Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Revisiting Childhood Reads

Quintessential middle school historical fiction, "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" was a favorite for a lot of my generation. I'm a fan of all of Elizabeth George Speare's historical fiction, but it's been some time since I picked any of them up and I was interested to see how they would read from an adult perspective.

Overall I found it still the compelling and engrossing novel that captivated me as a pre-teen, yet I found myself wishing that there was a longer version, with more fleshed out characters. Although the cast is well developed for the short span of the book, it is a story and setting that certainly could have filled a larger volume. Characters like Uncle Matthew, Aunt Rachel, Mercy and Judith are skillfully drawn with short paragraphs, but cry out for more story time.

Perhaps most surprising to me was finding how little time in the book is really given to the romance. The true romance, that is. I'd always liked the ultimate pairings in the book, but somehow I'd forgotten how little time is really given to Nat and Kit's friendship. If I had to make one change to the book as it is, it would be to flesh out that dynamic a little more. It relies too heavily on the typical 'bickering couple' chemistry and thus doesn't actually show us much of what makes Nat and Kit work as a couple, only what makes them 'click' dynamically.

The other slightly changed perspective I had was realizing that this is a very similar time period to that of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and really, Kit has a lot in common with Elizabeth Swann. This gave me more appreciation for and understanding of the world Kit left behind in Barbados.

That said, it is an award-winning novel for a good reason, and I enjoyed the reread as an adult (even if it was much too short). I'll be happy to pass it along to my own kids for reading in the future.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Future of "The Song of the Fay" and my other writing projects.

I've been talking with a few people about the future of "The Song of the Fay" lately, and I realized there are a few non-spoilery bits of info I could pass on to my readers.

First off, it IS a series! I have four books planned, God willing, and then we'll see what comes next. Each book will star characters from the previous books, BUT they will not all have the same main characters. Furthermore, the will be told from third person POV (point of view), which allows me to have multiple POV characters without getting confusing. And, finally, although books 1 and 2 are both set in Paris, this is not an exclusively "Parisian" series, or even one that will be completely set in Europe.

Book 2 ("The Professor and the Siren") is, of course, a prequel (though meant to be read second in the series), and features the Morlands as POV characters. It is set about eight years prior to "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" and will include many of the magical Fay from that book, as well as introducing new characters and types of Fay. I am currently 60K into the second draft of the book, all of which has been written in the past 10 months. It is due to be a bit shorter than "Mermaid" so I am hoping to get it published on a much quicker timeframe.

Book 3 ("The Selkie and the Queen"), takes place directly after "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" in Scotland. It is currently written to be told from the POV of Kate, Derek, and one other character whom you'll meet pretty early on in the book. Abby and Pete, who were minor characters in "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" get much larger roles in this book, but not POVs. Although Daphne is back in the US at this point and thus not an 'onstage' character (so to speak), she is still friends with the main cast and will have some updates. I've written about 10K so far, and hope to get more done when "Professor" heads off to the beta readers.

Book 4 is developing into a plot I'm pretty excited about, but at this point in time I need to be pretty cagey about it. I haven't written any of it yet, but I'm developing the cast and setting in my head. As of today, I've only told three people the premise of the book, but they've been very positive about it.

At this point, I feel that God is asking me to write these books before moving on to any other projects, except possibly my first sewing book. I have part of a draft of a super-hero chick lit novel (first of a series) that I really hope to further develop and publish eventually, but I'm not sure when I'll get the Heavenly green-light on that. We'll see!

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Lord of the Rings (pt 1) - Revisiting Childhood Reads

I'm currently rereading "The Lord of the Rings" for the first time in a decade. (I basically overdosed on them in my teens by reading them at least half a dozen times in about four years plus various other Tolkien works and knew them far too well to read again until now).

As a youth, I was a speed reader, and this time I'm taking the series a bit slower. I'm also forcing myself to read everything--I'll admit that on a few past reads I would skip the parts I found creepy or boring (the barrel-wrights, a lot of Sam/Frodo/Gollum stuff). But this time I really want to refresh my memory on everything.

The Fellowship is perhaps the most difficult since it is the one I read the most and know the best. However, even for all of that knowing, there are still things that I'm 'rediscovering' anew. For instance, the movie versions became so predominant in my visual memory, that I forgot how Merry starts out as such a strong leader. Basically, whenever Merry is around, he's making as many or more decisions for the little group of hobbits than anyone else. In the film he is regulated to a prankster alongside Pippin, but in the book is is portrayed as a steadier, more capable character at the outset.

