In Her Privy Chambers: Part I

Last year, I had to put together my undergrad thesis. For this year-long project, I had to do a heavy amount of research as well as a creative piece that furthered my discussion. I focused on historical fiction and characterization, using Irish historical figure, Grace O’Malley as a case study. The following is the first half of my creative piece. I thought you might want some fiction to break up the depression of summer ending! Enjoy!

Clew Bay

I waited until I could see the last of his men crest over the hill and out of sight, the morning fog enveloping them hopefully not to release them for many hours.
“Muireann, now! They’re over the ridge,” I cried, almost giddy at the thought of my plan. If Richard Bourke thought I had been put in my place, he had another thing coming.
We had argued most of the night about whether or not I should sail to England. Tibbot had been held captive under Lord Bingham for a fortnight now and that arse upon the throne of England had another thing coming if she thought she was going to take hold of my clan and my son. Bingham, her watch dog in Galway, had been nothing but a pricker in my corset from the day he set foot on my island and I figured if I went over his head to the bitch herself, I might just be able to accomplish something.
Not that Richard agreed with me.
“I don’t think you can accomplish much short of your own beheading. That’s all I’m saying,” he had said the night before.
“And what am I accomplishing here? Our son’s death instead?” I continued pacing back and forth in front of the large fireplace. He sat across the chamber in the four poster bed, trying to sleep. My barefeet made small slaps as I walked back and forth on the hearth-warmed stones.
“He’s bait, Grania. It’s your neck Bingham wants, not his.”
“He’s your son and heir!” I groan, looking to the ceiling for divine assistance. I was on my own against Richard an iarainn – the man of iron.
“And as such, he is perfectly capable to taking care of himself.”
“He’s seventeen! He’s hardly been captain of his own galley for a year.”
“And by sailing into their hands, what do you expect to do?” He sat up at last, finally putting in an effort to reason with me.
“I plan to get my boy back.”
“You’re planning your own murder!” he cried.
“As if they would try to take me with all of our men there,” I laughed.
“As if you would not send your men away if they threatened Tibbot. I’m telling you, it’s a trap.”
I stopped mid-pace, stamping my foot on the stone floor. “And so we must outthink their trap. Blast, Richard, it’s not as hard as you think. We take every ship we have and we sail it up the bloody Thames!”
“Ha!” his bark of laughter caused me to raise my right eyebrow. “Granuaile, the day you make England yield to you is the day Iyield to you too.”
I crossed my arms in front of my chest. Standing directly in front of the fireplace, my shadow covered the headboard as well as the wall behind the bed. Even Richard was half covered in darkness. The flames made the shadows around the tapestries flicker and my own shadow seem to tremble with the frustration lit inside me.
“You’re still leading the hunt tomorrow?” I asked.
“Aye.” He nodded, settling back down into the bed. Suddenly he straightened. “You’re not leaving this house, Grania. I’ll not have you sailing to England without me.”
“So you’ll go with me,” I tried.
He stuck me with a hard look. Even covered in my shadow, I could tell the answer coming from his blue eyes.
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes and made my way to the bed.
I walked with the symbols of surrender – slunched shoulders and grimace.
Climbing under the silk sheets and woolen blankets, I realized I couldn’t sleep without attempting at the last word.
“You know we’re going to England.”
He turned in bed, his back to me. “Good night, Grania.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I began to play the plan through my mind.
I beat Muireann to the narrow stone steps that led down to the third story of the hold. My handmaid was slow on the uneven steps, but I was almost as used to the castle as I was my own ship. We both rushed around the great room beneath my chamber
“Have Evin bring up a boulder to put over the privy,” I commanded. “They may try to climb up during low tide.”
“Granuaile, really.” Muireann clucked her tongue.
“Really. This is going to work, I tell you.”
She looked at me uneasy before going down the stairs to fetch Evin, the steward. To no doubt tell him I had gone mad as well. She generated half the gossip around Clew Bay, but was loyal when it mattered. She would shake her head at me, but she would follow my orders more fervently than they most steadfast of my sailors. Nevertheless, I would bet the mainsail off my galley she was alerting everyone in the hold I was being overcome by lunacy.
I rolled my eyes at the thought, double checking all the shutters were securely latched before going down to the second story to do the same. It was unlikely anyone would be able to fit through the narrow windows of the castle, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I had seen some of the younger pages make crafty escapes when they needed to. This plan was going to succeed and as such, it couldn’t be sloppy.
When I reached the ground floor, the rest of the servants had caught on to the plan. From the doorway, I could see Evin urging along two foot soldiers with a rock large enough to cover the privy hole. The windows were shut and secured and many had begun to light the torches to provide the light they needed to work by.
With Evin, the boys, and the rock headed to the third floor, the front door was shut and the deadbolt locked in place. I then had everyone corralled up to the great hall.
The great hall seemed small all shut up and quiet with the sounds of Clew Bay muffled behind the windows. It wasn’t preferable, but it was necessary. And we had plenty of supplies in the store should Richard try to starve us out. ‘Course he only brought supplies for an overnight, should they need them. I’d last longer than he.
“You all know Richard and I have been at odds on whether we should go to England to negotiate Tibbot’s return,” I began. “I would like to inform you all that, should we all be successful, we shall be off to England in a fortnight.”
A few of the servants cheered, some of the men who had stayed behind snickered.
