Monday, February 17, 2020

Early Spring or a Twisted Mind?


 



Reports state that the groundhog did not see his shadow this year; thus, we’ll be blessed with an early spring.
I think the sadistic brat lied. For all I know, the little devil was holding a red apple when he or she made the announcement.

There’s a meme on Facebook with the groundhog admitting he lied, but I’d hoped the post had been fabricated by someone trying to be funny, or cruel. After all, if the little bugger actually saw his shadow, we’d be stuck with another six weeks of winter. Even suggesting this may be our fate rings of cruelty, don’t you think?
And yet, here in the winter wonderland known as Minnesota, we’re going to be showered with a freezing rain this evening. What kind of early spring is that? Rain, yes; freezing, no!

Isn’t this sort of undeniable proof that the groundhog is guilty of: false advertising, cruelty against animals and the human race, and depraved indifference, resulting in who knows how many crimes­­ as extended winters force people into depression which can induce negative responses and actions.
I say we put that groundhog behind bars!
Any bounty hunters out there willing to catch the culprit? I’ll put up a $1 reward payable through PayPal immediately upon delivery.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Back from the Anti-Wonderland!

Hello everyone! I do not have any tech-blood running through my veins, so when my blog quit working eons ago (wouldn’t let me edit old posts or add a new post) during a time I was undertaking a grief sabbatical (lost a few loved ones), I decided to let the blog rest. And rest it did, but for way too long! I’m very sorry about the extended absence, and I hope I can make it up to you.
I read some great books during my time away: the Al Capone series by Gennifer Choldenko and Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison (MG books you’ll love!); Tagged, a great YA book by Diane C. Mullen; Home by Harlen Coben; The Crossing by Michael Connelly; and Every Breath by Nicholas Sparks.

I read a number of other books as well, actually stacks of them, but the above come to mind in a blink.

When I wasn’t reading, writing, or editing, I was painting. Sometimes on canvas, sometimes on wood, sometimes on metal. I had emotions to get out and managed it with both the printed word and paint.
 
Currently, I have two novel-length works battling for attention in my brain. My solution? I’m working on the preliminaries for each. I’m drafting rough chapter/plot outlines and character sketches with GMC’s clearly stated and very thorough character charts. I’m also drawing a few maps of fictional towns covered in the novels, blueprints for houses (filled with art and furniture) so that once I get around to writing the novels, I’ll know where a character is at when he or she is tiptoeing through a house or neighborhood.

Realistically, once I’ve got all this info down, and once I know the characters so deeply that I even know what their favorites of just about everything are and what they think about their toenails, putting the actual novels together will go a little smoother than it would go without these assists. Revising will be the brow-sweating task––it always is.

I’m not planning on writing both novels at the same time. I have faith that one novel, or one character from either, will eventually tug at my heart and the recesses of my brain more than the others. That’s the one I will trust to help me plow ahead to those wonderful words, The End.
And if that doesn’t work, you know what they say––fake it until you make it!

What helps you get through your goals?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SUE'S REVIEWS--A PIECE OF THE WORLD


A Piece of the World 
by Christina Baker Kline

Reviewed by Sue Ellis

For Readers:

Christina Baker Kline's latest novel, A Piece of the World, is a fictionalized account of the  life of Christina Olson, subject of the famous painting, Christina's World, by Andrew Wyeth.

Christina Olsen was crippled by a virus at age three. Local doctors had no idea what caused the progressive wasting of her limbs, but she eventually had to crawl to leave the house, refusing the use of a wheelchair. Late in life she met Andrew Wyeth when he became enthralled by the old farmhouse in Cushing, Maine, where she had always lived.

Wyeth's place in the story is as important as Christina's, his dogged determination to paint what he feels at the place that greatly moves him. At first it's the location that calls to him, the land and the buildings in their coastal setting, but his attention eventually falls upon the people he comes to know.

Her parents are a salt-of-the- earth couple who expect more of Christina than seems reasonable. They refuse to baby her, even when she is very young, but she rises to the occasion in one gripping chapter after another. While still in her twenties, a relationship springs to life when the crippled girl  meets a student who summers in Cushing.

