mysteries and death and steampunk creatures and British comedy // #JuneJulyReadTower

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I read fifteen books in June and July. Cue happiness!

It’s been harder to fit in the time to devour books ever since I started working my day job back in March. Do any of you Wrenlings have a similar struggle? Listen up, bookworms. I have the perfect solution: read. on. your. lunch. break. I don’t know what I’d do without that precious half hour to eagerly drink in all the doings of good-natured Wodehouse characters and try to guess Whodunits.

(if I didn’t have that half hour I’d probably be smashed to dust by my toppling TBR tower. at least, this way I can keep it from tipping too far. danger is still imminent. protect your young.)

#JuneJulyReadTower

Might have mentioned this before, but I FOUND MY FAVORITE SERIES OF THE YEAR WOOT (why, yes, all-caps are completely necessary for this announcement). The Jackaby books make my heart sing because:

— Doctor Who-esque Sherlock Holmes.

— an amazing guy-girl friendship without a drop of romantic feeling.

— fantastical creatures, witty humor, chill-creeping-over-my-bones scenes, and more awesome that I can’t mention because spoilers.

I read Dreamtreaders. I liked it. I want to own it. I am going to start the Sequel this weekend. (take note, Youngest Sister. be pleased, Youngest Sister).

I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to read Behemoth except for the fact that it’s far too ginormous (in size, not number of pages) to stuff in a bag and read at work during lunch. Now that I’ve finally finished it, I like it more than the first book and also less. Which doesn’t make sense, I am aware. In a nutshell: more things I enjoyed (stronger steampunk vibe, new and fun characters, etc) and more things I didn’t like (the fabricated creatures continue to get on my nerves + a few squeamish moments when it comes to the romance. Barking spiders, they’re basically children still. Hold your horses.)

If you were wondering if it’s possible for me to be even more in love with Wodehouse’s books… yes, yes it is. Indiscretions of Archie is a book I actually had to stop reading at lunches since it made me laugh too hard. Archie’s well-meaning, lovable, irrepressible self is the best. I want to adopt him and take him everywhere with me. On second thought, that might be a bad idea. *carefully places all precious belongings in a seaworthy chest and anchors it in the ocean*

Give me all the Whodunits, please and thank you. Honorable mentions: Towards Zero I read in one day at the beach and the suspense was killing. Also pleasing to my mystery-loving self. The Secret of Chimneys  is aadventurous, fascinating book that i want to read again. Definitely recommended.

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One word: phenomenal. 

I am reserving all my thoughts and excitement and love for this book for another blog post, methinks.

More Whodunits. All delicious. Wodehouse at his best again in The Mating Season. Bertie sneaking into Madeline’s house to retrieve that letter is a scene I will never weary of.

 And last, but not least my favorite Wodehouse read of July: Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. It has Aunt Dahlia which accounts for half of my affection for it already, but toss in Bertie making hilarious hash of situations, missing necklaces, imminent danger of being knocked out and/or engaged and you have the perfect read for a summer afternoon.

“Love is a delicate plant that needs constant tending and nurturing, and this cannot be done by snorting at the adored object like a gas explosion and calling her friends lice.”

Great Expectations was my most recent Dickens read and, although I didn’t like it as much as his other works, I’m glad I read it–if only for Pip and Herbert’s friendship, sweet Joe, and the eerie atmosphere of Miss Havisham. I learned a goodish amount about writing character arcs and that makes up for all the irritation I felt for Pip during the first half of the book. The ending leaves a warm glow in your bones.

Now I’m in the mood for a delightful re-read of David Copperfield. #alwaysloveDickens

Tell me, Wrenlings: what did you read last month and what books did you fall in love with? What books do I need to make my TBR tower still taller and more dangerous?

10 Fictional People I Would Take On Vacation // link-up with My Lady Bibliophile

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Confession: I am starting this post exactly the same way that Schuyler did. Mimicking the greats and all that. ^_^

Confession 2.0: apparently I haven’t blogged in a month recently? *cringe* Obviously it’s hard to find the time lately (work and editing eats all the hours like a starving mammoth), but another problem is I have so many topics I want to post about that I struggle narrowing down my ideas. Yes, this is a legit issue. But looking on the bright side, it means I’ve not neglected Curious Wren for lack of inspiration, right? ALWAYS BE POSITIVE FOLKS. It’s very Important. So is lemonade + reading books until your head hurts (me on Saturday).

That being said, I’m going to stop internally panicking over the fact that I’ve blogged so little of late (life happens) and instead let’s chat about fictional charries I’d absolutely love to take on a (sadly) imaginary vacation/holiday/roadtrip with me.

(I am linking up with Schuyler of My Lady Bibliophile for this because she is a darling and you should all definitely follow/give her free chocolate chip cookies at the cyberspace cafes.)

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The Cook

Judy Plum (Pat of Silver Bush). She would be such a warm, cozy sort of person to have along on a vacation, and the descriptions in the books of her cookery makes me hungry every time. And she’s overflowing with whimsical Irish charm and many, many tales. She could double as Storyteller too.

The Storyteller

Cress (Winter). Her imagination is wild, and I can see her coming up with all sorts of fascinating stories about everyone and every place we encounter. Plus, she’s a lovable darling and could hack into allllll the things if need be.

The Musician

I rather think Sir Eanrin (Tales of Goldstone Wood) could fit this spot nicely. Hilarious. Quick-witted. Snarky both as a cat and as a human. His skill as a musician knows no bounds and as long as he steers clear of any songs about Lady Gleamdren he would be a welcome addition. (although, even if he did sing about her, I’d want him along. *fangirling*)

The Adventurer

Now technically Dustfinger enjoys being home more than he enjoys trekking about the wild, but I love him dearly so he’s definitely coming with. Every vacation needs a fire-wielder, methinks. ^_^

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It’s also probably cheating to bring two adventurers *coughcough* HOWEVER. Penelope Lumley (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place) is clever and practical but still adorably imaginative, and I’d be seriously thrilled to meet her in person.

