Vintage Reads: Summer Queens and Frontier Scenes

Vintage reads

If you’ve been a reader of our blog for long, you’ve probably noticed that each Scriblerian maintains his or her own personality, not only in how they write, but their choice of topic. Maybe you’ve wondered what the unifying factor is. What can you expect to find on this site? Our slogan off to the right says it all: “Writing for Non-Adults of All Ages.” We love YA and children’s literature. We love to write it, love to read it. We’re kids at heart, and we know there are plenty of readers out there who feel the same way.

You’ve heard from Gretchen who will cover healthy lifestyle in body, mind, and soul. If you’ve ever met her, she HAS to run off that energy! She can talk at warp speed and some days literally bounces with youthful enthusiasm.

I’m pretty sure I’m the oldest in this group. I don’t think any other Scriblerians have children closer to forty than thirty! My columns have always been written for the purpose of introducing a younger generation to the wonderful stories from yesteryear. Since any item that’s been around for more than two years is considered obsolete in our instantaneous society, I choose to share books from my childhood, from my sons’ childhoods, and the best of the best from the last ten years. Classic KidLit.

Here is my choice for today, a blessing of our American Heritage.

Alfred Jacob Miller - Fort Laramie - Walters 37194049.jpg

Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg

As a child, I could read anywhere any time. As an adult too, come to think of it. During the school year, I had to take time out for school and homework, piano and dance lessons, but when summer arrived… FREEDOM!!

Now, most kids celebrated summer with the daily kickball/baseball game or hikes in the woods or a run to the ice cream shop. I dedicated my mornings to reading in bed, reading at the breakfast table, reading on the porch, and in the afternoons, reading at the pool, reading in the shade, read… you get the idea.

I had a health-conscious mom, though. She forced me outside for exercise and vitamin D, so I got my fair share of sports, nature, and ice cream. As the oldest members of our neighborhood crowd, my best friend and I ruled as queens of the pack. We were gracious, beneficent rulers (yes, you may roll your eyes) and allowed input from our subjects as to what games would be played each day.Thanks to all my reading, the neighborhood kids enjoyed some unusual imaginary games, all based on plots from my favorite books. When we played Cowboys and Indians, according to majority rule, the cowboys were always supposed to defeat the evil savages. (Keep in mind this was the early 1960’s).

sillyeaglebooks.com

sillyeaglebooks.com

I thought the status quo was unfair, but I held off from wielding my scepter like a club. Instead, I tried to persuade with logic. The Indians were on American land first. Shouldn’t the colonists have shared the land with them? If somebody took away my home, I would fight, too! The boys were not convinced.

Thus began my burgeoning interest in American history. I discovered the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I must have scampered through each volume two or three times. And THEN I read Caddie Woodlawn.

Both authors had been published in the same era, 1935 for Caddie Woodlawn, and 1932-43 for the Little House books. Both stories were based on real people. Carol Ryrie Brink faithfully wrote down the tales of her grandmother, Caddie Woodlawn. Laura Ingalls shared her own story. While several volumes of the Little House series earned the “Honor” status of the Newbery Medal, it was Caddie Woodlawn that won the award in 1936. I think I understand why, now that I’ve reread the books as an adult.

Caddie Woodlawn

Don’t get me wrong. Children will love to read the Little House books for years to come as Laura tells the story of her childhood, painting vivid pictures of family life on the frontier. Caddie Woodlawn goes beyond family and into the contentious issues of the day from a child’s perspective, namely: how do you deal with irresponsible people, and how should pioneers treat the Indians who still roam portions of the land settled by the white man.

Notice, I use the term “Indian.”  “Native American” was a re-label once it became politically incorrect to call the indigent natives a name that made it seem like they were from India. In 1935, the common term was “Indians,” and it wasn’t derogatory in nature. Unless a person’s tone of voice made it so. In Caddie’s case, friendship and peace won the day. Her interactions with Indian John inspired nine-year-old Linda. This was a girl after my own heart!

Her story put history on my side.  The queens of Castle Road decreed there would be no massacres of Indians when we played make-believe. If our brothers insisted on going to war, they could fight the Nazis.

Was there ever a time you used stories from your reading experience to act out or use in a game? It would be fun to learn what you were like as a kid.

 

 

Jeri Massi

As most of you realize by now, I’m a great fan of Jeri Massi’s novels for tweens having posted two book reviews: Derwood, Inc. a year ago, and Hall of Heroes earlier this week. Jeri graciously agreed to an interview. After all, how could any author resist my enthusiasm?

