Book Review — Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, by K.M. Weiland

When I first read Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, I took it as a Victorian romance, later realizing it was also a vaguely autobiographical account of a girl’s complex and difficult life, and a critique of the social issues of the period. I never imagined I would encounter the story again decades later and reread it as a highly effective teaching tool for writing fiction.

19336035In Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic, K.M. Weiland examines Brontë’s story from the unique perspective of an author and writing instructor, and reveals the many techniques that helped make it one of the most successful novels of its era and an enduring classic. Weiland not only identifies the techniques as the story unfolds, she thoroughly explains them.

Let me offer two examples:

In discussing characterization, following a section of dialogue a sidebar notation says, “Successfully using dialogue for characterization requires several ingredients,” and Weiland goes on to identify four – “(1.) Character voice, (2.) Choice of subject, (3.) Treatment of others, and (4.) Speaker tags and action beats.” She doesn’t just label these, but also expounds on each with specific references to how Bronte has used them in the text.

After another section of dialogue, Weiland points to Brontë’s inclusion of backstory and explains how and why it works so well. “To begin with, this conversation serves to keep the backstory front and center in the readers’ minds. Even as the main part of the story progresses, Brontë will continue to make references to the mysterious backstory. She never lets readers forget about it. She is also careful to introduce at least one new fact into each reference. She doesn’t rehash the same old information over and over. … Finally, she keeps the backstory fresh by weaving it into the body of the main story. Here she uses it to cement the foundation of the relationship that will grow between Jane and Rochester.

“Info dumps or lengthy flashbacks would only serve to slow down the story and sap the tension. But carefully placed clues offer just enough new information to keep readers panting after the truth.”

km-weiland-avatarKatie Weiland’s own writing is well crafted and easy to read in a conversational style that still manages to be concise and instructive. Her intimate familiarity with Charlotte Brontë’s classic story along with her extensive knowledge of the writing craft, have combined to produce a book that other writers will find extremely useful. It is not just another companion to the story of Jane Eyre, but a comprehensive guide to good writing that I believe should be on every writer’s bookshelf.

Jane Eyre: Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic by K.M. Weiland will be available at all major outlets upon release August 1st. Check it out on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and visit Katie’s website, Helping Writers Become Authors, for lots more information.

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Confidence-building TLC for Writers

My lack of gardening skills isn’t news to most of you. I regularly mutter about the invasion of weeds and wild things throughout my rural garden. We’re on a well, so after their first year, most plants don’t even get watered unless the weather decides to rain down on them. It’s no wonder things barely survive from year to year!

When we moved here eighteen years ago there was a clematis vine that entwined itself around the stair railings on one side of our deck — a Jackmanii, I think (although I never knew for sure). Every year despite severe neglect it faithfully bloomed, albeit half-heartedly, in late September and early October until 2012. That year it didn’t make an appearance and I assumed it had finally given up and died. So last spring I bought a replacement — this time well labelled as a Jackmanii. I found a better location for it where its head would get sunshine (at least as much as any place on our property sees the sun) and its feet would be in the shade.

It grew. That’s about all I can say for it.  Its tendrils clung to the lower trellis and a nearby rhododendron like an insecure invalid while it made a feeble effort to produce a half dozen blossoms. Something ate holes in its rather small leaves.

This spring as I was pouring my usual dose of liquid fertilizer on the assorted bedding plants in our deck’s tubs and hanging baskets, I leaned over the railing and emptied the last half bucket’s excess onto the still-struggling clematis. After a June trip I came home to see lush vines of healthy green leaves enveloping the trellis. Encouraged, I included it in the next regime of fertilizing and watched buds materialize. I recently returned from a brief holiday and discovered – yes, you guessed it – lots of clematis blossoms! (I realize it may not seem like lots to some of you green thumb gardeners, but it’s a relative thing, and trust me, for me this is LOTS!)

