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The long silence since my Christmas posting was due to the exciting news that my middle grade mystery, Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, will be published in June by MX Publishing. I was busy with formatting and editing issues to get it ready. (MX Publishing specializes in Sherlock related books, so Sherlock fans can go HERE to see a wonderful selection.) You can also read more about my book next door on my Victorian Scribbles blog HERE:
Not surprisingly, I have been reading a lot of mysteries both for young people and for adults. I recently joined Capitol Crimes, the local chapter of Sisters-in-Crime, since I'm currently working on a cosy mystery for adults. I was invited there by a friend, and it's her book I want to talk about today: Flint House, by Kathleen L. Asay, published by Bridle Path Press.
Flint House is a mystery, in fact a bundle of mysteries revolving
around what happens when disparate lives intersect over what should be a tragic event and stir up past events each character would like to forget.
Liz Cane, a cynical journalist with The Sacramentan, goes for an interview with Maisie Flint, the unpleasant owner of Flint House, a Victorian landmark in town. At one point, Maisie interrupts the interview to check on something upstairs. A few minutes later she tumbles down the stairs and dies.
Did she trip? Or was she pushed?
The tenants of Flint House are life's strays, hiding out from life in this rickety, shabby old Victorian. One mysterious tenant is called The Princess. No one knows her real name, but all the tenants seem to adore her, whereas none of them were especially fond of Maisie. The tenants also face eviction once Maisie's distant relative shows up to claim the house. The Princess claims to have a solution that will save Flint House. Then she is found in an alley, beaten nearly to death.
A random attack by a stranger? Or was she attacked by someone who knew her?
Despite herself, Liz gets drawn into their lives. She finds herself pursuing the story, partly as hard-bitten reporter, and partly because she cares about this motley collection of people who have become a family to each other. She's also obsessed with solving the mystery of The Princess's real identity.
I know it's almost a cliche these days to say "I couldn't put the book down," but I couldn't. It was an engrossing read, and the characters are memorable. Despite the events I've mentioned, it's also a heartwarming read. I highly recommend it.
And no spoilers here. You will have to read the book to answer the questions raised above.
So here I am, home again in Greencastle, as happy a Hoosier as I was before. I'm living again with my friend Julia, and her six-year-old son Alex, in her cozy home on Anderson Street, a few blocks from the campus. (Ignore my thumb at the top of the photo. I'm still new to taking pictures with my phone.)
I'm teaching two courses: Children's Literature for the English department (28 students - 25 girls and 3 boys!), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau for Philosophy (9 students who fit comfortably into our tiny classroom tucked under the eaves on the third floor of Asbury Hall). The picture below is the walk from my house down Anderson Street to campus. (Any better quality photo on this blog is one I didn't take.)
I spend Tuesday/Thursday on campus, and MWF out at my office at the peaceful, pristine Prindle Institute for Ethics situated in the DePauw Nature Park on the site of a reclaimed quarry.
The strangest thing about my happiness here is that I don't have as many of my four "pillars of happiness" as I do at home. Writing, reading, walking, and being with friends are my four most reliable sources of everyday joy. Here I walk vastly less than I do at home, without my little dog Tank and best friend Rowan as faithful walking partners, and without Colorado's winter warmth and sun. I've been writing less, as I'm so busy, filling every day with DePauw-related activities and conversations, and reading less for the same reason. I do have lots of delightful catching up to do with DePauw friends, but I have even more dear friends back home in Boulder.
So why do I feel so fully alive here? Maybe it's the strong sense of community, similar to what I find with my church. On this campus, even as we're struggling with some painful issues of racial discrimination and exclusion, we work so hard together as a community to try to make things better. So maybe a strong sense of community is more important to me than I realized. I also love living in a small town - perhaps for the same reason? Or just because I like a certain scale to my life. I like having hardly any stuff, walking everywhere, residing in a town where the public library is steps away from the post office, which is steps away from the campus, which is steps away from the courthouse square. I've always loved small spaces.
And yet my life here doesn't feel small. It feels big, stuffed full of intellectual challenge through constant talks and reading groups, concerts and conversations. I feel so fully alive, what Rousseau calls the "sentiment of existence." Or maybe I just like being constantly busy. I've always been the kind of person who likes having a long to-do list and then crossing things off, one by one.That, too, makes me feel like I'm living more intensely.
I just found out yesterday that I lost a new friend to a tragic car accident. She was someone who lived with extravagant generous fullness, as writer, mother, friend. So whatever we can find to make ourselves feel the wonder of our existence most keenly, that's what we need to do. Today and always.
