Friday, January 30, 2015

How Our Family Reads Together

Psst! Have you entered the giveaway yet? There are some epic prizes (Hobbit, anyone?) and you have until this Wednesday to get your entries in! There are options for Canada and international readers as well as US! :) 



Ever since I can remember, we've had a literary half-hour after lunch. It's a sacred spot, and nothing but visitors, one of us being gone, or sickness interrupts it. Then (except in the case of visitors) it gets turned into a movie.

Close enough. ;)

When we were wee things, we started out with selections from the Miller family short stories. The books were written to build character qualities and explain Scripture verses to young children. Whenever we read School Days With the Millers, we'd always say "Nooo, not that one!" Because one particular story was very sad, and it made our mom cry. We didn't like crying over things back then.

When I was a little older our dad started reading to us in the evenings--we each got a half hour--and we double-dipped. I'm not sure if my brother stuck around for Elsie Dinsmore, but most evenings I would find another book when my chapter was done, and pretend to read while I listened to G.A. Henty. (That was The Age of Competition. I could never have admitted my interest openly.) And there were tons of beautiful moments, fending off unwanted suitors and killing enemies and raising families and aspiring to manhood. My dad read me the girl's books, and my brother the boy's books, and I think it shaped both of us into the people we are today. :) We probably read over forty books between the two of us, those two years we did it steadily. But we stopped evening reading about the middle of the Mildred Keith series. Highschool picked up steam, and it was harder to fit in. I've still never finished that series. They are sacred with memories. But someday I'll pick them up and find out what happens to her.

It was during the half-hour after lunch with our mom that I learned to love L.M. Montgomery. I fell wildly in love with Jane of Lantern Hill the week my mom had a cold and couldn't talk. My brother and I took turns reading it out loud together, and Jane was, and still is, a deeply passionate girlhood treasure of mine. I always was a bit of a daddy's girl, and I could relate to that in Jane. We read girls' books and boys' books, adventure, history, and science--everything under the sun. We even made it through Jules Verne's Mysterious Island together--including the loooong passages with all the explanations of how to make dynamite--and cheered when we got to the pirates and went into fits over how terrible the movie was compared to the book. Through those years I learned to love reading aloud so much that I went and recorded a book on the computer.

Junior B. joined us as soon as she had grown out of picture books, and became part of our tradition. It wasn't always easy choosing books that seven and twelve and fourteen year olds would all like at the same time. But we managed, and the tough days don't last forever. Carrie-Grace joined the lunchtime squabbles between Collin and I over whether or not romance was worthwhile, and we debated whether Marcus was better than Caleb while consuming countless batches of cookies.

After a while we read too fast for our parents to keep up anymore, and they turned us loose in the world of literature. I'm sure it's a scary thing for a parent to let a child go when they can't preview everything. But our parents wanted us to learn to think for ourselves and judge with discernment, and I think that's one of the biggest gifts they've given to us. We're all three opinionated, and spend as much time dissecting a book as reading it--but we have a deep love for reading. Though it manifests itself quite differently in all three of us, I think we gained our value of books from the daily reading time that we still guard with jealous love. All these years later we still remember favorite childhood stories, and quote Sherlock Holmes when we're hiking in the wilds of northern Michigan, and groan over Economics in One Lesson whenever someone mentions the title.

Our reading half-hour has shifted somewhat over the years. Now, instead of our mom picking and reading all the books, we each take turns. Our interests have grown. My brother has a job and can't join us anymore, so we incorporate a little more Jane Austen than we used to. ;) In the last year we've run the gamut from Martin Chuzzlewit to Winnie the Pooh. We also discovered a thick biography on John and Louisa Adams, which sparked a few discussions on the importance of diplomacy. In essence, we have our own private adult reading club, and it is great fun.

Parents have a huge impact on the values of their children, and our dad and our mom both worked hard to instill the value of good reading in us. I think the biggest tool you can use to shape your child's values is that of reading aloud. You have great power to train them to love good and hate evil simply by choosing the right stories. Sometimes you don't even have to explain it; you can just let the characters speak for themselves.

Not only does reading instill good values, but it gives the twin gifts of imagination and communication. Reading opens a whole new world of wonder and love, and it's a training ground for launching young adults off on their own. All three of us are huge communicators, all three of us love to write, and we all think too much for our own good. :) And that I credit to the long, hand-written lists of books that our mother has recorded over the years.

Through reading aloud, we have learned to hate the evil and choose the good, as well as gaining a host of childhood friends. For me, that gift was huge.

And someday, I will pass it on.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Lady Bibliophile Classics Giveaway!!!


I am very excited to announce the first giveaway here on the blog! My Lady Bibliophile recently had a birthday, and as we know, good hobbits give presents to their guests on such occasions. :)  I have three special gifts for a couple of book lovers.

