Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday's Children - Michigan's Stonehenge...?

I can't remember a time that I wasn't fascinated with rocks - the little ones I put in my pocket, the bigger ones in my garden and on most flat surfaces in my house and the huge monoliths that make up stone circles. It's largely accepted that many of the formations were used as elaborate calendar systems and/or burial grounds. But there is some evidence that some of them may have been used for navigational purposes.

While researching my WIP, I discovered that there's even a recently (well, 1988, so somewhat recent) discovery of a stone circle on Beaver Island (the largest island in Lake Michigan) that suggests that not only was this structure used by the native Ojibwa tribe, it also may have been used by the Celts.

In this pre-Columbian circle which is roughly 400 feet in diameter, there are carvings in many of the stones.  Most of them are eerily similar in nature to early druidic carvings found in rocks in Ireland and Great Britain. However, there are also other markings that indicate an agricultural calendar of sorts. And still more that appear to be solely navigational.

I think the most fascinating on is the relief map of Michigan and the five Great Lakes. The carving is even more evident when it rains and the "lakes" fill with water. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a shot of that. But I'm stunned by the idea of someone carving such an accurate map without the benefit of an aerial view. 

There are some historians and archeologists that are suggesting that it's possible that some of the very early, nomadic Celts ended up here via the Atlantic Ocean and via the waterways of Canada and into the Great Lakes - with the result being a melded culture with the Ojibwa. It hasn't been proven, of course, and there may be other explanations for it, but the possibilities are totally inspiring me.

I'm hoping to get out to Beaver Island soon and see the circle for myself, but for now, I'm just gonna keep working on the book.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday's Children - Spiders...?!

Okay, disclaimer time here - I hate spiders.

No really.

I straight-up loathe them.

I don't care how big or small they are, I don't like them.

They're evil bastards. In fact, at our house, we call them "Satan's Snowflakes." Each one is unique, individually handcrafted by the god of the underworld.

(Yeah, we're a little dramatic here.)

So anyway, my hatred for spiders, well, pretty intense.

I should clarify, I don't want them to die or anything, I just want them as far away from me as possible. Australia would be great! (Sorry, Raewyn.)

But as deep as my fear and loathing for spiders are, I love what they make. I find webs utterly fascinating. I'm not saying I like to unsuspectingly walk through them. That makes me do the Spider Dance of Terror (When neighbor kids point and laugh you know you're doing it right.) but I do love webs. I even love to watch them being created - you know, from a safe distance and through a pair of high-powered binoculars.

I love the intricate beauty of them.  They're as delicate as they are powerful - not unlike stories. You've got the straight bits that form the structure of the web - or the plot points, if you will. Then you've got all the wind-y, lacy parts. They're like the details of the story - the breathtaking turns of phrase that stop you dead and beg you to re-read them.

Webs like stories have a seductive kind of power about them. They invite the bugs and readers inside and the really good ones trap us there. The bugs are toast, but we get away from the story eventually. But the the really great ones take up at least a little bit of permanent space in our minds - catching wisps of thoughts and ideas.

A few years ago, my family and I went to the Bristol Ren Faire in Wisconsin and we came across this woman. She was a storyteller in the Fairy Glen. And while she told stories, she worked on this giant web.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thursday's Children - Inspired by a Princess

Before I started writing and editing full time, I did daycare.

Out of my home.

Because I wanted to stay home with my own kids

And also, I am insane.

Actually, no - well, not completely, anyway. I really enjoy kids. However, I will say that potty training four kids at once is no one's idea of a good time. But there were parts of the job I adored. Like when any of the kids would grab a book, plop in my lap and say, "I need a story."

It was rarely, "Read me a story," but almost always, "I need a story." I loved that. Mostly, because I often feel like I need a story. I need that break from the rest of my day, that little escape.

To this day, I can still recite all of Where the Wild Things Are, most (early) Sandra Boynton books, Green Eggs and Ham, Princess Smartypants, Drac and the Gremlin, Pandora and The Paper Bag Princess.

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch, was always a favorite around here. I read it several times a day. When my kids and the daycare kids were in school and I'd volunteer in their classes, this was almost always on the reading list. I'm still inspired by it today.

If you're not familiar with this little gem, it opens with Elizabeth - a beautiful princess who lived in a castle, had "expensive princess clothes" and was going to marry a prince named Ronald. Unfortunately a dragon smashed her castle, burned everything, including her clothes, and carried off prince Ronald. (I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

Elizabeth, being a kickass heroine decides to chase the dragon to get Ronald back, and the only she can find that isn't burnt is a paper bag. So covered in soot, wearing a brown paper grocery bag and her bent crown, she goes off to rescue her prince. Appealing to the dragon's vanity, she manages to trick the dragon into using all of his fiery breath and then exhausts him to point where he can no longer move. Elizabeth steps over him, and rescues Ronald.

And everything's great. Right?


As it turns out, Ronald is pretty much an asshat. He complains that she smells like ashes, her hair is all tangled and she's wearing a dirty, old paper bag. He tells her to come back when she's dressed like a real princess.

