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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Writing Personality Quiz

I’m at the tail end of this launch party, but it sounded like fun, so I joined in. Meghan Gorecki has just launched her writing blog Every Good Word on August 19th and she wanted to get acquainted!

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What was your first-ever piece of writing? It was a book I entitled “Sneaking Fun.” I think I drew pictures first, on this special heavy kind of paper, and then described what was happening in each picture. It went something like this: “Elephants, bees, and dogs are sneaking in the house.” Every page featured three different animals, and at the end I showed them in a room having a party.
How old were you when you first began writing? I don’t remember … it must have been five or six. It was probably as soon as I felt comfortable with spelling and making up simple sentences!
Name two writing goals. One short term & one long term. My short term goal is to publish Six Cousins: Family Reunion within the next month. My long term? Ah, let myself really dream … get published by a traditional publisher. Either that, or become a confident self-publisher whose books turn out exactly the way I want them to. : )
Do you write fiction or non-fiction? Both, but fiction is my first love. I like writing blog posts and magazine articles, but nothing compares to the delicious process of writing fiction!
Bouncing off of question 4, what's your favorite genre to write in? I don’t know at this point! My most serious stories have been contemporary and historical fiction, but I think I would really like writing mystery and light fantasy as well. I like including spiritual lessons, too, so that puts my work in the Christian field.
One writing lesson you've learned since 2013 began. There are lots of places for non-fiction writing! If you want some published pieces under your belt, try writing for magazines. That was an epiphany for me!
Favorite author, off the top of your head! Jane Austen! I just realized that, as far as I can tell, I now own everything she’s ever written that’s still extant today. All her novels, letters, and minor works. I am one happy fan.
Three current favorite books. Just three? I have to choose? Okay … lots of books are going to feel left out … Sense and Sensibility, Christy, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (really like one long book!).
Biggest influence on your writing {person}: It usually turns out to be whomever I’m reading at the time … Jane Austen, Stephen Lawhead, Lisa Wingate … but as far as who inspires me the most, it’d have to be my mom, because we talk quite a lot about books, stories, and my novels. 
What's your go-to writing music? I don’t really have writing music … I write better in silence, but I guess I always find classical and Celtic music relaxing and inspiring.
List three to five writing quirks of yours! Little habits, must-haves as you write, etc.
Hmm … nothing very funny or interesting … maybe I can come up with three “dull” things: 1) I love details, and if I let myself get carried away, I’ll end up describing, say, every feature of a room … and every room of a house, even if it has nothing to do with the story; 2) I utilize my writing program’s thesaurus a LOT, usually to help me find the word that I know fits but I can’t seem to remember; 3) I always make up my characters’ complete family even if they don’t enter the story. Names, ages, birthdays, basic personalities … I love making up people. : )
What, in three sentences or less, does your writing mean to you? It’s one of my favorite blessings that God has given me, so I give it back to Him and write for His glory. It’s a large part of who I am, it’s the most fun thing I do, and it connects me with amazing friends! It keeps me anchored … it’s my way of processing the world.
Does anyone else care to share their own answers to some of these questions??

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

July/August Snippets

I’m at the very end of the month, so I just made it in, but I have some snippets from The Wise- and Light-Hearted that I wrote in July. Thanks again to Katie Sabelko for establishing Snippets of Story!

Sophia lowered herself onto the blanket, spread her skirts neatly, and took her sketchbook in hand; flipping to an empty page and settling it on her lap, she felt her heart flutter as it always did before she was to undertake a particularly challenging sketch. The sensation was one of delight, and, indeed, there was nothing she relished more. She looked up at the grand subject of her drawing -- the Winchester Cathedral, pale, severe, and spearing the cloudy heavens. It loomed even larger from her seated position than a moment before.                             
“I insist that we gentleman ride together from here to Lynchfield and that the ladies keep their own company in the other carriage. Preferably the second carriage.”
“Was it really that terrible?” Lucy was partly miffed and partly amused at Prescott’s ill temper.
“Nothing but female gossip and talk of clothes and housekeeping! My mind is numb. If I’m put back in the same carriage as them I shall direct it homeward so as to cut short the time I have left with them. I don’t care enough about an old abbey to subject myself to this.”

