Friday, February 26, 2016

Bibliophile Tabletalk: Elizabeth Newsom

Hi folks! I have a treat for you today, with a bookish interview with new book blogger Elizabeth Newsom. Elizabeth and I met at the American Christian Fiction Writers in Dallas, TX, (we didn't get a picture together! No!) and we've hit it off ever since. Just recently, Elizabeth started her own writing/book blog, and I invited her to My Lady Bibliophile to introduce her work to you all. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and pull up a chair for a cozy chat!



Schuyler: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hobbies? Family life? Ambitions for the future? 

Elizabeth: Well there's writing and reading, obviously. I also love gaga ball! If you've never played, it's the Israeli version of dodge ball. I'm also my family's party planner, since I'm extremely extroverted and love organizing games and events with people. Speaking of my family, there's seven of us, and I'm the oldest of five. As far as the future goes, there's Taylor university in Indiana. They have a professional writing major, where 100% of their students are published while in college, which is pretty incredible. Taylor is supposed to be the best university in the mid-west. It's also a Christian college, which is awesome. The only problem is that it's pretty far away, since my family lives in Texas, but I'm praying it'll work out. Aside from college, I know I'm going to be an author, hopefully get married sometime, and that's about it ;)

Schuyler: What can we expect to find over at your blog? 

Elizabeth: Mainly book reviews on clean romances. I personally love romance, and I know from experience how hard to can be to find something that's high-quality. Often times, it's either trashy or cliché. Those will be posted weekly. I'll also have polls, writing prompts you can participate in, some thought provoking articles, and writing tips.

Schuyler: You love to read! :) Who are some of your favorite authors? Is there a particular genre you enjoy most? 

Elizabeth: Kristen Heitzmann. Tamara Leigh. Nadine Brandes. Grace Walton. Marissa Meyer. Mary Lu Tyndall. Jenni James. I'd probably buy any books they published without looking. Kristen Heitzmann writes great historical and contemporary romances. Tamara Leigh also writes historical and contemporary romances. Her historicals are my favorite. Grace Walton, again, does historical and contemporary romance, and all of her books are on Kindle Unlimited. Marissa Meyer wrote the Lunar Chronicles, which are awesome! Mary Lu Tyndall writes pirate romances, and the new ones are stellar. Jenni James writes high school romances based off of Jane Austen's stories. And, as you can probably tell, my favorite genre is romance :D Nadine Brandes is the only one I named who doesn't write specifically romance, but she has written a great dystopian series with a thread of romance. 

Schuyler: If you had a completely free day, what would you do with it? Where would you go? 

Elizabeth: Oh! A completely free day... Such a nice thought ;) Well, I'd spend time with friends, maybe at a dancing party. I love dancing! Any any activity can be twice as fun when you add friends into the mix. If my friends weren't available, I'd probably be curled up somewhere with a good romance.
 
Schuyler: I know you like to write! Where do you hope to see your writing career five years from now? 

Elizabeth: Ideally, I'd have an agent at that time and at least one published book. Around that time, I'd hope to be in Taylor University, as I mentioned earlier.

Schuyler: How does your relationship with God affect your writing? 

Elizabeth: Excellent question. I've found that when I try to write by myself and just write to get it done, my creativity, joy, and inspiration evaporate. He's the source of everything good in my story--the message of faith, the plot twists, characters. I'm trying to do better at creating with God instead of apart from Him, since that obviously doesn't work.

Schuyler: If you could use one word to describe your personality, what would it be and why?

Elizabeth: My word for myself would be: parakleo. It's Greek, meaning to encourage, to instruct, etc. A huge life goal of mine is to help others, to instruct and encourage them. My perception of myself is obviously different than everyone else's, so I got my family's opinion on this question.

Dad: Elegant
Mom: Ferocious
Older brother: Determined
Younger brother: Productive
Older sister: Awesome
Younger sister: Cool

  Schuyler: Aren't those words awesome, folks? Head on over to www.elizabethnewsom.com for all sorts of writerly and readerly fun. Thanks for coming on today, Elizabeth!

About Elizabeth
Elizabeth Newsom is a romance writer, who manages to find time in between school assignments to work on her novel. Her love of romance is evident on her blog, elizabethnewsom.com, where she posts weekly book reviews on clean romances along with writing tips and spiritual insights. Elizabeth finds it strange and Gollum-like to speak about herself in third person, but does so when necessary, such as in her bio at the end of a guest post.


Interested in a Bibliophile Tabletalk feature? Shoot me an email at ladybibliophileblog@gmail.com to apply for a spot!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Bells of Paradise, by Suzannah Rowntree: Upcoming Release!

