My Year in Books: 2012

31 December 2012

winter"I am a product of . . . endless books"
— C.S. Lewis

The world's approach to New Year's is much like Cogsworth's approach to love: "Flowers, chocolates, promises you don't intend to keep . . ." Though the talking French timepiece was speaking of what to give one's beloved, I believe the principle still applies here. Something in the idea of a fresh, untouched new year right at our fingertips pushes us into a mode of frantic nostalgia. We reminisce about the old year, lingering over memories that bring tears to our eyes when recollected, we drink bubbly apple cider and play games until midnight, and we make our paper resolutions for the next year. All this is well and good, of course, until we wake up sometime in January's second week and realize our dispositions are still the same. We cannot perfect ourselves by virtue of simply promising to do so. Real change, to bring Churchill into the matter, takes blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And far beyond all that, it takes the recognition that we alone cannot change ourselves. Only the Holy Spirit can truly meld and reshape our hearts.

But I digress. The true purpose of this post was to share the titles I've read this year, as well as to give a passing glance to those I hope to devour in the new year. As anyone who's anyone would tell you, the books a person reads and the pages among which he hides his nose say a lot about said person. I have seen my reading choices mature with the passing years, the passing months even, for that matter. I could not give proper time and attention to every tome, so I'll be selecting a few of my favorites, those that truly changed and melded me in these past twelve months.

In required reading, I began the year off by diving into Chaim Potok's The Chosen, a title I was predisposed to dislike. It was actually quite an interesting read, full of details on the various sects of Judaism. It was also a heartbreaking book about the friendship of two young boys and their respective relationships with their fathers. I read Night by Elie Wiesel, a graphic account of the author's experiences in Auchwitz, and though I was not scarred for life, it was a terribly horrific read that I won't be picking up again. In the spring I was first exposed to To Kill a Mockingbird, which to this day remains one of the best books I've ever read. I also re-read The Old Man and the Sea, which filled me with a great sense of admiration for Hemingway's ability to convey emotion through his brief, simple sentences. Rebecca was stunningly written, the sort of book that puts you in the mind of rich velvet and smooth dark chocolate, and it would have been my favorite book of the school year, were it not for its shameful ending and its heroine's surprising lack of morality.

What with the rest of the world going positively mad over the famous Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, I devoted some of my free time in the spring to reading them, primarily to reassure myself that the hype was all for nothing. On the contrary, I found the books intriguing and certainly gripping, despite the complaints I could raise with Collins' writing abilities. They were rather depressing at moments, as would be expected, but I still enjoyed the trilogy reasonably well.

Over the course of the summer, I spent my time among the pages of Alan Paton's social novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. I had hardly expected to love it as much as I did, and it certainly left a mark upon my heart. As the year progressed, I delved into Greek classics when I rediscovered The Iliad and read Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Antigone. In November I was marked forever by the dark background and literary brilliance of Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth. 

My favorite read of this year was undeniably Jenny Freitag's The Shadow Things, followed in close second by her sister's novel, The Soldier's Cross. Both books were beautifully penned, compelling tales that drew my soul to them. Something about The Shadow Things in particular was so magnificent that it can hardly be drawn out in words, and several scenes gave my heart such a terribly lonesome ache that I can only describe as sehnsucht. I am eagerly awaiting future titles from these brilliant authoresses.

My to-read shelf for 2013 is so extensive that it could practically make a book all on its own. After a time, however, I must make some sort of deference between them all and form lists of those most important to me. The titles I've included below will, Lord willing, be completed in this coming year.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (started, but haven't finished)
The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (started, but haven't finished)
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (started, but haven't finished)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tales of Goldstone Wood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
Saratoga and Victory at Yorktown by Richard M. Ketchum
The Eagle of the Ninth, The Shield Ring, and many other titles by Rosemary Sutcliff

It's by no means a paltry list, and the master document from which it stems is nearly five times its size. Hardly a day passes that someone does not recommend a book to me; and while they are not all titles from which I would profit, those that are still tend to add up. Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed by the weight of them all, and it pushes me to such feats as attempting to read three or four books all at once (which, in the end, never works out well). There are so many titles, and I want to read every last one . . . !

There are, of course, worse problems to have.

Poem of the Week: Blessed Homeland by Fanny Crosby

28 December 2012

via pinterest
Even during the holiday season, we still heave ourselves up on weary elbows and face struggles such as poverty, loss, sorrow, heartbreak, and every other shard of pain brought on by sin. This beautiful poem penned by Fanny Crosby reminds us that though we face troubles in the world, this is not our soul's true homeland. The day will come when we rise from the ashes of misery and sin and are called to His home for eternity.

Blessed Homeland
By Fanny Crosby

Gliding o'er life's fitful waters, 
Heavy surges sometimes roll; 
And we sigh for yonder haven, 
For the homeland of the soul.

Blessed homeland, ever fair! 
Sin can never enter there; 
But the soul, to life awaking, 
Everlasting bloom shall wear.

Oft we catch a faint reflection, 
Of its bright and vernal hills; 
And, though distant, how we hail it! 
How each heart with rapture thrills!

To our Father, and our Savior, 
To the Spirit, Three in One, 
We shall sing glad songs of triumph 
When our harvest work is done.

'Tis the weary pilgrim's homeland, 
Where each throbbing care shall cease, 
And our longings and our yearnings, 
Like a wave, be hushed to peace.

Feel free to link up below with any inspiring bits of poetry you've lately discovered!

