What I’m Doing

Time for an update! It’s been a different and unusual kind of year for our family after losing my husband and the boys’ dad last summer, lots of feelings to deal with while trying to find our new normal, establishing new traditions while reflecting on and honoring old ones. I’m quite proud of how our family is transitioning to the new route.

For now, I am working part-time where I used to long ago. But one of my immediate goals is to grow my editing business and provide stellar service to many more clients. (You’ll want to visit the page for Eagle Eye and learn about all the services available.)

I have some fantastic plans for my Eagle Shadow series in the future, but…patience, patience. My current creative project is a Southern Baptist comedy book. My inspiration for this project is a secret only a few people know! But suffice to say (or is it ‘sufficeth to say’ or ‘suffice it to say’? Not gonna research it now. Pick your favorite.) you’re gonna just love Pastor Eugene Romans and his colorful congregation. I have been attending a writers critique group since last fall, and so far they have loved what they’ve heard of it. Their great comments and laughter at all the right parts have been encouraging me—or shall we say egging me on. It’s been a great experience as well to hear their creative works read aloud and to learn how to critique. It makes us all better writers. I highly recommend that all authors find such a group.

I’ve also had the opportunity to read a lot more books than I’ve had in recent years (books of my choice, not for homeschool prep). Some of my favorites have been: a couple Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (you see me advancing in age-level as I go!), Lake Wobegon Days, The Secret, rereading The Jackrabbit Factor, and I’m currently on my way through Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. My two most favorite and life-transforming books I’ve read this year (for obvious reasons) are: Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander and Talking to Heaven by James Van Praagh, both #1 New York Times bestsellers. What amazing books about the ‘other side’.

And recently, my boys and I realized a bucket list dream when we spent two weeks touring London and Paris. For purposes of this blog, I will just mention a couple of our literary adventures: the Treasures of the British Library exhibit where we saw the Gutenberg Bible, the Magna Carta, and many other historical writings dating to the 300s A.D., and the famed Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris where we squeezed through tight hallways lined with tons of books and saw the tumbleweeds (writers-in-residence) at work. It was truly a wonderful gift for us to have this opportunity together and to make better memories than last year at this time of year. We came home with a bigger-world perspective and new resolve going forward. Till next time…

“Game of Lives” Book Launch with James Dashner

James Dashner book signing

My sons and I attended another book launch of New York Times bestselling author James Dashner, this time for “Game of Lives”, the third book in the “Eye of Minds” trilogy. He was personable and entertaining as always at the end of what must have been an exhausting whirlwind book tour. He’s been putting out a book a year, a good pace for a career author, and a good goal for me I believe.

He addressed those readers who don’t approve of how Hollywood has changed some of his stories when made in movie form. He wisely separates what he calls “book world” and “movie world” and assured fans that they should just enjoy the movies for what they are, that the books will always be there. Hollywood will never be able to change one word of his books. I was impressed with the concept he has. Writers and filmmakers–we are all storymakers, eager to entertain and provide escapism for the masses.

I speak your language, Mr. Dashner, which is why I was slightly giddy when he said he will love to see me at LDStorymakers Conference next year!

Good Reading for Christmas

Poinsettia card

For those who enjoy my numerous classic book recommendations, here’s one more–Christmas classics, a whole category unto themselves! We’re all familiar with the smorgasbord of inspirational and entertaining holiday movies, so I don’t need to address that, but the holiday season can be an especially fun time to enjoy read-alouds as a family, or private reading as well. And some of these Christmas-themed books are great for catching the Christmas spirit and maintaining it throughout the season. Here are some our family has enjoyed in past years.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – the book that inspired the movie. It’s a keeper.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson – Let the Herdmans endear themselves to you.

Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge – Does anyone even know about this story anymore? My first introduction to it was when my class performed it for the parents when I was in fourth grade.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Of course, everyone knows this story. Besides live action films, dozens of cartoon characters have performed it as well, but have you ever read it in Dickens’ original words? It’s pretty entertaining. My kids liked it.

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry – Okay, this one’s my personal favorite–a short story with a beautiful and memorable message.

Little House Christmases by Laura Ingalls Wilder – my other personal favorite. You can search through all the Little House books for stories of her Christmases, or there is a book in which they are all collected. I love Laura’s humble Christmases and how, despite their simplicity, they were just as fantastic and magical as any Christmas you can imagine.

