Around the World

Move over, Phineas Fogg – there are some new adventurers in town and this time, all of their adventures are true!

In the 19th century, Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days and other such novels inspired generations to look at travel in a new way. Three separate stories follow the few among many intrepid enough to travel the globe without the help of a loyal sidekick, giant hot air balloon, and the harrowing adventures. The first is Thomas Stevens, the former miner who is now determined to go round the world on the newfangled bicycle. He may not have the full financial support of his company nor even the faith of his former coworkers, but Stevens is convinced he can make it. Then there is Nelly Bly, the girl reporter who revealed the truth about asylums. Her life as a reporter is never boring and neither is this trip. With her one bag, deer-stalker cap, and can-do spirit, Nelly Bly managed to circumnavigate the globe in under eighty days. Lastly is Joshua Slocum, the widower who became the first man to single-handedly sail the world. Together these three daring souls proved that what is fiction can become fact.

Matt Phelan has captured the spirit of adventure in his new graphic novel, Around the World. Focusing on three different adventurers who did what at the time was considered impossible for various reasons, this is a book that is also excellent at examining the past and how we view it. I like the muted color palette as well as the travel posters interspersed throughout. Truly a great read that I recommend to any reader, young or old.

Chime Time! How far have you traveled in the world?

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Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress

Picture it. The scene is France in the early 20th century, a day when corsets still have a grasp on society and skirts rise no higher than the ankle. This is a day when women are still restrained by the clothing they wear, but not for long if Miss Coco has anything to say about it.

Before she was the fabulous designer known the world round, Miss Coco was just plain little Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. Like most families of the times, hers was split apart by several troubles, including the fact that her parents were not married and her father was constantly off getting into another mess. Her mother died, leaving Coco and her sister to become humble parts of an orphanage where she began her first steps on the journey to becoming a fashion designer by learning how to sew. This is the story of Coco, how she rose above her beginnings to become the influence of a decade. This is the story of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, whose plans for romance never quite worked out. This is the story of Chanel, a woman who may or may not have been a Nazi sympathizer. This is the story of pearls, perfume, and the little black dress.

Written beautifully by Susan Goldman Rubin and packed full of pictures from the period, Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress is a wonderful read for anyone whether young or old. I recommend picking it up as an adult or as a child, because it is acc accessible read for all that explores the past of a well-known historical figure , showcasing both the highs and lows of her life with  great candor.

Chime Time! Have you ever bought something designed by Chanel or worn her signature perfume?

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Writing Historical Fiction

If you’ve been reading my blog for quite a while, you may remember how I used to publish posts under the heading “The Writing Files”. While I did abandon these quite a while ago, I am now resuming them as I delve even deeper into the world of writing. Though I am by no means extremely experienced in the field, I will attempt to give advice or to write on the topic to the best of my ability. Just a lil’ advice. Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Given the fact that Independence Day just passed, I thought I’d do a blog post on how to write excellent historical fiction. Keep in mind I’m no expert, these are just some general tips that most writers ought to keep in mind, remembering of course that rules were made to be bent if not broken.

#1. Know Your Time Period: Ok, so this one seems obvious. You may be rolling your eyes on the other side of the screen, but bear with me. You need to know this time period like the back of your hand (if not better, cause I’m always finding little papercuts on my knuckles and fingertips that I didn’t know where there so…yeah). Trust me when I say that you need to know what almost everything was like. Unlike with films where you have the luxury of things just being there, you need to be able to create the world. This means freaky little details like the fact that squids were used to create certain kinds of dye in the mid 15th century is important. By writing these details into your story, you build a much more real, interesting world different from the general, “beautiful blue sky, green forest, blah, blah.”

