Thursday, November 16, 2017

War of Loyalties {invisible friends}


For the past several years, I like to call the War of Loyalties characters "my invisible friends". When you come to know me, sooner or later it's inevitable that you'll be introduced to them as well. I've hung out with them so long, we're kind of a package deal.

I taught a class on characterization recently, and one of the things I told the kids was that they should think of their character as a real person. Ben and Jaeryn and Charlotte are about as real as fiction gets. They're the invisible coworkers, showing up, shifting, changing, as my maturity or life experience shifts and change. They've never quit. We have rough days sometimes where the writer's block shows up and everyone's lazy, but overall, we have the biggest fun on the planet.

It's not surprising that they've gradually showed up more and more on the blog, and for the next couple of weeks I want you to be able to meet the process of War of Loyalties for yourself. I want to introduce you to a blonde-haired young woman with a tenacious dream of humble obscurity.  I want to tell you about some of the dreams that have come true with this story. I want to tell you how the Lord has answered prayer.

Living life with these characters stands out as the most golden experience of my post-highschool path.

The moment when one of your introverts finally decides to open up to a character interview on a Saturday morning.

That year you make a random run for apple pie and sporks to celebrate a character's birthday.

That year you finally find a song that encompasses two characters falling in love.

That moment when you watch a performance of Handel's Messiah, imagining a character sitting down there as concertmaster.

That year when your character changes from a philanthropic American medical student to an Irish doctor with crooked fingers.

The beautiful thing about a first book is that it's an unmatchable experience. You can take time to work it out. You can get to know the characters in an intimate, lengthy way that you might never have time for in later books. Seven years has been a long time, but I saw a meme on Facebook the other day that said after seven years a friend becomes family, and that really honestly feels like the truth.

I love all the things about the characters that would never fit into the book. My blackmailer with the streak of nobility in his soul. The way Jaeryn has a favorite sweater he reaches for that makes him think of memories and childhood. The way Ben runs his fingers through his wife's hair. The way Terry rolls up his sleeves when he's out in cold weather instead of putting a jacket on.

Some of them dream of freedom, and some of them dream of stability. Some of them dream of home, or marriage or living out a life of loyal service. Some of them dream of money or position or the supremacy of Britain. They've lived together so long they can rub each other wrong in big and little ways, and come together when it matters.

This is a celebration. After seven years, they deserve a celebration. We've lived so much life together, and we're almost at the end of the road.

For book one, that is.

We still have a lot of life left to live together--and I couldn't think of anyone I'd rather live it with.

Come back Saturday to meet on of the characters for yourself. I can't wait to introduce you, and you can meet all of them in official book form on November 30, 2017!

Friday, November 10, 2017

{how it feels to be near the finish line} + pray for War of Loyalties?

via Pixabay
In every story, there is an inciting incident, a middle part, and a climax. In the publishing of every story, it seems that there are all those things too. This spring, making the prayerful decision to start a Kickstarter campaign was the inciting incident. The weeks of editing have been the middle. And now, we are gearing up for the climax.

If you see me right now, I'm probably in part brain fog. Slowly, the brain is gearing up into laser-focused concentration for the final stretch.

I honestly don't remember the last time I picked up the clothes in my room. I have cried once this week wondering how everything is going to work out. I have no idea what I'm forgetting, but if you ask my family, they'd probably be able to tell you.

chores, schuyler, chores 

But it's a wonderful, happy time. This morning I just ordered my first proof copy of War of Loyalties, and I expect to get it sometime next week. God has given above and beyond anything I could have imagined for strength and inspiration for this book's edits. I'm so grateful for the people who have given ideas on how to make it better, along with their time, encouragement, and loads of love. We're so close.

For the next couple of weeks, we're going to kick off the partying with some War of Loyalties themed posts on the blog which I think you'll really enjoy. We have character spotlights, heart ponderings, and little tidbits on the publishing process. There will be even more partying to come after that--you are all cordially invited to enter the Folkestone world!

