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Graduation 2015

Well, last night I returned to the land of high school to see the class of 2015 graduate! Though it honestly felt like we had just been in their shoes, it was great to see old friends and catch up. One of my friends had shorter hair, one got married, and a lot of them are about to head to college for the first time! I got see many of my former teachers and several friends from the class of 2013. Many pictures were taken. Cake was eaten. There were even some tears shed (not by me). All in all, it was a wonderful time of reunion, celebration, and nostalgia. 

 Congratulations to the class of 2015. As always, my advice?

 Don't do stupid things. 

Roll Credits!

I'm back in the Lone Star state and have conquered my first year at college. In some ways, it seems as though I just began, and in others, like the year has dragged on and on and onnnnn. Needless to say, I'm glad to be finished and have a break until I start online summer classes (I'm still asking myself why I'm doing those). 

       Now comes the obligatory post-freshman year list of all the things I've learned and ways I've grown!

New friendsThere was a running joke at my high school that none of us knew how to make friends because we've all known each other for 10+ years. I didn't realize that it was actually true until I found myself in VA without a single friend. My first attempts to make friends were awkward and pathetic at best. I didn't understand the importance of polite chit-chat or the redundant questions Where are you fromWhat's your majorWhy'd you pick Liberty? etc. Now, these questions are my not-so-secret weapons. I can make a friend in about five minutes, whereas it took me about five months last semester to form any kind of relationship with someone. I had some strange resistance to talking to people in my classes last semester; I don't know why. But generally, the people sitting next to you are very willing to answer your questions and ask a few of their own, and if you sit in the same spots for a day or two, voila! Instant friend. So yes, I can think of at least fifteen people off the top of my head with whom I have become friends just in this semester alone, and they come from all over the U.S.: Boston, Cedar Park, Hawaii, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Arkansas. It's great. And next semester, I'm elated to be living on the same hall with my lovely writer / geek friend M.F., as well as another girl from English class who happened to get a spot in my quad, too! IT'S GONNA BE GREAT.

New confidenceMaybe it's strange that my confidence got a boost while I was living among a sea of strangers and trying to make good first impressions on said strangers when I encountered them in the vast wilderness of experiences that is college. I think not knowing anyone at first is what gave me new confidence, actually; they didn't know anything about me or have any pre-conceived notions about my history and character. They were new to me, and I was new to them. I could be anyone I wanted, and they wouldn't know the difference! And once I stopped caring about impressing people or worrying about whether or not they liked me, I was so much happier. Which is not to say I let myself go or whatever, but I didn't feel the need to present a version of myself that I thought people would like best. I've always hated the movement to "Be yourself!", but I have to admit, sometimes it does relieve a lot of your daily stress. Usually if you try to impress someone and be the person you think they want you to be, they don't come running back. In my experience. 

       Oh, and losing 10 pounds is a good confidence-booster, too :) 

New experience living with roomies. Living with someone day in and day out can be a challenge. Particularly when you've had your own room for 18 years and been the only child at home for 4 - 5. Now, I've always been an introvert, but when you come home after a long day of classes only to find another person chilling in your room, it can be hard to cope with.

Me and C.H. at Appomattox

Now, both of my roomies were awesome, and I wouldn't trade my semesters with them, but being forced (that sounds bad, but it's true) to live with someone you don't know really stretches you as a person. C.R. and I were both pretty quiet, which was rather nice because I could come home and rest. But C.H. was talkative and friendly, which gained me some new friends and the chance to socialize in a way I hadn't before. I still valued my weekends (and Spring Break) alone because I could jam to my music and do whatever I wanted study. But when classes rolled around again, I was always glad to see said roomies again. Looking forward to experiencing life with T.T. next semester! 

