What Unique Creatures We Are [Guest Post]

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Have you ever thought about how unique writers are?
I've been pondering this lately, so when Joy sent me an email inquiring whether or not I could do a
guest post here, I knew just what I would write about. (As a warning; I've not done any form of
blogging before this so kindly bear with me if I'm a tad incoherent.)

Writers are quite different from other people. We think, evaluate, analyze, and dare I say, feel in our own unique way. We are known for being rather crazy (to put it mildly) and often absent-minded. We talk to people that live only in our heads and hearts. Our moods are based upon said people. If they are behaving themselves, the world is a place of sunshine and laughter. But if they become contrary and obstinate, refusing to reveal their names or get along with a fellow character and whatnot, we are transported to the darkest pit of despair. Our imaginations are vivid and uncharted, set aflame by the smallest bits of fuel. To a writer no conversation is private. We listen without compunction for anything that might be worth putting in a book. We people-watch, noting the particulars about each person: their eye colour, their hair, this woman's squeaky voice, the way that man's style of attire makes him look like an undercover agent, the adorable pair of Asian twins sneaking extra cookies. Nothing humorous or quirky escapes our notice, from four church ladies each spelling “casserole” in a different way on the banquet sheet, to the man next door who apparently never changes out of his night clothes. Assassination and betrayal is all in a day's work for us. We can be in a mortifying, bothersome situation and the writer part of our mind is leaning against the wall in the shadows, enjoying the absurdity and thinking, “Hmm...this would be marvelous in a book.” Words are everything to us. We keep pen and paper nearby at all times because one never knows when inspiration will strike. Obscure facts, quotes, phrases, and the like are all jotted down under the assumption that they might come in handy someday. We concoct all manner of awful predicaments for our characters and like doing so. Our minds often wander and we absently pass the salt to the wrong person because we were in the midst of a duel when we were told whom it was supposed to be given to. Improper use of words and grammar irritate us to no end. We lose sleep over sentences that refuse to be written right, tangled plots, and the Villain insisting on being a relation of the Heroine. We are inspired by the oddest things; a look in someone's eyes, a phrase in a song, a certain color, the way your Father's hair is combed back, a bit of fuzz floating along the floor. We know what it is like to lose all those dearest to us, to be burdened with a terrible secret, to kill, to live in fear and desperate hope, to be in love, to be considered an outcast, even though we may never have experienced any of these in actual fact. We are sensitive to beauty, quick to appreciate wit, and unfailingly curious. To a writer no person is ever bland or ordinary. Each one has a story just waiting to be told. 
We are unique. We are a race set apart.
We are Writers.

Annie Hawthorne is a homeschooled young lady between the ages of fifteen and twenty. She lives in the beautiful countryside with her odd and somewhat crazy family. Her passions are living for her Saviour, scribbling about a myriad of things, devouring heaps of good books, and creating with her hands. Beauty in any form thrills the very fibres of her heart and music is the unspoken language of her soul. A writer by blood and child of God by grace she strives to live life with joy no matter the circumstances.

What Writers! - A Dialogue with Jenny Freitag and Abigail Hartman

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Today, I have the immense pleasure and honour to be part of Jenny Freitag and Abigail Hartman's blog party in the form of an interview here on Fullness of Joy, and to let you all read the wonderful answers these two lovely author sisters gave to my many questions which I had the privilege of asking them last month. In it, I asked them questions about themselves, their writing, what inspires them, their debut novels (The Shadow Things by Jennifer Freitag and The Soldier's Cross by Abigail J. Hartman), and some other literary-related questions to which they gave such well-thought out answers, well beyond their years and yet so full of whit and humour that my sister, Sarah, and I were doubled up with laughter as we read some of them! I would like to give a vibrant and beautiful introduction to start this interview off, but how can one really stuff into the bottle of words the depth of a human being's personality? Jenny and Abigail have taught me so much in the world of writing since I got to "meet" them at the start of 2012; their writing and their blogs and the advice they've been sharing with fellow young writers including myself have inspired me to write and develop in the written word (scribbling stories and in reading literature!) in so many ways that otherwise I may have never ventured into or dared to try. And then--their stories are really that good! So, now, sit back comfortably on a chair, take a sip of tea, and enjoy! Oh, and please read to the end of the interview, even if it is rather long. I promise it will be worth your while.

1. Hello, Jenny and Abigail, what a pleasure to have you on this interview with me today! To start this off (because... we have to start somewhere, right?), could you please tell us a little bit about yourselves? Hobbies, personalities, tea or coffee, sunshine or rain, book or movies, least favourite chore, etc...?

Jenny: Life is routine.  Anyone who comes to visit us (visitations are rare) is caught up in our family routine which stops for no man and goes inexorably, comfortably on.  We write and work and eat and read, we chatter all together like magpies about work and theology and politics and anthropology and economy and the little, special things that make our life bright.  We are not unquiet folk, not movers and shakers, but we are thinkers and workers and though we laugh (a lot) we are serious about what we think and do.  Not a grand backdrop!  We are one of millions of families that quietly populate history, put our hands to the work we have been given, and quietly pass out of life again.

“But if you let me tell you what I imagine about myself, you would find that a lot more interesting.”  No one will let me leave it at that: that my life is a quiet one, full of simple, quiet routine.  They will look at my writing and look and my life and scoff and say one of us is lying.  Inside me God knows I am anything but quiet.  I am a cataclysm of the elements, a whirlwind of Ezekiel’s breath and an unquenchable fire, the water of life and the touchstone of truth, running “between star and other star, through the door of the darkness fallen ajar,” a human being playing with the music and the colour of words.  That is the part of me that the readers know, though I fear I translate the ache of my heart poorly into little human words.  But I do my best.

Abigail:  It is telling that Jenny got to answering this question first, and that she did so significantly better than I can.  So I won’t launch into much detail—I usually don’t; dialogue rather than detail is my thing—because there is too much; I’ll just sum up.  A while back I wrote a post on how characters (people, really) often align so well with one of Aristotle’s four elements.  Well, we determined, Jenny and I, that she is air and I am earth.  I’m a pretty solid sort, not much given to bursts of glory, though I daresay I have my occasional autumnal colours. 

