Friday, August 28, 2015

In Which We Have Two Parties

Yes! Y'all get an extra post this week. We've had two blog parties in the last two weeks, and both ladies offered a blog tag if we wanted to join the fun. So today I'm chiming in with answers for The Herosinger and Curious Wren. Have some cupcakes and settle down for a nice read.

The Herosinger Party Tag (by Emily Hayse--check out my interview with her here.)

1. Coffee or tea?
I have had one cup of coffee (thanks to Emily, actually), and need to drink it more before it becomes a firm taste. So for now I will say tea.

2. Rainy days or sunny days?
I love the sunshine early in the morning, when it is fresh and new. But I think I love a cozy day in a warm house with the rain outside even more.

3. What is one food you couldn’t live without?
We make up our own refried beans. And I could eat refried bean burritos pretty much any time of day. Also pasta salad. Or pizza.

4. Give three words that describe you.
Dignified. Kind. Introvert.

5. What would you do if you had a free hour and could do anything you wanted to?
Watching a movie is such a treat, and such a rare treat, that I would probably try to do that. Other options might be writing, coloring in my coloring book, or taking a nap. (That sounded so...10 years ago.)

6. What is your favorite book-to-movie adaption?
That's such an agonizing question. Currently I'm really enjoying any chance I get to see the 2014 Mike Newell adaptation of Great Expectations. It's a 2hr awesome, awesome capture of Dickens rambling story. It hits all my favorite points, has the most accurate 3rd act sequence of any Great Expectations movie I've seen, and pulls out the poignancy of Estella's story in a fresh way.

7. If there was one location from a book you could go to, where would it be?
I have a book I've written. And I'm scheming and dreaming to get to Folkestone, England sometime before I'm too much older. It is a beautiful spot on the southern cost of England, not too far from the white cliffs of Dover.

8. If you could meet one character from a book, who would it be?
I answered in the comments on Emily's original post, and said I would love to meet Alan Breck from Kidnapped. I have always wanted to wander the Highlands with him and Davie (I know, if I was not a girl. I wouldn't go if I was a girl.) And when I was little, I had lots of adventures with them in my mind.

9. If you could ask one author of the past a question, who would it be? What would you ask?
I would ask Charles Dickens who killed Edwin Drood. An author shouldn't die with a mystery novel unfinished.

10. If you could change one event you didn’t like in a book, what would it be?
This has spoilers. I always lamented the death of Steerforth in David Copperfield. In fact, I realized the other day that one of my long loved characters is a shameless copy of Steerforth. It wasn't my intention, but I think that hidden wound came out. He should have lived, and repented, and healed.

(That was a happy party cheer, wasn't it? Should have remembered the handkerchiefs.)

Curious Wren Party Tag (by Annie Hawthorne--check out my interview with her here.)

1. What was the last book you read, and would you recommend it?
Martin D. Gilbert's The First World War. A huge 500 page doorstopper, but considering the war lasted 5 years (or more) it's really a modest length. He does an excellent job of balancing government and private motives, war and homefront happenings, the armies of the different countries, and the private struggles of various commanders and soldiers. The poetry he included throughout is a heartbreaking look at what war does to soldiers. I would totally recommend it, and plan to post an in-depth review on Tuesday.

2. Describe the perfect reading spot.
On my bed. It has a pastel green bedspread with pink roses. When I remember to put the shade up, the sun comes in early in the morning. I have lots of pillows to recline on, and a stack of afghans at the foot of the bed if I want to be extra cozy.

3. Favorite book beverage? Tea? Coffee? Hot chocolate? Tears of your readers?
*evil chuckle* Just you wait, little miss Annie. For now, I'll settle for hot cocoa or hot cider. But I don't like drinking beverages around books, and I only drink water if I can help it.

4. Share favorite quotes from four books.
"Die?" she flamed. "Die, if I tell you that! [...spoilers...] You just try dying and you'll get a good slap!" ~Freckles, by Gene Stratton Porter

"I would gladly learn how this creeping Smeagol become possessed of the Thing of which we speak, and how he lost it, but I will not trouble you now. If ever beyond hope you return to the lands of the living and we re-tell our tales, sitting by a wall in the sun, laughing at old grief, you shall tell me then." ~The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

"And that's the whole poem," he said. "Do you like it, Piglet?"
"All except the shillings," said Piglet. "I don't think they ought to be there."
"They wanted to come in after the pounds," explained Pooh, "so I let them. It is the best way to write poetry, letting things come."
"Oh, I didn't know," said Piglet.
~The House At Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne.

"I have kept the thatch on Tara," Finn said. ~The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, by Rosemary Sutcliff

5. What is your most loved fantasy read? Dystopia? Contemporary? Sci-fi? Classic?
I've never read dystopia, contemporary, or sci-fi. (Any sci-fi recommendations, people?) So I'll stick with classic. Tolkien, Lewis, Stengl, and Patrick W. Carr are all favorites.

6. List three authors you’ve collected the most books from.
I have only to look on my beautiful new bookshelves! Dickens and Martha Finley have the most, with Ellis Peters and Micheal Phillips tied for third.

7. What are your thoughts on magic in literature?
Hmm. I like it to be clear-cut (the good guys have certain powers, and the bad guys have certain powers) but I don't mind it being there. I like it to be deeply thought out by the author, not just slapped in because that's what they've seen in other fantasy books. I think it's important to maintain moral retribution for good and bad acts, and I prefer humans/souls/individual identities to be created by the God-figure, not created by lesser beings.

8. What types of book covers capture your imagination most strongly? Feel free to include images.
I will say that one benefit of fantasy books are the really pretty covers. Somehow fantasy titles have more epic covers than regular historical/contemporary ones. But I also love the Michael Phillips era of Bethany House covers, and a few dear favorite stories as follows:

9. Mention the first book character that comes to mind. Elaborate on this.
Martha Finley got Elsie Dinsmore stuck in my head. That's sad. I wanted something a little more epic. She's a good girl, she doesn't cry nearly as much after book 3, and I have very fond memories of reading about her with my dad. I think girls are too critical of her submissive spirit. There. I have elaborated.

10. Do you lend out your books? Or is that the equivalent to giving away your babies?
I...prefer not to. That is like lending out a dear friend. Unless I can trust the person to give it back in a timely fashion, I'm not likely to offer, much as I love them. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Introducing Curious Wren (An Interview with Annie Hawthorne)

join the fun over at! 
Friends and fellow bibliophiles, I'm excited to introduce to you Annie Hawthorne, a dear friend of mine who just launched her first blog. (Tis the season! So exciting!) Annie is a dear, whimsical, sweet girl who has send dozens of encouraging tweets to me in our acquaintance. We've laughed together, discussed stories over the phone, prayed together, colored together...eaten coffee cake together. What better bond of friendship can you have?

Annie's created an online home for herself called Curious Wren. It's going to be a bookish sort of blog, and today I'm sitting down for an interview with her so you can get to know her better!

Schuyler: Hi, Annie! I'm so excited to host you for your brand-new blog launch. Since you're new to the blogging world, tell us a little bit about yourself. Hobbies? Family? Pets? Favorite food? Enchant us!

