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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ricky the Roadrunner


Really? Roadrunners aren’t purple with a yellow beak and feet?

My mom was thinking something like that when, years ago, she saw a roadrunner for the first time after moving to Texas from the Chicago area. It had never occurred to me that certain parts of the country know absolutely nothing about roadrunners until I had to explain one to my aunt from Michigan. (She got a real kick out of it!) “They’re about this tall (one foot) and they have a long tail; they’re brown, black, and gray and kind of spotted on the chest. They have a black crest. They remind me of a tiny dinosaur, actually. When you see them, they’re usually running, and they really do run on the road! They eat lizards and insects.”

I also told her about the one that lives near our house. My dad named it “Ricky.” He appears to have a mate, though they look so similar it’s hard to tell if we’re seeing a different bird or the same one. They’re usually around everyday, in the front yard and sometimes even in the fenced backyard, completely unperturbed by us or our dog. There’s a patch of untrimmed woods at the front edge of our property, by the road, and a friend has told us that she’s seen them hanging out there when she passes by; it might be their nest, because she saw a youngster there, too.


Roadrunners typically live in the desert, so maybe we’re on the eastern edge of their range. It’s fun to have such a strange creature stake out a place in the neighborhood! I’ve heard Ricky the roadrunner (or his mate -- shall we call her Lucy?) outside my window where I write at my desk -- I’ll look out, and there he is, his crest and his tail levering up and down while he calls. His call is a bit like a … little dinosaur. I think of Jurassic Park’s velociraptors, which is weird because we have no idea what dinosaurs sounded like, thank goodness! But the sound Ricky makes is an urgent, whirring, clattering call, if that makes sense. I can’t find the exact sound online, or else I’d post it.

A roadrunner shows up in my novel Six Cousins. I just had to include it in this story that, in part, celebrates Texas, because roadrunners are a special aspect of living here -- they add to the atmosphere, like live oaks, juniper cedars, cattle, and all those rainbow-droplet wildflowers!

The Austin family at the zoo …

They were looking at the roadrunners. “The one that runs down your road all the time is cuter,” Caroline remarked.

“Ha! How can you tell?” I asked, forcing cheerfulness. I was thinking of my mom, applauding her stand but worrying about the argument.

“He seems to have fluffier feathers and a longer tail, and his eyes aren’t so wild-looking. And his crest is the most perfectly-shaped crest ever.”

I really laughed then. “If you know that much about him, why don’t you give him a name?”

“I will. Let me think for a second … how about Michael? Unless you were going to use that for the boy in your picture ….”

I grinned. “You can use it. I’ve been thinking of other names.”

“Michael the roadrunner!” Caroline pronounced.

“Sounds athletic,” Emma said.

“Athletic? I guess, but that’s giving it an unattractive, modern connotation. I prefer to think of Michael as a classic, old-fashioned name.”

“Then I can’t believe you’re using it on a roadrunner. Don’t waste your favorite names,” I told her.

“I’m not wasting it. I can easily give Michael to something else.”

“Okay, if that’s the way you think of it,” I said. “But what will you say when the son you name Michael finds out that you used his name on everything from every boy character you ever created to a roadrunner?”

“That I’ve always loved the name, since I was eleven. I think that’s quite a compliment to it.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Advice from the Top of the Timeline

As some of you may have noticed from Goodreads, I’ve been plowing through Don Quixote for two months -- yikes, a long time, but it was not uninterrupted, I protest! But I am a slow reader and like to savor words, thoughts, episodes, and books in the way that it’s best to eat a sumptuous dinner, like the one-dish marinated chicken, roast potatoes, spicy gravy, sautéed onions, and delectable green beans that my mom makes. Provided the book is comparable to a sumptuous dinner, of course -- certain books are merely popcorn or worse: something that isn’t yummy at all.

