Sunday, March 26, 2017

Character Types: Christ Figures

Welcome back to my monthly post on character types! Today, because it’s so close to Easter, I’m going to be writing about another prominent character: Christ Figures. Unlike with my previous posts, instead of listing their characteristics, I will be going from character-to-character. From popular classics to more obscure fiction, Christ Figures are prevalent. They are often misunderstood by others and their self-sacrifice helps save society/another character, whether physically, morally, or spiritually.


Disclaimer: I’d like to remind my audience that Christ Figures are fictional characters. They should not be regarded as exact representations. Similarly, my views on such characters may differ from that of the reader, but I have done my best to abide by the examples presented in literature and what Scripture tells us about Christ. Because of the nature of this post, some spoilers may be present for The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, King Lear, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.



Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien)

I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan. (As is evident by all references I’ve made in previous posts, my last newsletter, and the yearly marathons I have with friends and family.) But it wasn’t until a fellow author pointed out the roles of Christ Figures in the books that I realized they were there at all. Thank you, Lisa! Unlike most stories, instead of one character filling the role, three portray the different Christ-like aspects.

Gandalf the Gray serves as the prophet, guiding the members of the Fellowship on their quest. He sacrifices himself to save them and comes back as Gandalf the White. He takes on the role that Saruman was supposed to have, helping the folk of Middle Earth by freeing Theodin, guiding hobbits, providing counsel, and fighting against the forces of Mordor.

Frodo serves as the priest, carrying the darkness of the One Ring all the way from the green hills of the Shire to the fires of Mount Doom. Unlike many of the characters in the book, he shows extraordinary resilience to power of the Ring, and even shows compassion to Sméagol, even when he didn’t deserve it. 

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

Aragorn serves as the king. Like Jesus, he even has a less-than honorable ideal genealogy. One of Aragorn’s ancestors, Isildur had the opportunity to destroy the Ring but took it for his own, earning the Ring another title—Isildur’s Bane. Unlike his ancestor, Aragorn turned away the opportunity to take the Ring, and later went on to help liberate Rohan and Gondor, command an army of the dead, and rule Gondor.

Controversy: Not only are the Christ Figures difficult to identify at first glance, but they are also controversial. While there may be three figures, the Trinity is made up of three figures (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), not three Christs. On the other hand, Frodo ultimately gives in to the power of the Ring, and Gandalf is a wizard.

Perhaps one of the most devastating instances of my fantasy-reading-career was when a lady from my church told me Tolkien couldn’t possibly be a Christian because he wrote about wizards. (See Controversy in Fiction: Magic.) But again, readers should consider that these characters are mere representations, not Christ themselves.



Aslan the Lion (The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis)

Perhaps one of the most well-known Christ Figures, at least among fantasy fans, Aslan is the representation of Christ in the world of Narnia.

“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver, ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.’”

In The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, he takes Edmund’s place on the stone table, sacrificing himself and later rising from the dead and defeating the White Witch. But it doesn’t end there. In The Magician’s Nephew, he helps create the world of Narnia; in The Horse and His Boy, he is the protector and the guide throughout Shasta’s journey; and finally, in The Last Battle, he serves as the just judge over the world. In fact, in each of the books, he portrays different aspects of his role.

Controversy: Typically, I haven’t had a problem with the way Lewis portrays Aslan as a Christ Figure. But there is one instance in The Last Battle that has led me to question Lewis’ theology. Not only is the book the most abstract of all the Chronicles, but it is also the most inclusive when it comes to the final judgement.

Emeth, a Caloreme and the servant of the false god Tash, is welcomed into the New Narnia by Aslan. That’s not to say that a Calormene couldn’t follow Aslan, for Aravis does in The Horse and His Boy. In the example of Emeth, readers get the sense that Lewis might have been a Universalist.

“‘But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’”


Jonas (The Giver by Lois Lowry)

While there are Christ Figures throughout Lowry’s The Giver Quartet, I have chosen to focus on the first because more people tend to be familiar with the plot. But I would definitely recommend Messenger (The Giver, #3), if readers are looking for other good examples of a Christ Figure.

Jonas lives in a futuristic world, which at first glance, looks like a utopia. But as the story goes along, he begins to realize his society’s need for somebody to shoulder the memories of the past. Like Christ, he alone carries what society cannot bear to carry. In the end, he even goes out of his way to save Gabe and help his community in a new way.

