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Beautiful People Link-Up: About the Author

This month’s BP features the author of the characters instead of the characters themselves, which is a fun twist.  🙂  You can find the link-up and questions here.

How do you decide which project to work on?

It’s very rational: I sit down and calculate how many story elements are inherent in the original idea + an estimation of the time it will take to finish + how much time I actually have + how much coffee I’ll need to complete the project, and–

Just kidding!  Usually, ideas for characters grab me and won’t let go, and so I have to follow and see what the story is.  It’s  entirely out of my control, I assure you.  Other times, the process is a little more rational: sometimes based on whichever idea is the most vivid and interesting; sometimes it’s based on which story idea has the most pieces put together (e.g. one with the concept, conflict, etc. worked out); and sometimes, it’s whichever idea looks like one that I can finish quickly.

Which often turns out to be a complete fantasy.  🙂

Even when I settle on a project, I tinker with others on the side, and jot notes for any new ideas. Sitting now in my digital folders are at least 10 novel ideas (with tons of notes for each), along with notes for a couple of characters and concepts that don’t have proper stories, but that won’t leave my imagination either.

At the moment, I’m actively working on my semi-western Gentle Fire, and I tinker with my steampunk story here and there.  Also, the steampunk story finally has a working title: Empty Clockwork!  And speaking of, I’ll get that post about Lennox up sometime before the apocalypse hopefully soon.

How long does it usually take you to finish a project?

In the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge, circa 1850–something: “Why do you delight to torture me?”

I don’t finish quickly, partly because of my health problems and fatigue–but partly because my concepts end up fleshed out into a Very Long Novel that will take more than a few months to pound out.  But I comfort myself with the hallowed words of Charles Dickens:

“It is delightful to find throughout that you have taken great pains with it [the story] besides, and have “got at it” with a perfect knowledge of the jolter-headedness of the conceited idiots who suppose that volumes are to be tossed off like pancakes, and that any writing can be done without the utmost application, the greatest patience, and the steadiest energy, of which the writer is capable.”

Do you have any routines to put you in the writing mood?

I listen to music that matches the tone of my story (e.g. The Alamo soundtrack before I work on Gentle Fire) and sometimes crochet a little before I write, using that time to think about the story and what I’m going to write.

What time of day do you write best?

Always in the early morning, when the rising sun melts the grey sky into soft blush and liquid gold, and the house is a still and peaceful place where my imagination can soar–

*dog barks at someone walking by the house*

*a sibling gets up earlier than I expected*

*air conditioner breaks*

Kidding!  It changes from day to day, and I think it has to do with however much brain fog I’m dealing with.  Sometimes I write best in the wee hours of the morning; other times, I can barely comprehend English during that time.  Other times, I write best in the late morning; still others, late afternoon is the sweet spot.  Keeps things interesting, eh, what?

Are there any authors you think you have a similar style to?

Erm…I have no idea.  I’d like to think I have a style like Dickens’, but it’s probably a cross between Bronte and Austen.  I asked my siblings, and Chris lovingly reminded me that he hasn’t read any of my stories because I haven’t finished one yet.  (Thanks, bro.)  Gingersnap said she couldn’t think of any comparisons and that I kind of had my own style.  Enkie said Louisa May Alcott, but also said that’s the only author she could think of off the top of her head, and that it wasn’t correct at all.  That I kind of have my own style.  Emmett also said he hasn’t read any of my stuff, and so he also couldn’t think of any comparisons.

Why did you start writing, and why do you keep writing?

I started writing because I always have story ideas bouncing around in my head, and at age 12, I hit upon one that I thought was good enough to become a book.  (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.)  But it was enough to start me on this journey, and I keep writing because story ideas still bounce around in my head–stories that I would love to read someday.

I also truly enjoy the process and the artistry of it all, despite how hard it gets.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve written?

Either the travel brochure for a writing class assignment (that brochure was as dry as ashes, people)–or the picture book I started in order to finish something before I die.  The picture book was hard because it was short, and I didn’t have room to explore or flesh out its concept.  It felt like shutting my mind up in a box.

Here’s a fun fact: Gentle Fire was supposed to be a short story.  But I kept wondering what brought Durant to the very situation in the opening, and also what happened after the story.  And then I thought of some answers.  And the ideas wouldn’t leave me alone.  See Question #1.