#2. Find the Main Conflict: Just like nowadays, people tend to focus on one world problem at a time. For example, in the latter half of 2001, the citizens of the US now had a problem in the form of terrorism. Security became tighter, panic became more widespread, and there was a spirit of fear. However if you lived in Australia in 2001, you may have been worrying about the HIH insurance disaster. Depending on where you live, there tends to be some sort of main focus, whether it has to do with the economy, an impending war, or tyrrany. Finding this main focus is important even if you don’t center your story around it. Having a bigger picture helps to create a backdrop to set your story against.

#3. Find Your Main Conflict: Now you need to find where your story fits into this bigger world. Is your story a mystery or a romance? An action/adventure? These sorts of stories have to fit within the political, geographic, and scientific knowledge of the world. So if your story is a crime story set in the 18th century, expect your characters to have very little help from physical evidence and that even the justice system will be against them. Read lots of historical fiction both good and bad to realize how to write within your world – and how not to write within your world.

#4. Don’t Try to Reconcile the Past With the Present: I know this will probably be a controversial point, but don’t try to reconcile the past with the present. Hamilton may have been popular, but it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t a colorful musical that distracts you from multiple historical inaccuracies not even relating to the race of the actors. Though facts do tend to get bent a little in historical fiction, the worst crime is that of trying to reconcile the past’s mistakes to today’s views. Slavery was an evil, yes, but it should be shown. Racism, sexism, etc.; each of these evils should not be hidden or tried to be excused away. There were evils in the past just as much as there are now and books are the best medium to show the way we have overcome these.

#5. Make Your Characters Historically Stupid: This sounds weird, but don’t make your characters super wise for their time. Unless you’re writing about a significant period in history such as the American Revolution or the Renaissance where ideas of freedom and knowledge were discussed more, the characters should not be that smart. Yes, you can cheat and have a genius who discovers the secrets of time travel or space flight in the 16th century, but it breaks the illusion of the world. It is better to work with the lack of knowledge than to try and reconcile the past to the present.

#6. Avoid Preaching: There’s a lot to be learned from the past, but unless that is the purpose of the book, don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the evils of racism. Yes, it will be a part of the past, but that leads into my next piece of advice which is:

#7. Show, Don’t Tell: This is crucial when writing. Instead of telling how the British have cut off imports into the harbor and how irritating that is, show the characters having to make do with the food and goods they have and enjoying certain foods when spending time with family a colony away.

#8. Writing For the Past’s Future: One of my favorite books of all time happens to Witch of Blackbird Pond Elizabeth George Speare and it happens to follow this rule really well. Basically it follows like this. In Witch of Blackbird Pond, many of the characters have discussions about the freedom of the American colonies and loyalty to the crown. Though the American revolution won’t happen for almost another hundred years, there is a great sense of foreshadowing that only readers can truly appreciate because we know what happens during the next century.

#9. Fact Check. A Lot: While there are some historical details that you’re sure to miss or slip up on, the one most important thing that you need to remember is to make sure that you’ve got the major ones down. Make sure you know in which order the battles of the American revolution were fought, where significant figures of the war died, and how they were done in. Facts like these may seem unimportant until your book is being reviewed by a history buff who enjoys pointing out the flaws of it.

#10. Read Historical Fiction: The best way to become a writer is to read, so it goes without saying that the best way to become a better historical fiction writer is to read historical fiction.

If you found any of my rambling helpful or just want to chat about your writing, leave a comment for me and tell me: did you find this helpful? Are there any tips you would advise for writers?

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Independence Day

 

I may be one of those rare people in a slim percentage that has a favorite holiday ranking above Christmas, Halloween, and Easter. While I like these other holidays, I usually find the day less exciting than the actual season (with the exception of Halloween because come on, it’s Star Wars Day!). One of the few holidays that I find to be exempt to that rule is Independence Day.

Independence Day, or as it’s more commonly known, the 4th of July was declared a federal holiday in 1870, though it was unofficially celebrated since we first declared our independence from England. While Mother Britain seethed on her side of the Atlantic, the Americans of the 18th century were busy celebrating the rise of a new era. The first pseudo-official celebration of the holiday took place in 1777 even as the newly declared American army fought for the independence they had yet to completely gain. Nevertheless, Americans were hopeful and when we did win the war, celebrations became more exuberant and widespread than ever.