New memoriesAlmost fainting in Developmental Psych and riding to the health center in a police car. Trying to get on a bus through the wrong entrance and getting squashed in the

LOOK AT ALL THE SNOW

doors. Eating Italian food with M.F. and talking for three hours. Excess amounts of snow. Visiting Appomattox with C.H. Locking myself out of my room and having to call campus police to unlock it for me. Looking at Jupiter, Venus, Castor, Pollux, and the moon through telescopes at Liberty's observatory. Getting stranded at the airport. Skipping class to watch movies at the dollar theater. Listening to professors awkwardly stumble through a lecture on sex. Watching lacrosse games at 10 p.m. Walking all the way to the cafeteria only to realize my student i.d. was back at my dorm. Infiltrating South Tower to deliver a package to M.F. It's been a very memorable first year, that's for sure! Mishaps, mistakes, and magical moments alike, Liberty has definitely provided me with a wealth of opportunities to grow and change, and I look forward to continuing the journey next year. 

So what's next? Well, as I'm sure you all know by now, I'm headed to Germany next month to meet my niece Mattie for the first time. Then I start my aforementioned summer classes and continue writing (do I ever stop?). The Rat Race grows ever larger; it now clocks in at nearly 1500 pages. B3 is a work in slow progress. I'll hopefully finish learning to drive. Aaaaand that's pretty much it! I'm probably forgetting something important. Oh well. 

       Ciao for now, lovely people! Don't do stupid things. 

8 Days Left ...

It's true: there are only 8 days left until I'm finished with my first year of college. I have four finals to take, but once those are out of the way, I can head home (after being here for five months!) back to warm weather :) 

     What updates do I have for you today? Hmm. Well, I reached 400,000 words on The Rat Race the other day (that's about 1300 pages), so that's exciting. B3 hasn't gotten any longer, unfortunately; I'm just not feelin' it right now. I have about 200 pages written on B3, which is better than nothing, right? 

     Other than that, I guess I don't have much to say. Not a lot has happened lately that's worth mentioning. So I hope you're all doing well and gearing up for summer ... I certainly am. 

       Ciao for now, lovely people! 

How Much Is Too Much?: Sex

 Love. Romance. Warm fuzzies. Long walks on the beach. Dates at fancy restaurants with tiny, outrageously expensive entrees and wine. Or whatever. Our culture is obsessed with love and sex, and if you didn’t already know this, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock (and that ain’t necessarily a bad thing!). Pick up a book—any book—and I think I can safely bet that the protagonist or someone in the book will have a love interest. Rare is the tale from which love is absent. And including romance isn’t a bad thing! If done correctly, a story of love can be the most beautiful of all (hint: For God so loved the world …).

            But. (You knew it was coming.)

            Most books that include love, romance, and those entrees and wine also include sex. It seems unfortunately commonplace in literature today to show, often explicitly, what exactly happens what two people do after stumbling back to an apartment while intoxicated both with drink and mutual attraction. First dates often aren’t considered “complete” or worth continuing unless sex is had … and this is true of the real world, too, not just in literature. It’s a sad world we live in, folks, but that’s the way it is, and there’s no getting around it just yet.

            So how much is too much?

            I feel I can more easily define a line on this subject than I could with my previous topic, drugs and alcohol. Even my usual answer (it depends on the author’s intentions for including said scene) doesn’t apply as strictly in this case. Having personally known people who have been very negatively affected by our culture’s obsession with sex, I want to strongly emphasize the theory that less is more.

            I have read lots of books. Some of them were, obviously, better than others. Some of them (i.e. Pillars of the Earth, which I reviewed here) made me want to gouge my eyes out … and sections of my memory, too.

            “Why?” you ask.

            “Because,” I reply, “after reading some of Follett’s descriptions of copulation and other said activities, I could picture all too well what was happening.” Now, I’m all for excellent description in other areas of writing, but I do not need to know some of the things he included! No one does! The same goes for Outlander—and yes, I read it even though I knew what I was getting into. I have less scathing things to say about Jamie’s and Claire’s relationship because they were married. This is not to say that I approve of Diana Gabaldon’s need to tell us what happened every time Jamie and Claire shut their bedroom door, but I had less of an issue with it because at least they were married and were actually growing to love one another more deeply throughout the novel. In Pillars, however … that didn’t happen. The rape scenes were far more plentiful than any other kind, and that isn’t something that any reader needs to be experiencing vicariously.