Sophia caught her breath. For an enchanted moment the voices of the others faded. There was an archway before them, and old, old stone, looking as though part of a smooth and perfect cliff, rose up in a wall on either side, stretching to the right and left and disappearing into the thick foliage of the forest trees. It looked as if it had always been like that, undisturbed for all the ages. Had there been a forest anywhere in England when this abbey had been built?
What a magnificent thing to sketch! And what was beyond the archway?
The owner of the Lynchfield estate, Mr. Gates, was delighted to receive the
travelers and show them the abbey. He related that he was constantly amazed by how much word of his abbey got around; he didn’t have a lot of money, and what he had needed to go to improving his estate, but he was glad that tourists liked his abbey as it was, thus sparing him the necessity of improving that, too. “Utterly convenient, really!” was his refrain.
“Did it never cross your mind to charge for people to see the abbey?” Prescott asked at one point.
“It’d be an awful lot of bother. They’d just go sneaking around and find it themselves, and probably vandalize it, too, out of spite. I won’t mount a guard -- can’t afford it, and besides, I’m a peaceful man -- so it really would do no good at all, you see. No, it’s a blessed way to get visitors, which I like. Utterly convenient, really!”
Beyond the archway, Mr. Gates and his workers had kept the scraggly underbrush away but left the oaks and elms which had sprung up since the abbey’s dissolution. Grand trees grew side-by-side with the graceful stone remains; the structure itself looked whole and almost livable, but the cloister, walkways, and outer walls were in a crumbling state.
“It’s like an enchanted castle, like the old story about the Sleeping Beauty,” Lucy remarked as they came to a stop at the abbey’s front entrance, an arched, yawning hole.

Just three examples, because everything else I considered posting from the story is still confidential! In another month I may be ready to post something from a brand-new story.
How has your writing been going this summer?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Classics in the Bag, Part 3

To join my two previous posts of classics I've read: (as before, I welcome any comments you may have on what I've listed!)

  • Louisa May Alcott (Nov 29, 1832 - Mar 6, 188) - The Inheritance (1849)
This was Alcott's first novel. Though hopelessly sentimental, with an angelic heroine and noble hero, it's a satisfying story and an interesting specimen of her development as a writer.  
  • Little Women (1868)
One of my favorite novels ... who can resist falling in love with the touching story of the four March sisters?
  • An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869)
I really loved this one, too. The characters are so human, with traits to love and traits to eschew; I especially liked when the children became young adults and Polly Milton, the protagonist, proved her mettle. 
  • Little Men (1871)
All the different personalities of the boys in Jo's school were fascinating. Such adventures those children had! I wish the March sisters themselves, though, had had more children.
  • Eight Cousins (1875)
 Another story of the adventures of a group of children. Rose is the only girl amongst the eight cousins, which makes for an interesting time! Admittedly, not my favorite Alcott.
  • Jo's Boys (1886)
The story of the March family continued! The youngsters from Little Men are grown up and it's such fun to see how they all turned out, including how they pursue their dreams.
  • Various short stories and novellas, such as “The Quiet Little Woman" and “The Abbot's Ghost,"
     were all entertaining.
G. A. Henty (Dec 8, 1832 - Nov 16, 1902) - For the Temple (1888)
“A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem" in 70 A.D. As with all Henty novels, this one was full of history and twisting plot-threads (so twisting I can't remember it all!)
  • By Right of Conquest (1891)
“Or With Cortez in Mexico." Despite the depressing violence of the Aztecs, I remember being quite taken with this story, especially the sweet heroine Amenche.
  • Beric the Briton (1893) 
“A Story of the Roman Invasion." This is the most recent Henty I've read. I quite enjoyed it! So much happens, and Beric ends up in so many different places that have stuck in my mind. 
  • My mom read many other Hentys to my brother and me, but alas, only shards of characters, scenes, and history, still glint in my memory. Those shards are distinct and formative, however -- I do believe Henty is in my subconscious. 
Mark Twain (Nov 30, 1835 - Apr 21, 1910) - The Innocents Abroad (1869)
This is a true narrative of a group of travelers touring Europe and the Mediterranean. I love travel books and this one was absolutely hilarious in the hands of Mark Twain. 
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
Mark Twain is a stupendous writer and so any story he tells should be good. I liked this one, but mostly just because of Twain's writing. I merely smiled at Tom. 
  • The Prince and the Pauper (1881)
I really enjoyed this story but don't remember the details. Due for a rereading!
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
I preferred this novel to Tom Sawyer, because I found Huck more endearing. I think Tom is too self-assured for me, whereas Huck's vulnerability drew me in. I also liked the wider setting and higher-stakes adventures more than the confined, so-so environment of a muddy Mississippi River town.
  • Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896)
I'm not sure how many agree with me, but I do believe this novel is Twain's crowning achievement. He believed it to be his best, too. His beautiful prose at last finds its match in this magnificent story. 
(As I'm waxing on about his works, I realize I should do a post just on Mark Twain!) 

