I Am Not Tolkien

Anyone who knows me can tell you how Tolkien obsessed I am. I know all the weird little details. I get annoyed by inaccurate Tolkien memes. I have read the books and seen the movies multiple times.

However, when it comes to writing, I avoid Tolkien like the plague.

Lemme explain.

Tolkien was a linguist and a historian. He was an academic. This is why he was able to create his own languages, his own detailed world history, even his own religious mythos. He was already an expert in these areas.

I’ve seen a lot of memes that poke fun at Tolkien for starting his story by creating an entire language for his elves. (By the way, there are fifteen elven languages and dialects. The language of the dwarves was based on Old Norse and for men I think it was Old English, so not entirely made up, but still requiring years of previous study.)

So now fantasy writers feel like they have to do all that junk and that’s why we end up with fantasy stories that are all based in a made-up-but-medieval setting with fake words and usually at least one of the fantasy races (i.e. elves, dwarves, hobbits, etc.).

It actually really irritates me when people do this. Lemme tell y’all a secret… you do NOT have to create a new language in order to write a believable fantasy setting. In fact, you probably shouldn’t do that unless you, like Tolkien, are a linguist and have intensely studied how languages work. There are many ways of indicating language without actually writing the language. (Names of countries and such like are obviously the only exception.)

I would continue to argue against elaborate languages by saying that it pulls readers out of the story and mostly annoys them. Think about it. What do you, as a reader, do when you come across a word or name that you can’t pronounce? You skip it. You don’t try to sound it out in your head. You just skip right over it.

History is a little different in that I don’t believe you need to be a historian to create a backstory for your world. However, I do think that instead of actually trying to do this, people just go with the Tolkien Template. Medieval-era swords & sorcery, a past struggle against the Darkness, and general animosity between obvious races (i.e. elves & dwarves).

Anyway, my point here is that I found it very intriguing that I’m such a huge Tolkien fan, but when it comes to my writing, I tend to do nothing the way he did. There is no doubt that everything I’ve ever read, seen, or done subconsciously influences what I write. So Tolkien may be lurking in my writing without my knowledge. But I am not Tolkien. I do not try to write like him.

Which I suppose is not all that unusual, when I take a moment to think about it. The truth is that I am not any of the writers that I read and admire. When I sit down to that blank screen, all those writers and their works may be behind me. They may be the foundation from which I built my understanding of the craft. But in the end, the words that I put together to create stories are my own. When I write, I try to write like me.

What My Novel Is About

There is a question that I get asked every time someone is told that I’m writing a novel. It is always, “What’s your novel about?”

I used to have very strong feelings about this question. Basically, I hated it.

I have been working on a novel of some kind since I was fourteen. I’m going to be thirty-two in a couple weeks. For a large chunk of that time, I suffered from social phobia. It was a dark, horrible place. Talking to people at all was a struggle, let alone trying to answer that question of horror.

The reality is that novels are complex beasts and since I’m always in process and never finished, it’s actually really difficult for me to summarize what I’m working on.

This is probably different for every writer, but for me, it’s practically impossible to tell you what my novel is about. It’s not because I don’t want to share it with you. It’s because I don’t actually know.

The trick is usually trying to figure out if the person I’m talking to is someone I can trust with the information that I don’t know what my own novel is about.

When I was young and terrified, nobody could be trusted with that information. I wouldn’t willingly hand it out. So what did I do? I usually tried to get away with saying what genre I was writing. “Oh, it’s a fantasy novel.” If that didn’t work, I tried to summarize. And I failed. And then I felt like an idiot. And then I probably resolved never to talk to that person again out of shame.

So I think you can see why I hated this question back then.

Nowadays, I’m not as scared of people or what they think, so I find in most cases I can go ahead and tell them that I don’t know what my novel is about. It’s actually the perfect mechanism to change the subject from what my book is about to how I write. Since the next obvious question is something like, “How can you not know?” or “Are you some kind of idiot?” Then I can answer, no, not exactly, I’m just a discovery writer. I find my story as I go along. See? Now we’re talking about my process and I no longer have to attempt to summarize the slush that is currently my novel.

loooove talking about my writing process. I could talk about that mess all day long.

And since I no longer hate and fear the dreaded question, I can instead appreciate the person who asked for being interested in my writing at all.

I find in most cases, gratitude can change your outlook on anything. Something I used to hate is now something I can be grateful for. I know that people who ask aren’t trying to make me feel anxious or stupid. I know that they simply want to get to know me. So instead of telling them what my story is about, I tell them why I don’t know what it’s about.

So if you ever ask me what my novel is about, you can be sure that I won’t give you a direct answer. Even if I had some kind of summary to provide, it would be meaningless. If you asked me the same question a week later, the entire summary would be different. This is how I work. My creative process is a mess. It works, but that means my story is also a mess and thus summary is impossible.

In conclusion, I am grateful to anyone who expresses genuine interest in my writing, no matter what questions they ask. Just remember that I’m dodgy and don’t be offended if I don’t actually attempt to summarize my novel for you. I’m still happy you asked about it.

Office By Day, Writer By Night

You probably haven’t noticed that I changed the tagline of my blog. It is now the same as this title. It used it be “blog of author & poet Christina E. Lupanow” but that was wayyyy boring. I wanted something that would reflect my actual life a little bit better.

I work in an office by day, but I’m a writer by night. That’s pretty accurate.

And I want to share both worlds with the internet, so here we are. I want to illustrate what it’s like to have a full-time job that makes money and a something that isn’t a hobby but isn’t quite a job and makes no money currently and might not ever. I mean, it’s complicated. My emotions about these things are up and down all the time nearly every day. One day I’m thinking, “Yeah! I love my office job!” and then within in the same day I’m thinking, “Ugh! Not the office again!” Similarly, I’ll go from “Writing is pure joy and bliss, I don’t care that I can’t do it as a job!” to “Writing is still my favorite thing but maaaaaaaan why doesn’t it make more money?”

This means that from now on, you’ll get even more insight into my ridiculous life. Aren’t you feeling lucky?!

I guess if I was going to be annoying, I would say Writer By Night and Weekends, but that just feels way too long. Plus Writer By Night is cool and mysterious sounding.

At the moment, office life is decent. Nothing really bad, nothing really great. Mostly just the same as always. Writing life, on the other hand… is going better than usual! At the moment, going home to write is the highlight of my day.

I’m also going to start writing more blogs about books that I’m reading because who doesn’t want that? If you follow me on Goodreads, you will know that I’m usually reading at least two books at once, usually more. This is partly because I listen to audiobooks at the office. I will likely write a post about audiobooks in general quite soon – they are one of the few things where my office life and my writer life overlap. A rarity, indeed.

That is all for now. It’s lunchtime at the office & I’m thinking hellooooo break room vending, what delectable sandwiches do you have for me today? Hopefully, something that hasn’t been there too long, but you never know. This is what I get for not packing my lunches the night before.