The Word Dwelt Among Us

24 December 2012

(from The Nativity Story)
"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

— Isaiah 7:14

It's the simplicity, humility, and at the same time, profound magnificence of our Saviour's birth so long ago that still wrings my heart and brings me to tears. More beautiful than the lights, the music, the decorations, and the food is the great love He held for His sinful people: a love so powerful and all-encompassing that He chose to send His Son for our sake. May we dwell on that truth as we celebrate His birth today and tomorrow.

Blessings on your Christmas celebrations, sweet friends.
rejoice! rejoice! emmanuel / shall come to thee, o israel.
Comments are closed until December 26th.

Sunday Blessings

23 December 2012

via Google Images
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

— "Silent Night" by Josef Mohr (lyrics) and Franz X. Gruber (music)

May you be blessed this fourth Sunday of Advent !
"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." — Luke 2:9-12

Poem of the Week: Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

22 December 2012

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
I know it's Saturday and my weekly poems are traditionally posted on Fridays, but I couldn't allow yet another Friday to pass without some semblance of verse. It just wouldn't be proper. On that note, I feel I must apologize for the lack of poetry hereabouts in the past month or so. Nearly every Friday has held some great event for my family, and whether that means dinner guests, a meeting at the house, or a dance recital dress rehearsal, one common thread binds them all together: they steal away my blogging time. 

The poem I've chosen to share today was the inspiration for the classic Christmas song, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". If the song has charm to it, the poem has even more. What I love best about it is that it recognizes God as the source of true peace, and does not attribute it to a lack of suffering or conflict in the world, as many are wont to do. As one of the poem's final lines states, "The Wrong shall fail / The Right prevail." No trial we face as humans can dim the radiant light of His beauty and power, and the Lord will always triumph in the end.

Christmas Bells
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

I hope each of you are experiencing a blessed and joy-filled Christmas season!

Book Review: Son by Lois Lowry

19 December 2012

Typically, I prefer to review books in a series in their original order. Perhaps it's not so necessary an evil as I would make it, but keeping matters neat and tidy has never done anyone any harm, and especially in the managing of a blog, it forces me to stay disciplined on my posting schedule. I generally review books as I read them, and since I am of the rigid sort who reads a book series in its published order, it follows that I would stick to that order when going about the business of typing up reviews. But book reviews also come at a more natural pace when the margin between my completion of the volume and its subsequent review is kept slim, and since it's been two months since I finished Son and I can make no firm promise to review Gathering Blue or Messenger in the near future, I thought I might as well go ahead and write this review sooner than later.

By Lois Lowry
*Summary via

They called her Water Claire. When she washed up on their shore, no one knew that she came from a society where emotions and colors didn’t exist. That she had become a Vessel at age thirteen. That she had carried a Product at age fourteen. That it had been stolen from her body. Claire had a son. But what became of him she never knew. What was his name? Was he even alive? She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. Now Claire will stop at nothing to find her child, even if it means making an unimaginable sacrifice. 

My Thoughts: Coming from the perspective of one who has read The Giver numerous times, this book was everything for which I could hope in a finale. It drew the other three books together effectively while still leaving many surprises for the reader throughout the plot. Claire's experiences were heartbreaking, and the author threads the young girl's longing through each page with ease. I quite enjoyed the chance to revisit highlights of The Giver in this book, especially since the reader was shown a few of the same scenes through different eyes. All of the characters were lively and real, and the dialogue was natural. The only error I could find in the prose was the author's own style. While Lowry maintained her trademark tone for the first part of the book, she took on a writing style particularly laced with cliches for the second part that didn't sound at all like her usual self. 

Without the background of the three preceding titles, one would find this book difficult to understand at times. If you are interested in reading Son, I heartily suggest that you read the series in order, as doing so would smooth out any wrinkles or confusion.

Pros: This book is an almost-perfect conclusion to the beloved series. Lowry brought to life an aspect of the Community barely touched within the pages of The Giver and introduced her readers to a charming new character, all the while maintaining the honest narration, memorable characters, and challenging settings that readers came to love in her three previous books. Anyone who loved The Giver is bound to enjoy this new book, as it ties together well-loved characters such as Jonas, Kira, and Gabriel in a story that is both new, creative, and intriguing.

Cons: My main complaint with Son can be found in its denouement. While the ending was sweet and happy, Lowry seemed to tie everything together a bit too neatly. I think she would have been better served by leaving a few of the strings dangling at the end. There was a great deal of suspense built up around the climax in the final part, only to have the antagonist meet his defeat in a manner I found too simple. I wish the author had spent a little less time setting up the conflict and more on a creative untangling of the final defeat.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
I recommend this book for ages 12+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
"He, she thought . . . I had a son. The feeling of loss overwhelmed her again." — Son, chapter 2

For Us, There Is Only the Trying

11 December 2012

But perhaps there is neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business.
East Coker, T.S. Eliot

Words are such stiff, formidable things, and sometimes I wonder if I would have more success trying to harness the ocean's spray than to form colored emotions with such mediums as paper and ink. In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo writes, "[Fantine's] words could have melted a heart of iron, but you cannot touch a heart of wood." I believe the same principle can be applied to words: if they were iron, you would only need to give them a bit of heat, and they would melt at your touch. As it happens, they are far more wooden in nature, leaving the wordcrafter to poke and scrape and wittle until he is left with some semblance of his original intent. In short, it's not easy.

This is part of the reason this post has been delayed until now, when it should have gone up most primly and respectably on December 1st. (The other reason is that I'm up to my ears in exams right now and have been for the past week and a half, and I have an unfortunate feeling that telling my tutors I used my studying time for blogging would not sit very well with them.) With NaNoWriMo but a distant memory now, it seems rather odd to sift back through the faded pages and piles of dust that were my world during those short thirty days. I would love to pen my thoughts with eloquence and grace, but sometimes simple words are all that truly suffice.