Annie: Hello, Schuyler! Thank you for hosting me! I'm delighted to be here today. *gives everybody chocolate chips*

Well, let's see... I am a people-loving, inquisitive, optimistic writer who tends to be guilty of hyperbole or making readers cry. Books are my treasure (or babies, that works too). My family is a large one and--having a strong strain of Spanish blood in us--we tend to be ridiculous, lively, demonstrative little humans, which I absolutely love. Someday I will have a fluffy cat, and a baby dragon which I'll have to bandage up every few days from fight casualties; but until then I console myself with mice I've knitted. I could eat pizza every day and not tire of it. Peppermint tea is my favorite, and the color blue makes my heart skip.

Schuyler: I love the way you growl at each other over Dutch Blitz games. :) And your baby dragons are simply adorable.

OK, so you call your blog Curious Wren--I love the whimsy! :) What is your hope for this blog, as far as what you hope to post and what readers will receive from it?

Annie: We do growl, don't we? Dutch Blitz is a serious and dangerous game, my friends. ;)

Curious Wren is going to be a very bookish blog. I plan to post articles about everything from writing tips to snippets to character studies to What I Love About Science Fiction, and why I like the movie Maleficient so much. I want my little window-seat of the cyberspace to be somewhere that people visit to be inspired, cheered, and have fun discussions about books, writing, and all that good stuff.

Schuyler: I love snippets! Actually, I love all things writing, but snippets especially are grand. And I can't wait to hear some of your thoughts on sci-fi, because that's a genre I know little about. Do you have a cozy nook or writing spot that you'll be writing these blog posts from? I love to picture authors in their work spaces. :)

Annie: And I can't wait to share with you my thoughts on sci-fi! My choice of "cozy nook" fluctuates between my desk and my older sister's bed. The desk has photos of friends and family, a hodge-lodge of notebooks, books, and precious items, plus artwork on the wall next to it, and everything's bathed in a soft glow from the faded pink lamp. Holly's bed, on the other hand, is near our bedroom window -- the white coverlet is soft, the scenery is lovely, and there's an inspiring ambiance about her quiet corner.

Schuyler: That sounds extremely cozy. A bed is the perfect place to curl up and write. :) OK, like most of us writers I assume you like to listen to music! Give us three soundtracks that you find inspirational for your writing muse.

Annie: Quite simply, music is the best. My list of inspirational soundtracks fluctuates depending on my mood/the book, but currently my muse flails over the first How To Train Your Dragon score, the main theme for Assassin's Creed III (, and certain songs from Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Schuyler: How To Train Your Dragon soundtrack. Epic awesomeness. O.o *fangirls with you* So. Owls. you like them. Tell us what you like about them, and some of the owl-decorated things you've collected over time (or if you prefer, what you want to collect).

Annie: Especially the track "Forbidden Friendship." O.O

Owls are easily the cutest animals ever, barring baby dragons, hedgehogs, and kittens. I love the wise persona they're often given, and there's so much scope for imagination when it comes to putting them in books. My owl characters in my current WIP are my favorite. Occasionally I'll just skim the story and fangirl over them. ^_^
Right now the only owl-related object I own is a bookmark you made for me -- which I love. Oh! And stationery I bought years ago. Someday I'd love to have mugs with owls on them. Maybe a poster for my wall, with an owl and quotes from my WIP on it. Owl socks. Owl notebook. A pet owl, obviously.

Schuyler: I didn't know I had given you your almost-first owl paraphernalia! How flattering. And a pet owl would be adorable.

I've known you for almost a year now, as a sweet friend, a wonderful writer, and a committed believer. And I know I'm not the only one your friendship has richly blessed. How do you see your role as a friend, daughter, and sister? What are some messages God has laid on your heart that you want to use to encourage those around you, both in person and online? (Some want to be a voice of truth, comfort, wise counsel, etc.)

Annie: Oh, help, I'm getting teary over here. Schuyler, you are so sweet! *hugs*

In a word, encourager. I want to be the best daughter, sister, and friend that I can be, and one of the best ways of doing that is being there for the people I love when they need it; listening to their heartaches, hopes, fears, and doing what I can to help, guide, and strengthen. I fail all the time, far more often than I succeed, but I know with my Heavenly Father's help I can accomplish whatever he wants me to. Even when I don't feel like it.

Something else that I try to show in my everyday life, whether on-line or in person, is how important thankfulness is. Please, don't misunderstand, I'm not meaning to be pompous or "Holier than thou" or anything of the kind. I've learned over the years through various hardships that unless someone is thankful they won't ever truly be happy or content. And so I see people around me struggling under the weight of multiple things, and it makes my heart ache, and I wish I could somehow show them if they focus on the good instead of all the bad that life is so much more joyful and less stressful. It doesn't change the situation, but the changed attitude helps incredibly. It took a lot for me to finally get through my head that God was teaching me that, and I still have to re-learn it over and over. Being thankful all the time, looking for the silver lining to every cloud is frustratingly hard, but life is so bright when I remember everything God has done for me, and how much I do have to be grateful for. So I try to live it, and maybe if God wills, I can be an encouragement to the people around me by doing so.

Schuyler: *hugs back* It's all the little graces that count up to the grand whole, isn't it? And counting them makes our hearts so full of gratitude that we in turn can encourage others. Amen. All right. Say your favorite author is coming over to visit. What would you whip up for dinner, and what would you make them for dessert? An elegant tea? A home cooked meal? Tell us!

Annie: Oh, goodness, my favorite author coming over for dinner would be an amazing and daunting prospect! O.O I think I would go for a light luncheon. Chicken salad, fruit, cheese ball, coffee cake, and afterwards tea and scones while we sit outside under the trees. Of course, depending on who the author was I might change the menu -- a hobbit meal for Tolkien? *grin*

Schuyler: That sounds like one of the lunches we had! I love it. But you might want to add mushrooms for Tolkien. :)

Sisters. You have several. What's your favorite part about living with older and younger partners-in-crime?

Annie: Well, I have you to thank for coffee cake being on that menu! < 3
Oh, my. I don't even know where to begin. O.O My sisters and I are very close. We're like a really small gang -- and yes, I stole that from Pinterest. ;) They're my toughest critics, unfailing supporters, and my go-to people when I need to fangirl/hyperventilate/brainstorm over Book Stuffage. I love how we bounce ideas off each other, always have each other's backs, can communicate volumes with one meaning look or word, have oodles of inside jokes and moments, and can (usually) read books at the same time without fighting over them. It's utterly amazing having sisters who are bookworms, writers, and deep thinkers too. I can be myself around them; I can be comfortably silent if I want, I can sing the Hallelujah chorus at the top of my lungs if the inclination comes over me, I can ask for prayer and know they'll actually do it, I can dance a jig in the rain and know they'll join me (and if they don't, they're having fun anyways), and I can spout my people-watching snark and they laugh and nod sympathetically.

They understand me. And it's wonderful.

Schuyler: Sisters are special soul mates, aren't they? Yours are of the race that knows Joseph. :) Besides sisters, what are some everyday graces you're thankful for? (Books, food, clothing, blogs, etc.)