The Comedian

Archie (Indiscretions of Archie). Dear, darling, well-meaning, irrepressible Archie. Just throw Bertie Wooster into the mix and you’d have the perfect recipe for hilarious shenanigans.

The Counsellor

Gandalf the Grey. Need I say more? And if he’s off on an adventure involving dragons or rings or dragons and rings, we could always take Jeeves instead. Right ho?

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The Defender

Kurt (Halo: Ghosts of Onyx). Being a Spartan he’s the natural choice for a warrior to protect this odd motley of people. Kurt shall always be my favorite of the characters in Ghosts and with his friendly personality, warm heart, level-headed thinking, and impeccable fighting skills, anyone might want him as a fellow vacationer. And I could see him actually enjoying a holiday which is not per the usual for Spartans. Ever.

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because this GIF is the most epic

The Medical Help

Rita from Unwind. Short of someone breaking their neck, she knows how to deal with injuries, and she could play gorgeous piano music if we ever got tired of Bard Eanrin’s singing. Also, I’d kind of like her for a best friend, just sayin’. *hugs*

The Mechanic

Han Solo. For obvious reasons.

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The Pastor

Well, he’s not technically a Pastor. And he comes from a fantastical world. Oh, and he is a squirrel. Brother Fir happens to be the most lovable and wisest and whimsical squirrel I’ve read about. He could keep Gwin (Dustfinger’s marten) company and teach him the ways of the creatures in the Mistmantle Chronicles.

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So, let me see here. We have an Irish cook, a brilliant hacker, a faerie Bard, a fire-wielder, a governess, two British gentlemen (good eggs, both of them), one of the Istari, a hard-core Spartan, an Unwind girl, a mechanic/hot-shot pilot, and a squirrel.

This. would. be. epic. And possibly a bomb waiting to explode. But definitely amusing and a riot of fun. Ohhh, yes. Anyone care to join me? We have jammy dodgers and iced coffee.

Should you wish to join in Schuyler’s link-up (which I recommend because BOOKS + FUN) click here.

Now then, readers and writers and ice-cream cake makers: how do you think my crew would get along? Who would be clashing every time they saw each other and who would be best friends? Who would suggest robbing a bank just for kicks and who would be raiding the library (besides me)?

And of this odd gang, who would YOU want to hang out with?

How the Wren reads // a good gab about things only bookworms will understand  

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I have a blog post all about epic villains in mind, but as soon as I sit down to type it up I inevitably want to chat about books. What is with this, I ask? Why is the Annie-in-the-glass giving me trouble? (if you’ve read Emily of New Moon you’ll understand.)

I’m currently curled up in the coziest corner of our faintly vintage couch and I can feel a gentle breeze from the oscillating fan across the room. Just beyond the archway leading out of the living room I see my Older sister moving about the table as she snips threads, adjusts soft folds of fabric, and busies herself creating a masterpiece of a blouse. The First Younger sister occupies the corner of the couch opposite from me (she’s deep in the world of Magic for Marigold by Montgomery), and the Youngest sister washes dishes–the faint clatter of pots and pans a comfortable background as James Newton Howard’s soundtrack for Peter Pan plays. If I listen hard enough I can only just hear Mum in the room above me, talking on the phone with one of my brothers about strawberries and the dramatics of toddlers and life in general.

Possibly the atmosphere right now isn’t exactly suited to discussions involving death and mayhem and evil genius? Either way I feel the need to have a good bookish chat. Let’s do this, Wrenlings.

(questions borrowed from Schuyler who borrowed them from someone else. Such is life.)

The Curious Wren reading habits

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?

The corner of the couch I’m curled up in at the moment. Otherwise I will read on the Older sister’s bed… when she’s not home. If she is home I get special permission lest I’m sent flying out the window in righteous indignation for rumpling her blankets (she really is a darling older sister though. despite her reluctance to take pity on my predicament when I’m short of a good reading spot). 

We used to have a comfy Blue Chair that I would happily get lost in the depths of with a good book, but it aged à la the Velveteen Rabbit so we had to move it to the attic when I was about twelve.

It was a sad time for a young bookworm. 

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

Whatever happens to be near me. I try to use bookmarks or bits of silky ribbon as often as possible, but 10 to 1 I forget and end up having to hunt all over the book for my last spot. I do have a delightful habit of finishing Agatha Christie books in one sitting so that dispenses with the necessity of bookmarks altogether. BUT. I never, ever, EVER dog-ear. Not ever

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/ a certain amount of pages?

If I’m called away to help with supper/keep younglings from murdering each other/put away groceries, etc, I’ll stop the instant I’ve reached the end of my sentence. If I’m stopping just because I’m done reading for the moment, I wait until I’m at the end of a chapter. Unless I’m at work and my lunch break ends. Then it’s a mad scramble to fling my book back in the drawer and kick my brain back into busy bee mode. The struggle is real.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?

I devour lunch and books equally at work. At home everybody eats lunch separately and we all always end up reading anyway–my family is strong on the bookworm front (ink flows in our veins). Supper is interesting; if Dad is home we all chat over the meal; if Dad isn’t home we generally agree unanimously to read. It’s a delightful set-up and everybody is pleased. I remember one time the Youngest sister and I both wanted to read The Horse and His Boy during supper, so we just sat next to each other and shared it. Thankfully, we both read at about the same speed–which is very fast in case you were wondering. 

My favorite snack for reading is either apples (Jo March is basically the literary Me) or some other fruit like oranges. Also, chocolate. Because chocolate.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?

Not TV while reading–too much clamour and chaos. Music yes, as long as it isn’t streaming through earbuds, so basically as background noise. I can read and put a baby to sleep. I try not to read and cook because tragedy that way lies–I am infamous in the family for burning things because I got too involved with my book. One of my favorite things to do when I read is walk up and down the beach along the edge of waves where the sand is wet and firm–in a word: glorious.

