Monday, August 19, 2013

Guest Post by Jill Domschot: "Yes, but What Does it Mean?"

Jill Domschot has published exactly one book, and I am already a total fan of hers. My review (5-stars, of course) called her novel Anna and the Dragon "more literary than fantasy, but...still fantasy true-and-true." What I fell in love with about her writing was the depth and quirkiness and thinky-ness.

And I happen to know it's chock-full of symbolism. Which is why I asked her here to post on that topic. I am happy to say she obliged. 

Without further ado, and mainly so I don't come of as some squealy fan-girl, here's Jill's guest post:

A classic example of a skeptical English student is Bruce McAllister, who, when he was sixteen, boldly set out to foil his English teacher by sending out questionnaires on symbolism to 150 well-known authors of his day (see this article). He did this because he believed authors, and not just scholars, should have an opportunity to provide answers to the nether world of fiction. He put forth four questions: Did the writer intentionally or unintentionally use symbolism? Did readers create symbols where none existed (and did this annoy the writer)? Did the writer believe that classic authors used symbolism in their books? Did the writer have anything else to elucidate on the subject?

The responses to his questionnaire were varied. Some authors, such as Jack Kerouac, denied using symbolism because symbolism is for “fiction” and he told “true life stories.” However, Kerouac was willing to admit that some authors of “fiction” intentionally place symbolic elements in their work, while others don't. Ray Bradbury was a symbolism denier of the wholesale variety, claiming that the intentional act of laying out symbolism destroys creativity, which is unsurprising. Bradbury loved to wear the artist cloak—in his case a magician's—in whose guise creative acts sprang unspoiled from his black hat. If the world knew how he created his art, the magic would be lost.

By contrast, Ayn Rand wasn't a denier. She admitted to both consciously and subconsciously using symbolism in her stories. This isn't surprising because Ayn Rand was, by ego focus, an intellectual. Intellectuals crave acknowledgement of their intellectual abilities. If nobody asks, they'll often tell, anyway. On the other hand, they're cagey about their methods. They want others to know they understand a subject or a process, but they don't want anybody to be quite at their level of expertise. So, while Ms. Rand was perfectly happy to give an affirmative answer to sixteen-year-old McAllister, she also added, “I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don't seem to understand.”

I'm not sure what Mr. McAllister expected in the way of replies. If he was attempting to prove to his teacher that most authors don't intentionally use the symbolism one learns from literature studies, he proved something else entirely—that authors are the worst people to ask such questions. I highlighted the authors above because their answers give away nothing but their own ego projections. One is too busy keeping it real; the next is too busy being creative to bother with such nonsense; the third is trying to maintain an aura of labyrinthine intellectuality.

At the same time, I'm going to make a shocking claim: all authors, even those who readily deny it, use symbolism, at the very least, on a subconscious level. Our subconscious minds are wired to respond to symbols. Many of us aren't aware of the way symbols affect us. Hence, many authors are unaware of the symbolism they employ. This general unawareness is why marketing campaigns are so successful. Once people are consciously aware of the way they're influenced by symbols, the advertising will cease to be effective. In a sense, aware authors are simply marketers of story. They might admit to using symbolism, as in the case of Ayn Rand, but what purpose does it serve them if they're too specific about their methods? They'll weaken their power to influence the reading audience.

Now that I've established how unreliable authors are when asked questions about—not just their methods—but their core motivations, I'll go ahead and do what my blog hostess, Kat, asked me to do in the first place. I'm going to give away some of the symbolism I used in my debut novel Anna and the Dragon. I take that back. I'm not going to give away “some.” I'll highlight one piece of symbolism I consciously used. After all, I'm an intellectual like Ayn Rand. I want the world to acknowledge my brilliance without understanding how I arrived at the dreamscape that creates my story.

When my protagonist, Anna, first meets the love interest, Franklin, he takes her to his apartment, where he falls asleep on a bed covered with an Indian tree-of-life spread. The tree-of-life is a simple, workable symbol for several reasons. First of all, it fits with the Portland environment of the nineties. Portland in the nineties has taken on the character of a hippy, free-wheeling place. Imagine for a moment walking into an upstairs, downtown apartment in a city covered by perpetual cloud cover, where all is green and dusky and gray outdoors—and set with brilliant, billowing Indian spreads indoors. That's the Portland I remember from my youth.