I began to pace before them as I explained my plan.
“And should any of you attempt to unlatch the door or open a window, so help me –” I fixed the room with a hard stare. “There will be naught but torment and embarrassment at my hand. You got that?” I asked.
A few more rounds of laughter went up as I gave a wink. One of the men raised his fist with a shout.
“Long live Grainne Ui Maille!”
The entire room cried in echo, “long live Grainne Ui Maille!”
The call bounced off the stone walls and the timber floor and I hoped to heaven it echoed all the way to England.
As dusk fell, I could hear him and his men approaching.
He had to notice something was afoot, with three floors of windows plugged and not an outer torch lit. Still he went all the way to the door, banging on it like a fool. I could hear it all from our chamber. I had left my windows all open, but I didn’t dare stick my head out until absolutely necessary.
The muffled curses of his men began to ring out from below. I could pick out Richard’s amongst the rest.
“Damn woman!” he shouted.
I tried to suppress my smile, but it wasn’t possible.
“Granuaile!” he bellowed. His cry was punctuated by a kick at the door which echoed through the castle.
I went up the stairway in the corner of the chamber which led to the upper ramparts.
Upon seeing me, the cries of the men became more insistent. I stood at the east wall, hips slanted and arms crossed as I stood directly above Richard. Below me, I could just make out his features, squinting against the twilight to see me.
“And what, pray tell, do you think this is accomplishing?” he shouted.
“Richard Bourke, I dismiss you!” I shouted down the words of divorce.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” His mumbles echoed against the stone walls and up to me. “All because I won’t take you to England?”
“Aye,” I shouted down.
“And you think divorcing me is going to make me take you to see the queen? I love you, Grania, but this,” he gestured to the castle “isn’t the sort of thing that is going to inspire me to prove it.”
“No, I don’t think divorcing you will get you to come to England with me. I’m going to England with or without you. I’ve dismissed you to gain your castle.”
It was too dark to really see his face, but I’m fairly certain his eyes expanded to the size of tea cups.
“You heard me fine,” I laughed.
“You cannot be serious.”
“Of course I’m serious. You left your hold unprotected and I have fortified it,” I bragged, thinking about the huge rock covering the privy. “You said the day England yielded to me was the same day you would yield. You have yielded your castle by leaving and I have dismissed you,” I spread my arms in demonstration. “You no longer hold any claim over Rockfleet castle.”
He groaned loudly. “Really, Grania, this is asinine.”
I leaned over the rampart. “So you yield?”
Some of the men snickered from below. I could feel Richard’s eyes boring into me from below, even though darkness had covered both of us by now.
“Oh, come on, m’lord,” one of his men shouted. “Take the woman to England.”
Silence settled over the crowed and my heart tensed and unclenched with each beat.
“Fine,” he growled at last. I couldn’t help but smile in victory. “But the castle is mine.”
Part II: London
Greenwich Palace stretched out before us, long and narrow like a cathedral. Its stone work was tan and seemed to shine in the rain that was beginning to die off. I stared up at the rounded towers, feeling intimidation I hadn’t known since I was a child. Standing on the deck of my old galley, surrounded by loyal men, I felt like a little girl, striving to earn the respect of her father’s sailors. Only this time, I was a grown woman, hoping to gain the respect of the most powerful woman in the world.
“Everything is well, Granuaile.” Richard came up behind me, giving me a conciliatory squeeze on my shoulder. “You are her equal, if not her better. Don’t let grandeur dissuade your purpose.” I looked up at him. He smiled reassuringly at my side.  “You areIreland. I yielded to you. Now it’s England’s turn.”
“You don’t actually think that’s what’s going to happen.”
“I think you’re stubborn enough to do what needs to be done.”
“Richard, this is the queen. Why did I think—”
“Why do you think you’ve accomplished any of this?”
“Because I sailed here.”
“No, I mean any of this. I mean why do you know how to sail this ship? Why do these men respect you? Why where you not only your mother’s heir, but your father’s as well? Why is your name the one feared over my own?”
I looked to the deck, unable to meet his gaze. “Because I wanted it that way,” I mumbled.
“That’s right, because you’re stubborn.” He nodded.
I gave him a hard look, smirk pulling at the edges of my lips.
“You’re in the right here. Bingham is a cream-faced loon. You need only give her your plea and she’ll understand. You’ve already sent her letters. She’s been sympathetic thus far.”
After I had taken Rockfleet, Richard and I had come to an agreement. I could have the castle as long as I didn’t just sail off to London. I had drafted a letter to Elizabeth and the court sent a series of questions. She seemed at least peaked by my story. Bingham had told her all sorts of lies, no doubt. I ate English children for desert and the like. As long as the queen’s ear was toward me, Tibbot’s neck was safe. Still, standing before one of her many palaces, I couldn’t help but feel daunted.
I pulled my cape tighter around me, trying to pretend the rainy air was chilling me. Not that I was trembling with nerves.
“She’s the bloody queen of England,” I grumped. “I’m just a chieftain’s wife.”
“When have you ever been just a chieftain’s wife?  Good Lord. If anyone is the chieftain’s wife it’s me. You’ve fought long and hard to be a captain and ruler. You were never justa chieftain’s wife. You’re not here on behalf of my clan. You’re here on behalf of your own.”
“I am not nearly the woman in there. She has armies at her command and money to burn.”
I looked up at him, his gray gaze heavy with sincerity. “Finery is not the mark of a ruler. It’s what they will do for their land.” He paused and then smiled. “Besides, she’s takin’ your money to pay for all of this.” He gestured at the palace before us.
“Long boats ready, M’lady!” Gannon, one of the deckhands called to us.
“Ready now?” Richard asked me.