I didn't win NaNoWriMo.

Principles can be stated quite cooly and calmly when one is blogging. This mask of the web gives one the opportunity to tout ideas and give a false front as to his true identity. Making white-washed statements is easy; upholding them is quite another thing. I've claimed numerous times that quality matters more than quantity. And lest you think I intend to mislead you, I would not say such if I didn't believe it myself. But when one is in the throes of November and feeling pressured from all sides to fill the daily word-count quota, it's easy to compromise. It's far too simple to pound out scenes that aren't the pinacle of excellence. I've often sacrificed some of the quality of my writing on NaNo's altar. Up to this point, I was never convicted of it.

I didn't lose NaNoWriMo by writing up until the last minute and falling short of 50,000 words. I lost because I chose to do so.

It was seven o' clock in the evening, and I could have written for five more hours and reached my word count goal. I was terribly behind at only 40,000 words, and I knew I would have to write faster than normal, but that's not to say it would be impossible. I was prepared to meet the challenge.

And then the Lord convicted me. It was not one-sided; He pricked my conscience on many counts. For one, I would have had to lock myself in my bedroom and rush to finish the last 10,000 words sans company. My family was hosting a meeting at my house that night, and while I didn't need to be present, I knew my father would have preferred for me to be downstairs listening to the discussions rather than closed away in my room. Further, I knew that half the writing I did that night would most likely be deleted or at the very least, severely edited later on. At that point, what did it matter that I reached the "magic number" of 50,000 words if they weren't words I would keep?

So, I chose to stop. I had already written about 6,000 words earlier in the day, and my creativity was slowly running dry. One can only keep at such a pace for so long. I swallowed my pride at the thought of admitting defeat and did not allow the progress bar to control me. It was painful, but I knew I had to follow my own words with true actions.

This is not to say that I believe NaNoWriMo forces you to write poorly and draws you away from your family. On the contrary, while I don't agree with everything NaNo promotes, I appreciate the incentive it gives me each November to write voraciously for those thirty days. In my case this year, however, I was attempting to write far too much in one day, and all for the joy of seeing the progress bar turn purple.

I am quite pleased with what I was able to accomplish this past month in Rifles. The plot has grown, strengthened significantly, and I love my characters more than ever. I plan to spend the next month or two doing a good deal of heavy research on the battles of the Revolutionary War, and then I'll be going back to my document with a will. Unlike last year, when I won NaNo with a manuscript I've barely touched since, I'm eagerly anticipating reuniting myself with these people I have come to know and love so well. For that reason, November was still very productive.

Though it ended almost two weeks ago, I must ask,

how did you fare during nanowrimo?

Sunday Blessings

02 December 2012

via Google Images
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

— "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus" by Charles Wesley

Let us keep our focus on Him and His coming during this season of advent. May your Lord's Day be blessed!
" . . . the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts." — Haggai 2:7b

We're No Longer Flying

29 November 2012

I don't often join in with Katie's monthly Snippets of Story link-up (more's the pity), but I chose to do so this month as I have a rather ample supply of pieces from my Rifles in the South Field NaNo endeavor that I wanted to share. Keep in mind that these are not yet edited and being that they all come from my first draft, are in great danger of being deleted or drastically altered between now and that misty day in the distance when I choose to publish the book as a whole (some stand a better chance of this than others). With that, I give you my

snippets of november

“I sometimes wish men were born without tongues in their heads.”
Rifles in the South Field

The wicked copper flames danced perpetually on the hearth — they were not limited by human weaknesses — and they mocked her with every prancing step.
Rifles in the South Field

“Yes, the other ladies are beginning to eat — you had better join them.” He kissed her gloved hand, and she tried not to cringe at his touch. “Would you be so kind as to save a dance for me, Miss Dixon?” He did not wait for an answer; as soon as the words left his tongue, he melted back into the crowd of guests.
Rifles in the South Field

The scenery no longer swirled so viciously, but it still didn’t hold its own quite as it ought to. It remained an odd, wavering balance between daydream and reality, shimmering and bobbing before her eyes.
Rifles in the South Field 

There was much to be said for a father who went off to slay the enemy; it put Kenneth in the mind of the knights from the stories his nurse told him. They were always defeating great fire-breathing dragons and rescuing beautiful princesses (who, it should be mentioned, did a great deal of fainting and weeping both before and after they were properly retrieved). Kenneth had little interest in the fair maidens, but his soul thrilled at the idea of slaying dragons of his own someday. The other chaps had fathers who were doctors and lawyers, and that was all well and good, but it didn’t fetch the same sort of pride as having a father who was a soldier. A major. Kenneth rolled the word around on his tongue whenever he spoke it; it sounded so deliciously grown-up.
Rifles in the South Field

The thought stung her heart worse than alcohol poured over a fresh wound.
Rifles in the South Field

“Daughter, even you are old enough to know that men are formed by God and not society’s whims.”
Rifles in the South Field

He was already learning that reality has an unhealthy appetite for dispelling all preconceived notions.
Rifles in the South Field

She glared at him, her eyes turned to burning embers. “You are a miserable excuse for a man.”
To her surprise, his expression did not change. “That dagger’s been used on me all my life, ma’am: don’t be surprised if I no longer feel the sting of it.”
Rifles in the South Field

