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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

News Plus Links

Without further ado …

My website is up! I am happy enough with it to share the link, though I will continue to tweak and update here and there; as you’ll see, the library page could use more books.

Speaking of websites, I have two others to share with you! My brother and sister-in-law now have a blog and a website: Jamieson Bryant’s blog is called Disciple Hub. Ever since he was a teenager, he has had a deep love for the Bible and an intense focus on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. He is now putting those years of study and relationship with the Lord into words that can challenge and encourage all of us. Jessica Bryant has a website (J. K. Bryant Books) and—more significantly—has recently published three picture books! Two for children and one of wedding memories. The children’s books are two precious poems that she wrote, accompanied by lovely pictures. The wedding one is about the vows made at the ceremony, illustrated by photos of her and my brother’s wedding.

Can you tell I’m proud of them? : )

My third bit of news is that I’ve officially started the third Six Cousins book. This is very exciting for me, because for years I’ve wondered what the story will be about, and now enough has come to me to get started. I give you this peek: It picks up on Marielle’s life ten years after the second book. She is almost twenty-four. And … there is a young man. Following up on this, I’d like to ask a sort of poll question: What two occupations do you think are the most interesting? I’m asking for Marielle’s brothers Garrison and Benjamin. Publishing and working at a library are already taken for this story, I’m afraid; thus I want these boys—now strapping young men—to be going into something else interesting and meaningful. They’re bright and open to almost anything!

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour


I’ve seen the “writing process blog tour” going round the blogosphere and it was so interesting to read about all the different writers’ work. Many thanks to Elizabeth Kaiser of E. Kaiser Writes-A-Blog for tagging me! I’m excited to join in. I’d like to tag whomever wants to do this—I would love to hear these answers from any of you!

1. What are you working on?
I’m working on what I currently call The Alice Quest. I like the title, so as long as it continues to stick with the story, I’ll keep it (so far, so good). It’s a historical mystery and a fractured novel, set mostly in the present day with Amy Brown as the point-of-view character, with occasional excursions to Alice Prescott’s day and age to see things from her perspective. Amy is trying to help her grandmother discover what happened to Alice after she disappeared from her home in Oak Park, a town on the edge of Chicago, in 1906. Alice was Tabitha Brown’s great-aunt, and the mystery has haunted the generations of Tabitha’s family for over a hundred years.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Well … this is a good question, and the answer is one that editors want to know when you submit your query letter to them. But I’ve never been very good at answering it. I can only think of two books I’ve read that are a mystery split between the present and the past, and there were differences enough between them and mine. Mine might differ from the majority of this genre because of its focus on a conservative homeschool family. Traveling plays a large role in my story, which I don’t think is true to all others of its genre, either. I think that’s what distinguishes all my contemporary novels … they’re longish, show an appreciation for the past, and explore the characters of homeschooling families.

3. Why do you write what you write?
Although I hope to publish straight historical fiction someday, I write contemporary fiction today because the present is what I know, and I’m very exacting of myself when it comes to accuracy. I also like uniqueness and filling in gaps; there aren’t nearly enough books about contemporary homeschooling families. Reading about something you’re halfway familiar with is comforting, and seeing how heroic and interesting homeschoolers are is encouraging to us, I know! I like showing that our contemporary life has all the potential of a book life (within reason, of course!).

Download / By Carli Jean Miller

4. How does your writing process work?
Well, I’ll start with the beginning, because I’m a very sequential person and so that’s the best place for me to start; otherwise I’ll get muddled. Hmm. Hopefully this will be halfway interesting.