It remains one of my favorite holidays to celebrate. Sure, it lacks the gift-giving, twinkly lights, and catchy music that gets stuck in our heads all year long, but it more than makes up for it with its deep sense of history, patriotism, and unifying nature. 4th of July is all about celebrating being American and the continued blessings God has bestowed upon us.

So before you go off to enjoy some of those continued blessings, like BBQ or fireworks or family, would you take a moment to pray this prayer with me?

God, thank you for the blessings you have bestowed upon this country and the blessings you continue to bestow. Thank you for your promise to keep us in Your grace so long as we do Your will. Guide us through the perilous times and the peaceful times, helping us to make wise decisions. Help us to be a united nation, to be strong when we could be weak.

Amen.

 

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Fond Birthday Wishes

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program to bring you a sappy message on the occasion of my mother’s birthday. If you skip past, it’s okay. I won’t be offended (because lets be honest I don’t know your mother anymore than you know mine…)

Mom, thank you.

You are nothing if not a survivor. You’ve managed to hold it together through a lot, even before I ever came along and I’m sure I was no small challenge. With two type A, ambitious, goal-oriented, perfection-obsessed, people-pleasers in the household, life is always interesting. Sometimes I think the Lord Almighty is having a good laugh sometimes just watching the two of us. We’re so alike and yet so different and for every flaw I have, you have a beautiful quality. The years have honed you to become like a multi-faceted gem and I only hope that someday I can shine as bright as you. God gave me a wonderful example in your loving grace, your clear head, and your thoughtful planning.

God has taught me so much within the last few years of my life and all of it has led me to be closer to you. Whether it’s been through the new job, college classes, or just navigating the last few years of regular homeschooling, He’s been good to see both of us through the crazy and guide us closer together. You’ve become more of a friend than I could know and I am sincerely blessed every time you trust me enough to share how you truly feel with me. I love being able to help you in any way and I truly cannot say how much I appreciate it when you do the same for me. You are truly an amazing mother for doing all this not just for me, but also for four other people on a 24/7 basis. I don’t know how you do it.

You’re simply fantastic.

Oh and you’re still as drop-dead gorgeous as you were when you graduated high school. That’s always a plus.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I hope you always know how much we love you and how much we appreciate everything you do. Even when some of us forget to say it or are too busy getting agitated because the next math lesson is slow coming or because it’s taking us forever to get that coordinated event or because gosh-darn-it! the wrong laundry is in someone else’s pile again, we love you. I always have and I always will.

Proverbs 31:28 “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”

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Failing Up

We’ve all wanted to enjoy our fair share of the spotlight and Broadway star, Leslie Odom Jr. is no stranger to the climb it takes to get there.

Whether you can’t wait for your opportunity to take the stand and shine bright or want to stay behind the curtain, his new book Failing Up is sure to be a great read on the journeys one takes through life. Mr. Odom Jr. weaves useful lessons on how to take chances and enjoy the journey of life better into artful narratives that are both entertaining and thought-provoking. One of the things I took away from this book was how the independent young actor managed to respect his parents’ wishes but also made his own decisions about life. His urging to respect those around you, to find good mentors, and always be prepared to learn more is something I think more people could stand to remember. All in all, the book makes the wise point that our journey of learning is never really over and only in doing our best and living wisely can we really enjoy that journey.

This is an excellent read, though I would recommend reading this yourself before handing it off to any of your children. The advice is good for someone at any point in life, though I will say a good portion is best understood when you’ve experienced a bit more of life. I also think there are some questionable points made by a man who often states he “thanks God” for some previously mentioned person or circumstance. Overlooking these, it is an enjoyable enough read that is fairly easy to read through.

Parental Advisory

Language: There are a few uses of “mild” language, which is why I would advise against handing it to your younger children.

