31 July 2009

The Book All Writers HAVE to Read




















First Book Feature:

James A. Owen’s
Here, There Be Dragons

“What is it?” John asked.
The little man blinked and arched an eyebrow.
“It is the world, my boy,” he said. “All the world, in ink and blood, vellum and parchment, leather and hide. It is the world, and it is yours to save or lose.”
-James A. Owen, Here, There Be Dragons

Every other week I’ll either feature a book or have something else fun as an extra post. Book features will be less review-ish and more like, well, a feature. For this first entry of this kind, and keeping with the theme of inspiration, I chose the children’s fantasy book, Here, There Be Dragons.

The first in a four book cycle concerning the Archipelago of Dreams and those that inhabit them, Here, There Be Dragons is a writer’s book. It’s not that it’s just a great story, although it most definitely is. It’s not that it’s exceptionally well written, although, it’s most definitely that too. But it’s more than that. This is a book for a reader, for someone who truly loves stories. Filled with literary and creative references to everything from the Loch Ness Monster to Sherlock Holmes, readers will delight in catching all the allusions. The story itself is captivating, full of mythical creatures (such as a witty dragon and a loveable badger) and intense conflict.

But best of all, is. . .

Well, I can’t tell you, now, can I? If you’ve read the book you know. If you haven’t, and you love to read and write, then I cannot more strongly urge you to find a copy, whether it’s in a bookstore, a library, or on an online bookseller like Amazon. It’s worth the money. It’s worth the gas mileage. It’s definitely worth a late night.

I will give you a hint, though. Let’s just say that it fits with the theme of inspiration, of our Company and our Muse. And that if you value a truly wonderful ending, you will not flip to the end and read the last chapter. Trust me—it’s worth it!

Read, and enjoy!

See you Tuesday!

29 July 2009

What Inspires You?

On Tuesday we talked about writers who make us want to write—authors who encourage us to keep trying, to keep putting pen to paper, simply by the power of their written words. These are the books that we can’t put down, and we don’t want to put down, but when we close that back cover our minds are whirling with the possibilities of the stories in our own imagination.

Today we’re going to talk about what inspires us. On Monday of this week, the writers of Novel Matters had a roundtable discussion about the importance of muse. It was something that really made me think. My muse is most definitely Nature. She inspires how and what I write in such a profound way. She plays a huge role in my stories.

But today’s discussion isn’t about muse, per se. I want to know where your ideas come from. Are they from random moments in every day life? Poignant memories? New experiences?

Maybe I’m just different—I have been told as such quite often in my life—but for each of my novels, the overall inspiration has been different. I don’t plot or brainstorm like most people. Usually there’s just one image in my head—a scene, a smell, a color, a sound—and I just have to figure out what that is, where it is in a story, how to get to that scene, and where to go from there. Sometimes it’s down right confusing. It usually takes a while, much like the story that’s percolating in my head right now…

For my last novel, the inspiration was a dear writer friend, Lynn, who died of brain cancer. Her dream was to be published and she was—several times over—before she died. She even started a writer’s group in our area and introduced me to yet another dear writing friend. The day of Lynn’s funeral, I saw a simple scene that I couldn’t forget. I also got one sentence, which I later discovered was the last line of the entire novel. From that sentence, I pieced together a tiny bit of the story and a predominant theme. But that was it. For the longest time, that was all I had: that scene, the final line of the novel, the color, and the setting. It would be another six months before I found the other chunk of the story, the characters, and the plot.

Sometimes I have a scene in the middle of a story; sometimes it’s just a smell. No matter how it comes or what it is, it’s always a mind-bending, somewhat confusing, and definitely interesting adventure to get to the finished product. It’s weird, it’s something that my professors in school never understood, and often, it’s frustrating. But that’s how my stories appear.

How about you? How do your stories come? Is it the same for each one? Or do they each act differently, just like the crazy characters that tell them?

27 July 2009

Who Inspires You?

Comments on my recent blog post have left me thinking a lot about the importance of inspiration, particularly from others. It’s left me wondering this question: What writer inspires you?

I am the most encouraged to write, the most excited about a story when I am reading a truly great novel. My favorite writer is the incredible Charles Martin, who uses ordinary people, extraordinary plotlines, and fantastic language to weave a novel so breathtaking that all I want to do is pull out my laptop and try to craft at least one scene—at least one sentence—as beautifully as he does. W. Dale Cramer does the same thing with his Southern stories; he has a way of saying the most profound things in simple, unshakeable ways. Lisa Samson asks really hard questions and is unafraid of her search for an answer, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it might be. Melody Carlson takes the uncanny—whether it be cult life, drug addiction, or multiple personalities—and shows the mighty power of God in each of her stories. Nancy Rue brings healing with every word that she types and Susan Meissner simply leaves me spellbound with stories as clear and refreshing as a freshwater stream on a summer’s day. Ray Blackston uses humor to make me laugh, and then long after I’ve stopped laughing, I keep thinking about his themes and his conversation with me, the reader.

