Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stone Walls

How are you with rejection?

Inside of an Irish church
For many of us it depends on the rejection we receive. I applied for a job recently, and while I would have liked the position, I knew it was something of a long-shot. I qualified, and would have done well, but I lived far away (the job was in England, and I live in America). The rejection was expected, though it was still disappointing.

Rejection of my books hurts a bit more, but once again sometimes you know someone won't like the story. Recently, one of my extended family members purchased two of my books to support me. She told me later she didn't really like the storyline, but I was thrilled she read Azure Maris.

When you put your heart out on the line, there is always the possibility it will be stomped upon, kicked or shot. We take that risk simply by living. Though we can protect ourselves, we often realize that in protecting ourselves, we leave important parts of our life underdeveloped like love, empathy and trust.

We like to think of ourselves as unbreakable, but we can be broken easily.

For me, it depends on the situation. If the rejection is from a distance (manuscript submission for example), I can handle it fairly well. It's the continual rejections that hurt. Not the in-your-face rejection, but the subtle disinterest. It is very much like running into a stone wall repeatedly, even though you keep hoping to find the door.

When the wall arises do you stop and turn a different path, or do you keep running into it for either a door or to break it down? I don't know. I wish I did.

For now, I keep walking, and maybe climb over the wall. It's a momentary block on my path, I just have to figure out where the path is leading.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Woven Revolution: Athena

The average person who learns about Lancaster PA, thinks of buggies and bonnets. While the Amish and Mennonite communities are quite strong in Lancaster, they are not the only Protestant groups in the community. Their English counterparts, Baptists, are alive and well.

Pennsylvania, however, was not founded by Anabaptists or Baptists, but by Quakers. In Colonial Lancaster, a group of Irish Quakers had residence. They are a small group, though little is recorded of them. Like the Anabaptists, the Quakers are pacifists, but during the American Revolution, a few Quakers opted to fight, one of them was Nathanael Greene who became a major general in the Continental Army.

Knotted Pile Sampler, 2011

Business in Lancaster


Athena MacGuire, is many things, but she is uncertain of who she is. She is an Irish Quaker in Lancaster, an unmarried woman and the owner of her own business. During the Colonial time period, women did own businesses: some ran inns, some ran millinery shops. Others were dressmakers, and still others found other occupations. Many of these women inherited businesses from deceased husbands or fathers, but many others established their own businesses without male supervision.

In farming communities like Lancaster, most women married and raised their own families or helped their husbands with shops. Though there were women owners, they were few. It wasn't that women couldn't own a business, it just was not common, culturally.

For Athena, owning her own business is a matter of life.

A Woman Contained


At the age of thirty, Athena is an old maid with little to no hope of every marrying. Though her mother, Penelope still lives, her father has died in the defense of Bunker Hill. Unlike the other two women, Athena has very personal reasons for despising the British troops.

Since 1770, Athena has run an inn in Lancaster named The Fighting Quaker. She makes her living off the inn, and when her father dies in 1775, offers space for her mother to join her. Penelope declines the offer, but remains a constant support to her daughter.

Athena's brothers, however, are an entirely different matter. The eldest of four children, Athena watches her younger brothers with a cool eye. The two eldest brothers dismiss fighting, and blame their youngest brother for their father's death. Added to their bitterness, they see Athena's inn as a constant sore in their lives and make life difficult for her.

Her brothers, however, are the least of her worries. Athena struggles with her faith. On one hand, she understands the reason she is not to fight, but on the other hand, backing away from a fight seems pointless. As she withdraws farther from her Quaker roots, the Quaker community tries to pull her back into their fold. The struggle threatens to loosen the constrains Athena has placed around herself for like Circe, she is a passionate woman who has learned the fire her tongue can bring.

She desires respect from a man who can see her worth as his equal, not his subordinate. In a world still ruled by men, even with all their freedoms, Athena, like the other two women, desire freedom of their own. The freedom to be who they were meant to be.

Through her story, Athena finds the way to unlock the cultural rules that have left her contained within a cell of her own making.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bleep Free Guarantee

My local Christian radio station has this as their motto: bleep free guarantee. Their reason is two-fold: (1) whatever is played or discussed is squeaky clean, and (2) it is safe for everyone to hear.