If you're looking for a brand new book to bring a bright spot to your week, look no further! This Saturday, Suzannah Rowntree will release another of her fairy tale novellas on February 27th, a retelling of Jorinda and Joringel entitled The Bells of Paradise. She's the fantastic author of Pendragon's Heir and The Prince of Fishes, and today I have the pleasure of reviewing an advance copy of her latest release!

(Side note--isn't this cover gorgeous? I love the deep blue. So pretty!)

The Book 
Only a madman would go into Faerie of his own accord.

The one thing John the blacksmith loves more than his peaceful, hardworking life in Middleton Dale is the tailor's free-spirited daughter Janet. But unlike John, Janet dreams of adventure beyond the Dale. And when her dreams lead her into Faerie to be captured by a dangerous witch, John realises he must dare the perilous realm of the Lordly Folk to free his bride.

A poignant and profound retelling of the Grimms' fairytale Jorinda and Joringel, set in the fantastical realms of Elizabethan folklore. Novella, approximately 25,000 words.

My Thoughts 
Most introvert characters are either geeky nerds or tormented souls on the rack of an anguished life. John is neither, so he's unique in the literary world of introverts. He's a steady fellow who wants a normal, unchanged, uninterrupted life: subject to quiet pleasures, a honorable work ethic, and an occasional fit of resentment when his ideal world is disturbed. He's someone I love, because he captures the lesser known kind of introverts who could live and die quite happily without doing anything terribly earth-shattering. 

The thing about John is, he doesn't know why these humble aspirations comprise greatness. He does them because that's what he prefers, and that's the end of it. There is nothing wrong with an obscure man. But there is something very much wrong with a man who uses that obscurity for comfort rather than for the glory of God. A trip to Faerie catapults him into facing his blind spots and gaining the vision he lacks. I appreciated the authentic portrayal of his struggle with adventure and love.

The side characters make a vivid tapestry for John and Janet to interact with: the carefree Lettice, unimaginative Ned, vivid queen Gloriana, and evil Sir Calidore. With novellas every glimpse of a character counts, and every character in this story is different, deftly drawn, and used to the best advantage. My favorite side character was sad-hearted, grey-gowned Columbell. 

Also, the description in this novella is some of the best I think Suzannah has had yet. She's always been a good writer, but it's natural to see authors gain skill from story to story. From the scene where John and Janet are walking in the forest, to the eerily beautiful Unicorn and the nighttime chase in Faerie, to John's home village seen through new eyes, all are delightful to read. 

The Bells of Paradise gave me an evening of wonder and adventure. It's about the price of a cup of coffee, and gives you soul food that lasts much longer. Mark your calendars for Saturday and pick up this exciting new release! 

I received an advance copy of the ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Open Letters to Various Bookish Characters

Lately my literary ponderings have been a mashup of books and movies, conversations with friends, and random inspiration. I thought it would be fun to write open letters of advice to a few characters I've encountered recently. Here you have it from LOTR, The Silmarillion, David Copperfield, Our Mutual Friend, and Middlemarch. :)




For Tolkien Characters 

Dear Gollum,
I've been contemplating your addiction to gold rings this morning, and I think I've discovered the reason. You don't like taters. When you were a Baby Gollum, if you had eaten taters when your grandmother set them before you, you might not be where you are now. Orc bones and worms might be more to your taste, but we all have to eat vegetables in life. Notice, if you please, that Sam ate taters, and he was immune to gold rings. Give up orc bones and pay $19.99 for the Samwise Diet Cookbook, and I think there will be hope for you yet.

Your Psychologist,
Lady B.


Dear Elves of Teleri,
You're a grand race of elves, you are. You move me to awe and excitement with your majesty. However, defending your validity during dinner conversations is racking up some serious credit in my deposits of self-dignity. People in this house do not believe you really exist. To prove that Elves Really Do Matter in Real Life, please help me out by sending the Nauglafring necklace on tour. I don't think they're going to believe me unless they see it for themselves.

Your Creditor,
Lady B.


For Dickens Characters 

Dear Steerforth,
You had me from the very first moment you called David Copperfield "Daisy". I know it's a silly name, but you were so tall and handsome and fashionable that I think I was star-struck. Certain People Who Shall Remain Nameless may hate you, but I shall always be loyal. Whenever you need a refuge, you may come to me, but please keep in mind that I have pepper spray and I don't trust your good intentions.

Sorrowfully Yours,
Lady B.


