cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

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Conference Recap


About ten years ago one of my writing group cohorts gave me sound advice: “If you want your writing to go somewhere, you need to go to writing conferences.” I immediately started listing reasons why I shouldn’t go: time, cost, distance, and of course, intimidation factor. She countered with a shrug. “Find a way.”

And so I did. I budgeted time and money, carpooled, and found solace in attending with my writing group buds. I absorbed, networked, and came away revitalized. 

Since that first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference I try to attend a conference of some sort once a year. My favorite one was at Chatauacqua hosted by Highlights magazine. For a week we learned the business of writing from some of the best children’s writers in the business, shared meals together, and received one on one conferencing. I sold a story, “Daddy’s Truck” to Highlights out of that experience. In fact it comes out this month in High Five.


This weekend I attended my seventh (or nearly so) SCBWI conference. Even though it’s closer and costs less than my first one, I’m getting more for money because I’m learning more. 

For one, listening to our keynote speakers, two agents and an editor, writing for children is a tough business and a very fulfilling one. As writers for children we encourage, impress, enliven, challenge, motivate, comfort, entertain, and so much more with our words. Our impact remains into adulthood with all of us treasuring at least one favorite title, a favorite author that we will pass on to the next generation.

I also learned that the children’s publishing field is very particular. Agents, editors, and publishers have their preferences and knowing those preferences makes a difference between a manuscript languishing in the slush pile and receiving a contract.

One very important takeaway from this conference is that my polished manuscript, the one I thought the editor I conferenced with would be so impressed she would pull out a contract and sign me up, needs work. Not a discouraging amount, but enough to get me back into revising mode once again.

Maybe in an upcoming conference or two, I’ll be up front at the long table with the authors instead of at the round ones with the hopeful writers. In the meantime I’ll keep attending, keep absorbing, continue revising, and checklist the chicken salad as my lunch preference. It was almost as good as the conference.

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Reader Quotes


One of my daily subscriptions is Dictionary.com. I’m a confessed word nerd. I enjoy learning a new word as much as some people get that thrill from a new tasty food item. Hmm, words are nourishing in a way, aren’t they?

Recently Dictionary.com sent out a list of quotes all about reading books. How could I resist? Here are the favorites gleaned:

wilde

“The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.” 
        Harper Lee

“If a book is well written, I always find it too short.”
                                                                                 Jane Austen

worldquote

rousseau

Hope one of these inspired you to grab a book or sit down and write something simple or even profound.

And now it’s back to editing my own writing instead of veering off chasing my email distractions like a rabbit chasing a dog around the yard.

 

Author Spotlight: Sir Conan Doyle


While on vacation I picked up a Dover Thrift Edition of four Sherlock Holmes stories–a bargain at 35 cents at the corner library. Ages ago I read through all the Sherlock Holmes books and stories I could find. Or I thought I did. I did not recognize one of the stories, which was a bonus treat.

While I do relish a good Holmes story, I have been a fan of most of the Sherlock Holmes adaptations–Basil Rathbone was a bit over the top, Benedict Cumberbatch is a bit too loose with creative license for my tastes–I’m a bit of a purist, which is why while Robert Downey Jr. is entertaining, he is not Sherlock (he even admitted in an interview the series was for the “kiddies). Jeremy Brett of the BBC series is by far the epitome of Holmes. He interpreted Doyle’s detective as being an intelligent, if not a genius, English gentlemen whose inductive reasoning skills profited him many an adventure with his faithful friend and partner in sleuthing, Watson.

Holmes and Watson remain favorites of literature and film, which is evidenced by the myriad forms of satire and pastiche that abounds. That is a post for another day.

Unfortunately, as most fans know, Doyle was not keen on Holmes, stating that he could not move forward with other writing since the public only wanted more of Holmes. This is why Holmes was tossed over the waterfall in his battle with the Professor. This didn’t work out so well for Doyle. The fans went mad, magazine subscriptions were cancelled, and Doyle had no choice–Holmes once again appeared in print.

Holmes is not the first literary detective, even Doyle points to Poe’s stories for inspiration. There is also Christie’s Poirot, among other famous detectives. Yet, what makes Doyle’s detective stories so memorable?

