Historical Fiction, Strange Research Methods, and Other Ramblings

I have a mortal horror of getting facts wrong when I’m writing historical fiction.

It’s a problem.

Because when you’re inserting fictional characters in a real time period with people who actually existed… it’s kind of hard to keep things completely factual.

Actually, it’s impossible.

Fiction is fiction. History is history.

And anything that I write isn’t going to change history. It’s just going to show people what I think about the time period. What my characters would have thought about the time period. What the time period should have been like. (Kidding. Totally kidding here.)

Whoa. Feels good to get that off my chest. (Not to mention, I now have an explanation for anyone who hates me because my story isn’t historically accurate. Team Zane for the win!)

Now on to my Very Strange Research Methods.

When I first begin to research for one of my stories, I generally go to Wikipedia first. And then the library.

And I check out a looooooooootttt of books.

At least… as many as the library has.

If you don’t mind me getting sidetracked for a minute… There is a severe lack of young adult nonfiction. In our library, at least. There are plenty of books in the juvenile section, but they usually lack information. There are also plenty of thick, heavy tomes in the adult section, but if you’re like me, you don’t want to read through all of that just to get to the one thing you’re writing about.

All right. Back on track. I read as much as I can: nonfiction. Books set in the time period I’m writing. Writing craft books.

Anything I can’t find in the library, I go back to Wikipedia.

But sometimes Wikipedia just doesn’t cut it.

Since I’m not allowed to search the Internet by myself yet, this time ’round I asked my dear, wonderful mother to search for me! And I asked her to search some pretty weird, random things. Like, “Russian embassy Washington D.C. 1950s.”

And she found me some awesome articles that allowed me to write like I actually had a clue.

Thanks, Mom! You’re the best.

And that concludes my research “process”. (I’m not planning to be done with this story anytime soon. Or even planning on showing it to anyone once it’s done. So… yeah. Sorry.)

I’m loving writing historical fiction.

By the way, a quick update. I was just informed that we are heading to North Carolina bright and early tomorrow morning to Salem, a historical village. (With three kids. And a dog. Adventure awaits!) I am so excited.

 Hope you enjoyed this peek into my “writing life”! Thanks for reading, and please comment if you have any questions or responses.

 

 

 

Best Books of 2016

There are exactly 16 books on this list. No more. No less. It was accidental, but I think it worked out rather nicely, for the end of 2016.

I read a lot last year.

Over 360 books.

I know this because I didn’t start Goodreads until March and I had read a lot before that… and I didn’t start plugging my Currently Reading books in until later. So, it was probably closer to 400.

Not sure.

Let’s move on.

Without further ado, my favorite books of 2016.

I was introduced to Trixie Belden last year. And it was so good. SO GOOD. I’m almost to the point of fangirling over this series. Just… yes. See my full review of it here.

Mama’s Bank Account was one of our school books last year. It was so sweet, so funny, so good.

A Triumph for Flavius is extremely short, meant for younger children. We read it for school quite a while back, but I’ve read it so many times since. I love it.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the fourth book in the Betsy-Tacy series, and so far my favorite. Betsy reminds me so much of myself. I love her. I’ve loved her for a long time. And I plan to keep on loving her until the day I die.

The Westing Game is one of the best mysteries I read last year. Even though it was a reread, it was still so good. And it’s the kind of complex book that if you let it sit unread for a year or so, the plot twists will be new again! (Disclaimer: this will probably only work a few times.)

I don’t think I liked The Bronze Bow at first, but now I love it. Definitely a modern classic.

The Horse and His Boy. Oh, how I love this book. It’s just so good. Everyone should read it. Everyone. ON THE FACE OF THE PLANET. (Too much fangirling? Sorry…)

Another school book from years ago. Raiders from the Sea was the beginning of one of my all-time favorite series a year or so ago, and I’m still rather fond of it. Warning: this book stops on a SERIOUS cliffhanger. Proceed with extreme caution.

I wasn’t expecting to like this. But My Side of the Mountain was pleasantly surprising.

Ugh. This cover… it’s just… ugh. Honestly, I haven’t loved any of the covers for this book. Anyway, Ella Enchanted is one of my favorites. Of all time. Maybe. This makes me think of the dreaded “What’s your favorite book?” question.

A Woman’s Wartime Journal was the poignant story of a Confederate woman during the Civil War. It was fascinating to see the other side of the story that’s rarely portrayed by modern works. I’ve embedded a link, but I’m not sure that it’s the exact version that I have.

