Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Book Review: Poems by Emily Dickinson

"A precious, mouldering pleasure 'tis
to meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young"

Welcome back to Book Review Wednesdays! I recently read a delightful collection of poems titled Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, and I loved every minute of it. I am not a writer of poetry; that is not a skill that I possess. But I am finding more and more that I love reading it.

First Impressions? I loved it.

Emily Dickinson is delightfully witty and clever. I love her commentary on life, love, death, etc. I also loved the music of her poems. It is quite remarkable to make words sing, and she definitely does that.

"He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!"

There's not a whole lot I can say, as I feel her poems really must speak for themselves. To that end, everyone needs to read them. So, to conclude this brief little review, I loved this book of poems and firmly believe everyone should read some of Emily's work before they die.

Would I read this book again? Absolutely.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes! Emily Dickinson's poems are delightful. Everyone needs the chance to enjoy them.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Giving Up on NaNoWriMo?

I've been gone forever!

Actually, my computer broke and had to go to the 'hospital' and I haven't had it for some weeks. That is why I went radio silent. Sorry about that. I have it back now and will commence blogging regularly again.

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about giving up. Is it ever okay to just quit?

The story that I chose to write for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a Crime Fiction story. It's a new genre for me, and therefore presents difficulties I have not faced in the past. And it was a struggle to write. NaNoWriMo is not over, so I won't say I've failed yet. But I will say that this story has been a trial on a number of levels. The new genre and learning the rules of how to write Crime Fiction has been difficult. Writing in the 80s rather than the middle ages has been hard, as I put more pressure on myself to get the 'history' right--even though this is only the first draft, and I could go back and fix it later. And the big thing: Writer's Block.

Writer's block is not something that I deal with, ever. I just don't. I know most writers have their times of not knowing what to write, of not having words. But that has never been me. This story, however, has me staring at a blinking curser a lot, just completely at a loss.

And at first, I refused to give in. I was getting frustrated, and writing stopped being a joy for me, but I wasn't going to be a quitter. Just because it was harder than usual didn't mean I had a right to stop. That's what I told myself.

But upon further reflection, I think it was okay that I wanted to stop. My writing is a very spiritual experience. I pray about the stories that I will be writing, I seek God's guidance throughout the crafting of each story, and I want every story I write to point to Jesus. When this story stopped bringing me joy, that was a clear indicator that it simply wasn't the story I was meant to be writing yet. I ignored that indicator because I didn't want to be labeled a quitter.

Maybe I will finish the story another time. Or maybe I won't. The important thing is paying attention to what stories God does want me to be telling. And knowing that's it's okay to quit sometimes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Book Review: Frodo and Harry

I'm starting something new, which I'm unofficially dubbing 'Book Review Wednesday'. I already review books on this blog, but I also talk about how to write novels, and in order to organize my own mind a little better I'm separating the two by posting them on different days. Hence, Book Review Wednesday.

So, welcome to the first Book Review on a Wednesday...let's get started, shall we?

"The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." ~William Shakespeare

I recently read a book called Frodo and Harry: Understanding Visual Media and It's Impact on Our Lives. Fair warning, this book, and consequently my review of it, deals entirely with the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, magic, and Christianity, and how these things work for or against each other. If that's not a discussion you want to have, I suggest reading one of my other blog posts. :) I will, however, only be reviewing the book that I read, not diving into the discussion of the books/magic/themes/etc except when necessary to explain my review of the book in question.

First Impressions? The subject matter was not always laid out well. There was plenty of appeal to pathos, and certainly ethos,  but very little to logos. The science was credible and researched, but the details of the stories in question were sometimes less accurate. The book itself was also poorly organized, as you'll see in the rest of my review. My first impression was that it wasn't a great book, despite its good message.

One of my biggest complaints about this book is that it is not objective. To be fair, if someone genuinely believes something is evil it would not seem appropriate for that person to not be passionate in refuting it. Yet the lack of objectivity made it hard to read for me. The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) books are praised so highly and passionately that the authors appeared to be fangirling, for lack of a better term, and Harry Potter was simply hated on throughout the book. I would have preferred to read a less emotional comparison and defense/rejection of the books in question.

