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.

 

 

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Taste of Heaven

Once upon a time, a little girl attended the annual Thanksgiving feast at her aunt’s house and discovered a plate filled with beautiful, glossy miniature fruits. Set apart from all the other appetizers, their brilliant colors called out for more attention than the bold Chiquita Banana Lady in the ads of the era. “Take a bite,” they stage-whispered. “Our flavor is even more exquisite than our beauty.”

The little girl popped an apricot shape into her mouth for she loved apricots above all other fruits. Ohhh. Surely, the taste of heaven filled her mouth! She couldn’t help it. In no time at all four – or was it five – more pieces disappeared from the plate. Sad that she couldn’t eat it all, for someone was bound to notice, she abandoned the table.

I was that little girl, who shortly thereafter suffered a major tummy ache. The candy-fruits were marzipan, the richest, sweetest dessert I’ve ever experienced. Composed of almond paste, molded into complex shapes rarely larger than the diameter of a quarter, and decorated in rich colors, marzipan is a culinary work of art. And NOT to be gobbled. You savor each nibble allowing the flavor to glide over your tongue over and over.

Poetry is served best in the same manner. (See Poetical Immersion) I savor one poem over and over when I read poetry. The marzipan of literature.

I had promised to share a few of my favorites. Here they are:

Eletelephony.” I’m a person who loves mixing and matching words, and Laura E. Richards does a delightful job of making it a game.

I learned two of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems while a young child. Often in bed with strep throat in those early years, I identified with “The Land of Counterpane.”

illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith

The poem “My Shadow” fascinated me because I had just discovered what shadows can do. Imagine that a grown-up wrote about the same phenomenon!

For rhythm, expression, and fun, I taught Eugene Fields’s “The Duel”  to my fifth-graders. They learned to drop their self-consciousness at the door and use their voices to over-emote the silliness of toys and household objects personified during the ridiculous spat.

Once my students were at ease with the above introduction to poetry, we moved on to “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’” by James Whitcomb Riley. They could use onomatopoeia of “clackin’ and cluckin’” with alacrity, and the class next door could hear the rooster’s “hallylooyer!”

frosty pumpkin

My all-time favorite is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. He offers me ripples of reflection as I consider the what-ifs of life. What if I had chosen a different college? Where would I be living? Who would I have married? What if I had never taken the National Novel Writing Month challenge six years ago? Would I be writing a blog today? What might I be doing instead?

road not taken

“What-if” is the exquisite question to ponder every time I read “The Road Not Taken,” for in life, we truly cannot retrace our steps and find out what might have been. Yes, I will savor the poem and allow it to glide through my mind over and over once again…

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

Is This Your Child?

My heart was heavy when I saw this video. I really identified with its message. Have a look…

I was born and raised on a farm loving the outdoors and playing non-stop with my horses, cats, dogs, and friends on our property. I wasn’t into sports as much as our kids, but still preferred to be outside rather than inside, and invented very simple games to occupy my time.

But today, to be completely honest, I do enjoy my time in front of my screen, with FB, emails, or whatever. I can certainly see the draw of watching youtube videos and movies, but can’t say that games are much of a temptation.

Our kids’ generation’s screen habits started gradually, but have burst into their lives with video games and phones. We tried to limit our sons’ time on the computer when they were young and they didn’t own phones. And it worked most of the time. But when they went over to friend’s houses, how could we control that? Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but kids are almost considered weird if they don’t have phones. (I won’t go into that personal pet peeve)

I feel that this draw also takes them away from reading, and as a writer, I wonder how we can recapture their hearts and time. We as parents can try as much as we can while our kids are at home, but what happens when they leave? I am trying to picture how these kids who are hooked on games etc. will bring up their own kids. I have confidence that there will always be kids in sports etc. and I am encouraged by commercials on tv. about trying to get our kids off screens. And I know that many kids are able to moderate their time on screens. But there is much that we can’t identify with as adults who weren’t raised with these temptations. There is the world of difference between how we spent our time as kids, and how our kids spend their time.

Can I safely say that if I was raised today, I wouldn’t be hooked on screens too? I can’t, in all honesty.  I doubt it, but I will never know.

