Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Man of Legend

Warwick left no enduring print upon the English state. He was an adventurer--a surcharged moment of human experience. It was men's imaginations that he stamped. But in the passing of time, he paid the price of become a legend by almost ceasing to be a man. Perhaps his wife and daughters, and at moments even he himself, felt that he paid that same price during his lifetime. ~Warwick the Kingmaker, by Paul Murray Kendall (Part 6, Chapter 2)
 Warwick the Kingmaker, also known as Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick.

Who is he? Don't know, and don't care, you say? Well, read on, because this is the stuff of legends, and if we learned history this way, we would never want novels. 

The Book
Richard Neville lived during the time of Edward IV and just before Richard III, at the beginning of the War of the Roses. He raised kings, and toppled kings--raised himself to the pinnacle of success, and then toppled himself by his own hand. And he is a man that every ambitious young person, every student of history, and everyone in search of a jolly good yarn should read about.

The men of England in the mid 1400s declared themselves either York or Lancastrian--and fought for their lord accordingly. Add to this complicated civil war the fact that France and Burgundy were both shifting their alliances back and forth with England, and you have a volcanic age where a powerful man can make his mark. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, made that mark like no one else.

Warwick started off his career under the influence of his father and uncle, and took a post as Captain at Calais, the English stronghold in France, under the jealous eye of Queen Margaret of Anjou. There through his bold piracy and capture of Spanish ships, he won the hearts of the men beneath him, as well as the affections of the commoners in England.

As his king, Henry VI, faded in and out of madness, Queen Margaret fought against Warwick's father and uncle as they sought to forward the Neville name and the house of York. Warwick himself started out supporting their campaigns. But when they both died in battle, he felt the call of ambition for himself, and began planning his own revolutions against the Lancastrian king.

With a bold stroke of mastery and troops of loyal men, Warwick overcame discouraging odds and set Edward IV, Richard III's brother, on the throne. He was the man who brought victory to the house of York, and now with his brothers in high government positions, and the Neville relatives firmly ensconced around the king, Warwick held the power he craved to make his name legendary.
He refused to admit there were disadvantages he could not overcome and defeats from which he could not recover, and he had the courage, and vanity, to press his game to the end. ~Warwick the Kingmaker, by Paul Murray Kendall (Prologue)
Years passed, Warwick made even more plans to further his greatness, and he started designing a marriage alliance to unite the kingdoms of England and France--a mighty feat to accomplish after the Hundred Years' War. But Edward proved unwilling to dance his reign to Warwick's tune, and wanted nothing to do with a French wife. When Richard Neville finally pressed him to make his decision, Edward coolly announced to his assembled lords that he had secretly married a Lancanstrian girl, Margaret Woodville, and Richard Neville drew away from the king in a white heat of rage.

From there, Richard Neville's career takes a dark turn. Trying desperately to hold on to the power that was slipping out of his grasp, he tried everything he could to keep the Woodville family out of power, but Edward let them in in spite of his efforts. They ruined Warwick's attempts at a treaty with France, for they were all for the support of Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and England could not support both France and Burgundy. Warwick realized, as he unsuccessfully endeavored to manipulate Edward's foreign policy, that his power with the young king was no longer there. Edward wanted to rule in his own right and his own wisdom.

But Richard Neville wanted to be a legend. Had to be a legend. He could not bear to grow old and fade away in obscurity, and increasingly incensed by Edward's secret marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, dissatisfaction grew into thoughts of sedition.

At first it didn't start out as a plan to topple the king. Warwick merely wanted to bring Edward under his thumb, and secretly called together men and arms. He even succeeded so far as to capture Edward after a stunning victory. But something went dreadfully wrong; the king escaped, and Richard knew he was now branded as a dangerous rebel. Edward kept him at arm's length, and Warwick's reputation as mighty Kingmaker faded away to dust.

When his revolt failed, Richard Neville took the only option he had left.

Tormented by ambition, mad with wounded pride, he fled to the king of France, who welcomed him with open arms, and signed a treaty with Louis XI. In Richard's bid for power, he forsook the cause of York that he had fought for his entire career, and deserted to the house of  Lancaster.

He would either regain the pinnacle of power he had lost, or die in the attempt. And the saga of his last battle for power is an adventure you won't want to miss.

Warwick's signature.
Richard Neville had been born into a violent world and by violence he had died--the maker of Kings at last undone by Kings. Louis had other resources. Edward had blood royal and genius and even, at the end, all the luck. Yet, though Warwick had missed his heart's desire, there must have been moments when he appreciated--for he was a man who watched himself living--that few men had explored so full a range of experience as he. He was of the world worldly, and perhaps as the knife flashed down, this fleck of perception mitigated the bitterness of death and the blankness of heaven. ~Warwick the Kingmaker, by Paul Murray Kendall (Part Six, Chapter Two)

My Thoughts
I took a round-about journey to meet Warwick. Some time ago I reviewed a book by Josephine Tey entitled The Daughter of Time, which started the whole adventure. It's a mystery novel about a detective laid up with a broken leg, trying to while away his recovery time by investigating whether or not Richard III murdered the Princes in the Tower. A few months after I read that book, Richard III's bones were discovered in a car park in England, and the quest came up again. Then a friend set out to investigate the true story of Richard's life. And later this year, another friend mentioned that she was planning to read Paul Murray Kendall's Richard III. To be honest, I can't remember how I ended up with Warwick instead of Richard in the end, but I'm glad I did. And since my grasp of that time of English history was pretty shaky, I was glad to have read The Daughter of Time first to give me a little foundation.

For the first chapter of Warwick the Kingmaker, I had a hard time with the numerous Richards all living at the same time. But I love a good, complicated challenge, and memorized which geographical location went with which Richard. After that, it really wasn't a problem, and I had no trouble with whose son or nephew was whose.

The book is fairly clean; due to the men of the times, there are a lot of illegitimate children, referred to by terms that are considered offensive in today's society, and Warwick's epithet for Margaret of Anjou was not a name that gentlemen should use towards a lady. Also, the Duc d'Alcenon's reception of Warwick's messenger in chapter one of part two was inappropriate to say the least, but that's a short paragraph. That's about all.

