Monday, March 31, 2014

Coming of age in Big Sky country: Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker

I didn't have the opportunity to raise any children. But if I had, I've always thought that a child's entry into young adulthood must be one of the most interesting times to be a parent: the most potentially rewarding, and yet the most weighted with worry. My own young adult years were fraught with choices and decisions that affected the future in profound ways, while at the same time, emotions ran high and maturity was perhaps not as fully formed as I hoped it was.

For these reasons, Mildred Walker's 1944 novel Winter Wheat appealed to me. Winter Wheat chronicles two years in the life of Ellen Webb. Growing up on a dry-land wheat ranch in central Montana's Big Sky country with a Russian-immigrant mother and New England-patrician father, Ellen understands hard work, relative social isolation, and a life lived at the mercy of the weather and the price of grain. Traveling to college in Minnesota opens her eyes (and heart) to a wider world. Later, teaching eight pupils in a remote one-room school, her world expands even deeper as she's tested by both natural and man-made circumstances. When a long-hidden family secret is revealed, she must grapple with seeing her parents not only as Dad and Mom, but as real people making their journey through life with a full load of baggage, just as she is.

Walker, a Pennsylvania native who spent several years in Great Falls, Montana, is a master at capturing
Mildred Walker
the Montana landscape and climate, both meteorological and social. "September is like a quiet day after a whole week of wind," she writes. "I mean real wind that blows dirt into your eyes and hair and between your teeth and roars in your ears after you've gone inside. The harvesting is done and the wheat stored away and you're through worrying about hail or drought or grasshoppers. The fields have a tired peaceful look, the way I imagine a mother feels when she's just had her baby and is just lying there thinking about it and feeling pleased."

In an introduction to Winter Wheat, author James Welch writes, "It is a story about growing up, becoming a woman, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, within the space of a year and a half. But what a year and a half it is!"

I recommend this novel especially to young women who are teetering on the threshold of adulthood, and to the adults who love them and who remember what it's like to have your whole life stretched out before you, as vast and open and lacking in signposts as a field of hard winter wheat.

What is your favorite coming-of-age story?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Dale Carnegie Agrees: Writers Need to Have Fun

When I was in the work-a-day, nine-to-five world, I always looked forward to "Casual Fridays" because we could wear jeans to work.  I miss that little bit of fun and having something to look forward to at the end of the week now that I write at home ... soooo ... I decided to lighten up my Friday post a little.  Enjoy!


Match the authors with jobs/positions they held before they became famous authors.  Answers are at the bottom of the page.

1. J.D. Salinger A. Manager of Saab Dealership
2. Kurt Vonnegut B. Reservations Clerk for Eastern Airlines
3. Agatha Christie C. Cartoonist for Playboy Magazine
4. Franz Kafka D. Entertainment Director for Cruise Ship
5. Harper Lee E. Licensed Pharmacist
6. Tom McCarthy F. West Point Cadet (Dropout)
7. John Steinbeck G. Chief Legal Secretary for Accident Insurance
8. Edgar Allen Poe H. Nude Model
9. Jack London I. Fish Hatchery Manager
10. Shel Silverstein J. Oyster Pirate

If the duties of everyday life are worming their way into your writing time, you might consider following William Faulkner's example.  Before his writing career took off, WILLIAM FAULKNER worked for the Postal Service, as postmaster at the University of Mississippi. In his resignation note, he neatly summarized the struggle of art and commerce faced by many authors:
As long as I live under the capitalist system I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation. - William Faulkner
Steven King received an English degree from the University of Maine, but couldn't find a teaching job after graduating and became a high school janitor instead.  After the publication of his first book, Carrie, King says he was inspired to write the book during his time cleaning the girl's locker rooms.

October 29, 1692 A tireless and ambitious businessman, Daniel Defoe invested in a variety of enterprises: wholesale hosiery, cargo shipping, trade in spirits and tobacco, and a diving bell to recover sunken treasure.  Most memorably, he purchased seventy civet cats (a native African cat-like mammal called a "toddycat" in England) from which he planned to manufacture perfume from the musk recovered, by spatula, from their anal glands. As with earlier ventures, his foray into the perfume business ended with a loss when creditors seized his cats.  They hounded him for the rest of his life, even after he left business behind for the new and more successful profession of authorship.

Answers to Authors Match Game
(1) D, (2) A, (3) E, (4) G, (5) B, (6) H, (7) I, (8) F, (9) J, (10) C

Note: I created the match game myself and copied the other tidbits from Huffington Post and Wikipedia sources.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Early Morning Visitors: Arnold Hecht and Agatha Christie woke me up this morning!

By Mary Jane Honegger
Two things woke me up this morning … one a poem ...
and the second a documentary film. 

Anthony Hecht
January 16, 1923 – October 20, 2004)
Anthony Hecht
I finally heaved myself out of bed this morning when I couldn’t stop thinking about “The Book of Yolek,” a poem included in Liz Mastin’s post earlier this week.  The poem gripped me, and when I awoke thinking about it again today, I decided to learn more about the poem and the poet.

According to online sources, Anthony Evan Hecht was an honored American poet who based many of his most poignant poems on his experiences liberating a concentration camp near Buchenwald during WWII.  He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1968 for The Hard Hours, a collection of poems exploring his memories of the war.  

Liz included Hecht’s poem in her series, The Joy of Prosody, as an example of a poem written in the form of a sestina. In fact, Hecht combined a huge interest in poetic form with his desire to address the horrors of war; and became known for both.  In addition to the 1968 Pulitzer and other literary awards, he served as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1982 through 1984.

