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My Life as a Reader

31 Jan

I remember my mother telling me when I was about seven, “You can read any book in this house.”

The books in our house were my dad’s history and science related books from Book of the Month Club, and my mom’s books about having and raising children and lives of saints and other holy people.

I read them all. I remember reading in one of the child related books about missing periods when a woman was pregnant, and wondering what the heck that meant, but I didn’t ask. On my dad’s side, I read Kon-Tiki and studied the descriptions of plants and animals in a nature encyclopedia.

An incident in second grade illustrates my devotion to reading. There was a small library in the back of the classroom. I had found a book that contained a story of a trio of girls who had a treehouse. I loved the story so much, I continued to read it during music class, holding the book beneath my desk. And of course my teacher, Sister Mary Siena, caught me and took the book away. Busted. In front of the entire class. But I wanted to read the book! A treehouse! Think about it! At the end of the school day, I took the book from the shelf again and brazenly approached the teacher. “May I check this book out and take it home to read?” She replied, “Do you think I should let you?” The book! The book! “Yes,” I answered. I checked it out. It was all worth it. I still love treehouses. And books.

Fast forward many years later, as a parent and a teacher. “Read what you want to read. Just read. Think.”

It’s all worth it.

Newest generation picking out a book.

Browsing for a good book.

 

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Reading about the Hard Things When You are Young

11 Jan

 

I just finished reading Ashes to AshevilleAshes to Asheville by Sarah Dooley. It is a Young Adult novel dealing with the “hard things.” It is told from the point of view of Fella, a twelve year old girl whose mother has recently died of cancer. That is, one of her mothers. Mama Lacy and Mama Shannon were a couple, and mothers to Fella and her sister Zany, although they were not able to marry legally in West Virginia when the story took place. So Fella is not only dealing with the death of her mother, but has been sent by the court to live with her biological grandmother, Mrs. Madison.

Fella misses both her mothers and her sister, and Mrs. Madison is a more formal, worrisome lady who loves Fella, but doesn’t show it in the way the girl is accustomed to.

When Zany shows up at Mrs. Madison’s house late at night, she only means to take the urn of Mama Lacy’s ashes and take them to Asheville, the home they loved, and scatter them. But Fella wakes up, and she and the dog Haberdashery end up with Zany on a wild ride from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina. Along the way, they meet Adam, who is trying to get to the hospital where his father is near death.

This may seem to be a lot of death to deal with for a young reader, but I came away with the feeling that the story was less about death, and more about love. Isn’t it every child’s greatest fear that a parent will die? (I almost used the euphemism “something will happen,” but opted for honesty.)

At twelve years old, Fella has survived six months without one mother, and sees the other only occasionally. The wild ride to Asheville, and the panic it causes when Mrs. Madison and Mama Shannon report them missing, shows Fella who and what are most important in her life, and gives her the courage to speak up.

So the story is about love and courage, valuable characteristics for a young reader to develop. Even children much younger than twelve know that bad things happen. It is not our job as adults to protect them so much as teach them — teach them courage, give them love. Be with them in honesty.

Fella is part of a non-traditional family dealing with hard things. But she is a role model for any child because she is real.

Get a copy of Ashes to Asheville and read it, no matter how old you are. I would love to hear what other people think.

30 Minutes of Quiet

4 Jun

Often the most difficult part of writing is allowing myself to slow down and listen for the ideas. Although writing ideas can come from news items, conversations, and experiences, a story still requires some quiet contemplation to develop. At least for me it does.

I’ve been trying a new technique recently that I call “sprint thinking.” (The name comes from “spring writing” that I sometimes do with friends.) For sprint thinking I take half an hour, set the timer on my phone, then put the ringer on silent and turn it face down. I have my paper journal notebook and a pen in hand, and that’s it. I sit, look at the trees out my window, watch the birds. No turning over the phone to see how much time has elapsed. If an idea or thought comes to me that is worth writing down, I write it down, but I don’t force it.

Thirty minutes of quiet passes more quickly than you might think. But you have to allow yourself to slow down, and let your imagination take over. Maybe not a bad idea for non-writers as well. We could all use some slowing down.

A few more basic rules for spring thinking: something hot or cold to drink and a snack are allowed; if the phone buzzes, you may check to see who called or texted, but don’t answer unless it’s urgent. And think carefully about what “urgent” really means.

Sprint think. Try it. I would love to hear how it works for you. Below is a photo of the view from my deck, where I do a lot of sprint thinking.

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The Process

7 Feb

The book is finished. The publisher has accepted it. The contract is signed. What does a writer do next?

Start another project, of course! Truthfully, I have already started another project, several months ago. I like to have writing work in different stages of development. While I was doing final editing and polishing of Jewels in Time, the young adult novel that is in the publishing process now, I started brainstorming the next Nara Blake mystery. I have written about 25,000 words, and am organizing the plot and doing research on history and culture, since this will be set in Spain.

