What Am I Looking for in a Story?

Recently, I tried to join a read-along group on Instagram. The idea was to all read the same book, discuss, and share pictures. It seemed like lots of fun and not too time consuming, plus I was in a spot where I had the time to read. The book was announced and we all dutifully got our copies. I started mine at the proper time and knew right away I was in trouble.

I’m not going to mention what book it was because my problem isn’t with the writing. I don’t want to discourage the writer or the reading group. The problem wasn’t the book, it was me. LOL. I think I just friend-zoned a book. But, it’s true. I couldn’t get into the story. I didn’t care one bit about the character. I dreaded having to read it. I knew in an instant, I didn’t care about this story.

 There have been times when I’ve had to wade through a book, really wade through it. When I was a kid, I refused to leave a book unfinished. If I started it, I would finish it. As I’ve gotten older I give myself the freedom to put a book aside that I’m not enjoying. Life is too short to plow through books I’m not loving. I weighed being in the group, but hating every minute in the book. I worked on it through to chapter 9 hoping against hope that something would grab me. That happens sometimes. I’m unsure if I like a book, then this magical line pops out and I’m hooked. Chapter 9 and I’m not only not hooked, I’m despising every line. Time to let it go.

I looked the book up on GoodReads wondering if anyone else had the same issue with the book. I watched the comments of the other readers. Everyone loved the book. Everyone praised the book. Everyone talked about how they were strongly impacted by the story. It had glowing reviews, a lovely cover, and was enjoyed by people who also love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Stormlight Archives and such.

So why not me?

Why didn’t I love it?

What am I looking for in a book? What matters to me?

I can’t say that the book was written poorly. I had no complaints about setting, magic, or description, though I tend to enjoy meatier and more unique description. There wasn’t anything wrong with the worldbuilding. I just didn’t care.

I sit in a corner and ponder. I flip through pictures of scenes I love in my favorite TV Shows and movies. I think about my favorite books. What am I looking for in a book, show, or movie? What am I looking for in a story?

The first element that may produce a lack of interest may be that I’m weary of the female protagonist who goes it alone against the world. I’m tired of stories with strong central female warriors. I’m tired of women against women stories, and this story was all about a mother and two sisters who didn’t get along. That turns me off right away. I love stories with strong male leads. I love stories with strong families, strong teams, and strong brotherhoods. I couldn’t get through the first few chapters of this book, but have binged through the first 9 Sharpe’s novels in a matter of weeks. Now, I don’t dislike women in stories. There are plenty of female characters I love. I’m just more intrigued by the women who aren’t at the forefront. I’m more intrigued by the HearthKeepers than I am by the female warrior. And, I’m more interested in stories of sisterhood, not female conflict.

You may see the theme of teamwork here. I love team stories: Band of Brothers, Firefly, Criminal Minds, Sharpe. All of these have big teams working together. I love it. I love stories of smaller teams, like Endeavour, Chuck, or even 24. Jack always has his team backing him up. I love stories of family like Blue Bloods and Fringe.

I grew up in a big family. We worked together, played together, moved across the country together, and still live within the same state, be it hours apart. We have ridiculous group texts, jokes that are so old we hardly remember where they started. Our family days are crazy, busy, and loud. We love nothing better than to be together. As a believer, I don’t hold with a me-myself-and-I mentality. We are part of a church, historically and locally. We aren’t going it alone. I rarely have any of my characters go it alone. I love teams and families.

 So, having a young female lead fighting with her family and going it alone, being different and isolated, just wasn’t appealing to me.

Hotch’s ear blown out.

Another problem for me was the lack of intensity. I don’t know how else to describe it, and it seems silly since the story was about being trained to kill people in their dreams, but it lacked some sort of intensity that I’m looking for. There was nothing offered up at the front to move things along. No impending doom. No murders. No war coming. The story was just a girl learning her powers. Harry Potter has Voldemort. He’s there, always in the background. Lord of the Rings may take many years to get going, but the threat of the ring is there from the beginning. It clouds everything in a growing darkness. In this story there was no lingering sense of horror coming. Nothing united reader and character in a fear that drove you to read, read, and read. It was just her training and learning her powers with the hope that a greater mystery would appear.

