I have a little notebook
With handmade leather bound.
And in it I put little words
And things I find around.
There's bits by C.S. Lewis,
One quote from Sherlock Holmes,
Another line from Pargeter's
A Morbid Taste for Bones.
These quotes, they can be funny,
They can inspire awe.
From others, I my worldview
And aesthetic draw.
I need to add some Tolkien,
And Laura Ingalls, too.
And if you say the right thing,
The book might feature you.
"So you're not really close to your dad, are you?"
I had to stop and think about it. I mean, we live in the same house. How can you not be close to someone who lives in your house? But I was forced to answer that the answer to that question was "No, not really."
A recent college assignment was to write a page or two about stereotypes--list a person who fits a certain stereotype, then describe how they don't fit it completely. The goal of the exercise was to see how people are three-dimensional and should never be reduced to a job, ethnicity, or fad.
(I argue that "flat characters" like Dr. Watson are very important--their exaggerated characteristics and refusal to change over the course of a book or series makes them quite enjoyable and almost cozy. But I digress.)
That said, I chose to talk about my dad. I rambled on for two and a half pages about how he watches TV and yells a lot and works hard and likes pasta, but doesn't drink red wine. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And Mom asked to read the paper.
"I don't think you'd like it," I told her.
But you know what? That's a writer's job. To be brutally honest about things. It doesn't matter if you're talking about politics or family or the evils of technology, writers call it like they see it. It doesn't even matter if you offend people. You need to get the truth, or at least the part of the truth you're capable of seeing, out to your readers.
In Where the Clouds Catch Fire, I was brutally honest about Catholicism. Lots of my extended family is Catholic, and I was able to see things they weren't able to see. Like my grandmother on her deathbed, not sure if she'd been good enough to get into heaven. Like the stories I've been told about abusive nun-teachers and my maternal great-grandmother crying because my grandmother became Protestant, which meant she was going to hell.
We're all God's children, and I'm extremely grateful to Catholicism for keeping Christianity alive throughout the Middle Ages. I've even met some Catholics who love Jesus more than anything--and good for them! But there's a reason that my dad, and now my aunts and uncles, are slowly turning Protestant.
It's hard, being brutally honest and knowing that not everyone's going to be happy about it. There's a reason books get banned from time to time.
That said, dear readers, what's something you'd like to be brutally honest about? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review us on Amazon!
When Christmas break started, I made myself a promise. At that point, I owned one and two-half books by C.S. Lewis that I'd never finished reading. And I was bound and determined to finish one of the two books that I'd started but never finished.
I picked That Hideous Strength.
I chose that book because it's the third book in a trilogy. I'd quite enjoyed the first book. I'd endured the second book. I'd given up on the third one after I was five chapters in, and there was no mention of the main character from the first two books. But then I picked it back up and, after sifting through sentences the size of paragraphs and words I didn't know existed, I found a quite enjoyable novel.
And also a slightly terrifying novel.
That Hideous Strength is, by Lewis's own admission, a novel that portrays the points he made in his philosophical work The Abolition of Man (which I've read about three times and finally understand). But there's a definite sci-fi twist. There are alien-angels and inferior gods and for some reason, the magically revived Merlin. Yes. As in sword-in-the-stone Arthurian legend Merlin.
Oh. And there's a reanimated severed head. I will never look at Futurama the same way again.
There seem to be two moral threads to That Hideous Strength. The first discusses the abolition of man--in other words, a group of men (in this case, a "scientific" organization called N.I.C.E.) decides that the next step in human evolution is to eradicate most organic life and transfer the consciousnesses of select individuals into immortal machines. It comes with serious 1984 vibes and a few uncanny resemblances to real life. One of the main characters, Mark Studdock, is tasked with writing "fake news" articles praising the works of N.I.C.E. and generally manipulating public opinion. Terrifyingly familiar.
The second moral deals with--of all things--marriage and gender roles. And to be quite fair, I don't think C.S. Lewis does it very well. The aforementioned Mark Studdock isn't exactly a model husband, but he doesn't deal with (or even recognize) his shortcomings until the last few chapters of the book. It's his wife Jane, the second protagonist of the book, who gets most of the chewing out. Things like submission and birth control are discussed in ways that would get C.S. Lewis banned from Twitter.
One of the things I quite liked about this book, though, is the characters. Sure, you've got a few boring old college board members that all sort of blend together. But you also have McPhee, the Irish skeptic who made me laugh aloud. You have Mr. and Mrs. Dimble, the essence of a charming elderly British couple. You have "Fairy" Hardcastle, the N.I.C.E.'s female chief of police and a heavily-implied lesbian sadist. And, fortunately, you also have Dr. Ransom, who's been so changed by his experiences in the first two books that he's nearly given a demigod's status.