So my mind is in two worlds: the magic world and thirteenth century England for Jewels in Time, and present day (and a bit of the 1930s) for the Nara book, working title is Hidden in Plain Sight.

Besides the actual projects, I constantly play around with characters and scenarios in my head. Most of them stay there, and never even make it to paper. It’s my grown-up version of playing pretend. I now longer have my brothers and sister to boss around in my imaginary games like I did growing up on the farm in Illinois, but I still make up stories just for the fun of it.

View of the Pyrenees in Spain, where the next Nara novel will take place.

pyrenees

Things to Do Every Day Besides Brush Your Teeth

1 Jan

I am a dedicated list maker. I like a sense of organization in my life. I think I inherited this trait from my dad. It certainly wasn’t my mom, as anyone who knew her will attest. We lived on a farm. I was the oldest of four. Mom’s life centered around my dad and the four of us, but organization had nothing to do with that. But that’s a story for another day.

Here is my list:

  1. Spend at least five minutes being quiet, alone, with yourself.
  2. Smile. Practice when you are along if you need to.
  3. Say “Yes” more than “No.”
  4. Drink water. With lemon or lime is nice.
  5. Really listen to music, as opposed to having it in the background.
  6. Be a courteous, mindful driver.
  7. Eat something delicious and savor the taste. Good chocolate, a piece of fruit, a homemade cookie, a cup of good soup.
  8. Notice color.
  9. Throw out clutter — from your house, your office, your purse or your car.
  10. Read something that makes you think.

Wishing a happy and joyous, productive and fun, 2018 to everyone!

Photo below is my mom and dad in 1945.

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It’s Been a Long Time

11 Dec

I can’t believe it’s been ten months since I have posted. Life gets in the way.

I have been working on finding a publisher for my Young Adult novel, Jewels in Time. This has pretty much sidetracked me from everything else related to writing, although I still have ideas floating around in my head.

I have also discovered that there are things I need to eliminate from my life if I want my creative mind to be available to write.

Here is my list of things that stifle my creativity. They might be helpful to you, whether you write or not.

1. The news. As important as it may be to know what’s going on in the world, I find that too much too often makes me tense, and I obsess about things I cannot change. I listen to NPR sometimes in the car. I figure if something really important happens, someone will tell me. Like my husband, who is a news junkie. I occasionally follow up on links on FaceBook. More about FaceBook later.

2. TV. I broke the TV habit when I moved to the East Coast, where programs come on later than I was used to in the Midwest. I am an early to bed early to rise person. I just can’t watch something at nine or ten in the evening. I occasionally watch Jeopardy with my husband to keep him company, but as he mostly watches sports, I’m not tempted by anything else. I do watch some series on Netflix and Acorn, and an occasional movie, but I honestly never turn the TV on and sit down by myself.

3. FaceBook. This has probably been my biggest time waster. I would tell myself five minutes, and then forty-five minutes later . . . I love FaceBook. I have former students and colleagues from around the world, and I love to see what they are doing in Barcelona, London, Costa Rica. But there is also a lot of junk as we all know — silly quizzes, ads, videos of cats and ducks that are shared over and over. So I have to be strict with myself. Half an hour a day. Maybe five minutes while waiting for my husband to go out, or while I’m waiting for water to boil for tea.

4. No listening to podcasts or music while I walk. This might seem like a good use of the time, but to be creative, I need to let my mind wander. I need to pay attention to sights and sounds around me. I can’t come up with new ideas when I am constantly being bombarded by the ideas of others.

Right now I am looking out my window and I can see three bluebirds — one on the suet on our deck, one on the feeder, one on a tree branch. If I were watching TV I would miss that. Or the fox in the photo below.back yard visitor

Things I Can’t Be Without Besides Milk and Eggs

9 Feb

Just for fun and entertainment – a list.

What can you not be without?

  1. Fruit – Currently I have tangerines, a pineapple, and bananas, as well as blueberries that I froze last summer.
  2. A book to read.
  3. A notebook in my purse. Even though I can make lists on my phone, nothing beats paper and a pen for making random notes.
  4. An animal in my house. There have been only a few very short periods in my life when I have not had a pet. Currently I have two cats — Tang and Puchica.
  5. Earplugs. Someone in my house snores.
  6. Earrings. Ever since I got my ears pierced when I was twenty, I feel naked without earrings.
  7. Oatmeal. I eat it for breakfast several times a week, make cookies and granola.
  8. Windows. I love looking out at the sky. It helps me think.
  9. A whole piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to grate over pasta or soup.