I looked up at him and nodded, renewed by his speech. “Bess has got something coming if she thinks I’m given up my clan so easily.”

Proof-Reading: A Public Apology

So Monday’s post was… alright.

I wrote it and felt pretty good about it. At least the content. And then Monday at noon rolled around and I realized I forgot to proof-read.

“It’ll be fine,” I thought.

Lies. It was not fine. Between redundancy, some jumbled thoughts, and, frankly, some crappy craft, I find myself embarrassed when I read it back later that night. That is not the kind of quality I want to bring to you.

So after thinking over it, I would first like to apologize, and then talk about the modern miracle that is proof-reading! So folks, I’m sorry I gave you some unclean reading. (Which will be fixed right after I complete AND proof-read this post.)

Now, proof-reading:

It’s not brain science, but it’s not something I get excited to do. Just once, I want what I write to be perfect. No questions, no qualms. Just perfect. But it doesn’t work that way.

But I’m lazy. I wrote the gosh-darn thing! Why do I want to read it? Well, I thought over it and this is what I came up with.

I firmly believe that art is a way to serve my neighbor. If my work makes you happy, thoughtful, or inspired, I feel it has served it’s purpose. I have been able to provide you with a small bit of art for your journey. It is a gift.

So why would I give you a crappy gift? Why would I offer you something for your pleasure that was broken or incomplete? Art is a gift from the artist to their neighbor. It is an act of love that is supposed to echo the artist’s Creator through their created. I want that echo to be worthy, not only of my creator, but also of you.

Proof-reading is an act of love for our readers. It’s not glamorous or flashy, but it makes a huge difference! (And are true, everyday acts of love really that glamorous or flashy?… perhaps this will be a topic for later!) It is an act of service to those who will take the time to sit down and read our work.

