My son, Magne, is taking a driving course this summer. In his first day of class he became fast friends with Jared, a fellow-student who sat in the desk next to him and asked, “So, have you ever been in jail?” My son looked him in the eye, did a double-take to figure out if he was serious, and responded bewilderedly, “No…”
Somehow Jared lighted on the perfect question. Seriously, I think we should all start conversations this way. Consider what this sixteen-year-old already knows:
First, it is never acceptable to begin a conversation with, “Hello. I don’t know you, but I would like to. Tell me a little bit about yourself, beginning with your name.” No, the direct approach renders the speaker socially despised and vulnerable to swift rejection.
Second, household dependents, like children, don’t have the experience in life to ask the variety of introductory questions that most ask on meeting someone new, such as, “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?” Okay, so adults don’t really vary from the occupation question. And that leaves sixteen-year-olds at a disadvantage.
Third, once the stranger responds with an answer, Jared has an inside track on this friend’s potential. Sixteen-year-olds who have been to jail are generally less likely to retain their driver’s licenses, meaning they are less likely to be the friend to call when you need a ride somewhere. (Let’s face it; a car doesn’t magically appear once you get a license.)
I doubt Magne thought about any of this at the time. He was just happy to find someone in class who was willing to break the ice. Jared’s approach was somewhat mystifying, but the end result was satisfactory for both boys. Magne now knows there’s a good chance Jared can drive him somewhere.
Did I leave you in the depths of despair about my fan grief last week? Sometimes a fan just needs to say what she feels, you know? This week, I’m focused on the good stories being written. There are great writers making new and amazing tales, creating new worlds and inspiring a reader’s fancy. In fact, this booklover is head-over-heels for the Kingfountain Series!
Jeff Wheeler’s first Kingfountain book, The Queen’s Poisoner, is a fantasy adventure with historic elements that captured my imagination from the first. Taken captive to the king’s palace, young Owen Kiskaddon (Don’t you love that name? The names in this book are splendid!) finds himself in a precarious situation. His father, a traitor to the crown, must pay for his betrayal with his life, leaving Owen’s life hanging in the balance. Feeling none-too-loyal to the king, he discovers Ankarette, the Queen’s Poisoner. Ankarette is the perfect ally… and a powerful enemy. She opens Owen’s eyes to the political upheaval going on around him, and in the process opens his mind to legendary powers he didn’t know existed!
I downloaded the Kindle edition of The Queen’s Poisoner last year and quickly knew I wanted my own physical copy… along with book 2, The Thief’s Daughter. (Greedy, aren’t I?) I saved the books to my Christmas wishlist, but no sign of Kingfountain magic graced my bookshelves. This Mother’s Day I tried a more direct approach, handing my husband and kids my list of the first three Kingfountain books. (I figured, if I’m going to be a glutton about the books, I might as well add a third.)
My book gifts came pouring in, and so did curiosity about this series. I had no qualms about sharing the first book with my kids. With its incredible, admirable characters of thought and deed, The Queen’s Poisoner is thoroughly laced with integrity and meaning. My daughter sat up reading it late into the night. How lovely it is when a mom and daughter get swept away in the same adventure!
Another fascinating aspect of Wheeler’s first book premise is the influence of the historical account of the Princes in the Tower. The disappearance in 1483 of King Edward IV’s two sons, Edward V and Richard, remains cloaked in mystery to this day. While Wheeler’s story is completely his own, there are threads and names that surface, harking back to that murderous episode in England’s history. Take the name Dominic Mancini, the royal historian both for the true and Wheeler’s fiction.
“It’s been my experience, Owen, that when everyone agrees on some point of fact, it tends to be the biggest deception of all.”
– from The Queen’s Poisoner
The Thief’s Daughter continues the historic thread. Piers Urbick surfaces as the disputed king of Ceredigion. His name sounds suspiciously like Perkin Warbeck, a claimant to Henry VII’s throne in the late 1490s who turned out to be an imposter.
