Wednesday, January 19, 2011

a writer's resources

Hello again. :-) I’m glad to be back at PHC, back into the swing of things! I do apologize for missing last week’s post. In the bustle of extended travel and a late arrival on campus, it just didn’t happen. :-/

So far, we’ve discussed topics such as the Christian imagination, didacticism, writer’s block, etc. While we may touch again on some of these topics in the future, I think from now until the end of the contest we will focus more on highlighting helpful resources that are available to the Christian writer (indeed, any writer). One idea is to interview various creative writers from the PHC circle – students, alumni, possibly professors – and ascertain what resources best helped them nourish their creativity and hone their skill as writers. Interested? Please feel free to jump in and list your own favorite resources—the more, the merrier.

And now, our first interview!

Name: Mary Sue 
Class:, Junior. I think.
Major/Degree: LITERATURE!!!!
Favorite book: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers is usually in the top three. :D

What encouraged you to start writing fiction in the first place? 

    Books!! I love stories, and there are a lot of wonderful stories still waiting to be given a voice!  

What technical books or resources (essays, articles, lectures, journals, etc.) have most enabled you to improve your writing skills? 

    It would be an absolute betrayal if I didn't here mention the A Beka Language curriculum! I had the privilege of being homeschooled up through high school and my parents used straight A Beka for me. The rote memorization drove me batty sometimes, but I can now see how that has benefited me. Somehow, it sticks!! Knowing the ins and outs of grammar and composition before striking out on one's own as a writer helps the author to be versatile - to know what works and what doesn't.

        Second, there is the Institute for Excellence in Writing. For several years, my sister and I and a number of fellow homeschoolers watched and worked through Andrew Pudewa's writing course. Although one should be careful in using his writing forms for collegiate work, I found that his course really helped me develop a personal, individual style of writing. His teaching definitely taught me to vary my sentences!
    Thirdly, here at school my literature professor and advisor, Dr. Steven Hake, had us read several of his own essays in our Western Literature I course last year. His essays were really beneficial in teaching me about the ethos and logos of storywriting - the heart of the matter, so to speak.

Which works of literature have most encouraged you, inspired you, and/or taught you how to write?
    Ooooh, I like this question :). 

    Naturally, I begin with the Bible. From a strictly literary viewpoint the Bible has so many strengths. It combines the very best of fiction with an absolute reality for something I like to call "the luxury of absolutes." How amazing it is that the seeds and the truths and all that is beautiful in fiction, in poetry, in action, history, story, and CHARACTERS find their locus in the Bible! The solidity of such a foundation in what is grounded reality has given me something to write and to understand things from. For the longest time, I felt crippled when it came to experience in writing - what do I know of love and grief and strength and pain and courage and heartache? But in one of his essays Dr. Hake said something that really struck me. He said that our experience as writers is found at least partly in the Bible. As something we hold nearer and dearer to us than anything else, what more can one understand of love and sacrifice besides Christ's death and resurrection for us? Use that knowledge to draw from.

    Secondly: once upon a time - oh, about twelve years or so ago, a kindly librarian introduced me to Dorothy L. Sayers, the incomparable, the magnificent, the talented, the absolutely splendid Christian apologist and creator of my favorite aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, and his detective novelist wife Harriet. I fell in love with Lord Peter. Sayers had crafted a character whose stories are full of layers of complexity. Sayers was an incredibly literate woman who regularly referenced classical literature and poetry; had snippets and whole passages in Latin, Greek, and French; and knew her classics, music, and history very well. Now, whenever I revisit her stories I always find something new - whether an illuminating passage from Donne that I just read or a phrase here or there in Latin that I can only just translate. Add to that incredible wit and taste and you might be able to get a sense of what kind of woman she was. Or you could just start reading :). 

       And as any other good homeschooler, I must acknowledge my debt to my beloved Tolkien. Under duress, I will admit that yes, perhaps to the uninitiated, his descriptive passages are a bit of a slog. But the world he created and the characters he populated it with are truly beautiful. Tolkien taught me the impact of the bittersweet and the importance of virtue and revering knowledge and history, as in the fading of the Dunedain, the passing of Beleriand and the West, the loss of Boromir and Denethor, and the fading of the Elves. However, all that is set against the backdrop of the unbelieving joy of toppling Sauron and I think it reflects life so beautifully; the frailty of man tempered with the victories of Christ and that ultimate sacrifice of His that ends in such joy for us. When I think of Tolkien the characteristic that comes to mind is Beauty - a real goddess, not just the Greek ideal, who finds beauty in both the sweet and the bitter. Maybe Grace is the better word. But this is the quality I really desire to attain in my stories - the half-wistful, half-hoping attitude that finds the beauty in, and accepts, every circumstance it finds itself in.

    But I'm beginning to ramble, so I'll just stop with this: Soli Deo Gloria!

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