Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Literacy Decline?

Oh, the changes that have come to modern literature!

Sentences and paragraphs have gotten shorter. White space has increased. The stakes ID-100201420have gotten higher, for if they didn't, our texting, tweeting, movie-watching culture wouldn't read past page one.

Are we becoming an increasingly illiterate nation? One who, so desensitized, needs explosions, body counts, and flashy graphics to hold our attention?

And will the classics of old, the tales of whales and balls and fleeing slaves, slowly fade, soon to be forgotten?

Deshaies HeadshotToday fellow ACFW member Marisa Deshaies assures us, the great works of literature known as the classics are still alive and well among our book reading culture. And here's why she believes that's so:

Bright lights beam a marquee of Les Miserables in along New York City’s Broadway. Facebook posts shower users with advertisements of the newest version of a Jane Austen novel. A British actor’s posh voice delivers the BBC’s latest promotion for Masterpiece Classic. Walk into any bookstore or watch previews of upcoming movies, and you’ll surely come across numerous advertisements or displays of classic stories written many ID-10036810years ago. With each bestseller and Oscar-worthy movie comes a retelling of one of the well-known stories taught in English classes.

What is it that endears the public to the Classics? With the advent of three-dimensional directing, popular vampire lore, beloved magical adventures, and modern romance stories that fill the bookshelves and movie theaters, audiences do not lack amusing entertainment. Critics could argue, in fact, that Austen, Dickens, and Tolstoy are authors of the past. Why look back when there are unknown tales waiting to be told?

And yet, retellings of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and other Classics continue to come to theaters and bookstores in droves.

Jane Austen’s novels are a particular favorite of authors and directors alike to recreate. In the two hundred years since Austen’s novels first hit the market, fan fiction and retellings are too numerous to count. Pride and Prejudice, in particular, is an audience favorite. Known best for her characters that pursue love in spite of difficult situations, Austen wrote novels that connect with young and old, male and female alike. Turning these novels into fan fiction and movies is a sure way to connect with book readers and movie watchers.

So what is it about the Classics that resonates so soundly with audiences? With Austen retellings, I’m convinced that readers and viewers live vicariously through the characters. Google-search the Jane Austen Festival, and you’ll see that while Persuasion doesn’t have witches or goblins and Emma doesn’t take place in a haunted mansion, readers of Austen novels and viewers of the novels’ movie counterparts are just as swept away by the stories as anyone reading Harry Potter or Twilight. Men and women dress in Regency costumes, attend balls, put on theatricals, and host luncheons and dinners, all in the fashion of Jane Austen’s time.


A graduate of the University of Delaware's English major, Marisa holds a Master of Art's degree in professional writing. Her career aspirations include working as an editor for a publishing house and as a literary agent. Marisa began reviewing books in January 2014 and now reviews for two web magazines, a reviewing company, multiple publishing houses, and directly for authors. In addition to her book reviews, she regularly blogs on her website, A Way With Words, and for fellow authors.

Connect with her online at her website, A Way With Words, on Facebook: A Way With Words (page) and Marisa Deshaies, Twitter: @deshaies89, Linked In: Marisa Deshaies, and Pintrest: Marisa Deshaies

Let's talk about this! Do you enjoy reading the classics? Do you have one that's your favorite? Do you ever read cliff notes with them? (I'm reading Uncle Tom's Cabin and the cliff notes are helping me get so much more out of the book!) Did you know you can normally download the classics and cliff notes for free? If you don't read the classics, is there a reason? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Angel in Disguise?

What can be worse than blowing a tire on a dark stretch of interstate at 2 A.M.?

Plenty can, but to two weary women traveling alone with no civilization in sight, over 100 miles away from completing our 1,480-mile round-trip journey, the thump-thump-thump of shredded tread was not a welcome sound.

Blog.1As I slowed the car to a crawl, I scolded myself for shrugging off every past opportunity to learn how to change a tire. Every news article I’d read about distracted drivers plowing into disabled vehicles parked on the shoulder flashed through my mind.

My choice was clear to me. I ignored everything my husband and automotive-loving son had told me about the hazards of driving on tire rims, and I forced the hobbling car several miles onward to the next exit. Risking damage to my vehicle seemed smarter than risking our lives.

My friend Bambi agreed.

We stopped at a closed gas station—the only building around--under what must have been one of three lights in the entire county, judging from the darkness surrounding us. After scanning the parking lot perimeter for boogey men and locking my car door, I fished my AAA card from my purse, but before I could dial roadside assistance, Bambi insisted we could handle the situation ourselves.

