On Kingdom Mountain

On Kingdom Mountain, set in Vermont in 1930, revolved around the character of Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson, an incredibly eccentric mountain woman who carved birds, ran a bookstore, and was the last of her family to live on Kingdom Mountain.   At first Miss Jane’s forthright nature can be a little annoying; she reminded me of Anne of Green Gables on steroids.  Still, when she used her wits to deal with her cousin, Eben Kinneson, as they battled over the road he and the town fathers wanted to run over her mountain, I found myself rooting for Miss Jane.

Intertwined with the battle over Kingdom Mountain was the story of Henry Satterfield, the rainmaking aviator and grandson of a thief who stole Civil War gold and supposedly hid it on Miss Jane’s mountain.  A charming romance between Henry and Miss Jane ensued, and they worked together to solve the riddle of the missing gold, which was bound up in the mystery of her long lost uncle.  Unfortunately, the biplane pilot’s heart was set toward finding the lost treasure more than it was on making Miss Jane his bride.

My only complaint with the story was Miss Jane’s overwhelming lack of respect toward God.  Her words and actions on that topic were rooted in arrogance and ignorance.  Then again, if she didn’t agree with the writings of a secular author, she simply penciled out what they had written in a book.  So, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that she would do the same with a Bible.  Her inflexible nature caused her a lot of heartache, yet she never seemed to learn from it.

Many interesting peripheral characters were sprinkled throughout (the dog-cart man, Canvasback Glodgett, A Number One, and Sadie Blackberry) as well as rich history on the era and setting.  Rooted in his own family history, Howard Frank Mosher has written an often hilarious, sometimes melancholy tale about a simple way of life up against the encroaching threat of modernization.

The Hoopla About Chuppahs

Beautiful white chuppa with red flowers for outdoor wedding ceremony.

When John Welles’s best friend, Sam Feldman, invited him to a party Sam’s mother was hosting, John was not at all enthused. Sam, who always had a girlfriend on his arm, wanted John to run interference for him as he dodged the girl his mother wanted him to meet. Little could either young man have predicted how captivating Abigail Cohen, called Babby, would prove to be. Not only was Babby beautiful, the young school teacher was intelligent, articulate, and poised. John began to rethink his opinion about dating Babby, but not in time. By the end of the party, Sam and Babby hit it off exactly as Sam’s mother knew they would. John did not begrudge Sam his good fortune. Rather, he and Claude Willoughby were the best men at Sam and Babby’s wedding.

Being Jewish meant Sam and Babby took their vows under a chuppah. A chuppah is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. There are many traditions surrounding the chuppah, and they have changed throughout the years depending on an orthodox or modern interpretation.

The chuppah is usually a square of cloth supported by four poles. The fabric can be as elegant as silk or velvet, as simple as cotton or linen, or as important as an heirloom piece of lace or tallit belonging to a family member. The poles can be free-standing or held in place by friends of the couple. Either way, the poles should touch the ground. It is a great honor to be asked to hold the chuppah poles, and this role is often given to people very close to the couple.

Many couples like to decorate the chuppah poles and tops to match the theme of their wedding. Whatever material is chosen, be sure that it will withstand unpredictable weather conditions if the ceremony is outdoors. Ruining a family heirloom or the collapse of an unsteady chuppah will definitely spoil the wedding.

the-hoopla-about-chuppahs-2The purpose of the chuppah is to symbolize the new home the couple will create. At one time, the cloth chuppah was draped around the bride and groom but was later spread over their heads. Ancient rabbis compared the chuppah to Abraham’s tent during Biblical times. Abraham was famous for his hospitality, and since his tent was open on all four sides, travelers could enter from any direction.

The bride and groom are brought to the chuppah by both parents. The space inside the chuppah should be big enough for the couple, clergy, and a small table for ritual items such as wine and glasses. The bride will also need enough room to circle her groom without tripping or snagging her dress. Don’t forget to make the chuppah tall enough for the tallest person to stand under without hitting the fabric where it will drag in the center. Family and friends in the wedding party, including parents, often stand outside the chuppah. Afterward, the new couple can receive guests in their chuppah as a symbol of the love and openness of the home they will build together.

Being Strong for Melinda

trial-or-tribulationSharon and Robert have spent many dark and lonely hours, separated from each other, asking for the things they believed were right and good. Too many times they listened to doctors whose explanations left them staring and openmouthed, their minds weighted down with things they struggled to comprehend.

