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Personal Branding for Authors: Part V

Last week, we started discussing the four motivations for authors to build a personal brand – sharing information about themselves and their lives with their readers to create a specific professional image that attracts readers to them and their work. We already discussed how some authors share personal information to build up perceptions of their competence. The second motivation for sharing personal information is to establish trust and liking.

Establishing Trust and Liking Through Sharing Personal Information

This is the most common reason for authors to share information with readers, and it is thought to have two outcomes. First, it is expected to help authors sell more books in the short term. As we’ve mentioned before, books are a form of “experience goods.” You don’t know whether or not you’ll like a given book until you’ve invested time and effort (and likely money) into acquiring and reading it. Before you make that commitment, then, you want to have some indication that you’re going to like the book. One indication that you’ll like a book is that you like the character or personality of the author. Sharing the worldview of the author, sharing a hobby, knowing that you like the author’s sense of humor, knowing that the author has specific principles, or just having an all-around positive impression of what the author is like will make you more likely to pick up a book you haven’t read before. If you like a person, you figure that the things they like will be things you like as well. If the author talks about him or herself, and it is clear that he or she wrote his/her book to be something he/she likes (which is a pretty good guess for most authors), then if you like the person, you should probably like their books too – or at least you might take the time and effort to start reading and give their books a chance.


Second, authors hope that by building up trust and liking, they can establish relationships that will result in future sales and positive word-of-mouth for their future products. If you like a book but don’t get attached to the author, you’re more likely to forget about the author and not pay attention if he/she comes out with a new book – especially if it’s in a different world or a different genre. Even farther afield, some authors both sell books and also run other businesses. While normally these would sell to completely different markets, an author-entrepreneur can share personal information about him- or herself to build relationships with customers that encourage them to find out more about what the author-entrepreneur does, and give the author a chance to sell his/her other products to them. A good relationship with an author will also keep that author in the front, rather than the back, of customers’ minds, which means that they will be more likely to talk about the author with other potential customers and also be more likely to purchase the author’s next book, even if it’s in a genre they wouldn’t normally read. As a fantasy author, I have had many non-fantasy readers tell me that they bought my book – and loved it! –because they knew me personally and trusted that since they liked me, they would like the stories I would choose to tell.

In addition to these two main outcomes, many authors want to build trust and liking by customers for its own sake. Some authors write to make money, but many do it because they want to share their work with other people who love their genre and in so doing, to make friends and participate in community. Community and friendship, of course, is built upon trust, liking, and shared interests. Authors put out information about themselves, then, to give readers and other authors a chance to see if there is potential to bond over shared experiences and develop relationships for their own sake.

What has been your experience with personal branding? Does the above resonate with you? Do you have other reasons for sharing personal information? Share your thoughts in a comment below!

Personal Branding for Authors: Part IV

Our series on personal branding for authors continues with a shift in topics. The past two weeks looked at whether you might want to build a person-focused brand or a product-focused brand. This week, we’ll start looking at individuals’ motivations for sharing personal information about themselves with their customers. Different people might share the same information for completely different reasons, but more likely, people who have different purposes for sharing personal information will tend to share different information with their customers. Two authors might share the same amount of information with customers, then, but the type of information they share might be completely different. The first motivation we’ll talk about is that of wanting to show one’s readers that one is competent.


Establishing Competence Through Sharing Personal Information

One of the first things we learn as published authors is that there are many, many people who have written and published books who just can’t write. One of the other first things we learn is that people don’t want to spend their hard-earned money on books that are of poor quality. Unfortunately, books are what we call an “experience good” rather than a physical, tangible product. You can buy a book to just be pretty and sit on your bookshelf, but that isn’t the real product you’re buying. What you’re buying when you purchase a book is the experience of going on the adventure that lies within its page. As such, you can’t fully judge the quality of that experience before you actually shell out money for the book – in other words, you’re flying blind.

Some authors try to relieve the “flying blind” notion by sharing information with customers that “proves” the quality of their work. Sharing samples of one’s work is always a good way to give tangible evidence that one can write, but even that forces individuals to invest a certain amount of time and effort that they may not be willing to give to just any published author. A less effortful way to reassure readers of the high quality of one’s work is to tell them about yourself.