I want this blog to be a small piece of my art for you to enjoy. And I want that art to be crafted as an act of love. As such, I want to proof-read for you. I don’t want to lazily throw this together. This is a platform where I get to serve you on a weekly basis and I want to do so well.

So again, I am sorry for the quality of yesterday’s post.

Also, a lot of these thoughts are not my own, but are influenced by a few art philosophers. These thoughts in particular are inspired by Calvin Seerveld’s, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves. (I want to do a series on this book in the future, so keep an eye out.)

Thank you for reading! I really appreciate the support I have received from all of you.

Keep enjoying the journey!

It Takes a Village…

Sorry for the delay in this post, folks! I was spending a wonderful weekend with my writer’s group. So I say I’m sorry, but really I’m not because instead of blog stuff, I got to write lots and lots of fiction that I’m feeling really good about. There is something energizing that comes from spending time with other creative-types and investing in one another’s work. So this is going up a few hours late, but it is here like I promised.

Writing is rough stuff. Seriously! It’s hard making up stuff. It’s emotionally draining, mentally strenuous, and sociallyWell, writing in and of itself is not very social… Except it is. No, I can’t carry on a conversation while I write–at least not in a way in which I can do both well–but there is definitely a social side to it.

I have had the privileged of being a part of two groups of writers who have blessed my work in more ways than imaginable. They are my sounding board and one of the biggest sources of encouragement I have for my work. They hold me accountable and provide the push that I need all too often.

The Inklyrks are a group I meet with on a weekly basis during the school year, and then occasionally during the summer. (And yes, that is pronounced “ink lickers.” It is a long story that I’m not really even sure I can tell accurately. It was one of those names that just sort of happened.) We’re a mix high school/college age folk that span many genres from fiction to poetry to songwriting. We focus more on encouragement and group discussion than critique.

The original Inklykrs. Keep these faces in your mind.
You’ll see them again someday as they promote bestsellers!

There was this magical moment shortly after the inception of the group when we had at last read a sample of everyone’s writing and had begun to get to know each other that we began to notice something. This group was magic. It was a wonderful balance of artists and thinkers that had a passion for the written word as well as for one another. The group dynamic was as pretty well close to perfect as one could get.

You see, it takes a village to not only raise a child, but to also write a book. I don’t know what sort of state my novel would be in if it wasn’t for the encouragement of my wonderful writing community. They have held my hand during writer’s block and a hard-drive crash. They have pished at the discouraging advice an editor had given me. They have been cheering me and my characters on from day one and I am so grateful for everyone of them.

There have been so many hours spent sitting in front of the fire, discussing literature, and the challenges of writing. We get excited about books and music and tea. We laugh more than we ought and love every minute of it. These people have become my brothers and sisters through art and each of them is irreplaceable.

In every writing endeavor, there comes a moment when you can no longer cling to your own sanity–mainly because it is no longer there. It is in that moment when you need community the most. Being part of a writer’s group gives you those people to cry out to. They can provide a second pair of eyes, a pat on the back, or maybe a good kick int he pants. As artists, we all need those people that will hold us accountable to the creative task we have been charged with. Writing especially is something we need community for. We need to know as we write in our tortured silence that there are people supporting us on the outside. Sometimes, we just need a good hug when a character dies, or we’ve bled dry on a very personal poem.

If you are just starting out in the writing game or are in it but without community, I give you one resounding piece of advice: FIND YOUR PEOPLE!!!! Attend book groups at your local library, go to a writing conference, look for already existing groups in your area (I don’t advise that for critique groups, but I’ll delve into that at a later date). Get out there and meet some writers! Once you find those people that speak your language, it is incredible the positive effect that can have on your writing. Plus, sometimes it is just fun to have a group of people to geek-out in a bookstore with you.

If you are already in a group, I’d just like to encourage you to thank them. They are your village and they love you as much as you them. They are in your corner and they’re in yours and that is a gift to be treasured.

I was richly blessed this weekend by having time to write, but also people to write with. Twenty-eight hours, seven spent in writing, four spent in bookstores, sixteen pages produced, forty-five hundred words, and countless moments spent with people who play the same note I do. That is why I am grateful for my community. Y’all know who you are and you are very near and dear to my heart!