Wheeler’s handling of this imposter premise is quite intriguing! In fact, I think the second book is better than the first. Owen and his friend, Evie, have grown into young adults who mean much more to each other. His responsibilities require greater risks and sacrifices. Just how often does a sequel outshine its predecessor?
If you’re a fantasy bookworm with a penchant for a strategy-filled clean read, this is the series to try! Book 3, Book 4, and the prequel, The Maid’s War, are also available on Amazon. Book 5 is in the works.
Fan Grief. That’s what I’m calling it. It started with the Pride and Prejudice knock-offs (most of which should have been knocked off and buried before they aired), followed by the fairytales that underwent extreme makeovers. The old cartoons were revamped. Then the Muppets. (I just want to erase the Muppets from my memory forever because I hit an all-time low with the new Muppets.) The sitcom comebacks came back and left again to my relief.
And then this: a little girl named Anne Shirley talks about sexual things she doesn’t comprehend, and it’s supposed to be amusing. It’s not. I’d be shocked, but that stage of my grief has been burned away by the constant barrage of terrible ideas coming from these revisits. Yeah, I know moral integrity was lost long ago by the major movie and TV companies who are making this tripe. That doesn’t make the horror go away that they have taken my childhood friend and smashed her innocent little face in the mud with the Boot of Demoralization. It doesn’t lessen the indignation I feel.
Fan Grief, this sense of losing someone close, causes me anxiety, confusion, and anger simultaneously. Can we acknowledge Fan Grief is “a thing,” or is grieving over the loss of an imaginary person too unrealistic? We shouldn’t have feelings for anyone but real people, right? Book characters continue to relate to readers in ways and at susceptible moments when a real person couldn’t get through to us. Is it really so silly that we fans take imaginary characters seriously? Never mind that the worlds of imaginary characters change us, influence us to grow psychologically, open our minds to new perspectives. They aren’t real, so they don’t count. Are any fans mollified by this line of reasoning? It’s not working for me.
L.M. Montgomery, the writer of Anne of Green Gables, wrote about seeing the beauty of life in the toughest situations and learning to rise above. She focused on joy through innocent Anne’s eyes. Later, as Anne grew into an adult, Montgomery used sorrow to create strength and vision to teach me to cling to love and goodness. Those of us who grew up scouring bookstores for Emily and Kilmeny and Marigold and Jane of Lantern Hill (before the Internet was an option) are now being punched in the gut. Our beloved Anne is a crude composite that some writer skimmed off the surface of Montgomery’s tale, tacking on to her all sorts of ugliness.
What if someone re-manufactured the Teddy Bear by pouring dirt into him for stuffing, then touted him as the Teddy Bear I grew up with… and laughed with… and cried with? What if, in my excitement, I presented the new Teddy Bear to my excited daughter, who wanted to relate to my fond memories and stories? She would take the filthy bear in her arms, and he’d puff out his filth on her. Trying to connect with the experiences of her mother, my daughter would receive the gagging refuse the fake Teddy Bear left on her! It’s a sorry replacement: a fake Anne stuffed with sexual innuendo from a brutal past. This re-invented Anne suffers from flashbacks of abuse. She goes into a panic attack when a baby cries and relives being insulted, slapped, and beaten. She has a self-inflicted bruise along her forearm—because she’s “pinched herself a thousand times.” Maud Montgomery certainly depicted loneliness and even depression, but not in a masochistic manner. If she had written Anne in this grimy way, child readers would never have connected with her like they did. Adults – adults who have been through the horrors of abuse and neglect and brutality – connected with Anne because she inspired them to look on the bright things of life with new eyes.
I can’t believe for a minute this is actually flying with fans. What fan is so unobservant and disloyal that she can’t see someone has just glued a picture of her favorite character onto something completely opposite in integrity to that character? Fans aren’t that stupid.
