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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Chatterbox: Criticism

Whew! I screeched in on the tail end of Chatterbox. We have a great topic, thanks, as always, to Rachel Heffington of Inkpen Authoress!

Criticism seems to be what certain people do best – especially certain people between book covers. A critic is a great foil for a protagonist, whether he or she means well or just likes being contrary. Put criticism in a scene and chances are it will be the flint that strikes a fire. I’ve met a number of critical characters in my stories, and even though they’re not the only ones there who ever criticize, the action comes effortlessly to them. But one outshines them all: Tabitha Brown. Tabitha is the grandmother of Amy, The Alice Quest’s protagonist. High-spirited, blunt, and opinionated, Tabitha never hesitates when it comes to speaking her mind. Her estimations are alternately positive and negative, but she never fails to criticize where there is something wrong – for the sake of the improvement of her listeners, of course. What she chooses to critique, however, can be … surprising.

“Amy.” Grandma was fidgeting. She looked in all the mirrors and kneaded her hands together in her vibrating lap.
Amy checked her speed. 75 mph. Not 80. She would not go 80.
“You can go faster, you know. That way all these hurrying Harries won’t pass you.”
Grandma hated for people to pass her. “Grandma, I’m not comfortable going faster,” Amy replied in a pointed, yet respectful tone. “I rather like speed limits.”
“You rather like –? Oh please, Amy! On the highway you get so much farther if you rev it up. We have a long way to go. I want to get there as quickly as possible.” Grandma flung her hand dismissively. “You’re too careful sometimes. You won’t get pulled over.”
With that mindset, how had Grandma gotten away with so few traffic tickets in her lifetime? It was an honest, albeit sarcastic, question and Amy would never ask it, but still she wondered. “You never know,” Amy said. “I haven’t gotten a ticket yet, and it’s one of my life goals to never get one.”
Grandma looked at her and burst into a smile. “Ha! That sounds like you. You’re always too cautious, you always want to do things ‘just right.’ Live a little, Amy. I’m not talking about breaking the law – and I don’t call going a few miles over the speed limit breaking the law – but it’s just one example of what you always do. No risks! No mistakes! What will you accomplish if you never take risks?”
“Plenty,” Amy responded, then chided herself for her too-snappy comeback. “I mean, I do take risks, on occasion.” Amy signaled, glided into the left lane, and pulled beside a semi. Her heart was in her throat as the deafening metal monster towered over their little Honda and blocked out the sun for the seconds it took to pass it.
Even with that thing crowding her, she had better make her point before Grandma interrupted. “Take this trip, for example. We have no clue how it’s going to end. And then I’m teaching that co-op class this fall, and I haven’t taken any education courses. Isn’t that risky?”
“Do you think you can do it?”
“Well … most of the time I’m pretty confident, yes.”
“Then it’s not a risk.” Grandma settled back in her seat as Amy returned to the right lane. “Risks stretch you and enrich you like nothing else can. If you do only what’s comfortable to you, you’ll never get anywhere.” She fixed a glare on Amy’s profile. “With all your history study you never learned that?”
Amy wanted to respond. Since she couldn’t think of anything reasonable to offer that she might be able to chance, she decided to relate her escapades as a kid … and afterward Grandma would undoubtedly have concrete suggestions of other risks for Amy to take. Amy commanded herself to be patient and attentive. How bad could this counseling session be?

This is not in my story at the moment, but it's an idea for a future scene. 

Also, I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I will probably try in-the-blog comments next week; you can still comment on Google+, though; it just won't show up in my blog. : )  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Family Reunion Giveaway

I am giving away a signed copy of my novel Family Reunion! If you already have a copy, feel free to enter anyway if you have someone you'd like to give it to. Many thanks to Kayla M. of Kayla's Notebook and Girls of God's Grace Newsletter for setting this up!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In addition, I have a “housekeeping" question for everyone concerning blog comments. Obviously I have mine hooked up to Google+. I liked this because the comments of those who commented through Google+ show up on my blog page, but on the downside that prevents those who don't have a Google profile from voicing their opinions. For those of you who can comment, have you ever had any trouble doing it the way I have it set up? I am also considering switching back to within-the-blog commenting, because I want to make my blog as accessible as possible. Do you prefer commenting within a blog or on Google+? If any of you have any other suggestions in regards to blog-commenting, please tell me!