Colleen McCullough has the kind of life I wanted to live. She was insanely popular but didn’t go on tour or have much of a public life. I guess she wrote a bunch of books, but probably didn’t need to. The Thorn Birds probably makes enough money every year to sustain a slightly indulgent lifestyle. It is the bestselling book of all time to come from Australia, and is that rarest of things, an international bestseller. I now know that she was also a scientist, who pursued her career long past needing the money.
The Thorn Birds was as commonly seen in houses as bread when I was a teenager, even living abroad, and that book also stands out for me as one of a dozen that everybody was reading the same time, and one of a handful I thought deserved every inch of its success. (A couple of others in that exclusive group are Perfume and Pillars of the Earth).
In recaps of her career this past week it’s been unfairly compared to books like Fifty Shades of Grey, which makes me think that reviewers have not read or don’t remember it well. It was a romance, of course, but made of slowly simmering passions left on the back burner for a decade before they were brought to a boil. It is also, for the first third or so, simply a wonderful growing up and coming of age story, for both its heroine and Anglicized Australia. Maybe there’s sexism or anti-genre sentiment in bracketing the two together, a hallmark great novel with a titillating accidental bestseller. But maybe it’s just the laziness of reporting.
I admit that when I saw the news of Ms. McCullough’s passing, I had not thought of The Thorn Birds in decades, but once prompted, I recalled several scenes vividly. What better testament can a book get than being memorable?
She is now known as a person with a bad obit. Nevertheless, she was a remarkable and inspiring person, both for what she did and how she went about it.
Hi folks, this is my February series on Golden Advice. I like to spend the month of February digging into the wisdom that has come my way, and that guides my art, my craft and my life. I find having some wise stuff in the soul helps me write stories with purpose.
I like to start with American poet Carl Sandburg. I always have this feeling that Carl is with me on my writing journey. His words whisper in the back of my heart. Something about his homespun writing gives me hope that I can be so much more. This week I'm going to respond to Carl Sandburg's broadcast in the 1950s called "My Fellow Worms."
Here's the first thing up. You grow older and you start getting a sense of what you really believe. This is the stuff that is tried and true. If you ask the question, "What do I believe?" and then answer it -- you end up writing a book or making a cute poster with a smart saying on it. Carl believed in "getting up in the morning with a serene mind and a heart holding many hopes." I am one the fellow worms. This little thought makes me want to put on some music and dance. Life is all about the small, tried and true things. I hope that you are waking up to this truth.
We are small in this universe. Tiny, tiny, tiny. Like Carl said about us: insignificant speck of animate star dust each of us is amid cotillions of billion-year constellations. When you realize this, it helps put perspective on all those hills you are trying to climb. In view of the universe, the towers of achievement that men proclaim just don't make a lot of sense. Note: I wrote a poem to bless my friends or I wrote a book that reached the planet -- not much difference in the scheme of things. Always keep things in perspective.
Next up, stop being so freaked out by pride. Pride is a good thing though it has a bad rap as a deadly sin. Be proud of your achievements but stay out of the sticky glue of arrogance. You know, don't lose your perspective and jump into vanity -- look at me! Not so easy in this life -- we live in the look-at-me generation -- selfies, social media, online life. Keep out of the mirror gazing. Your personality is sacred. It's a holy thing. Keep that in mind every time you share a bit of yourself. If you cut off enough, you will lose who you are.
Finally, I share a love of platitudes like Carl. Occasionally I here someone disparage my love platitudes but old well used thoughts are hard won. Moral content and thoughtfulness is much more than banal. You won't convince me otherwise. We should hold old sayings dear and not use them as lip service.
Share the platitudes that you have earned the right to share.
I especially like Carl thoughts about preserving our freedoms. We live in a world that seems to forgotten that "eternal vigilance is price of liberty." We are all in the struggle of freedom. You must get up today and fight. You will do it again tomorrow. Every life will find some "fiery trial and agony." Don't forget that as you share those tried and true words and suffer degradation because you have trusted others.
We are small but wondrous. Every little thing is going to shine, shine. Every little thing is going to shine. I hope my response to Carl's wisdom helps you find your way. Let it guide your creative journey. I will be back next week with more Golden Advice.
Here is a doodle: Spring is around the corner.
Here is a quote for your pocket.
