Tag Archives: writers

From Hopeless Romantic to Sceptical Cynic to Something Inbetween

When I was young all I wrote was romance. I was obsessed with the idea of love, with the beautiful emotions captured upon the page in a story that had a central romantic plot. My friends would tease me, commenting on how my works always (and I do mean always) ended up with happily ever afters and marriages and everything else in typical Disney story fashion.

And then the years passed. And something inside of me seemed to die.

Hopeless? I’d always been quite hopeful. In many ways it was as though the hope died out. But I suppose four years of college without a single boyfriend made me start to realize…made me start to wonder if I’d been lied to and if there was more out there than a wedding ring on the finger to signify ultimate happiness. And besides, out of the works I’d read in class, it was rare to find one that actually ended with the characters getting everything they wanted. And the few that ended somewhat happily usually were picked apart by my professors anyways.

As a result my works started to become more depressing. My fifth novel I finished ended in utter despair. Dead characters and the protagonist locked away in a mental institution. Part of me felt proud for actually having made some progress. Actually having said goodbye to the naive little girl who’d always written love stories.

And then over the summer I just stopped trying. I’d worked hard on my “senior thesis” a somewhat depressing novel that I had shown to several professors and fellow students for criticism. After having worked on that for so long I needed something new.

So I began working on fluffy romance. Things that made me smile and laugh and feel good again. I’d spent so long during senior year feeling depression build up over the inevitable end of the school year, that it felt good to relax a little. Write things that weren’t serious that I’d never send to a publisher. But there was more than that.

I had a friend who I was sending a few chapters to when I’d finish them. And she made a point of saying something to me one day that struck me.

She told me that my last two updates were both during horrible life moments. Apparently one came in right after her mother’s passing, and the next while waiting in the hospital. She told me “I actually laughed with happiness when my email came that you had updated, because I needed something lighthearted right in that moment.”

I cannot even express how much that meant to me. How deeply moved I was to think of this friend reading my cheesy ridiculous love story in the hospital and smiling.

But that’s the beauty of happy things. Sure, a depressing story might have some great messages in it, or be written beautifully. But happy stories have the power to make people’s lives better.

With this in mind I decided I might rethink the depressing college novel if I ever get started on it again. Because I know now that while there is value to a story that has tragedy and sorrow…there is also beauty in a story that helps other people remember to smile. I don’t think writers should forget that too quickly.

 

What do you prefer to read or write? Do you think there are advantages and disadvantages to comedies vs tragedies?

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Fifteen Fabulous Female Protagonists

It’s International Women’s Day, so I figured what better than a post about female characters and female authors…and then I figured why not combine those two subjects into one post. So here are some great women written by equally great women, or at least a few favorites of mine. I ended up having three memoirs on the list, but I figure each one of us is the protagonist in our own life, so I decided it would count. So here you go.

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The Character: Esther Greenwood
The Book: The Bell Jar
The Author: Sylvia Plath
Why She’s Awesome: Esther is a talented and successful young woman. While she certainly falls into a period of mental instability throughout the novel, she nonetheless remains a fascinating protagonist to follow into the depths of her breakdown.

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The Character: Celie Johnson
The Book:
The Color Purple
The Author: Alice Walker
Why She’s Awesome: In spite of all she’s been through, Celie remains resilient. Her struggles have been great and many, but Celie does not let that hold her back from finding happiness. She’s an incredibly inspiring character in her love for those around her, and her hope for better things.

Kristin Hannah.jpg

The Character: Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Mauriac
The Book:
The Nightingale
The Author: Kristin Hannah
Why She’s Awesome:
You read so many World War II stories about men fighting or men leading resistance groups, but this book shows two strong women who fight for what’s right during the French occupation. Vianne and Isabelle both show incredible resilience and strength of character.

The Character: Emily Bronte300px-emily_brontc3ab_cropped
The Book:
Emily’s Ghost
The Author:
Denise Giardina
Why She’s Awesome:
Giardina’s imagined version of Emily Bronte doesn’t care about social norms, defying what is expected of her as a woman of her time. She is intelligent and extremely talented in spite of her odd qualities. She loves animals and isn’t afraid of debating with men.

The Character: Cath Averylg_fangirl-coverdec2012-725x1075_1402265047-3006
The Book:
Fangirl
The Author: Rainbow Rowell
Why She’s Awesome:
Cath Avery describes herself as a complete disaster. To be honest, it’s sort of true. But she is nonetheless a lovable character who struggles through a transition into a new environment while dealing with family problems and her own anxieties. Cath’s hope and imagination make her shine as a character.