I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time last year, and it was so good that I read it in a day. (I’m on the verge of fangirling again…)

This book was so good! I’ve checked it out from our local library several times. It’s by the author of Pippi Longstocking, which in my opinion is good, but not as great as Bill Bergson. Unfortunately, it’s out of print and the only copies I could find on Amazon were upwards of $350.

I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, but a lot of the time they’re just… not great. The Goose Girl is one of the good ones.

A Little Princess has been one of my favorites for a long time. Read it. It’s really good. And isn’t the cover beautiful?

The Princess Bride. Yessssssssssssssss. However, a short reading guide: SKIP THE FIRST 36 PAGES. And then, after you’ve read the lovely story, SKIP PAGES 357 TO THE END. Believe me. You’ll be much happier this way. Unless you want read about some boring guy rambling about himself for forever. Or a bunch of random scene fragments. Or a complete letdown. Just trust me. I’d say I was sorry, but I’m not. Skip those sections if you knows what’s good for you.

Wow. That was a lot of rambling.

Can you tell I really hate this book? And love it at the same time?

Well. I do.

I’M NOT SORRY.

And…

Those were my favorite books of 2016. Hope you enjoyed reading, and have a great 2017!

What were your favorite books last year? Leave answers in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Inspiration Fails…

When I first get a spark of an idea for a story, it’s wonderful. The characters are fantastic. The plot is flawless. I write in a frenzy, trying to get it all down. But when I look at it a few days later, suddenly this alien Cinderella story doesn’t sound so good. (Spoiler: I am not writing, nor do I plan to write, anything like this.) Every word I put down is an effort. Every scene I put down is a nightmare. And guess what? My perfect plot is full of holes.

And I find that, suddenly, I’m not inspired to write this story anymore.

What I do when I lack inspiration (usually) helps me, but I’m not a professional. I have never been published. Most of my writing efforts are feeble at best. But I’ve been writing for about three years and learned a few things along the way, including what helps me overcome writers’ block.

The most important thing I do is take a break. If I can’t write another word, then I can’t write another word – at least temporarily. And sometimes the best thing I can do is distance myself from my story. Sometimes my break will last a day, a week, or even a month.

And I generally use that break to:

 Read. A lot. I read books that have positively nothing to do with my story and books that have everything to do with my story. Nonfiction, fiction, whatever works.

 Write. A journal entry. A blog post. Random scribblings on a piece of paper. I’ve gotten to where I can’t not write, and sometimes it’ll spark my creativity.

Do things completely unrelated to writing or reading. Like English Country Dancing. Lots of it.

But sometimes, after taking a break, I still lack inspiration. Some things that I find help me are:

Try writing the story from another person’s perspective or another point of view. This has completely reinvigorated my stories before.

Write a scene from the middle of my story and think about just how my characters got there. This really works. For me, at least.

Go through magazines and clip pictures of people who look like your main characters. Weird, I know, but I actually do this.

And if all else fails… dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is always an answer.

I hope somewhere in my rambling there was something remotely useful! Hope everyone has a great weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White

“SOME PIG,” Charlotte the spider’s praise for Wilbur, is just one fondly remembered snippet from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. In Some Writer!, the two-time Caldecott Honor winner Melissa Sweet mixes White’s personal letters, photos, and family ephemera with her own exquisite artwork to tell his story, from his birth in 1899 to his death in 1985. Budding young writers will be fascinated and inspired by the journalist, New Yorker contributor, and children’s book author who loved words his whole life. This authorized tribute is the first fully illustrated biography of E. B. White and includes an afterword by Martha White, E. B. White’s granddaughter. (Via Goodreads)

Click here to buy on Amazon.

Even though I’m not the target age for this book, I loved it. E. B. White’s story, told by Melissa Sweet, was riveting and laid out very nicely.

The illustrations were adorable. I loved that the author included pictures of his original drafts, all scribbled over. Even famous writers are messy with their first drafts! The collage-style illustrations really make the book pop, along with pictures of White.

The entire biography was fascinating and engaging. Many biographies I’ve read are dull and dry, and I quickly lose interest. With this book, I could hardly put it down.

It was immensely encouraging. As a young writer, the book inspired me to keep on plugging away. I would recommend this for anyone who writes or wants to write. I would even recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to have anything to do with writing. It’s that good. I rate it four and a half stars.