While we gear up, would you consider partnering with this process through your prayers? I would be so grateful. Here's what's most on my heart right now:

-Good health for the final stretch.
-Keen eyes for anything that needs to be fixed.
-A heart fixed on the Lord throughout the process, and that he would be glorified.
-The ability to make wise decisions in a tight timeframe.
-Fast turn-around times on Createspace with high-quality printing for the book deliveries.

Thank-you friends. Love to you all! I will see you on Tuesday with some War of Loyalties thoughts you won't want to miss.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cinderella 2015 {positive role models and parent relationships}

via Pixabay

My first interaction with 2015 Cinderella was watching the trailer on Facebook some months before it released.

My first impression: Not getting into a Disney Princess movie after all these years. Kit's eyes are way too blue.

But then, I can't remember if it was my sister who watched the trailer, which inveigled me into seeing it a second time. And this time, instead of hating on Kit's blue eyes, I heard Cinderella's mother speaking with a sweet, breathless earnestness: "Have courage and be kind. Where there is kindness, there is goodness, and where there is goodness, there is magic."

Those two lines tugged at my heartstrings.

On the night of my twenty-first birthday, we watched Cinderella. We haven't stopped watching it since. And there was so much for my heart to love about this movie adaptation.

Cinderella is about as pure as it gets. There's a wonder, an emphasis on good moral character, and an overall theme of endurance in affliction that uplift while they entertain. As Cinderella faces life without her beloved father and with the cruelty of her step-family, her actions emphasize again and again that kindness is a choice, not a feeling. We see her feel hurt, even anger sometimes. Cinderella knows when to confront her stepmother with troubled eyes and ask, "Why are you so cruel?" But she also knows when to smile and serve with a gentle voice, holding on to the courage and kindness that her dying mother encouraged her to cling to. Pursuing love and unity as a follower of Christ take incredible courage. And while Cinderella isn't out there to teach Scripture, you can see the practical application of what the fruit of the Spirit should look like in the life of a Christian.

The other part I really loved about this movie was how well Kit and Ella get along with their parents. There is a celebration of life with strong family relationships: From a child, Ella is used to love and bedtime stories from her mother. Even when her father wants to marry again, the bond between Ella and her father isn't shaken. She fully supports him moving forward, and they love and understand each other on a heart-level.

Kit, even when he wants to marry the girl in the forest instead of a rich princess, still maintains the maturity of a man and a prince. He and his father disagree, but they don't fall overboard into anger, and when Kit gives his final refusal, he begins it with, "I love and respect you."

Kit and Ella may have a fairytale romance with fairytale colors. But they were shaped by their closeness with their parents so well that when the time came for both of them to step out and be adults, they had the maturity and grace to do so. And in that, I think they can be wonderful role-models.

There are a few sentences that spill into Disney morals and don't enhance the overall theme picture. Following your heart, believing in everything, and being taken care of by fairy godmothers aren't exactly the stuff that solid faith is made of. But they're very brief blips on a beautiful script and beautiful cinematography.

Those are the serious thoughts. But one should not always be serious when watching Disney films. Here's a rapid series of what I loved:

  • Gus-Gus is the cutest mouse on the planet. We have a serious Gus-Gus fandom around here. 
  • Ask us about the torn butterfly sometime in Cinderella's treasure box. 
  • I just love the lizard footmen with their green hues. 
  • The captain js the. best. sidekick. in the history of ever. 
  • And if you ever want to know, we can point out just where to find the animals on the day of Cinderella's wedding.

Oops. I just told you the ending.

schuyler how could you i didn't know 

Parent Guide:
Sexual: Low-necked dresses. Cinderella and Kit share a kiss.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

5 Ways to Celebrate the Reformation {+ mini-review of a Reformation biography}


1. Make a German meal. 
It doesn't have to be anything fancy. Pick up some good sausage, make mashed potatoes or German potato salad, or, if you're in the mood for fancy, how about a Chocolate Bavarian Torte? It's my sis's night to make supper, and I've begged her to make something semi-German inspired by the Reformation.

bless you, dearest sis beyond the worth of all jewels 

2. Watch a movie about Luther. 
You could check out the 2003 Luther which I reviewed Friday on the blog. Or you could check out the 1950s black and white Luther, which is also a really good look at his life. Either one is just under two hours.