What I loved most about this book was definitely Warwick himself. Addicted to power, willing to take mighty risks, and winning them most of the time, too. Here is a man who was too advanced for his age, and who couldn't stand being anything less than great. I said once in a novel of my own writing that "Along with the skills we learn the delight of the heady wine of Chance. The luck--the stakes--the win--they feel exhilarating after you grow more used to them." And truly, that sentence describes Warwick. He planned battles, manipulated kings, sacrificed everything to keep his position of power, and shaped the course of history.
Perhaps Warwick was too obsessed with this quest to realize how miserable Richard Neville had become in these last three years, how his natural warmth of disposition, his grace of character, his love of work and eager embracing of experience, had all been contorted, shrunk, by the spoiling touch of adversity, had been forced into parodies of themselves to satisfy the imperious demands, not so much of ambition, as the word is ordinarily used, but of imagination. He had become the fierce prisoner of his vision of himself, the victim as well as the subject of the Warwick legend. He was a little like Macbeth--the staunch, indefatigable warrior driven to the ruin of all joy by dreams. But it was the airy dagger than Warwick grasped, plunging it into his own character. ~Warwick the Kingmaker, by Paul Murray Kendall (Part Four, Chapter Six)
He's not a man you love, for that would be too presumptuous. He's a man you respect. He's not exactly a man you want to imitate, though his courage, his ability to win the hearts of men, and his drive to do his work well are all good qualities to have. But he's a shooting star across the sky of English history, and as you shade your eyes and look at him, you hold your breath in wonder. He didn't believe in being bound by his times. And all heroes, however faulty and human, hold that idea in common.

This is the first of the books I hope to read about the time of Richard III. I loved it---and any fiction or nonfiction lover will be intrigued by it as well.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lady of Blossholme, by H. Rider Haggard

Junior B picked up The Lady of Blossholme at our annual homeschool convention in May. She read it, and wasn't quite sure what to think of it, so she handed off the copy to me and I hustled through my other books so I could read it as well.

Oh, fellow bibliophiles, it's a jolly good yarn.

If you've never read Haggard, I would highly recommend starting off with Pearl Maiden to give you a nice introduction to his style and characterizations. I've also reviewed The Brethren and Queen Sheba's Ring. But The Lady of Blossholme, once you've read some of his other books, is an excellent way to continue your acquaintance with him.

I'll start off with the disclaimer that I read the Christian Liberty Press edition, edited by Michael J. McHugh, and he might do a little updating and sanitizing here and there. Thus, I can't speak for the original, but this edition I highly recommend.

So, without further ado, I present The Lady of Blossholme.

The Story
During an age when Spaniards and English quarrel for power, and abbots extend almost as much authority over their little realms as the king himself, there lives a beautiful red-haired maiden named Cicely Foterell. She is the only child of old Sir John Foterell, owner of a great landed estate and a legendary collection of jewels, but unfortunately, not all is going well for her. For one, her father is at odds with the evil Spanish traitor, the Abbott of Blossholme. For another, he wants to make Cicely marry an old man whose estate would enrich his own, rather than her brave young suitor Christopher Harflete.

Things get worse when Sir John is murdered on his way to London. The Abbot threatens to exercise his right to claim wardship over her and make her take vows in a nunnery. Cecily flees to her young lover, and with her dead father's blessing, marries him.

When the Abbot discovers her wherabouts, he gathers his men in a fury and lays siege to Sir Christopher's house. After carrying off Sir Christopher when he receives a death wound at the hand of the abbot's men, and burning the castle to the ground, Cicely and her nurse, Emlyn, hide the famous jewels and surrender to the abbot's power.

The abbot imprisons them both in a nearby nunnery, and it isn't long before Cicely finds she is carrying Christopher's child. She resists the Abbot's declaration that her marriage is false and her child illegitimate, but the nuns are timid and she and Emlyn have only themselves to depend on. Emlyn makes a timid monk swear an oath to help them, and plagues the abbot with fire and fearful rumors of the devil walking abroad. But the abbot holds out, for if he can wait a little longer, he will gain enough time for a Spanish invasion to develop, and secure a prestigious cardinal's position for himself. Not to mention the fact that he wouldn't mind lining his nest with the famous Foterell pearls.

When Cicely and Emlyn show no sign of giving over the lands or revealing the hiding place of the jewels, the abbot condemns them to be burned as witches.

But Emlyn's worth two of that, and she's not about to let Cicely or her child suffer at the abbot's hands.

My Thoughts
First of all, the story encompasses all the delightful elements that we've come to know Haggard for. High tension, nail-biting escapes, near-death experiences, and intrepid nurses. Emlyn is another Nehusta, though perhaps softened down a touch or two (not much) and offers a great deal of the dry wit in the story. By far, Emlyn was my favorite character in the novel.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the history. While I haven't studied the era of Henry VIII in detail, except that he was not a very nice man, Haggard created excellent atmosphere. Some authors don't, (Alan French comes to mind) and merely throw in the name of the current sovereign at the last minute so the reader knows when the story takes place. But Haggard made the political tensions and religious superstitions of the age as much a part of the story as a beautiful young woman seeking to win back her family estate.

A lot has happened in the few weeks since I read it, so I can't remember how much of a language and profanity rating to give it; Junior B. remembers a few instances of profanity, but we don't recall any swearing.

The characters in this book are Catholic; this is before the Protestant reformation, and to all intents and purposes the Christian church and the Catholic church were synonymous at the time. I found it very interesting, however, that Haggard seems to hint at Protestant truths in spite of the nunnery setting that much of the story takes place in. Emlyn, bitter over past wrongs and unable to seek help from the nuns, kneels down in the chapel to pray for herself. She doesn't know how to talk to God, (they were used to the priests doing that) but she tries, and prays that He might hear her--and she knows that He does. The fact that each person can seek God for themselves is clearly taught, and though Emlyn's spiritual knowledge isn't always perfect, and some of her solutions are quite original, I liked her steadfast faith.

