Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott: a Review

I chose to read this book for my 2016 Reading Challenge as one I’d previously abandoned. When I came to this category in the challenge, I was hard pressed to come up with something that qualified. I can recall only one time that I actually gave up on a book without finishing it, and that was so long ago I can recall neither the name of the author nor the title of the book. I’m not even sure what sort of book it was.

Ivanhoe, however, I gave up on before I ever began reading it in the first place. Back when I was in high school, I tried to earn a little extra credit in my English class. I was going to read Ivanhoe and write a paper on it. I never did. So, as the closest thing to an abandoned book that I could come up with, Ivanhoe made it onto my challenge list.

Published in 1820, the style of Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, is clearly not modern. Getting started on this book was difficult to say the least. Particularly beginning with the Introduction and the Dedicatory Epistle in which Scott laboriously declares his qualifications to write this book. Unless you’re into the historical or cultural study of the author and his works, I suggest skipping those parts.

Though it was difficult getting started, the story does eventually pick up. It is the story of King Richard, the Lion-Hearted, Robin Hood and his merry band and all the chivalrous, knighthood culture of twelfth century England. Lots of jousting, beautiful maidens, kidnapping, love, greed and religious angst.

Scott wrote from an omniscient point of view, a technique not often used any more, but popular in his time. Within this framework, Scott takes something of a god-like perspective over the story and characters. He frequently takes liberties with the time line, shifting backward and forward through time in order to catch up characters with the rest of the story. This is at times distracting, as is the author’s frequent intrusions into the narrative to directly address the reader. Scott takes great pride in his historical research and often inserts far more detail than is perhaps necessary to advance the story. And then deliberately draws the reader’s attention to those details.

The story finishes with a tidy closing of the circle first opened at the beginning of the book. The title character Ivanhoe finishes in a jousting duel with another knight who at the beginning arrogantly challenges Ivanhoe. The duel itself, however, is a bit disappointingly understated, ending in something of a “deus ex machina” sort of device.

According to britanica.com, Sir Walter Scott “is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel.” He wrote many such novels, most exploring the history of his native Scotland. He was also a poet, historian and biographer. Ivanhoe remains Scott’s most popular book.

Overall, I found the book interesting. Will I read more of his work? Probably not. But I’m glad I took the time to read this one.

Is It Done Yet? Now? How About Now?

Unfinished.

This is something I unfortunately know more about than I’d like. I’m in the middle of a novel that I’ve been writing since 2010. It’s nearly finished. Sort of. I wrote the first 50,000 words in the frenzy of my first National Novel Writing Month experience.

I then found that after November ended, it was difficult to maintain any sort of writing routine. And impossible to keep up the same frenetic pace of November. I managed to add another 25,000 words, or so, over the course of the next year, but it was extremely slow going.

The next November I started a new novel. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is that you write a new novel rather than work on one you are already invested in. This is a good idea, and one I typically try to adhere to. However, I now had two unfinished novels clamoring for my attention.

In the years since I began the first novel I found myself bombarded with new, shiny novel ideas. I’ve started a number of projects that remain incomplete. I have completed two novels – an adult sci-fi and a middle-grade adventure – but the original novel remains incomplete.

I haven’t abandoned the novel, and it continues to grow and develop, even when I’m not actively working on it. I made this novel my Camp NaNo project in July 2015 and have added another 50,000 words. However, in the time between first starting this project, and now, new developments have rendered the first half badly in need of rewriting. Like world changing new developments.

Now, despite the conflicting interests of multiple writing projects, I have made this novel my priority. I am more determined than ever to see it through to completion. I’ve already committed to making this my project for this year’s NaNoWriMo (yes, I’m publicly declaring my rebellion!).

I’m committed to finishing this novel. I’d like this to be the November I write “the end.” I’m ready to finish and move on. I’ve got an outline of the first half of the novel that needs to be rewritten. I’m working on character profiles. I have investigated map making software in order to put together a map of my fictional world. All the pieces are in place. It’s time to make this dream a reality.

Manuscript

Now?

The Great Literary Mash-up

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been participating in the Twitter #hashtag game, WIPjoy. Hosted by @simmeringmind, there is a prompt for each day encouraging writers to share about their current work in progress.

WIPjoy_Sept2016

Today’s prompt is this: If you could choose any other book to mash-up with your own, which would it be? I never intended to write an entire blog post on this subject, but in trying to come up with an answer, that’s just exactly what happened.