For authors, readers want to know that you have two types of competence. First, readers want to know that you can write in general. Is your book going to be filled with typos? Is it inconsistent in its voice? Do you have a serious case of “tell don’t show?” Readers want to be reassured that these things aren’t the case – without having to read your work first to find out. Second, readers want to know that you can write on the topic you’re writing about. If you’re writing about kids, the kids should act at their age level. If you’re writing a war novel, you should know something about strategy and tactics.

Some things that authors tend to share with readers that highlight these types of competence are:

  • Awards or other external validations (e.g. “Semi-finalist in the Best Books About Vampire Werewolves in a Science Fiction Setting in 2014”)
  • Professional qualifications (e.g. college or graduate degrees in English, college or graduate degrees in a field related to your books, certifications in writing or teaching)
  • Professional experience (e.g. the amount of time you’ve been writing, the number of books you’ve written, conferences or workshops you’ve attended or taught, vignettes about experiences that relate to the books you’ve written)

For instance, if an author wrote that she has just published her first book, but that she has been writing short stories from the time she was five years old, winning competitions in her school, taking private writing lessons, and then serving as an editor for her college newspaper, readers would probably trust the quality of her writing more than if the same author had not shared this information.

How might you use your background to give readers more confidence in your quality as a writer?

Personal Branding for Authors: Part III

So far in our series on personal branding for authors, we have talked about the basic framework of personal branding as found in my academic research and the first of two strategies that an author might have for personal branding. While some authors choose to try to build a person-focused personal brand, as I wrote about last week, many others choose to build a product-focused personal brand, or multiple personal brands of this sort. This is a type of personal branding that is done all the time, but that isn’t talked about a lot. So what is a product-focused personal brand and how does it work?

Why Would You NOT Want to Build a Person-Focused Brand?

Can you not want to be a celebrity for your own sake and still share your personal information to drive up the value and recognition of your products? Absolutely. The problem with building up a single person-focused personal brand is that single brand then is your platform for everything having to do with you. If you, for instance, write dark, edgy fiction but also love painting delicate unicorn sculptures and selling them, that might not make sense for your customers. We expect people who write things that are dark and edgy to have a more gritty lifestyle, and so the books that they write seem more real and valuable if their authors fit that mold. We expect people who love unicorns and painting to have more delicate, innocent sensibilities, and so it doesn’t make sense to us that they would also sell dark fiction. Trying to be connected as an entrepreneur to both of these products is therefore tricky. Some customers may not even give you a chance to sell them your dark fiction if they know that you don’t fit their stereotypes of “good” authors of this genre.

More relevantly to authors, if you write in two different genres that wouldn’t be appropriate markets for each other, you might not want to have your name connected to them both in the same way. It might be relevant to share that you are a homeschool mom with three kids if you write books for younger audiences, but that knowledge wouldn’t help readers if you’re trying to sell them an R-rated police thriller. In fact, your brand perceptions might seem incongruent and lead to individuals not wanting to purchase your books, and not even enjoying them as much as they read them. In my own case, I write both fantasy stories (as found here at, but I also write academic research papers targeted to a completely different audience. My fantasy audience might think that my stories would be horribly boring if I let everyone know that I also write academic research articles, and my academic market might not take me and my research seriously if they think that I care more about fantasy worlds than the real one.

What’s the Solution?

For authors, the best solution to the different-genres/different-markets problem is that of using a pen-name. You don’t have to be secretive about it: I tend to write under the A.L. Phillips name for my fantasy and fiction, and under the A. Lynn Phillips name for my academic work. When I am advertising books and stories under the first label, I share information about myself that fits and corresponds with adding value to my fiction – I am the author of the published fantasy novel The Quest of the Unaligned, and my goal is to carry readers off into epic adventures in worlds that seem real, delighting them with new cultures that make sense, and thrilling them with stories that capture their imaginations. I share that I love J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, that I have been making up fantasy stories since I was a child, and that my writing is clean and appropriate, but engaging for adults. For my academic writing, I share very different personal information – my teaching and research interests, my academic publication record, and my skills at (boring to most people) methodology and statistical analysis. People who read about A.L. Phillips, and then read about A. Lynn Phillips might almost think that they’re different people. And that’s okay – it’s part of my branding strategy. By being more focused but limited in what I share about myself and my work in a particular context, I can build a brand image that makes sense in the minds of potential customers without turning them away.

Which of these two strategies resonate with you? Do you prefer to try to promote yourself as a whole person and hope that people who like you will buy your products? Or do you prefer to use specific parts of your background to promote a certain product or set of products?