I tromp along steadily, delighting as much in a mug of coffee as in a cup of tea, happiest when I’m working at something neat and organized.  I like a history book or a work on anthropology as much as any novel (unless it’s a novel by Stevenson, because he always takes the cake).  I can get along with math (shocking!) because the numbers line up so nicely.  If you met me in person you might find me a close-mouthed sort of person, not very fun, but I’m like Georgiana Darcy in that; and if you saw me at home, you would find that I can shout with laughter as well as any member of my family.  It just depends on where and when you catch me.

2. At what age did you each first start writing and develop a love for wordcrafting? Was there anyone or anything that started you on that journey?

Jenny: The beginning of my writing goes back beyond my memory.  As I tell everyone, I know I have always been surrounded and subsumed in the love of books; additionally, I am very (melo)dramatic individual: it seemed a very easy step to take from the love of books and the internalization of stories to putting my own stories down on paper.  Thankfully I barely knew what I was doing so I did not fret too much about getting it right, which worry is a great impediment to writers.
Abigail: It’s true: she’s always been melodramatic, and when she and her husband and I were all little kids tromping about in the yard, we always had her come up with stories for us to play-act.  I was never good at it.  I remember I always wanted our stories to have something to do with animals, or—post-Lord of the Rings—elves.  I started to write much later than Jenny did, and all because of her; I guess I’m a bit unconventional in that.  I wrote because she wrote, and it seemed like a good idea.  The deep-seated love for it came later.  There might be some sort of moral in that...

3. Would you both mind sharing a little bit of what each of your novels are about?

Jenny: In essence, The Shadow Things is the study of a young Christian’s patient persistence to follow Jesus despite the threat of mental and bodily harm.  We all know what it is like to complain and fret about our daily walk: in Indi’s character (from whom even I learned a great deal) we see what it looks like when a man casts aside all the encumbrances of this life and runs with the race with joyful endurance: not always cheerful, for life is not always full of cheer, but joyful, looking unto Christ, not looking back (as Lot’s wife did) at the form of this world which is passing away.

Abigail:  Funny that both of our debut novels should have to do with salvation.  Jenny’s, however, has more to do with the Christian’s perseverance after regeneration, while my novel The Soldier’s Cross has to do with a sinner’s struggles before regeneration.  The main character, Fiona, lives her life in the typical complacency of the Middle Ages, until all of the earthly things that made up that life are suddenly taken away.  Her complacency is knocked right on its head, and she throws herself into a pursuit of this vague, formless thing called peace.  The story is really universal, for we all seek peace in one thing or another, but the endings are unique.  In Fiona’s case—but I can’t give that away!

4. What gave each of you the spark, the inspiration to write those two stories? Do you recall any memories of the seed or the idea, the first paragraph or sentence which did or did not finally make it into the published books?

Jenny: Oh Joy, it is two and a half novels since I wrote The Shadow Things!  From this backward-looking distance, I can only tell you that a little novel by Rosemary Sutcliff helped to spark the idea for The Shadow Things; otherwise my “genius” is a confused subconscious wash of images, passages, people, and verities.  The rest is lost in a crushing weight of creativity and the passing of years.

Abigail:  My first splash of inspiration is still pretty vivid in my mind.  I was in church at the time (great ideas come in church) and I quite randomly pictured a girl running up an aisle to an altar (not that we have an altar; imagination was strong in this one).  She had a cross pendant; I remember that.  The scene never got into the story, it being pretty melodramatic, but it pretty much captured the whole theme of The Soldier’s Cross.

5. Both of you first got published in your teens. Can you tell us what's it like being a teenage author and to have a sister who is published also?

Jenny: It was a relief to have Abigail published alongside me.  Though I am five years the senior of the two of us, and have more experience writing simply in terms of time spent at the craft, Abigail is quite my equal and being able to go into the strange new world of being a published author (which is a world very different from that of a writer writing) was a comfort.  Even though neither of us knew what we were getting into, we were getting into it ignorantly together.  I am very grateful for that.

Abigail:  I wouldn’t have wanted to go through it without Jenny.  Full stop.

6. You both have often made mention of the inspiring influence your parents have on your life, and on your writing in particular.  As far as I recall, The Shadow Things was beautifully dedicated to your parents, Jenny, in your words...“the giants on whose shoulders I stand”. Would you like to share with us some of the ways they encouraged you as young writers?

Jenny: If the Big Bad Wolf were to huff and puff and try to blow my parents’ house down, he would not be able to do it because all the walls are bolstered by full bookshelves.  Our education was based heavily on literature—not just fiction, but largely history: for the student of history is the student of everything.  They recognized (probably more than I did) how important writing was to me, they encouraged (and pushed) me, and they never said, “This writing is terrible.  You will never become a great writer.”  My writing, to begin with, was awful—but no one let on about it.  Through practice I grew better, sharper, and more deft with words, and no one cruelly crushed my spirit at the beginning.  For many small things which I have forgotten but have crucially shaped me I am indebted to my parents.

Abigail:  Again, Jenny has gone and summed it up.  My experience has been a little different from Jenny’s simply because when I began writing, I didn’t talk about it much.  I had a few bad experiences with showing people my (awful!) writing—most of us have—and it was some while before I started doing so again.  My father continues faithfully to read my stories, to critique and make suggestions on every chapter, and my mother is always ready to listen when I need to vent or jabber.  That alone has helped and cheered me so much.

7. Isaac Newton was known to have said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Who have been the literary giants or “Greats” that have inspired your writings and perhaps even your lives so far?

You know that phrase “seeing red.”  One of the colours that is most often mentioned when people describe the “colour” of my writing is red.  There is usually some gold mixed in there where the emotion jangles a little more sharply and I take your heartstrings and pluck them hard, but often it is red.  I learned red from people like Rosemary Sutcliff and J.R.R. Tolkien, people to whom the rich saga was so close they had only to put out their hand to lay hold of it.  I learned it from people like Judah Ben-Hur (and the gold, too) and Brandoch Daha and Prince Rilian.  I look best in pastels as a person, but my head is a riot of red intermingled with colours so fierce you can easily mistake them for anger: I never learned pastel writing from the people I read, no languid stories about girls (which would make my learning-to-be-a-woman perhaps a little difficult), but blood-coloured stories by authors with blood in their pens, stories of the sorts of things that lie closest to men’s hearts and keep them warm and alive.  Anyone who can tap into that (into the elemental things) is an author that will fill my sails with silver.

