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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Phictional Photoshoot

I have been on the lookout for the characters of Six Cousins and Adventure in England. I found four of them -- their pictures were hiding out in various places on the web.

As usual, the pictures of these fictional characters aren’t entirely accurate, but they certainly give you a place to start when you’re imagining them.

Marielle Austin
Kailey Austin
Paris Hamilton
As for Abby Austin, I found this photograph on Getty Images that looks remarkably like her. I’m unsure of whether it or not it’s okay for me to post this image to my blog (I'm a bit copyright-paranoid), so if you’re curious, you can click on the link to get a peek.

I’m still on the lookout for Emma and Caroline Yardley and Reanna Wilkins, as well as other family members and friends … if you see them, let me know! :-) Emma is fifteen years old, has long, light brown hair, steady, hazel eyes, and rather regular facial features. Caroline is thirteen and has long, light brown hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a more uneven, mischievous look to her face. Reanna is sixteen with long, curly, brown-black hair and calm, dreamy, brown eyes. She’s pale rather than tan and very pretty, with pointed, delicate features.

When I find them, I’ll put them on here, too! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Most Wonderful Bookshop

Do you recall my post about the quaint German town of Fredericksburg? It contained many delightful shops full of expensive wares, but one stood on a pedestal above the rest. It was called Berkman’s Books.

I wish I had pictures now, but one doesn’t simply go around a shop snapping photos … especially when one’s mind is bent on exploration. Berkman’s Books was a small building, perhaps a converted house, on Main Street with a red and white sign mounted on a shingle roof. Inside was everything a bookshop should be.

                                                    Antique Books

There were four rooms divided into five sections filled with bookshelves. Oriental rugs warmed the floor and interesting antiques, books, and paintings capitalized on the empty spaces atop the shelves and on the walls. Classical music filtered out of nowhere, as if emanating from the classic books themselves. The first section upon walking in, immediately on the right, was the most enticing -- the bookcases were antique and in the center was a sofa with a coffee table stacked artfully with old, old books. My friend discovered two handwritten journals from the 1830s. Yes. Handwritten. In a flowery, twirling, brown script, bold yet hard to read, fully displaying the art of penmanship. One journal even held drawings of flowers. That such things were not in a museum but in a bookshop, available for purchase, amazed me beyond measure. We could hold them in our hands and touch the pages and read the words for ourselves, directly from the thoughts and hand of a person who lived 180 years ago.

That first section was for first editions, mostly royally-colored antiques, not infrequently 19th-century. Also there, on a wall by itself, the proprietor, Mr. Berkman, had placed a refreshment table with coffee, tea, and water. The drinks could accompany you as you browsed or settled into one of a number of comfortable chairs here and there throughout the shop. This was not your average contemporary bookstore. This was a bibliophile’s haven.

Even outside the rare, first-edition sector, a good sprinkling of antique books found place on the shelves, whether fiction, history, cooking, gardening, art, philosophy, geography, religion, or children’s. There were plenty of worthwhile younger books, but it was always a treat to pull out an antique where you least expected it -- for example, in geography, a circa 1930s volume on the bayous of Louisiana. I sigh as I reminisce … there were so many treasures. So many.

The prices were high, though not unreasonable for such treasures, but I received enough pleasure by paging through them and piecing together a synopsis of what each had to say to and about the world. One alone I chose to take home with me: Great Britain, Palestine, and the Jews, a sort of book-pamphlet published in 1918 in wake of the Balfour Declaration, which proclaimed that Great Britain, who took over Palestine from the Ottoman Empire during WWI, fully supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the land of their heritage. This book contained a collection of speeches by exultant Jewish leaders and other supportive world officials, which were very uplifting to read. To own such a piece of history is so exciting!

There was lots of history in Berkman’s Books … I hope it prospers, because Mr. Berkman is doing his dream job and bringing great contentment to his fellow bibliophiles.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Eleazar Mandelbaum; or, It Has Begun

All writers work differently, but we all come to a point where we’re ready to start something brand-new -- something that seems to have spontaneously generated in our minds within the past year, something we have no prior experiences with and is not of the species that can be described thus: “I’ve always wanted to write about that so I’ll store my ideas for years until I get around to it.”

I have reached that point with a novel I’m, for now, calling Teshuvah. Teshuvah is the Hebrew word for repentance and also connected to the idea of return. For a year or two I’ve been fascinated with the return of the Jews to the land that was promised them by God millennia ago, and that began in earnest in 1882 with Russian and Romanian Jewish pioneers. Do you remember in Fiddler on the Roof how the matchmaker Yente decided to go to Palestine when the Jews were forced to leave Anatevka? That was 1905. Anyway, a story took hold of my heart of a Jewish girl who’s part of one of the first groups to return to make the desert land of Palestine blossom with fruit again.

