Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Being a Johnny


This past weekend, I was in Annapolis. Strolling old, familiar streets, laughing with old, familiar friends. Striding across rain-dampened grass that I've darted over many a time, struggling to keep a book-laden bag on my shoulder.

It was homecoming weekend at St. John's College. And we went home.

Now, homecoming is every year, but this is the first we've gone. Because it was our 10th. Ten years! Gracious, that makes me feel old, LOL. But as we sat on the Quad, browsed through the bookstore, and watched the truly spectacular Star-Spangled Fireworks light up the sky over back campus, I realized it didn't matter how long we'd been gone--there's something about St. John's that never leaves you.

The event was over the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, the battle that "The Star-Spangled Banner" commemorates--because Francis Scott Key was an alumnus, thank you very much. =) One of our most famous, but...well, then again we can also claim the creator of MacGuyver. In fact, he received an award at the banquet this year. So yeah. FSK + MacGuyver. St. John's obviously rocks. ;-)
View of McDowell Hall from Back Campus

I don't often just talk about St. John's on here because, well...so few people know what it's all about, and I could ramble on forever on the subject, which no one wants, LOL. But today, I have to talk a bit about it. Because if anything struck me this weekend, it wasn't the fireworks. It was the camaraderie. It was the sure knowledge that whatever stranger I spoke to on campus, we had common ground.

We are Johnnies. And that means something very special.

It means we can talk about Plato, Aristotle, and St. Aquinas. It means we debate Marx and Jefferson and Nietzsche. It means we have a working knowledge of physics and metaphysics and biology and chemistry...and that we might take a conversation on one of those into music theory at any moment. It means we know how to think, we've learned how to ask questions. It means we can carry on a conversation with absolutely anyone, on any topic...though fair warning, we might sneak Greek into the weirdest places.
This is from the SJC website...but it's also pretty much one of my bookcases

Being a Johnny means loving books. Loving literature. Loving philosophy. But more, it means loving learning. It means cherishing what has shaped us, not just the way we turn out. It means recognizing the value of the journey. It means recognizing that different opinions, different perspectives, different conclusions aren't to be dismissed--they're to be learned from. They don't have to convince us...but you know, in examining what we don't agree with, we often discover why.

Yes, we study Mr. God Is Dead right along with Augustine and Aquinas and the Bible itself. And you know what? Reading other people who question the very existence of God, the value of faith, made me value it all the more. Made me understand why I believe what I do...and made me able to talk about it to those who don't.

St. John's helped make me who I am. In every single book I've written, you'll find reference to Program material--whether it be based on the work themselves (like Jewel of Persia) or feature cameos of some of my favorite books (Brook, in my upcoming The Lost Heiress, is wading through the German of Hegel, which is so difficult that German students often use the English translation!).

This weekend, I was reminded of all that. I got to hang out with my friends and talk about everything from dog breeding to Plato's Symposium. Wine making to the publishing industry. I got to chat with current students and know that, though I'm a decade older, we all have that Johnny soul. I got to watch alumni from the '40s come up to the podium and talk about how they fled Hitler's Germany...and were blessed to find the opportunity in America to attend St. John's.

I got to remember why I so love asking questions, exploring the what-ifs, thinking through a story...and teaching my kids Greek (everyone thought that was awesome, by the way). I got to be, not just a wife, not just a mommy, not just a teacher or a writer or an editor...I got to be a Johnny. I'd almost forgotten how cool a distinction that is.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Word of the Week - Level

We all know what level means, right? It's to be even, going neither up nor down. It's the state of being so, like the levels of a house. It's the tool that guarantees it. And all the idioms containing it arise from those. Sure.

But I was quite surprised to learn that the tool is the chronologically first meaning! The English word for such a tool dates from the mid-1300s, taken from the French livel, which comes in turn from the Latin libella -- "scale, balance, unit of weight." The meaning of "horizontally" followed in about 1400, and the line indicated by such a measure in 1530. The phrase on the level originally didn't mean "honest and fair"--it meant "moderate, without great ambition." I had no clue about that one!

The adjective, which I would have assumed to be the oldest definition, didn't in face come along until the early 15th century. Which, granted, is still stinkin' old, LOL. But it's still at least 50 years after the noun, possibly as many as a hundred. The verb followed within another half-century.

Most of the familiar idioms still in use today (level off, level with me...) date from the 1920s. Level off is, not surprisingly, from aviation. 


 photo credit: Walt Stoneburner via photopin cc

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Seashells


Last week, my family had the joy of vacationing in Hatteras, on the southern tip of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as far south as one can go before needing a ferry to continue. We basked in the sun. We played in the waves. We relaxed.

And we collected seashells.

The kids had been looking forward to that part for weeks. When family asked them what they wanted to do on vacation, their answers were: (1) play mini-golf, (2) get Sweet Frog frozen yogurt, and (3) collect seashells.

One small catch--the beach by our house had virtually no shells. For the first few days, they collected about 5. And at least two of those came from the strip of rocks and shells beside our condo rather than the beach, LOL. On Wednesday night, a few had washed to shore, and as we were out hunting ghost crabs, the kids grabbed up all the shells they could find. Very few were what I would deem keepable, but they were the only ones we'd seen, so...