Starting next week, we’ll get into the four different motivations identified in my research for why people share personal information about themselves in a personal brand. Stay tuned!

Personal Branding for Authors: Part II

Here’s what all the experts know about personal branding: Every author has a personal brand. Your personal brand is the sum total of everything that people think about you professionally – sort of like a reputation, only that instead of only focusing on your character and quality, it includes your story, what types of goods or services people expect you to sell, and anything else that describes you as a person. While a personal brand is impacted by people’s interactions with you as an author, you have the power to shape that personal brand through the information you reveal about yourself to others. Your products, what you say about your products, and how you portray yourself all contribute to your brand perceptions.

Here’s what the experts DON’T know about personal branding: according to the research I have done, there are actually two strategies for building a personal brand, with very different types of behaviors that authors would engage in for each. The next two weeks’ Savvy Saturday post will discuss these two strategies and their advantages and drawbacks. The two strategies in question are: building a person-focused personal brand, and building a (or a set of) product-focused personal brand(s).

Person-focused personal branding

The first type of personal branding, person-focused branding, is one that you may have seen before in webinars and blog posts. The goal of this type of brand is to focus on promoting an individual – what is unique and special about them – for the purpose of gaining a large number of followers or a large amount of notoriety. The reasons for doing this are twofold. First, celebrity status in itself is attractive to some people. By seeking to become a writing guru, or a well-known name in fantasy books, authors are seeking recognition, approval, respect, fame, glory, and all those other euphoric emotional states that validate them and their work.

Of course, this isn’t the only, or even the primary reason for seeking to create a strong person-focused brand. Many authors and other entrepreneurs view celebrity status as a way of actually opening doors for new opportunities, as well as increasing sales of all their current products. Think about it – if J.K. Rowling writes a new book, people will buy it and read it even if they typically hate the genre, because they love J.K. Rowling. If you’re a celebrity, then people will purposefully look to see if you’re selling anything, because they want to buy things that are associated with you. Seeking celebrity status, then, is a way of seeking increased financial success for all your products – even ones that have nothing to do with each other.

People who try to build a person-focused personal brand may share information about themselves with customers that has nothing to do with their products, and that even might cause controversy or alienate some potential customers. Think of your favorite (or least favorite) Twitter celebrities – the ones who are constantly giving updates about their clothing purchases, eating habits, funny exchanges they had with their families or friends, recipes they’ve found, causes they support, and so forth. Does any of that have anything to do with their field of expertise? Does it make their product of higher quality? Very rarely. Instead, by sharing things with customers or fans that are relevant to the celebrity’s general life, they are hoping that those fans or customers will think of the celebrity as a friend and thus be more willing to open their pocketbooks to help their friend out…or the celebrity might be keeping doors open for pursuing new opportunities down the road. For instance, an author who writes fiction might choose to also share about her difficult childhood in an inner city, with the hope that someday she might also write an autobiography, or be invited to be a motivational speaker. At the same time, by sharing about difficult childhood, the author may be inviting her customers to relate to her as a person, and to through that relatedness, come to value all the books she sells more highly.

Of course, problems with seeking celebrity are that the more you share, the more chances you have of over-sharing and turning people off. At the same time, people don’t really approve of people who are seeking fame for its own sake. Just like you can tell when others are trying too hard to become famous, other people can tell if you’re doing the same thing. Seeking celebrity for a good reason can be even more difficult – you have to convince people why you in particular are awesome and worth listening to as a person, separate from any particular product that you’re selling. For some authors, this is easy. For others, not so much.

Does building a person-based personal brand sound like something you’d be good at? Is it something that makes you shudder? Check back next week for the other main option: building a product-based personal brand that still incorporates who you are as a person, but is more focused on the products you’re actually selling.

Savvy Saturday – Personal Branding for Authors: Part I

One important part of being an author is developing what is called a “personal brand.” Very simply, a personal brand is the collection of associations that people bring to mind when they think about a given individual. An author might be “a funny homeschool mom with four kids who writes intelligent mysteries for grade-schoolers,” a “retired policeman who writes gritty thriller novels that draw on his experience in the force,” or simply a “thoughtful writer with a poetic voice and characters so real they could be your next door neighbors.”