Great Expectations is my favorite book, and Dickens is my favorite author. It seemed right to tip a wink to him in the first giveaway here--a book full of brilliant characters, twisty plots, and plenty of moments for contemplation about justice and mercy.

War Games explains the value of fiction in the Christian life. Published only last year, Suzannah Rowntree's book evaluates some of the greatest fictional stories that have shaped Christendom. A must-read for any dominion-minded bibliophile.

And last but not least, Tolkien's enchanting story, The Hobbit, is available in e-book edition with illustrations by my favorite Tolkien artist, Alan Lee. A necessary edition to any Hobbit birthday party!

These books are some of my favorites, both old and new, and would make lovely additions to anyone's shelves. In fact, I'm drooling with envy over them myself. ;)

Giveaway #1 (US and Canada residents only) 

1 hardcover, unabridged copy of Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
1 paperback copy of War Games, by Suzannah Rowntree

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway #2 (Open to US and international residents) 

1 Kindle copy of The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, illustrated by Alan Lee

Please note that this ebook will be given as a gift through Amazon.com. Even if you don't have a Kindle device, you still should be able to download a free Kindle app to your PC or Mac laptop.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway will be open until next Wednesday. Winners will be announced in Friday's blog post. A different winner will be selected for each giveaway, though you may enter both if you would like to! :)

Have at it, friends! Tweet, share, blog, Facebook, and please spread the word to as many fellow bibliophiles as you can. Best of luck to you all! :)

Blessings,
Schuyler

Friday, January 23, 2015

Character Interview--Charlotte Dorroll


 Today I am celebrating a character's birthday from War of Loyalties! Charlotte Marie Dorroll, wife of Benjamin Dorroll, was born on this day, and I hope you all enjoy making her acquaintance. The questions are taken from the Beautiful People interviews. :)

Where were they born, and when?
January 23, 1894. Born in New York.

What color are his/her eyes? Hair?
Blue-grey eyes. Blonde, flaxen hair.
What is their station in life?
Only daughter of an upper-middle-class couple; young wife to a new doctor who doesn't seem to make ends meet financially as well as he expected to.
Does your character have a specific theme song?
A Thousand Years, Piano Guys version (the only version I listen to.)

Do they prefer the country or the city?
Charlotte would prefer small town--close to shops, near enough so that she has neighbors at hand if she needs help. Conveniences like telephones and electricity and hospitals are much appreciated.

Do they believe in anything that most people think is impossible?
That people can be healed. That broken things can be restored. That problems can be resolved. She's starting to meet more people who don't believe that, so I think her thinking on that point is about to change. She still believes that God can do the impossible, but she's going to learn that God sometimes uses pain to refine, that he is sovereign even through great pain.

What occupation do they have, or plan on having?
Charlotte is a nurse, and plans to be a nurse until the demands of home and children make it unfeasible. She works for Jaeryn, volunteers in Folkestone, worked for a while at the Richmond hospital, and will hopefully work for Ben eventually.

 What is their favorite type of shoes?
Lace-up boots with the little thin heels, or low brown shoes. She doesn't like high heels, because her feet get sore standing on them all day.

Can they cook? 
She can cook so that Jaeryn thinks she cooks well. ;) In reality, she's an average cook, but not spectacular. She isn't about to take on anything complicated, can't hold a candle to Pearlie, and would probably ask someone's advice before pronouncing something done or tasting good.
How do they show love?
Listening. Charlotte's very good at listening and giving good counsel. She's an active listener, and is able to set aside her own life and thoughts to truly listen to other people.
Do they have any habits, annoying or otherwise?  
She asks Ben if he's locked up every night. Always likes the sheets ironed when they're washed. Writes her parents once every other week on Sunday afternoons. Leaves her hair down every night when she sleeps instead of braiding it.
What is one of their strongest childhood memories?
Going to the sea and building sand-castles. They would have picnics and she can still taste the sand in the sandwiches, and remember the lemonade and eating strawberries with her fingers. She loved it; it was a little opportunity to be messy, as she was usually kept perfectly neat.
What is his/her favorite flower or plant?
Narcissus, Lily of the Valley, and Jasmine.

What is his/her comfort food?
Toast and jam and tea. Preferably strawberry jam. Alisa can make some good preserves, and Charlotte likes the jams in her pantry.

Favorite color?
Charlotte's favorite color is anything in the shade of mulberry or red-violet.
Favorite animal?
Charlotte likes cats. They're soft, and pretty, and clean. And good to cuddle with. She also loves horses--e specially the chestnut ones that have a gold sheen when they're in the sun, and dark manes and tails. She would love to learn how to ride a horse, and I think she likes Alisa's Percheron. :)
Favorite season of the year?
Winter. As long as it's sunny. She loves coats with soft fur collars. Frosty breath, warm drinks and soft, pure snowfalls. Winter seems quiet, and pure, and a time when you can hide indoors and be cozy. The first fresh snowfall is always magical to her.

