Q&A With Author Martha Keyes


img_4797Goodwill for the Gentleman is one of the warmest stories I’ve read this year. If you want to know why, check out my review here. It is an amazing joy to have contacted the author, Martha Keyes, with questions about this charming Christmas story that had me believing in happy endings again.

I believe that speaking with the author and seeing their view of the world adds depth to a story, and the answers to these questions certainly did that. If you have not yet started the Belles of Christmas collection, I highly suggest you do so; each of these tales will leave you with a light heart and a great deal of hope.

Be sure to check out Martha’s new novel, Cecilia, which was released this weekend. I can’t wait to get lost in it!

Without further ado, here are the questions!


1. What was the inspiration for Goodwill for the Gentleman?

A few factors played into this, actually. Because the book is part of a multi-author series, we had to decide a few ground rules at the beginning. One of those was the year the story was taking place. The year we chose (1813) was a very, very cold winter in England. They had very intense winter weather, and I thought about that quite a bit as I tried to decide on a story. Interestingly, I decided upon a title before anything else. I had been brainstorming things we associate with Christmas—words, phrases, smells, etc.—and I came upon the word “goodwill” and the phrase “good will toward men/man” from a couple of well known Christmas songs. I thought that was an interesting concept if I just changed it to “goodwill for the gentleman.” And from that, the beginnings of the story were born!

IMG_9452.12. Is there a message you want readers to learn from it?

I really wanted readers (and myself) to think about the way we view the people around us. We are always operating with limited information as we make judgments and assumptions about others, just as Emma is in the book. She has taken the behavior of Hugh in jilting her sister and kind of assumed the worst of him. As she comes to know him, she realizes that there is so much more to him than the one thing she has judged him on and that even that action wasn’t as selfish as it appeared. I am a religious person, and I find that Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us to reevaluate any grudges we are holding and try to do for others what Christ does for each of us—believe in us and the believe the best of us. I hope that those things come through a bit in the story.

3. Do you have a nice Christmas memory or tradition you would like to share?

I grew up in a family that focused heavily on music, and one of our Christmas Eve traditions is for each of us to choose our favorite Christmas song or hymn to sing together while my mom plays the piano. There are eight kids in my family (plus a number of spouses), so it actually takes quite awhile to do this, but I think it brings a special spirit that only music can. Over the past five or so years, we have shifted things a bit to where we don Santa hats and go caroling to a few of our neighbors who are home-bound or elderly, bringing along a bag of caramels to gift them. I live in Utah, and we often have snowy Christmases, so we are all ready to cozy up when we get back from doing this. I love bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to people who might otherwise spend Christmas Eve alone.

The Empty House & Discovering Rosamunde Pilcher


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Thrift stores are exciting; one never knows what they will find. I’ve brought home things such as a teacup from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to a stuffed kangaroo. The clothes at thrift stores, at least in my experience, tend to be cozier; I’ve found my favorite sweaters there.

But what I find most enchanting about thrift shops are their books.

In thrift shops we find hardcover copies, most of them characterised by age and use. I have found poetry books in which passages were marked by the previous owner, little notes in the margins; it is a lovely sense of not reading alone. Also, thrift stores let us find novels that aren’t well-known; we rediscover the bestsellers of yesteryear.

I have felt tempted to weep at the books that exist but I will not have time to read. I am glad, though, that I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher in time to revel in her heartwarming stories. I will read as many of her books as I can; perhaps some brilliance will rub off on me. They have the feel of a warm cup of tea on an autumn afternoon.

The first book of Pilcher’s that I read was The Empty House. A powerful, clean romance, it gave me hope to follow Virginia’s journey as, after a tragedy, she found her own identity. She built herself from scratch, took back what was hers (including her children), and chose at last to live the life she’d dreamed of. She discovered what love is, and what it is not.

If you want a story that will make you feel good, The Empty House is a short read, and you will remember it. Not all books need to be long in order to make an impact.

It’s a lesson I learned this year: often the best stories are the ones that can be finished in a day. However, it will not be an ordinary day. If a story is good, if it has the author’s heart in it, the reader will never forget the day the book was read.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens


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After one month in its pages, I have finished The Pickwick Papers. It is part of my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge, one of the longer ones on the list. I’m unable to critique writing by my favorite author. How can I nitpick the gripping prose, the humorous twists and turns, the delightful poetry?

I cannot criticize work by Charles Dickens, so instead I will continue wishing I could write like him.

