Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief", second time around

The first time I read "The Thief", I really liked it. But the narrative pace is so brisk and the plot so compelling that I rushed through it. And, given the tricksy nature of both that plot and of the main character, I suspected that if I read it again, I'd have even more fun than I did the first time.

Well, I was right.  :D I reread "The Thief" and it was SO GOOD the second time through. Now that I knew what our hero, Eugenides, was up to, I caught so many tricks and traps and nuances that I hadn't even suspected the first time around.

My admiration for Whalen Turner grows and grows. Now I can't wait to reread the rest of the series!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, September 24, 2012

Links: all about education

I have a couple of posts up on education over at Regency Reflections:

Continuing Education:
I was lucky enough to get my part of my college education at a great books program – that is, a program based on the sort of education that’s been going over in England for centuries – back to the Regency time and beyond.
The big differences between what I did and what your average Regency gentleman did are:
1. I got to study the great works of Western literature in translation. Back in the day, you would have read Aristotle, Plato, Virgil and the rest in the original Greek and Latin.
2. I got to do it even though I’m a woman.
Mary Wollenstonecraft: Education for Women:
Though she’s considered one of the mothers of feminism, Wollenstonecraft’s feminism was very different from the feminism that makes headlines today. Instead of arguing for the right of woman to be just as raunchy as the guys, Wollenstonecraft was concerned with women’s virtue: she argued that it was impossible for women to make wise decisions if they’d never been taught how to think.

Click on over and leave a comment - if you've read the great books, what sort of an influence have they had on you? and what do you think of Wollenstonecraft's version of feminism? Love to hear your thoughts.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Interview with Inspirational Regency Author Susanne Dietze

Recently, I was thrilled to learn that a friend of mine in the ACFW, Susanne Dietze, had signed a contract for literary representation, the first big step on the road to getting published. Since I know other aspiring authors read this blog, I asked Susie if she'd be willing to answer some questions about her journey to signing with her agent, and she kindly agreed. Here's my interview with her:

Susanne, you recently signed with an agent who will be representing your inspirational
Regency romance. What made you want to write in this genre?

I find the Regency era to be quite romantic. While brief (around ten years, from around 1810-1820), England’s Regency period packed a punch, rich in art, literature, architecture, fashion, landscape design, and more. It was also a time of regimented social expectations and rules. I’m intrigued by that sense of structure and how people worked within it. I love the dukes, debutantes, deceptions and drama! And romance, of course, between a gently-bred miss in an empire-waist gown and an unsuitable gentleman in a pair of gleaming Hessians.

How did you choose which agents to query? And, what excited you particularly about the
agent you signed with?

I spent about three years doing laid-back research: peeking at agent websites, listening to friends’ experiences with their agents, reading articles and agents’ blogs, etc. It’s important to learn what genres an agent represents and what she expects from her clients. I thought about what I might need in an agent, but I also decided it was better for me to have no agent than the wrong agent. So I prayed for God’s will, kept writing, and paid attention.

For years, I’ve been familiar with Tamela Hancock Murray (my agent—wahoo!) because she’s also an author, and I have a few of her books on my shelves. Her agency, The Steve Laube Agency, is represents many authors I enjoy and respect. Tamela is knowledgeable, affirming, approachable, and professional. The idea of being on her team thrilled me.

What was the hardest part about getting your manuscript ready to query?

Finishing it! You may laugh, but I’m serious. I was at a crossroads with my writing, wondering what to do after a rejection. I decided to rework an old story. Aside from keeping the premise, I started over, writing two chapters and a synopsis. I entered the story into two contests to receive some feedback. I finaled in one contest and won the other—and received proposal requests from the final round judges, who were editors. I obliged, but I still had to finish the manuscript.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers - or any who aren't quite beginning, but who
aren't professional yet either?

First of all, write. Secondly, have a teachable spirit. Read books on craft. Enter contests for feedback: discovering your weaknesses is a gift, because you can work on those areas. Thank those contest judges for giving of their time to help you, even if you disagree with them (or felt they were mean). Attend conferences if you can. I know how expensive they are, so I can’t talk: I just attended my first national conference—RWA—in July. But it was wonderful to meet people and learn so much about writing. You can purchase workshop CDs from both RWA and ACFW conferences.

How did you feel when your agent offered to represent you?

I was thrilled and humbled. It’s hard to describe how humbled I still am.