 If there is no impetus to move forward than there is no impetus to keep reading.

From this story, I learned that I really need some pretty big, frightening, and horrific drive to enjoy a story. And if it takes awhile for that to arrive, I need creative and intriguing writing that grabs my imagination, or I need a team.

Endeavour being helped by Thursday.

Lastly, back to the team idea. The story lacked the visceral-ness of a team in pain. When your friends are being hurt, or they’re watching you be hurt, the agony is ratcheted up. There is a pain in friendship and family so much deeper than when you’re alone. It’s the holding your best friend back as his girl is taken away because you know if he tries to save her now, he’ll die. It’s the pleading for the life of someone you love. It’s the tears in a warrior’s eyes as his team is slaughtered. A mother who doesn’t care that she’s causing you pain because you have to learn is way less moving than Molly Weasley watching her children die. Gandalf knowing what it will cost the hobbits to go to Mordor is so much richer than siblings competing and hating one another. Watching Endeavour get broken and put back together by Thursday is what I’m looking for. Watching Hotch scream in pain cause his eardrums are blown but still ordering his men to fire is what I’m looking for. Watching Harper keep Sharpe’s back time after time, loyally following him into hell is what I’m looking for. Watching the look on Winter’s face when he thinks Nix has been shot. Watching Walter willingly go to another world for his son, Peter. Watson being Sherlock’s best and only friend.

 

Winter when he thinks Nixon got shot.

 There is a friendship, a bond, a family that I’m looking for. It is a theme woven through so many of my favorite stories and books. It developed in me as I grew up in a loving family, as my Mom read Lord of the Rings to us, and the Fellowship became a central part of my life. It is my belief that as a Christian you are part of the Church, not just out on your own. I love brotherhood/sisterhood stories. I love the stories of weary cops holding each other up, of soldiers broken down but still there for each other. Of those who fight for good backed by a great team who would die for them. These are my stories.

There is a necessary driving force beyond the character themselves, be it a murderer, war, or the crashing of worlds. Sometimes it’s pushing out from the government but running into Reevers. Sometimes it’s terrorist in Burbank. Either way, the characters must have something to fight for, and fight against. I need to be able to bleed, die, and hope with them. These are my stories.

This is what I look for, this is what I love and yearn for. This was why a story about a young woman finding out she had this power but being isolated and at odds with her family didn’t hold my attention. This is why dream assassination without a reason for assassination didn’t hold my attention. Not for even three chapters. Sorry. It just wasn’t for me.

Sharpe and Harper.
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Why read steampunk, or fantasy?

Why Steampunk?

Why is Steampunk so much fun to write?
Picture from Pixabay. Edits by me.

I have to admit right up front that I’m not a Steampunk purest. I don’t have a good enough head for science and machines to really be a Steampunk purest. I’m a Steampunk poser. There. I admitted it.

The thing is, I love Steampunk. The first time I saw it it was like I found myself. I went through a real Goth stage in my early twenties, but as I got older I had a hard time with its morose-ness. I like melancholy, but I don’t like emo that much, and I don’t like the nihilistic-ness of cyber punk. Goth doesn’t age well. There is nothing graceful about it. In reality, I liked wearing black clothes, enjoyed “elvish” sadness of the world, and the hints of Victorian clothing that snuck into the gothic look. Also, I liked vampires…but that’s a whole other story.

As I grew out of Goth, Steampunk came on the scene. It had the Victorian flare that I liked, but instead of the depression and rebellion, and, honestly, selfishness of the Goth vibe, it had adventure, exploration, and….goggles. It has goggles.