I read the reviews. Tolkien called it "That Hideous Book" (probably teasingly, as he was good friends with the author). George Orwell noted that it was good, but could be better. I'm inclined to agree. That Hideous Strength is a good book. I can see why I put it down, and yet I'm glad that I picked it back up again.
Are you familiar with Lewis's Space Trilogy? If so, tell me your thoughts in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to review Where the Clouds Catch Fire and Where I Stand on Amazon!
There's a certain type of poem
That you don't read in high school
That you don't memorize for sixth grade drama
That you don't write to impress anyone.
There's a certain type of poem
That you only write when you feel the urge
A certain fulness, as if a birdsong
Presses against your ribcage
And screams to be released.
Even Jeremiah paused his tears
To talk about the fire in his bones.
Here lies no rhyme, no meter
Here lies no aesthetic purity
But here lies passion and blazing words
That fly like anvil sparks from my lips
And drip like honey from my fingers.
Hello, dear readers! My, it's been a while since I've written a blog post. I was actually in Branson all of last week, so I scheduled my posts (insert evil laughter here) and it's honestly quite refreshing to sit down and write to y'all.
Anyway. Christmas happened. It was a good Christmas, and one of my presents was a poster called a Novelogue. Basically, it has the titles and authors of 100 books on a scratch-off book shape. When you read the book, you scratch off the gold part to reveal a colorful cover. You can also rate the book and list your favorites.
I found that, out of the 100 books listed, I've already read 15 of them. I'll try to rank them for you, worst to best. Here we go!
#15: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I might be cheating on this one--I read the graphic novel for a college class. Atwood is certainly good with words, but the whole concept of the book was just giving women something to feel oppressed about. Far too feminist for my taste.
#14: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. I grew up watching the animated movie based on the book, and I've read the book exactly once. I didn't want to read it; my mom insisted that it was a classic that deserved my attention. It does have some good themes about friendship and death that kids need to learn. Not a bad book, certainly, but not one I particularly enjoyed.
#13: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. I actually just finished reading this while on vacation! The characters have great names, and the book has the best opening line I've seen in quite some time. Rowling doesn't have the way with words that other authors do; it might be because she's writing for such a young age group.
#12: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. This book presents a very unique way of looking at time travel and features some very interesting (and occasionally weird) characters. It's aimed towards younger readers and isn't nearly as impactful as some of the other books on this list.
#11: Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I remember reading this book a long time ago, and I like the themes of family that run throughout the story. It's certainly a cozy book that will make you cry (maybe).
#10: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. Considering that Twain's hometown was only a few miles away from my mother's, I'm practically obligated to like this book. And it's a good book. It's been a while since I've read it, though, so I don't feel qualified to critique the novel.
#9: Animal Farm by George Orwell. C.S. Lewis and I agree that this book is actually better than Orwell's more famous 1984. Reading this (delightfully short) book showed me what communism is actually like, despite what certain political parties try to tell us. The ending sentences chilled me.
#8: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. While hilarious, this book has one pretty large plot hole that prevents it from being higher up on the list. (If you've read the book, you might also be asking yourself why the all-powerful mice didn't stop the destruction of Earth.) A great book nevertheless.
#7: Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I grew up with this series, and while I didn't enjoy it as much as the Little House books (which was criminally excluded from the Novelogues poster), I found myself quite enchanted with the entire series.
#6: The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The only good book to come out of the same college class that forced me to read The Handmaid's Tale. And dang, this book grabs you by the emotions. You really, really care about what happens to the main character and his son, even though you never find out what they're named. I might have cried at the end.
#5: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of the few classics I've read of my own volition and genuinely enjoyed, this book gives great insight into human nature and the mind of children.
#4: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. You might be wondering why this book by my favorite author ranks so low. The answer? I'm not sure. It's a great book. Perhaps Narnia became too much like a home for me to look at with eyes of wonder, the same way I read the next book on our list.
#3: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Holy crap, Middle Earth is amazing. At least this version of it is, with less walking and fewer council meetings than The Lord of the Rings (which I'm not enjoying nearly as much).
#2: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. The last few chapters had me on the edge of my seat. I was stumped until the final reveal. I can definitely see why Agatha Christie is only outsold by Shakespeare and God.