Time is the coin of your life. You spend it. Do not allow others to spend it for you. Carl Sandburg
Each year I have the privilege to illustrate and design the T-shirts worn by all the volunteers and staff at the Humane Society of Broward County’s huge fundraiser “Walk for the Animals.” The dogs on this T-shirt are very special to me. They are the friends of Small Dog, the lead character in my picture book series.
The Walk will be held February 28th this year. If you love dogs, this is a must attend event!
from publisher’s website:
Through the paintings of Vermeer, Michael White explores new landscapes and transforms familiar ones in this extraordinary new collection of poems. This captivating masterwork transports us across eras and continents, from Confederate lynchings to the bombing of Dresden, through its lyrical inhabitations of some of Vermeer’s most revered paintings, each one magically described and renewed. More than mere ekphrasis, Michael White explores the transformative possibilities of great art in his fourth collection.
“Vermeer in Hell is Michael White’s museum of ghosts and shades, of narratives woven masterfully out of the personal and historical alike—out of the lived, the envisioned, the loved, and the terrible. Rarely have I felt the ekphrastic to be as dramatic as in White’s tour through the portraits of Vermeer, with its history of fiery damages, wars and afflictions, but also its own depiction of ‘love’s face as it is.’ Out of Michael White’s vision, each poem achieves for us the delicacy and durability of Vermeer’s own art.”
“Nearly every one of Michael White’s new poems is the equivalent of a quiet stroll through a blazing fire, igniting the reader’s imagination. His insights are frightening and comforting at the same time, his craft allowing for the most surprising and thrilling of associations. Vermeer in Hell is a collection that belongs in the room with all of the traditions of our language’s poetry, but it brings something completely original to us, too. It is not an overstatement to call this poetry Genius.”
“In these elegant, powerful poems, Michael White pays homage to a great painter while engaging social realities that affect us all. They are brave, beautiful poems linked by authentic vision and a sensitive, educated ear.”
2015 marks the 25th anniversary for the Humane Society of Broward County’s annual “Walk for the Animals” fundraising event. For something special I was asked to illustrate and design a commemorative T-shirt that will be sold on the day of the Walk (Feb. 28th, 2015).
Part of the fun of the “Walk for the Animals” is seeing the thousands of dogs all in one place. There are big dogs, little dogs, old and young, purebreds and mixed breeds. There are dogs in wagons and dogs playing Frisbee. The “parents” of all these pets are as varied as the dogs themselves. There are vendors of every type imaginable. I can’t say enough how much I look forward to attending, with or without my beloved dog.
There is only one condition, no cats allowed at the event (but the money raised does go for all the animals the HSBC cares for, not just dogs).
from Exhibition on Screen’ website: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer is one of the most enduring paintings in the history of art. Even today, its recent world tour garnered huge queues lining up for the briefest glimpse of its majestic beauty – In Japan 1.2 million people saw the exhibition. Yet the painting itself is surrounded in mystery. This beautifully filmed new documentary seeks to investigate the many unanswered questions associated with this extraordinary piece. Who was this girl? Why and how was it painted? Why is it so revered?
After its world tour, the Girl with a Pearl Earring returned to the much-loved Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands, which has just completed extensive renovations. Enjoying unparalleled exclusive access to this historical exhibition, the film takes the audience on a journey as it seeks to answer many of the questions surrounding this enigmatic painting and its mysterious creator, Vermeer. Using the recently completed and highly complex makeover of the museum as its starting point, the film goes on a behind the scenes detective journey to seek out the answers that lie within the other masterpieces housed in the collection.
to see the full text, sample illustrations, and to help bring this book to life!
Thank you for your support!
Over one million families in North America alone celebrate “Chrismukkah.” Around the globe more and more families are incorporating the hybrid holiday into their lives, yet there is no “go-to” story about it for them to embrace. Until now. Hanukkah Howie vs. Santa Claus will be cherished by every child who grows up in a Chrismukkah home, but it will be enjoyed by all readers because it’s fun, funny, and full of heart.
Howie climbed out of the Hanucopter and approached his first house. He sprinkled some oil, then slid under the front door with his bag of gifts. Everything was going smoothly, a typical first night of Hanukkah. Or so he thought! There was someone else in the house, and he had presents, too–Santa Claus! When the shocked pair realized there were families on both their lists…It. Was. On. Hanukkah Howie vs. Santa Claus is the hilarious and heartfelt story of how two holiday heroes wind up with the greatest gift of all for themselves: friendship.