My second, much lesser, complaint about this book is that some of the details of both stories are incorrectly portrayed. Elements of both LOTR and Harry Potter are discussed in length and every time that a fact or detail from one of these stories was represented poorly or altogether falsely, I had to put the book down. I have read both series of books multiple times and know them very well, and it is possible that such details would not bother a less invested reader of this comparison book, but it bugged me. In the writers' defense, it was never anything big; just simple details that a nerd like me would notice. 

And in fairness, this book was published in 2003. LOTR and Harry Potter were only just taking the world by storm due to their movies being made. People had read Tolkien's work for years, but both series were becoming popular with the majority of culture when this book was written.

With those two complaints out of the way, I can say that it was an interesting read, and certainly made some very good points--both in defending of LOTR and in rejecting Harry Potter. The defense and rejection of the two series in question were both made from a Christian worldview and with Scripture in mind.

One of the biggest arguments for LOTR and against Harry Potter in this book is that the magic in one is entirely power given from God (Eru) while in the other it is very much elemental witchcraft. The magic users of one rely on a higher source of power while the magic users in the other can, in essence, become gods themselves. This comparison is a good one, that I hadn't considered before.

Yet I don't feel this argument was entirely written well in this book of comparison. It had the potential to be a solid argument, but I don't think the execution was there. The explanation of the magic in Harry Potter was thorough and the reader allowed to draw their conclusions based on facts presented. The explanation of the magic in LOTR was briefer, rather glossed over, and relatively ignored. The reader simply had to accept that the authors knew the truth of how Tolkien meant magic to be rather than being able to read the facts in the same way as the authors had presented Rowling's designs. This, in my estimation, was another flaw in the book.

When you get about 50 pages into the book it turns into a full-on movie review of each individual movie (those that had been released in 2003, at any rate). I did not see this coming and it felt odd, and out of place. When reviewing the movies with the same lens as the rest of the book, discussing the elements of the story that were either in line with a Christian worldview or not, I had no serious objection. But when the movie review started talking about actor portrayals of specific characters, set design, what age would be appropriate to watch the film, etc, I couldn't help but laugh. That isn't what the rest of the book is about, so, as I said, the in-depth movie review seemed out of place.

Along those same lines, towards the end of the book the authors go in-depth about what a story is; premises, themes, genres, the whole shebang. I skimmed much of these pages because I am an author, so it was all incredibly redundant to me. However, for anyone who isn't as familiar with stories as I am, this part of the book would, I imagine, serve a purpose. The premise of this comparison book is that stories can affect us for good and ill, and if you don't know what a story is then you won't understand that premise. Still, if the purpose of this section detailing what story means--down to the very detailed differences between genres--was to prepare the reader to understand the rest of the book then perhaps it should have been at the beginning, not the end. Otherwise, it is simply an odd bunny trail at the end of the book that seems to serve no purpose. 

A large part of the Frodo and Harry book is devoted to how impressionable young minds are and what children will glean, consciously and unconsciously, from both series of books in question (and the movies). This idea, which was referred to many times throughout the book, was well written and credibly backed by research. It wasn't always attached to the question of magic in the books, either. For example, early on in the book while discussing what children might learn from the heroes of both series, the authors point out that from Harry Potter children might glean that it is appropriate to break rules as Harry and his two best friends break every school rule in the book and are rarely, if ever, punished for it--and are, more often than not, rewarded for such behavior as it enabled them to defeat whatever 'bad guy' they may have been up against, rooting the idea of "the ends justify the means" into young readers' minds--and the two biggest rules-breakers (Fred and George) are glorified and glamorized. The latter trouble-makers rarely break the rules for 'the greater good' as the heroes could be defended in doing so. They simply break rules because they can, and the other characters, the author, and the readers (and yes, I am one of those people who loved Fred and George) are treating contempt for authority for no other reason than present amusement as acceptable behavior.

I greatly enjoyed the discussion on how impressionable children are. As a nanny, this is something I am acutely aware of and plays a large role in how I live day-to-day. And I do believe the entire discussion on children's minds was very well written. It was the best part of the book.

One of the sentences on the topic of impressionable minds that stood out to me in the comparison book was this: "Although he has many good qualities, Harry Potter's disobedience, lying, and propensity to break the rules and seek revenge set him against the Biblical model of a righteous hero" (pg 69, Frodo and Harry). 

Every argument that the authors made in regard to the impression each series would leave on children or the behavior that the books might encourage was perceptive, credible, and at times scary. Children soak up everything. 