Hall of Heroes

 

Whenever possible, the Scriblerians invite our honored authors to “sign” our slam book.

Nickname (in childhood or now or both): Jeriwho

Genre: I prefer to write fantasy and SF but rarely get a chance to do so. I’ve written across many different genres: Westerns, mysteries, adventures, historical, fantasy, SF, etc.

Favorite scripture: Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53:10-11

Favorite quotation: All warfare is based on deception. – Sun Tzu

In high school, I was… loud, and tall.

 

 

Jeri blog
Jeri, welcome to the Scriblerians.
Thank you, Linda. It’s an honor.

 

 
As you know, I love your Peabody Kids series, especially the first book, Derwood, Inc. The humor is timeless. In fact, I recently spoke with a fifth grade teacher who still uses Derwood in her classroom. She shared with me that the book is her kids’ favorite choice in the curriculum. How have you updated your characters since the Derwood Series was published about – what – 30 years ago?
If a character works in a story, he or she should never need to be updated. Jack will always be the charming leader, and Penny the loyal companion. Scruggs will always be the person in transition. Humor and mysteries alike tend to be built on certain familiar character types, so while their clothing or jargon may change over time, they remain essentially the same whatever the time setting of the story. We see the same characters clearly in Hall of Heroes, which is an exact mirror of the characters from Derwood, Inc.

 

 
While Derwood was fun and adventurous with lessons for the Peabody Kids in each book, Hall of Heroes strikes deep. I took in such themes as: “Love God and enjoy Him forever,” and “Heaven completes our creation.” Have I nailed it, or would you add another theme dear to your heart.
“The Christian life is built on humility.” The humor of the story is built on the fact that the “good guys” think they are always going to be victorious, just because they are the good guys. They’re actually pretty arrogant and full of themselves. In short order, the bullies overthrow them and steal their club house. There is a thematic link to Martha Jenkins, who has done so much good in her life, but is facing certain death while still too young for it. Both groups have to accept their lot with humility. Jean herself notices that Digger seems much more heroic when he is helping around the house for Martha. He fulfills the role of a manly Christian effortlessly when he forgets about acting like a hero and simply offers his work to a suffering person.

 

 
Many of the readers of the Scriblerians blog are also writers, so I’d like to ask questions in relation to how you write your novels. Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? When I think of Derwood, Inc. I assume it had a bare skeleton which you fleshed out with twists and turns that might have surprised you as you were writing. But did Hall of Heroes need a stricter outline?
All of my stories are outlined. I always think of the plot first, then complete it in outline form, and then start writing. If I decide to throw in a new twist, I usually outline it into the main outline.

 

 
While you had several comical moments with the villains in the story, the mature spiritual issues caused my chuckles to subside as I contemplated eternity and how God sees our mission on earth. When your readers finish the last sentence of the book, what do you want them to come away with?
Well, first, that nothing is as it seems. Martha Jenkins had a lot to offer, but she was pretty much ignored by her church. And nobody meant to be unkind to her; they just didn’t look hard enough to realize their Christian duty towards her. The real Hall of Heroes meets in Martha’s living room, three overlooked people who love each other and have fellowship in the face of a great tragedy. Christianity today is blinded by grandeur, and that’s a horrible blindness. We will find the power and the fellowship of Jesus Christ with the least of His brethren, always.

Second, we all die, and yet we all must live. Digger’s joy over regaining the club house is not misplaced. Martha herself had a full life until close to the end. We ought to live joyfully and make our boast in God, and we ought to approach death with humility and willingness to go where He leads us, even there.

 

 
I always enjoy teen and tween fiction when the main characters have GOOD parents, intact families with Mom and Dad loving each other and watching out for their children. Jean experiences growth as she makes her own decisions, and her wisdom comes from the example of her parents. Am I in the minority of adult readers today, or do you find the reading public does want wholesome material for their children?

I think the best readers want the truth, whether that truth is couched in a conventional story with a home and a hearth, or whether it’s couched in science fiction, or fantasy, or talking animals, etc. The reality is that many children do lose one parent, or both parents, and so fiction should also reach out to them. I have given up on figuring out what most readers want. I write what I believe makes a good story. I assume that if it keeps me and my spot readers entertained, it ought to entertain others.

Jeri Massi

Jeri and Ben

 

Want to know more about Jeri Massi? Read her Blog on the Way (www.jeriwho.net), follow her on Twitter (@jeriwho), or like her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jerimassi).

What is it about Star Wars?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The title alone is enough to stir excitement in even the most complacent person. This Christmas season we are treated with the much awaited addition to the popular franchise!

