Weather as a Story Element

Monday, April 23, 2018



We’ve had some crazy weather lately, and it got me thinking about how writers use weather in their stories. Unfortunately, some writers throw it in as an afterthought or simply because they believe they should. The “rule” (although there are no real rules) is the same as the one for dialogue, where writers attempt to avoid the word “said” by using an action to identify the speaker. An action that conveys the character’s emotion or some other story element is a great substitute. But an action that is there merely to avoid a dialogue tag shouts “lazy attribution” and stands out much more than the simple word “said” does.

Weather is like that, too, even if it is only a bit player. It should be connected to the story. Don’t just put a storm in the story as background description. Make it the reason the protagonist seeks shelter in the store where she meets her true love. Or maybe you use weather to emphasize its opposite. It’s a sunny day outside but a dark day in the protagonist’s heart, so the protagonist feels as if the weather is laughing at her. But in that case its use isn’t obvious, so you need to have the protagonist note the connection for the reader.

Then there is the story where the weather is one of the characters. I’m currently working on a middle-grade novel about the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War. The Union forces weren’t the only enemy—the weather was, too. The sun was relentless, and one of my characters gets heat exhaustion. There was almost no rain, and the entire city was in danger of running out of water as well as food. (Yes, I know Vicksburg is on the Mississippi River, but you can’t use it if you can’t get to it.) And the one time that there was a significant rainfall, it made the caves they were living in almost uninhabitable. So I am using all of that in the story.

Don’t just throw weather into your story. Give it a reason to be there.

Or leave it out.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Monday, April 16, 2018


While it is true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, names do matter. The wrong one can create all sorts of problems for a writer.

I am currently working on a story about the Civil War siege of Vicksburg, and I named my protagonist “Charlotte Warren.” I loved that last name. Unfortunately, she is now Charlotte Gibson. Why the change? Charlotte’s father is like mine, a man who rose from humble beginnings to become a professional man well-respected among his colleagues and within his geographical area but not generally known outside those circles, and one who is content to live a modest life. Unfortunately, as I was doing some research, I discovered that Vicksburg is in Warren County. That means anyone from that area might associate Charlotte’s father with whatever more influential, rich family the county is named after.

Actually, Shakespeare knew it, too, and Juliet’s famous speech from the balcony scene was wishful thinking. Here is her entire speech. [The following lines are spoken by Juliet in the balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene I.

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;—
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What is a Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name! that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title:—Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene I

Names had consequences for Romeo and Juliet, and they have consequences for writers, too.

And sometimes we get pricked by the thorns.

Journey into History

Monday, April 9, 2018


On March 14, 1958, I had the privilege of standing in Cave Four at Qumran, where most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. (The location is misspelled on the picture at the top of this post.) I was barely seven years old at the time, so I didn’t understand it’s significance then. And although the archeologists and Jewish and Biblical scholars of the time knew the Dead Sea Scrolls were an important discovery, most of the work on the scrolls came later, so even they probably didn’t know how big a find it was. If they had, would they have let a family with three children visit it?

Qumran was in Jordan at the time, and, according to a March 17, 1958 letter from my mother to her parents, “We had to go through an army camp to get there and had permission from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities for this purpose.” I don’t know how Daddy obtained permission, but I’m not surprised that he did. He taught at the Bishop’s School in Amman, Jordan in 1946 and 47 and was teaching there again during our sojourn in 1957–58. Many of the Bishop’s School’s students went on to hold influential governmental positions, so one of them may have secured the pass. In any event, Daddy was both shrewd and determined, and he knew how to get permission to visit the places he wanted to see.

Why am I thinking about this now? I just began listening to a series of Great Courses lectures on the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are taught by Dr. Gary Rendsburg. And it struck me again how much I owe Daddy for immersing me in history.

When I was a child, I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to be my father’s daughter. Daddy loved his family and could be very generous in the right circumstances, but he was also thrifty and strict and too much of a scholar for my tastes. Now, of course, I see things differently. We traveled the world because he loved traveling and learning, but he also because he wanted his children to have those experiences.

