Queen Esther

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My article on Queen Esther is up at Femnista. To read it, click here!

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Banned Books Week

There is something delicious about reading a book that has been banned. I’ve read a number of them… of course, thank the Lord, they are no longer officially banned. But I always feel a surge of smug satisfaction when I have a formerly banned book in my hands. That I’m holding something that was once forbidden, that was once frowned upon. That for whatever the reason, this particular book was off-limits to the masses. I have a favorite too, one that I can read again and again and it will never grow old.

 

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Growing up, the movie adaptation was a family favorite. We watched it whenever it came on TCM. My parents wanted us to understand two things though: that that was how life was in the South in the 1930s. And that when they were growing up (1950s and 1960s), our home state of Indiana wasn’t that different. That prejudice and racism was entrenched in our past too. I first read the book though in 2010, on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication, and I think I’ve reread it every year since.

A layered book, its lessons are heartfelt and far-reaching. I think I learn something new whenever I read it. You really do learn to walk around in someone else’s skin and see the world through their eyes.

What is your favorite banned book and why?

Pet Peeves

Okay, we all have them. A certain habit or a phrase – something that annoys us to no end. When it comes to books, I also have pet peeves. Classic Literature is my favorite genre and Historical Fiction comes in a close second. Nothing excites me more than to stumble across a new novel, written perhaps from the point of view of my favorite author or another historical figure. And nothing disappoints me more than for that book to be riddled with historical errors, or worse, to have the facts purposely changed to suit the plot of the story.

Yeah, you guessed it. I recently read another book that was somehow published despite the fact that it was based on an historical figure yet it barely resembled that person’s life. The novel was well-written and the author did the research, but the author chose to manipulate certain facts to make the story more “interesting.”

Maybe I’m being petty, or the green-eyed monster of jealousy is rearing its ugly head, but I think if you are writing historical fiction – particularly if it’s based on a historical figure – the least you can do is honor history by sticking to the facts and mold your story around that. Especially if you’re lucky enough to land an agent and your novel ends up in print.

Okay, I’ll stop complaining now, otherwise I’ll end up beating a dead horse. Back to my own research and writing – I want to get it right.

What are some of your literary pet peeves?

Write What You Know

No doubt you’ve heard the age-old piece of advice, “write what you know.”

I say don’t.

Yes, write with all of your heart and soul and I think there ought to be a kernel of yourself and what you know in each of your stories. But if you’re like me, an ordinary person who lives a quiet life, and that’s all you know, no one will want to read about that. Often people reach for a book to be transported from the everyday ho-hum. At least I do. No one wants to read about me doing the laundry or cleaning the bathtub or about me mediating between my pets when they bicker.

I generally write historical fiction. While I know quite a bit about the Holocaust and the Great Depression (those are the settings for the two novels I have written), I obviously have never lived in either time periods. Same goes for the short murder mysteries that I’ve written; I’ve never encountered a serial killer or a psychopath (not that I know of, anyway). There are also romantic elements throughout my fiction, and I’ve never had a romance of my own.

When you write, you must employ a certain amount of imagination. You must be able to transport yourself and your audience, and convince them that this is reality. It’s challenging, but so worth it in the end. Just wait until you have that well-crafted piece of art in print. There is nothing more satisfying.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?

Writing Duds

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” — Ray Bradbury.

I love Bradbury’s words of wisdom. The more you write, the more you will improve, and you’ll increase your chances of writing something of quality, as well as publication.

You will continue to write duds though. Every now and then, you’ll write a story and it might not be bad, but it might not necessarily be good enough to be accepted. You’ll submit it and submit it to no avail. You may even revise it a number of times, to appease the editors, yet no matter what you do, you can’t find a home for it. So, it may be what I call a “dud.” And it sucks. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there time and time again. You put all of this time and effort into this one story and nothing comes of it. You do have some options though.

  1. You can continue to submit it. Maybe you’ll luck out and someone will publish it after all. I’ve done this. I’ve had one editor tell me that such-and-such a story isn’t publishable and then some months down the line, its accepted. Publishing is a subjective business; what one-person dislikes, another will love. You may have to wait months, or years even.
  2. Have another writer (or several writers/beta readers) read it and critique it. Having a fresh pair of eyes can be beneficial. Then revise and start the submission process all over again. Some editors will accept resubmissions.
  3. Publish it on a blog or submit it to a magazine that offers no compensation. In the end, you will still have the credit.
  4. Forget about it and move onto another story. Just forget it exists. Maybe a couple years from now, you can look at it and borrow elements from it for another story.

What have you done when you have written a dud?

Try Something New

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I mentioned in another post that I used write strictly Christian fiction. I thought since I was a Christian that I needed to write Christian fiction. It made sense to me. Never mind the fact that I wrote utter crap and it wasn’t suited to me, but I limited myself. For a number of years, I cranked out predictable historical romances, to no avail. I was never successful in the Christian market (thank God for that; seriously I would have made the worst Christian romance novelist). My light bulb finally came on and I moved on from that.

So, I tried something new. I wrote a couple of secular novels that mean a great deal to me, are far better written, and are far more realistic. One of them is really promising. In the last couple of years, I have also tried my hand at short stories…for the speculative markets, and I have had some successes. They won’t win any big awards, but I actually get feedback now, and the occasional acceptance.

My point is, don’t limit yourself. Don’t write what you think you should be writing. Because in the end the editors and the readers will know that your heart is not in it. Try something new, expand your horizons. Write in a different genre or attempt a new, fresh character’s POV. What is it going to hurt?

You may end up surprising yourself. I know I did.

Potential

I’ve had more than my share of rejections, literary and otherwise. It comes with the territory. Some rejections are form letters, others are a bit more personalized. Then there are the rejections that drop the word “potential” and offer some constructive criticism. I am happy and appreciative of the criticism, even though I may not want to hear it. But there is something about the word “potential” that gets under my skin and makes me see red.

For me it’s like receiving a patronizing pat on the head and being sent on my way. I think it’s because after all of the work that I pour into a particular story or novel, I think it’s past the “potential” stage. After years of writing and rewriting, having a number of short stories published, I often feel like I’m past the “potential” stage. The “potential” stage is for beginners, for those who don’t know any better, those who need to be taught the basics, etc.

I get so wrapped up in the word “potential” that I miss the bigger picture. I forget the feedback that I have received, that a profession has given much thought to and wishes to impart on me. For an agent to say your novel has potential, give some examples on what to revise, and encourage you to keep trying is a complement. This novel may not be for them, but they see the “potential” that it has, and they think it’s worthwhile. They are guiding you to that path that you need to take.

“But my novel is just as good as —–‘s novel!” I doth protest.

And that may (or may not) be true. But I don’t want to be as good as so-and-so. I don’t want to write a mediocre novel that is read and quickly forgotten. The idea is to do your utmost, to create a work of art, and to paint pictures with words.

What now?

Apparently, my novel has “potential.”

So…back to writing.