Dear Mr. Headstone,
I know you're a schoolmaster, and it's easy to lose touch with the human race when you spend your whole day with books. Allow me to mention that it is not advisable to begin proposals of love with "You have ruined me," especially when you're in dead earnest. I could not take your love seriously, and I'm sure Lizzie Hexam couldn't either. Nor is it wise to describe the first day you met the object of your passion as "wretched and miserable". It may make her doubt the fondness of your affections. For $19.99, please order Marriage Proposals the Jane Austen Way, and you may yet have a chance of winning her affections.

Your Life Coach,
Lady B.

PS. Or ask Will Ladislaw for advice, see below.


For Middlemarch Characters 

Dear Will Ladislaw,
I have a great fondness for you, even if you were Author's Pet. You're my favorite character too, so I can't blame her. But if your true love is going to come calling on the beautiful Mrs. Lydgate, it generally leads to Misunderstandings when she finds you comforting Mrs. Lydgate with your arm around her. That's such a fictional cliche, Will, and you're smarter than that. Maybe because you have to try out every profession before you choose one, you have to try out all the cliches too. Because you look like Jaeryn, I'll forgive you. Be good, and try not to lose your temper every time society betrays you. It's a fickle creature, and there's no hope for it. Rash decisions to leave Middlemarch won't raise you in the opinion of people who simply don't matter.

Fondly Yours,
Lady B.

PS. However did you pull off a silent proposal without disappointing the fondest dreams of your entire viewing audience? I actually skipped back to watch it again. You must be so proud of yourself.


Dear Reverend Casaubon,
You simply can't keep asking for empty notebooks for Christmas. They distract you from writing the Key to All Mythologies and send you on plot bunnies. I declare, you're worse than all of us Twitter authors. Plot bunnies, however scholarly, will not get the book written. In fact, if anyone could be diagnosed with Death by Plot Bunnies, I think you would be a fair candidate. Inform your friends and family that no more notebooks will be required and buy Scrivener to get yourself organized. If you promise to stop neglecting Dorthea for your deep and important scholarly ideas, I'll even show you how to use it.

Sternly Yours,
Lady B.

PS. For $19.99, of course.


What would you write to characters you've encountered lately? Write a blog post and put a link in the comments. I'd love to see!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Light of the Last, by Chuck Black

Guys. This book is pure rule of cool.

I closed it this morning, having read tons of pages over the last couple of days. Being sick gives me more time, but it was such a relief to even want to read a book. And the best thing about Light of the Last? As soon as I closed it, I wanted to jump up and write something awesome with all the inspiration this had given.

Light of the Last is the final installment in the Wars of the Realm series, by Chuck Black. Previous installments are Cloak of the Light and Rise of the Fallen, which I've reviewed. Click on the titles for review links. This last book is everything I hoped it would be--with less angst and more awesome, which I loved.

I'll share more about that below: but first, the book synopsis.


The Book 

To Fight What Others Can’t You Must See What Others Don’t

After an accident left him temporarily blind, Drew Carter didn’t just regain his sight. He now sees what others can’t imagine–an entire spiritual realm of mighty beings at war.

Forget the gift, Drew just wants his life back. Part of that involves Sydney Carlyle, a woman he is inexplicably drawn to. When he’s offered the chance to become a CIA agent, it seems the way to redeem his past. The only problem–his visions of the supernatural realm are increasing in frequency.

It’s up to the warrior angel Validus and his hand-picked team of heavenly agents to protect the unbelieving Drew. Validus now knows that the young man is at the epicenter of a global spiritual war, and the angels must use a millennia of battle experience keep Drew alive, for the Fallen want him dead.

Surrounded by spiritual warriors and targeted by demons, Drew’s faced with an impossible decision that will forever alter the destiny of America...and his own soul.

My Thoughts
The technology in this book is really, really cool. I can't imagine how fun it was as an author to create Ben and Drew and the NexTech team. The jacket Witness, with its 360 camera and the earpiece with "Alice"--a technology voice able to fulfill any request--was tons of fun. Couple that with Drew's penchant for constantly getting himself in life-threatening situations, and you'll have one crazy ride. I really wished Witness and Alice were real gadgets, because I would have loved to use them and go on adventures. 

I loved the theology. It brought twists and surprises to the book that I never saw coming. Several guesses I had were turned upside down. To be honest, I was surprised that this book was written so frankly--it's politically forthright and far from politically correct. I'm really, really glad Multnomah put it out, because I think it contains a good wake-up call about America, Muslims, and Israel in its pages. Chuck Black does a good job creating drama using fictional spin-offs of real-life events. 

I'm really impressed with the picture Chuck Black gave us of the main character, Drew. "Agent Carter" is cool. We see him struggling, working, years passing as he builds up his skill sets. He's not a believer, and he's grown up with a regular American lifestyle. While he doesn't do anything hugely immoral, he's realistic--and so is the culture in which he lives. A lot of homeschool dads might not write this way, but I think Chuck's willingness to explore different lifestyles in his fiction will enable him to reach a much wider audience of young people with the Gospel. 