As a blog writer, I feel that I should have some answers, but all I can do is present the very complicated problem, and offer what we did as parents. I’m very interested to hear what your thoughts are on this!!

The Genre of Horror: Let’s Talk About It.

Scary Young Girls Face On Halloween Day

 

For many Christians, the idea that horror literature could be legitimate as an expression of faith and love sounds like heresy. After all, how can someone that claims to serve the God of peace and love purposely intend to terrify people? I mean, isn’t intentionally scaring people some kind of sin, or if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

Those questions are valid and move this discussion from mere literature into theology.  When you consider The King James Bible has 71 instances where there is a command to “Fear not.” The idea of frightening people seems antithetical to the basic tenants of the gospel.

Any student of Church History understands clergy have been scaring people into the Kingdom of God for centuries, does that make it right? No one’s figured that out yet. One of the most noted and famous sermons preached from our side of the 16th century is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. That sermon is as much a horror story as any Stephen King novel. More important, the sermon underscores the one aspect of God that people seem to forget. Life apart from God is a life of misery and loss.

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Going to Hell is everyone’s right of choice and God doesn’t mind accommodating anyone’s desire to spend eternity out of his presence. For many of us believers the idea of being apart from God, now that we have tasted his love and generosity, is terrifying. Remember Christ’s words on the cross when the full judgement of the world’s sin came upon him, and his true parent turned his back to look away from the only Begotten of God?  Jesus said,  “My  God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s pure abandonment and fertile ground for the horror genre.

Horror is as much apart of the Bible as faith and blessing. Consider the beggar Lazarus wanting to warn his family about the judgement waiting for them and is told “no.”

Many people consider that horror is only about frightening people.  Who wouldn’t think that when looking at pictures of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, or watching a long list of movies made for the sole purpose of shocking and terrifying audiences. What people don’t realize is that horror isn’t strictly about scaring people.

scary-halloween-night-background_z1ohZadO(1)

 

Horror explores important topics like hubris, monsters, the unknown and our responses to things we don’t understand. This genre, when done well, allows us to explore our own darkness from the safety of our favorite chair. Some of my favorite horror stories such as  The Birthmark by Hawthorne, or Frankenstein by Shelly, or The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Marlowe deal with the topics of unforgivable sin and hubris. These dark tales aren’t grossly gory, but they are entertaining and cautionary in nature.

Horror can also deal  with hope, redemption, acceptance and love. Don’t believe me? Read the stories I mentioned and decide for yourself. Of course not all horror is good or even entertaining. Some of it is genuinely awful, but that’s true of all the other genres too.

graveyard-night-scene-in-the-moonlight_Gkx2h-Kd

There are those tender hearts out there that say,  “Fear is always bad.” To that response I’d  say fear as an emotion isn’t intrinsically a bad thing.

My family owned land and horses in Southeastern Washington State. It’s very arid and dry and home to rattle snakes, scorpions, millipedes, and a few other venomous creatures, Bringing the horses in from pasture could be an adventure as it sometimes brought me face to face with this innocuous little rattle from the tall grass or from beneath a sage brush. That little sound could make my heart stop, not to mention my feet.

I would turn around, and go back the way I came, why? Because I stood a good chance of getting bit by the thing making that sound.Was I afraid? Yes, but in a good way that kept me from harm.

Before we dismiss all instances of fear as ungodly. Let’s not forget that running away from temptation because we fear entanglement is completely encouraged. (1 Cor 6:18, 1 Cor 10:14, 1Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 2:22).

There are things that should genuinely should frighten us, like hardening our own hearts to compassion, kindness, and the leading of God’s Spirit. We should always fear injustice, bigotry, and genocide. The violence of Fergeson and Baltimore were far more horrifying than any zombie apocalypse, but very similar to those stories – except no one was eating brains.

Digital Illustration of a Dragon

The genre of horror serves a cautionary purpose, useful for discovering our own personal evils as well as exploring our own redemption, forgiveness, and pathos. I maintain that horror has as much place in Christian fiction as romance, fantasy, mystery, and any other genres you can mention – maybe even more so.

