Archive for April, 2009


Book Review: ‘Faith & Doubt’

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

9) Faith & Doubt – John Ortberg (Christian Living)

From page 23: “Perhaps great believers and great doubters are more like each other than either group is like the great mass of relatively disinterested middle-grounders. Bother are preoccupied with understanding the nature of the universe. Both agree that this is, after all, the great question.”

Indeed. I’m glad Ortberg took the time to write a book like this, because faith & doubt do co-exist, and few people realize or recognize that both have a place. Ortberg’s book discusses what roles faith & doubt play in his life, in our lives, in the world around us… and explains why we need to listen to doubters and discuss things intelligently, not just argue with them.

I like the way Ortberg phrases it at the beginning of the book, which to me, set up the discussion to follow: “I must have truth. Therefore I doubt. If I did not doubt, I’d be just another one of those suckers that P.T. Barnum was so grateful get born once a minute; I’d fall for every carnival sideshow delusion that comes along. And I scorn delusion. I must have hope. Therefore I believe. If I did not believe, I would cave into despair. And I dread despair.”

Review: 3 coffees out of 5




   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

Anyone remember that show? That was a great show… or at least, it was until it went really dark and weird and Bob turned semi-evil (or at least that’s how it looked to me at 10 years old).

But, that’s not the subject of my post for today. Last night I decided to try and get myself back into the writing swing of things by starting something new… ah, but don’t panic! It’s not what you think. I didn’t start a new novel, and I’m not running off to the “ooh, shiny!” new plot in my head or anything like that (as much as I may be tempted). I just figured that if all these published authors make a point of stressing that you write at least 1000 words a day – and they’re still published, and still making money off their books – they must be on to something.

So I grabbed my notepad and a pen, and began writing. Nothing special, no pre-planning, no anything. And, well… I handwrote 3 pages of something, and it wasn’t a complete waste of time. No, I think I can safely add this one to my files of ideas, and maybe come back to it in the future. I have absolutely no idea where the little story idea was going, but it doesn’t matter. A workable idea for the future is what matters, not to mention the psychological assurance that comes from knowing that your Muse hasn’t actually run off to Tahiti as you’d suspected.

Will it make a difference in motivating me to finish ‘A Work in Progress’? Who knows. Maybe I just need to stop thinking of it as ‘work’ and get back to the fun of it… the ‘pick up a pen and just write!’ fun of it. This, I suspect, is where I stall: when creative writing becomes ‘job-like’ in my mindset.

So, I should just change my mindset. Easier said than done. I’m hoping to head off to the coffee shop sometime today – laptop in hand – to try and do just that.

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Book Review: ’1434′

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

8 ) 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance – Gavin Menzies (History)

I started this book last spring… sent in my ARC review… and then never bothered to finish the last hundred pages or so. Thus, for the sake of getting it out of the way, I sat down on the couch with a cup of tea and began reading.

And promptly fell asleep.

Not the most glowing thing to say about the book, I realize, but I think maybe I got in over my head with this one. I have far more interest in ancient history than ‘modern’ history (what myself and my archaeology pals jokingly call anything after the Fall of Rome), so it was hard for me to stay focused while reading this one. And the chapters that focused on Da Vinci vs. Chinese mathematical calculations and physics really didn’t do much to help me wake up.

Still, I think Menzies made some very important points in his book. I have to say I didn’t read his first book, 1421 (so I’m not sure how much is overlap), but he presents some startling evidence about Da Vinci’s inventions… and how they were essentially very slight modifications (or exact reproductions) of Chinese inventions from several hundred years prior. Menzies shows illustrations from Chinese manuscripts right next to Da Vinci’s (and other Italian inventors, let’s be fair) illustrations… and when you see that, it will be very difficult to deny what Menzies has theorized.

There were several other brief points of interest in this book, though it went off on too many tangents that my brain had difficulty connecting with the main argument (again, it could have been that I was dozing off). Still, I think the author presents a very important case for Chinese influence in Europe at this time, and he’s obviously done an incredible amount of work and research to build his case. I think if you’re interested in this time period, this book will be a very valuable read that provides plenty of opportunities for future research.

