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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The People in the Pages

I hope you had a blessed and meaningful Memorial Day!

Fictional characters, from classical to contemporary, from others to my own (both born and unborn), have been occupying my thoughts. I usually am pondering some aspect of fiction writing off and on throughout the day, and of late that aspect has been the people that are the stories. Today, though, my focus is on favorite characters.

I believe there are many, many ways to do a character “right,” and it varies so much with both the story’s and the character’s purpose and style that we can’t draw strict conclusions about anything except the obvious dos and don’ts. And the obvious are so obvious I won’t go into them here. Besides, every reader likes different kinds of characters, and my set of criteria for a likeable character isn’t going to be the same as yours. But I have noticed a pattern for the characters I call overall favorites. They’re people I admire or identify with or wish I could be like. As such, they’re usually female. Here are examples:
  • Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility and Anne Elliot of Persuasion: strongly principled yet polite and self-sacrificing, capable.
  • Molly Gibson of Wives and Daughters: sweet, principled, selfless.
  • Cora Munro of The Last of the Mohicans: courageous, strong, stoic.
  • Jo March of Little Women: creative, tomboyish, honest (some of her traits I’d like to avoid, but I’ve always appreciated her … sincerity).
  • Cecilia Beverley of Cecilia: intelligent, unassuming, generous.
  • Jane Eyre: intelligent, deep-thinking, unique, principled.
 In general, these ladies have a strong sense of right and wrong, even if they stumble at times. They also can be very brave when called upon. I could also add Rebecca of Ivanhoe, Masouda of The Brethren, and Christy of Christy.

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And then—though this list isn’t exhaustive, either—there are the people I wish I could know:
  • Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice: witty, frank, one of those people whose good opinion is worth having.
  • Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables: open, fun-loving, romantic, talkative, intelligent, deeply literary.
  • David Balfour of Kidnapped: nice, unassuming, relatable, able to be rooted for. (I feel, though, that Alan Breck Stewart is a necessity to set him off; therefore they come as a pair.)
  • Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey: ironic but kind and attentive.
  • Miss Alice of Christy: a wealth of wisdom and experience.
  • Margaret Hale of North and South: relentlessly searching for the right of a matter, fearless, someone who seeks out friends.
  • Daniel Deronda: gentle, considerate, seeking, principled.
These people run the gamut of personality types!


Not all of the books I’ve read have contained definite favorites; sometimes I enjoy several characters equally. I’ve noticed this especially as I got older. Is that a sign of maturity on my part? As you get older, you tend to better tolerate different personality types and appreciate what each one has to offer. For instance, I’m reading Mansfield Park. When I read it the first time, I leaned decidedly toward the protagonists Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price as favorite characters. But this second read-through a few years later has me taking greater interest in Henry and Mary Crawford. I enjoy reading about them just as much as the other two and I’m fascinated with trying to figure out their personalities. I don’t admire them, but their complexity interests me. Books like A Tale of Two Cities and Silas Marner have me watching the whole cast with interest as their diverse personalities and goals interact.

Who are your favorite characters? What defines them? Do you like them because they’re unlikely heroes? Virtuous? Funny? Complicated? Endearing? Courageous?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Exhilarating History

I’ve been getting to know the decades between 1898 and 1920 in America … and my goodness, were they dramatic! From the Spanish-American War in 1898 to national women’s suffrage in 1920, the years were packed with inventions, controversy, disasters, political movements, and economic gains. For the most part it was an exciting time to be alive. Some people’s lives were better than before, others had it worse, but change was in the works.

The Spanish-American War is fascinating because it gave form to imperialism (the belief in and practice of empire-building) in America, which also launched us into world politics. America hadn’t had a proper war with outsiders since the War of 1812 with Britain. In 1898, the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines from Spain and also annexed Hawaii. This empire stretched nearly halfway across the world! That really troubled some people because ruling over other countries, without making them equal, seemed antagonistic to the sacred belief in liberty and democracy.

Theodore Roosevelt became a war hero and governor of New York in 1898, vice president to William McKinley in 1900, and president in 1901. I think you all remember from your history books what a vibrant character he was! “The Hero of San Juan Hill,” “The Lion,” “The Trust Buster” … an energetic, compelling man, he pushed America toward becoming a world power. He also expanded the control of the government in domestic affairs; from the 1890s huge monopolies had come together and were abusing consumers, so he enacted laws to stop that. Have you heard of the novel The Jungle by Upton Sinclair? I haven’t read it, but I’ve read about it. Apparently it was one of those novels, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that created awareness and transformed public attitude. This time it was about the plight of workers in places like the Chicago stockyards and the terrible things that could be in processed foods. Roosevelt was profoundly affected and sent out investigators, which soon produced new safety regulations.