About the Illustrator: Andy Catling is a professional illustrator with more than 30 illustrated titles under his belt. See http://www.catling-art.com/ for more.
Our February workshop will open for entries at noon EST on Saturday, February 7, 2015. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have the very talented Chelsea Pitcher, author of THE LAST CHANGELING. If that wasn’t enough, in the final week agent Shelby Sampsel will not only review the first five pages, but a query letter too!
Chelsea Pitcher is a native of Portland, OR where she received her BA in English Literature. Fascinated by all things literary, she began gobbling up stories as soon as she could read, and especially enjoys delving into the darker places to see if she can draw out some light.
Chelsea’s paranormal fantasy, THE LAST CHANGELING, is available now!
A Kingdom at War . . .
Elora, the young princess of the Dark Faeries, plans to overthrow her tyrannical mother, the Dark Queen, and bring equality to faeriekind. All she has to do is convince her mother’s loathed enemy, the Bright Queen, to join her cause. But the Bright Queen demands an offering first: a human boy who is a “young leader of men.”
A Dark Princess In Disguise . . .
To steal a mortal, Elora must become a mortal—at least, by all appearances. And infiltrating a high school is surprisingly easy. When Elora meets Taylor, the seventeen-year-old who’s plotting to overthrow a ruthless bully, she thinks she’s found her offering . . . until she starts to fall in love.
We are thrilled to announce that Shelby Sampsel of the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency will be our guest agent for February – and Shelby has agreed to review a query letter, too! See below for Shelby’s bio!
Shelby Sampsel joined the Vicky Bijur Literary Agency after graduating from NYU. She comes to the agency with previous internship experience at Thomas Dunne Books, Simon and Schuster, Tor Books, Penguin Group, the Maria Carvainis Agency, and McIntosh and Otis. She is interested in Young Adult and New Adult Fiction as well as memoirs with a strong voice.
Downsizing isn't easy, but it must be done if we are to become more mobile for this move to Scotland. I'm realizing that a photo of a precious item can sometimes be enough to keep - that I often don't need the actual item. What I do need is the trigger for that memory. Because I plan to use these memories in my writing. Strong writing comes from being able to relate experiences that feel true and I have a lifetime to draw upon. One item I let go of was the first gift I ever received from a boy... My 5th birthday was looming and somehow Danny came into my life. He lived in a neighborhood that backed up to ours in Maryland. I don't recall how we met, but I do remember standing on the back stoop to our house. If I stepped off or tried to open the door to go inside, Danny would run forward to tickle me. He made me laugh - I like him! When I finally did make it inside, I asked my mother if Danny could come to my birthday party. He did! And he gave me a lovely jewelry box as a gift - a music box. It used to have a little ballerina that spun around with the music, but that disappeared long ago. It remained one of my most precious possessions for many years...until I realized it was the memory I cherished. The photo is enough to trigger the memory, and that is what I hold dear and what I will use - that first feeling of a heart in play. The jewelry box hasn't shown up in any of my stories yet, but I imagine it's just a matter of time. Meanwhile, maybe some other little girl is enjoying it.
Freedom is an interesting thing. We know it’s concept and we get the gist of it all, but many of us are busy functioning amidst our daily routines and we think of freedoms only on their grandest of scale. We are grateful for the rights we have living in a free Country, but we don’t think about the smaller freedoms. The freedoms that our routines, namely being stuck to them, may be stripping away from us.
[From my Instagram]
Routine. Trust me, I’m like you and love a good routine. Routines are good, they keep us focused and working towards goals; consistency is the foundation of every major accomplishment. We NEED certain routines, yet routines are a tricky double edged sword.
Routines keep you focused. Routines can also hold your prisoner. The issues that dictate which is which are: the routine, the basis for it, and how much flexibility you allow yourself within it.
I can parallel this to running because it’s an easy example; training should become a routine. You need to KNOW you’re going to do it, don’t think of it like a ‘maybe’, you know your goals and you know you need to be consistent to reach them. You need that routine to keep you focused because running and training is hard. Frankly it’s painful and there will be times when you need to know you’re going to just have to put your head down and grind through. BUT, there are times when grinding will only leave you a broken, dull stone, so there needs to be a degree of flexibility. There are times when rather than pushing you need to step back.
Freedom outside your routine is also a state of mind. Being so busy usually means you’re perpetually distracted, or so focused on the task at hand you’re not opening yourself up to anything else. PAUSE. A mere pause, and opening yourself up to the possibility of…well, the possible.