This is a small complaint, and a personal one, but most of the defense of LOTR lay in a quarter that bothered me. Allegory. The authors of this comparison book fell back on that a lot. This element was Biblical allegory, that element was Biblical allegory, and that's why it is a good book to read. This bothered me personally because Tolkien himself adamantly insisted his books were not allegorical.

To be fair, it is true that Tolkien's beliefs and Christian worldview did influence his writing, and he would admit to that himself, I'm sure. It wasn't that I disagreed with the authors for saying that the themes in LOTR, particularly the moral ones, were in line with Christianity more than those in Harry Potter. That assertion on the part of the authors is certainly true. It was just the insistence that LOTR was allegorical that bothered me, because from the author himself--it wasn't meant to be.

One section of this book that I greatly enjoyed was the emphasis on Christians learning the craft of storytelling as a means of communication. Everyone in our society watches movies, and most read books as well. Stories surround every part of our lives, and they influence us deeply, whether we realize it or not. The authors of this book emphasized that because of the powerful nature of stories--which even Christ understood, telling many parables himself--one of the best ways for us to influence society for the better is to be able to tell stories as well as non-Christians do. I loved this portion of the book because I myself am a storyteller who is trying to bring joy to people's lives, encourage them to live morally, and most importantly point them towards Jesus.

Overall, Frodo and Harry was a thought-provoking book that raised a lot of good questions that every Christian parent should be asking before letting their children read any series of books, not just the two in question. There is also a great deal of time dedicated to explaining the science behind children's impressionable minds within this book, for anyone who is not aware (granted, it was 2003; there's probably more updated research somewhere...). However, it was also poorly laid out, often distracted from its purpose, and at times badly written.

Would I read this book again? I doubt it. I read it from mere curiosity, as an avid reader of both series of books in question. And it satisfied my curiosity. But the book itself is geared toward parents--and I am not one--and was also, at times, rather off-putting for me to read (for the reasons stated previously in this review). So, no. I probably won't pick it up a second time, unless for particular research on something related.

Would I recommend this book to others? Possibly. I wasn't particularly fond of it, but it did make good points and it was based in Scripture.

If you are a Christian parent who is curious about how entertainment affects your children or want to know more about how to prevent a lot of negative influence from the entertainment industry, then maybe this would be a good read for you. The discussion on children's minds was, as I said, the best part of this book.

If you are an adult Christian seeking answers to the 'should I read LOTR?' or 'should I read Harry Potter?' questions--maybe. I would say this comparison book is certainly helpful when thinking about such things. The science on the impressionable minds of children may or may not be useful to you as a grown individual--and that science makes up the majority of the book--but it is insightful. The fact that it is written to the parents' perspective and the fact that it does not represent both sides of the coin equally would lead me to suggest there are likely better works out there to answer your questions. However, it does raise good questions, it does have Scripture as its foundation, and it would be a decent place to start.

I hope you are having a lovely day and reading lots of books!

Monday, October 14, 2019

NaNoWriMo is coming!

NaNoWriMo is coming!

For anyone not aware, November is NaNoWriMo for many authors (National Novel Writing Month). It is a month filled with a ton writing as we all try to complete a 50,000 word rough draft of a novel. And it is so much fun!

This wonderful autumn month we are currently enjoying (I love this time of year! Anyone else a sweater-weather kind of person??) is lovingly dubbed "preptober" for all of us participating in NaNoWriMo. October is the month where we prep our novel for November. And that is exactly what I have been doing.

For a long time, I had no idea what I was going to do for NaNoWriMo this year. I was stumped. The last two years I wrote Return to Sherwood and its sequel, but that story has come to a close. So what would I write next? That was the unanswerable question.

I have many story ideas and partial manuscripts (just one or two chapters), so I went skimming through them to decide which one I wanted to craft into a real novel. It took a great deal of searching, but I finally found one that I wanted to write.

I'm genuinely giddy about writing it, to be honest.

I am going to be dipping my toes into a brand new genre this time around. My Robin Hood series is Historical Fiction (if only loosely based on historical events), Return to Sherwood and its sequel is Historical, and the Finding Hope trilogy is Dystopian. This time around, I'm going to be writing Crime Fiction!

I'm a little bit terrified. I read lots of mysteries and suspense/thriller novels and absolutely love them. But writing them? Even genre has its own rules and styles, and Crime Fiction is a foreign language in many ways. So yes, there's a lot of fear involved. Fear that I won't be good enough to match this genre. Fear that I just don't have what it takes to write Crime Fiction.