But what interested me about Hecht's poem was Yolek himself.  I began reading tales about the Holocaust when I was about 12 years old and I continue to read them to this day.  I'm not sure why other than it is my own attempt to find a reason.  Why did people turn the other way and let it happen?  Why did millions of people decide it was okay to murder innocent men, women and children?  By now I know we'll never understand, but reading this poem about a 5-year old boy reminds me never to forget.  And that, I think, is what Anthony Hecht wanted when he wrote this poem about little Yolek.   

Interesting Facts - Anthony Hecht
While in college, before the war, Hecht decided to become a poet, a decision that distressed his parents.  They tried to discourage him by having a family friend, Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) persuade him to change his choice of career.  The plea didn’t deter him and after the war he used the G.I. bill to study with other poets.

Hecht and fellow poet John Hollander are credited with creating the double dactyl, a particularly complicated one-sentence poem with 44 syllables, eight lines, and two four-line stanzas.  Oh, and by the way, the first line must be a rhyming nonsensical phrase, the second line should introduce the subject, and one line in the second stanza (usually the sixth) must be a six-syllable, double-dactylic word.

Whew!  I think I’ll stick to prose.

Agatha Christie
Thoughts about a documentary film chronicling the life of the bestselling mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie, also disrupted my sleep.  The PBS documentary revealed facts about Christie that I had never known … or didn’t remember, at any rate.  The one that struck me the most concerned how the prolific writer got her start.

While she was an aspiring writer from an early age, working in a pharmacy during WWI sparked her interest in the use of poison as her favorite method of causing someone’s demise.  She perfected the genre and began churning out books at an astonishing rate. 

With sales of over 2 billion novels translated into 45 languages, Agatha Christie is cedited with being the best selling author of all time. Throughout her life, she wrote 80 novels and short story collections as well as a dozen plays. Her play The Mousetrap is the longest running play in theater history. She penned some nonfiction, a few poems, and an autobiography. Christie also wrote six romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.

She introduced her most famous character, detective Hercule Poirot , in her first novel, The Mysterious Affair of Styles.  She later introduced a second famous crime-solver, Miss Jane MarpleMiss Marple appeared in twelve of her novels and twenty short stories.  Many of her stories have been shown in film and on television, including Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. 

I was interested that Christie did not write about her experiences as a nurse and a licensed pharmacologist during the war, which I'm sure readers would find fascinating; but instead used her personal knowledge about poisons to enrich her fiction ... and commit the perfect murder.  When she took that job to stay busy and help with the war effort while her pilot husband was off fighting the war, I'm sure she didn't have a single clue that it would become her springboard to fame and fortune and the sale of billions of books.

Note to self and others: don’t give up.  You may find inspiration for your writing anywhere … in the chaos of war like Hecht, or in the mindless repetitiveness of everyday tasks like filling a bottle with pills like Christie.  An incredible idea may spark when you are filling the dishwasher, selling vacuums door-to-door, or chasing a two-year old down the aisle of the local supermarket.  It may come when you get lost on a freeway in California, when you have to start over again, or when you find your mailbox stuffed with MediCare Supplemental Plans the week before your 65th birthday.  

Interesting Facts - Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie's first book was rejected by six publishers.
When she killed off her most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, in her 1975 book, Curtain, The New York Times ran a full page obituary. Hercule Poirot remains the only fictional character ever given such treatment by the newspaper.

Her novel, Endless Night, is narrated by a young working-class male.  She wrote it when she was 76.

Poison was Christie's most common choice of deadly weapon, but she did allow some creativity.  In addition to using poison to dispatch her characters, Christie’s fictional victims were: strangled by a raincoat belt, strangled by a ukulele string, jabbed in the neck with a venom-tipped dart, stabbed with a corn knife, stabbed with an ornamental Tunisian dagger, drowned in an apple tub, crushed by a bear-shaped marble clock, and electrocuted by a chessboard rigged to deliver the fatal charge upon completion of the third move of the Ruy Lopez opening.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Joy of Prosody: Writing the Sestina

By Liz Mastin

In the many books on how to write formal poetry, the “sestina” is often considered a complicated form; but in actuality it is not impossible to write, and I have written two of them. If I can write a sestina, you can write a sestina!  In sestinas, end words are repeated in a convoluted, spiraling pattern and one has the opportunity to change the meanings of the repeated words (for many words have more than one meaning).  The word “dog” at the end of one line which might read “How I miss the little dog”, might appear at the end of another line as “Do not my weary conscience dog!”

The sestina’s inventor, according to The making of a Poem, A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, was Arnaut Daniel, who belonged to a group of twelfth-century poets – the troubadours – who needed, for their fame and fortune, to shock, delight, and entertain!

The sestina does not rhyme as the repetitions stand in for the rhymes. In the sestina, elaborate repetitions manifest as one follows the prescribed formula.  The required pattern for the sestina is as follows:

1.       It is a poem of thirty-nine lines.
2.       It has six stanzas of six lines each.
3.       This is followed by an envoy of three lines
4.       All of these are unrhymed
5.       The same six end-words must occur in every stanza but in a changing order that follow a set pattern.
6.       This recurrent pattern of end-words is known as “lexical repetition”.
7.       Each stanza must follow on the last by taking a reversed pairing of the previous lines.
8.       The first line of the second stanza must pair its end-words with the last line of the first.  The second line of the first stanza must do this with the first line of the first and so on.
9.       The envoy (or last three lines) must gather up and deploy the six end words.