Annie: "The race that knows Joseph." I love that you just said that. Montgomery for the win! ^_^

I'm going to answer this with something I wrote several years ago. Basically a small list of things that I'm grateful for, things that make me happy. Because lists are the best.

A smile on a stranger’s face, a giggle from a tiny baby, the smell of coffee, the sharp black silhouettes of trees against the deep blue of an evening sky, a bird chirping, a tight, never-let-you-go hug from my brother, a flash of vivid colour, the clink of heeled boots on a wooden floor, teardrops from the sky splashing against glass panes, the feel of satin, the smell of rain, books that make me cry, Sehnsucht moments, laughing so hard your chest aches, train whistles at night, cider or hot chocolate so burning hot it makes you cough, flaming sunsets, flannel shirts, catching fireflies.

Schuyler: Lists of small graces are my favorite thing to read. Tell us a little bit about your current writing project. What's it about? Who are the characters?

Annie: My current WIP is all blurry in my mind -- the MC is still unnamed, and it doesn't even have a working title, for pity's sake. *huffs and shakes brain* This is my least favorite state of affairs, but! It stars a snarky cat who's a bit full of it, and absolutely adorable -- to me, at least. He and his bird friend Prism get up to all sorts of dangerous shenanigans ("beautiful word, shenanigans.") in the steampunk-ish city they terrorize, all while trying to keep a wild, little girl from being killed by a vengeful faerie before she even has the chance to grow up. It's a shorter project that I'll be scribbling like a small, fierce maniac for the next month, and I love it so much I wish I could give it a hug. *clutches notebook close*

My other WIP is a sci-fi Beauty and the Beast re-telling called I am Juliette (the first book in a series of re-tellings) and at the moment I'm editing the third draft -- read: panicking, and alternately wanting to hug the manuscript or chop it into little pieces and feed it to the sharks.

Schuyler: Annie, I am Juliette was so enchanting. I am deeply moved whenever I remember it, and I can't wait to see it in print. Could you share a snippet of your writing with us?

Annie: Stop, you're going to make me cry again! *hugs you* Just for those lovely words I'll share more than one snippet. ^_^ 

From I am Juliette:

1. “You can see me. How can you see me?” I demanded, “Your eyes aren’t open.”
The man shifted.

“Why do they have to talk?” I heard him mutter before he said clearly, “You don’t have to see hallucinations to imagine them.”

2. “Humans,” the Owl addressed the cabin, “have very weak minds.”

3. Our eyes locked and I wished again for something to call him by.
No wonder children are given names the moment they’re born.

4. A chair is a wonderful thing.

Unless, of course, it was designed by someone who considered comfort a vanity, and one’s toes barely brush the deck when they sit on it.

From one of I am Juliette's sequels:

Day 455.
Vince has altered his look.
He now has spiky hair (still deep black), an evening suit (of all things!), and cowboy boots.

Love the boots, but other than that he looks like an absurd, brooding vampire. I say it's his way of sulking 'coz I dyed my hair silver instead of brunette--his suggestion. Of course, Vince denies it emphatically.

(Fond of her adverbs, isn't she?)

I disconnected the holotank here in my control room so I can't see his hologram. I did try just shutting it off, but he kept switching it back on.

Wretched AI.

So, I've ripped the wires out. And--being only a brilliant computer with no fingers--he can't do anything about it. No matter how much he fumes.

(Anyone who can see these files--other than Metal Brains--must be a scientific genius, hence will know that an AI NEVER fumes.)

I love these characters so much. O.O

Schuyler: The Owl. Such a gem. I think you should give out pet PONDs as part of your I Am Juliette fan club. ;) Thanks so much for joining us today, Annie! :hugs: Hasn't she been fun, everyone? Go check her out at Curious Wren, and don't forget to enter the fantabulous giveaway. :)

Annie: Oh, I wish! I can't tell you how much I want a pet POND of my own. O.O We shall just have to satisfy ourselves with the fictional versions. ;)

Thank you so much for having me, Schuyler! I had a delightful time. :hugs: Isn't she brilliant with her questions, m'dears? I'm so happy I was able to be here today! 

Annie Hawthorne is a twenty-something writer who tends to be guilty of either hyperbole or crafting scenes that make her beta-readers cry. If she's not scribbling YA fantasy and speculative fiction, then she can be found interacting with her family as one of its more lively members or attempting to shorten her TBR stack (it never works). She practices piano badly, and photography even worse. People-watching, long road-trips, dissecting movies, Doctor Who and LOTR marathons, wearing red heels, and collecting mugs are always on her To-Do list. She chases beauty, and is a child of God. Annie talks books, writing, and life at You can find her Twitter account

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why Homeschoolers Need to Read Modern Literature

Two months ago, a friend and I were sitting in the back seat of our van, talking a mile a minute as the sun set behind us. We ticked off the miles to that saddest of all sad moments, "Goodbye for now." We were taking her home after a long day of Christian teaching, great food, and some of the most epic conversations about literature I'd ever participated in.

But it wasn't over yet. The crowning delight of that heavenly day was one of our last discussions, about reading modern literature and capturing the hearts of our generation for Jesus.

It's an age-old question we wrestled through. Do you only read what's highbrow classic lit? Do you only read what is really, honestly good Christian literature? Is it OK to read books written by nonbelievers? Or is worthwhile to sample even literature you wouldn't approve of for the sake of knowing what your generation believes?

It's a tough question, and it's OK for the answer to vary from person to person. Today, I want to make a case for reading modern literature. Because Dickens and Elsie Dinsmore are awesome, but if we stop there, we have a pretty serious gap in our arsenal.

Reading modern literature helps us keep in mind what's capturing the heart of the next generation. In saying that, I'm not making an argument that you need to be relevant to modern times. Don't go read Game of Thrones just because everyone else is doing it. But you do need to be aware of the movies and books that are being produced and the elements inside them to know how Satan is countering the efforts of the church and family. He doesn't deal with generalities. He deals with very specific lies that have very devastating impact--and he's more than fine with using the entertainment industry to propagate it.

Yes, I know, I know. "Old authors write better!" But they don't have the corner on the market. And they're not the only authors influencing readers. So get in the game. You don't have to make a steady diet of modern literature. You don't even have to read a whole book if you need to skim. I'd suggest taking a popular book now and then, reading a few blog reviews, Wikipedia synopses, and picking a couple up at the bookstore to thoroughly skim every month. That goes a long way to help you keep in touch.

When you read, you're not there to moan over the writing style or pick apart the characters. (Though I certainly understand if not all the books you read are your cup of tea.) The primary goal in reading modern literature, should be, surprisingly enough, to listen.

Listening tells you what's going on among your peers. There are lots of bad things going on. There are also some good things. You should be aware of them, not only for your own protection, but also for the sake of your outpouring of ministry.

What questions do they have?
This calls for discernment and compassion. It's easy to pick up a romance book and make a swift judgement "modern girls are boy-crazy." Not so fast. Maybe modern girls are hungry for God-wired family and love, and that's the only place they know where to find it. It's easy to look at a fantasy book and say "Battles. boy stuff. Just like a video game." Not so fast. Maybe it's a sign that boys crave adventure, dominion, leadership, and they're finding it in that medium. Everybody's seeking. The books they pick up are yet another indication of questions they want truth on. Questions about religion, life purpose, and relationships.