On a deeper level, almost every culture will instantly recognize the tree-of-life. It's what God barred Adam and Eve from in the garden of Eden. Its branches connects us to the heavens above and the underworld beneath. It is present in mythology. Even science uses it to denote common descent through evolution. In short, it's a powerful pictorial representation of physical and spiritual life (for an overview). This symbol, then, connects my story to a larger human reality. Ultimately, Anna and the Dragon is a story about characters choosing life. Franklin has a genetic heart defect, but Anna chooses life when she joins him on his bed—becomes his wife, has his child.

Even though authors will be cagey about their symbolism, naturally projecting their egos when asked to explain their methodology, I've chosen to be candid about this one small element to the point of … insecurity. I'm insecure at the moment, having just given away a secret. It's much easier, and just as enlightening, to sit in an English class taking apart the works of long-dead authors than it is to become self-aware about my own work. I hope the skeptical Bruce McAllister understands that writers are the worst people to ask now that he's no longer sixteen and, in fact, a writer of some merit himself.

Thank you, Jill!

And readers, if you didn't catch the links in the text up there, here's Jill's website and Anna and the Dragon on Amazon

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

St.Louis Trip, Part 2 (Or, Pictures with Captions to Make it Shorter)

This post is going to rely on the old adage: "A picture is worth 1,000 words." 
Less narration, more phtoto highlights of the second half of the St. Louis trip:

Walking on the train tracks by the river behind St. Charles Historic District.

Me and my little Beastie with downtown STL.

The Arch is REALLY tall.
No, we did NOT go up there.

Saw this all over downtown. I kept thinking, "Monsters, Inc!"

Oh, such creative marketing :P. The best "in the whole wide world."
*eye roll*
Did make for a good stop while....

....Jeff's cousin took Beastie 1 to the Wax Museum

Insert "Pretty Woman" theme song....

Even with my dairy allergy I totally indulged here.
150 people standing in the parking lot at like 10:00 at night can't be wrong.

At the zoo...which is the Beastie?

An inordinate fondness for beetles...

Oh, the implications when both Kat is me and Me is me....

Does this really need a caption?
My husband is the awesomest.

I'm kinda breaking my own rule here. THIS needs explaining. After the flat tire, we pulled into the nearest town. A tiny place (population under 14,000) called Jackson, MO.

This gas station was the cleanest I have EVER seen.

The bathrooms had granite counter tops and granite tile. The mirrors were all decorative. It was like going into the restroom at a nice restaurant. No joke. I know--why the big fuss? Well, a two-day drive up, a two-day drive back...lots of stops at fast food places and such to use the restroom...this was a little slice of heaven :P.


When I came out, I noticed a rack of books. NOT the typical Nickolas Sparks or whatever you'd expect to see in a gas station. Nope, books like these:

Yeah, YA spec-fic. So I bought these. (There were plenty others, too!)

Not that either of those titles ended up all that great, but it was like, wow, I'm in the middle of nowhere, in a clean gas station, with YA spec-fic books for sale at $3.99 I being punk'd?

And....that brings us to the second day driving, mostly through Alabama to avoid the state in which I shall never live. Lovely rolling hills and lots of green, and lots of heavy rain. But we are safely home, and days later I'm sorta recovered :).

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My A-ha Moment (Or, Realm Makers Part 1 1/2: My Thoughts on the Birth of a Genre)

I'll be honest, I really get annoyed when I read blog posts that are "inspired" by the blogger's pastor's sermon, or just an expansion on a devotion they read that morning. I'm not sure why, but it feels rather often that they're just rehashing someone else's thoughts.

The exception is when the blog post is about the blogger and a major a-ha moment that happened to them because of the sermon or devotional or whatever.

Which is what happened to me today.

Our Sunday school lesson this morning was about following God's will. Are you spiritually paranoid, meaning you worry about every little decision (red shirt or green today?) being "wrong"? Or are you spiritually ambivalent, meaning you can never discern God's will and have basically given up and gone your own way?

Well, my answer was that I'm spiritually frustrated--meaning I don't worry about the insignificant details, but I do want the general path of my life to follow God's will, and I'm not always sure what that is. I think a lot of us feel that way.

I spoke up and talked about this in light of my writing. I said that I do feel that writing is something God wants me to do, and I tend to get all worried that I'm not working on the right thing. Should I be writing more (even though I get a lot of comments about how prolific I am)? Should I be marketing more? Should I be giving up and spending more time with my family? Should I be giving up and pursuing something else?

I went on to say how I feel like my (lack of) success as a writer doesn't always seem like it's reinforcing the idea that this is what I ought to be doing, that this is what God wants me to do. Yes, I admit, I said that because I'm not on any best-seller lists (just my example) maybe it means I shouldn't be writing.