 Is easier to show how this works with a poem example. Many of the famous sestinas may seem complicated due to their more complex subject matter, so I think I will use my simple poem to show you how the repetitions works. Then I’ll add a serious sestina by a revered poet, Anthony Hecht.

Not the Place to Eat a Peach
                                     By Liz Mastin

Upon seeing a young family, on an off-ramp, eating peaches!

Not the place to eat a peach –
On the off-ramp from I-5!
Many speeding cars turn down there:
Logging trucks with lumbering weight.
Highways really are quite foolish:
Stopping only tempting fate.

One may not believe in fate,
But should you choose to eat a peach,
The Flying J would be less foolish,
Up ahead four miles or five.
It’s so much better that you wait –
And you’ll find great coffee there!

Tell your children “Now there there!
Soon you’ll have a nice sweet fate!
Please be patient; try to wait
And you’ll soon have your nice plump peach!
Traffic is intense at five;
To step out now is foolish, foolish!”

Flaunting danger’s always foolish.
Logging trucks which exit there,
On the off-ramp from I-5
Head for the mill; that is their fate.
It’s not worth it for a peach
And what I’m saying carries weight!

Speeding cars will never wait;
They’re always late so it is foolish
Dealing with a messy peach,
Taking chances. You know there
Are some good reasons for ill fate.
Danger looms along I-5!

Beware all you who choose I-5
To eat a peach. You’d better wait.
You don’t want to meet cruel fate!
Move along and don’t be foolish.
I don’t want to see you dead there,
Damaged due to eating peaches.

 Sometimes something like a peach                                  
 Will brings about a foolish fate.
 Wait! Don’t eat there, on I-5.

NOTE: In writing my poem, I studied another sestina, and how the line-end-words were arranged.
Then, I numbered each stanza’s lines, and placed the correct end words at the end of each line and then begin to fill out the lines with some sensible (hopefully poetic) reasoning.

NOTE: In the first stanza, one is free to write whatever one pleases. From there is it only a matter of placing the end words in their proper order  in the following stanzas, according to the formula. It is a consistent pattern; “not” difficult once you get the hang-of-it.

Now here is a very “serious” sestina by a famous poet Anthony Hecht.

                  The Book of Yolek
                                      By Anthony Hecht

The dowsed coals fume and hiss after your meal
Of grilled brook trout, and you saunter off for a walk
Down the fern trail, it doesn’t matter where to,
Just so you’re weeks and worlds away from home
And among midsummer hills that have set up camp
In the deep bronze glories of declining day.

You remember, peacefully, an earlier day
In childhood, remember a quite specific meal:
A corn roast and bonfire in summer camp.
That summer you got lost on a Nature Walk;
More than you dared admit, you thought of home;
No one else knows where the mind wanders to.

The fifth of August, 1942.
It was morning and very hot.  It was the day
They came at dawn with rifles to The Home
For Jewish Children, cutting short the meal of
Of bread and soup, lining them up to walk
In close formation off to a special camp.

How often you have thought about that camp,
As though in some strange way you were driven to,
And about the children, and how they were made to walk,
Yolek, who had bad lungs, who wasn’t a day
Over five years old, commanded to leave his meal
And shamble between armed guards to his long home.

We’re approaching August again.  It will drive home
The regulation torments of that camp
Yolek was sent to, his small, unfinished meal,
The electric fences, the numeral tattoo,
The quite extraordinary heat of the day,
And the smell of smoke and the loudspeakers of the camp.
Wherever you are Yolek will be there too.
His unuttered name will interrupt your meal.

Prepare to receive him in your home some day.
Though they killed him in the camp they sent him to,
He will walk in as you are sitting down to a meal.

I hope you will try writing the sestina. It is not as hard as it might look and in fact is a very fun form.

Liz Mastin Bio
Liz Mastin is a poet who lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho during the summer and Bullhead City, Arizona in winter. She thrives on the study of the great poets, their biographies, the schools of poetry to which they adhered, and the poetic conventions of the times in which they lived.

While she enjoys free verse as well as metrical poetry, her main interest lies in prosody. She notices that most of the enduring poems are those we can remember and recite. Liz enjoys poetry forms such as the sonnet, the sestina, the couplet, blank verse, simple quatrains, etc. and she hopes to see modern poets regain interest in studied metrical poetry.

Liz is currently putting together her first collection of poems which should be completed this winter. The poems are a mixture of metrical and free verse poems.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Writing Creative Non-fiction, My Father's Escape from the Soviet Union

by Ana Parker Goodwin

The 1917 Russian Revolution

Storming of the winter palace in October, 1917

My father and his family escaped from the Soviet Union shortly after Stalin came to power. They fled their home near the Caucasus Mountains in February of 1918 and hid for almost 6 years before they escaped to Canada. His stories when I was young were frightening but also inspiring. I learned something about the human spirit I will never forget. People's strength, bravery, and determination to live free can be much greater than any fear they have. My dad used to say to me, "Anna, of course we were scared. But we knew that our freedom to speak and freedom to worship the way we wanted to, were more important than any of those fears. So we just kept going." His stories have influenced me in my life in endless ways, and I hope they will help others as well. He would have wanted that.

And that's why I am writing his story. To remind everyone to "keep on the lights" even when there is darkness outside. I have found no better way then to write this story as a creative nonfiction tale. No, I don't know exactly what happened to him, but I have listened to all his stories over and over again. I have added other people's memories and done lots of research, but in the long run the details are part of what I imagined in my mind as my father spoke. That's why creative nonfiction is called creative.