You can’t see an opportunity if your eyes aren’t even open. What’s funnier still is that when you’re busily distracted you’re not even aware of the potential that you’re missing something!
That’s not some kind of riddle there, and it’s meaning is only best exemplified through actual experience. If you’ve had a moment where you cognitively shifted your focus, veered slightly outside your routine, and you had a MOMENT, experienced something unexpected that just, made you smile. That momentous experience of freedom is what I’m describing.
You chose to be free and in that moment you opened yourself up to have that smile….however small the experience was that brought it to your face.
You see, to get that smile, that satisfaction, doesn’t require you to veer wildly off course to the point where you recklessly abandon all goals or tasks at hand. No, it can be as simple as putting the other shoe on first…the tiniest change of routine just to show yourself that you CAN do it out of order. Who knows, you may like it. Just knowing you CAN often causes a much larger shift in perspective. You wonder what else you CAN do.
So be free. Think with an open and free mind. I challenge you to do tiny things outside of your routine and see if, by Jove, you like it.
It was with great sadness that we at ABBA heard of the death of Pauline Fisk, writer of Midnight Blue and many other much-loved children's books, a few days ago on 25th January. Pauline blogged for ABBA for a time, and Penny Dolan has volunteered her usual slot so that we could repeat one of Pauline's posts. This is the last one she wrote for us, in May 2013, and it says so much about her breadth of vision, her sense of adventure, and her concern that children's imaginations should be nurtured.
Our thoughts and our sympathy are with Pauline's family.
This is my last post, regretfully. Life and all its busyness has galloped ahead of me and needs reining back. Before I step down, however, I want to share with you some things I said the other night at Keele University’s Keele Link Awards Ceremony.
I began with a story, because stories are what I do best and they’re also the means by which I make sense of the world. Five years ago now, as some of you will know, I was out in Belize, funded by the British Arts Council, researching gap year volunteering for my novel In The Trees. I wasn’t an adventurous type. I was a sixty year-old, asthmatic, stay-at-home author who’d never been anywhere more tropical than Rome in November. What had kicked me out of my office, however, was the power of imagination.
And it was imagination that I was at Keele to talk about. That same imagination that 'will get you everywhere', according to Albert Einstein, whilst logic 'only gets you from A to Z'. ‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination,’ he said. ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ And, again, from Picasso, ‘Everything you can imagine is real.’
Well, six years before my Belize trip, my son Idris Davies experienced what was real about that country as a gap year volunteer. I’d waved goodbye to a white-faced, spotty [the result of back–to-back shifts in McDonalds] youth and returned to the airport five months later to greet a person who was literally, physically unrecognisable. By that I mean that when I saw Idris talking to my husband, I thought the tall man in the Trekforce t-shirt was one of the leaders of the trip explaining why our son had missed the plane. Idris’s entire body shape had changed, but it wasn’t muscles, hair or tan that rendered him unrecognizable. It was the way he inhabited his body, as if it wasn’t an accidental appendage but he was actually in charge of it.
Now there’s a story, I immediately thought. As an author of young adult novels, how could I not? What happened to young gap year volunteers when they went off on those rites of passage projects? What changed them - and how?
Six years later, I was in Belize finding out. Six years, I have to say, of struggling not to go out there, because I wasn’t the sort of writer who wrote those sorts of books. I was a stay-at-home gal. I couldn’t afford it. Other writers would do it better. My publishers wouldn’t be interested. My agent would think it was a bad idea. Nobody was writing gap year novels for young teenagers – and I was terrified of snakes.
What drove me out there, against all odds? It wasn’t my publishers being interested after all, my agent thinking it was a good idea and the money for the trip coming in. It was the power of imagination that sent me to Belize. A story had me in its grip, and I didn’t know exactly how that story might unfold, but I knew that if I went out to this unknown country in Central America, it would come. My Kevin Costner moment. If you build it, they will come.
So, imagination. The realm of creative, slightly batty, forgetful types like Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso - and me. I think not. The realm of all of us – that’s what I went to Keele University to say. What happened to me with In The Trees was that I was captured by an idea. It got me so tightly that it wouldn’t let go. And that’s exactly what had happened to the young people I went out to meet. There, miles from civilization, guarded by soldiers because their project was so dangerous, I found groups of young school leavers trekking into the jungle and enduring hideously primitive living conditions because the idea of saving the rain forest had lodged itself in their heads and wouldn’t be removed. They’d had the imagination to see what might happen if nothing was done - and they were doing what they could.