Somehow an idea will get sparked in my mind, from a dream or from something I’ve always liked (such as England, Israel, dolphins, antiques, genealogy, martial arts) and I’ll think about it for months or years before I write anything down. When I’m ready, I’ll feed and water it by asking who, what, where, when, etc. Then I record it in either a notebook or a computer document and make character sketches. When I have characters, that’s when I know I have a story. They call to me to write their tale. I go on developing from there—how long depends on the story—and just when I start to feel I’m getting bogged down in details, I start writing. When that happens is a very good hour. I write, develop more details off-manuscript, plan two or three scenes ahead of where I’m writing, and at varying times, when I feel like it, I pull back and look at the story as a whole and make sure I’m going in the right direction. If needed, I add or fill in more sub-themes. I like trying to see an overarching woven pattern. My actual typing process is slow; I edit as I go because I can’t stand the thought of leaving a mess behind me (I’m like that in physical life, too—I prefer keeping things clean as I go) and on good days I write a page of type; on super good days I write 1,000 words or more. “Deliberate” is probably a good word to describe my writing process. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it; that I’m doing something wrong because it takes me a while or because my imagination doesn’t always outrun my words, but this is the process I always fall back on, so it must be mine to keep. I have much to learn yet, and hopefully will improve overall, but we must all remember that each writer is different. So, if your process works for you, don’t feel bad that you don’t craft your stories like other people do! God made us all different, and each story needs a different way of telling it.

Ahem. That was a very, very long paragraph and then I got to preaching at the end, so I’d better finish up before I type another fat paragraph. After I sense that I’ve written the end of the story, I let it sit for several weeks before I go back and edit. That’s easier and almost as much fun as the writing of it! After that comes beta readers … and you know the rest.

If you don’t want to do the whole questionnaire, maybe you’d like to answer one or two of the questions in the comments below! Don’t forget, this can include nonfiction!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

May/June Snippets

It’s time for snippets, thanks to Katie Sabelko of The Whispering Pen and her Snippets of Story. Mine will all be from The Alice Quest this month. I am 56,000 words into it, which makes me very happy because it is at last officially novel-length. It’s hard for me to say how far along I am; my guess is halfway, but you know how plots can expand and contract at will.

Pulling out snippets from a mystery is somewhat difficult, since I don’t want to give anything away, but since each one is so short, it’s quite possible they’ll leave you even more mystified. First, the plot synopsis, in case you don't know: Amy, a homeschool graduate, is determined to help her grandmother discover what happened to Alice Prescott, a great aunt who disappeared over a century ago.

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It was 8:30, and Amy was starving; Lisa and Grandma had eaten on the road. Lisa avoided her once in the house. They told their adventures in separate rooms—Amy claimed the kitchen so she could fix a salad and warm the leftovers from the family’s supper for herself. After that, her royal-blue bed tempted her, body and soul; Simpkin didn’t help by being curled up on top in a big, cozy ball.
“Many thanks, Simpkin. You’re not even lively or loyal enough to greet me after I’ve been gone all day.” Amy stood, crossing her arms and staring groggily at Simpkin as he yawned like a lion and tucked his head back down after she entered. “Just for that I should hustle you off and deposit you outside. I bet you haven’t been out at all today.”
Now what? Genealogical records, that’s what came next. A place name coupled with a person’s name could catapult you into valuable knowledge; it was much more likely than with just a single name.
Well then, time to go help make lunch, if Lisa hadn’t already commandeered the kitchen. Then she [Amy] would put on her teacher’s hat and give Lewis his piano lesson … the boy had skill, if he would siphon some of his energy from sports and computer games (not his reading and history playacting; anything but those) into practicing. Not all his respect and, yes, fear—she was a tough teacher—for his oldest sister would influence him.
Lisa sailed into the room, fluffing out her hair in little quivering motions, like she always did when she was on a hurried, important mission. “Where’s Mom?”
They had expanded Alice’s life story more than Amy had dreamed possible; how could they stop now, especially when this journey may be their last chance to find many of the missing pieces?
Grandma beamed. “I knew you’d come around. Thank heavens I don’t have to drag you with. I was thinking we’d leave tomorrow. We have enough time to—”
“Tomorrow!” Amy and Mom exclaimed, both sitting up ramrod straight.
“No way can I be ready by tomorrow,” Amy declared. The very thought made her queasy.
She needn’t go into overdrive; she could do this. Leave for two weeks in less than forty-eight hours to a destination thousands of miles away; yes, it was possible. She wouldn’t have chosen it, but she was up to the challenge. On top of everything else … well, it would be hard, but she was up to the challenge. For Grandma, for Alice, for her own satisfaction. Alice, maybe I can know you after all, she thought. 