Isabella MacDonald Allen (Nov 3, 1841 - Aug 5, 1930) - Ester Reid (1870)
This novel about a girl who goes from being a lukewarm Christian to a true servant of Christ was very inspiring and convicting to me as a teenager, and so helped me grow in my spiritual walk.

Robert Louis Stevenson (Nov 13, 1850 - Dec 3, 1894) - Treasure Island (1883)
This one was just too much fun! Jim Hawkins, Long John Silver, pirates, buried treasure, danger, swordfights ... it's the quintessential adventure novel.
  • Kidnapped (1886)
This was my favorite Stevenson novel. I love Scotland, and David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart should be one of the most memorable character pairs ever. Alan was entertaining, and David's arc of character was inspiring.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)
This story, although rather short as literature goes, was richly layered in meaning and intrigue, all told in Stevenson's most picturesque writing. 
  • David Balfour (1893)
I was pleased to continue David's story and watch him fall in love with a most amiable girl, but the romance in this book stole some of the refreshing perspective I found in Kidnapped

Edmond Rostand (Apr 1, 1868 - Dec 2, 1918) - Cyrano de Bergerac 
This was a funny and moving play, a reading experience I won't soon forget. Cyrano's way with words was truly something. I had the pleasure of seeing a good friend act in a production of Cyrano.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Review: Don Quixote

Before my review, I'd like to mention Rebekah Jones's giveaway of her mystery novel Grandmother's Letters. If you want to enter, visit her blog here. It lasts until August 20th. I read the first chapter on Amazon and I'm already hooked to know what happens next!

I gave a pretty thorough review of this great primordial novel in my guest post on Whisperings of the Pen, but here are more of my thoughts!

I gave Don Quixote three stars on Goodreads because I had good and bad impressions. Oil and water don’t mix, but overall the good impressions, like oil, floated to the top. I’m so glad I read it, and the feeling of accomplishment outweighs any frustration I felt while swimming the river. (Did I overdo it on the simile and metaphor? So sorry!)

Miguel de Cervantes was 57 when The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha was published. He lived a very full life -- he explored the artistic riches of Italy; became a soldier and, for five years, a captive slave in Algiers; married; traveled Spain as part of his government profession; was imprisoned a couple of times for money issues; and, finally, pursued a literary career. He never earned much from writing, even with Don Quixote, but we can see now what his toil was worth. What would the fictional world have done without Don Quixote?

The book reflects Cervantes’s rich and varied personal experiences as well as his wide reading. He was able to bring that together with his inventive mind and strike out in a new direction all his own to make his talents really shine. His poetry wasn’t that good, his dramas were indifferent, his pastorals and novellas not extraordinary … but he struck gold with Don Quixote. The public loved his portrayal of ordinary characters, his realism, his irony and humor.

The novel borrowed from many literary traditions but was something new all the same. Don Quixote himself was fascinating -- he had a character arc, unlike most other literary characters up to that point. Sometimes I thought him annoying, but ultimately I liked him -- his endearing madness, the way his imagination overrode all sense of reality. He was noble, for the most part, and always meant well. Sancho Panza was my favorite, though. His contrast with Don Quixote was so striking -- if you think about it, many of the most enjoyable stories feature two opposite primary characters, and Cervantes nailed that theme. That was the best part of the novel for me -- Don Quixote and Sancho’s friendship. It has never been eclipsed. They are perfect foils for one another, complete opposites with somewhat different goals but who ultimately come to a perfect understanding. Sancho was an innovative character, because before this common people were hardly ever portrayed admirably, and certainly not possessed of any kind of wisdom. Yet Sancho has folk wisdom and commonsense (admittedly, he is still quite obtuse at times). I loved his proverbs!

I liked the interpolated tales, for the most part, except when they stretched on and on. And while most of Don Quixote’s episodes were funny, some reflected a crude, distasteful humor. The other characters, though interesting and distinct, seemed flat, and I have a hard time remembering any of their names. Cervantes’s female characters were especially intriguing -- there was hardly a wilting flower in the bunch! Don Quixote’s niece and housekeeper, the innkeeper’s wife, daughter, and maidservant, and all the lovely women at the center of the love stories told throughout the book were active and strong-minded.