6. One book at a time or several at once?

One of the middle shelves on our family bookcase is dedicated solely to our family reading stack. Usually there’s about eight books on the stack and half are ones I’m in the middle of. I like to have a main novel and then several on the side. I balance out heavier, deeper tomes with lighter fiction and cozy reads or sometimes a non-fiction book.

Currently I am reading: 

— Beastly Bones (Jackaby, #2).  A Wodehouse novel.  Dreamtreaders. Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. I just finished two Agatha Christie’s this week and I have at least six books that I am in the middle of that I’ve put on “hold” because there is only one Annie and she can not read three books simultaneously in one sitting. Alas. 

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

Everywhere. TAKE OVER THE WORLD, BOOKWORMS. 

Reading outdoors = fantastic. My favorite place to read is on the beach. Second favorite place: by a fireside with a snowstorm howling outside, Christmas music playing, and a mug of peppermint hot chocolate at my elbow. 

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Let’s put it this way, the only time I read out loud is if I’m reading to small humans. Then I do all the voices and accents and occasionally sound effects. Grand fun. 

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

Goodness, no. I like suspense and I don’t like guilt or spoilers.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

Sweet Ring of Sauron, why would anyone intentionally break a book’s spine? I know people do, but WHY. Don’t you feel slightly like a breaker-of-fine-china? *cringes at the thought*

11. Do you write in your books?

In rare moments, I will scribble a thought about the book along the margin in the faintest of pencil scratchings. I underline in non-fiction books and mark with tiny stars. And I black-out swearing with a fine-point pen. Unless it’s something like the Halo books in which case I hand it off to my brother or Mum and let them have at it. Family is so useful. ^_^

What about YOU, Wrenlings? What are some of your reading habits? Do any of mine mirror yours? And what’s one of the most unique places you’ve read in?

Monthly Recap — May // in which I roadtripped and read a deliciously high (deliciously good) tower of books

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Wrenlings!

let us pretend this recap is not scandalously late, m’kay?

A lot happened last month — which was glorious. I basically turned into a wandering Wren (which was also glorious), and I read stacks and stacks of splendid books, and made new friends and had good times. It was a curious jumble of busy-but-still-restful-and-fun. Love it when that happens.

Curious Wren bloggy Things

— I introduced you all to two characters who are polar opposites from my sci-fi/steampunk series Mingled (said series is currently On Hold). These darling charries give me warm fuzzies.

— of stardust and sea-spray  gave you all a “currently” glimpse of some of life’s happenings as I traveled with the family to our usual holiday spot. I quite love this post.

— I hosted an interview and giveaway with Suzannah Rowntree, the author of Pendragon’s Heir. I’m still head-over-heels with delight for getting to have her here on Curious Wren! Suzannah is just so sweet and talented and I feel honored much. ^_^

— Schuyler guest posts about How To Write Lovable Protagonists. Read it, Writer Humans. So good. 

all things bookish

Ever since I a) started my part-time job in March, and b) started taking writing lessons (more on that later) my TBR stack has been sadly neglected. Hence why nine books read in May feels like a tower to me. Probably the fact that I read 7 of them in a single week also has something to do with it–holidays are wonderful for reading non-stop. Highly recommended, bookworms. *wink*

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(ignore Steal Like An Artist — it’s barging in where it doesn’t belong)

Loved it: JACKABY. It absolutely deserves the all-caps. I want to sleep with this book under my pillow, I love it that much (a book under a pillow, tho? Pain, methinks?). Paper Crowns = every bit as delicious and fairytale-esque as I imagined. I want a blue cat. Also, paper-bending powers. Isle of Swords satisfied my secretly pirate-loving  heart and wouldn’t let me put it down for the entire day. That book owes me hours of my life, people. And I laughed over The Luck of the Bodkins until I couldn’t breathe. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read this book whilst a small human is napping/whilst you are eating. The result won’t be pretty.

Deserves a mention: Murder is Easy. Cleverly clever cleverness. I now know how to murder people. (I KID. I KID. I KID.)

May-Drop-Tome-Off-A-High-Cliff: Elephants Can Remember. Disturbingly disturbing disturbingness.

Gorgeous Cover(s): JACKABY. Paper Crowns. Jeeves in the Offing.

Favorite Charrie(s): JACKABY. All the main peeps in Paper Crowns–having officially fallen for Azrael, I am more than ready for Paper Hearts to be published. *starts hoarding pennies ahead of time*

Currently reading: while on holiday I started Dreamtreaders (be pleased, Youngest Sister!) and Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (this book. so good. O.O) and Dracula (never read this in the dark if you value your sleep and/or peace of mind) and Inkheart (*hugs Dustfinger and Meggie*).

Also, I accumulated a surprisingly large stack of books in one month so I do believe a photo-heavy Book Haul post is due, yes?

“The books in Mo and Meggie’s house were stacked under tables, on chairs, in the corners of the rooms. There where books in the kitchen and books in the lavatory. Books on the TV set and in the closet, small piles of books, tall piles of books, books thick and thin, books old and new. They welcomed Meggie down to breakfast with invitingly opened pages; they kept boredom at bay when the weather was bad. And sometimes you fall over them.”

— Inkheart

all things writish

Remember I mentioned that I was taking writing classes? My darling Mum and Dad signed me up for the six-week Writing With Grace course taught by Ann Swindell. Ann is an wise, amazing woman and I’ve learned so much from her–about our stewardship as writers, about voice and edits and dialogue, about owning our call as writers. Some of the lessons cracked me wide open and I sat at my laptop and cried. Every lesson was an encouragement. Now that the course is finished I’m re-watching the recordings and taking more detailed notes, etc. Most of my May writing was for that, and I’ve done some journal writing and vignette writing on the side.

But now that June’s begun I’m going to get back in the swing of things with editing I am Juliette. *is torn between cheering and screeching*

life glimpses

May in a nutshell: crammed with travels, books, people-time, and good things.