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5



Doubt & Motivation

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

For whatever reason, I have very little problem getting myself motivated to write during NaNoWriMo. Maybe it’s the excitement of the event. Maybe it’s the absolute deadline, or the community support. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s something new to work on, something fresh with endless possibilities. Sure, there are off days, but the whole month is a thrill in itself. I look forward to it throughout the year.

But what about now, when it isn’t November? It’s April. And last month was March. And next month is May. In fact, there are 11 months of the year that simply aren’t November, which means there are 11 months when I need to be completely self-motivated to sit down and get those words written on paper (or, uh, the computer screen).

Right now, I’m struggling. I have no drive, no sense of direction, and no burning desire to get any of my characters where they need to be. I don’t even think it’s writer’s block, to be honest, because I know what needs to happen in both manuscripts, and yet I don’t feel motivated to take them there.

In short, I feel like I’ve failed before I’ve begun. I wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong path, or if this dream I’ve had of being a writer – which has carried me since I was 8 years old, if I remember correctly – was all a mistake. Maybe I’m not cut out to write. Maybe I wasn’t meant to do this. Maybe I’ve been wrong this whole time.

But it’s all I know how to do.

This afternoon, my husband sat me down in front of his computer screen, and brought up last year’s statistics for The Ancient Standard. Until this week, I hadn’t written anything new for that site since… well, nearly a year ago. Or maybe longer. Anyway, he showed me the traffic stats for 2008.

There were almost 50,000 unique visitors to the site, and about 84,000 repeat visits. That means that 50,000 people read my writing. And an awful lot of them liked it enough to come back for another go.

While I don’t particularly see that as “success”, I suppose it means that I shouldn’t go beating myself over the head with the notion that I’m a complete failure. Somebody likes my writing style. Some people want to read it, and then come back for more. For me, The Ancient Standard is like pseudo-journalism – because really, I’m reporting on events, or discoveries, or historical details that other people have already written about, and simply compiling information from various sources to produce what I hope is a brief but comprehensive article about the topic.

It’s not my original work, so I still can’t be confident that anyone likes my fiction, which is where my heart lies. But at the very least, I can take comfort in the fact that people enjoy my writing style, and that I’m providing what others perceive to be quality information in an entertaining format. And with all honesty, I can say I’m grateful for each and every visitor who reads my work.

Is it measurable success by my own standards? Not particularly. But does it at least quell some of the despair that has crept into my soul as of late? Yes, it does. I can feel a tiny spark of hope again… and isn’t one spark all it takes to light a fire?

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   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

Yes, we all know Starbucks gave away free coffee yesterday for Earth Day (if you brought in a travel mug), but do you also know that McDonald’s is giving away free coffees from open until 8:30am, every morning until May3rd?

Seriously. Free. You go in, order a coffee, and then walk out the door with a coffee in hand, no cost to you. And from what I’ve heard, McDonald’s coffee is better than Tim Horton’s! Though, let’s be honest: that’s not hard to do.

I mention this because every writer needs free coffee. Multiple free coffees, in fact. Now all we need is free cake, and life will be complete.


7) Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians - Brandon Sanderson (YA)

This one is geared, I think, toward the 9-12 crowd, though YAs will appreciate it… oh, and anyone else who likes witty, fun, entertaining books by authors who don’t take themselves too seriously. A blurb on the back of the book called it ‘a cross between Lemony Snicket’s series and Artemis Fowl’, but I’d hesitate to give it a comparison – I think it stands on its own!

It was very funny, absolutely ridiculous, and kept me reading from the first page to the last. And I was THRILLED to come to the end and find out there’s a sequel in the works. I thought I liked Sanderson’s adult fantasy – but I think he has a real gift in writing for the younger crowd. I’d recommend this to younger male readers looking for something to try (or older males… my husband read the description on the back and has added it to his TBR pile!). Really, my words here can’t do it justice. Go read it instead. :)

Rating: 4.5 coffees out of 5



Frustrations with Updates

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

And we’re not talking about mine. No, I’m talking about websites belonging to various writing groups and organizations, who seem to be fine with the fact that even though we’re almost five months into the year, they still haven’t updated their information since early 2008.