The sidekicks were well fleshed-out: Ben, Reed, Sydney, Ethan, Ross, and Jake. Drew's relationship with his step-dad, Jake, and friend, Ben, I especially loved. Also, the angel plots with Validus and his pals carried on much better than book two, partnering with Drew's perspective to move the story forward. Originally I thought book two was an unnecessary installment. Now I think it laid some really important groundwork, but I still think it's a danger spot for giving up the series. You can't quite read books one and three and get a complete picture, so I still suggest reading book two in order, but one and three are still my favorite. 

There were a couple of sections where I got freaked out by the intensity--a couple of places where my belief was suspended, specifically the nanobots. But they were so small, really, it doesn't diminish five stars. Most times the intensity was pleasantly high, without being disturbing. 

This book gave me giant amounts of fun, adventure, and inspiration. It's the story of a hero, and I love modern-day stories of heroes. It's a geeky story of twenty-somethings trying to save America, and since I'm a twenty-something and I love America, that resonated with me too. It's a story of people who value Israel, and I very much value Israel. It has commitment, jokes, sacrifice, and God's hand of providence all wrapped into one tight package. I'm going to read it again. It was awesome, guys. If you want a great book dramatizing spiritual warfare, check out the Wars of the Realm series. It's one I definitely want to read again. 

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

My Writing Process // The Backstory


because all writers write with little green plants by their desk. 
I'm on my third full length novel. With the first two, I put them through two or three edits, so I got a good idea of what the entire package looked like. With this next one, I'm trying out some new techniques to see if they'll make my writing journey more efficient, more enjoyable, and higher quality. I have to finish the first draft to complete some of my testing (after which I'll be reviewing the K.M. Weiland Structuring and Outlining books here on the blog).

Last Friday I talked about my current writing process and the different methods and words that were cornerstones to my productivity. Today, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane. Because honestly, the writing process takes a lot of twists and turns before you start feeling comfortable with it.

The Beginnings
My first childhood ambition was a story about an English princess during the American Civil War. It had accompanying illustrations. I believe I was nine, and I'm not sure where it is now, but it will not see the light of day for publication. It is probably pretty cute, though. After that, I had a long and convoluted series idea set around the Civil War. I still keep it in the back of my head. You never know. In fact, I have a folder stuffed with scraps of paper that were the story ideas of my childhood, full of mystery-solving cats and homeschool girls and all sorts of Pulitzer-Prize potential.

I didn't stick with any of them, really, until War of Loyalties.

War of Loyalties is my first writing love. I learned how to write on this book.

Book One, Draft One: Learn How to Write
Basically, learn everything. Learn that we must pick one eye color for Jaeryn and not three (he had brown, grey, and green interchangeably). Learn that encoded messages are not really my thing in spy fiction. (That was kind of a cool plot, though. It was a bet between the spy and the arch villain, and if the spy didn't get the answer by the last clue he would die.) Learn that any dream can be realized, even if you don't have a laptop, if you're just willing to write with pen and paper. I wrote over 300 pages by hand, because I wanted that story told. I used an orange school folder until it got so ripped and worn it wouldn't hold together. Then I switched to a folder with a cat on it, until that got so full it ripped too, and I upgraded to a fancy zip case. You can't imagine the delight of holding a growing stack of papers and reading your favorite parts. I still have those old folders. I learned that medical catastrophes in a book should be limited to a non-ridiculous number. Learned about cutting out extraneous characters (the eleven year old boy reincarnated in a different story and I am so happy.) Learned that if one wants to write historical fiction, one really can't make up geographical locations. (I struck gold though, and made up a location that actually existed). I learned about logic during those years, being in my mid-teens, and how that affects stories. I learned how to take advantage of five minute breaks between school subjects. We had a fifteen minute break mid-morning in our homeschool, and towards the end I used that time to write, write, write.

In some ways I miss those days. It was just me and the story I loved, and a total oblivion to its faults.

But to stay there would be to remain stuck in a writing childhood, and nobody's designed to do that.



Book One, Draft Two: Learn Discipline 
I got a snazzy laptop just before draft one ended, but for nostalgia's sake, I chose to finish writing it by hand. It now resides on my bookshelf in a shoe box. I do not want it displayed for future posterity if this ever becomes a bestseller.