The young man remembered well the many nights when the ship was racked with storms, when thunder had sounded loud enough to shake Heaven itself and lightning had torn through the sky like shears slicing through satin. He was grateful for the calm on this leisurely afternoon, but he did not trust it to last long. A man can no longer stand confidently on firm ground after he has seen its cracks.
Rifles in the South Field 

“You needn’t grip me that hard; we’re no longer flying.” 
Rifles in the South Field

Guest Post: What a Character Needs

26 November 2012

Hello, all!  My name is Hope Ellison, the main character of the work-in-progress Cry of Hope.  On behalf of my matron who guides my life (her name is Emily, by the way), I am taking over this guest post on Elizabeth’s lovely blog.  Titled bluntly and simply What a Character Needs, it is not at all surprising that I should be the one to give you the list on what you must do in order to nurture a healthy, obedient character.  So without all the opening lines that speakers use when going into a long lecture, I shall go straight on to giving you my advice on this topic . . . and I hope fellow characters will appreciate my efforts to tell aspiring authors and real authors what we need.

Item 1

Do you truly expect we will follow your will all of the time?  Being forced to do things we do not wish to do, being forced to be something we are not: that is what causes us to take our lives into our own hands at times and rebel drastically.  If you give us a gentle amount of freedom at all times, being willing to change something if we choose not to go the way you say, or excepting with open arms the fact we may not be as you try to make us be.  This is giving us freedom; and we all need it dreadfully. 

Item 2
Allowed Fun

Lemonade without sugar is sour; and so is a life without some fun.  Please, dear friends, don’t remove all of our fun.  Constantly plaguing us with disease, heartache, famine . . .  while I suppose this may be necessary, why must you allow all lemons and no sugar?  Consider adding in some playtime to orphans, joking to cabin boys, parties to maids, or quilting bees to widows.  It really takes a load off our shoulders, let me tell you.  If this so damages your story plot, you might use it by way of some . . .

Item 3
Extracurricular Activities

Life gets tedious seeing the same things day by day, doing nothing novel and new.  This wears down our spirits, and if the grind goes on too long, I must warn, we may attempt to overthrow you.  Therefore, why not allow us some extracurricular activities?  A blog post such as this would let us socialize with people of your society, throwing us into another world would bring out our creative side.  Anything out of the ordinary would do! 

Item 4
Tender Loving Care

This one should be obvious to you.  Every person in your world need it.  It’s a well-known fact.  So why not take the techniques in your world and use those wholesome treatments on us?  

How, you ask, do you treat a character with tender loving care?  That is what this list is for, my friends.  Follow it with all your heart, do not stoop to the Cruel Author’s ways, and you may rest assured you are treating us with tender loving care.

. . .

Emily is a homeschool student living in Tennessee, who has a patriotic spirit and a heart for her Lord.  Her imaginative mind is constantly on the go, and she lives out that imagination through reading, writing, and a dabble of photography.  Her loves include Narnia, old-fashioned things, Dollywood, family and friends, being happy, her characters, and finding kindred spirits.  You can read more about her and her work-in-progress over at her blog, A Thousand Words, located in a wee little valley amidst Writerly Hill (you reach it by turning left at the end of Literary Lane).

Guest Post: An Accomplishment

24 November 2012

My name is J. Grace Pennington.  And I am an author.

Yesterday, I published my second novel, a Western mystery called Never.  The exhilaration of being published a second time is even stronger than the first.  Holding two books in your hands is much more impressive than holding only one.  Telling people “I’m an author” somehow feels more true when you have multiple books.

I have more people excited about this book’s release than my first.  There were more people anticipating it--some of them people I didn’t even personally know!  There’s been a little more buzz about it.  A little more talk around the internet.

Now, with Firmament: Radialloy and Never both sitting beside me on the bed, I have a proud feeling of accomplishment.  My books.  They’re real.  I worked hard for them.  People are enjoying them, raving about them, even.  People who haven’t read them are interested in reading them, or at least learning more.  The name “J. Grace Pennington” is starting to mean something in certain circles.  It’s small, but it's new. And it's exciting.

I think back over the hard months of emotional hardships and hard work and worry and planning and learning, and I’m proud of my accomplishment.

As the feelings sink into my heart and lend themselves to words in my mind, one word in particular slaps me in the face.


I take mental inventory of the words and phrases I used to describe this victory to myself.  My books.  I worked hard.  People are talking about me.  I pressed through hardship and got it done.  I published these books.  My accomplishment.


Such is the pitfall of the artist.

What happened to never boasting except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ?

For every artist, one of the greatest temptations is to drift into seeing our work as an expression of ourselves.  Who we are, what we’ve done, what we want.  You can start out with the best intentions, and still find that the feeding of your ego by admirers and accomplishments chipping away at any humility you may have possessed.  We pour so much of ourselves into our work, we give our time, our heart, our soul, we deserve some praise, some recognition, some recompense.


Myself.  My time.  My heart.  My soul.

Somewhere in the process, we forget that we are not our own, that we were bought with a price.  That our time, hearts, and souls, belong to Someone Else.  That despite all we might like to think, it isn’t our accomplishment.  Because we aren’t here to glorify ourselves, are we?

And yet no matter how many times we learn this, it’s so easy to slip back into ego, and pride, and self-serving thoughts and behavior.  It’s not a battle that’s fought once.  I had to fight it with my first book, and I’m fighting it again now, and I’m sure I’ll have to fight it with my third book, and my fourth, and my fifth, and as many as He allows me to publish.  It’s a lifelong battle.

But it’s a battle that we can win.  Because we aren’t alone in the fight.

And the reward -- the “well done, good and faithful servant” that we all want to hear -- is worth it.

My name is J. Grace Pennington.

And I am a servant of the King.

