Archives for posts with tag: books

Feeling sad today. It’s the four year anniversary of my mom’s death. I’ve said so much about her here, mostly in my Stories From My Mother feature, that you would think I would run out of words. It doesn’t work that way with me. I don’t run out of words about her any more than I run out of love for her, even though it feels as if she’s been gone for an eternity already.

The good thing I can say this year is that this marking of her passing out of my life is bittersweet. I still miss her with a depth that startles me sometimes. It shouldn’t, because it’s her influence on me that gave me the capacity to love so thoroughly. This year I have a new family and a new life, with a new husband whose very presence gives me comfort and peace. She would have loved him and she would have been so happy for us.

Piers and I have our first book together placed with a small publisher. Its title is The Dying and the Light. It includes my novella that I wrote after my mom’s death to help me through the grief and hopefully comfort Alzheimer’s caregivers with its fleeting, sadly fictional, message of hope and joy. The second part is the memoir of his 63 years long first marriage. Both were written in grief, before we ever met in person and fell in love. Friends through correspondence, both on parallel tracks through one of life’s most difficult journeys. It means so much to me that we will not only share a book and its cover, but also that my experience caring for and loving my mom is a thread that runs right through the heart of it.

So she continues to travel with me through life. In my memories, in my heart, and in my very being, since loving her and being loved by her has made me the best me I can be. I’m grateful. I’m sad and happy at the same time. I’m so fortunate to have known the woman who will forever be the grace of my heart.

I was just sitting here, scrolling through Twitter and seeing a tweet about an upcoming pandemic movie made me start thinking too hard. Hopefully, this kind of pondering is premature, but is the time coming when we start automatically incorporating things like wearing masks and social distancing into our screenplays and novels? What about not automatically? What would it be like to have a long worked on project rejected because it doesn’t incorporate pandemic life into a contemporary setting?

I may be about to pick back up on my serial-killer- thriller-with-an-odd-bit-of-romcom-meet-cute thrown in screenplay, after taking care of my mom curtailed its progress. Though it languished for several years, it still qualifies as contemporary. So do I imagine it as taking place just before Covid-19 hit our world over its collective head? Or after, risking that it would also be thrown into a postapocalypt wasteland? Ignore the pandemic, in the screenplay’s context? Worry that if it’s mentioned at all new genres have to be added to its already odd list. Stuff like medical-thriller- science-fiction-tinged-very-nearly-reality-show-horror…. This word parade scrolls across my mind like the grand opening crawl sheet that explains Star Wars: A New Hope to awe struck movie goers.

What’s a writer to do? Screenwriter and author alike could have to face some totally unexpected creative decisions that we wouldn’t have believed possible a year ago. My instinct is to try to get my head an ostrich neck’s worth of buried in the proverbial sand. Maybe if I close my eyes and think of Kansas, I can hitch a ride on the nearest black and white tornado to a land where the biggest problem facing artists is whether to try to tone down the eye popping colors pervading Munchkinland. But, no, we’ve all already learned that wishful thinking doesn’t work. Not in normal every day life and certainly not in the midst of a global pandemic.

However. For now I’m going to work on the assumption that, like the 2018 Spanish flu pandemic, this too shall pass. Set something in our current period of fear, loss, and sorrow and write accordingly. Otherwise, create characters content to inhabit the weird, crazy, fun, beautiful, ugly, messed up mess we called normal 21st century life, before it became abnormal in the extreme.

I’ve been walking by several open dictionaries in Piers’ study for ages without really looking at them. This is surprising, since I love books, antique, educational, and otherwise. I do prefer fiction, but I like to dip into history and science and all manner of topics in between as well. Fiction has been my one true book love.

Then I met and married my one true love. We continue to discover things about each other, as couples will do. This is amplified during lockdown. One of the unexpected things we have in common is that we both read dictionaries as kids. Not at the same time, of course. The May\December thing makes that impossible. When I say read dictionaries, I don’t mean the way most people do, where they flip through, frustrated because they can’t find a word they don’t know how to spell because they don’t know how to spell it. I’ve had similar moments. It comes with word wrangling territory.

When I was in school, if I didn’t have homework in study hall and, heaven forbid, didn’t have Mr. Dickens or a Bronte with me, I’d get a dictionary from the room length shelves where they lived. Lugging around a heavy treasure chest full of words was worth the effort once I flopped into my seat, arms aching slightly from being too short to accomodate such a stately tome. Then I began randomly picking unfamiliar words to learn or just sat there reading the thing, as if it told me its own story. It actually did. One of many facets in the story of knowledge.

