Friday, February 27, 2009

The Young Victoria

I had heard about this some time ago, but I didn't realize it had already been filmed and is coming out in the UK next week! (No US release date set, though). I am definetely looking forwards to this one!

Izze Candles

I love candles.

A few weeks ago my family indulged in IZZEs. I saved the bottles and turned them into candlesticks. Rather nice effect, no?

These pictures are from a girls night I had with a couple friends a few weeks ago. We make dinner, got out the good china, and dreamed about going to Europe. It was a blast.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Preparing to Write

Each of us must find our own style of writing and develop routines that support it. Just like being most at ease when we dress in a manner that's comfortable to use, when we follow our own style of writing rather than what someone else dictates, we become less self-conscious, we feel more authentic. Defenses are dropped. Now we can get to the real stuff.
(pg 9)

If you will take the time to write down all the differant rites and observances you go through to do your writing, you may surprise yourself. Some practices you didn't even know you performed may be an important part of the way you make your art. "Without even knowing it, I had developed a 'practice'," wrote Gail Sher in One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers. "Every day, no matter what, I wrote one haiku. In my mind I became the person who writes 'a haiku a day.' That was the beginning of knowing who I was."
(pg 8)

From Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves

When I first read this six months ago I wasn't doing much writing at home, and when I did I certainly didn't have a set routine nailed down. I found that I could write in coffee shops fairly well and liked doing so because it forced me to focus on my writing and not be distracted by daily life.

However writing once every one or two weeks at a coffee shop is not nearly enough to write a novel in a timely manner, besides gas and that cup of coffee eventually make the novel cost more than it's probably ever going to earn. So I forced myself to figure out what I needed to do to make writing at home practical.

Requirement number one. I need to write in a place where I am comfortable sitting for a couple of hours. There are three places in the house that are comfortable, but two of them are in a public area. If any of my family members are home, or likely to be coming home soon, that opens up the serious possibilty of a number of interuptions. So I really have no choice but to write in my room. Fortunately, I like my room. Unfortunately, sitting on my bed makes me sleepy. So enter a routine to keep myself awake.

Ever since Regina Doman hooked me on tea last fall, I've been consuming it regularily. And thankfully, my favorite tea (Irish Breakfast from Twinnings) is caffinated. So it's a perfect drink for writing that not only sharpens my mind but is a great mood setter.

Then I pulled in the music. Playing a handful of songs from Mamma Mia! wakes me up and puts me in a good mood. Then I switch over to Danny Schneible's Sing Little Children which is a slower, more natural background music. (Love love love that CD of his!) And after that I just pick soundtracks that fit the mood of what I'm writing.

Then, since I want my writing to be in line with God's will because he is the one that gave me the gift of writing and creativity, I pray St. Augustine's Pray to the Holy Spirit. Regina Doman recommended it to us at the writing workshop last fall and I must say I like it.

(Regina Doman is connected to all three of my routine pieces. What can I say? She's amazing and one of my role models. And we're very similar in some ways.)

I'm the sort of person who likes routine, so I definetely like having all of these distinct pieces. Plus it lets my mind and body know "It's Writing Time! Sit up! Start thinking! Focus!" And believe it or not, it works!

So, I'm curious. I know some of my readers are writers as well. Do you have any routines that you use when you sit down to write? What do you find works best for you?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On Christian Romance

I don't think I've ever written a blog post at 5:00 in the morning before. The rather pathetic reason is that I couldn't sleep, and spent so much of the last half hour formulating paragraphs for this post that I finally decided to just get up in write in, in hopes that my brain would then let me go back to sleep. So we'll see how that works.

I was recently loaned two books that would fall under the category of "Christian Romance." And while they have a narrative drive that is so strong I could hardly put them down (most Christian Romance does have a strong narrative drive. That's how they manage to sell copies) the romance was so poorly written that I finally gave up on the second book.

Or rather, I gave up because the romance was poorly written, but also the driving force of the book. There wasn't much else to it besides the romance stories.

Whoa. Wait. What am I saying? Don't I love romance? Isn't that what I want to write?