Once I started getting into Steampunk I started to see different elements of it in movies and books, even going back into childhood stories. (Think Johnny Depp’s Sleepy Hollow. So Steampunk.) Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart were both childhood heroes and they both work with the Steampunk vibe. I guess you could say I’m a Steampunk fashion lover. But, I also love the spirit of Steampunk. It captures the sense of adventure of Jules Vern all the way up to WW2. The world is a wide open space filled with things never seen before by man or woman. Adventure! I even love the more edgy Steampunk anarchy stuff. The world has fallen and mercenaries hunt down monsters in the dark with flashlights and unusual guns, all dressed in a strange mix of western, Native American, trash, and a bit of oriental flare. It’s very western. It captures that magical time when the world wasn’t all explored and exotic races started mixing with good, old-fashioned, English blood. Or English blood mixed with the exotic, ancient races. Either way, things were newer, fresher. Times were exciting.

Why read steampunk, or fantasy?
Image from Pixabay. Edits by me.

 

Different is intriguing. It’s fun to think of using steam power instead of electricity. It’s fun to imagine the skies filled with zeppelins instead of airplanes. It’s fun to imagine dressing up in long skirts, top hats, gloves, boots that button up the side, and a monocle. All these exaggerated, imaginary things make us look at our own world through fresh lenses. It soaks into our ordinary lives and helps us face the day with an adventurous spirit, imagining everyone around us on a quest. It gives us hope that monsters can be defeated by men and women in leather bracers, boots, and blunderbusses.

As you can tell, I find Steampunk inspiring ascetically.

It turns up in my stories all the time. So many characters with goggles, cool guns, bikes, and even some automatons.  When I look for characters I end up posting people in top hats, newsies and driving caps, gold engraved rifles, cool tattoos, gas masks. I love that you can go from dystopian to futuristic. I love hot air balloons. I love the WW2 feel and the Victorian feel that you can mix and match.

For all of the above reasons, when I’m working on a setting for any of my stories, I tend to go Steampunk over medieval. I find historically accurate stories to be constricting. I love to read them, but I don’t like to write them. I want a little room to make things up. (And in my family, we don’t make history up.) Even my urban Fantasies tend to have the magical creatures dressing more Steampunk, or being very Steampunk in their TrueSelf forms.

I hope to blend this in a bit more with my Children’s Faerie Stories. I don’t think it’s coming out as strongly in them as it does in my YA books. They tend to have a bit more of the English garden fairy, or other-worldly fae-faeries about them.

Over the years, I plan to keep learning about the mechanics behind automatons and old revolvers. I want my descriptions, and the ‘physics’ of the world to be more realistic and logical, instead of just sorta made up. J I know most Purist will see my knowledge as very surface level, but I hope you, dear readers, enjoy my Steampunk flavor as much as I do.

Do you like Steampunk? Are you familiar with its look? What’s your favorite Steampunk story?

Why do I blend a little western into my faerie stories?

Why Westerns?

Why do western themes and styles keep popping up in my stories?

One of the things I learned from Tolkien, and my own upbringing, was to respect my own mythos. England is an old, old land with lots of myths and legends. They have Arthur, Vikings, Robin Hood, and even Tolkien’s work functions as a myth for England.

I’m not British. I have roots there, just like I do in Ireland and Scotland. (Both have wonderful mythologies and legends.) But, what about here in the young, young land of the United States? We have the Revolution. We have exploration, the constant push west. We have the Civil War. We have winning two World Wars. We even have a bit of Vietnam. All of these shape us, our laws, and our culture. They’ve influenced us for generations. But, my favorite (other than WWII) is our cowboy mythology. Yes, most westerns aren’t historically accurate, or they have many inaccuracies. But, they’re part of who and what we are. We are the drifter who is more than what he seems. We are the gunslinger, the card-shark, the cowboy, the cowgirl, the rancher fighting those who would take all he has. We are long wagon trains. We are laying tracks for technology all the way across the country.  We are all of this and more. My favorite element is the man who rides into town, gets drawn into a conflict on the side of the underdog, saves the day, and gets the girl.

