December 31, 2014

A [Literary] Year in Review

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It's been so long since I last posted here at Scribbles, it seems strange to come back.  In fact I've pulled up Blogger several times since finishing my last exam a couple weeks ago, trying to write some kind of update.  The updates, however, can really be boiled down to a few highlights.

five months of schoolwork

four courses finished

three final exams

two new nieces

and a partridge in a pear tree

On this the last day of 2014 it would be appropriate to say something about the year gone by and the year to come, but the year gone by has been insane and the year to come is anyone's guess, so instead I will follow Elizabeth Rose's lead with a 2014 book-list.  It hasn't been a very "big" year, comparatively speaking; Goodreads says I only read about 20 books, and although that isn't counting a few I read for classes but didn't add to my account, it still leaves me far behind 2013 (37 books) and out of sight of 2012 (56 books).  Nor did I have many "discoveries," at least not in terms of books-likely-to-become-favorites.  Still, the year had its literary moments.

I read a number of large books, so my pages read was not much so very low compared to last year.  I began by finishing The Man in the Iron Mask, though I read most of it in December 2013.  It was my second Dumas, and I didn't find it as well-crafted a story as The Count of Monte Cristo: the characters were not as compelling to me, and the plot was somewhat iffy.  Mostly the plot was D'Artagnan, I think.  "How to Be Awesome and Talk Sass to the King [Without Getting One's Head Chopped Off] - A Guide in 800 Pages." 

The more I look back, the more I think it must have somehow been a French year. I followed up The Man in the Iron Mask with Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting, a mystery whose charm for me lay more in its masterful, beautiful prose than in its characters or plot; Daphne du Maurier's The Glass-Blowers, a depressing and honest, though fictional, tale of the author's French ancestors; and The Black Count, a biography of the novelist Alexandre Dumas' father.  That's a surprising amount of French-ness for me.  I didn't really mean to: it just happened.  It might explain a lot about 2014, actually...

After having it sit on my shelf for quite a while and be recommended to me by a friend, I finally took up Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I persist in saying "Nor-ELL" as opposed to "NOR-ul," even though I suspect the English, who don't like to pronounce any syllables if they can help it, would go with the latter).  I was right in my suspicion: it is dark.  I was troubled, less by the magic or any particular scene of violence than by the overall atmosphere: everything felt grey, as though covered in fog.  Without in any way meaning to imply that Susanna Clarke was trying to write like Dickens (Dickensian as the plot structure and huge cast are, it would be demeaning to Clarke's marked skill, and just plain wrong, to accuse her of imitation) - without implying that, the novel felt to me like many of the darker scenes in a Dickens adaptation.  Little Dorrit springs to mind.  It weighed me down and disturbed me viscerally and I don't think I will be rereading it any time soon.  On the other hand, it is the only novel of 2014 I could give five stars to.  It's unique, masterful, clever, subtle, funny, even brilliant.  In fact I think it would be unfair to not give it five stars. 

perhaps you should just try it yourself

To keep myself sane, I read more fluffy books than I probably should have: Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck made a nice companion to Jonathan Strange, and a couple Wodehouse collections lightened the atmosphere while I was reading other, longer, more serious books for school.  I also read Miss Buncle's Book, which was cute, but not quite as winsome as I had hoped: I was turned off by a few of the characters...and I admit, I do get tired of the writer-stereotypes.  Even when they're being perpetuated by another writer.  I'm sorry, Elisabeth!

I got in a few other classics or semi-classics, including Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts (does that recommendation make up for my ambiguous opinion of Miss Buncle's Book, Elisabeth?); The Moonstone by that Victorian melodramatic, Carolyn Keene Wilkie Collins; and the sentimental horror story Frankenstein.  It's really a wonder that the Romantics ever got anything accomplished in the midst of all their traveling and finding themselves and ill-timed swooning.  ...Possibly I'm not taking this seriously enough.

History was my single largest genre in 2014, though that isn't really saying much.  Most were for classes, but I did not sell them back to the bookstore at the end of their respective semesters!  Of those, I think I most enjoyed Divided By Faith (an examination of conflict, toleration, and the religious dynamics of post-Reformation Europe) and The Grand Strategy of Philip II (even if Philip is judging you overtly from the cover.  Seriously.  Take a look.  It's freaky.).  Just last week I finally finished plugging through Robert Massie's Dreadnought: hurray!  Even taking its size into consideration, five months is an absurd amount of time - and those are five months of actually reading it, not merely having it sit on my bedside table pretending to be read.  Don't judge it by that, though.  Massie is a first-class writer.  He reminds me - if I needed the reminder - that history is fascinating and funny, too.

I read my first Virginia Woolf this year (To the Lighthouse, which hasn't yet made it onto Goodreads).  I also had to start a new shelf just for "Other" books so that I would have somewhere to put the graphic novel Watchmen and the crazy literary/experimental/contemporary/post-post-modern Cloud Atlas.  This is what happens when you take a literature course, apparently. 

you have to read strange things
and learn to get something out of them.

books of 2014

4% : 5 stars  //  22% : 2 stars or less  //  22% : history  //  55% : new authors

 what have you folks been reading?

September 15, 2014

Anon, Sir, Anon Cover Reveal

If you folks know Rachel Heffington, the Inkpen Authoress, chances are you know Fly Away Home.  And if you know Fly Away Home, chances are you know Heffington's second novel, ANON, SIR, ANON, has an approaching due date of November 5.  Last month I had the honor of reading and reviewing an advance copy of the book; it was still warm and muggy and whenever I went out on our screened porch the pages wilted deplorably, which was very unsuitable.  It seems much more appropriate, then, that the weather this week has taken a cooler turn in anticipation of Anon, Sir, Anon's cover reveal.


The 12:55 out of Darlington brought more than Orville Farnham's niece; murder was passenger. In coming to Whistlecreig, Genevieve Langley expected to find an ailing uncle in need of gentle care. In reality, her charge is a cantankerous Shakespearean actor with a penchant for fencing and an affinity for placing impossible bets.When a body shows up in a field near Whistlecreig Manor and Vivi is the only one to recognize the victim, she is unceremoniously baptized into the art of crime-solving: a field in which first impressions are seldom lasting and personal interest knocks at the front door.Set against the russet backdrop of a Northamptonshire fog, Anon, Sir, Anon cuts a cozy path to a chilling crime.


Rachel picked a memorable (and explosive) release day.  In anticipation of November 5, remember to add Anon, Sir, Anon to your Goodreads list and thus make everyone curious about the book-with-the-lovely-cover-and-ooh!-tasty-looking-probably-poisonous-berries!  Want to do more?  Rachel has a button for you to post on the social media of choice.  You can also tweet about the upcoming release with the hashtags #AnonSirAnon and #ViviandFarnham (because, yes, it's going to be a series).  You're also welcome to come up with new (but legal) ways of letting people know something exciting is in the literary wind this autumn.  Spread the word!

