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Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

writerPlato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

Kimberly Yuhl suggests you have eight words to capture your reader’s attention.

Rob Weatherhead states in the article, Say it Quick, Say it Well (please excuse the grammar), that the attention span of a modern internet consumer is short. “Studies have shown that 32% of consumers will start abandoning slow sites between one and five seconds.”

Marcia Hoeck, in her article How to Capture Your Reader’s Attention, writes: “You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so don’t take chances with clever, cute, or insider language or visuals, which are often lost on people.”

Whether or not these statistics apply specifically to fiction writing is immaterial. They apply to today’s readers. Knowing these facts should motivate us to put extra effort into creating captivating openings for our stories.

I find that examples aid my understanding, so let’s take a look at some classic examples of beguiling beginnings:

* (my favorite) “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” This from C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

* “On November the 21st, the day of her forty-seventh birthday, and three weeks and two days before she was murdered, Rhoda Gradwyn went…” The Private Patient, by P.D. James.

* “When the coppers talk about Marsha Morgan, they start with her death—how she fell off the Chesapeake Belle and drowned in the Miles River.” From Ron and Janet Benrey’s Little White Lies.

* Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner begins this way: “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

* Caroline Way’s Confessions from a Farmer’s Wife: “I am the last one. Of those whose lives I will speak of here, I alone remain.”

* Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: “It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.”

What do these examples have in common?questions

– they are concise

– they raise questions for which we want answers

– they create a mood

– they suggest the kind of story that’s coming (plot driven / character driven)

– they draw us into the story

How can we create a similar effect?

– we must decide what we want to convey; what is the most important aspect of the story?

– we must ask the right questions

– we must decide what the mood of our story will be

– we must know the style of story we are writing

– we must revise and polish until the beginning is irresistible

fascinated reader

Having said all this, remember that you can tweak your beginning many times, especially after the ending has been written. After all, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from” T.S. Eliot.

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My guest today is author Deb Elkink.

Deb Elkink

Deb grew up in Winnipeg, attended university south of the border in the Twin Cities, then married a cowboy and moved from her bright lights to his isolated cattle ranch in Saskatchewan, where she learned to fly an airplane, round up the herd on horseback, and cook for branding crews of a hundred. She published a few early stories, then focused on her role as ranch wife and mom until returning to academic studies rather than succumbing to an empty nest. Today Deb and her husband live in a cozy cottage on the banks of a creek that runs through their acreage in southern Alberta, where she writes at her kitchen table to the music of the wind in the grasses.

Janice: Hi Deb. I’m excited to do this interview with you. After reading your book, The Third Grace, I have a new appreciation for your knowledge of Greek mythology, of various cultures, and of your writing skills. What is your background in writing? What areas of writing you are involved in besides fiction?

DEB: Thanks for the opportunity to chat with you, Janice, and for reading my novel—always a great compliment! I was raised in a very creative home and decided I wanted to be a writer when, at age nine, my poem was printed in the elementary yearbook. My first degree (BA Communications) trained me in freelance writing and, many years later, my second degree (MA Theology, 2001) spring-boarded me back into active writing. I applied my new skills toward academic editing, acted as staff writer for several years with a cross-Canada professional quarterly, and most recently added reviewing for a fiction site that welcomes my theological critique. In my blog I follow cultural and literary images found in the Bible—a sort of word study. These nonfiction forms of research and writing have sharpened my skills and prepped me for fiction.

Janice:  Can you tell us what brought you to fiction?

DEB: My earliest influences include my mom’s imagination as a visual artist, my dad’s yarn-spinning around the fireplace, and my insatiable lust for Nancy Drew. Formal learning has always been a major stimulus for me: I received top marks for story analysis and composition in high school, and this pushed me on to postsecondary studies where one prof, a writer herself and wife of a well-known theologian, mentored and encouraged me. Next, I found that the best part about home-teaching our kids for fifteen years on the ranch was our genre-based approach to all our projects, which enriched my own exposure to the literary classics. My subsequent seminary studies were so rewarding that I sometimes today contemplate returning to scholarly pursuits in order to learn more about—especially—British literature (my graduate thesis focused on how the Victorian writer G.K. Chesterton used the image of the tree in his fiction to symbolize Christian beliefs). All of these influences combine with my high view of Scripture to convince me that reader interest in the truths and principles of the Word can be effectively stimulated through a great fiction story.