Everyone seems to know that personal branding for authors is important. After all, people want to like a book if they’re going to spend hours reading it, and the surest way of knowing that you’re going to like a book is knowing what type of book an author writes. The type of book an author writes, in turn, will have to do with the type of person that they are.

But what people don’t know is how, exactly, authors should engage in personal branding. There are many bits of conflicting advice out there. Authors should tell people their life history. Authors should remain private and mysterious, letting their books speak for themselves. Authors should speak their mind about what they believe. Authors shouldn’t say anything that readers might find offensive. Should an author share pictures of their pets on social media? Should an author talk about his or her hobbies that aren’t writing-related? Should an author post pictures from his or her last vacation? No one seems to know.

As a Ph.D. student in marketing as well as an author, this is a question that I have been interested in for a long time. And while I don’t have the answers, my current research has started to at least map out the questions that can be asked – and start to piece together how authors can think about the ideas of personal branding. Over the next number of weeks, then, my Savvy Saturday blog posts will discuss what I’ve been finding out from authors (as well as other artisan-entrepreneurs, who are in the same boat!) about personal brands, the different motivations that people have for sharing personal information about themselves with their potential customers, the different types of personal information that people choose to share, and how these all relate to different types of success for entrepreneurs.

For those of you reading this blog who aren’t familiar with the way research works, here’s a caveat. I’ve done one study, with a non-random sample of entrepreneurs and a fairly low sample size. This means that while I believe that the qualitative results that I have found are likely accurate in general, I have no way of knowing that for sure, or even within a given margin of error. More importantly, the numbers that I’ll be talking about and statistical relationships between variables shouldn’t be taken as gospel truth for everyone. Just because on average sharing a specific type of personal information tends to be associated with higher entrepreneurial emotional satisfaction, for instance, doesn’t mean that if you start sharing that part of your life with your customers you’ll be happier. In addition, this research is a work in progress, so I will be sharing what results currently are, but they might be refined or tweaked or even completely redesigned in the future as I study the phenomenon of personal branding of authors and other entrepreneurs in more detail.

So with all of that legalese disclaimers, what DO I think is worth sharing about my research? Lots of things. No one before now has ever actually explored how authors and other entrepreneurs view personal branding in an objective, academic fashion, based on both the stories and real experiences of entrepreneurs and also based on statistical analysis of different types of branding actions and reported outcomes. It is my hope that the results of this study will give other authors a new, useful, organized way to think about personal branding, different types of personal branding actions that could be considered, and some examples and tendencies of how certain actions and thoughts have worked together for some other people in a similar situation.

As a teaser, here are the topics of personal branding that will be considered in the future:

Two strategies for personal branding: Are you going to try to become a celebrity, or just focus on selling a particular product?

Four motivations for sharing personal information: Authors might engage in any one of these four, but your motivations for sharing information typically will influence the types of information you share.

Types of personal information that are shared: People who share certain information also tend to share certain other information. Using statistics, I found five different categories of types of information that authors tend to share about themselves.

Outcomes of personal branding: How might strategies, motivations, and types of information relate to different entrepreneurial outcomes for authors?

This is exciting stuff – and it’s as cutting-edge as research gets. Whether you’re an author, a reader, or both, I hope it’s useful and interesting to you!

Savvy Saturday – Your Characters’ Love Language

One useful tool for developing characters is deciding what matters to them most in relationships. All human beings are wired to be in relationship with each other – we’re built for community, and as the quote goes, it is not good for man to be alone. The way in which this desire for community and appreciation is expressed, however, can be very different from person to person. Gary Chapman introduced an idea that has been very helpful in real-life relationships for many people: the idea that there are five “love languages” that people around the world use to express affection and appreciation, and that they yearn for to feel loved and valued. While all five are nice and often valued by every individual, one or two stand out as a person’s default way of showing closeness, and if not received from a friend or family member, can make the person wonder if they’re really valued. Knowing your characters’ default love languages, then – and purposefully choosing ones that aren’t yours (the author’s) – can make your written relationship dynamics seem more real, and help your readers better connect to your characters.

So what are these five love languages?

Words of Affirmation.