                                                      Israel, Judea Scene of Judean Hills east of Jerusalem

So, since this idea is so fresh, it’s got a lot of maturing yet, at least in the realm of research. I know some things about my subject but not nearly enough -- I’m not discouraged, though, because I enjoy the process of learning. For example, I’m quite familiar with Jewish names, but I haven’t studied Romanian Jews much, so I was unsure of what names they used. This week I dove into books and the internet for a while and emerged successful, because I found a name for one of my more important characters: Eleazar Mandelbaum. At last one of these characters that are already nicely forming has a handle … and that’s a very satisfying feeling.

Now, this story is still in such an early stage that even the few things I’ve told you may change. But I thought a post about a novel’s initial germination would be interesting, not just a flashback but as something that’s happening right now.

It’s been a few years since I’ve started a novel from scratch. Do you have any thoughts or tips about starting out a longer work?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dress in Time

Yesterday I received the opportunity to clothe my history-loving self in the dress it knew it always belonged in. Well, maybe not the specific dress -- though it was lovely -- but the exact style. I am so grateful to Geneece, the seamstress of Sew Many Treasures, for asking me to help model some superb Regency gowns she had made and wanted pictures of for her website. Being with a group of people, all dressed up, made it that much more fun and easy to imagine myself back in time!


Friday, May 17, 2013

Shavuot -- Pentecost

                     Pinned Image

Shavuot, or Pentecost as it’s better known, is this Sunday, May 19th. Some denominations -- mostly older ones -- celebrate it, others do not; up until a little while ago, I didn’t celebrate it or know anything about it, really. But now I’m so glad I do.

Shavuot is 50 days after First-fruits, the day soon after Passover when the first fruits of the barley harvest were offered to God in thanksgiving, as well as the resurrection day of Yeshua (Jesus). Leviticus 23:15-16 explains the “omer count” -- individuals count each day between the two feast days; this establishes an anticipation-building countdown for Shavuot. Shavuot, the Hebrew name meaning “weeks,” describes that countdown, as does Pentecost, which means fifty.

The Bible doesn’t specifically explain how Shavuot should be celebrated, other than what sacrifices were to be brought to the Temple -- animals and the first fruits of the wheat harvest. But there are two major episodes in Scriptural history that we associate with Shavuot.

The first is the giving of the Ten Commandments. This earth-shaking event descended upon Mount Sinai around the time of Shavuot, as recorded in Exodus 19. God had just rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and He was ready to seal them as His people by bestowing the Ten Commandments on them, which have come to exemplify the moral law that everyone functions under. This was a gift because if God hadn’t “stepped” down onto that desert mountain and given these commandments -- an expression of what He Himself is like -- we’d be at a loss as to how to live, and how much joy would there be in that?

The second historical event, a further manifestation, happened exactly on Shavuot, in Acts 2. This was the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Yeshua, and it was also a world-shaking event. These men and women were empowered to preach the Gospel as none had ever been before -- and if God hadn’t put His power upon them, where would we Christians be today?

Are these two events linked? I think so -- both enable us to live according to God’s will, for one thing. The commandments tell us what to do (of course, there are other things God wants us to do, but these sum them up) and the Spirit imparts to us the ability to do them. Another interesting comparison is that there is a Jewish tradition that because of the intensity of that great spiritual moment, tongues of fire flickered on the heads of the Israelites gathered around Mount Sinai. Just like the tongues of fire that the book of Acts reports flickered on the heads of the 120 disciples.

So if we think about these great spiritual events, Shavuot does become pretty important!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mothers: Guiding Star

I hope you and your mothers had a marvelous Mother’s Day. Mothers are celebrated so often in writing that I won’t attempt anything of my own that, at best, will be a reiteration of things we’ve already heard. But mothers are such a popular subject that they’ll make a good blog post subject as well, so I’ll take this opportunity to cover what other people have said about them -- all in celebration of motherhood. (And of course, you know, I have my own wonderful mom in mind.)

First off, a poem:

Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome
Has many sonnets: so here now shall be
One sonnet more, a love sonnet, from me
To her whose heart is my heart’s quiet home,
To my first Love, my Mother, on whose knee
I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome;
Whose service is my special dignity,
And she my loadstar while I go and come
And so because you love me, and because
I love you, Mother, I have woven a wreath
Of rhymes wherewith to crown your honored name:
In you not fourscore years can dim the flame
Of love, whose blessed glow transcends the laws
Of time and change and mortal life and death.

(Christina Rossetti, A Pageant and Other Poems, 1881. This is the dedicatory sonnet that prefaces the book.)

This swirl of words, itself a thing of beauty, expresses some of my sentiments about my mother. A “loadstar” (line 8) is something that we use to guide our principles or behavior; and (lines 9-11) without my mom, I wouldn’t be writing or pursuing any other talent that I may have.

                                                         Auguste Reading to Her Daughter (1910). Mary Cassatt (American, 1844–1926). Impressionism. Oil on canvas. Private Collection.

Considering mothers in literature, I see about three different kinds:

1) mothers that are admirable and amazingly supportive and loving (the type of mothers that the creator of Mother’s Day had in mind!)