Roosevelt was president until 1909. He had a lively young family of six children, and his life and their lives were definitely the stuff of books and movies. The American people either loved him or hated him; sometimes both.

Wow, what can we talk about next? The Wright brothers’ 1903 flight, the first time a craft flew through the air with nothing to rely on but its own propulsion? The huge 1906 San Francisco earthquake? (By the way, one of my favorite series, American Girl’s History Mysteries, provided a very good story about that for younger readers; it’s called The Strange Case of Baby H.) The peak of European immigration in 1907 and the growth of cities? The deadly 1911 fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, which helped reform labor laws and practices? And then you get into the Titanic in 1912; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the years of World War One from 1914 to 1918; America’s reaction to the War and their participation from 1917–1918; and the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918 that crippled whole American towns and snuffed out twice as many lives as the Great War. (That epidemic really holds my interest because my grandma was born in Chicago in 1918; I wonder how it affected her family’s lives.)


So much went on during these two decades that, if you’re interested at all, history books about them are inevitably exciting. My favorite so far is from the American History by Era series, called The Age of Reform and Industrialization, 1896–1920. It contains primary sources and expert secondary sources about a whole slew of subjects and events. And something else I’ve been discovering about historical research is that not only are firsthand accounts more reliable, they’re also more fun to read. The authors lived the action, after all; to them, it wasn’t history to be studied, but life lived. No one (except a novelist) can quite convey the horror of the San Francisco earthquake or the shirtwaist factory fire like the person who was there. History is, partly, one long string of stories that teach us, entertain us, and even deepen our walk with God.

While the Regency still remains my favorite historical time period, the early twentieth century is becoming another favorite … I really enjoy aspects of the Victorian era in England, too … and then there’s pioneer America during the same decades …. What about you?! I’d love to know what your favorite time periods are!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Library Visit

Many of you can identify with the following story, I’m sure, and perhaps feel even more passionate about the subject than I do. It’s been a few years since I’ve been a habitual visitor to my local library. With my schedule it’s hard to get to the next town, and thus easier to ask my mom to go for me on her weekly trip and pick up what I’ve requested. That’s in contrast to my younger years when I would add my finds from the children’s section to the stacks coming home with us on a regular basis. But I love libraries just as much as I did before, if not more, now that I can comprehend their full value. A greater number of books are available to me now, too, more than what can be found in the children’s and the nonfiction craft section (under dollhouses). My appreciation has grown with my knowledge of the world. Big rooms of books are still some of my favorite places to be.

The two main libraries I use are modern as far as libraries go. One is in a strip center and the other is in a rectangular, mid-twentieth-century building that’s rather nondescript. Inside they’re roomy, with dark carpet, dark ceilings, and big shelves that look like they could hold more books. The Central Library is the more striking of the two. It has large glass windows in all its outside walls, giving its rooms lovely natural light; it also has an expansive basement area that could be creepy if there wasn’t a librarian at a desk right in the center. In the children’s section there are, of course, lots of books on low shelves, a large play area, and a humongous, brown rabbit in a cage—the library pet. (I don’t know his name.) When I was younger, I remember there being hamsters, who were quite a bit livelier.


And now for the library experience in general. Although the convenience of finding specific titles that you’ve been wanting to read, without having to buy them, is wonderful, what may be more wonderful is going there not knowing what you’re looking for, other than a subject or two, and browsing and plucking until your arms are full. The feast of words and knowledge spread between the covers tantalizes you, and you can’t wait to dig in. You feel a small triumph as you walk past the computers where the majority of other library visitors sit (not that you think anything is wrong with using library computers! It’s just interesting that you see more people using the computers than perusing the shelves). You’re going to have a tangible appointment with words, not a digital one.

You’ve decided which books are coming home with you, you check them out, load them in the car, set them by your desk at home, and then enjoy them for three weeks … at the end of which you find you want to keep them longer. You renew them easily and lengthen their stay another three weeks for a pleasant extended vacation that gives you plenty of time to soak in their information, enjoy their story, or take notes (unless it’s a novel like Don Quixote, in which case you return it after six weeks, take a break, and check it out for another three weeks-into-six weeks).


Two weeks ago that was my experience when I visited the Central Library and took out five history books. Out of the dozens on their topics, they appeared to be the best for my current research project, which is the first few decades of twentieth-century America and east-southeast Texas in particular. The historical portion of The Alice Quest called for such research, and I enjoy every passage, even if it’s not directly related to my story. Just the ambiance of the time period is helpful and inspiring. What I learned is a subject for another blog post. And you know what? Most, if not all, of these books I plan to keep with me for three more weeks.

