Monday, November 20, 2017

The Holiday Season is Here!

It's time for Thanksgiving, The Last Jedi release day, Christmas, New Year's...I'm just so excited for the holidays! I've been feeling ready for Christmas (minus the fact I haven't bought any Christmas presents yet) for months. I'm totally with Thanksgiving on the Black Friday restraining order thing (watch this if you're not sure what I'm talking about), but I'm going to go ahead and tell you about Black Friday sales because it's the perfect time to get great discounts on Christmas presents for the book lovers in your life.

The annual Indie Christian Books Black Friday sale is enormous this year. (Site will go live on Nov. 24.) It will be running from Friday, Nov. 24 through Thursday, Nov. 30. We've got nearly 50 authors signed up, and some really fabulous deals going on. For my paperback prices, Twisted Dreams will be $5.99 and all the rest will be $7.50. For ebooks, Twisted Dreams will be free for the first 5 days of the sale and all the rest will be $0.99 the whole time. You'll also be able to get great deals from Jaye L. Knight, J. Grace Pennington, Kendra E. Ardnek, Leah E. Good, and many, many more. Plus, we have a really awesome giveaway going on. You won't want to miss it!

Now, because this season isn't about shopping, and I really hate the worst of the bad isms, I want to share with you an article about the history of Thanksgiving I found on Wallbuilders when looking for Thanksgiving information to share with my little girls' Bible study. Enjoy!

Celebrating Thanksgiving in America
 
The tradition introduced by European Americans of Thanksgiving as a time to focus on God and His blessings dates back well over four centuries in America. For example, such thanksgivings occurred in 1541 at Palo Duro Canyon, Texas with Coronado and 1,500 of his men; in 1564 at St. Augustine, Florida with French Huguenot (Protestant) colonists; in 1598 at El Paso, Texas with Juan de OΓ±ate and his expedition; in 1607 at Cape Henry, Virginia with the landing of the Jamestown settlers; in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation, Virginia; (and many other such celebrations). But it is primarily from the Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 that we derive the current tradition of Thanksgiving Day.

The Pilgrims set sail for America on September 6, 1620, and for two months braved the harsh elements of a storm-tossed sea. Upon disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they held a prayer service and then hastily began building shelters; however, unprepared for such a harsh New England winter, nearly half of them died before spring. Emerging from that grueling winter, the Pilgrims were surprised when an Indian named Samoset approached them and greeted them in their own language, explaining to them that he had learned English from fishermen and traders. A week later, Samoset returned with a friend named Squanto, who lived with the Pilgrims and accepted their Christian faith. Squanto taught the Pilgrims much about how to live in the New World, and he and Samoset helped forge a long-lasting peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Pilgrim Governor William Bradford described Squanto as “a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . and never left [us] till he died.”

That summer, the Pilgrims, still persevering in prayer and assisted by helpful Indians, reaped a bountiful harvest. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow (later to become the Governor) affirmed, “God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn”; “by the goodness of God, we are…far from want.” The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends – America’s first Thanksgiving Festival. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for three days of feasting (which included shellfish, lobsters, turkey, corn bread, berries, deer, and other foods), of play (the young Pilgrim and Wampanoag men engaged in races, wrestling matches, and athletic events), and of prayer. This celebration and its accompanying activities were the origin of the holiday that Americans now celebrate each November.

However, while the Pilgrims enjoyed times of prosperity for which they thanked God, they also suffered extreme hardships. In fact, in 1623 they experienced an extended and prolonged drought. Knowing that without a change in the weather there would be no harvest and the winter would be filled with death and starvation, Governor Bradford called the Pilgrims to a time of prayer and fasting to seek God’s direct intervention. Significantly, shortly after that time of prayer – and to the great amazement of the Indian who witnessed the scene – clouds appeared in the sky and a gentle and steady rain began to fall. As Governor Bradford explained:
It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in abundance, as that ye earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith, which did so apparently revive and quicken ye decayed corn and other fruits as was wonderful to see, and made ye Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing.(1,300 more words)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Are You Writing a Novel or a Message?

Some of my all time favorite books are the ones with a strong message. The Chronicles of Narnia. A Wrinkle in Time. The Giver. Ilyon Chronicles. The message is what sets them apart from so many other books. What makes them stick with me. What makes them actually mean something.

Then there are all the cheesy Christian movies that seem to exist only to shove a message in your face. You know what I'm talking about. Those movies with the terrible acting and the bad filmography and the horrendous writing that doesn't actually tell a story, it just preaches at you for an hour and a half. The movies you feel obligated to like, but secretly can't stand.

Why are The Chronicles of Narnia so well beloved by Christians and non-Christians alike, but many Christians can't even bear to watch these movies, though their message may be just as relevant? What brings the point of The Giver home? Why does Espionage culminate in a powerful message of mercy and forgiveness but the Cassie story is cheesy and dry and boring through much of it?

The answer has to do with story.

I don't know how soon C. S. Lewis figured out the message to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I do know he didn't set out to write a sermon on redemption for children. That book started out with a mental image of a faun carrying an umbrella and packages in a snowy wood. He started writing a story based on that image. True, he didn't know where he was going with the story until, while dreaming a lot about lions, "Aslan came bounding in," but Aslan and his redemption of Edmund didn't come first. The story did. A story inseparable from its theme, absolutely, but it's only so powerful because it's such a good story. The Christian parallels are there for anyone to see if they wish, if their eyes are open to it, but if not, it's still a jolly good story. 

When I set out to write the Cassie story, my premise was this: A girl who grew up in an outer space dystopian society ends up in another galaxy where she becomes a Christian. Then she returns home and has to stand up for her faith. Guess what happened. I wrote a book of Christian apologetics that pretended to be a novel.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christian apologetics. I'm a big fan of Ken Ham's work, and I also very much enjoy C. S. Lewis's nonfiction and Josh McDowell's books. I'm currently loving The New Answers Book which Ken Ham put together and I purchased at the Creation Museum. But the truth is, if I want to read apologetics, I'll pick up a book on apologetics. If I pick up a novel, I want a story. I'm not the type of reader who just wants fluffy entertainment; I want the book to mean something. However, I still want it to be a good story first. I don't want a book of apologetics pretending to be a novel. I want a deep, meaningful story that really is a jolly good story.