What answers are they being given? 
Every author gives answers according to their worldview. Some of the answers are good (creation, obedience, family, dominion, submission, authority, and Gospel) others are bad (evolution, autonomy, modernity, individual truth, and individuality). Listen to the answers before you fault the reader for asking the question. Everyone needs answers and growth. The false shepherds are the ones we should really be going after, not the hungry sheep.

What lies are they believing? 
"Girls are tough; fend for yourself." "Any relationship is OK if your love need is being met." "You need a boyfriend." "It's OK to be who you truly are." All of these are major things taught in today's literature. Character journeys can tell you a lot about what your peers believe...and whether you, too, are being duped into lies outside the Bible.

What truth do they need?
Only after you have a basic idea of what your peers are being told, do you have an ability to offer the truth to them. Once you know the story elements they love (adventure, fantasy, romance) can you recommend books to them with those well-loved plots that actually teach truth:  "Women have dignity." "Submission isn't subjection." "God is Love, Justice, Holiness, Master." "Men need adventure." "Families mirror Gospel." You bet girls need some strong lassies. But Britomart will teach them much more truth than Katniss, with the same elements of battle and adventure.

Four simple questions. They're the foundation of any literature experience. These are great questions for any book you read (after all, ancient writers taught truth and falsehoods to their generations as well) but especially vital to apply to modern literature.

I think a lot of Christians are afraid to develop a listening spirit in today's day and age. If they listen, they fear the other side might convince them. And they're right. We're a frail people, and that's why we need to be earnest in prayer for a mighty God's protection and grace. That risk requires being faithful in prayer, setting our standard exclusively by the Word of God, and having wise accountability partners. But if we don't listen, we risk something more important: losing hearts of people who we could bring back to a standard of truth.

John Mark N. Reynolds, in his introduction to The Great Books Reader, made one of the most profound statements about Christian reading that I've ever read:

Once again: Follow the argument, what Plato would call the logos, and keep an open mind. This pursuit is good for your soul and cannot harm you unless you stop being a follower
That might feel scary or tiring: scary because you might think it implies there is no truth, or tiring because it possibly sets up an endless journey. Rather, the passionate pursuit of the argument is hopeful--it assumes that wondering can be wonderful and that humankind can continue making progress toward finding the truth. And the journey is not, so far as we know, endless; death brings us to the as-yet "undiscovered country" where, reports suggest, we will find the full rest. 
[...] If Christianity is true, then every argument will, if pursued to the end, lead to Jesus. 

In other words, listening and seeking won't kill your soul unless you stop seeking, and settle where you are. Reading modern literature opens the conversation about faith, life, love, and religion with our current generation. We should look to the tried and true authors for time-tested standards. Most of all to the Word of God to bring us back when we get out of sync. But we should also read new authors to see how modern believers and unbelievers are wrestling with issues in today's world. Then we can see where they say "I lack" and offer them books that will truly fill them with the bread of Christ.

"Jesus cares for that, too. The sex abuse. The modesty issues. The need for a boyfriend. The craving for fulfilling marriage. The hurting families. And in obedience to him, you can find your full contentment, and full rest."

Jesus doesn't walk ahead of us and say "When you finally get it, you'll catch up with me." He walks with us, and leads us to the place of Truth. We should walk with this generation and lead them to Jesus. Part of that is meeting them where they are, so we can lead them to where they need to be.

Meet them in the books you read. Again, as you feel able. God doesn't call everyone to be a front line soldier, and that's OK. But for those of us who are able and ready to be dominion-minded readers, stay in touch with your peers' reading habits. It's a mission field that needs to be taken captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Diary of a Jackwagon, by Tim Hawkins

They say variety is the spice of life. One week you get reviews of epic Middle English poetry, and the next we go straight to modern comedy in Tim Hawkins' Diary of

Jackwagon: (definitions provided by Tim)
1, a mule-drawn military freight wagon pieced together from discarded parts, which frequently breaks down
2. a person with no special intelligence, skill, talent, or rank who routinely messes things up
3. me

The Book
For those of you who have seen his comedy skits, you'll recognize lots of the funny punchlines, but there were plenty of stories I hadn't read before. Each chapter talks about a different subject: Blinker Fluid, Nook and Cranny, Krispy Kremes (like eating baby angels, people!) and Kid-Friendly are among a few of the subjects. Full of random thoughts, funny stories, and lots of laugh-out-loud moments, you won't want to miss Tim's comedy in written form. 

My Thoughts: 
I opened this book as soon as it came in the mail. It was my night to cook. Supper was late. 

It was also the night to attend Bible study. I was late for that too. 

I had a glorious four days of snickering, reading snippets aloud to the family, and laughing until I couldn't stop crying. (That was the chapter with Cracker Barrel in it--but the one about growing older was just great, too.) Tim Hawkins combines lots of stories about his wife, his kids, himself, health, church, and travelling into a hilarious quick read. 

We're closet fans of his, pulling up comedy shorts on his YouTube channel and hooking them up to our TV when we want a relaxing evening. We've seen everything from Homeschool Blues to handraising signals in church. Our family is huge on reenacting things we love, and inserting his quotes at just the right moments in our daily life. When I saw the book, I got it so I could have all this gold mine of comedy in written form to read to my family and make them laugh.

At the end of each chapter he includes a couple of "Tweet Thoughts"--bites of comedy in one sentence. Important things like, "Let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "I'll pray about it." and "When somebody asks me to do something I say "no worries," which means I'm not going to worry about not doing it." Also, in the back of the book, he includes a one-page chart of the names for hand-raising signals in church. Which I think is awesome.

The only chapter I didn't read was Christian Cuss Words. Colonoscopy probably wasn't the best one either.

It's not a book that will deepen your faith, teach you grand insights into hidden meanings in Scripture, or smack on the cheesy Christianese after each comedy skit. It's just exactly what it sounds like: a book that aims to make you laugh.

Laughter can be another form of healing in church and family. So that's a grand purpose in and of itself. I hope you enjoy Diary of a Jackwagon as much as I did.

I received a free copy of this book from Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Introducing The Herosinger (An Interview With Emily Hayse)

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Friends and fellow bibliophiles, I am dancing (a respectable, dignified dance) inside from excitement! Today I get to introduce you to a very dear friend and her debut blog, The Herosinger. Emily Hayse and I met at a Christian girl's conference when we were just teetering into our young teens, and we've been close friends ever since. She has a heart for honoring the Lord, a heart for adventurous stories, a fierce love for her Scottish and Asian heritage, and a yummy knack for making chocolate cake. Her blog will be a delightful journal on the web you won't want to miss.

And today, to help you get to know her better, we're sitting down for an interview chat. Grab a cup of iced-tea or lemonade and join us!

Schuyler: Hi Emily! I can't tell you how thrilled I am to host you for your debut blog launch! Tell us a little about yourself. Jobs? Hobbies? Family? Favorite dessert?