Do you frequent your local library? 

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Grand Writers' Meeting

This Wednesday was a wonderful day. I got to meet with nine other young women for lunch at a bright and airy restaurant across from a beautiful courthouse. All of us are writers, published and non-published, with an equal passion for books—and pleasing God. Over our food, we talked, among other things, about favorite books, movies, songs, and our own story characters before continuing the lively discussion in a nearby park. The weather was perfect! We spent almost four hours together. The interaction of our ten different personalities as they got to know one another was fun and stimulating.

I love these photos:

You see here J. Grace Pennington, me, and Sarah Holman. I haven’t read Grace’s books, though hopefully I will someday because they sound intriguing, and I really enjoyed the works of Sarah’s that I’ve read.

There is no doubt that writers inspire other writers. I don’t know if it’s creativity osmosis or not, but I found that we didn’t even have to talk much about our stories or the work of writing for me to feel recharged and excited to sit down and write several hundred words after I got home.

P.S. Besides the creativity juice, I also gained a desire to see The Avengers—it seems everyone loved that movie but me, because I haven’t watched it yet! Have you seen it? What do you think of it?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Trip to England

It’s looming nearer. In less than four months, Lord willing, I will be in England as part of a tour led by Jennie Chancey of Sense & Sensibility Patterns! It’s called the Historical Costume Tour and runs this year from September 7 –14. We will be visiting costume museums, touring towns and villages like Bath and Hay-on-Wye, and dressing up in both Regency gowns (for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath) and Titanic-era (for a themed dinner in Manchester). And, you know what? It really isn’t too late to join us! May 31 is the deadline. (I say that, wishing really hard that someone reading this can join us!)

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This tour has been a dream of mine for about five years, ever since I heard of it, and a friend went on it. I wrote my second novel, England Adventure, the upcoming sequel of Family Reunion, with this tour in mind. If I went on a tour to England, I thought, this Jane Austen tour would be the one. But since I couldn’t send Marielle and her cousins on that exact trip, I had fun researching and tailoring their personal circuit as led by their grandparents’ good friends the Endicotts.

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For the real tour, all I needed was a companion, and one of my best friends jumped at the idea. We’ll be going a few days ahead and staying a couple days afterward to see London and—I hope, I hope, I hope!—Chawton, Jane Austen’s home village. It’s so much fun to plan this trip together … it reminds me quite a bit of how I planned Marielle and her cousins’ trip for my novel. Speaking of which, I look forward to fact-checking while I’m there. It’s been another dream of mine to actually go to a location and research it for the purpose of writing a story. And so, as long as all goes as planned (and we know that circumstances can arise over which we have no control … but God is in control), I will be able to do that.

Do you like writing about the places you go? Or is there a location that you have dreamed of visiting? How about a country that inspires a story in you?

Friday, May 9, 2014

22 More Questions

On the day I posted my Sunflower Award, I was nominated for the “Liebster Award” by Rachel H. at CherriesandTrees. (Thank you, Rachel! It was fun to read your answers to the questions you received as well!) With the Liebster Award, basically all you have to do is answer the 11 questions the nominator provided (and nominate 11 others to answer 11 questions you asked … but I already posted my 11 questions on April 29, so I’ll just answer Rachel’s stimulating questions today). 

Here goes:
1. Favorite place to eat?
Home, actually. I have about three favorite restaurants—Panera Bread, Souper! Salad!, and Jason’s Deli, but they all have their drawbacks and I don’t get as much pleasure from their food as I do homemade meals.
2. Do you like Shakespeare? Why or why not?
I do like Shakespeare, for the most part. I haven’t read too many of his works, and the ones I have read went over my head occasionally, but I recognize his genius with words, characters, and storylines. He wrote some very breathtaking lines!
3. Apple or PC?
PC. I’ve never used an Apple, but it scares me because it seems so different from a PC. Once I latch on to one piece of technology I’m loathe to spend the time tying myself in knots trying to learn how something else works.
4. What is one thing you love about yourself?
My red hair. : )
5. What's the craziest thing you've ever eaten?
Rattlesnake. It was pretty much like sausage.
6. What are 3 skills you wish you had? 
Talking with anyone and making them feel valued. 
Drawing realistically with very little effort. 
Writing two novels per year.
7. Favorite movie?
There are a few … I think I’ll go with Fiddler on the Roof.
8. Best winter memory?
I think it must be whenever I was little and it snowed. In Texas, nothing beats waking up when you’re eight years old to the rare sight of a white world! So many novel diversions await you … crunching out footprints in the snow, building snowmen, throwing snowballs at the dogs, marveling over the transformation.
9. Would you go skydiving with me?
Yes, I would, actually. I wouldn’t go alone, but with someone who’s brave enough, I think it’d be really fun! Thanks for inviting me. ; )
10. If you could say 10 words or less to Elvis, what would you say?
I really don’t know what I would say to Elvis. I am only barely acquainted with him. Maybe … um … “Reevaluate your priorities. Life doesn’t last on earth forever.” (That’s what I would say to a lot of people.)
11. What's one of the best things about being alive?  
Having a relationship with the Lord!

