A Writer’s Desire…

 “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

With great effort I labor, putting my words to paper, hoping to create an emotional response in my readers. How lovely to be drawn away from our own world and enter into a world wholly foreign and new. To be swept away into a climatic vision that brings forth a new feeling, or a fresh idea. But putting together a story is not an easy task. It is often with sweat and tears that the ideas form and the words take shape.

It is of great interest to me how writing a simple description can take so much thought and effort. How can one small paragraph take so many days, even weeks of preparation, yet when it finally comes together, is takes but a few moments?  The act of writing can be likened to pulling a molar firmly planted within the jaw. With great effort it is tugged and yanked before finally it is suddenly extracted.

Samuel Johnson stated that “what is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” So then it is the responsibility of the writer to draw out of himself the very being of his soul in order to delight the reader as the author directs the journey placed before his audience. So hold on and come away with me as we journey together through the pages of my books.

~ Happy reading…..

Susan

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A Three-fold Struggle: Symbolic Significance in a Story

In literature, a motif is a recurring element that has symbolic significance in a story. Through its repetition, a motif can help produce other narrative aspects such as theme or mood. In THE STONE OF EBENEZER, we see Nature coping with the same 51JU0NxzPNLcrisis that our main character must face—it represents the contrast between the world God created and the world marred by man.

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As they journeyed through the mountain pass, the cavalcade crested yet another hill. Below lay a lush valley full of orchards. The sweet fragrance of apple blossoms rose to meet them. A gentle breeze lifted pale pink petals into the air, twirling blossoms around the party, teasing the men until the flowers showered down like snow upon the mountain.

Now that is a pretty sight, thought Nagad as he took in a deep breath, savoring the smell of peace and beauty. And he wondered at the contrast between this loveliness and the horror of battle. How could the two reside in the same realm? Truly, Yahweh had created the world in beauty. Man it was who marred the land with war, tearing the very foundation of the earth asunder with the rampage of contention and rage. Yet the quest toward battle continued ever onward against the backdrop of God’s landscape. (pg. 23-34)

~          ~          ~

One of the main themes that runs through THE STONE OF EBENEZER is Revenge vs Forgiveness. The narrative speaks to the motives that drive what one does in order to come to terms with loss and trauma. Battle is used as a metaphor for personal struggle.

~          ~          ~

Dominating the landscape, across the undulating ground, Nagad beheld various shades of yellow and crimson, short-lived flowers of summer, fluttering in the soft morning breeze. The smell of spring, of the uncertain glory, hung in the air, a variant wave of freshness faintly perceived, coming with the distant scent of apples wafting up from the golden blooms of the crown daisy. Breathing in the smell of the field, the green lap of the vernal season beckoned from sleep and issued forth a flood of memories of youth and peaceful times, of white linen robes and youthful love, and the soft laughter of a virgin.

Transfixed by the flowery field, by the scarlet crowfoot residing close to the ground, each with a single stem that terminated in one ruby flower, and the gilded display of the crown daisy towering over the crimson carpet, Nagad thought: how like a flower we are. We come forth and then we are cut down and fade; as a shadow we do flee, lost in the dark of night, and continue not. Of neither do we make much account, for neither can bear our confidence, for all wither and are gone.

“At the end of day, we shall be lifted up,” Nagad spoke under his breath as he raised his sword before his face. “Though the way be long and hard, we will endure.”

Tiphcar, as he displayed his blade before the readied troops, exclaimed in a loud voice, “New is the dawn before us! Now is the hour that the Lord will be glorified! If God be for us, who can stand against us!”

And there, between Mizpah and Shen, the Philistines came rushing toward them in great number, hastening unto their own fate. The vision of the heavily armored and highly trained Philistines moving forward in tight formation sent fear into the hearts of the Hebrew lines. Yet, through the knee-high stems of the crown daisy, trudging through the bushy display of glorious yellow heads, the Israelites marched onward, increasing their pace until they surged forth in swiftness of speed.