Favorite flavor of ice cream?
Peach. She loved eating homemade ice-cream at her friend's house when she visited every summer. Her friend lived in the country, and they would climb trees and take haymow rides and learn to milk the cows, and get their pretty, frilly little dresses all dirty and dusty. :) Charlotte rode horseback, which she loved, and went to a little country church. I think that's where she became a Christian.
Is there something he or she is afraid of?
Charlotte is afraid of physical pain. She's good at alleviating it, but she's not comfortable with having it herself.
Does he or she write, dream, dance, sing, or photograph?
Charlotte did some dancing in high school, and she was pretty, so she had quite a few partners. She really enjoyed it, but Ben doesn't like dancing, so she hasn't done it since they're married.
What is their back-story and how does it affect them now?

Only child of very adoring parents. Charlotte feels very secure in people's love for her. She's used to having her wants provided for in fairly short order, so she's not used to wanting things. Since her parents were not able to have more children, that gives her the fear that she might not be able to either. But besides that, she is well-grounded, confident in the Lord's love for her, and not emotionally insecure.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Leaving a Legacy in Your Books

I Love Books

It's the epitome of book geekdom to talk about dog-eared pages and whether or not you should write in the margins. Just for fun, I'm going to dive into this topic today.

Writing in the Margins 
To write or not to write. That is the question. It's not a huge question, but it's one that every book lover decides eventually. Some of us like our volumes pristine and orderly, without a bend or a blot on their pages. Others don't mind a little personal touch, and marks from former readers who have known and loved it.
Writing in a book leaves a record of your thoughts as you go along. It helps you remember what you thought (which is terribly easy to forget otherwise), how the Lord touched you through it, or what you were thinking about at the time.
But writing also has its drawbacks. While your own writing may not distract you from the heart of the story, it intrudes your presence on another reader. There is something alien for me about someone else's underlines and highlights. I bought a book once with tons of pencil linings and yellow marks, not knowing they were inside. While the content is rich, that other presence unsettles me. The book ministers to a deep part of my soul, and whenever I read it, I like to think we are alone. But my copy has markings, sometimes in different places than I would put them, which is distracting. It is as if someone else is looking over my shoulder.
There are different ways to handle the dilemma. You could write down all your favorite notes and impressions in a companion notebook, one that you keep handy while you're reading. It can be a delightful keepsake while leaving the books unmarked and intact. I found this process extremely tedious and boring when I tried it once, but others may enjoy it more than I did.
Or you could use sticky notes. Oftentimes I write down thoughts in my sticky note program on my laptop. Instead of underlining in Joyfully At Home, I had a bunch of pink sticky tabs I marked certain sections with.
Sometimes I consider it important to underline. I mark occasionally in nonfiction books, underlining points I've found helpful or things I enjoy. So Much More has underlines. In Pilgrim's Progress I put a light star next to paragraphs I loved, or a question mark next to ones I didn't understand. I also make a point of marking up books I disagree with. When I am reading for a deadline, I don't always stop to think until afterwards, throwing thoughts together rather hastily. So in the case of Quiet, Emma of Aurora, and other volumes that start from a different worldview point, I forced myself to consider as I went along. I didn't want to drink everything in without combating some of the worldview flaws, so I wrote little notes in the margins about feminism, old earth, man-centered philosophies, and unbiblical attitudes. It held me accountable and provided a safety net for venturing into uncharted territories.
As far as favorite quotes, I almost never underline them in a fiction hard copy.  But here's where Kindle comes in, and I love it: I can select a piece of text, and presto! it is highlighted and ready to go. The lines are straight (I'm terribly crooked with a real pencil) and the program keeps a handy list of highlights that I can refer back to later. I don't own a Kindle, but my Kindle app on PC serves me well, and I've used the highlight feature fairly often.
Every so often I hear stories about a grandmother marking up a copy of the Bible for each of her grandchildren. I think that's a beautiful legacy, and though I've never written in any of my Bibles to date, I bought a pocket Bible a few months ago to underline and mark in. It's not necessarily for a generational legacy; just for my own use. But I draw hearts next to certain Psalms, or write dates next to verses that particularly impact me. I underline and scribble notes on Greek words in the margins, and when I memorize, I carry this copy with me. I am marking it to remember the journey God leads me on through the year.