If I were to write like Charles Dickens, I imagine I would focus on the characters. There are so many, and the author follows many of their storylines. This way, we can see him weaving an elaborate world. How could I follow so many characters at once? If I wanted to write like him, I would need to practice having an eye on each and every one of them.

There would be a past for every traitor, a flaw for every hero. I would make readers hesitate to judge anyone harshly. I would give even the most unlikeable characters their humanity. Dialogue would be a treat to read because of my attention to dialect, the nuances that separate one protagonist from the other.

With enough detail, the most fantastic main character will feel real.

I would use words to bring out the chasm between the wealthy and poor, the places no one wants to go and the places everyone wants to be. I would show readers the homeless and destitute, how they are forgotten but still human. Men, women, and children in factories and poorhouses would have their voices heard.

My prose would have to be so graceful that the words melt into poetry. I would paint pictures in which the walls, the carpet, the tea kettle all play a part. They would be like blended colors. With my art, readers would drink in the paragraph without complaining about its length. I would immerse them so that they don’t remember how long the book is; they are part of the story.

I cannot criticize Charles Dickens. I can only hope that one day I will write something with such immortality. His works can be heavy because of their length. These novels have many chapters because they were first published as serials. Oh, to go back in time! What a delightful thought: a world in which people all went to the news stand, looking for the next chapter of their favorite story.

Maybe one day, that trend will return to life. For now, I will read these stories and bask in their light.

I’ve found time to read historical fiction this year, modern works I haven’t included in my reading list because they’re not classics. I’m doing this for research: the novel I’m working on is historical fiction. There is no better way to know the time period than reading stories about it. However, the titles on the 2019 Classic Novel Challenge are priorities.

My next classic read will be My Antonia by Willa Cather.

I hope your springtime has been pleasant; what are you reading now?

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle


Mounted Knight By Howard PyleThe second book in my 2019 classic novel challenge was The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. These stories were released in serial form for a children’s publication; they are characterized by their bold protagonists, as well as their focus on virtue and morality.

It is not a novel, but a compilation of tales following a handful of powerful characters. Aside from King Arthur himself, we meet remarkable people including Merlin, Lady Guinevere, and Sir Gawaine.

No two characters were the same, even when they shared a goal. Though the stories were written for children, the characters’ personalities were bold and controversial. The stories were meant to inspire children to live honorable lives; it’s fitting that they were given serious heroes.

These stories seemed relatable to me in the way that my heart reacted to their decisions. They stirred a desire in me to do good for the people I know. Our instinct for good has not change over the years. We still strive to be honest. We fight for causes we believe in and protect the people we love. Each of us wants to save the world in the way we think is best. In these Arthurian stories, I encountered traits most people respect, qualities we look for in a leader.Arthur And Excalibur

Don’t we all dream of slaying the dragon and taking care of the monster? Don’t we all have a rebellious side like Sir Gawaine, who resorts to unconventional means for victory? These stories reflect what we are; we still have these instincts.

Arthurian literature became a subcategory because of its heavy moral focus. I am pleased to know there are more tales of characters I met in this book. I will be looking for them, because the world of King Arthur and themes explored in it encouraged me.

They gave me hope that we are capable of creating a better world. All we need is to find courage and bring forth those ancient qualities our ancestors admired.

Next, I will be reading Russian Magic Tales. I’m excited for this one! Thank you for following my journey so far, and I will post again soon.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


thomas_hardy-the-mayor-of-casterbridgeThe first book I read for my 2019 reading challenge, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is compelling because of its characters. Though there are many, it focuses on a man named Michael Henchard, a man none of us would envy. It is the story of a mistake he made as a young man and how this mistake haunted him, even when he achieved success and power.

The first chapter in which he made the mistake stood out to me in color. Henchard’s great mistake was to sell his wife and daughter to a sailor for some coin. Word choice made the drama play out before me in shades of brown and gray. It is one of the best introductory chapters I’ve read, setting a consistent foundation for the novel to follow.

Chapter one makes Henchard look pathetic, rather than evil. The colors in word choice reveal that he is not taking the quarrel seriously. He thinks it’s one of many others he’s had with his wife. By the end of the chapter, when Henchard wakes up to find his wife’s wedding ring on the pub floor, I did not hate him. I pitied him.

Consumed by remorse for his great mistake, Henchard achieved power but never shed his chains. His jealousy of competition, his desperation to regain the trust of his daughter, and the defeated manner in which he ended his life—it all made him real. Though I wanted to hate him, I had the sense he needed someone to love him found no one willing.

Sometimes the protagonist of a great novel is not himself great or impressive; sometimes he’s a man you wouldn’t trust with your life, your money, or an ounce of your time. Memorable characters are defined by flaws. They become famous because we want to slap or hug them. The best characters tap into the saddest aspects of humanity.