I have mixed feelings on this, but I understand their reasoning.
Three Wise Monkeys
The concept of the wise monkeys is that they see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil. Honorable deeds, of course, but I tend to see the Christian community taking this concept to an extreme. In some communities, it shows up in banning gossiping - not malicious intent, but anything evil about someone else, even if that evil is criminal.

For others, it is the inability to have any swear words or euphemisms in conversation. For this crowd, there are lists of bad words that we cannot speak in public, private, or even think. Some words even make no sense whatsoever or exclude certain songs from being sung, even innocuous ones that deal with the ox and the ass.

For the last group, anything that smacks of sin is abolished from their sight. Drinking alcohol? Gone. Playing with cards? Dismissed. Dancing? Heaven help us.

Don't get me wrong here, I honestly understand where people come from. I will not watch certain shows or films solely based upon the topics covered or commercials promoting them. A good friend of mine from college doesn't listen to any CCM (contemporary Christian music) because she doesn't want to go back to her pre-Christian music styles.

So, yes, I understand this desire to live a godly, holy life, but I wonder if this "bleep free guarantee" does more harm sometimes.

Squeaky Clean


When I was little, my mom told me if my hair squeaked it was clean. Low and behold, a couple years ago, I learned that if our hair squeaked, it may mean we've damaged it by removing the oils that protect it. In other news, some scientists believe that the anti-bacterial craze may actually be hurting our immune systems by not allowing our bodies to build up immunity to common diseases like cold strains.

In our desire to protect ourselves, we might actually be hurting ourselves, and it makes me wonder in what other ways have we hurt ourselves?

Should there be a point where the good outweighs the bad? If we're so sensitive to foul words, can we ignore a good book that will teach us great things?

For example, Dorothy Sayers wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey series back in the 1920s. Wimsey, a man of his times, uses damn on a somewhat regular cycle. It's a word simply to express frustration, horror or annoyance. Culturally, it was, and is, considered a mild expletive.

Should one ignore the Lord Peter Wimsey series solely based upon its use of damn? Should we read it as a good murder mystery which asks us interesting questions? I would argue that, yes, we should read the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Others would argue that a "little leaven spoils the whole batch."

I'm not a hundred percent certain that they're right. Taken to the extreme, one wonders how they manage to live in the world around them.

The Life of Riley


There once was man from Galway,
Who drank and danced all day.
He loved his wife so wiley;
And lived the life of Riley,
While Riley was away.

Limericks are short poems that follow a pattern focusing on the rhythm and rhyme. Normally, they also had a punch line at the end either sexual or situational. The one above is one I wrote based on the last two lines of one I heard, but could not remember.

There are no foul worlds in the limerick, but it is definitely naughty, and unless you considered it for some length or saw it written out, the punch line may be lost. It is an example of something clean that portrays questionable behavior.

It begs the question: what other "clean" stories aren't so clean? Does their uncleanliness negate the point? In the limerick above, the point is a wink and a nudge about men who stay away from home too often. Questions can be raised concerning the reason for the absence as well as its profitability.

Books like Anna Karenina and the Scarlet Letter focus on a woman's fall from grace, but also focus on others within their worlds. Hester survives to raise her daughter well, while the father of the child eventually commits suicide.

Focusing on Hester for a moment here, she commits a sin in her community by sleeping with a man who is not her husband. She becomes pregnant, and lives with the consequences of her one night. Her community condemns here, but she is able to rise above her past.

On the other hand, books like the Elsie Dinsmore series focuses on a girl doing the "right thing" all the time. Serious questions should be raised when Elsie winds up marrying her father's friend. It is a "clean" book, but promotes things that are questionable at best.

Countering the Squeak


How do we counter the nonsense out there? I think it comes from us thinking about the items. Just because something is "clean" doesn't make it good; just because something is "a little dirty" doesn't make it bad.

In one of my series, murder is committed using belladonna berries which are highly poisonous. They look pretty, and edible, but are lethal. On the other hand, when my dad makes applesauce, he often picks up the fallen fruit then washes them clean before using them. There might be some bad spots, and their might be some deformities, but all in all the apples are still good.

We need to recognize the good and the bad in things. Are there superficial elements that cause troubles or are there deeper issues that cause concern? Deeper issues need to be dealt with; superficial issues can be washed off.