See this review on Goodreads.

 

 

15 Random Literary Facts About Me

I was inspired by Sydney at the Elliot Countenance to post some random facts about myself, so here goes!

  1.  The first thing I ever remember writing was probably when I was around five or six. It was about a missing blueberry pie, and it was written on several pieces of notebook paper stapled together and charmingly illustrated (not). It was taken from another book which I was infatuated with at the time. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the book. I know we still have it. It’ll turn up. I also remember making a few similar illustrated books, one in particular about a fairy.
  2.  I was around six when I started writing, but I didn’t really get interested until around age 11 or 12, when I learned to type on my computer. There have been stories floating around in my head for as long as I can remember, though.
  3. I write fiction, mostly fantasy and historical fiction. I also love rewriting fairy tales.
  4. One of the books that stood out most to me is Little House in the Big Woods. Momma read it to me and my brother when I was around four or five. When we got to the part about the panther, it terrified me. I didn’t want to listen to the rest. But wait – there’s more! I decided maybe it wasn’t so bad after all, and asked her to finish it. (I guess even then, I hated not finishing books.) She didn’t want to scare me, so she wouldn’t read it. So I, at four, read the rest of the book by myself. After that, I was hooked. I’ve loved the series ever since.
  5.  I love, love, love buying books secondhand. Why would I pay ten dollars for a book when I could get it for 25 cents? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t want me or anyone else to pay full price for any book, ever, because I’m sure it will turn up at the thrift store one day. Probably. Maybe. Eventually?
  6.  I’m a speed-reader. One very extreme example is that I read Pride and Prejudice in one day. However, it took me much longer to read Sense and Sensibility (a few weeks, maybe? A month? I don’t even think I finished it before it was due back at the library…).
  7.  I get writers block (a lot) and I have a love-hate relationship with editing. I am currently editing one of the longest stories I’ve ever written.
  8.  Hearing my work read aloud is terrifying. It makes me feel sick. Like, actually sick to my stomach.
  9.  All of my books are catalogued on Goodreads and organized (mostly) by either genre or author. Even though I have three bookshelves, I still have an overflow of books. Most of my shelves have two rows of books, and there are still piles of books all over my room. I need to get rid of some.
  10.  My writing goal for this year is to finish my two WIPs and start another one that I had an amazing idea for. I’m letting it simmer on the back burner now. With some luck, maybe people other than my closest friends will see it. Them. However many I finish. If I finish any at all.
  11.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a favorite book. Favorite book in a genre? Maybe. Favorite book? Never.
  12.  Probably one of my most read/listened-to books ever is The Horse and His Boy, but the Anne of Green Gables series and the Little House series would give it some competition…
  13.  My best writing time is in the morning, after I’ve done the majority of my school and before everyone else wakes up. I either write at my school desk on my computer or in my bed with my Kindle and portable keyboard.
  14.  I’m overly secretive about my writing. I never tell anyone specifics until after I’m done with the first draft, and sometimes not even then. I’ve had bad experiences with sharing too soon.
  15.  I have currently read 27 out of 150 books on my Goodreads challenge. It’s probably less than what I’ll actually read, but I set it low to give me a little leeway. Last summer, I had a goal to read a book every day – and I did, all the way from April until December. Disclaimer: A good deal of them were children’s books. I like children’s books the most. I think my total last year was around 400…

Anyway, that’s my fifteen random literary facts about myself. If you have any literary facts about yourself, post them in the comments!

 

 

 

Book Review: Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion

Buy here on Amazon.

Trixie’s summer is going to be sooo boring with her two older brothers away at camp. But then a millionaire’s daughter moves into the next-door mansion, an old miser hides a fortune in his decrepit house, and a runaway kid starts hiding out in Sleepyside! (Via Goodreads)

Mystery. Adventure. Horses. Friends. It wasn’t love at first sight when I began this book, but now I’m a huge fan. Everything in it is fairly wholesome, minus most of the nonsense found in children’s books of today. So far I’ve read books 1-4 and 5-7, and I eventually want to post reviews of all of them. It’s kind of hard to separate things I liked and didn’t like, so I’m just going to put them all down. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

Trixie is fantastic. She has flaws. She has weaknesses. She’s real. Although she can be annoying at times (“Moms, I’ll just die if I don’t have a horse,” etc.), once you get past her flaws she’s lots of fun.