The novel has a depth I’ve noticed in many classics which began as serialized publications, such as Dickens’ work. The Mayor of Casterbridge was long enough to keep me immersed, but not so long that I wanted to fling it away and read something else. It pulled me into the amusing society aptly painted by Hardy’s word choice. Punctuated with love triangles, humorous mistakes, and the ever-present threat of gossip, it was never boring.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has made it to my list of favorite novels, along with Swann’s Way and David Copperfield. These books are about more than characters. They’re about setting and time period, prose and morality. An attentive read of these books reveals why they made it to the title of classic. Written at a time when life was slower, these novels have elegance that will never grow outdated.

I have already started my second read for the challenge, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. This trip through literary history is being enjoyable as I had planned. Wait for a post about King Arthur in the next week or two.

David Copperfield: The Call to Action


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In my final reflection on David Copperfield (for now), I want to muse on a paragraph which appears to me as a living, direct link to the author and what he stood for. It is a reflection on the homeless of his time–and ours.

In context: still a child, David Copperfield has escaped horrific months of factory work. Alone, he fled London on foot to find an aunt he has never met. She will adopt and protect him, putting an end to his darkest years, but they have marked him forever.

The journey to find her is grueling; he is forced to sell the coat off his back in order to buy food. Once he is taken in by his aunt and given a roof over his head, he reflects before going to sleep:

I remember how I thought of all the solitary places under the night sky where I had slept, and how I prayed that I never might be homeless any more, and never might forget the houseless. I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams.

Though the first part of this paragraph seems most relevant, I will share all of it because it sets the scene: Copperfield is a child, and his final thought before drifting off is that he might not forget the poor. He hopes never to forget the sensation of feeling unloved and belonging nowhere.

I believe it was written as a call to action. Dickens is telling his readers never to forget the poor. His words are relevant to us, as well.

The poor are still around us, though they look different. You may not see a David Copperfield walking through the countryside, but you will find other children who don’t eat enough, their families enduring hard times in silence.

It might be tricky nowadays to spot someone in need. What, then, can we do to make a difference? Besides prayer and donation to trusted causes, I think the answer is kindness. Many of us forget to practice the virtue of charity, when a smile might be the light needed to relieve a stranger’s pain.

Dickens was not perfect–reading his biography, we see he had flaws. However, the flawed man can make a difference. I hope we can all smile at the strangers around us despite our imperfections. It might give them strength to make it through another day.

I’m not done taking apart David Copperfield for truths between the lines. However, I am ready to dissect other books. There is so much to be learned–both from the classics that never died and in modern works.

Seek truth between the lines and explore the margins. Books will always be relevant. Pay attention to their calls of action, because many stories are timeless for a reason.


Here are my other musings on David Copperfield, if you are interested in reading them:

David Copperfield: Escapism and Books


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Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is, in many respects, autobiographical. Readers see the protagonist in bleak situations, many of which take root in things the author himself experienced–child abuse, poverty, instances when it was difficult to count one’s blessings.

As a reader and writer, the following paragraph stood out to me. It describes Copperfield as a child, seeking refuge from his ill fortune by vanishing into books.

It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read these books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favorite characters in them–as I did–and by putting Mr and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones–which I did too.

I’ve written books where my characters were similar to me in some ways, sharing habits or speech nuances. This has always happened by accident. I never sat and told myself this character will like the same music or we will enjoy the same foods. No, these things crept onto the page; later, I found them and smiled.

In the above paragraph, David Copperfield describes escaping dark times by reading books. He became the hero and identified the villains in his life. I wondered if Charles Dickens did this knowingly, to increase the book’s autobiographical nature. Was it strategic, or an accident? Did he later reflect on his character and realize he and Copperfield shared this trait?

Once writers master the art of escapism, we know the skill for life. It becomes a part of us, so when we spin stories of our own, we write ourselves in without meaning to. We don’t notice until later that bits of us have slipped in between the lines.

Excerpts like this show why it’s interesting to learn about the author as well as the book. When you know the circumstances in which they lived, it enhances the experience. It’s why I always read introductions when they are available. Often, when I finish reading, I do research on the setting (time period, customs, etc.)

When you read a good book, there’s more going on than your brain registering words. You’re immersing yourself in a journey through time. You become one with the characters. You might even find that you and the author have things in common–habits, opinions, hurts. Any well-written novel has this power. All you need is a bit of patience to get through longer works.

Find a sliver of spare time, and you will travel far.