Murder and Lemon Pudding Cake

2 Jan

Some of my favorite activities involve either reading or cooking, or reading about food. When the two are combined into one, I am in heaven. I love it when authors include food as integral parts of the story. The food consumed by the characters, including the types of food, the amount, and how it is prepared provide vital clues to the plot, and can be important parts of the setting.

At my local library this week, I picked up a Swedish murder mystery and a cookbook on Swedish bakery. I’m not exactly sure why the Swedish theme was going on, maybe because it’s winter and Sweden is in a cold climate, but I came home with my two books related to Sweden.

The murder mystery, Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt, turned out to be a real page-turner. I read it in two days, often carrying it around the house with me so I could read a page or two, or three or four, in odd moments while I was doing other things. Killer’s Art begins with the murder of the owner of an art gallery on the Swedish island of Gotland, when the man is found hanging from one of the medieval gates to the town. The story follows the police investigation into the lives of the victim, his family and associates in the art world. Other crimes are committed, and the lives of the police officers as well as the journalists who are clamoring for the gruesome story, become entangled. The conclusion is a nail-biting and unexpected twist. This is the first of Mari Jungstedt’s novels that I have read, and I will be looking for more.

However, her descriptions of food were not enough to make me hunger for a good Swedish meal. By page 50, the most exciting food items were protein drinks and meatball sandwiches, and of course coffee. You can’t travel in Sweden, even literary travel, without copious amounts of coffee. Later in the book, two of the detectives are treated to warm apple cake with vanilla sauce in a museum cafe in Stockholm, which sounds delicious, but the boiled cod with egg sauce that is an entree in a later chapter I’m not so sure about. Maybe — I would have to try it.

Turning to my Swedish cookbook, Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair, I chose a recipe for lemon pudding cake.  I had all the ingredients on hand, and it looked relatively simple. The most challenging part was beating egg whites and then folding them into the pudding mixture while retaining the volume of the beaten egg whites. The recipe was a success, and a nice treat after a dinner of leftovers. My husband proclaimed that it tasted like lemon merimg_3198ingue pie.

As you read, think about food. It is not often a primary part of the story, but it can be an important setting detail.

Moving House and Pie

14 Mar
When you begin to get ready to move, your house is no longer yours. I have no sentimental attachment to the condominium where we have lived for almost ten years, but I do have my “stuff” arranged there the way I like it. Now things are being rearranged, thrown out, put in piles for the used book store and Goodwill. I am packing decorative items and books in boxes so the house will be better organized for real estate showing.
This is fine. I enjoy organizing. I am the opposite of a pack rat. I love the feeling of freedom I have when unused items leave my house. I enjoy tossing cans and bottles and cardboard boxes in the recycling bins. I find satisfaction in making phone calls to the handyman and the electrician for the minor repairs that are needed.
But for the next few months, until we are settled in our new home in North Carolina, my time and energy will be devoted to the move.
When will I find time to write? Instead of fitting in the chores around my writing, it is the other way around. I fit the writing in between errands, packing, phone calls.
And to make this week more interesting, it is the last week of the Bahá’í Fast, so no food or drink from sunrise to sunset. And I am committed to a week of substituting in a Spanish class for a teacher who is in Spain with her students.
It’s a chilly rainy day, Monday after the switch to daylight saving time. We have to replace our bedroom carpeting,so the carpet man is coming to measure and show us samples this afternoon. The plumber hasn’t called me back. But I will bake a pie when I get home, to observe Round Pie Day. If you round the number for “pi” to 3.1416 you get today’s date. So we will celebrate this momentous occasion with a blueberry crumble pie. After sunset, of course.

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Out of the Comfort Zone

23 Jan

Someone, it might have been Eleanor Roosevelt, said to do something everyday that scares you. I don’t scare easily, and I just don’t have the opportunity for things like rock climbing and hang gliding most days, so I am left with challenging myself with little things.

I have never been comfortable getting a massage. It’s the touching, vulnerability thing. And an hour is a long time to lie still. What will I think about? Will it tickle? Will I be overcome by the urge to giggle? The giggling is a distinct possibility.

But a new place in our neighborhood advertised a hot stone massage. Especially on a cold Pennsylvania day, the idea of someone placing hot stones on my frigid skin sounded appealing. I evidently had talked about this idea more than I realized, because my husband surprised me with a gift card for a hot stone massage, and today was the big day.

It was wonderful. The stones were a bit hotter than I expected, but not unpleasantly so. The masseuse did the traditional massage with warm oil, and then rubbed with the stones. The hour passed before I realized it was time to be finished. I came out relaxed and happy, as much from the fact that I overcame my reluctance to have a massage as the massage itself.

So it’s another new experience I can add to my list. I can’t come up with something that dramatic everyday, but often just sending a piece of writing off in the hopes of publication is a scary experience. It takes more guts than you might think to hit the “send” button.

What new scary things have you tried lately? I would love to hear some of them.