I’ve honestly never given any thought to this idea – that of mashing up the world I’ve created in my novel with the world created by someone else. I’ve never considered writing fan fiction either. Those worlds, no matter how much I’ve fallen in love with them, belong to someone else.

The more I thought about this question, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that my work is already a mash-up of sorts of everything I’ve ever read, seen or experienced.

I’ve been a reader from a very young age. Some early influences I can remember include the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery series. Anything by Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary. I loved Charlotte’s Web, the Black Stallion books and Where the Red Fern Grows.

At one point I went through a romance phase and I read every Harlequin or similar title I could get my hands on. The particulars of the story didn’t matter – cowboys, cops, surf stars – I read all of them. I read the sweet romances, the intrigue stories, even the “spicy” ones!

I don’t remember for sure when I read my first fantasy novel, but I’m pretty sure it was J. R. R. Tolkein. I was hooked in an instant. Tolkein was quickly followed by others: Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tad Williams.

There’s been more influences, of course. Suspense and thrillers like John Grisham, Tami Hoag, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich. And classics such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, George Orwell, Mark Twain.

All of these and more have become “mashed up” together in my imagination. This is where my own stories come from.

I can’t deny that the greatest influence has been my background in Christian faith – an influence that began even before my birth. I grew up going to church, reading the Bible and so on. The stories of Noah’s Ark, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Balaam’s Donkey, the miracles of Jesus. These stories formed the foundation of my imagination.

What then would I “mash up” with my own current novel in progress? I can’t choose just one. I’d have to go with the rich, world-building details of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the exciting suspense of Tami Hoag, the beautiful language of Shakespeare and the simple, outright fun of Janet Evanovich.

And yes, I’ll own my faith too. This is who I am, and I write from this worldview. A worldview that is built on the foundation of faith and that expands with each new book, each new experience. I won’t pretend it’s a complete or perfect worldview. That’s why I keep reading. And writing.

Passion & Creativity: In Pursuit of Ingenuity

pas·sion·ate
adjective
showing or caused by strong feelings or a strong belief

There are a number of things I’m passionate about: my children, words, needle crafts, football, teddy bears, cheesecake. When I put this list together, a common theme emerged: creativity.

Growing up, imagination and creativity were encouraged in my home. There was a lot of reading. We played music. My sisters and I played with dolls, with cars, with building blocks. Once in school, I started drawing and writing. Along the way I picked up counted cross-stitch, taught myself crochet and discovered miniature teddy bears.

As a mother, creativity is no less important to me. I do everything I can to encourage my children to use their imagination. We read together, color together, build together. I take great delight in their creative endeavors. I make sure they see me read and write.spiderman_m

And I love the results. Their efforts at art make me happy. Their enthusiasm for library visits and reading books thrills me. Now they are learning to read and write for themselves, and I can’t wait to see where they go with that.

cre·a·tiv·i·ty
noun
the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work
synonyms: inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality, individuality, artistry, inspiration, vision, enterprise, initiative, resourcefulness

I love this list of synonyms for creativity. Innovation, individuality, inventiveness, vision. Creativity isn’t all about art. There is creativity in science and engineering as well. I’m sure I’m not the only parent with a love/hate relationship with Legos. Incredibly frustrating to maintain and the basis of any number of conflicts, they nevertheless provide hours of creative play. I am always impressed with the ingenious structures my boys come up with.

enterprise_eSo yes, I am passionate about pursuing creativity. I’ll continue to pursue it for myself with my writing. And, perhaps more importantly, I will encourage the pursuit of creativity in my children, whatever form it takes for them.

I think Albert Einstein has the right of it…

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.
– Albert Einstein

National Novel Writing Month: Lessons Learned & What Happens Now

The idea behind National Novel Writing Month is to engage in a crazy, creative endeavor and complete a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This event began in 1999 and has since become an international sensation. If you’ve never checked it out, you should!

I began participating in NaNoWriMo in 2010. I wrote the first 50,000 words of a novel I have yet to fully complete. I have worked on this novel on and off since then, and the word count is currently somewhere around 150,000. I’ve learned a great deal in the intervening years, however, and much of that first 50k needs to be completely rewritten.

One thing I learned is that while there is great energy in writing by the seat of your pants (a.k.a. pantsing), a lot of time can be saved with a little planning before jumping into a novel-length project. Therefore, as November is once again approaching, I find myself working to better prepare myself to write the ending of this long overdue novel.