With people seeking entertainment elsewhere, I fear the beautiful art of reading might one day be forgotten–the kind of reading that immerses us, escapism. Each form of entertainment has its benefits; however, let’s not overlook the joy that can be found in a book.

Reading is a superpower, and we can all learn to use it. If you haven’t been reading much, find a book and start now. There’s a book for everyone, and best of all, there’s always time.

David Copperfield: Contrast of Summer and Winter


Paragraphs can be so telling. Here, I’m going to compare two passages from David Copperfield that made their way into my reading journal because of their devastating depth.

Here is the first:

When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her fingers and straightening her waist, and nobody knows better than I do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.

David Copperfield’s mother, Clara, was widowed before the birth of her son. The above paragraph shows she has not lost her energy and attractiveness, even when raising a son alone. When David grows old enough to observe, he notices this, but never thinks it will lead to great change. They have a good life, himself, his mother, and the faithful housemaid. What else do they need?

The reader knows better, though, drinking in these sentences. Young David has noticed that his mother is pretty, and that she likes being pretty. He does not realize that she’s open to the idea of finding love again. He doesn’t realize that their peaceful life could change at any moment.

Since he loves his mother in that innocent way in which children love, David notices that she is pretty and happy. He does not think his mother will marry again. He can never predict she will choose a cruel man who will actively work to put out this spark. Mr Murdstone will dull the glow that David notices in his mother; where once she twirled her hair and daydreamed, now she will lack life.

Clara’s new husband will subject both of them to emotional abuse. When David does not behave to Mr Murdstone’s satisfaction, the child is sent to boarding school. He returns to find his mother’s spark is gone, and when she later dies, her pride and will have both been destroyed:

He [Mr Murdstone] drew her to him, whispered in her ear, and kissed her. I knew as well, when I saw my mother’s head lean down upon his shoulder, and her arm touch his neck–I knew as well that he could mould her pliant nature into any form he chose, as I know, now, that he did it.

The paragraphs, placed side by side, tell a devastating story: the destruction of a beautiful person in a cruel way.

Dickens’ words go so far as to change the light in readers’ minds. The first paragraph feels like a summer afternoon, complete with flowers and a warm breeze. Then we find the second, which evokes a feeling of confinement, and I found myself fearing such bleak loneliness.

As a deep thinker, I wonder: who or what inspired Clara’s character?

This is the beauty of old books: they’re relevant. Clara’s story reminded me that, even today, men and women are tricked into cages very much like this.

Though they look dusty on the outside, old books contain the bits of humanity that never vanished, both light and dark. Read them–not because you were told to in school, but because they contain realistic people.

There are books set today, yesterday, and tomorrow. This means that, at any point in time, there will be a story in which someone relates to your struggle. Even if there isn’t a happy ending, this ancient sense of community gives me hope: people fought these battles. There have been losses, such as poor Clara, but there have also been victories.

There is a book for everyone and everything. Find the story you need–it’s out there.

David Copperfield: Intro


david copperfield coverThe Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. This is the original title of Charles Dickens’ eighth novel, published in serial form in the year 1850. Now sold as a 700-page book, it was originally released in 19 monthly one-shilling installments. This makes for a delightfully long story in which even the villains trigger a certain empathy.

Dickens himself called it his favorite among all his novels, and countless readers over the years have agreed; I myself found it to be moving, not only because there wasn’t a dull moment, but his word choice–as usual–took my breath away.

Based on Dickens’ own past, particularly the chapters which describe a troubled childhood, the story immerses you–as any good book should. Even if I had not enjoyed the story, I would have kept reading because of the style in which he wrote. His style is known to be vivid; he forms creative parallels to make readers feel emotions, even those of characters we don’t like.

Reading this book, I felt their anger, love, heartbreak, infatuation–and it took me a long time to finish, because I had the constant urge to stop and jot the paragraphs in my journal. Some scenes were so bold that I sensed I had lived them–they were part of my past–and I had to record them, borrowing words from one who was a master at using them.

As I wrote Dickens’ words, I couldn’t help contemplating them on a deep level, finding poetry between the lines–in the pauses–the things not said. They found new meaning as I took them apart from the rest of the book. I realized that, as a reader, there is little like the beauty of a paragraph: words, black ink, old or fresh, promising a tale, promising a description that our own minds wouldn’t have come up with.

I would like to share a few of the notes I made. In the next few days, I want to show anyone interested what I found beautiful and why I thought it so–not as complex analysis, but because I want to share. Perhaps you will find enjoyment in the passages. Perhaps they will encourage you to read the book, but it will be enough if they make you stop and ponder, as they did for me.