Chime Time! What advice books have you read that you read that you found enjoyable or helpful?

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Jar-Jar the Unlikeable Evil

If you’ve been reading my blog for quite a while, you may remember how I used to publish posts under the heading “The Writing Files”. While I did abandon these quite a while ago, I am now resuming them as I delve even deeper into the world of writing. Though I am by no means extremely experienced in the field, I will attempt to give advice or to write on the topic to the best of my ability. Just a lil’ advice. Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

I know it’s probably beating a dead horse (poor George Lucas probably wishes that horse was buried), but there’s never been a character quite like Jar Jar Binks. The collective hatred he has garnered over the years may seem warranted or unwarranted given the side you err on, but either way, he is generally considered to be an unlikeable character.

Now, I could go on to write a blog post about what a likeable character or even just a good character should be written like, but I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’d like to discuss something else more fundamentally important: does a character have to be likeable to work in a story?

The simple answer: no. But the reason behind it is just as important as the simple answer.

In the vast Star Wars saga, there are many beloved characters who fall on both the dark and light sides. While people like to cheer on their heroes such as Luke Skywalker and Rey, they also like to hate the villain. Just take a look at the 501st Legion, an organization solely dedicated to cosplaying primarily as the villains from the Star Wars universe. If fans can equally adore both good and bad characters, what characters are unlikeable? Part of the problem, I think, comes from the idea of liking the villain, because lets be honest: if Darth Vader was chasing you down and preparing to kill you, I think you’d be far from begging for his autograph.

This is one of the key parts to understanding the issue. Villains may be regarded with awe or even are preferred, but when it comes down to it, we don’t really like them. We don’t prefer them, love them, or root for them to win (unless it’s Suicide Squad we’re watching and then all bets are off). We cosplay as them at Comic Con because we feel safe in the security that these are fictional terrors and thus will never be as frightening to us as they are to the characters within the realm of the silver screen.

This is the first, important point I want to make. The antagonists of stories are often regarded as favorites not due to their likability, but rather because of their roles as the big bad guys. Joker is easily regarded as the best DC villain not because he is likeable, but because he is remarkably good at being the antagonist to Batman. We like them because they perform a duty and do it really, really well.

So. If a character does not need to be likeable, then why is Jar-Jar Binks hated? Well, lets take a look at another sometimes-despised character, Zendaya’s Michelle from the newest Spiderman film, Homecoming. Now, this has nothing to do with the actress and everything to do with the character. Michelle is a bit of a snoop as well as a loner and besides that, she’s just plain ornery. She says obnoxious things, refuses to take part in activities due to historical injustices, and is generally a kill-joy. *Spoiler alert!* “Michelle” is revealed at the end of the film to be the renowned MJ of the Spiderman Universe.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve ever read the comics or even watched the original Sam Raimi films, you’ll know that Mary Jane Watson is a bright, bubbly person who brings light into the often-dark world that Spiderman inhabits. She comes from a tragic past, yet manages to be complex and also human as she attempts to be a friend to not only Peter, but also everyone else she knows. I say this not to rant against the diversifying of the MCU, but to instead point out that the MJ of the comics was a fully fledged character who managed to be shown as a human with struggles despite the fact that she was often in the shadows of other big characters. Zendaya’s MJ shows up sporadically through the film whenever Spiderman happens to make it to school and is – again – a grump throughout the majority of it. We don’t understand why she seems to have an interest in hanging around Peter and Ned, why she acts the way she does, why she is anything.

You could say the second point I’m trying to make is that if a character is not likeable, they should least be understood. Often antagonists or secondary sidekicks are these sort of characters who while not necessarily likeable, are definitely understood. For goodness sake, Voldemort, one of the most loathed characters in Harry Potter, is given a backstory!