But there's also a great deal of joy. I love the story idea, and I have been having more fun than I can easily describe prepping my novel for November. I have my outline, my character profiles, my period research (because yes, it is rather historical in its own way. I can't help it. History is where my heart lies).

I'm eager for November to arrive so that I can actually start writing this novel.

Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, what sort of projects are you working on?

Happy Writing, Everybody!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Quarterly Writing Goals

It's October! That means a lot of things in my world. First, it's the #preptober, the month authors use to prep the book they plan on writing in November--for those authors, like myself, who write a novel for NaNoWriMo every year. Second, it's the beginning of the last quarter of the year. And you know what that means?


It's time to look back at my goals from last quarter and make some new goals to finish out the year!

Goal #1 Finish the sequel to Return to Sherwood. I did it!!! Woot! Woot! That novel took me so long to finish, but I finally did! Now it just has to be edited...

Goal #2 Edit Return to Sherwood POVs. This, I did not finish, but I certainly got started and worked steadily through. It's a massive project removing 15 individual POVs to edit/revise personal character arcs and then put all the POVs back together again. I got a lot done. I'm happy.

Goal #3 Send Return to Sherwood to my editors. This was only if I finished the above goal, which I did not, so this did not happen. But I'm not disappointed. The above goal is a behemoth of a project and I did work hard on it.

Goal #4 was simply to purchase some more ISBNs. My car broke down this month so I had other bills, and therefore this goal was not met.

Goal #5 was to find a Cover Artist for Return to Sherwood. I did this once before, and it didn't work out. I have now done it again. It remains to be seen if it actually works out this time.

I also later added the goal of brainstorming the next story I will write. And I did my brainstorming. :)

I have been very productive since coming back to work. My lazy summer off work I got nothing done, but here in the routine and structure of my job, I'm very productive in my writing time. I've been editing my next novel, finishing the next manuscript, and brainstorming a brand-new story. I'm very satisfied with August and September.

Will I be as productive in the last three months of the year? Only time will tell...

What are my goals for the last quarter of the year?

Finish Editing Return to Sherwood POVs  This is still a huge project, but I have been chipping away at it steadily and plan on getting done before Christmas.

Edit sequel I'm throwing this out there, but only if I finish the above goal. The sequel will have to have the same overhaul edit of each POV which will take a long time and a lot of hard work.

#Preptober  October is, for writers who participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), the month where we prep whatever novel we will be writing in November. For me, that is the novel I brainstormed last quarter. So this quarter, particularly in October, I need to do character profiles, outline the novel, and research.

Write New Story  In November I will be writing the novel that I prep in October. It is a mystery/crime fiction which is a completely new genre for me to write in. It is a genre I read frequently, however, and I am excited to dip my toes into the murky waters!

Purchase More ISBNs  I plan on publishing Return to Sherwood next year, and will, therefore, need at least one new ISBN before then. An author can never have too many ISBNs on hand.

Plan for Conferences  This one is fairly simply; I need to decide what conferences I am going to in the Spring. I usually only go to one, but I have been looking into a second one for next year. I need to get that all sorted out before the New Year.

So there you have it; my goals for the next three months. For the most part, I will be editing Return to Sherwood and writing my mystery novel.

Happy Writing, everybody!

Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo? If so, what project are you working on?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Book Review: Obsessed

Today I am once again reviewing a book by Ted Dekker: Obsessed.

"Stephen Friedman is making a good living in good times. He's just an ordinary guy.

Or so he thinks.

But one day an extraordinary piece of information tells him differently. It's a clue from the grave of a holocaust survivor. A clue that makes him heir to an incredible fortune...a clue that only he and one other man can possibly understand.

That man is Roth Braun, a serial killer who has been waiting for Stephen for thirty years. Roth was stopped once before. This time nothing will get in his way."

As with most Ted Dekker books, I read Obsessed in the space of a few days. I have read very few authors who can grip me with the first word of their story and keep me turning pages to the end the way that Ted Dekker does.