3. Do a Bible Study 
You could take the five Solas and look up verses from Scripture that explain how our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, based on Scripture alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. www.biblehub.com is my favorite place to dig into Bible study. Another good website is www.blueletterbible.com.

4. Read Luther's 95 Theses 
It's kind of funny, but after hearing about Luther's 95 Theses for years, I'd never actually read them. Our pastor asked us to read them for a Bible Study hour, so I printed them off. It's surprising how Catholic Luther still was as he wrote them.

5. Start Reading a Reformation Book 
I just finished Erwin Lutzer's Reformation book entitled Rescuing the Gospel.

i made it you guys, i made it.

It's a spectacular read. I expected an overview of things I knew, but I realized how much I didn't know. God used the Reformation to unify the German language, as Luther translated the Bible into words that common Germans would use and understand. I learned where the term Protestant came from, and also learned a lot about Luther's writings, how the Reformation spread through other countries, and an evaluation of the movement to unify Catholics and Protestants today. Erwin Lutzer's book is a smooth, easy read, and a great pick for either personal reading or a family read-aloud. If you only read one book about the Reformation this year, Lutzer's book would be a fantastic one to invest in.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Why Protestants Need to Understand Catholics + Luther {move review}

via Pixabay

The Reformation is just around the corner, you guys. The 500th. And I've got a book I want to finish up by the official anniversary.

*hyperventilating* read all the things

In our Bible Study Hour after church, our pastor is teaching on the Reformation to mark the 500th anniversary. It's thoughtful, and I connect with the historical focus, as well as one of his main thrusts: we cannot criticise Catholicism fairly until we seek to understand their viewpoint and then evaluate it from a Biblical perspective. Cold-hearted academic evaluation is not the way to disagree with someone. You must understand the why behind what they believe, and then you must line it up with Scripture. In Luther's time, part of the church was corrupt, and many Catholics saw that and longed for a pure church. Some of the things we would disagree with, while extra-biblical, stem from a deep desire on Catholics' part to pursue holiness. While sympathy with that desire doesn't cause us to embrace extra-Biblical doctrine, we should sympathize with the heart for holiness while applying God's standard of Scripture.

Our pastor went on to say that in Catholicism, there's a range of people. On the one hand, there can be some good Catholics and good Protestants. On the other hand, there can be some bad Catholics and bad Protestants. It all boils down to something he talked about recently: the difference between error and heresy. Heresy, he said, is something that teaches a false Gospel other than salvation through faith alone and Christ's righteousness alone. Error may be a non-salvific biblical issue (baptism, the end times) which has a correct answer, but which genuine believers differ on. Many people who are sincere Christians have things they believe that are error, whether Catholic or Protestant. It is the heretical beliefs, no matter your denomination, that will send you to hell.

Our pastor is clear-cut and biblical. He's not advocating tolerance of sin or error, even on points like baptism and end times. But I appreciate that as he approaches history, he acknowledges how complex it (and the people inside it) are.

He asked us to watch the 2003 Luther movie, and we're going to discuss it together. So last Sunday night, our family watched it together, and I thought I'd report the findings on the blog. Luther offers a great overview of the high points of the reformer's fight against the church, as well as giving modern cinematography and colorization to the portrayal of Luther's life. Here's what I loved most:

  • Luther's fights with the devil were moving struggles against darkness. Luther struggled with depression to a severe extent throughout his life, and while I wished the film had included it a little more after the later revolts, I appreciated the two instances they did show. His agony of resistance was convincingly portrayed. 
  • When I looked up the Parent Guide on IMDB and saw instances of hanging, I was a little concerned, and when a boy's parents first find him dead as a suicide victim, it is a sad and uncomfortable scene. But what happens after, as the boy is refused burial in the church grounds and Luther revolts in grief and anger against the refusal, showed a moving compassion that I thought was well worth including. Not only did it show how the rules of the church at the time didn't always minister to people's real needs, but it also showed an outcast woman watching Luther's compassionate burial of the boy, and you can see the wheels turning in her head as she takes in this act of mercy.
  • One of the most moving characters in the movie was the outcast mother with the little, crippled girl. The mother probably had the child out of wedlock, but her character shows such a sweet and simple love for her daughter as she buys the indulgence from Tetzel. Luther's anger over how she's taken advantage of and kindness towards her brings warmth to the film. She has an endearing, simple-hearted hunger for truth as she listens to Luther.

This movie is a great way to introduce people to this lionhearted spiritual soldier.

Parent Guide
Sex: Luther sees prostitutes soliciting in Rome (non-graphic).
Language: While there are a couple of instances of swearing I would mute, two of the scenes are actually moving struggles where Luther is cursing the devil in frantic spiritual warfare with fear, only calming down when he turns his attention instead to Christ.
Violence: A boy commits suicide by hanging (semi-graphic) and the church refuses to bury him. Tetzel holds his hand over a torch and shows his burned hand to the crowd. Close-up shot of a man in the fire being burned to death (brief). Far-away shot of men hanging from ropes. Shots of bloody bodies in the streets and the church.

Friday, October 20, 2017

In Which War of Loyalties Gets a Cover Design and a Release Date

It was late one Monday night. After a day of checking email, browsing through a bookstore, checking email, cooking with a friend, worshipping at Bible study, and you guessed it--checking email--

The email I had been waiting for came. The cover design for War of Loyalties.



The idea of seeing my cover for the first time still sends a ghost of breathlessness through me. I can finally have a concrete picture in my mind of opening a box and seeing a stack of books with that cover inside.

It's everything I wanted. Historical. Intriguing. Amazing. The folks at Damonza were simply incredible, professional, and fantastic at their craft. I'm definitely hoping to use their services again.

After a long time of "just one more edit" and working at this labor of love, and then plunging into the thrilling whirl of publishing, seeing the cover design a thrilling moment. I suppose it's like that first hug when you meet someone you've only corresponded with online.

It puts dreams into reality.



I know, I know. Show the cover already, Schuyler.

OK.

Here it is....


Book Description 
April, 1917. A ring of German spies threatens the coastal town of Folkestone, England. Newly-recruited agent Ben Dorroll must uncover which British citizens are traitors to their country. When his first attempt at espionage falls prey to a trap laid by German sympathizers, the security of the British Secret Service is threatened. Feeling lost in a strange country and aching for a steady place to call home, he wants to resign and go back to his American medical work. But when he learns that his family identity holds the key to capturing the spy ring, Ben has no choice but to unite with the mysterious Jaeryn Graham so that the truth can be discovered.

In the aftermath of the Irish Rebellion, Jaeryn Graham's British colleagues look warily on his Irish background. Always up for a challenge, he thinks his a new mission in the Secret Service should be an opportunity to prove his prowess. But after an encounter with death and alienating two agents, he finds the road to victory isn't as easy as he thought. Unless he can win the loyalties of his newest assistant, Ben Dorroll, his secret ambitions and his perfect success record will be destroyed.


You can have this beauty in print, Lord-willing, on the official release date of:  

November 30, 2017 

In the meantime? Join the fun by: 

Supporting my Twitter and Facebook pages! 

Adding War of Loyalties on Goodreads

Sharing the cover with all your friends! (Feel free to save+share!) 

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK, BIBLIOPHILES!!! 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

On Queen Victoria and Eligible Young Men


I'm on an alternating kick between the Reformation and Queen Victoria lately. It's been super fun, and there's so much information to mine out of both topics. We have a book and a movie review lined up next for the Reformation, but after taking a quick poll of people's interest on Twitter, I wanted to talk today about the different portrayals of Albert in a couple of Victoria adaptations, as well as offering a passing tribute to Lord Melbourne (whom Victoria and I call Lord M) in the new PBS Victoria series.