Currently, I am slogging through extensive character profiles. This is work I’ve actually done previously, but tragically lost in a recent computer failure. Another lesson, hard learned along the way. Back up your work! Do it now, and do it frequently!

I am very close to finishing this novel. My goal now is to complete it this November. In the coming weeks before a new NaNoWriMo event begins, I intend to prepare. I will be ready with characters I know better than I know myself. And I will have a workable outline for finishing this novel.

Are you planning to write this November? How are you preparing? If you’ve done this before, what lessons have you learned?

Stop That Girl, by Elizabeth McKenzie: A Review

Book #10 on the 2016 Reading Challenge is Stop That Girl, by Elizabeth McKenzie, a book I own but have never read. This is true of many books on my shelf as I have a bad habit of buying more books even when I have so many still to read. I’ll get to them all eventually, I swear!

I bought this book several years ago following a writer’s conference at which Ms McKenzie was a presenter. The conference opened with an Author’s Night where each of the presenters had an opportunity to offer a reading from one of their works. Ms McKenzie read a passage from Stop That Girl. I was delighted and intrigued. I bought a copy.

This book is the story of Ann Ransom and it opens when she is a girl of about eight. Each chapter is a self-contained moment in Ann’s life, a single episode. Written in the first person, we get to be witnesses to Ann’s life from childhood to adulthood, through the remarriage of her mother, the birth of a half-sister and encounters with a grandmother who might be crazy.

Published in 2005, Stop That Girl is McKenzie’s debut novel. It’s bright and funny, and it demonstrates family dysfunction at its finest. It was a delight to read. McKenzie is the author of two more books plus multiple works of short fiction published by The New Yorker, the Pushcart Prize anthology and more. Find out more about Elizabeth McKenzie at her website, stopthatgirl.com.

A Rare Day

This morning I got to wake up without the aid of an alarm clock or kids. The children finally know that they’ll have to ask their daddy for help with the Xbox – mommy has remained deliberately ignorant of this technology.

I spent a good hour reading various blogs. It was nice to catch up on some of this reading I don’t always have the time to do on a week day. In my short experience in the blogging world, I’ve come across some great writers and I wish I had more time to spend reading.

Then, I got to sit down with a cup of coffee and actually consume the entire thing without interruption before it went cold. This is a rare treat, and I took full advantage. I read my book and very nearly finished it.

My big errand for the day was taking my youngest son to pick out his backpack. He starts preschool this week. He was pretty excited about the backpack and wanted to put it on right away.

To finish my day, I joined some fellow writers for our twice-monthly writing group. We meet at a coffee shop and just write. We’re working on various projects from personal blogs to novels of nearly all genres. It’s a great, productive atmosphere where I can usually accomplish a fairly decent amount of work.

This was a good day. A rare day in which I was able to be quite lazy. A chance to recharge and take a step back from all the daily responsibilities of being a mom. I may regret it tomorrow when I have to do all the laundry I didn’t do today, but for now, I will enjoy the moment.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut: a Review

Book #8 in the 2016 Reading Challenge is a book that was banned at some point. For this, I chose to read Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. I wondered why this book had been banned, so I tried to find out. Among the reasons, I found it was due to profanity, explicit sexual references and violent imagery. It has been banned and challenged many times in the years since it’s publication in 1969.

To be honest, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed this book. I had a difficult time getting started on it, and even by the time I was halfway through, I still felt like I was reading an assignment.

Written during the Vietnam war, this is very much an anti-war statement. It is intentionally vulgar and offensive. Vonnegut’s dark humor is put to full effect. He uses some shocking and sometimes poignant imagery in order to convey his message. And I might say, quite effectively.

There was one image in particular I found rather stunning. The book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has become “unstuck in time” and in this scene, he is watching a war movie, but in reverse. American bombers take off backwards from England and return over Germany while German fighters suck bullets and shrapnel from the bombers. Over the bombed German city, the flames are sucked in and tucked neatly back into the bombs which then return to the planes. It concludes…

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so that they would never hurt anybody again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

It’s a beautiful image, one that will likely stay with me a long time. If only it were that easy to pack up war and put it away for good.

Would I recommend this book? Though I didn’t particularly enjoy it, this book includes some striking images. If you are not put off by the vulgarity and explicit language, it has its moments. So, yes, go ahead and read it. Be offended even. But dare to look beyond the offensive language and see what was so offensive to Vonnegut in the first place that he had to write this book: war.

A Cheesecake for Every Season

Several years ago I discovered a love for cheesecake. This rich, delectable dessert with a reputation for being difficult is extremely versatile and delicious.