Older Sister and I roadtripped for a week and it. was. incredible. Traveling never grows old. Instead the more I do it, the more I want to do it and I feel like this is a vicious cycle, but I LOVE IT anyways. #worldtravelerhere

We stayed at Bed & Breakfasts and made good friends with the sweetest, dearest German couple (I fully intend to visit them someday) and with three lovely women (all related) that we chatted with about books and painting and other nice things (ladies, if you’re reading this, Older Sister and I chat about you often with fondness!).

The roadtrip also included: exploring many bookshops, coffee shops, yarn shops, and an antique store; tramping about quaint side-streets, chatting about everything under the sun, eating far too much Chick-Fil-A, singing along to musical scores, making new friends, falling more in love with the South and the slower pace of life, sitting by a bonfire and listening to our adopted uncle’s childhood stories, laughing uproariously with our adopted aunt and nearly choking on chocolate-covered strawberries, and so much more… I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful it was. Give me roadtrips always and forever, amen.

(all the photos except for the bookish ones are courtesy of darling Older sister)

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Family holiday: basically lots of reading + beach bonfires + rock-climbing + rock-hunting + hot chocolate drinking + memories + soaking in the beauty around me.

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(when you have allll the siblings and nieces, etc on a holiday together things can get delightfully crazy and chaotic.)

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all things bright

//clothes that smell of smoke from late-night bonfire-side chats… snuggling my nephew while he sleeps… books that keep you captivated by their pages for hours on end… laughter and singing and long, long games of Guess-What-I’m-Thinking-Of… the 2003 Peter Pan soundtrack… the peace and tranquility of being off-the-grid… red lipstick and frosted lemonade… hummingbirds and how you can watch them for ages without growing bored… Southern folks and southern parties and breakfasts and hospitality and charm… sweet, encouraging words about being a writer… adopted family that threatens to keep you forever… intellectual talks… coworkers who water your plants and miss you whilst you’re gone… the exhilaration of climbing breaker rocks… realizing that you, in fact, have seen very, very little of the world… reality checks and remembering that i am tiny and my tininess in this vast universe is still special and vital, and i laugh in the face of the wind and rain… hot grapefruit… lacy skirts… watching a storm come in… sister heart-to-hearts… inside jokes… the always-when-I-need-it reminder that my Savior never leaves me… stars on a clear, spring night… ice-cream in zoos and becoming friends with a giraffe… when a day is so perfect it makes you cry//

all things fandom

(as always, unabashed fangirling ahead)

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I finally,  finally, watched James Bond!

I’ve been longing to for the last several years, but since there’s just so much to fast-forward (womanizing spy much?) we’ve been putting it off. Well, the last evening of our roadtrip Older sister and I were staying at a B & B that actually had a TV (the others didn’t. which we loved) and she introduced me to Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Skyfall.

EXCUSE ME WHILST I HYPERVENTILATE AND RUN IN EXCITED CIRCLES.

Somehow I had no idea that these were British spies and so the instant I realized–which took awhile because I hear British accents so often–it just got that much more epic. I was taken aback in the best way possible by the depth of the story and the character arcs. James Bond is not just an action film by any means, folks. It makes you think, it makes you question, and it makes you appreciate the importance and value of life even more than you did before. I’ve since seen Spectre and I thought that the love story was beautifully done — so much so that I’m pondering a brief article on it. Maybe.

Also the antagonist in Skyfall  is easily the creepiest and most heartbreaking character I’ve encountered in awhile. I don’t know how I managed to escape having nightmares. 0.0

Oh, and I have a new favorite character. *flails*

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I will probably never stop squealing with excitement every time Q appears on scene. He’s the most precious gingersnap of brilliance and nerdiness.

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And does anyone else think he would make a stellar Doctor in Doctor Who?!!! O.O I want this to happen. Somone say something to somebody.

*aggressively listens to James Bond theme*

around cyberspace

— Paper Fury turns 5 years old which is, obviously, a Very Exciting Thing (EEEEP. CONGRATS CAIT. GO BUY PLUTO WHILE I TAKE OVER JUPITER). Also, Cait ever so graciously explains to non-bookworms (poor souls) how to translate the gibberish we bookworms say. It’s hilarious and spot-on.

— (For the female readers of Curious Wren) Carmel talks 4 Ways To Feel Like A New Woman.

— Here’s a thought-provoking article about why she doesn’t want a female James Bond by Mirriam Neal (I don’t want a female Bond either, please and thank you). Also by Mirri: a chat about psychopathy and spiritual enlightenment. You know. Writer stuff. + Should Christians Write Horror, Part 1 and Part 2.

— please, by all means, check out this site. I don’t agree with everything she says and am quite unthrilled whenever a swear word pops up, but despite all that there is much gold. And her articles are deliciously bite-sized.

looking ahead

— lots of editing this month. I shall start hoarding chocolate at once.

— my 20-something-ish birthday (Woot!)

— I have several blog articles planned I’m excited about! Specifically one talking about villains, and another discussing the importance of friendships in literature. I can’t wait to share them! Also, there might be another giveaway + interview, peeps!

— remember my post about Dead Shot and Laser? I had such, such fun with it, and even though I’m not planning to write Mingled for several years I really want to do the same questions with the rest of the cast. What do you all think?

— lots more reading. So, so many BOOKS. OH YES AND HURRAH. I have Inkspell and Storming and Red Rising and The Crown’s Game and much Wodehouse and Agatha Christie on my TBR tower. It’ll be great.

Alrighty then, Wrenlings! What are you reading currently? Have you any recs for me? GIVE ME THEM ALLLL. Please. And do tell: what are you looking forward to the most this month? And are you editing with me? *scatters chocolate chips to the masses*

(OH. Should I do more Beautiful People questions with the Mingled crew? Yea or nay?)