First of all, Holmes is a dynamic, unique character possessing an air of mystery while he conducts the sleuthing of mysteries. Websites and fan bases are set up to explore his parentage, siblings, relationships, and personal preferences. Then there is Watson, who adds reality to the idiosyncratic nature of our Baker Street hero. Watson is a soldier, a gentleman, a doctor, a husband, a friend, but he is not a bumbling doofus, as he is so often presented to be. I do like Jude Law’s take on Watson.

Doyle’s stories are full of intrigue and strange situations. He plays with clues, creates plot twists, and red herrings while providing an assortment of interesting characters such as Lestrade, Moriarty, Mary, Mrs. Hudson, and his Baker Street Irregulars. There is no formulaic approach. Each story is unique in its formation, even though the reader knows there is a mystery to be solved, it’s the getting there that makes Sherlock Holmes stories so worthwhile.

And to think Doyle wasn’t content with having created such a memorable literary icon. Holmes almost fell out of circulation by becoming a washed up sleuth.

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.jpg

So–do you prefer to read Sherlock Holmes through his many stories or do you watch him through film or television series?

Who is your favorite interpretation of Sherlock?
Basil Rathbone?
Jeremy Brett?
Benedict Cumberbatch?
Robert Downey Jr?

 

 

 

 

Author Spotlight: Yann Martel


It’s encouraging to me as a writer when an author overcomes the odds and publishes a book of lasting impact. Yann Martel accomplished this with Life of Pi.


Admittedly, I ignored the book on the premise of the impossibility of plot–a tiger, a boy, a lifeboat, and survival. Nope, not plausible.

There lies the irony. 

Martel’s novel is built upon the premise of impossibility, of reading a story fraught with fantastical aspects, being given a more reasonable story, and making a decision which is the one to believe. Ambiguity can be a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled writer. That’s why stories such as Saki’s “The Interlopers” still intrigue us. And what about Inception’s ending? We want answers, yet answers in life aren’t always so easily found or understood.

The book’s ending is a stickler for those who want clean closure to their reading. Martel bumps that paradigm of tidiness and keeps his readers working. Wanting to know what the meaning of “And so it is with God” gets people scurrying to to Internet in hopes for answers: Sparknotes, Shmoop, and even Quora

I dabble in Quora and had forgotten I had written an answer to the request of “What does the ending mean?” *embarrassing*

There is purposeful ambiguity in the ending. We seek answers to life’s difficult questions, and one of the biggest questions people desire an answer for concerns faith. Does God exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow evil and illness to exist? These are some of the faith questions that people struggle with. The ending offers the only possible answer: it is our interpretation. The tiger story seems incredible, impossible, surreal even. The human story is brutal, shocking, more believable. Interestingly enough, the insurance investigators wanted a story they could take with them so they would not be considered fools, this would be the human story; however, the insurance report reveals the note of how Pi survived his ordeal with a Bengal tiger. The insurance investigators wanted facts, to hold on to reason, yet in the end they acknowledged the impossible. And so it is with God—we search for the truth, we want to see with our eyes, and will accept what we feel in our heart. All things are possible with God. I think this is the meaning of the ending: see with your eyes, believe with your heart.

I just recently re-watched the film adaptation and I am again mesmerized by the absolute art of its totality–the directing, editing, cinematography, pacing, acting, special effects. The film is an emotional experience. The ending line so much more poignant having experienced the visual ordeal of Pi’s experience. I reread the novel as a reminder the adaptation is the echo, a brilliant one, of the original story. 

I plan on reading Martel’s other novels as well. I’m especially intrigued with his letters to the Canadian prime minister, which revolves around Martel sending the governmental leader over a hundred books as a means of establishing the importance of creativity.

Conversation Point: What does the Life of Pi’s ending mean to you?

Throw, THORoh,ThRow–that is the question



image: pintrest (this expression is no doubt related to the tolerance and forebearance he withstands of mispronouncing his name)

It’s more than embarrassing to realize the mangling of pronouncing a word, let alone it’s the name of a significant author. Authoritative responsibility is lacking. Students expect me to know how to say it if I’m teaching it. It’s one thing is mispronounce a word from time to time (can’t quite get synecdoche to come out right–it always sounds like a city of the Jersey state) and try as I might I still mangle words from time to time, but I do need to be better prepared when it comes to introducing writers to my students. For starters, this author list is definitely helping me to reestablish my reputation for literary name dropping. 