I'm not sad that I first wrote the Cassie story as thinly veiled apologetics because I needed that draft to meet some central characters, but there's no way I'm publishing that draft because it's not good story. When I set out to actually write the third draft, I'm going to focus on the story I have to tell. Cassie will still probably become a Christian in the first book of the trilogy. But it will be a story. And when it's a good story, the message will actually be meaningful and impact readers instead of annoying them.

I have an idea for a dystopian novel exploring the evils of taking the current gender identity debate to its extreme conclusion. If I manage to write it, I can't focus on the message. If I do, it will end up being a thesis on the evils of gender fluidity. And while that is the point I want to make—just how messed up that would make people and society—if I focus on the message, I might as well just write that thesis and be done with it. But I plan to focus on the story. If I put the focus on the story, the message will be far more powerful than that thesis could ever be.

Don't write fluff. It might be feel-good in the moment, but it has no lasting significance. But don't go to the opposite extreme and write novels of thinly veiled apologetics. Find the balance in the middle of writing a good story that actually means something.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Robe Review

A Roman soldier, Marcellus, wins Christ's robe as a gambling prize. He then sets forth on a quest to find the truth about the Nazarene's robe-a quest that reaches to the very roots and heart of Christianity and is set against the vividly limned background of ancient Rome. Here is a timeless story of adventure, faith, and romance, a tale of spiritual longing and ultimate redemption.

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Read. This. Book.

Whatever happened to the Roman soldier who won Christ's Robe? Lloyd C. Douglas imagines what impact such an event could have had on that soldier's life, how he couldn't just pass off the event as an ordinary execution, how he was determined to learn more about Jesus, how he struggled to accept the things he heard, but eventually couldn't turn back. How he gambled for Christ's Robe and won new life.

Marcellus Gallio is the son of a senator and a tribune sent to Minoa to command the fort. He and his men go to Jerusalem during the Passover and are ordered to crucify Jesus. The job is distasteful to Marcellus because he knows Jesus is innocent, but he has no choice. He wins Jesus' Robe, but touching it causes him to go crazy. And when his mind is restored, he is filled with an insatiable hunger to know more of Jesus.

The story is basically Marcellus encountering events from the end of the Gospels and Acts, which was really cool. It puts it all in a different perspective, which makes familiar events new and powerful again. You get to hear about Jesus' miracles through the ears of a Roman who disbelieves in the supernatural, but yet can't discount it. And you see what it really costs to be a Christian.

Everyone I know who had read this book said it was really good, so I had high expectations going in. I was not disappointed. I like it even better than Ben-Hur, which I love (The book, neither movie did it justice. And honestly, having a middle aged white guy play a late teens/early twenties Jewish kid just doesn't work. Sorry, Charlton Heston). While The Robe isn't a perfect book and doesn't get everything right, I have to say it is more Biblically/historically accurate than Ben-Hur. It doesn't just go with the clichΓ©s of European tradition. The Robe felt very authentic—it didn't feel like a caricature of Roman times the way the movie version did (which also didn't even come close to doing the story justice). It treats the whole story of Jesus with respect, and chronicles a very realistic journey from Roman skeptic to Christian. My only complaint about the faith aspect is that it wasn't as explicit as I would have liked about forgiveness of sins. Marcellus's focus when telling people about Jesus seemed to have more to do with kindness toward others, which is great and all, but it really should be more about repentance and forgiveness.

The characters were all very well developed. They felt like real people. Something the movie got totally wrong was Marcellus's relationship with his slave Demetrius. Demetrius is a really awesome guy, not a sullen slave, and he and Marcellus are quite devoted to one another. Time and again Demetrius turned down his freedom because Marcellus still needed him. They were close friends. And the more they learned about Jesus, the less their relationship was master/slave and the more it was just best friends. I liked Diana, and while I wish she'd come around sooner, I can't say I was displeased with her actions at the end. She was just as heroic as Marcellus.

The ending is sad, but triumphant. If you believe in Jesus, you will not die, but have everlasting life.

Read The Robe. You won't regret it.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Bloggers Needed...Free Books Available

Black Friday book sales are happening again! Indie Christian Books is having another epic sale this year, and if you are a blogger, we need YOUR help to spread the word. There are several different options for your post, even the opportunity to interview an author or review a book, and afterwards, you get FIVE free ebooks of your choice. It's going to be fantastic! Fill out the Google form to help spread the word. Thanks bunches!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Stories I've Dropped, But That Still Hang Around

In searching for something to blog about, I started pulling out old notebooks and flipping through them. Some of my unfinished stories are quite stupid, some might have potential if reworked. So just for fun, I thought I'd share some of them with you.*

A Sleepily Tilting Nazi

First I have to explain the title. My sisters and I went through a phase years back where we made Mad Libs off of the descriptions of books and movies. In one case, Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet became A Sleepily Tilting Nazi. My middle (non-writer) sister and I started brainstorming what such a story could be about, and then decided to write it. Which fizzled, but I'll see what I can remember from it.

Niels Klein is a German drafted into the Nazi army. He discovers that the man behind WWII is actually a "Tolleroidian" named Victor Grey who used Hitler to start a war as part of his plan to take over earth. But he's also got a serum to control people's minds. Niels figures it out and finds out Grey's weakness only to be trapped in a sleepily tilting state (picture the column holding up Obi-Wan when Dooku has him prisoner in Episode II) for 200 years. 200 years later, earth is war torn and the Mullins children and their grandfather discover that Niels is their only hope for stopping Grey and saving the world. I think at one point, we considered moving it to a fantasy world, but that would require changing the title, and, well, when you're not a good co-writer and your co-writer doesn't write anyway...

