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Friday, March 29, 2013

Why Traditional Themes Work

There's a lot to be said for tradition. If something is a tradition, it means it has been around for a long time, and if it has been around for a long time, there is probably a good reason. In literature, the Great Books are (simply put) books that deal with Great Themes - themes such as good vs. evil, power, sacrifice, redemption, life and death, love, and many others. Themes such as these speak to the human condition, and authors ought to seek to imitate the Great Books if they want their work to speak across the ages. I frown on authors who tailor their books to the ever-changing tide of cultural opinion. You might find success for a moment, but when that tide changes, your books will be washed away with it, as irrelevant in the next moment as they were relevant in the moment before. If you write to please pop culture, or with only your immediate generation in mind, you will never find lasting success. And I'm not talking about Kleos, that greatest of ancient Greek virtues that makes the hero (or the writer, in this case) "immortal." I'm not talking about your reputation at all, I'm talking about themes and messages that transcend you, as the author, and speak directly to the heart of mankind. Ask yourself this - if someone were to pick up my books in 100 years, would they read something that still speaks to them? If the answer is no, then you have not written something worth reading.

But let's face it, books have to sell, right? Publishing is a business, and you must write books that appeal to your generation. Absolutely! Of course you do! But that is what is on the surface. It's the candy-coating, if you will. But what should be at the heart of your books, beneath the surface, are stories filled with traditional themes that grab the hearts of the readers and make them come back over and over again. In this scenario, you cannot lose.

Avoid, avoid, avoid the pop culture trap. Avoid promoting the current fad, the current political agenda, the current soapbox topic... anything that will be here today and gone tomorrow. Avoid it! There are Greater things to be said. If I am granted the ability to look back on my body of work at the end of my life to evaluate what I am leaving behind me, I want to see that I have written stories that are true, that are beautiful, that are good - stories that are lasting.

And NOW for a little teaser! Speaking of authors who have written lasting works, if you're familiar with my books, you know that I pair each one with a C. S. Lewis quotation, and that quotation so far has always been about Darcy. In book 5, The Scroll, I've chosen one that speaks to Darcy, but is about another character, and I bet my biggest fans will be able to guess who! Here it is:

"What can you ever really know of other people's souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands." C. S. Lewis

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Character Bio - Lewis

A LONG time ago I promised a character bio on Lewis, and then I got distracted with other things, and it slipped my mind. Well, I apologize, and here, at long last, is the promised bio...

-Full Name: Lewis Daniel Acres (Lewis is of course named for C. S. Lewis, and his middle name is for my nephew)
-Parents: Louise and Ronald Acres. (His mom is rather abrupt and has never really liked Darcy. We have never met his father in the context of the story, but he's named for Ron Weasley.)
-Siblings: Brother Jonathan is four years younger, sister Joanna is nine years younger. (Jonathan is named for J. R. R. Tolkien, Joanna for J. K. Rowling. The only summer Lewis missed going to Cedar Cove was when his sister was born. This is from real life as the only summer my family missed going to our family camp was the summer my little brother was born.)
-Personality: Lewis is introspective, like Darcy, but in a more, well, masculine sense. Where Darcy (in the first book) is sulky and self-absorbed in her introspection (obviously her greatest character flaw), Lewis is just aloof and oblivious in his. When he is younger, in the first books, he is content to just be in his own little world, and he's rather protective of his private musings (shown in how he carries around a backpack and spends more time writing in the journals in the backpack than conversing with actual people.) As the series progresses, the backpack gradually disappears and he becomes more in-tune with the world around him. He remains thoughtful and above much of the teenage "drama," but he tends toward pessimism. Early on, Sam is the only person he's ever opened up to, and his best friend, but as Sam gains Darcy's friendship, Lewis's role in her life diminishes somewhat. At first he's resentful of the intrusion, but then (after book 1) he decides to take it in stride and befriend Darcy instead. By the middle books of the series, he's closer to Darcy than either of the other two boys in their group of friends. This relationship is aided by the fact that he, Darcy, and Sam all live on the same street and go to the same school I've always intended Lewis to be smart, a little nerdy, and, at heart, simply a good guy.
-Physical Characteristics: Lewis is small for his age in the first books, with mousy-brown hair, light blue eyes, and glasses. Out of touch with modern fashions, he really doesn't care about his appearance. He shoots up to be quite tall in the later books and, although he remains oblivious to it, a decent-looking boy.
-In Alitheia: Lewis is the Scribe. His talent is to write things that are prophetic or otherwise supernaturally helpful. He can't perform his talent on command as the words must come from Pateros, although sometimes he finds that something he has written long ago applies to a present situation. His standard is an Owl, and he is bonded with the Owl Koukoubagia (Kouk). He is overlooked for fighting/warrior training in the first books since he is small and not interested in it, but as he gets older, he decides he'd like to take part, although he's never much of a fighter. His gift from Rubidius is an enchanted phoenix quill.
-Trivia: When I was writing book 1, the reason I had in my mind for why Lewis didn't like Darcy was that he actually had a crush on her, and resented the fact that she never noticed him. As the story progressed, however, I realized that didn't really make sense, and it would make more sense for him to end up having a crush on Sam instead. (*spoiler alert for book 4) I LOVED writing in the romance between Lewis and Sam because I never intended for them to actually be right for each other, and it meant I could make it awkward and uncomfortable. I think everyone probably had relationships like that in High School - "dating" someone in name, but not really acting like you are dating. I know I did! So I wrote that from personal experience, and I think it was relatable for many readers as well.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fan Art Spotlight!

Over the past couple years, I've had a few readers create various bits of art and crafts associated with The Gateway Chronicles. One of the first readers to ever create something was a student of mine named Anna who transformed one of her books into a book from the library in the Great Hall at Sanditha (from book 1, The Six).

The title of the book is, Celmian Imports and their Economic Impact on Alitheia, and here's the story behind it... Darcy snatches this book off a shelf to make herself look busy when Tellius comes into the Great Hall. I wanted it to be a humorous scene because she discovers that she has chosen about the most boring book imaginable, and then, to save face, she has to act interested in it when Tellius engages her in discussion. I hated economics when I was in High School, so naturally I made the book about economics. This was just one of those little things I put into book 1 to build tension between Darcy and Tellius, who are really young, and really opposed to the idea of marrying each other someday. 

When Anna sent me this picture, I was thrilled. She's a very creative girl, and I love that she put her creative energies into such a tiny story element. It made me realize that some of my readers were reading my books with greater devotion, and attention to detail, than I'd dared hope.