Endless dashes to the hospital turned into a permanent stay for their only child. She looks like a little caterpillar cocooned in blankets, bandages, and wires from a host of monitors. Robert calls her his baby bug waiting to emerge with new wings.

Prayer requests make the round on social media. Praise reports are given when their daughter rallies. Many drop off when her condition lags. The weak and faithless have no explanation for this decline. They cannot explain why they couldn’t get Melinda healed, make excuses for God as if He needed them. All of it wears on Sharon and Robert until they pray for release for their beloved child because that must be what God wants for her, right?

With heavy hearts, tears amassing in their eyes, they claim they are willing to accept this for their baby girl. Each buries a duplicitous heart beneath stoic faces and solemn nods of the head. They just want to quit, for this to be over. They never speak of it anymore. In fact, they’ve stopped talking to each other at all. The constant company of the Women’s Bible Study Group and Men’s Fellowship doesn’t allow for much private conversation between them. Such good people, these men and women, who stay with Sharon and Robert 24/7, praying audibly non-stop.

Sharon slips away to the ladies’ room. She does not turn on the light, locks the door. The sound of breathing in the dark room scares her for a second, but whatever harm might be done to her by the owner of the breathing is preferable to what is going on with Melinda. Especially if it ends her.

“Sharon?”

She jumps and laughs wildly.

“Robert? What on earth are you doing in the ladies’ room?”

“It’s the only place the guys from church wouldn’t think to look for me.”

More deranged laughter, shared, from the emotionally and physically drained parents. Robert sighs but does not reach for his wife. Neither move to turn on the light.

“I’m so tired, Shar.”

“You, too?”

Robert’s voice dips and rises uncontrollably.

“I just want this…I just want…”

“I know, dear. Me, too.”

Their hands meet in the darkness, instinct guiding their palms and fingers into place. But they do not draw closer to each other.

“I want to quit, Shar. No—I have to quit. I’m done. I’m finished, and I got nothing left.” He pauses to draw a deep breath. “I was in here working up the nerve to tell you.”

“Rob, that’s why I came in here.”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“When, Robert? Between entertaining and performing for the people from church—God knows I love them, but I really just need them to go home—to holding in my emotions every time the doctors tell us Melinda isn’t progressing as they’d hoped? You won’t even meet my eyes anymore.”

“I know. I’m sorry. But I was afraid if I looked at you, you’d see how scared I am—”

“—I’m scared, too—”

“—but I don’t have any answers for you, Shar. You know, I’m supposed to be the strong one and all that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, honey. I never expected solutions to this. Not from you, anyhow.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“Is it? Because we’re off the hook, but I suspect we wanted our prayers answered in a specific way we’re too afraid to admit.”

“Can I turn on the light?”

Robert flips the switch before she consents setting off a round of watery-eyed blinking.

“Well, that’s better,” he jokes.

They step closer and melt into an embrace. Sharon cries against his shoulder as he runs his hand over her hair.

“I’m not really okay with losing Melinda,” his wife says.

“I know.”

“I feel so guilty for saying that. Like I’m less of a…”

“I understand, Shar. Really, I do.”

“So, now what?”

“Now we quit pretending. We’ve got to.”

“Agreed.”

“And if Melinda…if she…”

“Dies.”

“Yes, if…then we’ll figure it out together. Just the two of us.”

“But it doesn’t have to be just you and me, Rob.”

“I know. I meant all the church crowd.”

“They mean well—and quite a few have been helpful. Sincere.”

“That’s true. But when this is over, whatever over may be, it’s just you and me, and you and God, and me and God to work through this.”

It’s Sharon’s turn to sigh.

“Is this where we were supposed to be all along, Rob?”

“You mean if we hadn’t let all the hoopla get in our way?”

“Yes,” she chuckles. “Just trusting. Shutting up and trusting that God’s got this under control.”

“That’s a hard and scary place to be.”

Sharon nods and leans her forehead against Robert’s.

“I can’t promise I won’t be sad,” he whispers.

“You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t. Just don’t be afraid.”

“I’ll try, Shar. For you.”

“No, babe. For you.”

All the prayers they cannot speak radiate between them. A knock on the restroom door precedes, “Sharon—come quick. The doctors have been looking all over for you. Sharon?”