Another aspect of the book that strikes me in particular this time through is how, after each major brush with danger, the hobbits are given a chance to rest and recuperate. In our world of fast-paced action adventure series (fantasy or otherwise), we don't see this much anymore. But, in "The Lord of the Rings," Frodo and his crew are not given more than they can handle. They are pushed to their utter limits, which means that as they grow in strength, the rests become less frequent, but when rest is truly needed, it is always provided.

This reminds me of my own life. Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble, but he also promises to watch over our needs. My life over the past few years has been really, really hard, but God has provided me and Nathan with moments (and days!) of relaxation and joy amid the hardship.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

101 Dalmatians - Revisiting Childhood Reads

I am revisiting some well-loved books from my youth this month. Just got through a re-read of "The Silmarillion", sped through "Beauty" and just this afternoon got through a quick read of "The One Hundred and One Dalmatians."

While I have a whole separate post I'd like to do on "Beauty," I wanted to first take a moment to talk about "Dalmatians" while it is fresh in my mind. Most of us grew up on the Disney movie version, which is fun, but pales in comparison to the book. However, due to the over-saturation of Disney everything, most people aren't in the least aware that there is a book, much less that the book is so much better than the movie.

Dodie Smith, also known for writing "I Capture the Castle" (which, for one reason or the other, I've never managed to get my hands on), has a tremendous sense of story, narrative flow, charectarization, and a charming narrative voice, all of which contribute to make the book a classic. She's created a system for the world of dogs that nestles nicely into our own. The book is hilariously funny, with charming characters straight from the 1950's of London, and includes several memorable cast members that didn't make it into the movie. Most notably among these are the real Perdita (young foster mama Perdita and Missus Pongo are combined into one character in the movie), Nanny Cook and Nanny Butler (again, combined into one character), a gallant old Spaniel, and Cruella's cat. (Yep. Cruella has a cat.)

Book Cruella is sleeker and less physically psycho than movie Cruella, but no less insidious (indeed, I find smooth and elegant Cruella much creepier). She also has a husband, a little man whom she married for his occupation as a furrier, and an obsession with copiously peppering all of her food.

Although given first names in the film, the book calls Pongo and Missus's 'pet's Mr. and Mrs. Dearly, and Mr. Dearly is not a poor musician, but rather a canny accountant. Perhaps influenced by the film, I always viewed the Dearlys as being rather poorly, but not actually, that's not so true! Each of them retains their childhood nannies as their maid, and though things are related as being 'rather expensive' they are still affordable to the Dearlys. Mr. Dearly's sharp mind is echoed in that of his dog, Pongo, who proclaimed one of the smartest canines in England.

I think the true test of a classic is whether it can be equally enjoyed by both children and adults. As a child I borrowed my grandmother's copy so often that it came to have a permanent residence on my bookshelf! I was delighted to find that rereading it as an adult was no less enjoyable an experience. Even though I have read the book so often as to have memorized some of the lines, I still met each scene with a new sense of wonder, no matter how familiar.

And, of course, this was my first time reading the book since we brought Mateo home, which made it especially sweet!

So, please! If you've never picked up this book, and have any sort of affection for furry animals (dogs AND cats), do give it a try! Whether reading aloud to your children or pursuing for your own pleasure, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Death Comes to Pemberley

A quick look at my blog header should indicate that I am a Jane Austen fan. However, I'm not a purist who decries anyone who writes a 'sequel' to Austen -- only those who do it badly!

My first introduction to "Death Comes to Pemberley" was via the PBS special, and I found it dull and depressing. Hardly a recommendation to pick up the book! However, two weeks ago I found a copy in the clearance section of the used bookstore, and I was desperate for more reading material, so I said, "Why not?"

Turns out, the book is way better than the TV movie. (Surprise surprise.)

"Death Comes to Pemberley" is a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" framed as a police procedural. In it, Darcy and Elizabeth are swept up in a murder mystery. Whereas the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy mysteries gave a Nick-and-Nora banter to the Darcy's, this novel takes a slightly graver view. In doing so, it revisits a few aspects of the original novel that I never looked at too closely before, but nicely discusses and excuses the potential weaknesses it examines.