Clematis Bush

It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do! Add to that, the fact that the forgotten and presumed dead original clematis has now decided to put forth tentative new growth, and it’s all quite miraculous. :)

It reminds me of the rejuvenation I feel after I attend writers’ conferences. By sheer osmosis I soak up the camaraderie and enthusiasm along with all the writing information and success stories. I always come home feeling inspired and ready to resume my creative endeavours with renewed energy. I realize it’s not possible for everyone to get to a conference, and I have to forego attending this year myself, but whenever I’m asked for my favourite writing resources, attending a conference (preferably the Surrey International Writers’ Conference) tops the list.

What’s your favourite writing resource for a boost… your go-to for renewing the glow and rediscovering your excitement of writing?

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Clematis 2

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“Without inspiration
the best powers of the mind remain dormant.
There is a fuel in us
which needs to be ignited with sparks.”

[Johann Gottfried Von Herder]

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In Pursuit of Coolness

 

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Nothing profound from me today. It has been, is, and will continue to be hot. Please don’t see this as a complaint. I wouldn’t dare complain for fear it suddenly changes to unending rain! Instead, I’m trying to think of a positive side to hot sunshine.

It does bring on the flowers. I’ll say that for it.

Summer Peony

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Summer Sun

Great is the sun, and wide he goes
Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days
More thick than rain he showers his rays.

Though closer still the blinds we pull
To keep the shady parlour cool,
Yet he will find a chink or two
To slip his golden fingers through.

The dusty attic spider-clad
He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;
And through the broken edge of tiles
Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

Meantime his golden face around
He bares to all the garden ground,
And sheds a warm and glittering look
Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

Above the hills, along the blue,
Round the bright air with footing true,
To please the child, to paint the rose,
The gardener of the World, he goes.

 Robert Louis Stevenson
(from - A Child’s Garden of Verses – 1885)

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I remember reading that to my Grade One students a good many years ago. There are lots of good things to say about the sun, but I don’t do well in the heat and right now I need something cooling to distract me.

Water 1

Ahhh… yes, that helps.

Water 2

Oh, this is much better! Now I’m of a mind to go in search of a beach and some ice cubes — the perfect pursuit on a hot summer day. :)

What’s your best way of cooling down when it’s too hot to think, let alone write?

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There will be a shelter
to give shade from the heat by day,
and refuge and protection
from the storm and the rain.

(Isaiah 4:6)

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Comparing gardens with messy first drafts

A number of writers I know are also gardeners. I think it has something to do with a desire for control — or maybe it’s more of an artistic desire to create beauty. No, I still think it’s control. We take seeds, cuttings and bedding plants, tuck them into assorted nooks and crannies in our yard, add a little nourishment and water, and dream about how it will all come together into something beautiful. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t.

My garden beds always end up a jumble of plants, despite my good intentions. In the one small patch pictured below you’ll find a sword fern and a lady fern (I didn’t plant those… they just growed, like Topsy), hosta, scatterings of cranesbill, a clump of Siberian iris leaves, a golden phitzer juniper, a white astilbe, and some encroaching lamium. They’ve overrun each other and when I look, all I see is a crowded mess.

Messy Garden-1

I tend to be a little philosophical about my gardening. (That’s a tactful way of saying I don’t get my knickers in a knot when something doesn’t grow the way I expected.) The surrounding woods create acidic soil and lots of shade, plus we’re on a well and I don’t often waste water on the gardens. So I understand when certain plants appear to be growth-challenged. In search of better results, I embark on a dig-and-relocate mission. Of course if they don’t survive at all, it becomes a dig-and-discard event!

When plants surprise me, taking hold and rambling over and around neighbouring ones, I step back to marvel at their tenacity and scrutinize the effect. Given there are few blooms amid the various greens, it’s not the ‘English country garden’ look. It’s not any desired look unless it qualifies as au naturel. To be honest, it’s just plain overrun and unkempt, and some days I think I ought to dig it all out and start from scratch.