 

 

 

How To Write Lovable Protagonists — Guest Post by Schuyler McConkey

I have a special treat for you today, Wrenlings! My dear friend Schuyler has ever so sweetly agreed to guest post here on Curious Wren, and I am doing cartwheels of joy about it (but not actually because I would probably crack my skull and then I could no LONGER READ OH HORRIBLE THOUGHT).

Schuyler has some of the best main characters I’ve encountered amongst my various splendiferous Human Writer Friends/Acquaintances, which I am slightly (fiercely?) envious of in a Oh-Genius-Why-Do-I-Have-It-Not sort of way. Honestly, Roo is such a sweetheart I want her for a real-life buddy, and JAERYN. *momentary mad fangirling*

BUT. As you shall see she has a method to her madness. So, find a comfy toadstool to sit on and make sure to take notes! Cheerio, darlings.

Schuyler? You’re up.


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Protagonists are pretty important. Where would we be in the world of literature without colorful main characters like Frodo Baggins, Lizzy Bennet, and Ebenezer Scrooge?

Writing a loveable protagonist is fairly easy with your first book. You know them inside out, and generally for a longer time, then any other character you’ll write. You put all your hopes, dreams, and favorite things about literature into them. But writing subsequent characters can get tricky. If you’re published, you have to write them a little faster (ten years isn’t an ideal timeline after book one), and you have less time on the front end to get to know them. Some people have the knack of creating vivid, lovable characters (personally the characters are my favorite part of the process) while others struggle to connect with their characters, and feel like they come across stiff and unreal on the page. Whichever camp you fall in, I hope this exercise will help you learn how to create loveable protagonists, by drawing from protagonists in literature you already love.

Step #1: Make a List of Protagonists From Other Authors.

Take out a piece of paper or open up a Word document and think for a moment about your favorite protagonists in literature. Who are they? Write them down. Now think of the favorite protagonists you’ve written. Write a couple down. You won’t need a long list, but a fair handful from a variety of genres will really help in the following exercise.

From literature, I chose a handful of my favorite protagonists. I passionately love these people, and have read the books they’re in multiple times. I would write fanfiction about them. I would have them over for a party in two seconds flat. It would be incredibly, deeply special to actually get to meet them. (I know, they’re fictional. But STILL.) I chose Cadfael (The Pilgrim of Hate), Linda Strong (Her Father’s Daughter), Jane Stuart (Jane of Lantern Hill), Erroll Stone (A Cast of Stones), and Wilberforce (Amazing Grace). This group comes from a variety of ages, life conditions, countries, and genres.

Step #2 Evaluate What You Love About Them.

Now take your list and jot down what you especially love about these characters. It could be what they do, a profession they hold, a physical quirk they have, a relationship they have, or a personality streak. Here’s my list:

Cadfael: What I Love

Justice, independence, humanity, the way he mentors young people, sarcasm, friendship with Hugh, matter-of-fact perspective that’s open to the miraculous.

Linda Strong: What I Love

Sensible, loves to write, pursuing her dreams in spite of difficult relationships, loves her dad, great with guy friends.

Jane Stuart: What I Love

Loves her dad, loves keeping house, strong sense of imagination, stays true to who she is in harsh atmosphere, strong protective/caring instinct, loves life’s little pleasures.

Erroll Stone: What I Love

Acknowledges personal weaknesses without self-pity, sense of irony, fights hard to overcome flaws, struggles with people using him as a pawn.

Wilberforce: What I Love

Cares for poor and oppressed, does meaningful society work within his Christian worldview, works for years being defeated without giving up, great spiritual strength in spite of physical weakness, relies on friendships for ideas and strength.

Step #3 Pick Out Recurring Things You Love

See how some similar ideas travel through all those characters I like? Look at your list and see if you’re finding some recurring themes. Here are some of mine:

-big hardships to overcome (mostly relational)

-have to work hard to rise above, often sacrificing the deepest part of who they are

-colorful and close friendships with others in the book

-sense of sarcasm/humor

-sense of care and compassion for the oppressed

-dreamers who love the beautiful, everyday gifts and cling to the hope of better things

Your list might look a little different. That’s as it should be—we need a wide variety of protagonists and personalities in literature! But what you love best will become your brand of protagonist. The themes that resonate with you as you read should be the themes that carry through into your own protagonists.

If I talk about a Dickens protagonist, or a G.A. Henty hero, or a Gene Stratton Porter heroine, there are many to choose from, but all of them have the stamp of the original author. They often love the causes and act in the way their author could resonate with most deeply. Your protagonists will be the same. They’ll have different careers, time periods, ages, and relational status in each book—but at their core, they will be who you love most. Making a likeable protagonist doesn’t merely mean throwing together different personality traits and life circumstances from your last story. It means carefully weaving in what you love and along with those things.

Step #4 Evaluate The Protagonists You’ve Written

Now that we’ve looked at protagonists in literature, take a look at your stories, and choose a couple of protagonists you’ve written or want to write that you especially love. For the sake of this article, I’m going to choose Jaeryn Graham, a colorful Irish agent in my WW1 spy novel, and Roo, a sweet ballet teacher who lives in modern day New York. Very different people, right? Let’s see how they compare to my favorite protagonists in literature:

Jaeryn Graham has a fierce desire to be treated justly, and will risk anything to achieve the object he wants without worrying about the consequences. The justice theme in Jaeryn’s arc also appears in all the characters in the above list in different ways, and is one near and dear to my heart. He’s also kind to the oppressed, though sometimes he chooses to oppress them himself to achieve a necessary object. Realizing the importance of close friendships is a huge part of his story as well.

Roo couldn’t be more opposite. She cares deeply, is sweet, loves nothing more than taking deep joy in daily life with friends, and doesn’t need grand things to feel fulfilled. But like Jaeryn, she cares for the hurting, even though she’s unlike him every other way. Roo’s spiritual strength comes from stories I love like Wilberforce, she’s great with guy friends like Linda Strong, and she loves life’s little pleasures like Jane Stuart. Friendships are a very key theme for Roo. I didn’t consciously copy any of those things from the above characters. But because they resonate in what I read, they also resonate in what I write.