And those two ladies, when they are faced with the worst of decisions, fix their hope firmly on the Lord and refuse to compromise. Bravo.

Monks find hope. Bitterness finds healing. Right is stronger than wrong, and mercy triumphs over judgment. A beautiful tale, and a worthwhile read. If you enjoy Haggard's adventure novels, you're sure to enjoy The Lady of Blossholme.

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Makes a Good Illustrator--Adult

I gave myself a tall order to make a post on adult illustrators. For one, I wanted to keep to real classics: the illustrators who breathed the story as they illustrated--the ones who made their works come to life. For another, the thought occurred to me that adults just don't seem to get illustrated books. That's a pity. Even adults like picture books, and the more beautiful the work the more their enjoyment of plain text is enhanced. That part of the book industry seems to be in recession right now, but no doubt it will return in time, and we will see a resurgence of books illustrated for big folks as well as wee ones.

However, we are not completely at a loss. When we first discussed this post, right away we came up with four illustrators whose iconic drawings increased the fame of the author's works, and ones which I still enjoy today. Some of these men did both children and adult works. I enjoyed many of the books I featured today in my early teens, but they are not quintessentially for children, and thus I have put them in the adult category.

1. Sidney Paget
Sidney Paget illustrated all the Sherlock Holmes stories during their original release in the Strand magazine. It's certainly a feat to illustrate all four novels and 50-some-odd short stories. Paget accomplished not only that, but also paid exquisite attention to detail, and captured the characters exactly as readers picture them--good-natured Watson with his perennial mustache; Holmes's thin, aquiline features. I own all or almost all of the Paget illustrations in my various editions of Sherlock Holmes, and I wouldn't give up those editions for anything.

(The following illustrations are in the public domain in the United States.)

One of the reasons why Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes on the silver screen is because he looks like a Sidney Paget illustration come to life. He is the Holmes, and I doubt there will ever be another one as good. (Speaking of classic adaptations, of course.)

2. Hablot Knight Browne
Who is Hablot Knight Browne? Phiz! Dickens is my favorite author, and by far, I love Phiz illustrations the best. In his beautiful black and white drawings, he caught the whimsical caricatures that Dickens peopled his stories with.

Martin Chuzzlewit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

I just watched the old mini-series of Martin Chuzzlewit, and the whole movie looked like Phiz drawings from the book come to life. I have never seen such excellent casting and makeup to match the original illustrations, except, perhaps, with the aforementioned Holmes adaptations.

As a side note, illustrations for a book can be vital when an author dies before he finishes the novel. Dickens died in the middle of his first mystery novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and afterwards, scholars hounded Luke Fildes, his illustrator, for clues as to Dickens' ultimate solution. Fildes apparently never knew the solution, or never said, but we do have a clue from the illustrations. Dickens told Fildes he must add a double neckerchief to a character in one sketch because it was absolutely essential. Whether the neckerchief was the method of death we know not, but I am going to read that book myself someday and formulate my own theory as to the solution....

3. Alan Lee
When I first met Tolkien I had the pleasure receiving the Alan Lee illustrated editions of the Lord of the Rings through the library system. It was a most magical introduction to Middle Earth. Alan Lee catches the ethereal beauty of the elves, the homely comfort of the hobbits, and all the beauty of the terrain that they travel through. I could not think of a better illustrator for Tolkien's works.

I hope Alan Lee does the Silmarillion someday; and I also hope to get a complete collection of his other works with Tolkien.

4. N.C. Wyeth
Perhaps the best illustrator on today's list, N.C. Wyeth's swashbuckling illustrations have enchanted readers for decades. A student of Howard Pyle, Wyeth went to great lengths to live out aspects of the adventures he illustrated, even working out west for a while so he would have a good knowledge of pioneer life. We have a whole shelf of Wyeth illustrated classics, and we love reading them. You can find a lot of his paintings on Wikipedia, as they are in the public domain in the United States.

The Boy's King Arthur

Treasure Island

I think this is my favorite of his works...

So there you have it, folks! Our top favorite illustrators. Are there any that you would add to this list?

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 18, 2014

What Makes a Good Illustrator--Children's Edition

Mother B. and Junior B. and I were all discussing our favorite illustrators a couple of weeks ago, and we thought the subject would make an excellent blog post. I'm going to split this topic into a two part series, and do a children's edition and an adult edition, because it divided nicely.

The goal of every book is to help the reader 'watch' the story while it's happening. Like watching a movie, if you will. Some authors do such a good job that the reader can't bear to have it illustrated for fear their mental picture will be spoiled. Other authors get even better with a little enhancement to bring their book alive; and there the role of the illustrator comes in.

An illustrator has a delicate business to transact. If they get it wrong, they'll make readers shudder with what they've come up with. I've read books before where my own imaginative experience was spoiled due to a poor illustrator, and I could never get my own picture back in my head. But on the other hand, give me a good illustrator and it brings the book to colorful life under their hands.

In my limited experience and study (which is very limited) I would guess that the best and most beloved illustrators  are those who keep a constant eye on two things: the spirit of the book, and the joy of their intended audience. For instance, in today's feature of children's illustrators, all of the authors have a certain imaginative whimsy about them; a willingness to enter in and look at the stories as if they are real. A complete abandonment of self-consciousness, and delight in the book as it is.

Illustrating for children requires beauty and careful skill. Some of the illustrators I've chosen for today used a very simple style. Others used very elaborate drawings. Children can appreciate the beauty in both, and since good illustrations train their perception of what is good and beautiful, this is no light task. You can never lavish too much detail on young folk, for whether or not they understand all of it, it will soak in and shape them without them even realizing it--so pick out the best of the best.

Today, we came up with a list of our top favorite children's illustrators. They'll probably be familiar and dearly loved by all of you.