Dekker's characters are, as always, fascinating to read about. He finds ways to make them all unique, 3-dimensional, and compelling. There is not a flat character among them. The main character, Stephen, is a young Jewish man who is trying to live an ordinary life in the 70s and ignore his past--an orphan whose parents were lost to World War II. Throughout the novel, he is forced to face the truth of his past, the horrors of the holocaust, and learn to care for something beyond himself. 'Care' seems like a poor choice of words. He becomes obsessed. ;)

The underlying theme, overtly stated right in the title, is that man was created to be obsessed. I loved this book for that reason alone, let alone the amazing story that followed. I have been writing a book myself called Created to be Obsessed for a number of years that explores this very idea. Consequently, I loved every aspect of it in Dekker's story. We obsess over many things, though the real object of that fascination is meant to be our Creator.

Dekker's writing style always pulls me in from the beginning, his fast-paced, intense stories keep me turning pages, and his plot twists--and there's always at least one--never fail to make my jaw drop. I don't know how he does it. I'm in awe.

Would I read this book again? YES

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes!

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Review: Adam

Today I will be reviewing and discussing a book by Ted Dekker called Adam. The review will be like any other I have done on this blog--the discussion afterward will be a new feature. A necessary addition due to the contents of the book in question.

So let's begin! What is Adam about?

"FBI behavioral psychologist Daniel Clark has been stalking a killer known only as Eve for the past sixteen months. When he traps the elusive psychopath in a face-off, Daniel becomes the next casualty. But then he is resuscitated. After dying once, he's got nothing left to lose in his obsession to stop Eve. Or so he thinks.

He died once to stop the he's dying again to save his wife."

Adam is a page-turner. I read it in a single day. This fact does not surprise me even a little--Ted Dekker is the author. Of course, it's a page-turner. Dekker never fails to grip me with the first word of his story and hold me there until he's done spinning his tale.

His descriptions are vivid, his characters so remarkably real, his story intense and action-packed. As with every Dekker book I read, I was enthralled by the entire thing. I've never read another author quite like Ted Dekker. This murder mystery turned psychological thriller is profound.

The character development is brilliant, as is the slow but steady filling in of details regarding the murders and the killer himself. The twist near the end stunned me. I quite literally put down the book in my shock and paced my room saying "this can't be true" before picking Adam up again and frantically searching the pages I'd already read to find the truth of that plot twist. I don't know how Dekker does it, but he always delivers.

Would I read this book again? Definitely.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes. Absolutely. Please do read it.

His remarkable writing aside, this book dives deep into something truly terrifying: spiritual warfare. All of Dekker's books have an element of Christianity, and Jesus, and His fight against evil. The ones I've read thus far have been relatively overt in their claims. If he has some that are more subtle, I've yet to read them. In this book, in particular, he dives into the idea of demon-possession and how very real evil is in the present day.

As a Christian myself, and devoted to following Jesus, the idea of spiritual warfare is not unfamiliar to me. It's something I have acknowledged, in a passive way, but never really faced. Yes, of course, I know the devil is real. I know this truth, but I don't confront it on a daily basis.

"Demon possession cases are the extreme examples of evil--where it breaks through the cloak it hides under and show itself to the world in a way that forces us to deal with it. But evil doesn't like to be dealt with, so it remains mostly hidden, and people begin to forget that it exists at all." --
Ted Dekker (in a discussion with John Eldredge included in the back of the book Adam)

Evil doesn't like to be dealt with. That sentence smacked me in the face when I was reading the discussion between Dekker and John Eldredge (American author, counselor, and lecturer on Christianity best known for his book Wild at Heart). I have never personally been demon-possessed, of course, but the devil is still prowling around like a lion, searching for prey, at the edges of my life. He's there when I get frustrated with the people around me. He's there when I am impatient with others. He's there when I choose to say something rude rather than be gracious. It is only through the grace of Jesus that he has no power to harm me. But he is there--and that's the point. Enticing me to get angry over small things, or make a selfish decision--choosing to benefit myself rather than someone else.

Those of us who believe in Jesus need to start taking the devil seriously--because let's be honest, the majority of us blessed to live in this American culture I call home honestly don't take it seriously. But we should. Spiritual warfare is a scary thing--but we have Jesus. There are so many people who don't--they don't have the Light to ward off the darkness, the only Light than can.

I don't have a clever way to end this review and discussion. The book was an amazing read. The truth it highlights is scary, but there's hope--His name is Jesus. And those of us who know that truth need to be pursuing that Light with ferocity and sharing that Light without hesitation.