I began my cheesecake baking adventures with a simple boxed no-bake mix. Though tasty enough, it wasn’t quite satisfying and I quickly moved on to the Philadelphia 3-step Cheesecake recipe. I had to actually bake this one, but it uses a pre-made graham cracker crust.

When I wanted to liven this recipe up a bit, I started looking up recipes online and found so many yummy sounding options. One problem. I didn’t have a spring-form pan. Still, I dressed up the basic 3-step recipe by adding different things, like pumpkin or hazelnut coffee.

Still, it was a few years later when I received a spring-form pan as a gift one Christmas, that I really went nuts with the cheesecake baking. I’ve tried more recipes in the last several years than I can remember. My co-workers have become my favorite guinea pigs, always willing to try out a new cheesecake. And I now am the proud owner of three spring-form pans. Which means, in theory, I could make up to three at a time.

There are literally hundreds of cheesecake recipes online, in as many different flavors. There is a cheesecake suitable for every season, for any occasion. Here is a list of some of the favorites I’ve made before. A cheesecake for every month!

January
What better way to ring in the new year than with a cheesecake straight from the city where the biggest party takes place every New Year’s? Serve it as it is, or dress it up. A simple Blueberry Compote is nice. Here is my favorite version of this popular New York Style cheesecake.

February
This one is a beautiful upgrade to the box of chocolates. The White Chocolate & Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake is the perfect finish for any romantic dinner.

March
A cheesecake doesn’t have to be a dessert. Try this Savory Cheesecake for a bit of a change. With or without the bacon crumbles, it makes for a tasty dish that will liven up any brunch gathering.

April
This Espresso Cheesecake is a truly decadent dessert, and one of my personal favorites. If you plan to serve it with dinner, however, you might want to consider making it in a decaf version.

May
Another savory version, the Fiesta Cheesecake will make a colorful and tasty addition to any celebration. This unique cheesecake is a lot of fun to make.

June
This one is my favorite that I’ve every made. The Strawberry Lemonade Cheesecake is light, creamy, and just plain delicious! Plus it’s gorgeous. And it’s a good thing too, it’s a little bit more involved that many other recipes.

July
What treat defines summer better than the classic s’more? Put into a cheesecake, it brings this campfire treat to the table. I’ve never made this one with the berries, but the cake alone is fantastic.

August
Cap off summer with this fun and unique Carrot Cake Cheesecake. The carrot cake serves as the base with a decadent cheesecake top. This also works well as cupcakes. Delicious!

September
It’s time for going back to school. Celebrate with this downright sinful Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake.

October
There’s no better fall dessert than this Pumpkin Marble Cheesecake. It’s beautiful and delicious with a wonderfully spicy gingersnap crust.

November
Another perfectly seasonal dessert is an Apple Nut Cheesecake. This one is my go-to when I need something quick. (My apologies, I can’t seem to locate this recipe online anymore. There’s some good looking ones, but none are the one I’m familiar with.)

December
Finish off a year of cheesecakes with this amazing Layered Turtle Cheesecake. Layers of chocolate and white cheesecake and topped with a chocolate ganache, pecans and caramel drizzle.

There you have it, some of my favorite cheesecake recipes. Enjoy one, or enjoy them all! Go on your own internet search for something in your favorite flavor. In my experience, cheesecake doesn’t have to be as touchy and difficult as it’s reputation makes out. It might be time consuming, but the reward is well worth it.

Novel No. 4 in B Minor

Something happened today as I pondered the WordPress daily prompt, melody. I love music. It’s always been a part of my existence. I wondered what I might write about this word.

I’ve also been pondering the Twitter #hashtag event #WIPjoy that is going on throughout the month of September. It’s hosted by @simmeringmind, and she’s put together a prompt for every day. I’m already two days behind because September sort of snuck up on me. I’ll get caught up though!

WIPjoy_Sept2016

As I pondered these two seemingly separate things on my drive to work this morning they merged into one. I suddenly realized that the novel I’m working on involves a great deal of music. My main character, after all, is a bard. Music is his life.

It occurred to me that this character’s story line is the primary melody of my novel. It is his conflict with the main antagonist that provides the basis for the entire story. At the same time, there are several other supporting characters on both sides of the “good vs. evil” line. These, I decided are the harmonies. They support and compliment the melody line.

I am suddenly excited again about this new revelation I’ve discovered about this novel in progress. This one has been a long time in coming and it deserves to be completed. Let’s make some music!