Abigail:  If we’re going to talk in colours, I’ll go back to my elements analogy and say that while Jenny’s writing takes on more vibrant shades, mine tends, I think, to mimic more solid and earthy colours.  Browns, darker golds, darker reds, greens.  These are the colours of writers like R.L. Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, Thomas Costain and Arthur Conan Doyle.  I take some inspiration from writers like Sutcliff, too, but I find most similarities of style in writers like Stevenson and the rest.  Perhaps it’s a bit odd, then, that I should have found so much enjoyment in writing a novel set on the sea...

8. How does your Christian faith affect your writing in general and are those two novels overtly Christian, or are they written more subtly on Christian principles and influence? 

Jenny: The more I write the more I find my characters falling into a Lord-Peterian way, possibly because I walk the same sort of steps myself: in the most mundane of moments an obscure but pertinent reference to life and godliness will drop out of my mouth as easily as a fish into water.  The Christian faith is not so much something that I have (though that is true) but something that has me.  As the saying goes, “in him we live and move and have our being.”  That is more than a mere saying for me.  It unavoidably defines my life—often in amusing ways.

Abigail: I’m writing a two-part series to answer this question, so it’s not easy to pull together an answer in just a few paragraphs!  Jenny speaks for me pretty well, although I withhold judgment on the Lord Peter comment, not being well acquainted with the gentleman in question.  I admit freely that this is an aspect of writing that I struggle with on the theoretical level, perhaps less because of things I believe and more because of things that I have unknowingly imbibed from the prevalent views of Christianity today. 

The Soldier’s Cross is most definitely Christian in its message; you can’t mistake it.  My other works so far have been geared toward other themes, rather than dealing directly with the Gospel.  Themes like love and compassion and courage on a mundane level are all ones that seem to be constantly intertwined with my stories, because they’re things I struggle with and, I believe, things that others struggle with as well. 

Really, I think my approach can be summed up like this: I feel that in our day and age, there is less of a call for us to lay out the path of salvation, and more of a call for us to present a picture of the believer’s life after regeneration: that of doing justice, and loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

10. What kind of scene do you find easiest to write: tragedy, comedy, or drama, romance, action, or static scenes? Do you find writing dialogue or writing description/narrative to be easier?

Jenny:  I’m pretty adept with both dialogue and narrative: I feel at home in either one.  I am well on my way to gaining a firm reputation for tearing your hearts out and stamping on them (readers of The Shadow Things, you have been warned) and I am definitely of a dramatic disposition.  Action takes a little more thought simply because things are moving so fast that if I do not slow down and take things in one screen at a time, as it were, everything will be too rushed and the writing will be rubbish.  So far as I know I am good at romance: I love writing romance (having some experience with it) and everyone seems to enjoy what I write on that score.  My writing does not tend toward comedy.  Comedy happens, on rare occasions, and often almost by accident: as a general rule I am not of a comedic frame of mind while writing and laughter in literature easily galls me.  As for “static” scenes, if you look very closely you will notice that life is never static: even in moments of “perfect stillness” thoughts are always moving, or someone, having just set down a glass of wine, has caused little points of light reflecting off the liquid to jig on the tabletop…  There is always movement.  You just have to look for it.

Abigail:  Dialogue comes easiest to me by nature, but I manage to get along with narrative and description as well; they just require a little more brain power.  Like Jenny, I’m not much of a comedian; my sparks of humour tend to be dry and ironic.  My characters, having been thrown into such hard situations, are not likely to find much amusing in life—unless that amusement is of an equally hard sort.  Dramatic scenes can be fun, when I really get my blood up and start bashing out the words in a lovely whirl; tragedy takes even more out of me and usually leaves me exhausted, but the words tend to flow.  Still, I think my favourite scenes to write are those of dialogue and repartee.  The ones between Pierre and his brother-in-law in The Soldier’s Cross were always enjoyable.

11. How did you adapt to being published authors? What new responsibilities did you find yourself handling and how much do you enjoy being published authors? Does it make a whole lot of a difference on how and what you write now that you are published (confidence factor, etc...)?

Jenny: It was a matter of adapt or go under.  As we are not raised to brook failure, we adapted.  We learned how to interface with people at book-signings, how to conduct interviews tête-à-tête, we are learning how to market.  The published part of you and the writing part of you have very different responsibilities and we got a crash-course in the responsibilities of the former and, at the same time, learned to take the responsibilities of the latter even more seriously.  We were no longer writing stories, we were writing books: water-tight, respectable, God-fearing literature that we could, with good conscience, let the public read.  It is a great responsibility and sometimes it is a little frightening, but thankfully the atmosphere in which we were raised has always been a steady, sensible one: confidence comes pretty naturally.

Abigail:  What she said.  Perhaps the most difficult part of publication was coming out of our shells and interfacing with others, but I trust it has been a good experience, and has helped me to grow in more than just my writing.  I hoped I’ve grown in that, too, however.  People often ask me if I’m “planning to publish” whatever book I happen to be writing.  I never ask myself the question, because while I do not “write for publication” as though all I want is a paycheck (bad reason to pursue writing, trust me), I always intend for my books to be put under the public eye.  It definitely makes me try harder!

12. What was your initial response and that of your family when you found out that your works were accepted for publication? Did you shout and hug those nearest to you, dance a gavotte, laughed till it hurt, cried with sheer joy or just accept the news with surreal calmness?

Jenny: I think surreal calmness would be closer to the mark.  The whole thing really was quite surreal.  That we had been accepted at the same time and that our publishers did not at first realize that Abigail and I are sisters (due to my married name) was a cause for amusement.  But neither one of us take such momentous news like that ecstatically: I think we brace inside against a combined rush of happiness and fear so that on the outside we are neither loud nor carry on.  We save our volume for family discussions when we are all trying to talk over each other.  C’est la vie.