When did your imagination first kick off? I have a photo somewhere of myself at the age of three making up stories for the big children next door. They’re lined up on one side of the garden wall and I’m on the other and they’re asking what happened next…and next…and next… and I’m telling them.
I believe I was privileged to grow up in an age where imagination was valued. At my primary school my ability to make up and write stories was encouraged. I was made to feel special because of what I could do. But anybody who had half a good idea was made to feel special too. These were the years after the war when the country was trying to grow itself again and its young people were not just its future but valued as a resource.
There was so much freedom back in those days. Half my childhood was spent lurking around back alleys, looking for fairies under bramble bushes, going early to the local park so that I could sit and enjoy it all on my own, making dens in the undergrowth and stories in my head. I travelled alone on the underground. My parents would put me on a bus on one side of London and I’d be met off it on the other. Apart from that little matter of sums and science, languages and sport [in other words, all the things I wasn’t good at in school] I was free. And my imagination was free.
Even when my children were growing up, they too were free. We lived out in a Shropshire village on the edge of the Long Mountain. Summer holidays were spent playing cowboys in the long grass of the churchyard next door [when funerals weren’t taking place] or damming up the local stream.
There’s a tendency, I know, to say that things aren’t what they used to be in the good old days. By which we mean our good old days. Well, surprise, surprise, children are born and growing up with every bit as much imagination as children ever were. The big question now, though, is what happens to it.
Nowadays nobody in that village allows their children to play down the stream. Not since the funny man was there, trying with some woman to get children into his car. So often now it’s fear that fuels people’s imaginations, not opportunities. Who might be lurking round the corner, waiting to pounce? What are governments really up to if we only knew the truth? When will Peak Oil happen and the world as we know it come to an end?
I think we have some very real reasons to be fearful sometimes. But with imagination we can overcome our fears, or at the very least work our way round them. Imagination doesn’t have to bring out the worst in us. It can turn our problems into opportunities. And that’s surely where education comes in.
Children need to be given space for their imaginations to flourish. And they need this space in school, not just afterwards between home time and bed. You want to know what I fear? Here’s an example for you. Imagine a local rural primary school. This is one I know well - I’m not making it up. It’s a lovely school full of lovely children in the middle of lovely countryside - hills, valleys, rivers and verdant woodland. The school’s environment is entirely nurturing. If anywhere in this country is going to turn out free-thinking, imaginative children you’d expect this to be it. But, come the end of the academic year, the Head wants artwork from the top class to go on display – and there is none. Why not? Do I need to spell it out? I certainly didn’t the other night. The children and their teacher had been too busy keeping up with the National Curriculum to have any time left over for art.
Is this really possible? This school? What’s happening here? And if this is what’s happening all over, what do we do?
My connection with Keele came about through the Children’s University, of whom Michael Morpurgo is National Chancellor and I’m Shropshire’s Chancellor. If you want an organisation that’s stimulating children’s imaginations you need look no further. Here it’s very much the children who take the lead, coming up with ideas and dragging themselves, their parents and their teachers off to do or see whatever it is that interests them. And it's not just a cosy, middle-class organisation either. Shropshire's Children's University is operating in some of the most deprived areas in the county. I’m proud to be associated with an organisation like that.
If we don’t see our children’s imaginations fed and stimulated, then the scientists of the future are a thing of the past, the artworks of the future will be black on black, the designers, the thinkers, the builders, the workers of the future – and those craft workers whom the government has just, in yet another of their fits of total madness, announced in a white paper are no longer part of the creative industry – where will they all be?
I don’t need to end here with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ to make my point. Instead I’m going to end where I started – with Albert Einstein and his imagination encircling the world. In his Commendation of In The Trees, Rafael Manzanero, the Chief Executive of the Belizean NGO responsible for the protection of that country’s rainforest,wrote that people like us really could make a difference to our planet, even though it seems we’re worlds apart. ‘It is not only moral to do so,’ he wrote,‘but the survival of forests will make the planet a better place for human life.’
THIS is the idea that caught hold of a group of young people – that not only governments and multi-national charitable organisations could make a difference to the world around them; they could too. According to Rafael Manzanero it’s been an effective and lasting difference too. And, in the face of illegal logging, poacher activities, unlicensed gold-panning, crime syndicates, the organized smuggling of everything from jaguar cubs to Mayan artefacts - it takes some imagination to achieve a result like that.