To end, I posted this video on my Facebook page but thought I would share the link here as well: It cites an interesting study on reading fiction ... it makes me all that more excited about writing it!

Monday, February 24, 2014

New Release: Remembering the Alamo

Author Alicia A. Willis released her brand-new novella Remembering the Alamo yesterday, the anniversary of the day The Battle of the Alamo began. As a big fan of Miss Willis's historical fiction and as a loyal Texan, I have been waiting eagerly for this!

When Pastor Mark Siegler takes his youth group on a midsummer vacation to San Antonio, he anticipates teaching them about honor and sacrifice at the Alamo. But arrival at the historic landmark brings cutting disillusionment. A troubled teen is determined to make things difficult - and spread his embitterment to the rest of the group.

Mark has two choices: give up or try again. Midst his own discouragement, he decides to give them the story behind the legendary Alamo. And his perseverance results in the unforgettable.

The sweeping events of the Alamo comes to life through the eyes of an 1800's wheelwright named Silas Edwards. As his tale unfolds, his decision becomes a difficult one. Is defending the Alamo so important? Or are the principles behind opposing General Santa Anna worth sacrificing everything for?

Join Private Silas Edwards, David Crockett, William Travis, and Mark's youth group to discover the gripping events behind America's battlecry: “Remember the Alamo!"

Purchase on Amazon

Alicia Willis is a homeschool graduate and avid historian. When not writing or doing endless historical research, she enjoys being a church pianist, teaching music, singing, and playing volleyball. Her other passions include working in her church and spreading the love of Jesus Christ. 
Visit her at her blog here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I grew up with Disney’s versions of these stories and their offshoots, but I never read the books until this year. They were just about my favorite show and even now watching them again would wrap me in a warm wool blanket of nostalgia that makes me too content for words.

Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928) appealed to me, too. The charm, fun, and innocence is there; they are like a humorous, loving, talented father’s gift to his little son and it’s a treat to listen in on them. I felt close to A. A. Milne, his son Christopher Robin, and even his wife (because he dedicated the first book to her with a sweet poem!) because these stories seemed a family affair. I didn’t like them just because I liked the shows as a kid, though it certainly set me off in the right direction!

File:The original Winnie the Pooh toys.jpg
wikimedia commons, the originals. Rabbit and Owl weren't based on toys.

I expected them to be enjoyable, but I wasn’t prepared for the ultimate reasons why. The stories are insightful. The characters are simplified depictions of human nature and personality, and as such are shown in their sharpest, funniest light. They are simple creatures – the little boy Christopher Robin is the loved and respected leader and the most knowledgeable of the Hundred Acre Wood residents – and they get themselves into silly, sometimes nonsensical scrapes, but A. A. Milne’s wry humor and clever observations frequently made me laugh and, if my mom was nearby, say, “Listen to this …!”

A. A. Milne wrote humor, poems, plays, novels … he didn’t like to be tied to any one writing field. I found this thorough biography sketch, Who Was Alan Alexander Milne?, which I recommend if you have time! Here is one statement about his writing for children that I thought summed him up well: “It was Alan’s very strength as a writer, however – virtue combined with whimsy – that made him a superb children’s author in due time. Another factor that did so was Alan’s unsentimental yet keenly observant attitude toward children, their thoughts and behavior; still another was his keen memory of his own childhood. It helped greatly as well that he had a living example in his own house on which to draw ….”

File:Christopher Robin Milne.jpg
wikimedia commons, A. A. Milne and Christopher Robin

Well, I didn’t do this subject justice, but I’ve always believed the work speaks for itself. Here are a few favorite lines!

Rabbit: “Did you make that song up?”
“Well, I sort of made it up,” said Pooh. “It isn’t Brain,” he went on humbly, “because You Know Why, Rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes.”
“Ah!” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went and fetched them. “Well, the point is, have you seen a Spotted or Herbaceous Backson in the Forest, at all?”

