Friday, June 12, 2009

guests

They’re in the house.

I know this, even without opening my eyes, or raising my forehead from where it rests on the desk. I know it in some place in the back of my brain, the same way I know everything else about them: an instinct. It’s what tells me how they eat, and their nervous tics, and what makes them insecure or happy. Now it tells me: they’re in the house.

They make their way slowly down the hall, pausing often because they think it’s such an odd place to live, my house. (Especially at the moment, as we’re redoing our living room. Books everywhere, a piano in the hallway…)

This time, only three of them have come. Three characters. There’s my heroine, taking careful and incredulous steps, leading the way. Following her—she must have pushed past him, because he’s not the type to follow—is the man she loves, with his fierce and beautiful smile. They shouldn’t have turned their back on the third figure, one of many villains peppering their story. But he’s not harming anyone at the moment, admiring instead the color of our walls.

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Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 06/12 at 05:12 PM
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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

epilogue: what do i look like to you?

I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there.—Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman

Oddly enough, just a day after my graduation post, I was at an event, and a guy asked: So, do you go to the local high school?

To which—after a stricken silence, and a moment when I resisted the need to laugh—I said: Well, I graduated from that high school… seven years ago…

He wasn’t at all alarmed by this, but I was. I got home and stared at my face in the mirror for a while. Do I look like I’m sixteen? Seventeen?

I guess the good news is: I’ll turn forty and still have people assuming I’m thirty-one… So I suppose this is good. Unsettling, maybe, but good.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 06/02 at 02:30 PM
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Thursday, May 28, 2009

homesick. (a letter)

He started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels.—Jane Austen (about Mr. Collins, who else?)

Dear Novels,

(Dear fiction, Dear everything in the best part of the library, Dear everything I haven’t been reading…)

It has been such a long time, I know. So many weeks since I’ve had a novel to read, too many days since I’ve dragged some poor book around, anxious to get to the finish, curious about the characters, laughing over dialogue…

Something’s happened to me, something unaccountable: I have completely lost my appetite for reading fiction.

I know that there are people who don’t care about novels, who don’t read fiction, who aren’t concerned about this sort of thing—what’s abnormal about not reading fiction?

But it’s different for me—I’ve been reading at least one novel, and, um, sometimes four at a time, for as long as I can remember. Even when I was taking three lit classes at Calvin (yes, three!! I loved it!), I still was working through a novel on the side. (It took me forever to finish, but I was still reading…)

So what’s happened to us, fiction? Where did you go? Is it because I’m writing a novel, is that it? And yet, that doesn’t make sense. I don’t completely buy it. All those writing books shout at me to keep reading (something I never thought would be a problem), so clearly, I should still be seeking you out.

Besides. Don’t chefs eat? And fashion designers wear clothes. So why can’t I muster up an appetite for fiction like I used to? Why am I barely reading at all?

Sigh.

Fiction, I miss you.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 05/28 at 08:22 PM
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Friday, May 22, 2009

guaranteed to be cheaper than graduate school.

Live deep instead of fast.—Henry Canby

Having just passed my third graduation anniversary (what?), I decided to share a bit of my post-Calvin wisdom. (Obviously, this is a short post… ha ha ha.) So. Ten things I’ve learned since graduation:

1. Even three years out of college, some people will think you’re still in high school. I haven’t yet learned how to deal with this gracefully. (I’ve gotta lower my voice somehow.)

2. Asking “so, where are you from” isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be… not that it was ever a spine-tingler…

3. Novels? Yeah. You don’t write your first one in a year. Or two. Or… oddly enough… three. I’m hoping year four is amazing. (It will be.)

4. It’ll take longer than you think to readjust to suburban life.

5. Three years out, and I haven’t found a church I liked as much as LOFT. Still miss Friday Hymnsings as well.

6. But I still don’t miss dining halls. Sorry. (Though Quesadilla Night will forever hold a place in my heart.)

7. Self motivation is a rare art.

8. “Idealist” might not be a bad word.

9. The best things in life really are free. Next best costs about $1.60.

10. Growing up will always be weird. (Thank you, Ben Folds.)

Congrats, new graduates!—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 05/22 at 10:56 PM
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

in which the cast is missing… again.

If I appear ridiculous, it is because our language is deficient.—James Boswell

After months of decent writing work, it seems that my stamina, my ability to stay sitting at my desk, is shot to pieces.

I blame the travel bug, which has been gnawing at my brain all week. It happily tunnels through all my plot notes, character ideas, and brilliant description (assuming it was ever brilliant to begin with), and instead offers me visions of Otherplace: crepes by Notre Dame, sojourns through Norway, Japanese noodle carts.

I don’t know if my characters are disgusted with me, and have just stopped speaking? Which forces me away from my desk again and again…

Or are they listening to the travel bug even more than I have? And now they’re spread across the continents. I’ll have to go find them, one by one, in Morocco and Panama and Belgium. Irritated with their author, they’ve decided to circumnavigate the globe, in search of better adventures than they’ve gotten on the page, poor things.