            Am I now going to point to my favorite books of all time as a great example of acceptable amounts of sex in literature? You bet! Although I do take a few minor issues with Francine Rivers’ The Mark of the Lion trilogy, I have found them to be the best representation (so far) of a godly relationship—whether married or otherwise—that isn’t perfect but is made perfect through the grace of God. It makes sense that secular books wouldn’t include these morals; I’m not expecting them to do so. But as a Christian, my God and I have certain standards of what should and should not enter my mind. And I think even the author’s intentions can’t justify including graphic sex scenes. I debated over this issue for a while before writing this post, but I simply can’t accept the idea that including an explicit sex scene, no matter the intentions, is beneficial. Reading things like that takes your mind to places it shouldn’t be going, particularly if you have struggled in the past with lust or similar desires. Francine Rivers’ books teeter on this line occasionally, but on the whole, I think her books are realistic but not uninhibited.

            Because here’s the thing. Reading about sex isn’t the same thing as watching actors pretend to have it, obviously, but for those of us who are more visual, having it described for us in vivid detail can be just as harmful and desensitizing. If you’re not a visual person, good for you; maybe this isn’t such a struggle, and that’s awesome. But I’m the type of person who reads something and can instantly picture it in my mind. Therefore, reading overly graphic descriptions of sex, whether it be actions, body parts, or whatever, is not going to keep my mind and heart pure. Maybe there is a good reason for an author to include an explicit sex scene and I just don’t know what it is. Maybe.

            But honestly, I’d rather the characters have their privacy, if you know what I mean. There is something so much more mysterious and wonderful about implication than total exposure. That’s what I loved about Rivers’ books—you knew these married people had great sex, but you didn’t have to “watch” it to know it was great! And that’s the way God intended it, I think (for real life, I mean, though it works for literature, too). People have lost their respect for one another nowadays; they watch sex on television (Game of Thrones, anyone?), read about it in books, see it in video games (I assume; I’m not a gamer), and people reveal waaaaaay too much of their bodies even at the beach … and locker rooms. The stalls are there for a reason, y’all.

            Respect for each other and for ourselves, as priceless, unique human beings created by God in his image, has fallen by the wayside.

            So how much is too much? I’ll sum it up this way: if you read something that causes you to disrespect anyone (yes, even the fictional character), you shouldn’t be reading it. It’s not worth losing your own self-respect. If you read a book and come away feeling as though you know every little detail about that hot guy or girl, something went wrong. I know it can feel like it doesn’t matter, that nobody knows or cares, but I suggest that anything you feel the need to do in secret (i.e. read a steamy love scene) is not of God, my dear. If ya wouldn’t read it aloud to your mother, ya shouldn’t be readin’ it.

            There you have it. My thoughts on how much sex in literature is too much. I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic, too; drop me a comment or send me an email if you’re so inclined, and have a wonderful day, all! 

Two Weeks Left!

Only two weeks left until I can officially say I've survived my first year of college! Which is strange to me, because I can still recall the post I wrote the day middle school ended ... Now, here I am six years later wondering where the time has gone. Regardless, it's been a wonderful second semester, and I am really looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me and my new friends next year! 

        The imminent approach of summer also means I get to venture across the big blue sea to Germany and the Czech Republic (and maybe Luxembourg??)! My niece Mattie will be here soon, and I can't wait to see her pretty little face! :D         

       After this trip, however, my summer semester begins; I'm taking three classes over the summer ... mostly because I typically spend my summers bored out of my mind, and taking classes will both give me something to do and help me move through school faster. 

        As for Book Three, well ... Let's just say it's been a very busy semester. I have approximately 200 pages written, so that counts for something (right?)! I hope you're all enjoying Fallen Rose, though. Any and all reviews are welcome, and please post them on Amazon if you write one! 

        Well, that's all for now, lovely people. I'll try to get the next post in "How Much Is Too Much?" written soon, but as I said, I am a very busy freshman with finals quickly approaching. I'll do my best—but don't hold your breath. Unless you're underwater for some reason; then I would definitely advise holding your breath. Ciao! 

Thanks to Sophia S. For Some Wonderful Reviews!