I don’t know why I’m the way I am. I have a hungry, hungry brain. What a delight to discover that I’ve married a more kindred spirit than I could ever have dreamed of. I mostly use search engines now, for my word discovery needs, but when it comes to word discovery desires, I like knowing that I live in a house with multiple dictionaries. One of the invitingly open dictionaries quietly holds its secret in plain sight, for anyone who cares to notice. It’s 107 years old. From 1913, the year my father was born. Family history, the history of words, the history of my new life…all of this collides in the house where books are to be gazed upon, touched, and cherished.

A paraphrasing of the old saying that eloquently sums up the elusive nature of dreams one knows are impossible, my above title aptly conveys the feelings with which some writers and most fans of the Bronte sisters are all to familiar. I suffered from Emily Bronte envy long before I was privileged to walk on some of her beloved ground in Haworth. Once I stood gazing at the Parsonage and walked along a well worn public path, with its bright green grass, stone wall, and tantalizing vistas across a wide, wild stretch of moor, I longed to travel back into her all too brief lifetime to experience it for myself. Briefly, of course, since the Brontes lived lives that were tinged, then deluged with pain, heartbreak, and tragedy.

This Atlas Obscura article dangles the past right before Bronte lovers’ eyes, in the form of a farmhouse the Bronte family visited. They partook of the bookly feast contained in the home’s impressive library. Perhaps, perchance…possibly…Emily based a part of her novel Wuthering Heights on this centuries old property. Even without the Bronte connection, it would still be an amazing piece of English history. 

There’s the problem of the wishes part, though. Ponden Hall is for sale, but for more money than most of us can afford to do more than dream about. This article provides pictures and descriptions that make the dreaming enjoyable, even in its sheer impossibility. One can only hope that the eventual buyers are thrilled by their new connection to literary greatness and get unending pleasure from their new home.

This Brain Pickings article reminds me how much I love Rainer Maria Rilke. Not only for his formal works, with their distinct rhythms and striking imagery, but also his deep and still timely thoughts on creativity. I read Letters To A Young Poet when I was first learning the ways of my own creative life. It’s different for everyone, but Rilke’s wisdom is timeless and universal.

I struggled to make my way through a maze of combined exhilaration and self doubt, and found the passage quoted here about patience and “ripening like the tree which does not force its sap” more helpful, comforting, and reassuring than anything I’d encountered in the modern world. I have to think. Written words rarely come, until I’ve thought long enough. Sometimes it’s a conscious thinking process, but often it’s spontaneous and lives in the back of my head until it’s ready to become fiction. Poems are different. They tend to burst forth and free, before I even know I’ll be writing a poem. Fiction stays inside my brain, quietly building and forming, and then when it’s ready it commences to be written. This is my way, but when it first started to develop it felt weird and wrong. As if there was a way the words were supposed to come out and I had never been given the key to that way. 

It took me a long time to understand that writers I’d read about had their process and it was perfectly alright that mine was different. As I read Rilke’s letters to that enviable young poet, I felt a calm settle over me. I began to understand that finding and accepting my own, individual creative path would be the start of something wonderful. And it was. Once I became one with Rilke’s concept of the nature and exquisite timing of a tree, its indelible patience and unknowing wisdom, writing became a joy that has sustained me ever since.

Through those letters to Franz Xaver Kappus, Rainer Maria Rilke became my mentor across time. In answer to the ubiquitous question about what one would wish to do if time travel were possible, I always think traveling to sun dappled, long ago Paris to sit beside Rilke in Rodin’s garden, absorbing the glorious light of his thoughtful words, would be a glimmering treasure captured by time itself. If only….

Until time travel becomes reality, his letters will suffice.

Before we stray too far from the holidays, here’s an article about Dickens and food. Not just the Cratchit Christmas table, Oliver asking for more, or how Magwich’s hunger may have influenced his temperament, but also bits about the life of the author after his father was sent to debtor’s prison when Charles Dickens was only twelve years old. No wonder his writings about poverty were so authentic feeling. He was an ultimate example of the words that have long urged writers to write what we know. Though that idea is debated as much as it’s​ adhered to, Dickens is an alarming example of where such practice may lead. 

His type of experiences were common in harder times even in our own century, and even still in the small dark corners of modern day poverty. When my grandfather was killed in a car crash in a time when cars themselves were in their adolescence, my father had to leave school at twelve years old and shoulder responsibility for his mother, sister, and young niece. His sacrifice made it possible for his family to carry on much as they had before. Without a father to run the farm, but left with a man grown up out of time to provide for them. Hardship​ was and is common in the rural south, though lacking in one thing that made Victorian England stand out as a stark example of poverty​ and injustice…the class system.

While there will always be harsh instances of have and have not, the Victorians across the pond made a life’s work of it. Many of the very wealthy would have stepped over a starving child lying in the gutter…if they ever stepped close to a gutter in their entire life. Even in their own insulated world of high society, they lived lives of pampered excess. To the starving guttersnipe the clean, beautifully dressed people who lived physically nearby would have been as alien to them as if they’d landed from Mars. 