Janice: Do you have a specific audience in mind as you write?

DEB: I dedicated my first novel to the younger woman, who—though perhaps raised in faith—has turned away from God: “To all my lost sisters wandering alone out of earshot—His voice still calls.” My current novel again focuses on relationships (and a hidden theology); I hope it will appeal to a wider audience—again, not necessarily Christian. I believe fiction can “slip past the sleeping dragons” (C.S. Lewis) of my readers’ resistance to truth. Everyone is starving for God’s Word, but often readers don’t recognize their hunger pangs unless their emotions are first engaged through their senses.

Janice: How do you write, Deb? Are you a very disciplined writer or do you have to force yourself to stay in the chair? Do you work on more than one project at a time, and do you edit as you go? Do you outline or are you a seat-of-the-pants writer?

DEB: I tend to be a binge writer focused on one story to the exclusion of all else in life—just ask my husband! I wake up in the mornings to sit at my computer all day, not even dressing until I put on sweats for afternoon exercise on my elliptical in front of Dr. Phil. As for process, I first plot my complete novel outline using pen and paper, then continually research and edit as I draft on my laptop—though this means I often don’t get many words written in a day. Immersing myself in each line and paragraph of each scene is a pleasure for me, and at this stage I allow myself as much time as I need until I’m fairly satisfied with the page.

Janice:  Your debut novelThe Third Gracewas released in 2011. Can you give us a brief summary of the storyline and what inspired the original idea?

DEB: An urban costume designer can’t escape the flood of memories from the summer she was seventeen and fell in love with the French exchange student visiting the family farm, who whispered enthralling Greek myths into her ear and set her longing for something more than her family’s simplistic faith. Now thirty-two and still single, she’s leaving for Paris on work assignment when she discovers a Bible he left behind, its margins full of his handwritten, sensual references to their long-ago romance. She searches for him through the text and the streets of Paris—and finds herself in the process.  

I came to the story on my first trip to France in 1989, when I discovered a marble statue grouping in the Louvre of The Three Graces of Greek mythology. These goddesses came to symbolize to me relationships among women as well as the twisted spirituality implicit in mythology. I was at this time still living on our remote ranch, and the contrast between city and country, aesthetics and common sense, sophistication and practical living really hit home. I’d succumbed to the enchantment of the French (cuisine, couture, and culture) and wanted to explore the gap between it and my own heritage rooted in the Mennonite faith.

Janice:  I must mention here that you were the winner of the 2012 Grace Irwin Award. This is Canada’s largest literary prize for writers who are Christian, so it’s quite an accomplishment for a debut novelist. Congratulations!

DEB: Thanks, Janice! It was a real surprise for me, I must say, and gives me deep encouragement today to keep on writing.

Janice:  How did you create / develop the characters? Are they based on real people or totally figments of your imagination?

DEB: I would be nervous about writing scenes with friends or acquaintances in mind! My characters are almost completely fictional, although most of the personality traits belong to someone I know; for example, the wise boss in The Third Grace is an abstract remix of Chesterton and my mother-in-law combined with some philosopher I’ve never met. I try to keep my characters in line as I draft; they often want to break out on their own but, when I allow this, the storyline inevitably suffers, so I’m quite stern with them.

Janice:  Where is the book set and why did you choose those particular settings?

DEB: I grew up in the city and “suffered” the trauma of moving to the countryside, and my character makes this same transition the other way around (from Nebraska farmyard to uptown Denver)—both of us experiencing the juxtaposition between rural and urban settings. I love Paris (I’ve been there half a dozen times, as recently as this past summer) and my character has the same romantic emotions I feel whenever I dream of stepping foot on Gallic soil. I originally set the book in Calgary and the Saskatchewan Sandhills, with the visit to Paris a focal point, but my agent requested I change the North American locales to places in the States. My next novel retains more Canadian content. 

Janice:  What was the most difficult part of this project for you?