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_Poster

As a science fiction/fantasy writer and Star Wars obsessor, I’m fascinated with what is causing the masses to flock to the theatres to take in the newest instalment in the franchise. Even after a couple disappointments with a few of the earlier Star Wars movies (Jar Jar Binks? Seriously?), I’m as loyal as any other Star Wars Fan. I have booked my seat for this Sunday and will be spending outrageous amounts for popcorn and a drink like everyone else.

Let’s take a look at the new captains at the helm.

J.J. Abrams (born in 1966) was a very impressionable 11-year-old when the first Star Wars movie came out. When he became a movie producer, his love for action and science fiction was obvious, taking into account a few of his movies in the past: Armageddon (1998), Mission Impossible (2006) and the Star Trek movies (2009 and 2013). He was also the co-creator of several t.v. drama series including Lost (2004 – 2010), and Fringe (2005 – 2013). He was nominated for seven Emmy awards, winning two for Lost. A rather successful young man, to say the least.

Then there’s Disney, no less! They bought the franchise from Lucas Films in 2012, and have thrown millions to promote this blockbuster, which Lucas Films and J.J. Abram’s company, Bad Robot, produced. Already the movie has received high ratings: Roger Ebert – 3.5/4. Rotten Tomatoes – 97%. The film is predicted to rake in over a billion dollars!

What I like about it is that J.J. Abrams took the same recipe that made the first movie incredibly popular, reshaped it a little, then added a few new faces who are similar to our first beloved characters. You have the resistance-affiliated droid (BB 8) carrying important information, stranded in the desert destined to meet the ‘nobody’ character (Ray) who is also jedi-obsessed. Instant chemistry, right? The galaxy is in disarray with two growing armies, the resistance and an evil army, headed for a war. There is non-stop action, a smattering of swashbuckling humour, and even our favourites, Han Solo, Chewie and Leia are there, ready to take us on a ride again!

starwars_p3092817

So, aside from the fact that the guys in charge are worth their salt and are using the same time-tested formula again, you have a movie with many popular elements that have been used forever (mythology/hero’s journey, epic characters, inspiring futuristic sci/fi). Stunning CGI from beginning to end, glues you to your seat, and an equally amazing orchestral score from the genius, John Williams, provides more for the senses to submerge you into the atmosphere and story. Complex and thought provoking issues like totalitarian rule, segregation, slavery, racism, gender equality spice it up.  And then you get a happy ending where the good guys win despite the incredible odds against them. We have also been long fascinated with the possibility of life beyond our stars, and here it is, with crazy creatures, liveable atmospheres on many planets and ways to get there and back in a nanosecond. What’s not to like?

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So why am I over-the-top excited about this movie? It takes me back to being a kid again, and who doesn’t love that? I’m eager to jump back on the emotional and visual roller coaster I’ve experienced in the past and will likely go back to see it again a few times, (more than my kids, I’ll wager).

So… are you going to the new Star Wars movie? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking My Niche

Niche.statue

Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

I have one of those in my house—a niche. It’s carved out of the wall at the end of a short hallway. Not much fits there, but I placed a tall pottery vase that is flattened from front to back so it nestles in the space just right.

And boy, is it showcased.

Isn’t that what we authors are supposed to do? Find a niche for our work? An audience where it’s showcased rather than one of many similar, cluttered objects where none stand out.

I suppose those are extreme examples, but books can’t yell for attention like humans can. How do I find the audience(s) where my novels might catch fire, so to speak?

I’m thinking out loud now. Thanks for sticking with me.

My YA novels in the Bird Face series use humor and hope to address serious issues facing teens today. Each novel addresses at least a few. It’s the way I like to write stories, with my protagonist facing multiple issues and crises that are intertwined.

So, how do I find a niche for those books?

Right now, I’m looking for teens with particular challenges or areas in teens’ lives where certain types of stories or characters are lacking. Stories featuring a teen that is hearing-impaired are hard to find, for example. So are those with Catholic teen characters.

I wrote my first book because I care about kids who are shy or bullied. It’s fiction that contains elements of Christian faith, and the half-Cajun Wendy naturally became Catholic because all the Cajuns I knew were Catholic.

I wrote my deaf teen character Sam in my second book because I care about hearing-impaired teens. A good friend in my twenties taught at a school for the deaf, and she shared her experiences.  I grew up not understanding much about the hearing-impaired children I met, but I later worked around hearing-impaired adults, who referred to themselves as deaf and who became my friends.

Like an ethnic group, both hearing-impaired and Catholic teens like to see characters similar to themselves occasionally depicted in the fiction they read.