The Autobiography of Leah Elisabeth Swann

This is the autobiography of my movie star/missionary to Hollywood character. The writing is terrible and it's easy to tell I know nothing of Hollywood, but it was a fun project. I had a lot more of her life planned out than I actually wrote down, but anyway. It covers her time on set for A Wrinkle in Time (this was before there was a new movie in the works, and is it just me or does Storm Reid look too sweet to be Meg?) and goes through getting the script for a book-accurate version of Johnny Tremain. Incidentally, Johnny Tremain is the movie set upon which she meets her future husband and constant costar, Johnny Milton. Every one of her movies is based on a book I love which either has no movie or has an extremely unsatisfactory one. (Or did at the time. Johnny Milton is in The Giver, the movie of which I actually do like, but again, that was before the movie was made.) 

The Strangest Host

I was watching a lot of The Twilight Zone. 'Nuff said. I only wrote one chapter, and it was because I just had to write something while I was waiting for my mom to read Across the Stars, but I still consider it to contain one of my best/favorite physical descriptions of a character. A girl named Sammie and a boy named Max, both orphans, meet at the town of Scaldstone when they are sent to the school Scaldstone House. They've heard reports of strange goings on at Scaldstone, and indeed, as they try to find their way to the boarding school, they find that the town is empty and every street is exactly alike. They eventually stumble on the school, and there I stopped. It is the same sort of era as The Magician's Nephew and E. Nesbit's books. 

Emily

This is one I still really want to write. It's a contemporary about a homeschool family, the Guthridges, who have to have a cousin, Emily, come live with them when her parents die. Emily has been raised very differently from the Guthridges and she isn't a Christian, so she's got a lot of culture shock. However, the story is largely about the oldest girl, Nora, and the way she deals with loving and accepting Emily. I don't feel like I'm ready to do it justice yet, and I'm also not sure how well I can write a story where I can't throw my characters in the dungeon if I feel like it, but it's one I don't want to give up—especially since it's connected to the Watsons of Across the Stars. Jack is one of Nora's best friends, and yes, they're sweet on each other.

Elsie Ferguson Story

No, it doesn't have an official title. This is the story of my big group of people—including Leah and Johnny, the Watsons, the Guthridges, and my beloved Fergusons—having to flee for their lives because the government is after them for being Christians. They're all (or most of them) married adults with children at this point, and they flee in the middle of the night with their kids to hide in the woods. At some point, they do get captured, but somehow they get free and escape to Stappenhance where their stories connect to the Cassie story. If I ever go back to this one, I'm going to have to start over from scratch. The writing is horrendous and I clearly had no idea how to write adults, particularly married ones with young kids. But I may come back to it someday.

Twisted Dreams/Storyless Storyboard Story Tie-In

Yes, another one without an official title. It's backstory for the villain of the Storyless Storyboard Story, though not at all from his perspective. It deals with the time he kidnapped civilians to experiment on them, which is the reason he was exiled from his home. Gretel and her sort-of-friend Jakob are teleported from their home of Hanover in the middle of an attack and taken to a hospital/illegal scientific research facility where they're catalogued for their physical ailments and are to be kept prisoner until they're "cured." This is actually a pretty recent unfinished story. I wrote what I have for personal reasons, and when I no longer needed it for those reasons, I kind of dropped it. However, it is a good tie-in to Twisted Dreams and SSS, so I'd like to rework it someday.

*I'm not going to count the Cassie story, the Espionage sequel, or even the co-write I'm sort of working on because while I'm not actively working on them at the moment, I consider them legitimate works in progress, not dropped stories.


Do any of these stories intrigue you? Any you'd like to see me complete?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

October Review


J. Grace Pennington has a new book coming out! It'll be here on the 28th. It's a very good book, though different from her others, and you won't want to miss it. My review is below, but first, a bit about the book.

About the Book

For Emily Baxter, life is simple. Her world is made up completely of school, church, and the community in the small farming town she calls home. All that changes one fateful Sunday, when a new girl shows up at Pleasanton Baptist—a girl unlike anyone Emily has ever seen. A girl with long red hair, crystal green eyes, and style and posture like royalty.

A girl named October.

The months that follow are filled with magic—the magic of ordinary things, of finding pictures in the stars, of imagination and a new sense of beauty. But as time goes by, Emily begins to sense that her enchanting new friend may have secrets that could break the spell. Is October really all she seems to be? 


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This is a somewhat difficult book to review. It's not the sort of book you can act all excited for, rave about, drum up hype for. That feels disrespectful and even somewhat wrong. Because this isn't one of those fandom-type books. It's too deep and sensitive and powerful and real for that sort of treatment.

It's a very good book. A very important book. It's a very moving book, even generating some tears from me—the girl who almost never cries over fiction. It's a book that will stay with me.

At first glance, October Blake seems almost like a modern day Anne of Green Gables. She finds the magic in life. She's different from anyone else in Pleasanton, and it seems to be a good kind of different. A kind of magic that Emily and her cousin Jax are drawn to. But sometimes the people who seem the happiest on the outside are the ones that are fighting the hardest battles on the inside.

October deals with some tough subjects. And it deals with them in a powerful way, as Emily uncovers things she never expected to have to deal with.

The ending I felt rather than saw coming. It just felt like that kind of book. But that didn't make it any less hard when I got there.

Being a book written by Grace, you would not be wrong in expecting a well-written book. It's very well done in every aspect, though completely different from her other books. The characters are well crafted, the writing is perfect for the story, the progression of the story is perfect.

In many ways, it's a hard book to read. It left me in a somber and reflective mood. It still makes me want to cry. But it's a good book, and one I highly recommend for mid to upper teens and adults. It's not a fun, rollicking adventure, but it is a very moving, powerful book.

About the Author

 J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them down since age five.  Now she lives in the great state of Texas, where she writes as much as adult life permits.  When she's not writing she enjoys reading good books, having adventures with her husband, and looking up at the stars.

