brittni in ink

a writer's blog

January/ February Books

Quick reviews of recent reads!

Insurrection by Peter Rollins

This book is rad if you’ve ever felt disillusioned about “happy Christianity.” Some challenging criticisms of institutional structures and how we think about God. Rollins uses anecdotes that border on folk tales, examples from his own life and the bible, and psychology to comment on how real faith does not necessarily make us happier people. Alternatively academic and humourous, with a casual yet compelling tone throughout. A few years old, but still relevant.

The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This book is pure fun. Allan, a man who hates talking about politics, whimsically affects world politics through the power of friendship – and a nip of the hard stuff. A rewarding book for history buffs and casual readers alike, with an understated humour that reflects on the absurdity of prescribed society. Sometimes cynical, but still tells a story in which humanity is good, if at times ridiculous.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Atwood retells The Tempest. In this modern day fictionalization, Mr. Duke runs a Shakespeare program for Fletcher Correctional while he plans his revenge on those who removed him from power years ago. It’s a brilliant piece of fiction, but may be more enjoyable for Shakespeare-savvy readers. The tension leading up to the re-enactment of the play (a play within a play, so to speak) is palatable and delivers a Shakespeare experience like no other. As a theatre enthusiast and Atwood fan, I applaud this well-crafted project.

lonely writing island of solitude

There’s a Margaret Atwood quote which says writing is alone yet never lonely. Some say that writing is a way to combat loneliness. Others say that being a recluse is one of the defining attributes of a “true” writer. But there’s something missing from these approaches, something that I feel pretty deeply whenever I sit down to write.

Many of my POV characters over the years have been lonely. They’re disconnected from their surroundings, they’re waiting for people to accept them, somewhere to fit in. A lot of times, these alienated protagonists are a bit fuzzy around the edges, undefined.  We get a sense of anesthesia from them.

I wonder if we sometimes avoid the act of writing because we know there is a void waiting for us. That there are thoughts and anxieties about our existence that we can’t face any other way – maybe writing is a way into loneliness. Maybe it’s a cathartic experience. We commune with our alone-ness and then re-enter the world more aware of how our interactions shape us.

I was reading a book (that came in the mail!) by Peter Rollins that touched on loneliness as a kind of “crucifixion experience.” That by losing everything  – the social structures that determine our behavior, the comforting image of God as a literal deus ex machina, even the image we have of ourselves – we can live fully acknowledging that loneliness and not feeling guilty about it. It doesn’t mean we are depressed; rather, it means we can live more fully and honestly.

Writing is alone. Writing is lonely. Writing brings us into our loneliness and we can learn a lot through coming out on the other side of that. Not guilty about the loneliness. Not afraid of it. Maybe more aware of our small existence. Maybe a touch more compassionate for loneliness we see in others.

first drafts are meant to be written on

It’s 40 pages high. The printer ink is sharp against the new paper. There’s a title, a character list. It’s pristine, and I’m fooling myself, but it looks finished.

Sometimes, I start out writing scenes by hand. Whatever paper happens to be around, even if it’s only a sticky note. I then type out what I’ve written, editing as I go. Once it’s on-screen, I move things around, read it out loud. The confident glow behind the words assures me that the play’s at least passable.

But once printed, I’m faced with another difficult challenge. There are going to be things wrong with it. I HAVE to write over some things. Words need to be crossed out. Some sections need entire paragraphs added or cut out. Even though the script LOOKS like a polished piece of work, it’s not even close.

So, I take my newly sharpened pencil, and lightly underline a section. The first mark. It gets easier after that. I mean, that’s what first drafts are for, right? To be written on.

creative when sick

Being creative when you’re sick is really hard.

This past week was pretty dismal around our house. Lots of liquids and liquid cold and sinus pills were consumed. Lots of video games were played. I finished Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thein.

But rarely did I have the energy to actually write (this blog suffered too). Sleep is so much more attractive when your nose is running and you feel like shit. So, here’s to a healthier next week, and more energy to write!

books in the mail!

This is a pretty new thing for me, opening my mailbox and finding a book inside.

Once, I had to order a book of poetry from Amazon for a mid-20th century British lit course. Our prof assured us the book would be online for much less than it would be in the university bookstore. Although he was right (I think it was less than $2 before shipping), I still felt anxious about the book actually showing up. I still remember how relieved I was when it arrived. I still have that book to this day.

This year, I ordered my second book from an online supplier. I had looked and looked for this book at the library, at Chapters – but, for some reason, this author was a tough guy to find. When I asked a friend of mine if she knew where I could borrow a copy, she directed me to abebooks.com. A week later, the book I couldn’t find anywhere else showed up in my mailbox.

Now, I know it’s silly and kind of weird that I haven’t made better use of the internet to order books. My husband orders things from Amazon regularly and I have many friends who buy books online. Maybe I’m just used to books as physical objects that I can take down from a bookshelf and flip through, so there’s a disconnect when I see them as images and descriptions on a screen. Maybe I just prefer to happen upon books at secondhand stores. But this second book arriving has opened up so many possibilities, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be ordering more books online in the future.

As for what the book in the mailbox was, you’ll have to wait until my Reading for February post for the unveiling 🙂

 

novel-ish

I’ve found a few publishers looking for science fiction novels. Problem is, I don’t have a finished manuscript. I have many beginnings. But second problem, I’ve left them so long, it’s difficult to get back into them.

The past couple of days, I’ve been working on a new novel, but already I’m not sure where to take it. I’m tempted to make it another failed attempt, a self-imposed rejection. At the same time, I want to prove to myself I can write a whole novel.

I’m going to try and stick with it. Writing itself is never a waste, so regardless of how it turns out, it’ll be a good thing.

weird creatures

If you’re ever stuck for animals to include in your fantasy novel, watch some nature documentaries. There are some truly weird creatures in our world.  Seriously, who would’ve thought of a cave-dwelling glow worm that makes hanging silken threads to catch prey and then lights up its tail to attract them? Or how about the hilariously elaborate mating dances of rainforest birds? Even watching shows that simulate how dinosaurs may have interacted provides insight into animal behaviour.

A lot of times when we try to make up mythical or post-apocalyptic creatures, we feel trapped by a sense of having to make them seem plausible. We can’t be too extravagant or weird because the reader won’t be able to suspend their disbelief. But when we look in the real world, we find things that seem entirely implausible. Interesting to note, however, is how each animal is weird for a purpose, that their quirks have developed to help them survive in a particular environment.

So when we make up creatures for our stories, they should reflect the particular world that we’ve created for them. Their quirks should not only help them to survive, but should fit the purpose of the narrative. And how exciting that we can make them as weird and as wonderful as we can imagine.