It was during this draft that I put into practice a key concept I hope to practice for the rest of my life. The Twenty Mile March. The basic idea, which I heard at a writer's conference, was to set your daily march, and make sure you got it done. On the easy days, you stick to your march. On the hard days, you stick to your march. Ultimately, consistent daily marching will get you to your word goals much faster than haphazard binging on one day and doing nothing the next. You can shift your march according to various life seasons, but so long as you have that daily goal, you'll get to the end. For draft two, I set myself a march of a chapter a week and sending it to beta readers. I hoped to increase it as time went on, but it never varied. I wrote it in installments, which was a really good way to fix some plots and a really bad way to bomb others. But overall it turned it into a more cohesive story. I also learned that one could finish marching late on Saturday nights. That was a season of tired Sunday mornings. Want to change that next time.

Book One, Draft Three: Learn Layering 
This draft was some of the sharpest agony I've hit in my writing so far. It was a draft, for various reasons, I had to write with the door closed. I needed time to think about some things, experiment with various plots and characters that hadn't worked, and generally get this thing into much better shape. I hated having to answer the question of "what are you writing?" with "still editing". I gave that answer so many times. It felt humiliating. I wished I had never told anyone I was a writer. It was a huge, huge book, and without the momentum of sending out weekly installments, I found it hard to write a chapter a week. I don't know exactly what I would do differently next time, but I do know that lots of prayers got me to the end. In this draft I focused more on going out on a limb. Experimenting with sensory description, trying to make my writing a lot richer, and also exposing my character's hearts and motivations in a more vulnerable way. I remember ending the draft thinking never, never, never again--but I would do it again if that's what was needed to turn a story I loved into a finished product. Pain and commitment is part of the deal with writing. I was really happy with the added detail and things I had learned.

After that draft, I sent it out to a few more people who entered the world of the characters. Their love equaled other reactions, so I was thrilled, and the long wait was worth it. It's amazing how a few words of praise make all the pain seem like nothing.



The Novellas
Then the novella era started. Actually, the novella era started sometime in the middle of Draft Three. I couldn't justify starting another long novel at the time, so I decided to pull out a short story of an Irishman who goes wandering. It was one that had tugged at my heartstrings for over a year, but I had tossed it away. It was begun in bitterness of spirit, and I didn't want a story affected by that. A year later, the  Lord gave me the grace to pick it up again and write a much better plot, with a deeper and more mature understanding of its themes, than I could have done when I first thought of it.

I also started something completely different--a couple of modern stories about a ballet dancer and two marines who meet up on vacation. I was hoping to capture a feeling--I think all my stories start with wanting to encapsulate a feeling--of the yearning and fellowship and love that can come from unexpected friendships. With these novellas I didn't have any particular learning object in mind. I just wanted them to be fun, to specifically address boy and girl friendships, and so far they have exuded that carefree friendship I was shooting for. I've still learned a lot along the way, but all in all these stories were more to relax with, so I didn't stress about the details.

Book Two: Learn What Doesn't Work
For a brief jaunt, I tried modern fiction set in a diary format. While I don't despair of making it work, I didn't have the passion for it at the time. I wrote it because I thought I ought to, and it was a good idea, and I needed a break from the others. That was two months last year (I was sitting here this morning thinking "what did I do last summer writing wise?", and I remembered "oh, that novel"). You can't write a book because you ought to. It just does not work, and it turns out bad quality, especially when you have another project you'd rather be doing. I never finished that first draft, and I don't know if I will. Plus I can't find it and I'm afraid it got eaten.



Book Three: Learn How to Plan
With this novel, I'm adding some more layers to my writing arsenal. This is a sequel, so there are some skills to sequel-writing I'm trying to grasp. It's challenging to have continuity with the characters and make sure they're learning new things. I decided to go through extensive structuring with K.M. Weiland's workbooks to endeavor to eliminate large plot holes. That was a good experience for me, digging into the plot incidents and motivations. However, it had a couple of side effects I didn't care for. I discovered that sometimes plans look good in a list of incidents and just don't execute well on paper. I also learned that too much planning turned my story into an assignment of connecting each little dot and I had to learn how to re-harness the creative side. When you're trying to improve your process, it's easy to turn it all into a system and lose the creative streaks. To remedy that problem, sometimes I've ditched my outline and gone on completely uncharted territory. It leaves me with plot holes (even large ones) but I'm getting a feel for my process as a writer, and I think an extensive second-draft rewrite is part of that. If I had to describe myself, I'd be a "plantser"--a person who likes a combination of pantsing and planning to get through the first draft.

I'm also learning how to pray along the way. I prayed going into it, and then going into NaNoWriMo as well, about a month after I started. A couple weeks ago when I reached the midpoint, I took a day off just to pray about the second half. I want to seek God all throughout this process in a meaningful way--not merely ask his blessing on my word count at the beginning of each day. It's not as much as I'd like it to be yet, but it's more than it was.

