Friday, December 20, 2013

Judge Me A Ten?

I think my favorite quote ever (or almost ever) is Shakespeare's "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."

Phil Robertson has a stage. The Duck Commander had a stage on the A&E network before they fired him for voicing his beliefs in an unrelated interview (but that's beside the point). Before he had a stage with A&E, he had a stage simply by being a walking/talking person who carries on relationships with other people.

In all the brouhaha that went on yesterday in relation to A&E's hit show, Duck Dynasty, it slowly began to dawn on me that this is just a drop in the bucket. At this precise moment in time, sure, Phil Robertson made the proverbial splash in the water, with perhaps a few more ripples than the average person, but since the day he's been born, he's made ripples because he's a living, breathing human being.

I may be slow on the uptake (freely admitted), but I suddenly realized yesterday that I have a stage, too. We all do. Every single one of us. My stage, sure, is considerably less large than Phil Robertson's, but that doesn't mean that it has to have any less impact on people than his does.

Every thought, every action that I put in front of people, my husband, my children, my friends, my readers, complete strangers, will be judged in some way, shape, or form, just as I form my own judgements when I see what goes on around me every day. 

Before someone blasts me for using the word "judging," please let me explain. I make judgements every day. 

Car coming. Is there enough space for me to cross the street before he gets here and I splat like a bug on his windshield? No, I think I'll stay put.

What's five more bucks for this cheap DVD that I've been wanting to have? No biggie, right? Except we've been over the grocery budget for two months running. Maybe not this time.

That girl just called my daughter a name. Should I go over and tell her to back off or let my daughter fight her own battles?

We all judge each other every day. No matter what side of the coin you're on regarding the whole Phil Robertson thing, every one of us has made judgements concerning him. 

So my point is, if people are going to be watching me on my stage, passing judgement on every action or word that leaves my mouth, I had better make good and sure that what I put out there is worth the refining fire. 

When all the fluff, chaff, and dross get burned away from my actions and words, I hope a few gold nuggets come into the light. It may be wishful thinking, but one can dream, right?

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Blank Page

I'm 6,788 words into my newest novel, the second book in a young adult urban fantasy series about a young girl caught up as the centerpiece in a political revolution such as the world has never seen.

Only 93,212 words left to go. In this book. And then, there are the next two.

George R.R. Martin, author of The Game of Thrones and subsequent sequels, once famously said, "I don't enjoy writing. I enjoy having written."

I won't necessarily completely agree with him. I do enjoy writing. I enjoy it a lot. Mostly, however, I enjoy writing snippets. A title here, a prologue there, even a chapter . . . or two. But when I stand at this end of the book, and gaze at that end of the book, I feel a bit like a clown fish would feel if I were released from the relative safety of my tiny Petco saltwater tank back into the Pacific Ocean.

It seems overwhelming and daunting.

Daunting: adj: tending to overwhelm or intimidate

My thousand-words-a-day rule is my thread of hope that I cling to every day. Every day, I sit down during my kids' nap times and peck out a thousand words minimum on my laptop. It may not make much sense, it may not even add to the storyline. But it's a regular discipline that I maintain stringently. I don't miss a single day. It's not a lot of words; I read blogs from other authors who write ten thousand words in a day and send off manuscripts to their publishers every month or two. 

At this stage in my life, I can't do that.

But I can write a thousand words. So I will. Eventually, I will stop the story around 100,000 words, look back and say, wow, I did it.

Baby steps.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Potty-Straining Take 2 or 200... Something... I've Lost Count

Sometimes, I throw my hands up in the air, and wave 'em like I just don't care...

Trouble is, I do care, but I've pretty much given up. Every time I give up, I think, I'll try just one more time, and then I give up again, and I throw my hands in the air again, and wave 'em like I just don't care... again...

It's a vicious cycle.

So what's this all about?

The process of training one's masculine offspring to urinate/defecate in the proper receptacle instead of into the offspring's own raiment, thereby promoting maturation and cultivation of the offspring, ushering him from infancy into the proper development of an older child.

In other words: potty-training.

I've lost count of the times I've thought, I think I finally did it! I think he's finally trained! And then, like an evil imp that comes back to mock its audience, he sinks back into wet jeans and wet underwear... one more time.