I’m about to write my favorite protagonist ever, and already some clear and classic Schuyler themes are emerging. A sense of passion for relieving oppression. An irreverent sense of humor. Some really cool friendships. Those are my core values. They make the writing process fun for me, and what I love can in turn be what someone else loves too.

Do you like your protagonists? Do they carry some of the themes you already like in books you’ve read? If you don’t like your protagonists, or feel they’re lacking something, is it because you haven’t given them the relationships and personality traits you love most?

One Extra Step to Bring Them to the Next Level

Once you have core themes for your protagonists worked out, there’s one more thing you can do that takes your character from good to great. That is simply to know them like a real person. I refer to characters as my fictional friends very intentionally. I have shared sorrow with them, shared work and laughter, shared the deepest parts of their soul. To maintain that same level in each story, as soon as I start a new story, that new protagonist is automatically moved into personal friend. I take them shopping with me and notice the foods and flavors they would like. I pick out their favorite restaurants as we’re driving, make them playlists on Spotify, take them to the concert or watch a movie and register their likes and dislikes. I imagine them in a very vivid way—allowing them to be deeply passionate about big and small life things that might get in the story and might not. The point is not to go story scouting all the time; the point is simply to get to know them on such a deep level that no matter what time period or profession they are actually in, I know exactly what they like. My sister often whispers to me at social functions, “What would so-and-so be doing right now?” And she and I can both tell what they’d be doing, because they have been our friends for so long.

In summary, the important parts of a lovable protagonist are real personality, real life, and real relationships. Those are most easy to write and most colorful on the page when you determine the relationships and personalities of already published protagonists that bring you alive. Put those resonating aspects into your own work, wherever each story takes you—and you’ll be giving the protagonists a piece of your own real, living heart to turn them from flat to 3D.

Schuyler McConkey is a novelist and Bright Lights ministry leader living with her parents and two siblings. She authors a blog, My Lady Bibliophile, where she writes book reviews and articles evaluating classic literature. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to Irish love songs, learning Gaelic, and reading too many Dickens novels.

Chats with Suzannah Rowntree // author interview and giveaway

Authorly Interviews! Aren’t they delightful? 

Suzannah Rowntree is a skilled writer and lovely woman, and I’ve been hoping to host her on Curious Wren for awhile now. Her most recent novel, Pendragon’s Heir, is an absolute favorite of mine, and so in addition to the interview we have a special treat for you all, my precious gingersnaps! 

Which is, A GIVEAWAY. Woot! Majorly excited over here. It’s opened internationally with a winner from Australia or the US receiving a tangible copy. If the winner is from any other country, they’ll receive a Kindle edition. Right ho?
On to the interview!

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Hello, Suzannah! I’m delighted to be interviewing you here on Curious Wren! To start off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Hobbies? Tea or coffee? Favorite cozy reads? Ideal writing day? Elves or Knights of the Round Table?

Hello, Annie! It’s such a pleasure to be here!

I don’t hobby much because WRITING IS THE AIR I BREATHE, but occasionally I tear myself away to do something else. I play the French Horn. I knit. I sew. I design covers for my books and fliers or invitations for friends and family. In the past I’ve also done fencing and swing dancing. I love making beautiful things.

Definitely tea: chai, oolong, rooibos or Russian caravan for preference. Mary Stewart is my guilty-pleasure cozy read, but I also love Wodehouse, Trollope, and the odd sentimental vintage romance like Florence L Barclay or Grace S Richmond. Ideal writing day is a quiet house and a long-awaited melodramatic scene. I’m going to pick the Knights, but that’s probably only because they’re my babies and I haven’t read Tolkien for a few years (the Epic LOTR re-read is scheduled for LATER THIS YEAR OH MY OH MYYYYYY).

When did you realize your love for Story? Who or what prompted you to pursue writing seriously?

I began writing my first story as a birthday present for my best friend when I was 12, and when it was done I looked at it, found it unsatisfactory, and began to write it again. I’ve never been able to shake the habit since; but I think the decisive moment came when I finally finished the third draft. I told myself, “That was exhausting, I’m never doing that again” – but ten minutes later I had opened a new Word document and was already typing. That was when I realised I had a serious problem!

My elder brother had already realised several years previously. “You should publish this!” he said after discovering and reading my battered exercise book first draft. I laughed him to scorn. Thankfully, he didn’t take no for an answer. (Although, no, that first story will never see the light).

What was the inspiration behind Pendragon’s Heir? Can you share with us a bit about your journey with this particular tale?

Pendragon’s Heir came to me about eleven years ago. I read Josephine Tey’s wonderful book The Daughter of Time and was suddenly seized with the desire to rehabilitate some other much-maligned character. The tragic love of Guinevere and Lancelot in the King Arthur legends had always frustrated me, and so I wrote the first draft of what would later become Pendragon’s Heir in just six days with the aim of doing for the character of Guinevere what Tey had done for Richard III. Over the following ten years, I worked on second and third drafts intermittently until just three years ago I came to the realisation that I was a good enough writer to finish and publish it. So I went all the way back to the beginning, started again, and you have read the final result.

The thing I learned writing and rewriting the same story almost exclusively for ten years was that stories, like fruitcake, get richer and richer with time. While good characterisation and plotting can help shorten the time you spend working on a story, it’s still a shame to rush a story. You have to let it marinate. You have to spend months or years thinking about it. Lasting art generally isn’t made in five odd minutes of the day.

Are you currently working on a book that you can share about spoiler-free? What genre(s) do you prefer? And do you have a favorite “mode” of writing, e.g. first person, past tense?