Giveaway

Grace has generously offered a paperback book of her new book as her giveaway prize. You can enter at this link or the widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Tour Schedule

October 25, 2017
Bookish Orchestrations – Introductory post
God's Peculiar Treasure Rae – Character Spotlight
Letters from Annie Douglass Lima – Character Spotlight
Lisa Swinton - Queen of Random – Book Spotlight
Audrey Rich – Book Spotlight


October 26, 2017
Frances Hoelsema – Excerpt
Jaye L. Knight – Character Spotlight and Excerpt

October 27, 2017
Liv K. Fisher – Author Interview and Excerpt
Opinions, Thoughts, and General Rambling – Character Spotlight and Excerpt
Leila's Bookshelf – Book Spotlight
Britbear's Book Reviews – Guest Post

October 28, 2017
Rebekah Lyn Books – Excerpt
In the Bookcase – Review
Roxbury Books – Character Spotlight and Excerpt
J. Grace Pennington – Special author’s post

October 29, 2017
Bookish Orchestrations – Giveaway Winner

Monday, October 23, 2017

An Analytical Monster Lives Inside My Brain

Via Pinterest

Have you ever taken those right-brain/left-brain tests? I was always somewhat frustrated to find that I was neither. I would lean ever so slightly towards right-brained on one test, ever so slightly left-brained on the next, and then the next would give me a strict 50/50. I have my runaway imagination side of my brain, and then I have my analytical monster.

My runaway imagination likes to dream. It likes to create. It likes to fly on the wings of fancy, soaring through new worlds. It liked to dominate in my childhood.

My analytical monster seeks to understand. It likes to break things apart, break things down, and make logical sense of them. It likes to analyze the life out of everything. It likes to dominate in my adulthood.

When I was a child, I wrote as a child. Whether it was alien invasions or orphan stories, I just wrote what I felt like writing, however I felt like writing it. If it was great, then awesome. If it was stupid, who cares? Writer's block wasn't really a thing because I had too many stories to tell and my analytical monster kept his sights on math and science.

Via Pinterest

As I grew up, I learned more about writing. I learned how it works. I learned about story structure and point of view and genre word counts and themes and character development and plot points and outlining techniques and my analytical monster went "This is really cool stuff! I'm going to get in on the writing!" Cue a crashing halt.

Not completely crashing, I suppose, because my runaway imagination held out for a bit, but my analytical monster kept taking over more and more portions of my brain. Going "If I can outline your books like this, it will make writing easier." And "Just let me over-analyze this story and I'll tell you exactly what's wrong and how to fix it." And even "Let me analyze to death this aspect of your life and I promise it will finally make sense to you."

Via Pinterest

But I say no more.

My analytical monster thinks it can write a story better than my imagination, but it can't. My analytical monster thinks it can be obsessed with following word count standards for my intended genre and audience and still churn out good writing, but it can't. My analytical monster thinks it can make logical sense out of matters of imagination and emotion and heart, but some things simply can't be reduced to logic. I'm telling my analytical monster to go back to math and science and leave creativity to my imagination.

Via Pinterest

That's why I'm not rushing eagerly to pick the Cassie story back up. I wrote it with logic, and it's really kind of terrible. I need to kick my analytical monster out of creating once and for all before I can overcome the logic-writing. And to a much lesser degree, the same thing applies to the Espionage sequel. The plot didn't come to me on a flight of fancy; it came to me on three years of hard work. I need to be able to dream about it, rather than telling my analytical monster to figure it out for me.

Via Pinterest

That's why I decided randomly to try writing a new idea that popped into my brain writing off a dialogue prompt (the dialogue prompt somehow never managed to actually figure in). I jumped in after it percolated in my brain for about a day and a half, so chances are it'll fizzle, but here's my Pinterest board anyway. That's why I turned off the word counter on Word on my computer, so I wouldn't be constantly doing math as I wrote. That's why I'm purposing to kick out my analytical monster whenever he rears his ugly head. And if half my sentences start with my main character's name or a pronoun referring to her, what does it matter? That's what editing is for. That's the point in the process where my analytical monster can make himself useful. Let my runaway imagination (which I'm now thinking of as Emily because Beverly Cleary has a book I've never read called Emily's Runaway Imagination) have control as I dream up a brand new story, one told with emotion and imagination, things my analytical monster, for all his knowledge, can't even begin to explain.

An analytical monster lives inside my brain, but I will not let him win.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Trip to Disney World Pt. 2



We spent Tuesday and Saturday at Hollywood Studios. Besides Magic Kingdom, which is the special one, Hollywood was/will be my favorite park. Right now, it's in transition from the behind-the-scenes park I loved to the going-to-be-blow-your-mind-awesome park it's going to be once they're done. Construction. 😜 But there's still awesome stuff at Hollywood even now.


Like Beauty and the Beast. It's definitely my favorite Disney World stage show, even though we didn't get the Gaston with the real muscles this trip...and the fact that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you haven't seen the movie yet. (2008 trip. That Disney vault!) "Through a series of strange circumstances, Belle ended up at the Beast's castle." Yeah. But it's beautiful, and makes me want to see the Broadway show. (2 times this trip.) I also enjoy the Little Mermaid show. While the movie annoys me--Ariel is pretty stupid and immature--I love the songs, which are the focus of the 17 min. stage version. (3 times this trip.) And then there's the Frozen show. Oh my goodness, it's hilarious. The newly appointed historians of Arendelle tell the story of Frozen and the audience gets to sing along to the songs. And the "historians" are so goofy and hilarious. Fun jokes for the grownups goofy and hilarious. Anna and Kristoff show up once each through the main part of the show ("Is that Justin Bieber?" "It's Crisco, and his reindeer Seven.") and then at the end, Elsa, Anna, and Kristoff come out and sing "Let It Go" and it snows soap bubbles. I feel like such a six-year-old girl when I go, but I love it. (2 times this trip.) And it sure beats Tower of Terror. The Indiana Jones show is still fun, and pretty much the same as it always has been. We can always pick out which "extra" is really a stunt man. I definitely enjoy it, though it could use a little updating. (2 times this trip.) There's also Muppet Vision 3D, which is the same as it's always been too, but I still enjoy it.