In the throes of my disappointment, I turned to kindred spirit friends for support. These were their comments:
“I am currently reading through the Anne series again…to see if the newest remake had any basis for its claims. In chapter 17 of book 5, Anne is talking to Captain Jim… She says her time before Green Gables wasn’t happy, and Captain Jim says, ‘Mebbe not – but it was just the usual unhappiness of a child who hasn’t anyone to look after it properly. There hasn’t been tragedy in your life, Mistress Blythe.’ So, right there you have it from the author’s mouth that the horrid version has no basis.”
“This [version] is an insult to L.M. Montgomery. It’s my opinion that a story should stick with the original, but this goes beyond that with changes that are agenda-pushing and/or change the personality of the character.”
“If I wanted to watch a story with troubled teens, I’d just watch Lifetime.”
“Yeah, if I wanted reality, I’d watch Teen Mom.”
I’m sickened! Yes, and I’m disgusted! And I admit that this strong reaction surprises even me. I’m surprised to find I’ve been wounded by a TV show. I don’t want the next generation to grow up thinking the book friends of my childhood even slightly resemble this rot.
I want the next generation to know the wonder of the untarnished original, set in the thinking of the time, not a writer’s mind-child tattooed with anachronisms that ruin the whole experience! Didn’t that time have enough of its own problems; does it really need this era’s propaganda? Why do writers use historical TV programs to pick at the scab of modern day issues, preaching pet political opinions and spouting banal platitudes? It’s nauseating. I have a mind to put strychnine in the well these writers drink from because there’s no slate heavy enough to inflict on their heads the fury I feel over their senseless behavior.
A young student at co-op started cleaning my table before I’d finished eating. Realizing I wasn’t moving my food, she politely said, “Excuse me; I need to wipe this table.”
I scanned my area for the usual crumbs, and there weren’t any. I told her, “All clean here!”
She hesitated, the wet wipe hanging limply from her fingers. “But I have to wash here.”
I explained to her that it was her job to wash away dirt and food, but there wasn’t any dirt or food.
She nodded and walked away, but her expression told me she was still perplexed. She was supposed to wipe down the table, and she had not done that. What to do! What to do!
We humans tend to do things because we are told to do them. This behavior begins before we have the maturity to understand the reasons behind what we do. As we get older, we begin to study the principles and concepts we live by. (The sheep-like behavior remains only if we feel pressured to conform or lack impetus to change.)
This account of the first man and woman was not written to teach Adam and Eve; it was written to teach a people who were becoming a nation. They needed to understand where they’d come from and what was expected of them. So, the Author of Genesis 2 sets down a major principle immediately after Adam makes his observation about the woman God had made.
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
Two relationships are mentioned here. Leaving father and mother refers to the parent-child relationship. The second relationship is a union between Adam and Eve.
The first man didn’t have a mom and dad to leave, and neither did the first woman. So, why does the Author record this rule right after Adam meets Eve? It’s a reminder to me that Adam and Eve are not the audience.
Every word expressed by a writer is made to say something. A writer’s challenge is to deliver a message or concept so that the reader can grasp it, examine it, and, hopefully, use it. The audience is always there in the back of the writer’s mind, the impetus for him/her to change and develop the approach to better communicate with the reader.
Reviewing what I know about the audience of Genesis 2 – a fledgling group of Hebrews who have escaped slavery in Egypt – I can gather they are undergoing a reconstruction. They are developing their own civilization, and the covenant between this first man and first woman is crucial. This marriage covenant is the cornerstone of their societal development. They are a nation establishing laws, rituals, and procedures that will be more advanced than any of the neighboring peoples around them for many centuries.