Is there a project you want to tackle someday but you don’t feel ready yet?

My English political novel with the working title of Method and Manner.  Actually, I’d love to focus on this one (Chris told me the other day he would put flowers ‘pon this story’s gravestone), but I don’t have time for the hefty research required.  When I have time for that research, however, I shall thoroughly enjoy it!

What writing goals did you make for 2017 and how are they going?

I hoped to finish the draft of Gentle Fire by the end of the year, but as it’s nearly August and only the beginning of the outline sits in my folder, that will probably not happen.  I hesitated to set any other goals because I so successfully fail at meeting them year after year.  It’s quite the impressive record.

Maybe I should switch to creating Mid-Year Goals?  Breaking out of the cliche box and all its expectations might help.  🙂

Describe your writing process in 3 words or a gif!

Help, coffee, help!

Kidding again!  It’s more like Think, Organize, Write–only that order gets shuffled around a little.  Okay, a lot.  With confusion thrown in.  Also a constant sparring match between my inner critic and artist’s soul.

And coffee does fit in there somewhere.  🙂

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Beautiful People Parental Edition — Lennox (Again)

The Beautiful People link-up is so much fun!  If you don’t know, the link-up is to help writers get to know their characters better via the list of questions provided each month.

I’m featuring Lennox again (from my steampunk-ish story) because readers liked him last time, and because I think it would be weird to switch characters for this group of questions.

Here’s a picture of Lennox:

And here are this month’s questions!

Overall, how good is their relationship with their parents?  Lennox was close to his parents and grew closer to his mother after his father died of influenza (when Lennox was 15).  They all had the occasional disagreement, of course, but nothing that divided the family permanently.  In fact, if someone insults his family or especially his mother, Lennox is apt to start a fight.

“I will not hear a word said against my mother.  Not even by you, sir.”

(Talking to his grandfather)

Do they know both their biological parents? If not, how do they cope with this loss/absence, and how has it affected their life?  Yes, he knows them.  He grew up with them, and he had a happy childhood.

How did their parents meet?  His mother was an aristocratic daughter; his father was an artist.  They met when the artist was commissioned to paint a portrait, either for their family or a friend’s family.  The artist and the lady fell in love, and when her family objected, they eloped and lived on the continent for their entire married life.

How would they feel if they were told “you’re turning out like your parent(s)”?  Lennox would be more offended by the fact that someone considered this an insult than by the remark itself.  If someone did not mean it as an insult, he would definitely be pleased by the compliment.

What were your character’s parents doing when they were your character’s age?  Raising him, with the father trying to support the family by painting for aristocratic families on the continent.

Is there something they adamantly disagree on?  Lennox’s mother taught him etiquette as a child/teenager (which he did not see the use of) and also how to play the piano—which he hated.  His mother persisted, however, and he finally learned to play in spite of himself.

What did the parent(s) find hardest about raising your character?  Probably the I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing malady that strikes all first-time parents, and supporting the family on low income/living economically.  They were poor, but they managed.

What’s his most vivid memory with their parental figure(s)?  He remembers running around on the Italian hillsides while his father painted.  Sometimes watching his father, and sometimes (as Lennox got older) learning to paint himself.  His most vivid memory of his mother, however, is from when he was much older and had earned a fellowship at Cambridge.  The money it brought was enough to support them both, and he vividly remembers her doing little things around their house, such as cleaning and cooking and sewing, while he studied in the evenings.

What was your character like as a baby/toddler?  Lennox was mobile, always exploring, and touching/grabbing whatever caught his interest.  His mother kept a close eye on him, because he would be crawling or toddling out the open door every time she turned around.  Little Lennox was also generally cheerful and easygoing, though if his will was crossed when he wanted something strongly, he would throw tantrums.

Why and how did the parents choose your character’s name?  “Lennox” was actually the mother’s maiden surname.  She gave it to her son in memory of the life and family she had lost.  While she never really regretted eloping to marry her beloved, she did regret their stubbornness and rashness—because perhaps, with time, the minds of her family would have softened to the match.  The name was also a small way of honoring her family.