And Jim! By the time I got to him, I was already sucked into the story and I knew I liked him the second I saw him. I mean the second Trixie saw him. Same thing. Anyway, he was and still is one of my favorite characters. Honey, on the other hand, took a little more getting used to…

This book is very dated in the way it’s written and in the way the characters talk. The way Trixie talks annoyed me a little at first (“Moms”, “Yummy-yum”.), the story is good enough that I overlooked it.

Jim’s stepfather is abusive, and Jim, a runaway, mentions it a few times throughout the book. I don’t think it would scare most readers, unless they’re very sensitive.

The ending has an awful cliffhanger. I would recommend buying the first two books in this series together (The Secret of the Mansion and The Red Trailer Mystery).

To sum up: This book has a great plot and a great cast of characters. I highly recommend it for horse-lovers, mystery-lovers, and pretty much anybody!

See this review on Goodreads.

Field Trip to Dover Cemetery

Today we went up to Dover Cemetery as a spur-of-the-moment trip with some friends. It’s a really interesting place, but sad because it’s so run down.

Everything is grown over with little pine trees.

Some of the gravestones were unreadable, and others were just rocks stuck in the ground to mark a grave.

We paid attention to the dates of birth and death. Some of the children buried there died at only a few months old. Another girl was fourteen.

These rocks were piled over what we assumed was another grave. Fascinating…

Besides the fact that I love history and looking at all the graves was very interesting, we had a great time hanging out with friends and enjoying the beautiful day. Who says homeschoolers aren’t socialized?

Book Review: The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart

Click here to buy on Amazon.

Eleven-year-old Reuben spends his days exploring, hiding, and practicing parkour among the abandoned buildings of the Lower Downs as a way to escape the rough times that have befallen him and his mom–but his discovery of an extraordinary antique pocket watch changes everything. When Reuben finds that the watch has the power to turn him invisible, he’s propelled on the adventure of a lifetime.
Now Reuben is being pursued by a group of dangerous men called the Directions, and someone–or something–ominously called The Smoke. They all want the watch, and with the help of new friends, it’s up to Reuben to unravel the mysteries surrounding it and protect the city from evil.
New York Times bestselling author Trenton Lee Stewart’s latest novel will enthrall old and new fans alike with the twists and turns of an inventive and compelling adventure reminiscent of The Mysterious Benedict Society series. (Via Goodreads)

When this book finally appeared at our local library, I snapped it up. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages, but… wow. I wasn’t expecting it to even come close to the glory of the Mysterious Benedict Society, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

 Things I loved:

The plot! Trenton Lee Stewart is so good at plot twists. Generally I can predict every twist in the book that I’m reading – but with this one, it actually caught me off guard a couple of times. Fantastic!

The cast of characters was great, as usual. I felt like Rueben, Jack, and Penny were all very unique to the book, and it didn’t feel like it was taking from the Mysterious Benedict Society.

As I got to the end, I couldn’t stop reading. I was completely and totally swallowed into Rueben’s world, and I was living and breathing beside him. It’s not often that a book does that to me. And the end itself was great.

A quick word here about the antagonist… I was surprised that he wasn’t reminiscent of Mr. Curtain from the Mysterious Benedict Society. Instead, he was a villain in his own right, perfect for the story and perfect for Rueben.

 Things I didn’t love:

The main issue I had with this book was the lying. Rueben lies to his mother about where he goes during the day while she’s at work, and eventually the lies grow and he’s lying to her about where he is. He tells her he’s at a sleepover, when he’s really off discovering dark secrets and solving mysteries. Although the lying is looked down upon by at least one other main character and a number of minor ones, there are really no consequences for Rueben (spoiler alert!) because his mom is so happy to have him back.

A character takes the Lord’s name in vain twice, I believe. (I may have overlooked other times.)

The length of this book is over 500 pages, which might be a little intimidating for some eleven-year-olds (the age it’s targeted for). However, I think it would be great for more advanced readers.

The only other problem I had with this book was the fact that it starts off slow, and has some lengthy descriptive passages all throughout that could have been done away with, although I think this is just Mr. Stewart’s writing style. It takes a chapter or two to really get into it.

In summary:

This was another great read by Trenton Lee Stewart, although I didn’t appreciate the excessive lying. My rating is four and a half stars.

Click here to see this review and others on my Goodreads account.

Book Review: Destiny, Rewritten, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Click here to buy on Amazon.

