Trees in Winter

Monday, February 12, 2018


A foot of snow (or maybe 17 inches) within three days has turned our landscape into a winter wonderland. And because I didn’t have to go anywhere other than down the road to church, I had time to let my creativity roam through the world outside my window. Here is the result.

Trees in Winter 

Frost—
Twigs wearing delicate lace scarves 

Flurry—
Sprouts caught in white cobweb 

Snow shower—
Sprays of snowdrops raining down 

Heavy snowfall—
Boughs resting under woolen blankets 

Blizzard—
Branches transformed into ghosts 

Ice storm—
Limbs adorned with diamond bracelets 

Winter—
Nature’s decorator

Planning (Way) Ahead

Monday, February 5, 2018


Everyone except my daughter (and maybe our husbands) probably thinks I’m crazy. I have my vacations planned through the winter of 2020/21. Caroline is as bad as I am (I wonder where she gets it from 😉), and Roland and Pete have learned to live with our fanaticism. This year Roland and I are going to Italy, next year to the Baltic Sea on a cruise that includes Russia and Scandinavia, and the year after that we want to go on another cruise that goes up the Amazon River.

So what does this have to do with writing? It affects the way I plan my future middle-grade novels. I can see the puzzled looks on your faces, so let me explain.

In addition to our annual vacations, I usually take a trip to research my next book. The one I am currently writing is about a riverboat accident, so this past September we went on a Mississippi Riverboat cruise. The next book will be about the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War. Although we were in Vicksburg on our cruise, I had just enough time at that stop to visit the two museums that discussed riverboat travel. So this summer I’d like to take a driving trip down there to see the battle ground and do some research among the city’s historical archives. Beyond that, I had thought about writing a story that takes place at a lighthouse, with a research trip along the New England coast in the summer of 2019.

That’s a year too early. The Baltic cruise is a summer trip, while the Amazon cruise will be a winter one approximately eighteen months later. My addiction won’t let me go that long without a multi-week trip, so I looked at the atlas to find another location in the northern part of the country that would be a good setting for historical fiction. And I found something. I’m going to write a story that takes place on the Erie Canal, so the research trip will take us along it’s entire length from Albany to Buffalo, New York. Then I did some more thinking and decided to write that book before the one that takes place in the lighthouse, which would leave the lighthouse trip for the summer of 2020.

So you may call me crazy, but here are the trips I have planned through the winter of 2020/21.

  • Summer 2018—vacation to Italy.
  • Summer/fall 2018—research trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi.
  • Summer 2019—Baltic cruise vacation.
  • Summer/fall 2019—research trip along the Erie Canal.
  • Summer 2020—lighthouse research trip along the coast of New England.
  • Winter 2020/21—vacation cruise to South America and up the Amazon River.

Those are the plans, anyway. Still, I need to remember one of my father’s favorite Bible passages:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15, ESV)

But if the Lord wills, I’ll be planning vacations and research trips for a very long time yet.

__________

The pictures at the head of this post represent my next four books, including the one I am currently writing. I took the first and the last photos, and the other two images are in the public domain because of their age. The first picture shows the riverboat American Queen docked at Natchez during our trip this past September; the second is an idealized view of cave life during the Siege of Vicksburg and comes from Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (Vol. 10) (1912); the third is a 1908 postcard of a boat being towed along the Erie Canal by mules or horses at Buffalo, New York; and the fourth is Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine, Wisconsin, from a trip with my mother in 2014.

An "Illuminating" Reminder

Monday, January 29, 2018


As I was sitting in church yesterday, I glanced up at the banners on the wall to the north of the altar, and I noticed something I had never noticed before. The ceiling light cast a glow on the center of the middle banner, illuminating Jesus and His halo. You can’t see it in this photo, which I took in 2008, and I wasn’t going to turn on my phone and take a picture in the middle of the service yesterday, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But it made an impression on me.