Across the expanse they sprung, as lodestones drawn by an unseen attraction, which urged them onward. Colliding, the opposing lines recoiled, the violent concussion of the forceful impact sending men back a step in a carom of clashing colors. Trampled underfoot by the myriad of sandaled feet, by the forward thrust of the rushing troops, the scarlet flowers were soon crushed and covered in the crimson stream of life’s hemal nectar. As a wave strikes a boat amidships, the soldiers dashed against each other dealing deadly blow upon deadly blow. In contention they strove to obtain what the other possessed, but which only one could hold. (pg. 255-256)

~          ~          ~

In this scene, flowers are used to illustrate the drama of the battlefield, foreshadowing what is to come for the men fighting upon plain. Another motif is weather—the weather of the world—literally and figuratively—reflects the action and tension within the story. As nations erupt, so too, the sky ruptures in conflict.

~          ~          ~

Thunder sounded overhead as lightning streaked across the darkening sky. Rain came down in sheets, driven with great force by the west wind, as the thundercloud burst open, the heavens rent, suddenly violent, issuing forth a forcible storm. The silent expanse of nature, whose bowels gave way, ruptured with tumultuous agitation, the dreadful fury of the tempest amid fitful bursts of wind.

The road became impassible as the route quickly turned into a sea of mud. The Ark threatened to topple as the soldiers fought to keep their footing on the slippery roadway. A breach in the lines formed as the company stood leaning into the wind, fixed firm against the storm, yet no progress made toward their destination. Bludgeoned by sound, the roar of the driving rain and wind, accompanied by the crash of thunder, obstructed the exchange of words.

“Sar, dark is coming on fast, and we are surrounded by the tormented terrain,” yelled out Phicol. “We will never reach Ekron by nightfall. The way is too difficult.”

With sound radiating through time, notes rising then lost to decay, Caphtor retorted above the thunder’s bend with dreadful voice uttering violent denunciations, oracles severe, as the storm grew more feral. The internal pressure of nature mounted a crack of thunder as though the fissure of doom rent forth with a terrible fulmination, accompanied by the intense display of light, discharging upon the atmosphere with violent exertion. Unable to control the instinct, soldiers dropped where they were, ducking with arms raised to protect their eyes from the dreadful display.

“Sar,” called out Phicol.

“Fall out,” bellowed Caphtor. “We go no farther; make ready camp.”

Amidst a thicket of storax trees, the company of men set up camp with great difficulty. Tents were torn by the terrible tempest, supplies flung about in harried havoc, the battle for dominance over the tent spike continued into the darkness. The rush of the angry wind continued through the night as the sky flew apart and then collided with a loud explosion that shook the foundations of the earth. (pg. 176-177)

~          ~          ~

It is a three-fold struggle:

The conflict is an immortal struggle—a world ruled by the gods

The Philistine god—Baal vs the Hebrew God—Yahweh

A national struggle

The Philistine nation vs The Israelite nation

A personal struggle

The Philistine soldier Ekwesh vs the Hebrew soldier Nagad

The battle is brutal; the way is tough. We all face battles in this life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, and these battles are brutal, even as the conflicts are within THE STONE OF EBENEZER. And like our hero, we must push through the fight. This is the true sense of an epic journey, a journey that leads toward resolution.

May all your trials bring you to a place of peace.

~ Susan

The First Sentence: Setting the Stage

It always begins with the first sentence—this opening line is of utmost importance to a novel, for it sets the stage for the entire book. The initial impact is vital in order to tantalize the reader into staying for the entire chapter. At this point, details are not important. A question must be posed, confusion instigated, an air of mystery, or some item of fancy that leads the audience to want to know more.first-lines

I find it interesting to look into the first sentence of different books. Of course there are some pretty famous first lines:

  • Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
  • I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

It is a tricky business writing that first line. Many a writer sit dumbfounded with that blank page starring coldly at them, unable to pen those allusive opening words. The trick is to just start. Write something down—anything. Once the story unfolds, then go back and rework that opening line.

This sentence is the beginning of a relationship you hope to build with your audience. Work it, rework it, until you give the reader a line that says, “Come and stay awhile; I am worth your time.”