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed them. Are your own projects, be they writing or otherwise, going well?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Mansfield Four

Yes, well, I’m still thinking about Mansfield Park, and this is my promised next post about the “love square” between the four major characters. The other characters are nearly indispensable, of course, but Fanny Price, her cousin Edmund Bertram, and their friends Henry and Mary Crawford are the novel. Their three love stories constitute the outline and fill up the book.

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Here is the praise of a reader in 1814 or 1815 named Lady Gordon: “In most novels you are amused for the time with a set of ideal people whom you never think of afterwards, or whom you the least expect to meet in common life, whereas in Miss A’s works, and especially in Mansfield Park, you actually live with them. You fancy yourself one of the family; and the scenes are so exactly descriptive, so perfectly natural, that there is scarcely an incident or conversation or a person that you are not inclined to imagine you have at one time or other in your life been a witness to, born a part in, and been acquainted with.”

I love that, because it’s so similar to how I feel about all of Jane Austen’s works. Lady Gordon had a point, though, about Mansfield Park being especially realistic. There are some heavy currents beneath the everyday situations that can make us ponder religious sincerity, worldliness, and compromise. Those deep issues seem to be something that everyone deals with at one time or another. We triumph and fail and reap the consequences; our choices in those issues often determine the course of our life, which is just what Fanny, Edmund, Mary, and Henry experienced. Do we choose the spouse, or the best friend, that draws us closer to God and His plan for us? Or do we pick the ones that seem to offer the most excitement? And while we’re asking questions, what is the true source of goodness, of morality? Does only the surface count? Or is a God-transformed heart needed?

Now, back to the book. Whose heart is the first to fall—in love? Actually, it’s Fanny’s. No one suspects it, though. They all think she is the last of the four to fall there. Putting aside the strangeness some modern readers see in a first cousin romance,  Fanny’s love is beautiful. She is steadfast, she wants what Edmund wants, and she encourages him to be a better man. Edmund’s calling as a clergyman has her full approval, and in reading their heart-to-heart conversations, you get the sense that she would make the perfect pastor’s wife.

Edmund is next. He falls for Mary Crawford … and that is really a fall. We almost can’t understand how it happened. She is beautiful but worldly, sweet in the way she interacts so effortlessly with everyone, but flippant about serious matters, especially religious ones. Edmund attributes the flippancy to her upbringing and believes that there is a heart of gold underneath. If she could be trained to think more properly, she would make him a lovely partner. Her lively disposition would complement his serious one.

Edmund’s gentlemanly, upright, peaceful ways eventually make Mary fall for him. She’s never known a man so steady and honorable. He far outshines his older brother, whom she originally thought she would like to marry (because he inherits the estate). But she wants wealth and a house in London. She’s been raised to expect those things. A clergyman? What kind of occupation is that? There is no distinction there. As a result of their divergent values, they go through alternating periods of certainty and uncertainty.

Henry never thought he’d really fall in love and want to marry. He liked making “a little hole” in women’s hearts, but he thought himself safe. Until gaming with Fanny’s heart made him lose his. It’s another case of opposites attracting; he admires her gentleness, purity, and warm affection for her loved ones. He stops at nothing, not even mild deception, to win her approval. Everyone, even Edmund, believes his riches, position, and character are the best thing that could happen to Fanny, whom, you remember, comes from a poor family. Likewise, they think her personality will do him good. But Fanny strongly dislikes him. She’s seen the havoc he’s wreaked with her girl cousins, and so her heart is closed to him. But with his persistent good will, over a few weeks and months, she dislikes him less and less.

Will Edmund compromise his devotion to God’s service and marry a woman who will draw him away from that? Or will Mary change enough to be suitable for Edmund? What about Fanny … her heart is so pure; won’t her desire eventually win out? Maybe it will change? As for Henry, is his improvement superficial only? Will Edmund’s and Fanny’s respective uprightness of character transform the Crawfords if they are united in marriage? Or will the Crawfords drag them down?

The ending events of the novel bring out the final, true characters of the Crawfords, and if you don’t the know the story, you’ll have to wait and see for yourself, because they remain a mystery until then! (I do hate giving away endings.) I welcome any additions to these thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Shavuot – Pentecost

(This is a repost from last year.)
Shavuot, or Pentecost as it’s better known, is today. Some denominations celebrate it, others do not; up until a little while ago, I didn’t celebrate it or know anything about it, really. But now I’m so glad I do.