#1: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The ending had me shook for at least three days, and the description of Tellson's Bank is one of the best descriptions I've read in my life. A Classic that you hardly feel like putting down (except for maybe once or twice in the middle)? Yes please. This might be the best novel I've ever read, and it's certainly my favorite Classic.
Which books deserve to be higher on my list? Which are too highly praised? Let me know in the comments below! And, as always, don't forget to hop over to Amazon to purchase your own copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire or Where I Stand (which will doubtless make it onto the next edition of Novelogues). God bless, and Happy New Year!
Alright, y'all. I'll admit. When it comes to making villains for my books, I'm not exactly the best. Let's take a stroll down memory lane for a bit.
First up, in Where the Clouds Catch Fire, we have Konar the Mad. My 13-year-old self decided that the best way to portray this villain was to make him an evil, psychopathic warlord with no regard for human life. Did I pull it off? Probably not. But I'm pretty sure that the rest of the book makes up for it.
Next up, Where I Stand. At first glance, you might think that the villain is Nokkvi Hrodolfson, the soon-to-be Chief of Darsidia. But you're wrong. It's Alva, the little old doctor lady who, if I were smart, would have made a cameo in Where the Clouds Catch Fire. Fortunately, though, I really do think she's a better villain than Konar. She's in five or six scenes, while Konar is only in two. And besides, she actually has a decent, quasi-logical motivation. Konar kills and otherwise harms people simply because he can. Alva, albeit misguidedly, is trying to protect future generations from another Konar.
But Book 3...I'm looking forward to the villain in Book 3.
The main villain in Book 3 earns the nickname of Grima. You might recognize the name from Lord of the Rings, and I can almost assure you that J.R.R. Tolkien and I drew inspiration from the same place. Grima or grimr or something like that (Norse is a weird language) means "mask," "shadow," or "phantom."
And my Grima is all three. First off, this person wears a mask. His mask is actually a sock--a Viking sock, which is more like an Ace bandage. They're called winningas and were used by some soldiers in World War I, if you'd like to research them on your own time. (On a related note, did you know that some Vikings had socks built into their pants? That's right--Vikings walked around in footsie pajamas. Don't seem so tough now, do they?)
Mask, Check. Shadow. Check. The first time Grima is spotted, it's by (spoiler alert for Where I Stand) Tarin McNeil--who thinks he's just seen a ghost. Grima is always able to disappear on a moment's notice and never leaves tracks.
Oh, and he's an excellent archer. He could shoot a fly off a rotten apple at fifty yards.
But the best thing about Grima, in my opinion, is that he's not what he seems to be. I can't get into more detail without spoiling Book 3, but trust me. You'll like it. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Grima is my best and most complex villain yet.
I hooked you. I'm sorry. Book 3 won't be available until...2022? Maybe? Anyway, until then, let me know if you liked Konar or Alva better as a villain in the comments below. God bless you, dear readers, and Happy New Year!
'Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the room,
Lots of old tissue paper and gift bags were strewn.
The stockings were thrown on the floor without care.
They once had held candy, but now only held air.
The children all screamed as they jumped on their beds--
The candy and cookies had gone to their heads.
And Mom with her coffee, and Dad with his beer,
Slumped down on the sofa and tried not to hear.
When out in the yard, there arose such a clatter,
Dad threw on some pants to see what was the matter.
Away to the window Dad stumbled and yawned,
Then grabbed his old Samsung that once fell in a pond.
What should he see by the light of the moon?
Trash on the porch, and a pair of raccoons.
"Now, beat it! Now, go 'way! Now, scram, both of you!
Now, leave us! Now, buzz off! You stupid raccoons!
"Get off of my porch! Get off of my lawn!
Now, go away! Go away! Go away, all!"
Then, with a scurry, the varmints climbed down
The old wooden staircase and disappeared without sound.
And Dad gave a sigh, as he grabbed a Bud Lite--
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
Wow! Christmas Eve already! Somehow, this doesn't feel right. It feels like it should still be November or something. But, y'know, I'm sort of glad that 2020 is almost over. It was a rough year for a lot of people. I've been lucky to escape with only a few missed social engagements.
Our church has been doing an Advent devotional on our app. (Yes, it's sort of a big and high-tech church. We have our own app.) Hope, peace, and joy were the central focuses of the first three weeks, and this week, I suppose we're talking about Christ Himself. And the Sunday sermons discussed each week's theme, too.
This is where things get--humorous? One of the main pastors at our church is a very serious individual. He got a degree in political science before he realized he was called to the ministry, and he told us once that he only got a single B in his entire college career. He also said that, to this day, he considers going back and re-taking that class so he can have a perfect GPA, if that explains anything about this individual. Anyway, he was tasked with talking about joy.