Yet more can be revealed within those first few words than may be initially evident. There is value in examining on a deeper level.

What does the first sentence of my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, tell the reader?

Let’s take a look:

The sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley, laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth.

What do you see? What do you feel?

If you look deeply into the folds of this sentence, you find a field of contrasts:

light—dark                 lush—ruin

warm—cold                 life—death

Now look further; where does the story begin?

The first sentence starts in the middle of the action. So we ask, what has happened to lead to this event?

And as you read further, it is evident that a deep history resides prior to the opening of this novel. The first sentence may begin your book, but it is not the start of your story. Your reader has entered the novel at this point, but does not yet know how they got to this place in time.

This opening line provides the reader with not only what has already occurred,

(the sun stood at its full height over the once lush valley)

but with a crisis that has changed the scene; life has grown barren and cold

(laid to ruin by the ravages of war, now a barren wasteland littered with corpses and blood-soaked earth).

Hope and beauty, barrenness and despair—all within the same plain.

Opening lines can be complex or a few well-placed words that open a floodgate of questions. So here is your opportunity to tantalize us with your first lines.

In the comments below, share the first sentence of your latest book. Let us see what can be revealed within the opening lines of your story.

 

~ Susan

 

 

 

Self-Publish: Doing It My Way

I don’t know when it began. It just started—the need to have control over every aspect of my life. Call me a control freak, but I desire to be the master of my own fate.

I first became aware of this side of my personality when I started homeschooling my daughter. I bought the popular kindergarten curriculum, you know, the one all the experienced homeschool mom’s recommended. It was subtle at first, that growing resentment of someone telling me what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

“Who are they to tell me what is right for my child?”

“Do these experts know her unique learning needs?”

“Does every child need the same skills at the same time?”

“For what purpose are these exercises prescribed? Is there a specific skill being developed or is this just busy work?”

The questions kept coming.

I have never had trouble with authority figures before. So what was happening? Why was I questioning the status quo?

I was becoming a rebel, but a rebel with a cause. The welfare of my right-brained daughter was at stake. I would sacrifice anything, learn everything in order to provide the best for my child.

But what does that have to do with self-publishing?

Everything.

It was through the experience of creating my own curriculum designed specifically to meet the needs of my children that grew in me the confidence needed to plunge head deep into publishing my first book.

book cover 1My story was my creation, born through the events of my life. I discovered a deep-seated desire to present the book in an unadulterated format—one truly of my own making. Yet the process was new to me, so some guidance was necessary. That is why I chose a publisher like WestBow Press. They offered me the freedom to control the process without abandoning me to the process.

I saw it as the best of both worlds.

Yet, that was my non-fiction. I finished work on a fiction novel. I wanted to do right by my creation, my child, so I began investigating the traditional publishing route. I even sent out some writing proposals to prospective agents.

What I learned is that there is a code to writing a query letter, yet the proper way to approach the query is very specific and mysterious. There are many willing to give instruction concerning the qualities of a good proposal. Unfortunately, each has different advice. It is all very confusing. As an analytical thinker, this left me baffled. But I kept at it, and my skill grew. Yet, the joy of writing began to fade. I spent so much time learning the query process, it left little time to actually do what I love—write.

One needs an agent before you can approach a traditional publisher (the agent will require about 15% of you royalties). Then the process begins again; this time it is the agent that takes your query before the publisher (the publisher will require up to 80% of your royalties). All this takes a long time. And just because you have an agent, it does not mean a publisher will pick you up. Let’s face it, there are many people trying to get books published.

Wait—15% + 80% = 95%

That leaves only 5% for the author…

WestBow Press has a 50-50 relationship with their authors and no agent required.

With traditional publishing, you are counting on numbers—more exposure means more money. It is true, a traditional publisher does have more contacts in the industry than you. Their name speaks volumes. If a traditional publisher choses your book to publish, that means you must have written a good book, right? So the populace will buy your book in droves!

Well, not really—I know I have read some not-so-well-written books published by some well-known traditional publishers. There are no guarantees.