Sometimes, I feel like a bull-dog, sinking my teeth with stubborn tenacity into an issue that refuses to be resolved, never letting go, never seeing hope of a solution.

Charts: check.
Prizes: check.
Encouragement: check.
BIG Prizes: check.
Cleans up his own messes: check.
Alarms every hour: check.
Alarms every half an hour: check.
Privileges taken away: check.
Pull-ups: check.
Regular underwear: check.

Success: nope.

I don't know. I've said it before and I'll say it now. When he moves out to go to college or wherever, he's going to start changing his own diapers.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Birthday Reflections

Understandably (for some), I started struggling with my birthdays as they rolled around each year ever since I hit 27. I was frying chicken on my 27th birthday, and I remember the sobs wracking my body as I forked the cutlets into a pattern and flipped them in the hot grease. My poor husband, who couldn't understand what was happening, but was perhaps afraid that I would soak his super-yummy-smelling supper, tried his best to figure out what was wrong. Between gasping, choking gulps of air, I managed to wail, "I'll be thirty in three yeeeeeeaars!"

Obviously, I survived the debacle, and as any 34-year-old would do on their birthday, I decided to make a list of 34 things that I feel have shaped me into the 34-year-old that I am. Because that's what 34-year-old's do, right? ;)

1.) I once put orange juice on the All-Bran my mother forced me to eat when I was young. Not only did it instill an even deeper hatred of the cereal into my sensitive soul, it also solidified my empathy with my own children, who decidedly do not. like. All-Bran. We are a Cheerio family. :)

2.) If one of my fingernails tears, I get shivery-shivers up and down my spine. I've recently noticed that it's not just a personal thing. If I see a torn fingernail on someone else, I get the same shivers. If I don't have a pair of fingernail clippers to offer them, I drive myself batty with irresistible impulses to run to the nearest store and buy a pair to deliver to them. Which is ridiculous. But never-the-less a part of who I am.

3.) I like peanut butter and mayonnaise. Together. In a sandwich. Or on a banana. Whichever.

4.) Busch Gardens has become a second home to me since I've married my husband. Family tradition on his side dictated that we visit there at least two or three times a summer. I've discovered that I kind of like knowing how to get from Point A to Point B without a map.

5.) Along the same vein, I love kiddie-coasters. They're more my speed.

6.) Some people struggle with their in-laws. I am one of the blessed individuals that is probably just about as close to my in-laws as I am to my own parents. I love this.

7.) Reading is my own personal paradise. A book, to me, represents a journey, a vacation, an adventure, a happy dream.

8.) Which is probably why I love to write, because those dreams don't want to live only in my head. They want to crawl out and give life to other people's dreams as well.

9.) I grew up watching my daddy put aside other priorities to make time for his wife and children, so in turn, I married a guy that spends time every evening when he comes home playing hide-and-seek, or coloring, or Candy Land or baseball or soccer with the kids.

10.) Consequently, the shrieks of "Daddy's home!" that ring with joy and gladness through the house when his truck comes up the driveway is perhaps my favorite time of day.

11.) There should be an intravenous method of injecting chocolate straight to the blood stream. Although that would take away the taste, which is, of course, the best part. So never mind.

12.) I find it inexpressibly sad that Jane Austen never knew what an iconic hero she created when she wrote about Mr. Darcy. Or perhaps she knew, because she created his character, but she had no way of knowing that he lives on in the thoughts of people in the 21st century, and probably will continue to for years to come.

13.) I didn't read Harry Potter until I was twenty-three years old.

14.) I have a secret wish that I had received my owl-post when I was ten years old that invited me to live out my education at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, I'm just a Muggle. Sigh.

15.) I admire people who listen quietly. And then they produce this jewel of thought at some point in the conversation. It's clear and lucid and beautiful, and it's obvious that they've been shaping it and forming it for awhile before they produce it for inspection.

16.) Me, I just vomit words in a never-ending stream, and then wish I could erase half of what I said.

17.) The longer I walk this path called life, the more I realize how little I matter in the grand scheme of things, and the more I am in awe of how much God matters. The diminishing of my own importance is actually a good thing, I think.

18.) When I was in first grade, I had an imaginary giant pet dog that I named Blackie, and he was my friend. He brought me enormous comfort, because as a shy child, I didn't hang out with many other actual humans.