Part I of Don Quixote dragged for me, I will admit. If I had loved it, it probably would have still taken the same amount of time to read, but I wouldn’t have noted the days as they stretched on and on -- “time flies when you’re having fun.” I would have been too busy savoring. Part II, which Miguel de Cervantes wrote ten years later, is proceeding according to the latter fashion -- I’m enjoying it, savoring it, and not noticing how long it’s taking me.

                                                       Don Quixote

I’m really excited for The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha to become a part of my literary repertoire. Hopefully I’ll be able to write a review of some kind, though the book is so vast it will be hard to know what exactly to say about it. But in the meantime, I’ve found a couple of gems to share with you from the “first modern novelist.” I consider him and his work the top of the timeline, as far as novels and novelists are concerned. He was cutting a path for all of us who follow him. I especially like what he has to say about writing and literature in the course of Don Quixote’s conversations with various characters:

“For in works of fiction there should be a mating between the plot and the reader’s intelligence. They should be so written that the impossible is made to appear possible, things hard to believe being smoothed over and the mind held in suspense in such a manner as to create surprise and astonishment while at the same time they divert and entertain so that admiration and pleasure go hand in hand. But these are things which he cannot accomplish who flees verisimilitude and the imitation of nature, qualities that go to constitute perfection in the art of writing.” (Chapter 47, Part I -- a paragraph from the Canon’s debate with Don Quixote about books of chivalry)

“All of this is very true, Senor Don Quixote,” replied Carrasco, “but, all the same, I could wish that these self-appointed censors were a bit more forbearing and less hypercritical; I wish they would pay a little less attention to the spots on the bright sun of the work that occasions their fault-finding. For if aliquando bonus dormitat Homerus (worthy Homer sometimes nods), let them consider how much of his time he spent awake, shedding the light of his genius with a minimum of shade. It well may be that what to them seems a flaw is but one of those moles which sometimes add to the beauty of a face. In any event, I insist that he who has a book printed runs a very great risk, inasmuch as it is an utter impossibility to write it in such a manner that it will please all who read it.” (Chapter 3, Part II)

“God knows, Senor Don Lorenzo, I should like to have taken you along with me, in order to teach you how to spare the humble and trample the proud under foot, these being virtues that go with my profession; but since neither your youth nor your praiseworthy pursuits will admit of this, I shall content myself with advising your Grace that you may become a famous poet provided you are guided more by the opinion of others than by your own; for there is no father or mother whose children look ugly to them, and this illusion is even more common with respect to the children of our brain.” (Chapter 18, Part II)

If you’ve read Don Quixote, please share some of your thoughts about this iconic book!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Family Reunion: An Opportunity to Learn

This may not be true for everyone, but travel can really get creative juices flowing. It takes you out of your routine and forces you to not only see different things and broaden your horizons, but to see things differently and broaden your horizons that way. New experiences add to the pool of things you can write about. And if you can see things from a new perspective, if only for a little while, it stirs in extra ingredients, adding richness to the recipe of your writing.

My most recent trip included a family reunion, so I got to catch up with people I haven’t seen in years. Bragging may be tactless, but I have an awesome family. Everyone is so nice. They’re all smart, funny, active, and interesting. I wrote a novel about a family reunion, but I don’t think you would find any tension at my family’s reunion like you would at the Austins’ in Six Cousins. All my cousins get along!

It was an effective opportunity for me to observe a large number of people, learning about the different ways they talk, dress, think, lead their lives, raise their kids, pursue their hobbies, deal with things that trouble them. I enjoyed watching the littlest children’s personalities play out and picturing what they’d be like in ten years. Writers can’t get too many opportunities to observe people, because people are what we write about … every story or article is about someone; it wouldn’t get off the ground otherwise.