NOTE: my first list inconveniently vanished–this is from  www.pegasusbookexchange.com

Chinua Achebe (CHIN-wah uh-CHEH-beh)

Isabel Allende (ah-YEN-day)

Maya Angelou (MY-uh AN-juh-loo)

Avi (AH-vee)

Albert Camus (ahl-BEHR kah-MOO)

Paulo Coelho (POW-loo KWEH-lyoo)

Michael Crichton (KRY-tun)

Junot Diaz (JOO-no DEE-as)

Cory Doctorow (DOC-tuh-roh)

John Donne (dun)

Ken Follett (rhymes with “wallet”)

Neil Gaiman (GAY-mun, rhymes with “Cayman” as in the islands)

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (YO-hahn VULF-gahng GUH-tuh)

Seamus Heaney (SHAY-muss HEE-nee)

Brian Jacques (like “jake”)

Jack Kerouac (like “care uh wack”)

John Le Carré (luh kah-RAY)

Vladimir Nabokov (vlah-DEE-mir nuh-BOH-koff)

Samuel Pepys (peeps)

Ayn Rand (first name rhymes with “mine”)

Rainer Maria Rilke (RY-nur mah-REE-uh RILL-kuh)

J. K. Rowling (like “rolling”)

Louis Sachar (rhymes with “cracker”)

Jon Scieszka (SHES-kuh)

Shel Silverstein (SIL-ver-steen)

Donald J. Sobol (SO-bull)

Henry David Thoreau (like “thorough”)

Paul Theroux (thuh-ROO)

J. R. R. Tolkein (TOLL-keen)

Evelyn Waugh (EVE-lin wah)

Elie Wiesel (elly vee-ZELL)

P. G. Wodehouse (like “woodhouse”): Merriam-Webster

Herman Wouk (like “woke”) 
If there are any other writerly pronunciations that are tricky, oh please send them my way. 

Literary Book Boosters


I am a professed Book Booster, and most, if not all of you, reading my musings enjoy reading as well. Glad you’re here, and thanks for dropping by.

As I close out the  year, I wanted to give more than a  nod to Book Boosters found in literature. These are characters whose love of reading defines them and is central to the plot.

1. Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird

Image result for scout of to kill a mockingbird

image: Houston Chronicle

Her love of reading gets her in trouble with the teacher on the first day of school because a first grader isn’t supposed to read yet–according to Miss Caroline. That’s the teacher’s job, as Scout finds out. Scout and Jem are always referring to books, often they become the object of bets made. The novel ends with Atticus and Scout reading The Grey Ghost (a definite correlation to Boo) as they wait for Jem to recover.

2. Jo March of Little Women

Image result for Jo March reading

image: Pintrest

Jo’s love of stories, both reading and writing them, propel her towards her goal if becoming an author.

3. Guy Montag of Fahrenheit 451

Image result for Guy Montag reading

image: lecinemadreams.blogspot.com

Guy Montag goes from book burner to book booster as he discovers the powerful message of allowing one’s imagination to roam unfettered. Reading books has him questioning the government’s oppressive rule over people’s freedom. He is willing to die for his love of books.

3. Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey

Image result for catherine morland northanger abbey reading

image: Pintresst

Catherine’s fascination with Gothic romances fuels her imagination to the point of her concocting a horrible family secret that brings shame and ridicule upon her and jeopardizes her future. Jane Austen obviously had some fun poking fun at the Gothic romance trend of her day.

4.  Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief

Image result for Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief

image: Wiki

Liesel’s hunger for books leads her to steal them from a private library. The need to read becomes life-threatening when Hitler locks down on Germany’s freedom of expression during WWII. Liesel’s love of reading becomes her solace during the horrendous experiences of the war.

5. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables

 

Image result for Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables reading

image: anneofgreengables.com

Fiery-haired and a fiery disposition fuels Anne towards her goal of taking her imagination and putting her ideas to paper. This beloved series captures the natural relationship between reading and writing.

BOOK BOOSTER CALL OUT…
I know there are more literature loving characters out there. This is where you chime in: who do you nominate needing a nod as a Literary Book Booster?