Young Falcon and Fallen Rose received some love from reader Sophia S., and here's what she had to say about the first two books of Sons and Daughters:

"I was an avid reader of thriller, horror, and action books … until my dad gave me Young Falcon. The best part of [the book] is the setting of the story—it takes place in a recognizable world. Both books [contain] non-stop action and adventure, and I like that! I am impressed with Elizabeth’s writing talent. As much as I loved the first book, I could immediately see how Elizabeth’s writing has grown and evolved in Fallen Rose. Fallen Rose has succeeded in making me more addicted to Elysia’s world. Where’s number three??"  

Thanks very much, Sophia! 

 

How Much Is Too Much?: Drugs and Alcohol

Image found at: http://smg.photobucket.com

     The issue of how much exposure to drugs and alcohol a reader should experience is, for me personally, somewhat grayer than the issue of how much violence is too much. Which is not to say that I endorse the use of drugs and alcohol, but I think most readers are less likely to want to go out and try these substances after reading about them. I’m sure there are plenty of books that make drugs and alcohol out to be wonderful and claim through plot events that there are no repercussions for using them. Most movies and televisions shows I’ve seen portray them—or, at least, alcohol—in this manner. Dean Winchester (Supernatural; pictured in above screenshot), for example, can often be found drinking beer from the fridge or guzzling something at a bar while greasy truckers shoot pool in the background. In our day and age, drinking and even trying recreational drugs is (dare I say it?) commonplace. 

 So that brings us back to the question: for a Christian reader, how much is too much?

Once again, I think the answer can be found in the author’s intent for including these substances.

I’ll use two of my own books for examples. First up is Fallen Rose (because there isn’t any alcohol in Young Falcon). Roman, the oh-so-angsty and misguided younger brother of my twin assassin duo, can be found drinking several times in Fallen Rose. To warn you now, he probably ain’t gonna stop anytime soon. “But why?” you ask. “I thought these were books for young Christian readers!” Yes, they are, but I also aim for realism, and I imagine a young man who has been treated the way Roman has and continues to fail at everything he sets out to do might turn to a coping mechanism after a time. People who have endured less certainly have. It seems logical to me that drinking might be that coping mechanism, so I’m not going to skate over the fact that sometimes people become addicted to things that seem to help them cope with the difficulties of life (keyword: seem). And I certainly do not intend to make alcohol a positive presence in Roman’s life.

Which brings me to my next example, a book I have written that you haven’t read. In The Rat Race, one of my characters dealing with some post-traumatic stress turns to alcohol and actually becomes addicted, unlike Roman. His older brother spends a good portion of the book trying to help him struggle out of that pit—but sometimes, as in real life, he falls back in, and I am not shy about portraying the consequences for doing so. Why? Because (if I ever did get it published) I would want his fight to both warn readers of the cost as well as give them hope that it can be overcome.   

But not every author is going to portray drugs and alcohol in this manner.

I don’t have any examples off the top of my head, but I assume that, like the television industry, there are books out there that present drugs and alcohol as fun, free of penalty, and needed for social acceptance. Why on earth anyone is convinced that this is true, I will never understand. But the fact remains that some books contains this message, as do many televisions shows. When faced with a scene that presents drugs and alcohol in this light, what’s a Christian reader to do?

My answer will remain the same: examine the author’s intent for including the scene.

If the author portrays drugs and alcohol as exciting, unrealistically free of consequences, and never mentions the effect it can have on the user and the user’s family / friends, please steer clear. That presentation is wrong and not of God. Now, if the character using drugs or drinking thinks this way initially and eventually learns that they are not fun, free, and necessary, I can understand that. I’ll all for characters seeing the error of their ways. But if this realization never comes and the characters remains blissfully unaffected by his addiction / use of these substances … you know what to do.

If the author portrays drugs and alcohol realistically and includes the many (familial, social, medical, emotional, spiritual, and mental) consequences that accompany use of these substances, they have done well. In this instance, I would say that it’s all right to keep reading, even if the details are uncomfortable—afterwards you’ll better understand the struggles of people who are caught in this web and can sympathize with them (maybe even present the Gospel, which will free them once and for all from their fight?).