August 22, 2014

The Crap Cycle

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You know the routine.  You go to bed Sunday evening with a mind brim-full of ideas, itching to get up the next morning and write.  On Monday you roll out of bed and sit down at the computer; you've got an hour, maybe several, and you're ready to go - until you open up the document and try to start.  And then everything is awful.  You struggle through a paragraph or two and move on, frustrated, to something else.  Everything is crap!  Your writing is rubbish!  This story is nonsense!  The characters are stupid!  You will never write anything as good as your last book (or chapter)!  You should just give up now!

But on Tuesday you try again and the story flows better; you've got over that trying bit of dialogue or description and feel like you've found your rhythm.  Things are great!  You love this story!  These characters are the bomb!  You're the top!  You're the Colosseum!

And then Wednesday?  Boom!

Crap again.

In case you couldn't tell, this cycle happens to me quite a lot - especially when, as with the past several weeks, I'm given the mixed blessing of plenty of writing time.  The ratio of good writing days to bad writing days seems skewed and you become frustrated with both the story and yourself, insecure about everything from the characters to that sentence you just wrote.  I've dubbed it the crap cycle, where the scene that sounded great yesterday sounds horrible today and you can't seem to heave the story out of the rut it's inexplicably fallen into.  There are plenty of blog posts out there to encourage you through this artistic slough, to pump you up and get you running again, but I would like to point out one thing:

the crap cycle
is a good thing

The days when we feel like our writing is rubbish and we're forced to evaluate our work through somewhat jaded eyes are good and necessary parts of the process.  We need to maintain a healthy cynicism, a recurring recognition that we are always capable of doing better.  If all we're doing is gleefully throwing out words, happy with everything we write, never suffering from the frustration of not achieving all we have in our hearts to achieve - then maybe our goals are too low.  Maybe our desires aren't big enough.  Maybe we need to step back and reevaluate, and then step forward again and try harder.

a little perfectionism
is a good thing

We do need to write fearlessly.  We need to ignore the editor side of us.  But not all the time.  Execution is as important as the idea.  We should take time to make our sentences ring true, our dialogue cohesive, our descriptions interwoven and spot-on.  If we leave everything until the editing process, I do not believe our finished product will be as good - as finished  - as it could be.  Allow yourself time to concentrate on making what you write solid, and the work of polishing, the punch-list at the end of the job, will be that much easier for it.

realism
is not pessimism

All things in moderation.  Both of these principles can be taken to extremes: we can obsess too much over details, spending so much effort rewriting yesterday's work that we never get to today's, and we can become negative. Remember to forge ahead.  When you've finally gotten through a tough bit, give yourself a pat on the back and move forward; don't go back and fret over it again.  Never let your recognition that improvement is always possible become warped into an attitude of depression, envy, or defeatism.  Rather, let it spur you on to better things.  Enjoy the times when you are the top, and remember that the times on the bottom are there to keep us humble and still striving.

August 14, 2014

August Snippets

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Today I passed two mile markers in Wordcrafter, one in the plot, one in size: it is now 50,000 and some odd words.  (Perhaps more than mathematically so; I leave that to you to judge.)  At this point, with a new stage of the story beginning, it is probably time for me to step back and take stock of where I am and where I'm going.  And for snippets.


The car door slammed. For a moment the headlights blazed against the alarming bulwark of the Fairbairns’ shrubbery, undecided as to whether or not they wanted to switch off, and we lingered, Ethan and I, in their backwash and squinted up through the chilly middle darkness at the house.

- wordcrafter

“You struck me as a coffee person,” she announced, flinging coffee-freckles against the porcelain rim of her cup with a jerk of the spoon. “I suppose you take it black.”

“Ethan takes anything,” I interjected with a sideways grimace, “as long as it’s strong as murder.”

//

“...Lizzy can cover for Lady Macduff and Banquo. She’s very good at dying.”

“A great many people die in this play,” observed Ethan out of the hum of the harp-strings.

// 

There seems little point in commenting overmuch on the girls; they were your typical college students, eminently forgettable in company with their two older sisters. The one was ginger, the other, shockingly, brunette—only I cannot for the life of me remember now whether it was Mabel who was the brunette or whether it was Brianna.

//

The door beat against the frame and a figure joined me with the silent assurance of a witch’s familiar, come to top off my coffee out of a white carafe...

//

“I hope,” I went on, fitting the kettle spout around the rim of the faucet and turning on the tap, “I hope we didn’t do too much damage.”

“To Philip’s face, you mean? Oh, I don’t think so. Lizzy took care of all of that; I’m not much for the sight of blood. Anyhow, he deserved it.”

We were agreed on that, at least, but I did not comment.

//

I stared after her rudely, and it occurred to me with mingled admiration and bitterness that she had got the whip-hand of me once more.

“Devil,” Ethan commented, pouring himself his coffee.

 //

The smell of fresh wood burst free like the scent of an orange when the skin is peeled back: sharp and sudden in your nostrils. 

//

“Up the hill,” Ethan said, “and around behind the house. Steady…”

“Don’t criticize my driving,” I snapped, getting us out of the rut with a jolt and a surging of the engine.

August 11, 2014

A Complex Simplicity

specifically miscellaneous
Back in May, I mentioned being in the middle of a three- (or was it four? Hazy on that already) week course on Elizabeth I, Philip II, and the Spanish Armada.  I suppose that might sound rather dull; I was uncertain going into it, as Tudor England is not my favorite period (haven't forgiven them for Bosworth), but I charged in anyway on the strength of the professor.  Since the time span was so limited, we had to fit a lot into the days: three-and-a-half hour mornings of discussion, reading, presentations, research, the occasional lecture, and a great many movies.

Somehow movies never formed a large portion of my home school experience.  I remember watching PBS as a young kid, and I have particularly fond memories of "Theodore Tugboat" and some show featuring lion puppets, and less fond memories of "Teletubbies."  But after a certain period (maybe when we no longer had cable), TV-watching was limited to after five o'clock in the evening.  It always felt slightly wicked to begin watching something at four-thirty.  At any rate, watching movies for a class is a new thing for me; but since the main thrust of the Maymester was not so much the historical facts as it was the media portrayals of events like the defeat of the Armada, films played a key role.

In particular, we watched parts of the two recent movies starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I.  They were very inaccurate.  They were very over-the-top.  They had beautiful cinematography, beautiful lighting.

They made me writhe.

It was not so much what Rachel calls the OSSs (obligatory sex scenes), or even the gross liberties taken with historical events and historical people.  It was certainly not the acting, since the films starred actors and actresses like Cate Blanchett ("...you shall have a QUEEN!"), Geoffrey Rush ("It's a pity the law doesn't allow me to be merciful."), and even my favorite Watson.  It was the fact that all those OSSs were filmed and liberties taken in order to water down history into a simplistic storyline: a pretty, naive girl is thrust into the role of queen and must overcome her insecurities (and all personal feelings) in order to rule her kingdom.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a simple plot: there are only a few to pick from, after all.  What frustrated me was the complete lack of any nuance, any intricacy, any subtlety.  All Catholics are traitors.  Elizabeth is either completely incompetent or talking back like a skilled politician.  Robert Dudley is either Elizabeth's lover or plotting with the Spanish.  The story itself rode as much on the music and the relative scale of lighting as it did on the characters and their interrelationships. 