Oh yes. But not the poor quality stuff that seems to permanate bookstores these days. Stuff that focuses more on lust than love. (Believe me, Twilight looks amazing next to these books). And while the authors try to work in redeeming messages, they are either irrelevant, or overshadowed by the emotion-driven unrealistic shallow and poorly written romances. Romances that spend a great deal of time writing things like "He's so cute...with those eyes and those shoulders...stop it (heroine's name)! He's not for you!" Bleh!

(I am dead serious. Twilight is way better than this stuff.)

That's not to say that females don't have those thoughts, but they do NOT need to be the focus of the book! My bookshelves are full of well-told stories that are both Christain written and romance dirven - that are not female soft porn.

I started my reading career with fiction like the "Mandie" mysteries and "Elsie Dinsmore." Which while not always amazing writing, at least had interesting plots, well sketched characters (however perfect Elsie was) and strong morals. (And nothing inappropriate in the way of romance!)

My first real introduction to the the world of Christian Romance was through the writings of Jannette Oke. And now that I see what the rest of that world is like, I can really appreciate Oke for what she did in writing sweet, clean romances that did actually have more of a plot to them than the romance itself. While not anything that's going to go down as a classic, her books are certainly (and have already) going to be passed down to future generations as worthy Christian fiction for young females.

It is at this point that I have to stop and be thankful for having a mother who had a fairly decent taste in Christian fiction. The books that I've received from her, while not always well-written, at least were not horrible romances. (They weren't always amazing, but they were at least more believable than the cheesy stuff I'm ranting against here. Yes. I admit it. I'm ranting. Hopefully somewhat coherently). It was my mother who introduced me to an author who I still consider to be one of the best (if not the best) Christian writers out there: Bodie Thoene.

Someday I need to sit down and write proper reviews of Thoene's books because they are amazing. The Zion Covenant series which was the first one I read, still remains my favorite and is definentely the strongest of her series. With her husband on hand to make sure that her historical research is faultless (or at least as close as human work can be) and with Bodie's own strong sense of plot, human nature, and love of Christ (though not of being preachy) there is no chance that her books could be mere "romances." They have amazing love stories, but they really are about deep and lasting love and never come across as cheesy, cheap, or lustful (unless that is clearly the point!).

At this point I start feeling a bit spoiled, because having already been introduced to such a marvelous author as Bodie Thoene, it doesn't seem right that I should also make acquaintance with the works of Liz Curtis Higgs. While heavier on the romance than Thoene, Higgs writes it so masterfully that it becomes an example of what Christian Romance should be. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the very best out there, but it is definitely a role model for those who which to write something that would fall under the line of "Christian Romance." Having just written a review of Thorn in My Heart I don't think I need to praise her virtues further here.

Though I haven't read nearly as much of her writings as the other authors I've mentioned, Francine Rivers deserves a place on this list as well. Her "Mark of the Lion" Trilogy, though mature, definetely falls into the catagory of "Excellent Christian Romance."

And then there is Regina Doman, whose works also belong on this list. Some of the sweetest love stories I've ever read lie within the pages of her books, as well as four of my favorite characters. Heartwrenchingly real, the love stories ring true, while not taking over the mystery and action that makes her books so much more than mere romance.

And while I'm at it, I might as well round out the list with those Christian ladies who have gone before us. Jane Austen, daughter of a preacher, was certainly a Christian, and her worldview and faith shines through her writing. This clearly shows us that Christianity has deep roots in the romance field. (A good book that looks at Christianity and romance in Austen from a practical perspective is "Dating Mr. Darcy" by Sarah Arthur).

Even more explicitely Christian is Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre." Jane is an intensely Christian heroine, a fact that is made extremely obvious in Bronte's use of the first person, which gives us direct access to our heroine's exact thoughts. (We don't get quite this measure of privilege with Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood.)

And lastly I'd like to mention Catherine Marshall's works "Christy" and "Julie" which have already stood the test of time and stand out as an example of convaying not only a strong Christian worldview, but also a strong Christian message that impacts the reader without being overly preachy. And certainly nothing cheesy or lustful here.