But then, stuff just started coming out--thoughts, translated into words, that I had never considered before.

A-ha moment.

I haven't had any big successes, but I've had lots and lots and lots of little ones. Those little ones really add up. Think about someone tracking an animal through the woods, finding little things like broken branches and half-footprints and such. I've gotten small awards and great reviews and these have all been strung along my journey, each saying, yes, you're going the right way, take the next step.

And then my thoughts, and words, went to Realm Makers. I went there looking forward to meeting all these people, fellow writers, that I've gotten to know online. THAT was the best part of the weekend and the thing I most looked forward too--and I'm so happy to say that everyone I met was even cooler and more wonderful than I'd hoped for :).

But what occurred to me today was that I got so much more from the conference. And no, I don't mean that I learned a lot (although I did!).

No, what hit me today, what made my head spin, is that writing is just a part of what God has in store for me. But the big picture is this:

I get to be part of the birth of a new genre. 

Christian Spec-fic is just being born right now. It's been developing in a hidden place where so many people aren't even aware. But it's coming out! And everything -- EVERYTHING -- that happened at Realm Makers felt like it had God's hand on it. God's blessing.

We ARE honoring Him. We are birthing a genre that God wants out there. I could feel it, all weekend, with every word said, every friendship strengthened, every round of applause.

As I said in my last post, Becky Minor's organizing skills blew me away. But you know what--she couldn't have failed if she'd tried. She stepped forward in obedience to God and took on this huge project, and while she is amazing, she had Him backing her every step of the way. And the volunteers, and the attendees....we were all a part of it, all of us stepping up and saying, yes, Lord, we're willing to do this for You. Not just willing--we're excited all the way down to our bones over it!

And. It. Was. Awesome. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

St. Louis Trip - First Half (Or, Driving, Trains, Driving, Realm Makers, and Caves)

It's Saturday night. I've been home from St. Louis for two whole days. My trip to the Realm Makers conference was more than just that--the whole fam tagged along and we spent extra days exploring the town. Two days driving up, two days at the con, three days in STL, and two days driving back. That's NINE days, for you math-challenged people.

And now two days of recovery :).

I did not, and do not, intend to give ya'll a minute-by-minute of the trip, but I have realized that even to hit the highlights I'm going to have to spread this over a few posts.

Let's start with the drive up: Hours getting through Florida and Georgia, much of that trying to get through Atlanta. Sorry Georgians, but the traffic in Atlanta alone is enough to make me never want to live in your state :P.

After FINALLY making it through the state I shall never live in, we stopped for the night in Chattanooga, TN, and stayed at the....wait for it....Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel. It was so cool:

This is the lobby.

Cool gardens, and yes, a train. 
We stayed in a regular room, but you can actually stay in train cars that have been converted to suites. Some of the cars are restaurants, too. 

What The Doctor would travel in if he'd been a Tennessean.

We arrived in St. Louis Thursday night and hit a cool little historic district called St.Charles and had dinner.

I had to take a picture of this on our way to dinner--the reason should be obvious ;).
The next day was the actual Realm Makers conference. 

Had to be there bright and early for check-in. The first person I laid eyes on was Robynn Tolbert. She is as cool, and obsessed with food, in person as she is online.

Yes, Robynn is the blurry one.
There is no way I can list out everyone I met. Plus, being that I'm late in the game as far as posting, there are summaries of everything all over online. Suffice it to say there was much learning and much hugging and many tired bodies dragging themselves back to their rooms both nights. I had a great time listening to the speakers, and participating on the panels--my topics were "science and magic" and "Christian horror." 

The horror panel with me, Randy Streu, and N. Paul Williams.
I also got to give advice to some aspiring writers. The days were long, but I was so, so sad when it was over!

BTW--I have a WHOLE ALBUM of pictures on FB. Go, check 'em out, then come back for the rest of the trip.

I will however, at least show you one River Song costume, since I made such a big deal about it here before.

Yes, that is my hair, and all I did was blow-dry it.
And I have to say that I was BLOWN AWAY by the amazing organizing skills of Becky Minor, whose brainchild this whole thing was. 

So, End of Day Two in St. Louis. Realm Makers is over, and it's time for the fam to do stuff on our own. 

Of course we went to Meramec Caverns, which is about an hour out of town. Beautiful!

I wore the Realm Makers t-shirt that I won:

Ugh, what a bad angle. I swear I'm not pregnant :P.
The day ended with dinner at a barbecue place not really worth mentioning. I know--how anti-climactic of me!

But that brings us halfway through the trip, so I'll stop here and finish it up next time...