Then on Thursday, we got an off-road driving permit and took the Jeep out onto Buxton point, behind the Hatteras lighthouse. This sandy peninsula was populated by other 4x4s, surrounded by blue-green water...and littered with big, beautiful shells. Eureka!

Now, I've been collecting shells for a lot of years...but always had limited space for bringing them home. So I had to come up with criteria for what I kept and what I left. For me it usually comes down to color and shape. I'm a sucker for pinks and purples. And for whole, unbroken shells. I like the kinds that have swirling patterns. And the ultimate find, of course, is a conch.

My kids though...they would pick up the ugliest, weirdest looking things! Ones I would have tossed back in a heartbeat they clung to with fierce determination.

The broken ones. (But Mommy, look at the cool pattern it makes along the break!)

The common ones. (I can use it as a shovel!)

The ugly ones. (But look, it has fossils in it!)

The ones just like the other twenty they already kept. (Oh cool, now it's a collection!)

At first I tried to reason with them, to impose my logic. (Ha! LOL) And on some, we had no disagreement, like the perfect little conch we found on Friday, our second day at the point. Or the ones with holes that Xoe can turn into necklaces.

But those others...

As I walked the sand, as I kept my eye out for what I deemed the perfect shell, I stopped arguing with the kids. Let them pick whatever they wanted right then--but we'd have to sort through them before we left. No way could we take all those buckets- and bags-full home! There wasn't room in our Jeep.

And yet, as I walked the sand, I knew I wouldn't have the heart to take away the shells they loved, just because I didn't see the beauty in them. In fact, the more I saw the mangled shells they chose, the more I loved those kids.

Because they see beauty where I saw scars.

They see purpose where I see brokenness.

They see what it looked like whole where I see the jagged edge left behind.

They see potential where I see hopelessness.

They marvel at the size where I screw up my nose at the color.

They are so, so much closer to looking at things through God's eyes than I am.

Because let's face it--we're not the pretty, perfect seashells. We're the broken ones. The scarred ones. The mangled ones. The shattered ones. The ugly ones. We're the ones discerning eyes would pass over. We're the ones perfection has long ago left behind.

And God loves us. Not despite our flaws, but because each crack, each track of worm-eating, each place where the sand has rubbed us raw...those are part of us. Part of what makes us who we are. Part of what God loves. He can see the whole, unbroken creation we are in potential...but he can also see the way he can use us in our brokenness. Because of our brokenness.

Yes, we came home with buckets and bags of seashells. And to be honest, I still shake my head at some of them.

But I'm glad. I'm so glad my kids picked up the ones I never would have. Because it proves that their eyes, their hearts, their imaginations go far beyond what I can see. And I thank the Lord that he's given them a bit of his vision. Because if they can find the beauty in this...

...then I know they also see the beauty in us. Just like our Father.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Word of the Week - Rumbustious

In case you haven't heard yet, Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland is on sale until September 15! All digital versions are only $0.99, which is a waaaaaaaay lower price than it's usual $8+. If you were waiting for the right time to get this one, it's here. =)

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | ChristianBook.com | iTunes

But as I was promoting the start of the sale while on vacation last week, I realized that I honestly couldn't even remember parts of this book, LOL. I hadn't read it since a few months before its release in fall of 2011, so I though, "Hey, I'm on vacation--I'm not working on anything else. Why not?" So I sat down and became reacquainted with Lark and Emerson and Wiley, with Edwinn and Sena and Kate and Alice.

And I also remembered one of my fun word finds. I mentioned it in a Remember When Wednesday post way back in January 2011, but I thought it deserved its own Word of the Week.

It started from wanting to describe a passel of boys on Christmas as rambunctious. The problem being that rambunctious wasn't created until 1859--and this book is set in 1783. But etymonline.com helpfully pointed out that rambunctious was a later form of rumbunctious... though even that was from 1830. Still no help for me!

But! Rumbunctious is in turn a variation on a word from 1778--rumbustious. Etymologists don't seem entirely certain of the origins on this word, but they suggest that it's a combination of "rum + boisterous, robustious, bumptious." And it worked for me! I figured it was close enough to rambunctious  that no one would wonder at its meaning, but it also gave a certain something to the tone. =)

Of course, vacation is now over, and it's back to the grind of school and editing for me and mine. But no fears--I've got some beach-inspired musings planned for later this week. ;-) 


Monday, September 1, 2014

I Am Here...

Okay, so I'm not technically at the lighthouse right this moment. Unless you happen to be reading this when we, in fact, are. But you wouldn't know that. And neither would I...

The point being, I'm on vacation! Woot! Much-needed and much-anticipated. So no blogging this week. I'm too busy getting sunburnt (yes, I'm wearing sunblock. But I'm still getting burnt, because apparently I only have to think about sunshine to get burnt...), building sandcastles, and reading.