I’ve decided to try target-marketing to both Catholic teens and hearing-impaired teens (as I continue to market to all teens, Christian and non-Christian). I know, I’ve selected two niches, but I’m still figuring this out.

Anyway, that’s my plan for today.

Are you an author struggling to find your niche? As a reader, are you attracted to specific religious aspects of story or social issues in story lines?

Cynthia Toney

Cynthia Toney

Humor Author Deborah Dee Harper

Deborah Dee Harper

A versatile author—that’s Deborah Dee Harper, who writes humorous mystery and inspirational fiction for both children and adults. Her children’s adventure series, Laramie on the Lam, was published in 2012 and will be re-released in four books soon. Misstep, her 2015 debut adult novel, is published by Write Integrity Press under the Pens of Mystery imprint. Misstep is the first book of her Road’s End series, and from the following description, is a full-flavored read:

Retired Air Force chaplain Hugh Foster and his wife Melanie dream of a peaceful life as innkeepers in the pre-Revolutionary War village of Road’s End, Virginia. When Hugh is pressed into service at tiny but historic Christ Is Lord Church, their dream crumbles right along with the old building. One of Hugh’s first challenges is Emma River, a woman who needs no one—especially God—and lives in seclusion in her home, Rivermanse, guarding her dark secret and hated by most of the town. With a church in desperate need of repair, a dwindling congregation, and a record-breaking blizzard, the town’s residents—comprised mostly of ornery senior citizens—are forced to outwit some drug dealers who are bent on revenge against the church caretaker. Poor drug dealers.

Misstep Cover concept update 5 (1)Laramie-cvr

Deborah, welcome to the Scriblerians.

Thanks, Cynhia. I’m so happy to be here.

You like to mix humor, mystery, and spiritual inspiration in your fiction. Which mystery writers influenced you the most and why or how?

I don’t know that mystery writers, per se, influenced me, unless it was just a natural extension of all the reading I did as a kid and beyond. I did love Carolyn Keene’s Nancy Drew books, although I just discovered that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym and more than one person has written under that name. Nevertheless, I guess you’d say that she (or they, as the case may be) influenced my early writing and started me on the path toward writing mysteries. And by early, I mean about 4th grade. My first mystery was titled, The Mystery of Castle Dawn. That was as far as that ever went—the title. I should finish it someday! Of course, Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham, all of whom have some element of mystery in their books are favorites of mine and I suppose that may have rubbed off on me too.

Some elements of Misstep remind me of a few of my favorite movies and television series from the 80s and 90s, such as Funny Farm, Murder She Wrote, and The Golden Girls (without the sexual references and innuendo). Without spoiling the story, please share with us how you used characters and situations to tickle the reader’s funny bone.

In Misstep, one of the characters is a young man about 18 years old who comes to town in the middle of the blizzard. His name is Sherman—a bright, nearly fluorescent orange-haired fellow—who brings Sophie with him to appear in the town’s upcoming outdoor live nativity. Sophie is a camel. With all his other problems, the last thing Hugh Foster needs to take care of is a camel. Nevertheless, Sophie is here and needs a place to stay, so Hugh directs Sherman to pull the camel’s trailer over by the 18th century henhouse. Sherman misunderstands and puts Sophie in the henhouse, which receives several visitors throughout the night, some of them less than happy to see Sophie there.

Is humor a natural part of all your fiction? What other books in addition to the ones already mentioned contain humorous elements?

Yes, humor permeates most of what I write. I’ve written two other books in the Road’s End series, Faux Pas and Misjudge, which are full of humor. Other manuscripts are being developed and they too have an element of humor throughout. It seems to just pour out of me as I write.

It’s a blessing when something comes easily in our writing. So much about being a writer is hard work. Do you have a favorite scripture verse that motivates you as a writer or keeps you centered?

As part of my email signature, I’ve included Psalms 68:3, “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.” It reminds me that living as a child of God is not only a glorious adventure, it’s filled with humor. God gave us our sense of humor; we need to use it!

I agree!

More about Deborah and where to connect with her:

Deborah Dee Harper lives in Tennessee but spent four years in Anchorage, Alaska, where she hiked rugged paths to blue glaciers, watched the whales (and otters, sea lions, Dall sheep, ptarmigans, bald eagles, black bears, foxes, wolves, you-name-it) in their glorious natural surroundings. She even chased a grizzly bear down a dirt road to get a picture of it. She got it too (and survived to tell the story)!

http://www.deborahdeeharper.com

Author Facebook page http://tinyurl.com/nrg8ola

Goodreads Author page www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomdeborahdeeharper

Twitter handle @deborahdeetales

Less Than Perfect

My seven-year-old and I love Monster High. And one of it’s big themes is flaunting your “freaky flaws”. Of course, they’re all monsters, so it’s having things like green skin, snake hair, scales, fur, or fangs. In real life, I like my characters to be less-than-perfect too.