Who were you most excited to tell about your offer?

My husband. He was in a meeting, so I couldn’t contact him right away, and it drove me nuts. Of course I was also excited to tell my kids and parents, who have been patient and encouraging.

How do you fit writing time into every day life?

There’s no easy answer to this one. I’m still figuring it out. Finding balance looks different to everyone. For me, evenings are family time. But other writers find they only have evenings available. You have to discover what works best for your family and be flexible.

What's next for you? and, where can the readers of this blog find out more about you and
what you're up to?

I’m working on a new Regency, and I just set up a website. Both projects have been fun, but both have a long way to go to be complete! The website may not be finished, but I’ve posted some articles on Regency weddings, currency, Christmas, and offered links to some fabulous research sites. I’m adding things all the time (up next, pages on Regency “cant” and fashion).


My thanks to Susanne for stopping by the blog. I encourage you to subscribe to her blog - she's one fun and encouraging lady, and you'll want to add her title to your to-read list once it has a release date!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, September 21, 2012

Video games I actually like

I only play video games, maybe . . . every other week or so?

But about every two weeks, that's what sounds most relaxing, and I give it a go.

They're always the same kind, though. I like the making-order-out-of-chaos style of games. :D The ones where not only are you straightening out a mess, but it's possible to straighten out the mess, and there aren't any distractions from straightening out the mess.

Gee, with four kids, why would I possibly find that relaxing?

So, here's what I like (and I feel like an old lady admitting that these are the ones I like):
-Doctor Mario

See? I am so not hip and happening. There was an old Super-NES game that involved juggling Yoshi eggs on flippable plates that I loved too, but I haven't been able to find it again.

So, here's my question: if you share my tastes, do you have any new ones to suggest to me?

-Jessica Snell

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Weekend Eats Made Easy

Am I the only one who's great at getting dinner on the table during the week and resorts to take-out on the weekends?

No, not always, not constantly, but . . . it was happening often enough that it was making me a bit nuts. Not healthy, not budget-friendly.

An experiment
So! I tried something new, and it worked. I've been stopping by the grocery store on Fridays and buying three things:

1. Whatever meat is on sale. Or maybe cheese.
2. Whatever produce is on sale.
3. Bread/tortillas/chips . . . whatever looks good.

And on Friday I cook the meat and prep the produce. E.g., I bake and shred chicken and wash grapes.

Not complicated, right? But having meat, bread, and easy fruit or veg in the fridge makes it really, really easy to make healthy meals at home on the weekend.  Quesadillas, sandwiches, nachos, chef salad, cheese and crackers . . . it doesn't really matter. But we've got our protein, our carb, and our produce. Since we've always got spices and condiments, there are a gazillion ways to combine whatever basics I've picked up and prepped.

Anyway - super-simple, and probably most of you have already figured something like this out, but I was feeling clever and wanted to share. :D

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Monday, September 17, 2012

Halfway Through 2012

I'm stealing this from momco3, so go over to her blog and check out her mid-year reflection on her New Year's Resolutions.

How am I doing on my New Year's Resolutions?
It's over halfway through the year, and time for a check-up. So, how am I doing?

Well, better than I thought I might be. Last year, I had about 20 resolutions. This year, I only have five. (Some year, I might decide to be sane and only have one.)

Here's what I wrote in my journal before I made my resolutions:

I’m wondering if my word for this next year, for this upcoming year, ought to be “faithful”. Last year it was “attend”, and I still don’t feel like I’ve come to the end of that.

But “faithful” came to me tonight, and here’s the fleshing out of that: I know what to do, and I just need to be faithful to do it. I know what my priorities are: I’m for loving God first, then for loving Adam, then for loving our children, then for writing, and then for taking care of my house (which really is a sub-section under loving Adam and the kids), and then . . . then I get a bit more confused. Extended family, friends, and church probably come in there next. But the first four are very clear: God, Adam, kids, writing. That’s me, those are my duty.

And I do all of those, but not faithfully. Not like breathing. And not in the right order, always. Or even often. So, “faithful”. I want to be faithful. I want to do the things I know I’m supposed to do, and do the most important ones first, and then let the rest fall into place.

The resolutions
-Love God. Specific ways I’m going to try and show this love:

            -use the St. James devotional to read the Bible

            -use the St. James devotional or the BCP to pray, including Prayers of the People.

            -pray the Jesus prayer throughout the day.

