Okay, I know I'm not the only person here who quotes movies/books/songs on an almost-daily basis. It's amazing how relevant How to Train Your Dragon is to everyday life. (And who can forget Ever After, and the grossly under-quoted line "Of course not, Mother. I'm only here for the food.") But there's that one song from Disney's Tarzan that says "In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn." And boy, is it correct.
In my quest to bring historical accuracy to my writings, I've learned a lot of things. Vikings ate beets, for one, and extended families lived together in longhouses with zero privacy. They wore their swords on their backs and their axes at their waist, opposite of how they're commonly portrayed now. And no, they didn't wear horns on their helmets.
Characters can never be smarter than their authors. And so, short of learning Hebrew, Greek, and Latin like Lukas or mastering Alynn's drop spindle, I've done a good amount of studying. Oh, you should have seen me with that pocket-sized Latin dictionary, scouring the grammar section as if every Classical Conversations graduate in the world were going to be critiquing my verb tenses. Latin's not dead, dear readers! It's the official language of the Vatican.
But the best things that are learned can't be learned from a book. It's when God takes something and reveals it to you in a whole new light. He showed me the love that prompted Rowan to save his daughter, not caring that it cost him everything, and said, "I love you more than that." It was taking a villain and saying, "Even if this person were to come to me while they lie dying, I would receive them." It was comparing sin to a thief, who when unmasked was nothing more than a slave serving their master, a slave both desiring and fearing freedom. It was the adoption that welcomed strangers with open arms.
My prayer is that God will take Where the Clouds Catch Fire, and the four sequels I have planned for it, and teach you more about Himself. What's the most valuable gem of knowledge you've learned from an unlikely source? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below! God bless you, dear reader, and have an absolutely wonderful day!
--A note for the reader by Alynn McNeil
When the writer asked me to write a post, I wasn't sure what I'd talk about. I'm not that interesting, but I've lived in a lot of interesting places. The people I've met are more than interesting, and I've done some things that border on downright mad.
Like sleeping under bridges. It's not that bad, really. Father and I always told Tarin that we were "going camping," and he had enough excitement to spur an army into battle. He'd always help Father get a fire going, and we'd tell stories until it was dark enough to sleep. Then I'd look at Father and see the lines by his eyes, his vacant stare into the fire, and try to say something to make him feel the same excitement that Tarin did.
"Da, maybe in this town, they'll have a smithy that you can work in," I remember saying once. "And maybe they'll have a house with a big bed and a window! And maybe we'll have neighbors that will let me work in their garden! I'll ask for some vegetables from it, and I'll make good soup like Mother used to! I promise."
Father smiled at me, but his eyes were still empty and sad. I hated it when he smiled like that. I wanted to hug him and make the sadness go away, like I could do for Tarin. I believe I was ten at the time, and I didn't know that adults were far more complicated than children.
"Go to sleep, Lynder," Father told me. I can still hear his voice saying it, and sometimes I just close my eyes and listen. "Sleep, and maybe God will give you a dream where you have a garden, and a bed to yourself. Pray, and it might come true."
I prayed. I prayed for a home, for a job for Father, for a garden and a new pillow and a family. It took some time, but I have a garden now. I have my own bed and a feather pillow, and most importantly I have a home and a family.
The only thing I couldn't get by praying was a smile that Father meant. I couldn't get him a job, or a home, but God did. I like to imagine him in heaven, making shoes for Jesus' horse. He'll do such a good job that Jesus will smile at him. Maybe Jesus' smile will do something mine can't; maybe Father will smile back, and mean it.
Whew, what a week! I'm sorry, but for the amount of work I've done it should be Saturday already....
The highlight of my week was coming home from Illinois. I spent the first twelve years of my life in Illinois, in a cute ranch-style house with forest-green shutters on my bedroom window. Brick houses were only found in the (rare) high-end neighborhoods or in apartments, and occasionally small businesses. This is Texas. Everything's brick.
The saying "everything's bigger in Texas" is surprisingly accurate, and I'm blaming our mild subtropical climate. I mean, the grasshoppers are the size of my thumb, and the toads are the size of Illinois bullfrogs. (Almost.) I once had a grasshopper land on my chest while I was sunning in the park. I jumped up so fast I hurt myself.