Abigail:  Such, indeed, is life.  And our family.  Both pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

13. Which is your favourite background or minor character in each of your respective works?

Jenny: Though he shows up only briefly in the fourteenth chapter, I think my favourite character is the gentleman with the tabby marten mantle and only one hand.  Those who have read The Shadow Things know, of course, that his influence extends beyond just that one chapter, but I have the advantage of knowing his backstory (which I hope one day to share with you all) and he is a very dear character to me.

Abigail: I’d just like to point out that I alone (well, mostly alone) know the character of whom Jenny speaks!  Pardon me while I go preen.  But anyhow, back to The Soldier’s Cross.  I had a good time with most of the minor characters who traipsed across Fiona’s path: her carriage driver, the French children who tricked her into pulling a horse across a frozen river, the fellow who once owned the convent and who didn’t end up in the final draft at all.  And there’s David, too, a favourite of mine who is an important player, but who only appears three or four times in all.  I think the prize goes to the Welsh fishermen, though.

14. Jenny, can you quote your most well-beloved line in The Shadow Things, and you, Abigail, in The Soldier’s Cross? Why do you love that line so?

Jenny: My favourite line?  It is the last line of the book, but it would be bad form to give it away to those who have not read it.  But now you know: my favourite line is the very last sentence in the book.

Abigail: I’m quite partial to the line in which David calls Fiona a defect of Providence.  I’m pretty fond, too, of the first paragraph of the last chapter.

15. Abigail, I simply loved Leah and Pierre’s characters! I was dwelling in bliss during Fiona’s stay at Galladon; and, Jenny, what most endeared me to The Shadow Things was perhaps the character of Indi... he had such a sensitive, feeling heart and great meekness yet with a matching strength and humanity about him which made him so realistic to us readers! Have you both ever met any people in real life that have inspired you with any of the characters we read about in The Soldier’s Cross and The Shadow Things

Jenny: Though they are very different people, Indi shares the cheerful, strong, sensitive spirit with my husband (without whom I wonder if I would be a writer at all).  I have been a student of my husband’s character all my life: it seems to follow naturally that some of that excellence of character had leaked into my literature.

Abigail: Here I must be coy.  I assume that people in real life have affected those in my stories, but I have a hard time seeing the parallels.  I usually can’t even see how my main characters reflect aspects of my own personality until the very end.

16. How do you maintain a busy schedule as a writer with family activities, studies, work, answering fan mail, keeping up to date with your publisher’s requests, and obviously finding the time to... write?

Jenny: Routine.  And actually I don’t have a lot pressing on me.  I typically shuffle around reading, writing, a bit of housework (which always gets the shortest end of the stick) and my family.  But everything is pretty routine.

Abigail:  Compared with some people—like our brother, who usually gets up at about 3:30 in the morning and sometimes works until 8:00 in the evening—our days are practically great empty spaces.  Now that I’m in my senior year of highschool, homework is not too pressing; I can juggle it with writing, blogging, emailing, and the like pretty well.  It helps to keep my Word document open at all times.

...And we’ll be seeing just how good a juggler I am this NaNo.

17. Jenny, which section in The Shadow Things gave you the hardest time to write and work with?

Probably fleshing it out.  It’s been so long I don’t remember very clearly, but The Shadow Things was one of the few novels I actually outlined which means I didn’t have a lot of room to fill with my usual narrative style.  After I wrote it I felt it was too bony, so I had to go back in and fill it out.  That took some doing.

18. Can you tell us, Abigail, which scene of The Soldier’s Cross, you enjoyed writing the most?

Oh dear; writing it was such a whirl, I hardly remember!  Perhaps the part where Fiona is on the ship (go figure), or any of the sections with Pierre.  Perhaps, though, it was the coach ride with David...

19. In both your novels you have your characters, most of them originating from unbelieving, ignorant or pagan backgrounds, eventually come to faith in Christ. How challenging was it to write those conversion scenes for you both?

Jenny: To be honest, it really wasn’t challenging.  The challenging part was the interface between the original “pagan” view and a Christian view—at which point I would like to refer you to Joy’s question and my answer.

Abigail:  The conversion is really very simple.  Simplicity is often the best cloak for something terribly deep and profound.  I could by no means capture every feeling, and I didn’t want to attempt it.  In the end, then, it really wasn’t all that difficult to write.

20. Do you ever see yourself co-authoring a book together in the near or distant future? Why or why not?

Jenny: Not really.  We do have two novels that turned out to be unintentional bookends of an idea, as it were, and we are really excited to see how similar they are and how they deal with certain issues, but Abigail and I have very different strengths and styles and I do not think trying to co-author anything would end very well.  You would have to mop up the aftermath and bury us with kindly words.

21. Have you ever told your sister that any particular thing she wrote was not good, was boring or you did not even understand it? And has she ever told you the same?  How are you about family criticism?

Jenny: I came first.  I was the proverbial chicken, and Abigail worshipfully soaked up the terrible writing that I made in my early days.  I don’t think either of us have ever said “This is terrible,”—I know I’ve never thought her writing is terrible, and whenever we have had concerns about passages we have always used polite critiquing methods and we have always respected the other’s brains, having both grown older and wiser in literary matters.  As far as family criticism goes, I don’t usually show my drafts to anyone until the second edit, in which case I feel I have gone over everything I can see and the manuscript is now ready for the scrutiny of foreign eyeballs.  I don’t like criticism, but I need it and I take it. 

Abigail:  I think I’m still pretty worshipful, but I do hope I’ve gotten wiser and more able to deliver something of a critique, on the rare occasions when it’s necessary.  Although I quake and quail at the thought of someone critiquing my books, when it actually happens, I usually enjoy it—because if nothing else, it’s a chance to talk about my characters and story and meanings and sheer love for it all.  My conversations with Jenny are usually not plain, well-rounded critiques, but, “OhmywordthatwasgreatandIwaslikeKABOOManditwaslikeUH-HUH!andWHOA!andmaybeyoushouldchangethatonewordbutKABOOM! ...Yep.”  And then we nod in pleasant self-satisfaction.