If you’re reading this, oh characters of mine (who have probably tried to get as far away from me as possible, and certainly wouldn’t be reading my blog!), then come home quick. Yes, even if you haven’t yet seen the Pyramids. Because drafting starts again on Monday!! Part Three, that monster of plot and conflict and development! It all comes crashing in on Monday morning, and if you’re not back yet, then I don’t know what will happen.

Perhaps the narrator will entertain us with a selection of knock-knock jokes.

Or something even worse.

So come back, come talking, come grumpy and angry and hostile as you are, because Monday will put all of us through our paces again. (And show me your pictures when we’re on break. Bring me a keychain or at least a postcard as well…)—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 05/16 at 07:13 AM
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Saturday, May 09, 2009

a week in ten moments


me, looking up at mosaic work in the St. Louis Basilica

Whew! What a week! We can pack a lot in seven days, and I haven’t caught my breath yet.

Instead of the full saga, here’s our week in ten glimpses:

* Crepes again last Sunday, yum. My brother-in-law recommends Nutella + banana for the filling: Voila, the perfect crepe.

* Falling asleep to thunder and rain.

* Fighting off a sinus infection (or some kind of mystery virus) and almost winning ... so far.

* Absorbing the accents of our visiting Australian cousins, enjoying their stories and conversation… I could listen forever!

* Introducing those same cousins to some darn good St. Louis coffee. Drinking our Kaldi’s purchases on the grounds of Concordia Seminary.

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Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 05/09 at 01:47 PM
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Friday, May 08, 2009

why i write

Leaving Borders last Saturday afternoon, feeling philosophical about how many millions of books there are out there, and how long (LONG) it takes me to write a single one, musing about competition, industry, marketplace…

And then this: a man walking in, then a huge intake of breath. “There it is!” he gasped to his companion.

I don’t know which book it was, catching his eye, but I wish I could bottle that mixture of wonder and anticipation when confronted with books.

I think it would keep me writing for weeks on end…—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 05/08 at 01:43 PM
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Thursday, April 30, 2009

you’re invited.

I’ve made a little life out of muttering on paper.—N.E. Bode, The Nobodies

If you like hopping about through the blogosphere, then hop over in this direction, and visit my new blog! (Well, relatively new. It has two months behind it.) It talks even more about writing than this one does, so if you like that sort of thing, come check it out. (I’m also hoping—eventually—to talk a lot more about pie, hence the title.)

I haven’t quite gotten the knack of keeping two blogs going at once (though some people have lots of blogs, and hooray for them!). I always feel like I’m keeping one blog out of the conversation… so, if you’re interested in what else I might be saying—all those secretive things about protagonists that you never knew you wanted to know!!—then come visit, leave a comment, and say hi.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/30 at 03:49 PM
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finding the dark side of jenn

Villains are the salt in the soup of a story.—Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

Villains made history. Villains changed the destiny of the world.—J.V. Hart, Capt. Hook

Well, I pushed past last week’s exhaustion by that time-honored college technique: skimming. What a wonderful invention. Scan a page, trust that the good lines will leap out, and move on.

I am profoundly grateful for the chance to revise my work, to rewrite it basically from scratch. How many places in life can we literally rip things up and start again? Not many. So, goodbye to the Old Part Three! Paragraphs I’ll learn from, but hope never to see again.

It seems that every section of this rewrite has taught me something: in the first section, one of the characters closest to my protagonist became enormously interesting. Once I heard his voice clearly, Part One stood up and started running, and I just had to keep up. Then, with Part Two, the love interest got a complete personality overhaul—and off went Part Two.

With Part Three, I’m zeroing in on the main antagonist. I’m convinced that she’s the link to Part Three, and if I can just hear her voice clearly, if I can just get her right, then Part Three will yawn and stretch and then tell me precisely where we’re going. It’s a feeling I live for, now, when the book tells me just what it wants. (Oooh, this kind of talk makes non-writers shake their heads at me, but it’s still true, so shake away.)

The antagonist was okay in the earlier drafts, just… not very frightening. More like a cardboard box with mean black-crayon eyebrows. Not like a person of flesh and blood who could seriously give you nightmares, and that’s what we need for this story. Someone stronger than, well, cardboard. A lot stronger. Especially now that the rest of my cast is more dynamic.

She’s been mean and hostile and relatively powerful. Manipulative and cold-hearted. Perceptive. Changeable. But it’s just not good enough.

So now we’re peeling back the layers of her motivation, this character and I. Figuring out her past, and why she wants what she wants. (And what is that, exactly, after all?)

All my characters have a pinch of me in them: a bit of someone I know mixed in with something of me, or sometimes it’s just a lot of me, mixed with things I’d like to be. But then we come to the antagonist, and so far, no one I know really fits her. (I need to meet more warped people, perhaps? Or—maybe not. I value sleeping well at nights.)

