Reading

Why we read

I’ve adored reading fiction since forever and wonder sometimes what it is about reading that keeps me wanting more good books to read.

I know reading can help us learn and make us empathic, but there’s also something magical about the process.

 

I came up with the following list:

 

Reading helps me

 

Understand new ideas

Imagine places

Dream of the impossible

Become a character

Think about things in a different way

Escape from the ordinary (or scary)

Figure things out

 

After I wrote my list, I see the following is also true:

 

Writing helps me

 

Understand new ideas

Imagine places

Dream of the impossible

Become a character

Think about things in a different way

Escape from the ordinary (or scary)

Figure things out

 

Why do you read?

Writing for Change

I read a recent book review in the New York Times on a biography about Harriet Beecher Stowe called Mightier than the Sword by David S. Reynolds. In this biography, Harriet is championed as a writer of change. He argues that because of the publication and wild success of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, many people were ready for the end of slavery.

 

A few years ago, I was approached by an editor to write biographies of American authors. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s biography was my first assignment. I admit I felt a little disappointed. I had tried to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in high school and had found it soppy and melodramatic. And, yes, it is as soppy and melodramatic as many other nineteenth century novels.

 

What I found compelling, however, was the life of Harriet. As I started to do research for my book, I unearthed quite a bit I didn’t expect to find.  Raised in a house where intellectual curiosity was fostered, Harriet, along with many of her siblings, was a strong proponent of the abolitionist movement. As a married women with little say and power to make a strong political stance, Harriet chose instead to write a novel to show her readers the horrors of slavery.

 

When it was published, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was as popular as the Harry Potter and Twilight series now. Harriet became a wealthy and famous woman, but, more importantly, many readers warmed up to the idea of abolition in part–some argue a large part–because of Harriet’s writing.

 

Is the pen or keyboard mightier than the sword? Can any fiction writer do what Harriet did when she decided to do something about slavery?  I hardly think any writer should be writing with an agenda. Instead, writing, at least for me, should reflect the human experience–A reminder of who we all are.

>My Overflowing Brain

>This past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. I’m so happy the conference is up and running again. We met in Coupeville this year, and I had a great time feeding my writing soul with words from amazing writers like Garth Stein, Mandy Hubbard, Michele Torrey, Deb Lund, and many more.

We had a great fireside chat in a beautiful house overlooking Lake Pondella where Mandy Hubbard told us of her journey and amazing perseverance in getting her first novel published (something I needed to hear). Michele Torrey talked about theme (a favorite subject). She read the first paragraph of several books so we could hear the voice of each work. She has a great reading voice! Deb Lund brought out the actors in us all as she used her great collection of cards to find ideas for story direction and act out emotions. I love this because writing does have to get the heart and emotional level of the character.

I’m back recharged and ready to go again. I love my Whidbey connection. I cannot believe it’s been ten years since I first volunteered. Back then, I wasn’t even sure what genre I wanted to write in. Deep down I knew I needed to write fiction, but I was terrified to even admit that to myself. My journey thus far has taken me where I never thought I would go. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years bring! 

>Favorite Books

>What were your favorite books to read when you were a child?

A favorite series of mine? The Shoes books.

Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, first published in the 1930s, was followed by many more, including  Theater Shoes, Skating Shoes, and my favorite, Dancing Shoes. Most of these books involved orphaned children discovering hidden talents for dancing, acting, or singing (with a few surprises).

The theme: Follow your dreams.

By the time I became fully engrossed in Shoe mania, I was ready to have my parents send me to London so I could attend some sort of stage school. I had forgotten I had the grace of a hippopotamus on the dance floor, sang perpetually off key, and was far too shy to stand up on stage before an audience.

It didn’t matter; I was stagestruck. I started taking dancing lessons, belted out songs from musicals,  and searched the library for plays to read. I couldn’t find any, so I used the section of Maeterlinck’s strange play, The Blue Bird found in the pages of Ballet Shoes. In the privacy of my bedroom, I rehearsed playing all the actors’ roles. From The Blue Bird, I used the play as a template to start writing my own plays.

My dreams of limelight stardom in the theater may be over, but I’m still writing.

What was your favorite book or books?

>Impatient for Patience

>Ah, Valentine’s Day.
Chocolate, a romantic dinner, roses, wearing a great dress and slow dancing to a sultry jazz tune . . .

Well, not quite.
A mad dash to make dinner, help with homework, and remind the boys to clean their rooms.
Wrestling with a stalling Internet connection while I try to set up a grade book for a class starting tomorrow.
Dirty dishes piled up in the sink.

Not exactly romantic.

February.
I’m thoroughly tired of winter and am impatient for some early spring blooms. My work grows monotonous, and I long for some good news.

Patience.

Yes, patience. This is something I think I have little time for, yet it is exactly what I need. The daffodils will bloom (and soon). The days will grow warmer, and the frog and birdsong will return.