Here's an excerpt where Christina overhears her parents discussing her and her boyfriend:

"She's no beauty, but she works hard. I think she'd make a fine companion," Papa is saying.
"She would," Mother says. "But I'm beginning to wonder if he's toying with her."
My face tingles as I realize they're talking about me. I lean against the wall, straining to hear.
"Who knows? Perhaps he wants to run the farm."
"Mother laughs, a dry bark. "That one? No."
"What does he want with her then?"
"Who knows? To fill his idle time, I suppose."
"Maybe he really does love her, Katy."
"I fear . . ." Mother's voice trails off. "That he will not marry her."
Papa says, "I fear it too."

By the time Wyeth appears and installs himself at the farmhouse, Christina's scars, both physical and mental, have honed her into a person who is both admirable and pitiable (and ultimately paintable).


William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
ISBN 978-0-06-2356277

For Writers:

Many of you will have read Orphan Train, a well loved work by this same author, so you know Christina Baker Kline is a writer of considerable talent.

Using Christina's relationships with her family and friends, she enables us to see into the soul of a woman gone bitter with her insistence that people ignore her physical plight and treat her like anyone else. The story is told by switching back and forth between Christina's early life and young adulthood to her meeting with Wyeth when she's an old woman. It's an effective way to focus on her relationship with Wyeth while gradually revealing her past and the forces that have shaped her into the person that piqued his artistic interest.

So much of the story is based on fact that it's easy to be fascinated by the history, but even more beguiling to let the author take us to that atmospheric plane between fact and what she imagines for us. This one's a winner.

 

 
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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

SUE’S REVIEWS––THE NINTH HOUR


The Ninth Hour
by Alice McDermott

 Reviewed by Sue Ellis

For Readers:
Alice McDermott's newest novel, The Ninth Hour, is an easy pick after reading the back jacket. Three of her previous novels were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

The Ninth Hour is set in Catholic Brooklyn in the early twentieth century. The story opens with the suicide of Jim, an Irish Immigrant fired from his job at the railroad. He urges his pregnant wife to do her shopping early, then turns on the gas in their apartment and blocks its escape by jamming a coat under the door.

Sister St, Savior, making her way home following a weary day of tending an alms basket, encounters the sad scene and takes charge of the grieving widow, Annie. She oversees a quick burial for Jim in the church cemetery before objections can be made, and arranges work for Annie in the laundry of the Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor.

When Annie's baby girl, Sally, is born, she is cherished by her mother and the doting nuns, and grows up a carefree and obedient child. Here's an excerpt:

The days in the laundry grew longer for the two women when Sally started school, but when she returned, she brought her mother and the nun tales from what they called the wider world. She could capture her classmates' broken English, or their solid brooklynese, with perfection. She had the pastor's nasally Latin down to a T. She was a good and quiet child in the classroom, polite and shy on the street, but in the basement laundry of the convent, every impulse toward silliness, every outlandish pantomime or adolescent misfiring of elbows and feet, not to mention wickedness, was set free, and utterly indulged by her mother and the nun, provided--they were always reminding her, that she kept her voice low.

Sally decides she'd like to be a nun herself, having helped visit the sick and poor with the nuns on many occasions, but none of that prepares her for the people she meets on the train that carries her to her new assignment, their coarseness and greed. She returns home immediately only to find her mother at home with her lover, a man whose crippled wife Sally has helped care for.

 
Farrar, Strous and Giroux
ISBN 978-037-428014-7

For Writers:

The characters are fascinating, likeable mostly, admirable and real. The story is told in part from the persepctive of Annie's grandchildren, so we get a sense of the repercussive results of a family touched by both tragedy and compassion. This author can set a scene authentically and believably, a real bonus for everyone.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Picture Book for Easter--Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg



Simon of Cyrene and the Legend of the Easter Egg, written by Terri DeGezelle and published by Pauline Books and Media, will make the perfect addition to any Easter basket. The book spreads 25 pages, including biographical information on Simon and a prayer for courage and compassion at the end.
 
The illustrations, by Gabhor Utomo, will speak to children and adults, giving a deep sense of  place and the times, as well as the grit and compassion circling the carrying of the cross. The story unfolds to tell the story of Simon helping Jesus, and it also hits children where they live. It explains the meaning of the different colors of eggs they see in their Easter baskets every year, the same colors Simon saw so many years ago. 
 