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Further Narnia Musings – Of Logic, Motives, and More Headcanons

I’m re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and noticing new details, even though I’ve read and loved the books for 17 years.  For instance, the other day, I dissected Edmund’s argument to Peter in Chapter Six:

“Hush!  Not so loud,” said Edmund; “there’s no good frightening the girls.  But have you realized what we’re doing?” … “We’re following a guide we know nothing about.  How do we know which side that bird is on?  Why shouldn’t it be leading us into a trap?”

“That’s a nasty idea.  Still—a robin, you know.  They’re good birds in all the stories I’ve ever read.  I’m sure a robin wouldn’t be on the wrong side.”

“If it comes to that, which is the right side?  How do we know that the Fauns are in the right and the Queen (yes, I’ve been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong?  We don’t really know anything about either.”

“The Faun saved Lucy.”

“He said he did.  But how do we know?”

Edmund’s arguments seem to hint that seeking evidence and understanding presuppositions is the realm of skeptics, and that blind faith the habit of religious people.  And his first point is sound—they knew nothing about the guide (and Peter’s counter-argument is not that strong).  But look closely at the rest of Edmund’s argument—and his motives for making it.

Edmund has already sided with the Witch.  In fact, he knows she’s a Witch and knows she is dangerous; yet he doesn’t want to admit he’s wrong or give up his desire for glory (and more Turkish Delight).  His argument that “we don’t really know anything about either” is incorrect.  Yes, the children could seek more information about the situation.  But Edmund knew what the Witch had promised him and what she wanted in exchange.  And Lewis later reveals that his “beliefs” about the Queen were just an excuse: deep down, Edmund knew the Witch is bad and cruel.

He goes on to say that the Faun “said he [saved Lucy].  But how do we know?”  This is also incorrect.  Lucy said the Faun had saved her.  And Lucy had told the truth about Narnia, and Peter and Susan testified to the professor that Lucy always told the truth.  The strength of her word should have been reason enough to believe that the Faun did indeed save her.  Furthermore, the children had found Tumnus’s cave destroyed and a note inside condemning him for harboring spies and fraternizing with humans—which corroborated Lucy’s account and provided the children with more information about who the Witch was.

Thus, Edmund’s argument appears solid, but he deliberately omitted some information and misrepresented the rest.  And yes, the children would do well to gather more information about the situation.  But they were not operating on blind faith.  They did have evidence—and the testimony of someone who never lied.

And I don’t believe Lewis implied that seeking proof is wrong.  Peter says only moments later to Mr. Beaver, “Not meaning to be rude [about determining whether he’s a friend] … but you see, we’re strangers.”  And to this, Mr. Beaver shows his token of truth: the handkerchief Lucy had given to Mr. Tumnus.  Lucy recognizes it, and if it had any monogram or distinctive feature, the others should also have recognized it as hers.  (In fact, it makes sense that there was some kind of identification on the handkerchief; a plain white one could belong to anyone, and that handkerchief had passed through a couple of hands already.  It must have had something that made Lucy recognize it as hers.)  It’s common sense to gather evidence and discern it—but in this case, Edmund simply didn’t want to admit that the Witch (and therefore himself), was wrong.

Even while under the sway of the Witch, however, Edmund put together an argument that at least looked solid—and he did have valid points about following a guide they knew nothing about and the chance of getting back home (although perhaps he wanted to weaken Peter’s faith in who was right, as Edmund intended to bring his siblings to the Witch, not back home).  This and other details scattered through the series created my belief that Edmund is the logical one, not Susan.  Susan is practical and sensible—but Edmund generally sees (and points out) what should be obvious.  He seems to be the thinker sort, but without being stereotypically quiet.  If anything, he speaks his mind and is incredibly straightforward.

Head canon set #4:

Caspian doesn’t lose his temper often, but he he does, it ain’t pretty. (Canon-based; see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.)

He is easygoing by nature, but also stands firm when necessary.

Susan is what we call an “old soul”.   Lewis says she was “no good at schoolwork (though otherwise very old for her age).”

She also likes to dance, and she’s good at it.

Edmund couldn’t care less about this, so Peter usually dances with Susan when she wants to.

Susan is the tidiest of the four, and she gets frustrated with her siblings for leaving their stuff out.