Folks.  Folks, this is not good storytelling.

People enjoyed the films.  Though my classmates and I mocked them, I think in the end everyone but myself was willing to shrug and excuse its faults because it was "entertaining."  Entertaining, however, isn't the same as good.  It isn't the same as worthwhile.  It isn't the same as saying that the director and screenwriter and all the many people involved in the production did their job with skill.

A skilfully-wrought story, whether historical or fantastic or literary or whatever, must have intricacy.  If what you see on the surface is all there is to find - if a girl becoming a queen is all there is to it - then the writer has failed.  Life is nuanced.  Life has grey areas.  Art should reflect this subtlety and depth, rather than loudly drawing attention to itself (as films do with exaggerated cinematography, or books do with meaningless but gorgeous prose) and lacking substance in the end.

The leopard in the picture above has very little to do with the substance of my post, but I chose it for a reason.  It's a very simple picture: the profile of a big cat against a washed grey backdrop is all you get at first glance.  But look closer and you see the fur blurring in the foreground, becoming clearer, more detailed, soft enough to touch along the neck.  You notice the tufts from the cat's ears and can count the whiskers.  You see the rim of light along the nose and the bristles along the milk mustache, and the contemplative, possibly malevolent look about the eyes.  Storytelling should be like this, from the Winnie-the-Poohs to the Bleak Houses of the literary world: making its point (leopard!), but also drawing in the attentive reader to notice the details.

August 4, 2014

The Two Rules of Life

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I had good intentions, back in June, of spending more time in the blogging world.  With a year of college and a Maymester behind me, my brain was beginning to turn again to slightly more literary pursuits: notably, blog post ideas and WordcrafterWordcrafter has got on fairly well.  My dad's emergency appendectomy and slow on-going recovery made a hash of the blogging schedule.

Before all that, I sat down and began to write a post on the process of raising questions - and offering answers - in a story.  This has much to do with another item on the summer to-do list that hasn't been struck off: that is, editing the climax of The Running Tide.  I finished this book over two years ago, back in June 2012, and spent a laborious several months editing it into shape, and I continue to be fond (and, let's face it, a little proud) of the end result.  But every completed book gives more perspective, and after bundling Tempus Regina off to a friend for a critical read-through, I noticed a flaw in The Running Tide.  In part, this stemmed from a self-imposed need to answer questions too quickly.

"Who was that character," I mused, "who would never answer a question straight? ...Oh, wait, that was Jesus." 
"That was Jesus," she agreed. 

Questions, of both great and small import, drive a story forward.  This is probably most obvious in romance: Will Jane Bennet get Mr Bingley, or will the Bingley sisters prevail?  Will the prince go on and kiss the girl, or will she - actually, I don't remember the "or will she."  I remember it was something dire.  At any rate, the large questions like these form the backbone of the plot, but smaller questions are constantly arising to add dimension and interest.  Most of these will eventually be answered, but timing, as always, is crucial.  If a question (especially a dramatic one) is answered too soon, the reader feels let down.  They barely even get to be really alarmed before the author (in the form of a character or event) rushes in to inform that no! wait! just kidding, it's all right after all!  They expected more from you.

 If you must answer a plot-question, it is generally best not to do it in the same page - possibly not in the same chapter - possibly not even in the chapter after that.  Keep the reader on his toes.  Leave him guessing with his heart in his throat for a while.  Let him squirm.

Not all questions, however, need to be answered.  In this case a principle of fashion also applies to writing: a little mystery is an invaluable asset.  Not everything needs to be stated.  It is my belief that the best, most memorable books are the ones whose endings do not explain everything,where not all the strings are neatly tied off.  Get the important ones, by all means; don't leave the reader suspicious or confused.  But by allowing some things to remain unanswered, you provoke the reader's imagination and leave him with something to chew on after he has put the book back on the shelf and gone on his merry way. 

there are two rules in life:
1. never give out all the information.

July 28, 2014

Save the Date!


No, as far as I know there aren't any weddings in the near future - although there is a wedding in Plenilune, which is what we're all here to talk about.  Most of you who follow Scribbles are also readers of my sister's blog, The Penslayer, and may have heard rumors of publication in the wind.  Today is the day to announce with something more like certainty that her fantasy novel PLENILUNE will be crashing onto the literary scene this Fall.

look out for PLENILUNE on october 20

The fate of Plenilune hangs on the election of the Overlord, for which Rupert de la Mare and his brother are the only contenders, but when Rupert’s unwilling bride-to-be uncovers his plot to murder his brother, the conflict explodes into civil war. 

To assure the minds of the lord-electors of Plenilune that he has some capacity for humanity, Rupert de la Mare has been asked to woo and win a lady before he can become the Overlord, and he will do it—even if he has to kidnap her. 

En route to Naples to catch a suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a suitor to catch her. 

PLENILUNE falls into the sub-category of "planetary fantasy," referring to such books, like C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, whose stories take place on planets other than Earth.  A tremendous story of faith and sacrifice, politics and war, it combines the full-blooded, lyrical writing style of Jenny's The Shadow Things with a capacity for world-building that continues to leave me in awe.  And a little jealous.  Want to learn more?  Swing over to The Penslayer, follow the blog, and get a taste of the style that sets this author apart.

As we wait for October 20 (it's less than three months away, people), stay tuned for more information about PLENILUNE.  A cover reveal - for which the banner above is just a teaser - is in the offing, as well as a chance to pre-order for yourself, for friends, for relatives, for fun. 

And you really don't want to miss the cover reveal.  

It's fantastic.

June 27, 2014

"make it strong."

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rising up, straight to the top 
had the guts, got the glory 
went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop 
just a man and his will to survive

- survivor, eye of the tiger

Maybe it's just me, but when I look back over the five novels I've written, I can trace a mental progression without a whole lot of effort.  Every writer takes a certain amount of time to get his literary feet under him, to grasp his style, to begin to understand the huge responsibility inherent in creating something with the intention of sharing it with the world.  This is particularly true of Christians who write, and who struggle with incorporating - or not incorporating - the gritty realities of life into their books without compromising their own beliefs.  No matter what you write, at some point in time questions - I suppose you could call them questions of ethics - will arise.  Do you write that sexually tense scene?  Do you show that that guy is in love, not just with the girl's "wonderful soul," but with her looks as well?  Do you write the word that comes into your mind in the middle of your characters' heated argument?  Are you (here's the clincher) making people stumble if you do any of the above?  And if you don't...are you just lame?