This is the easiest one for me to write, because it’s the one that is most natural for me. As a writer, words are the sea I swim in, the air I breathe, and the way in which I automatically show appreciation of others. It was also pointed out to me recently that many of my characters share my love language. My characters choose to talk with each other, to compliment one another, to look for nice things to say and to be eloquent in how they say them, to write letters or essays or poems, and to be effusive in their praise when they like someone else. In turn, when they’re feeling low, they want to hear others tell them what they admire and respect and love about them, and to be otherwise similarly built up with words. A long essay written about why someone likes them would tend to be valued more by my characters than would a moderately expensive piece of jewelry.

Acts of Service

Some people show their love for others, or desire to be shown love, through acts of service. This is the character who automatically seeks out and does chores that his/her significant other hates doing, who goes out of his way and does kind things to make life easier for a friend, who is always volunteering to take people to the airport or make meals for the sick or babysit or slay those pesky dragons laying waste to the countryside. In return, they expect (or at least hope!) that their true friends will return the favor and gladly jump in, get their hands dirty, and help out when asked. True love, to these characters, is shown not necessarily by the nice thoughts you think about them, or the expensive things you’re willing to buy them, but by the things you’re willing to do for them.

Giving/Receiving Gifts

Some characters show and desire to receive love through gift-giving. They come home with souvenirs for all their friends whenever they go somewhere, they give gifts “just because,” they put a lot of time and effort into finding the “perfect” gift for every occasion, and they’d never consider giving money or a gift card at an event like a birthday, graduation, or wedding. The perfect gift might not be one that costs an outrageous sum (though expensive gifts do show that the other person really values you!), but it should be something that fits the person in question. Talk is cheap, they say, and acts of service are nice, but gifts are things that you can hold onto, treasure, and remember forever.

Quality Time

“I don’t want you to wash my car. I don’t want you to buy me presents. Just spend time with me!” is the cry of this character. Friendship and love, for people who value quality time, is best shown through the dedication of time to the other person. Quality time is different from just being in the same room with someone – it is time when the other person isn’t distracted or trying to multitask, but is rather committed to the person and activity that they are engaged in. Spending a day together at the beach, or going on a hike, or sitting together and debating the merits of one type of spell versus another when facing down a mountain troll, is an ideal and needed sign of love and care.

Physical Touch

Unfortunately, touch between individuals in Western culture has been relegated more and more to sexual contexts only; this makes life hard for people who are mentally wired to need physical touch as a sign of love and care. Men and women alike all need simple human touch (e.g. a clap on the back, a shoulder-rub, a hug). Some just need it more than others. People who view physical touch as a love language will be generous with (and desire) hugs, may lay a hand on a friend’s shoulder or arm as they’re speaking to show that they care, and so forth.


When people with different ways of expressing and desiring love try to build relationships with each other, the results can be frustrating. If you’ve upset the other person, for instance, do you need to simply write a long, thoughtful apology that affirms the value of the person that you’ve hurt? Do you need to simply send them a gift or perform an act of service? Do you say you’re sorry but follow it up with a hug or an hour or two of doing the other person’s favorite activity with them? If you do the wrong one, the other person may appreciate the effort, but won’t feel as touched and affirmed as if you do the right one. The wrong action might even make the situation worse. (“Are you trying to buy my forgiveness?” or “Don’t you understand? I need help, not a hug!”) When characters understand each other, however, they can work to speak the other’s language, giving them the strength and affirmation they need at the core of their being to draw their vorpal blade and charge forward in search of the jabberwock (or whatever it is that you as the author decide they need to do).

As you write, consider the ways in which you and your characters are similar, the ways your characters could be different from you, and how your characters are different from each other. Giving them different combinations of preferred and natural love languages might be a way of adding depth to their interactions, while also speaking to your readers’ hearts.

Savvy Saturday – Cultural Relevance in Science Fiction

One interesting question for a science fiction author to think about is how much historical culture of Earth he or she wants to include in his or her “new” world. Some science fiction series are set on other planets or in future so far distant that readers recognize nothing of the world in which the action of the story happens. These stories can be as rich in world-building as fantasy stories are; the only difference is that technology, science, or the simple passing of time, rather than magic, are the driving factors of what differentiates this world from our own. Other works of science fiction are more tied to our own society, either tangentially, to a greater extent but without culture driving the plot, or actually integrally. There are benefits and drawbacks to each that authors should consider…

No References to Modern or Historical Culture

Stories like The Hunger Games are technically science fiction (dystopia is a subset of the genre) which create entirely new worlds but are set in a hypothetical future. Advantages of this type of genre are the author’s ability to truly create new worlds without limitations, but also have a greater believability and relatability with their world than is possible in a fantasy context. Readers might be willing to believe that a certain society could arise after a nuclear holocaust, whereas no matter how well put together and internally consistent a fantasy realm is, no one will believe that such a world is possible. Disadvantages of this choice include the greater amount of work an author must put into their worldbuilding, and the lack of contextual cues and connecting touch-points for readers that are triggered with cultural references.