The last page of the book goes like this:

"Ronald," said Elizabeth, "your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum." They didn't get married after all.

Like I said, this book inspires me. In 24 pages (12 of  them full page pictures) Munsch gives us a character who is willing to fight the dragon, who manages to out-think the dragon and who rescues the person she loves. Only when she discovers that he's not the person she thought he was, she's outta there. She has the strength of character to walk away. She's strong, brave, smart and most of all, she's true to herself and has enough self worth to remove herself from a situation where she's not valued for who she is.

These are the kind of characters I love. And the kind of characters I want to write.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday Musings - Favorite Books

This week's Monday Musings topic is favorite books. I'm not going to lie - this is going to be a super tough one to narrow down. Seriously - there are so many books I love and for many of them I don't have adequate words to express my adoration.

And don't forget to check out the rest of the Monday Musings crew and their favorite books -
Leigh JonesTess Grant and Lynn Dozema.

Okay - on to the favorite books portion of this post. There is absolutely no way I could list all of my favorite books. I'd be here for a year. Or more. And to be honest, that's not gonna happen. I've got a mountain of email to go through. And also I'm tired. Stupid Daylight Savings Time.

So, in no particular order, here are the books that immediately jumped into my head when we decided on this for a blog topic.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater - I know, I know. I've said it before, I love this woman. Her most popular series to date, Shiver, is probably my least favorite. I don't hate it, but I don't love it with the all consuming love that I have for this book. (And The Scorpio Races.) She perfectly blends the magical and the mundane, myth and reality, creating a world that I feel I could stumble into if I were driving through the backwoods of Virginia - and possibly become trapped in. The characters are deeply flawed, yet still (for the most part) likeable and immensely relateable.I fell headfirst into this story and I didn't want to crawl out.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - Oh this book. This damn book. I love this book. I'm friends with a young woman. Mackenzie is amazing - brilliant, hilarious and pretty much everything I wished I could have been when I was her age. She's the one who finally got me to read The Hunger Games, so I already trusted her judgement, but I held back every time she brought up her favorite author, John Green. From what I knew of John Green's work, it was unlikely everyone was going home happy. And honestly, I wasn't sure I was up for something that was going to break my heart. But at her urging, I read Looking for Alaska. Heart broken? Check. But also heart filled. I decided to give TFIOS a chance. I'm so glad I did. Yes, it's achingly sad. But at the same time, it's insanely hopeful. I sobbed like a damn lunatic reading this book, and I'll likely sob again when I re-read it, but I will always be grateful to this young woman for bringing John Green into my life.

The Wild Wood by Charles de Lint - This is not, in my opinion, de Lint's best work. But it's a book I love nonetheless. I'd originally bought it because I collect books by the artist who illustrated the original version. While I was flipping through the hard-won copy I'd purchased off e-bay, I fell headlong into a story that woke up the writer in me. After I had kids, I'd pretty much abandoned the idea of trying to write. Parenting, while the best thing I've ever done, is freaking exhausting and my thoughts of being a writer went to the land of missing socks and dirty diapers. But this book smacked those thoughts upside their grumpy, tired little heads and woke them up. They haven't slept since.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - First off, this is one of those times where if you ever have a chance to see the movie or read the book, read the damn book. If the movie is your only choice, don't bother. Your time is better spent cleaning the toilet. This book has stayed with me for years, and as I watch the chilling gender biased policies coming into being in our country, I can't help but remember this story with more than a little fear.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare - I have to be honest, I don't know if this book is still good - if it's stood the test of time. What I do know is that in the third and fourth grade, this book was my best friend. I can't tell you how many times I checked it out of the school library. After a while, the librarian gave up suggesting that I return it. She just renewed it every week along with whatever other books I'd chosen. By the time I hit third grade, I'd already been to three schools - that's a lot of moving. And this book gave me a sense of security that I couldn't find elsewhere.I hated leaving it behind when I had to move to yet another school in fifth grade.

Eventually, due to budget cuts, this school had to close it's doors when I was in college. They had an "everything must go sale." I went to check it out, and I was able to purchase the very copy that kept me company for two years of my childhood. It's on my bookshelf. I haven't been able to bring myself to re-read it in case it's not as good as I remember. And I prefer my fondness for it stay intact.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder - I'm not even sure how old I was when I first read this book. My Uncle Hap gave it to me for Christmas one year. I think I might have been nine or ten. This book was almost as dear a friend to me as The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It was my escape during a particularly difficult period of my childhood. I devoured all of the Little House books, but this one was always my favorite. I wanted so badly to have sisters like Laura and Mary and to live in a house that was hidden away from everything. I spent many nights with a flashlight reading and re-reading that book.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett - This book has caused me almost as much public humiliation as a certain literary novel - not the one mentioned above. But where that book made me sob like a lunatic, this one made me laugh. Out loud. In public. It should be noted that I have an obnoxious laugh - not unlike a foghorn. Maybe I find this book so hilarious because I was brought up Catholic. I think that's certainly part of it. But this tale of the Apocalypse gone wrong brings me to tears every single time.