I do this because I hope to one day write something this powerful. I do this because I have deep love for words and the magic they create. I do it because I love Dickens’ work and wish he was not dead.

Most of all, I do it because words are beautiful. They ought to be appreciated. I believe they can uncover depths in us, timeless depths. Check back if you want to read my thoughts as I share them. I hope they will make you pause for one moment of your day.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


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Merry Christmas! I hope you’ve had a blessed day!

Every year at around this time, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is my favorite book, because Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas make me reflect on my own life.

The link between his story and our lives might be difficult to admit. Scrooge was such an unpleasant man that the Ghost of Christmas Future showed him nobody would attend his funeral. Instead they would steal the curtains from his bed and the shirt off his dead body.

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is an extreme example. It’s also true that we can never make everybody like us. We can, however, admit our flaws and try to improve ourselves. It is difficult to do, so much so that many never try, putting themselves in danger of ending up like Scrooge.

It was greed that made him disagreeable, but are we blind to our own flaws?

I have many things about myself that need fixing, and so do you. It’s useful to ask on occasion what the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future would say if it were us they’d come to visit instead of poor old Scrooge. It’s easy enough to judge him, but the message is universal.

Books have the ability to help us grow and change through characters and their choices. A Christmas Carol is poignant, relevant, and can be read in one or two days. The short length does not lessen the impact of the story: if read well, it will make you think.

I’m not perfect and neither are you. In that matter, we can relate to Ebenezer Scrooge. We’re human and in constant need of improvement.

A Christmas Carol is timeless for its wit and its message of hope: no matter how old we are or what we’ve done, there’s time to start over–Scrooge did!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling


Every couple of years, I find myself in the mood once more to read the Harry Potter series. The story never gets old; it’s earned itself a special place in my heart.

harry_potter_and_the_sorcerers_stoneI think people are still drawn to these books because they feel like home. When thousands of people gather to read a story, it creates a sense of belonging which doesn’t fade when we finish the series. I think that’s the reason why Harry Potter will never die.

These books lack the elaborate description to which I am normally drawn, but that is not a weakness. We must take into account factors such as the age of the targeted audience. It surprises me a little that I enjoyed it, being a person who prefers old books with long paragraphs, but I then realize there’s more to a good story than flowery writing. J.K. Rowling is a master at writing action that keeps us turning the page, and I appreciate that, by not over-describing, she gave us room to imagine.

As for the story, I don’t think much description is necessary, however here is a loose overview:

Ten-year-old Harry Potter lives a miserable life with his aunt, uncle and cousin, the Dursleys. This family take pride in being perfectly normal and respectable, unlike Harry, who has nothing in common with them at all. He is not normal; strange things happen when he feels threatened or upset. For example, one time Harry jumped onto the roof of his school, when all he’d wanted was to dive behind a trash can.

The worst of his mishaps comes to pass on his cousin Dudley’s birthday. During a trip to the zoo, Harry Potter finds he can talk to snakes. Then, when his cousin Dudley pushes him, Harry–in a flash of anger–causes the glass case to vanish, setting the python free. Though unable to explain how he did this, Harry is punished for it, locked in his cupboard under the stairs for days.

Just when he is convinced that he will never have any friends, a letter arrives in the mail for him. Uncle Vernon does not let him read it, though apparently he knows who it’s from, because it sends him into a panic. It doesn’t end there: soon dozens of letters begin to arrive, identical to the first. Then hundreds come pouring through the chimney and all the crevices along the windows. These letters can find Harry wherever he happens to be, whether under the stairs or at a hotel.

Driven mad by paranoia, Uncle Vernon moves his family to a desolate island. At last he is certain no one will be able to find them, but he is wrong. While on the island, the clock strikes midnight on Harry’s eleventh birthday–which, of course, the Dursleys haven’t celebrated–but he is about to receive the ultimate gift, that which loyal readers long to receive, even after we’ve grown old.

On his eleventh birthday, Harry Potter meets Hagrid, the gentle giant, who breaks into that island shack and hands him a letter like those Uncle Vernon had been hiding. In the letter, Harry Potter discovers that he is a wizard, a famous one at that. Most of all, he discovers that he has a home away from these unkind people, a place where he will belong.

Though we readers will never receive our letters from Hogwarts, dedicated fans will always feel like witches and wizards. This is the belonging: we might have nothing else in common, but our love for Harry’s story will bring us together for a very long time, perhaps for life.

Have you read the Harry Potter books? What House were you Sorted in? I am a Ravenclaw!