The Character: June Woo and othersjoyluckclub_044pyxurz
The Book:
The Joy Luck Club
The Author: Amy Tan
Why She’s Awesome:
All of the women in this book are amazing, but June’s story does seem to be the one that begins and ends the book, so I thought I’d mention her most. June is a bit unsure of herself at times. She wants to be American and often pushes away her mother’s traditions, but after a while she begins to understand that her identity is wrapped up in her heritage.

The Character: Ayaan Hirsi Ali220px-ayaan_hirsi_ali_2006_cropped
The Book:
Infidel
The Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Why She’s Awesome:
One of the memoirs on here where the protagonist is also the author. Ali describes a brutal history including a female circumcision and other unjust practices she experienced in her family and the countries she lived in. Ali is brave and intelligent, and her pursuit of a better life is truly inspiring.

The Character: Orlandoorlando4-0
The Book:
Orlando
The Author:
Virginia Woolf
Why She’s Awesome:
Well, this takes some understanding of the book, but Orlando actually is born a man and wakes up one day as a woman. To be honest, I liked that she didn’t really think all that much of becoming a different sex, other than realizing the restrictions placed upon her as a result. Orlando continued to live a free life, writing and searching for love. She’s pretty awesome as a result (plus she’s played by Tilda Swinton in the film version!)

The Character: Rachel Held Evansrachel-held-evans-feminist-christian-woman-lives-biblically-for-12-months-22
The Book:
A Year of Biblical Womanhood
The Author: Rachel Held Evans
Why She’s Awesome:
Evans writes a fantastic book about a journey to understanding more about life as a Christian woman exploring traditions of the past and present in her book. She’s quite funny and a talented writer, and displays a clever and open spirit that makes her works so enjoyable to read. As a Christian woman wrestling with what being a woman really means, I have to really recommend her book.

The Character: Offredoffred
The Book:
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Author: Margaret Atwood
Why She’s Awesome:
Offred lives in a society that severely oppresses its women. In spite of that she remains strong. She continually remembers the better times, and soon begins to pursue an escape. Her journey in her present oppression and remembering her better past life brings about great questions about sex and society.

The Character: Harriet Jacobsharriet_ann_jacobs1894
The Book:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
The Author: Harriet Jacobs
Why She’s Awesome:
Many people read slave narratives describing the lives of men, but it’s even more interesting to read into the lives of those not only oppressed for their race but also for their sex. Jacobs shows a great amount of persistence in her fight for a better life for herself and her family. She is intelligent and strong, never giving up no matter how hard her circumstances become.

The Character: Jane Eyrejane1
The Book:
Jane Eyre
The Author: Charlotte Brontë
Why She’s Awesome:
Jane is a fantastic character. She maintains her own self-confidence in spite of everyone around her who tries to discourage it. She is determined to ignore the circumstances into which she was born, rising above it as best she can. Jane is clever and honest, and she never once gives up.

The Character: Skeeter Phelan, Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson5168528_orig
The Book:
The Help
The Author:
Kathryn Stockett
Why She’s Awesome:
All three of these characters are fantastic. From Skeeter who is determined to have a career instead of a family, to Aibileen who is trying to inspire love in the children she watches in spite of the cruelty she faces everyday, to stubborn Minny who refuses to sit quietly and take abuse, all three of these women are amazing creations.

The Character: Janie Starks7268752
The Book:
Their Eyes Were Watching God
The Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Why She’s Awesome:
Janie is determined to find love, following her childhood dreams in spite of everything she’s been taught. Janie is tough and clever. She doesn’t back out of a fight. She lets Teacup teach her how to hunt and fish and wears overalls instead of dresses.

The Character: Anne Elliotanne-elliot-persuasion-2624403-283-359
The Book:
Persuasion
The Author: Jane Austen
Why She’s Awesome:
While most people lean towards Lizzy Bennet as their favorite Austen girl, I wanted to go for the more quiet Anne Elliot. She is quite prudent in her decisions about life, resulting in her giving up love in fear of it being the wrong decision. Anne is accomplished and intelligent in spite of not being quite the same fiery heroine as many of Austens other girls.

Here are just a few of the awesome women writers and characters. I could not include them all, and I also did miss some great ones created by men.

Who are some of your favorite female characters and/or writers? How are you celebrating International Women’s Day?