When I was a kid, probably around twelve, I read all my Dad’s Louis L’Amour books. Devoured is maybe a better word. I loved every minute of them. I loved the men. I loved the women. I loved the action. The adventure. I loved his fist fights. I loved the Sacketts. Oh, the Sacketts. My first dream as a writer was to be as prolific as Louis L’Amour. I just wanted to write the same story over and over and over, and only change the settings and names. Why? Cause that was what I loved reading.  (I still love reading things like this, just like I enjoy action flicks that are basically the same guy in different settings.)

I also loved True Grit. That book was one of my favorites as a kid. Here was a girl not being anything but a girl, but getting this old guy to help her avenge her father, it was perfect. I loved it. The writing is top notch, and the adventure is one of the best. If you haven’t read it, you need to.

Now, my favorite western is Firefly. Yes, it’s a SciFi show, but really it’s a space western. They’re cowboys in space. It has all the right elements. It has the rough around the edges hero with has his ragtag crew. They’re pushing out from the government to make a life for themselves. They have a code and each other.

Why do I blend a little western into my faerie stories?
Image by B. Iyata, edits by me.

After Firefly, comes The Sackett movie, the Magnificent Seven, Quigley Down Under, and Tombstone. Doc Holiday is a great example of why I love westerns. He’s loyal to a fault. He’s willing to do everything for Wyatt Earp. He may not be safe, but there is something you love about him. The Magnificent Seven is a redemption story. You have seven guys who’ve lived by their guns their whole life, and now they’re called to sacrifice everything for a small town who can’t pay them. They see this as a way to redeem their souls from all the wrong they’ve done. (I know that theologically they can’t earn salvation, but redemption stories, be they ever so humbly human, are still an expression of us knowing we need redemption. It is a great way to start a conversation about the fact that we know what we’ve done will damn us.)  

The Sacketts is a great family movie…meaning it’s about a family who will do everything for each other. When the word goes out that they need help, the Sacketts all come running. They are the kind of guys you would want your sons emulating.

Another beloved one from childhood is Down the Long Hills. What could be better than a story about two kids and their horse? I watched this movie so many times growing up. It combined two of my favorite things: kids shouldering the hardest elements of life and coming out ahead, and horses.

We also watched a lot of John Wayne growing up. I still love to hear his voice and see him walk. As I’ve developed my style over the years, I’ve found westerns popping up all over. My characters keep leaning towards long coats and tied down guns. They keep riding in on bikes to take out the bad guys and get the girl. They use rifles, shotguns, and revolvers. All the years of soaking in L’Amour pours out between my stories of magic, doors, and worlds.

I realized I was writing modern, faerie story westerns.

Instead of turning away from the subtle themes, I decided to embrace it. Westerns may not be super popular right now, but they are special to me, and these are my stories. I embrace the mysterious man who saves the day. I embrace the woman who knows how to shoot. I embrace the kids with guts. I embrace strong friendship themes, land themes, and family themes. I embrace the man who is mistaken for a backwater yokel who is rich with wisdom and insight. I embrace friendship between natives and newcomers in the middle of war. I embrace hunters, wild places, dangerous animals, and range wars. I embrace the lawless and the lawman.

These themes push their way into my stories, sometimes without me even noticing. Westerns flavor my work with grit and gunpowder. I’m a Texan reaching deep into my countries own myths and legends.

Do you have a favorite Western? Book or movie? Let me know in the comments!   

Church and Home

Church and home

Hi! Thanks for stopping by to check out my new blog and other social media links. Many of you know me, and even know me really well, but I wanted to do some introductory posts for the next few months to kick off my new blog. Since I’m only posting once a month, this may take most of this first year. (This should make you happy, because that means I’m actually spending most of my time writing stories.)

You can get a good overview of me and my writing from my About Page, but there are two things I want to highlight today: Church and Home.

If you ask me what is most important in my life, I will tell you it’s my local church. I’m a member of Heritage Baptist Church, a confessional, associational church in Texas. I’ve been a member of HBC since Feb 1995. Even though I grew up in this church, I didn’t really understand the importance of church, and my church membership, until I was much older.  God, in His kind providence, had to take me down a few notches. Before then I was a member, but found our church pretty uncool, boring, and filled with annoying people. I loved some people, but spent too much of my Sundays seeking to be shocking. (I’m so appalled at my behavior as a young person. Thank you HBC for loving me anyway.) For a time, my husband and I even left HBC. We were going through a very sinful stagr, but thankfully God is good and brought us back.