Bench-1

But if I take a closer look and can focus on the singular instead of the muddle, I discover teensy pockets of beauty. Exquisite shades of passion and capsules of colour among the graceful green fronds and glossy leaves. They are moments of glory to salvage. Maybe I need to reconsider my desire to bulldoze the whole thing.

Cranesbill-1

We take words and mash them up, sprinkle them around, link them together… all in an effort to make them convey the perfect story that’s hovering in our heads. First drafts, as I mentioned earlier this week, can be a mess. We work scene by scene and often despair of the writing ever coming together to be seen as worthy.

There is a time to step back, look beyond the scenes and evaluate the whole. Then there’s a time to prune and cull,  looking closely to see what gems might be salvageable.

Then again, there’s a time to walk away altogether — stop evaluating and second-guessing — and wait for another day when we may be in a better frame of mind and able to discern the beauty that was there all the time. A fresh look may give us a better perspective of what it’s going to take to make it all work together without turning it into a muddle or deciding to toss it into the trashcan.

Any other suggestions? In what way does your current writing resemble gardening?

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Writing Frustrations and Bird Poop

Bird poop is not pleasant. It’s messy, and one of the worst offenders around here right now are the robins.

Robin

Once winter is on the wane, I’m always delighted to welcome the earliest robins. They’re harbingers of spring, after all, and that makes me smile. By summertime, however, I’ve begun to tire of the white accumulations that adorn our deck railings and outdoor furniture, and I’m no longer smiling.

Robins are pretty, and they sing a sweet song, I’ll give them that. But they don’t eat birdseed. The lawn and garden are their kitchen source for earthworms and berries. The only appeal our deck apparently has for them is as a bathroom… a place to perch and deposit their doo-doo, which I don’t-don’t like! Someone had a warped sense of humour when they named the species ‘Turdus migratorius’.

We had 45 people coming here last night for a church barbecue. In preparation, we had pulled weeds and tidied the gardens. Hubby power-washed the deck, and I wiped down the lawn furniture. You get the picture. We wanted things to be neat and clean for our guests, and it was… until late-afternoon, just before the first guests arrived, when Mr. Robin Redbreast dropped in and dropped. Ackkk!!! It was too late to get out the hose, but there was no point in stressing over little blobby things, as maddening as they were. I found a rag, cleaned them away as best I could and carried on, soon forgetting all about the annoyance and enjoying a wonderful evening with friends.

The writing application that occurred to me later had to do with not overstressing about little things. No point in grinding to a halt  when the wrong words deposit themselves on the page during a first draft. Better to look at the overall picture, get on with the job and worry about cleaning up the messy bits during revision. There are bound to be more messy bits before it’s done and we’re ready to put the manuscript out on display anyway.

In future, when I’m getting really frustrated, maybe I’ll try and remember to mutter, “Oh, poop!!!” then have a laugh and get back to work.

What’s your method of banishing first draft frustrations?

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Piano whispers from an unknown history

Ghost-like memories of piano playing — years of scales, discords and sweet harmony from ivory keys — are hidden somewhere in the history of this old Chickering Victorian Square Grand Piano. No longer are visitors encouraged to play a tune on it. With its wires strung horizontally from left to right, rather than from front to back, its soft, subdued tones (listen) would be unlike what is produced by today’s pianos. But this one sits unused, silently overseeing the comings and goings of patrons in the lobby of a unique log building in BC’s south Cariboo.

Chickering Piano Keys-1

Jonas Chickering was the first piano builder in the United States, established in 1823. The Chickering brothers were known for building some of the finest pianos in history. This piano bears the Chickering name in gold lettering, but not in a style of text born by any other Chickering antique pianos that my research has unearthed, so I can’t vouch for its authenticity.