There are so many things to tell. I could write a book about what it takes to write a book. I think a writer's life would make a really cool documentary. Every draft I get a little more skill and figure out something new to learn. With the fourth book I write, I want to get better at my research methods and add a female POV to the mix. I've got that in the works, but it will be a while before I start it.

It will always be a changing, growing process. I'll never have it figured out. But the excitement of craftsmanship--writing and writing and writing until you've refined that vision into a beautiful product--is something I've never gotten tired of so far.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

What to Do When You Don't Feel Like Reading

Because if you don't feel like reading, you might need a teddy bear for Comfort and Consolation.
So I've read one book this year.

I've read a lot of pages, but the books are long, so I don't hit the end as fast, or they have a lot of trigger elements I can't deal with, so I have to set them aside.

Anyone else feeling the same struggle?

I'm not kicking myself over it, though. For one, that doesn't help me read any more pages. For another, this is a season of life in which reading a book a week is too much. But I thought, why not talk today about what to do when you feel like you can't hit The End? There are some tips I've picked up along the way, and while they don't solve the problem, they do ease some of the angst.

1. Choose shorter books. 
I decided this was going to be the year of long books. It still is, but this might not be the month for long books. I've been trucking through Our Mutual Friend since January 1st, and I just hit halfway (I think--which is still decent, being over 400 pages.)

Long books won't help with the reading struggle. Choose shorter ones: books around 300 pages or less if you're used to 500 pages, or maybe less than 200 pages if 300-400 is your upper limit. Choose novellas too. There are so many good novellas out there, and you can read a novella in a day and have the excitement of another book to check off your list. I love novellas, and I have a couple lined up to read that I'm really excited about.

2. Choose books with good writing. 
Last December I was working to hit a writing deadline, and made the mistake of reading a poorly written book at the same time. I didn't know better, but immersing myself in this particularly long book and trying to keep up a good quality of writing at the same time just weren't going well. If you're a writer and you're struggling with reading right now, take extra care to choose good quality literature. I know sometimes the pulp fiction is easier to get down. There are seasons when it has it's place. But if you're trying to write during this time, pulp fiction will affect your writing, and then you'll feel terrible on both fronts. Even if you're not a writer, choose short, high-quality books that aren't too hard to handle, and you'll thank yourself. Just like your body wouldn't feel good reaching for the easiest junk food, your mind doesn't feel good either. So give it every advantage you can.

Right now in our afternoon reading time, Sis is reading aloud The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. That daily dose of Sutcliff is a well-loved tonic and feeds me some quality writing I can channel into my own book. Even if all I get during the day is a half hour with that book, that's enough for putting new fodder into my think tank.

3. Watch some good movies. 
I have a short chunk of time in the afternoons that I generally use for reading. Yesterday I used it for another episode of the 1981 Great Expectations movie. I also watched it while we were roadtripping this weekend instead of reading in the car. It's a Dickensian delight of excellent casting, using many original lines from Dickens' work, and sticking to a fairly faithful portrayal of events. Revisiting a story I love in movie form is easier. The episodes are in 1/2 hour chunks of time, and I get a good dose of drama, conversation, poignancy, and character development. Herbert Pocket alone makes me happy, he's so kind and friendly.

There's no shame in getting literary inspiration from a good movie if you need to, and I think there are some seasons when that's easiest. It's a gentler way of getting the inspiration you need. Choose really good quality movies, same as good quality books, in whatever genre strikes your fancy. Mull over them the same as you would a book: turn them inside out, think about your favorite parts, dig deep into the themes, and you'll receive a lot of benefit from them the same as from the printed page.

4. Set a timer. 
Sometime last month I told myself I really needed to get a grip and sit down and read for half an hour each day. That didn't happen, and it was slightly too ambitious for what I was able to handle. But I'd like to set a timer and try a more reachable goal, say fifteen minutes. Then I've done fifteen solid minutes of reading and can put the book away with no guilt, knowing that I've made some time for it. As things get better, I won't need a timer, or I can set it for longer. But it's a tip I think is worth trying.

5. Go back to tried and true favorites. 
If your life or your mind is overloaded, sometimes a new adventure is just the ticket. But sometimes a new adventure is overwhelming. I tried reading Eric Metaxas' Miracles last month, and while it was a deep and worthy topic, the amount of energy it took turned into stress. I had to lay it aside for a while. You know how when you are sick, or things are in upheaval you gravitate towards some tried and true, easy meals? Go to your shelf and pick out the books that mean mental comfort food to you. For me, it would be anything Robert Louis Stevenson, L.M. Montgomery, Ellis Peters, or Gene Stratton-Porter--even Jan Karon.