1. Tasha Tudor
An illustrator without compare, Tasha Tudor's exquisite, detailed, feminine drawings brought to life the Francis Hodgson Burnett classics for us. (I realize there's controversy on Burnett's books, but that's beyond the scope of today's post.) A Little Princess has beautiful illustrations; however, Tudor wrote and illustrated many of her own works, including counting books and alphabet books for wee folk, and stories for young readers.

2. Jan Bower
The more I talk to people, the more I find Jan Bower's books aren't as well known as I thought, and that's a great shame. She's a homeschool mom living in northern Michigan, and she and her husband Gary write and illustrate their own line of Bright Future books. If you haven't picked their books up, and you have young children, these make excellent birthday gifts and read-alouds:

Jan also does family portrait painting. ;)

3. Garth Williams
Garth Williams is well known for his illustrations in books written for both young and elementary school readers. I was surprised, when I looked at his bibliography, how many books I was familiar with, some of which I hadn't thought about in a very long time. :)

4. Robert McCloskey
I love McCloskey's works. My brother and I read them so many times as wee folk, and when Junior B. was much younger we read them to her as well. We haven't checked them out in years, because we've moved on to Tolkien and Dickens, but we still have a fond spot for McCloskey, and even tried to name the ducks from Make Way For Ducklings the other day. (Our memories have grown a little rusty.) Since my dad grew up in Maine, we always loved the sequel to Blueberries for Sal called One Morning in Maine. And Homer Price--excellent literature.

5. Johannah Bluedorn
If ever modern devotionals and prayer books were illuminated to the extent they were done in medieval times, I would want one done by Johannah Bluedorn. Her exquisite art brings psalms alive, and in her days as a homeschool daughter at home, she illustrated books for her family business which are still available today.

6. E. H. Shepard
What can you say about Shepard? The paintings speak for themselves, and leave you with a bittersweet ache. Shepard is well known for the talking animal stories he illustrates, and decades after they first released, people still love his pictures. Christopher Milne loved his Pooh illustrations, and Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, said that Shepard caught the spirit of the book exactly as he intended it. That's high praise.

All of these authors seemed to keep in mind, as they illustrated, the spirit of the story, the spirit of the author, and the spirit of the child reading them. Each book and painting is a work of art, and they are so beautiful that they give you an ache of happiness just looking at them.

I'll be back on Tuesday with adult authors, and I'm looking forward to that post as well. But these are six of our favorite children's authors, and I would love to hear your favorites in this category as well!

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon

Whenever I'm asked what my favorite modern authors are, I always forget my very favorite, Jan Karon. This lady, author of the famous Mitford series, has brought readers to a little Southern town for decades, and given them laughter and sorrow and rest with her Episcopalian priest and his friends.

My mom first introduced us to At Home in Mitford by reading it aloud. Oh, how we all laughed together. Over the last couple of weeks, I had the chance to re-live the magic and read the book once again. And today, I'd like to share it with all of you.

If you've not yet read Jan Karon, you're in store for a real treat.

The Story
From the back cover:  It’s easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable.
Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that’s sixty years old.
Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for. And readers get a rich comedy in which mysteries and miracles abound.

My Thoughts
As an Amazon reviewer said about this book, "It's good medicine." And it is. One of those remarkable fiction books that feeds your faith and your soul while not compromising the integrity of a good plot and interesting characters. If you're looking for proof that the age of Christian fiction is not compromised without recall, I would point you straight to Mitford.

Here's why: integrity is the word that wraps all around this book and breaths through its very essence; and not as the main theme of the plot, but as the main outpouring of the author's writing style. Karon writes real life with real care for making it true and accurate. The people in At Home in Mitford are gritty and kind, and mixed-up and redeemed and lost, from the most seasoned pastor to the simplest gas station mechanic. She has characters who come to salvation, and characters who don't believe in God. She has broken lives, and good, stable families. She has women who work and women who stay home. In other words, she has reality, and that's a precious gem. She teaches through a variety of life circumstances, and this integrity resonates with millions of readers.

But reality in itself isn't enough, and Karon shows that Christianity and Christian thought are not things to be ashamed of when writing fiction. Some people try to get around their Christian faith by allegorizing it, or symbolizing it; some people just legitimately can't put it into words. But Karon unashamedly quotes Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon, uses the salvation prayer, writes many of Father Tim's prayers and thoughts down, and so richly nourishes her readers that you feel as if you've come away fellowshipping with the Lord as well as enjoying a fictional tale.

Take note, folks. It's worthy of imitation for all of us who are writers.

I've always loved small town stories with gossip and different church denominations, feuds and sweethearts, old and young. It's the little details that make this book one beautiful, symphonic whole, and Winnie Ivey's cream horns, Jena Ivey's roses, and Esther Bolick's orange marmalade cake are as important as the stolen jewels and medical crises to make this an enjoyable read. The characterizations and narrative are detailed and well written, and give beautiful atmosphere to the main plot of Father Tim's seeking spiritual renewal in his parish.

Be aware that along with the 'realness' of this tale, there are some gritty parts you may wish to edit in a read-aloud. Dooley Barlowe, the eleven-year-old boy Father Tim takes in, comes from such a broken home that his words are full of crude slang, and even swearing once or twice. There are a couple of instances of profanity, and altogether this book should be screened by an adult first before passing it on to the younger set. Some of the plot lines are mature, though not inappropriate. Hints at an illegitimate baby, abandoned children, and Miss Sadie's beautiful love story are all appreciated with greater maturity, so let a younger reader grow into it before passing it on to them.

At Home in Mitford resonated with me even more this time than it did when we read it aloud together. When one of the characters said to Father Tim, "You look like you're too tired to run and too afraid to rest," I thought oh, yeah. And the phrase has run like a refrain in my head ever since.Father Tim struggled with a very relatable guilt when he tried to take a break and there was so much to get done.

Oftentimes taking a break is not an unwillingness to rest, but a guilty inability to enjoy anything that is not strictly necessary.When we don't take breaks, we don't give God a chance to work, and He wants us to take delight in simply restful things. Father Tim didn't take a break until outside circumstances forced him to. But we don't have to wait that long.