Without naming any names, I’m just going to say that several local and national writing groups are guilty of not updating their meeting/executive/conference/event information for 2009. One group in particular still has a list up of the executive members for 2007-2008, along with a list of their dates for meeting… between January and October 2008. Hmm…

Now, I understand that most writing group websites are run by volunteers. I know they’re busy people, and I can see how updating might fall by the wayside for a month or two… but for six months? Eight months? Longer than a year? And not only that… but I visited the aforementioned website last fall, and again just recently, and found that the layout had changed dramatically. That means that someone worked on the website in the interim, but didn’t bother to update the information. Or even check with anyone for updated information.

So, how are local groups like this going to grow their membership in the future, and continue to thrive? Without current information, how are curious new-to-the-area writers, or writers looking for a national-level support group, going to find the information they need to join? Don’t these groups want new members?!?

But let’s be careful not to lump all these groups into one boat, because some groups are great at updating. And guess what? These are the ones whose web pages I’ll continue to visit, whose conferences I will pay to attend, and whose lectures/community events I will tell others about and do my part to support. But if you don’t update your site and tell me about what you’re doing, I can’t help support you. And beyond that, I can’t become a member of your writing group, which I may have otherwise joined.

That’s one membership fee that could have helped to support a writing event, gone because somebody didn’t bother to take 15 minutes to update the website once in awhile.

And that, my friends, is frustrating.



Book Review: Rogue Angel & Shadow of Colossus

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

5) Rogue Angel: Destiny – Alex Archer (Adventure, though labeled Sci-Fi)

Okay, so… I saw this in the bookstore and picked it up for a laugh. The premise? A stunningly beautiful, conveniently large-chested woman – who also was raised in an orphanage by nuns – spends her days as an archaeologist. She’s well trained, brilliant, loves to read, but also knows how to kick some serious butt (how? did the nuns teach her???). Naturally, she’s unlucky in love. It also just so happens that Joan of Arc’s sword has “chosen” her to be its new bearer… and she can call upon it to appear and disappear at will.

Sound like a strange amalgamation of Tomb Raider & Witchblade??? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. In fact, I’m pretty sure Archer was reading his comic books one day and said to himself: “Dude… what if Tomb Raider AND Witchblade were like… part of the same PERSON??? Awwwwesome….”

That said… I liked the book. Really, really liked it. Yes, it was cliche/corny/predictable/ridiculous… but it was *fun*. As long as you were willing to suspend disbelief while reading, it was a great guilty pleasure read, full of action, fighting, silly history (though it was consistent!), and a villain that’s so one-dimensional you HAVE to hate him. And, perhaps most of all, I appreciated that Archer got one thing right that so many people fail to realize: archaeologists don’t make money doing archaeology. Our heroine has to write books, appear on TV shows about mythical creatures, and teach seminars to make the money she needs to live & fund her digs. THANK YOU, Alex Archer.

Anyway, I admit: I already have the next 2 books in the series lined up to go. What can I say? I like fun books.

Rating: 4 coffees out of 5

6) Shadow of Colossus: A Seven Wonders Novel – T.L. Higley (Historical Fiction)

Interesting… I thought of writing a series based around the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World quite awhile ago, but hey, looks like someone beat me to it. But that’s alright! It wasn’t half bad, and it seems like Higley does her research well. I was mostly interested in reading this to find historical errors (I’m horrible, I know, but being trained in Classical Studies does this to me), and was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t catch any that detracted from the story.