The traditional publisher is taking a risk on your book, so they are picky on which works they gamble. It is their money upfront. They have everything to lose. And you, the author, will not see another dime until you have sold enough books to pay back the publisher’s initial investment.

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by pannawat @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some publishers only allow you three months to prove your worth. That is not enough time for most unknown authors to establish a following. If you do not reach expectations in a timely manner, the traditional publisher, who, by-the-way, has the rights to your manuscript, can shelve your book. What this means is they pull your title from the shelves and recycle all printed copies of your work. You cannot do anything with your story until the contract runs out with the publisher and the rights to your work revert back to you.

It is true that most bookstores will not place self-published books on their shelves, but this is not as important as it once was. Shelf-space on the internet is unlimited, so online bookstores, such as Amazon, will gladly carry your title, and for as long as your title is active. This allows the new and upcoming author time to build a solid author platform.

It does take much effort to draw a following for your work, but marketing is not just for self-published works. Yes, the weight of it does fall on the author’s shoulders. But traditional publishers are looking for authors who are willing to self-market their own books as well. Do not think that with traditional publishing, you do not have to worry about marketing. Whichever way you decide to go, marketing your book is your responsibility.

Do not fear, there is help out there for the self-publishing author. There are many agencies you can hire to market your work. These can be costly. If you do not have a budget for this type of marketing, there are other avenues to follow: blogging, social media, Google-ads. It is all doable.

Do not get me wrong. I am not against traditional publishing. As an author, one must weigh the cost-vs-benefits of all forms of publishing.

You, as the creator of your work, must decide what best fits your needs.

A traditional publisher is all about selling, after all, they have invested large sums of money on your product. With sales in mind, editing your book will be about what the publisher believes will be popular with the public. The names of your characters, what they wear, how the story plays out: all aspects of your work will be edited and rewritten to meet the goal of a profit margin. And you, the author may have some say, but the editor has the final word. I heard from one author who said that only 20% of her original manuscript made it through the editing process. It is possible she needed the editing, yet this prospect frightens me.

If making a living at writing is your goal, the traditional publisher may be right for you. After all, they do have experience in the field and have been successful with other books.

For me, I decided to self-publish. After careful consideration, I believe that my goals are contrary to that of a traditional publisher (at least at this point in my life). I write for the pure art of writing. My literary style, the cadence I use, the words and phrases I choose, are done so for the lyrical value of my work. While I appreciate the advice of a good editor (I do strongly suggest using an editor), I want the final say. With self-publishing, I am the chief contractor for my enterprise. Everything passes before me and gets my approval.

With that said, my future rests in my own hands. My decisions will be the success or failure of this crazy, wonderful expedition on which I have ventured.

Will I ever publish traditionally? I cannot say. Circumstances and goals change. But for now, I enjoy the prospect of being the master of my own fate.

Happy writing.

~ Susan

SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GO WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story) is available through WestBow Press and online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes and Nobles.

Look for Susan Van Volkenburgh’s award winning novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga, coming the summer of 2015.

What’s In a Name

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“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet, Act II. Scene II

Really? Is not a name important? If you called a rose “fetid” would it smell as sweet?

In the ancient Hebrew culture, a person’s name, or “shem,” was significant. It told of the person’s character: of his birth or some future hope. God often changed a person’s name after His call came into their life.

Take Paul for example:

His given name was Saul, which means “desired” or “asked for” in Hebrew. It was changed to Paul – which means “small” or “little” in Greek – after his conversion. The bold and dangerous Pharisee was sent in humility to witness to the Gentiles of Greece.

And then there was Peter, whose name was Simon (meaning “he has heard”). His name was changed by Jesus to Peter – meaning “rock or stone.” It was upon his faith that Jesus was the Christ that the Church was built.

Was it not Jacob (“heel holder” or “supplanter”) who stole Esau’s (Esau means “hairy”) birthright, and thus, supplanting Esau, by tricking Isaac into blessing him instead of his elder brother.