2) mothers that are antagonistic or at least ridiculous

3) mothers that are absent or ineffective

Some of my favorite examples of (1) and (2) (I won’t include (3), because you can’t have a favorite character who isn’t there) are:

1) Marmee (Little Women), Caroline Ingalls, and Marilla Cuthbert

Marilla at first appears antagonistic, but turns out to be utterly valuable for Anne Shirley’s development. And anyway, I’ve just got to love her strict, no-nonsense ways that provide a great foil to Anne’s whimsicalness and conceal a heart that can love if touched by the right person. When the two of them do make their peace, their partly mother-daughter relationship is a beautiful sight.

2) Mrs. Bennet, Mrs. Gibson (Wives and Daughters), and Katharine Comstock (A Girl of the Limberlost)

The latter two may need some explanation: Mrs. Gibson is the mother of Cynthia Kirkpatrick and the stepmother of Molly Gibson, the protagonist. She is a complex character -- as are all Elizabeth Gaskell’s characters -- and sometimes means well, but she is always out for herself. Mrs. Comstock either neglects her daughter Elnora or is at odds with her, but the root is pain -- she blames the girl for her husband’s death. Their eventual reconciliation is very satisfying.

And then we come to the two very different mothers in my novels: In Six Cousins, Marielle’s mother, Liv Austin, is her best friend and closest advisor. She’s cheery, energetic, hospitable, and outgoing. In The Wise- and Light-Hearted, Sophia’s mother, Caroline Edwards, is also to an extent close to her daughter, but very much opposes Sophia’s rejection of Stephen Brown as a suitor. The tension is terrible for Sophia, who loves her mother. Mrs. Edwards is reserved, elegant, and set in her ways, but she does not lack warmth for people she loves or approves of.

Do you give much thought to the mothers in your stories? If so, tell me about them! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Things That Inspire in Me a Story: Blue Willow

one of my miniature sets

Blue willow goes by a number of names: willowware, willow pattern, or simply blue and white china. This is a design on chinaware that was popular in Europe and America since the 18th century. It’s an elaborate blue landscape on a white background, so it positively gleams no matter where it’s displayed.

I can’t exactly date when I became obsessed with this pattern, but blue has been my favorite color since I was little, and blue and white form my favorite color combination. From there it was but a step to love blue willow. Actually, I adore any blue and white porcelain -- be it Dutch delft or British flowers or Oriental geometrics, on plates, vases, or boxes. But blue willow is the greatest because there’s a story embedded in it.


The exact willow pattern was designed in England but inspired by imported blue and white china. The story is likewise an English invention, though inspired by European Romantic perceptions of Chinese folklore. I found the plotline on wikipedia, though I liked the much more thorough treatment in the article "Porcelain, The Willow Pattern, and Chinoiserie" by Joseph J. Portanova. Each element of the legend finds portrayal in the cobalt blue picture. There are variations, but I’ll give you the basic plotline -- or rather, why don’t I have Mrs. Yvonne Endicott explain? Yes, that’s right -- blue willow features in my most recent novel, Six Cousins: Adventure in England. Mrs. Endicott in England is the proud owner of a spectacular willowware set, and she relates the legend to Marielle and her cousins:

“The girl that you see was the daughter of a rich man, and she and his secretary, the young man there, fell in love. But the love was forbidden, because of the disparate ranks and because the girl was supposed to marry a duke. The father separated the two, locking his daughter into a walled house; that’s the mansion in the background. The duke came to claim his bride shortly, and they were to marry when the blossom fell from the willow tree in the garden. The secretary slipped inside the walls, disguised, and he and the girl made their escape. There were jewels, too, which the duke brought for his erstwhile bride and which the secretary and the girl took when they fled. The father and the duke pursued them, but they came to a river and leapt onto a boat and were sailed away to a beautiful, secluded island. They lived there happily for a while, until the duke found them and took his revenge on them. Their spirits were turned into doves.”

Although the heavily Romanticized blue willow pattern in no way represents China, this idyll is so appealing (the picture, not the story) I think because it puts an image to our longings for a perfect, heaven-like existence … peaceful, lovely, and natural.

Thus, the fantasy, history, and artistry weave together an object that I’m ceaselessly fascinated by. It was only a matter of time before I included it in a story of my own, because -- blue willow inspires in me a story.

also from my collection

Friday, May 3, 2013

Imagine Mag

Some time ago, I applied for a staff writing position on the free online magazine for Christian young women, Imagine Mag. I believe that God led me to this magazine, and so I did what I needed to do and then let it be. I waited to hear from the manager, and about two weeks ago, shortly before my Fredericksburg trip, I received her email welcoming me to the team!

Writing as a ministry has long been a dream of mine. Originally I only considered novels as my outlet -- and I still think they’re the greatest -- they make the biggest impact and they suit me best. But, as I’ve been learning through my writing course, a quicker way to make an impact and be heard is through penning magazine articles. Imagine Mag makes just such an impact, and I’m so excited to be part of this team of young women who try to reach other girls with the truth of God’s Word and encourage them in their Christian walk.

So, within this month of May, the fulfillment of one of my dreams is just getting started!

(I’m sorry this was rather short, but I didn’t have much time!)