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

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Review: The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh

Did you know that Winnie-the-Pooh, the classic children’s book by A.A. Milne, was inspired by a real place you can visit today?

Nature and literature often go hand-in-hand, at least in my mind. Scenery description and a sense of place is one of my favorite aspects of fiction, and I always enjoy learning about the settings of literary works. It makes them that much more real! I didn’t know it before, but the Hundred Acre Wood, the world of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends, was inspired by Ashdown Forest (which contains a portion called the Five Hundred Acre Wood), in East Sussex, way down on the bottom of England. A.A. Milne, his wife, and his son, Christopher Robin, lived on the northern edge for years.

When Christopher Robin was little, A.A. Milne, already professional and prolific, turned his mind to writing children’s stories, and the greatest of these came out of the life of his son. Christopher Robin possessed toy stuffed animals and played and adventured in Ashdown Forest. Episodes and places in the Pooh stories, such as Poohsticks Bridge and the Heffalump Trap, can be traced to actual occurrences in the Forest and at the Milnes’ home, Cotchford Farm.


I learned all this from Kathryn Aalto, the author of The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring the Real Landscapes of the Hundred Acre Wood. This delightfully written book caters especially to nostalgic Winnie-the-Pooh fans. It includes a fascinating look into the lives of A.A. Milne and illustrator E. H. Shepard, plenty of excerpts and illustrations from Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, beautiful photographs, and a grand tour of Ashdown Forest and its connections to the books. I was a little disappointed that some of the events in the books can’t be traced to specific locations in the Forest, but I understand that’d be hard to do, since the Forest itself has changed. The last section is a nature guide to Ashdown Forest. Nature features heavily in the book, as its title would suggest. I recommend this for any serious Winnie-the-Pooh fans and people who love literary landscapes, and English topography in particular. 

5 stars for execution, 4 for my personal enjoyment. 

(I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways, so I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Trip to Canton

I’m just that much of a history nerd that it’s been my dream to write historical fiction and research it on location. Well, last week, God blessed me with the opportunity to do that!

Canton, Ohio, is the setting of Suit and Suitability, my 1935 Sense and Sensibility retelling. I chose it because a Midwestern industrial town fit the story, and I have relatives there who I thought might be up to helping me. As it turned out, they and my parents were an indispensable help, because they let us stay with them while my parents took me around Canton, to research and drink in the atmosphere. What a blessing they all were!

Canton itself is a fascinating town. The people have done a remarkable job of preserving and restoring old buildings; at least half the center part of town was perfectly vintage! How accommodating of them, don’t you think? I was able to picture the Canton my 1930s characters know, because so much of it still exists.

I visited two libraries and a museum and found answers to many of my questions. It was as much fun as solving a mystery! I searched books and newspapers on microfilm for clues (my first time using a microfilm machine—it’s like a microscope for peering into history instead of minuscule objects!). An archivist even helped me at the local museum’s research library, finding books for me to investigate. One of my favorites was a 1935 McKinley High School yearbook. Seeing that Ellen and Marion Dashiell attended McKinley, it had exactly the information I was looking for!

Now, for pictures: 

The stern and beautiful Stark County Courthouse, where Ellen and Marion's father is convicted of embezzlement. 
The Canton Repository building, the city newspaper.
The President McKinley Memorial, built 1905. Canton was McKinley's hometown, and he's buried here.
Atmospheric Canton. Beautiful old houses and stone or brick Gothic churches on almost every corner.
The Saxton-McKinley house, where McKinley and his wife lived for a time. It's in the center of town and now houses a First Ladies museum.
McKinley High School, which Ellen attended and Marion attends at the beginning of the story. In the yearbook, I discovered they indeed had a drama program, which is very important to Marion!
I hope you enjoyed this small tour of Suit and Suitability's setting! Which is your favorite building? Do you like using real places in your stories? If so, have you ever visited any of those interesting places?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

7-7-7 Challenge

On Facebook, I was tagged by my fellow author, E. Kaiser Writes, for the 7-7-7 challenge—7 sentences from page 7 of my current WIP. I’m also supposed to tag 7 other writers to do the same, so I tag Sarah Scheele, Sarah Holman, Rebekah Jones, Emily Ann Benedict, Deborah O’Carroll, Amanda Tero, and Kayla Rose. If you don’t want to take up the tag, you don’t have to, of course … but if it’d make it easier, you can put your sentences in the comments!