Emily: Thank you so much, Schuyler!
Well, to start, I am the second oldest of eleven children, in a delightful (sometimes loud), happy family, which I am very blessed to be in. There is--very honestly--never a dull moment at home, and while that can be challenging at times, it also makes for some great stories! I currently work mornings at a horse barn, cleaning stalls, feeding, turning horses in and out, etc. And my boss lets me ride, which is a great perk! In addition, this past school year I taught American Sign Language to a couple classes of 6-9th graders. Wow, hobbies. Let's see...riding, dry mushing (with just one dog), Irish Dance, tall ships (never sailed one, but want to), learning languages, and playing/singing music. My favorite dessert is basically whichever I am baking at the moment, though you can never go wrong with chocolate. Take one look at my Pinterest boards and you'll see how dessert and I get along!

Schuyler: I've had some of your tasty chocolate desserts. ;) They're something to write home about, for sure! Ok, so you call yourself the Herosinger, and promise us some grand adventures. I love it! :) What are some of the bold adventures you've dreamed up in your stories?

Emily: Wow, what a question to ask. I have a ship whose mission is to hunt down a pirate king in the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy, a young stage actor on a mission to escape a Dickensian London dystopia, a modern spy thriller than spans the globe, eight people in 1890's Australia who must survive after their train crashes in the mountains, a secretary to a British politician during the American Revolution whose life falls apart as he accidentally falls in love with a high-born lady, a gentle-hearted girl who becomes heiress to two kingdoms that have warred against each other since ancient times, and I had better stop there. We could go on for a long time!

Schuyler: Oh my goodness. I want to read them all right now. :) You'll have some awesome snippets lined up for the future, I hope! Did some well-loved books or authors inspire you to write these grand adventures of your own?

Emily: Oh yes! Far more than I could count. But I'll throw out just a few (I'll try to do just a few) that came to mind as you asked that: J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rosemary Sutcliff, Eloise Jarvis McGraw, Marguerite Henry, Jean Lee Latham, and Charlotte Yonge. Specific books that I see as being instrumental in inspiring what I write and the spirit in which I write, include Rosemary Sutcliff's The Shield Ring, The Shining Company, and The Mark of the Horse Lord, Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (need I even say that one?), The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter, San Domingo, Medicine Hat Stallion, by Marguerite Henry, Sweet Land of Michigan, by August Derleth, Mr. Revere and I, by Robert Lawson, and Call it Courage by Armstrong Sperry. However, a lot of my inspiration also comes from history and real life. There is never one single place my adventures spring from, but a thousand little ones.

Schuyler: Many of those are well loved, and some of them I have you to thank for introducing me to them. :) I'm intrigued by Sweet Land of Michigan. I've never heard of it before. When you're not reading or writing, what's your favorite way to spend a relaxing evening?

Emily: Baking something while watching and discussing a movie with my family. We can never seem to just watch a movie; the story, script, score, acting, cinematography, etc. all get thoroughly analyzed. And brownies or lemon bars just make it better!

Schuyler: One of my favorite memories will always be the night we watched The Hobbit together. :) And I think we had Ghiradelli brownies that visit, too, so it was a win-win! You have a big family; what are your favorite aspects of family/siblings? How do you balance your role as writer and big sis in a busy household?

Emily: I love the great sense of camaraderie in our family. Some of us are adults now, and none of us can bear to be apart from the rest of the family for long. We help rub each other's sharp corners and rough edges off, and you can never be lonely, even if you try.  With younger children, not a day goes by where there isn't something cute said or done, you don't have to look far for opportunities to minister, and you get the sweetest compliments. My older sister has gotten multiple proposals of marriage from well-meaning two year olds, and one brother informed me that I was the best cook in the world and I should give the chefs on Food Network some pointers. And he was totally serious. And as a writer, there are endless blessings. I have a sister who is my fantastic editor, I have a built-in fan club, pre-beta readers, siblings who cover for me when I'm nearing a deadline, and little siblings who make me coffee out of the kindness of their hearts.

Ha! I could seriously write a comedy on balancing writing life with big sister life! Largely I find the balance in flexibility, mental preparedness, and consistency. The family can rarely spare me to lose myself for an entire day while I work feverishly on a book (they kindly did with my last WIP), but even on busy days they can usually give me an hour to myself, even if it's in fifteen minute chunks, and you had better believe that I capitalize on that time. And if I knock off a thousand words or so in that hour's time and do that every day for six days a week, then that's a moderate length novel done in two months. If I have to rock a baby to sleep or do dishes, I can't be actively writing, but I can be outlining or working out the scene in my head so that when I get the time, I know exactly what I want to say. And of course, you can't always plan for those times when the baby wakes up the minute you've started a word war, or when you have to type around the four-year-old in your lap, but that's where learning to make do and trust God with what He's given you at that moment comes in. I have by no means perfected the balance, but by God's grace and my family's cooperation, I have gotten much closer.

Schuyler: Wow, wow, wow. This is my favorite answer so far. I am always inspired by examples of other writers who have a heart for family and a heart for writing. As Pendragon says, "What God gives the vision to do, he gives the grace to accomplish." You've inspired me on many levels with your words here, and the Lord is doing some precious work in you.

I know you also play music. Can you tell your readers a little bit about your talent for instruments, and the local orchestras you've been part of?

Emily: I started playing violin when I was six, and when I was fourteen or so I became a "viola convert", as we are called in the orchestra world. It is actually a fairly rare thing to find a violist who wasn't a violinist first. And I've played viola primarily since. I also play just a little cello, pennywhistle, and piano. I have been in many orchestras over the years, but currently I play in my local symphony as principal violist (as I am quite often the only one!) and in a Christian community orchestra that pulls from a larger area. I have played everything from Aaron Copland's Hoedown to Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony. My sisters and I play and sing together often for church and weddings.

Schuyler: A lot of us have bucket lists of places we'd like to travel. Any countries you are scheming to get to someday? :)

Emily: Yes! I have wanted to go over to the British Isles for almost my entire life and visit England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. My ancestors came from all four countries, and so it would be really neat to see where I came from. I also would really like to go to New Zealand. I think it's a gorgeous country, and through some of my stories my heart has become quite tied to it. And I would like to visit Australia. That's been an ambition ever since I was a little girl.

Schuyler: Many of your places are on my bucket list as well. We should go together! :) If we could peep at your music playlists and see some of the most played tracks, what artists and songs would we find?

Emily: You would find Patrick Doyle's "In Pace" (from Hamlet) for sure! It is the reigning king of my music, having over 250 more plays than anything else. I listen to a lot of film soundtracks, classical music, and some folk and Gaelic groups. You would also find "Go Bid the Soldiers Shoot" from Hamlet, "Dreaming of Bag End" and "Erebor" from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Celtic Thunder's "Now We Are Free" from Gladiator, Thomas Bergersen's "Homecoming", "The Black Gate Opens" from The Return of the King, Mary Fahl's "The Dawning of the Day", "Forgive Me" from Thor, "These Brave Irishmen" from Gods and Generals, James Horner's "Sons of Scotland" from Braveheart, and "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughn Williams. 

Schuyler: That's an epic, adventurous list that really suits your writing style. :) What are some little things that make you happy on an everyday basis? (Food, weather, objects, songs, clothing, etc.)