See you back here next week!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Reading as an Editor

I admit it--I don't read for pleasure as much as I used to. Mostly because during the school year, I spend so many hours a day reading to my kids, writing, and editing that by the end of the day, my eyes and brain say, "Nope, we're done. Stare at the television or go to sleep. Those are your choices."

But there's another reason. It's because I've trained myself so much to be an editor that I can't read a book without noting what I'd ask the author to change...and that get really, really annoying when I'm just reading for fun, LOL.

Now, the mark of a truly excellent book is when the editor switches off, or at least finds nothing to whine about. That happens, and I love it when it does. But other times...yeah. I recently read a dystopian where the character at one point mentions that in her town, there's no music. She barely has a concept of what it is. Then a few scenes later, she likens someone's breathing to a concertina. Um, no. If you don't know what music is, you aren't going to think in terms of instruments. Sorry. A first person book that suddenly goes out of POV and tells me what another character is thinking? Shudder. And that historical full of inaccuracies? Ouch.

I guess it's kinda like a doctor watching a medical show. Or someone in law enforcement watching CSI. They're going to notice the faults, the things the show gets wrong, and it's going to ruin it for them. Sadly, that's how some books are for me these days. It's one thing to notice all the typos, which I've always done. But these days, it's so much more than that.

But then it makes me wonder.

How can God stand to watch us?? LOL. I mean, He's got it all right. He knows what He's doing. He knows the right thing, the wrong thing, the so-so things we could do in each moment, and He sees how often we go the wrong way. How often we miss the mark.

And I can imagine Him in heaven, with his metaphorical red pen, saying, "You know, if you'd just let me give you some advice right here..."

But here's another thing I've learned about editors--you have to let them give you advice. Freelancers you hire, and you can totally choose whether to take their advice or ignore them. When you've signed a contract with a publishing house, you kinda have to listen to what they say. Kinda. But you might be surprised at how many authors refuse, and take the cancellation of their contract over giving over control of their story.

What about in our lives? Do we give over control to Him? He, who is the ultimate author? The ultimate editor? Who understands far better than we do where the plots of our lives are going? Who knows what's relevant and what isn't? Where our focus should be?

Lord, be my editor. Catch all my errors and help me correct them. Cut out all that fluff I don't need in my life. Keep my words tight and true to You. Lord, be my editor...and help me to take Your perfect advice.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Remember When . . . the King was Crowned

Let's blame it on being an American--I know little about the details of how a king (or queen) becomes a king (or queen). In my head, it's an instant thing when the previous monarch passes away. A bit, I suppose, like the swearing-in of the vice president as president when the president dies. It happens within hours. Voila. Done.

And yes, to a point that's how it is. Researching the Edwardian era, I of course discovered that King Edward died in May of 1910--a mere 3 months before The Lost Heiress begins. But in my head, that meant the transition was already over. His son, King George, became king. Voila. Done.

I honestly didn't think to look into any more than that while writing The Lost Heiress. I turned it in. No biggie. Then I started my research for The Outcast Duchess, and through that reading realized the error of my ways. And saw that King George's coronation hadn't been before my stories started. Oh no. It was smack dab in the middle of Brook's first Season in The Lost Heiress--June, 1911. A year after his father's death. A year, obviously, to prepare for the momentous day. In my story--and I didn't once mention it. Yikes!
King George V in coronation robes, 1911

Luckily, it's early days yet in edits, LOL.





Though books set up to WWI are deemed Edwardian, King George V was the king all through my series. And though it was his father who set the standard for the extravagance and luxury that made the era famous, I have to say I think I would have liked George much better. Where Edward was over-indulgent, George was more restrained. Where Edward was uninhibited, George seems to have been composed. They were two very different men . . . and yet, in his journal after his father's death, George wrote that on that day he lost his dearest friend--his father.

Sniff. Sniff, sniff.

I think one of the things I admire most about this man who is king during my stories though, is his own tale of love.

You see, he wasn't always the heir-apparent. He was the second son, and his brother was the one everyone thought would be the next king. He thought his destiny was to serve in the Royal Navy, and he embraced that gladly. He fell in love with his German cousin, but the families didn't approve the match. He proposed anyway--she refused him and married the heir to the king of Romania instead.

Two years later, George's older brother Albert, the presumed heir, became engaged to a cousin the family did approve of--Princess Victoria Mary of Teck. The family called her May (as there was kinda still a Victoria on the throne at the time...) But only six months into their engagement, Albert died of pneumonia.

It was grief that brought May and George together. They mourned Albert together. They comforted each other. And they fell in love. Theirs was a story of socially-acceptable-matches meeting deep-from-the-heart love...and oh, how history needs those!

Though King Edward was known for his affairs and paramours, King George was known for his dedication to his wife. He had a hard time, he himself admitted, expressing his feelings out loud. So they exchanged love letters all their lives.

Sniff. Sniff, sniff.

Yes, this is a king who deserves some mention in my series! And though in The Lost Heiress I really only mention his coronation a couple times, I'm going to try to put a bit more about him in later books. Because though I'm calling this an Edwardian series, Edward was gone. George was ruling. And he was setting an example that deserves to be noted.