Friday, January 29, 2016

Researching Historical Fiction

By Robin

Can I just say this at the outset?

I have no idea what I'm doing. 

I'm too new at this to suggest that I hold the key to doing it right in "10 Easy-to-follow Steps."

Researching is as personal as housekeeping. We all tend to do things in our own way, don't we? Some of us follow a schedule: toilets on Monday, dusting on Tuesday, and so on. Some of us wait until we can't stand it any longer and have all-day cleaning marathons. Some of us don't think about it until a friend texts that she's on her way over, and then it's a flight-of-the-bumblebees race against time with a trashbag and a closet.

Whatever works. I'm not going to champion one method over another. I'm simply going to share a part of my crooked journey through the labyrinth of information available.

I always shrink a bit when I tell people I'm writing a novel about Pilgrims. I know that must sound so boring to them, so puritanical. Gag!

I've been in the American school system recently enough to know the bad rap they've received in modern history books. They're either clownish with their stiff collars and giant buckles, or they're the bad guys in the story of the founding of America.

The truth, as I've come to know it, is that these stoic, faithful people are devastatingly misunderstood.

I possess the same access to information as everyone else with an internet connection and a library card, so what led me to this conclusion?

Let me begin at the beginning.

Well, not the very beginning. If you want to know what inspired me to write about them in the first place, you can read about it here. The short version is this: I had been given a book on American history that presented the Pilgrims in a positive light, as courageous bulwarks of faith and light, almost super-human in their ability to withstand and rise above their afflictions.

Now that I knew I wanted to write and, just as importantly, what I wanted to write about, I had to begin. Of course, there was a character, a love interest, and a struggle. And I knew enough of Pilgrim history from this nonfiction source to get these things situated in the right country, year, and political climate, so I began.

In hindsight, maaaaybe I should have done more research before beginning. But it's a big maybe. If I'd have known all I didn't know, and all I would have had to absorb to get it right, it's likely I would have given up before I finished Chapter One.

Alas, I finished that sweet, naive little novel in ignorant bliss and moved on to the next.

Eventually I went back and revised what I had written, thought maybe it was ready. It wasn't. I accepted it. Let it marinate for a while.

I matured as a writer and as a historian during this time. Curiosity led me to dabble in online and reference resources. I began to understand how little I knew when I began.

I made an important discovery: the limited knowledge I had in the beginning, which served a wonderful purpose in inspiring me and filling my imagination, was heavily biased to make the Pilgrims look like flawless saints.

I didn't want to believe it. I loved that version of them. It made of them something heroic and righteous. It made them victims of modern academia, which is not such a bad thing.

But that version isn't entirely accurate.

If I want this story to matter, I have to get it right. I have to know, from unbiased sources, who these people were, and why they did what they did.

My quest to get it right has taken me all over the map in terms of resource materials, and I guess that would be my only research tip for other writers of historical fiction.


Read Christian authors. Atheist authors. Authors who love their subject. Authors who are critical of it. Neutral authors. Authors who are generous with primary source materials (journals and letters written by the people their nonfiction books are about). Authors who don't know a thing about theology, but who are committed to chronological and geographical accuracy.

Read and study so widely, that when the source you're using grossly mis-characterizes the subject matter, you can strike it through with a pencil, scribble, "WRONG!!" in the margin, and move on.

If you've already begun to write your story (or completed it like me) by the time you reach this point, don't despair. Truthfully, I nearly cried when I thought of all the work that would entail revising a character I'd imagined as a silversmith, to be an ironmonger, as he really was. But I owe it to the memory of this man who really lived to get it right.

And I have to tell you this. Something wonderful happened to my manuscript when I began the hard work of getting these details right.

The world I built in my early, flimsy, limited knowledge became anchored with the scaffolding of historical fact. My characters and their motivations sprang to life with a word, a line, a memory that I was able to add, now that I knew what I knew.

The writing got better as the research got better.

It has been like a dance for me. A little writing. A little research. Back and forth. Time devoted to one, then time devoted to the other. Sometimes there are marathon days of writing. Sometimes just absorbing information. Sometimes it's a flight-of-the-bumblees to fix a blatant error I recently discovered.

Research however you like, and at the pace you like, but make the truth your standard. Don't shy away from it. Don't let it make you feel incompetent to begin such a challenging work. Be bolstered by what you're learning, by an urgency to get it right and get it out into the world.

If you're interested in reading more about the Pilgrims, these are the sources I'm currently using.
The Light and the Glory 
Making Haste From Babylon
The Birth of America

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Just pause
Photo credit:

Has anyone else ever wished to hit the pause button on life?
Usually I don’t. I find myself waiting and longing too often for stuff I want and don’t have. Things of the future. Perhaps I have more pessimistic tendencies than I’d like to admit. Sometimes, I just wait for my life to wiz by because of something more exciting or more important still to come.