After the service, I joined a number of other members in the lunchroom for a “Town Hall Meeting” about the congregation’s plans for the future. St. Paul’s is a vibrant church with strong Christian leadership and an active membership, and it was a lively but respectful discussion.

Like everyone else, I got caught up in the discussion of air conditioning and building maintenance and finances and governance. But several people brought us back on track by speaking about the need to let faith guide our decisions.

In this fallen world even the most faithful Christians are sinners, which means that no earthly church is perfect and no congregation gets it right all the time. But God works through us and lets us make the decisions. He has given us the Bible to guide those decisions, but it isn’t His practice to send any other voice from Heaven to tell us how He wants us to use the resources (time, talent, and treasure) that He has given us. So disagreements are only natural, and sometimes congregations choose the second-best course. That doesn’t mean the choice is wrong or that the people who voted against it are losers. When the congregation speaks and the dissenters graciously accept the decision, we all win.

But as the illuminated banner reminds us, we make our best decisions when we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  (From Hebrews 12:2, NIV.)

Striving for Perfection

Monday, January 22, 2018


Only God can create perfection, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.

Following up on last week’s blog, I don’t understand why anyone would want to just sit down and write a novel without learning the craft first. Don’t those people want to write the best book they can?

I’ve said before, and I still believe, that there comes a point at which you have to stop writing that still imperfect book and start sending it out. If you wait for perfection, it will never happen. But I also believe in writing the best book I can at the time and under the circumstances. In other words, I strive for perfection even though I know I won’t achieve it.

Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

When I was in college, I found a quote to live by and wrote it inside my literature book, which I intended to keep forever. But I lost the book at some point and I can’t remember either the exact wording or the author of the quote. I think the author was either a philosopher or a scientist, although I’m not sure. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to track it down, but it was on the same lines as the Lombardi quote. Here is a paraphrase from my very imperfect memory:

Those who strive for perfection will never reach it but will draw ever closer, while those who don’t strive for it are doomed to mediocrity.

If anybody out there can identify the quote, I’d be eternally grateful.

And I’ll keep striving for perfection.

__________

The photo is © 2013 by Kathryn Page Camp.

Learn Before You Write

Monday, January 15, 2018


I belong to several writers’ organizations that have email listservs for asking questions of other members. Recently, one woman sought guidance on how to get started writing fiction and asked for recommendations about classes, retreats, and other ways to learn the craft. One person recommended a specific online class, but the next person essentially vetoed that. The second person told her to just sit down and write it and then find some beta readers or a critique group to read it. Her response seemed to accept that advice, but it also highlighted her naivete. (I won’t give the details because I don’t want to embarrass her.)

Yes, if you want to be a writer, you have to write. That’s so obvious that it always surprises me when people feel they have to say it. But you start by writing short pieces and exercises, not with a book you hope to publish. Especially if it is fiction.

I just finished reading several middle-grade novels—all self-published or from small publishers—written by people who don’t understand how fiction works. The authors knew nothing about point-of-view or showing versus telling or how to make dialogue sound natural. And if I hadn’t been reading them as research, I never would have finished. I certainly won’t be buying anything else by those authors.

Experience has shown me that it is much harder to write fiction than nonfiction. Obviously, all nonfiction should create interest and flow well, and those types labeled creative nonfiction (e.g., memoirs and biographies and anything that tells a story) can be closer to fiction than to other nonfiction offerings. But creative nonfiction aside, most nonfiction is read for the information it contains, not for how it is presented.

Novels are different. Fiction readers don’t want information—they want an escape. A successful novel brings them into the story with the characters to experience what the characters experience and feel what the characters feel.

That’s what the fiction conventions are designed to do. A consistent point-of-view (single or multiple) helps readers identify with the characters and experience the story with them. A sudden POV jump breaks that connection. Showing helps readers see the world through the characters’ eyes. Too much telling distances the reader from that world. Dialogue that uses tags improperly makes the entire scene feel stilted and unrealistic.

So my advice to the woman on the listserv is to take classes and read books and attend conferences on writing fiction.