And then, out of a suggestion that I provide answers to my own questions that I asked on April 29, here are 11 more:

1. What’s your favorite color and why?
Light blue. It’s calm, dreamy, and cheering in a quiet, gentle way. It’s timeless and never goes out of fashion.
2. What’s your favorite historical time period and why?
I shall go with the English Regency (early 1800s). The dresses were relatively easy and comfortable, things were beginning to improve in society, and politeness and manners were at least supposed to be upheld. They made beautiful houses and products.
3. If you had the choice between being able to read every book you’ve ever wanted to read and going back to any one historical time you wish for as long as you wished, which would you pick?
I knew this would be a hard question; that’s why I asked it! Despite the fun of experiencing every story, real and fictional, I’ve ever wanted to, I would be utterly thrilled to go back in time to … um … wow, I don’t know what to pick! Probably the Regency. Whenever and wherever I’d go, I’d write a book about it while I was there. : )
4. What are three activities that you do just because you love to?
I’ll go beyond the obvious (writing, reading) and say playing piano, making cards, and practicing martial arts techniques.
5. What are your favorite things about each season (assuming you can find something!)?
Winter: no sweltering heat. Spring: flowers! Summer: Camp Yeshua. Fall: the nip in the air that makes me feel fresh and revitalized.
6. What is your favorite genre of movie?
Haha, when I asked this question I didn’t think I’d be answering it … I think I’ll go with epic adventure. But really, my favorite movies run the gamut.
7. What’s your favorite smell?
Vanilla. Different versions of vanilla exist, and they’re not all equal; real vanilla is the best.
8. What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
Don’t laugh – Barbie dolls. My favorites were the kids. There was a sizeable family (seven kids) that had a house which I filled with every miniature I could find. They had all sorts of adventures, modern day to fantasy, and I still remember every doll’s name.
9. Do you like classical music?
Love it. I listen to it all day.
10. What’s your favorite instrument to listen to?
The cello is very nice … but the harp wins out for me.
11. Who’s your favorite Bible character?
Besides Yeshua/Jesus, Esther. I also really like David and Mary, Yeshua’s mother.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Israel Independence Day

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(This is an edited repost from last year.)

Happy Independence Day! Israel Independence Day, that is. In Hebrew you’d hear Yom Ha’atzmaut. It is celebrated on Tuesday, May 6 this year, although yesterday was the real date: Iyar 5 on the Hebrew calendar. (It shifts about on the Gregorian calendar.) The day before, Iyar 4, was Yom Hazikaron, or Israel Remembrance Day. These two days were observed one day later this year because Israel readjusts its national holidays if they fall on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

In 1948, the year Palestine became the independent state of Israel, Iyar 5 was May 14 when the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was made. Here is a link to the text. Yom Hazikaron was placed on the previous day, beginning in 1951, to remind citizens of the soldiers who died so that Israel could be free and remain free.

Yom Ha’atzmaut is significant because Israel’s modern reestablishment was a huge, neon sign in the fulfillment of biblical prophecies about Israel’s return to the land that God promised them. The soil of the land called Palestine once again became Israel’s possession:

“And I shall turn back the captivity of My people Israel. And they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them. And they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them, and shall make gardens and eat their fruit. And I shall plant them on their own soil, and not uproot them any more from their own soil I have given them,” said the Lord your God. (Amos 9:14-15)

This is exactly what has happened! Before the Jews returned to their land, it was a desert. But since their return, they have “made the deserts bloom” as the Declaration says. When the land became their own again, a timeline began that will culminate in Yeshua/Jesus’ return! The Jews who live there now are only the beginning of the complete fulfillment of return. Isaiah 11 describes how Yeshua is instrumental in the return of all the people to their ancestral heritage. He will be their King, and the King of all the world, at long last.

“And so all Israel shall be saved, as it has been written, ‘The Deliverer shall come out of Zion, and He shall turn away wickedness from Jacob, and this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.’” (Romans 11:26-27, quoting Isaiah 59:20-21)

Israel’s return to the land they were torn from millennia ago is a sign that God exists and is still involved in the world. It’s a sign that He keeps His promises. It’s a sign that we will someday see Yeshua/Jesus face to face!