Finishing high school.
My wedding day.
Getting my drivers.
Buying our first home.
Then I became a mom.
Wow. Talk about a shift in life and reality. Ten months flew by. I KID YOU NOT! Today I can’t remember if I fell pregnant in 2014, because 2014 sounds like only yesterday. I look at my boy and it’s like: Pause! Just pause! For a moment, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that this little Monkey was in my tummy. In ten short months, I’ve seen him develop and grow. He sprouted two teeth. He crawls like a formula one racing car. Tantrums? Woooheeee… Probably got that from his daddy (LOL). Soon, he’ll be running, talking. I’m afraid to blink and find him driving. Then college. Then his wedding day.
My head spins at the idea.
My heart aches.
Why is everything going so quickly? Then it hits me. I might not have a pause button. I might struggle to juggle a full time job. Motherhood. Marriage. My dream of becoming a published writer (In no particular order). I might fail miserably most times. But I still get to experience the journey. I take a deep breath and focus on my “ride”. I appreciate the adventure. It’s where the fun happens. I might not be able to pause life, but I can enjoy the ride. While there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, feeling excited about the future, we must never allow our yearnings to neglect the opportunity where God has placed us, and whom He placed under our care. *Thanks Robin ;) *
Psalm 131 
1 Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child [resting] with his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me [composed and freed from discontent].
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.

Awesome commentary on the above Psalm by Matthew Henry
Friends, sometimes the journey is long and difficult. Sometimes, it’s a breeze. In all those times, we have the Lord with us. And for that, I am grateful.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Just Listen to the Boy : Five Love Languages and Teens

Today I had a heartfelt discussion with my teenager. He came to me in the midst of massive teen angst and my first reaction was, You’re really going to tick me off, I know it. Then I took a deep breath and changed my direction toOh Lord, Give me the strength to know how to handle this, and the correct words that will help this situation and not make it worse.

And guess what? God did exactly as I asked. Thank you, Jesus!

My son wasn’t feeling loved. I was flabbergasted. I show him love every day. How dare he say that?

Calm down Deanna, and listen to the boy.

Sometimes shutting our own traps can be the hardest thing ever. Especially for me. So, I shut it and listened. At first, he was a miserable mess of frustrated communication, but when he could finally verbalize exactly what he was feeling, we got down to the core of it. I was loving him, but he wasn’t feeling loved. 

That’s where the five love languages (Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages - if you haven’t read his book, you should check it out.) comes into play. Everyone feels loved in all of the five ways, but there’s always one that rises to the top as if saying, “Oh that’s me, that’s when I start feeling all gooey and wonderful inside.”

The five love languages are:
1.     Quality Time
2.     Words of Affirmation
3.     Physical Touch
4.     Acts of Service
5.     Receiving Gifts

So I went through them and we figured out his top love language is Quality Time. This is one of the hardest ones for me to give. Being a mom of four, a wife, a homemaker and a writer leaves me with less time than I would like to have. He said my phone in my hand was distracting me from giving him the love he felt he needed. I agreed.

I told him the phone will be put away when they are home. I will devote more time to making eye contact and conversation and just LISTENING to the kid. That’s all he wants, is for someone to hear him. For his siblings not to interrupt. For my phone not to interrupt. For housework not to get in the way. Just time to sit and be with each other.

We also went through to see what my love language was. Figured out pretty quickly that it’s Acts of Service. My husband’s is Physical Touch. This is funny because it all makes sense. Even when my husband and I were dating he would get hurt when I didn’t hold his hand. I never understood it, because that is not how I felt loved. But it is how he feels loved. It’s still the same in our marriage. I give him the touch he needs and he’s happy as a clam.

My teenage son’s close second to Quality Time is Physical Touch and that totally makes sense to me now. I look back on all the times he comes up for hugs, still, as a teen. Many inches towering over me, he just stands there and stares at me until I realize he wants a hug. I don’t work that way, so it’s not second nature to me. I have to work at it, to think it through and figure out what it is he really needs from me.

I love when people DO for me. That makes me happy. I have enough to do, so when I get help, I feel loved. When my husband does the dishes, does the laundry, rubs my back, mows the lawn, brings home a paycheck, all these things make me feel loved.

It’s no wonder my son and me were having a hard time feeling love from one another. He wanted me to just sit and chat, while that is the hardest one for me since I struggle to enjoy it when there are other things to get done. And there’s always something else to be done.

I wanted more help around the house from him. We both were looking to fill our love quota by forcing our own love language on each other. Instead, we can start GIVING each other what the other needs to feel loved.

I THOUGHT I was showing him love by DOING things for him, and he didn’t feel it. But when I take the time to love him the way he feels loved, the way he needs, then things can get better.
Does that mean, he can’t be considerate and understand when my schedule doesn’t allow for long periods of quality time? No, because he still needs to learn to live in the world and the world ‘aint fair. But does it mean I need to make a more concerted effort to show him love the way he needs? Yes, for sure. Just like I make an effort to show my husband, I need to do the same for my kids.

Is it exhausting and time-consuming? Yes.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Your Sister In Christ,
-Deanna Fugett

What’s your Love Language? Let us know in the comments below. J

*I received permission to post this blog from my teenage son. In no way, shape, or form do I ever wish to embarrass my kids by sharing information they are not willing for me to share.  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 and Still Waiting

By Robin

The old is gone. That finished, cluttered, scribbled-on, busier-than-expected 2015 calendar is wadded up and thrown in the garbage.