I wrote a longer article on the subject of rest which you can find here.

Focus on the Family Audio Drama
Focus on the Family Radio Theatre dramatized At Home in Mitford. It's a charming audio drama, with Dean Jones playing Father Tim; and the girl who plays Jo March in their adaptation of Little Women does a really good Puny Bradshaw. However, it leaves out the poignant drama of Miss Sadie's love story and a few of the best plots. I enjoyed listening to it, but it doesn't replace the book, so be sure to pick up the novel.

Jan Karon is releasing her newest Mitford chronicle, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, in September of this year. Though slower in coming, the Mitford chronicles aren't yet over. And I am glad.

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 11, 2014

In Which My Lady Bibliophile Reveals Her Writing Secrets (Fullness of Joy Tag--Inkstains)

This day, friend and fellow bibliophiles, is a momentous day. I have mentioned novelling here and there in blog posts, but I have kept pretty tight-lipped about it in public forums, and mostly share my work in private emails with friends. Even Pinterest inspiration boards are locked down. Today, however, since I've engaged to answer Joy's writing tag from her Fullness of Joy literary blog party, I must spill my secrets.

I'm just a little nervous. But excited at the same time, and I hope you all enjoy this exclusive sneak-peek at two novels that I hope, someday, to be able to share with all of you.
"It is my vow. It means I have sworn to bring them down. I swear it every time I end a mission, and in the last six times I took it, I have never failed, though I came very close once. I think this will make a second." ~War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M.

 1. For how long have you been seriously novel-writing? What sparked you to move from simply writing in a "dabbling" fashion for fun to pursuing your writing to a higher-level?
Well, my first novel, which I took very seriously, was about a British princess who became an American patriot during the Revolutionary War. That was back at 10, and I've grown a little in my plotting and accuracy abilities since then. :) My current historical fiction, War of Loyalties, I started at quite a young age--the first concept was about the age of 12, but its current plot and cast of characters I started at age 16. So I've grown up with it, you might say.
As for the other novel I'm going to talk about today, Homeschool Diaries, I first had the idea for that book two years ago, and started it in 2013.

2. Do you wish, ultimately, to entertain your readers and make them smile, or rather to inspire, challenge them and move them to tears?
So far I have managed to do both. I am more serious by nature, and therefore my stories are more serious, but I like including comic relief characters. War of Loyalties will probably challenge and move to tears, but my comic relief, Terry O'Sean, is just like a disreputable Irish teddy bear, and so far he is universally loved.
Homeschool Diaries will move through laughter. There are some pains that can only be touched while offering readers the shelter of laughter to cover their vulnerability, and I hope to use that means of challenging people.

3. What are two of your favourite genres to write in?
I like to write historical fiction (not romance historical, but drama) and modern fiction. 
4. Will you please tell us a little about your current writing project (novel-in-progress, short story, novella, etc. . . )?
War of Loyalties is my 600 page historical epic. It has a sequel, and the two of them together will equal the length of Lord of the Rings. I'm on track to take about as long as Tolkien took to write his books, and when I learned that I felt better about how long it was taking me to write mine. :)
Here's the plot for War of Loyalties:
Benjamin Dorroll has just completed his residency year and married his college sweetheart, when his father asks him to consider taking a civilian informant position in the British war effort. He couldn't want it less. A dual-citizen because of his American mother, and a long time resident of the U.S, he's been content to leave the European conflict severely alone. When America enters the war, he finally accepts the position his father wants him to take and moves to Folkestone, England, the current hub of significant secret intelligence activity and a crumbling spy ring in need of fresh recruits. There he meets several things that he wasn't expecting. An Irish supervisor named Jaeryn, who is willing to go to any lengths to find out who is loyal to him; a middle-aged man named Fenton, who acts as a private investigator for the right price; and an ever-pressing necessity to determine when deceit is right for the sake of safety. After a bomb drop and an mysterious shooting, Ben Dorroll's not exactly sure what this new line of work will lead to. And when it requires him to involve himself more and more deeply, he doesn't think he wants to pay the price it will require of him.
Homeschool Diaries will be much shorter, though I hope to pen a couple of sequels for that as well. I'm shooting between 80,000 to 100,000 words, which is average novel length. Here's a two-sentence pitch:
An angel is given a unique assignment--to chronicle the lives of five homeschoolers and give advice to their guardian angels on the best way to guide and protect them. But he's never met a family like this before.
I think most of the difference is that homeschoolers can let their hair down and they don't have to get out of their pajamas or leave the house. That's all I can find, anyway....

Thank goodness Mrs. Van Alstyne can't read this, or she would slay me in the spirit with malicious intent beforehand. Especially as she wouldn't want the Parkers to hear it come Judgment Day.

~Homeschool Diaries, by Schuyler M.

5. How long have you been working on it? What is the backstory of how you started this novel?
Backstory. Well, as regards War of Loyalties you aren't the only one to wish to know that question, Joy, but I have sworn to keep it a deep, dark secret. :) I will only say that it was inspired by good literature and probably by a few personal experiences as well.
Homeschool Diaries, however, I can be a little more forthcoming with. I first wanted to write it after reading a Christian comedian's fictional diaries. He wrote from the perspective of a charismatic father trying to get his family all in line so they could be a good Christian family. It's a hoot from one end to the other, but he actually wrote the diaries during a time of great depression, and some of the funniest sections are struggles and problems he hurt deeply over.

I would like to do the same thing with a homeschool version, and put my own twist on it so as not to plagiarize.

At first I was going to have the Homeschool Diaries written by one of the kids in my homeschool family, but then I couldn't respectfully satirize the parent characters. So I tried to switch to a parent, but then I couldn't have them respectfully satirize their spouse. Then one day the light bulb turned on, and the Lord gave me the idea to have an angel write the diaries.

After all, who can argue with an angel?!