If you have been around Scribbles & Ink Stains for any length of time you already know how I feel about Christian fiction and the baggage that goes along with the label - but that is not at all to dismiss the struggles faced by individual Christians who also happen to be writers as they attempt to create a story that accurately addresses the world in all its fallen mayhem.  I see the above-mentioned questions frequently around Facebook and the blogosphere and I generally feel less than competent to respond to them, but I'm going to take a stab at a huge issue.

First off, I'll be honest: I am not an adventurous person.  There are certain things that I do not like reading; there are certain things that did not and still do not come easily to me in my writing.  But as I continue to write, and as my stories expand from the relative simplicity of The Soldier's Cross to the time-traveling tangle that is Tempus Regina, I grow more comfortable with incorporating elements that, frankly, some people may find offensive.  I've wrestled with it extensively, especially with the question of swearing.  When a word comes to mind as admirably suited to a piece of dialogue, do you go ahead and write it, or do you hurriedly shoo it out and substitute something that, let's be honest, is always rather stale by comparison?  I used to do that.  I have since come to the conclusion that that is not the best tack to take, that it in fact weakens the impact and believability of both character and story.

it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.

We all know four-letter words.  Really.  We do.  When you write, "Go to...!" no one is going to wonder what the person was about to say before they were so fortunately interrupted.  We all insert the missing word, and we're not sinning by so doing.  God is not going to condemn us because we know a word, nor even, I do not believe, because we (or our characters) use a word.  Attitude is far more important, and when it comes to it, slamming a door can be far more sinful than saying "damn."  We can - should! - incorporate into our stories things of which we do not approve; we should not pretend that the world and its language do not exist.

your story will thank you.

There is a constant debate about whether characters control the author or the author controls the characters.  I don't think "control" is the right word.  We know our characters, and as we continue to write them we get to know them better.  We write them as they are, and the story flows from that.  So it seems to me that when you think a character would say this or do that, he should probably say this and do that.  Hastily diverting the stream of his or her personality will only create awkwardness.  The story works better when you allow them to be true to their characters.  Seriously.  It does.

honey, sometimes "fiddlesticks" just doesn't cut it.

There is a very ludicrous idea that a sanctified man is cut of monkish cloth: celibate, with a halo, speaking in King James English.  I challenge you to find a godly man in the Bible who fits that description.  David?  Imprecatory psalms, people!  Paul?  He was not very fond of the Judaizers.  Jesus?  He washed the feet of the disciples and called the Pharisees a lot of whitewashed tombs. 

Bad words are for bad things.  When your wife is murdered, when you come up against a blackmailer, when your rival's about to win the man you love, when you've just been played for a fool, "oh bother" is not the first thing that springs to your mind.  Maybe we as the authors don't condone it, but we don't have to sermonize about it (that's even worse than not using the word in the first place).  We ought to write with understanding and compassion for the nature of man in all his God-made glory - fallen glory, yes, but glory all the same.  That includes the imperfections and the red-blooded passion of the real world.  It includes those cutting words, that total love, the acts they regret when all's said and done.  If we don't write like this, who will?

June 16, 2014

Bits of June

wordcrafter
The rewrite of Wordcrafter crossed 25,000 words some while ago.  It goes in fits and starts: some days I'm fortunate if I can write a decent paragraph (I exaggerate not.  I can spend an hour wrestling with one or two sentences.), but at others I jump ahead wonderfully.  Some days I hate it.  Other days I brush off my shoulders and sniff approvingly.  It's an up-and-down fight.

I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their own validity no matter what.

- madeleine l'engle

With something like 15,000 words between myself and the last snippets post, I thought now would be a good time to throw out a few pieces from the last several months.  Cheers!


I made myself tea and hunkered down to my own work at my desk, and for a little time—an hour, perhaps longer—a library stillness settled over the flat. Ethan’s fingers chinked against the handle of his mug. I pushed a page aside and hiked backwards on the stool, blue jeans scraping at the torn vinyl covering; my hand went unconsciously to my tea, porcelain shuffling on wood, and I sniffed softly against the chill in my nose. 

- wordcrafter

  Ethan, I noted resentfully, could be devilishly cutting when he had a mind to be. 

- wordcrafter
 
Then, because I had not the least idea where we were going, she took the lead, tugging me past tourist shops and vaguely Parisian tenements and across roads in the teeth of traffic (“The crossing signs are just suggestions,” she said). 

- wordcrafter

With the grace of a horse surging off its haunches Ethan bore up again, eyes opening in a flare of white and grey, right hand falling back and leaving, in the secret hollows at the inner slopes of his nose, two pale oval patches that bloomed for a moment and disappeared. They were telling, those patches. 

- wordcrafter

“You’re looking quite the Jacobite,” I added. 

Her eyelids slanted coyly, bold black against white cheekbones. “I take that as a compliment.” 

- wordcrafter

I saw [Jamie's] hand reach for the dial, the bangles chink and slide on her wrist as she turned up the volume. When we left the suburbs behind and merged with the other glittering headlights on M8 she cracked her window, propping her elbow on the door and straining to put her face up into the wind. It boomed against the glass and whipped at the pheasant feathers, filling the car with the damp, electric smell of the storm, and over the music and the engine, I heard thunder. 

- wordcrafter

His face sparked in piqued pride and that grip on my arm suddenly hurt like a devil’s. “You’re my friend,” he said coldly, “and I don’t play games with friends." 

- wordcrafter

I dumped my armload into the sink, barely remembered to fish out the book before opening the tap and plunging elbow-deep into the wash-up. The edge of the plate banged recklessly against the sides; a wedge of porcelain sang on the stainless steel and my finger caught for a moment in the new notch. Tera! Prince! This was not Roman Holiday, for God’s sake! I hurled the rinsed plate into the drainer and reached for the next, crumbs of toast shimmering across the counter. 

- wordcrafter

June 5, 2014

The Most Beautiful Curve

smile!
I'm not an outgoing kind of person.  My first day of college, back at the start of the Fall semester, was agony: I had no idea what I was doing, I didn't know anyone, and I have that very British problem of not being willing to ever admit my ignorance.  I will continue walking in the wrong direction just so others won't know I'm lost.  Being obliged to speak to people - especially to my peers - has always been nerve-wracking for me.

This is still the case, but to a lesser degree.  Through a combination of "the college experience" and simply growing up, I have begun to realize that one can - and must - learn to be shy without being rude.  I mentioned in my last post that ours is a very rude generation; I can't tell you the times I've tried to strike up a conversation with a fellow classmate, only to have them give a monosyllabic answer before returning to the oh-so-fascinating world of the iPhone screen.  Of course, those of us who are less tech-savvy can scoff at these people and pretend that because we are engaged in reading an educational book rather than scrolling through Facebook, we're not being rude - we're just introverted.

but we should never let a label become our excuse.

