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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Book Review: The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds

I’ve read that The War of the Worlds is one of the most commented-on works of science fiction, and I can certainly understand why. In fact, it seems to be the father of extraterrestrial literature; its influence on the subject has never dimmed. My interest was sparked by watching the 2005 Steven Spielberg adaptation … I’d also wanted to try H. G. Wells because he was a classic author, and this was what we had on hand. Although I’m not fond of alien stories, I did enjoy the out-of-comfort-zone excursion: I was impressed with his knowledge, imagination, and writing skills. Plus, I was pulled along by the mystery of how on earth the Martians were going to be defeated!

The protagonist is an unnamed philosophical writer, perfectly suited to be narrator. He’s observant and able to ponder the terrifying consequences of the Martian invasion, from the wide-scale destruction, to life under their rule, to his psychological anguish. The story was action-packed, but because the narrator explained everything, it moved slowly at times, which I didn’t always mind – I enjoy thoroughness in a story. (Though, the beginning was agonizingly slow; I wanted to get on with the action! But I admit it was a good set-up.) As I said, the narrator was unnamed, as was almost everyone else: it was “I,” “my wife,” “my brother,” “the curate,” “the artilleryman,” and so forth. The absence of personal names submerged the characters and emphasized the Martians; everything that happened to the humans was to explain the full effect of the invasion.

I wasn’t impressed with the evolutionary worldview which permeated the book, but as that’s the only way the Martians could be real, it had to go with the story. They landed in southern England, not far from London, and it was rather painful to me to imagine that beautiful country getting demolished, but obviously Wells thought using his native land was best. The widespread death and destruction was not too gory, though of course very unpleasant to think about, because I’m not the kind of person who gets thrills from things smashing, exploding, and burning, even in movies.

To end, I’d like to include this favorite excerpt because I thought it a brilliant piece of writing, a sustained metaphor: “In the center, sticking into the skin of our old planet Earth like a poisoned dart, was this cylinder. But the poison was scarcely working yet. Around it was a patch of silent common, smoldering in places, and with a few dark, dimly seen objects lying in contorted attitudes here and there. … Beyond was a fringe of excitement, and farther than that fringe the inflammation had not crept as yet. In the rest of the world the stream of life still flowed as it had flowed for immemorial years. The fever of war that would presently clog vein and artery, deaden nerve and destroy brain, had still to develop.” (Book 1, Chapter 8)

And this other favorite, because it’s one of the more powerful passages, with its raw emotion: “Since the night of my return from Leatherhead I had not prayed. I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers, had prayed as heathens mutter charms when I was in extremity; but now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face pleading with the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that as soon as the dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place – a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity – pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion.” (Book 2, Chapter 7)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


“A very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better.” (Persuasion, chapter 11)


Last week I read this fascinating volume: The History of Lyme-Regis, Dorset, from the Earliest Periods to the Present Day by George Roberts. Published in 1823, this book appears to be the main resource for information on the seaside town of Lyme-Regis during the Regency. I found it on Google Books. I was beside myself with joy! Internet writers kept referencing it and, on a hunch, I searched for it on that wonderful repository of public-domain, out-of-print books – and there it was, within my reach. I needed it because in The Wise- and Light-Hearted, our characters are now enjoying a seaside holiday at Lyme, and internet searches were not dredging all that I needed to know. Mr. Roberts was a native of Lyme and a perfect source of information, and I am very thankful for him.

I not only enjoyed the facts about Lyme itself, but also the review of English history this book afforded. Lyme was, off and on, pretty involved in the major moments of history, and from its viewpoint I learned about England’s invaders, the English Civil War, the Duke of Monmouth, and the actions and personalities of various kings and queens. The History of Lyme-Regis named lots of people, which gave me a better idea of what English men and women were named during those centuries – let me tell you, there were more than just Williams and Marys! (Among those names I was surprised to learn were: Nicholas, Ambrose, Gregory, Amos, Solomon, Ignatius, and Abraham for men; Julian, Fayth, and Hannah for women. I was under the mistaken impression that only American Pilgrims and Puritans used Old Testament names, until perhaps the 1800s, when they started showing up in England. Why I thought that, I don’t know, but I’m glad I was corrected! This shows I need to read more widely, I guess.)