These are some ideas I've collected, but I'd love to hear your perspectives! What are your favorite tips when you're stuck on reading? What books and authors mean comfort food to you?

Friday, February 5, 2016

My Writing Process // Currently


It takes several books before writers really figure out how they write.

The writing process is somewhat elusive. It's not sit down and turn on some creative tap. It's really a personalized mix of planning, grit, and inspiration that all come together in a unique formula for that author. Some people write without knowing what's going to happen beforehand. Some people write knowing everything that's going to happen. Every writer has a slightly different process that works for them.

Emily's post on her story planning process over at The Herosinger inspired me to do a spin-off post on the key ingredients that have become an essential part of my writing journey. In this two part series, I thought I'd give you a little peek into what I've tried, learned, improved, and experimented with in the last six years or so. Today I'm going to talk about the current elements that I consider essential, and next Friday I'll talk about how I got there.

My Key Ingredients to Writing Success 

Baseline goal of 2,000 words Monday-Friday
After years of random methods, sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional--writing by chapter, writing by time, and writing by various word count goals--I've settled on the fact that 2,000 words a day is what I can realistically handle at this point in my life. I can stretch myself beyond that when I need to, or if writing is going very well, but I like having a maintainable baseline goal to march to every day. Generally, I can get that done in a couple of hours of steady work, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on how the day goes.

Scrivener
Scrivener is also important to my writing process. Being able to divide the scenes into folders according to chapter is vital for going back and fact-checking, or moving scenes around. Plus, Scrivener is a happy place. The very program itself seems to inspire writing, and having everything in one place instead of hunting around through various folders and word documents is incredible.

You should see some of my earlier pre-Scrivener folders for War of Loyalties. They are all organized according to my own particular system, but they would be a terror to navigate to the uninitiated.

Discipline
If there's one thing I've learned so far, the key word "discipline" is really important to my writing process. I can do pretty much anything as long as you set me to grinding. Have a goal, will do, by hook or by crook. It's as if I've signed my name in blood and must get it done. I think that's really important, and a key success to the writing industry. There are few occasions when that's not a wise tactic. But it's surprising what our minds have the capability to do, if only we will require it of them. Discipline strengthens our muscles--just like the discipline required for healthy eating or exercise--and it also teaches us one of the most important Christian principles of self-control.

That being said, I want to give warm hugs to all those people who have been going through hard writing times lately. There are times when discipline, however much you want it to, just doesn't get the words on paper. There are seasons of incredibly challenging life events (I've gone through those) where you look back on your word count and realize you didn't even come close.

It's OK, writer friend. Just keeping showing up--push yourself as much as is emotionally healthy for you--and it will get better.

Camaraderie in the Creative Process 
 Sometimes my mental brain is a little toxic if I write with my story world door closed for too long. I was really happy when I read Austin Kleon's Show Your Work, and he encouraged people to share their art process while it was in process. I get excited sharing posters on Twitter, texting snippets to friends, and sharing stuff along the way. And their excitement encourages me too, and gives me fresh energy. Sometimes the project has to be really secret and I keep it to one or two people--but for most projects, I find the camaraderie of talking about things with other folk indispensable.

Word Wars
I've also found, through NaNoWriMo and other times, that word wars are incredibly important to me. If I can find a friend or fellow writer on Twitter or Facebook to war with, that's a huge help. It makes my word count more efficient, so I'm willing to do it during "work hours". If you're looking for someone to war with in the mornings, drop me a line? I'd love to!

When all else fails, and I can't find anyone to war with, I'll set a timer on my computer for fifteen minutes at a time. It's generally enough to raise my competitive streak into productivity.

Staying Faithful 
Most of all, a key ingredient to my writing process is faithfulness. I've actually had a theme song for over two years now that encapsulates that concept for me--Now and For Always, from the LOTR musical. I love the hobbits' commitment to steadiness in the first two verses, the combination of anguish and perseverance on the part of Frodo, and the brave Samwise (or beta readers) who have listened to snippets and read drafts and spoken encouraging words along the way. This song reminds me that you keep putting one foot in front of the other. This draft will get better. This book will get published.

But only if you keep showing up.

So be brave and get up, show up, write up, every single day while you wait for your dream to come true.

What does your writing process look like? What concepts, words, or tools are essential as you put your story on paper?