Melinda’s parents, raw and exposed, striped down to the soul, brace each other with hands to the shoulders.

“I don’t know where they are,” says the muffled voice on the other side of the door.

“Well we have to find them now. They need to know Melinda has opened her eyes and asked for them,” a male voice joins in.

Gasps of shock from the people on the outside are lost in bursts of laughter and tears of relief from Robert and Sharon within.

Who is in Your Details?

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

God Is In The Details by Mauricio Raffin

Today’s post counts as two entries in The Weight of Words and one for Research Road. It also stresses the importance of thoroughly editing and researching your work as well as finding a good editor. We’ve all made mistakes. I have received tactful comments from followers pointing out errors I’ve made. It’s easy to correct a blog post even after the fact, but what about my novel? I don’t live in fear of discovering an error post publication…oh, wait—I do.

I can’t tell you how many times my mother has said, “What difference does it make if you’re not 100% accurate? The common reader won’t know if you’re right or wrong.” To which I explained that I would know. Then there is the historian or well-read person who may read my novel and nail me for incorrectly portrayed facts. I’m not talking about the creative license we employ when placing our fictional characters in real periods of history or an entire reimagining of historical events such as the Germans winning World War II. I’m talking about modern words and phrases ending up in the mouths of characters from an earlier century and inaccurately portrayed artifacts, architecture, places, etc. due to lazy research.

A book I finished recently had two such errors. The first was the spelling of the word carcase/carcass. About thirty years ago, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel Have His Carcase. It was part of a trio of Sayers’s books gifted to people who made a donation to the local PBS station. The announcer kept mispronouncing carcase the way one would say car case. How embarrassing. Years went by before I stumbled across the spelling carcass, which, by the way, is the only spelling Word recognizes as correct. I assumed it was another instance of American English vs. British English. What I discovered after reading several definitions for both spelling variations, is that carcase is the older, often consider archaic, of the two spellings although both are acceptable. Why is this important? The author of the aforementioned book used the word in the diary of a Carthusian monk from 1535, but she spelled it carcass. As soon as my eyes fell across the word, I was jolted out of the story to ponder whether the mistake was mine or hers. True, most people would have let it go, but for historical accuracy, well, I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

Small sidebar: When I checked writing forums for the correct spelling of carcase/carcass, Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Have His Carcase, was referenced at least once on every site as the example for the spelling carcase.

I was much less forgiving toward the second mistake. Another character, also from 1535, mentioned seeing a nine-branched menorah used in the second temple of Israel. Did you catch that? Talk about being shocked right out of the story. All my research on the subject verified what I already knew to be true: menorahs used in the temple of Israel have seven branches. The most reliable source of this information is the Bible. I don’t doubt that the candelabra people see the most and the one with which they are familiar is the nine-branched version known as a chanukkiah used in celebration of Chanukkah. The terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly. However, the two items are absolutely not the same thing.

My thoughts on the subject ranged from disappointment toward the author to wondering if the editor was too young to care about such facts or not interested in verifying them. Several years ago a self-published author gave the advice that you should research your history to the nth degree because your readers will trust that what you have written is true. That advice is what prompted me to research my own novel in minute detail. At one point, I had a fellow author/history buff tracing World War II troop movements to ensure I had placed my protagonist with a unit that had actually ended up in a battle I needed to feature.

Perhaps I sound like a fanatic. Even Andy Weir, author of The Martian, admitted to minor mistakes pointed out by other brilliant scientists, the type of knowledge the common reader wouldn’t possess. There may even be mistakes in my own novel. I sincerely hope someone catches them before it goes to printing. Still, I cannot stress enough that the writing and research of your work in progress begins with you. Beta readers and editors are essential to the process, but there is no excuse for a lazy author.

In closing, I’ll point to the title of this post as my final comment on the importance of using the correct words/phrases and conducting research. You’ve probably heard the devil is in the details and the older, slightly more common phrase, God is in the details. The first means that mistakes are usually made in the small details of a project. Usually it is a caution to pay attention to avoid failure. The second means that attention paid to small things has big rewards, or that details are important. Who is guiding your writing efforts?

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 17

Writer's Soul 17If you’re like me, you have to build up to writing, ease into it. To wake up and start writing is like jumping out of bed and going to work without coffee.   There are people who can do this; God bless their perky morning souls. I approach things a little differently by creating a positive work environment and attitude for myself. This is achieved with a cup of hot tea and reading my Bible. The simple activity sets the stage for the rest of my writing day.