There is sci-fi and fantasy, but I say why build a new world? Historical fiction offers our world, but in a different time. All the writer has to do is a little research.
Okay. A lot of research.
Stories are about people. There is something I find fascinating about the lives or people in this world, yet of another time. The only problem is that the term itself - historical fiction - is often met with outstretched forefingers in the sign of the cross from wild-eyed agents and editors.
I find the genre fascinating and don’t understand it’s adverse connotation. Story is story and if you people them with intriguing characters and you place them in perilous situations, what does it matter if they are in a time long ago? Just to get around the negativity, I have to dress my stories up with a modern day time traveler in order to sneak in historical settings.
Sherman starts her research in the map room of libraries. This is to get a good working knowledge of the geography of the story. The Internet can help in this regard, but the local university may offer more if the city library can’t provide.
Then she researches the big history, the major events going on at the time. That seems obvious. But it is in what she calls the “tiny history” that details emerge that bring the story to life. She asks herself a thousand questions to discover the minutiae of everyday life. She imagines arriving at one of her characters’s house and wonders, how she got there, in a cab a carriage or on horseback, if the road paved with cobblestones or is is mired in mud, if the house is lighted and if so by candle light or gas, if the place is in a good neighborhood or a slum. All these questions provides details of the time and place that give the story a sense of immediacy and reality.
Sherman warns that we must be careful not to let the research show and turn the whole thing into a history lesson info dump. The writer can’t show off the amount of research they’ve done. The trick is to provide enough description to flesh out the character and give life to the world, without burdening the reader with unnecessary details.
The nature of historical fiction, its limits of an earlier time, does allow the writer some advantages. Authors are supposed to create difficulties for their characters. In addition to the conflicts, barriers, and misunderstandings characters in any novel can face, there were no cell phones or Google to provide the quick fixes our modern day characters may employ. Using a smart phone to locate a Starbucks in a foreign part of town is much easier than sailing to the Far East when an unchartered American continent gets in your way.
Whether as a reader or a writer, there is pleasure in seeing real people dealing with day-to-day living in times long ago.
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)
Sometimes beauty is its own reason. These daffodils (any daffodils really) bring me joy. Building these vector flowers was every bit a love affair. As with every project, I get to practice what I know and stretch into areas unknown. For those of you that know Illustrator, the leaves are brushes with the twist built in. The flowers themselves are blends, and radial and linear gradients (no gradient mesh).
Whenever a sign of spring is needed, this little beauty is there to remind me.
A special interest in optics among various seventeenth-century painters living in the Dutch city of Delft has intrigued historians, including art historians, for a long time. Equally, the impressive career of the Delft microscopist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek has been studied by many historians of science. However, it has never been investigated who, at that time, had access to the mathematical and optical knowledge necessary for the impressive achievements of these Delft practitioners. We have tried to gain insight into Delft as a ‘node’ of optical knowledge by following the careers of three minor local figures in early seventeenth-century Delft. We argue that through their work, products, discussions in the vernacular and exchange of skills, rather than via learned publications, these practitioners constituted a foundation on which the later scientific and artistic achievements of other Delft citizens were built. Our Delft case demonstrates that these practitioners were not simple and isolated craftsmen; rather they were crucial components in a network of scholars, savants, painters and rich virtuosi. Decades before Vermeer made his masterworks, or Van Leeuwenhoek started his famous microscopic investigations, the intellectual atmosphere and artisanal knowledge in this city centered on optical topics.
Especially of interest is the authors’ tie between three optical practitioners who lived in Delft simultaneously with Vermeer. One of them, Jacob Spoors, was in 1674 the notary of Vermeer and his mother-in-law Maria Thins. Another was an acquaintance of Spoors, the military engineer Johan van der Wyck, who made an optical device in Delft in 1654, most likely a camera obscura. A report about the demonstration in nearby The Hague has been preserved. Van der Wyck also made telescopes and microscopes and an apparatus that probably was a kind of perspective box. As a telescope maker he was preceded by Evert Harmansz Steenwyck, brother-in- law of the Leiden painter David Bailly and father of two Delft still-life painters: Harman and Pieter Steenwyck. The latter was familiar with Vermeer’s father Reynier Jansz Vermeer, at a time when the young Vermeer was still living with his parents. According to the authors, this is the first real archival evidence that such a device existed in Delft during Vermeer’s life.