19.) I graduated to imaginary pet horses by third grade, and I named them Tornado, Cyclone, Sun Raider, and Firestorm. They ran in front of our car whenever we went anywhere, and I practiced "driving" them with imaginary reins. It was loads of fun.

20.) Once in first grade, I signed "Nobody" at the top of a paper that I was supposed to hand in. For kicks, I guess. I remember terrible embarrassment and agony when the teacher held it up at the front of the class and asked, sternly, who had done this. No one confessed - that would have been horrific - and I didn't realize that she would have found out by process of elimination anyway. She never scolded me for it; maybe she sensed my shrinking soul.

21.) Out of all the literary characters out there, the one with whom I identify the most is Anne Shirley. And Tim is my Gilbert.

22.) I gain no end of satisfaction from the fact that I was close friends with Tim before we ever started dating. He's a man of few words, so I think if we had started dating without the solid friendship there first, I would have tried and failed to fill long periods of stilted silence. As it was, those silent stretches were comfortable and easy, like pulling on a favorite shoe, each curve of the sole fitted exactly to the heel and toes, and no rubbing and consequent blistering.

23.) When I was a child lying in the darkness of my room at bedtime, I used to pray with intense fervor, "Please, don't let me see an angel," as I stared at the black walls. I'm thinking I thought it would be like seeing a ghost. Maybe it would have, I don't know. One never appeared. 

24.) I've always had a sensitive spirit. So much so, that I remember going into my mother's bedroom one time after I was supposed to be in bed and telling her, "Mommy, I feel guilty." She put her book down and asked, "About what?" I shrugged. "I don't know. I just feel guilty."

25.) Summer camp should be a significant part of every child's experience.

26.) The fruit of the Spirit that I have the most trouble exhibiting is self-control. Particularly when there is chocolate in the room.

27.) I look significantly different than I think I look when I run or dance.

28.) I'm pretty sure I was born in the wrong time period. Victorian era is much more my cup of tea. And then just when I am in danger of grave era-envy, I remember things like out-houses, and no air-conditioning, and layers and layers of underclothes and petticoats in the hot summers. And chaperones to go anywhere. It helps vastly with being content in the 21st century.

29.) Tim and I make adorable babies.

30.) Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." Since I was a kid, I've wanted three things more than anything else. I wanted a husband. I wanted children. And I wanted to write. Today, I am married to my best friend. I have three adorable children who make my life crazy and beautiful at the same time, and I have the ability to stay home and write my imaginings onto paper (or a hard drive, as the case may be). I am feeling mighty blessed.

31.) I am surrounded by quirky friends. This makes me feel better about my own quirkiness.

32.) There is an in-between-ness about my piano skills. I passed the Mary-Had-A-Little-Lamb stage years ago. But I never quite got to Mozart level. That is, I play Mozart's works with bumbling non-precision. I'm sure he would hang his head in despair if he could hear me.

33.) Friday is my 9 1/2 year anniversary of marriage to my husband. We've had our ups, downs, and inside-outs, but we've never lost sight of each other through it all. Neither have we lost sight of the One who brought us together. When I was a kid, I did loads of planning how my white dress was going to look and how I was going to do my hair on my wedding day. I didn't think a lot of what would happen after that. So I can't say that it's like I expected, because it's not. It's a whole lot deeper.

34.) Thirty-four is a whole lot more than I thought when I started this post. Took me awhile to wrack my brains for some of these. To close, here's a quote I put on my "About Me" section to the side of this blog, but it resonates deeply with me. "I may not be the best at what I do. But what I do, I do the best that I can."

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cinderella in the Streets

I don't know about you, but when I was a teenage girl growing up, I loved to go back to my mom's bookshelf in my parents' room and pull out a Grace Livingston Hill book. Anyone familiar with Grace Hill? Let me sum up. 

Grace Hill wrote the same book with about a hundred different book covers. Exhibit A. Perfect girl. Exhibit B. Perfect boy. Exhibit C. Evil girl. Exhibit D. Evil boy. Plot line. The good girl ends up with the good boy, and the evil girl and the evil boy end up broken somewhere.

So. I loved those books, I truly did. I read Crimson Roses, The Christmas Bride, Brentwood and Cloudy Jewel at least fifty times. Each.