Edmund, for instance, leaves his books and papers literally anywhere.

That said, he usually remembers where he puts his belongings.

When he forgets (or when somebody moves them), he gripes about the problem until the missing items are located.

Peter can’t be bothered to tidy all his stuff, though he’s often in a hurry or just preoccupied.

And he has a nasty habit of letting dirty socks pile up under the bed.

Needless to say, the boys’ room is a mess.

Which drives Susan nuts.

Lucy also makes a mess when she works on a project; she works best in creative chaos.

Contrary to the Pevensies, Caspian is actually rather tidy.

Lucy’s favorite color is purple: not dark purple, but a soft lavender shade.

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One-Liners Around Our House

While watching Inception the other night:

Gingersnap: “I ship Arthur and Ariadne.”

Me: “Arthur shipped Arthur and Ariadne–Mr. ‘Kiss-me-well-it-was-worth-a-try!’ ”

 

Emmet jumped over the little table that had been pulled in front of his easy chair.  And then he remarked: “That was probably not the best way to exit that chair.”

 

Chris, relating an anecdote: “I unplugged my seat belt–”

Me: “Unplugged your seat belt?!?!? Millennial kid, good night!!”

Chris: “Hey, I’m entitled to talk like that.”

 

We were having baked potatoes for dinner one night.

Emmet: “Will someone help me squeeze the guts out of my potato?

Then, when I paused to write down that quote before helping him…

Emmet: “Um, Guts?  Potato?  Help?”

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Quote of the Week – Travis’s Speech

“I have here pieces of paper, letters from politicians and generals, but no indication of when–or if–help will arrive.  Letters not worth the ink committed to them.  I fear that…no one is coming.

“Texas has been a second chance for me.  I expect that might be true for many of you as well.  It has been a chance not only for land and riches, but also to be a different man.  And, I hope, a better one.  There have been many ideas brought forth in the past few months of what Texas is, what it should become.  We are not all in agreement.  But I’d like to ask each of you what it is you value so highly that you are willing to fight and possible die for.  We will call that ‘Texas’.

“The Mexican army hopes to lure us into attempting escape.  Almost anything seems better than remaining in this place, penned up.  If, however, we force the enemy to attack, I believe every one of you will prove himself worth ten in return.  We will not only show the world what patriots are made of, we will also deal a crippling blow to the army of Santa Anna.

“If anyone wishes to depart under the white flag of surrender, you may do so now.  You have that right.  But if you wish to stay here…with me, in the Alamo…we will sell our lives dearly.”

~ The Alamo, 2004 film

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An Insightful Post on Historical Analysis

Today, I found this amazing post by Hayden Wand: Battling the Modern Condescension.  She writes about a historical fiction pet peeve which happens to be one of my pet peeves as well, and it was nice to discover that I’m not alone in my historical opinions.  But then I decided to post my own thoughts about the matter, thoughts that have been simmering for several years.

To put the matter simply, it really is arrogant to judge past behavior by modern ideas of justice, equality, social norms, science, etc.  For one thing, this mindset keeps us from truly understanding why things were the way they were.  Maybe there was a good reason for some customs.  For example, in England for much of the 19th century, you had to be a landowner with a private income in order to sit in the House of Commons or the House of Lords.  Unfair!  Unequal!  Unnecessary restriction!  Social injustice, class wars, what-have-you in action!

Actually, sitting in Parliament brought no wages until the 1880s.  And being a Member was a full-time job.  Parliament met from early January or February until early August.  Sessions began at 3:00 p.m. and sometimes didn’t end until 3:00 a.m.  Before then, you would correspond with constituents, read Parliamentary papers, do political paperwork—and since you were a landowner, you would have to manage your estates in there somewhere, as well as attend or host the dinners that were obligatory for a social position.  You simply didn’t have time to work for a living.  You needed an independent income.  (Sources: Norman Gash’s Politics in the Age of Peel and James Grant’s Random Recollections of the House of Commons, and Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew.)

Additionally, what our culture considers “enlightened” and “just” changes.  Constantly.  Which means our standards change constantly, and our judgments change constantly.  How do we know that in a 100 years, what we considered “right” will be enforced in legal courts?  How do we know that women won’t eventually get tired of the career girl expectations and revert to homemaking?

