspired you to write The Gold-Son?

One morning, I looked out the window and saw the bearded gentleman who strolls past my house every day with his walking stick and faithful dog. At that moment, I asked myself, What if he’s really a leprechaun looking for a place to bury his gold? After that, I started planning a leprechaun-themed novel as my National Novel Writing Month project. I thought it would be particularly fun to have a gold-addicted leprechaun work in a shopping mall at a cash-for-gold stand, and even more fun to make him fall for the human girl selling lotion next door.

So, you’ve already covered mermaids and Leprechauns :) Are there any other mythical creatures you’d like to write about in future books?

My novel-in-progress contains elements of the Selkie legend (Selkies are fairy seals who become humans on land). Beyond that, maybe I’ll write about tooth fairies. They do such an important job and they don’t get much recognition!

Ooh, I'm intrigued! Please share a favorite line or passage from The Gold-Son with us.

"The tree was neither oak nor ash, neither beech nor birch, nor any other tree named by humankind. Its trunk was wider than the village church, and its highest branches tangled with clouds. It blossomed for three days every spring, or so it was said, for a fragrance like honey and cake drifted into the town at that time, making stomachs rumble with longing that no mortal food could quench."

I included The Gold-Son in my Top 3 Most Anticipated Books of the Second Half of 2017 post last week, and this is why! Such gorgeous writing. It's available for pre-order here. And you can connect with Carrie Anne Noble on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Thank you so much for visiting us today, Carrie! Congratulations on your upcoming new release!!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Your Turn: Finding Time in the Summer (Jill)

Picnics, play dates, trips to the pool, vacations, ball games--these things and more fill summer days. And when our summer activities start, my work schedule...well, let's just say I'm not very productive. Most summers, I've just brushed the computer aside and waited until September showed up to get any work done.

But this summer is different.

I've made a promise to myself. I want the first draft of my work in progress to be finished by the end of June. It doesn't have to be pretty; it just has to be done. Afterwards, I can revise, revise, revise, but I want to have the story completed by June 30th.

When my girls were smaller, I made allowances and worked when my husband was home. Since my girls are a little older now, I can say things like, "For the next hour, don't bother me unless someone is bleeding or dying." That usually works. 

So I'm wondering: do you have any tried and true techniques to carve out that necessary time? When your schedule's all messed up, but a project looms that must be done, what do you do to get it completed?  We'd love to hear how you handle it. Share in the comments below!