The naked fact of the matter is that, whether we classify ourselves as an extrovert or an introvert, we must make room for the human interaction required by our daily lives.  Maybe this isn't on a university campus: maybe it's at Wal-mart, or church, or at the fast-food drive-through.  Sure, you can go through life in your own impenetrable bubble, never acknowledging unless obliged, never learning to make small talk ("bit the bowl off the spoon!"); but on a wholly pragmatic level, people do not like the self-absorbed.  Even if they're self-absorbed themselves and totally unaware of it, they will still observe it in others - and let me tell you, it's very off-putting.

In addition to the pragmatic winning-friends-and-influencing-people argument, however, it seems to me that our profession of faith demands that we look outside of ourselves to consider the good of others.  Now, I'm not talking about handing out tracts and evangelizing people: I'm just talking about how our attitude toward life and toward those we meet reflects on our Christianity.  Of all people in the world, we should be the most joyful, the most enthusiastic, the most willing to uplift others simply by acknowledging them as human beings like ourselves.  "Someone will say, 'You have faith, I have deeds.  Show me your faith without your deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.'" 

Far too often we are a whiny, negative people, filling up our social media with complaints about being sick (bet someone else is, too) or having a headache (maybe we shouldn't be on the computer...?) or not wanting to take this exam (does anyone?).  And then we do the same in real life.  (Because when someone asks how you are that day, chances are they are not requesting the low-down on your entire week.)  But in reality this doesn't make us feel better and certainly doesn't uplift anyone around us: it just creates an impression of us as an Eeyore, and no one really wants to be chummy with an Eeyore. 

rather, let our speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were with salt, that we may know how we ought to answer each one.

This morning Rachel Heffington posted a link to an article on how to make small talk with strangers, and I thought it spot-on in that, while it does not claim that by chatting it up with random folk you will win ultimate happiness, it does point out that you feel better if you engage with the world around you.  So let us lay aside this label of "introvert" that so frequently besets us, and learn to be a light in a gloomy world.

Learn tact.

Dress with respect for yourself and others.

Look for things to comment on positively.

Be enthusiastic if at all possible.

Appreciate the efforts of others.

Put away your books and your "cellular devices" when with others.

Smile (even if you don't feel you have a very nice one). 

So let us lay aside this label of "introvert" that so frequently besets us, and learn to be a light in a gloomy world.

May 26, 2014

'twere well it were done quickly

pinterest
"You noticed that I said I was going to put this project through tomorrow, and no doubt you wondered why I said tomorrow. Why did I, Jeeves?" 
"Because you feel that if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly, sir?" 
"Partly, Jeeves, but not altogether."

- right ho, jeeves (p.g. wodehouse)

When I sat down to (finally) write a blog post, my ideas for a topic were mixed up and convoluted: I thought of doing a post on historical research and historical story-telling (a subject which has come up several times recently); I thought of doing one semi-related to a book I am working my slow way through, The Divine Challenge; I considered doing one on Wordcrafter.  I still intend to do all of those at some point, but it came to my mind that having been away from Scribbles for a month (more, really, if you consider that my last post was in fact by the inimitable Elisabeth Grace Foley), it might be well to lead into all that jazz with an update. Jenny did one of her own this morning, which you should also read, because her news is rather more ground-breaking than mine.

university

Early this month I sent in the last essay of my freshman year, so now I'm in a kind of upperclassman-limbo as I wait for the beginning of Fall semester sometime in late August.  The 2013 Fall semester seems ages ago, and yet at the same time, I can hardly believe a whole year has gone by since I crawled, terrified, into my first college class.  I fully recognize that college is not for everyone, but for my own part, I'm enjoying it immensely.  It is teaching me a great deal besides the rudiments of string theory and the identifying marks of a mature landscape; it's teaching me how to work with and around my natural shyness, to be more outgoing and friendly, to - get this - interact with people.  Social awkwardness is stereotypically a trait of homeschoolers (though I'm beginning to think it's actually a trait of Millennials as an entire generation), so I try very hard to defy expectations in the hopes that, when it does at last come out that no, I didn't attend any of the local high schools, the asker will be impressed.  I may sit in my car alone and eat the food that I brought, but I do not wear pyjamas to class, thank you so much.  You're welcome, Blimey Cow.

But more on that later, I think.

reading

I am currently in the home stretch of a Maymester on Elizabeth I of England and Philip II of Spain, which, ironically, has meant that I've had to put With the Heart of a King: Elizabeth I of England, Philip II of Spain, and the Fight for a Nation's Soul and Crown on hold.  Instead, I have been puffing through a book on Philip's grand strategy (which may have been grand, but was certainly not effective in the end).  It's quite a doorstop, but thankfully the last hundred pages or so are taken up by endnotes.

On a personal level, I've been working away at John Byl's helpful The Divine Challenge in ridiculously small increments.  Also, I meant to read something serious after Miss Buncle's Book, but then the Maymester happened and I turned instead to that wonderful fellow Wodehouse.  Very Good, Jeeves! is a cure for just about every kind of ill under the sun.  Can I get an amen?  Eh?

writing

Having written what I think will remain the first chapter of Tempus Regina (it's gone through several versions already, so don't carve that in stone), I now continue to chip away at Wordcrafter.  I cannot swear to its being any good, but it is at the very least giving me renewed respect for all those who can breezily dash off a novel in first-person: I find it deuced difficult.  It blows my mind how even a good, subjective third-person - that is to say, not omniscient - is immensely wider in scope.  Wodehouse, being comedy, is not overly helpful in this regard; I should reread Rebecca, but I went and loaned my copy to Jenny for Lamblight inspiration, so never mind that.

It is also strange to go back over old territory and, in effect, make it new.  I don't think the characters - particularly Justin, Ethan, and Jamie - are fundamentally different; they are their own people, so I think they are essentially the same as they have always been.  On the other hand, I am approaching this rewrite with a fuller knowledge of the story and thus of the characters, and, again, writing solely from Justin's perspective alters the playing field.  Additionally, more characters have been introduced and more ideas are forming, so nothing is quite the same.  The plan, though, is for it to be better, so hopefully those of you who have read the original will like the revision more (assuming I finish the blasted thing).

She did not look like Fairbairn, but she had something of his enormous personality. Pricked by a sudden thought, I asked, “You’re not stalking me for your father, are you?” 
 “Oh, no,” she said, deadpan. “For MI-6.” 

- wordcrafter

Despite the difficulties this new venture presents, I am, for the moment, enjoying myself.  After all, there's generally inspiration to be got from Pinterest, and Fleetwood Mac has been most helpful.  Nothing more is necessary.

April 11, 2014

Mrs Meade Strikes Again

 That is not the title of Elisabeth Grace Foley's latest release, because that would be silly.  But to the great delight of non-Kindle-owners like myself, Elisabeth has (at last!) published the first volume of her Mrs. Meade mysteries in physical form.  Having read The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories, I'm eager to pick up this little book. Here's the scoop:

Meet Mrs. Meade, a gentle but shrewd widow lady with keen insight into human nature and a knack for solving mysteries. Problems both quaint and dramatic find her in Sour Springs, a small town in Colorado at the turn of the twentieth century. Here in Volume One are her first three adventures, novelette-length mysteries previously published individually.