Ultimately, why does Jar-Jar Binks fail? He has no role and he is not understandable. He was George Lucas’ way to shoehorn more lightheartedness and humor into the story. While Ahmed Best gave it his all, he may have wanted to pull back or even have a talk with the director on this one. After all, if George Lucas could make fluffy teddy bears in the forest relevant to the plot, how far off is an alien from Naboo?

 

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Book Review: Lucky 8

There’s nothing quite like summer and one of the best parts is reading spooky tales around a campfire or in the backyard under the stars. I recently picked up a great middle-grade series to sate any desires for such reads, written by Lea Taddonio and illustrated by Alessia Trunfio.

For twins Makayla and Liam Park, moving is one thing. Moving into a house that was built on the site of an evil witch is another. When Liam finds a magic eight ball that begins to speak to them, Makayla wants to toss it. That is, until the magic eight ball begins to affect other things, like their new school routine. Little by little, the twins come to discover that the magic eight ball is not what it seems and that the spirit who is controlling it is directly linked to the witch’s curse. The only question – what really happened all those years ago? And where is the evil witch now?

With fun text and colorful illustrations, Lucky 8 is definitely a series worth picking up. The story is simple, yet well thought-out and the main characters are engaging. I will say that these books are super fast reads, so you might find yourself handing these to your first or second graders instead of twelve-year olds [for verification, the text in here is equal to what one might find in one of the level 2 or level 3 beginning reader books available at most public libraries].

Alessia Trunfio of Instagram acclaim does a brilliant job at injecting color and vibrance into this series and Lea Taddonio does a wonderful job with her writing. Either way, I recommend you pick this series up. The lightweight nature of the books make them easy to take with you on a vacation, camping trip, or other fun adventure!

(T.hough as a library employee I highly recommend you return the books before your due date. For your own good).

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Subbing Since Page 20

If you’ve been reading my blog for quite a while, you may remember how I used to publish posts under the heading “The Writing Files”. While I did abandon these quite a while ago, I am now resuming them as I delve even deeper into the world of writing. Though I am by no means extremely experienced in the field, I will attempt to give advice or to write on the topic to the best of my ability.

I was recently reading a book from the library and I noticed something rather interesting. I found myself longing not to read about the main character’s main story, but about their subplot of trying to train a dog. Why, you may ask? The problem lay in the fact that the main plot had very little to with the subplot. This same weekend, I watched a video from the Youtuber, Lessons From the Screenplay. His video essay on subplots using Hidden Figures as an example, caused me to realize where the problem lay with the book I was reading. Here is his conclusion in rough form:

“If a conclusion doesn’t thematically contradict or resonate the Controlling Idea of the main plot, if it doesn’t set up the introduction of the main plot’s Inciting Incident, or complicates the action on the main plot, if it merely runs alongside, it will split the story down the middle and destroy its effect.”

This quote is taken from Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting. In plain terms it means that a subplot should serve to expand upon the story’s main theme or to complicate the main plot. Han and Leia’s flight in the Millenium Falcon is a good example of a subplot that complicates the main plot (i.e. Luke’s attempt to become a Jedi). In the video essay, Hidden Figures was used to illustrate examples of subplots that serve to expand the story’s main theme.

I thought I’d take a look at my own current work and try to analyze whether the subplots I have work to do one or the other. Hopefully, such a process will prove useful to all of you when you attempt to decipher for yourself whether the subplot in your current work falls in one of these two categories.

Step #1: Identify the main theme of your work, if it has one.

Okay, my story’s main(ish) protagonist is a girl who constantly struggles to make choices. Does she make them in light of her mother’s promise to keep her family together, or does she do as she wishes? So you could say the main theme is choice, with two subheadings of freedom and loyalty.

Step #2: What are each of the plots about?

The main character’s plot is about making the choice to go after her family to salvage what remains of them. One of the subplots is about trying to find a wizard who is highly involved in each of the character’s lives. Another subplot is about the ruling of the country and how the choices made up top affect those down below. The last subplot deals with whether you choose to rebel against the ruling power or whether you stay loyal. So, I guess you could say that several of the subplots do serve to continue the main theme of choice.