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“My Rambling Brat (In Print)” or the Problems of Perfecting Writing

As a writer I sometimes am extremely self-critical. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the negatives and see only your faults rather than your talents. In many ways it’s in our nature to be critical, especially of ourselves. I am always reluctant to share my writing with others for this reason, frightened to let my books into the world fearing they might not be good enough. Yes, I’m a bit of an obsessive editor who constantly is trying to improve my works. And I never can explain to my eager friends why my book is just not ready yet!

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However, today I realized not only am I not alone in this belief, but published writers long before me have also struggled with these self doubts.

In my American literature class today we were reading Anne Bradstreet, a brilliant Puritan poet from the early 1600’s. She has marvelous poems, and I encourage everyone to take a look at a few of them. However, my favorite remains “The Author to Her Book”.

The story goes that Bradstreet had a book that her brother-in-law published without her permission. My literature professor equated it to friends hacking your facebook when you’re out of the room to post ridiculous things. However, it’s a bit more extreme than that. Bradstreet wrote this poem as a reflection of how she didn’t want it published, comparing her book to an ill-formed child that she is sending out the door hoping only the best for. Read it below and see what you think.

The Author to Her Book

  by Anne Bradstreet

Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth didst by my side remain,
Till snatched from thence by friends, less wise than true,
Who thee abroad, exposed to public view,
Made thee in rags, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judge).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
The visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, if so I could.
I washed thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot still made a flaw.
I stretched thy joints to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobbling than is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save homespun cloth i' th' house I find.
In this array 'mongst vulgars may'st thou roam.
In critic's hands beware thou dost not come,
And take thy way where yet thou art not known;
If for thy father asked, say thou hadst none;
And for thy mother, she alas is poor,
Which caused her thus to send thee out of door.

So here is this brilliant woman worrying about what is going to happen to her book she thinks is “ill-formed” and not ready to be sent out yet. It amazes me to think far greater writers than I have also worried about their works. So I guess I need to worry less and just be brave and send things off. Because I’ll always see my books as rambling brats not yet ready to leave the home.

 
Who are some writers who have inspired you to see value in your own work? What do you do to overcome compulsive editing problems? Any other valuable literary wisdom you can provide?

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Writing is not a Career?

Many people have assumptions about what it means to be a writer. There is the idea that writing, while a fun hobby, is certainly not material for a real career.

I was reading a section of a book for writing class and was struck by the beauty of what the writer had to say. The book is called Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. She writes on the subject of faith and art, particularly in the form of writing. In a chapter about labels that are put on writers, she discussed the various assumptions people make about writers.

 

“There’s another New Yorker cartoon that shows a woman opening the door of her house to a friend. We look through the door, and in the back of the house a man is writing at a typewriter, with a large manuscript piled on the desk beside him. The friend asks, ‘Has your husband found a job yet? Or is he still writing?’

“A successful businesswoman had the temerity to ask me about my royalties, just at last when my books were making reasonable earnings. When told, she was duly impressed and remarked, ‘And to think, most people would have had to work so hard for that.’ I choked on my tea not wanting to laugh in her face.

“A young friend of mine was asked what she did, and when she replied that she was a poet, the inquirer responded, amused, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean your hobby.’” (L’Engle 123).

I found this section fascinating, and yet, I also recognized the truth in what L’Engle had written. Many are ignored for their writing, told that it’s not a real job. It’s a sad world we live in where people can’t recognize the work that goes into the written craft.

In seventh grade we had a career day and the counselor was talking to the students about what they wanted to do in their future. After a brief introduction she asked around the room to see who already had a career idea. I was amongst a small group of people to raise their hands. She went around, calling on each and getting a list of different options. Sports trainer. Interior designer. Politician. And then it came to me and I smiled proudly before pronouncing “writer”.

The counselor had enthusiastically supported all of the other children. But when it came my turn she looked at me before calling on the next child.

I was embarrassed, humiliated. It was the first time I had ever realized that the adult world did not accept certain answers as “careers” even if that was what they were. My job choice was impractical and silly and wouldn’t get me anywhere in life.

I panicked, fought desperately to find another job that was more practical and less likely to get me weird looks or annoying comments. I felt satisfied when I found one (teacher) but of course was never nearly as content with the choice.

The world we live in is harsh on writers. Though it is not a “practical” career choice it still involves work and dedication. I appreciated seeing how another writer had experienced similar hostility towards her craft.

What have you experienced as a response to being a writer? If you don’t write, what’s your opinion on whether or not writing takes work?

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L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art. Wheaton, Ill: H. Shaw, 1980. Print.

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