Marking a book has two sides. On the one hand, it spoils the aesthetic and financial value of a book. (Unless you turn out to be a very famous person like Tolkien or Richard III.) On the other hand, if you keep books within the family and pass them down from one generation to the next, it leaves a legacy to your children and grandchildren of the things that have touched your heart. And that can be beautiful.
I have a few nice books that I never intend to touch--nice old hardbacks, and my Tolkien collector's set. They are beautiful and expensive, and I want to keep them that way. But most of my books are the quarter and dollar variety found at thrift stores and book sales, and have no value in themselves except the fact that I love them dearly. Those books I am willing to write in. And the more I develop a conversation with the author, the more I want to leave a record of that conversation in some form.

I like signs of love in my books. Not abuse, like complete covers ripped off. But I love pages handled so often they've turned limp, and bookmarks so torn and tattered that it's obvious they've marked your spot for many days of happy adventure. I even don't mind an occasional highlight or two, as long as it's not every line. Love means people have enjoyed and cried and re-read this story countless times, and as a bibliophile, I like to see that.

Figure out how you want to leave record of yourself in your books. Write on sticky notes or index cards or the back cover or the margins if you like. Keep them clean and perfect if it is your wish. Whichever is most important to you is a fine choice; but it's worth giving it some thought.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Friday, January 16, 2015

4 Keys to Great Historical Fiction



My good friend Kyla requested an article on a balanced mix of history and fiction in stories, and today I'm happy to address the topic! It's an interesting thing to think about--history implies that a book is faithful to a particular time period, while fiction implies that some of it is simply not true. Does that mean that everything must be accurate down to the stickler details? Or that a little free reign is permissible?

I think both, and here are four points I like to see in good historical fiction. :)

1. The Plotline Cannot Be Divorced From the Time Period. 
Number one test of the quality of any historical fiction is to ask if the exact same characters and plot work in a different time period. If a few small details could be changed for the story to take place in the 1950s instead of AD 500, then it's probably not the best historical fiction ever. While themes are universal, the time and setting are just as much characters as the people in a story. You can't put Harry and Jean from In the Reign of Terror in a 1776 setting. The French Revolution is essential to their plot. The M'Keithe family belongs in the Scottish Highlands; they'd never work the same in the Civil War. Rachel Coker's Scarlett and Frank belong in the hippie '60s; they wouldn't work elsewhere. Each era has certain themes and facts that are unique to it alone. Historical fiction worth its salt wraps those facts into the plot so tightly that the whole thing would unravel if those facts were removed.

2. The Character Mindset Matches the Era.
There is nothing more annoying than reading a Victorian-era tale with a woman who has to prove her capabilities, or a medieval story with a girl who wants to follow her dreams to travel the world. I'll give authors a point for unwanted marriages and elopements. Those have existed since before Shakespeare. But if the story is set in medieval times, then the men led in society, both in conversation, church, and work. Some authors choose to update the character mindsets for a modern audience. But the classic books--the books I most love--are ones where the author is faithful to what people would have believed and known at that time. It is possible to engage modern readers in that reality.

As I'm writing my own historical fiction, I'm having my doctors use several medicines that are neither ethical nor safe by today's standards. Since they live in WW1, I can only allow them to know what doctors would have known then. For instance, heroin was often used for different means than it would be used for today. They'd be very bad doctors by 21st century standards; but by 19th century standards they're using the latest and greatest. I'm as yet unpublished, so I don't know if I'll be allowed to keep that through the final draft, but I'm going to try.

3. The Important Details are Accurate. 
Douglas Bond seems to have a great handle on his history, and I love the way he incorporates the facts of the battles into his stories. All characterization quibbles aside, I think he's a great historian, and when he writes historical fiction, you know you're going to learn some things. The same goes for Ellis Peter's Cadfael novels; while I'm sure most visitors to Shrewsbury don't die of violence, the conflict of which monarch to side with rings true to English history. Percy Blakeney didn't rescue all those aristocrats for real, but I've learned more about Robespierre and Marat and the sans-culottes than I ever did in social studies.

I like historical fiction that gets births, deaths, marriages and battles in their correct location. You could insert a slight fiction here and there--but if it's a key event in real history, then it's key for the story as well.

4. The Unimportant Details are Fudged for the Magic of the Story.
Some novels are so accurate you can tell the author was paranoid about a reader finding they made up something. ;) I love fiction that reads like fiction, not a memoir/biography. For instance, K.M. Weiland's Behold the Dawn shifted some of the timing of the Crusades by a few weeks. That was one of her earlier works, but she did what was best for her character arc and plot journey, and I loved it. G.A. Henty, too, while keeping the details of the culture and the battles, kept his own fingerprint of British stoicism and had every main character the son of a high lord or king. That's fiction. It's good. While I'm against modernizing historical characters to advance a politically correct belief, I am all for inserting a relatable character that readers can use to live in the time period.