There are only two rides at Hollywood right now that I'll ride, since I won't do Tower of Terror or Rockin' Roller Coaster. My two rides are Toy Story Mania and Star Tours. Toy Story Mania is so awesome. It's a Toy Story themed 3D arcade game. We rode it six times this past trip and I got a new personal best of 199,000 points. Which is awesome because all but one game I beat my whole family, but not as awesome as I'd like because it doesn't come close to the all time Toy Story Mania high score of around 550,000. I can be a bit competitive when I want to be. But my high score is pretty respectable and I'm proud of it. Star Tours is a lot of fun. It's a 3D Star Wars flight simulator where you get to go to all sorts of Star Wars planets and keep the rebel spy out of the hands of the bad guys. I love it. And my sister was even the rebel spy once. (5 times this trip.) We even met Chewbacca and BB-8 over at the Launch Bay. I love how a lot of the Star Wars-related cast members have a Star Wars planet listed as their "hometown" on their name tags. πŸ˜†


Because of the threat of rain later in the week, we did Fantasmic on Tuesday. It's the best night show at Walt Disney World. So much fun, so many characters, so much imagination. It's seriously awesome. Except the crowd control. They need to create more exits. As it turned out, it was a good thing we did Fantasmic earlier in the week because it rained on Friday and Saturday. We're hard core Disney people. We just whip out our rain ponchos (which make us look like hunchbacks due to our backpacks), let our feet get soaked, and stick it out. I'm glad we did. Fantasmic got cancelled for the storm, but they still did the Star Wars projection show, and because most of the park was at Fantasmic when we got our spot (they all came in behind us) we got a spot right up at the ropes. It was really cool, and that, combined with all the other Star Wars stuff at Disney, has gotten me really hyped up for The Last Jedi. I'm just going to forget about the frog that hopped onto my back on the way back to our campsite that night. Yup, going to put that creepy incident out of my mind.


Friday was our only day at Animal Kingdom. It was an interesting day, to say the least. They've got two new Avatar themed rides which are super duper popular. Like, 4 hour wait times popular. Well, they broke. Both of them. Our only day at Animal Kingdom. And so everyone who would have been standing in line for hours in the Pandora area was spread out all over the park. We still managed to do Kilimanjaro Safaris twice, a safari ride with real animals...and not so real termite mounds. The driver the second time could have done Jungle Cruise. "A group of giraffes is called a tower. What do you call a group of scared giraffes? A Tower of Terror." The evolutionary story to Dinosaur drives me nuts, but the ride is still a lot of fun. We did It's Tough to Be a Bug, NOT my favorite 3D show (the special effects cause a good bit of screaming, but I know how to avoid them), but hey, it had air condition. Festival of the Lion King is pretty awesome. It's a live show with singers, dancers, acrobats dressed as monkeys, a guy who puts fire on his feet, and Lion King sing alongs.


Halfway through the day, Flight of Passage, the Avatar flying ride, opened up. The boat ride never did. Thankfully, they gave us "multiple experience fastpasses" to make up for having to miss our regular one, so we were able to get in the fastpass line. Now, I think the movie is creepy and weird, and the whole soul transfer thing is wrong, but that ride was AMAZING! It makes the amazing awesomeness that is Soarin' lame. I'm not even joking. It's a 3D flight simulator, but that doesn't even begin to describe it. You sit on this thing sort of like a bike, and it puts bars around you to keep you on. Then the screen opens up and you're swooping on a banshee through Pandora, diving between rocks, flying through waves and getting mist on your face, feeling the animal breathing under you, and unlike Soarin', there's no chance of having feet hanging in front of you. It was so amazing, I'd have gone on it again and again if the wait wasn't ridiculously, insanely long. But at least that ridiculously, insanely long wait cleared out the park.


And then it rained. They ended up cancelling Flights of Wonder, the bird show, because of the rain, but oh well. I'm sure it's the exact same show we've seen multiple times. We rode Kali River Rapids in the rain, because we were already wet, in spite of rain ponchos, so what does it matter? Pro tip: Never, ever, ever ride Kali River Rapids without a rain poncho unless you're willing to go back to wherever you're staying to change and throw your clothes in the dryer. They aren't kidding when they say "you will get wet, you may get soaked." Years ago, my mom ended up getting soaked (you never know which seat it will be because the raft is round), we hung her shorts over the bathtub later, and after several days, they STILL weren't dry. Wear a poncho. You may look like a dork getting on, but you'll look super smart getting off.


After dinner, my mom and youngest sister went back to the camper because my sister wasn't feeling well, but my dad, middle sister and I went really hard core and stayed, even though it POURED. We rode Dinosaur again, and then did Kali twice in a row without getting off. They'll let you if there's not really any line and you ask really nice. We could have stayed on longer, but we wanted to get a good seat for the new night show, Rivers of Light, and on a non-rainy day, you have to get in line as soon as they start letting people in. So we sloshed through puddles no longer caring that we were pretty much soaked and our shoes were totally waterlogged, and got in line. We talked to some cast members while we were waiting, and had a good time. And the guy who was there totally reminded us of Adam from Studio C. 


As it turned out, the rain had cleared out the park really well, so we didn't actually need to get in line that early, but oh well. We got great seats. It stopped raining shortly before the show started, so I was able to get a pretty good video on my phone. It was a pretty cool show, with fountains, and projections, and people on boats dancing to create shadows on the sails. And then on the way out, I narrowly escaped face-planting into some bushes while walking in the dark and checking the weather for the next day. I just didn't see that big rock. Luckily it was too dark to be obvious and everyone was looking at the Tree of Life. But man was my knee sore! That bruise was pretty significant.


Animal Kingdom was also the reason I read Replication by Jill Williamson on our trip. See, I'm the dork who brings a book into the park to read during long waits. I have on multiple occasions walked through various lines with my nose in a book, rather oblivious to my surroundings. It's the best way to wait. One year it was Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Another, it was Holes by Louis Sachar. I've had security guards at bag check ask me if my book was good. This year, I checked out a couple Margaret Peterson Haddix books to bring. I read Children of Refuge and Leaving Fishers earlier in the week, but because of Kali, I didn't think it was a good idea to bring in a library book. Still, I wanted a book, so I found a Ziploc bag and put the book I own, Replication, in it in my backpack. And that book is AMAZING. I started it at Animal Kingdom, read a little at Hollywood, a little at Magic, and finished it on the way home, even though I had to use the flashlight on my phone to do so. Seriously, if you haven't read it, do it. 

And that, in as much of a nutshell as I can make it, was my Disney trip. I got all sad when we were leaving, because I never know if I'll ever be able to go back, but I'll always have my memories.