According to this passage, the marriage relationship takes precedence over the parent-child relationship. The Israelite nation under Moses was organized according to the twelve tribes of Jacob. Sons inherited tribal land from their fathers (and, in some cases, their mother’s first husband’s tribe). This land could be rented out but would always return to the family tribe. So, a son’s relationship with his father and mother was tantamount to his identity as a citizen of the nation. His relationship to his family was extremely important, but this passage makes it clear his relationship to his parents was not to eclipse the union of a man to his wife. This honor in the marriage relationship is depicted in Adam’s feelings toward Eve.
“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
She is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She belongs with him as he belongs with her. She is his companion in life. (Parents are not a person’s life companions, though they hold an honorable position.) Knowing she is made the same as he, his natural behavior toward her would be to treat her as he would treat himself. Her flesh is to be his flesh, meaning he would not want to harm his own body, so he would not harm hers. He would not shame himself, therefore he would not shame her. He would not deprive himself of physical and emotional care; he would not deprive her of that same care.
It’s a basic understanding of a relationship that spans millennia, and that principle is expressed in two sentences. Amazing, isn’t it?
Writing Tip Recap: A writer communicates the message best when he/she keeps in mind the audience to whom it is being written.
This is the last of the Breathing Life series. You may wonder why verse 25 of Genesis 2 is missing. After studying it, I came to the conclusion it fits perfectly with the thought flow of Genesis 3. So, I will keep that for a future series.
I underwent surgery last summer and was given a “clicker” in recovery for a morphine drip. I was told I could use it every six minutes and that it wouldn’t release the drug until the six minutes had passed. (I was certain I’d been told I could use it every six seconds, but Realm assured me it was minutes.) Minute five was murder; I thought I’d never live through those 60 seconds. My body did not take kindly to the morphine, not only because of the rebound/dependence pain in minute five but because my stomach rejected the drug’s influence with a disgustingly vile display of its contents sometime later. The morphine did its job – I cannot imagine how I would have dealt with the pain without it – but it would’ve been nice not to have had side effects.
The first man didn’t experience any of my problems. His was the perfect procedure and outcome.
“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;” – Genesis 2:21
This is God’s second operation. The first was the descriptive “breathing” of life into man. This second one has general anesthesia involved. His deep sleep is a trance-like state in which Adam is completely inert. The phrase “and he slept” means to be languid or slack. This is not the same as drowsiness of sleep, translated ‘slumber’ in many passages. It is also not the sleep meaning ‘to dream’ or ‘to talk while dreaming.’ This word depicts a sleep that can lead to death. It is so deep the person is unaware of what is going on around him/her and feels nothing.
Surgeons use anesthesia because they don’t want their patients to be aware of what is happening, have a memory of it, or experience any pain. This is to keep the patient completely relaxed. The medical community still does not fully understand the reasons why anesthesia works to disconnect the brain from the body, yet more is known about the response of the body to types of anesthesia and its stages than could possibly have been known when this was written. The Creator’s anesthesia required no synthetic chemicals, no concerns about getting the right dose, and no adverse side effects. This is another example of how the Creator is attentive and involved with His creation. This man is being cared for in the best possible manner. Jehovah God could have taken Adam’s rib by any means He chose to use. Man was His creation, after all. Should it matter to Him whether Adam was nervous, panicked, tortured when He removed the rib? Why would it matter to God whether Adam healed immediately and had no painful aftereffects? This gentleness and consideration shows a Creator who has a tender feeling toward His human creation. Adam’s pain – any discomfort in this new life experience – matters to Jehovah God.
Another phrase I had to look up is “closed up the flesh instead thereof.” The meaning for closed up is the absolute shutting or sealing up of the body. The picture given is one in which the Creator is thoroughly closing the gap where He removed the rib. No stitches. No waiting for the site to heal itself. No tears, pulls, or reopening. Adam is going to have the fastest recovery known to man when he wakes.
The Author chooses precise words to describe what Adam goes through. He also gives a step-by-step account of the procedure. The detail in so few words fascinates me. I’ve noticed that the most climactic accounts in the Bible are written concisely.
“God created the heavens and the earth.”