Emily: A good writing project, rainy days, coffee, "In Pace", pizza, a new story character, Robert Louis Stevenson poetry, and new movies.

Schuyler: And last of all, give us one mission statement that the Lord has given you that you want to use your writing talents share with others.

Emily: The hardest battles are fought in the mind and heart. I believe that it is the small, everyday choices that condition the heart for great acts of courage, and if we learn to love truth and beauty and true, Christlike heroism, we are better armed for the fight.

Courage, truth and beauty. If you want to see all these things, head on over to Emily's new blog, The Herosinger, and follow her to keep updated on all her posts. You won't want to miss it. :) Emily has some treats to give away for her new blog launch, so be sure to enter for a chance to win!

Welcome to the internet world, my friend. Looking forward to more adventures with you! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Not By Sight, by Kate Breslin

I'm working on researching the modern historical fiction market before this fall's writer's conference, so when Kate Breslin's Not by Sight appeared on my list of review options, I eagerly picked it up. Modern day WW1 books are hard to find, and when you're looking for comparable titles, fellow WW1 writers are a gold mine.

The Book 
[From the back cover:] In the spring of 1917, all of Britain's attention is on the WW1 war front and the thousands of young men serving their country on the front lines. Jack Benningham, dashing heir to the Earl of Stonebrook, is young and able-bodied but refuses to enlist despite the contempt of his peers. 

A wealthy young suffragette, Grace Mabry will do anything to assist her country's cause. Men like Jack infuriate her when she thinks of her own brother fighting in the trenches of France, so she has no reservations about handing him a white feather of cowardice at a posh masquerade ball. 

But Grace could not anticipate the danger and betrayal set into motion by her actions, and soon she and Jack are forced to learn the true meaning of courage when the war raging overseas suddenly strikes much closer to home and their fervent beliefs become a matter of life and death. 

My Thoughts 
First of all, I enjoyed the fellowship of reading a book from another WW1 author. Community for this time period can be lonely, and I appreciated her afterward detailing the challenges of writing an era that has few research resources (though thankfully more than it did a few years ago).

Second, I appreciated that on several plotting elements, we think similarly. This is a huge confidence booster when you're a newbie in the writing world. Newbies always appreciate encouragement from looking at published authors who have gone before.

Thirdly, though I had heard of the Women's Land Army, I hadn't heard of the Women's Forage Corps. These women baled hay for the horses fighting overseas, and did their best to help the soldiers in every way they could. This was an aspect of the times I hadn't delved into, and enjoyed learning more about.

In some places it was not what I had hoped. I found Jack's plot easy to predict ahead of time, and the combined elements of blindness, a suffrage sweetheart, Bay Rum cologne and agnosticism towards Christianity were elements I had seen before in contemporary fiction. Grace's suffrage attitude towards women's rights also made me uncomfortable at times. I believe women are created by God to do a wide variety of dominion-minded works--in the marketplace and at home. But Grace wanted to seize freedom for herself from the grasp of narrow-minded men, and I wish the men could have been given a more positive role in this story.

Knowles, the butler, was a dear. I loved Marcus Weatherford, high-up man in MI5 intelligence for his dapper authority. And I can say from research experience that the bomb drops she refers to are absolutely historically accurate. Also, the setting of Swan's tea rooms in London for Grace's home made for an interesting and unique setting.

It made for a relaxing book to take with me on a trip out of town. Kate says she's delving into WW1 spy fiction, and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next. :)

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser

Suzannah Rowntree got me hooked on Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene a couple of years ago.

I'll be honest and say I never expected to like it as much as she did.

After two years of procrastination, I have now finished this epic classic. Today I'm proud to write a review of my reading experience. It may be rather meandering, but I'll point you to an in-depth study guide at the end.

The Book 
In the 1500s, Edmond Spenser set out to write a fantasy book about twelve Christian virtues. But he didn't want this to be a sermon book; he wanted a swashbuckling portrayal of virtues and vices illustrated by the lives and adventures of twelve knights in the time of King Arthur.

He certainly pulled it off. Jousting knights, pet lions, raging giants, and epic tales of battle, love, and chivalry, as each virtue triumphs over its contrasting vice. Sounds cool? Even cooler, he wrote each adventure in rhyming Middle English poetry.

Wait. Come back. It's not that bad!

The Journey 
This has been my baby for the last two years. The only time I've really, badly procrastinated for two years on something I need to get done. Like the guilty, feel-yucky procrastination. Somehow the first two books didn't click. Each canto took forever to finish, and there are twelve cantos per book, and 6 books for the whole Faerie Queene, get the idea.

I took it to election working. I tried reading it on the computer. None of the methods stuck for long, but I still had fun along the way. I loved all the reactions from various people. The army veteran who remembered reading The Faerie Queene in highschool. The stylish older lady who rolled her eyes at the bad memories. The howls of laughter from my family every time I read another lofty, unintelligible stanza about virtue's decline in the modern world. The time my brother asked "are you reading that to punish yourself?"

No, actually.

Two weeks ago, I was done with my writing goals for the month, I had finished my big epic novel's fourth edit, and my computer went to the shop for repairs. I think, all of a sudden, I had brain space for The Faerie Queene. Instead of struggling through one canto per week (with twelve cantos per book, and six books...never mind.) I stared whipping through six cantos a day. I wanted to get it done, and I wanted to get it done before we went out of town to the Creation Museum.

Friends and fellow bibliophiles, I met my goal. And I am now a proud fangirl of the Edmund Spenser club.

It feels elite.

A pet lion. A PET LION.
Basic Impressions: 
First of all, Spenser's imagery isn't hard to get. I still bungled it, though. I was reading along in book 4, about a knight getting mad, because he was trying to sleep next to workers pounding away at an anvil. My first impression was wondering how much of an imbecile he could be not to get up and move. But when I read the names of the workers (Pensiveness and Sighs), I realized it was an allegory for those dark nights when you're lying awake, and you can't shake off thoughts of grief and sorrow. Everybody has nights like that. Spenser explains exactly what he means; it doesn't take a genius to understand it. ( good. Because I don't get the obvious.)
Second, his characters are so vivid. I did burst out laughing by about the sixth maiden in distress who claimed she was the 'most sorrowful maiden in all the world'. But in spite of that, the characters are varied and endearing.
Thirdly, his Christian living and teaching are challenging and true. I dog-eared many pages of passages that struck me (this book is so huge I would never find them just by underlining) and rejoiced at the joy, vigor, and consistency with which his characters lived the Christian life.

I did skip a few cantos--the parade of all the sea gods didn't add to the story, and I'm not interested in that kind of religious folklore. Some of Acrasia's scenes in book 2, and one description of hell in book 1 were things I didn't want to read. Use your discretion in skipping around as you need to. The Middle English I found easy to understand as I got into it, but that may be an extra challenge for some readers. Also, Spenser occasionally goes on unimportant side tangents. If you persevere through that you'll love the book as a whole. But side tangents in Middle English poetry are more unforgivable than modern prose. ;)

Favorite Book
Each book had a different virtue. The first book (Holiness) had the tightest story plot, while the second was quite rambling. The first two didn't really resonate with me, but each one got better and more gripping as they went along. I have the most dog-eared pages of things I want to remember in Book 4 (Friendship) and Book 5 (Justice). The combination of justice and chastity, and the illustrations of wise friends, foolish friends, reconciliation and visionary work brought joy to my soul.