It's going to take the Christian community a concerted effort to distinguish between deep issues and superficial issues. It will take each person time to develop a sense of good and bad, but as we do so we are able to discern the diamonds in the rough.


Monday, July 7, 2014

First of the Month Book Review - July

This month's review is called the Daughters of Gaia: Women in the Ancient Mediterranean World by Bella Vivante.

I stumbled across this book while researching a story set in Ancient Greece. It's a good, interesting read that provides an overview on women's lives in the Ancient Mediterranean worlds.

While it does delve a little bit into the daily lives of the women, the primary focus of the book is how the women related to the world around them. Many of the cultures, especially Greek and Roman were fairly patriarchal in their outlook. Rome was a little more relaxed than the Greeks, but not nearly as relaxed as the Egyptians.

When I started my research, I disliked Ancient Greece because it was male oriented. To be a woman in Ancient Greece was not an easy task. If I could travel back in time, I would rather visit Ancient Egypt than Ancient Greece, but through this book, I found both some interesting facts, and new found respect for Pythagoras.

Vivante's theory (and others, because this isn't the first time I've heard it) is that societies were more egalitarian earlier in their history. As societies drew towards a more centralized governments, patriarchal practices became normative. Not all of this is accurate, of course because some tribal cultures can be very patriarchal without a strong central government whereas other groups with strong central authorities can be egalitarian. Vivante points to the separation of fertility and fighting in various goddesses as an example. In the Mesopotamian culture, the goddess, Inanna was both a war goddess as well as a fertility/love goddess. In Greece, however, those areas had devolved into several goddesses including: Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Hera, Demeter and Persephone.

Yet, even in Ancient Greece there were those who both respected and supported women. Pythagoras (of the Pythagorean Theorem) believed women should be allowed to study philosophy, reading, writing and science. His wife and daughters were leaders in their own day.

All of this in a world that regularly forced good wives to remain behind closed doors.

It's an interesting read, and one I suggest anyone who is interested in Ancient Cultures to read. I suggest Christians should read the book regardless if they're interested in ancient cultures because this book gives a good overview of life, culture and politics as it relates to the first century church. This is, to put it mildly, the word that Jesus both lived in, and knew. This is the world that Paul both praised and condemned. When we look at Ancient Israel of the Old Testament, we must understand the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian cultures surrounding the people of Israel.

Find the book at a local library, and read it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Woven Revolution: Helene

When I was growing up, New England was considered the bastion of freedom, especially during the American Revolution time period. It was from there that the first winds of change blew. The Puritans, in their quest to worship as they pleased, sailed from England to the New World to establish a colony based on religious freedom.

That was what I was taught.

That was not, in reality, what happened.


Colonial Tolerance


Let me honest here: none of the American colonies were especially freedom loving. There were stipulations placed upon members of society that went against what we would hold dear now. As a woman, I would have had no right to vote, but neither would a free African, the native tribes, or any white man who owned no land. When they speak of freedom, the Founding Fathers spoke of a limited freedom, but within that limitation the Middle Colonies were some of the freest colonies, especially in the form of religious freedom.

Pennsylvania and Maryland were both founded by groups the Church of England routinely harassed: Quakers and Catholics. Unlike the New England Puritans who harassed non-Puritans such as Quakers and Baptists, the Quakers of Pennsylvania and the Catholics of Maryland were a little more ecumenical concerning religious beliefs.

New York was founded by the Protestant Dutch who saw the colony as a business venture, and welcomed anyone who could make money. To the south of the these colonies lay the Anglican South and to the north lay Puritan New England, both opposed to other religious views to one extent or another.

A Woman Lost


Helene Keast is Catholic, but after she loses most of her family in a plague that hits her town leaves Maryland for Lancaster where her uncle resides. She takes her two nieces and nephew with her in hopes of securing safety. Like her namesake, Helen of Troy, Helene is a beautiful woman who attracts undesired attention.

Of the three women, she is the quietest, preferring to observe first. She is hard-working, and tends to push attention away from herself onto others. At the age of twenty-five, she is a widow, but without any children from her own marriage.

Helene's entire life was wrapped up in her family and community. Without that connection she is lost in the world around her. When she learns that her uncle is dead as well, her world spins out of her control, and Helene must make her own way in the world as well as provide for three small children.