Texas, far from the desert most people think it is, tends to be pretty humid. At any rate, it's much more humid than Illinois. I remember stepping out of the airplane and thinking I'd landed in Mexico. It's also windier than even the Windy City itself, and the storms here make Illinois thunderstorms seem like a sprinkle. We've had three or four tornado warnings since we've lived here. This is our fourth year.
The most laughable thing about Texas is the weather. I'm not just talking about the heat (although yes, it's suffocating), it's psycho. It changes its mind more often than a teenage girl. While we get snow about three days out of the year, it was once still sitting there in the 70-degree heat. People down here don't know what snowplows are, and they put sand instead of salt on the roads. It doesn't do much of anything. (Then again, Illinoisans don't know what sweet tea is. I swear it's the state drink of Texas.)
What's your favorite thing about the state you live in? I'd love to hear it!. Leave it in the comments below. God bless you, dear reader, and have a wonderful day!
On Monday, February 6, at 8:50 A.M., my grandmother went to heaven.
I didn't get to see her much, but I remember her as very generous. She always gave Christmas presents to all 16 of her grandchildren, always had little toys from McDonald's happy meals when we came to visit her. When she heard I was saving up for a laptop, she went and bought me a purple HP Pavilion. I've had it for five and a half years now, still works great. I've written 325,000 word's-worth of books and most of my blog posts on it.
All her life, Grandma was Catholic. She was born Catholic, raised Catholic, and I'm still not sure how Dad managed to get out of the Catholic church. But he did, and I'm glad. The Bible's pretty clear that it's God's grace that saves us, not the prayers we say or the money we give or the good things we do. So now that I know this, how do I convince my family? Not only do they live a thousand miles away from us, they're also stubborn Italian-Greeks. Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? It's accurate.
Turns out, it wasn't my job to change my family. It was God's job, and He was willing and ready to use whomever He saw fit. He used my dad to minister to my Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim, in turn, is taking my Aunt Marie to church. My grandma? God sent her a man named Tyrone, who worked as a cook at her assisted living place. He loved her like his biological mother and even called her "Mama." He visited her in the hospital and prayed the prayer of salvation with her. I thank God for him.
I'm not nearly ready to go to heaven. I've got too many books to write, too many tickle-fights to have with my sister and a future family to love. But when I do get to heaven, I know that Grandma will be waiting there for me. She won't need oxygen or insulin injections, and she'll have all her short-term memory back. And that's why I'm not sad! I'm not saying that I won't grieve or cry at her funeral. I'm not saying I won't miss her. But she's in heaven now, with the God she's served since she was a little girl, and that's a reason to rejoice.
If you're reading this, please say a quick prayer for my family. There's a lot of details to work out and stubborn people to work with. My parents are running off Jesus and half the sleep they need, and my sister and I still have school to do. Thank you, dear reader, and God bless you.
Ask any writer what the last thing they googled was, and you'll come up with some pretty ridiculous answers.
"How much do broken ribs hurt?"
"Can a sword pierce through bone?"
"Did Vikings wear underwear?"
Turns out they did. The last thing I googled was actually "Playing with the Big Boys Now," a song from Dreamwork's Prince of Egypt. I wanted to mess up the lyrics and give the song a dental theme: "By the power of Floss!"
Turns out, it's hard to find dental-themed words that rhyme with the names of Egyptian gods.
....Where was I? Oh, yes, Google search history. Googling things is actually the easy part; it's the hands-on research that really gets me. Try hopping down stairs on one foot and you'll catch my point. Next on my list is to see if touching cold metal with wet skin really can cause frostbite. I wonder if I can just put a spoon in the freezer and call it a day.
Of course, some research actually takes some hard work. More than anything, it takes time. The best research doesn't come from a website, a book, or Google Translate. It comes from a life of experience. I know what it's like to be afraid, what it's like to hide in my bedroom and pretend I don't hear the screaming outside. But I also know what it's like to overcome those things. Every panic attack, every page of my Bible, every stitch of crochet and dying basil plant taught me something. Most importantly, it taught me to be myself.
Do you remember the bike wreck I told you about in my last post? Well, it landed me with a concussion. God helped me take what I felt--the spinning head, the blurry vision, the ringing ears--and turn it into Alynn's shock symptoms after the invasion.
I hope you've never had a concussion, but I know you've done some of your own personal "research" that you've learned from. What's the best lesson life's taught you? I'd love to hear in the comments below! God bless, and have a wonderful week!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.