Controversy: Left by itself, The Giver leaves an open-ended question: Do Jonas and Gabe actually make it to a new society, or do they die in the attempt? And what does their death or their survival mean for Jonas’ potential for being a Christ Figure?



Cordelia (King Lear by William Shakespeare)

This tragedy opens with King Lear telling his three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia that whoever claims to love him most will receive the largest of three portions of the kingdom. Cordelia tells her father,

                                    “Good my Lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me. I
Return those duties back as are fit… 
                      …Haply when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.”

While Goneril and Regan lie and flatter their father, Cordelia is honest, sometimes brutally so, much to her father’s disdain. Like Christ, Cordelia is cast out for being truthful despite her genuine love. According to David Bevington (Complete Works of Shakespeare), Cordelia’s loss of “the world in order to win a better world” parallels Scriptures such as the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Matthew 19:21 and Luke 1:52.

Controversy: Unlike the traditional Christ Figure, Cordelia is female. Similarly, her ultimate death does not save her father physically, though it may have saved him spiritually.   



The Misfit (“A Good Man is Hard to Find” 

by Flannery O’Conner)

This is such a complex story that after having discussions about it in college, I’m still not sure I understand it all. In this short story, not only do readers come to realize that good men are rare, just as only Christ was good, but they also see that it’s not always expected. Even though the Jews waited for the Christ for a long, long time (at least 300 year), when He finally came, they rejected him.

“Jesus thrown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me… I call myself the Misfit because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.”

Controversy: How can a criminal be a Christ Figure? Christ was arrested and crucified for upsetting the spiritual leaders in the Jewish faith tradition, but it’s not the same. What’s more, O’Conner didn’t even intend for her character to be a Christ Figure. This story could be an example of audiences reading too far into the plot and the characters. Or not.

Other notable Christ Figures can be found in The Chronicles of Prydian, The Faerie Queene, Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, Messenger, Methuselah’s Gift, The Space Trilogy, A Tale of Two Cities, Tales of Goldstone Wood, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Where the Woods Grow Wild. For the sake of space (and sanity), not every figure could be analyzed.

I’ve heard it said that if you want to know how people view Christ, see how they write about Him. In the end, fictional representations of Christ are also representations of each author’s perspective. (Then you have the whole argument that writers don’t always agree with everything they write.) If readers are looking for a more accurate Christ, I would recommend reading Scripture itself. Nevertheless, Christ Figures often give stories meaningful themes that readers can reflect on for years to come.

***

Related posts: Controversy in Fiction: Magic, Feminism, and Christian Fiction

Literary references: The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis, The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, King Lear by William Shakespeare, David Bevington’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner, The Chronicles of Prydian by Lloyd Alexander, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Methuselah’s Gift by Mary Elizabeth Edgren, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Where the Woods Grow Wild by Nathan Philbrick.


Let’s chat! Who is your favorite Christ Figure in fiction? (Spoilers welcome with warning! 😊) Who is the most controversial Christ Figure you know of? Are there any major (or obscure; I like obscure) examples I left out?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Writing Book Reviews: Why I Enjoy It

When I first started blogging, I didn’t take book reviews seriously. I thought if I didn’t read them, why should I write them? It wasn’t until I started building my to-be-read (TBR) list with serious dedication that I started reading book reviews. And they helped a lot. But as I read reviews, I thought some of them were lacking in certain elements. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing it’s that if you see something missing, write it yourself. Over time, I came to enjoy writing reviews.


Reading book reviews has made my TBR list explode.

And if other readers could recommend good books, who’s to say I couldn’t do the same? I’m a writer and a reader, after all. Why not combine the two forces and encourage people to read all my favorite books? Besides…

Writing book reviews lets me revisit the fictional worlds.

If reading a good book is wonderful, finishing a good book is bittersweet. Eventually, you reach the end and have to close the book, bidding farewell to characters who have become your friends. Then you must face the real world again. But writing book reviews allows you to crack open that book again and scour the pages for your favorite parts, the best lines, the thrilling plot twists. Sure, not all books receive good reviews, but writing book reviews allows you emphasize all your fan-related thoughts and feelings. Or critical ones if you didn’t like it.

Writing reviews is a great way to give back to authors.

