“No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn us aside
from following the light unflinchingly.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
The book had two points in its favor: one, the title read in bold blackletter type “Castles”, and two, it was attributed to Alan Lee. That alone was enough to merit pulling it from the stuffed and bulging shelf. Whenever I’m in Half Price Books, I invariably end up in the ancient history section, browsing what literature is available for Celtic and Medieval England—I can’t help myself. I’m drawn to castles, and always have been—a side effect of being a Tolkienist and lover of fantasy in general. There’s a section of my bookshelf devoted to British Isles, and my travel board on Pinterest is overrun by the castles, moors, and coastlines of the afore mentioned Isles. My dream job is being paid to housesit a castle, drink coffee, and write. So I pulled Castles by Alan Lee from the shelf, and cracked open the leaves. And there it was. Near the beginning, setting the tone for the entire book, was an excerpt from an old Anglo Saxon poem:
There. Right there. Did you see it? Did you hear it? Did you feel it? Go back if you must, and read it again (I did, several times). Displayed therein is one of the most beautiful aspects of poetry—how just a few words can evoke a sense of majestic age, proud splendor, crumbling ruin, and haunted longing. In just a few words, the poet perfectly captured the soul of the ruins. Not to mention the poet’s commendable use of the words rime and Wierd. The verse also hangs a question in the air, leaves it swirling, begging to be noticed. Why. Why? Why do we love them? What is it that draws humanity to castles? Why do we make pilgrimages to the monolithic remains of bygone ages? Why do we reverently tread timeworn paths, silent in wonder at the faded arches above our heads? There is something romantic in the idea of castles certainly. So little remains of that time long ago—they say it only takes four generations before the memory of the average human is wiped from existence. We really know nothing of the people who lived within the walls, and only the barest speculation can be made as to events that occurred. Their history is but a framework, filled with gaps and holes. Yet what history leaves out, the mind fills in with memories, dreams, and imaginings—it is this that lends us a closer connection to bygone ages, and why we view them with such romance.
However, perhaps there is something even deeper—deeper than the ancient foundations. Gazing up at turreted walls that have stood for centuries and will likely stand for centuries more is enough to make anyone feel small. These outward shells, our earthly vessels, are perishing. Our fragile frames, bearing the weight of this fallen world, will not endure forever. And an awareness of our own weakness and mortality is enough to evoke a sense of reverence and wonder. Time will have it’s victory, and leave us as but crumbling ruins.
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
– Gollum’s Riddle, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Yet time is not supreme. Time is but another part of creation, and what a joy it is that the Creator is greater than His creation! Standing below the might of ruined towers, the sense of smallness remains, but greater still is the comfort of knowing that the One who created time itself is also the One who holds all of creation in the palm of His hand. When considered this way, castles are but another element of God’s general revelation. How sobering is our smallness. Moss creeps o’er stone, wind bites at rock, and water erodes foundations—even the mightiest monuments of men are brought low, bowing in meek and crumbling submission to the Creator.
Many thanks to Abby Jones for inviting me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour! My blog is rapidly approaching its first birthday, and this is the first blog tour I have partaken in.
Abby is no stranger to the mysterious world of urban fantasy, though she is currently working on a steampunk-esque YA fairytale. And believe me, it is captivating–she let me read the first few pages during during a writing session, and it was with great reluctance that I returned her WIP. Her blog covers a variety of topics, from religion/theology and slice of life, to wondrous tales for her nieces and nephews, and general writing encouragement and advice. Her work is always well thought out, witty, and enjoyable–no matter the subject at hand. You should take a look!
But let’s cut to the chase…
What am I working on?