“But it isn’t Easy,” said Pooh to himself, as he looked at what had once been Owl’s House. “Because Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

It was going to be one of Rabbit’s busy days. As soon as he woke up he felt important, as if everything depended upon him. It was just the day for Organizing Something, or for Writing a Notice Signed Rabbit, or for Seeing What Everybody Else Thought About It.

I thought,” said Piglet earnestly, “that if Eeyore stood at the bottom of the tree, and if Pooh stood on Eeyore’s back, and if I stood on Pooh’s shoulders –”
“And if Eeyore’s back snapped suddenly, then we could all laugh. Ha ha! Amusing in a quiet way,” said Eeyore, “but not really helpful.”
“Well,” said Piglet meekly, “I thought –”
“Would it break your back, Eeyore?” asked Pooh, very much surprised.
“That’s what would be so interesting, Pooh. Not being quite sure till afterwards.”

Tigger took a large mouthful of honey … and he looked up at the ceiling with his head on one side, and made exploring noises with his tongue and considering noises, and what-have-we-got-here noises … and then he said in a very decided voice:
“Tiggers don’t like honey.”
“Oh!” said Pooh, and tried to make it sound Sad and Regretful. “I thought they liked everything.”
“Everything except honey,” said Tigger.
Pooh felt rather pleased about this, and said that, as soon as he had finished his own breakfast, he would take Tigger round to Piglet’s house, and Tigger could try some of Piglet’s haycorns.
“Thank you, Pooh,” said Tigger, “because haycorns is really what Tiggers like best.”

They had got a rope and were pulling Owl’s chairs and pictures and things out of his old house so as to be ready to put them into his new one. Kanga was down below tying the things on, and calling out to Owl, “You won’t want this dirty old dish-cloth any more, will you, and what about this carpet, it’s all in holes,” and Owl was calling back indignantly, “Of course I do! It’s just a question of arranging the furniture properly, and it isn’t a dish-cloth, it’s my shawl.” Every now and then Roo fell in and came back on the rope with the next article, which flustered Kanga a little because she never knew where to look for him. So she got cross with Owl and said that his house was a Disgrace, all damp and dirty, and it was quite time it did tumble down. Look at that horrid bunch of toadstools growing out of the floor there! So Owl looked down, a little surprised because he didn’t know about this, and then gave a short sarcastic laugh, and explained that that was his sponge, and that if people didn’t know a perfectly ordinary bath-sponge when they saw it, things were coming to a pretty pass. “Well!” said Kanga, and Roo fell in quickly, crying, “I must see Owl’s sponge! Oh, there it is! Oh, Owl! Owl, it isn’t a sponge, it’s a spudge! Do you know what a spudge is, Owl? It’s when your sponge gets all –” and Kanga said, “Roo, dear!” very quickly, because that’s not that way to talk to anybody who can spell TUESDAY.

So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this! Who's your favorite character? I always had a soft spot for Eeyore and Tigger in the movies, but now I can't decide who I like best.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Pinterest Board

File:Merry Go Round Riverview Park Chicago 1906.JPG

This week I unleashed myself on Pinterest and collected inspiration for The Alice Quest. So as not to make people wonder what I mean by titling a board “The Alice Quest,” I call it “1900-1910” because those are the years I’m looking at. Lovely gowns splash the board with color, and equally captivating and helpful are black-and-white slice-of-life photos taken from those years. I’ve also begun to add portraits, objects, and books. Here is the link in case you’re interested in that time period and want to see what caught my eye:

The yellow silk promenade dress near the bottom and the girl with the bicycle toward the middle have provided direct inspiration for the story! It amazes me how far photos and paintings go in transporting me into the life of my fictional world. I don’t always use them, but when I do I find that they really stimulate me – looking at an inspiring image sometimes gives me the push I need to write the next bit of a story.