After reading a 300-plus-page book, writing a short 300-word review seems like the least I can do. And yes, authors do read the reviews, although readers may not know it. One time I wrote a review and posted it on Goodreads, and a couple weeks later, the author liked it. I’m sure the author appreciated my compliments, but I was just as thrilled to see that the author herself had paid attention to what I, a reader, had to say. And that was a book I gave 4/5 stars.

Reviews help me discover what I believe.

Although I’m more likely to read a book that receives a higher rating, I’ve learned not to pass up a book just because of a couple bad reviews. Sometimes I might enjoy a book that somebody else hated or visa versa. Opinions are subjective.

When I write a review, I can learn how I feel about a book. Writing reviews is a way for me to discover my voice, discover my opinions, discover my favorite characters and plot points. For example, I may not like dishonest characters, but I like con artists. I find intelligent characters to be some of my favorite. Who knew? I certainly wouldn’t have realized the extent of my preferences had I not written about it.

Writing reviews benefits the author.

Think about how much time it takes to write and publish a book—a year, maybe two or three. Then think about how long it takes to read one—six or more hours, depending on the book and the reader. While this may seem like an unjust balance, it’s the way of the publishing world. In fact, the faster a reader finishes a book, the higher the praise tends to be.

Writing a brief review is just a way to thank the authors for their work and let them know what the readers liked and didn’t like about it. Give some feedback. Share your opinion.

Did you know that good and bad reviews help promote books? While a good book review may let the author know a reader liked it, all types of reviews reflect on the publishing industry as a whole. The more reviews a book receives, the more attention it’s likely to get.

Reviews help other readers find good books.

Not only is it giving the writer feedback, but it’s also a good way to recommend books to the reading community. I’m actually more likely to read a book if it has reviews, good and bad. I like to read the reviews that my friends have written so that I can see if our tastes our similar. If they are, I’m more likely to read a book they recommend.

On the other hand, if nobody I know has read the book, I’ll look for a couple good reviews and hunt down the bad ones. That’s right. I want to know what the book’s flaws are. If the only ones I can find are “it was too long” or “it didn’t hold my interest right away” who cares? I’m more likely to pick up the book then. I like long books, and I have a long attention span.

It’s also fun to follow my favorite book bloggers. If you like the reviews I’ve written, be sure to check out some of theirs:


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to come back next month for some tips on writing reviews of your own! 

***



Let’s chat! If you write book reviews, what’s your favorite part about it? If you haven’t written them before, would you consider it now?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

7 Reasons I Enjoy Medieval Novels

Last year I wrote a couple posts on genres I liked and didn’t like. Today I’m here to continue and write about the Middle Ages and the qualities I like that tend to pop up in fiction.


1) The Middle Ages was the time of castles.


One of my favorite parts about living in Europe is visiting all the castles. They’re amazing. The ruined castles are especially amazing because they leave many facts up to the imagination. I like exploring the old towers and along the walls, wondering what they may have been like in their prime. From the River of Time series and The Alliance series to The Lord of the Rings, medieval stories offer just a glimpse of such a time.

2) Old-fashioned methods of transportation were prevalent.


I could do without riding in the seat/back of a wagon. But I completely enjoy horseback riding, which was just about as common in the Middle Ages as walking, if one could afford a horse. It’s not as though I like to show off my equestrian knowledge while writing medieval stories. I just like to able to read a story and get it. And horses are awesome.

Other fascinating modes of transportation include sailing and dragon riding (though the latter is more fantasy-related). Although books with sailing are not limited to the medieval stories, they are certainly interesting.

3) Travel!


Let’s face it, folks in medieval stories tend to travel a lot. While they may not experience jet lag like we do, they know the pains of walking all day and the confusion that comes with meeting people of other cultures. Because I’ve traveled so much in my own life, I can relate a lot with characters who travel. I know what it’s like to experience culture shock and feet so tired I just want to lay down on that uncomfortable hotel mattress and fall asleep. I’ve also gone camping a couple of times, so I know what it’s like to sleep on the ground, much like many characters, especially Frodo and Sam.

Sam: “Everywhere I lie there’s a dirty great root sticking into my back.”
Frodo: “Just shut your eyes, and imagine you’re back in your own bed, with a soft mattress and a lovely feather pillow.”
Sam: “It’s not working, Mister Frodo. I’m never going to be able to sleep out here.”
Frodo: “Me neither, Sam.”


4) Carrying around weapons is (generally) socially acceptable.