22. Is there anything in your published novels that looking back on now, you wish you had written differently?

Jenny: Oh, sure.  With each novel I feel I get a bit better, a bit more skilled with my craft, and I always wish I could go back an improve upon the last novel.  But one has to draw the line somewhere and one can’t be forever going back and editing this and that.  At some point enough is enough. 

Abigail: Absolutely.  I have a bad habit of cringing over past works when others think they’re perfectly fine: I see all the things I would do differently now.  But hey, that’s a good thing, right?

23. Can you imagine your novels being adapted into movies? How would you feel about it if they were? In the stuff of your day-dreams, who would you choose to direct the films, and who would you like to act out your main characters?

Jenny: The Shadow Things?  No…!  I have a healthy dislike of “Christian” novels being turned into films—they usually water the power of the Word down until you gag on the nasty stuff and the acting is usually very poor.  I would sooner have a secular director handle it, for he is less likely to try to insert his “Christian agenda” in the plot.  And anyway, The Shadow Things does not lend itself well to the screen.

Abigail:  The same goes for The Soldier’s Cross.  I don’t see it ending well on screen; the main thrust of the story is far too internal.  Now The White Sail’s Shaking...!  But don’t get me started on that.

24. Each of your novels deals with elements such as grief, betrayal, persecution, the struggle of faith and the conflict of believers in a sinful world, etc. While writing, did you find yourself learning any lessons or going through any of the journeys that your characters went through?

Jenny: I am a firebrand by nature.  I have a short, quick temper, and was supposed to be ginger.  I am as soundly grounded in the faith as Indi, but you could not have two more opposite temperaments when it comes to handling the issues raised in The Shadow Things.  Justice I am a friend to, loyal to a fault (or several faults), but mercy and a long-suffering attitude were traits I had to watch develop in Indi and, in turn, try to emulate myself.

Abigail:  With each of my books, I think I learn a little more by exposure to the characters and their own struggles.  They really are their own people, as I’m sure all writers understand.  With The Soldier’s Cross, Fiona’s path helped to clarify in my own mind salvation and peace in Christ’s atonement.  It also shed light on the complacency of today, so similar to that of Christendom before the Reformation; I don’t think I really thought of it that way before writing this novel.

25. Which genre do you prefer to write in Historical fiction or fantasy? (I know you’ve written each of you in both!)...

Jenny: I really enjoy reading historical fiction and I enjoyed writing The Shadow Things (and will hopefully write more historical fiction in the future), but my genre of choice is fantasy.

Abigail: Whereas I really enjoy reading (some) fantasy and enjoyed writing my one fantasy novel, Wordcrafter, but my genre of choice is historical fiction.  See why we couldn’t co-author a book?

26.  And...what projects are you currently working on now? Have you completed any other novels and can we expect to be able to read your stories soon? Please do tell!

Jenny: I am working on three companion fantasies, Adamantine, Plenilune and Gingerune, the former of which is finished, the middle of which I am currently NaNoing, and the latter I am still planning.  None has been contracted for publishing so I’m afraid you will have to wait!

Abigail: I just finished up a two-part “sea yarn,” as they’re called: The White Sail’s Shaking and The Running Tide.  ‘Twas a long and arduous business, but oh how I loved it by the end!  Now I’m getting ready to launch into a kind of historical fantasy, Tempus Regina, which incidentally is that “book-end” novel Jenny mentioned earlier; by the time this post goes up, I should be hard at work NaNo-ing this new book.  I’m also working on querying agents for White Sail’s, so just hold on...!

27.  Could you each be persuaded to share three excerpts from some of your works with us?

It was a long aching while to reach the outpost.  They lost sight of it when they got down among the glens which raked through the floor of the dale, and they had to go out of their way to cross over several, with the pin-pricking, hair-raising feeling of eyes on them all the time.  Afterward, Adamant remembered the ride as a blur of white water and the sun like crimson fire through the crowning of alder-leaves: she remembered most clearly the glint of Eikin’s brooch and the drawn paleness of Rhodri’s face; and everything, even the pin-pricking feeling, seemed to thump with the life-thing in Eikin’s chest at her back. (Adamantine)
When she said nothing he looked at her sharply, half-angry and half-afraid.  “Margaret,” he said in a husky voice that cut her to the quick.  “Please don’t.”
Everything was falling away.  Everything was breaking into shards.  She knew that if she held that gaze or let that tone hang in her ears she would lose her dark certainty.  With a sob she pressed her palms to her eyes and cried hysterically, “I’m just so tired, fox!  I just can’t bear it anymore!”
He laid his paw upon her knee.  “Then let me bear it for you.”
His touch was like the fire-glow of the autumn wind, cold, personal, searching in a horrible, painful way, wearing at her defences so that, even as she knew it was hopeless, she wanted desperately to loose herself from earth and fling herself into the grip of that crimson gale. 
But how could she, when the creature asking to carry her cross would not even crawl out of his own prison? (Plenilune)
The view was splendid.  We were skirting the very highest of the Keep’s outbuildings, and the rearing spine of Funderburk stretched curving like the mossy sickle moon away from us, far reaching into the distance where, in the mingling darknesses, it ran up against the flat-topped bulk of Rilyfell that blocked much of the far horizon.  The real moon, but a golden plover’s feather as it came down to its last showing of the month, hung above the fell in a rippled sea-sky of lavender and andalusite hue.  And below all that, far below, below wind and thought where only the darkness moved, was the ruins of the Keep, its terraced slopes and weed-rank training grounds, its broken roads still decorated with the mangled triumphs of its conquests.  The ravens were going to roost down there.  The fox was calling to its mate.  The royal dark was pulling up her mantle on the scene, and I turned with the last light of evening back to the hole at my feet.
Rowena was looking expectantly up at me.  “Mauna?”
“Let Maslin go in first,” I said archly.  “He has, after all, been down this snake’s hole before.” (Gingerune)
            [Tip] faded then into his own reveries, conscious at the rim of his mind of small details around him: of seagulls, which he had not heard while crossing the Atlantic, and of the sun on the edges of the spyglass, and of water turned viridian in the shade.  And after a moment, he was conscious, too, of someone having joined them.
            Charlie shifted, asking, “Have you seen ours?” and before Tip could respond, Darkwood’s voice answered in his languid way: “Beyond the Constitution.  A fair little thing, wouldn’t you say?”
            Tip swung the glass a second time and made out, between the foremast and mainmast of the frigate, a topsail schooner.  She seemed a miniature, more suited to being put in a glass bottle than in a squadron with ships-of-war: high in the bulwarks, short along the keel, gaff-rigged like the Argus and of better proportions.  Her sails were furled, but she kept her pennant flying with a hint of needless defiance.  “Ours?” Tip repeated.
            “Ours,” Charlie said.  “We’re to transfer.”
(The White Sail’s Shaking)
The sea had risen.
            That was, strangely enough, Tip’s first thought when he woke hours later in the rough familiar warmth of his own cot: the sea had risen and the air smelled grey and damp.  It was to be a wet day, and that was somehow fitting.  He did not at first recall why it was fitting; for a while he lay but half conscious in the drear light of a drear dawn, struggling to grope backward beyond his sleep to everything that had happened before.  It had all the surrealism of a nightmare, and he thought perhaps he had come at last to the waking.
(The Running Tide—this book is like one big spoiler; so hard to find an acceptable bit!)
[Regina] drew herself up and made as if to rise.  “I suppose, then, you will want to take me to him...”
“La, no!  Aren’t you listening?  If I keep showing him every maid who applies, I’ll never get myself any help.  And this place isn’t getting any cleaner, and that’s the true and honest way of it.  Besides, the master’s been working since two o’clock this morning and he hates to be interrupted; he’d give you this kind of look as if he’ll have the skin off you, and then he’d bustle you out the door in no time t’all.  Oh, no, dear.  I won’t defy him to his face, but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him: that’s what I say.  Take tea?”
Regina gazed at her, not quite grasping the familiar words.  Tea...  Yes, tea would settle things.  But that was wrong as well; the housekeeper was not meant to be offering her anything except pay, and that only after they had settled the question of Regina’s position.  She put her clenched hands firmly between her knees and, stiffening her back, said, “Thank you, ma’am, but I’m sure you’ll want to hear about my references.  I do have experience as a maid.”
            “Oh, let’s not bother with that.  What experience does a person need to clean house?  You see dust, you wipe it up.  And goodness knows there’s nothing to steal, unless you want to go tussle with the master over his things.  So just make yourself comfortable, and do take some tea.  Tea should be administered liberally before any serious undertaking.”
(Tempus Regina)