On the other hand there is nothing that anyone remembers accurately anyway. With new brain research we know that it's not how memory works. We add and subtract what we think is fact continuously, and reconstitute our memories. Have you ever been surprised by your brother or sister's story of an event you remember quite differently? I have. It is obvious that each one of our perspectives of an event is different. One sees the forest, one sees the tree, one sees the ground, one sees the sky, and we filter out the rest. That's why we call history, his story.

Here is the first of about twenty stories of the families escape.

                                                              Escape to Freedom

Story 1

Feb. 6, 1918. Southern Russia. The Tereker Settlement, a collection of 17 German villages, located north of the Caucasus next to the Caspian Sea. (See map) Anarchy erupts.


Thirteen year-old Neil bolted upright in bed as he heard a loud knock on the front door. Men’s voices. He felt his body stiffen and his heart thump hard under his wool pajamas. He stared into the darkness. For two months now the Tereker Settlement had prepared, been on alert, waiting for the Tatars from the Caucasus Mountains to descend on them. Everyone knew that several villages to the south had already been plundered, robbed, whole families killed by young men from the mountains who refused to live in poverty anymore.

Another knock. Then his father’s firm footsteps. The front door creaked open. A familiar voice said, “We are waiting for Rudolph. He is the sentinel tonight.” Neil let out a long breath. It was one of the neighborhood men.

A din of voices erupted over each other as Neil heard boots drop on the floorboards, then moments later the scraping of chairs.

“Shh, You’ll wake the children,” Papa said. “They are too young to know.” The men’s voices quieted to a murmur.

Neil leaned over his younger brother lying next to him and checked to make sure Gerhard was asleep. Without making a sound, he slid off the feather mattress and tiptoed to the single plank wall that separated his bedroom from the main room. His fingers trembled as he pulled out the secret knot in one of the boards, almost dropped it, then peered through the small hole. Papa had better not find out about his eavesdropping post or there would be a word whipping in store.

Around the table about ten feet from Neil, four men in heavy jackets, and his father sat huddled together, examining a sheet of paper. Their caps lay on the table in front of them. The flame from the lamp flickered upward for a moment and Neil saw the men’s faces, their lips taut and jaws clenched.

The men whispered to each other. Neil pressed his ear to the hole, hardly breathing. He strained to listen. All he could hear were snatches of sentences. A global war …Russia in chaos…Czar Nicholas II overthrown and he and the family were now prisoners of the communist party somewhere…few government soldiers left to protect the villagers…two men from the settlement…gone into the mountains to negotiate with the Tatars for their safety…beaten and dragged to the roadside…found today…stench of rotting corpses…vultures.

Neil jerked as he heard another knock on the front door. He looked through the knothole again and saw his father hurry to answer. A man from across the village rushed in and strode to the table, his muddy boots squishing on the floor.  

“Rudolph. What’s happened?” Papa forgot to keep his voice down. He closed the door and hurried after Rudolph. “What have you found out?”

Rudolph pulled off his calfskin mittens and tossed them on the table. His breath came fast. “People say a thousand young Tatars on horseback are riding down the mountains in our direction.”

Neil gasped and his jaw dropped. They would all die.

“What?” the neighbor said as he jumped to his feet. “Are you sure?”

“Who told you this? It may just be a rumor,” Papa said.

Without waiting for answers the men got up, grabbed their caps, and charged to the front door. They pulled on their boots and rushed out. Papa tugged his cap and jacket from a hook on the wall near the door and hurried after them. In a few minutes all the men, including Papa and Rudolph, were gone.

Frozen, Neil kept staring through the knothole. What should he do? Wake up the family? Hide? No, Papa would soon be back. He’d know what to do. Finally Neil tiptoed back to his bed. He knelt down in prayer. Please, please, God, help me be strong.
Reader, do you have a story of a true event you feel you "need" to write? Try creative nonfiction. You can make the story more interesting, powerful, and come alive for your reader.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Are Large Publishing Companies Dying?

New York, the place of the large publishing companies.

As a writer I often wonder what is happening to the large publishing companies at present. With all the changes occurring, will they survive? With the advent of e-books, readers, and print on demand, the old style publishing companies are losing ground. And as the large companies take fewer and fewer first time authors, individual self-published authors and small companies are gaining momentum. It is now quite simple to publish your own books if you wish to, and because at this stage, large companies have stopped promoting your book even if they accept it, authors see fewer and fewer advantages to going that route.
Besides, you don't need to send out massive numbers of queries to find an agent, or receive just as many rejection notes even if you are an excellent writer. A friend of mine once said, "Why pay a $1000.00 for paper and postage, then wait six months, just to receive enough paper back to cover my bathroom walls?" So guess what he did? He went to Create Space on Amazon instead. He published his book in a couple of months, not 1-2 years, like it takes after your manuscript is accepted by a large publisher. More and more, even prestigious writers are switching to self-publishing when their contract is up. Why? Because if they are lucky, their large publisher takes only 90 percent of the profits. If they publish the books themselves, they receive a hundred percent and have the freedom to do with it what they wish.

But whether the large publishing companies die or not, it seems to me that the more important question to ask is whether, at present, these companies truly serve us, the reader. Are the books they issue relevant to our needs? Will what they publish help create a better world?

When I sold my first book, Sandplay Therapy, to W.W. Norton in 2000, my editor bemoaned that Norton was one of the last large publishers still accepting books just because they needed to be out there. They needed to be read. I must confess that although I had worked with people for years and didn’t consider myself na├»ve, I was shocked.