Oh, you just got a new crossbow or ancient sword from your ancestors, feel free to carry it around. After all, who doesn’t want to sport a battle ax or a couple throwing daggers? You never know when you might need it.

Today, on the other hand, you can have concealed and carry weapons in some countries while only the military or the police carry weapons most of the time. Sure, it’s good that we live in times of relative peace (depending on where you live), but swords are awesome. One of my favorite things about the Ritterspiele in Germany is that not only do people dress up in medieval garb, but they also sport their weapons.

5) Books from the Middle Ages are AMAZING!


I’m not just talking about books about the Middle Ages but books that were written in the Middle Ages. The first and second editions of Le Morte Darthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the old Bibles. You name it. And they’re so stinking pretty. Scribes had to study handwriting and use their best when writing on parchment. Some books were even gilded, covered in gold for decorative purposes.

While books today are printed to be distributed to a wide audience, books in the Middle Ages were hand-written for a select few. And they were made to last. Paper may be more convenient (and humane) than animal skins, but they don’t last as long.

One of my favorite days from my postgraduate studies when I got to visit the University of Birmingham and view their special collections. We got to transcribe scripts (handwriting) and see illuminated manuscripts. At one point, I even got to touch the pages of a book from the 18th century, “adding my fingerprints” to its long history. Parchment doesn’t feel much different from paper. It’s stiff, but it’s also quite leathery. It’s hard to describe unless you get the chance to feel it for yourself.

Generally, though, you would never ever, ever touch a manuscript except with gloves and special training. We received special permission for a select few books.

6) Medieval stories are packed full of information.


Not only do you learn how people dyed their clothes or how markets were run (because that’s so helpful today), but you can also learn about history.

But I’m more interested in the random bits of information. Like…

Did you know that in the Middle Ages, spiral staircases tended to circle up to the left for defensive purposes? Most swordsmen were right-handed, so the defenders would have more room to wield their swords while the attackers struggled to maneuver around the center of the staircase.

7) Medieval stories make me appreciate the present even more.


To be fair, I still enjoy living in the present day. As much fun as it would be to send a message via hawk or pigeon, it could take forever. Not to mention, it could get lost. Then there’s hygiene. I would probably die in the Middle Ages. After all, it was also the time of the black plague, and that’s not even mentioning what they did with chamber pots. And I thought horse droppings were bad. But I still like reading about how men and women survived and made lives for themselves.

It’s fascinating!

***


Literary references: Lisa T. Bergren’s River of Time series, L. Nicodemus Lyons’ The Alliance series, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Fellowship of the Ring (film adaptation), Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Let’s chat! What are some of your favorite qualities of the Middle Ages? What’s your favorite era to read about? 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Poem: The Crow and the Heron

The winter world is full of simple beauties. A thick blanket of snow, a perfect day for curling up by the fire and reading. The nip of the wind on your cheeks and the way they warm when you come back inside. A blue sky after days and days of seemingly endless gray.

A heron and a crow standing side-by-side on a frozen pond.

One afternoon, I was out walking our German Shepherd, Pfeffer, when I saw them. Perhaps they were just two birds standing on the ice. But it looked like the heron was taking council, receiving a daily report from the crow. Maybe a bird is just a bird, but a walk can also be an opportunity to live, to discover.

And a poem is never just a poem…



The Crow and the Heron

The crow cawed to the wind,
his voice swallowed up among whispers of change.
The creak of the ice beneath his claws
settled in an answer of sweet silence,
perfect stillness among the white winter world
stained by a single black spot, striking feathers.

The crow cawed to the heron as he glided
               down
                        down
          down
onto the lake, to take his perch on the ice
to hear the younger bird’s report.

The crow cawed about the days,
lengthening like a stretching shadow
drawn out by the playful dance of the sun.
Winter will end, the world will wake
up the crawlers, the diggers, the prancers.
It’s time to begin the song of spring.

The crow cawed about the dog,
like a she-wolf in her crouch
new to stalking the neighborhood felines and fowl 
hackles raised and teeth bared
only to lick the gruff hands of her master
who stoops to right a beetle,
overturned
on his blue-black wings.

The crow cawed a farewell as the heron took off,
gliding
            up
                        up
                                    up
amid the trees, over the red sloped roofs
of the jigsaw puzzle that is the village,
stacked atop one another in one way
until the world is sifted again.