The Mansion by Henry Van Dyke – especially appropriate to set the mood for the season.

The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck – My husband read this to all of us a few years ago. He doesn’t usually do the reading, so it was a good time with a good story.

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans – a sentimental favorite for many.

Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!

Remember This Good Courtroom Drama?

Clapboard & cinema reel

My library’s discard shelf has been changed forever. On a particularly lucky day (for me), I cleaned out the shelf of all the John Grisham novels. These weren’t ragged, falling-apart copies; these were hard copies with clean dust jackets in good condition, probably a patron’s donation that the library didn’t need. My life has been elevated because of it.

It put me in mind of the many movies that have been made of Grisham’s books, in particular, the one that made Matthew McConaughey a star. If you haven’t seen this 1996 film, it’s still just as engrossing as it ever was. A Time to Kill is based on Grisham’s first novel, which was rejected by a bevy of publishers and only dusted off once more after he gained a name with later novels.

A Time to Kill, as other Grisham stories, is set in the Deep South, this time targeting the issue of race relations and asking the pointed question, ‘Can an African-American man who has murdered two white men get a fair trial, or even a jury of his peers?’  Of course, it’s not all so simple.  The two dead white males were violent scum to start with and show no remorse for their actions.  Although they committed the initial crime, the rape and attempted murder of the African-American man’s little girl, the issue for debate is, can justice prevail in a situation like this?  Even though vigilantism is against the law, who among us would not entertain the thought of meting out our own punishment if our loved ones were victimized?

That is the position taken by defense attorney Jake Brigance, played by McConaughey. He is incessantly driven by the specter of such a heinous crime befalling his own wife or little daughter, not by cash (what a concept!) which his client, Carl Lee Haley, doesn’t have.  His perseverance is admirable in the face of death threats from the Ku Klux Klan, and of the very real possibility that his budding law career could go up in flames faster than the cross burned in his front yard.

Despite a lot of advance publicity to live up to, McConaughey carries the lead well with his down-home Southern charisma and natural ability.  And he is surrounded by great supporting players here—Kevin Spacey is remarkable as the self-assured prosecutor aiming for career-boosting headlines in a case he knows he can’t lose.  The large cast includes Sandra Bullock as an ambitious law student who likes to flirt; Oliver Platt, a sex-starved divorce lawyer who provides plenty of comic moments so essential to this film; Donald Sutherland, a brilliant but alcoholic disbarred attorney who took a wrong turn somewhere; and Ashley Judd as Jake’s loving wife.  McConaughey and Judd’s scenes sizzle, quite possibly because the makeup department overdid the sweat.  Or maybe the Brigances need to invest in an air conditioner.

At two and a half hours, A Time to Kill is gripping courtroom drama with fine acting, thought-provoking realism sprinkled with many fun-to-watch characters.

 

“The Rule of Thoughts” Book Launch With James Dashner


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The Rule of Thoughts, sequel to The Eye of Minds by James Dashner, launched on August 26, and the author chose to spend his launch day at OUR Barnes & Noble. I have a son who loves his books and was so excited to see him in person, and Dashner did not disappoint. He spoke to the full house audience about the major motion picture The Maze Runner opening September 19, which is based on his New York Times bestselling book. It’s highly unusual for an author to be pleased with a movie adaptation of his book. According to Dashner’s agent, the best he can hope for is that the author “won’t hate it”. But Dashner’s overwhelming excitement and endorsement for The Maze Runner movie came through so loud and clear that we can’t wait for it. He spoke of his involvement with the project from consulting on the script to visiting the set to being present for the recording of the soundtrack. He is pleased with how well the movie sticks to the book, while also being impressed with how some parts of the book had to be made more visual for a movie audience.

Question-and-answer time followed, which spurred him to talk a lot about the writing process. He nailed it when he said we writers are “insane in the brain”. For me, it was intense fun to hear him say all the same things I feel as a writer: that we develop our characters based on parts of every person we see and meet, every conversation we hear, every mannerism we notice in others; that we can sit in front of the keyboard for an hour trying to come up with the next words, then put our fingers on the keyboard and suddenly something just pours out that was totally unplanned but spectacular; that we love all of our characters, even the bad ones, and we feel all the emotions our characters feel. He even said that he visualizes his books as movies as he’s writing them and so writes in a cinematic way, just as I do. Writing can be a very lonely endeavor, so to hear that James Dashner experiences all the same things I do created such a unifying, feel-good moment for me.