Are images and music indispensable to you when you write?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Has Interested Me Lately

I have materials for a typical blog post, but as I didn’t have time to assemble it for today, I wanted to take this opportunity to put some other goodies out there that might interest you:

First of all, there is a new Christian girls’ e-newsletter called “Girls of God’s Grace” done by a sweet young lady, Kayla M. It’s targeted for 10-16-year-olds but I think it will be very neat, myself! It will include “encouraging news, the girls doing great things column, Bible verses, suggested Bible reading challenges, prayer requests, quotes and maybe book suggestions and interviews with Christian authors!” (from website). If you are that age or know anyone who is, learn more here.

This is an oddly encouraging article called “Most Books Don’t Sell” that really speaks to me and perhaps to other authors and even people in general, whatever their pursuit might be. It proffers the vital advice that our happiness and contentment depends on our attitude!

Lastly, this article, “The 10 Different Types of Humor,” I found when I was in a character development slump. I had two characters who I knew both have a sense of humor, but, being quite unlike each other, they needed two different ways of expressing it. I don’t have a highly-developed sense of humor myself, so I needed help, and a search on the internet brought this up on a website about dating. It’s very interesting! I quickly found my characters’ styles and personally identified most with “bonding in the moment” humor. What type of humor do you have?

What has really interested me lately, though, is The Alice Quest, my work in progress. I’m really in love with it now; I’ve gotten past some snags and I think it will swim along relatively smoothly. 23,000 words!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Three Literary Birthdays

Three great authors have birthdays today and tomorrow!
File:Laura Ingalls Wilder.jpg 
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder: February 7th, 1867 – February 10th, 1957). Today would be her 147th birthday. I’m sure most of us are very familiar with this beloved author, especially because the books that made us fall in love with her are about her life growing up in a pioneer family. My mom read the nine Little House books to me and I did a unit study when I was 11-13 years old. I’ve only read Farmer Boy since then, so they are long overdue for a reread, but I still remember many characters and situations. I was privileged to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home area in De Smet, South Dakota, and wrote three blog posts about it.
She was born in the “Big Woods” of Wisconsin and throughout her life lived in Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Florida, before dying on her farm in the Missouri Ozarks at the age of 90. She lived one of those lives that begged to be memorialized in stories, and her only daughter Rose, a talented writer as well, encouraged her to write her fictionalized autobiographies. Laura’s other writings include a regular newspaper column and a few other nonfiction works.
Here’s a passage I pulled out at random; it’s a good example of what I enjoy about her writing:
“There was nothing more that a house could possibly have. The glass windows made the inside of that house so light that you would hardly know you were in a house. It smelled clean and piny, from the yellow-new board walls and floor. The cook stove stood lordly in the corner by the lean-to door. A touch on the white-china door knob swung the boughten door on its boughten hinges, and the door knob’s little iron tongue clicked and held the door shut.
‘We’ll move in, tomorrow morning,” Pa said. “This is the last night we’ll sleep in a dugout.’”
On the Banks of Plum Creek
File:Charles Dickens - Project Gutenberg eText 13103.jpg 
Charles John Huffam Dickens: February 7th, 1812 – June 9, 1870. Today would be his 202nd birthday! Wow, it’s hard to know where to start with his life. First of all, he was born in southern England and lived there for most of his life, including London. I think we’re all familiar with his writings and what made his career so great. He was prolific and brilliant, and many of his stories and characters are well-known even by people who haven’t read them – like me! Yes, I admit with a sheepish grin, although I really, really like his style, I have only read A Tale of Two Cities. But it was pretty amazing so I will get around to reading more. I will!
He wrote mostly about his contemporary Victorian England. Here is how wikipedia summarizes his bibliography: “Charles Dickens published over a dozen major novels, a large number of short stories (including a number of Christmas-themed stories), a handful of plays, and several non-fiction books. Dickens’s novels were initially serialised in weekly and monthly magazines, then reprinted in standard book formats.”
I’m going to pull another random passage; it has to be from A Tale of Two Cities or else I may get distracted by reading a new book …:
“A wonderful corner for echoes, it has been remarked, that corner where the Doctor lived. Ever busily winding the gold thread which bound her husband, and her father, and herself, and her old directress and companion, in a life of quiet bliss, Lucie sat in the still house in the tranquilly resounding corner, listening to the echoing footsteps of years.”
File:FĂ©lix Nadar 1820-1910 portraits Jules Verne.jpg 
Jules Gabriel Verne: February 8, 1828 – March 24, 1905. Today would be his 186th birthday. He was born on the Loire River in France and is primarily known for his science-fiction works, of which genre he was more-or-less the inventor. I’ve read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – good mostly because of Captain Nemo – and Around the World in Eighty Days – which I found much more fascinating. (The ending was absolutely spectacular … one of the best endings ever … if you’ve read it, do you agree?) I hope to read Journey to the Center of the Earth before all is said and done.
Here’s the first passage from Around the World in Eighty Days:
“Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814. He was one of the most noticeable members of the Reform Club, though he seemed always to avoid attracting attention; an enigmatical personage, about whom little was known, except that he was a polished man of the world. People said that he resembled Byron, – at least that his head was Byronic; but he was a bearded, tranquil Byron, who might live on a thousand years without growing old.”