Food was a vivid demarcation line between classes. This wonderful Guardian article gives intriguing examples, the very reading of which leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those fortunate to be only reading about such a harsh way of life.

This article is an old book and old movie lover’s dream. Names like Woolf, Dickens, Forster, and Bronte are scattered throughout, like beautiful, slow burning leaves flavoring autumn with their timeless scent. Their related books are the crispness in the air. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Mrs. Ramsey, her family and their guests, Mr. Wilcox and his younger bride overshadowed by his late wife…these are the people of some of my favorite literary treasures. They all leave their footprints preserved in this article, along with the houses that serve, in their way, as characters as well. Some of the houses that inspired stories like Howards End, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre are described in a way that brings back memories of reading the novels and wanting to read them again. My favorite segment is about Talland House that inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There’s a black and white picture of the actual house that makes me wish I was in Cornwall, so I could photograph it myself and perhaps look to the lighthouse from the garden. Some of the article’s descriptions evoke imagery from the books or scenes from screen adaptations. Reading it is a mental tour through cherished places brought to life by authors with often surprising connections to their characters’ homes.

Anyone who’s read my musings here for any length of time will have noticed that I’m interested in a very wide variety of topics. That interest in just about everything started when reading classics like Treasure Island and A Tale of Two Cities as a kid. It spread, as opportunities for travel grew as an adult, and became pretty much a cofoundation of my life with writing once telling stories decided to become my life. Today, TV, movies, and the internet, along with books, feed my voracious appetite for information. What better time for an information junkie to be on the planet than during our great Information Age?

Two of my particular sources of fascination have long been medical science and ocean travel. Sailing ships and their adventures are attractive for their drama and romance. The concept of transferring navigating the globe in vessels of canvas and wood lends itself perfectly to extrapolation into space. Trade the canvas and wood for titanium and transparent aluminum, and you’ve hitched your wagon to Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, though he used the analogy of a wagon train traveling the great unknown. Some of us are born adventurers, whose passion for the stuff of myth and dreams leads us to explore space in our minds and on paper…and for some lucky few, in real life. As writers of science fiction, we may invent diseases horrific and space born, but none may be more horrific or devastating than the one I just read about in this National Geographic article.

Often I don’t eat very much at all or enough fruits and vegetables. If left to my natural appetite, I eat one carb heavy meal a day, with a little grazing on the side. I have had the habit of making jokes about it, saying something like: “Time to eat a salad or some fruit. Don’t want to give myself scurvy!” After reading this article, I don’t think I’ll be quite so quick to make light of such a terrible illness.

I’ve known about scurvy since ninth grade general science. Rickets too, which led to a similar joke, because I don’t like to drink milk. The very idea of scurvy carried a slight air of mystery and romance, because of its connection to sailing expeditions. Ninth grade children weren’t informed in their textbooks of just what it did to the human body. Now that I’ve been enlightened, all traces of romance and mystery have disappeared. All that’s left is an education on an obscure medical crisis that was also absolute tragedy.

Some of my favorite fiction to write involves medical backdrops. I have a feeling a space faring version of scurvy now lurks in my futuristic writing future. Anything can be expanded on, tangented from, and transferred to space. Scurvy included, though it’s going to be hard to “improve” on this very real horror from our earthbound past.

This article is a real eye opener, giving rare insight into how much money a bestselling author may make and the dire straits they may be in anyway. It’s all too easy to look at the the potential success of a novel or memoire, with starry eyes and dreams of fame and fortune, but we don’t often come across a successful author talking openly about hard times. Cheryl Strayed does just that here. I haven’t read her books, but I did see the excellent movie adaptation of Wild. I was shocked and dismayed to learn that what seems like a lot of money just helped pull her out of financial quicksand, much of it acrued while writing her books. Her entire situation was actually downright scary. It’s a wonderful thing to dream of a bright future, especially for authors who live on dreams more than money much of the time, but it’s also valuable to know the harsh reality some authors face. On the off chance of attaining great success, it would be very wise to heed the cautionary tale that was part of Cheryl Strayed’s real life.

Ever drawn to Victoriana, as a writer I was particularly interested in this article about the lives of Victorian writers. Apparently, the writing life dragged a comet tail of hardship in its wake in Dickens’ time, just as it has done since writers started telling stories. It’s difficult to believe that Dickens had no formal education. His writing is as evocative and often heartbreaking today, as it was when he first set pen to paper. Somehow I find it easier to imagine Brontes working as governesses, fitting in their writing as the demands of caring for children not their own allowed. For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve found myself imagining favorite authors’ lives, as they gathered ideas and started putting together their famous plots. Articles like this one make that more vivid, and also make me admire them all the more.