But some very good writing advice says that antagonists see themselves as heroes. In their version of events, they are the ones struggling, the ones overcoming obstacles, working for a prize.

Now I’m looking at my story through those other eyes, trying to put my antagonist at the top, and see where she would go, what she would do. And since no one of my acquaintance works for her, I’m using myself as stand-in. How would I feel if these things happened to me? What would I be looking for? How would I behave? And how frightening and tooth-chillingly bad could I really be?

Whew! That will make me want to take a break from my writing chair. Let’s go have a latté... and I’ll spook the barista by using my new evil voice.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/30 at 03:24 PM
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

why i am not a builder of sand castles

Why gnaw you so your nether lip?—William Shakespeare, Othello

OH, this is one of those days where there just isn’t enough tea in the world, there isn’t enough coffee.

I did actually finish my work on Part Two last week, in a blaze of exhaustion and weary eyes last Wednesday. But after a half-week break, and then another half-week of chaos… I feel more than a little disconnected, disoriented. (Hence the cry for tea.) On to Part Three, this bear of bears that I rewrote last November.

I’m doing my usual torture-in-the-form-of-reading-old-drafts. Why do I do this, when it makes me feel so savage and wretched?

Because I’m terrified that some forgotten, brilliant scene or dialogue interchange or passage of description will slip past me into the Neverland of my computer’s recycle bin. Ugh. But is it worth the cost? Maybe not. Especially as it’s an enormous section, and rereading it is taking an age.

I am so much older than I was this morning.

But blogging and being grumpy isn’t much more fun than being grumpy on my own, so I won’t bore you with an extended rant. Still. Working through a massive old draft, all the while knowing that I’m just going to write it again from scratch? Sorta takes the heart right out of me.

And no, no, I never did go in for sand castles. Obviously.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/23 at 10:02 PM
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the merry eggs of easter

I am so smitten with this year’s Easter dyeing (though I don’t think I can stomach another hardboiled egg, not for a few weeks at least…) But surely, this is the highest and best use of rubber bands.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/23 at 09:55 PM
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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

easter corrections

To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power, and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.—The Book of Jude, the last verse.

Forget all my hedging, side-stepping words about fearlessness at the end of this post.

God can do whatever he wants, whatever he will. After all, he is God, and though I always forget it, I’m not.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/14 at 01:05 PM
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Friday, April 10, 2009

rainy night cuppa

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.—Albert Einstein

All my scruples about discussing the weather vanish when the weather is rain. Rain is something else entirely: it means that everything is right and good and cozy.

Mom and I dashed out through the grey twilight to get my dad from the airport tonight, and as we came home, all I could think of was: 1) find a good novel. 2) and warm socks. 3) and tea. somehow, make your way to tea.

I’m a coffee girl at heart, and somewhat new to tea, but it’s the perfect night for it. Trees are black-silhouetted against a grey, low sky, the pine is dripping in the gutter outside my bedroom, our house is warm and peaceful. And there’s Peach Blossom White Tea, loose, waiting for me.

Cozy nights do not call for washing the mesh tea-infuser thingy, do they? They don’t call for preparation of any kind, you just zap your water and go, right? I dumped the loose tea into the teacup to steep. It seemed like a good idea, but now I realize that I have to fish all those twigs and things out of the water I’m going to drink… and suddenly it’s like puddle-water, however sweet smelling.


seemed like a good idea at the time…

Sorta sucks the romance out of the whole thing.—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/10 at 12:06 AM
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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

fearless, or something like it

Worrying, indeed, seemed to be the twentieth century’s specialty.—P.G. Wodehouse

I’d forgotten that “stop being afraid” was one of the lines on this list. It will probably take more than just a spring, more than Lent, more than just the habit of writing the word fearless on my arm.

Though that helps.

More than anything, I want to be as strong and courageous as God meant for me to be, when he says—so many times!—do not be afraid.

He knows as well as anyone all the reasons we would have down here, for fear and terror and caution and worry. All the reasons why. And all the reasons why not.

Some nights I feel completely bold, ready to take on anything, anything at all.

And other times, I realize how completely vulnerable I am, how afraid I am for the safety of everyone I care about, how the future can look fanged and clawed from here.

It will take longer than Lent for me to learn this lesson—maybe longer than 2009. Probably. Of course it will. But I hope to keep walking and running in that direction. And Easter, oh Easter is Sunday! And what better reminder of all the things we don’t have to fear?—jl

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/07 at 02:54 PM
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Friday, April 03, 2009

late night musings: the results

If there were a market for insecurities, I could sell mine for a buck a piece, and make a FORTUNE.

And then I’d just buy a villa on the coast of Italy, and write my brains out. Minus all my insecurities. Which would be bliss.

Posted by Jenn Langefeld on 04/03 at 11:18 AM
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