(Venice, Italy) The theme of the 2015 Carnival of Venice is, in Italian: La Festa più golosa del mondo! Which translates to: The Most Golosa Festival in the World! because there just is not an English word that means "golosa." If you ask Google to translate it, or if you look in an Italian-English dictionary, you will find it means "gluttony" or "greed." I have translated it to "tastiest;" the Carnevale site translates it to "most delicious." But golosa is more than that.
Carnival poster 2015 by Giorgio Cavazzano
I love Gorgonzola cheese, which also doesn't really exist in English; it is called "blue cheese" and is a distant cousin from genuine Gongonzola. In Italy, Gorgonzola is protected and can only be produced in certain regions according to certain methods. The result is something divine; an oozy center that is almost liquid, and a distinct taste... if you gob some Gorgonzola onto fresh warm bread... and sip some white wine... AH. It is something I cannot stop eating. If I buy two etti... (a unit of measure that also doesn't exist in English; there are about 4.5 etti in a pound:) I eat the entire two etti; it is impossible for me to control myself. I am GOLOSA for Gorgonzola. If I were male, I would be GOLOSO for Gorgonzola. Some people have this craving when it comes to chocolate. Or Girl Scout cookies. Or Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream. It is something you crave, usually something decadent and delicious. So, the Venice Carnival is the most golosa festival in the world, and there will be plenty of goloso food to tempt you.
There is a new spirit of cooperation and comradery in the city (someone joked it's because we are still without a mayor, so politics are not involved). While Piazza San Marco will still be the center of the action when it comes to parading in costumes, in the evening the party moves down to Arsenale on February 7 and 8, and then again on February 12 through Fat Tuesday, February 17, complete with nightly fireworks.
This year, many local foundations and organizations are contributing to the Carnival, with some dynamic collaborations. Women in Love or Shakespeare's Women written and directed by the Teatro Goldoni's own Giuseppe Emiliani will be performed inside two impressive Venetian palaces that are now part of Venice's Civic Museums -- Ca' Rezzonico and Palazzo Mocenigo -- with costumes by the renowned Venetian atelier, Stefano Nicolao.
The Civic Museums are highlighting The Art of Food, featuring cultural and social influences on traditional Venetian cuisine through the ages, keeping with the theme of EXPO 2015 in Milan: "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life." Also, on Fat Thursday, February 12 there will be a theatrical and musical marathon at Palazzo Ducale, Museo Correr, Ca' Rezzonico, Palazzo Mocenigo and Casa Goldoni -- for example, at Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice's museum dedicated to fabric, costumes and perfume, there will be a 10-15 minute performance entitled, "THE GOLOSO LIBERTINE," about the appetites and tastes of the infamous Venetian lover, Giacomo Casanova (now that you know what "goloso" means, you can imagine the show!).
I thought my new year's resolution was very manageable. Each month I would go to a place in New York City that I had never been. (I can't believe I almost broke my vow--it was already the last day of January!)
After a week of polishing a manuscript, I was ready to get outside of my head and my apartment.
The weather was crisp and cold. The wind was so fierce, I almost changed my mind about going to Owl's Head park on the eastern edge of Brooklyn. But I'm glad I didn't.
At the top of the hill, I could see white caps
on the water of New York harbor.
Without their leaves, the trees are so exposed.
As if they aren't trees at all, but some other kind of life form.
How long has this fellow being been standing on this spot?
from the publisher’s website: In Eye of the Beholder, Laura J. Snyder transports us to the streets, inns, and guildhalls of seventeenth-century Holland, where artists and scientists gathered, and to their studios and laboratories, where they mixed paints and prepared canvases, ground and polished lenses, examined and dissected insects and other animals, and invented the modern notion of seeing. With charm and narrative flair Snyder brings Vermeer and Van Leeuwenhoek—and the men and women around them—vividly to life. The story of these two geniuses and the transformation they engendered shows us why we see the world—and our place within it—as we do today.
“Laura Snyder is both a masterly scholar and a powerful storyteller. In Eye of the Beholder, she transports us to the wonder-age of seventeenth-century Holland, as new discoveries in optics were shaping the two great geniuses of Delft—Vermeer and van Leeuwenhoek—and changing the course of art and science forever. A fabulous book.”
— Oliver Sacks
“Eye of the Beholder is a thoughtful elaboration of the modern notion of seeing. Laura J. Snyder delves into the seventeenth century fascination with the tools of art and science, and shows how they came together to help us make sense of what is right in front of our eyes.”
— Russell Shorto, author of Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City