How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Once Upon a Happily Ever After

I heard on the radio that today is “Tell a Fairy Tale Day.” Believe it or not, we owe much to fairy tales!
                                                       A home in the peaceful village of Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère in Dordogne in France
They represent a certain simplicity, a collection of universal truths told in simple language … beloved, understood, handed down through centuries … made memorable and appealing through the excitement of fantasy and adventure. Fairy tales preserve the life truths that modern, sophisticated stories draw their breath from, but often garble by complicating things with biases, psychology, and experimentalism. In fairy tales, good is good and evil is evil, and both get their just deserts, except for a few tragedies where good does not triumph -- that, too, is a picture of life that needs to be taught. This “elementary understanding” is why fairy tales are ideal for children. Don’t get me wrong -- I love a complicated novel, but a simple tale is refreshing. One reason that life seems so complicated now is probably because of the demand for complicated literature, and vice versa -- literature is complicated because life is complicated. Which came first? : ) Life was always full of trouble, but I wonder if fairy tales soothed that by explaining things and (usually) wrapping up with a satisfying ending.
Without fairy tales, we would have no fiction today!
Some of my favorite fairy tales:
1. Cinderella
2. Beauty and the Beast
3. The Marsh King’s Daughter
4. Sleeping Beauty
5. The Twelve Dancing Princesses
6. The Wild Swans
7. The Ugly Duckling
                                                   God of the Fairy Tale: Finding Truth in the Land of Make-Believe

This book was so much fun to read! From the back cover: “More than simple children’s literature, the most enduring stories are echoes of the greatest of all stories, the Gospel. God of the Fairy Tale is a collection of spiritual reflections on the truths found in classic fairy tales, truths that point us to the ultimate Truth about God, redemption, and ourselves.” I loved having the curtain pulled back on why, for example, fairy tales are so universal and what that proves, and why certain elements of fairy tales are so appealing. It’s a five-star book for me.
Some fairy tale retellings I’ve read and enjoyed:
1. Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine)
2. Spindle’s End (Robin McKinley)
3. Eric Carle’s Treasure of Classic Stories for Children
4. The Bedtime Book: A Collection of Fairy Tales (Daniel San Souci)
5. The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (Eugene Trivizas)
6. The Three Javelinas (Susan Lowell)
I’m always interested in novelizations of fairy tales, but I believe I’ve only read two (the ones at the top of my list)! What are your favorite fairy tales? Any book recommendations? And now for the musical finale that proves the hero and heroine will live happily ever after:

Friday, February 22, 2013

Purim: For Such a Time as This

Ever since I can remember, Esther has been my favorite Bible story. She was so brave! So beautiful! So good! The Perfect Heroine … and though a woman, she actually had a book of the Bible named after her. What an honor!

                                                        Purim (Esther)

Later I learned about the holiday of Purim, which is the joyous festival that was established in Esther 9:26-28 to celebrate the victory of God over the Persian enemies of the Jews. This year, Sunday, February 24th, marks the special day. My family likes to observe it because we’re very glad, too, that the Lord delivered His people all those centuries ago in Persia … it’s one more instance in the long list of His faithful rescues of Israel. Because Israel is God’s chosen people, the ones who have been God’s witnesses throughout the millennia, they have always been persecuted by the enemy of God, whether through tempting them into idolatry (which brought punishment on them) or through just trying to destroy them, period. (Usually, it went hand-in-hand.) So their victory is God’s victory, and vice versa.

You may have realized that neither the Lord nor any of His other designations are written in the book of Esther. This shouldn’t bother us, because there’s a profound message to this: the main way we see God today, since He is not walking among us or doing grand-scale miracles, is through the way things work out for His children’s benefit, or follow the laws of nature that He ordered from the beginning, or through any other natural events -- but we must have the eyes to see. It is so clear in the book of Esther that He was the one who delivered the Jews … what Mordecai said to Esther is just one verse that indicates the players in that historical drama believed so: “And who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

An interesting consideration from the Hebrew is the very name of Esther. It is a Persian name, but spelled in Hebrew it is almost identical to the word Astir, which means “I hide.” The plot of the book of Esther revolves around concealment: the name of God is concealed, even though you can spot His handiwork; and He conceals Esther in the court of the king, “for such a time as this.”

This just goes to show you that the Bible’s real-life stories are the best stories out there!