The Inklykrs over this weekend at bookstore #3

The Words that Killed the Critic

I’ve never been one for quotes in my writing space. Many writers live and die by the mantras surrounding their workspace, but I find it distracting for the most part. Except for one.

There are no good first drafts.

At first read, I guess this could be considered discouraging, but I find it really freeing. It takes out all the pressure.

No book is good the first time down. I can write whatever I must just to get it down on the page. I can deal with the mess later. Spelling and grammar? What are those? Plotting? Who needs it!

Perfectionism has been something I’ve struggled with for a while. It causes the little critic in the front of my brain to tell me all sorts of nasty things as I try to do what I’m called to.

“You aren’t making this interesting.”
“Who is going to read this?”
“What makes you think you have what it takes to write a story?”
“That’s a dumb idea. Why would you write that?”
“You suck.”
“Just stop.”

It’s enough to paralyze the best writer. And I’m just an amateur here!

When the self-talk gets to be too much, I find my mantra to be so reassuring. There are no good first drafts. Why should I try to write one when it’s not possible? What is possible is just a rough draft. Heavy on the rough. The critic has nothing on that.

When I am able to be freed from my self-critic, my creativity is able to roam free and my writing reaches places I never would have had I listened to the perfectionist in my brain. My characters can be who they are and the plot flows freely.

What encourages you in your writing? What keeps the critic at bay and the creativity in open pastures? I’d love to hear!

           – Lex

Book Review: Flame of Resistance

I’ll admit it with pride: I don’t like Christian Fiction.

I’m a Christian who writes, but I don’t feel called to write fiction that is Christian and there are very few pieces in the genre I can stand to read. But, on occasion, there is a gem of a book that I cannot put down. 

One author in the Christian Fiction genre I have really come to respect is Tracy Groot. She has written My Brother’s Keeper, Stones of My Accusers, and the 2007 Christy Award Winner in the historical fiction category, Madman. Well, now she’s done it again with her historical fiction novel, Flame of Resistance and is nominated once more for the Christy Award.

The Christy Award is given to Christian Fiction writers who have written outstanding work in their genre. It is given every year in seven categories ranging from contemporary romance to young adult. It’s kind of a big deal. This evening, the 2013 awards will be presented and Flame of Resistance is a worthy contender.

Flame of Resistance is set in German-occupied Normandy on the brink of D-day in 1944. The story centers around three characters –  Tom, Brigitte, and Michel. Tom is a downed US fighter pilot who looks like the quintessential German soldier. Michel, the leader of a French resistance cell, can’t help but recruit Tom for his plan. Brigitte is a prostitute who wants to do whatever it takes to shed her reputation and become a hero for her country.

Tom embarks on his undercover mission with Brigitte as his contact and their relationship and what they discover will change the trajectory of the war. This unconventional retelling of Rahab is a beautifully written and exciting piece of historical fiction. 

Groot writes a wonderful, character-driven piece through a thorough and intriguing setting. Though the pacing starts out slowly in the first hundred pages, she gives a big pay off in both high tension and action. You’ll recognize the tipping point when you get there and won’t regret the wait.

Flame has one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in a long time. I promise I won’t put down any spoilers, but as I was reaching the end, I felt as if I was tearing through pages. Some moments in shock, others in sadness, but most in awe. It takes a lot for me to become emotionally invested in a book. My roommates can testify, I was almost too emotionally involved in this one. I would wander about our room, book in hand, mumbling forlornly: “Nazi’s are mean!” But seriously, she understands how to make a narrative work on multiple levels, understanding what the reader wants, when to give it and when to withhold. The way Groot ties up her loose ends and interweaving plot lines left me thinking over it for weeks following. Some of the character’s fates were not necessarily what I wanted, but as I thought over what was written, it was what was needed. Beautiful piece of fiction that I would recommend to anyone.

If you’re looking for something to read this summer, you need to run out and grab Flame of Resistance. Local Grand Rapids bookstore, Baker Book House has it for $5. If even that is not incentive enough, I’ll give you two words: camembert scene. After you’ve read that, you will thank me, I promise.

Best of luck to Tracy tonight. I’m rooting for Flame and after you read it, I know you will be as well!

             – Lex