Fantasy writer Christopher Paolini captivates me with his tales of Alagaesia, mostly because I’ve always wanted a dragon. J.K. Rowling consistently has me coming back for more of her magical characters. I find myself dreaming of C.S.Lewis’ Narnia, looking for Aslan wherever I go and then demanding that my poodle actually talk to me like I really suspect she can. Tolkien’s Middle Earth has followed me to Africa and back again, where I’m convinced it’s all the more glorious in the Southern Hemisphere. And there’s another writer that I’m thinking of here, but that’s another post for another day… my first book feature, perhaps?

I have more favorites and inspirations than the ones I listed above. These are just a few. But now I’m asking you. When you think about the Company you keep, who makes you the most excited? Who inspires you? Who has you racing for your laptop, pen, and notebook no matter how late it is? Who keeps you dreaming of your day as a published author? Who, at the very mention of their names, makes you tremble from excitement of being counted amongst their ranks?

Who is in your great Hall of Fame? I’m excited to read your responses—I’m always on the look for something great to read!

See you Thursday!

22 July 2009

J.K. Rowling's Incredible Gift

Last week was a very busy week for me.

I'd just returned from a few weeks in Guatemala, where I had the incredible joy of co-leading a team of 13 girls (that's right, an all female team) in the beautiful mountains of San Pedro. For more stories from that trip, please go to my missions' blog at ktsummer.blogspot.com, or to the actual team blog at http://09gu0630yi.myadventures.org/. Anywho, we arrived in the States really late--or early, just depending on how you look at it--one night. The next couple days were a flurry of activity, from saying good-bye to my team, to debriefing the trip, saying good-bye to my co-leaders, returning home, cuddling with my poodle, and being overcome with a high fever and a deep cough. I admit, I've been pretty out of it for a while now.

But nothing, not even overseas travel and illness, could keep me from noticing the Harry Potter fever. It's everywhere. He's everywhere. And rightly so--the series is amazing. I haven't been to see the film yet, but that day will come soon. This will be the first HP movie that I've seen in a theater, something I'm most definitely looking forward to.

But what I want to write about today was the documentary that aired on television last Friday night. It was an hour-long account of the final year of Harry Potter, the year J.K. Rowling finished writing the final book. There was actually someone there with her in the hotel room, filming her as she typed the last few words of the series she'd been working on for sixteen years.

It was so cool to see that, so neat to be allowed that glimpse into Rowlings' life. As a writer, I know all too well how wonderful it feels to complete a book. But I haven't been working on the same series for sixteen years. And the summation of the known--and the unknown--world hasn't waited with bated breath for the release of anything I've written, no matter how much I love to dream that will be the case one day. As a writer, I really appreciated those few moments of the documentary, perhaps more than any other. It gave me something so precious, something so incredibly personal that I still can't believe it.

For a writer, you can't get any more personal than the act of writing itself, nor the emotions, thoughts, and desires that swirl through us as we fully engage in the craft. It's us at our most powerful--and sometimes at our weakest. Times when we feel completely out of control and times when we know exactly what is going to happen when. It's euphoria and grief and everything in between. It's intoxicating. And for the most part, it's completely private.

J.K. Rowling let us see her, not only as a multi-published author, but as a writer. As a dreamer. As someone that shares my creative heart. I am so thankful.

I don't aspire to the level of fame and fortune that she has attained. But I do aspire to attain her storytelling ability and her relationship with a publisher. Her story has given me hope to keep writing, to keep dreaming of my day. It will come. It doesn't have to be tomorrow--although, that would be incredible if it did--but that "tomorrow" will come one day. I believe it with everything's that's in me.

Now, to keep writing!

19 July 2009

What Have I Done So Far?

It's the dreaded question for most up and coming writers: "What have you done so far? Have you been published yet?"

The question strikes fear in our hearts, which pound so loudly that we're positive everyone else can hear it. We're not blindly dreaming, stupidly supposing that some magical fairies will come along, kiss our foreheads with blessing, and poof, here's our first book deal. We're trying, I promise! We're doing the best we can. And while we dream of the Big One--the book contract--we're not so dense as to focus solely on that. We're writing more than just books.

Still, it feels like a catch-22, that you need to be published in order to be published. It's easy to cry--or at least think it loudly deep inside--that it isn't fair, that we wish we could have lived in an era where entire manuscripts were assessed before the word "query" ever evoked fear and trembling in a creative wanderer's heart. Then again, as a female, my odds of being published in that era were possibly even more slim than they are now.

But alas, we live in a day where the written word is as easily accessible as Michael Jackson's secret video vault. Where so many people want to be an author simply because they wrote a book, clamor for that contract and start mentally designing their Hollywood mansions because it's obviously the quickest way to get rich in this troubling economy, and honestly, make it even harder for those of us who are actually serious about this. Those of us who feel like they'd lose the most precious part of themselves if they ever were to stop writing. It'd be so much easier for us if those people just got out of the way.