I'm glad.

2015 didn't turn out how I wanted it to. Nothing bad happened, which I'm grateful for, but nothing much happened at all. No big accomplishments. No victories. No good news to share. No progress, writing or otherwise. In fact, I think I went backwards. I ended the year feeling stagnant and directionless, with a parched muse who hasn't drank from the gushing river of words inside me for too long.

The sight of a new calendar, an empty page, clean and fresh, should turn into something for us that is glowing, humming, alive, and crisp with the promise of fresh starts and do-overs. It should warm us and energize us with the excitement of possibility. It looks like endless time stretched before us. All those little white boxes, titillating with the unknown. Hundreds of them.

But for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this is not the start of something new. We are smack in the middle of our education year. Our kids are donning their winter coats and handing in assignments they began two weeks ago.

January does not feel fresh and new for us. It's such a cold and bitter month. It's a month for staying in and hunkering down, a month to watch gray days from the warm side of a window, and wish we could hibernate for two more months until the real renewal, when spring breathes life back into the earth we trod.

So we wait.

We are in between. 

But there is hope in that. There is no need to look at my 2015 and despair.

Yes, I wanted to write a victory on those old calendar pages before they went in the garbage, but God wanted me to wait. And so I look before me at all those gleaming, empty white 2016 boxes, and I can only resolve to wait.

I don't do this out of my own desire or strength. I'm too dark, too flawed, too proud to wait. My desire is always to walk down the path that looks more fruitful to my impatient eyes. I want to know my work and my life matters NOW. I don't want to trudge through another season when it feels like it doesn't.

But God's people always wait. They persevere. They set their eyes toward the barren path, God's path, and they trust him with it.

And they get busy, doing what he's given them to do, whether there's fruit or not, because they know time is short.

The days ahead, though they seem endless, are not. The blank newness, the endless possibility, is an illusion. In a blink this new 2016 calendar will be tarnished, scribbled on, wadded up, and thrown away.

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
Ephesians 5:15-17

So my dear, fellow writers, if 2015 wasn't your year, don't assume that story is over. Discern the will of the Lord. Ask him to direct your heart concerning your writing work, to take from you this dream if he desires that you do something else. And if he doesn't, then get busy. Pick up the pen, click on the monitor, open up the new page, and keep writing. Keep waiting. Stay busy, even when you're in between. Especially when you're in between, because this is when he's molding you through perseverance into the writer he wants you to be.

Praise him for that as you continue to write through this waiting time.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

All Things New

There’s something magical about the word new, isn’t there?

New shoes.

New book.

New path.

New Year.

There’s the promise of a fresh start, a clean break with the past, a shiny future. Whilst the old can be comfortable, something new excites and intrigues us. 

As a child I especially enjoyed a new box of crayons. Sixty-four gorgeous hues, all waxy with pointy perfection. It would seem a shame to color with them, and sometimes I would use my old crayons for a while and simply gaze at the new set until I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Now, as an adult, I still like to savor the new, be it bamboo cooking utensils (seriously, I have a brand new set in the mesh bag from Bed, Bath & Beyond in my drawer that I bought over a year ago!) a new document in Microsoft Word, or the beginning of 2016.

I love this time of the year after the fireworks have gone off, the holiday decorations are getting tucked away, and the New Year stretches before us, its pages bright with possibility. I’m a natural optimist, and I can’t help but think this year will always be better than last year. Every season has its challenges, of course, but I always look forward to what the next one holds. 

I believe there’s something in us that craves newness. We like the idea of something unspoiled and unwrinkled. 

We don’t get this attitude by happenstance. 

Our God is the God of the new. Of the innovative. Of the second (or third or fiftieth!) chance. 

One of my favourite verses in the Bible comes from Revelation 21:5 where He who sits on the throne says, 

"Behold, I am making all things new.” 

I’m a bit of a grammar nerd, and I love how in the English translation, it’s in a present, progressive tense. That means it’s happening and continuing to happen right now. I’m not a Greek scholar, but Blue Letter Bible tells me that this verb is present tense (happening right now!) active voice (the subject – or God, in this case – is the one performing this action) and indicative mood (a simple statement of fact of an action that really occurs.) 

I read this verse and picture God fashioning, and refashioning, and refashioning yet again our lives into something beautiful.

Because this is who God is, isn’t it? Throughout the Bible and all the rest of history, we can see Him making things over, giving hope where there was none, taking sinners and turning them into saints. Building a new temple, not of stones but of men and women who love Him and are called by Him. He gave us a new covenant where we get to be called sons and daughters of God. And His grace continually goes beyond our sin and shortcomings. As Lamentations 3:22 & 23 tells us, 

"His mercies are new every morning."

Perhaps last year was a difficult one. Perhaps you’re in need of a new beginning. Perhaps you’d like a brand new box of crayons to color your life with fresh creativity, more joy, and greater victory. 

Be of good cheer because God would tell you He is doing a new thing and will make a way for you in the wilderness and provide rivers in the desert.

This day and every day is the perfect time to reset our thinking to embrace the new. 

Be blessed,