“And man became a living soul.”
“And they crucified him.”
The lesson for every writer is that monumental/deeply moving events cannot be expressed by forced emphasis or an abundance of description.
“And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” – Genesis 2:22
And the woman is finally created! She was built (that’s the meaning of made) from the rib of Adam. This is an exciting detail when I consider what is known about bone marrow today. I have heard the romantic speculation that the first woman was made from a rib bone because it was close to Adam’s heart. I personally find the scientific discoveries that prove the rib bone to be rich in blood and immune cells, and carrying Adam’s genetic material, far more intriguing.
“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” – Genesis 2:23
The first statement out of Adam’s mouth depicts his feelings, which helps me relate to his emotions. The Author doesn’t make the mistake some writers do of saying, “Adam was happy” or “He was mind-blown.” I can see those two feelings in what Adam says. He knows Eve was created from his body. She belongs because he belongs. She was cloned from him, yet she is woman – the female version. They are genetically perfect and complete, and their DNA is from the same source.
Adam’s operation removes a ton of skepticism surrounding the first woman’s birth. If she had been made from the dust of the ground, like Adam, it would have opened the door to questions about her DNA. Was it different from his – perhaps genetically weaker, more vulnerable, less or more intellectually capable? She was directly formed from his genetic material.
She is presented as the match that fills the void. She is help for Adam. She is meet (or fitting) for Adam. She is a gift directly from the Creator. The man is no longer the solitary human who thinks and feels above the rest of God’s creation. She is now beside him, able to relate to him, experiencing their new world.
Good writers use succinct terms in their narrative to capture important events.
Rather than telling the reader what the character feels, let the reader experience the character’s feelings through his/her own words and/or actions.
The Author of Genesis introduces a loose thread in the fabric of the story with a bit of dramatic pause. The Creator’s thoughts are recorded for me, proof-positive that Jehovah God not only designed His creation with certain needs but considers those needs. It’s not that He doesn’t already know what Adam needs; God wants me to know it matters to Him.
“And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” -Genesis 2:18
Am I surprised to find out mankind was designed to need companionship? Not really. But it is awing to see that need as a priority to the Creator. I’ve talked about the meaning of the word ‘good’ before. Jehovah God doesn’t make semi-good or sorta-good things, so He’s going to create what is best for the man He made. He shows me the best thing for him is a companion who will provide assistance. The word for ‘help meet’ means just that, a fitting helper. This companion must be, literally, “just his type.” But God doesn’t create this help meet immediately. He brings all the animals for Adam to inspect and name first.
“And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them:” – Genesis 2:19a
The first chapter of Genesis makes it clear the animals were formed before God chose to create the first man. As I pointed out previously, Chapter 2 is not focused on reiterating the chronology of chapter 1. Like the garden, the animals were created with mankind in mind, and God brings them to Adam to name. These land animals and birds were formed by the same Creator, but they aren’t like Adam. Sea creatures and creeping things aren’t even mentioned; they are clearly of a different ilk and unsuited for Adam’s companionship needs.
By the way, this verse is the first time Adam’s name is used. ‘Adam’ is the Hebrew word for ‘man.’ This confused me. How did the translators decide when to translate it ‘man’ and when to use ‘Adam’? Looking at this entry where ‘Adam’ is introduced, it seems the translators chose to use the name Adam when the second variety of mankind, the female, was implicated in the passage. So, Adam, the male version of mankind, is looking for a companion. From here on the name Adam is used so that he will not be confused with any other of his kind.
“and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.” – Genesis 2:19b
Adam won’t be confusing any animals either because now they have names, too. I cut verse 19 in half like this because this last section is fascinating. On the surface Moses is saying, “And whatever Adam called every animal, that’s what the animal’s name was.” Well, duh. But, really, Adam is given the authority to tag every creature he discovers. See the weighty meaning? He graduates with his PhD in Zoology on Day 6. He knows more about the world than any other being living on it. And he established his naming system in one day1. (Poor Linnaeus was dead by the time his system took hold of the scientific world.) Today, I can’t even name my own child without a bunch of forms to fill out. Even a namesake star will cost me $19.99!