Okay - what are some of your favorites? Please share - I'm always looking for new books to read! 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thursday's Children - Appearances

I think I was tweeting with Rhiann and Kate when I said that I'd blog about nun stories, well, gather round dear readers. Today is that day. And I promise - it does have an Thursday's Children inspiration-type slant. But, I'm getting to that.

When I started my freshman year of high school, it was at a Catholic school. Having been to five public schools prior to high school, I had no idea what was in store for me. The only nun I'd ever met was the aging hippie who played guitar at the church my parents had taken me to.

The nuns at my new school were a surprise. Most wore habits - involving black and white coifs and veils and dresses and skirts in varying shades of blue or brown polyester depending on what order they belonged to. There was also Sister Michael Ellen aka The White Nun or the Library Nun who wore one of those giant,  old school, white multilayered numbers.

Because of her particular habit, I was always a little afraid of her. She looked incredibly intimidating - not to mention mean, especially when she was walking quickly through the halls, her clothes billowing and her gianormous wooden rosary swinging wildly from her waist.

It didn't help that it seemed she was always ordering the AV nun, Sister Mary Projector, (not her real name) around. Sister Mary Projector (I'm not sure if anyone actually knew her real name) was on an endless quest to deliver the filmstrip projector on the cart with the super squeaky wheel. But mostly, she just wandered up and down the halls never reaching her destination.

I had a theory that The White Nun was trying to keep Sister Mary Projector out of the library as much as possible by sending her to a room that didn't exist because she'd always fall asleep and snore loudly, driving The White Nun batty. Once I followed Sister Mary Projector for an entire class period - she never delivered that cart anywhere.

Then there was Sister Rosine. At first, I thought she was just a sweet, little old lady. That was cleared up within the first five minutes of religion class when we were all seated alphabetically - except for the non-Catholics. They had to sit in the back of the room, because they were "going to hell, anyway." There was also the day that she went on a tear about the color red. As far as she was concerned, it was a color reserved for Satanists and whores. Unfortunately, that was the day I'd chosen to wear a red sweater and had painted my nails bright read to match. So had my friend. We had to stand up and announce that we were "Brides of Satan." Yeah. I know. It was insane.

And lastly, there was Sister Clarine - the biology nun - think white lab coat over a baby blue polyester dress and the most sensible of sensible shoes. The first time I saw her, she was standing outside the door to her room with a clipboard. The second time I saw her, she was draped with two, seven-foot boa constrictors. I promise you, there are fewer things more disconcerting  than a sweet faced, little old lady wearing a a veil and covered in snakes.

While there were more nuns (and definitely more stories), these are the ones that pertain to this post. In every instance I had a preconceived notion about who these people were and how they'd act.

I thought Sister Rosine would we sweet and kind. She was pretty much evil.

I thought Sister Michael Ellen was mean. While I might have been right about my theory about her wanting Sister Mary Projector out of the library, it turns out I was wrong about the rest. Despite her often terrifying appearance, she was really quite sweet.

And the Snake Nun?  Let me just say that woman loved her reptiles. And she was honestly the last thing I ever expected see in a Catholic school.

What do the nuns have to do with inspiration? Well, let me tell you. Because they were, well, nuns - and because of their appearances, I had a certain set of expectations about them. I know - totally shallow - but in my defense I was only fourteen.

The same thing frequently happens in books. We very often see wonderfully fleshed out main characters and even secondary characters, but incidental characters sometimes fall prey to stereotyping or character shorthand. Jocks are bullies, romantic rivals for our heroines are sluts or bitches...or both, bosses are lecherous and greedy. And nuns? Well, they're pious and strict.

Those nuns taught me a lot. Although, I suspect most of it wasn't intentional and certainly wasn't part of their curriculum. But they taught me that even characters who are more plot device and filler than actual characters still need to be more than stereotypes. They taught me to look beyond expected conventions of genre and not to use character shorthand. They also taught me that sometimes nuns are badass enough to have pet snakes.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday Musings - My Dream Vacation

This morning we're talking about dream vacations with the Monday Musings crew. Be sure to check out the posts by Leigh Jones, Tess Grant and Lynn Dozema.

I'm sad to say I haven't really had the opportunity to travel much, but I'm hoping to rectify that in the nearish future. I don't even want to go all that far away - at least not for my first overseas trip. My dream vacation would be a week each spent in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. And I'd have to at least take a few day trips to the Isles of Skye, Wight and Man.

I have friends in England and Wales that I'd love to meet in real life as opposed to just over the phone or online and also family in Wales I'd love to actually meet. Even if I didn't have those personal connections, I still feel drawn to these places. Ever since I was little, I've felt a deep connection to these places, and I hope I get to experience the reality of them sooner rather than later.

These are just a few of the spots I'd like to visit. If money and time weren't an issue, where would you like to visit?