A family sits around a table on which is a wooden box with a key lock and a hinged lid, possibly with a mirror inside the lid. (a jewelry box? a music box?) The children have a doll and a doll bed. Behind them is a frame house with double doors off the inside corner of the open porch (c. 1872). #Victorian #vintage #portraits #family

As soon as the daughter of one of my cousins senses a friendly character, she envelops them in her circle, talking to them, sitting in their lap, asking them to play. I have no doubt she’ll grow up to be the kind of warm-hearted person who initiates friendships, gets games going, and talks to the wallflowers.

Her little brother is shier, hiding his face in his hands at the overwhelming crowd of strangers. But when he can distill the crowd and focus on just a few people, he loves to play, joke, and get into mischief. He’ll be popular with his own crowd. He and his sister are close in age and share interests; I wonder how much they’ll do together as they grow up.

The daughter of another of my cousins is talkative, outgoing, and energetic, a real go-getter, someone who takes charge and gets in the center of things. And she’s only four.

I could go on, but my main point is that families are fascinating. Though I won’t use any one relative in a future story, their personalities make me consider all the possibilities for making story characters unique and interesting. I love how life inspires, don’t you?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Follow the Links

I'm back to my blog earlier than I thought I'd be! This will look like a short post, but not if you follow the rather long trails these links lead to.

First of all, here is a guest post I wrote for Alicia Willis. She published it on Monday. It's about one of my favorite Bible stories, the inspiring adventure of Joash, Jehosheba, and Athaliah. Don't remember who they are? Read the post to find out!

Secondly, I'm entering this giveaway for Melanie Ellison's book, Chucking College, at the blog Everyday Set-Apart. Melanie Ellison is a 22-year-old who decided to forego a college degree in favor of something she finds much more valuable. She wrote a guest post, as well, and you can enter the giveaway if you're interested! It ends June 18th.

I'm hoping to have an intereting blog post on Tuesday, what with all the people I saw and traveling I did ....

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Literary Pursuits on the Road

Later this week, my parents and I will be on our way to Chicago … it’s an 18-hour drive, but it’s one we’ve taken many, many times because the Illinois-Indiana-Michigan area is the hub of our family wheel. This trip is for a family reunion.

                                                       A view from the car window, Sahiwal, Punjab, Pakistan!

A grueling drive, yes, but it has its blessings; every road trip does. Do you know why? Because our car becomes a shuttle gliding through the delightfully incorporeal realm of imagination. Detached from our reality of home, work, and other quotidian routines, we’re given the opportunity to range. We see new landscapes, but we’re shut off from them by glass; it’s not like olden days, where people had to travel through open air, in contact with the world and constantly reminded of reality. (Which would actually be cool, in itself -- just look at everything you could learn!) We shuttle through untouched. The landscapes are peopled with individuals whose lives are as normal as our own, but with only a glimpse of their context, my imagination is free to build. We pass a grand house with a lush green yard, woods, and a pond, and I imagine how enjoyable must be the life of the family that lives there. Maybe they have lots of children who have many adventures there … what a good story that would make … or so my imagination goes. Of course, not all the things I see are so pleasant. I also think about travel books or novels whose plot is a road trip and how my own experiences compare.

When landscape-watching gets old, there are books and notebooks, the ultimate in imaginative living. This road trip I’m looking forward to reading a book about a Romanian Jewish girl (for Teshuvah research) and the second in a trilogy of books about a modern English girl named Charity Wentworth (partially for Adventure in England research, though it’s very much a pleasure!). So, while I physically journey to northern Illinois, I’ll also be “visiting” Romania and England. As for the notebooks -- and I love filling blank notebook pages -- there’s character sketching and plot planning for Teshuvah, maybe a short story to play with, and journaling.

                                                      Open Book 9

My other favorite things to do to pass the hours in our safe shuttle are deep conversations, reading my Bible, praying, listening to instrumental music and to Bible teachings. Truly, for my family at least, a road trip is devoted to mind-building, which defines many of our most-loved pursuits.

Do you like road trips? What are your favorite things to do during one?
P.S. Since I’m going away for a while, I’ll should be back on my blog two weeks from today!