And I’m grateful.

__________

The picture at the top of this page is from a color slide taken by my father, Oliver S. Page, in 1958. The caption was added by my mother many years later when she had the slide turned into a print. Unfortunately, the digitized version looks better in black and white.

From Criminal to Conqueror

Monday, April 2, 2018


This post is reprinted from April 9, 2012.

__________

On Easter morning 1958, I attended the Easter service at the Garden Tomb. That’s when my father took this picture.

The service was in Arabic, so I didn’t understand any of it. Also, the tomb’s authenticity is questionable. Still, it was a great setting to celebrate a man who died as a criminal and rose as a conqueror.

To use Paul’s words from I Corinthians 15:54-57:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In his rising, Jesus conquered death and sin.

That’s something I could never have done. I’m responsible for the sin, but not for the victory.

A victory he obtained for me and for you at great cost to himself.

And I’m grateful.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Alleluia!

Who Ever Heard of Maundy Thursday?

Monday, March 26, 2018


This post is reprinted from March 25, 2013.

__________

When I grew up, we always went to church on Maundy Thursday. It was an important day to my father, and it’s an important day in my current denomination.

But many Christians don’t even know what it is.

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper. That’s when Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal in an upper room and Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (also called “Holy Communion” and “the Eucharist”). The same meal where Jesus told his disciples that they were to serve one another and washed their feet as an example to them.

The commonly accepted derivation of the term “Maundy” is that it comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning mandate or commandment. After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34 ESV)

Jesus left the upper room with a heavy heart. He knew he would be crucified the next day, but he did it for us because he was our servant.

And our Lord.

That’s why I celebrate Maundy Thursday.

__________

The picture is called “Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples,” and the artist is Nicolas Bertin. The painting was created sometime around 1720 or 1730 as an oil on panel. It is in the public domain because of its age.

From Celebrity to Criminal

Monday, March 19, 2018


This post is reprinted from April 2, 2012.

__________

No, this post isn’t about Lindsay Lohan or Mike Tyson or Paris Hilton. A hundred years from now, they will have faded from the public memory.

That’s something they don’t share with the man who rode into town to cheering crowds on a Sunday, only to be mocked and executed as a criminal before the week was up. Events we are still talking about 2000 years later.

Talking about and celebrating. My father took this picture while my family was attending the Palm Sunday festivities in Jerusalem in 1958.

Lindsay and Mike and Paris didn’t lose their celebrity status when they were convicted of their crimes, and neither did Jesus of Nazareth.

But here is the crucial difference: Jesus was sinless. He had no guilt to convict him.

Well, that isn’t quite true.

He was guilty of love. A love so great that he paid the penalty for the sins of all humankind.

His heart was heavy and he died in anguish. But he did it by choice.

For me. For you.

And that’s something to remember not just during Holy Week but every day of the year.

The Importance of Sound Theology

Monday, March 12, 2018


I belonged to six Presbyterian churches as I grew up, but I had only one minister. And Daddy was a strong Christian whose sermons were firmly grounded in the Bible.

When I went to college, I visited several churches and ended up attending Third Reformed (in Holland, Michigan). Like the churches from my childhood, Third’s teaching was rooted in solid theology.

So when I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I expected to find more of the same. Unfortunately, not all churches and ministers are alike, even within the same denomination.

I visited two or three churches in Chicago looking for a place to belong. It was probably my second time at Fourth Presbyterian Church when I heard an announcement that they were still looking for Sunday School teachers. Although I hadn’t heard the senior minister preach yet, it was a Presbyterian church, so how could I go wrong? That’s what I thought at the time, anyway.

I’m not sure how long it was before I began having doubts. I remember taking an evening class from the senior minister and disagreeing with his Biblical analysis. The incident that stands out most was the day he said sins were always black and white, never gray. So I asked about 1 Corinthians 8, which talks about food offered to idols. According to Paul (as I read the passage), mature Christians who understand that the meat is just meat don’t sin when they eat it privately or with other equally mature Christians, but those who think that eating food offered to idols is a sin actually sin when they do so. I was willing to be persuaded that I had misinterpreted either the passage or the senior minister’s words. But he gave me a brusque “it doesn’t mean that” and moved on without explaining why not. If it was simply a matter of not liking his personality, however, I would have swallowed my pride and lived with it. But I had also heard several of his sermons by then, and they always made me uneasy.