For the last twelve months or so since publishing Pendragon’s Heir I’ve been working almost fulltime on another novel, this one a sprawling epic based around the 200-year history of the Crusader States. It’s working–titled Outremer, and it looks at the Crusades from the perspective of the indigenous Syrian Christians and the native-born Frankish nobility. I grew up on western-centric tales like Ivanhoe and Winning His Spurs where everyone was always coming home from the Crusades, but in this story, home means right there in the East. That’s a perspective that has almost never been told, and it’s the one that fired up my imagination.

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Genre is a question that evaded me for years, since I love all sorts of genres and have tried everything from thrillers to space operas. OUTREMER was going to be straight historical fiction until I realised that a few fantasy elements would help me emphasise the themes that I wanted to bring out most. That was the moment I realised that I write historical fantasy.

Most of my stories are written in limited third-person, past tense, sometimes spanning several points of view, since I find it the most natural way to write the stories I want to tell. But I have this fairytale novella series where I get to mess around in a whoooole lot of different genres, and the one I’m working on now is in first-person.

Tell us a bit about your current favorite movies/TV shows/books. Why are they favorites?

The Lord of the Rings is my favourite book–or was the first eight times I read it, ten years ago. It is a work of unusual and incredible beauty, with titanic emotional power and sensitivity. Unlike most secondary-world fantasy, its worldbuilding is meticulous and entirely convincing–in fact, if you want the gold standard of speculative-fiction worldbuilding, this is it. It also draws heavily upon Tolkien’s firm Christian faith. It is the book equivalent of a medieval cathedral: immense, detailed, and absolutely gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Otherwise I have about a squillion other favourite books, but notable authors include Lewis, Buchan, Chesterton, Wodehouse, Spenser, Shakespeare, Austen, and Trollope.

Film seems to me a much lesser medium, and my favourites tend to come and go. I enjoy almost everything Christopher Nolan has ever done, especially the mental challenge and sheer actiony fun of Inception. Another favourite film is The Empire Strikes Back. I can take or leave pretty much all the other Star Wars movies, but this one is a masterpiece of brooding and ominous power culminating in a truly anguished ending. Who doesn’t love it when characters suffer?

If you could have luncheon with several authors of your choice (dead or alive), who would you choose?

GK Chesterton, because he’d be a hilarious conversationalist, and Jane Austen, because she’d be so incredibly down-to-earth. And Tolkien, so I could get his autograph.

What books have made you cry? If none, are there any that almost brought the tears to your eyes?

Pardon the fangirling, but The Lord of the Rings almost never fails to tear me up. I don’t usually cry in a book, but years ago Paul Gallico’s Jennie reduced me to a quivering, blubbering mess, and not in a good way.

What are four books you think everyone should read? Why?

Well, obviously, The Lord of the Rings, because you need to experience the splendour and nobility of great Christian art. Douglas Wilson and Douglas Jones’s Angels in the Architecture, so you can begin to appreciate the medieval vision that inspired it. Paradise Restored by David Chilton because the things I learned in that book still wake me up every morning with a smile on my face. Um, and Francis Nigel Lee’s Central Significance of Culture, because it presents a staggering vision for Christian art.

You will notice that three of these are non-fiction books that help set a tremendous cultural vision. This is not because I think fiction is unimportant. After all, I’ve dedicated my life to it. But after reading these books you ought to be able both to get more out of both the art you consume and to put more into the art you make.

What kinds of stories and characters delight you the most?

I love characters that are flawed in their goodness, or sympathetic in their villainy; the former because they can inspire you to overcome those sins, and the latter because they can cause you to see the villainy in your own heart. I love the quality of nobility that comes with the patient endurance of great suffering. And I cannot do without hope for the future. If a book has all these things, I’m sure to like it.

Share with us a few beautiful words/quotes that give you a happy, glowy feeling.

In no particular order:

The pallid cuckoo

Sent up in frail

Microtones

His tiny scale

 

On the cold air.

What joy I found

Mounting that tiny

Stair of sound.

– James McAuley, “Late Winter”

 

Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys

garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.

*

In Paradise they look no more awry;

and though they make anew, they make no lie.

Be sure they still will make, not being dead,

and poets shall have flames upon their head,

and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:

there each shall choose forever from the All.

– JRR Tolkien, “Mythopoeia”

Remember that all worlds draw to an end, and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.

– CS Lewis, “The Last Battle”

How does your Christian faith affect your purpose as a writer?

In so many ways that I do not know how I would be a writer without it. I make art to glorify God and tell anew His mighty works in history and salvation (Psalm 145:10-12). I make art reverently, begging the Holy Spirit for inspiration (Exodus 32:2-3) and submitting it to the counsel of those older and wiser than myself (Proverbs 15:22). I make art because I believe God gave us the raw materials in creation and that both the dominion mandate and the Great Commission means using those raw materials to construct a glorious Christian culture that will one day cover the earth (Daniel 2:44). I make art seriously, with every fibre of my being awake and straining for perfection, because I believe that the work of my hands will pass through a testing (1 Corinthians 3:11-15), and will, if found worthy, be brought into the New Jerusalem with the glory and honour of the nations (Revelation 21:24).

What would you say characterizes your writing style?

Stylistically, I like adapting myself to the needs of the story. Imitation comes naturally to me, and I use it to give the setting a more authentic flavour: so that in Pendragon’s Heir I mimicked the rhythm and diction of Thomas Malory, and in The Bells of Paradise that of Shakespeare. I have an unhealthy dependence upon semicolons, and a sly love of alliteration. I delight in distilling striking images into striking words. And I’m grateful to have learned the importance of being painfully sharp and specific with my words, which is the only way to paint a very vivid and unfamiliar setting, so clearly you can almost see and smell it.

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If you could have a good, long face-to-face talk with one of your characters, whom would you choose and why?

LOL, none of them! Why would I do that? I have enough trouble coming up with things for them to say to each other. XP

Do you have any unique writer quirks or strange habits?