And then looking at the matter from a writer’s point-of-view, it’s actually narrow-minded to assume that readers can relate only to characters with their understanding of life, social justice, etc. Now granted, similar mindsets do help you connect with others.  But if we writers rely on this alone for our characters, there will be no intellectual challenge in our books, no new knowledge presented, no window into a different life through characters who are similar, but not identical, to you or to readers.  I think there’s a timeless quality to the complexity of a character who has solid reasons for believing something modern readers may not agree with; it gives him beliefs, flaws, motivations–and historical accuracy.  A writer’s job is to write a character as sympathetic and understandable anyway, regardless of different beliefs and social norms.  Giving a character the same mindset as the readership is a lazy way to accomplish this.

On the flip side, understanding a historical mindset does not mean that you pretend a social ill never existed.  That would take the problem to a different extreme and would create the same result: misunderstanding of history.  And I certainly don’t advocate defending historical beliefs that the Bible called wrong.  I just want to be humble enough as a writer and historian to truly understand a historical mindset, to learn from it, and to challenge myself and others through different points of view.

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Insights from Three Roads to the Alamo

I am devouring this book.  It is far more interesting than I anticipated; Davis presents a lot of facts, but dwells on the ones most pertinent to the different eras in the lives of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis.  (Or rather, Crockett and Bowie; I haven’t gotten to Travis yet.)  Davis also provides their family histories, detailing them so thoroughly that I mentally nicknamed the ancestors “Grandpa Crockett” and “Pa Bowie” and “Uncle Bowie” in order to remember who all these people are.

The book also offers gems about frontier life, law, and politics (or lack thereof).  For example:

Following the purchase of Louisiana, almost all the region was public land, unavailable for purchase until it was properly surveyed and townships and ranges were laid out.  That would be the work of years to come.  The only more immediate ways to take possession of a tract were either to buy it from a confirmed occupant or else to acquire a Spanish grant owned by a grantee who never actually took possession.  –pg. 43

Now [Crockett] was nearly thirty, with three small children, one of them still an infant, all of them needing care and he with a failing farm to work.  In like circumstances men often broke up their families, placing the children in the homes of friends and relatives, but Crockett felt too attached to his sons John and William, and to baby Margaret.  –pg. 63

Soon [Crockett] added to it other titles in Lawrence County, including town commissioner of Lawrenceburg, court referee, and road commissioner.  For the next two years, he adjudicated in land disputes, took censuses of voters and taxpayers, oversaw the improvement of country roads, and performed whatever small tasks came in the way of a rural functionary. –pg. 69

In 1823 Americans had no folk heroes as yet.  They were too new a people, their only household gods the Founding Fathers, men too lofty and remote to become the stuff of legend.  But the common man was rising now, and he would want one of his own for an icon.  –pg. 86

Ahead of them lay what boatmen called a sawyer, a huge driftwood tree snagged in the bottom mud, its trunk pointing upstream.  Sawyers rose out of the water in response to the current until their weight in the air countered the water’s resistance, and then they crashed down again, repeating the process endlessly until eventually they washed away.  –pg. 117

You may notice from the sequence of the page numbers that every other page contains something interesting, insightful, and informative.  I keep peppering my copy with Post-Its, and this selection of quotes is only a portion of the ones I marked.

It’s amusing to note that very little has changed politically.  I always thought that early 19th century America was morally purer than today; and in some ways, perhaps it was.  But when Bowie gets involved in local politics, and Crockett in local and national politics, we get statements like this:

Brent also promised men appointments if he was elected, even though they would be to offices a congressman had no power to fill; one of Johnston’s friends admitted that some influential men “were completely bamboozled by him.”  –pg. 102

When the House bogged down in debate on the tariff in March, [Crockett] looked on in dismay as a largely partisan element tried to reshape the duties in a way that would align the West, the South, and the mid-Atlantic states against New England, the home of President Adams.  Critics charged that the House was concerned not with protecting manufacturers but manufacturing a president, and Crockett became so frustrated that he determined to vote against every single tariff amendment and against the tariff bill itself.  –pgs. 129—130

David believed he was seeing evidence of bipartisan support, honest men favoring an honest measure, but the more subtle Polk recognized that they were taking the “opportunity to use Crockett, and to operate upon him through this measure, for their own political purposes.”  –pg. 138

“What a state of things,’ [Overton] exclaimed.  ‘The most corrupt & daring are the most successful.”  –pg. 157

Did you think that fighting and backbiting over a political position was a modern problem?