The novel is set in ancient Greece – the island of Rhodes, to be specific – and focuses on one particular hetaera and her situation. The story keeps the action moving forward most of the time, with the occasional slowdown for us to gain insight into Tessa’s thoughts and world, which keep her under strict social regulations (though she – and the hetaerae in general – had much more freedom than any other Greek woman, historically speaking). There is a love interest, but it isn’t forced, which I appreciated. There are several pages where a Jewish man shares his faith in Yahweh with the main character that may seem slightly contrived to some, but it seems to work with this story in particular. It would have been rare and unlikely, but not impossible.

The novel was an easy read, not particularly complex, but held my interest enough to finish it in an afternoon. A worthwhile diversion.

Rating: 3 coffees out of 5

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Book Review: On Writing & Door in the Hedge

   Posted by: Faith    in Tasty Tomes

3) On Writing – Stephen King (Writing)

Some time ago, I heard this was “the definitive book to read about writing”, if you were a writer/planning to be a writer/wrote things/etc. I ignored the advice, figured I was good with my other writing books, and moved on. This past Christmas, out of curiosity and for the sake of giving my mother a list of books to choose from (she asked!), I included this one. I decided to read it on a lazy Friday afternoon, sitting in a local café with a mug of smooth, black coffee…

And for crying out loud, I should have read this book a long time ago. Forgive me, O Muse, for I have been derelict in my duties. Although I’ve never read a novel by Stephen King – and I have no desire to – I have a great respect for the man after finishing this memoir/book on writing. I had no idea the kind of background King came from, nor the struggles that he went through to reach the place of success he is in now. What I found perhaps most commendable of all was, throughout the memoir section where he recalls his struggles with drugs/alcohol/a negligent mother/living in a decrepit apartment, he discusses these things as if they were simply ‘matter of fact’. It happened, he moved on. He never sensationalizes his past, and I never got the sense that he was recalling the events looking for pity, or trying to make an ‘I had such a hard life, look at me now!’ boast. These things were the way they were, he learned from them, and moved on. He freely admits his mistakes and the faults of his family, without giving praise where it isn’t due, but also seeing good where it lay.

The section on writing was very encouraging as well, and I found my resolve steeled. I will finish my own novels, I will make better use of my writing time, I will be a better writer. It is possible, though it will be difficult. I already knew these things, but somehow, King was able to say it without being condescending, discouraging, preachy, or trying to give me the “Number #1 method for becoming the best writer ever!”.

I must say – I never thought that this book could impact me the way it did. When I finished, I set it down, thought about it, and considered how to not only put into practice the things I’d learned about writing itself, but how I could learn from King’s own experiences along the journey from amateur writer to best-selling author.

If you want to write, read this book. I almost didn’t… and I deeply regret not doing so sooner.

Rating: 5 coffees out of 5
4) The Door in the Hedge – Robin McKinley (Fantasy)

This book consists of four short stories, written like fairy tales – old language and all! They were entertaining, albeit brief, and reworked the traditional versions of a few tales. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but I’d give it a 3.5/5. There were brief lags in a few places, but for those who enjoy new or reworked fairy tales, it’s worth the time invested.

Rating: 3.5 coffees out of 5

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April Showers Bring… Lazy Writers?

   Posted by: Faith    in NaNoWriMo

I didn’t make the deadline. It was depressing, upsetting, frustraing, and definitely made me want to give up and just burn the manuscript I have so far.

Fortunately, I didn’t take things all the way down that road, and settled for putting it aside for a few weeks instead. Ultimately, finishing the novel in just a few weeks wasn’t a realistic goal, or so I’ve been told. “But you do it every November”, you say? Well, yes, but every November I also clear my schedule so that I don’t have seventeen billion other things on the go at the same time that interfere with my ability to get anything done.

Thus, I will have to embark on yet another journey to complete the 2007 NaNoNovel, which will hopefully end sooner than later, since I really would like to get back to the 2008 NaNoNovel and some planning for 2009. I realize this is all quite insane, but there you have it. I should also really try to update my reading on the blog here, since I’ve been pretty negligent in posting anything at all. A couple of those, and maybe I’ll be back on track. A couple more writing-related articles, and maybe I can breathe some life into this thing again.

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