At this point, I alternate between composing poetry and tackling the larger and somewhat gnarlier task of novel writing. But poetry is what began it all–I started seriously working with poetry when I was about 15 years old, and have several battered and well scribbled journals to prove it. Several years later, when Abby discovered that I wrote poetry and enjoyed writing in general, she urged me to begin blogging a way to gain exposure and feedback–a decision that I will never regret. The gnarly mess, my beloved WIP, is a more recent development. The idea of the story has been in the back of my mind for about two years; the main plot slowly emerging. My family assisted greatly in the early brainstorming stages–an Air Force focused brother provided a military perspective, the physicist sister tied my brain up in knots with all kinds of theories, while my engineer father explored logical plot continuity and devices. Bullet pointed lists, timelines, and character outlines mounted… but with no actual drafting. It was then that Abby bestowed great wisdom: she told me the story was there, but that I needed to plant my rear in the chair and just write. Needless to say, I followed her advice and my word count continues to mount.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Such a short and seemingly simple question… my desire is for the words that I write to be an outpouring of who and what I am. My own work differs from that of the normal sci-fi/fantasy genre in that my goal is to present a uniquely Christian perspective and worldview. My goal is not to simply write Christian science fiction or fantasy, but rather to infuse the stories I tell, body and soul, with what Christianity truly means . We’ve all heard the age-old writer advice: show don’t tell. That is my goal–through imperfect characters, hardship, struggles, sacrifice, justice, unconditional love, unmerited grace, undeserved mercy… the list runs on and on. I wish to present my readers with a set of glasses. They aren’t rosy tinted, but I pray they may offer clarity.
Why do I write what I do?
Poetry? I write it because I must. I write because there is a story on my heart, and I have to tell it. Every human being (and I mean, every single human being) has a story to tell. These stories are expressed in many ways. You don’t have to be a writer. Maybe you’re an artist, a gardener, a woodworker, or a fair cook. But whatever it is, you have it: that one thing that seems to almost perfectly express your heart, and that one thing that communicates you to the world. Mine? It just happens to be jumbled words in rhyming lines. I write poetry to reason with myself, to encourage my fellow Christians, and as an attempt to inspire thoughtfulness.
An unapologetic lover of both fantasy and science fiction, the heftier side of my story writing naturally combines elements of both. I have the highest respect and admiration for the works of both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and a soft spot for Robert E. Heinlein–all three authors have steered me into the genre which I now pursue.
How does your writing process work?
I’m a panster with outliner tendencies. Inspiration strikes as a simple emotion, act, or occurrence that in turn spawns a character, scene, or even plot arc. But once I get a good grasp of the idea, I make a rough outline–whether it’s character traits and plot arcs for a story, or just paragraphs for a blog post. However, I’ve learned that the best way to develop a story is to let it grow, to unfold, naturally. Don’t stifle it with over-outlining. Be open to random, spontaneous ideas. One of the key villains in my current WIP forced his way into the limelight when I allowed his character (initially only minor and secondary) space to develop. As far as the time of day… poetry is almost always a reflection on the day, and as such, is penned at the end of the day. But where stories are concerned, I write best in the early morning. Complete quiet, the sunrise peaking out over the horizon’s edge, and a fresh cup of coffee seem to be the perfect combination to inspire creativity.
Here are two other bloggers/writers that I enjoy who have agreed to talk about their own writing process:
James is a fellow blogger, and ardent Tolkien enthusiast. His blog A Tolkienist’s Perspective is geared toward both beginner Tolkienites and gurus alike, and covers a wide range of Tolkien-related topics and discussions. From the the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, to the Silmarillion and Beowulf, to the movie adaptations, there is something here for every Tolkien fan. In fact, if you have been searching for the ultimate Tolkien blog on WordPress, you may now stop searching. You have it at your fingertips, my friend!
Emily is a dear friend and a natural storyteller, seeking to maintain a Christian perspective in her writing. Her blog Living In Heavens Shadow reflects this, as she covers everything from movie and book reviews, to quotes, to theology, to contemplations on art and writing. She is a master of vernacular and wizard of imagery–I hope you enjoy her blog as much as I have!
Still wash the waves
Back to me
And to the shore
Where hope was moored
Still boils the brine
‘Neath oaken keel
In torrential course
With sovereign force
Still churns the change
To and fro
‘Gainst anchor stern
And will well learned