So, here is my excerpt from Suit and Suitability:

The world was a mass of white, punctuated by trees … the evergreens were a welcome breach, having shaken most of the snow off their branches, but the deciduous ones stood naked and shivering. Ellen knew how they felt … a shudder traveled through her as the wind pounded on their long, boxy DeSoto, demanding to be let in. The sky was dingy white with domineering clouds. No amount of snow bathed in heavenly light, softening the angles and curves of the landscape, and making one think of purity, hearths, Christmas, and childhood fun, would ever make Ellen appreciate winter.
Her winters had been intolerable since the Depression had begun, because, like every other expense, the Dashiells needed to curb their coal use. Cold-natured Ellen might as well have been living inside an icebox from late November to March as she bundled up at home, froze on her way to work with Dad (or, for the past two weeks, on the bus), and shivered even in the office.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Flash of Light in the Starry Night

It started with the Perseid Meteor Shower, the best night show of the year … August 5, 2015. My mom and I thought we’d give it a try, going out on our deck where there’s a fairly large dome of sky hampered only at the fringes by trees and our roof. All night, but peaking after midnight, meteors were supposed to be dashing in short sprints across the darkness above. I wasn’t expecting much; my last meteor shower had been a case of “no big deal”; but I hadn’t been sleeping well that week so figured I might as well give up some time lying in bed to watch for something. I wanted to see a meteor again; I’d be happy with just one. Ten-thirty was a little early for a quality showing, but it was the latest I was willing to give. My parents went out earlier and saw one each before returning inside; then I went out, watched, and waited.

Look to the northeast, I remembered. But don’t focus on any one spot. I was only hoping to see a tiny, evanescent streak of white light, sliding, then vanishing, for a split second in the spaces between the stars, the permanent residents of the night sky. Not much to it, unless there were dozens of them one right after the other. And then, about five minutes into my vigil, right before my eyes and fairly low and horizontal in the sky, streaked a brilliant light … longer and bigger and brighter than any meteor I’d known was even possible to see. It went so fast I have a hard time describing it, but the distinct head, like a burning lump of coal, had an orangeish white tail. Oddly, it seemed to linger in the sky, yet disappear too fast for me to quite grasp its appearance. It stayed visible just a few split-seconds longer than your typical pin-like meteor. (I didn’t know that meteors had color, but I later learned they all do; the color depends on its chemical composition. It’s somewhat rare for one to be near enough for us to distinguish its hue. Mine was most likely made of sodium.)

It gave me chills. Thank you, Lord! That was amazing! I prayed. This was addicting … I would stay out just a bit longer and hope to see one more. Even a little runt would be satisfactory. I ended up going inside before I saw another one (my neck was starting to hurt), but I couldn’t wait to tell my mom and dad what I’d seen. Later, between one-thirty and two in the morning, my mom saw eleven meteors, but none were as big as mine. I felt so blessed!

That meteor shower started both my mom and me, but especially my mom, on a quest to learn more about the night sky that had always interested us but that we’d never fully acquainted ourselves with. We’re not scientific people, so our main fascination right now are the constellations. My mom knows more than I do, but I can pick out fifteen: Cygnus, Lyra, Sagitta, Delphinus, Aquila, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, the Little Dipper (including Polaris, the important North Star), the Big Dipper, Hercules, Corona, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Orion (interestingly, Orion, usually thought of as a winter constellation, is actually visible in the east before dawn, right now at the end of August). I hope to add to that number.

When I look up at the stars in the sky, I feel the most profound peace. Those stars have been in virtually the same formations since God created them. All men have gazed upon them, even made up images and stories to accompany them. Yet they are far beyond our corrupting, sin-stained hands. God is the only one who can ever touch them. Just like, with His love surrounding me, He is the only one who can ever touch me. And His touch is love and joy and peace and all good things.

Do you like looking at the night sky? Do you know any constellations?