Check out his latest book, The Rule of Thoughts.

 

Suspend Their Disbelief

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

Back in the mid-‘90s, I really enjoyed The Bridges of Madison County, a bestselling book at the time that resulted in a good movie as well. What’s surprising is that everything about it was stuff I normally wouldn’t like. It was a romance, and those are always cheesy to me because it’s always women authors writing about how they would like romance to be, not how it is. Interestingly, this one was written by a man, Robert James Waller. It concerned adultery, a detestable subject. And the premise was completely unrealistic—the idea that a couple could meet and only spend four days together and never see or hear of each other again and it would have such a profound effect on them every day for the rest of their lives. The fact that Waller could, in spite of those three elements, suspend my disbelief and make me like it and even remember it twenty years later, THAT’S writing. And that’s the standard to which we should rise in our own writing. If your goal is to become a bestselling author, you must strive to suspend the disbelief of not only your target audience, or your “ideal reader”, but also those who don’t think they would like your book to begin with. Sure, it’s a challenge, but if you’re like me, it’s a challenge that totally excites you. Happy writing!

“Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?” Makes Economics Understandable

 

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Does economics seem like a distant, difficult-to-grasp subject to you? Do you have a hard time really, I mean really understanding the basics of our American free enterprise system? Do you have a hard time explaining it to children and teens? I did, till I read the book Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury. It is part of his Uncle Eric series, in which the fictional Uncle Eric explains to his nephew Chris, through a series of letters, all about history, government, justice, and economics.

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? now in its sixth edition, promises, quote, “a fast, clear, and fun explanation of the economics you need for success in your career, business, and investments.” Is there anybody who doesn’t need to learn about such things? Raise your hand. No one? Well, I recommend this little 160-page, fifteen-chapter volume that is written for tweens through adults.

Sometimes when you’re faced with a little bit of a hazy subject, you just need the right explanation from the right author to clear it up for you, and that’s what Maybury did for me and my high school son who also read it.

For instance, most of us think of inflation as an increase in prices and falling of the value of money. That is actually a result of inflation, the real cause being the printing of more money. It goes like this: Government prints money which is not backed by gold or silver, floods the market with it so that the value of each individual unit goes down, which means you need more of it to buy what you want. Goods don’t cost more because they have more value; they cost more because the units of money used to purchase them are nearly worthless.

Maybury draws extensively from the history of the Roman Empire to show the cycle of money and civilizations and how playing politics so vastly affects the economic core of all nations, past and present. The book speaks to my own motto, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Well, I didn’t originate that; it’s an adopted motto, but a most true one.

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? includes an extensive appendix of charts and graphs, excerpts and anecdotes, websites, suggestions of films to go along with the subject, and more to really give you a good, basic knowledge of economics.

With its wonderful conversational style, it is not a bit boring. It easily held my interest and I felt the more richly educated because of it.

“Choreography of Awakening” a Worthy Addition to Any Bookshelf

Faye Kitariev

Choreography of Awakening by my friend Faye Kitariev is now available on Amazon, and I sincerely hope you will get yourself a copy. I had the high privilege of helping to edit this book, and I found it so empowering and beautifully written that I couldn’t wait to tell people about it.

Faye has loads of experience as a world-class figure skating coach. Her success was tied to her unique ability to bring out the hidden potential of her skating proteges. She shares that, what I can only call “superpower”, with her readers. She uses her vast experience to help all of us, in whatever walks of life we follow, realize our own potential. She uses skating terms to show us what we are capable of and inspires us to achieve our own greatness.

Her writing style is impeccable, her words lilting, as they touch the reader’s inner soul. Check out this great book and awaken yourself to your possibilities. Find out more here, and buy a Kindle edition or paperback on Amazon.

Choreography of Awakening

 

Heavenly Help for Homeschool

School books

Some moms who are thinking of homeschooling their children are stymied by a lack of confidence and question their ability to succeed, maybe forgetting that, for the Christian, there is infinite heavenly help available for all righteous desires. Certainly my uneducated self (at least on paper) has benefited on a daily basis from divine inspiration in my task, to the point that it’s become fun to watch for all the miracles. Even my boys have learned to often recognize God’s help in our homeschool.