Jane Austen liked Lyme. She went there at least twice, and she wrote so thoroughly of it in Persuasion that, when our Regency characters needed a place to get away, I knew we had to use it. I’ve never seen the ocean in person, but I love what I’ve heard about it and seaside towns, its natural appendages – so right now I’m quite enchanted with Lyme and wish I could go there for real.

Here is how the native himself, the author, describes it:
“In the western part of Dorsetshire, on the very confines of Devon, between and on the ascent of two romantic hills, at the deepest part of the West Bay … is agreeably situated the ancient town of Lyme, which enjoys a climate eminently mild and salubrious, distant from London one hundred and forty-three miles, twenty-four from Dorchester, and twenty-eight from Exeter. The lower part of the town is washed by the sea, from the violence of which it is protected by walls and jetties, while the environs are extremely rural and picturesque, abounding in romantic scenery, and views of that justly admired range of hills extending eastward so far as Portland, whose abrupt precipices terminate the prospect in that direction” (p. 5).

Lyme is perhaps most famous for the Cobb, a massive, curved stone wall built out into the sea that creates a harbor for the town. “The prosperity, and, probably, the existence of the town, since the erection of the Cobb, have been intimately connected with its security, alternately rising and falling with the structure” (p. 16). You see, a harbor was necessary for a seaside town’s commerce. You can walk on the Cobb quite comfortably, though the upper part will more than likely be windy.

 File:The Cobb at Lyme Regis - - 928109.jpg

Maybe one day I will see Lyme in person; until then, I will enjoy one of my favorite aspects of writing: armchair travel.

Did you know anything about Lyme-Regis before this post? Do share!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Writer Camaraderie

Last Wednesday I was most blessed to meet a couple of young women in person whom I had met online, along with dear friends I see fairly often. We met at a restaurant and spent a good two and a half hours talking!

Not only was meeting in person an amazing experience, we also had many similarities that gave wings to our lips and filled our heart’s reserves of joy, comfort, and excitement. We are all creative, literary people, and I found the company perfectly stimulating. I had been feeling rather down about my writing (“I’m stuck! Maybe this story isn’t worth it after all. Maybe my creativity has completely spun out and all I’m left with is an empty spool. Maybe one or two novels is all I can do. Maybe the world doesn’t even need my writing!”) but a dose of everyone’s excitement for and love of story perked me right up.

Some people say that the best writers are/have been loners. Perhaps, but those writers aren’t the only writers who are gifted or who have accomplished great literature. And I’m sure each one has had at least one encourager. As I’m fond of realizing, every writer is different – they write different things, they write in different ways – and we can’t say any one method is better than another for everyone. I go through seasons; when I’m very involved and confident in my story, I don’t want anyone else around. It’s just me and my characters! But I’m not that way all the time. Often camaraderie and active fellowship with other writers or creative-thinking people gives me nourishment and strength to go on, to refresh my passion for crafting the story I want to tell.

And so, I just want to say thank you to everyone who understands the urge to create with words and for the support you give to each other, both writers and readers. Certainly there would not be as much joy and effectiveness in our work without such camaraderie! 

These are just a few musings as I tried to come up with a blog post … I knew I wanted to mention that wonderful meeting, and it needed some thoughts to go along with it, so … there you go! Who or what most encourages you in your writing? My mom and dad are my first line, I would say, as they listen, read, and comment! But I have spectacular friends, too. : )

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chatterbox: Amy and Lisa

Chatterbox is a fun monthly blog link-up created by Rachel Heffington where you write a conversation between your story characters about a topic Rachel chooses. This month it is food, which I think is a staple of a getting-to-know-you tête-à-tête.

This time for Chatterbox I wrote something I’d always wanted to write – a discussion between me and my characters. We’ve talked before, but never has it been recorded. I hope you enjoy this rare footage.

I perch on the moss-green sectional sofa that’s at an angle to its partner where sit Amy and Lisa Brown. We’re in their living room. Amy sits with feet on floor and hands in lap; Lisa has her legs curled to the side while her right elbow rests on a pillow. Amy scoots ever so slightly to the right so that her sister’s dark-brown hair doesn’t tickle her arm. I smile. Those two.