Have you ever been to Disney World? What's your favorite part of it?

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Trip to Disney World Pt. 1

We went to Disney World!


Disney is THE best vacation place I've ever been to. Now, I do like it after Thanksgiving better than in September--it's much cooler and they've got all kinds of special Christmas stuff--but Disney is always awesome. (Though if you go in the middle of the summer when it's super hot and lines are looooooong, I'm sure it's not nearly as fun. But we don't go then.)

 
This trip was the first time in awhile we've stayed on property (the last two times my grandma let us use her timeshare points), and the first time ever we camped there. We stayed at Fort Wilderness, and let me tell you, people aren't kidding when they say Fort Wilderness has the nicest bathhouses you'll ever see. We got a nice convenient campsite across the street from the bathhouse and the bus stop.

We got up early and left home at quarter after 4 on Saturday, pulling into Disney midday. The first night we were there, we went to Disney Springs (which I still want to call Downtown Disney) for dinner at the Earl of Sandwich and dessert at Ghirardelli. And the Earl of Sandwich even gave my sister the right sandwich! Twice she's gotten the wrong one there. It was becoming a thing. We finished off the night watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the beach at Fort Wilderness.

 
The first and fifth days we spent at EPCOT. It's not my favorite park--my sister who wants to travel likes it better--but there are still many things about it that I love. Like Soarin'.
 
I was afraid when they redid it they'd ruin it, since I liked old Test Track better, but Soarin' over the world is AMAZING. The video was somewhat better done, since they knew better what they were doing. And instead of just seeing California, we got to fly over the Matterhorn, the Pyramids, Paris, Sydney Harbor, the Taj Mahal, and more, finishing off at EPCOT. They even used the same theme in the music, which made me super glad.


We rode Test Track single rider a couple times, and I don't know why anyone would do it standby. So you get separated. The wait is practically nothing. Though one time, a kid freaked out right before the ride and loading got backed up, so they just threw a bunch of single riders into a car, putting my family together. We did Mission Space Green, because Orange has too many warnings, and spinning. I'd love to feel what it's like to really go into space, but it's probably not worth feeling sick. Green is pretty fun, and we were the first to ride it our second day at EPCOT. Speaking of Future World, Crush likes riding the E-A-C, and the E-P-C-O-T. πŸ˜† We met Mickey, Goofy, and Minnie at EPCOT. We didn't used to do much character greeting, but it's fun.


World Showcase is more of my sister's thing, but it's still cool. Like the Frozen ride. My sister isn't happy they turned Maelstrom (the Norway ride) into Frozen, but I really liked it. There's a reason I get along so well with six-year-old girls. We ate some food at the food and wine festival, which was interesting. They're small portions--to get you to eat at more places--but tasty. My mom and I had some French beef and mashed potatoes, the name of which I totally butchered, and some really tasty Canadian cheddar cheese soup. And my dad ate Chinese food and liked it! He's very picky, for those of you who might not know. The second day we were there, my dad brought us dessert while we were waiting for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, the fireworks show. He came up telling me to grab my ice cream and start licking. Well, I didn't grab it fast enough and I didn't lick fast enough, and it ended up all over my hands, dribbling down my arm, and dripping onto the ground beside me. But it was tasty and I didn't get it on my backpack!


We spent 2 1/2 days at Magic Kingdom, days 2 and 4, and the first half of day 8 before we drove home. There's too much there for me to tell everything. It's a totally awesome park, and has so many rides. We did almost everything. We never do Mad Tea Party, though, because spinning. 😜


We started out in Fantasyland as always, because even big kids (or adults, I guess) like little kid rides. Pro tip: get on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train right at park opening and get a FastPass for Peter Pan's Flight. Seven Dwarfs is still popular--it's like a kids' version of Big Thunder, but Snow White themed--and for some reason, Peter Pan always backs up really bad. Mickey's Philhar Magic, a really awesome 3D show, is easy to get into, though. And the Little Mermaid ride is pretty easy to get on too.
 

Splash Mountain was closed (yay!...I can't stand the drops), but Big Thunder Mountain Railroad wasn't, so we were able to ride it several times. We even rode it in the dark once, which was cool. Hall of Presidents was also closed, but they were doing this Muppets show in the windows in the area, which was entertaining. Great Moments in History, but Just the American Parts. πŸ˜† We rode the Haunted Mansion a few times...nice air condition. And it's really not scary. At least, I don't think so. The Country Bear Jamboree is also fun. And yes, I have a lot of it memorized. ♫There was blood on the saddle, and blood on the ground, and a great big puddle of blood on the ground.♫  ♫Mama, don't whup little Buford. I think you should shoot him instead.♫


In Adventureland, there's Pirates of the Caribbean. That ride is definitely one of my favorites. It's not weird like the movies, it feels more realistic, and it makes me want to write. I love it when things make me want to write. Twice, the splash from the cannon got me wet. And it was the last thing we rode before we came home. Then there's Jungle Cruise. Where you get to see the eighth wonder of the world: The Back Side of Water! Where you see the lions demonstrating the number one law of the jungle: Don't be a zebra. Where you see the second most feared animal in the jungle: the African bull elephant. And the first most feared animal in the jungle: his mother-in-law. You travel down the Nile, which goes on for niles and niles and niles and niles, and if you don't believe me, you're probably in... Africa. Pay attention. The jokes are corny, but it's fun. And we got the same skipper twice.


Then there's Tomorrowland. I love the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and I've seen the show enough times to quote...most of the standard parts. "If I say 'you stink' to That Guy, it would be a compliment. 'You're welcome, sir!'" "Call me sentimental, but I still miss the screaming." It's interactive, though, which is fun. When they told the Monsters Inc. story, my dad was Randall. Which was funny. I also like Carousel of Progress, though it's not that popular, and Tomorrowland Indy Speedway is fun, even though it makes you feel like you can't drive. I'm no good at Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, but whatever. I am (relatively) good at Toy Story Mania, so it makes up for it. What I don't like is Space Mountain.
 