Purim is all about the book of Esther. It is read as part of the celebrations, punctuated by sometimes chaotic cheers or boos whenever the heroes, Mordecai and Esther, or the villain, Haman, are mentioned. Although throughout the centuries the holiday has taken on a Mardi Gras flavor, through partying, costumes, and masks, it is most importantly a time to rejoice in the Lord because of all His victories against Persian Empire-sized odds.

Are you able to realize daily that, if you’re a child of God, your very life is one of His victories?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Short Story Adventure

I’m a novel-girl. I’ve never been able to write very good short stories … I find them limiting to my wide ramblings and mania to get every detail known. : ) However, although I don’t find them as satisfying as novels, the genre has always intrigued me. After all, an hors d’oeuvre can be as beautiful and memorable as a full meal. I’m always on the lookout for short stories that pack a punch -- for example, the one I thus far think the best: “The Pearl” by Isak Dinesen. (At least I believe I think it the best … Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Ambitious Guest” is positively haunting.) As memorable as these are, I still had to look up the titles of both of them!

Even though certain details are forgettable, these authors did super well at coming up with a powerful concept that just would not be as absorbing if developed into a full-length novel.

I’ve written about four or five short stories, but I wouldn’t call any of them publishable. But recently, as part of my writing class, I did write one with the hopes of seeing it published sometime. To help me get started, I referred to this awesome, excellent, very comprehensive article by Joy, called "The Art of Short Story Writing" on Elizabeth Rose’s blog Living on Literary Lane.

I thought for a day and a half to come up with an idea and message that would be best said by a short story … something that would enter into the reader’s heart quickly, before they knew what had hit them. That’s a bit of what I believe a short story should be like. I came up with an idea that seemed to fit the bill … admittedly I have yet to have anyone else read it, but if it doesn’t work I hope it’s the narrative’s fault and not the idea! As for the narrative, I hope it’s good enough to be tweaked instead of scrapped.

With my ingot of an idea in hand, I sat down to hammer it out, writing down anything that came to mind to make it a fully-developed story -- basic plot, characters, setting, back story -- and one evening wrote about 1,070 words. Wow! Did that feel good! It took me several thinking sessions and two more writing sessions before whoosh! I finished it last Sunday night. From idea to the last sentence, it took me about 9 days, and only 3 days of actual writing. It was so fast, and yet so satisfying, that this short-story business might be addicting!

Once I have some opinions on my short story, I’ll share the title and a bite-size synopsis.

What is your experience with short stories? Do you read them, write them, and love them, or do you hate them? Do you have any good advice?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book Review: Miniatures and Morals

                                                   Miniatures and Morals: The Christian Novels of Jane Austen

I loved this book. If you are a Jane Austen fan, I highly recommend it. This is from the back cover:

“Jane Austen’s novels are not only still widely read, they continue to influence modern film and literature. In both their moral content and their focused, highly detailed, ‘miniaturist’ execution, they reveal Austen’s mastery of the art of fiction and her concern for Christian virtues exercised within communities. Her sharp wit and sense of irony entertain, edify, and challenge both men and women alike. From theological and literary angles, [Peter J.] Leithart unpacks both character and theme while summarizing each of Austen’s major works. For all who desire a richer appreciation of her enduring genius, Leithart offers a hearthside seat.”

That sums it up pretty well. Peter Leithart is an impressive scholar, and Jane Austen is just one of several subjects he has studied throughout his career. I read the major part of this book at a time when I was thirsting for an author who really understood Jane Austen and respected her Christian worldview. He not only respects it, but focuses on it, explaining how her beliefs brought wisdom into her fictional portrayals. His insights are unique and, for me, sometimes jaw-dropping. I especially loved the first chapter, “Real Men Read Austen” (which quite convinced me that men should read Austen) that explains “miniaturism.”

“If ‘nothing happens’ in Austen, it is because ‘nothing happens’ most of the time [in real life]. Yet, precisely because of this limitation, because so little seems to happen, every nuance and contour of what does happen takes on considerable importance. … If we read Austen sensitively and begin to see things through her eyes, we begin to realize that much is happening in our lives even, or especially, at those frequent moments when ‘nothing is happening.’ If this is a ‘feminine’ vision of the world, it is one that men would do well to pay attention to.” (p. 20)

His insights aren’t all “heady,” however. He also writes with a genuine, humble love for the novels that we unscholarly readers identify with. I haven’t read Miniatures and Morals cover-to-cover because I decided to savor it by reading each chapter in conjunction with the novel it details; I lack only the chapters on Emma and Mansfield Park. There are review questions and thought questions within each chapter that help readers remember his points or search the text of the novel for deeper insights of their own.