Then sit down and write.

A Page Family Tradition

Monday, January 8, 2018



Roland and I celebrated Christmas twice this year. The first celebration was with our children at Caroline and Pete’s house on December 23. And the gift of choice?

Books.

If I’m counting correctly, I got two, Roland got four, John got three, and Caroline got six. Poor Pete will have to read Caroline’s books if he wants any. And I don’t feel shorted at getting only two, because while I was there I looked through Caroline’s bookshelves and purchased the Kindle versions of the first book in each of two middle grade series that I was unfamiliar with. If I like those, I’ll get the ones that follow.

The photos at the top of this post show seven books that we gave Caroline and John, and they have their own story. Each one comes from a series of British books called the Horrible Histories. The Horrible Histories use humor to tell the darkest and bloodiest parts of British history and are suitable for what Americans call middle grade readers. We first discovered the series when we took the children to Scotland in 1996. We bought every one we could find then, and Caroline took has them now.

When Roland and I visited Scotland this past summer, I again bought every Horrible History that I could find. The tag on the outside of the wrapped present said “To Caroline or John,” not “To Caroline and John.” The instructions for dividing the books up were inside the package and said that Caroline got whichever books she didn’t already have and John got the ones she did. So Caroline ended up with four and John ended up with three.

But the Page family book-giving tradition isn’t just about the gift. Caroline and Pete gave me a book called Founding Grammars: How Early America’s War Over Words Shaped Today’s Language, which they bought when they visited Jamestown this past summer. When I opened it, Caroline said something like, “That comes with the Page family tradition.” And I immediately responded, “You read it before you wrapped it.”

Some people might think that disrespects the gift receiver, and we would never read a book (or rather the same copy of a book) that we intended to give to someone who would be insulted by the practice. For the Pages, however, it shows that the giver appreciates the gift being given as much as the receiver will. Caroline and Pete bought Founding Grammars specifically as a gift for me, and it was as good as new when I opened it. But books are to be read, and I’m glad I instilled my love for reading in my daughter.

Caroline read Founding Grammars in advance because we don’t see each other very often, but it can also work the other way around. Roland wanted Grant by Ron Chernow, and I gave it to him. When he opened the present, I told him that I wanted to read the part about the Siege of Vicksburg sometime in the near future. I can do that because Grant will be in our condo whenever I am ready to read it. (The book I’m going to write next will be about the Siege of Vicksburg from the point of view of the citizens—or rather one girl—trapped there, but it helps to know what was going on in General Grant’s mind, too.)

So why do I call it the Page family tradition when the Camps were doing it? It has become Roland’s tradition, too, but it came from my side of the family and descended on Caroline and John through their Page blood.

What it really means, however, is that we all love to read.

And everyone should have that tradition.

Family Photos or Family History?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Both.


We celebrated Christmas at Caroline and Pete’s house on December 23, then attended church together on Christmas Eve morning before leaving for Missouri to celebrate Christmas again with Roland’s mother and siblings. But before we left the church, we had our picture taken as a family.

Taking family photos at Christmas brings back memories. My older brother, Donald, got interested in photography when he was in high school and became semi-professional in college. So during each of my college years (and probably for several years after), he took a family picture and made it into a Christmas card. The first one I remember and have a copy of is below. I’m guessing it was from 1968, when Donald and I were both in college and Daddy was serving a yoked parish at Lake City and McBain, Michigan. That’s the McBain church on the top and the Lake City church on the bottom. Or it could have been 1969. Daddy accepted a call to Schoolcraft, Michigan that November but didn’t start until January 1, 1970. 


I think these next three pictures are in order, although I only have a date on the middle one, which is from 1971. The last one appears to have had dust on it when it was scanned, but I had to include it because it is the only one I have that shows me in my contacts (probably taken in 1972 or 1973).




Photos help us remember what our families looked like, but they do much more. When I look at each of these photos, memories from that time come flooding back.

And that’s what family photos should do.