28. Quoting you, Abigail, in regards to those brilliant snippets you both have shared, all I can say is a jaw-dropping..."OhmywordthatwasgreatandIwaslikeKABOOManditwaslikeUH-HUH!andWHOA!"! :) But, let me ask you this, if you had to do it all over again but with all the knowledge you have gained since you first were published, would you go through the same steps as you did then? For instance, would you have tried to get a literary agent first, went directly to the publishers as you did, or self-published?

Jenny: No sense in going back!  Where we are is where we are and what we have to work with is what we have to work with.  I am grateful that we are published: that’s a huge step and we did it.  We could not have had the knowledge we have now back when we started: in this process of learning by experience we can only be sensible and apply what we have learned as we move forward. 

29. Can you tell us what you would most like your readers to take away with them from The Soldier’s Cross and The Shadow Things?

Jenny: There are lots of little things to be dug out of the issues dealt with in The Shadow Things.  I think I would rather leave it up to the discretion of the Holy Spirit to judge what individual readers should glean from its contents.

Abigail:  Jenny’s right: what a reader takes from the story is so varied and unique that I can hardly say, “THIS is what you’re supposed to get.”  But I suppose the general thrust is that it is no good trusting to your family or church affiliation or “good works” to save you.  It is nothing at all but Jesus Christ that saves us.  We cannot afford to sit and sleep like Bunyan’s Simple, Sloth, and Presumption.

30. If there was one thing you could say to other young writers, what would it be?

Jenny: As a pin that I saw on Pinterest says (and I mean it with all sincerity and good-will): “SHUT UP AND TRY.”

Abigail: That answers a great many questions in just four short words.

Thank you so much, girls, for taking the time to answer my many questions here on Fullness of Joy, and Happy 2nd Anniversary for The Shadow Things and The Soldier's Cross! 
Abigail Hartman and Jennifer Freitag
photo taken from Scribbles and Ink Stains

If your curiosity has been piqued (which I thoroughly hope it has!) DO check out each of these lovely girl's respective blogs (The Penslayer and Scribbles and Ink Stains) and see if you don't want to try getting your hands on their novels, why don't you?

HIS Agenda [Guest Post]

Monday, 19 November 2012

I live a typical life, if one can call any life “typical.” I guess I mean “typical” in the sense that during this season of my life—this season the Lord has placed me in, which may last two more months or ten more years—I live simple days, quietly at home, most of the time. Today I’ve done the simple things like baking cookies and College Algebra (whether that’s simple or not is debatable) and ironing, and yes, now I’m writing.

Granted, what I just described isn’t what many people might call their “typical” day; but I feel like it is what God has called me to right now—to be fully here at home, present and with a heart willing to learn what it means to wash the feet of others.
But, oh, I can be so selfish at times—self centered and self focused and self worshipping when I begin to let pride slip in. Self exalting when my heart grows happy over things I’ve “done for God” when in reality, I can’t do anything for God apart from the enabling of His Spirit so I really never deserve any praise anyways. I’ve been studying Colossians lately…this letter Paul wrote to another church he loved…and this man, this apostle, talks about how he wrestled for the believers not in his own strength but by “all His energy that He powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

I used to have this list of things I wanted to “accomplish” each day…things I wanted to “do for God”.” I would feel like I was successful and He was honored when I did them, and I was a failure when I did not. Those these things were not inherently bad…for example, spending extra time in His word, reading a spiritual type book, playing with my little sister for a little longer than I may have wanted to in the moment etc., but they were wrong because I viewed them in a ways as if I was doing something “extra special” in these decisions that I thought put me on a “better standing” with God. I know, it’s silly and yes, as I can see now—foolish—and yet, how many of us live that way? Live as if we’re on a “what can I do for God” mission, yielding such little “sacrifices verses attitudes of absolute pouring out in response to His fully complete grace that leaves us spotless? Why don’t we instead ask ourselves…

How can I further learn the emptying of my self—so much further learn the death and crucifixion of my old man that nothing of me remains…nothing. How can I further learn to merely be an “empty vessel” (2 Corinthians 4:7) that His Spirit may flow through me—that I might merely be a flow through channel of grace, grace, and more grace. Grace in love, and patience, and joy.
That all in all, I might merely be a flow through channel of Christ.