My mom and I went to meet Rapunzel while my dad and sisters went to Space Mountain. However, just as they were climbing the first hill, it stopped and the lights turned on. They ended up getting evacuated, but they weren't allowed to take pictures while walking out. I've always thought it would be cool to get evacuated from a ride. They were able to actually ride it later.

Two different days we were at Magic Kingdom, I wore a Loudermilk for Congress shirt, and got comments from random people throughout the park. My dad was wearing a Cubs shirt one of the days, which also generated comments, so we had a contest. I got 5 comments that day and he got 3. Then on our last day, wearing my other Loudermilk for Congress shirt, I got 2, bringing my total up to 7. Well, basically all of Metro Atlanta did seem to be there that week. Fall break and all.

 

They have a new fireworks show at Magic. It was pretty good, but I did miss Wishes. Maybe I'll get used to the new show in time. I was very glad they kept Tinker Bell flying out of the castle. She ziplines from a window at the top of the castle down to a building in Tomorrowland. That's got to be a fun job.

To be continued...because apparently I can't be brief when talking about Disney...

Monday, October 2, 2017

Meet the Penderwicks

http://jeannebirdsall.com/books/the-penderwicks
When was the last time you read a new(er) book that felt like something pulled directly out of your childhood? How often do contemporary authors write books that sound like they're from the 50s or earlier? When was the last time you read a delightful family story that was idealistic, and yet real?

Enter the Penderwicks.

These books remind me so much of all the books I loved as a child. To me, they're most reminiscent of Elizabeth Enright and Eleanor Estes, and Jeffrey reminds me a bit of Jasper from Five Little Peppers, but that's not all. They're like E. Nesbit's Bastables, like many of Beverly Cleary's books, an updated Little Women, contain elements of Noel Streatfeild, just all the perfection of children's literature. Reading these books, I felt like a child again. Immersed in a beautiful family story, often loaded with literary references. Yes, I did kinda squeal when Emily of New Moon was mentioned. And then there was Marianne. πŸ˜†

Rosalind, Skye, Jane, Batty, they're all so unique. Rosalind is the oldest, usually the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick, except in the third book where it's Skye), the one who fills in as mom since their mother died of cancer shortly after Batty's birth. She's responsible and reliable, but she does have her own difficulties to work through. Next is Skye, math obsessed, soccer obsessed, often blunt and insensitive. She'd far rather write an essay on antibiotics than a play about the Aztecs. And that's a long story. Then comes Jane, the dreamer, the writer, also a soccer player, though sometimes she embarrasses her sister by turning into her soccer playing alter ego Mick Hart during games. And of course there's Sabrina Starr, who rescues animals, a boy, an archaeologist, but I'm not sure Jane quite succeeded in having Sabrina Starr fall in love. Last is Batty, Hound in tow, butterfly wings on her back, close to Rosalind, eventually discovering hidden musical talent, thanks to Jeffrey Tifton. 

http://jeannebirdsall.com/books/the-penderwicks-at-point-mouetteThere's Jeffrey, musical genius whose domineering rich mother is determined he should go into the military like his grandfather. He also plays soccer and becomes Skye's best friend. There's Nick and Tommy Geiger across the street with Nick's sports drills and enlistment in the military, and Tommy's long-standing love for Rosalind. There's Latin-speaking professor Mr. Penderwick, who loves his daughters...but likes to reprimand in Latin. There's astrophysicist widow Ianthe next door, with her little boy Ben, a wonderful woman and a great mother. There's Aunt Claire, who pushes Mrs. Penderwick's dying wish that after four years Mr. Penderwick would start dating again. There's Ben who, when older, loves rocks and adores Nick. There's little princess-obsessed Lydia. There's domineering Mrs. Tifton who can be quite rude and is marrying the terrible Dexter Dupree. There's Rosalind's best friend Anna who gets involved in Rosalind's Save Daddy Plan, a move to prevent a stepmother. There's Alec, who has the most wonderful music room, and more to do with the story than you'd at first think.

http://jeannebirdsall.com/books/the-penderwicks-in-springThere's Sisters and Sacrifice, "Skye's" Aztec play. There's Quigley Woods, which doesn't actually have quicksand. There are MOPS (Meeting of Penderwick Sisters) and MOOPS (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters), and later MOOPSAB (Meeting of Older Penderwick Sisters and Ben) and MOBAB (Meeting of Batty and Ben). 

I read The Penderwicks late at night when I was having a rough time and it was balm to my soul. I listened to The Penderwicks on Gardam Street while sewing and it carried me through with its wonderful adventure of home. I read The Penderwicks at Point Mouette while I was sick, and it lifted my spirits. I read The Penderwicks in Spring in spurts at night while getting back into things with a runny nose, and "it moved me, Bob."

There will be a fifth book. Someday soon, I hope. The Penderwicks are a part of me now, just like all the other similar books I loved growing up. I'm anxious to see how things turn out, now that the older girls are grown. I love them all.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Vannie, Kyle, and Plantsing a Book

I had a general plan for the Espionage sequel. I had a few basic plot points I needed to hit, some snippets from throughout the book, and an ending. It was going to be a middle grade in the vein of the first book, about the same length, political, a story that was similar, but different.

And then the book said "Nope."

I'm still following the general storyline I originally had, but it had SOOOOO many gaps I had to fill in as I went along. But more than that. It just can't be the fun, middle grade book the first one was. It's its own book.

It's far more complex.

Via Pinterest

Espionage had a very basic, straightforward storyline. It was coherent in my head from the start. With this sequel (which still remains nameless, and I may not even go with a one-word "e" title), I've got plot threads everywhere. I've got Vannie's personal story of being forced into a marriage with Kermit when she's very much in love with Kyle. I've got the "action" side of the story where villagers are disappearing and the young people suspect Stipland's interim (Gordan Holbrook) is involved. I've got Flanna Leland whose father, fiance, and future father-in-law were all killed in a freak accident leaving Leland with no representation. There's Violet Wyland who was forced to marry the crooked Edward when she was in love with Esmond Fairfax. I've got a thread involving Edmund Herb which I haven't yet found the space to deal with but very much want to. I've also got an inkling that Holbrook may have been involved in Sir Stipland's death. That's something I didn't come up with until part way through writing.