Step #3: Which of the two categories do these movies fall into?

Definitely the first.

That is roughly my process for deciding what kind of subplot I have. However, to discover whether the subplot is essential or not, it is rather simple to find an answer. Ask yourself: will removing this subplot from the story effect it negatively? If the answer is yes, the plot is integral. If you answered no, then remove it. Be careful before completely cutting a subplot; often you may find yourself saying no because the subplot only serves to grow character. Just think of The Empire Strikes Back when you are tempted to cut it. The subplot concerning the passengers of the Millenium Falcon may not be action-packed, but it is certainly important to developing the characters, including Luke who sees their fortune through flashbacks.

The next time you’re writing and your character’s paths start to diverge, think carefully about the importance of each path and how one supports the other. Or, like me, you could not plan at all and be pleasantly surprised to find out that the rest of your planning worked out for the subplots as well. But you didn’t hear it from me.

Comment what writing advice you have and whether you found this advice helpful!

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The Divergent Series

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon. Things that are trendy or in vogue are not particularly appealing to me, lessened by the fact that they are as popular as they are. Given this fact, I could not have cared in the least when the YA trend swept by several years back. The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner were among the numerous series to be celebrated and slated for blockbuster films, but I was not one of the crowds to surge to a library so I could read the next installment before the film came out. I did read The Hunger Games before it was made into a popular film, but that was also when I was reading George Orwell so – social commentary? Either way, it’s taken years and years for me to actually read even another book targeted for youths of my age.

That is, until my friend asked me to read the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I finished it over the course of the weekend, but not because it was a particularly pleasurable read. In fact, I recommend you stay away from the series. With as much kindness as I can summon, I tell you that the writing is poor, the worldview questionable, and the content too mature that it should not be dwelt upon, least of all by adolescents with raging hormones.

While I am not prone to do negative book reviews, I think a good lesson can be learned from them as a writer. With that in mind, I’d like to point out the specific points that I thought were a significant detriment to what could have been an otherwise enjoyable series. I will not be focusing on questionable moral points, as each person has a different set of guidelines for what is safe for their household. I am merely attempting to point out the writing mistakes that I think really caused the story to be less enjoyable.

Tris’ Obsession With Four – I know that YA books seem to have a prerequisite about romance, but there is a clear difference between a romantic attraction and obsession. For the majority of the books, Tris’ thoughts bounce between being worried about her status as a secret Divergent and how much she thinks Four is hot. Or she wants to run her hands through his hair. Or something equally disgusting. (If you can’t tell, I tend to skip those sections). I’m good with an old-fashioned romance story, but romance shouldn’t quite share an equal status with something like, say, I don’t know…the story?!

Trilogy Planning – While not every author is as meticulous as J. K. Rowling, thought should be put into planning any type of series, be it trilogy, septology, or just a two-parter. Veronica Roth seems slightly guilty of having not completely thought out her book series. The two sequels are chock-full of moments that should have been set up from before we even suspected such moments would come. From shocking revelations about Tris’ mother to the truth about the Bureau’s connection with Jeanine Matthews, this vast backstory is taken for granted without any previous set up.

Characters – While many of the characters have a fair amount of personality, the one thing most of the characters tend to lack is motivation. Why does Caleb betray Tris? What causes Peter’s change of heart at the end of the series? What is up with Evelyn and Marcus? In short, the character’s motivation and change are not fully explained. While first-person points of view can often be in danger of this flaw, this series is especially guilty of it.

While I can think of some more minor flaws, they tend to fall under these major categories. As I stated before, the content of these books is rather mature and thus is not a particularly great read on that count alone. All in all, I find that most YA books tend to have these sort of flaws in abundance, a reason I don’t often find myself perusing the teen section of the library. However, I am told that there are quite a few reads in this category that are worth giving a try. Leave me a comment if you have any recommendations or just want to discuss the series!

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