Something the Lord began to impress upon my heart a little while back is that I am never to have my own agenda. What if our heart’s cry each morning was “God, what is Your agenda for my day? What plans do You have?” When we loose ourselves, those things we want to do, even if they are categorically “good things”—like reading a good book or sending emails discussing Christ’s work in our lives or chatting for fun with girlfriends over coffee—will slowly slip down on our priority list if they are not what God is asking for us in the moment. What if we took everything we do each day and surrendered it under Christ and what if we were constantly seeking His will? How many of us truly live with His purposes at the forefront of our minds?

Modern Christianity has turned into something that is a “pick and choose” religion. People take what they want from Christianity, and certain passages lie untouched in dust covered bibles. When did Yeshua’s—Jesus’ “loose your lives” and “living sacrifices” turn into “live life with doing just enough to be just good enough” and “give some here and there”? In the Greek, the word for loose used in Luke 9:24 is “apollumi,” which means, “to destroy fully”…the base word meaning “death.” 

Living for Jesus Christ—living in the light of His grace—living in the light of the realization that He truly owes us nothing and yet we owe Him everything should radically change how we view each day of our lives. It means living in light of the truth that we have been crucified with Christ—the old man crucified unto death—and now Christ lives in us. Oh! If we daily had hearts that were just spilling over with gratitude—abounding with thanksgiving (Colossians 2) in response to the Gospel and it’s present reality that applies to us every day of our lives….how would this change the way we as Christians lived? If we truly realized His gift of grace, than we would never spend any moment on ourselves, but every moment for His glory on His purposes.

I know that for me, as a college student—even an “at home” college student—“busy” is a word that can often slip out of my mouth and it’s a word I often hear circulating in circles of college students. And yet, are we really “busy”—“busy” with the connotation that is often given to that word in modern society—if we are about the Lord’s business? Should not serving Him be our souls deepest delight? Business should not be a burden when we are on His agenda, but rather a deep delight and pleasure.  Jesus lived a “busy” life—but it was a poured out one.

If we are truly seeking to live the exchanged life—Christ life for ours, ours for His—than this will radically show forth in how we live each moment of each day. We were bought with a price, and time is precious. Let’s seek His agenda for each day—not the things we think we should do, ought to do, or want to do. For if we simply lay down our time and own plans at His feet each morning in surrender, He will lead in exactly what He wants to be done and accomplished…each day.

“I’m not busy. I have all the time I need to accomplish the things the Lord wants me to do today.”
– Tim Challies 

Melanie loves...
Jesus--Yeshua--my Savior....more than anything in this world. Sipping sweet peppermint tea or chai tea lattes on rainy days. The smell of musty books with hidden truths inside. Old biographies of heroes of the faith. Summer breezes that make one's hair dance. Books by Elisabeth Elliot. Composing or playing worship music. Fluffy clouds. Worshipping her Savior. Journals. Gazing at starry skies that leave one's heart in awe. Reading, learning from, and soaking in the word of God. Fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Cooking. Capturing memories with her camera. Journals. The smells of warm vanilla sugar and lavender. Writing old-fashioned letters to far away friends. Playing with little ones. Strawberries and mangos. Anything vintage. Old chests full of memories. Communion with her Heavenly Father. Just living in the light of being a redeemed daughter of the King of kings. I am so unworthy... 

You can read more about Melanie and her writing on her blog, Forever His Servant

The Kingdom of Heaven, The Kingdom of this present darkness [Guest Post]

Thursday, 15 November 2012

As part of Jennifer Freitag and Abigail Hartman's blog party to celebrate two years since the publication of their debut novels, The Shadow Things and The Soldier's Cross, they gave us all an opportunity to ask some questions which they have been answering in a series of question-and-answer posts during November. Abigail answered beautifully my "historical accuracy in fiction" question in her guest post "Historical versus Fictional". And here now, I present to you all the question I tossed at Jenny and warily defied her to answer. Below my rather incoherent question, is Jenny's spot-on brilliant reply. I hope you enjoy--and do not be terrified with the word 'philosophy'; tis not as scary as it sounds! 

[Joy's Question]
The Gospel having been preached far and wide and the Bible being available for many (though there is still a great need!), there are a lot fewer peoples now who have never heard or had anything to do with the Christian Faith. However in more ancient, pagan times, things were rather different, and many neither knew nor heard anything whatsoever to do with Christianity. Sometimes, it can be hard to imagine a pagan society, such as Ancient Britain or Rome, where the Gospel was not yet preached at all and where people knew nothing of the God of the Bible, never saw any true Christians, but rather they followed their own devices, religions and gods. I have found it especially challenging in writing my historical fiction in dealing with a pagan Roman character who eventually comes to faith in Christ, but has no prior knowledge (as a Roman) of the Christian faith before that and how to introduce him to the Christian faith in a biblical and reverent way and finally bring him to a saving faith in Christ (which is such a delicate, beautiful topic, because who can accurately describe and bring about the conversion of a soul except God alone?). In The Shadow Things I truly appreciated the way you handled Indi's introduction to the Christian faith and ultimately his conversion. So I was wondering if you could you share a bit of the process and struggles you went through whilst writing that part of The Shadow Things, and perhaps a bit of personal advice on how to deal with this literary topic in general?

[Miss Jenny's Answer]
This is a huge, pregnant-mare question.  To deal with this I think I’ll start first with a general application, which should help anyone, not just dealing with a “conversion” sequence, but handling interfacing with other views in literature and integrating other views in literature.