 

Synopsis:

This sweet contemporary story about poetry, family, and determining your own destiny is perfect for fans of books by Wendy Mass, Joan Bauer, Sharon Creech, and Rebecca Stead.

Eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis has never met her father, so when a book of poetry with his name in it goes missing, Emily and her friends search all over their hometown of Berkeley, California, hoping to track it down. Meanwhile, even though her English-professor mother insists that Emily is destined to become a poet (she named her after Emily Dickinson!), Emily secretly corresponds with her idol, romance writer Danielle Steel.

As Publishers Weekly says, “Fitzmaurice’s story deftly mingles Dickinson, Danielle Steel, a budding crush, and protesting tree sitters while maintaining suspense that leads to a satisfying ending.” (Via Goodreads)

I didn’t like this book, and I knew I didn’t like it by page nine. It’s exactly the kind of children’s book that bothers me. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

 Things I didn’t like:

It has a perplexing mish-mash of religions, worldviews, and ideologies such as Catholicism, determining your own destiny, a tiny bit of feminism, and whatever you call being a hippie.

Emily’s mother is a hippie, parts of the book revolve around the “tree-huggers” trying to prevent trees from being cut down, and near the end, Emily herself sleeps with the tree-huggers.

The romance. It is mild, but honestly, I’m not a fan of romance in children’s books. I mean, the main character is eleven. There’s nothing inappropriate; it’s just way too old for the age group this book is intended for.

Emily plays hooky from school to look for her missing book, bringing her best friend and her eight-year-old cousin with her. They talk a gullible cashier into impersonating their parents and calling them in sick, forge a signature on a school excuse, go to various bookstores and visit a palm reader, take a bus, and walk home from school like nothing happened. It’s totally and completely irresponsible, but what’s worse, none of them receive any consequences whatsoever, even though Emily’s mother found out about it.

Emily also goes to a romance writing group at the library that her mother doesn’t know about. I’m not sure I like the idea of an eleven-year-old wanting to write romance novels, but I think her desire to write happy endings to romances is born out of her constant wondering who her father is, and if someday he’ll come back to her and her mother.

Although I did enjoy some things about the book, in my opinion it wasn’t enough to redeem it.

Things I liked:

The character development. My favorite character was Mortie, the eight-year-old cousin who is obsessed with all things military. He was hilarious! I also felt like Emily’s progression throughout the book was well-done, even if I didn’t like the way she was progressing.

The writing style was fairly concise and to-the-point, although the varying religions/worldviews/ideologies were confusing.

The ending was sweet and all the pieces connected nicely. Even though I didn’t love the way the author put it down to “Fate” or “Destiny”, I liked the way it ended. Unfortunately, I felt like the happy ending was overshadowed by all of the things I didn’t like.

In summary:  Although this is a sweet story, I wouldn’t recommend this book for middle grade readers, or honestly anyone because of the defiance shown by the main character, the romance, and the strange worldviews. Most of it made me want to cry, “Why, oh, why, would you put this in a children’s book?” For those reasons, I would rate it two and a half stars.

 

 

Thursday Book Haul!

We almost always come home with treasures, usually in the form of books, after visiting our favorite thrift store. (Is that a good thing or a bad thing? The more books the merrier, I guess.)  It’s an amazing place where kids books are only 25 cents.

Here’s my book haul from Thursday!

 

Cry From the Dungeon, by Betty Swinford. I’m a sucker for vintage books. And this one was from the Moody Bible Institute. Win-win!

Alexi’s Secret Mission, by Anita Deyneka. Another vintage book.

Strange But True Science, by Editors of Publications International Ltd. This is a cool-looking science book I found for Justus, although I’ll probably end up reading it too : )

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien. This book is lovely and floppy, and it doesn’t crack and the pages don’t fall out like our current copy. I wasn’t able to find this exact copy on Amazon.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. This copy is so much prettier than mine, and the pages are easier to turn. I’ll donate my old one to the thrift store. The link isn’t the exact copy I have, but I believe it’s probably out of print.

Hero Tales, by Dave and Neta Jackson. A beautiful hardcover copy. Since we already own it, Mom will try to sell it on Ebay.

Horton Hears a Who Pop-Up, by Dr. Suess and David A. Carter. This book was so cute, I just couldn’t resist. We’ll probably give it to someone we know who has young children.

Anyway, that was my Thursday book haul. Hope you enjoyed it!