I was delighted to see this book come on the market. There are a lot of picture books that tell the story of Jesus and the manger to guide young children. From these stories, they recognize the little knickknacks of mangers with tiny animals, three kings, and the baby Jesus when they see them at holidays. Therefore, every time they see the little knickknacks, they think of the story of Mary and Joseph, the birth of Jesus. 
 
But you don't see as many books take the Easter holiday and not only tell of its history, but bring something that kids look forward to every year, colored eggs, into the history, so the children will have a new understanding every time they set out to dye eggs.
 
Generally, I give an analytical review of picture books, discussing the amount of text versus illustrations, symbolism, rhyme or rhythm, or whatever will aid new writers in writing picture books. But this book is special. It's going to bring new meaning to a common custom––dying eggs––to so many children. For that reason, I'm skipping the analytical review until a future date and just discussing the things readers will enjoy about the book. I wanted to be sure you all had time to get a copy or two.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

SUE'S REVIEWS--GRACE



Grace

by Paul Lynch

 
For Readers:

The setting for Irish author Paul Lynch's third novel, GRACE, is nineteenth century Ireland during The Great Famine, a story told through the eyes of a girl. On a pre-dawn morning, Grace is jerked out of bed by a mother gone mad and dragged outside to have her hair hacked off with a knife. This eldest child of Sarah Coyle is driven from the only home she has ever known.

 Sarah is seven months pregnant, her husband has died, and there are four children who need more food than she can provide. She is out of options. The rain has been unrelenting, the crops are ruined, and then her landlord shows up, a man who ogles Grace, obviously no longer enamored with her mother, who has borne two of his children. Sarah knows she has to act quickly to save her daughter.

 After the butchered haircut, Sarah forces Grace to dress in her father's clothes and instructs her to ask for help from a friend in the village on her way out of town. She tells her daughter to take the guise of her 12-year-old brother, Colly, and to find work.

 Grace is terrified and loiters out of sight until Colly can catch up and travel with her. Tragedy follows almost at once when Colly drowns as a riverbank gives way in the surge of a flood. What follows is a heart-stopping adventure told through the eyes of a girl on her own. She will grow to womanhood walking the rough back-roads of an Irish countryside sodden with rain and rotting crops. And she will witness the decline of a people desperate to survive a food shortage that will eventually kill a million of them, and lead another million to seek their fortunes in America.

 During that terrible time (from 1845 to 1849), many people, like Grace, took to the road in search of work. Grace is a resourceful and moral girl who strives to live honorably even as she resorts to stealing and looting. She is constantly coached by the voice of Colly in her head, the dirty mouthed, proudly independent and irreverently funny brother she mourns.

The book is hard to put down, and it will leave readers haunted with a story that is all the more heartbreaking after a quick Google search turns up the fact that the loss of life could have been prevented, spoiled potato crops or not.

Reviewed by Sue Ellis
Published by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN 978-0-316-31630-9


For Writers:

The author's gift with language is undeniable. A noun can expertly morph into a verb, sentence diagramming left dangling by its participle. The characters from170-years-ago are authentically imagined and vividly wrought. Here's an excerpt as Grace runs from danger:

She is chased by men from the backyard of a farmhouse into a dark that knows no moon and falls away like a precipice. Shouts noose the air for her neck. Gunshot travels unseen and soundless but for the report behind her announcing what has already passed. Grunt noise and the thunder-plod of footfall and a flaming lamp like some demon eye fixed in the dark upon her breathless singularity, and the way she runs into the cavernous night with nothing but her blanket and bobbing satchel, the accompanying report of a second shot, and how as she runs she tells herself to stop. And she does. Feels herself overcome, realizes in this moment she doesn't care anymore, about any of this, whatever you would like to call it—life, it you will—and so she stops running, stands awaiting the first fist to strike her head or for the shot to strike the kill. She closes her eyes but what happens is this—the two men chasing her like dogs to the perfume of violence run past her sightless in the dark.

Monday, February 19, 2018

My BFF is cheating on me...



This is Teddy sleeping with his toy. Notice how his arm is around the furry little thing? He's very protective, but in this photo, it's not me he's protecting. Of course, I don't think his intent was to make me jealous. It surely had more to do with a certain little three-year-old who'd been running through the house the last couple of days, claiming any toy in sight, and all attention, as hers. :-)
I enjoy this picture and the video so much that they just might work their way into one of my stories someday. How about you? Do you have any certain photographs that spark inspiration?
Happy Monday, and get writing!