No sooner did Crockett return to Washington for this new session, however, than he read a Nashville newspaper account published while he was on his way east, saying that he had behaved with unforgivable boorishness at the meal, demanding more food when his plate was removed, even licking his fingers, and drinking out of all six cups attached to the punch bowl. … [A]ny one of the other five attendees, including the president, could have put the lie to the story. … The story had to be a lie made up by someone who knew the dinner took place and who gave it to the Clay-Adams press, yet who must have known that at least half the guests present who could refute the tale were themselves National Republicans.  In other words, a fantasy concocted to embarrass Crockett must inevitably be embarrassing to the National Republicans as well, when the truth came out and men like Clark and Verplank were forced to refute what appeared in their own party organs.  –pgs. 134–135

Such calm was hardly likely in an election year, however.  Brent stood for reelection again, and the campaign proved if anything even more bitter than those before.  Charges swirled of Brent’s heavy engagement in forged Spanish grant business, and that in Washington he received money for claims on behalf of his constituents but failed to turn it over.  –pg 155

How about fights in social media?

Crockett took up the fight in the press, and replied in temper that Lea was a “poltroon, a scoundrel and a puppy,” suggesting that if Lea would identify himself, Crockett would “resent” the insults with a challenge.  Lea did identify himself in responding, declining the invitation to duel but repeating his charge that his colleague had made himself the “willing instrument of political, sectional and personal malignities” opposed to the interests of Tennessee, on the part of men who wished to “induce him to act with them in future.”  The correspondence went back and forth in the press for several days…  –pg 141

The author points out that Crockett was not a man prone to violence, but the article in the press had attacked his integrity.

And though back then there weren’t solid political parties as we’d think of them, there was division of voter support:

Everyone expected [Brent] to be easy prey after his part in electing Adams the year before, but the Jacksonians in Louisiana fell apart this year and fielded two candidates, dividing the opposition vote.  –pg. 155

I keep subconsciously comparing the information I read to the portrayals in The Alamo film.  And have to remind myself to wait until I reach those chapters of their lives, because the men they were at age 15 or 20 could be radically different from their personalities at ages 26, 33, and 40-something.

But their personalities thus far are interesting to assess.  Bowie is a complex case study: sometimes, I do not want to read the chapters about him because of his underhand dealings and violent tendencies.  On the flip side, he had an interesting and intelligent (mostly) personality.  He had self-control enough to wait for his frauds to succeed, but not enough to control himself in the presence of insults or enemies.  He was intelligent enough to maneuver into the society of influential men, but not enough to research his schemes thoroughly.  He apparently had no qualms defrauding the government out of its public land and smuggling slaves into Louisiana, but he was fiercely loyal to his family.  His character seems to be on a level with Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights—complex, yet reprehensible, yet fascinating.  Like a tornado—you want to get out of there, but you can’t look away.

On a lighter note, Bowie’s first name was James, and he had a brother name John.  I got a hilarious mental image of their parents getting the names mixed up, stuttering when calling one kid or the other, and finally resorting to “Come here, boy.”  The thought amuses me.

Crockett is also a puzzling case sometimes.  While the author—and Crockett’s own actions in Congress—declares him an honest man, he seems to have had no qualms deliberately appealing to what his backwoods constituents liked best, and exaggerating (or de-exaggerating as the situation required) his own knowledge and abilities.  It doesn’t seem to have been a malicious or intentionally deceptive tactic—and Crockett definitely stood his ground, regardless of consequences, once he was elected to Congress—but it seems a little odd in the face of his honesty elsewhere, and his (initial) naïve belief in the sincerity of his fellow delegates.  It does, however, make accurate Crockett’s statement in The Alamo film: “I was never afraid to stretch things a bit…but I never learned to lie.”

On a totally different note, there will be no Picture Saturday today.  Mainly because I have nothing prepared, and I may be getting sick.  On the bright side, it might give me more time to read Three Roads to the Alamo.  🙂