Most of all, I need to be patient with my craft. My writing works best when I take the time to pause and reflect.

A pause, and I can begin again in a flurry of passion.

I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with passionate activity!

>Emotional Epic

>I have this childhood memory of watching some movie on television (we were at a hotel, I think) and the main character was a writer–a perky, smiling writer–Doris Day or Sandy Duncan most likely. As I watched the grinning character plunk the typewriter keys effortlessly, I had a sense, even then, that Ms. Author was some serious fiction–even fantasy. No writer could be that happy and carefree while writing–could they?

My writing adventure has been more epic. Instead of Doris or Sandy, I am Hermione facing down the evil of self doubt, emotional land mines, and other tricks and schemes of the Dark Side of the Human Mind.

https://i0.wp.com/www.harrypotterparty.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/dhposter_hermione-640x1024.jpg

In my most recent revising adventures, I discovered my efforts to create wit and clever lines have overwhelmed my character’s true potential for caring and emotional response. This, of course, will not do, and it’s time to pull out the wand and use the delete key. Time to create from the heart this time.

Good will triumph in the end, but the darkness must be overcome first.

How are your writing adventures going?

>Winter Solstice

>Happy Winter Solstice! 

The sun rose at 8:01 a.m this morning and will set at 4:19 p.m (four minutes from now).

I think of a time before electricity and central heat
Before colored LED Christmas lights and iPod carols
Those who celebrated by gathering in the darkness around a fire.

In recent years I’ve come to appreciate the significance of solstice.

The point where the pendulum pauses before swinging back the other way.

While in Eastsound today, I paused noticing a primrose blooming in front of Enzo’s Cafe. Yes, it’s too early to think of spring,
yet the life force continues.

>I Dwell in Possibility

>One hundred eighty years ago 

A poet was born . . .

I’m naturally drawn to the poetry of Emily Dickinson this time of year.

“There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons -“

I dig through my E. D. poetry book hungry for more moments of pure excellence (for lack of a better term).

This particular poem stands out, for I feel it is an ode to my calling as a writer:

“I dwell in Possibility -“

What a great line. Isn’t this what a writer does? I think of it as What if?  What if this person in this place had this happen to him or her? What would happen? And the story begins.

The second line of Dickinson’s poem:

“A fairer House than Prose -“

Many say this is her declaration as a poet rather than a writer of essays or fiction, but I see it as an explanation of the imagination. This place of possibility is enormous and endless. Possibility always exists.

The Final lines declare:

“The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -“

The paradise? What can be created!

All of the possibility and what if moments flood with characters and situations, places and imagery. The writing comes from this place, and the possibility is what I hold most important to my own process.

Thank you for putting  up with my subjective literary analysis of E. D.

I hope your day is filled with possibility.

Happy Birthday Emily.

>Winter Arrives

>Okay, so it’s that time of year again.

I adore spring, enjoy fall, tolerate summer, but winter?  

The dim daylight, the incessant rain, and snow. Yes, snow.

This past week we jumped into winter with plunging below average temperatures.

After lamenting the sudden, severe frost death of my garden (I still had roses ready to bloom), I prepared myself for the inevitable falling of snow.

I enjoy the snow–truly. I like the transformation of the landscape, the white blanket of newness. I love the silence and the sound of crunching the white layers underfoot.

Driving in snow? I can think of many things I would rather endure than trying to negotiate a car on icy, snow packed roads without guardrails.

At our house, we all decided the ideal snow day happens when we have nowhere to go and have ample provisions.

On Thanksgiving this year, we had such a day. 

I hope you find moments of beauty in your winter landscape.

>Another Reason to Love Jane

>This past week I read a story about some recent literary analysis done on the work of Jane Austen. Specifically, Kathryn Sutherland, a professor at Oxford University revealed that Austen’s original manuscripts contained many misspellings and creative grammar. In other words, Austen’s editors cleaned up her work before publication.

Some people are upset about this. Austen is no longer a perfect grammar goddess. She has tumbled from her throne of literary genius to a mere writer of tales.

Some people were even mad at Kathryn Sutherland for exposing this scandalous information.

Personally, this bit of news makes me love Jane even more.

You see, spelling has never been a strength of mine. I think I might even have some sort of undiagnosed learning disorder. I learned grammar intuitively. I only learned the rules after I started teaching grammar to others. Perhaps a writer should not disclose these kinds of deficiencies, but I like to think it makes me more like Jane.

Jane lived in the era before spell check and grammar guides. Editors could take the time to fix the errors. Of course now, we know we could never submit an unedited manuscript to an editor or agent. They simply do not have the time.

But why hate Jane for not being perfect?

When I delight in the pages of a good Austen story, I am not thinking of period placement or spelling.

I love her wonderful humor. I love her biting critique of the class system and marriage.  I love knowing Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy will end up together in the end, but it’s how they reach the much anticipated proposal scene that makes the story worthwhile.
 

Jane rocks!