Study philosophy.  I know, that’s a bombshell statement: if you mention the word “philosophy” to people it is often like touching them with a cattle-prod.  But I am not talking about a college course in which you are force-fed Hegelian and Freudian views.  It may interest you to know that secular scholars place Paul (our Paul) among the top three philosophers of human history, and the movers and shakers of Christian history, the ones who wrestled with the tenants of our faith that we take for granted today, were highly intelligent, well-educated, philosophical men.  They could think, and they knew the views of the world around them.  I am some years into this business of being a kind of philosopher, and while I confess there are some Twister-game views out there, the whole business is actually very fun and definitely very rewarding.  I sat a few weeks ago at a conference with Mirriam in which a speaker delivered a brief but pretty comprehensive summary of post-modernism—and I could keep up because I’ve studied the nasty, misshapen child of hopelessness which post-modernism is.  Knowing a godly philosophy gives you sound foundation; knowing the philosophy of others gives you a knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the Lie.  How you approach “giving an account for the hope you have within you (yet with gentleness and reverence)” will depend heavily on the existing philosophy in the other person.  Stephen’s exposition of the Gospel was not the same as the one Paul delivered on the Areopagus because the people who were hearing the two were of completely different worlds and world views.  Keep this in mind!

As far as the history of Christianity goes, the faith spread rapidly, quickly gaining traction and soon recognized as an important sub-tenant of Judaism.  Outsiders “studied” the Christian faith and their reports can be read to this day.  With the obliteration of the Temple in A.D. 70 and the ban against any Jew to get within seeing distance of Jerusalem, Christianity soon broke away from the shadow Judaism and soon became a serious religion in its own right in the Mediterranean world.  An enormous amount of Christian thought is bound up into this time, more than I could sum up in this post.  Suffice it to say, the Church became so strong and central a body in the Empire that, when the Western Empire fell—actually, as it was crashing to its knees and then onto its face—it was the Church that took the place of the empty civil offices.  As in the case of a man like Gregory I (who ended all his letters with the signage “Gregory, a servant of the servants of God”) this was a good thing.  There were some good and godly men who put their shoulders to the caving doorway of civilisation and Christianity was a force to be reckoned with in the world.  Unfortunately that time did not last long—Christianity soon devolved into a kind of neo-Judaism which we can still see in operation today—but her voice and her power remained and, on the contrary, it is a little surprising that the people in the (admittedly isolated) village in The Shadow Things have never heard of “The Church.”  Her shadow was long over the world even in those days.

More practical advice!  Don’t be afraid to read extensively.  The only judgment anyone can cast on you is if you read a very narrow field and don’t bother to expand your horizons.  God and his universe (especially the seemingly infinite universe of the human mind) are vast.  Someone might say, “If there is so much to learn (and understand and apply with wisdom) why bother?  I’ll never learn it all in a lifetime.”  But that’s a dastard’s thinking and unmanly, and definitely not worthy of a creature made in God’s own image.  Fill your library with books from all over time and space.  Since it is mine, and the only one I have access to at the moment, we’ll take a gander at my library.  (Note: before you flip out and paint me too white, rest assured that I have not read all these authors and titles!) 

Obligatory C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien, a bit of George MacDonald, Dante, Harry Blamires (friend of Lewis!), Dorothy Sayers (also a friend of Lewis, and a dem fine woman), Tennyson, William Shakespeare, Rosemary Sutcliff, Madeleine L’Engle, Ben-Hur, Tacitus, Plato, Thomas a Kempis, The Worm Ouroboros, Ravi Zacharias, A.W. Tozer, John Piper (chances are you’ve heard of the last three), Charles Spencer (biographer—coincidentally, Diana Spencer’s brother…), Rudyard Kipling, James Herriot, Bronte, Charlotte Yonge, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ayn Rand (of all people), Sharon Kay Penman, the Venerable Bede (I’ve just loved that name since the first time I heard it way back in middle school), The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, Robert Louis Stevenson, Winston Churchill, G.K. Chesterton (of course!), John Calvin, Gray’s Anatomy, Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy, books on British botany (who would want to study something as tedious as botany…?), Augustine, Anselm, Bunyan, Thomas Costain, Theodore Roosevelt’s biography of Oliver Cromwell (good book, by the way), The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (bears a striking resemblance to the book of Ecclesiastes), On the Incarnation by Athanasius, a whole shelf on the history of Rome (with a bit on Etruria, of which people know little), Cicero, Suetonius, Homer, Virgil (who makes a cross-over appearance in Dante), strange Greek plays, books on medieval hunting, histories and historical novels on Britain…  There’s an overview without getting too detailed.  I don’t want to drown you in details.  As you can see, I’m merely at the start of my career and my library can definitely do with some expansion, but I’m working on a mix: not all the same views, not all the same angles, people from all walks and times of life. 

Have I beat the dead horse of generality enough?  Now to get to your specific question concerning The Shadow Things.  After all I’ve said I feel like I ought to make a big deal about the “conversion” scene in my novel, but the fact of the matter is that that scene wasn’t the point of the story.  Of course it was a pivotal point—that goes without saying.  But the main thrusts of the story, being somewhat twofold, were 1. the image of a Christian joyfully submitting to a harsh life while following his God, and 2. two worlds in conflict: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this present darkness.  For those of you who have read the novel you will recognize that the conversion experience for Indi was a gradual thing: the seeds were patiently sown, the Spirit worked quietly, mysteriously, and as he willed without anyone but himself seeing, and the moment in which everything was clinched was more of a stark terror for Indi than anything else: the scales fell off his eyes and he found himself staring into the naked face of the darkness that had so long encumbered him.  He reacted instantaneously, but the work was done before that moment, very innocuously, in no more grand a manner than a mustard seed being planted or a bit of leaven being worked into a lump of dough.  As a general rule, that’s the way it works.  As a general rule, I try to keep it real.

Know what you believe.  Know what others believe.  Be acquainted, in as much as one can, with the typical way God works.  And I think the advice that I can best give you, and best summarizes Indi’s own story, is the verse I referenced earlier: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.  And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Jennifer Freitag writes fantasy and historical fiction from her home in South Carolina, USA, where she lives with her husband and two cats.  Her inspiration flows from writers like C.S. Lewis and Rosemary Sutcliff, both of whose works have influenced her debut novel, The Shadow Things.  She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her blog The Penslayer, and her book can be purchased on her blog and on Amazon, and can be found in Christian bookstores across the Commonwealth.