Minimal References to Culture

Many classic and modern works of science fiction, such as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, choose to incorporate just enough recognizable cultural elements into their new worlds to give readers a sense of history and connection, but not enough to actually influence the societies or plots that the authors create. Advantages of this type of story are twofold. First, they allow authors to delight readers by inserting known familiar elements into an unfamiliar context in interesting ways that play with readers’ brains. For instance, in Ender’s Game, most of the action happens in a space station, but the nations down on Earth have names that are known and the characters practice known religions – albeit secretly. Second, this type of story adds believability to a setting, while still allowing the author maximal free reign to exercise his or her imagination. The main disadvantage of making minimal reference to culture is that an author still has to invest the work in creating a nearly entirely new world and culture, while also having to ensure that his world is believable from a historical standpoint. If no cultural references are included, the author has free reign. The more culture is brought into a story, however, the more care the author has to take with making sure that his story would actually logically flow from the events he or she describes.

High Levels of Non-Plot-Relevant References to Culture

 In this type of story, characters may live in a recognizable, real city or culture in which the science fiction book is set, or in a future society that is a direct extrapolation from real cultures today. For instance, science fiction set in Los Angeles in 2020, or in a colony on Mars in fifty years, or on a planet settled by colonists from England who set up the New United Kingdom, would all fall under this category. While cultural references do not affect the plot per se, the setting is very comfortable for readers because there are many elements that are recognizable. Advantages of this type of book include a greater ease of the author of world-building, as some (or many) elements of a real culture can be realistically and believably incorporated into the work of fiction, and a greater relatability of readers with the book’s characters and world. Disadvantages of this type of story are that it is easier for readers to critique an author’s extrapolations of culture to a future setting (“history wouldn’t go that way!”) and that it is harder to make a science fiction book stand out in readers’ minds when it has the same or similar settings to other books in its genre. The more elements from real cultures that are included, the less uniqueness of the world (by definition) and thus the more the author has to work at character and plot development to make his or her book “pop” in readers’ minds.

Culture As Plot Point

Finally, some authors actually use modern or historical culture as a major plot point in their works of science fiction. From classics such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to new popular books like Ready Player One, science fiction authors who go this route both have a potential for high short-term return, but run the risk of far stronger failure both at first and also in the course of time. The more that a reader’s culture is incorporated well into a science fiction book – especially elements of a culture that are dearly loved by a reader – the more that book will speak to them and the more they will remember it, love it, and recommend it to others. The problem is that this culture must be incorporated well for it to have this effect. If an author celebrates an aspect of culture that readers don’t care about, if an author gets a cultural fact wrong, or if an author makes a political or cultural point that readers disagree with, their potential love of the book often turns to loathing. On the other hand, if individuals from outside the referred culture read the book, they will often be lost and confused. An author must strike a balance, then, between explaining the culture and alienating or offending the target audience, or not explaining the culture and losing the attention and interest of individuals outside the target audience. Further, as culture (and especially pop culture) changes rapidly, books based on current culture can become outdated practically overnight. If this happens, the story that was yesterday relevant to a sizable number of people is now relevant to practically no one.

So which of the above is the best type of science fiction story to write? There’s no right answer – it depends on your particular story, the level of world-building you want to engage in, and the risk you want to run of becoming outdated versus speaking the language of a specific audience. Just think carefully about which choice appeals the most to you, then go forth and write with confidence!

Savvy Saturday – England Addendum

I’m back from my academic trip to England, and in addition to having a great conference, I had a fantastic time taking in some more literary sights. I was especially excited to spend some time focusing on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien – wandering the halls of Oxford where they would have walked and taught, eating at the Eagle and Child pub where they met every Tuesday with the other Inklings to discuss their writing, and visiting the cemeteries where they were laid to rest. In case you haven’t had the chance to visit, here are some glimpses into the sights one can see in Oxford:


“The undersigned, having just partaken of your ham, have drunk your health.” At the Eagle and Child Pub; following is a list of signatures with full university affiliations for the Inklings, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.