            -pray and read Bible stories with the kids.
How am I doing on this one? Well, I've kept up on the first one, and on praying with the kids, but the rest have been spotty. Not non-existent, just inconsistent. So, I want to be more mindful of them for the rest of the year, esp. with reading Bible stories with the kids.

-Love Adam.
I think this one is going pretty well. :)

-Love the kids:
This one's interesting, because it's the one that takes up most of my time in day-to-day life. I've been noticing how much time I spend taking care of the kids' physical needs (bigger bodies mean MORE food prep and MORE laundry and BIGGER messes), and thinking that - especially while they're home in the summer - I need to include them in more of that work. This might, eventually, have the benefit of taking some of the weight of the household chores off my shoulders, but honestly the reason I want to do it is so that I can spend more time with them, not just taking care of them.

All in all, I think I'm doing well on this one, though as the kids continue to grow and change, I continue to see more and better ways to love them (the above just being one specific example).

This is going well. I had a list of nine specific things I wanted to do in my writing life this year, and I've already accomplished five of them. That's really encouraging! If I keep working well, I think I might actually hit everything under this category this year.

How about you? How's it going past the mid-point?

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Thursday, September 13, 2012

returning TV shows I'm looking forward to this fall

the returning champs!
-Doctor Who - This has already started - God bless the British!

-Sherlock - oh, wait, there aren't any new episodes this fall - dang British.

-Downton Abbey - pretty people on pretty estates . . . oh, but one of my least favorite actresses is now a recurring character. Yay . . .? the British . . . ?

Castle - Maybe. I dunno, Fillion, will the goodwill from Firefly finally expire?

Once Upon a Time - bring on the stories, bring on the campiness! bring on the strangely-moving romance between Belle and Rumpelstiltskin!

Survivor - nothing but love, because they're bringing back Penner.

The Big Bang Theory - if I could watch the geeky parts without watching the smutty parts, I'd be a happy camper.

Oooookay, that was more negative than I thought it would be. Maybe television really IS unredeemable!  ;)

What are you favorites?

-Jessica Snell

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Learning As We Go is Going to Thailand

and I encourage you to go and see why. She's wonderful and her reason is wonderful.

-Jessica Snell

emotions, passions . . . and the well-ordered heart

Ever have a moment when you realize your self-image is a bit outdated? This happened to me recently.

When I was a teenager, I made a lot of my decision with my head, not my heart. Which was a great way to get through adolescence. It protected me from a lot of evils, and a lot of stupidity. But, I think it left me with an incomplete impression of myself. I'm capable of doing what I ought and not what I want, and that IS a great good gift, but . . . I think – well, what I want to say (it sounds idiotic, but let’s just try it on for size) - I think I’m actually a temperamental artist, and I ought to make my peace with that fact.

And I am at least partly because I've decided to be. One of the things I’ve done as an adult is allowed myself to tune in more and more to my emotions in order to write better - and also in order to be a better wife and mother. I've wanted to write better, and I've wanted to love better.

But being an emotional person is disconcerting! It doesn't feel orderly.

But I need to be this way in order to do what I do. Okay.

BUT. But I do not want to be drug around by the nose by my passions. I do not want to be ruled by my passions. How do I avoid that? (Asks Harriet Vane: "what if you're cursed with both a head and a heart?")

See, I think part of it is just recognizing who I am, and saying, “okay, I notice this feeling and I notice that feeling, and I’m supposed to notice – my job is to notice things and then use them as raw material for my art – but my recognition and my emotion don't have to have dominion of me.” Noticing, categorizing, deciding.

The well-ordered heart
But wouldn't the philosophers say that virtue is a matter of loving the good, the true, and the beautiful? In other words, isn't it possible to have rightly-ordered emotions?

I think so. What's the first and greatest commandment? "Love the Lord your God." Love is a verb, I know, I know, but it's also a matter of the heart. It's also an emotion.

I think if I start there . . . if I start with loving the Lord and obeying . . . I think then I'll find it possible to order my emotions aright.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Friday, September 7, 2012

Links: Hugos, Headcoverings, and Robotic Exoskeletons!

The 2012 Hugo Awards: It's Okay To Be A Fan - I enjoyed this analysis of the Hugos.