6. Have you written other stories/books (or currently writing others)? Do tell us a little about them please!
I've written several short stories, including one based on all the friends in my brother's online Bible study. Those who attend the study get featured in the Princess Chronicles (hint hint). I have a lot of ideas. But I'm a steady kind of girl, and like to keep to one or two projects at a time. :)
Perhaps it was a premonition of dread that fell over them, or merely the mesmerization of the stillness. Whatever the cause, they stood motionless, counting the rumblings to themselves. The silence lasted one moment, perhaps two, when it was broken by a large boom, followed immediately by a second. ~War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M.
7. Out of all the characters you've ever written, who is your favourite?
From War of Loyalties I love my main character, Ben Dorroll, because he takes good care of people. I love Terry because he's the sweetest and most well-intentioned rascal I've ever had the pleasure to meet. And I love Jaeryn Graham because he's complicated and he's Irish. I also like a side character, Fenton, because he's so snaky even I don't know if he has good intentions or not.

From Homeschool Diaries I love Anion because he's innocent, and unjaded, and predisposed to think the best of everyone.

8. When you complete this novel, do you plan on preparing it for publication or rather leave it to "marinate" and start a new work with the hopes of improving your writing first?
Since I've been working on War of Loyalties for several years, my writing has grown along with the novel, and every new thing I've learned I've thrown into my writing process. It's been 'marinating' for a while, so I would like to get it to the printing presses as soon as it's ready. The same for Homeschool Diaries. Thus, why I'm talking about them in depth today, because I would like to start introducing them to all of you! :)

9. Isaac Newton was known to have said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Who do you see as having been the literary giants or "Greats" that have inspired and influenced your writing thus far?
I have been told War of Loyalties is a Charles Dickens meets John Buchan crossed with a little Sherlock Holmes. Since Dickens is my favorite author, that comes as no surprise. I like lots of characters that all twist together, complicated plots, and throwing the worst choices at my characters to see what they'll do with them. So I would say those three authors have had a heavy influence on my spy novel.

Homeschool Diaries stands on the shoulders of one Giant, the aforementioned Christian comedian. But since I can't in good conscience recommend him, I'm going to withhold his name. (Nope. He's not Tim Hawkins.)
Brielle spends a lot of time on one of those backwards, slow devices the humans call computers. If only they could see what we have up here, they would want the rapture to come sooner. Second rapture, I mean--or maybe the only rapture, depending on who you talk to. Calenon has rather strange opinions on the rapture--thinks that  most of the angels' trumpets and seals and things have already occurred. I must have missed them. But anyway, that has nothing to do with the homeschoolers.
~Homeschool Diaries, by Schuyler M.
10. Can you picture any of your novels being adapted into movies? In the stuff of your dreams, who would you cast for your main characters?

Hmm, to tell or not to tell?
To tell.

*rubs hands and chuckles*

Here is my cast for War of Loyalties:

Not all main characters are pictured; must keep some secrets, you know. Sometime I shall explain who they are, but that would make a very long blog post. My main character, Ben Dorroll, is the first person in the top row, and Jaeryn Graham is the fourth person in the top row.

Not all the screencaps are from shows I watch or endorse. For instance, I am familiar with Dan Stevens through Sense and Sensibility rather than Downton Abbey.

 As for Homeschool Diaries, the only people I have cast are the three angels; the humans I have not found, and since it's a satire, that might be a good thing. :)

Anion is Frodo from LOTR:

Calenon is Legolas:

Haldir is their supervisor angel with a name that nobody can pronounce, so I'm likely going to change it:

You may laugh, if you like, at my HD casting choices. I already have. But whatever it takes to get it done is what I do, and elves make very good warrior angels. :cheekygrin:

11. As you write, how often do you find yourself learning any of the lessons or going through any of the journeys/struggles of your characters?
Oh, often. So often that I think some people can recognize my own struggles through my characters, which is a frightening thing. But authors write books in the hope that their experiences can benefit someone else. After all, how can you write about someone else's struggles with any kind of authenticity?
I once asked Anne Elisabeth Stengl if it was wise to put personal experiences/struggles in books, and I very much appreciated her answer:
Ultimately we are our own best resources for understanding humanity. But to really write well, we have to write honestly. And that can be difficult and even embarrassing. It's so much easier to write caricatures or great big, epic Heroes....because they aren't us. And we know they aren't us. And our readers know they aren't us. These kinds of characters are masks; they aren't mirrors. To write real people is to be so much more vulnerable. Not everyone wants to do that. ~Anne Elisabeth Stengl
I'll say from personal experience that it is much more vulnerable. But I wouldn't want to write any other way.
12. As a Christian, how does your faith affect your writing generally? Is your current novel overtly Christian or more subtly under-girded with your faith and worldview?
My faith affects my writing in a great many ways: for instance, I start from a biblical worldview of right and wrong, I don't use swear words, and I try to resolve situational ethics wherever possible.

However, due to the subject matter I chose, that of a spy novel, I'll admit that I'm struggling with how to resolve spy ethics. War of Loyalties is much more subtle as to my faith and worldview, but though I don't use outright mentions of God and theology, you'll still find themes to chew on. Themes such as multi-generational faithfulness and unfaithfulness, loyalty, friendships, and viewing people through their individual heart rather than their national citizenship are all themes. All of my characters are flawed, because I want to show that all people have strengths and weaknesses.

As for Homeschool Diaries, that's much more overtly Christian. You can't have a book written by an angel and not have it Christian. Church, God, prayer, and theology will all be part of it--undergirded and sometimes taught through satire, of course. Also, my own personal theological leanings may become evident (I ascribe to pre-millennial, reformed theology.) but I try to give people a good laugh and not be dogmatic. (Evidenced by the angels having different views on eschatology. :P)
13. In one word each, how would you describe each of the main characters of your novel?

War of Loyalties:
Ben: Dutiful
Jaeryn: Enigmatic

Homeschool Diaries:
Anion: Innocent
The Van Alstynes: Insecure
The Parkers: Perfect.  As Anion says, "They're the closest thing we've gotten to riots in Heaven since Job."