To be honest, it took me until the beginning of Part II, what was published in 1615, to enter into full enjoyment of what I was reading. I began to see its true genius then -- the way Cervantes wrote Part II as a sort of meta-fiction (fiction about fiction) by making it out that Part I had been published in Don Quixote’s world and had been widely read. Don Quixote, therefore, had an image to live up to. Many people that he now met in his travels had heard of him and, consequently, had quite a bit of fun with him and Sancho by playing along with their delusion.

Another funny, major plot feature was Don Quixote’s friends’ quests to cure him of his madness. There was a priest/curate (depending on your translation) and a barber, old friends from his home village, who were particularly concerned. In Part I they followed him and got involved in some of his adventures. They had a less active role in Part II, but enlisted another friend in trying to get him home.

Wow … there still seems much to be said! But this is probably enough. My final verdict: If you are a literary nut, you may find it worthwhile to read and persevere through this book. I certainly did. If you’re not excited about it at all, then a good abridged version would be just fine. I really recommend that all novel-readers learn what they can of the first modern novel -- I knew next to nothing before, but I feel so enriched now that I know what made it great.

Well … do any of you have any final thoughts on Don Quixote?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Whisperings of the Pen

Today, why don’t you trip on over to Katie Sabelko’s blog Whisperings of the Pen -- I have a guest post there! It’s sort of my promised review on Don Quixote; it’s entitled “In Which Don Quixote Draws Me In.” (I do intend to write more about Don Quixote.) I hope you enjoy it!

Katie Sabelko is very interested in bringing together a community of young writers, and so her posts are always inspiring. She serves as the hub for blog activities like “Actually Finishing Something July” and “Snippets of Story.” I was so blessed that she accepted my post!

Friday, August 9, 2013

An Ending Here, a Beginning There

A couple of newsy-items for today:

One is that this week I finished my apprentice course with the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writer’s Guild. Taking it was one of the best decisions I ever made for my writing life for a number of reasons, but primarily because it showed me what being a professional writer entails. I already knew how to write, already loved to write, and already wrote copiously, but this course showed me how to move my writing into the larger world. It expanded my writing mentality beyond personal and self-oriented, which is an important grounding to have and maintain, and taught me what type of writing the world needs. And therefore, what will get published. It was very energizing to become published during this course! Now that I’m done, I’m taking a break from official courses and pursuing my own literary studies, which I’ll touch on shortly. I have to give prayer and thought to what will come next as far as education. There is a fiction course …. Anyway, if The Christian Writer’s Guild piques your interest, visit their website! It’s a highly professional organization, yet full of Christian grace, and is very influential in the realm of writing and publishing.

I do love self-directed study, however, and that’s why I was so exhilarated when my mom found this website: It has over 750 free online college courses. I almost grew dizzy at the list of courses, each the “X” over a buried treasure of information only an investment of several hours away. I began
Cervantes’ Don Quixote," which is taught by a Yale professor. I’m enjoying it greatly so far! I can sort of see how people spend their whole lives studying Don Quixote. That won’t be me, of course, but this is just the amount of study that I want -- and yes, I still owe Don Quixote a review! 

What kind of growth has your writing been having lately?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

One Last Little House Post (I Think!)

We saw the house in De Smet, on Third Street, where Pa and Ma Ingalls finished out their days.

Pa built it in 1887 when the family gave up homesteading and moved to town. It’s a museum now, full of Ingalls artifacts and for the most part arranged as the family would have had it. It was wonderful to walk through that home and imagine Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Grace doing the same. Grace got married in the beautiful front parlor, which nowadays is arranged nearly exactly like the first photograph that Carrie took of it while she was working at the newspaper office. Whenever Laura visited from where she, Almanzo, and Rose lived in the Ozarks, she was there, too. It was a big, beautiful family home.
There was a pump organ in the parlor that visitors could play. I tried a hymn, but it was hard for me to coordinate the left and right pumps! The keys wouldn’t make a sound unless your feet pumped firmly and rhythmically. My friend Laura managed better. There was also a violin, like what Pa would play; my friend Laura was good at that, too!
Today, this house has normal neighbors … the only ones who are back in time are the museum tour guides and visitors and perhaps those who stay at the bed-and-breakfast nearby. Can you imagine how interesting it would be to live next door to the old Ingalls home?
Pa died there in 1902; Ma and Mary rented out some rooms afterward for added income. Ma died in 1924. Carrie and Grace had long since been married and living elsewhere, but they and Laura visited frequently up to Ma’s death. Mary lived with Grace and then Carrie until she died in 1928.
After we finished this house, we went downtown on Calumet Avenue and stopped at the Loftus Store, the general store that Laura wrote of; we also saw the site of the house that the Ingallses lived in during The Long Winter. The building there now is second-generation.