Kelsey: So, we’re here because of Chatterbox. You’ve done it before, only it was with your grandma.

Lisa: We remember. It was only two months ago.

Amy: Less than two months ago. But it doesn’t matter; she’s just reviewing for the audience.

Lisa: I know that.

Amy: Very well then, let’s let her continue.

Kelsey: Thank you. This month’s topic is food. I’m going to ask you just one question and hope that it will really nail down your characters for the readers. What’s your favorite food? Oh, and you have my permission to argue. It’s more entertaining, you know.

Amy: Really? Seriously, I don’t need that – that encouragement. I’m trying to cut down on my arguments with her.

Lisa: We don’t need your permission; we’ll do it anyway.

Amy: For goodness’s sake, Lisa.

Lisa: See?

Amy: Shall we proceed with the question? My favorite food … a whole food category or a single dish?

Kelsey: Whatever you feel is your favorite. I’m not limiting you on this. Say exactly what you want to say.

Amy: Well, I adore fruits, vegetables, and pretty much anything natural. Nuts, too – almonds are my favorite, especially roasted – and healthy desserts. The kinds with coarse, whole wheat flour, honey, dried fruit, and nuts.

Lisa: Cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips, mouth-burning amounts of cinnamon and ginger, cookies whose only taste is from the fruit that’s in them. It’s a race to get the ones with the most fruit.

Amy: All my cookies have the same amount of fruit and nuts. I ensure that every ingredient is equally distributed. That’s the only way to make decent cookies.

Lisa: Her pizzas look like works of art.

Amy: Whereas the dinner table is like a trading market when we eat your pizza. “Lewis, give me some of your cheese!” “I didn’t get any pepperoni!” “Hey, Katelyn, I count ten mushrooms on your slice. I’ve got six tomatoes. Give me five mushrooms and I’ll give you three tomatoes.”

Kelsey: Lisa, what’s your favorite food?

Lisa: Gooey desserts. Lasagna. Macaroni and cheese. Carbs. Pretty much anything that I can make and that’s rich and flavorful.

Amy: Fortunately she doesn’t do all the cooking. She and Mom collaborate, but Mom’s commander-in-chief – most of the time.

Lisa: I don’t see you cooking very often.

Amy: Please don’t start on that, Lisa. Seriously, I’m sorry. I was only joking.

Lisa: Then so was I.

Kelsey: Well, I think we answered that question sufficiently. Thank you both, Amy, Lisa, for your time. It was really enlightening and, um, enjoyable.

Lisa: Goodness, “gooey desserts” just made me crave caramel brownies. Does anyone else want some? They’ll be fresh from the oven in, like, thirty minutes.

Amy: Not even you can make anything that fast.

Lisa: Just watch me.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Snippets of January

Well, I believe I finally have enough fresh material to participate in Snippets of Story this month!

The two reached the library via the corridor that, in Stephen’s opinion, made far too many turns. The library was one of his favorite rooms, but it was dashed inconvenient to get to and too distant from any other happening. When tucked away reading in this far burrow of the warren he was bound to miss something.
The Wise- and Light-Hearted

“One of my deepest regrets is that I made my dear Mrs. Quigley wait so long before I felt we could afford to marry. We spent four years needlessly separated by distance, I didn’t grown any younger, and our hearts ached even as we whittled quill after quill writing letters.”
Mr. Robert Quigley, The Wise- and Light-Hearted

As their carriage … turned, Lucy clutched at the widened view of the sea from her window. “I see a yard or two more of it! If it were not for those rooftops I could see more.”
“In a few minutes’ time, when you have a boundless view at your command, you shall spurn such a paltry sight,” said Joseph.
“Simply imagine what it shall be like on the Cobb,” Philip exclaimed in his quiet, intense way. “Surrounded on three sides by the sea.”

In Lyme, The Wise- and Light-Hearted

But the trip to see Aunt Millicent (whom she had met only twice) and the mansion that might not be there was bracing because it was so risky. Once she grew accustomed to the idea, Amy couldn’t wait. She felt her adventure-spirits uncurling their weak, pale-green heads.
The Alice Quest

“How long has Aunt Millicent lived here?” Amy asked as they alighted. She slammed her door and pressed herself against it as a rusty, dented car zoomed by, rocking to the music it blasted.
“Break your eardrums, why don’t you?” Grandma frowned after the car, then replied, “She raised her family here, so soon after she married. I guess that’d make it late fifties or early sixties.”