***

Related posts: In Season, Shadows, and Weird Winter Weather

Let’s chat! When was the last time you made a discovery by catching a glimpse of something simple? How does this poem make you feel? 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Character Types: The Pessimistic Mentor

I recently added a new type of post to my blog: character types! So far, it seems to be a success. Last month, I wrote about The Best-Friend-Turned-Evil-Villain (aka. BFTEV). Another one of my favorite character types is the Pessimistic Mentor. You know the one. They’re typically condescending and will point out every single way the heroes fail.


Some examples of the Pessimistic Mentor include Puddleglum (The Silver Chair), Hamish (The Hunger Games), Han Solo (The Force Awakens), and Hub (Secondhand Lions). But there’s more to the Pessimistic Mentors than just being down all the time. In fact, they tend to have some admirable qualities.

They’re straightforward.

They tell things the way they are. If they think the protagonist is going to die or at the very least be mortally wounded, they’ll tell the protagonist. After all, what else would they do? No sugarcoating involved here.

I really like the scene when Jill and Eustace first talk to Puddleglum, and they can’t tell if he wants to come on their adventure or not because he sounds so pessimistic about their prospects of success:

“Now a job like this—a journey up north just as winter’s beginning looking for a Prince that probably isn’t there, by way of ruined city no one has ever seen—will be just the thing. If that doesn’t steady a chap, I don’t know what will.”

Pessimistic Mentors tend to be honest.

Because they tend to be so blunt about the truth, it means more. If they tell the protagonist there’s a 99% chance of death, the protagonist will take EXTRA caution (hopefully). If they praise the protagonist for something, it may come as a surprise, but it means so, so much.

Of course, there are exceptions. Hamish isn’t exactly honest. Not if you consider he lied to Katniss for basically the whole of Catching Fire.

They’re stubborn as a rock.

Chances are, if a character ever lives long enough to be a mentor, he or she is probably going to be set in his or her beliefs. This character is no exception. When it comes to cheering them up, forget it.

But they tend to teach the protagonist from lessons they learned themselves.

Walter helped teach his great-uncles that there’s more to life than just hording wealth. Sometimes you have to experience life. Not that it got rid of Hub’s crazy nature.

Walter: “Why not see what he’s selling? …what’s the good of having all that money if you’re never gonna spend it?”
Hub: “Well. “We’ll see what the man’s sellin’. Then we’ll shoot him.”

Okay, that… works?

Pessimistic Mentors tend to have interesting backstories.

Which may be why they’re so stubborn.

Throughout the film, Secondhand Lions, Garth tells Walter Hub’s story. But Hub also sums it up pretty well in a fight with some rowdy teenagers:

“I’m Hub McCann. I’ve fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I’ve seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I’ve won and lost a dozen fortunes, killed many men and loved only one woman with a passion a flea like you could never begin to understand. That’s who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!”

Although the Pessimistic Mentor may not develop much as a character in the current narrative, he or she might have already done so in the past. Yet even for the stubborn one’s, there’s room for growth. Sometimes the protagonist may surprise them.

They’re loyal to a point.

Even though they know the situation may be helpless, they will stand with the protagonist to the end. Hamish advised Katniss when he had to as her mentor, then stood up with her against the capital as her friend. Hub and his brother Garth took their great-nephew under their wing when his own mother didn’t want him. Han Solo still loved his son despite everything that happened.

They get some of the best lines.

Whether it’s a funny or serious, mentors tend to get some of the most memorable lines.
In The Force Awakens, Han Solo knows a lot more about the Force than he used to.

Finn: “Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force.”
Han: “That’s not how the Force works!”

Thank you, Han. I’m sure we’re going to be hearing that line a lot now…

Then you have Puddleglum who stands up to the Lady of the Green Kirtle, even though his own mind is convinced she’s telling the truth:

“I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

There are so many more lines I could reference, but I won’t here for the sake of conserving space.

Sure, the Pessimistic Mentor can be as annoying as an alarm clock, but at least they’re consistent. They may be as touchy-feely as a cactus, but at least you know where they stand.

***


Film references: The Force Awakens and Secondhand Lions

Literary references: C. S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair and Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy.