Shavuot is fifty days after First-fruits, the day soon after Passover when the first fruits of the barley harvest were offered to God in thanksgiving, as well as the resurrection day of Yeshua (Jesus). Leviticus 23:15-16 explains the “omer count”—individuals count each day between the two feast days; this establishes an anticipation-building countdown for Shavuot. Shavuot, the Hebrew name meaning “weeks,” describes that countdown, as does Pentecost, which means fifty.

The Bible doesn’t specifically explain how Shavuot should be celebrated, other than what sacrifices were to be brought to the Temple—animals and the first fruits of the wheat harvest. But there are two major episodes in Scriptural history that we associate with Shavuot.

The first is the giving of the Ten Commandments. This earth-shaking event descended upon Mount Sinai around the time of Shavuot, as recorded in Exodus 19. God had just rescued Israel from Egyptian slavery and He was ready to seal them as His people by bestowing the Ten Commandments on them, which have come to exemplify the moral law that everyone functions under. This was a gift because if God hadn’t “stepped” down onto that desert mountain and given these commandments—an expression of what He Himself is like—we’d be at a loss as to how to live, and how much joy would there be in that?

The second historical event, a further manifestation, happened exactly on Shavuot, in Acts 2. This was the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Yeshua, and it was also a world-shaking event. These men and women were empowered to preach the Gospel as none had ever been before—and if God hadn’t put His power upon them, where would Christians be today?
Are these two events linked? I think so—both enable us to live according to God’s will, for one thing. The commandments tell us what to do (of course, there are other things God wants us to do, but these sum them up) and the Spirit imparts to us the ability to do them. Another interesting comparison is that there is a Jewish tradition that because of the intensity of that great spiritual moment, tongues of fire flickered on the heads of the Israelites gathered around Mount Sinai. Just like the tongues of fire that the book of Acts reports flickered on the heads of the 120 disciples.

So if we think about these great spiritual events, Shavuot does become pretty important!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Mansfield Park Revisited

Rereading a favorite book, especially a Jane Austen, gives me such a comfortable feeling. Since it happens so rarely, I savor it like a cup of spice tea (which, fortunately, comes about much more frequently). I really went all out on Mansfield Park, which I read last month because May 2014 was the 200th anniversary of its publication—I copied passages on characters’ personalities, took notes on Regency life and vocabulary, and read Miniatures and Morals’ chapter on it and answered thought-provoking questions. I still have more to do, but it’s an indulgence, not a task.

Well, this is a literature post. I hope you don’t mind, but instead discover something interesting! Since Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s lesser known novels, I thought a synopsis of the plot and principle characters wouldn’t be amiss. I plan, next post, to get into a deeper subject by considering the love “square” between the heroine Fanny Price, her cousin Edmund Bertram, and their friends, the siblings Henry and Mary Crawford. But for now, here is a synopsis of the story … through Jane Austen’s description of these characters. I love her personality profiles. (I really enjoyed copying out these passages!)

Fanny Price: The 18-year-old protagonist. She has “an affectionate heart and a strong desire of doing right.” When she was ten she came from a poor and crowded home to live with wealthy relatives, the Bertrams, at their magnificent country house, Mansfield Park. She was “small of her age … exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking from notice; but her air, though awkward, was not vulgar, [and] her voice was sweet.” “To her cousins she became occasionally an acceptable companion. Though unworthy, from inferiority of age and strength, to be their constant associate, their pleasures and schemes were sometimes of a nature to make a third very useful, especially when that third was of an obliging, yielding temper….” She grows to be a pretty, intelligent, and high-principled young lady, eager to please and be useful, but still shy and hating to be noticed. She is secretly in love with her cousin Edmund, but he loves her as a sister only. The worldly Henry Crawford becomes attracted to her because of her gentleness and reserve. After seeing her with her long-separated brother William, he “was no longer in doubt of the capabilities of her heart. She had feeling, genuine feeling. It would be something to be loved by such a girl, to excite the first ardours of her young, unsophisticated mind!”