It was as though by calling a child by a particular name, one could predict the future character of the person the babe would grow to be. And so, as I began my journey through the Hills of Ephraim that I took great pains to name the characters within my novel according to their given purpose.

Each name has a specific meaning in relation to their role in the telling of this epic tale.

There is Nagad, the haunted protagonist, whose name means “messenger” in Hebrew. His story reaches us through the warfare in his life, both physical and spiritual, as he works through old hurts to find how he measures into Yahweh’s plans.

His foil, Ekwesh, is a Philistine struggling with the same issues of faith as his counterpart. His name is found in writings describing the Sea Peoples of old, and the ancient Greek warriors such as Homer’s Achaeans in the Iliad.

Tiphcar (“captain” in Hebrew), his very name denotes strength and leadership, is captain of the Israelite forces. He is a pillar of courage on which the young conscript, Nagad, can lean.

And so the characters enter into the midst of the story, each bringing a message to the reader by the name they bear.

So what is in a name? Join the story and see what message the characters have for you.

THE STONE OF EBENEZER

Spring 2015

~ Susan

The Stone of Ebenezer – Finalist

untitled (3)I am so pleased to announce that my novel, THE STONE OF EBENEZER, has been selected as one of the top ten finalists in the New Look writing contest – sponsored by HarperCollins and Westbow Press. I am truly honored! Winners will be announced on January 13.
www.westbowpress.com/newlook/winners.aspx

This is the third honor this novel has received:

The Stone of Ebenezer

There are some things that should not be forgotten, some truths that should not be forsaken. A story torn from the pages of antiquity, in an age where gods ruled the land: two men, two nations, drawn into an immortal struggle.

~     ~     ~

NAGAD’s life was perfect until it was torn apart by the ravages of war. Now, haunted by his past, this young conscript must meet the enemy in battle. With shaking rage the nations collide in a fierce conflict for dominance. Yet more is at stake than the survival of a people. The dispute contests the claim of immortal supremacy, the outcome to prove whose god reigns omnipotent.

And so, Nagad of Benjamin pushes on through the raging tide of battle. But to no avail. Soon crushed by the mighty war machine of Philistia, thousands of Hebrew soldiers lay slaughtered upon the carrion infested field. Hope has abandoned them. Then it is remembered, that in the days of their fathers, any army that bore the Ark of the Covenant could not be defeated. They need the Ark, for only then can the Chosen of God prevail against the enemy.

But they are wrong.

~ Susan

An amazing, vivid account of biblical events is historically accurate where God’s judgments, treacherous journeys, blood battles and even romance come alive to the reader in this skillfully written epic story.
Foreword written by Rev. Judith Wiegman

 

THE STONE OF EBENEZER Coming spring of 2015

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It’s In the Works…

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have been asked by several readers when they can expect my novel to be available. With this in mind, I thought I would take a moment to update everyone on the progress I have been making.

At present, THE STONE OF EBENEZER (book one in the TRILOGY OF KINGS series) is in the hands of my editor. She has informed me that she is approximately half way through her edits. She knows you are waiting, but really, give her a break, it is a long novel.

Trilogy of Kings: the Anointed One

The book cover design has been chosen. My illustrator is tweaking the drawing to meet my demanding criteria. Once she receives my approval, then off she goes to fully detail and digitalize the image. I think you will like what she is creating.

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After my manuscript is returned to me, I will have to go through each edit and make corrections. This will take some time. This will be the final rewrite of the novel and the hope is to present the reader a well-written, clean copy (no typos, grammatical errors, etc.).

Then the manuscript is handed over to the publisher. The publisher takes the manuscript and formats it for eBook or print. The final cover design will be applied. And voila, you have a novel ready for reading!

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So as far as predicting when THE STONE OF EBENEZER will be available, well, that is hard to say. But it is in the works and I feel good about saying sometime this year.

If you need something to do while you wait, read my non-fiction book, SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story).

~ Susan

Just to let you in on a little secret – this week I finished the first draft of THE ANOINTED ONE, the second in the TRIOLOGY OF KINGS series.