DEB: Overwhelmingly it was my slow writing style; I took many years building up a head of steam and finally getting the ideas down in readable format, floundering when an early draft ended up in the drawer for more than a decade. I battled insecurity about getting this book written in between the real-life activities of marriage, childrearing, education, and social and spiritual growth.

Janice:  And your favorite part?

DEB: Interesting to me, it was again my slow writing style; I believe in savoring each moment of my day and my life, which consists of much more living than only my imaginative writing.

Janice:  How would you categorize The Third Grace? What take-away value is presented?

DEB: The Third Grace is a story of return: God calls us back to Himself through the Bible.

Janice:  For those of us who are also trying to promote our writing, what media have you used to promote The Third Grace, and how would you evaluate the effectiveness of those avenues?

DEB: Sadly but honestly, I admit to disappointing book sales despite the shiny “award” sticker on my novel. In the year following publication, I signed up with an online agency that put me on virtual book tour at substantial cost in time and money for very little discernible gain. I’ve had fairly good local newspaper coverage, but I’ve been invited to interview on only a couple of the many TV and radio shows I’ve contacted. I continue to appear now and again as guest on various author blogs, I keep up a Facebook presence (not yet Twitter), and I continue to build an email list of supporters. I enter contests, give away copies of the novel when speaking, distribute the book locally (and of course on Amazon and the like), and shamelessly hand out informational postcards to strangers on the street. At the end of the day, I see my greatest marketing opportunity to be publication of my next book.

Janice:  Tell us a little about yourself: home, family, work, hobbies, interests, talents…

DEB: My husband, Gerrit, and I will celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary this fall (fingers crossed that he’ll surprise me with some exotic vacation)! After my first two decades as Manitoba city girl and my next two as Saskatchewan ranch woman, I continued my homemaker status in Alberta for this third two-decade portion of life when my husband took on work in the oil-and-gas sector back in the mid-nineties. We have a close relationship with our three grown children (data administrator, family physician, and power engineer), and I try to entice them home to the acreage for a meal every week or two. 

As for hobbies, I love to sew and am currently awaiting an order of silk and cotton from a great online source! I’ve inherited my mother’s soup-making abilities, as well, and am working this into my next novel. I like languages and have studied a few—though my tongue ties when facing a native French, Spanish, or Japanese speaker. I get out on the ski hill every couple of years (yeah, I’m not really athletic). I’m crazy about travel and have so far visited about thirty countries on five of the seven continents of the world.

Janice:  What are you working on now in your writing career?

DEB: I’m currently in drafting mode, consumed by my second novel with its message that everyone is looking for inner peace, a place of rest for the soul. A salesclerk, pushing fifty and being hounded by a homeless baglady, is on the verge of her first house purchase while her zany new-age friend is begging her to instead spend her money accompanying her to “sacred sites” around the world. Rather, she tours a historical mansion museum to discover her own heritage and the true meaning of home.

Janice:  Do you have a thought or encouragement for other writers?

DEB: I suspect some of your readers become frustrated like I do when production is slow, impatient to be used by God. Rather than viewing my writing as some special “calling” that I must fulfill, I see it more as a privilege granted me when I called out to God from the desires of my heart in asking to serve in this way. I believe that, first and foremost, He wants my joyful response to Him in everything I do, writing related or not, to His glory (Col. 3:17). This understanding releases me to live each day peaceful under His sovereignty. I relax, as well, after making a reasonable effort as far as marketing, knowing that He cares more than I ever can about how His message is presented to the readership. So my encouragement for other writers is to rest in God rather than frantically writing or promoting, and trust that He will shed His glory in His way through our words, work, and—most of all—daily attitude.

Janice:  Thanks so much for your time and for giving us a glimpse of you and your work. I wish you all the best in your future writing.

DEB: Thanks again for having me!

Please check into Deb’s social media sites below:

Website: www.debelkink.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deb.elkink

Email: deb@rolledscroll.com

Favorite daily Bible study: www.versebyversecommentary.com

Blog: http://www.rolledscroll.com/?blog

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Today I’d like to introduce you to fellow writer, Melanie M. Jeschke.