She’d apparently paid attention when her husband taught her how to change a flat.

Blog.2At her urging, we unloaded our luggage from the hatch, dragged out the spare tire and tools, jacked the car up (after repeated attempts), and set to work loosening lug nuts--or at least trying to. Making little progress, we tugged at, kicked, and even stood on the tool designed to loosen them. Do car manufacturer weld lug nuts on?

After a significant struggle and working up a sweat, we wrestled the lug nuts and hubcaps off only to discover the tire refused to separate from the car. No matter how we pulled or pushed, it wouldn’t budge.

I learned a new law of the universe that night: defeat gains strength when exhaustion holds its hand.

Thanking God for cell reception in this remote location (and praising myself for having renewed my AAA subscription), I finally dialed for help. A cheerful representative who apparently doesn’t need to sleep at night promised help would arrive, but not for another hour, at least. I craved my bed. With hope as deflated as my demolished tire, I answered her many questions to arrange a dispatch, but before we completed the call, a beat-up red pickup truck rolled out of the darkness and parked beside us. Before I could stop her, Bambi accepted the unkempt driver’s offer to help. My expression must have revealed my concern because she handed me the tire iron. A weapon of defense?

Sharing my apprehension, the AAA rep promised to remain on the line until she knew we were safe. Predicting tomorrow’s headline, “Women Slain at Rural Gas Station,” I immediately relayed this man’s physical and vehicle descriptions to her. If Bambi and I died that night, at least police would have a good lead in finding the murderer, who fetched a hammer from the bed of his truck. My heart raced, and I clenched the tire iron tighter, monitoring his every move.

While I considered where to aim to deliver the most effective blow when he attacked, he slid under the car and set to work. Before I blinked twice, he’d knocked the tire loose and installed the spare. Bambi had reloaded several pieces of luggage before I reminded my tongue to say, “Thank you.”

Turns out the man I’d deemed a serial killer worked as the property’s night security. My overactive imagination, a symptom plaguing writers, had assessed this man’s character and plugged him into an unsavory category based upon his physical appearance alone. Of course, his lack of uniform assisted my prejudice, yet as I looked into our rescuer’s eyes for the first time, I stood convicted of misjudging a man with a good heart.

Of course safety is a concern in today’s society, but how many kind souls do I shun with suspicion? How many friendly folks do I mistake for having ill intentions? How many angels in disguise do I fail to entertain because of fear?

If Jesus had rolled up in disheveled attire driving that red jalopy, would I have treated him with the same trepidation?

Having a healthy dose of caution is wise, but having faith feels better. I must remember good people come dressed in every style. They hail from every walk of life. They sometimes roll out of darkness to come to our rescue.

How do you balance trust and fear? Have you ever misjudged someone based upon a faulty first impression? Have you received blessings from an unlikely source? Let’s chat about it below!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Wishing You Were Here

Emma visaTomorrow my baby girl leaves for Italy. For four months.

She’s a junior in college, but she lives only forty minutes away and comes home three or four times a week, so she hasn’t really “gone” to college. This will be the first time she’ll be away for so long.

It took us a long time to get pregnant—eight horrible years. We tried literally everything science had to offer. She was state-of-the-art. We lost a baby right before her, on Christmas Eve day. I was beyond shattered. That was the only time we had ever been pregnant in seven years, and it lasted less than a month.

Emma BabyI decided to try once more, then I would be done. We’d try adopting, which at the time my husband wasn’t too thrilled about. We tried again that spring and it worked. Emma was due in January. I don’t think I breathed until I was six months along. I didn’t unwrap any of the clothes until three weeks before she was due, just in case I had to take them back. That turned out to be the night before I went into labor. God delivered her to us on Christmas Eve day, exactly one year after one of the most devastating days of our lives. John says he heard God say, “Now do you trust me?”

We named her Emma Noelle, and took her home on Christmas Day. Everybody asks her if she feels shortchanged being born so close to Christmas. She always answers, “No.” If they knew the story, they’d know why.

EmmaEmma is changing from my daughter into one of my best friends. I love spending time with her. I will always be her mother, of course. She still calls to ask my advice on everything from friendships to cooking. But more and more often, she’s got a solution in mind, and she’s just wants to see if it’s the right one instead of having absolutely no idea what to do.

Letting go is hard, but it’s what we’re meant to do as parents. It’s our job to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord, and then send them out into the world to tell others about Him. Even though they take a part of our heart with them.

Tell your children about it, and let your children tell their children, and their children the next generation. (Joel 1:3 HCSB)