The turning point came on Easter Sunday, when I sat through his entire sermon and didn’t hear him mention Jesus once. The next week I began visiting other churches and found one that was rooted in solid theology, although I didn’t join until I had attended long enough to be sure of that. Then I got married and joined my current church, which is also Biblically grounded.

Fast forward 45 years.

I went to a writers’ conference in Chicago over the weekend. I couldn’t attend services at my own church without missing some of the sessions. The conference was just down the block from Fourth Presbyterian, however, and its 8:00 a.m. service worked with the conference schedule. So although I had some trepidation, I went. The sermon was short on doctrine, but at least it included references to Jesus. The liturgy had a bigger impact, and it was uplifting. Fourth Presbyterian may still not be a church I want to belong to, but it sufficed for that one visit.

This isn’t a denominational issue. I’ve been to other Presbyterian churches in the last 45 years—either on vacation or while visiting family—and come away feeling satisfied. And every denomination has its renegades. In the end, it comes down to the individual churches and their pastors and whether they espouse solid Biblical teaching.

I believe in working from within when there are political or personal differences in a congregation. But if the teaching found there doesn’t feed my faith, I need to find a church that does.

I’m just glad I learned that lesson 45 years ago.

Diaries, Diaries Everywhere, and Not a Drop of Ink

Monday, March 5, 2018


I apologize for the cutesy title, which isn’t even quite true. But it almost is.

Many Southern women kept diaries during the Civil War, and they ran into shortages of paper and ink. They improvised by writing on scrap paper and filling their quill pens with berry juice.

So when I decided to write a story about the Siege of Vicksburg, I considered using the diary format that has been successful for many middle-grade historical novels. Scholastic’s Dear America series, with books written by various authors, is the best-known. Then there is the American Diaries series written by Kathleen Duey, who is one of my favorite writers of middle-grade historical fiction. The first books in both series were published in 1996, so it is unlikely that one copied the other. (The time between conception and publication can take several years.) The two series ran in tandem until the early 2000s and faded almost in tandem, as well. Scholastic also issued a series for boys (My Name is America) and another for younger children (My America) published around the same time. The Dear America series recently saw a resurgence with both new offerings and re-releases of some of the original books.

But that’s part of the problem. Fashions come and go, and that is as true for writing styles and formats as it is for clothing. Not that all trends are fads, and a well-written diary story will never go out of style. But I prefer to write what works for me rather than chasing a trend.

The main reason I rejected the idea of writing my book in a diary format is simple: it limits my options for dramatizing the story. First, although some real-life diaries contain vivid descriptions, the writers rarely describe those places and events that are part of their everyday lives. Even the backstory is simply assumed. Second, real-life diaries rarely set up a scene or contain dialogue. To put it in literary terms, diaries tell rather than show.

Obviously, that isn’t always the case, and some authors have found ways around the limitations. Of the many Dear America books that I have read, a couple have made significant use of dialogue, but it only works with the right protagonist—one with a good memory or a strong dramatic sense. Or there is the way Kathleen Duey does it, where diary entries are fleshed out and accompanied by much longer sections written in a more traditional third-person style.

Still, not every Southern woman or girl wrote a diary, and I would rather have my protagonist spend her time reading. That gives me more freedom to write the story I want.

And I don’t have to worry that she’ll run out of ink.

__________

The photo at the head of this post shows three of the Civil War diaries in my collection. From left to right, they are My Cave Life in Vicksburg (Mary Ann Webster Loughborough), The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman (Sarah Morgan), and Vicksburg, A City Under Siege (Emma Balfour). Emma Balfour’s entries end on June 2, 1863, a month before the siege ended. Her subsequent entries are probably just lost. But who knows—maybe she ran out of ink.