I hope my solution wasn’t too redundant, but there ya have it: it’s all about author’s intent. My next post will examine ‘how much is too much?’ regarding books that contain sex (yikes!), so stick around, and thanks for reading! Have a lovely day, and go make good choices! :) 

How Much Is Too Much?: Violence

Image found at https://likeagateway.wordpress.com/2013/04/

 

"I worry that we're all getting a little desensitized [to violence]."

- Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games trilogy

 

          Turn on your television and flip through a few channels, and I can almost guarantee that you’ll encounter violence, whether it’s on the nightly news, a sci-fi show, a war movie, or a documentary. Images of violence and death surround us with our ease of access to movies, videos, raw footage, and images.

         But what about in books, where the violence is not presented visually but can be described in nearly equal detail? Should we shy away from books like The Hunger Games that do not balk at presenting violence in a disturbingly realistic manner? Is it worrisome that children and teens all over the nation read books such as The Hunger GamesHarry PotterThe Inheritance Cycle, and others that attempt to convey the true nature and horrors of war and suffering to people often as young as ten?

         How much is too much?

         I don’t have kids, but I know that parents’ views on what their children should be allowed to read vary immensely. I won’t attempt to give any parents reading this advice on what their children should and shouldn’t read. I’m only going to say what I’ve found to be true about violence in books after my nineteen years of life. So here we go!

Constantly reading books containing graphic violence does desensitize you to it.

           In Suzanne Collins’s world of Panem, twenty-four tributes (aged 12 to 18) are selected from its districts every year and forced into an arena for a televised fight to the death. Some teenagers gleefully kill their competition while others struggle just to survive. At various points in the trilogy, teens are stabbed, injected with lethal venom, attacked and killed by genetically engineered dogs, and killed in bombings. The result? A distressing look at the consequences of war and the frightening, almost savage enjoyment of a death match between young people. Is our culture turning into one similar to the Capitol, who glorifies violence and suffering to the point that it no longer affects them?

          I say we are.

          If you stroll through the young adult section of any given Barnes and Noble, you’ll typically see dark covers with either a) warriors, b) vampires / supernatural creatures, c) people wearing far fewer clothes than they should, or d) all of the above. In any one of these books, particularly the ones with warriors / supernatural creatures, you will likely find one or more deaths, stabbings, bombings, physical abuse, general war violence, or otherwise. And teens love these books. Granted, most of them portray said violent occurrences accurately—the author will describe in graphic detail what happens to a body when its stabbed or caught in an explosion. And many won’t shy away from explaining (once more, in explicit detail) the process of being raped or sexually abused in some way (The Pillars of the Earth, for example).

         As a reader, I prefer realism, as I’m sure most others do. If you’re going to write about a topic, do your research and write it accurately to the best of your ability.  

That being said, I don’t want to put down a book and feel as though just got attacked or raped.

        And I’m sure every parent out there doesn’t want his or her young son or daughter to come away from a book feeling that way, either. It’s not healthy, and it will not make them more compassionate when they are confronted with real-like tragedies. Teens that are exposed to such realistic violence, particularly when the scenes are described in a painstakingly lifelike manner, will grow accustomed to it after a time. Movies and books with graphic scenes of death, suffering, torture, and rape don’t affect me as much as they used to. Why? Because I’ve become desensitized to it because I am constantly being bombarded with these things.

       I sat through American Sniper and didn’t bat an eye. And I consider myself an empathetic person. I haven’t been exposed to very much violence in my life—I avoid it intentionally, if I can. But it’s there, and I’m not the only teen deeply affected by our culture’s willingness to present reality in detail that is often unnecessary.

If we can, as writers, effectively portray the horrors of war, pain, and suffering without mentally scarring our young readers, why wouldn’t we? 