In The Silver Shawl, a young woman has disappeared from the boarding-house where she lives—was she kidnapped, or did she have a reason to flee? In The Parting Glass, Mrs. Meade puzzles over the case of a respectable young man accused of drunkenly assaulting a woman. And in The Oldest Flame, Mrs. Meade’s visit with old friends turns to disaster with a house fire that may have been deliberately set. Quick and entertaining forays into mystery and times past, each story is just the perfect length to accompany a cup of tea or coffee for a cozy afternoon.

To celebrate this event, Elisabeth is doing a blog tour - writing guest posts, answering interviews, giving away things, the whole shebang.  She's here today to revive my blog and talk about historical mystery and classic mystery

Historical Mystery and Classic Mystery: 
Closer Than You Think 

Mystery today is one of the most adaptable genres, or at least one on which a wide variety of variations are made. Booksellers split the main genre into half a dozen subcategories: hard- boiled, cozy, historical, British, police procedurals, and more. Authors have discovered over the years that the classic mystery plot can be given a fresh twist by trying it out in different scenarios and styles, sometimes with splendid results. I’ve read and enjoyed some of these attempts, but the lure of the classics is always strong. I’m always ready to go back to certain settings—say, an English country house in the 1930s, with a mixed bag of suspects and an enigmatic private sleuth to sift them out. One book along these lines may be better than another, but the formula never gets old.

 In my own writing, historical mystery is my sub-genre of choice. It’s a pretty extensive sub- genre in itself—you can have a historical mystery set anywhere from ancient Rome to Regency England or the trenches of World War I. But in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that it’s one of many sub-genres, I personally feel it shares the closest kinship with the “classic” mystery, the style that many of us know best. Think about it for a minute. Mystery fiction as we know it began with authors such as Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle and their contemporaries in the 19th century, and was refined into an art by G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and a multitude of others during mystery’s Golden Age in the early 20th century. A genre often permanently retains some of the characteristics of the era in which it was born or became most popular—certain plot devices, character types or literary styles that particularly resonated with the people of those times linger on through decades of later authors’ efforts. The detective novel was born in the Victorian era and came of age during the Roaring Twenties, the glamorous ’30s and the World Wars. I think to some degree, the culture of those times is woven into the fabric of the genre, and filters through our consciousness when we hear the word “mystery.”

That’s true, at least, for those of us who cut our mystery teeth on Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Modern-day mysteries just don’t hold the same appeal for me. There’s a certain flair and romance to the old standbys of the footprint and fingerprint, the cigar ash, the handkerchief with a whiff of perfume, the railroad timetable, the half-burned scrap of paper and the revolver in the desk drawer. Cell phones and digital technology just aren’t in it. And there’s the plot angle, too. Before the widespread use of forensic evidence, mystery plots focused in on suspects’ motivations, personalities and relationships—the human interaction element—of necessity. This is an element I’ve always found fascinating. Agatha Christie experimented with more dramatic examples of this back in the Golden Age itself, with situations that deliberately stripped away possible physical evidence and relied almost entirely on the testimony of witnesses (Cards on the Table and Five Little Pigs, for example). She even made an early foray into what we would now call historical mystery, setting Death Comes as the End in ancient Egypt.

At the root of it, I suppose, I write historical mystery because I’m a historical-fiction person any way you slice it. Writing in a modern setting has never really worked for me (and I’ve got a couple of failed story drafts to attest to that). When I had an idea for a mystery series, it was only natural that it should be a historical one. Perhaps it’s because of this relationship between history and mystery that I’ve always felt myself on familiar ground while writing the Mrs. Meade Mysteries. My own characters, their home town and their plots may be different, but I still feel I’m following in the footsteps of the mystery authors I’ve read and loved—or at least cutting a new path through a familiar forest.

Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff. Her first published story, “Disturbing the Peace,” was an honorable mention in the first annual Rope and Wire Western short story competition, and is now collected with six others in her debut short story collection, The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories. Her other works include short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression. A homeschool graduate, she chose not to attend college in order to pursue self-education and her writing career. Visit her online at www.thesecondsentence.blogspot.com .

 Elisabeth is doing a fun giveaway of one signed book and several Mrs Meade bookmarks (sneak peek!). Enter to win, but don't forget to hurry over to CreateSpace or Amazon to buy your own copy.  Supporting your non-local author: it's a thing.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

February 28, 2014

February Snippets

pinterest: wordcrafter
If my labels are accurate, it's been a full year since I did one of Katie's snippets posts.  Several reasons for that, I suppose: most of last year was full of Tempus Regina, and after a certain point it became difficult to share from that without spilling lots of beans.  I and my characters were in Scotland at that point (I mean story-wise, not myself physically).  Interestingly, we are now in Scotland again, only about fifteen hundred years removed from Regina's time.  Do I have some special love for Scotland...?

Second reason for the lack of snippets posts is simply that I haven't had anything to share, unless you want to read papers on Anabaptist martyrs and 17th Century anti-papist polemics.  This is, naturally, sometimes discouraging and frustrating, although of course absolutely necessary.  So to keep the creative juices flowing - and not go beserk and kill anyone - I've pulled out Wordcrafter and begun rewriting it from the ground up.  This is a dabbling kind of thing and I don't know how serious I am yet, but at 10,000 words, I figured I could scrape together a few things to post.

snippets for february

“You never mentioned your name, did you?” 

Still I felt him looking at me; his face flashed by in the tea, there and then broken, there and then broken. One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. “…Ethan. Ethan Prince.” 

“Ironic,” I said, without looking up. “My name is Justin King.”

- wordcrafter

The chain of the tea-ball still hung over the edge of my own mug and when I prodded it, the dregs rose up strong and dark and forbidding from the bottom. Nnh. There was not enough hot water in the kettle for a second mug, and barely enough leaves in the tin. I could make my guest his cup, but it was coffee-strong Ceylon or nothing for me. 

Well, then, I would take it coffee-strong.

//

Fortunately I had flour and eggs and the last of a carton of milk, so that with some imagination and fudging—and altogether too much tripping over Ethan, who seemed not to know how to get out of the way—I threw together something like toad-in-the-hole. 

“Heavy on the flour,” I said ungraciously, dumping his steaming plateful at Ethan’s chair— “light on the bangers. I’m running low. Eat up.”

//

“The—tattoos,” I managed, while Ethan got a glass and fiddled with the sink. “Where did you get them? Last time I saw something like that was in a book on the Celts.” 

 He jolted the handle round and the water spat out with a bang against the metal side, spraying him liberally; he hissed and gentled it back to a more reasonable stream, though it still overflowed his tumbler. Then, shutting off the tap and shaking the water off his hands, he answered, “Maybe I got them from the Celts, then.”