14. Are there any aspects of your novel that have taken you by surprise?
Yes. Characters for one--I wrote this nice, angelic young Irishman in War of Loyalties who would have been a candidate for sainthood. But in the next draft he took off running and I'm trying desperately to pull him back by his collar. He dumped in two crooked fingers and a string of Gaelic, as well as a complete carelessness for lying and a master manipulation of people. You see, he's the type that will gently rub your shoulder with one hand and pin your weaknesses on his mental cork board with the other. He's very interesting this way, but not at all what I originally planned...

Writing is full of surprises--plot twists, characterizations, how hard it is, how fun it is. The rewards and struggles are beyond anything I've ever dreamed.

15. How do you think the main characters of your novel would react if he or she were introduced to you?
Me: How do you do?"
Ben Dorroll: "Very well, thank-you. Can I help you with something?"

Me: How do you do?"
Jaeryn Graham: "A pleasure to meet you, Lady Bibliophile. Coffee, perhaps?" All the while he's thinking: Secrets. She must have some. If I take her out for coffee we might get a chance to talk. She seems to like good literature, so even though I hate to read I could probably get her off her guard by talking about that and lead into other subjects....

"Sure thing. I must be going doc, but I'll see you around." Terry set off down the street before stopping and calling over his shoulder, "You have a pretty little acushla for a sister."

Ben smiled at his cheerful demeanor....Then he thought of the bomb drop on Tontine, and Pearl, and realized that was the second time this man Terry had called her by a love name.
~War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M.
16. Do you plan, Lord-willing, on pursuing the traditional mainstream route of finding an agent, etc, and waiting it out, or do you consider indi publishing (self-publishing) a healthy alternative?
Ideally I would like to pursue traditional publishing, and hope to start querying an agent later this year, if editing works out as I have planned. (It rarely does.) However, due to my book's size, its lack of a main romance plot, and its writing style, which, though not classic, isn't mainstream either, I forsee some difficulties. I do consider self-publishing a healthy alternative, and may seek that out. But I'm hoping for traditional, and will have to see where the Lord leads.

17. Out of the many themes and messages, what would be the one closest to your heart that you should like to share through your writing?
I do have a few themes that keep recurring: for one, right is an absolute standard of truth, and I like to preach that in my blog articles, and hope to show that eventually in my stories. For another, God can work through broken relationships, no matter how fractured, a heavy theme in War of Loyalties. In Homeschool Diaries I want to use the humor to help homeschoolers overcome the self-condemnation and comparison to others that they often struggle with.
"We agents are experts at the steady eye, the firm hand, the calculating toss; even tucking cards up our sleeves in a way that brands us as con men. And along with the skills we learn the delight of the heady wine of Chance. The luck--the stakes--the win--they feel exhilarating after you grow more used to them." ~War of Loyalties, by Schuyler M.

So there you have it, folks! Thoughts and questions are all welcome, and I hope you enjoyed today's sneak-peek into my writing world. Would you like to see another one sometime?

Lady Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 4th of July Booksale +Christian Audio Resource

On Friday, we attended the annual 4th of July book sale near us. Two hours of blissful meandering through tables and tables of books, and we all came away with quite the stack. It's a pleasure to attend, and if ever one of my readers visited me during July 4th festivities, we would definitely hit this together. :)

So without further ado, here is the vlog we shot, with titles listed below:

1. Robert Louis Stevenson Collection--Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Master of Ballantrae, Weir of Hermiston, The Black Arrow
2. Courageous novelization, by Randy Alcorn (I think this is one of few times that I might say the movie is better than the book!)
3. Old Curiosity Shop/The Mystery of Edwin Drood, by Charles Dickens
4. Shadows Over Stonewycke, by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella (Stonewycke Legacy #2)
5. Travail and Triumph, by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella (The Russians, #3)
6. The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien
7.The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
8. Raven in the Foregate, by Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael)
9. A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs, by Ellis Peters (Inspector George Felse--Haven't read any of him yet, so I'm inclined to view him with caution.)
10. Beowulf
11. The Tale of Troy, by Roger Lancelyn Green
12. Freckles, by Gene Stratton-Porter


Since the 4th of July vlog is a short post, I wanted to combine it with another resource that I've found enjoyable, and think my readers would as well. I'm not sure whether this is available internationally or just in the US, but Christian Audio has a lot of audiobooks available for $5, and several excellent sales throughout the year. Books like Kevin Deyoung's Crazy Busy and The Hole in Our Holiness, Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; complete Bibles, classics of the Christian faith, and popular Christian fiction are all available. Best of all, if you sign up for their newsletter you can download their featured audiobook of the month for free. This month's audiobook is The Lion of Babylon by T. Davis Bunn. I have read it and highly recommend it as a good Christian suspense novel with an intriguing modern setting.

So check out this website, and enjoy some great titles! I don't get a commission for your purchases, but I hope you find it a worthwhile resource.

Have a great week, fellow bibliophiles, and happy reading! I'll be back on Friday with a very special writing tag. :)

Lady Bibliophile

Friday, July 4, 2014

In Congress, July 4th, 1776

A Happy Independence Day to all my American blog followers! Last night Junior Bibliophile kindly helped me put this video together, and we hope you enjoy. May God bless his people in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

~Lady Bibliophile

P.S. We have a few fireworks in the background towards the beginning, but the audio quality should still be good. :)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Thing Every Book Reviewer Needs to Remember

photo credit

Book reviewers have life pretty sweet. Oh, granted, there's a little treacle and stale plotting to wade through, but think about it--we're the one group on the planet who are asked to read awesome books and give our opinions about them for the benefit of others. More often than not, we're asked to give our opinion in exchange for a free book, or at least in exchange for a cheap copy. And all we have to do is sit down and write what we thought.

Now, lest you get terribly jealous, book reviewing does take some work. First you have to find the time to read the book (no easy feat!) and then you have to make sure your review is honest about its flaws yet not unduly critical at the same time. Then you have make sure you post your thoughts in a timely manner so as to fulfill your end of the contract.