       I read The Lord of the Rings when I was eight. I adored those books from the moment I pulled The Two Towers from my school library shelf. Tolkien didn’t write these books while living in our modern world, where teenagers play Grand Theft AutoWorld of Warcraft, and similar video games with enthusiasm and kids sneak into R-rated movies. As such, The Lord of the Rings is not particularly heavy on violent descriptions. Tolkien artfully portrays a world burdened with the tyrannical rule of a despot and a terrible war—and he doesn’t need blood spurting from chests and limbs being hacked off to do it. People die, people are imprisoned, and nations suffer, but the audience can appreciate their misery without having to read descriptions of graphic gore.

      Similarly, books that deal with issues of rape and abortion, such as Francine Rivers’s The Atonement Child, attempt to portray these subjects delicately. We are told, not shown, that Dynah Carey is raped in a park. We are told nothing about the attack itself, nor what she felt while she was being raped, nor anything about her attacker. On a similar note, even in the movie Hick (which I reviewed here), Luli’s rape is not shown, and your heart breaks all the more for this little girl because you know what is about to happen to her.   

Sometimes, what we don’t see makes the scene more powerful.

       However, the Bible itself doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions either—in fact, some of the most violent acts I’ve ever read about have been found in the Bible. Just browse through the Old Testament or read about Armageddon (or even what Christ endured on the cross), and you’ll see what I mean. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the trials of Job, the ten plagues, even the Flood—not exactly the happy, bright little stories we tell the toddlers in Sunday School, hmm? The Bible gives us a very full picture of the true depravity of man and the redemption that can be found in Jesus if we repent from our wicked ways and accept His gift of mercy and salvation.

       So how does that apply to us as Christian readers today?

I would advise you to examine the author’s intentions for including scenes of graphic violence.

       If the scene serves only to glorify a character’s prowess in battle or is there because the author felt like flexing his or her descriptive muscles, those are not sufficient reasons. Exposing people to explicit violence simply because you can is irresponsible and unloving, particularly if your audience will be mostly teens, children, and young people.

     But if the scenes are written with genuine sensitivity towards the character experiencing it and the reader, I suggest that these can help us grow. If—as in the case of The Atonement Child, some sections of The Hunger Games, and the Bible—the characters undergo a realistic transformation after experiencing said violence and learn, grow, and become stronger from it, then it was a vital scene.  If the audience is given hope that they, too, can overcome similar obstacles or can more fully appreciate the ordeal of someone they have never met, it was a vital scene. If a book explores the struggles of someone with PTSD, inclusions of violence (even in flashbacks) can break the hearts of the audience for this character and invite compassion. On the other hand, if a book’s hero is an emotionless warrior who suffers no repercussions from ruthlessly killing multiple people, the audience will come away with an unrealistic view of both violence and the people who commit it.

All that to say—use discretion and ask yourself why an author may have included graphic violence. If you can’t come up with a solid reason, maybe you should set it aside.

 

"How Much Is Too Much?"—A New Post Series Coming Soon!

  

I’ve been wanting to write a series of posts entitled “How Much Is Too Much?” for some time now, and I think I’m finally ready to try it. Using examples from various books I’ve read throughout the years (including the Bible!), I’ll attempt to answer the question “how much is too much?” regarding debatable themes in storytelling—in this case, violence, drugs / alcohol, sex, and profanity. Go to any bookstore today, and I guarantee you’ll find books of all sizes and genres that include these things. So how much is too much for a Christian reader hoping to find wholesome and uplifting, yet realistic, literature that doesn’t submerge him in graphic sex, explicit profanity, and vivid violence? Or can reading books that include these things actually bring the reader closer to God? 

             Stay tuned for the first part of “How Much Is Too Much?”, coming just as soon as I can write it! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, as well! 

Spring Break Update

Good afternoon, lovely people! I'm here in Virginia enjoying my Spring Break and writing like crazy (my friend N.B. refers to me as a writing mustang, apparently), and I'm loving the chance to spend all day cozying up to my characters. Besides writing, I've worked on my website, starting reading The Pillars of the Earth, and have discovered that I very much like Starbucks' iced tea lemonades. The dorm is quiet, my music is loud, and I am in no way ready for class to start again (but who is, really?)! So I hope you're all having an equally restful and enjoyable break—don't do stupid things. Ciao for now; I'll be back with more updates soon! :) 

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