There are two reasons in particular. First, it's one of those warm, endearing endorphin things. Queen Victoria makes me supremely, incandescently happy, and I think it's because the characters and themes and story deeply resonate. So I keep talking about it because it's Schuyler to the nth degree.

But the other reason is that I love teasing out characterization, and why I resonate with some characters more than others.

The Contrast: Victoria's Albert and The Young Victoria's Albert

(Note: We're just going to call them PBSAlbert and TYVAlbert)

My favorite Albert is and probably always will be the Albert in The Young Victoria (played by Rupert Friend).

After watching The Young Victoria at least six or seven times, and Victoria almost four times, I think I know why. For one, their personalities are different, and it probably all boils down to what my personality likes. PBSAlbert starts off in the first couple of episodes as extremely serious. He never smiles, and I like a hero who can at least see the humor in something. He and Victoria have wildly different personalities, and they seem to fall in love over their arguments more than their agreements. It didn't make sense to me the first time I saw it. I think the screenwriters want it to be a sudden love, as Victoria realizes how much she can respect this man who wants to reform society. She realizes he has some maturity she doesn't, and she wants to pursue bettering the world with him.

The problem is, we haven't had enough screen time to be convinced. We're being "told" the dynamic of the relationship and asked to accept it, rather than having our hearts captured over the course of time. Victoria meets Albert expecting to hate him, and since we're so entwined with her character, we fully expect to hate him too. The problem is, Victoria switches so suddenly that our hearts don't switch immediately along with her. By the time she proposes, I'm still smarting over the fights.

Now, that might be me. I have certain likes and tastes, and lots of people have different ones, and I don't want to squish Albert if you like him. So please tell me just what you love about him in the comments, and I'd be very glad to hear it. *hugs*

Here's where I think TYVAlbert is smoother at accomplishing the same objective. In all of Victoria's mistakes, he keeps encouraging her that there is a way out, there is a way up, she can find it, and he's there to help her in any way he can. Emily Blunt's Victoria is still independent and doesn't want to be tied down to a marriage right away, but we see Albert leading her to maturity rather than frowning. The love plot spins out more slowly. The fights, when they come, are just as serious. TYVAlbert has concerns/complaints just like PBSAlbert. But we've had enough tenderness up to that point to be able to weather them.

I started resonating with PBS Albert a lot better in the Locomotives episode. I think it's because I started to see him smile more and be a little more animated. Plus, I like that his friendship with Sir Robert Peel and his comradely interactions with his private secretary bring warmer, friendlier tones to his character that he really needed. He's tender to Victoria when she's afraid about their future, and altogether just takes life a little easier while still being passionate about the future and still (yes) having quarrels. The quarrels don't go away. They just feel more balanced with happy things.

I think you really see the contrast in how the script was handled when you compare Albert's character journey and Lord Melbourne's.

Vicbourne and Vicbert
If you watch PBS Victoria, you'll find a fandom of people strongly divided. PBS Victoria makes Lord Melbourne a much younger, more personable, and probably more moral man than he was in real life. They dramatized his friendship with Victoria so much that by the time Albert showed up, people were almost sorry to see him come. Hashtags of #Vicbert and #Vicbourne filled Twitter, a trend in which you combine the two names of a couple you really want to see get together.

I'm still fully team #Vicbourne when it comes to PBS Victoria, not from a marriage standpoint, but from a friendship one. (I know Lord M is fictionalized, but I love him anyway.) I absolutely love the way their relationship was portrayed. It only takes an hour's worth of scenes to firmly fix Lord M in viewer's hearts. I think one aspect they did particularly well in contrast with PSBAlbert was Lord M's backstory.

When Albert shows up on the scene, he has backstory too, but in my opinion, his is handled more clumsily. After he and Victoria raise each other's hackles, they end up having a dance together. While dancing, Albert tells Victoria that he likes her flowers, because sometimes his mother was wearing those flowers when she kissed him goodnight. It's put in to garner sympathy, but it may have tried to accomplish a little too much a little too fast.