Via Pinterest

I thought I could just write a simple book, but as I write, the complexity tries to force itself in. It's going to take another draft or more to let it, but if I don't--if I keep it to a 30,000 word middle grade like the first one--it'll fall so far short of its potential.

There are a lot more characters.

Walter Stipland
Via Pinterest

Espionage had a small cast, which was fabulous because it gave me a break from the Time Captives. The sequel simply can't. Kermit and Rosie are far more central to the plot than in the first book, and Walter Stipland and Callie Holbrook are pivotal characters, making up the main six with Kyle and Vannie. I haven't had room to deal with Kate--who now has a boyfriend whom Vannie rather resents. I want to delve into Flanna, but I haven't had room. I'd like to deal with Violet, but again, haven't had the room. Captain Herb figures in the story, and once I find the place, I want to explore his son Edmund. Sir Cumberland has a role to play that I don't want to stay "off screen."

Callie Holbrook
Via Pinterest

And I've come to the conclusion that using primarily Vannie POV with an occasional bit of Kyle just isn't enough. I'm not figuring out who Walter and Callie are very well without delving into their heads. Kermit's POV, I don't think should be relegated to bonus scenes. And there are too many important plot elements Vannie isn't privy to. I still hope to keep Vannie in 1st person, but as I write, I find I need a more comprehensive view of things to do this story justice.

The romance.

Via Pinterest

Vannie Cumberland is no Laura Ingalls Wilder. It is what it is. I had originally intended to keep the romance very Little House for the sake of keeping it a middle grade book. Very sweet and innocent and something you would have no qualms reading to a four-year-old. But...that's not working.

Via Pinterest

Fact is, Vannie is very much in love with Kyle Roland and he with her, and it's becoming more of a (clean) YA romance. Something a lot more along the lines of Ilyon, Rizkaland, and DragonKeeper than Little House. Considering Vannie's personality, it's just not realistic otherwise. I don't want it to feel like a stretch for Vannie and Kyle to be in love, because it's not. I have more trouble holding them back than making them act like they love each other.


I want this story brought to its full potential, which isn't easy when you're trying to make it something that it's not. But as I've plantsed my way through this book (something in between plotting and pantsing), I've discovered the sort of story it wants to be. And I may have to give up my original vision of what it was in order to make it what it needs to be.

How do you feel about the sequel to Espionage being more YA? What do you think of the different plot threads I've discovered?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why I Like History

I'm sure if you've been around here for any length of time, you know that I'm rather a history nerd. Rather a major history nerd. So how did I get here?

My sister and me at Plum Creek
2001
  • My parents read me the entire Little House series when I was really little and I absolutely fell in love with everything pioneer.
  • When I was five we took a road trip--tent camping--to visit all the Little House historic sites. I only remember the now-collapsed dugout, but I have a huge smile on my face in all the pictures.
  • We took numerous trips to Conner Prairie, the most amazing living history museum ever. It really feels like stepping back in time!
"Doing laundry" at Conner Prairie
2002
  • Oregon Trail. Yes, the computer game. My sisters and I were obsessed. Wasn't everybody?
  • My honorary uncle told me and my family stories of American history all the time, in such a way that I was immersed in history and couldn't help but love it. He's a fabulous storyteller, and so is his daughter. You can read some of his stories in his book.
  • American Girl. I especially loved Samantha and Felicity. It's sad to me how the popularity of American Girl has shrunk...I blame the de-emphasis on history. That's what made it cool! History Mysteries and Dear America fit here too.
  • Yearly pictures in
    pioneer dresses
    2006
  • About a million amazing historical fiction/classic books I read and my mom read to me. Patricia Beatty, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Elsie Dinsmore, Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, Five Little Peppers, All-of-a-Kind Family, Betsy-Tacy, Elizabeth George Speare, Johnny Tremain, William O. Steele, The Tree of Freedom, Nelly in the Wilderness, Calico Bush, Henry Ryder Haggard, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, etc. So many amazing books about or from bygone eras.
  • My family has visited many historical sites over the course of my life, local and along the east coast. We've been to tons of battlefields, and even went to Williamsburg and Jamestown. Going to Mount Vernon was the best. I can totally understand why George Washington was always wanting to go home. It's beautiful. And we learned some fun things that really made him human. Like when his dogs stole Martha's ham. George was amused. Martha wasn't. And I really want to go to Plymouth.
  • Plus, history is just plain cool.

And what effect has history had on me?

My Civil War era ball gown
2012
  • I like wearing dresses--always have--because pioneers wore dresses.
  • I wore sunbonnets with modern dresses a lot as a kid.
  • Reading the Declaration of Independence is fun. I did it once instead of school. I love that thing.
  • I want to churn butter.
  • My sisters and I once played Oregon Trail with our Barbies.
  • We never just played "house," we were always pioneers or living during the Revolution or something.
The lady at the Indiana State Fair
invited me over the ropes to try
her spinning wheel
2010
  • I have a life-long obsession with spinning and weaving.
  • I want chickens. (because Caroline Quiner aka Ma Ingalls took care of their chickens)
  • I want to try doing laundry in a washtub. But just once. For the pioneer experience.
  • I have made numerous historical costumes for myself and for others.
  • I helped to teach a class on America's founding documents.
  • If I ever found a time machine, I would have a long list of historical events to visit before I ever tried to go to the future.
  • I like throwing bits of history into my books.
My Barbies' covered wagon...Bekah
was the one who had actual horses
2007
  •  I really want to write a historical fiction book. I'm just scared of getting it wrong and of the mountain of research I'd have to do to make sure I got every last little historical detail exactly right. From the timeline of historical events to the way people talked to the atmosphere and layout of the town to the people around to the details of fashion...
  • My dream house is a log cabin in the woods...as long as it has electricity, running water, and wifi.
  • I'm reading a book of original documents from the Constitutional Convention as a part of self-inflicted school. And it's amazing. I must read more source documents.
  • My family would love to open a living history museum.
  • I tried really hard to convince my dad to build me a floor loom. I did research and everything. It didn't work.

How do you feel about history?