Then I take a few minutes to mentally organize and deep breathe. I rid myself of negative thoughts and focus on the positive. As a writer, one of the most negative things I encounter is writer’s block. I can feel the ideas in my head, but I just can’t get them out. I accomplish this by acknowledging that I’m not truly blocked. Rather, I’m giving in to fears, doubts, and insecurities. Being able to say this makes the fears, doubts, and insecurities manageable, and I can move on. Also, I stop guilting myself for what I may or may not be as a writer, and I stop playing the comparison game. Once I’ve dealt with these issues, I’m free to write.

One of the most important things I’ve learned since I took up writing is to keep my equipment simple. All I need to create literary brilliance is a single subject notebook and a pencil. I choose a pencil over a pen because they make noise as they move across the paper. This light scratching is satisfying to my brain and is proof writing efforts. I see and hear my progress. Another technique that helps with this process is to sometimes write on lightly textured paper such as a sketch pad.

I write in capital letters. It took some getting used to, but by doing so, the process slows down my writing and focuses my attention at the same time. My ideas actually flow better. As new ideas pop into my head, I write them in the margins of my notebook.

One of the hardest things to conform to is a writing schedule. You would think making your own hours would be bliss, but I find as my own boss, sometimes I have the tendency to not take my writing seriously. I become lax beyond the point of flexible, and my writing suffers. When I set a schedule and stick with it, choosing the time of day that works best for me, I am more productive. Of course, I allow for emergencies in my life and some flexibility, but I don’t allow myself to get too far off the schedule I created.

As for social media, it took me a while to learn to not be controlled by it. Author platforms are good, but when you spend all your time maintaining them, you’re not writing. Not to mention the rising stats are addictive, and the minute you tell yourself you’ll only be on a minute, you’ve wasted thirty minutes playing. Remember: writers write; they don’t build reputations on what they’re going to do. Resolve this issue by scheduling the time you’ll spend maintaining your social media, and again, stick to it.

Another trick I use to nudge my writing along is the daily word goal. It’s effective, but I learned that when I write what needs to be written, completing a scene or story in fewer words, I still consider myself successful. In other words, I write until I’m finished. I’ve been surprised how long or short a handwritten portion turns out to be when typed. Coming short of the goal isn’t failure as long as I’m writing.

That’s when I reward myself with chocolate, a cup of tea or coffee, pleasure reading, napping, calling a friend, cooking, taking a walk. I warn against using social media or television as a reward because they lure one away from focusing.

Also, I do not punish myself for not meeting my writing goal. There are already too many negative thoughts bombarding my head, negative influences toward my writing from outside, and my resistance will pounce on these to keep me from writing. The goal is writing. The quantity is negotiable.

I keep one main project to work on, usually my novel, and resist the urge to put too many irons in the writing fire. However, I also maintain a notebook of other writing projects I’d like to work on in case I need to switch things up. Sometimes I need a project while waiting for a response to a research question or if my main project becomes heavy and I need a small break. Alternative writing includes journaling, blog posts, letter writing, flash fiction, and short stories. I use caution when setting aside my main writing project for a period of time, making sure it’s for a valid reason such as research, time to think and/or reflect, or major upheavals in my life. I know when I truly need a break and when I’m just sloughing off.

In short, I found what worked for me. Good writing habits take time to establish, so I never quit. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, have one in every room of my house, and write on the run. If I mess up, I start again. My resistance battles me along the way, but I am stronger. Resistance tells me these methods are weird, lame, and ineffective. I do them anyhow.

The easiest thing I do for my writing is be present. I simply put myself in a chair at the table with a pencil and paper. Then I made this process enjoyable by scouting out the best location in my home where I can be the most productive and tailored it to my needs with music, silence, windows, shade, snacks, and beverages. Sometimes I change locations to keep from stagnating.

One of my writing jump starts is to write twenty different words on index cards (the first twenty that come to mind or twenty things that interest me), turn them upside down, take one from top of stack, and free write for ten minutes. I do this for twenty days as a warm up and repeat as needed until I trust myself to jump into my writing day without assistance.