When Taylor was younger, he wasn’t very good at writing. He answered questions on paper with as few words as possible, and he was better at expressing himself through drawing pictures than writing words. In some subjects I saved his papers, where he answered end-of-chapter questions, as answer keys for his younger brother Tristan, but Tristan usually writes more detailed answers where Taylor was very brief and/or illustrated his answers, for instance, drawing a chart of the water cycle instead of describing it. But Taylor has since turned out to be quite a good writer. David and I saw a couple of his college papers from his first semester and were amazed. “You really wrote this yourself? You didn’t plagiarize this?” we asked him. (Great confidence builders, aren’t we?)

Only in hindsight was I able to see that God’s inspiration to me during Taylor’s high school years had produced an effect I hadn’t expected. It started before his eleventh grade year when I shopped online for high school literature textbooks. I wanted to do American lit first, then English lit for twelfth grade. Everything I found was much more expensive than I was willing to pay, or just didn’t suit me. Then God showed up. “Shelly, you numbskull,” he said (yes, God talks to me that way), “use what you have.” You see, for years I’d shopped the thrift stores and secondhand bookstores for paperback copies of the classics for fifty cents or a buck, then tossed them into boxes in the basement. “Those books are meant to be read, not just bought,” the inspiration continued.

Well, hot diggity dog! This got exciting! I dug into my boxes and picked out several books by American authors and more by English authors. As he read each book I assigned papers for each one. First he researched and wrote author biographies, learned and wrote about the context of the story (its background, how it related to the time period, its impact on society). When he finished reading, he wrote a synopsis of the story and then a critique in which he addressed thematic elements, pace and flow, prose, what made it a classic. We didn’t have time to read all the books I might have liked, so in some cases, we did a “quick study”, where he learned about the author and the plot and read excerpts from it. I also assigned him two other books, The Train-of-Thought Writing Method and Wordsmith Craftsman, which taught story structure and essay writing respectively. By the time he’d graduated he’d written so many bios, synopses, analyses, critiques, and essays, it made an impressive collection.

I was elated when he scored a 35 (out of 36) on the English portion of the ACT test. He was just accepted to his university’s theater and media arts department. He isn’t sure what he wants to do in the field of filmmaking, but he’s mentioned screenplay writing as a possibility he might want to try. At one time I wouldn’t have thought that possible. That’s what homeschool (and for that matter lifelong learning) is all about, not being great at everything, but uncovering what you are great at, what you’re interested in, and running with it. And a big thank you to God and the heavenly homeschool angels.

And if you’d like to know some of the books we read or studied excerpts from, here are a few:

Of Plymouth Plantation:  Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608-1650

The Scarlet Letter

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Huck Finn

To Kill a Mockingbird

The 5,000-Year Leap

Pilgrim’s Progress

Hamlet

Oliver Twist

Emma

Silas Marner

The Screwtape Letters

Animal Farm

Frankenstein

Sherlock Holmes

Around the World in 80 Days

 

Where Do I Start My Story?

Old library chair

Recently I watched the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” again with my son. It’s based on the true rags-to-riches story of entrepreneur Chris Gardner. I had remembered the story as nothing but inspirational, but on a repeat viewing, I was starkly reminded that it’s quite depressing…until the very end. But the end is spectacular enough to make watching two hours of his misery VERY worthwhile. In fact, it’s the unabashed portrayal of his year of tribulation that makes the ending as satisfying as it is. My son made the comment, “I’m glad they ended it where they did, right when his troubles ended and he got the great job” the one that set him on the path to multi-millionaire status. I had to agree. It was best to stop right when he reached his goal (to give the viewers hope that things like that could happen for them) rather than go beyond into that wealthy sphere that would’ve disconnected Chris Gardner from the lives of most viewers. The viewer didn’t want a fantasy; they wanted to see something that would inspire them to seek their own goals and the ability to achieve them.

And that put me in mind of an important concept in story writing. Where you begin and end your story is every bit as important as the story itself. Look at your main characters’ lives with all their “big moments”. By sliding your timeline even slightly forward or backward, you can significantly change the feel of your story. What message do you want to get across with your story? Where in your characters’ lives are their greatest trials and triumphs? Where does their story really begin? And, as tempting as it is to keep a good thing going, know where you need to stop, so that your readers are left with satisfaction and great memories of a well-told story.