Magdalen College, one of Oxford’s most beautiful colleges, was where C.S. Lewis taught for many years. Its quiet stone halls and stunning manicured gardens make quite the lovely setting for taking long walks and discussing literature.


The “Narnia” stained glass window at Holy Trinity Church in Oxford, where C.S. Lewis is buried, shows a number of characters from his beloved fantasy series. At the upper left, Aslan as the sun looks down over the land of Narnia that He rules. Jill sits riding an owl in homage to the Silver Chair, and the Dawn Treader from the book of that name can be seen sailing below. In the right pane, Polly and Digory ride the first Pegasus as told in The Magician’s Nephew, Susan’s horn from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  (and also Prince Caspian) hangs from a tree on the right, the castle of Cair Paravel where the kings and queens of Narnia rule takes up the center, and Jewel the unicorn from The Last Battle can be seen in the lower right.


The final resting place of Clive Staples Lewis, who preferred to go by “Jack.”


J.R.R. Tolkien and his wife are buried together in Wolvercote Cemetery, also in Oxford. The names “Luthien” and “Beren” are engraved on their headstone – in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Luthien was a beautiful elvish noblewoman and Beren the mortal man who won her heart.

As you can see, people tend to leave things on Tolkien’s grave – the blue card in the upper left shows the white tree of Gondor, the letter under the rose bush is written in Elvish, and there are a number of facsimiles of the One Ring, in addition to a number of coins that people have left there. (It seems odd to me that people would leave the One Ring on Tolkien’s grave – the whole point of the series was that it was Evil and had to be destroyed, and that it corrupted any who possessed it. Ah well.)

It was lovely to visit the homeland of such renowned writers, but I am glad to be back in the US. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some of my own writing done now that my travels for the summer are over!

Savvy Saturday – England (Part III of III)

There’s far more literary history to England than just found in London and Oxford. Though I don’t have time to visit all of these places on this trip, here are some reasons to come back in the future!

1. Stratford Upon Avon

I am ecstatic to be able to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production in Shakespeare’s home town. Sights definitely worth seeing include the Globe Theater, where his plays were originally performed, as well as the houses in town that relate to Shakespeare’s life, including the house in which Shakespeare was born.

2. The English Riviera

Actually three small towns on the Devon coast, the English Riviera was home to famous author Agatha Christie (whose detective stories about Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot have made her one of the most popular authors in the history of the world). With a yearly festival in September dedicated in the region to the “Queen of Crime,” the English Riviera sounds like a fantastic place to come back and visit when you’re in the mood for murder. Solving cases, that is.

3. The Northern Moors

These windswept moors offer a lonely and awe-inspiring vista that speaks of wildness, drama, brooding angry men, and mad wives locked up in the attic. Or, at least, that’s apparently what the moors spoke of to the Bronte sisters, who wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and called the moors their home. What inspiration awaits other authors who trek to see their wild, lonely isolation? I don’t know, but I’d love to find out someday…

For now, though, it’s back to the USA for me! We’ll see how long it takes me to get back into the habit of using American spellings in my writing…

Savvy Saturday – England (Part II of III)

Greetings from England! Last week, I highlighted three literary places to visit in London. This week, I’m highlighting three places in Oxford (and associated works of literature) that I’m going to visit.

1. Eagle and Child Pub

The meeting place of the Inklings (including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien), the Eagle and Child provided some of England’s most famous fantasy authors with much-needed liquid sustenance and literary critique and feedback from their peers. Interesting facts: Treebeard from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series was loosely based off of C.S. Lewis, and the character of Ransom from Lewis’s space trilogy (starting with Out of the Silent Planet) was loosely based on Tolkien.

2. Oxford University

Oxford University has been the setting for several great works of fiction, as well as the academic home of authors including Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien. It is also the home of the Bodleian Library, which began serving scholars and readers in 1602.

3. Wolvercote Cemetery & Holy Trinity Church

As a fantasy writer, and as you have probably gathered already, an avid Lewis and Tolkien fan, I can’t go to Oxford without stopping by the burial sites of these two giants of fantasy literature. Tolkien is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery, while Lewis is buried in the graveyard at Holy Trinity Church, both of which are in Oxford.


I will likely be spending quite a while in the library here, so to quote Tigger (another British character), “TTFN, Ta Ta For Now!”