Most of the characters of the original novel receive at least cameos or mentions here (as do a few characters from other Austen novels), and I felt were sketched with appropriate justice. James has a solid understanding of Austen culture. The novel begins with a recap of "Pride and Prejudice" as it would have appeared to the populace of Meryton, which is both amusing and useful to the reader who hasn't picked up the original novel in awhile.

My single qualm with the book is that it features slightly less Elizabeth than I would prefer. However, it is a more balanced presentation than the TV movie (Which was even more Darcy heavy) and did a better job of making the other players more intriguing. Indeed, in reading the novel and seeing how much of it depends on inner thought life, I realized exactly why it was a difficult novel to adapt adequately to screen. The structure of the story does not lend itself to making the transition to screen in a satisfying way.

The mystery itself is perhaps not overly original, but it is interesting to see a murder investigation framed within the society and technology of the early 1800s.

James is not only a writer, but a professional in the world of crime solving, something which quickly becomes clear to the reader. I actually found myself thinking several times that I ought to get my husband to read the book. Although it will be enjoyed by female readers (and James is a woman, though using obscuring initials), there is definitely a feel to the novel that I think would appeal to a masculine reader, especially one who enjoys mysteries.

Conclusion: Skip the TV movie - or if you already saw it, push aside your recollections of it. Either way, pick up the novel. It's well worth the read, whether you're a die hard Austenite, a mystery junkie, or a lover of good period fiction.

For more Austen, click here!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Blessings You Do Not See

A friend of mine told me that he once asked a priest if it was difficult to hear the confessions of all the awful things people did.

"No," the priest replied. "It's hard to hear of all the good things they do, and not be able to tell anyone."

And, the thing is, this injunction not to brag about good deeds goes beyond the silence of the confessional. Matthew 6:3-4 says "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Being ill has put a lot of strain on our family, in many ways, but we've been very blessed by a number of people who have given generously of their resources to us. I find myself really sympathizing with the priest -- I want the world to know how amazing these people in my life are! But at the same time, I know many of the people giving to us would not want their giving to be known -- even those with other belief systems are still doing it out of love, not a desire for recognition!

We live in a world that is very driven by outward appearances. Social media allows everyone to create a very public persona, and most people are aware that a lot of the messiness of life is deliberately hidden from these spotlights. But I think we forget how much of the goodness is hidden as well (or, at least in Christian doctrine, is supposed to be hidden). I love seeing stories about people helping out others, and I think it's encouraging to realize that there is far more generosity going on in the shadows than we'll ever know about in this life.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

An Author Learning from RPGs

One of the greatest challenges for authors is developing unique characters that speak with their own voice. Observation of the world is tremendously important for this, but recently I've realized how much I'm benefitting from another element in my life - my weekly role-playing game.

I've written extensively on the benefits of roleplaying games (rpgs) here, specifically in respects to social interaction and personal development. Lately, however, I've been observing how much it is enriching me as an author.

I strongly believe that reading other great authors is the best form of 'studying' a writer can do. However, the one weakness of this in regards to character development is that (most of the time) every character in a book is written by the same person. No matter how hard an author works at their craft, ultimately each character's motivations are being developed by the same mind.

In an rpg group, however, while you have a narrative story run by the game master, each character is developed and played by a different player. This adds an element of unpredictability and surprise that few other mediums offer. (Stage and screen have some of this, with actors contributing their thoughts, but ultimately the story is strongly run by the screenwriter and director).

The other benefit of the rpg group is that you can discuss character motivation and actions -- not only do I get to observe how different people play different characters reacting, but we also discuss (sometimes) why they did so. This has been a tremendous window into human nature.

A week ago, my character majorly ticked off another character in the game. Out of game, we all agreed on the action ahead of time because it would be so disruptive, and everyone thought it was an awesome narrative choice. In game, however, it was INTENSE. And then we had to wait a week for the real big drawn out fight to happen! I had several days to think through how my character would react... I knew, if I were writing the scene, how it would go. What I didn't know was how the other player was going to have their character react! It ended up being little like I expected, but tremendously true to the character as developed. As a result, I found myself re-analyzing (again) how different people of different personality types react to the same situation, and am thankful that the RPG group gives me the constant reminder of this!

Anyhow, it was a good incentive to re-dedicate myself to really developing distinct, believable characters.