Archive | August 2015

Throwback Thursday: To Be or Not to be an American

rooseveltquoteimmigrantsWhen, in the course of human events, did one nation infiltrate another and then seek to subvert the very culture of that country they were desperate to be a part of?

The answer?

Never, at least that I know of, until now.

America has long been called (unless it is no longer politically correct to do so) as the “great American melting pot.” Anyone else remember the History Rock video of the same name (before videos were cool). A melting pot, of course, is a mish mash of different cultures coming together to form one. You could say it made us stronger and part of a whole, rather than weaker and separate.

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Probably Dominick Hechler and Elizabeth Dietz

My great-grandparents, Dominick and Elizabeth (Dietz) Hechler, came to America from Russia (although they were 100% German – another story for another day) in 1890. I was told several times in asking stories of my family how they were PROUD to be here. They first landed at Castle Garden in New York (the forerunner of Ellis Island), but eventually ended up in Plantersville, Texas, with other families who had come with them. (I have written about them in my book I Will Go With You: The Hechlers, From Germany to Russia to America.)

The story was often told, but was told to me by Tilly Gaetz Hechler, wife of August Hechler who came with his parents from Russia, of how the school teacher came to my great-grandparents and told them they needed to start speaking English at home for the sake of the children. They were now Americans and lived in America and people here spoke English.  My great-grandfather, who around this time was also naturalized and became a US citizen,  did so. He was proud to be an American. He was grateful to be here, and he had no qualms speaking like an American and becoming part of the “melting pot” of this country. He even did so as he pressed for his oldest grandchild to be named Wilhelm, a very German name.

It is worthy of note, that my grandmother refused to do so. Was it calculated on their part for one to learn to speak English and the other to not so the children would learn both languages? Or did my great-grandmother simply refuse to learn for some reason? I do not know, nor is anyone alive who remembers. It was one of those questions one never ponders as a child, and then later it is too late to ask when it is thought of.

familyfortbend

Dominick Hechler and Elizabeth Dietz family about 1915. My grandfather, D.J. Hechler, is sitting to the left on his father’s knee.

Culture is more than the language a person speaks. Its their favorite foods, the folk music, oftentimes their ideas and religion. This is what homes are for. This is what parents and grandparents are for – to imbue a sense of the past into their offspring. If they choose to speak their native language at home, that is fine. But to come into a country and insist that country become bilingual is nonsense. They are not becoming a part of the “great melting pot,” but setting up their own pot on a side burner.

I oftentimes heard stories of how my grandfather, D. J. Hechler, would go next door to the Wagners, another family that came with them from Russia, and how he and the older man would speak in German. And yet, my grandfather spoke English fluently as well. In fact, my grandmother, his wife, Eleanora Ressler Hechler, spoke English, but with her sisters spoke Czech. Neither one of my grandparents graduated high school, but they were bilingual. I cannot even boast of such skills today, despite my college degree.

I have often heard the argument that immigrants do not wish to lose their identity as a culture. But why should they expect to leave their native land, come to another, and not lose something in the assimilation process? Did my great-grandfather, in coming here, give up his German roots? Sure, some. A person cannot move halfway around the world, or into another continent, and not lose something of their former way of life. Did my great-grandparents know this and chose that fate any way? Yes, because to stay in Russia was to continue to endure persecutions and the loss of their way of life. A loss that was harsher than moving to another country and becoming, in a sense, a hybrid of that culture.

But the thing of it is, they expected to do so, for they were desperate to improve their lot and America offered them that chance. If America offers such a chance now to others, then those people who come should expect to be Americans, and that means learning OUR language, just like all other immigrants before them have done for hundreds of years. It means jumping into the large “melting pot” of American culturalism, and not setting up a separate one on a side burner. It means choosing to be embrace being an America while still retaining some of who they are, but not, perhaps, all.

It should never mean they are allowed to completely remain who they are, and certainly our laws should not empower them to do so.

After all, only in one pot, will our strength be realized.