Edmund Bertram: The 24-year-old second son of the Bertram family. As the second son, he must enter a career, because his brother inherits the estate. “[T]he character of Edmund, his strong good sense and uprightness of mind, bid most fairly for utility, honour, and happiness to himself and all his connections. He was to be a clergyman.” He is by far the Bertram the most kind to Fanny. When the Crawfords come into the neighborhood, he falls, rather blindly, in love with the lively, alluring Mary Crawford. To Mary’s surprise, she soon comes to value him, too: “…he was not pleasant by any common rule, he talked no nonsense, he paid no compliments, his opinions were unbending, his attentions tranquil and simple. There was a charm, perhaps, in his sincerity, his steadiness, his integrity….” But is a union with Mary really what God intends for him?

Henry Crawford: He and his sister Mary come to stay with their half-sister Mrs. Grant, who is the wife of Dr. Grant, the reverend at the parsonage near Mansfield Park. The Crawfords soon become intimate friends of the Bertrams. Here is what Maria and Julia Bertram, the daughters, think of him: “[Mary’s] brother was not handsome; no, when they first saw him, he was absolutely plain, black and plain; but still he was the gentleman, with a pleasing address. The second meeting proved him not so very plain; he was plain, to be sure, but then he had so much countenance, and his teeth were so good, and he was so well made, that one soon forgot he was plain; and after a third interview … he was no longer allowed to be called so by any body. He was, in fact, the most agreeable young man the sisters had ever known, and they were equally delighted with him.” “The Miss Bertrams were worth pleasing, and were ready to be pleased; and he began with no object but of making them like him. He did not want them to die of love; but with sense and temper which ought to have made him judge and feel better, he allowed himself great latitude on such points.” Only heartache comes of the flirtation for the sisters, and after it blows over Henry Crawford discovers the merits of Fanny … and falls genuinely in love.

Mary Crawford: With manners “lively and pleasant,” “gifted by nature with strength and courage,” and possessing enough amiability to be considered sweet, Mary is popular with the Bertrams. “Miss Crawford’s beauty did her no disservice with the Miss Bertrams. They were too handsome themselves to dislike any woman for being so too, and were almost as much charmed as their brothers, with her lively dark eye, clear brown complexion, and general prettiness.” But she is flippant about serious matters: “Edmund was sorry to hear Miss Crawford, whom he was much disposed to admire, speak so freely of her uncle. It did not suit his sense of propriety, and he was silenced, till induced by further smiles and liveliness, to put the matter by for the present.” She attracts Edmund, a case of opposites attracting, and he believes she is not different in the essentials and can improve.

Have you read Mansfield Park? Are there any books you just like to sink into, take your time with, reread? Maybe learn more about the author or the world where it was written to heighten your appreciation?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Well, I had really hoped to write a post about Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, which I finished reading May 31, but there was too much to say for me to complete it for today. In fact, it will probably turn into two posts. I had quite a bit of other writing to do as well … so hopefully it will show up on Friday. In the meantime, how about some snippets of what’s going on in my life?

I’ve begun work on a Regency gown. Here is the fabric; the necklace and bracelet are made with green garnets by my friend who’s going on the Historical Costume tour with me:

 It should look somewhat similar to this red gown that I modeled for a seamstress-friend last year:

Sewing a whole dress is a new experience for me. I’ve made a tiered skirt before, a doll dress, pillow covers, and other, even simpler things. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it. Do any of you sew?

A beloved activity of mine is martial arts. I also love teaching, so whenever I’m called upon to teach at my martial arts school, which I have been doing for a few weeks now, I feel busy and fulfilled. Of course, our martial arts is absent of any mysticism; it’s all about agility, self-defense, and a good attitude. I’m a second-degree black belt, and I really desire to keep up the practice until I can no longer move, which hopefully won’t be for decades yet! Basically, I just love being in motion. What is your favorite exercise or sport?

For my final news, I am at work on an author website. It’s so fun to build and design! In fact, I should be working on it now … my goal is to make it presentable as soon as possible. I’ll let you know when it’s finished and ready for viewing! There’ll be a link on my blog.

In short, God is good! I mean that with all possible sincerity. Each day brings more of His faithfulness and kindness to light. I hope you’re having a great week!