Click on the link below and be prepared for a pleasant surprise. It’s an award winning zombie short film that will surprise you and make you rethink the uses of horror.

Can you define the components of  horror as a genre? Do you think it’s appropriate for people who call themselves Christians to read it, write, or watch it? Why?

Pay No Attention to the Man, Woman, or Whatever Behind the Curtain- Part 2

My last post was a precursor to introducing one of the most important elements in storytelling, “narrative”. There were some good responses by the contributors, but no one mentioned the five hundred pound gorilla in the room: the excellent narration of events in this video. Let’s refresh our memories:

The fact that responders didn’t think to mention narration means the editors did a bang-up job on assembling this story for us. Good storytelling gives us the feel that a story is telling itself.

One of the things that I like about this video is that whether or not the story is true, and I’m sure it’s close enough to what really happened, the details are so specifically human and universal, they fascinate us. But if the details of what happened aren’t given to us in  specific ways, the human aspects become lost or uninteresting. How storytellers assemble the details of a story is called narration. What are some of the ways we judge a narration to be good or bad?

if the details of what happened aren’t given to us in  specific ways....we become lost or uninterested.

if the details of what happened aren’t given to us in specific ways….we become lost or uninterested.

There is of course in all stories the beginning, middle, and end/conclusion. That type linear reality in real life isn’t always so clear cut. But in a story, without a clear linear progression of time the narrative its hard for an audience to process. Really good storytellers lead an audience through the elements of time in any order. The stories we love the best present unique details in a specific context (time to name one) so we may provide the emotional ramifications as events unfold. What are some of those emotional ways we responded to the tenors?

We are introduced to our protagonists and we understand from the beginning what’s at stake. There’s no guessing as to what’s going on here – these guys are on TV to follow their dreams. We are then introduced to the main obstacle and the conflict: they’ve never performed in front of an audience together. We also don’t know if these guys can sing or not? How are we feeling about this?

We are also helped to process all the specific uncertainties by being allowed to see the interviewer’s response to these singer’s surprise confession. All these uncertainties are continued to be reinforced by specific things like the interview with the three tenors and one of them doesn’t know Puerto Rico is a US territory.

we may provide the emotional ramifications as events unfold

we may provide the emotional ramifications as events unfold

In how these events are presented, we the audience are never told what to feel, or how we should process these events. We are given the freedom to experience a lot of emotions, and the more emotions the better. Narratives become manipulative when a teller demands you to respond a very specific way and not give the audience room to be themselves.

Look at our example, some people may want the tenors to fail and will take joy in this. Others may have compassion that these guys will humiliate themselves on national television. Some may want these guys to succeed and continue to live vicariously through the experience. There is room for all kinds of emotional responses, but the only common thread\plot is: will they fail or succeed and in what way should we care or not care?

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What are some of those emotional ways we responded to the tenors?

One of my favorite elements in this narrative is when the women in the audience says, “they look like a joke.”  This highlights why human beings love stories so much. Stories help us see into the lives and experiences of others. In real life, there is no way we could know the response of the woman in the audience. We don’t even know such auditions exist, this story lets us become the fly on the wall as three men follow their dreams.

Let’s look at a basic example of how narrative creates order. Start the link below, but before you play the video, mute the volume.

 

Now play the video again with the volume up, notice the difference? Without narration or narrative, everything appears random, incoherent, and uninteresting.

The stories that fascinate us always provide what we need to understand it- or provide for an audience the center of consciousness or perception. That’s just a fancy way of saying, “seeing an interesting story through the eyes of an interesting character, and never getting lost as events unfold.”

In The Art of the Novel Henry James states, “…there are…five million ways to tell a story, each of them justified if it provides a ‘center’ for the work….” James believed that a good story was always interesting and accomplished what it’s author intended it to. If it didn’t do that? The book was awful. For the record, James loved Treasure Island for the exact stated reason.

ship

Henry James liked Treasure Island.

So let’s go back to our tenors and their tryouts. What do you suppose this clip was intended to do (theme)? Did it accomplish what it was shooting for? Is the narrative successful? What emotions did you experience as you watched?

My next post will be about the “nuts and bolts” of building narrative.