For her, the decision is obvious: work her uncle's farm, but when that proves futile, she begins weaving to barter for goods. As the war draws closer to Lancaster, Helene realizes that she needs to become the leader she never expected to be.

Throughout her story, Helene sheds her submissive weaknesses to become a leader willing to step into the role life has offered her.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Read Often; Think Deep

I'm currently working my way through updating one of my books. The process is long, and I remember why I prefer editing on the computer as opposed to in a book form. I love writing as much as I love reading. Writing takes more time and effort because I'm creating the words, but reading is both educational and entertaining.

Because I writer murder mysteries, historical novels and fantasy, I tend to read those same genres. When I can mix up my genres (fantasy mystery or a historical fantasy) it's even better. Over the past three weeks, I've heard some interesting comments, and it makes me wonder: does Christian media inhibit the ability to appreciate art as well as think deeply?


Bear with me here - it's an honest question, and I'm not certain, in fact, I know I don't have the answer to it.

Lack of Reading


The first portion of this question goes back to interview I heard on my local radio about the lack of reading among children and teens. Now, the big point they made was parents should be more involved with reading both showing their children how to read, reading to their children, and encouraging their children to read books as opposed to play video games and what not. This line of thinking also tends to support the idea of spending more time outside away from the television, computer and video games.

Now, I read a great deal, but I don't like going outside to read. I can't get comfortable, or the sun's too bright (big problem there) or it's too cold, or any other reason I can come up with at the time. I prefer to read on the couch or on my bed. It's more comfortable. Because it's easier to download free e-books from my library, I read many books on my smartphone.

I also normally have the radio on and tuned to one of two local Christian stations (which is how I first heard both of these reports). The radio is on from around eight in the morning until five at night, providing a wide range of time period for me to listen. Granted, it is often half-listening while I'm weaving or writing, but it is there.

Something struck me while I listened to the interview about lack of reading among children and teens: the radio station provides little book coverage. They might give away self-help books, or they might interview someone during their noon news report, but those are rare occurrences. In fact, I think the last time I heard them interview a fiction writer was nearly six months ago.

My mom taught elementary levels for most of my school life. One of the things she found the hardest to do was encouraging some of the students to read books. The problem, she found, wasn't a lack of desire, but nothing to read. If a book is good, people will read it, but if it doesn't hold their attention, they won't. Unfortunately, if there isn't a wide selection of books, people won't learn about new books they might like.

Trivial News


The second interview I heard focused primarily on secular news media, but what struck me was the interviewee's point about the 24-hour news cycle. "It trivializes the news," he explained then further expounded upon the thought. According to him, the 24-hour news cycle forces media outlets to feed off each other's stories as well as provide more therefore minimizing the big stories.

By trivializing the news, he insisted, it made us less thoughtful. Not in the aspect that we don't care, but in the concept that we don't think. We, as a culture, don't dig into the news stories to find out more. We don't analyze what we are told, and simply accept it. We don't consider the larger pictures and issues at hand. In short, we have forgotten how to think because the large news media thinks for us.

That may or may not be true. I tend to gather a wide amount of news both from the radio, the television and my smartphone. What happens outside my immediate world intrigues me. Besides, I never know when something might trigger a great story idea.

For me, thinking deeply is part of who I am. I analyze and ponder what I hear, read or see. I can't shut off my brain, for even when I'm relaxing I'm still thinking. It's part of who I am.

More than Fine

Reading and thinking aren't things that happen immediately. Both take time to accomplish and to process. People are astounded when I utter great insight. They wonder where it comes from, but they don't realize that I have usually been pondering a concept for some time. While I read, I soak in what is being said; while I listen to the news, I listen to what is being discussed. Sometimes I disregard the new information; sometimes I sit and think about it. Often times, I will come back to an idea when another conversation, book or news article piques my memory.

I like reading novels more than biographies or autobiographies. My reason is simple: I trust the novelist more. It sounds funny, I know, but in a novel I expect there to be trials and dangers. Part of the character's development revolves around how she resolves the trials and dangers. In autobiographies (whether as a straight-up autobiography or whether as a memoirs/account), the person writing may or may not tell us everything. When we write about ourselves, we tend to make ourselves look good; when we write about others we dive into what makes them tick.