Right now, I’m a bit tired of dystopian fiction and wasn’t quite ready to pick up a new series. However, when I read a review of Rachelle Dekker’s The Choosing, I picked it because one of the main characters stutters. Now that I’m into the book there appears to be a psychological reason for this, and I’m dying to find out what it is. Please oh please don’t let this be a McGuffin. Because we all know I hate those creatures!

I am not a big reader of contemporary fiction/romance, but I decided to try Melissa Tagg’s From the Start based on the sample chapters. The heroine meets the hero while she’s in her pajamas and has traded her contacts for glasses. If I were a single woman, that would be my worst nightmare. That the heroine is nearsighted and not portrayed as a nerd like most characters who wear glasses won me over. I finished the book and want to read the entire series, because I’m now in love with the family and locale.

Two more books endeared me because of their main characters’ not-so-freaky “flaws”. I am going through the NPR 100 Best Young Adult Books list and selected Anna and the French Kiss. Oo-la-la. The heroine rocks a gap-toothed grin, and the hero has been equally untouched by an orthodontist. He’s also really short completely wrecking the YA boy hero archetype. The sequel, Lola and the Boy Next Door features another nearsighted heroine and a way-too-tall genius hero. NOTE: For those who read The Scriblerians for recommendations let me warn you that Anna and Lola are not Christian titles and contain a certain amount of objectionable content.

The irony of this post is that I too escaped orthodontic intervention (because I didn’t need it) and managed to make it to my mid-twenties before I needed glasses. Being a teen in the 1980s and then an engineering student, I graduated from college feeling a bit like a unicorn. Seriously what middle-class kid hasn’t suffered through braces, and engineers are known for being bespectacled nerds? Granted I fit into the second category although I almost always wear contact lenses in public, and I prefer being called a GEKE.

So what book did I just pick up from the library – Uglies?

Do less than perfect characters draw you in or do you prefer heroes and heroines to be idealized?

The Problems With Computer Generated Images

While the credits rolled up the screen and the epic music roared in our ears, we shuffled out of the theatre. Rotten tomatoes, my favourite movie review site had given the sci/fi a solid 75% which was actually pretty good, hence our presence in the crowd.

I was struck by the computer-generated images during the movie. It was as if the producers were saying “Look what we can do now, and we can also do this… and THIS!” I yet again wondered how in this galaxy were we going to top what I just saw….. Buuuuut, that was the first and last thought I had of the movie. The adrenaline rush subsided quickly as it would have after a roller coaster ride, and there I was discussing what groceries we needed to pick up on the way home.

Seriously, am I the only one who feels cheated when I’m not rehashing the plot’s twists and turns, mourning that I won’t see my beloved characters until movies 2 and 3, or marveling at how the screen writer caused us to have a closer look at our own lives?


 

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It just so happened that I recently went to another movie called Ex_Machina that delivered on all the above. It had received a 92% from Rotten Tomatoes and I figured that deserved another try.

Well, it was well worth the admission, popcorn, drink, and my Kit Kat bites. Here is the summary:

Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at an internet-search giant, wins a competition to spend a week at the private mountain estate of the company’s brilliant and reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon his arrival, Caleb learns that Nathan has chosen him to be the human component in a Turing Test-charging him with evaluating the capabilities, and ultimately the consciousness, of Nathan’s latest experiment in artificial intelligence. That experiment is Ava (Alicia Vikander), a breathtaking A.I. whose emotional intelligence proves more sophisticated–and more deceptive–than the two men could have imagined.

The movie had me guessing all the way through, and had me more or less stumped. Which is what I love! It reminded me of my all time favourite old classic, The Sting where the audience was stung, not the actors. The CGI was present, but was only there as background effects for the story. The movie was intelligent and thought provoking and I’m still rehashing the plot when I wake up at night. And best yet, there were only 3 main characters, jostling for dominance.

The movie brought forth the question of responsibility when creating artificial intelligence, and sparked a host of interesting discussions at home. Now don’t get me wrong, I can be entertained with some impressive effects, but to be truly worth my time, I need more than that.

CGI has become an impressive tool in the movie-makers’ hands, but sometimes at the cost of good old fashioned character development, interesting plots and thought provoking themes.

Now its your turn. What are your thoughts on CGI?