But as I grew older, and my taste in fiction developed, I began to nurture a hunger for characters with whom I could identify. This girl who struggled not with the vileness of sinful nature in these books? She was a stranger to me. One-dimensional. Flat, dull, tasteless.

Enter Francine Rivers into my literary world. Ah, the power of books like Redeeming Love and The Atonement Child. I began to find characters that, like me, struggled with sin, hate, loss of self-control, other abominations that God finds displeasing. 

The redeeming quality in all of her characters? Grace. Specifically, God's grace. Just like in my own life.

I met Mary Ball on Goodreads, and per further discussion, agreed to a blog switch with her. Below is her blog she sent me. I was impressed with her commitment to creating realistic characters in her inspirational fiction. I believe she will touch many lives through her fiction because she creates characters to whom each of us can relate. 

Enjoy her post. Happy reading! :)
Tamara Shoemaker
One Author's View on Christian Fiction

I love to read Inspirational/Christian fiction (most of the time). I want to read a Christian novel that highlights the characters as real people who kiss, have doubts and often befall temptation. After all, none of us is immune to troubles.

I don't enjoy namby-pamby novels. If the characters are too good or holy, I can't relate to the novel. I think Christian fiction should show flaws, while bringing the characters to the understanding that the Lord is their guide and can see them through.

Inspirational novels needs to encourage ways a person can survive in the everyday world, not in a fairytale land, with soft green meadows, of "I never have a problem" plots.

I need stories to proclaim a faith, which flows from the spirit and a hope for a better tomorrow. These personalities need to have things happen, same as everyone. The only difference should be the way the characters cope with life and temptations in the real world.

The focus of a Christian novel should be to show how people could become stronger; seeking out a better life with the Lord's redeeming mercies.

I scribe stories with characters that deal with unpleasant things, but somehow find a way to forge ahead, while developing a relationship with God.

Each of us handles situations differently. The way we react to things certainly depends on our outlook of life, but if I can use my writing to open up a new way of thinking or to strengthen someone's faith, then I've done my part.

I create Christian fiction to show ways of escaping the bad things that happen, regardless of the effects it can have on us.

If you're a Christian writer, then I believe that no matter where you are in the author pool, whether you're with a major publishing house or small company, you probably started out with a desire to share the Lord's grace. After all, showing the world a gentler life is important.

I remember a book signing I attended; a man approached my table and asked about my novels. I replied, "I write inspirational fiction. My characters go through everything we do, but if they didn't know the Lord, then they would find him by the last chapter."

He laughed and said, "I didn't think God was lost."

I smiled, and then answered, "No, He's not, but a lot of folks think He is. It's like misplacing your keys, and then you find them later. They were on the table the whole time you were searching. You just didn't see them."

That's where Jesus is, right at the end of our fingertips if we reach for Him.


Mary L. Ball is a member of ACFW. Her fiction novels, whether suspense, mystery or Christian fiction will always come entwined with a bit of romance.

She has two published novels by Prism Book Group, Escape to Big Fork Lake and Stone of Destiny. She recently submitted her third fiction novel, which she dubs Redemption in Big Fork Lake. This novel will take the readers back to Big Fork Lake for a visit.

Connect with Mary:
Amazon author page:

Her novels are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online stores.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Fourth Wall

So I know what the fourth wall is. I know the "wall" between an actor and his audience, and I know the mortification of a director if one of his actors shatters that wall (unless, of course, it's called for in the script).

In the world of writing, I wouldn't have thought we'd have a fourth wall. After all, we don't act and perform and strut our stuff in front of an audience three, four, five nights a week. We don't prop one foot on a fake "hill" of green foam and pensively enunciate to the gathered masses: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more."

Or do we? Do we not write and write and write our aspirations and plot points and daydreams into printed words and weave them into a grandiose work, then fling that work out upon the pages of society? We do our best, then cower in relative obscurity as we ponder what the world thinks of us.

Once upon a time, it used to be that a novelist would write a book, but the only feedback they would receive would be from their publisher. Then after a bunch of years, novelists were more aware of feedback, but the only method of contacting them and communicating your pleasure or displeasure in their work was through their publisher.