Why did publishers no longer follow their hearts?

What I found when I investigated was that there were only approximately six, large publishing houses left in America.

“But,” you say, “I’ve seen the names of loads of different companies on the spines of book jackets.”

Most of the old companies have merged and are now subsidiaries of a larger publishing house that sets down the rules.

 “So what?” you say.

Of course this is merely a theory, but I propose, “It‘s all about priorities.” As the companies have grown, their priorities have shifted. When people, or a group of people, change priorities, their actions change as well. There was a time when you and I the reader came first. Profit came second. But I think that’s been reversed and money is now number one.

Because of this, publishing houses buy mostly known winners such as Stephen King and John Grisham, who are then pressured to write endless sequels to their first successful book or novel. I don’t blame the publishers. Many of the authors are excellent writers. But what happens to our reading options? They are narrowed to a few viewpoints. Where are the creative, original thoughts of the many that have in the past helped to make this country great?

I’m afraid I’ve probably brought up more questions than answers but I’ll leave you with one more. Can any corporation survive over time when it forgets about the people it serves? I’m not sure, but I hope not. Maybe this means that large companies will change. They are already publishing e-books and making some changes to stay relevant. Maybe they will go back to publishing the books we as readers all need to and want to read, instead of just books that make a lot of money. I'm hopeful.

 Madison Ave., Chicago, IL, ca. 1915.

                       The Good Old Days      Detroit Publishing Company 1915


Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patricks Day. What is Myth? What is Fact?

patron saint, patron saint of ireland, st. patrick, christianity, st. patrick's dayLuck o the irish clip art badge

Today is St. Patrick's Day. As a writer I am always interested and constantly checking on what is myth and what is fact. Of course sometimes no one seems to know, especially when a person lived hundreds of years ago and record keeping was minimal. Most of history was word of mouth. That's a little like playing the game telephone when you were young. "Mother" may turn into "father," and "house" may turn into "mouse." I guess what I'm saying is always take these stories with the proverbial grain of salt.

The person we now call St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, maybe was born in 385 A.D or 415 A.D and maybe died on March 17th, (St. Patrick's Day) 461 A.D. or 493 A.D. Was he Irish as most people believe? No. He was born in Britain though no one seems to be sure where. Maybe England, maybe Wales.

Actually, although many people believe he was poor, Maewa Succat was born into an aristocratic family. His parents were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. But here comes the interesting part. At the age of 16, Irish raiders or maybe pirates, kidnapped him and took him to Ireland where they sold him to a farmer to work in the fields. He became a sheepherder. For six years he was what we would probably now call a slave. At the time Ireland worshipped a pagan God, but Britain had already converted to Christianity. One day Maewa heard what he believed to be God's voice inside of him say that it was time for him to return to Britain. He escaped and returned to Wales to his family. Shortly after he went to France where he became a Catholic priest. He took Patrick as his Christian name.

Again Patrick heard God's voice, this time telling him to go back to Ireland and preach Christianity. Patrick did as he was told. He became a missionary and he and his followers brought thousands to Christ. They built many churches. Even today, the Irish consider him to be the person who brought Christianity to Ireland and they honor him as a religious figure in their churches and also as a cultural icon.

According to some, St. Patrick used a shamrock to show the native people what he meant when he spoke of the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The three leaves. Was that really true? No one seems to know for sure. According to some the shamrock did not exist in Ireland but indeed the clover leaf did. On the other hand some believe the shamrock was the symbol of the cross. So who's to tell?

And then there is the story that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. But we have since found out that no snakes ever lived in Ireland. As a matter of fact, Ireland is an island and the passageway between Britain and Ireland is so cold no snakes would have survived. I asked myself why some people had created the myth and what I came up with was that indeed there were no snakes in Ireland when the myth began, and because humans always need to make sense of things, people decided to attribute it to the great hand of God through St. Patrick. But this is what I learned. Apparently snakes had become the symbol for paganism in the church. And so the myth was born. Interesting.

What we know today is that alcohol always seems to flow freely on St. Pattie's Day. Why? Sounds strange seeing as it is a religious holiday. I thought it was just because that's the way the Irish were. Heavy drinkers. That to some extent may be true but there is more to it. March 17th often occurs during Lent. One thing you are to give up for Lent is alcohol. But the church gave a dispensation for St. Patrick's Day and wow! People have taken advantage of it. The holiday has turned into an alcohol fueled revelry, parades, celebration, and festivals. And by the way the parades did not originate in Ireland. They started in America in 1737.

In 1996, the Irish decided to begin a day of festivals in Dublin to attract tourists. By 2009 that one day had turned to five days and about a million people attended.What fun! I'm glad the Irish have a sense of humor and like to enjoy life. Without it life could definitely become a drag.

Who cares what is fact or myth?

Guess what I am making for dinner tonight? Is it true that corned beef brisket and cabbage began in Ireland? Not really, but if I keep going I'll never end this blog.

The luck of the Irish be with you dear readers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Enthralled with The Goldfinch

Reading is a rare privilege.

 After having spent the past two weeks in the company of a master, I feel as if my life has now changed forever. After reading a book like The Goldfinch, one doesn't emerge unscathed.The characters remain, concern for them lingers, and the settings have left an indelible imprint.

Donna Tartt's latest work encompasses a world unto itself. The tale of a young man enduring- post traumatic stress, the loss of his mother, an obsession with a painting, and uncertain care-  had me enthralled from start to finish. Thrown to the winds of fate, Theo Decker is lucky to find one very good and kind man who becomes his guiding light.