. . .

J. Grace Pennington is a young author living with her family of eleven in the Texas Hill Country.  When not writing, she likes to play with her siblings, bake her world-famous chocolate-chip cookies, and play film soundtracks and hymns on her various instruments.  She desires that her writing and her life would give glory to her King and Creator at all times.

Guest Post: Today You Are You

21 November 2012

Hello, fair readers of Literary Lane!  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to--oops, sorry.  Got carried away there.  My name is actually Amy Dashwood, and I'm from Yet Another Period Drama Blog.  Elizabeth very kindly invited me to guest post here while she's NaNo-ing this month, and I was happy to comply!

I'm a writer, and I know many of you are too.  I've been writing for almost as long as I can remember.  In the early years of my scribbling, the stories I hand-wrote on computer paper and stapled together all had at least one thing in common.  And that was, to put it bluntly, plagiarism.

I didn't call it plagiarism, of course.  I called it Getting Ideas from Books I Liked.  One of my masterpieces was about a girl during the Great Depression who helped out at soup kitchens and whose family took in boarders.  I was an avid reader of all the American Girl books, you see.  Copying someone else's idea for a story didn't seem wrong at all (copyright laws were as yet unknown to my seven-year-old self).  After all, I loved the books I was borrowing from and wanted to write other ones just like them.

Of course as I got older I discovered that what I had been doing was called plagiarism, and was frowned upon in most societies (something akin to cannibalism, you know).  So I hastily abandoned any attempts to write books just like the ones I enjoyed reading.  And all of a sudden--can't think how this came about--I found myself severely lacking in ideas.

Over the next several years I wrote a little here and there, mostly in the form of short stories and Grand Ideas for novels that never went past the first couple of chapters.  At fourteen I got back into the writing groove with nonfiction, but coming up with plots all on my own still seemed elusive and unreachable.  When I would play pretend games with my younger sisters, I generally relied on them to come up with the storyline.  They had good imaginations, I reasoned.  I did not.  All was well and good.

Then came NaNoWriMo 2011, and all of a sudden I was swept into a whirlwind of writing.  And lo and behold, I discovered I did have ideas lurking deep down.  To use a severely overused turn of phrase, it was as if a whole new world had been opened to me.  I discovered a network of fellow writers in the blogging world, other girls who loved words and the magic they make when transferred to paper.

I feel as if my writing life can be divided into two distinct segments, polar opposites from each other: Before NaNo and After NaNo.  Before NaNo, I was struggling along by myself, coming up with vague ideas that were, to be frank, no good. After NaNo, I found myself in a community of fellow scribblers, reading blogs written by kindred spirits and learning more from them every day.

Happy ending, yes?


That's when a new problem began.  Because in reading all these wonderfullissimus writing blogs, I struck a snag in my own writing again.  It wasn't quite plagiarism, but it was something rather similar (no, not cannibalism.  Let's not be SILLY!).  Reading the stories and snippets of girls I looked up to (Jenny, Rachel, Abigail, Jessica, just to name a few) was making me dissatisfied with what I wrote and yearn to write just like them.

So I tried that for a while.  Oh, no, I didn't copy anyone else's ideas.  I knew better than to do that.  But there's no law against aping someone else's style, is there?  There's nothing wrong with trying to sound just like another writer, especially if she's a really good one, right?

Technically... no.  But it's about the most unhealthy thing you can do as a writer, and it didn't take me long to realize that.

At the risk of sounding like a shampoo advertisement, writing fiction is something very simple: it's about telling the story you have in you.  It's about expressing yourself through words, however cheesy that may seem.  It's about putting words together in the way that only you can do, because no two people can truly write alike (unless one of them is literally copying everything put down by the other, a thing we already established as a no-no).  Each and every writer in this world has a unique voice, and each and every writer's responsibility is to write with that voice.

"But I don't know what my voice is!" you might wail.  "How am I supposed to write the way I'm meant to write if I don't know WHAT to write?"

You know what?  I can't answer that.  Because every writer is different.  Me, I'm not meant to write thrilling, epic adventure.  I just can't do it.  It sounds silly and forced when I try.  My sister, on the other hand, revels in swashbuckling bandits and galloping horses.  Nor am I meant to write serious romance (at least not yet).  A little light sentiment, yes, but a tragic love story?  Not for me.

And I realized all that just through writing.  Trying out different story ideas (many of which have never and will never come to light... heh, heh), scribbling down any plot thoughts that came into my head, writing random snippets of dialogue unconnected with anything, outlining family trees for my characters and deciding whom to kill and whom to keep.  (or is it who to kill and who to keep?  I can never remember...)

I found my niche in the simplest of stories, the kind about everyday people doing everyday things, generally with a dash of the ridiculous thrown in (because a book that doesn't make me laugh at least once will have a hard time becoming a favorite).  Is that all I'll ever write?  Probably not.  Writing is about expanding your horizons, after all, and using words to do things you'd never have the courage to try in real life.  But ultimately, writing is about doing all that in your own words.    

Today you are You, that is truer than true,
There's no one alive who is Youer than You.
— Dr. Seuss

Yet Another Period Drama Blog
Miss Amy Dashwood is a daughter of the King of Kings, a seventeen-going-on-eighteen-year-old homeschooler and a lover of period dramas, chocolate, long bike rides, babies, teacups, historical costumes and fiddle music.  Books are her passion, whether she's reading them or writing them.  She is the author of Only a Novel, which is available on Amazon, and you can find her at either of her two blogs, Yet Another Period Drama Blog and The Quest for Stories. 