Here’s the place where Laura and Almanzo staked their claim after they first married, a few miles out from De Smet. It’s where Rose was born.

Last of all we visited the Ingalls homestead site. This was probably my favorite part, because it reminded me of what captured my imagination the most about the Little House series: Laura’s prairie days and all the special things the girls did in the rural, wholesome heartland of America. The land doesn’t change … it was easy to imagine the family living, working, and playing there. There were several buildings just over the hill, replicas of what the Ingallses would have had on their land at various times: a barn, a shanty, a sod-roof house.

These are the cottonwoods that Pa planted! They’re some of the oldest trees in the area. Aren’t they lovely? I love trees, so their standing sentinel at the entrance of the homestead site helped make it my favorite place of all.

It’s plain to see that I’ll remember this visit to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s world and the world of my friend Laura for the rest of my life!

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Little House Stage

In 1879, South Dakota was not a state; it and its twin, North Dakota, were called Dakota Territory. Pioneers settled Dakota Territory throughout the 1860s and 70s, and in 1879 the Ingalls family moved to a railroad camp on Silver Lake for Pa to work as storekeeper and bookkeeper for the Dakota Central Railroad. They lived in a shanty first, but then over the winter, when all the railroaders were gone, Pa was paid to stay behind and live in the Surveyors’ House to watch over the company property.

This house is still standing! It was the largest house Laura had yet lived in, and the Ingallses stayed warm and busy inside it until spring.

“It was a big house, a real house with two stories, and glass windows. Its up-and-down boards were weathering from yellow to gray, and every crack was battened, as Pa had said. The door had a china knob. It opened into the lean-to over the back door. …

“Laura looked at the large front room. Its boards were still yellow inside, and sunshine from its west window slanted yellow on the floor. A cool light came in from the window to the east beside the front door. The surveyors had left their stove! …

“Spaced on the wall beyond it were three doors. All of them were shut.” (By the Shores of Silver Lake)

I saw those three doorways, lined up strikingly in one wall, only they were all open for visitors to peer at what was beyond: a bedroom taken almost entirely up with a bed and a little box where someone small would have slept; a staircase to an attic, at the top of which was a big mirror that reflected two beds on the other side of the room (eliminating the need to climb the stairs to see what was there); and Laura’s favorite room -- a sunlight-washed white pantry, filled with shelves, jars, and barrels.

As far as I can tell, this house was the oldest permanent structure in De Smet. It was moved from its original location and sided with clapboard; it had been a private residence until restored to the state where it had earned its enduring fame -- like the Ingallses would have had it. There were lots of interesting things inside, including replicas of the whatnot shelf and china shepherdess that made a home out of the Ingallses’ Little Houses. Alas, no inside photography was allowed.

Also on that property was the De Smet schoolhouse where Laura finished her education. (Little Town on the Prairie) Eliza Jane Wilder, Almanzo’s sister and a strict, unreasonable teacher, taught there for a term. The school had been a private home between then and now; when it was restored to a one-room schoolhouse, the original blackboard revealed itself, still intact!

One more building on that site was a replica of the Brewster School (the real name was Bouchie School), Laura’s first teaching position, which lasted two months. (These Happy, Golden Years) My impression of that time in the book was its misery: the school was a thin, ragged shack, the winter was hard, the students were difficult, the residents of that tiny hamlet were unhappy, and Laura was nervous and homesick. All of that came back to me as I stood in the schoolhouse, but I also remembered how Laura and the others overcame the miserable circumstances. They were not afraid to experience extreme discomfort, even danger, in their quest to live. They pursued education through great costs. Their lives were constantly on the line. I wondered if I could do that … labor relentlessly for the far-off image of a better life. It took sheer determination and, for many, great faith in God. And they overcame! How inspiring is that?