Author Spotlight: Mary Stewart


Mary Stewart remains one of my go to authors when I’m caught short of good page-turning reading. Her plots usually crackle with suspense, interesting characters, and often have an unexpected plot twist. The biggest problem with this author choice is that I’ve run out of her books and there are no fresh titles forthcoming since she past away in 2014.

 image:marystewartblogspot

Born in 1916 as Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow, she began writing stories at a the tender age of seven and published her first novel Madame, Will You Talk? in 1954. Critics received her efforts warmly, praising her capable, intelligent heroines and clever plots. 

She met and married her husband, Frederick Stewart, three months after meeting him at a VE dance in 1945. They remained married till his death in 2001. He was knighted in 1974, yet she never referred to herself as Lady Stewart. She was a university lecturer in English Language and Literature, which explains her ease  and ability with storytelling.

Her trademark style involves placing a young intelligent English woman in a foreign setting, such as Greece, Spain, or Austria. The heroine finds herself caught up in a mystery with mysterious men, who are suspect of their intentions. Her prose and attention to details and dialogue placed her novels beyond the usual fare of romantic suspense.

With the success of White’s novel about King Arthur, and taking advantage of the interest in the Kennedy Camelot years, Stewart produced her memorable five part Arthurian series, known as the Merlin Chronicles. This is actually how I first met her.

In college, I became smitten with science fantasy and King Arthur. I spent many pleasurable hours reading about Arthur through Merlin’s point of view. I later moved on to her other titles having hopes, I suppose, she would return to Arthur some day.

One of her novels, The Moon-Spinners became a Disney movie starring Hayley Mills. While it didn’t do well at the box office (due to a darker tone than most Disney movies because of violence) it is a crackerjack of a film because it captures the suspense of Stewart’s novel so well. Yes, some of the plot elrments were changed, but overall Stewart’s plot transferred well to screen.

Stewart’s popularity stayed strong during her writing years through the seventies and eighties, and she produced twenty novels, poetry, and a couple of children’s books.

She retired to Scotland and lived to a well-earned 97 years.

I hope to hunt down the titles I have yet to read through my library’s wonderful inter-library loan service.

Any other Mary Stewart fans in the house?

September Reading Round Up


Now that school is up and running my life, I’ve noticed a downturn in my reading. It’s difficult to cozy up with a book when a set of papers is calling from down in the depths of my carry all: “Grade me.” Guilt has a persistent voice.

Here are the slim highlights of last month:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend 


I had hopes of really liking it and saved it for my last hurrah Labor Day weekend read. It began with great promise with its unusual beginning of naïve Swedish tourist, a funeral, and a quirky smalltown. The premise that a good book solves a multitude of problems sweetened the deal. All went well until mushy middle syndrome overtook the plot. I finished it, but my amore had definitely lessened by the last chapter.

Running out of means to find DE Stevenson novels, which are not as readily available as hoped, I’ve turned to another former favorite: Mary Stewart. Our library has several of her titles. They are quite the study in character, red herrings, and setting. Here’s one title I especially enjoyed:

My Brother Michael

                               

Reminiscent of her Moon Spinners, which also is a Disney movie with Haley Mills–highly recommend.

Greek scenery, really bad guys, wonderful good guys, lots of action, hints of romance. Perfect weekend read.

I Capture the Castle

                          

 Smith of 101 Dalmations fame has quite a following for this little gem. It quietly sneaks up and embraces the reader with his odd litttle charm.  A family  comprised of distinctly creative individuals have fallen from a once prosperous lifestyle into despairing poverty. This seems like an juxtaposed statement since they do live in a castle, after all. Their surroundings reflect their wealth of spirit, not their income.

Odd, lovable family, hilarious hijinks, misunderstandings, memorable characters, the perfect ending. A book which sets my faith into the fact that some of the really good reads come from another era.

The Writing Mews 


As Hemingway once said: “One cat leads to another.”

This is exactly what happened to me. 

I wrote a story for Highlights magazine about Mark Twain’s affection for cats and decided to keep going with other writers and the cats in their life.

This has become a much bigger project than anticipated. 

One great thing about the Internet is that there is the ease of getting information. It’s only a click away. The truly terrible thing about the Internet is the ease of posting information. There is way too much traffic of absolutely wrong information out there. It’s a game of “telephone” in an exponential factor of believability because it’s so vastly repeated.