Enter Facebook. And Twitter. And LinkedIn. And Instagram. And Google+. And a million other social media groups, chats, forums, websites, etc. Suddenly, that fourth wall is broken, and people can communicate directly with the authors.

Today, on my Facebook newsfeed, I read an article about Indie book publishers, and how they can better market their books. The first comment on the article was from one Stephen King. I clicked on it, and it took me to his professional page; it was the real Stephen King.

Aside from being a little star-struck (since I am of the opinion that Stephen King is one of the better writers ever to grace this earth, even though I'm not necessarily a fan of his most common genre), I was amazed. With the touch of a button, Stephen King suddenly became "accessible" to the hundreds of people who would have accessed that article in their newsfeed.

Suddenly, he became a real person instead of a name on a magazine cover or the binding of a book. He connected, however lightly, with the outside world, and in return, people connect more with him as well.

This has been an ongoing discussion with my editor: how much do I connect with my readers? Do I throw my books out there on the market, then seclude myself while the critics have a hay-day? Or do I reach out to my readers and gain their insights and perspectives on my work, perhaps gaining from my interaction with them?

The weight of our conversation by far has fallen on the side of connecting with readers. Hence, the blog. Hence, the replies to certain reviews on my Amazon pages. Hence, every opportunity I have to break the fourth wall. 

It may be too early yet to tell if it's doing any good or not. But, with that fourth wall shattered, I'll probably let you know. :)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Puppet Master

I recently had a conversation with someone regarding authoring books, specifically fiction. This person seemed to be under the impression that being an author was a bit like playing with puppets. You dangle your characters on the end of a string and jerk the paddles, making them dance or twirl or walk or collapse on the stage.

You know, that would be pretty cool. If I didn't like someone, I could just toss them off a railroad trestle or send them on a looooonnnnggg boat trip to Antarctica. If a character felt superfluous, they could suddenly contract Hepatitis B, which would progress much more quickly than doctors would anticipate, and voila, no more character.

The longer I write, though, the more I'm finding I'm not as much in control of my characters as what I would have assumed. I find that they don't like their feelings/emotions/characteristics messed with.

As an example: one of my characters in a book I recently finished is a loyal, wonderful young man. He's tenacious to his goals, and he refuses to give them up, even when the odds seem overwhelming. Switch to me, who knows the ending of the story and of the series, and realizes that this young man will have to walk through fire before it's all said and done, and all his efforts may yet be for naught.

I want like everything to smooth the road for him, to lead him along a path blooming with daisies and roses, and let him step into his happily-ever-after, and who cares about the consequences for everyone else that his ending affects? I seriously considered scrapping the ending and letting this young man and his compatriots have their perfect, albeit fluffy, ending.

But as my mind went over the character I'd worked hard to mold in him, the loyalty, the never-say-die attitude, his idealistic world view, I found I couldn't do it.

Sure, I could force his character into a jello mold and make the story come out sunshine and roses for everyone, but in so doing, I would lose the best part of this young man.

So as sad as it makes me, I will watch his character walk through the fires of his future, knowing that even though it's no fairy tale, his character will stick with me, in my thoughts, in my future writings, maybe even for the rest of my life.

There's a valuable life lesson we could all take away from this. But I won't spell it out. I think, if you really think about it, you'll figure it out. ;)

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Sloppy Wet Kiss

I think perhaps I'm in the minority.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to play piano for the worship team at church. I always enjoy doing this; it's sort of a creative outlet for me to be able to let my fingers dance on the keys in harmonious collusion with the other instrumentalists on the team. Slow. Fast. Soft. Loud. Getting Louder. (Or the equivalent Italian terms which are far too difficult for me to spell.)

One of the songs we led yesterday was a favorite of mine. It was called "How He Loves," and one of the lines in the song is "Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss, and my heart turns violently inside of my chest."

Beyond the rest of the lines in the song, which are excellent and meet some deep point in my soul as I belt out the words, this line in particular resonates with me. I've actually heard lots of people talk about how that line makes them cringe, and I suppose there are opinions, and then there are opinions.

When I hear that line, I see my two-year-old daughter toddling up to the couch where I sit, working. She climbs up, her eyes wide and her voice insistent. She wants attention, and reluctantly, I put aside my agenda for a moment and curl an arm around her. She raises one pudgy, dimpled hand and pats my cheek. "Mommy," she says in her clear, indistinct toddler voice. "Wuv, Mommy."