After we came back—humbled, repentant, needy—I began to see my church as it really was. I saw the importance of meekly listening to the preaching of the Word. I saw the love of the saints. I saw men and women fighting every day to beat back sin. I saw faithful attendance as the beautiful thing it was. I saw the joy of the confession and the association we were part of. It took leaving my church to help me see what I almost lost.

I’m so thankful for my church.

I believe that serving our church is our greatest and highest calling as believers. This is the real work that we do. These fellow saints are the ones we work for. Why? Because we love Christ. We love the one who died for us. And what does He love? He loves the Church. He serves the Church. So that’s what we do. We love and serve the church.

Church and Home Quote

 

So, what does that look like for me? Well, the closest church member that I have the privilege of serving every day is my husband. He lives with me. He’s a fellow saint I can serve all the time. And, by serving him, I can serve my whole church. It is good for my church, and for me, to be submissive to him. It serves my church to take care of things for him. And, doubly so, because my husband is a gifted brother in our church with a hope for the pastorate. Every meal I cook, every cup of tea I take to him, each receipt I record, each bathroom I clean, is serving a fellow saint and serving my church.

All of that bleeds into seeing my home as my career. Writing is something I love with all my heart. It is something that makes me feel unbelievable happy. It is something that feels ‘really me’. It is something I’ll do the rest of my life even if I never get published. I love to tell stories, even if I’m only telling them to myself and a small group of fans. But, for all that love and passion, my home is my career. When I got married, I took on this career. I became a homemaker when I said “I Do”. For years, I thought of homemaking as an innate ability, much like having gray or green eyes. I’ve since come to realize that I need to view it as much as a career as a doctor does: study, practice, learn, and grow.

This is what is on my mind, in my thoughts, in my prayers. This is my labor.

Balancing between my love of writing and my career is a work in progress for me right now. I don’t think writing, seeking to get published, or any of that is wrong. I just have to work to keep it in the right spot. It isn’t my heart’s focus. My home and keeping it is my heart’s focus.  This is harder than you’d think. There are so many more glamourous things I could be doing. I could start my own Style Consulting business. I could use my energy to serve my church where that service could be seen by others. I could push and push and push for a writing career. All of that would earn me the praise of those around me. (Except for my husband who would be living and dealing with a dirty house and a proud, praised wife.) All that would be glorious. But, what I’ve been called to as a married woman is to keep my home and help my husband. And my husband needs me to manage all the things so he can work and study. Be content, oh heart, be content.

Whenever I’m struggling with this career, when I see fellow sisters getting to do things I want to do, or be involved with things I want to be involved with, I have to have a little talk with myself. My life isn’t their life. What I see isn’t always what is. This is where God has put me, right now. This is the husband he has given me to help. This is the saint I’m called to serve day in and day out. He’s the one I want to love, not myself.

I believe God gave me a love of writing. I want to use that writing to serve my church. I want to write things that encourage those in the trenches. I also want to serve my home with my writing abilities. Yes, that means working towards bringing in a small income with my writing. But, it also means keeping my writing within certain boundaries. It means writing Children’s and YA stories. And it means not taking too much time out of my day to work on my writing.

once-upon-a-time-719174_1920

So, when you read articles here on my blog, or see FB posts, Tweets, or Instagram pictures, know that it comes from the heart of a woman who loves her church first, then loves her home, loves being a HearthKeeper, and then loves to tell a good story of light overcoming darkness.


What is your career? How do you balance between your passions and your responsibilities? Do you make those responsibilities your passions? Do you have a church you love? Comment below and tell me about you. 


If you’re interested in supporting my writing, and getting to be a character or characters in my stories, fly on over to my Patreon Page and check out the different options. 🙂

A huge shout out and big hug to my Patrons:

Emily S.

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Thank you so muc for paying me to write!