So. Yes. I have extremely high expectations for Christian romance. All these women have set wonderful examples in their particular niche of the genre (whether they technically are categorized in that genre or not) and I think there is little excuse for putting out the sort of book that I began this post with.

It's important to note that the real fault lies not with the authors, but with the publishing houses. Not that the authors shouldn't be working to write better stuff, but if the publishers accept their work without insisting on higher standards, the authors will never have an incentive to improve their work. The publishing bar is currently so low that really horrible stuff can get in. I mean, I've known teenagers to write better stories than some of what has come out in the last decade or so. It's sad. And Christians, of all people, should be setting a example of excellence.

There we go. Post finished. That only took...let's hour to write? Hmm. Hope it was worth it. (Meaning that either a) I'll be able to sleep now b) it'll make an impact on someone or c) both).

Good morning. :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Academy Awards 2009

Though I know the statistics say watching the Oscar Ceremony is becoming less and less popular, I still enjoy settling down for an evening of watching my favorite (and not so favorite) movie stars in a more natural setting than that of a movie screen. It's also a good way for a film lover/beginning critic to keep up to date on what movies came out this year. I may not see all of them, but from a historical perspective I feel it's important to know.

So what did I think of this year's Oscar ceremony?

Well, first off, I thought the opening song and dance number by Hugh Jackman was phenomenal. One of the best numbers I've seen - and some of the past years have had some pretty cool stuff. It was also awesome to see Anne Hathaway sing! Why has that woman not been in a musical yet?!?!?

The other song and dance number was a bit more inappropriete so I enjoyed it less. And other than that there wasn't anything super amazing show wise.

But of course it was great to see the presenters. I love just watching actors as themselves, not as these characters in a movie. It's fun! Of course, we're aware of their movies so when Robert Pattinson introduced the montage of 2008 Romantic clips by saying that he had to become a vampire to find love - well that was just hilarious. :)

While the political undertones surrounding "Milk" were fustrating, the end total of awards was ultimately satisfying, thanks to the many wins of "Slumdog Millionare." It was a bit annoying to see some other films passed over, but I finally realized that I approved of "Slumdog's" wins A) because it was an independant film and B) because it was made in India. Oh, and C) because it actually sounds like a fairly decent film. Not something you would expect to win Best Picture + 7 other awards. Though it's rated R, it's defintely a film I plan to check out.

I'd send up a huge CHEER for Wall-E, except it was such a sure winner. Now if it had picked up an award in another catagory, that would have been cool. IMHO, Wall-E is the most beautiful and artistic Pixar film yet. Ha, that probably needs it's own post.

And, as usual, I love watching the montages they put together. Romance, Action, Comedy...all fun stuff.

However, despite all this, I was rather emotionally unattached this year. Watching Heath Ledger's parents and sister accept his award was moving, of course, although since the only thing I ever saw him in was "A Knight's Tale" I'm not sure why. Probably because when so many people of a profession pay their respects to a deceased member, you have to be touched by it. But other than that...

Other than that! Wow, appart from the opening show, the highlight of the night was "Best Actress." Stellar line-up this year. I was delighted to see Anne Hathaway nominated, because ever since seeing her in "Becoming Jane" I knew she was a much better actress than I had previously given her credit for. But of course I just about cried when Kate Winslet got the award. She's been nominated five times previously and though I don't approve of her role in "The Reader", I think she's a phenomenal actress and was thrilled to see her get the little gold man at last.

So that's my take on the Oscars. And yes, unless something changes dramatically, I do plan to watch them again next year.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Passing of the Entwives

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one of the prevailing themes is the beauty and sacredness of trees and growing things. We see this in Tom Bombadil, in the Ents (and Entwives) and in the Scouring of the Shire. Tolkien heartily disliked industrialization.

This came to my mind today, because of a similar sentiment in my heart. I was driving into town to pick up a younger sibling, and found myself passing a familiar stretch of country that seemed to be missing something. What was it? It felt too open...too bare...

With a shock I realized that they had cut down many of the tall old trees that lined the road. Stumps and logs lay across the tall swamp grass like so many corpses. Trucks were around, clearly readying the land for a new construction project (of which there have been many in the last few years).