The Alice Quest

Amy held the photos while she and Lisa both looked. These were originals, so they felt like smoky, fragile windows into the very present past, and Amy handled them reverently.
The Alice Quest

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Homeschool Authors Interview and Giveaway

I've been blessed to be featured on the Homeschool Authors blog, by Sarah Holman, this week! Here is a link to my interview. There you'll also find that I'm also giving away a copy of Family Reunion. The giveaway ends in three days, so feel free to enter! You'll get your choice of either print or digital. Yes, I said digital ... I've finally made Family Reunion into an e-book on Kindle, available on Amazon. I am marking the e-book down to $0.99 through this Saturday night. Later on this week Sarah Holman will post a review as well!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review: Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe has been on my to-read list for several years and so I was thrilled to finally read it. I was somewhat familiar with the story from reading an abridged version, maybe ten years ago, and from watching the 1982 movie with Anthony Andrews and Sam Neill, but of course nothing replaces the actual novel!

File:Gehrts Ivanhoe.jpg
I was not disappointed. Sir Walter Scott was a master storyteller and I can see why he was the most popular British author of his day. He practically invented the historical fiction genre – he was very, very good at recreating long passed-away worlds. Perhaps he “tells” more than is considered acceptable today, but I excuse him for it because he is Sir Walter Scott. His stories contain some inaccuracies, of course, Ivanhoe perhaps most of all, but mainly it was for the sake of a compelling tale.  
Ivanhoe, published in 1820, stoked the early nineteenth century’s interest in the Middle Ages. I wonder if the traditions of chivalry and even Medieval heroes like Robin Hood and Richard the Lion-Hearted would be as well-known and beloved today if it weren’t for Ivanhoe?
There is really so much to say about this novel, but I’m sure it’s already been said somewhere else. I’m just going to share some of the things that stood out to me the most.
I was surprised by some of the turns the story took: most strikingly the prevalence of Robin Hood and his merry men (I didn’t remember that from the movie); the portrayal of Rebecca the Jewess’s admirable character; the small role the titular character played; and Scott’s egalitarian approach to his characters, giving everyone the same amount/quality of screen time.
Concerning the characters, it seemed like the “villains” – Brian de Bois Guilbert, Maurice DeBracy, Front-de-Boeuf, Prince John – had at least an equal number of scenes to the “good guys” – Ivanhoe, Cedric, Rebecca, Richard the Lion-Hearted. (I’m used to the books where the antagonist is held at arm’s length.) We see things from every character’s perspective, which accentuated Ivanhoe’s feel of a sweeping epic. I liked that; it makes me question the rule of a single narrator we hear about these days. I think there’s a place for both in the reading world.
Concerning Ivanhoe himself, I was vastly disappointed. He simply did not show up in most of the novel. He was an okay character: handsome, brave, honorable, and all that, but we didn’t see much of him. Most of his action took place before the book opened. I have a feeling, though, that if we had seen more we would tire of him, since he didn’t strike me as particularly interesting. Certainly not as interesting as his father Cedric, his master Richard, his healer Rebecca, and his enemy Bois-Guilbert. His character illustrated that Ivanhoe the novel was more about medieval England as a whole, with its split between Saxons and Normans, and not about any one individual.
Rebecca was my favorite character. Scott piled quality after quality on her, which I found fascinating because she was Jewish. Apparently her creator wasn’t anti-Semitic, as she is the most admirable person in the novel and clings fast to her faith; Scott didn’t feel the need to denigrate her religion. For me, all the other characters were tainted by their hatred of Jews, whereas Rebecca tried to bridge the gaping crevice between the two faiths. I found it sad that the Christians hated the Jews so much, claiming it as a virtue that they despised them, and that they were subsequently such terrible examples of our Messiah – the Messiah many Jews longed for. That Scott even addressed the anti-Semitism of that age makes me interested in his motives … was he trying to show something to his readers?
Let me conclude by saying I’m definitely interested in reading more Sir Walter Scott!
Have you ever read Ivanhoe or any of his other works? What did you think of them?