Another is my list of ten. In three minutes, I write down a list of ten things I did yesterday. In ten minutes, I free write about one of the things I did on my list. If nothing grabs me, I choose number three. A month of this particular warmup helped me set healthy routines. Keep in mind that these simple exercises are like mental stretching. No athlete competes without first stretching. True, it can be boring, it isn’t pretty, but it does massage your brain into creative mode.

I never forget good ole visual or audible writing prompts. Some of my best writing has been jumpstarted by a picture or piece of music. The funny things is, when I went looking for a pretty picture to write about or music to put me in the writing mood, I couldn’t find anything. Then there are pictures I wouldn’t have looked at twice and music that crossed my path that flashed a story through my brain so quickly I knew I had to put it down on paper. Don’t discount any source of inspiration.

Making myself accountable to others is effective for meeting my writing goals. I chose a writing buddy who will encourage me to stick to my goals and help me address why I might not be. I’m careful not to compare what I am doing to what my buddy is doing, and I don’t swap work with them. My buddy should have a different writing buddy to help manage his writing goals. In that vein of thought, choose wisely with whom you share your writing. He or she should be able to provide constructive feedback because poorly given feedback can knock you off your focus.

Based on my own personal experience, I don’t read writing books while I’m writing, especially the how to variety and those on writing style. I find them to be distracting because I try to incorporate all the wonderful new ideas I’m reading into my writing, and they don’t all fit. They don’t all belong, and they can hamper my writing if I’m not careful.

Most of what I learned about creating a writing life came from Heather Sellers’s book Page After Page. Some of it came from other inspirational sources. I’d love to hear what works for you and your writing, your process, and your thoughts on what I’ve written. Remember, feedback is what we authors live for.

The Best Part of Waking Up – a Sunday Morning Reminiscence

Henry gives the corner of my eye sandpaper-tongue kisses. I chuckle, trying not to move. This is the signal for Aria to roll over off her back, stretch, and groan. Then she huffs morning collie breath in my face. She knows I’m awake.  I stretch and groan; an exercise made easier by the sunlight streaming through my blinds. All fifteen parakeets begin chorusing their demand to have the cage covers removed. I place both feet on the warm spot of carpet Aria has just vacated.

“Good morning, everyone.”

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Notice the blown out elbows.

I don the world’s rattiest bathrobe and perform morning rituals. The robe wasn’t always so shabby. About twenty years ago, it was the plushest robe in blue and pink plaid flannel over thick white terrycloth. It was part of Victoria’s Secret’s Authentic Country Cotton collection; a Christmas present from Will. This robe and I have seen a lot together, but we’re keeping those secrets.

When Joshua was little, he used to wrap himself in it, tie the sash, and trail a good three feet of it on the floor. Except for the feminine color, he looked like a prince in royal robes. He would hold the collar in both little hands and say, “It smells like you, Mommy.” When he puts it on now, the hem ends just below his knees.

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Bath Time

I head to the kitchen to make tea.  Henry and Aria sneak back to the bedroom to recapture the fading essence of Sunday morning.  She curls up in the corner while he walks around her head and shoulders.  After a few nuzzles, Henry grooms Aria’s paws and snout and she licks behind his ears.  I believe she gets the better end of the deal as Henry looks like he’s been drowned after a slaking by her tongue.

Finally, I’m in possession of a tub of tea. We’re Americans; we don’t do anything small including our teacups. Will purchased honey sold on the side of the road in Hartville. It’s in a small Ball jar with a masking tape price tag. This makes it taste homier for some reason. The flavor is between clover and dessert wine and compliments my tea perfectly. Gotta love roadside stands; the best pies, corn, eggs, and honey can be found there.

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$8 for a jar of liquid sunshine – quite a deal.

Tea in hand, animals in tow, I head for the living room to read the Bible. That’s when I hear the familiar metallic creaking of Joshua’s loft bed. He’s coming down the ladder. I quickly intercept him in the hallway and guide him to my room. A morning nap in my bed will buy me some more quite time.

As for Will, he’s dead to the world in the back bedroom, banished due to ungodly snoring. The bed is a brand new, high-quality mattress from The Original Mattress Factory, so keep your scorn in check. It’s not as if I exiled him to the garage. Besides, he’s concluded that it’s easier to sleep a few nights alone than not at all with my elbow constantly in his side.

So, I’m guaranteed an hour of peace and solitude. I really could use more sleep, but I hate to waste the morning. Who knows what miracles, spectacular or ordinary, may take place? Think I’ll stay awake and find out.

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