Favorite Characters
Artegall and his Tin Man, who went marching through the realm dispensing justice...Triamond and Cambell with their lady loves by their sides...the romance of Florimell and Marinell...King Arthur's squire. There were so many people to know and love. It would be hard to choose a favorite knight, but Artegall (Justice), Triamond (Friendship) and Calidore (Courtesy) were my favorite for the way they lived with purpose, fought as men, and protected women. And the women were pretty special as well. Many of them carried swords and killed evil people within their God-given position of biblical womanhood. If you want visionary womanhood, this book has lots of examples.

Chivalry in the Faerie Queene
I don't think I've ever read a book that embodies chivalry between men and women so well as The Faerie Queene. I'm a bit tired of the arguments about chivalry between the sexes in modern society. The Faerie Queene didn't argue or make exceptions. It just illustrated how good men should treat good women, and how good men should treat evil women. Each knight faithfully dispensed his duties with bravery and chivalry for each damsel he found in distress. There was nothing more important to a knight than rescuing a lady in need, and it didn't matter if the lady was in the most compromising or embarrassing of situations. I think this book gave me an appreciation like none other of the comfort and security God designs for women by giving them the love and protection of men. What a precious, precious gift.

Sexuality in the Faerie Queene
Sir Artegall and the Tin Man. <3 td="">

Dealing with issues of lust, chastity, love, friendship, and temperance, The Faerie Queene has several frank discussions about sex. Christian knights rescue ladies from capture, unwanted love, and attempted rape. One girl is based off of Helen of Troy, and leaves her husband for an affair. Acrasia, in book 2, has a bower of bliss where she lures in weak-willed knights for sexual pleasure, like the adulterous woman in Proverbs. The last book, especially, has several rape attempts and mentions nakedness.

While this may seem frank, I didn't read it for no reason. Spenser's handling of sexuality has some of the soundest thinking I've ever read. It trains your mind into truth. Instead of focusing on handsome blue eyes (and yes, The Faerie Queene had some rugged knights) he instead solemnly hammers into readers the importance of purity, chastity, male headship, and the beauty of sexuality as God intended it. He doesn't glorify sexuality or provocative behavior. You won't find lengthy bedroom scenes. He simply uses an appropriate level of detail for the subjects he is dealing with. Spenser wants his readers to have a Christian mindset in every area of life, and he can't train readers without talking about it.

As I remarked to a group of friends this morning, sometimes in creating something 'clean' we miss creating something 'biblical'. While The Faerie Queene can make people uncomfortable, books like this with true, mature, biblical love, create a much more mature mindset and appropriate comfort level than clean books with shallow attractions.This is a full-blooded, adult, mature Christian novel. It doesn't shy away from any aspect of  love life. I wouldn't have read this at a younger age, but now I think it's beneficial and rewarding. It may not be for everyone, and that's OK. But I would give my daughter The Faerie Queene before I would give her a stack of modern romances.

Obviously we need a longer article on this. I have one in drafts for the future.

Suzannah Rowntree's Guide
I would never have picked up The Faerie Queene without the Faerie Queene feature week at Vintage Novels. Suzannah wrote in-depth posts and answered a lot of my questions about different aspects of it. That piqued my interest, and I went out and purchased my own copy. She compiled her posts into a handy book, so if you want more information about the virtues and vices, plot lines, and vision for this story, check out her guide The Epic of the Reformation on Amazon.

In Conclusion
There is so much I want to include in this review, and I simply can't for length's sake. I can only hope that you'll give The Faerie Queene a try, and discover it to be just as rich and enjoyable as I did.

This book is one of the most talented, solid Christian stories that I have ever read. Middle English and all, I consider it a privilege to have finished a copy of this story. I give it five stars and heartily recommend it to dominion-minded readers.

Friday, August 7, 2015

August Novella Snippets

Hello there, folks! Today I'm excited to share another round of snippets with you. I've been cutting back on snippets due to possible restrictions in the publishing industry. It makes me sad, because I love sharing them with you all, but I don't want to burn future bridges. However, with the writing conversation posts and character interviews, I hope to keep sharing little bits here and there. Follow my Twitter account if you want a weekly poster on Wednesdays, and feel free to pin and reshare those posters as you like. :)

This month I've been working on a new novella, and as it occurred to me that I haven't shared novella snippets, I'm going to share some from 2 different short stories. One is set in 1700s Scotland, and one on a modern-day Caribbean cruise. Enjoy!


It was a tall, plastic drinking glass from the dining-room, filled to the brim with chocolate milk. That creamy, store-bought kind, which must have something absolutely abominable in it to make it taste that good. It looked so delicious I wanted to bury my face in it and drink it in one long gulp. 
~Cruise Novella

Tad sighed and shifted impatiently, wrapping his coat around the powder horn. The drizzling mist had frozen out any form of patriotism he had felt that morning. Now all he wanted was revenge on the rebel Highlanders for making him endure this torment.
~Hope That You Remember Me  

Colby's brown eyes twinkled with amusement. 
"He'll answer to most anything. Ace. Cowboy. Godzilla. The Hunk."
 Julian frowned and shoved water in his face. 
~Cruise Novella

"Here." He reached in his pocket and pulled up something on his phone. Then he pressed that and the earbuds into my hands. "Listen to Psalm 91. That'll send you off."
~Cruise Novella 

He choked out an inarticulate cry and tried to pin the attacker's arms to his sides. But the lithe, strong man ducked out of his grip and slashed again with the dirk from the bicep to the wrist.
 ~Hope That You Remember Me 

That day--well, I will never forget it. Or the day after. Hour after hour was so precious, I wanted to suspend them in mid-air on a blue velvet cushion and put a glass case over them. 
~Cruise Novella

Randall held his gaze, like a master testing the mettle of a horse he was riding. "I can't carry you." A murmuring shout rose from the fires, and black shadows shifted wildly about it. "You'll have to run. Now set a stiff pace, and I'll follow."
~Hope That You Remember Me

Julian slid into the booth with a plate of sweet pickles and beef jerky. I turned up my nose at it.
"Your loss, Princess," he jeered.
~Cruise Novella

It occurred to me, with his soft voice and muscled frame, that he looked incredibly sweet and incredibly manly, and I would be proud to call him friend.
~Cruise Novella

"Then if you please, send someone to fetch my violin. I have a filthy song to play out of my head, and I'd like to do it as soon as possible."
~Hope That You Remember Me 

"Oh, you were all right," Colby reassured me. "I've never seen anyone do it better. Er--prettier. Er--" He subsided into silence under Julian's stern glare. "Sorry," he wheezed out, in lamb-like repentance. 
~Cruise Novella

 A cheer went around the circle. The tankards clinked, and a rumbling baritone filled in the boy's high pipe on the chorus.
Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye wauking yet? 
Or are your drums a-beating yet? 
If ye were wauking I wad wait 
To gang to the coals i' the morning.
~Hope That You Remember Me

Julian folded his elbows and looked so long over the rail, I almost thought he wasn't going to answer. "I think it's wonderful. You can't see eternity, or touch it, but God gave it to us to hear."
~Cruise Novella

"Don't you see? Music is cursed when you cannot sing with your heart in it."
~Hope That You Remember Me

"Want to try an experiment? I've never been just friends with a girl, and I'd like to try it."
"That sounds positively sixth grade," Colby said.
~Cruise Novella

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Book Writing Process (For All Non-Writing Friends)

housekeeping note: if you left a recent comment on Heartless, please check back for replies!