I smile and say, "I love you, too, Darlin'." She pushes herself closer, her knee digging painfully into my thigh. And she kisses me on the cheek.

It's wet. There's some saliva involved. It's no chaste peck, dry and barren. This is a kiss filled to the brim with love, and it spills over, leaving a large, glistening circle of drool on my cheek. It's sloppy.

To me, that is love in its truest form - pure, innocent, completely without expectations. She doesn't require me to kiss her back (though of course I do; how can I help it?). She doesn't ask me to give her food, clothing, shelter, a paycheck, and then she'll kiss me. Then she'll show me her love.

She loves me simply because she does.

God loves me simply because He does. I could never in a million years earn that kind of love, but God gives it without a price, without me even asking for it.

Just like a sloppy, slippery, saliva-filled, juicy, wet, thoroughly love-filled kiss.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On to the Ushy-Gushy

So, the last two books I've written, I have two main characters, a male and a female. Of course, by the end of both books, they are thoroughly smitten with each other, and love conquers all, right?

I grew up a hopeless romantic, devouring books with a warm, fuzzy, happily-ever-after ending, and enjoying the squishy feeling in my stomach that they left behind.

But that doesn't mean that I enjoy writing about it.

I guess I grew up with enough of a sense of modesty/decency/sense-of-fitness that when I write a romantic scene between two people, I feel a bit like I'm committing a flagrant breakage of the common law of PDA (Public Displays of Affection). You don't stand out on a sidewalk in a big city and spend copious amounts of time in a lip-lock (though goodness knows, I've seen my share of people doing just that). The affection of my main characters is natural and God-given, but the war in my mind over how they should keep their embraces private when hundreds of people are reading about their kisses is hard to resolve.

I feel like I should stick something in here to say that I don't write erotica, nor will I ever. But I do think that the love of a man for a woman and vice-versa is at the top (or near the top) of the totem pole for what most humans will feel at some point in their lives, and this needs to be included in many stories (not all).

But then it comes back to the point. I'm embarrassed, because I myself would not kiss my husband in front of hundreds of viewers, each one analyzing just how it's done. It's at this point where I must step outside myself and write from the perspective of my character. What does he or she think? How does he or she feel? How can I translate those feelings to the reader without making the reader think about the author and how the author feels?

How can I write about this thing called Love? It's so all-encompassing, isn't it? Love isn't just kissing, sex and physical attraction, is it?

Love is family.
Love is best friends.
Love is discipline.
Love is understanding.
Love is sacrifice.

My next book coming out will have two people in love with each other, and yes, there will be some kissing. But I hope that behind the outward expression of intimacy, real love blazes through the words on the page. Understanding and sacrifice, patience and give-and-take. Equality. Grace. Healing. 


Friday, September 27, 2013

Repetition Counts. Repetition Counts. Repetition Counts.



I had to vent.

I've just spent the last four days doing hardly anything but sending out query letters, and after that many times of proof-reading the stupid thing, I think it has to be the worst-written piece of... for lack of a better word (well, there ARE more descriptive words which I will forego here)... TRASH that I've ever seen.


At any rate, 45 queries are floating around out there in cyberspace. Three have already been rejected that I know of - I'm sure several more have landed in someone's cyber slush-pile.

Can you pray on pins and needles? 'Cause if you can, that's what I'm doing - praying that at least ONE out of those 45 people will be interested in representing my work.

Oh, and that they'll be a good match personality-wise, too. Author/Agent relationships can get pretty dicey if the personalities aren't compatible. Think e-harmony for the publication business.

Oh, and that if they DO ask for more of my work than just my query letter, which they will examine heartily for months, that they won't send it back after 6 months of sitting in their inbox and refuse it.

Oh, and that if they DO decide, phenomenon of all phenomenons, that they want to accept it, that they won't submit to six publishers, none of whom accept, then drop it altogether.

Sigh. I really need to stop stressing. And go do something besides look at my laptop. Is it normal for the words to be swimming around on the screen?

Okay, my eyes are crossing. I need to go to bed and dream sweetly of, "Dear Mr./Ms. So-and-so, They've existed in the world since the beginning of time. Born with the ability..."


Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Difference Between a Two-Letter Word and A Three-Letter Word

Sometimes, life comes at me with bigger questions than I'm prepared to handle.

For instance:

What do you say when your son asks you: "Mommy, is God bigger than giants?"

Of course, from a structural standpoint, since God is not actually standing in front of me with measurable height, weight, and mass, I can't say, "Why yes, as a matter of fact, son, God is bigger than giants."

So I hem and haw and come up with the half-understood explanation that "God made giants, so it makes sense that He'd be bigger than them."

My oldest daughter pipes up. "But if He lives inside your heart, how can He be big?"

That's about the point where I glance skyward and think, A little help here, God?

Sometimes, those huge questions can mean your life or your death.

The still-unfolding situation of the mall-shooting in Kenya has got me thinking seriously about where I stand in my faith. As the story goes, the shooters have asked each person standing on the other end of their rifle whether or not they are Muslim. If the answer is yes, they are free to go. If not, they die.

The one major question that has rankled in my brain since I read the first headline is this: Would I have the guts? I'd like to think so. After all, I've been a Christian since the tender age of four, and while I haven't always been obedient or faithful or even a very willing follower of Christ, I like to think my journey has always been in a forward motion, never complacent.

Other questions rise. 

What if I held my two-year-old daughter in my arms at the end of that rifle? Would that change my answer?

What if my husband was waiting for me at home with three young children who were about to become motherless depending on my answer?

All it would take would be one tiny, little, three-letter word - yes - and my life would be spared.

My life would be spared . . . but could I live with that? Could I walk out of that mall knowing that with that three-letter word, I had in effect denied everything I had built my life on?

I'd like to think that I would have the courage, but in truth, I don't know. Hard times. Hard questions. I guess I won't know the answer until I'm actually there.

Friday, September 13, 2013

When Looks Aren't Everything

Medievalgirl is a British Medieval History graduate, book lover and blogger. Her site, Bookish Medievalist, is dedicated to Christian Historical Fiction and contains reviews, opinions and articles on reading, books, history and any other related subjects. Click this link to check out her blog. She's been kind enough to guest blog for me today. Enjoy reading!

When Looks Aren’t Everything…

Not so long ago this history Graduate learned of something known as ‘the Look of History’. What is it? Well it seems to be something popular with filmmakers and audience concerning historical authenticity. This likely means having the right period costumes, sets, buildings, armour or weapons so that the dramatic offering looks right for to the time period in question. 

Thus a movie set in Western Europe during the 1100s would probably feature knights wearing chain mail, covered with a surcoat, and bearing and impressive looking sword, perhaps throw in a dramatic and suitably imposing castle or two, some dimly lit rooms illumined only by fire or torchlight, and epic battle scenes with a suitable number of mounted warriors or the odd peasant rustic in the duller garb of his class tilling a field surrounded by wattle and daub huts.  

Historical movies may indeed include visually spectacular settings, and where non-visual media such as novels are concerned ‘The Look of History’ may also come down to period details, for which the appropriate terms or description could be used. Now I for one have no problem with period details and terms in and of themselves, but sometimes they are not of themselves enough to make for a convincing or (dare I use the term) accurate depiction of the past. 

As a fan of a Medieval Christian Fantasy series stated ‘I might call this period fiction, as there are castles and servants’. Are we indeed inclined to believe that a setting which ‘looks’ right is an accurate representation of the past? 

It would seem then that, as the old saying goes ‘appearances can be deceptive’ and historical details which make a setting appear authentic can be merely superficial if little or no attention is paid to the norms, mores, customs, attitudes, values, beliefs, sensibilities, expectations, and past societies and their people. In this case of the series above, for instance, it seemed that many of characters’ attitudes and values were more of our time than theirs , the secondary female protagonist appeared to more like an embodiment of militant feminist ideology than a real person, Medieval or otherwise, and the dialogue peppered with modern terms, phrases and Americanisms. Practically anyone it seems can research a particular period and learn about its fashion, food, and style of architecture, but it is I believe not so easy to actually gain an understanding of the deeper aspects of past epochs, especially if they are very different from what we are familiar with today. 