By the grace of God, there are writers who have the ability to take the reader by the hand and lead them into the doorway of a world so perfectly described that it ceases to exist in the imagination: it becomes real. Dickens could have written this book; the characters could have been drawn by him as they are that fine.

As it turns out, I am not the only reader to come up with this assessment. While browsing on Goodreads, I was surprised to find that Stephen King chimed in:

" Theo Decker’s mother is killed in a bombing that rocks the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Theo, unharmed, escapes with a valuable painting called The Goldfinch. He carries this symbol of grief and loss from early adolescence into an adulthood fraught with danger and beset by addiction. The long middle sequence, set in a housing development on the seedy, sand-blown outskirts of Las Vegas, is a standout. Tartt proves that the Dickensian novel—expansive and bursting with incident—is alive and well."

Years ago, our book club read Tartt's first novel,  The Secret History, and then the second, The Little Friend and now surely the best book I have read in 2014, The Goldfinch. As in Girl With A Pearl Earring, a  painting is a central theme. The work by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrant's,  is beautifully and exquisitely described, and is the thread that pulls us through from start to finish. Depicted is a dear little finch, chained to a perch, sad, and hopeful at once; it is a simple and elegant, much loved painting that has enthralled art lovers and critics for centuries. Tartt describes the masterpiece as one that appeals to children. 

Carel Fabritius 1622-1654

If you long to read a book that sweeps you away and becomes an experience, if you love antiques, New York, fine painting, and beautiful writing, you will be captured by this novel. As winter drags on, curl up, and treat yourself to some deep thinking as you become taken up with The Goldfinch.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

High in the Andes

 We are pleased to offer this post from my friend, Mary Averett.  She is married to writer Ed Averett whose latest book, Cameron and the Girls has achieved critical acclaim. Mary and Ed are carving out a new life for themselves in Ecuador.  Her updates about their adventures are so bright and vivid that I eagerly await the next installment.

                                                      Velvet Purple Coronet

I’m compelled to write, right now, due to the wildly changeable weather. It was, and has been a beautiful week of non-stop sunny weather with rather warm temperatures, most likely mainly in the 70-72 range. The sun here is always intense, but one rarely feels too warm, as here, 8,000 feet up in the Andes, there is always a breeze. It’s kind of an enigma to feel the intensity of the sun when it isn’t really that warm, but one does, even when the temperature is in the 60’s sometimes.

Ed and I have been working a lot outside and making great progress. We like going out early in the morning and working until around noon. Many climbing vines are planted and growing, and my herb garden plantings have taken off with parsley, basil and dill that will all be in abundance rather soon, as they are growing now, visibly, each day. Somehow the mint died, so my plan is to replant mint and rosemary later this week, or next. In the last week, we have cleared many places of 50 years of detritus (little pieces of roof tile, bricks, concrete somethings that are now in pieces, old parts of looms as this was a weaving center and lots of small pieces of plastic sacks that have, in some way, deteriorated but not gone away). By now, we have planted several different flowering plants via both seed and by the plant. We found a wonderful nursery in Ibarra and bought quite a few things there, including a jacaranda tree, which we had in Spain, loved and have always wanted again. Lavender is in a row along one side of the grass yard we have that is kind of the entryway to the house. It has what most of us would consider a tree of fuchsia. Our northwestern weather would never allow one of these spectacular plants to develop as this one has. It is often host to several beautiful emerald colored hummingbirds, called picaflor here and there is a perfect view of it and them outside our kitchen window. Now and then there is a yellow and black one, but most of them, and they are many, are emerald green – bright – and black, and they love our fuchsia tree.

Anyway, compelling tonight is an almost immediate and drastic change. First, out in the distance, I heard some thunder. Within a minute or two it was near. Then, within five minutes it was raining….hard. Now, five minutes later, or maybe seven, it has stopped, the sky has cleared and I know tomorrow will be a sunny, and wonderful day. Meanwhile, the seeds I planted yesterday and watered lightly thereafter, are now well watered and most likely bursting with the idea of sprouting.

When I was a young girl, my brother and I went to visit our Uncle Dick and Aunt Pat at Kelly Creek Ranger Station in Idaho. I’m not sure how high it was, but it was in the mountains, rather high, and I do recall rain behavior that was somewhat similar, but it must be the elevation and the equator that makes it so dramatic here.

A few minutes ago I could hardly hear anything but the rain falling on the tile roof. Now, the dogs next door seem to be celebrating the cessation of the rain, as they are all barking, and again I can hear cars go by up on the road.

As I see on Facebook today, snow is on the ground in Spokane. Here, we have just experienced a tropical mountain rainstorm. It seems strange to be so far away and, still, to feel so close to my loved ones.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Craving Lobster Chowder

We are pleased to offer this guest post from Dana Tuttle. She is a busy Mom with a passionate interest in history.