One of the most magical, perfect historical novels I've ever read is Jean Lee Latham's Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. It's written for children, but all ages relate--because it has the themes of hard work and suffering, loss and redemption. Jean distills the essence of fact--Bowditch's siblings and studies and indentureship--into the conversations he has with his masters and friends and fellow sailors. She shows Nat's knowledge through him gathering a group of sailors on deck to teach them about the stars. She takes what she knows, and projects that into what she doesn't know--so that, whether or not it's all true, it is plausible. Well done.

A historical novel doesn't need to be perfect; after all, the author wasn't there, and they're doing the best they can with the facts they have. As long as they have a love and passion for the time and setting as well as the characters and plot, and a judicious mix of fact and fiction, it's sure to make for an enjoyable read.

Blessings,
Schuyler

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pilgrim's Progress



These last few weeks I've felt as if the Lord has opened up the floodgates of fellowship and I'm drinking it in as fast as I can. That doesn't mean that life is easy--but after a long spiritual winter of the soil lying fallow and waiting and trusting for spring to come, there is new life in prayers and devotions and reading his Word. I always hesitate to say that for fear it will immediately disappear after I've mentioned it. But in case any of you are going through a similar experience, then I hope it will be an encouragement to you that if you keep on seeking and knocking, and put your steadfast hope upon the Lord, he will "render unto you according to your work".

One of the gifts of fellowship he has given me has certainly been Pilgrim's Progress. I have lived twenty years without reading this book. Perhaps a few of them may be excused, as I haven't been reading for all twenty of them. But in the last few weeks, I've discovered just what it is that I've been missing out on.

The Book:
From the Dover Thrift Edition description: Often rated as important as the Bible as a Christian document, this famous story of man's progress through life in search of salvation remains one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written. Set against realistic backdrops of town and country, the powerful drama of the pilgrim's trials and temptations follows him in his harrowing journey to the Celestial City.
Along a road filled with monsters and spiritual terrors, Christian confronts such emblematic characters as Worldly Wiseman, Giant Despair, Talkative, Ignorance, and the demons of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. But he is also joined by Hopeful and Faithful.
An enormously influential 17th-century classic, universally known for its simplicity, vigor, and beauty of language, The Pilgrim's Progress remains one of the most widely read books in the English language.

My Thoughts
One editor at a writing conference admonished her students to be careful not to attempt to copy the Bible exactly in their writing. The Bible is complete and perfect, and it is foolish to try to copy it too closely; you'll only make a less powerful knock-off. 

Perhaps Pilgrim's Progress could be the one excusable exception. :)

The story is rich and true; it never dragged for me but once, and even that didn't take long to get through. Bunyan writes like a father to his children, or a shepherd to his little flock--mixing admonishment and comfort in good measure. I felt a deep love as I read this book, but that love never diminished the holiness of God or the gravity of our struggle against sin. 

The illustrations in the house of the Interpreter were some of my favorite scenes, both in Christian's journey and in Christiana's. They explained the gospel life of the Christian simply and clearly, from the man with truth upon his lips, to the robin with his crumbs, to the fire burning against the wall (my favorite). In the last scene, one man was pouring water on the fire to try to quench it, while another stood at the back of the fire secretly pouring oil upon it to make it grow:
The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually, with the oil of His grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of His people prove gracious still. And in that thou sawest, that the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul. 
I loved Faithful for as long as he and Christian were together, but I loved Hopeful as well, for his bright and cheerful spirit. He tempered Christian's gravity as they drew closer to the Celestial City, and they were a comfort to one another in affliction. And Hopeful, though rather the lighter and flightier of the two, was the most confident in crossing the dark river, in spite of Christian's greater intellectual knowledge. 

Both Christian and Christiana's stories were equally good, but I loved how Christiana's half expanded to include people of weak names who persevered to the kingdom of God: Feeble-mind, and Ready-to-halt, and Much-afraid and Despondent. The passage about Fearful making it to the Celestial City in spite of his halting and worrying was particularly beautiful.

Particularly convicting in the last half was the passage where Christiana and Mercy were assaulted outside the Interpreter's house. After their rescue, they were told that they would have been given more help if they had been bold enough to ask. Christiana asked why they were not given a helper if the Lord knew they would need it, and the Reliever's reply was incredible:
Reliever: It is not always necessary to grant things not asked for, lest by so doing they become of little esteem; but when the want of a thing is felt, it then comes under, in the eyes of him that feels it, that estimate that properly is due, and so consequently will be thereafter used. Had my Lord granted you a conductor, you would not neither so have bewailed that oversight or yours, in not asking for one, as now you have occasion to do. So all things work for good, and tend to make you more wary. 
It was certainly a convicting reminder to be more bold in petitioning the Lord for grace and help in time of need.

I started to laugh in Christiana's half during the times when Great-heart violently and valiantly rid the giants of their heads :) His gusto and delight in making an end of them made me think of a certain young fellow that is soon to be released to the public. Bunyan does not make light work of the enemies of the gospel. He kills them by various violent means, and had more guts to condemn them then our modern all-inclusiveness. I appreciated how he always had the good characters plead with their enemies to accept the Lord's grace. If they joined the cause of Christ, well and good--if not, then there was no cause to regret them.