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Toolbox Tuesday: Bunnies Hop, Books Do Not

rabbit-740621_640Bunnies hop. Feet hop on hot pavement. Toddlers can hop and hop and hop . . .

And Dr. Seuss likes to “hop on Pop.”

But readers should not be forced to hop between characters while reading a book. This is called head hopping, and it is one of the first mistakes emerging authors will make. And nothing, I mean NOTHING, screams “amateur” like head hopping.

So what is it? After all, the average reader tossing that book against the wall will not give it a name, they just know they cannot follow the story.

First, let’s identify a viewpoint character. A viewpoint character is the person whose head the reader is in during the scene.

Head hopping, then, is when the writer changes viewpoint characters within any given scene, usually with no warning.

Now, for an example:

John looked into her eyes. They were beautiful and clear, and he lost himself in them. She caught her breath, wishing to lose herself in his eyes, wanting his kiss. But all he wanted was to study her eyes, for he had seen none like that in his college courses, and, after all, he was going to be the best optometrist to ever walk the face of the earth. But when he looked away, the laughter bubbled from her throat. Who did he think he was anyway?

Clearly, the viewpoint jumps from John to the woman and back again, leaving the reader nothing but confused and ready to go find another book.

The problem for authors, of course, is that it is not unusual for books to have multiple viewpoint characters. So how can an author ensure they are not head hopping?

 Tip #1: Have a clearly defined goal in each scene for your viewpoint character.

Not only should it be clear within the first two sentences which character’s head the reader is now in, but a clearly defined goal for that scene should be stated as well. Of course, the viewpoint character is the character that is battling an anagonist (person, fate, nature) that is keeping them from achieving that particular goal in that scene. Their thoughts, decisions, or even reactions to outside forces are driving that scene forward. They are the ones that will have the disaster happen at the end of the scene and will have to readjust their plan to reach their overall goal, thereby keeping the reader engaged to the next page.

An example from Breaking Promises:

bpcoverhalf-page-0Annie curled her fingers around the bills only because she did not want them fluttering to the ground. What could she do to convince him to take her along? She was desperate to get to Katie. 

Clearly, this scene is vastly different from the example near the top. This one is from Annie’s point of view. She has money in her hand she does not want drifting to the ground, and she needs to convince David (who carried the previous scene as the viewpoint character) to take her to the backcountry (also defined in the previous scene) to see her sister, Katie, making David the clear antagonist who stands between her and what she wants to do.

Tip #2: If unsure who to use as the viewpoint character, write the scene while head hopping, but edit it out as soon as possible.

Oftentimes when writing the rough draft, I am unsure which character viewpoint I wish to use. I am not certain, at that point, which clearly defined goal is best used with a previous disaster, or which character’s viewpoint drives the story forward in a faster, clippier fashion. Because of this, I will oftentimes find myself writing the draft and head hopping quite by accident. (My mantra at that point is just get the *#@*# thing written). This is actually an effective technique, especially in particularly dramatic scenes when I am unsure what each character is thinking. Keep in mind, however, that head hopping ONLY applies to the rough draft, and eventually must be edited to one viewpoint character.

Tip #3: Use the viewpoint character who has the MOST to lose in a scene.

Eventually, authors need to choose one or the other character, especially if you want your writing to be take seriously.  In such instances, choosing the character that has the MOST to lose in the scene is the best character to use. The thoughts of the other character can be placed in another scene as they think back, or they can oftentimes be shown through the dialogue or action/expression tags during the scene.

Tip #4: Ensure the reader is aware of a viewpoint character change.

Finally, it is expected that between scenes and/or changes of viewpoints, three asterisks are used, or a new chapter is started, or a fancier first letter is used, or a curlicue is placed between the sections. This signals to the reader, in a subtle way, that there will be a change.

And now, for all of us, back to our works in progress!

The Lumberjacks’ Ball by Carrie Fancett Pagels

Blurb from Amazon.lumberjacksresized

A decade after surviving a brutal attack, a mercantile owner’s daughter begins her life anew in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A gifted craftsman wishes to leave the lumber camp and seeks employment at her new store. When his presence dredges up memories she wishes to suppress, the proprietress must learn to face her past and open her heart. When complications arise, will they overcome adversity in time for The Lumberjack’s Ball?