I was hit by a wave of sorrow. It seemed so tragic, so callous that a tree, which took fifty, a hundred, or a hundred and fifty years to grow, weathering storms and drought and ice, could be so quickly disposed of.

A tree seems to me a precious thing. And this was not because I sat and thought of all the reasons why it was horrible that the trees were cut down. It was a natural response and horror on my part. These were not just any trees. These were beautiful, tall, majestic towers. Their life spans should be respected. There are many things we can build, but we could never create these beautiful giants. Even if we planted a seed for every tree we cut down, we would never live long enough to see them reach the glory of their grandfathers.

I'm not saying that we should never cut down trees. But I am saying that we should consider carefully why we do so. Cutting them down for new supermarkets or another housing development seems less than rational to me.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How we depend on Technology!

A few months ago I wrote a post on our dependance on cell phones, after mine went missing. I brushed that off as not being extremely necessary because I was able to survive fairly well without it.


The reason I could survive without it was because I do most of my communication over the internet. Thus when my computer power cord died on Monday, I pretty much freaked. Not because I'm obsessed with my computer for being a computer, but because a lot of what I do does take place on it.

My laptop is where I write my novel (which is WORK! ahem), where I do my graphic design (one of my other main art forms right now), where I talk to my friends (since I can't really on the phone), where I manage a forum for my favorite author, and where I watch my movies (I should do another post on what movies mean to me...cuz they're more than just ordinary entertainment), and of course how I write on this blog. All in all, I spend a significant ammount of time on the computer.

Why, you ask, couldn't I spend 24 hours on the family computer? Pretty simple. A) That computer is almost constantly in use, so doing extended projects like writing or graphic art is almost out of the question and B) we have a pretty intense blocker on our internet there, that also happens to be rather stupid since it blocks 2/3rds of the sites I normally visit, including this blog!

However, praise God, I had money in the bank and a father with time enough to accompany me to the store to help me pick out a new laptop less than 24 hours after my old cord broke.

(No, I wanted more than a new cord, because my old laptop was failing in a lot of ways. I was due for a new laptop soon anyhow. I'll stil have to find a used cord somewhere to get files off my old laptop, but that might take a bit of time.)

So! I'm typing this note on a beautiful new laptop right now. I can't believe how much everything has progressed in the three years since I last bought a computer! Amazing. Speed, space, everything has multiplied many times over. It's lovely.

Plus, this new laptop is slightly...shiny. :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Thorn in My Heart

The more I read of any particular genre of literature, the pickier I become about it. And two types that I have read my fair share of are Historical Fiction and Christian Romance. So my standards are high in those genres, particularly because the publishing standards seem to be extraordinarily low. "Thorn in My Heart," which falls into both genres, is therefore under heavy scrutiny.

The verdict? Keep reading.

"Thorn in My Heart" is a retelling of the Biblical story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, set in the 18th Century Lowlands of Scotland. Author Liz Curtis Higgs uses this format to have(from her website) "the freedom to explore all the “whys” and “what ifs” of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah’s stories without tampering with the Word of God. I also wanted to demonstrate that the stories in the Bible are so powerful they can be framed in any time or place—sixth-century Italy, eleventh-century France, or eighteenth-century Scotland—and the glory of God’s truth will shine through."

And shine through it does. In the pages of this book and the three sequels, Jamie McKie, and Rose and Leana McBride struggle with deep questions of faith, love and loyalty in honest, realistic and thought-provoking ways. All three of them, like their biblical counterparts, are deeply flawed individuals. They have their secrets, temptations and failings but also their virtues, struggles and redemption's.

And the story is all the more heart wrenching because the love triangle involves two deeply devoted sisters. It explores the question- how do you continue to love your sister when she has stolen the man you love? How do you balance your own desires, and the loyalty you owe her? Eros vs. Philia?

The characters are strikingly three dimensional, which is part of what makes this series so endearing. Not always lovable, yet no matter what the situation, one is always able to empathize with one of them.

And the situation is a tough one. I'll tell you right now that Higgs follows the biblical story pretty closely. And it's a masterful twist how she manages to pull off Jamie marrying both sisters legally - that is, without committing bigamy. She accomplishes this by using the tools of historical fiction to her advantage. The laws of 18th century Scotland fit the needs of the plot surprisingly well.