Guest Post: The Treasured Ones

19 November 2012

Bonjour, lovely readers! I am beyond honored that Elizabeth asked me to guest post for her while she’s scribbling away for NaNo. I have admired her blog and her writing for quite some time now. Best of wishes in your writing endeavor, Elizabeth!

I am an avid bibliophile. Since I was just a wee lass, my mother has cultivated within me a love for reading, and I have taken that love to outnormous depths (can anyone say bookaholic?). Be it historical fiction, classics, modern tales, or biographies, literature has become a wonderfully huge part of my life. To me, books are no longer just words on paper put together in a binding, but friends. Friends I could not imagine living without! The characters are as real and alive to me as anything. I get lost in their stories, cry at their defeats, and rejoice in their triumphs.

But not only do books provide me with a wealth of new acquaintances, they also teach me. They inspire me. They challenge me. Not every book can do this, but there are a choice few in my life who have touched me far and above all the rest.

1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. This was the first classic book to make me weep. The story of Jean Valjean resonated within my soul like none other. What a beautiful story of redemption, sacrifice, love, and loyalty. The treasures and values which can be gleaned from Les Miz are countless, and to add to that, it’s simply an amazing, gripping story. I know Les Miz like the back of my hand, and I could probably sing all the songs in my sleep. But no matter how many times I read this book, I will always find myself crying, cheering, and trembling with emotion from the magnificence and wonder that is Les Miserables.

2. The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers. This is the only book on this list which isn’t a classic, although it very well should be. Francine Rivers is my favorite modern author, and The Last Sin Eater is her best work. This story moved me, and the characters lived and breathed. By the end, I was crying and inadvertently smearing mascara on the pages. This is the most triumphant, life-changing book I’ve ever read, and it’s all told from the perspective of a ten-year-old girl who is seeking redemption. And if you’ve seen the movie and didn’t really think it was that great, trust me: the book is way, way better.

3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Who can help but be endeared to darling Anne Shirley with her striking red hair, impulsive ways, and rash temper. Anne of Green Gables is so precious to me because it reminds me that no matter how old I get, there will always be a bit of a child inside me. Anne shows me what it means to be imaginative and to seek out the good in every situation. Of course, she has her faults (as do we all), but she is always striving to correct them and improve herself, even down to the color of her hair. :) Anne of Green Gables is one of those timeless stories

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Every man, woman, and child on this earth should read Little Women. Does any other book so strongly impress the meaning and importance of family? The March clan is a tight-knit bunch, and they so remind me of my dear family, and what I want my own future family to look like. The Marches may laugh and joke and tease each other, but when the need arises, they come together to walk through hard times side by side. Little Women perfectly demonstrates the bond of family and the bond of love. Oh, no. Little Women is not simply for girls.

5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. How fitting this ghostly little book should be on my list as we are currently approaching the Christmas season! I can’t thank Charles Dickens enough for writing A Christmas Carol. Not only is it a delightfully descriptive and warm and welcoming book, but it emphasizes the beauty and value of having a generous heart and a giving soul. Cantankerous as he is at the beginning, Ebenezer Scrooge is one of my favorite literary characters. A Christmas Carol is one of those books that lifts the spirit and gives one hope and joy. And by the end, I bet I’m not the only one who feels like rushing out into the streets on a crisp, snowy day just to shout, “God bless us, everyone!”

So tell me… what are your literary treasures?

. . . 

Heya! I’m Petie, an aspiring author, wanna-be Brit, and die-hard Okie country girl. I love my Jesus with all I am, and I take great pleasure in good books, laughter, the color red, and coffee. I blog over at All Things Bright and Beautiful. Come visit me, yes? I love to make new friends. Cheers!

Guest Post: What Are You Reading?

17 November 2012

It's summer 2007, I've just finished sixth grade. Mama announces that we're switching curriculum from our usual hodge-podge of textbooks to a more Charlotte Mason-like approach, with most of our books and schedules coming from AmblesideOnline.

That may not sound like much, but it meant a transition for all of us. A transition in the material we were reading. Before the Big Switch, the most intellectually challenging I'd read was probably The Chronicles of Narnia. My favorite book series was The Boxcar Children. I was familiar with classics, but mostly had them read aloud to me or listened to them on CD. I wasn't using much brain power. But I did love to read. I always have.

Ambleside has children reading classic, "living" books starting from their first day of school. Poetry, old British and American authors, history, all of it. And each year there's a different reading list - no book is repeated, and all are considered "living books". It was with great sadness I heard that The Boxcar Children isn't really considered a living book. In fact, Charlotte Mason has a word for those kind of books: "twoddle". So if you jump in at seventh grade, you have six years of catch up to do.

Mama printed up a list of about sixty books I should read before I started seventh grade, and off I went. My entire summer was spent curled up on the couch, opening up a whole new world, falling in love with authors such as Edith Nesbit, Wilson Rawls, Lousia May Alcott, Jules Verne, and Booth Tarkington. Books I'd never heard of such as Rifles for Watie, Five Children and It, Penrod, Mysterious Island, Number the Stars, and Goodbye Mr. Chips that were on lists for Year 5 and Year 6 became new favorites. I was on a roll, checking off books right and left.

And then Mama said, "You need to read a harder book. You've been transitioning, but now it's time to get really deep."

And she gave me Oliver Twist.