I've been a book reviewer for two and a half years now, and I'm also an author, though not yet published. I have a 600 page historical fiction under my belt, which means I have just enough writing knowledge to be dangerous when it comes to reading. I can critique the books I read from a writer's perspective: "Well, that plot didn't follow through." "Trim some of the padded description there." "You know, this character is really, really awesome." "Love that plot twist!"

I realize that not all you book reviewers out there are writers as well. There's a difference between a writer and a reader. But whether you are one or not, there's a vital concept for all of us to bear in mind as we write reviews:

It is very, very important to remember when we read a book that a real human wrote it.

Sound simple? Not so much. Here's the deal: every time we say, "This book was poorly written," or "This book was well-written," there's a human being on the other end receiving happiness or sorrow through our review. That's a weighty thing. We have no idea whether our review will be the pick-me-up they need to hear, or the last straw to send them into a week of writer's block.

I forget that all too often, even though I write books myself. So today, I'd like to share a little bit of the emotional process of writing a book, in hopes that it can offer a clearer perspective when you read. It's easy to see a book only as a game of plot cards well or poorly played, but what takes more dedication is bearing in mind that the book is a picture of a human soul.

1. Writing stories is a highly emotional process.
Like the term 'baby' or not, that's really what writing a book feels like. You carry this thing with you constantly for months--sometimes you wonder if it's going to die before you get it finished. I've worked on my novel for four years, and it feels like a brand-new first draft every time I go through it. Some days authors feel really depressed, and others they get an excitement high about how awesome their work is. The bigger the book, the more personal the story, the more intimately connected it is with an author. That alcohol abuse plot? That friendship betrayal? That broken home life? That physical abuse? There may be (and is) a very real-life, hurting person, seeking personal healing not only for their characters, but also for themselves and hopefully potential readers as well. While this isn't the case with every novel, it's a weighty thing to remember when reading.

For instance, before Jan Karon created her Mitford series, she was very afraid that she was developing diabetes. She did a lot of internet browsing, found out about the symptoms, researched the treatment, and then worked up courage to see the doctor. Turns out she didn't have it, but she took all the research and life experience and put it into her Father Tim novels. That was real-life pain turned to benefit in the story, and most authors work that way. Charles Dickens is another classic example--he took his pain from working in the factories, his feelings of betrayal towards his parents, and his longing for a better life and poured it into his novels about debtor's prisons, street waifs, and rags to riches.

We authors have to let our books go to be loved by the public, but keep in mind those of you who haven't written a story of your own: a book, just like a child, will always be an intimate part of the author's self. When you critique it, they can't separate the book from themselves. So be gentle, be compassionate, and be fair. When something doesn't work in a book, it's important to remember that the author is going to feel like they've let the characters down, just like a parent will feel like it's partly their fault when their kid does something wrong.

If you're of the reformed persuasion, you probably believe in the parallel truths of God's complete sovereignty and man's responsibility. The concepts, though they seem complete opposites, work in tandem with one another. The same is true with writing--the author is sovereign over the way the book goes, but (and I know this is really hard for some of you to grasp) there is an element of free will on the part of the characters. It's not meant to be an excuse for shoddy work; it's just a fact. Sometimes authors just aren't able to fix all the mistakes. So we have remember when we're pointing out a flaw that the author probably knew it was there before we mentioned it, and probably put forth a great deal of effort to fix it. They may have taken it as far as they were able before letting it go.

2. Writers get paid part with money and part with reviews.
Writers never get a full return on their work in money. It's impossible. Unless they throw the thing together and have someone else edit it, which only happens when you're a big name person, they pour countless hours into research, writing, editing, querying, and mulling over how to make it better. All of them have to come to grips with the fact that they're just not going to get money in enough return for the effort it took. So what they get fully paid with is the encouragement and delight of their readers. That's what makes the sweat worthwhile--if readers love it. One delightful comment can give them a week's worth of satisfaction, and one criticism can do the opposite.

The writing process is a roller coaster swing between the highest ecstasy and the deepest despair. Some of those characters you're reading about right now cost a lot of sleepless nights and writer's block and wrestling in prayer--not to mention the life experiences the author pours into their novels, many of which are quite painful. If you can relate to struggles the character is going through, chances are the author can too, and they were willing to put it in book form so you could find something to relate to. The best gift you can give the author, the best payment they could ever want, is to know that you loved and learned from the pages.

Keep in mind that your review and enjoyment of the book is part of the author's "paycheck"--the return they get on their investment. Don't stint them a compensation, and don't overpay them. Give a fair return on their hard work according to the amount of benefit they gave to you.

3. You'll Help the Author Most  by Reviewing With Gracious Honesty.
Even though a book should not be taken lightly, it also doesn't mean you have to shelter the author from any real assessment of the book's merit. It might not be worth much. They might need to put more work and sweat and personal investment to it. Tell them so, and be honest. Critique that baby for all it's worth. After all, Proverbs 27:5 says, "Better is open rebuke than hidden love." But before you toss a book out the window, give serious thought to how you're going to do it in an upbuilding manner. Wrestle over the book's themes, the character arcs, and the moral development. Try to discern why the author used them before you pass hasty judgments. I've made plenty of them, and looking back, I'm rather ashamed of the times that I missed what the author wanted to say by making hasty assumptions and sweeping generalizations.

When you have a bone to pick, keep these words in mind:
Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
--Proverbs 16:24
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
--Ephesians 4:29

My rule of thumb for writing reviews has always been to make sure it's something I wouldn't blush to have the author read. They don't need fits of rage; they don't need sweet sentimentalism. If it's exciting, be passionate. They'll want to throw their arms around you, for you are a kindred spirit. If it's terrible, say so in a professional manner and be sure to leave them with a concrete reason why. They'll want to shake hands with you for helping them along the way.

Francis Bacon said, "Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider." We, as book bloggers, owe it to the author to think deep about why they wrote the things they did, and to speak the truth in love.

What do you think? Questions about authors? Questions about book reviewing? I'd love to discuss them in the comments!

Lady Bibliophile
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