Perhaps the most scandalous thing I can say is that I don’t! I am a very boring kind of writer. I don’t struggle with writer’s block, I don’t look at Pinterest for inspiration, I don’t find that my characters have a will of their own, and I don’t listen to music while I write. Maybe that’s because I’m also a musician, but I find it too distracting, and it uses up parts of my mind I need for hearing the rhythms and cadences of my words.

Sometimes I compose poetry in the shower?

As a writer, in those moments of discouragement when you feel like your writing deserves to be burned (and the ashes buried six feet under), how do you keep going forward?

Ohhh yep. I do feel this way from time to time. Usually, I remember that Pendragon’s Heir turned out OK, and that gives me a lot of confidence. I have to admit that sometimes I read someone else’s turkey and come away with the serene assurance that I can do way better. Most powerful of all, I go back to what inspired me to write the story, and get excited all over again by the wonderful potential it has to be great–if I’ll only keep going through the hard bits.

Few of us who’ve read Pendragon’s Heir have been able to resist the charm of the knight Perceval, and I know he’s special to you also. Might we be gifted a glimpse into your thought process and method–as it were–for coaxing his character into what you wanted it to be?

Haha! Good old Perceval. I’m actually really pleased everyone loves him as much as I do. The most important thing to say about him is that I based him off the original knight from the legends, who is already a terrific character–I think of him as the unsocialised homeschooler par excellence: someone with very few inhibitions and an utterly unashamed zest for life.

At the same time, I knew he was the love interest and I didn’t want to produce a character that had been voodoo-dolled all out of resemblance to actual real men, so while writing him I always tried to ask myself how my brothers would act in his circumstances. As I went on, I mixed in some other aspects of other young men I knew in real life: which actually gave me the courage to make him as chivalrous and romantic as he is (as well as the sense to make him arrogant and overconfident).

What have been a few of your most special moments and experiences as a published writer, and as a writer in general? I’d love to hear about them!

By far the thing I love the most is getting to spend all day, every day, doing a job I love better than anything else in the world. My writing doesn’t bring in much more than pocket money at the moment, true, so my parents supply my day-to-day needs. As a “stay-at-home” (ha!) daughter, I’m so very, very blessed to have like-minded parents who have as much of a vision for my writing as I do. In fact, my parents deserve so much of the credit for everything I have done: I owe them my education, my vision for Christian culture, and the time and tools I need to produce all these stories.

Other neat things. Getting to send a copy of Pendragon’s Heir to CS Lewis’s stepson Douglas Gresham. Being told by a well-known Inklings scholar that I had written “a masterpiece.” And reading people’s reviews of my book, with a singing heart because I am finally getting to share my stories with other people–and they are coming away refreshed, encouraged, and moved.

Why don’t we end with a fun question? What fictional worlds do you most wish to visit and why?

Hee, that is a fun question. Narnia, Perelandra, and Middle Earth are absolutely the top of my list. Narnia because I would have so much fun dancing with the dryads at the feasts or swashbuckling around in chainmail armour. And Perelandra because it sounds absolutely heavenly – an unfallen planet? Fruits that give you an transcendant experience of innocent pleasure? Yes please! And Middle Earth, because it would be wonderful to explore the Elvish cities.

(Aww, wasn’t that delightful, y’all? Suzannah is such a sweetheart and I will never recover from the gloriousness that is her books. *happy sigh* Don’t forget to enter the giveaway, humans! This is a book you don’t want to miss, I promise. ^_^)

giveaway 3

 

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When Suzannah Rowntree isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at Vintage Novels and is the author of fiction and non-fiction including Pendragon’s Heir, a retelling of Arthurian legend, and the Fairy Tales Retold novella series.

 

of stardust and sea-spray 

 
{via}

currently: roadtripping//headed to a special cottage/cabin for our family holiday//alllll of us siblings are going, plus the nieces and nephew//hence i am ALL THE EXCITEMENT WHAT HO.

thinking: about this article… i am ninety percent sure that one of my books fits in the psycho-horror thriller genre. it helps me develop and explore the particular redemptive theme better, methinks//allegories are a wonderful thing//i will never tire of people-watching//someday i’ll learn violin and play it on a mountaintop//life is hard, life is rough, but when i choose to revel in the little things, when i remember how much i am Loved, life is gloriously good//people really are just the same the world over–same hopes, same fears, same dreams, same pitfalls, same need for Jesus//one of these days i want to write a novel that puts vampires back in their proper place of horrific, non-glamorized beings (think Dracula). they’re more to be pitied and avoided, than swooned over//the workings of a human’s mind will never cease to fascinate me… we are so complex and yet we are nothing compared to the vastness and simultaneous simplicity of our Creator//the “duty of care” is heartbreaking//if i could choose a superpower i would love something fast, like flying//nutella is LIFE.

listening to: many songs that are road trip perfection, but at the moment this makes my heart glad. plus a goodish amount of murray gold, hans zimmer and various lyrical musicaks//nothing like singing along at the top of your lungs to Mary Poppins songs. ^_^

reading: Third Girl by agatha christie is on my lap//there’s a wodehouse book on the car dash//and a plethora of novels for this week in our book bag//in case you’re curious, here is the list:

A Tangled Web (montgomery). Inkheart. Dracula. Halo: Fall of Reach (eric nylund). Isle of Swords. Several wodehouse and agatha christie. Jackaby.

feeling: torn between elated, content, and please-just-let-me-sleep-before-i-lose-what-little-sanity-remains.

loving: triple chocolate chip cookies//my littlest niece’s squeals of delight//when the Older Sister communicates via walkie-talkie with our brother in his car ahead from us (“Honey Pot to Rubber Duck, do you read me?”)//birch trees like so many maiden dryads//the words stardust and sea-spray//owl charms on key-chains//

thankful for: being alive//a family that’s my support group + besties + confidantes + all-around epic humans//my hands–just sliced my thumb yesterday so, goodness, i am grateful that i usually have full use of my fingers//air-conditioner//unexpected intrusions of beauty//the warm, safe knowledge that my Saviour is always with me… no matter how far from home i am//spring-time.