But then again, not everything that is easy is worth it.

Only an idiot would choose to do this if they didn't have to. The odds are stacked against us. The economy is down, agents have more material coming at them than ever, and the author's job is becoming more and more involved. We have to market ourselves, not only to find an agent, but now every step of the way. We can't just hide in our dens and weave marvelous plots, we actually have to meet people, talk about ourselves (or at least our books), and keep building our presence in the publishing world. We have to work on our "brand", which is funny because we don't make enough money to even eat off-brand food. And we get to do it while people look at us with that judgmental gleam in their eyes, the gleam that says we should have gotten a real job and just done what everyone else did.

But still, we dream.

I've written five books over the course of my lifetime. Three of them will never see the light of day. They were for me to learn on, nothing more. But books four and five, I believe in. I started querying the last one in the spring only to learn something truly disconcerting: that for some reason, the rest of the known world was also busy querying books. Here I was, after more than a decade of writing and polishing, finally taking that big step, only to find thousands were doing the same thing. Many theorized it was because of the failing economy, because when people started to feel the financial pinch they went to the "fall back" plan of publishing. This wasn't the case for me, but it was a very inopportune coincidence nonetheless.

Perhaps it was just a false start, but I learned a lot. I definitely made some mistakes and have since learned how to correct them. And in the past few months, have truly begun to understand the difference between being a writer and having a writing career. It's a great divide, actually. Now, I'm taking a break from querying. I'm writing, most definitely. I'm editing my manuscripts. But mostly, I'm building my brand. Marketing my name. Growing that resume.

Speaking of, here it is. As more happens and it changes, I'll edit/update this entry so that it will always stay current. For now, this blog (and the entries listed below) are where you can find me.
But one day, I'll also be on the bookshelves!

1. 1998: Devo'Zine-- Poems "Your Eyes" and "Who Am I?"

2. 2005:

a. Brio Magazine-- Purchased the rights to the short story "Set Me Free"

b. Cygnet, (University Literature Publication for Clayton College and State University)-- two poems, "Snow Globe" and "Road Trip". "Snow Globe" won second place for poetry.

c. The Bent Tree (University Newspaper for Clayton College and State University)--printed five articles in the Spring/Summer of 2005

d. Kudzu Life (local magazine for metro-Atlanta) --freelance reporter for fall 2005

3. 2006:

a. The Talon (University newspaper for Toccoa Falls College)-- reporter for the Fall

b. English Paper of the Year Award for Toccoa Falls College-- "The Dark Other", a paper describing the use of Orientalism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

4. 2007: English Paper of the Year Award for Toccoa Falls College--"Embalmed, Entombed, and Exposed," a paper comparing the elements of sin and grace in Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables

b. Bachelor of Arts from Toccoa Falls College

5. 2009:

a. "Beauty in the Shadow of a Volcano", a five part installment about a two week Guatemala trip with the Ambassador program of Adventures in Missions. It can be read at http://09gu0630yi.myadventures.org/

---------------------COMING SOON--------------------

b. "The Face of Anxiety", a nonfiction article to be published by Susie Magazine

c. "Set Me Free", a short story to be published on Susie's website

d. Rustic Magazine- co-creator, writer, and editor, a monthly webzine coming Fall 2009

17 July 2009

Welcome!

Welcome to my writing blog!

My name is Kristen Torres-Toro and I am a writer, a missionary, and a dreamer. Born, bred, and raised in the South, I love the haunting beauty of Southern fiction, its deep connection to nature, the rich storylines, and quirky characters. Most of all, I love to explore the most powerful themes of Scripture through the use of imaginative Story, to follow the example that Christ laid forth while He walked on earth. It is for that reason--and the fact that I can't quiet the random voices in my head--that I write fiction.

My goal isn't fame or fortune; it's to reach as many people as I can with the name and love of Christ. I am a missionary as well as a writer. To date I have traveled to more than sixteen countries and have lived on five different continents, sharing the power of the gospel whenever and however I can. Writing and missions are married passions for me, two loves that I cannot separate no matter how badly I try. Each fuels the other in a way that I can't fully explain or even understand. Both are my calling.

I have a blog dedicated solely to missions, located at ktsummer.blogspot.com. However, as I have begun to actively pursue a writing career in the past few months and have learned more about the business of writing, I have realized that I need a separate blog solely devoted to writing, building my online presence as a writer in an online community, and constructing a resume. That is the purpose of this blog. However, if at times my two passions bleed into each other and onto this page, please forgive me.

This blog is an honest account of my life, my thoughts on writing and publication, my hopes and dreams. I'll review books here, discuss current, relevent issues, and also have some creative fun. Whenever something I write is published or anything else exciting happens, you'll know, mostly because I won't be able to stop screaming from excitement! Hopefully, this blog will encourage and inspire you. Please feel free to comment! I'd love to get to know you! Let's have fun and explore this exciting, big world of publishing together!

Have a great day! And, it's great to "meet" you!

-Kristen Torres-Toro