Who is your favorite Pessimistic Mentor? What’s your favorite quality or line by him or her? What type of fictional character do you want to read about next—That Guy Who Just Won’t Die, The Humble Heroes, or somebody else?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Coffee Drinker's Guide to Writing

If tea is a sophisticated drink for calm and practical people, then coffee is tea’s crazy second cousin for the passionate and the caffeine-driven. Okay, so anybody can drink coffee, but let’s face it, if you’re a writer and you enjoy coffee, then there’s a 79% chance you’re enthusiastic. Or you’re just not a morning person. Take your pick.



But how, might you ask, can a tea drinker like coffee just as much? On the contrary, my friend, I… I have no idea. I just do.

My evolution of liking coffee is a strange story. Back when I was a kid, I used to hang out with my writing club at Starbucks where we’d buy Frappuccinos, and for years, I wouldn’t drink anything other than sugar-slathered drinks. Then one year, my friend Sarah came to visit me in Europe, and we took a trip down to Italy where I tried my first sugar-infused cappuccino. It was marvelous. Then I started drinking cappuccinos on a regular basis, without sugar. Then I went straight for strong, black coffee.

Yes, I’m a bizarre creature. Whoever said writers were supposed to be normal? I still drink cappuccinos. In fact, they’re my caffeine drink of choice, though I haven’t been able to find a decent one since leaving in Italy. (Oh, the good old days!)

Whether you’re like me or not—if you’re a writer who likes coffee, this post is for you!


Coffee comes in many, many varieties.

From chocolate-covered coffee beans and espressos to cappuccinos and iced lattes, there are plenty of coffees to enjoy on the go or at a leisurely pace. Personally, I like chocolate covered coffee beans for road trips, and they’re great for those dull times when your imagination just needs a boost. Road trips can be great for reading if you’re not the driver, and they can be great for world-building or character development whoever you are! When it comes to sitting and having a writing-related discussion, I like a good cappuccino. If I need some serious motivation, I’ll switch to strong black coffee.

It’s all based off personal preferences, but there’s a coffee for nearly any occasional. There’s even decaf, but…

The caffeine in coffee is a great motivator.

It comes from a bean, so coffee has to be so much better for you than energy drinks.  Besides, it has so many uses!

Feeling groggy because it’s morning and you can’t quite wake up enough to think let alone write? Have a cup of coffee. Staying up late writing for NaNoWriMo or some other project and you need the energy? Drink coffee!

Just the smell of coffee is inspirational.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly brewed coffee, filling the room and promising to awaken your senses. Can we get a coffee-scented candle already? Or coffee-scented perfume? Or maybe I just need to make more coffee!

Need I say more?


Coffee stains make your stories look 1000x more awesome.

Let’s face it. If you’re like me, and printing out your story (or handwriting it) helps you out, then there’s a 75% chance it’s going to come in contact with your drink of choice. And coffee stains are almost a given. But come on. They’re not a hindrance. They’re a badge of dedication and hard work. They say, “Look! On this page, I needed caffeine, and I had caffeine, and oh, my goodness, it’s such a relief to see something other than red ink drowning my words.”

Besides, if you’re finished with your pristine, perfect new draft manuscript, you can douse it with coffee instead of burning it. After all, coffee smells good! But whatever you do, don’t douse it with coffee and then burn it. The smell of burnt coffee is not so inspirational.

Drinking coffee is a good excuse to collect a bunch of writerly or geeky mugs.

Okay, so you could do this with tea as well, but I’m not writing about tea, am I? My own collection of mugs, though quite small, makes drinking coffee twice as enjoyable. Not only am I having a caffeinated drink, but I’m also getting an inspirational snippet as well. Sounds like a win-win deal to me!


Coffee is just nice, plain and simple.

Or complicated and sugary if you prefer. So don’t let anybody tell you not to drink it if they don’t like it. Everybody’s entitled to his or her opinion. So, drink ten cups of coffee like Lorelai Gilmore. Or sip a cappuccino like me. Or just, you know, enjoy a cup of coffee, however you like it, just like you do.

Then get to writing and enjoy your craft!

***


Let’s chat! What’s your favorite type of coffee? What’s your favorite benefit to being a coffee drinker and a writer? Did I leave anything out?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Scholarly Fangirl

College is full of memorable experiences. I remember one particular day when I was sitting in senior seminar, a prep class for graduating students in the Humanities Department, when two of my friends got into a debate about literature. While it may not sound atypical, this particular topic got heated quite quickly. One of my friends argued for the importance of teaching classical literature, like Shakespeare, and the other argued that contemporary novels, like young adult fiction, would become the new classics.