There is so much to learn and ponder and love in this book. I will leave you to discover it for yourself, and close with this final thought:

"'Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" (John 7:38) And truly, that living water flowed out from the heart and pen of John Bunyan.

Blessings,
Schuyler 

Friday, January 9, 2015

War of Loyalties January Snippets



This is my favorite time of month again! Time for some War of Loyalties snippets. :) I hope you all enjoy them. 

   Ben closed the door and sat on the edge of the sofa, taking courage from the heavy weight of the Webley between his fingers. The lights were smashed in too badly to be used, and a chill breeze crept through the open windows, rustling papers and stray objects on the floor. Not wanting to be left without a light, he found a candle that had rolled under the kitchen table and hunted about for a match to light it with. But none turned up in the chaos, and giving up his search, Ben returned to his seat to wait as the June twilight faded away to darkness.
//
   "I have no intention of dying."
//
   "You talk about conscience, yet I have seen you both lie and steal without objection. How far would you go? Would you murder for the sake of furthering your cause?"
   "Probing the depths of my depravity, are you?" Jaeryn didn't lose a beat. Clasping his hands behind his head, he yawned and tipped his chair back against the wall. "I don't know. I don't think I would go that far, but one can't say until one is tried. Would you kill—if I needed you to?”
//
   Ben kissed the top of her head. "God keeps us both safe as long as he likes, and there's no use fretting about it. Je t'aime, ma chérie. Don't worry about me."
//
   The grass grew ankle deep all the way to the cliff edge, but something blew in the wind that was not grass, and Ben stooped to see what had caught his attention. Stamped into the soft dirt and wound about the turf was a strand of rough twine. A slight tug produced another glint of metal, and at length loosed something which caused his mouth to open in astonishment.
//
   "Hey, mister." Ben looked up and saw a lounger crossing the street, sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a pack of cigarettes in his hand. The man appeared to be talking to him. "Aren't you the doctor's fellow?"
//
   As soon as the doctor sponged the copper discs with a damp cloth, he caught his breath. They lay on the table between the two men, an evil gleam shining from them.
   "Thank-you for bringing these." Jaeryn reached to take them away, but Ben was before him and covered the dog tags with his hand.
   "I want to know why they're important."
//
   "Young folks never ask that sort of thing."
//
   "Is he a German?"
   Ryson's anger only thinly disguised the fact that the tags had shaken him, and Jaeryn kept a sharp observation on him in case the older man dropped a clue that would reveal why. "Of course he's German. What would you expect with a name like that? And what's more, he's of vital importance to me."
   "More important than Dailey," Jaeryn remarked.
   The razor-keen features on the man opposite held seasoned indifference, obviously attained from long years of watching agents come and go. "Certainly."
//
   "I must go and pack, darling," Charlotte said at length, squeezing his hand and untwining her fingers. But her tone held a wistful note, and she made no haste to leave.
   Ben's hand crept to her hair pins, as it always did they were alone together. Her flaxen waves loosed from their tight constraints, and the wind caught at them, swirling her hair about her slender figure. "Nervous about leaving?" he asked, and a supreme contentment coursed through him at the soft lightness around his fingers.
   Charlotte leaned her head on his shoulder, and slipped her arm around his waist. "Not for myself," she replied. "But I'll miss you dreadfully."
//
   "Well, you can pull out and go home. Or you can stay where you are and play for the pool. There may be more to you than either of us realizes, and I should like to know what it is."
//
   "In fact, I think his coming is the most fortunate thing you've ever decided on."
//
   Charlotte smiled, though rather wearily. "The baby didn't cry until you took him. I think he likes his mother better."
//
   "This fellow who stops by to care for the horse--perhaps he can help you?"
   Pearl glanced up sideways at him from under her soft lashes. "I'm sure he would be happy to."
//
   
//
   He hadn't even considered what meeting Alisa might mean to Charlotte. An eighteen-year-old girl married only a few months, to be a mother already, while Charlotte herself had been married over a year and they hadn't discussed children yet. But to start a family now would be nothing short of insanity. "We won't wait too long. After all this is over we can think about it some more."
   "I'll remind you of that."
   Ben thought he saw her lips trembling, though he couldn't quite tell in the darkness. "Charlotte, are you all right?"
   "Oh, yes." She drew a deep breath and slipped her arm through his. "I'm just tired, that's all."
//
   "I don't think you realize what you put us through."
//

   Ben smiled at his cheerful demeanor, and wondered what kind of position Terry held at the Emmerson estate. Jaeryn might know whether or not he was someone they needed to watch. Then he thought of the bomb drop on Tontine, and Pearl, and suddenly realized Terry had called his sister by a love name for the second time.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On Writing Well

My desire, as I write my novel, is to write with simple, clear, effective prose. I once told a friend that "I try to write lightly and cleanly, expressing the things I want to say in few and pastel-colored words, but I do try to move the reader as well, and add in little things that make it come alive." 