Last week #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter trended on Twitter. People posted some of the most discouraging and hurtful things they hear as a writer, adding that hashtag at the end. Certainly writers like to talk, and it's obvious by the trend that communication between writers and non-writers isn't always friendly.

It seems the perfect time for another writing conversations post. My goal with this series is to explain book writing in a simple, easy-to-understand process for people who don't write. Chances are, you have writing friends. The process may seem like a great mystery to you, or it may look like child's-play. In reality, writing is far from easy, and understanding makes conversations a lot friendlier. It requires sensitivity and consideration from both sides, but it's certainly not impossible.

1. The Idea
First, they have an idea. It's a baby idea, like the baby rhododendron I have sitting in our garden. If I don't water it in this hot water, it's going to die. Sometimes authors get excited and share their ideas too soon. They want everyone to love it. They want you to love it. It's probably not a perfect idea; (it might even be terrible) but most writers put together some pretty illogical elements that later get refined into a good story. So don't get scared if it sounds kind of shaky. Just tell them to go for it; their own inner editor will generally kill or reshape the idea before they get too far. :)

What they need at this stage: Encouragement. Don't be an editor yet. When they come with shiny eyes like a proud mommy with her newborn, just coo and cuddle it. Be their hero at this stage. Don't kill ideas for them. And remember, they are specially in tune to skepticism, even if you never say anything.

2. The Research
Then they have to research. Even if it's a children's story, they have to research. If it's historical fiction, they have to research everything from character's underclothes to gun production to medical facts. They have to research historical figures, geography, science, character personalities, and methods of childbirth (most every writer has a baby in their story). They might not use everything they're researching (I had to scrap my extensive NICU research for one story) but even if they don't, they can probably use it in another story, so it's never wasted time.

What they need at this stage: You can pass on book suggestions that you've read about their subject or links you think might help. You can drive them to the library for books and internet. Or if you want to offer financial investment, you could sponsor a class in the subject they need help in.

3. The First Draft
This is where things start to get messy. Blood and carnage messy. The idea was so shiny and pretty, and now they have to get it out on paper. You remember English classes in school where you had to write a short story or a poem? Multiply that by 100,000 words and you've got the first draft process. (If it was easy for you, then don't tell anyone.) It's hard to make the characters act naturally, follow a logical story line, use sensory description, use good grammar, and keep track of all the things they've researched. Writers have to do all that at the same time.

What they need: Probably a lot of things. Encouragement. (Writers always need that.) Computer time. Chocolate bars are always nice. You could give them a shoulder to cry on if you're comfortable with that. (They'll cry periodically throughout the process.) Pry them away for a walk to clear their head, but don't be offended if they need to say no. Pray for them a lot. They will cling to your prayers.

You'll need things too. But that's another article for another time.

4. The Second Draft
This looks like the first draft, except the end product will turn out a lot better than the first draft. It still needs some work to make it a good story, but it might not make them want to throw up anymore. See step 3 for suggestions on how to help them.

5. Beta Reading 
This is the step where they find other readers and writers to read their book and pick it apart. Beta (or test) readers have orders to say anything they want about all the flaws  and where it needs improvement. They will meet people who don't like the story, aren't impressed by the characters, and bring some pretty huge issues they didn't even notice. They'll also meet people who love what they love--so it's going to be a roller coaster of ecstasy and despair. For an author, it's about the same amount of torture as standing up in the middle of the room and having people discuss improving their looks.

What they need: When you know an author friend who's about to get feedback, give them a hug. No matter how nice the beta reader, they will always need it. If you're a good reader, and can give good feedback in a timely fashion, you could say you're available to read it. But make sure they don't feel obligated. If you're not a reader, be a sounding board they can process advice with. They will be working through a lot of criticism, and that's not an easy process. Technically they shouldn't talk to the beta reader about it, so if you are able to be a good counselor, then that might be a gift to them.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5
You thought that was it? Not by a long shot! After beta readers comb through the book, the author takes their suggestions and makes changes. Lots of times they're big changes. A character nobody liked. Changing the timeframe of the story. Adding sensory description (taste, touch, smell) or cutting long, descriptive paragraphs. Fixing story lines that don't make sense, or are boring, or need to be completely taken out. Then they send it back to the beta readers, and ask "Is it good now?" And the answer, most likely, is "better, but not there yet." So the author will fix it again, and repeat the steps as many times as possible until they have it right.

What they need: Wait through 3 of these editing/beta reading cycles before you ask if they're overdoing it. The minimum of regular books is at least 3 edits. Some people have to do up to 6 or 8. These are people who are working hard to make their book beautiful. Instead of saying "Are you done yet?" try instead, "I appreciate how you care about good writing." They will love you so much. After three tries, give them a kick in the pants to consider writing a query letter. They will probably need a little outside prodding at some point.

Some writers stop at this point. They don't really want/need to get published, and they just want to write stories. But for those who wish to make their writing a serious focus and possible career, they'll go further:

7. Write Proposals
All writers need an agent. An agent is a qualified and recognized individual who takes their book to a publisher and tells the publisher they think it has potential. To get an agent, authors have to write a long document called a proposal. This proposal explains their qualifications as a writer, other books being sold that are like theirs, and a summary of what happens in their novel.

What they need: Probably this is a stage they'll have to work by themselves, but if you're a good proofreader, offering to proofread their proposal would be a gift to them.

8. Build Platform
All authors have to 'build platform'. That means they have to persuade lots of people to like them. This shows the publishers that the people who like them will probably buy their book. When they're just starting, probably not a lot of people care, because they don't have something specific to care about. This can be a hard stage before they're published, when they need followers to convince the publisher to publish them.

What they need: Encouragement (again.) Brainstorm promotional ideas with them. If you want to go the extra mile, tell your friends about them. Get them Twitter followers. Retweet, reshare, send email links.

In Conclusion
It takes hope to work through bad first drafts, courage to send it to beta readers, and self-discipline to revise again and again until the book is something readable. If you have a friend, sibling, or other relative going through this process, I hope these explanations of each step will help you have more informed conversations with them. Writers love talking about their writing--and your interest may just be the tipping point between a book that gets published, and yet another unfinished draft. You're an important part of their health as a person, and the health of their life writing--and it's a whole lot easier to help someone when you have an idea on what they're working on. :)

We'll be covering other aspects of the writing process in future, including the editing process, what writers are afraid of, how to pray for them, and more! Feel free, if you have questions or things to add, to leave a comment. I'd love to talk more with you! :)

Check out post one How to Talk to a Writer (For All Non-Writing Friends).
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