An Apology to Johann Sebastian Bach

Monday, February 26, 2018


My church choir has been practicing “Lord, Have Mercy,” by Johann Sebastian Bach as arranged by Hal Hopson. It’s a beautiful piece based on one of Bach’s most well-known compositions, commonly known as “Air on the G-String.” Many of you would recognize it if you heard it.

I love the music and enjoy singing it, but the choir really struggled with it. That was especially true for the sopranos, including me. We have the hardest and most moving part, and by moving I mean both emotionally and in movement of the notes. Even so, we had reached the point where we could perform it acceptably—as long as we had a separate accompanist so that our choir director could stand in front and direct.

The choir was all set to sing “Lord, Have Mercy” as yesterday’s introit. We had practiced and practiced and practiced, and the selection was identified in the bulletin. But 15 minutes before the service started, the accompanist still hadn’t arrived. Our director, Karen, was ready to scrap the music, but then one of the other choir members received a text that the accompanist had overslept but would be there in five minutes. So Karen—and the rest of us—breathed a sigh of relief.

When the service started, the accompanist still wasn’t there. And as the time for the introit drew near, I and others started watching the door to the choir loft. Karen was playing the organ looking the other way, so she may not have known the accompanist was missing until it was time to sing. At that point it was too late to clue the pastors in and substitute a different introit, so Karen played and the choir did its best without her direction. The untrained people in the congregation apparently didn’t notice that anything was amiss, but I heard every wrong note that the sopranos sang.

Should we have attempted “Lord, Have Mercy” or called it off? On the one hand, we always aim to present a beautiful piece of music beautifully. If that was the primary consideration, we would have scraped it. But the real purpose is to sing to the glory of God. From that point of view, mastery is second to intent, so I believe that Karen made the right choice.

And the Lord had mercy.

__________

The portrait of Bach was painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann in 1746. It is in the public domain because of its age.

Unrecognized Irony

Monday, February 19, 2018


Does irony count as irony when it isn’t intentional? What about a description of the “tyranny” imposed on the South by the North that sounds exactly like the bondage imposed by Southerners on their slaves?

I’m reading The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman by Sarah Morgan, which is research for a book about the Siege of Vicksburg. Sarah Morgan lived at Baton Rouge, not Vicksburg, but her thoughts and experiences provide insight into how a Southern female from that time viewed her society and the events happening around her.

Sarah’s diary abounds with intentional sarcasm, but she doesn’t seem to see the irony in her cry against the North. Here are some passages she wrote after Union forces occupied Baton Rouge.

June 1, 1862

A gentleman tells me that no one is permitted to leave without a pass, and of these, only such as are separated from their families who may have left before. All families are prohibited to leave, and furniture, and other valuables also. Here is an agreeable arrangement! I saw the “pass” just such as we give our negroes, signed by a Wisconsin Colonel. Think of being obliged to ask permission from some low ploughman, to go in and out of our own homes!

June 29, 1862

We all feel so helpless, so powerless under the hand of our tyrant [Lincoln], the man who swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws, who is professedly only fighting to give us all Liberty, the birthright of every American, and who, neverless has ground us down to a state where we would not reduce our negroes, who tortures and sneers at us, and rules us with iron hand! Ah Liberty! what a humbug!

I would rather belong to England or France, than to the North! Bondage, woman that I am, I can never stand! Even now, the northern papers distributed among us, taunt us with our subjection, and tell us “how coolly Butler will grind them down, paying no regard to their writhing and torture beyond tightening the bands still more!” Ah truly! this is the bitterness of slavery, to be insulted and reviled by cowards who are safe at home, and enjoy the protection of the laws, while we, captive and overpowered, dare not raise our voices to throw back the insult, and are governed by the despotism of one man, whose word is our law!

I would like to think that I would never condone slavery or see life the way Sarah did, even if I was raised in her time and place. But that’s too self-righteous. None of us really knows how we would react to a situation until we are in it.

Still, I hope I recognize the irony in my writing.

__________

The photo at the head of this page is in the public domain because of its age.

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.