 

This is a sweet historical, so there is no sex and only mild steam. Despite that, the book starts off good and pulled me in. There was a bit of a mystery with the characters which unfolds nicely. However, near the center, the story becomes a bit muddled and drags, and at times I was bored. But, I have to be honest, I did have a lot going on at the same time I was reading, so I cannot totally blame all my boredom on the plot.

The biggest problem is that I am not a fan of “sweet,” so this is more my issue than the plotting, which is well done. I also prefer longer books, and this one, while not a novella, is not long enough to really get deep into the characters nor to have a lot of plot elements going on. The story though, moves forward from one event to the next. The characters are well-done, if a little too sweet for my tastes, and Janie seems to find her faith without any real hardship on her part.  It was also a little heavy on the Christian ejaculations, so do not read unless you are specifically looking for Christian content or if such does not bother you.

Nonetheless, this is a well-done sweet historical for Christians, and would be very appropriate for older teens needing to branch into adult fiction.

The book is available at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can connect with Carrie Fancett Pagels on her website at http://carriefancettpagels.blogspot.com/

 

Toolbox Tuesday: Creating Characters

This week for Toolbox Tuesday we are going to switch from prose to content, specifically characters. After all, characters are an integral part of any novel. I have stuck with some rather sloppy reads as far as prose and structure, especially from newbie authors, simply because the characters popped from the page and I CARED about what was happening to them.

I previously discussed how to use the four temperaments in creating characters here. While using the four temperaments oftentimes gives me a rough idea of the character(s), it it merely a beginning. I then have to get to know my character inside and out.

Tip #1: Spend a GREAT deal of time with your characters BEFORE writing.

So often, young and newbie authors wish to jump into the writing. Scenes are flashing through their head, and the compulsion to get them down on paper maddening. Feel free to write the scenes ONLY to make sure you do not lose them.

Then, go back to spending time with your characters.

I oftentimes spend a month or longer just working on my characters with a new book. (This time frame can vary depending on the size of the book and the number of characters.)  I create detailed files not only of physical characteristics, but also vital statistics (birthdate, place, parents, school history, etc., etc.). I take notes on first time experiences, relationships both positive and negative, faith issues, how the character feels about themselves and others, and on and on. A number of charts can be found on the internet to aid authors with compiling this information.file

You can probably NEVER have too much information on your main characters, and MOST of what you do have will never make it into print in the book. The information will, however, find its way into your character’s actions and decisions.

Doing likewise with minor characters is important as well, although the information might not be as detailed.

Tip #2: Use the archetypes!

Archetypes are based on the idea that all heroes/heroines fall into one of several different character types (chief, bad boy, waif, librarian, etc.) with traits specific to those types. While it is possible for characters to be a blend, it is not advisable for authors to blend more than TWO of those types. For newbie authors, its not advisable to blend at all. When characters begin to exhibit three or more archetypes, the character is suddenly “all over the place” as far as how they feel and deal with the events happening around them. The reader becomes confused and finally tosses the book out of frustration.

One of my allcowdenbook time “must have” reference books, while getting to know the characters and determining their archetypes,  is The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes byTami D. Cowden and Caro LaFever. This book is practically attached to my hip during the early stages of creating my characters, and I use it quite a bit even when writing to determine how a character will react, or to see if a reaction is “in character.”

Cowden and LaFever take the hero and heroine archetypes and detail the characteristics of each, as well as possible back stories, childhood issues, and examples from film and literature. Cowden further provides a framework for not only how the hero/heroine of various types react off of each other, but also how pairs (friends) will as well.

The result is an easy read as well as a great reference aid that makes the task of getting to know your character much easier.

Cowden and LaFever’s book is available in paperback as well a digital format. I have mine on my kindle.

Next week, we will, breakdown the major male archetypes and how they relate to plotting, but for a quick but thorough study of the archetypes, I suggest acquiring Cowden’s book.