Chickering piano-1

(Click photo for larger view)

At one time a faded sign on it proclaimed, “circa 1883″, (or maybe it was 1853) but the sign has been gone for a while. Square grands existed from 1823 until the end of the 1880s. They began to lose favour when uprights became more popular, and were pretty well obsolete by 1900.

In the mid-1800s this one probably would have sold for between $800-$1200, the cost of a small house. One restoration site I visited offered fully restored Chickering square grands at prices from $30,000 to $50,000. I can’t afford one. Drat!

This particular piano sits against a wall, surrounded and topped by an accumulation of other collectibles from assorted eras. I wish I could rescue it! I’m not a great pianist or even a collector of antiques, but I want to clear everything off it, gently dust the keys and lower its lid against further insult.

I want to hear my daughters play it, or perhaps our church pianist — someone who understands all the emotion a piano can express and would appreciate its uniqueness and its place in musical history.

But I left it untouched… left with only photographs, and a longing to know its story.

Do you own a piano or another musical instrument? If it could talk, what story would it tell of its time in your household?

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“Praise the LORD!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath
praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!” 

[Psalm 150:1-6]

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Cover Reveal for FOREIGN EXCHANGE by Denise Jaden (plus a Special Giveaway)

 

Canada Day Maples

Author Denise Jaden’s next book, FOREIGN EXCHANGE, is due to be released this October. Denise is here today to let us in on the cover reveal, and she also has a special giveaway for us, involving Stephanie Perkins’ ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER. Read on to find out more. 

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First, here are a few of Denise’s thoughts on Foreign Exchange and its cover…

 

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I’m so incredibly excited to share my cover of Foreign Exchange with you! This book holds a very special place in my heart. I wrote it during a very difficult year of my life, and the characters and their stories were a real bright spot for me.

Because this book is so important to me, I’m giving away something VERY important to me to go along with this cover reveal. I was fortunate enough to receive an early copy of the highly-anticipated Isla and the Happily Ever After by one of my all-time favorite authors, Stephanie Perkins. ISLA and Foreign Exchange are both romances with swoon-worthy boys, and they’re both set partially in Europe. So I want one lucky person to receive my advanced copy of ISLA to get you excited for Foreign Exchange!

Read on, check out my cover, and read the first chapter of Foreign Exchange below. It’ll all help you in earning extra entries to win my copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After!

And here is the beautiful cover…

 

Jamie Monroe has always played it safe. That is, until her live-for-the-moment best friend, Tristan, jets off to Italy on a student exchange program. Left alone with her part-time mother and her disabled brother, Jamie discovers that she is quite capable of taking her own risks, starting with her best friend’s hotter-than-hot older brother, Sawyer. Sawyer and Tristan have been neighbors for years, but as Jamie grows closer to the family she thought she knew, she discovers some pretty big secrets.

As she sinks deeper into their web of pretense, she suspects that her best friend may not be on a safe exchange program at all. Jamie sets off to Europe on a class trip with plans to meet up with Tristan, but when Tristan stops all communication, suddenly no one seems trustworthy, least of all the one person she was starting to trust—Sawyer. 

 “Foreign Exchange is a fresh contemporary YA that will keep readers compulsively turning pages until the very end. Combining international intrigue with a steamy forbidden romance makes for a can’t miss read.”
 - Eileen Cook  Author of Year of Mistaken Discoveries. 
“A pitch perfect voice and delicious chemistry kept me turning those pages!”
- Tara Kelly, author of Amplified and Encore
“Foreign Exchange is heart pounding and suspenseful…the teenage dream of escaping the boredom of suburbia by travelling Europe and spending quality time with a hot guy shifts into a dangerous nightmare.”
 - D.R. Graham, author of Rank and the upcoming Noir et Bleu MC series.
 

One of the entries in the Rafflecopter below will ask you a question from the above chapter!

This contest is open internationally!
Don’t forget…this copy of ISLA could be yours…

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* Note – If you cannot access the Rafflecopter Widget through this blog, access it HERE.

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