On that note, the historical aspect of the series is nearly faultless. Extraordinary research shines through the pages, but is presented with life and resonance, not dreariness. And if you take the time to read it, you'll find yourself sprinkling your words abundantly with Scottish words and dialect. Och, and guid fun it tis!

So, the verdict? "Thorn in My Heart" and its sequels pass my expectations for Historical, Romance and Christian fiction with flying colors. I heartily recommend them to my fellow lovers of these genres.

One word of caution to my younger readers. This series, though Godly and delicate, is directed towards an adult audience. There are matters discussed which are not necessarily suitable for the under 18 crowd of most conservative homeschooling circles. I read one of them and enjoyed it when I was 16, but overall I would not recommend the series to an under 18-year-old. Every family is different however, and if in doubt, go ahead and ask your mum to read it first. She'll probably thank you for the good read.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Thoenes write about Writing

Bodie Thoene put up a cool blog post today about her love of living and writing in London. I thought it was quite inspirational and interesting so I'm reposting the link here.

FYI: Bodie Thoene is one of the better Christain authors out there these days.

EDIT: Here is blog post #2 on the subject, which includes the information that the Thoene's book "Only the River Runs Free" is currently entering into production to become a film! This is incredibly exciting news, as any one of their books would make an amazing movie! Bodie and Brock started out working as scriptwriters for John Wayne, thus their books have always had a dramatic flow and visual feel that would translate well to film. I'm extremely excited to see that some filmmakers have finally realized this! (Or, I should say, that God has decided the time is right for these amazing stories to come to the big screen!)

A Reflection on Valentine's Day

Happy St. Valentine's Day. It's an interesting one this year, because of course yesterday was Friday the 13th. Unusual combination. I hope that you're doing well and, if you have not yet been blessed with a significant other, are not celebrating "Single Awareness Day" but rather a celebration of friendship such as my friends and I did last night. (Complete with awesomeness of Mafia, Swing dancing, Irish Dancing, and Psychiatrist.)

But I woke up today wondering if we really have the day all wrong. Instead of celebrating romantic love, should we not really be celebrating the institution of marriage?

For those of you who are unaware of the story, St. Valentine was a monk who performed marriages at a time when Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry. (It was supposed to make them better soldiers or something if they didn't have to worry about wives and children back home). Anyhow, when his disobediance was discovered, he was dragged out into the arena and martyered.

(My apologies to the History Buffs if I have any of my facts muddled, I'm going off of memory here.)

So my thought is this. If St. Valentine was martyred for advocating marriage, should not the day revolve around a celebration of this God-Given institution? As it is, it seems rather an encouragement to the teenage dating system than otherwise.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

One Year Anniversary

I just realized that I totally missed my one year anniversary. I began this blog a year ago on February 5th and have written over 150 posts since then. Not bad at all! So I'm curious to hear thoughts from you all...what have you enjoyed about reading this blog? What would you like to see more of in the next year?

Pride and Prejudice Graphic Art





(Click Wallpapers for full view without the cut off sides)



Monday, February 2, 2009

iPod - a Nanny's Secret Weapon

I have found my little iPod mini to be an invaluable aid in nannying. And I am posting this so that nannies everywhere may be encouraged to use their iPods as a working tool.

Some rules I've implimented first: My youngest charge is a 3-year-old and is only allowed to listen to it while sitting on my lap. The other children must be in the same room as myself when listening it, and they are never allowed to take it out without my permission.

Here are some situations in which letting one of your nanny charges listen to your iPod might be a good idea.

Situation #1 - as a reward for the hardworking child who has accomplished the task set before them.

Situation #2 - as a background noise for the child doing schoolwork while the other children are making enough noise to rouse the dead.

Situation #3 - as a game, for the children who are familiar with the songs on the iPod. You can make them guess the song, and they can make you guess the song. And iPods are so handy because they show you the exact second you guessed the song at... (my record is 2 or 3 seconds.)

And I'm still observing what other situations might call for the trustworthy musicplayer...