Finishing a novel takes time. While I might be able to read an average children's novel in forty minutes, a child probably can't. Larger books take longer time. It takes investment to read a novel: time to read, energy to focus, placing priorities. To finish a novel forces us to decide what we would rather do. It isn't not unusual for me to stop weaving or writing in order to finish a novel; neither is it unusual for me to stay awake until the novel is finished.

Which leads me back to the radio: perchance the problem is not only with the parents, but possibly with the culture surrounding most Christian teens and children? Visit a Christian bookstore, and the predominate three areas are: music, Bibles and knick-knacks. Within the book department, the majority is given to self-help books, devotionals or commentaries targeting adults, primarily pastors. Fiction is negligible at best.

Listen to a Christian radio station, and it's either the Top 40, Bible studies, or counseling. Some provide children's radio dramas with the story wrapped up in twenty minutes, maybe it is a two-part episode and takes forty minutes. The moral is proven, the characters are returned safe and sound.

I believe the mark of good children's programming is the ability for an adult to return to something she liked as a child and still enjoy it. I have a few television shows like that, but I can't think of a single Christian radio drama I enjoy now as an adult. The story lines, for me, are too quick, too easy, and too predictable. There isn't enough danger, real or imagined; the characters don't have enough to fight for in the course of their story.

In all honesty, while Christian adults deride the current state of entertainment in the non-Christian market, I cannot, with all honesty, say it is any better in the Christian community. In fact, in many cases, I believe it is worse, but I think there are other issues at work.

So, what do you think? I'd like to hear how you see Christian media. Does it help or hurt? Does it encourage us to read and to think deeply? Should everyone be doing that in the first place?


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Woven Revolution: Circe

Once I have gender, faith and location decided, I usually start to develop the character's personality. Beginning today, the next three posts will focus on the three main characters in my trilogy. We begin with the youngest of the three characters: Circe D'Arras.

Bird's Eye Patter

Background


Age plays a big portion in our lives, which we all understand. How we behave at the age of sixty is different than how we behaved at the age of six. For some of us, freedom is at sixty; for others it is at six. The ages around eighteen to twenty-two are a common range for characters especially in romances because it is the expected marrying age. For this trilogy, the women are all in their twenties and thirties because it gives me the base I need.

Also, in this time period, there will be certain expectations of women of certain ages. For Circe, at twenty, she is on the edge of her adult life, and preparing to make a name for herself.

In Georgian England, women were allowed to work in the weaving industry, with a few actually becoming well-known in their own rights. One such woman was Anna Maria Garthwaite (1688-1763) who was well-respected silk designer, and considered one of the best of her time. She created designs by painting watercolors which were in turn translated into woven designs for the silks.

A Woman Designer


Based upon Garthwaite's life, I chose to have Circe become a designer. Also, with her family background in weaving, she would have known a bit about weaving. Throughout the trilogy, Circe will be the one who creates many of the designs woven at the studio.

Circe D'Arras was a character created about a year ago, though she had a different name. She is an orphan who is placed into the Wriothesley household. The story of how she became an orphan is actually told in another book I'm writing set about ten years before Circe's story begins.

Suffice it to say that Circe has very good reasons to keep her family name out of papers and in the Pennsylvania Colony only. She comes from a Huguenot family of weavers who lived in Spitalfields, London. She remains in contact with her two older sisters, while her three younger siblings remain with her (two brothers and a sister). The middle three brothers have little to no contact with the rest of their family.

A Woman Alone


Character develop a personality all their own, though I often have an idea what that personality will be like. For example, I knew Orfhlait ni Sorcer from Shamrocks of Stone would be abrasive, but respected. In that way, I knew Circe would be a woman who stood alone.

Out of the three women, she is the most confidant, but her confidence comes both from the love of her family (adopted and blood) as well as her sheer audacious belief she can do whatever she wants. She has the ability to see things beyond what other's see, but she also tends to ignore other people's opinions.

She is the passionate visionary who sees larger aspects of the world. She struggles especially with the pacifist beliefs of both the Quakers and the Anabaptists around her. She knows that occasionally people can retreat, but only for the purpose to fight another day.

In her story, Circe develops out of her immaturity into a maturity that does not deny her passion, intelligence or creativity, but establishes herself as a wise woman who expects and deserves respect.