If you like Jane Austen literary criticism at all, please, please do yourself a favor and get this book. It is a gem.

Friday, February 8, 2013

January/February Snippets

The Snippets blog link-up from Katie Sabelko’s blog hasn’t been started yet, but I’m going to go ahead and post mine. These are all from The Wise- and Light-Hearted, and I wrote them in January.

He waited for her to continue. “My parents think I have failed them, now that he is gone; they hope he comes back, but since they cannot be sure … they fault me greatly.”

“Cassandra has complained of their insensitivity,” William murmured.

Sophia lowered her eyes. “Oh. ’Tis a comfort to know that.”

“I really believe you’ll pull through this, Sophia. Keep to what you know is right for you. Stephen Brown is a fine young man, but I know he’s not your type; I would not see you with him, knowing that he made you unhappy.”

“Certainly not the way you make Cassandra happy,” Sophia said. “That is what I wish for out of my marriage.”

“And you would be right to wish for it. Since it has happened for me, I heartily believe it can happen for all.”

The Wise- and Light-Hearted


Stephen had left the precincts of his home, Brock Hall, far behind and long ago. He was hiking in the large spill of woods west of all the farm fields; he was the only one who ever ventured there, save during the hunt, because it was such a journey, with not much to see until one arrived there. The land between Brock Hall and Keighley Wood rolled mildly, like a deadened sea, no wave ever cresting high enough to overlook anything -- anything at all, of interest or not. Oh, Stephen supposed if one was coming to the country for the first time one might think the open expanse of identical hills and orderly fields pretty, but not if that was all one ever saw of the rural part of England.

Admittedly, that was not him -- indeed, he had just been in beautiful Hampshire -- but he got tired of living in this area of Wiltshire all the same.

And he had been home from London only two days. Usually that dullness came only after two weeks; or, if the company was good, never at all during summer and autumn. But a walk to Keighley Wood with his favorite hound Caesar never failed to cure him of listlessness. The wood stood on a dais-like ridge, and once he was within its branches, he forgot all about the bland landscape behind him. He didn’t come here all that often; just when the society at Brock Hall happened, in some way, to be unsatisfying.

The Wise- and Light-Hearted


Sophia washed and dressed with the rapidity of a hungry bird pecking up seed; she knocked on the gentlemen’s door not fifteen minutes after she left it. However, one of their menservants who was straightening up the room told her they had gone down to the parlor to await dinner.

Her search there was not disappointed. Philip was conversing with the men, but they all stood when she came in and politely relinquished him to her; the brother and sister went out to the courtyard room, where the evening sun made everything warm and friendly. The city noises were not overly loud; indeed, both she and Philip could have sworn they heard a chaffinch singing in the green of Winchester Cathedral, concealed beyond the inn, but just one street away.

The Wise- and Light-Hearted

On a light-hearted" note, this awesome picture was put together by my co-author Laura! From left to right are Joseph Chapman, Lucy Beacham, Sophia Edwards, and Stephen Brown.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Ah … it feels good to get back to my blog. Friday’s equation was: no time + no ideas + discouragement = no blog post. Besides other business, I have quite a few writing duties on my plate right now (they are all fun, of course -- always are) so, for a while at least, expect posts only on Tuesdays; Fridays will happen if I can make it happen, but I can’t guarantee anything.

So, what am I working on?

  •           Regency research
  •           My novel Six Cousins’ final edit
  •           The ins & outs of self-publishing with CreateSpace
  •           Planning my book’s cover
  •           Personal journaling (very important for writing materials)
  •           Christian Writer’s Guild Apprentice program
  •           Learning about writing for magazines

In addition, I’m always looking for time bubbles in which to work on Adventure in England (the first draft is calling me to return and make it into an improved second draft) and other, newer stories that think they have as much right to my time as my works-in-progress. (I actually long to indulge them, but don’t tell them that!)

                                 Pinned Image

Since this was a shorter blog post than normal, I will leave you with a treat. A few months ago my mom discovered these recordings by Yolanda Mott. They are melodies she wrote for Tolkien’s Middle Earth poetry. They are incredibly beautiful and, I think, perfectly capture the spirit of his work. This young lady -- a homeschool graduate -- sings, plays the cello, and composes. I look forward to when she makes a CD of these songs. Since I haven’t learned how to post videos on here yet, you’ll have to click on this link to go to her website and listen to them (sorry about that). But it is well worth it! It’s enthralling music even if you’re not the greatest Tolkien fan. Let me know what you think! (And if you really like it, be sure to let her know!)