I'm not a big fan of Dickens. I mean, he's an incredible writer with an interesting perspective on the world, but he's not my favorite. And it might be a safe bet that this feeling originated with that summer reading of Oliver Twist. I was reading some of the other books on the list in a day or two, never more than a week for any one book...but the Dickens classic took me four weeks. There were tears involved, but not for Oliver's difficult circumstances, nor for the pain of London's poor. There was anger involved, but not towards Bill for murdering Nancy (my favorite character). No, I'm afraid I missed out on a lot of Oliver in my desperate, flailing attempts to just *read* it. Oliver, Dodger, Fagin, and Nancy is a far cry from Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.

And that was just the beginning really. Because of my October birthday, I'm just weeks behind the grade cut-off in our state. So many of my friends were a grade ahead, but just a month or two older. I really wanted to "catch up" (whatever that means in homeschooling). Also, when we switched to Ambleside, it meant I was going to have to repeat the historical time period from the previous school year so I'd get on track with new curriculum. I really didn't want to do that.

So I begged. And pleaded. And moaned. And groveled. And finally Mama agreed to let me do seventh and eighth grade in the same year. I'm glad she believed in me. It was the roughest school year I've ever had.

I was twelve (almost thirteen) years old, reading books of a completely different caliber than anything I'd read previously, and still working on the mile-long book list, and doing history that was just a little above my head - and double of everything else. That was the year of History of English Literature, How to Read a Book, Story of Painting, Ourselves (by Charlotte Mason herself) and other titles that still to this day bring memories of long hours at my desk, struggling over sentence structures and vocabulary I'd never encountered in regular "twoddle" reading before. There were some exciting books that year - books I still return to, and smile when I see my younger sisters reading them for the first time, such as The Brendan Voyage, Captains Courageous, Watership Down, The Case for Christ, The Holy War, A Man for All Seasons, Galileo's Daughter and my absolute all-time favorite historical mystery The Daughter of Time. 

But the real trial came mid-way through the year, when history got tough. I was reading Oliver Cromwell and A Coffin for King Charles - two books that are hard to read enough to read without being violent and sad and emotional to boot. I cried and sorrowed my way through A Man For All Seasons and will forever be a loyal fan of Thomas More. And after wrestling with Coffin, Mama finally started reading it with me and I started getting the gist of the story - and found myself changing from a roundhead (Cromwell follower) to a sympathetic royalist. And that's when that very tough year began to look up. And then Charles I got beheaded and I was done with history. *wry grin*

You may be wondering where I'm going with all this. And here's your answer. 

Many of you read my blog, Scraps. If you do, you know I'm a voracious reader. I love words. I love stories and characters and plots, and I've always been that way. I love classics, and living books that make you think and wrack your brain and work hard to get your answers. But I wasn't always that way. If you've never read a hard book before, it's never too late. I was twelve when the golden gates of masters opened to me - but it doesn't matter how old you are. Start now! Any of the titles or authors I mentioned in first few paragraphs, or go for something classic like Little Women or Johnny Tremain. And don't stop when it gets hard. Start reading it aloud, ask someone to join you and discuss it. Don't quit. You'll never regret it.

How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.  
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Hi! I'm Jo March from Scraps, visiting my lovely friend Elizabeth. It's an honor to be here and share a bit of my heart and passion with you all. Aside from reading and blogging, other interests of mine include playing piano, singing and acting in musical theater, being active in my church, hanging out with my family, competitive swimming, hiking, and sewing - a little of everything. Romans 12:2 is my favorite verse, reminding me to live "in, but not of" the world. To God be the Glory!

"I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! ... When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library." — Jane Austen

Poem of the Week: Transformed by Alan Groves

16 November 2012

This week's poem was written by a young gentleman with whom my father is acquainted. When I read the verses for the first time, I knew I'd have to share them here. The lines are short and yet still maintain the searing poignancy of a two-edged sword, revealing the depth of the author's own talent. Please don't simply read over these words and forget them an hour later. Ingrain them in your mind; afix them to your heart. Will we stand for the principals of liberty, truth, and virtue, or will we allow ourselves to be forged by the world's gavel?

By Alan Groves

My name is Democracy, for we are many.
I am the People. Sovereign. Supreme.
My will be done
On earth
For surely there is no heaven.

This World is the furnace of my imagination
And Society the utopia of my heart’s desire.
Its Inhabitants — my metals —
Whom I forge,
With the gavel of Law,
Into my own image.
I the People.

On the anvil of obedience they are
Transformed by the melting of their minds.
The evil obey.
The ignorant obey.
The righteous comply.
It is all the same to me.

The evil come rejoicing
At the hammer of my gavel
They understand. They see. And they willingly welcome
My grand image
 Of uniform perfection.
The Law, yes the Law, is the weapon of that perfection. 

The ignorant are fooled.
My Gavel — no, my instrument —
Melodious harmonies of hope and change.
Their basest desires and most groveling propensities.
A steady crescendo of progress and perfection.
And enchants
With the whisper of a lullaby.
Then they are Transformed.

The righteous, O the righteous!
They see my Gavel for what it is
— Not an instrument of beauty, but a weapon of destruction.
But they do not want to see.
They are cowards. Hypocrites.
They do not want to remember how they lost it.

Yes, They are the true stewards of my Gavel;
Their God gave it to them.
Yet they lost it, like a child loses a toy.
There was another who took it from them.
I, the People.

The Father of Lies gave birth to me
 — The Son of Thieves.
You see, my father begot me
— Democracy.

For when there were only two, it was good.
But when he Fell there were three.
He deceived, and sin conceived.

But I digress! I inherited my father’s deception.
And I used it to take the Gavel.
Taken from the judges, I passed it to the kings.
From the kings I handed it to the People.
And with the People, I used it to crucify their Lord.