Melanie Morey Jeschke (pronounced jes-key), a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and graduated from the University of Virginia as a Phi Beta Kappa with an Honors degree in English Literature and a minor in European and English History. She also holds a Master of Arts in English Literature from George Mason University and took courses on Jane Austen and Shakespeare at Oxford University. Melanie currently teaches at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. 

Melanie M. Jeschke

Melanie lived a semester in Paris and has traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East. She has made numerous trips to Great Britain and organized a group tour to Scotland and England that included a stay at J.R.R. Tolkien’s Merton College in Oxford. She has attended five conferences on C. S. Lewis at Oxford and Cambridge Universities and served as the Oxford information hostess and walking- tour guide for the C. S. Lewis Foundation

Melanie’s various trips to the UK inspired her novels The Oxford ChroniclesInklings containing the sequel  Intentions, July 2004;Expectations, March 2005; and Evasions, a “prequel” set in WWII, August  2006. An earlier edition of Inklings (without Intentions) was  published by Xulon Press in 2002.

A free-lance travel writer, Melanie contributed the Oxford chapter to the Rick Steves’ England guidebook. She is a member of the Capital Christian Writers and Christian Fiction Writers as well as three book clubs, and taught high-school English before home-schooling most of her nine children. Melanie lectures on Lewis and Tolkien, Oxford, and writing, and gives inspirational talks to all manner of groups, including university classes, women’s clubs, young professionals, teens, and school children.

Melanie committed her life to Jesus Christ as a teenager and has been married for thirty-six years to Bill Jeschke, the founding pastor of The King’s Chapel in Fairfax, Virginia. Together they are the proud parents of nine wonderful children (three daughters and six sons) and twelve adorable grandchildren.

“God-sightings”

A Blog by Melanie M. Jeschke  

This summer at Vacation Bible School, we taught the children to look for “God-sightings,” evidence that God is at work in our circumstances or through other people. Recognizing God’s love and leading in our lives encourages and enriches us. Recently, I experienced the special blessing of one of these “God-sightings.”

My husband is a pastor and we rarely have an opportunity to visit other churches; however, this past weekend one of our youth ministers stepped in to preach. My sister had also come up from Florida to visit and be on hand to stay with my elderly parents, and so my husband and I decided to “play hooky.”

Consequently, I was looking forward to the opportunity for a little “getaway” at a B &B in the country. My husband declared he had prayed about my plan, but thought we should stay locally and attend one of the churches not far from our new home, so that we could “get to know our community better.” (My parents moved in with us the end of May, following a laborious move of our own last year from our home of 23 years in Vienna (Fairfax County), Virginia, further west to the town of Manassas). A tad disappointed but happy to have any time “away,” I promptly booked a room in a lovely Civil War-era B & B in “Old Town” Manassas.

The next morning, we visited a large, well-known church in the area. After the inspiring worship service, we explored the church building and listened in on a business meeting, so that by the time we emerged to the lobby, most of the congregation had cleared out. However, I noticed a woman, with curly strawberry-blond hair, talking in a small group of people. Her hair looked like that of an old friend we hadn’t seen in many years. This friend, also a “Melanie,” and her family had been founding members of our church, The King’s Chapel. Later, they had moved to Manassas and attended the church we were now visiting. A number of years ago, they had moved again to Lynchburg, VA, and although we keep in touch through email and Facebook, we had not seen them in person since then. Spotting this distinctive curly hair, I moved around for a closer look, and sure enough, there stood our friend Melanie with her family and some other mutual friends, whom we also hadn’t seen in many years! This “coincidence” of running into old friends at a church we had never been to before, amazing in itself, proved to be only part of the blessing.

Joyfully, Melanie explained that they had almost visited our church The King’s Chapel that morning because they so wanted to see us while they were in the area for Melanie’s birthday. They had prayed and felt the Holy Spirit’s leading to attend this church instead, and although torn, they obeyed. And voilà! There we were! If they had gone to The King’s Chapel, they wouldn’t have seen us; and likewise, if we had not stayed in Manassas, we wouldn’t have seen them. Experiencing the clear leading of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives multiplied the blessing of our unexpected reunion.

What a fun and serendipitous “God-sighting!”

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