In part two, I'll share how my writing process grew into what is today--from tattered folders with cats on them to a sleek Scrivener software. :) I'll talk about all that next Friday.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Grace Triumphant, by Alicia Willis

When I saw the cover reveal for Alicia Willis's book, Grace Triumphant, I was really, really happy. The colors, the models, the general design, all looked professional and engaging--that beautiful, vintage look that I always loved on the George MacDonald and older Bethany House books. It was a pleasing color scheme, encouraging you to linger and look at it, and it really speaks well for indie cover design. In fact, I think it was the cover that captured my heart and made me want to read this book. :)

This January, I got to read Grace Triumphant. It's a time period (the slave trade and Wilberforce) that I have always deeply loved, so I couldn't wait to see if the inside was as beautiful as the outside.

The Book (From Goodreads)
Profligate London, 1788. Slave ships haunt the seas, bearing human cargos to further the wealth of the rich and destroy the souls of the slave traffickers.

Russell Lawrence is an avid skeptic. Captain of the slave ship Barbados, wealthy, and a respected leader, he views religion as a crutch for the weak. But when the debauchery of the slave trade begins to destroy his good morals, his battle becomes more than fighting pirates and mutineers. What if there really is a God?

Impressed as a cabin boy, Jack Dunbar sees his forced service on the Barbados as a God-given opportunity to witness Christ to the crew. But his efforts to influence the hardened slavers seems to be doing little good. How is it possible to live as a Christian on the sin-ravaged seas? Can his light shine bright in Africa's dark interior?

Back in Grosvenor Square, Elizabeth Grey battles opposition from society and her self-seeking fiancé. Her work with John Newton to end the slave trade is being harshly attacked. She faces life branded as a jilter and radical if she stands up for what she believes in. Will she ever glean the strength to call sin by its rightful name?

A tale of adventure on the high seas, redemption, and faith. Sin abounds. Is grace enough to conquer doubt and triumph over evil?

My Thoughts
Whenever I pick up a book set in 1780s London, I feel as if I'm slipping into an era well-beloved and deeply inspiring. The dedication of men like Wilberforce and his friends, who worked for decades against popular opinion and reasonable hope, is one that always kindles my passion. Alicia Willis's book, containing key figures like John Newton and Wilberforce, and mentioning others like Thomas Clarkson and Olaudah Equiano, brought me back to that era very skillfully.

My favorite thing about this book from an artistic standpoint was the triple point of view. Point of view (abbreviated as POV) is the character through whose eyes you watch the story unfold. Triple POVs take skill and work to pull off, and Alicia Willis did an excellent job. Each character--Russell, Jack, and Elizabeth--has a different "voice" to their narrative: different things they need to learn, things they struggle with, sins they need to overcome, wants they have. And that's exactly what you want to see in a well done book: each POV matters and accomplishes a different object.

My favorite character arc was Elizabeth's. Her theme surprised me in many ways--learning to stand up to her fiance and resist him. It's a theme you don't really see often in homeschool lit: standing for the Lord on individual conscience, and allowing that conscience to dictate your actions. (mild spoilers follow) It's a delicate theme to handle correctly. I learned a lot from it, and felt like Alicia struck a wise balance of individual conscience without turning Elizabeth into a person who only looked to herself for wisdom. Too often in lit you see the latter happen, but that wasn't the case here. Elizabeth realized that resisting her fiance was really obeying the Lord. Plus, she transferred her obedience and submission to wiser and more biblical authority, still holding herself under authority itself. She just learned to stand up to what was unwise. It's a theme I think about a lot. God has been teaching me much about my need for courageous humility, and I appreciated a role model in this book.

Due to my familiarity with the era, there were moments when Russell's story line felt like a fairly basic recap of the times. I think I learned more about historical details I was less familiar with through Elizabeth's side of the story. Also, there were moments when Jack felt too mature for his age, in the way he talked and explained the Gospel. His speech sounded more like a pastor than a London street boy at times: but he has an earnest heart, so I'm willing to believe that he had really, honestly sought the Lord and grown so rapidly in spiritual maturity.

One of the most inspiring things to me in this book  was Jack's constant witness of the Gospel. I've been thinking a lot about witnessing lately, and God has been growing that desire in my heart to witness to someone who doesn't know the Lord. Jack's constant passion for the Gospel and concern for those who didn't know it convicted me. We have this good news. We need to share this good news. Jack constantly, clearly presented the Gospel. If we've shared and the other person rejects it, many of us would rationalize that our duty has been done. But he didn't buy that excuse. He kept on sharing it, because until it was accepted, he knew his responsibility was still there. He had weary moments, angry moments--but his close fellowship with God carried him through those times.

This book is a good story to introduce you to a lot of things: the truth of the Gospel, the need for witnessing, the horrors of the slave trade, and the times of one of my favorite heroes, William Wilberforce.
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