I attended the 9:00 service, and as I arrived at 8:55, I wondered how on earth this pastor was going to talk about joy. I wasn't sure that he'd ever experienced it. Hearing this sermon was sure to be like listening to Lukas McCamden talk about sex and romance. A purely philosophical discussion with lots of big words and no emotion except for wholehearted devotion to Christ.
The sermon was about patience. And it was a surprisingly good sermon, too.
But it got me thinking. Maybe, with everything this year has been, we're not supposed to talk about joy. Maybe we're not supposed to be happy. After all, so many people have lost their jobs, homes, businesses, or loved ones over the past nine months. Maybe the people on the radio singing "Go Tell It On the Mountain" are the only ones who are supposed to be smiling right now.
I learned a very important lesson about joy when my grandmother died. She was gone, and perhaps I missed her a bit (we weren't close), but I still felt joy. In fact, I was glad for her. On earth, she'd been very ill with COPD and a failing memory. Now, she was in heaven. Healthy and whole.
Maybe that level of joy isn't possible for everyone to experience, and there certainly is a time for grief. But even if we've lost something or someone this year, we don't have to let our circumstances (or someone else's circumstances) dictate how we're supposed to feel. Besides, as Ma Ingalls always said, "There's no great loss without some small gain." When I was little, my dad went through a patch without much work. I didn't realize we were poor. I was just happy that Daddy was home and able to spend more time with me.
And if you, like me, have been lucky--don't feel pressured to feel sad or solemn just because so many other people are. When things get better (which, rest assured, they will), it would be a very sad thing if all of humanity had forgotten what joy is.
That said, I've crocheted an afghan for my mother, and I need to find a gift bag big enough for it. And I need to wrap presents for both my friends. And practice my timpan...I uploaded a video on our Facebook page, if you're interested in learning more about it. Or hearing its dulcet tones. I'm quite proud of the way it's turned out.
Anyway, merry Christmas, y'all! Have a blessed day!
During my first therapy session (I really do need to book another one), I was asked, "Do you have any obsessions?"
I tried to think. "Well," I responded, "if I don't know the name of a character, I can't think about anything else. It doesn't matter if I'm not going to write the book for ten years. But I'm pretty sure that's a normal writer thing."
The fact that this obsession was never brought up again means that OCD is the least of my worries.
I left out one important detail that my therapist probably doesn't care about. I forgot about another thing I have obsessed about. The Irish timpan.
Yes, yes, another timpan post. I'm sorry. But this time, I actually have a development. And a confession.
I've made my own timpan.
Technically, my dad made it. He was the one who operated the table saw, spread the wood glue, and set the clamps. I was in charge of giving him dimensions and buying materials. But it's finally done. Eight months and probably $90 later, I own an extinct instrument.
My confession is that I've probably made it wrong.
First off, the thing is shaped like a cheese grater. It's about an inch narrower at the top than it is at the bottom. The tuning pegs are on an extension of the top cross-piece, so I'm not sure I'm playing the right notes. The bridge is too close to the finger-hole and I'm pretty sure the Irish didn't attach their strings to a cabinet pull. I don't even know if the original timpan had a fingerboard. It probably did. Mine doesn't.
But it's a timpan, and I can play it. Sort of.
I'm trying to learn how to play "Good King Wenceslas." I've been too lazy to learn a piano song for Christmas Eve as tradition dictates, so I picked a song within the narrow range of the timpan and learned it. I'm still learning how to use the drone string, and I can't get the E-string tuned right.
You see what I mean about obsessions? Now you know how my brain works. It's a mess. I frankly don't know how I've managed to pass as a normal human being for the past twenty years. I'm part Mad Scientist, part Absentminded Professor, and part Data the Android, with a little bit of Pioneer Girl thrown in for good measure.
Anyway, once I'm good enough at playing my timpan to do so without embarrassing myself, I'll post a video. For the time being, please tell me something you've obsessed over in the past. God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
School is out. Work is slow.
All my days are spent alone.
I tell myself I'll get stuff done,
Like taking my dog for a run.
I'll straighten my entire room.
Then I'll dust and vacuum, too.
At noon, I'll make some homemade lunch
Or cookies with a perfect crunch.
I'll practice hard for worship team,
I'll fix the shirt with a broken seam.
I'll finish making Christmas gifts--
Cross everything off my to-do list!
Next thing I know, it's half past ten.
I'm in my jammies, still in bed.
To myself one more lie I say:
"I'll do it all some other day."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.