William Zinsser's On Writing Well was a healthy dose of affirmation and encouragement in this regards; the first writing book I've ever finished and could recommend. 

The Book: 
From the Amazon description: On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet. 
Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sold, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

On Writing Well has many editions, but for the purposes of today's review I will be drawing directly from the 30th edition. 

My Thoughts 
William Zinsser started writing on the typewriter and has seen the rise of computers, change in trends, and shifts in people's interests throughout his career. His book of advice, On Writing Well, stands out as a gem; for it is the advice of a man who is not basing his teaching on the latest fads or encouraging people to follow the market. He gives writers classic principles that will stand true time immemorial. 
That doesn't mean his advice is surface-level, or fluffy. On the contrary, his common sense is refreshing, simply because we don't get it any more. Writers nowadays hear a clash of "Use adverbs." "Don't use adverbs." "Start with action." "Start with character empathy." The whiplash from what sells is confusing. Zinsser cuts through all the confusion simply by ignoring it and focusing on what really matters: interesting content, distinctive voice, and clean prose; the three vital components to any writing project. 
On Writing Well is toted as "The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction", but don't let that subtitle deceive you. It's a book that any writer should read, whether you write memoir or science fiction. The principles of good writing hold true across the genres. Besides; any writer is going to have to write non-fiction at some point in the form of magazine articles and blog posts, and it doesn't hurt to learn what works in the industry. 
One refreshing thing about Zinsser's writing is that he's morally clean. Some writing books like Donald Maas's Writing the Breakout Novel use examples of modern-day novels with more explicit content than I want to know about. Zinsser is clean, classic, and refined. He doesn't require shock value and edgy writing to get his point across. He writes in a family-friendly style, and barring 3 passages of my recollection, I would read the book aloud to the family. 
Zinsser does have a few drawbacks to look out for. Occasionally he includes a swear word, though fairly mild as I recall.  Here and there I detect a hint of religious cynicism. Also, he spends a good chunk of a chapter on how 'sexism' should be removed from nonfiction, suggesting that male-specific pronouns such as 'he' should be replaced with 'one' or 'the writer' to remove gender in teaching books. Women reading his books were offended that they had to read male examples all the time, and Zinsser made changes accordingly. I found the politically-correct usage annoying, because it violated some of his other writing principles: don't use extra words if you can cut them out. 
"More damaging--and more subtle--are all the usages that treat women as possessions of the family male, not as people with their own identity who played an equal part in the family saga: 'Early settlers pushed west with their wives and children.' Turn those settlers into pioneer families, or pioneer couples who went west with their sons and daughters, or men and women who settled the west." ~Ch. 10, On Writing Well, by William Zinsser
While I appreciate Zinsser's point, using the male pronoun actually stems from the English language found in the Bible. Biblical genealogies were created with the male as the family head, followed by 'and their wives and children'. Biblical teaching is often, though not always, written with the word 'he', with the knowledge that the same commands and promises apply to women as well. The Bible designates the male as the head, and many Christians don't realize that removing gender in their nonfiction violates a biblical precedent. Besides, using the pronoun 'he' all the time doesn't change my ability to become a firefighter. Therefore, I disagree with Zinsser on that point. 
Zinsser includes excerpts from various books and articles to illustrate his points. They were all appropriate, but three in particular I skipped: the examples on pgs. 144-146 at the end of ch. 14 deal with adultery and broken lifestyles. Page 189, ch. 17, was a women's rights sports article that I skipped because I'd had enough of the women's rights theme. Pg 225, in ch. 19 is just...disturbingly weird. (Excerpt about the presidents.) Again, none of these are terribly explicit, but if you want to exercise extra caution, then I'd recommend skimming. 
A third of Zinsser's book is dedicated to specific forms of nonfiction: Interviews, travel articles, memoir, and sports. I enjoyed all of it, and I think if you want to be a perceptive reader in all genres, then it's worth reading the whole book to know what is good writing in those forms. Knowledge is power, and I like to tuck away all kinds of knowledge in case I need to refer to it later. But to get the meat of the writing instruction you don't have to read these sections, so feel free to skim.
My favorite point in Zinsser's book is the confidence he encourages writers to have. To be confident in their style, confident in their interests, and confident in their life experiences. Doubting your interests, he says, is not the way to build a career. Jennifer Freitag once said that "It's best to remember that the reader, like an animal, can smell fear in the author." I have found that to be true. Fear leads to wordy and fuzzy writing. Zinsser upbuilds his students with confidence. Write what you are interested in, he says, and people will appreciate it. Indeed, On Writing Well is calming in its reassurance. Some writing books make you dizzy with all the things you have to remember if you want to be a breakout seller. Zinsser tells you to write what you love most and write it well. And he gives you the key steps you need to accomplish that. 