The Gavel belongs to the righteous.
It is a tool, nothing more:

To the backwards, the human expression
Of natural order and divine justice.
To the enlightened, a weapon of beauty
That can only be forged in the fires of
Chaos and destruction.

Yes, the righteous know this.
They are not fools.
They are cowards. Hypocrites.
They fear to take what is rightfully theirs.
They fear the consequences of confrontation.
They fear responsibility.
They fear stewardship.

And in their shame, they hide from themselves.
In their own bellies.
From responsibility.
While they and all the rest
Cuff the very shackles
That drag them to the furnace.

Blind though they may be
By their self-righteous peace,
All are transformed
Until Progress shall cease.

What poems have you been reading this week? Feel free to share them in the link-up below.

Guest Post: How to Take Criticism As An Author

15 November 2012

I’m going to take a stand and proclaim what I have learned as one of {perhaps the} the single most important keys to becoming a great writer. Ready? All right.

We all love our stories. We all, for the most part, go through stages where we think we’ve stumbled across a stunning plot idea that’ll be the next David Copperfield. For those of us who actually make it through writing the entire thing and fleshing out all the characters, the events, the timing, we put another feather in our cap. Not only was the idea press-worthy, but the finished novel is magnifique! We’ve got a novel that’ll rival To Kill a Mockingbird. The third tier on our Happy-Go-Lucky kudos-cake arrives when we’ve finished the first edit of the manuscript. We’ve moved on from thinking our book is as good as those Other Famous Novels. Forget Where the Red Fern Grows. We’ve written the new Les Miserables

Go ahead and deny the charge if you will, but you know deep down you’ve felt this sensation. It’s fun. It’s rare. It is lovely to enjoy….for a week. But if I’ve learned one thing in my years of writing, it is that this misplaced arrogance cannot last if you hope to become an honest-to-goodness great author.

The wonderful thing about writing is that it is a growing craft. The most famous author is still honing his skills and working on one aspect or another of his writing. Even if you’ve got a killer plot, even if you’ve got the best characters in the best pinch with the best villain and the best hero, your book is not perfect. The sooner we realize this, the easier it will be to accept criticism. Because that is the place where the ways part and the truly great writers diverge from the mediocre and amateurs.

That’s the secret to being a great writer: Learn how to take criticism.

My first real foray into writing seriously –not just as a fun hobby—was when I joined a Christian Young Adult Writers’ critique group. The men and women in that group were gentle but pointed with their remarks.  Many of them were published and/or agented authors who had been to conferences, read widely, written more still, and knew darn well what they were talking about:

My punctuation was atrocious. 

My formatting was a nightmare.

I used exclamation points like a California valley-girl.

And if there was an Adverb Protection Service in America, I’d have been clapped in irons and stowed in jail, guilty of the most heinous abuse.

My poor novel was raked over the coals in no uncertain terms.  I think I ended up editing that manuscript six or seven times before I was {mostly} satisfied.

It’s not stretching the truth to say that I loved every criticism I got.

It was tough-love, though. The comments stung sometimes. My heart would seize up now and then when the leader of the group said something not-so-gentle and actually rather rough about my writing, the slowness of my forsaking a certain habit. {*Ahem* Comma-usage *Ahem*}

It hurt!

What had happened to my dreams of grandeur? My certainty that I was born to be a novelist?

I hadn’t even seen it coming. But I was clever enough to realize this was a refining fire for me as a writer, and a fabulous opportunity to get the wisdom and input of real authors. 

I swallowed my pride and applied their wisdom to my writing and I realized that not only was my writing better by the time the group disbanded, but I could actually apply the principles as I wrote my next novel so that there was less editing to be done. I’m telling you, criticism changed my writing-life forever. 

For good.

I cannot tell you how many mistakes I would still be floundering in if I’d not made myself vulnerable and had other writers read my novel. One reason my writing is as good as it is—and I am the first to admit it is full of room for growth and improvement still—is because the criticism from these men and women exposed all the juvenile mistakes I was making and showed me how to correct the errors. My writing doesn’t look as amateur because I learned what the amateurs do and have sought to avoid those things.

When you finish a novel, rather than preening yourself over it for four months and realizing—four years later—that you haven’t grown at all, I have another tactic:

Get as many people to read your novel as will put up with you.  

But don’t get the friends and family members who will pat you on the back and affirm your suspicions that you’re the next Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway. Get the people who are grammar Nazis. The people whose aura of Well-Read-Person hangs about them like a shimmering, frightening mantle. Get your bilingual grandmother who has lived through two World Wars. Get published writers or friends who are farther along the writing road than you.

The thing is, as a young writer you just cannot rely on your own judgment as to what is good enough. If you don’t know you’re making mistakes how can you correct them? That’s why I say that the biggest key to success for an aspiring author is to learn to love criticism. The harsh, the gentle, the stinging kinds. The good critics who point out what they like as well as what could use work AND the snobs who weigh you in the Victor Hugo balance and find you lacking. Sift the wheat from the chaff. Look over their comments with a humble mind and heart, open to new ideas and hard choice. Sometimes they'll recommend things that you'll choose not to change. I know. I had that happen to me. But that's the beauty of being an author and getting as much input as possible: you'll grow to be able to discern what to apply and what to lay aside.

With each tweaking of your mind and heart and the words on the page, your book will start to live up to its Great Expectations. Take heart, valiant-ones. It’s a battle worth winning.

* * *

Rachel Heffington is "not yet one-and-twenty." She writes like a fury, reads whenever she can, loves her family, loves God, and wishes there was money and time enough to travel the world and write about her adventures. You can read about her own writing, writing tips, and all things inky at her blog, The Inkpen Authoress.
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