“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” – Genesis 2:20
This lets me know that God gave him the whole find-a-buddy tour, and Adam found the creation wanting. Wait a minute! God doesn’t leave His creation wanting, does He? Yes, He does. He will leave me wanting so that I can know what it means to be without something I need. I don’t know how to value what I need if I don’t go without sometimes.
Ah, there’s the second major story tip. Every good story has a character who is lacking something. When the character becomes aware of what is missing, the reader will want to follow along as he/she searches. This creates its sense of value when what is missing is found. It also develops the deep sense of satisfaction the reader feels at the end.
Use dramatic pause to introduce important aspects to your story.
Withhold what a character needs to develop its value and a satisfying resolution.
I’ll add one more obvious one: You should probably name your characters. Yes, some writers have chosen not to, but, unless you are the experimental type and just have to show how many descriptors you can come up with, please give me a name to attach to that character. Book clubs will thank you, too.
Roland Muller, writing about the culture of ancient Petra, points back to the Roman system of government as the beginning of Western culture, saying, “Roman law introduced the concept that the law was above everyone, even the lawmakers. This idea was not totally new. The Jews under Moses understood this.”1
This concept of law is first introduced in the garden.
“And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”
The narrative describes the man’s first role and purpose. He is to take care of that gorgeous, new garden. According to Genesis 2:5-6, it had been maintained for the three days before man existed, so this job was ready and waiting. No pulling up roots, clearing out, or replanting needed.
There are two things Moses introduces that every writer must introduce early on. First, he establishes the characters’ roles. God is the Creator and man is the keeper of the garden. Second, Moses introduces the rules. Every story has rules or guidelines. Sometimes they are tacitly understood or vaguely expressed, but the reader must comprehend them. Without these guidelines, the actions of the characters are meaningless.
Next, Moses introduces the concept of the law of God alluded to in the quote from Muller.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
This passage places a clear-cut distinction between the role of the Creator and the role of man. Jehovah God commands. Mankind has no input as to what those commands are, only the choice of whether to obey them or disobey them.
I see a Creator here who is not only involved in bringing man into existence, but involved in teaching him. God had the authority to command the man to obey any number of rules that could have caused him great suffering. He didn’t. Instead, He places him in a fresh, new garden with delicious, nutritious fruit trees and gives him one rule: Don’t eat from one tree. This one rule introduces choice to the man. It was an opportunity for the man to grow in his relationship with his Creator. By choosing not to eat off the tree, he could freely express his devotion to Jehovah God. And considering the abundant choices for food in the garden, it wasn’t a big sacrifice on the man’s part. But it had to be his choice.
It’s also worth noting the name of the tree. It’s not named “the bad tree” or the “evil tree.” The tree itself was a teaching tool. That was its purpose. It had no innate badness. Plus, the name “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” uses some undisguised foreshadowing. It tells me the man will have to face a choice. It also tells me the Author knows what the man’s choice will be.
If the Creator knows the man will choose wrongly when faced with doing what is good and or doing what is evil, then why did He create this man? I think this question comes naturally. The thickness of Genesis alone tells me the choice is not the unhappy ending; it is the beginning of the quest.
Good versus evil is the conflict that has been at the crux of writers’ works since words have been put to paper. The message of Genesis 2 becomes clearer when looking at the man’s role and the one rule. The Creator is not setting up the man fail, but to thrive and succeed. Like most readers, I want the character to succeed in the end, so that good will ultimately conquer evil. Isn’t that what keeps a reader reading?
Define character roles early in the story.
Guidelines must be established, even if they are tacitly understood.
Use foreshadowing to announce conflict, such as good versus evil.