Flip over to Lord M in episode 1. He's got backstory and we know it, but (unless you're a history buff) we're not sure exactly what it is. All we know is that he's tired of being prime minister until he meets Victoria, when he seems to gain a fresh lease on life. Slowly, piece by piece, his life unfolds. He's been accused of scandal, and it was painful for him. His wife ran away with Lord Byron. Victoria says she would have a hard time forgiving something like that, and Lord Melbourne's replies are gentle and limited enough to warm hearts without waxing eloquent: "Perhaps you're too young to understand." On the night of a formal ball, Melbourne isn't there at the beginning. He's sitting at his desk with his head in his hand, looking at a painting and fingering a lock of hair. His servant comes into the room and says, "Lord Melbourne, Lady Portman knows what day it is, but the queen is asking for you." We don't know exactly what day it is, but we know that it really, really hurts him--and he shows up at the ball to support Victoria anyway.

The cream of his backstory shows up at the end of episode one, and it only comes out when he decides to share his deepest hurt so that Victoria, who has fallen into despair, can get back up again. It's revealed at just the right moment for the most resonance, not as an extra line to gain sympathy, but as part of the story itself, to give Victoria what she needs to pursue her goals. First, he tells his backstory (I won't spoil it) and then he offers her the hand up in one of my favorite lines: "You will go and you will smile. You will smile and never show them how hard it is to bear."

i just want a kleenex and a sword all at the same time 

When Albert is introduced, we are given an episode full of conflict and inklings of tragic backstory, Melbourne's backstory is woven into Victoria's success. He is willing to set aside his personal wounds so that she can grow. You don't see that kind of self-sacrifice from Albert right away. From him and Victoria, you see dislike that does a sudden 180 into love. Melbourne finds it easier to be kind and charming right from the beginning, and since, like Victoria, I love kind and wounded souls, I can, like her, be slower to connect to PBSAlbert and Sir Robert Peel's personality types.

I feel like, in due fairness, I ought to throw one more twist into this, to make it a well-rounded critique. It is easy for me, as someone Victoria's age, to look at Lord M and say, "He sacrifices. He loves, he supports, he encourages, and gives gentle warning, and lets her be herself all at the same time." Of course I like him. And then it's easy to look at Albert in the first episodes (I like him a lot more later on) and say, "he corrects, he frowns, he confronts her with her errors, he doesn't praise easily" and assume that one is love, and the other is a guy I couldn't say goodbye to fast enough.

But in the end, if I only took Lord M, it would stunt my character growth. There are points in Victoria's character that Lord M can't help her achieve, because he's kind and he's her subject after all, and he can't be too forceful when she's headstrong. Albert is a higher grit of sandpaper on her flaws. It's uncomfortable, and she does not always like him for it. But having people who are that high grit of sandpaper in our lives is something that God uses to conform us to his image. It shows us how living the Christian life applies to loving and welcoming people who confront us with our sin.

That being said, while PBSAlbert can confront and romance Victoria, I think PBS Lord M and TYVAlbert have another vital ability: they can cherish her. In the end, it's not the hot romance that makes a marriage last. It is a long-term, Christ-like cherishing on the man's part, respect and submission on the woman's, and mutual willingness to help each other pursue Christlikeness, that makes the long journey of marriage last.

This perspective is, of course, tinged by the romantic inexperience of a twenty-something single. I have a lot to learn from Titus 2 women who have a lot more experience than me. And I'm looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

How do you feel about all these character arcs? Do you agree? Do you see things totally differently? Please tell me! I'd love to know! 

P.S. I've reviewed The Young Victoria here, so I'll let you catch up if you want to know what the movie's about. I haven't reviewed Victoria PBS yet, but I'll just say that while it contains a lot of endearing characters, there are a couple of plotlines that you might want to fast-forward through. Feel free to email me for a parent guide, or I hope to have it up on the blog eventually as well.
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