                                            Statue of Mary Dyer in Boston,
                                             by Sylvia Shaw Judson

Should I worry that I am obsessed with dead housewife theologians? Why do the guys with the beards and the cigars get all the attention? These women who loved God and were executed fascinate me. Whether it was false accusations within a marriage, or a determination to do something radical for God…I am intrigued. How do these women end up laying their heads on chopping blocks, being racked until their bones dislocate, tied to the stake to be burnt alive, or simply pushed off of a scaffold with a rope around their neck? I want to know what drives these women to their untimely deaths and I always try to figure out what they could have done differently.  All of them were strong-willed, feisty, and brave—each one with her own unique story. I have a deep love for Anne Boleyn, Anne Askew, Lady Jane Grey and now, my fascination continues with Mary Dyer. She was the first woman to be executed on American soil for her religious beliefs.
I appreciate that my daddy knows me well and gave me a copy of My American Eden: Mary Dyer, Martyr for Freedom, by Elizabeth S. Brinton, for Christmas. I admit that I have been so wrapped up in the English Reformation that I forgot that some of those feisty women sailed to America! With such a huge interest, I was shocked that I had not heard of Mary Dyer. I was eager to learn about her and Brinton did not disappoint. I quickly got sucked into the world of Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1635, and into the lives of the Dyer family as they arrived in the harbor. Brinton did a wonderful job of telling the story and painting the scene in my mind. She gave an accurate picture of what happened, as well as an unbiased opinion of the characters. I felt compassion for Mary, her husband, William, her children, her friend, Anne Hutchinson, and her servant, Irene who is the voice in the story.
What is really interesting is how Brinton has the gift of making me crave lobster chowder and planted in me a desire to visit Newport, Rhode Island and Boston, Massachusetts. Now that is a good author! The more I read, the more I was compelled to research Mary and the facts surrounding her. I always know that I am reading a good historical fiction when I find myself saying, “Nuh uh!” out loud and looking it up, only to find that it is recorded in history. This gave me the confidence in Brinton as an author. I have read historical fictions that are so embellished that it completely loses its integrity as “historical.” I really appreciate how closely she stuck to the truth, while maintaining her creativity as a writer.
The thing about historical fiction is that you already know the ending, so the author’s goal is to fill in the blanks and help us to understand how the ending came to be. In particular, how did Mary Dyer, known as “The Rebel Saint,” end up swinging from a rope by her neck in Boston, Massachusetts. On June 1st, 1660, Mary Dyer willingly allowed herself to be executed as an example and to cause the laws banning Quakers, or any other choice of worship, from being persecuted or put to death.
Mary Dyer is famous for the moment when immediately after she was pushed off of the platform “a gust of wind blew across the common, catching Mary’s skirt, puffing it full with a snap. Her dress billowed as a sail does when suddenly grabbed by the wind. Someone said, ’She hangs there like a flag’” (viii). Her execution caused a lot of controversy, and soon after, the laws putting Quakers to death were changed.
The word “journey” is overused these days to describe one’s spiritual life. But for Mary, it truly was a journey! Born an Anglican in England, she and her husband, William followed a band of Puritans to America. They became respected citizens in their colony. Mary, and several other women, began following the famous, Anne Hutchinson, who was banned from the colony for her antinomian beliefs. I could go off into a huge theological discussion here, but I want to stick to the review of Brinton’s book.  Anne’s theology was attractive to the women of her town and they felt spiritually fed by this loving midwife. For their involvement, Mary and her husband, William, were disenfranchised and had to leave the colony with the rest of the men and women who followed Anne Hutchinson. The Dyers moved and settled twice before finally settling in Newport, Rhode Island. Here is where the story takes a twist and begins to bother me. Mary decides that she needs to go back to England to settle her estate. She went against her husband’s will and she left behind 5 children. The youngest son was only two years old! She promised to be back soon, but ended up staying for 5 years!
During her time in England, she met George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, and quickly converted. It was an easy step from Anne Hutchinson’s antinomian theology. Mary was unaware that Quakers were banned in Boston and was immediately arrested, strip-searched and whipped upon her arrival in the harbor. She was kept in jail with no heat or light for two months before her husband got word that she was there. He was given custody of her and she was banned from ever returning to Boston. They returned to Newport and Mary saw her children after 5 long years.  Upon her arrival home, she left her family again and secluded herself on another island with other Quakers.  Then finally, she went back to Boston against her husband’s will and the law that banned her, to make herself an example.
I loved the voice Brinton gave Mary’s husband, William. Page after page, he continued to support her, forgive her, and persuade her to stay home to serve in her calling as a wife and mother.  “Yea, joyfully I go” (229). In my opinion, Mary missed out on all the opportunities that God had placed right in front of her. God blessed her with a new world, a loving husband, a home full of children who needed her love and guidance, and an island of friends and neighbors to love and serve in her vocation as a mere housewife theologian.
Yet, as I read Mary’s story as an American woman, I am reminded that I have the freedom to believe what I want to believe and attend the church of my choice. I must respect the fact that she was a huge influence on the foundation of the religious freedom we enjoy in our country. Mary contributed willingly to our American history and the freedom we have today.  Read Brinton’s book, it is fascinating!
Now, about that lobster chowder…mmm!

Author's Note:

It may be interesting to add that Sylvia Shaw Judson is the creator of the Bird Girl statue featured on the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the case of the statue of Mary Dyer, created in 1959, the model who sat for the sculpture was Anna Cox Brinton, grandmother to my husband, Howard Brinton. This fact came to light well after my work on Mary Dyer had begun.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Ides of March and March Madness

  So many interesting dates fill the calendar this month. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent was March 5, March 15  we mark the Ides of March, on the 17th is St. Patrick's  Day, two days later, the Feast of St. Joseph, when the swallows return to Mission San Juan Capistrano. And of course, March Madness when  for two weeks college  basketball (NCAA Men's Division) is the all the rage and talk of the nation (Go, Zags!) . Not to overlook Daylight Savings Time March 9,  and the first day of Spring March 20.