//

There were very few things in this world for which a brandy and soda could not atone.

//

The sprawling gravel drive was full and guests had begun to park in odd out-of-the-way corners; holding my breath as though it would make the car smaller, I squeezed between a sleek black Jaguar and a sporty thing I only afterward realized was a Lotus. 

 “Scratch one of those,” I remarked, “and we’re both dead.”

//

...But in the Fairbairn’s foyer, with the black velvet of his tunic melting into the shadows and the chandelier caught in the dash of gold brocade, he looked like a matador sprung out of the ring. And there was, too, something remarkably Castilian in the cold arrogance with which he surveyed Fairbairn: lips drawn, upper canine balanced light and sharp on lower, eyelids low and flickering. He did not like what he saw, and—my heart took a tumble into my cramped and empty stomach—he was making no bones about it. 

//

"Someone must have told you it was a masquerade, Mr Prince."

//

February 16, 2014

Fly Away Home Birthday Bash

Look what's finally arrived!  Having made us wait a month after revealing the cover of her debut novel, Fly Away Home, Rachel Heffington is celebrating its release with a blog party.  Toddle around to her own blog and other participating venues to learn more about 1950s New York, get tips on retro makeup, and read some reviews - and then go pick up the book from Amazon or the authoress' site.  (Note: you get an autograph if you buy from her, but you boost her sales rank if you buy from Amazon.)

For today, Rachel is putting in an appearance here at Scribbles to answer questions and tell a little more about the historical romance Fly Away Home.  (No spoilers - pinky promise.)

two thumbs way, way up for our leading lady - 
rachel heffington

1.) Hallo-allo-allo! Many here are already acquainted with you and Fly Away Home, but do tell us briefly what this here story is about.

Fly Away Home is basically the story of a hurting young woman who thinks becoming rich and famous will satisfy the aching inside. She gets the chance of a lifetime when hired to work with Wade Barnett, but this famous journalist is a Christian and his ideas of success and worth are far different than her own. She begins to fall in love with him but her past comes screaming up the road behind her and poses two frightening choices: betray herself, or betray the man she loves.

2.) Now tell us what this story’s about from the perspective of Nickleby. (For those of you who are unaware, Nickleby is the heroine’s cat.) 

“This book is the story of why my human is acting weird, eating too much chocolate, and lecturing the potted fern in our apartment. It is also the story of why I had to spend at least six or seven days with Jerry Atwood, the lobby-man, and why the song “Beyond the Sea” still makes my fur stand on edge. In short, it’s the story of how my human changed from a cold, sassy mess to a warm, sassy mess all because of some man named Wade Barnett.”

3.) What prompted you to write Fly Away Home? Was there any one moment when you were hit with an urgent need to invest your time in this particular work? What kept you going through the tough bits? 

Originally, I set out to write a book about coming home...about a young woman who thinks she wants a career but returns to a simpler life for things of richer value. That was when I was quite young and a bit naive and had none of the book written. As I wrote the story and matured spiritually and emotionally in my own life, it became a book about a woman jaded by life who still has a lot of girlishness inside and who is trying to fix her howling ache with glamour and glitz...and it is still a story about coming home, but Home, now, is Christ. Callie is a journalist working with a world-famous guy and she’s definitely got a career. I like that and I see nothing wrong with it; but her measure of success had to change, and that is the crux of the story.

I think many young women will identify with Callie. Sure, we don’t all have her past, but it can be hard to see through the baubles the world offers and to reconcile our dreams with God’s plans...I think the sensation that I was exploring my own heart kept me pushing through. I really am much like Callie.

 4.) I know Gregory Peck is Mr. Barnett. Who would you cast in the roles of the other characters if you could? 

Since this is entirely a hypothetical cast, may I pretty please make no sense at all and pick actors who are dead or alive and construct their ages just so, that it might work? Yes? Thankee. Okay:

Wade Barnett = Gregory Peck (duh)
Callie Harper = I always waffle on this. Currently, Nina Dobrev or Zooey Deschanel. Let me add a disclaimer saying that I haven’t seen either’s acting skills and Callie’s eyes are darker than Zooey’s.
Nalia Crosticinni = Nigella Lawson (can she even act? She’s a cooking show judge)
Jerry Atwood = A 30 year old Sean Astin
Jules Cameron = Theo James or Joseph Gordon Levitt
Moffat = Rosamund Pike. Hands down.

Yeah. I would love to see this film. It would probably be a disaster. ;)

5.) In one word each, how would you describe each of your main characters? 

Callie: Broken
Mr. Barnett: Earnest (Please, no Jack & Algie puns)
Jerry: Loyal
Nalia: Sultry
Jules: Manipulative

 6.) Fly Away Home is fairly unique in today’s market: it’s light and cosy, though of course it has its fair share of drama. What are some similar books that you can think of off the top of your head? 

This is a pretty difficult question for me. It’s the oddest mash-up of the pathos in The Magic of Ordinary Days, the banter of Emma & Mr. Knightley, and the all-round feel of Dead as a Scone -- without it centering around a murder. Or wait.

...Moving ON: If you like old movies like "Roman Holiday" and "My Favorite Wife" and you like books like Emma and P.G. Wodehouse, and you’re not against a bit of heart-break and blackmail, you’ll probably like Fly Away Home.

7.) If you had to choose one thing, what would you say is your favorite aspect of Fly Away Home? 

The relationship between Callie and Mr. Barnett. Yes, it has a thread of romance, but more than that it’s a friendship. I really do feel like Mr. Barnett is a friend of mine (don’t laugh. It’s true.) and even if Callie and Mr. Barnett don’t end up together (would I tell you?), their friendship is something that lingers in the minds of readers as a darn good job.

8.) Every author has some reason for writing. What is your philosophy of the craft? How do you approach the business of story-telling? 

I wish I could write heart-shattering lyrics like Andrew Peterson and bone-crushing, soul-wrenching prose like C.S. Lewis, and heavy, red-gloried novels like Jenny, and clever allegories like G.K. Chesterton. I really do. Those stories resonate within me but my particular reason for writing is a bit simpler:

I want to write books that defy the world’s strictures of the OSS (obligatory sex scene). I want to write books that are a lark to read but slip in an unobtrusive but unashamed Christian worldview. I want readers--especially unsaved ones--to read my books and find something attractive in them that they can’t quite pin down and then someday realize it was Christ. That’s my mission. I want to reflect His principles and His stories in such a way that they meet some crying need for worthwhile reading material and maybe even give the reader the impression of coming away refreshed and restored in spirit. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to be me: whimsical, fresh, sassy, and saved.

9.) Tea comes with brewing instructions for maximum enjoyment. What are your brewing instructions for Fly Away Home? 

 Best enjoyed on a day when: A.) You are needing to be cheered up B.) You are needing a silver-screen-glamour fix C.) You are in search for book with a flavor all its own D.) You want a read that you will come out of, looking for a cup of tea and a cat to cuddle because it was just that cozy. Or, you know, any old day when you feel like falling in love with a fictional man. 