Take arranged marriage as another example. In the modern Western world we have something of an aversion to this practice but for our medieval aristocratic forbears it could be the norm. For us the notion of a young girl being made to marry a horrible man that she hates for his money, land or political convenience is one that seems abhorrent but how might it have seemed to people ‘back then’ in light of their social expectations, priorities, and notions of duty? 

Or how many modern movies set during the time of the Crusades feature a major character with religious doubts agonising over the notion of killing in the name of God, or at all, or espouses tolerant multiculturalism, and the baddies be intolerant ‘fanatics’? How often might the attitude towards religion of characters in movies set in the pre-modern era resemble those of modern secularists and sceptics? How many Medieval movies feature heavily made up women sporting loose flowing, shimmering locks (or styles which can only be created using modern products). One interesting look is wearing a circlet or headband, which may have been designed to keep a veil in place- on top of loose bare hair. It might look nice, but perhaps is not a reflection of reality as “Broadly speaking; only a woman of very poor breeding or a prostitute did nothing with her hair and even peasant women made an effort to appear modest and decent.”1

To use the term coined by British Historian and novelist Alison Weir many historical novels and movies seem to be populated by ‘modern people in fancy dress’ who look the part, but might be thoroughly of our time rather than their own where their worldview, attitudes, behaviour and outlook are concerned. Now don’t get me wrong, I sometimes do enjoy such movies, but the imposition of modern standards and ideals onto the past is generally one of my pet hates in fiction. 

Yet I am not a writer, at least not of fiction, and whilst the historian in me may rally against such as the above, or be left cringing at medieval people saying something like ‘I think it’s okay for you to go out with that cute guy’, writers may find it more difficult to strike a balance between the needs and expectations of their audience and historical accuracy, and even their own beliefs. 

Speaking of her Crusading period novel The Road from the West: Book One of the Chronicles of Tancred author Rosanne E Lortz said: 

While writing the Chronicles of Tancred, I try to write about religion as if I were an eleventh century Norman adhering to the rites and rule of the Church of Rome. In some ways the fact that I am a twenty-first century American Protestant helps me in that task; in other ways it hinders me.

But when a scruffy drunkard has a vision of St. Andrew informing the Crusaders where the Holy Lance is buried, it's not my place to make my protagonist distrust him simply because I, the author, am dubious of visions, don't embrace the Roman Catholic view of sainthood, and don't believe relics have special powers. Instead, I must put myself in Tancred's worn-out boots.

Some aspects of the past may indeed be unpopular, unpalatable, controversial or even downright offensive to modern sensibilities, or those of a certain cultural background or ideological position, but does this mean they should be ignored or replaced? Perhaps not, I for one believe that learning to appreciate or accept the differences in ideology and belief between ourselves and our medieval forbears, and perhaps trying to come to terms with why they believed the things they did may help to greatly enhance our understanding of this period. 

This is not to suggest that understanding the past on its terms means we have to agree with, condone or accept the beliefs held by our ancestors, but perhaps we should refrain from complaining or condemning those who held them because they do not line up with modern liberal Western ideals. Of course the, statues and requirements of God are absolute, eternal and unquestionable, transcending the bounds of time, fashion and human society so we have every right to judge the events and peoples of the past according to those, but some aspects of our society and worldview, even though we may hold that as sacrosanct are not absolute.

So dressing a modern European or American, complete with his modern liberal outlook in a cloak and tunic, putting him on a horse and giving him a sword does not make him ‘Medieval’, and whilst it may serve to make the past ‘relevant’ or present a sanitized version of it more in tune with modern sensibilities, does it truly teach us anything?  

Perhaps it would instead be a more valuable, rewarding, and enlightening or indeed challenging experience to lay aside those modern preconceptions which are subjective, step outside our comfort zones and explore the past as it was, not as we would have it. A past in which it may not have considered sexist and repressive, but perfectly reasonable for women to stay at home for much of their lives to raise children, or take economic and practical, instead of just romantic considerations in mind when choosing their spouse.

1 Rosalie Gilbert, ‘Medieval Hairstyles’, Rosalie’s Medieval Women, Accessed 2nd September 2013,

2 Rosanne E Lortz, ‘The Alien Past, The Difficulties of Writing about Religion’, Monday August 20 2012, Official Author Website: Rosanne E Lortz, Accessed 31st August 2013.