I highly recommend William Zinsser's On Writing Well. If it's the only writing book you ever read, it's worth the time it takes to improve your writing-craft. 

Blessings,
Schuyler 

Friday, January 2, 2015

After All These Years--3 Years of My Lady Bibliophile



well after all these years i thought 
the rhythms and the rhymes 
would come so easy 
but it's still so hard.
it's the same twelve notes, six strings
and a million little mysteries
in one broken heart. 
~andrew peterson "after all these years"

Whenever I click on the Articles and Book Reviews tabs on this blog, I always get a little sense of awe. I spend most of my life living in the future--next deadline, next chapter, next book, next year, do better, read faster--

And then I stop. And pause. And see what God has done.

It's pretty incredible.

Certainly the journey here has gone beyond what I could see or hope for. In the three years of My Lady Bibliophile, this blog has tracked 74,438 pageviews, 317 posts, and 1,728 comments. The top 3 posts are The Lord of the Rings (Part Two), A Happy Birthday Blog Post, and The Lord of the Rings (Part Three).  We've enjoyed so much fellowship over the Christian importance of stories and how to read them from a biblical perspective. By the grace of God, this blog will be dedicated to spreading that message for a long time to come.

Last year's theme was best-of. I found in 2013 I often put aside 'best' for 'good'--reading mediocre books for deadlines rather than books I really liked. In 2014 I set out to read books that I was especially interested in, and wrote articles on favorite characters such as animals, friends, heroes, heroines, etc. Blogging was much more enjoyable, and reading was much more rewarding as a result.

I also started merging my writing and reading interests by posting writing articles and launching snippets and character interviews for my WW1 espionage novel, War of Loyalties. That will continue in the months to come!

I was talking to my mom the other day and mentioned that this year was an especially inspiring year on the blog. I was at home for a good deal of it, and had time to think--time to read--time to ponder new themes and learn new things about writing and Christian storytelling that I had never considered before. Principles of biblical fantasy, giving gracious critiques, and trying new genres that I had dismissed in the past. A quiet year is a gift, albeit not without its challenges, and in this instance it helped me lay another foundation piece in my theology of reading. I hope it did in yours as well.

New This Year 
I'm still thinking about themes to focus on this year, and when I settle on one I will announce it. In the meantime, I have a lot of ideas in the works for you all to look forward to:
First of all, I have a hobbity kind of book giveaway right around the corner, so stay tuned for that in the next couple of weeks!
This year I have several books that I'm planning (Lord-willing) to read and review: Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Anne Elisabeth Stengl's Tales of Goldstone Wood, and an in-depth exploration of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Anne Shirley sparks some debate, and the more I read her, the higher respect I have for her story. I'm really looking forward to it.
Along the articles line, I have a couple of last 'Best Of' posts in the works, as well as some deep thoughts on romantic affection in literature, and requested articles on writing for God's glory, writing historical fiction, and Christian liberty in reading.

Would you like to see me review a particular book this year? Do you have a subject you'd like me to tackle in an article? Please comment with your suggestions, and I will add them to the queue. :)

Other Ways to Connect 
You may have noticed the shiny new social media icons on the upper right blog sidebar! Believe it or not, writing and reading isn't all I do, and I'd love to connect with you on other platforms as well. I'm a Bright Lights ministry leader and attend Bible Study Fellowship meetings. I'm currently studying French, Gaelic, and Greek, and love scrapbooking and jewelry making. I'm also a novelist, and I love watching period drama shows and listening to all kinds of music. I'd love to connect with you about these things on other platforms.

I just launched a Facebook account in November, and this morning I launched a Twitter account. You can keep track of what I'm currently reading on Goodreads, and find beautiful inspiration and a laugh or two on my Pinterest boards.

Let's keep in touch! If you've liked the content you've received here, would you consider following on your favorite platforms? It's a way to spread the word to others, and would help me as I try to spread book reviews and my own novels to as many people as possible. Thank-you so much!


Finally, thank-you for all the book suggestions and birthday wishes, the emails and Skype chats, the beta reading opportunities and eager interest in my own writing efforts. The community of people who love the Lord and love good literature has blossomed so much, and expanded my horizons in ways I never imagined. I've met people from different corners of the globe, from different denominations, of different ages and perspectives. It's been wonderful.

Three years of ever-deepening love for the way God touches hearts through stories.

And here's to many more to come.

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. ~Psalm 126:3 (KJV)

Blessings,
Schuyler
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