It  seems to me March makes a perfect month for a writing marathon. As writers,  we all need to be inspired, motivated, and find material for what we want to write about. Stories and characters  could be developed around  Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire,  the wee leprechaun and Irish folklore, or a study about the miracle of the 'Swallows'  that takes place each St. Joseph's day at the most famous mission in California.

In his book, the Daily Writer, Fred White provides mediations to help writers, and has chosen  several helpful themes for March, including Establishing The Journal-Writing  HabitObserving the Details, and Exacting the Unusual From Everyday Experiences .

His mediation for March 14 , Writing To Preserve History was thoughtful when he offers for further reflection:

      Writing is essential to preserving history. Not only that, the quality of the writing - its precision, its depth of coverage - determines the quality of the historical record. If you plan to write a historical event , you must be faithful to the historical record and correct inaccuracies in the existing record.

It's still early March, I encourage all you writers,  pick  a theme and start writing !

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How Many Books?

     The other day I was  perusing  a list of best selling books printed in the newspaper, and  for some reason  tried to imagine all the books , in all the world , throughout all time  and pondered how many there could be. I decided it's a question that can't be answered.  Okay, I thought to myself, narrow it down to how many books about writing have been written?  Again, no answer. I'm guessing there must be hundreds of thousands.  In my  personal  home  library are forty-five.

       Some of the titles include: Your Life as Story, The Memoir Book, Word Painting, The Careful Writer, The New York Times Everyday Reader's Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, Mispronounced Words, Strunk and White The Elements of Style, Write Right!, Stephen King: On Writing, Writng Down the Bones, The Art and Craft of Poetry, A Guide to Query Letters,  and so many more.  
      While I've been published in newspapers and magazines, I have  yet to write memoir or novel.  That's why all the helpful, how to write books on my shelf.  I long to be a better writer, and have my book published, so I look to the experts for guidance and instruction on writing  - whether it be sentence structure, plot, description or correct grammar.  

       I must admit I haven't read every chapter of every book on writing I own, but have read through most, and find all to be helpful, not only for the moment, but as a continual source of reference and study. As useful as a dictionary or thesaurus .  

       One helpful tip came from Story Craft - The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Non-Fiction by Jack Hart 
       "A resolution. Resolution is the ultimate aim of every story. The resolution releases the dramatic tension created as the protagonist struggles with the complication. It contains the lesson that the audience carries away , the insight that the story's readers or viewers or listeners  can apply to their own lives."

          As an example, if I were to write about  a woman wanting to attend a get together with a group of friends from high school,  but  her  friends chose dates that included her  mother's 81st  birthday, while they seemingly worked around  dates to suit their needs,  it would present struggle and tension - complication.  As the writer ,  I would have to let the reader know the protagonist overcame the struggle, and give insight to a lesson learned. In this case, perhaps , the mother's own unselfish attitude so her daughter could  freely participate with her long time girlfriends, from long ago.

           We may never know the exact number of how many books have been written thoughout the ages , or even how many books have been written about writing, but I encourage all writers to build your own personal reference library of books that will be helpful to the betterment of your writing skill. 




Monday, March 3, 2014

The Preposition

This past weekend I attended Winter Camp with  a group of women I became friends with last Fall while we paddled  the shores of Lake Coeur d Alene in classic war canoes - the 104 mile adventure was a fund raiser for Camp Sweyolakan on Mica Bay. It's an achievement we're all proud of.

Winter Camp was somewhat of a reunion , not only to reminisce about our paddling adventure , but make new memories, too. We played  marathon games of Progressive Rummy and  Mexican Train ( a Domino game) , cooked and shared meals together, and laughed a lot.  The conversation was never dull,  we covered many topics , including the proper use of prepositions when writing a sentence.

Prior to their retirement, some of the women had been educators. I listened with interest as they lamented the fact so many young people  today don't know how to construct a sentence. I thought how  easy for any of us today to  fall into lazy habits, especially when using email and text, so  I decided to review what a preposition is, and how  and when it  should be used.

Referencing one of my old textbooks, Voyages in English from grade school ,  a preposition is a word or group of words that shows the relationship between a substantive and some other word in the sentence.

    The paddlers  relish song at camp.

The most commonly used prepositions are : about, above, across , after, against , amount, around, at, before, behind, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during except, for, from ,in, into, near, of , off, on, over, past, through, throughout, to toward, under, until, up, with.

The preposition may be a single word or a group of words used as one preposition

     Laughter came from the houseboat.
     The canoe stayed in spite of the schedule.

Groups of words that are considered one preposition when used with a substantive include the following: on account of, instead of, in addition to, in regard to, in spite of, in front of, because of, by means of , for the sake of.

The object of a preposition is a noun, a pronoun, or a group of words used as a noun. A noun or any word that takes place of a noun is called a substantive.

      We cannot paddle without Huck's help . (Noun)
       Scottie gave the recipe to her. (Pronoun)
       From across the lake came the paddlers. (Prepositional phrase)

Sometimes there can be confusion as to the correct use of a preposition. For example, 'different from'  and 'different with'. Differ with denotes disagreement of opinion. Differ from denotes differences between persons or things.

        I differ with you about the scoring of the game.
        The banners differ from each other in width.

After the adjective different use from, not than.

         The writing is different from hers.

Or 'angry with and 'angry at'. Use angry with a person; angry at a thing.

          She is angry with Barbara.
          We were angry at the result

 I'm grateful for my weekend at Winter Camp and  camaraderie of  these women who taught me  how to paddle, play Progressive Rummy, and make the best ever blueberry waffles,  and yesterday  reminded me  of the importance of a preposition.