What do you think of any or all of these authors? Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Snippets of February

It’s Snippets of Story time! Here are a few of my favorite passages of what I wrote in January. They’re all from The Wise- and Light-Hearted … click on the title for the synopsis!

Felicia Dawson, fifteen years old, was a delightful girl by Lucy’s standards. She was small and fairy-like; her hair was the color of gold. She laughed as much as she talked and was always in good humor. She loved poetry, novels, and music, and though not expertly accomplished, warmly admired the skills of other young ladies, including Lucy. She was a great friend to her younger siblings.
I really enjoy this new character.

As at the very genesis of the holiday plan, Aunt Abigail was as pleased and excited by the new-fangled fashion of her clothes as with anything else about their trip. She had chosen white French cambric for her dress and embellished it with lace and flounces wherever tasteful; it ended at her ankles, for she was determined to experiment with a shorter hem. She wore shoes now, but her maid carried a basket that held delightfully soft sandals for her and Lucy as well as their bathing costumes.
At Lyme-Regis.

Sophia, always one to defer pleasure, allowed Lucy to go before her, so as soon as Rachel was helped into the bathing machine, into the sea plunged Lucy.
She felt as if she were floating in a cold, wet blast of wind before the dipper’s strong arms took hold of her. The sea sent its waves rushing against her with vigor; it threw one at the back of her head and water streamed into her face. It was like an uncontained, fathomless bath; it was freedom, a delightful terror. The salt stung her eyes and her lips.
“It’s a bit rough today, m’dear,” the dipper said. “Are you ready?”
“Quite, ma’am!” Lucy clapped her hand over her nose and mouth.
Under she went. Cold! Under again. Like a hood of ice. Under a third time. Oh, the glorious wetness, the infinite water that enveloped her.

At Lyme-Regis. This is more or less how proper Georgian and Regency era folks experienced the ocean, with a bathing machine – an enclosed wagon to take them into the water – and a dipper – a person who held onto them and dipped them under the water.

wikimedia commons. Bathing machines were used in the Victorian era, too.

Sophia and Philip had a wonderful time. The guide was humorous and respectful; they were practically alone in nature more wild than they were accustomed to; the sea was ever rushing, the wind ever blowing, the birds ever calling, the thrill of discovery ever titillating. Philip found a large, splendid ammonite, which the guide said people might call a snake-stone; it looked like a ridged ram’s horn curled around and around into a tight circle.
Sophia and Philip Edwards searching for fossils at Lyme-Regis.

“Mr. Chapman, you shall not stay here with me and miss out on the dancing, will you?” Lucy asked. “I can’t have that.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“As much as I should adore your company, I can’t have you missing any of this fun. You know it isn’t polite to dance with only your own acquaintance when you have been introduced to more. Look at those three young ladies looking so glum, there in the corner. Go get Arthur and Philip and rescue them. I know the heart of a young lady, and it’s the worst thing in the world to not get asked to dance.”
“I hope they don’t think anything of it.”
“I have met them, and they aren’t silly in the least.”
“All right, I shall go.”
“You are a hero, Mr. Chapman.”

At – you guessed it – a Lyme-Regis public ball. Mr. Chapman is Sophia’s cousin Joseph.