Although the debate quickly became passionate, the two made it up to each other before the end of the semester. Another of my friends even wrote a play for creative writing based off the encounter. The main problem I had while listening to it all was that I agreed with both of them. I’m a classicist in that I like sitting down with a book that challenges me intellectually. But I’m also a fangirl who enjoys books that make me laugh, cry, and want to throw the book against the wall.


Once upon a time, I didn’t like Shakespeare. He’s seen as the patriarch of English literature and the standard for most writers to ascribe too. I wondered, how can anybody live up to such a title? And how could one person have so much influence over literature while other writers are considered lesser?

Eventually, over the course of my undergraduate, I came to appreciate and enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, though I still don’t consider him the greatest writer known to mankind. I even came to have favorite plays, having written a paper on As You Like It. Throughout my college career, I came to learn a lot about my reading preferences.

The intellectual in me thoroughly enjoys studying literature, especially if it’s more difficult to read. I like discussions about literary tropes and trends in styles. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started this blog—to express my thoughts on books and encourage discussions. I like to learn, to expand my mind, to grow. Reading challenging literature does just that.

When I was studying for my M.A. in English Literature, I spent a lot of time studying Middle English (think Shakespeare). A. LOT. So much so that when I decided to watch The Hollow Crown: War of the Roses for FUN. Part of the way through Henry VI, Part 1, I found that I could understand nearly everything they were saying. When I first started reading Shakespeare’s plays, I had to look up everything on SparkNotes and really analyze the text. Now I have little problem with it.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have difficulties. I still have to study the plot and characters to fully grasp them. Sure, sometimes I even have to look up some of the lesser-known phrases. But I find hearing language or reading the text presents few challenges. And understanding, whether historical or linguistic, makes literature far more enjoyable.

Perhaps that’s what it means to be a master at something: overcoming learning challenges to discover how to enjoy a text.

I mean, can a scholar really enjoy studying a Hamlet with the same relish as a teenager fangirls over The Hunger Games?

Yes.

Why not?

While the response towards the text may be different, there’s no rule saying that scholars can’t enjoy their work. I never would have pursued a degree in English literature if I didn’t enjoy reading it. Of course, literature often makes me think, but there are some instances when it makes me feel too, and more than just boredom. Richard III, A Modest Proposal, and The Telltale Heart made me shudder.

On the other hand, there are times when I’m tired from a long day, or a long semester, and I want to be swept away by a story instead of being encouraged to think. It’s these moments when the fangirl in me will pick up a young adult novel and connect with the characters and the story.

But that isn’t to say that I don’t learn. Sometimes a story will have a particularly interesting writing style or character development that I’ll note for my own writing. Or a story’s theme may inspire or challenge me. Or maybe a novel just moved me with every single aspect—the plot, the characters, the voice, the research, the theme—that I want to rush out and by myself a copy if I don’t already have one.

These types of books tend to be commercial instead of literary. But that isn’t to say that they don’t have literary value. A book that brings me to tears—or close to it—while it may not have the heavy descriptions typical of “literary” books, can still impress value through theme or other details. 

The Book Thief (historical fiction) is classified as young adult, but it’s also poetically profound with the way it values life and friendships. 

Illuminae (sci-fi) is another YA novel but with a unique writing style, told through chats, video feeds, and AI data. But the dedication of the characters towards the pursuit and exposure of the truth is astounding.

Inkheart (fantasy), the start of a YA trilogy, explores the importance of place and the value of words.

Now that I’ve finished my schooling in English and literature, I’ve started picking up books like Moby-Dick because I can’t resist a good intellectual challenge. But that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy YA books. I’ve read perhaps ten while I’m in the process of getting through this whale-obsessed narrative/study. Next time, I may pick up a less dense classic.

Until then, I will push through.

And just because I’m not technically a young adult (ages 13-18), doesn’t mean I will stop reading and writing YA.

As an intellectual, I will learn about cultures and histories, languages and sciences.

As a fangirl, I will laugh and stress with characters, turning pages late into the night.

Of course, the best books—whether classic or contemporary—encourage both.

***


Literary references: William Shakespeare’s As You Like It; Henry VI, Part 1; Hamlet; and Richard III; Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games; Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal; Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart; Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief; Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae; Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart; and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Do you consider yourself more of a scholar or a fangirl? What’s your favorite genre? Why?