Thank you, Rachel, and congratulations all over again! For everyone else, purchase a copy at Amazon or get an autographed copy from her blog The Inkpen Authoress - or both, if you want to be doubly awesome.  Also, don't forget to post a review on Goodreads or Amazon when you're done! 

February 12, 2014

All Who Are Wise-Hearted

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I finished reading Exodus several evenings back.  Several weeks back, actually.  It's one of those deceptive books of the Bible that start out easy enough and then BOOM! you hit the instructions for the tabernacle and immediately slow to a crawl.  I confess to occasionally wondering why and wherefore as I moved through the minutiae, but from time to time something would spring out at me - often something more or less tangential.

"And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you..."
exodus 31:6

The context, of course, is the construction and ornamentation of the sanctuary.  In the chapters preceding we see God laying out for Moses the blueprint of the tabernacle, then calling for "all who are wise-hearted" to participate in the actual building.  Two men were called out in particular and given special insight - Bezaleel and Aholiab - but it was the blanket description of all the craftsmen that struck me.  In other translations they're just "skilled artisans," but in this case I think the King James has hit on something.

all who are wise-hearted

That is probably the best description of real artists I've ever read.  You could argue that these men were wise-hearted because God especially blessed them, or that they were wise-hearted because they were the people of God, but I think it's far more basic than that.  These artisans were already wise-hearted; their work was the manifestation of it.  We've all read authors and found them unbelievably good - books where we reach the end and cannot fathom how a single mind could have held in all that complexity, let alone articulated it.  We've read poems that captured so much in so few lines.  We've seen paintings and statues and been left speechless by something.  

This isn't restricted to believing artists: we'd be foolish and bigoted to suppose it is.  Dickens very probably wasn't a Christian and I doubt Rosemary Sutcliff was.  I recently finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and that author gave me that wonderfully horrible feeling of inadequacy  every really great book should.  In the art field, I know very little about Bernini and want to know even less, but his "David" is one of the most amazing statues I've ever seen.  There's something in the heart of man that has this amazing capacity for beauty, even for glory, and I think that something is the wisdom of the artist.  It has little or nothing to do with form and rules, except perhaps in knowing how to break them.  I'm not sure I can put my finger on what it is, but I think that if you have some of it yourself, you know it when you see it in others.

wisdom is vindicated by her children.

January 15, 2014

Fly Away Home Cover Reveal

Glamor and journalism in 1950s New York City - what could it be?  Only Rachel Heffington's debut novel, Fly Away Home, very appropriately set to release on Valentine's Day.

fly away home
1952
new york city

Callie Harper is a woman set to make it big in the world of journalism. Liberated from all but her buried and troubled past, Callie craves glamour and the satisfaction she knows it will bring. When one of America's most celebrated journalists, Wade Barnett, calls on Callie to help him with a revolutionary project, Callie finds herself co-pilot to a Christian man whose life and ideas of true greatness run noisily counter to hers on every point. But when the secrets of Callie's past are hung over her head as a threat, there is space for only one love, one answer: betray Wade Barnett to save her reputation, or sacrifice everything for the sake of the man she loved and the God she fled. The consequences of either decision will define the rest of her life. 

Self-preservation has never looked more tempting. 

I had the honor of reading an earlier draft of Fly Away Home back in late 2012, and thus am in a position to inform you that the book is darling. (Of course, anyone who knows Rachel Heffington and her writing will hardly be surprised at that.)  It is an excellent read at any time, but I recommend it especially for the rainy, P.G. Wodehouse sort of days.  Pairs well with blankets and a cappuccino.  Rachel will be releasing the novel both in physical form and as an e-book - hopefully simultaneously, barring any technical issues or explosions - so you can grab a copy without feeling guilty about how little shelf space you have.  In the meantime, keep your eyes out: there's more to come before the novel releases on February 14!

about the author

Rachel Heffington is a Christian, a novelist, and a people-lover. Encouraged by her mother to treasure books, Rachel's favorite pastime was (and still is) reading. When her own library and her cousin's ran out of interesting novels, twelve-year old Rachel decided she would write her own; thus began a love-affair with word-crafting that has carried her past her teen years and into adulthood. Outside of the realm of words, Rachel enjoys the Arts, traveling, mucking about in the kitchen, listening for accents, and making people laugh. She dwells in rural Virginia with her boisterous family and her black cat, Cricket. Visit Rachel online at www.inkpenauthoress.blogspot.com.

giveaway

To celebrate the cover reveal and upcoming release, Rachel has put together a giveaway package for one fortunate (or is it providential?) winner. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

January 10, 2014

Something in the Hearts of Men

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that is our shield-ring, our last stronghold;
not the barrier fells
and the totter-moss between,
but something in the hearts of men.

- rosemary sutcliff, the shield ring

Mirriam - it is always Mirriam's fault, isn't it? - wrote a post recently called "God Is Not Your Bestie," a good and all-too-brief defense of reverence in our relationship to God.  In my own circles I see very little of the phenomenon that would treat God like a member of one's exclusive high-school clique, and I'm very glad for it.  However, you can't very well live in this day and age without in some way coming into contact with a larger trend, of which I would argue our insipid treatment of the Most High God is but a (very telling) symptom. 

For our "spiritual life" (a silly phrase, as if our "spiritual lives" were not integrally tied to our "physical lives") is not the only area lacking in proper reverence; God is not the only one or thing to which we owe more respect than we give - although He is of course the only One deserving of our all.  Over the last three centuries or so we have elevated the individual and lowered the "great ones of the earth," a leveling process which has in many ways made society more pleasant and equitable, but which has also married lack of respect to great selfishness.  Not to say, of course, that mankind has not always been selfish.  We just happen nowadays to have a philosophy built around it.

This marriage, I would argue, has given birth to the offhandedness of modern Christianity and the want of depth in so many aspects of life.  What have we done, for instance, with the ideal of friendship?  Mirriam talked in her post about how we cheapen God by making Him our "bestie," but let us also talk about how we cheapen friendship with talk of "besties" at all!  I would hardly hold the three (four? D'Artagnan is forever complicating matters) musketeers up as models to be emulated, but at least Dumas was able to present a smashing good picture of loyalty in his D'Artagnan romances.  Sutcliff does much the same thing, though in a quieter way, and captures also some of the beauty of romantic love - which cannot be said of Dumas and can rarely be said of professing Christians.

There are things in life worthy of respect, even of reverence, and we too often miss the mark.  When God has instituted something beautiful as part of the revelation of His own Beauty, we ought to do our darnedest to capture it in as much of its glory and dignity as we are able.  Dumas and Sutcliff got it right.  Should we not rival unbelievers in our appreciation for the high things of the world, in our lives and consequently in our writing as well?

 
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I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings






The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings






Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing



Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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