Their are no less than a bajillion sites devoted to writers who loved cats. They all say pretty much the same thing about the same set of writers. For instance, Sir Walter Scott, famous for Ivanhoe, as well as being credited for creating the historical adventure nivel, is down for being a wondrous cat lover.

Getting correct or first source information takes determination and endurance. 

I spent all day yesterday tracking down Sir Walter Scott’s supposed love of cats.

Where did people who have posted on their cat sites that SWS loved cats? He owned at least five dogs and owned ONE cat. They didn’t even spell the cat’s name right.

But I dug, and I dug. I reformatted my search inquiry again and again. I looked and looked in Google books. It’s a delightful accomplishment to find that grain of sand in that vast sea of information.

This process has been repeated pretty much for each of the writers selected.

Sigh…

I have a couple of more weeks to get my first draft in working order, because end of August is the beginning of school and once school starts my brain and writing time goes into teacher mode.

So while the muse is available I will focus on my mews.

BtW: if you know of any agents, editors, or publishers looking for an amazing book about authors and that special cat connection, send  them my way.

Here’s some fun cat/author facts:

1. Edgar Allan Poe really loved animals. Don’t let his story “The Black Cat” mislead you.

2. Macho man Ernest Hemingway was a total softie for cats. He kept over thirty of them at one point. 

3. Ray Bradbury was another cat collector. He and his wife owned around twenty felines during their marriage.

4. Louisa May Alcott connected cats with having a happy home. Check out Little Women sometime.

5. L.L. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables fame, definitely depended on Luck, her cat, when it came to writing happily.

As for me? I’m felineless for now, but I married my husband because he owned four cats. Okay, that’s not the only reason why. His house had an ocean view. I’m also prone towards freckles.

And we did own quite a happy little clutch of cats when we lived out in the country. Seven. They did not sit on my desk or shoulder while I wrote. They had their house and we had ours.

See, old Poe did like cats.

From Super-size to Bite-size


With summer vacation officially starting for me I decided to attack my office and tidy up the mounds of paper that has been accumulating through the year. This is both a needed chore and also serves as a means of procrastination. I know I should be sitting down and actually getting back to those writing projects. Like that cow joke book…

Cows can wait momentarily, for I found treasures to share.


[Zits points out that literature, and I will extend this to quotes, is a matter of perspective] 

Every year in September I attend the local SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference. My main goal is have a manuscript professionally critiqued by an editor or agent (who will be so delighted with my writing that I am offered a contract on the spot). Another goal is network and source gather. Both are conducive to bettering my writerly skills.

One workshop handout proved too fun to toss.The idea is to take a well-known quote and make it more relatable to teens by translating into more YAish language. Here is their example:

“When today fails to offer the justification for hope, tomorrow becomes the only grail worth pursuing.” Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Here’s their translation: “Some days it’s hard to see the point of it all, so you have to wait for tomorrow and hope by then there’ll be something worth waking up for.”

I don’t know about you, but I can see this opening up a YA book that will be full of angst, humor, a touch of romance, and maybe even a bit of defiance.

YA is one genre that I would like to get out there into the hands of readers. There must be room for another John Green. I’m working on getting my YA voice down, and that’s the point of this exercise. Tell you what, rate me on whether I’m even close.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Time
“We believe that we can change the things around us in accordance with our desires–we believe it because otherwise we can see no favourable outcome.”

C.Muse translation:
“If I can’t see the silver lining, I’m still gonna carry an umbrella.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.”

C.Muse translation:
“The world wants to suck your joy, just like vampires, and vampires aren’t exactly EMTs.”

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
“Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.”

C.Muse translation:
“Life is too short to be hanging on to bruises–get over it and go have a bagel.”

Quotes of great possibility I didn’t get to:

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever know.” 
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

It was actually pretty entertaining to listen to everyone’s interpretation. As I recollect my vampire translation received a few polite guffaws. Does that mean it was perceived as a home runner or just a bummer?

I do have a couple of YA manuscripts I plan on revisiting and sending out on their “please-publish-me” tour.

Blue Skies and hope your summer is also off to a spiffy start.

 

 

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