We In It Shall Be Remembered

26 February 2013

"Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it."
Edmund Burke

I was meaning to write a post today about the necessary knowledge needed to write historical fiction and the amount of time that must be dedicated to bringing a piece of literature alive, but as usual, Jenny beat me to the punch. Her post, however, was just the catalyst I needed, and it rather jostled me into topic also concerning history, but of a more literal nature.

Some months have passed since I've last mentioned Rifles in the South Field. The reason for that is quite a logical one, and like most matters of logic, not terribly interesting: I've been researching. By research, I don't mean to imply that I've been using Wikipedia to find out whether a British Regular carried a musket or a rifle (although examining my search history would probably provide an eclectic bounty). The project in which I'm invested has grown much more involved than that, and though I have been writing, I don't believe I'll be able to return unreservedly to Rifles until the end of the school-year in May. I have a list of books on the American Revolution through which I am slowing working, taking notes along the way and attempting to soak up as much about the period as possible. 

This is the first time I've had to actively research for a book I'm writing, and it's been quite difficult to set aside the progression of Rifles for the sake of historical accuracy. When I was writing Violets Are Blue, I was only required to do a bit of Internet research here and there; this time I intend to finish several books. In a way, though, I have been preparing to write this book my whole life. My family's favorite historical period has always been the American Revolution, and for as long as I can remember, we've discussed, read, researched, and virtually lived in the 1770s and the decades that followed. For that reason, I feel rather comfortable in the era, but I should like to speak its battles, sieges, and skirmishes more fluently before I venture into Kenneth's part of the novel.

Like most writing habits, there is no right or wrong way to research. We all have our methods, and today I'm sharing the tips that most help me.

Take notes as you read. I'm currently keeping a purple spiral-bound notebook in which I record small details, dates, and other facts that I don't want to forget, especially if I plan on weaving them into Rifles. You're not trying to recreate the book, of course, so this doesn't need to be too extensive; a few sentences per fact should work just fine. The purpose is not to write a textbook, but to jog your memory and cause the details to resurface. Further, don't be afraid to underline and use sticky-notes in the books you read. I know the practice sounds sacrilegious, but it's worth it when you want to locate a certain small detail or quote in a six-hundred page book.

Don't lose sight of the big picture. Jenny made an excellent point in her post about understanding not only the era in which your book takes place, but also those that came before it. History is not separated into neat little boxes: one era bleeds into the next, and the words and actions of the greats are revered and quoted for years to come. For me, this means having a knowledge of Greek, Roman, and English history, as the works from those periods most affected the eighteenth-century Americans about whom I'm writing.

Improve your mind by extensive reading. Simply knowing a list of facts does not help to capture an era. You must understand the heart of the period as much as the detail, and such an understanding can only be gained through experience. Before you assume I'm suggesting you manage to build a time machine and transport yourself back to the era of your choice, know that I am speaking of the knowledge that can be gained through books. (Wonderfully useful things, they are!) They don't all have to be dry, dusty tomes — find a book that brings the period to life and inspires you.

Set daily goals. Lately I've been trying to read 1776 an hour each day, which for me means about forty pages (I'm not a terribly fast reader). Though I haven't always lived up to it, I begin each day with this goal at the forefront of my mind. Even if you can't devote an hour, try snatching just thirty minutes of time. History can't always be taken in great chunks, especially if you mean to comprehend it well. Chip away at it each day, and you'll find yourself being much more productive (plus, you'll get more out of what you're reading).

Balance research with pleasure. Just because you're trying to research actively does not mean you can't read other books. As mentioned above, I'm currently making my way (rather slowly) through 1776 by David McCullough, but I've also been reading The Last of the Mohicans (albeit with some trepidation), and I recently finished (and adored) Dickens' classic, A Tale of Two Cities. If a book is well-written, it is always worth your time. Consuming all your hours with research alone will only serve to make the era dull to you. Exercise moderation in your reading diet, and don't try to take in too much at one time lest you get indigestion.

how do you research?

Sunday Blessings

24 February 2013

sea breeze

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I Am;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

— "What Wondrous Love Is This"

Blessings on your Lord's Day!
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." — John 15:13

Poem of the Week: A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns

15 February 2013

"I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love," said Darcy.
"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Every thing nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away."
Pride and Prejudice, chapter ix

There is some wisdom in Elizabeth Bennet's words about poetry and love, but being the romantic sort that I am, I could hardly resist posting a few stanzas of a more sentimental nature today in honor of yesterday's holiday.

A Red, Red Rose
By Robert Burns

O my luve's like a red, red rose.
That's newly sprung in June;
O my luve's like a melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will love thee still, my Dear,
Till a'the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
I will luve thee still, my Dear,
While the sands o'life shall run.

And fare thee weel my only Luve!
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' it were ten thousand mile!

May your evening be blessed!

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

13 February 2013

Gothic novels aren't my normal cup of tea. In fact, this was only the second Gothic novel I've read in my life (the first was Rebecca), and my small experience didn't offer much to commend the genre. Then I scanned my required reading list and found the title engraved upon it, much to my chagrin. Perhaps that is one of the more beneficial sides to literature courses — they force you to read books that are out of your usual literary sphere. I can't say this book was terribly enjoyable (I'll always have a weakness for Austen and Alcott, I'm afraid), but neither will I say I regret reading it. Like most classics, it served a purpose not easily recognized at first touch.

By Mary Shelley
*Summary via Goodreads.com

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only nineteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creatures hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

My Thoughts: To put it in one sentence, Shelley’s Frankenstein was not at all what I expected. The author’s prose is magnificent, her imagery and description breathtaking, and she has quite a knack for twisting your emotions so they match those of the characters. (I even felt sorry for the monster at times!) The tale, quite predictably, sent cold shivers up my spine; in that way, Shelley certainly fulfilled her goal of penning a story that “would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror — one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.” I wouldn’t call it a pleasant read, by any means (on the contrary, it was quite difficult to stomach at times), but it was a valuable one all the same.

Pros: The moral lessons are very clear. Previously quite ambitious by nature and willing to sacrifice propriety for the sake of fame, Victor Frankenstein soon learns the error of his ways as he is haunted by the monster of his own creation. The underlying theme of the dangers of gaining knowledge that is not open to you and of striving after goals that are not yours to claim was threaded quite obviously throughout. As I mentioned above, Shelley (much like Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca) weaves her description so effortlessly that it immediately transports the reader. I had expected this book to be sparse and dry, but the cold beauty of her prose made the plot's progression even more horrific.

Cons: It can be particularly gruesome and garish at times, and I wouldn't recommend reading it at night as I did. The monster's victims all die cruel deaths by suffocation, and though this is not described graphically, it's enough to put a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. There is some minor language sprinkled throughout, but nothing particularly worrisome. My biggest complaint lies in the characters, primarily the women, who are quite flat in dimension and bear little personality to commend them. Elizabeth Lavenza in particular is so unbearably perfect in the eyes of all the other characters that it wore on me after a time.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 14+

A Bit O' Reading For the Day:
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” — Frankenstein

Sunday Blessings

03 February 2013

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

— 1 Peter 2:9-12

May your Lord's Day be blessed!
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