Eternity Veils - I don't personally practice headcovering, but these are so clever! (And pretty.) Makes me want to go visit a European cathedral so I'd have an excuse to wear one. :)

Paralympic Athlete Is The First Woman To Live At Home With A Robotic Exoskeleton: This is just . . . this is why science is good. I hope this works and works so well that they can make lots of them and the economics of scale make the price reasonable for every paraplegic. SO COOL.

What Do You Think? Checking in with Our Readers: Over at Regency Reflections, we're looking for feedback - come over and give us some!

Anne Eunson's Artistry - pretty, pretty, pretty!

-Jessica Snell

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Notes: "The King of Attolia", by Megan Whalen Turner

The King of Attolia (The Queen's Thief, #3)The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

I might be more in love with Eugenides than I am with Miles Vorkosigan.

Miles is flashier and I love him to bits, but Eugenides isn't just clever and suffering and single-minded, he's pious. And that might be the difference.

I'm not sure. But, in "The King of Attolia" - which is totally about Eugenides - the main point-of-view character isn't Eugenides at all, but a palace guardsman named Costis. And having a side character show us the story allows Turner to play her customary hide-and-seek games with the plot, sneakily revealing one fascinating detail after another in order to distract us from what she's doing with her other hand.

It took me well into half the book to realize that the main conflict wasn't all the showy fights between Eugenides and his rebellious barons, but the argument that Eugenides was having with his god.

The argument between Eugenides and his god.

This is why I love really, really good fantasy: because it is the best kind of literature for the devout. In the story world, anyway, fantasy authors take theology seriously. That's my kind of story.

Anyway, I won't say much more about any of the story, because it's best read, not recounted. But only this one more tidbit to entice you:

On the side matter of Eugenides and our poor POV character Costis: at first I thought that Eugenides was being hilariously mean to his poor guardsman. But then I realized: Oh wait, he's being kind. Ruthlessly.

Eugenides is that kind of character.

Please write more about him, Ms. Whalen? Please?

-Jessica Snell

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How God Answers Our Prayers

Numerous ways, of course, but I was reminded this week of one of the ordinary ways: by the Sunday liturgy.

Asking and Answering
There's a problem I've been praying through that was especially burdensome this past week. And in mass on Sunday morning, the hymns, the Scripture readings, and the sermon all had the same theme.

It wasn't anything new: the hymn I've sung countless times, and the passage from Ephesians that's not just familiar, but memorized.

But sometimes you don't just hear with your ears, but the Lord is kind enough to help you hear with your heart, and that's what happened to me on Sunday. It's as if He said, "See? This. I've told you, and I'm telling you. Listen."

The Right Place at the Right Time
And I did listen. Why? Because I was at church and that's what I was there to do anyway.

I don't know if I'm saying this well; what I'm trying to say is: God can speak to us any way He pleases. But I think many times it pleases Him to speak to us in the ordinary ways, in the established modes: in church, in scripture, in "hymns and spiritual songs".

My husband can call me on the phone in the middle of the work day if there's something urgent to communicate. But more often, we talk at the normal, established times: when we wake up, when we have dinner, in that quiet hour after the kids are in bed.

And our prayer life is like that to. If we're doing what we're supposed to be doing - praying regularly, attending church regularly - then we're holding open times and spaces when God can easily speak to us, because our attention is already turned towards Him. Sometimes those times and spaces won't be full of divine revelation, sure. Sometimes family dinners don't hold any profound communication either.

But the space is there for it when its needed. That's the point.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

St. Augustine's "The City of God", Book 2

I admit that this chapter was harder going for me than Book 1 was. A lot of it is Augustine recounting the sins of the Roman empire and their pagan way of life.

But, on the other hand, it's the indictment of a luxurious, over-ripe, falling empire in its twilight years. I hope I'm not living in one such myself, but reading this made me wonder.  Try this on for size:

Only let it remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us? This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities . . . Let  the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure.
Yeah . . . that's reading for an election year.

Loud and Immodest
Augustine points out that sacred entertainment - the plays and festivals put on to honor the gods - has become sacred because it's entertaining. Everyone wants to be entertained and to party. And he says:

If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it, let him be silenced, banished, put an end to.

Reminds me of the loud outcry on any internet forum if you suggest that some show or movie might be too unedifying to watch.

Evil has limits
And, finally, something comforting. The good bishop reminds us:
. . . for as wicked men on earth cannot do all they would, so neither can these demons.


Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. I have to include this quotation too, because it's awesome:
Awake more fully: the majesty of God cannot be propitiated by that which defiles the dignity of man.