Sunday, February 27, 2011

Where my feet take me

Between rain and a threat of snow in low-lying Southern California, I walked up the little mountain in town to an old stone tower. It makes me feel I'm in another land, one I visit for escape, even the dark kind.

Lots on my mind--death of loved ones, uncertain future, fear that I will never get where I'd hoped to go. I spent considerable time on this walk intrigued with stone. Watching newly-released, underground springs glisten over granite boulders, finding soil and rock slides that will continue as long as the ground is saturated, marveling at the varied moods even stone can trigger.
Is it inanimate? I think not.

As I stood under a stone bridge, I noticed the picture-perfect scene of freshness it framed--lively, scudding clouds, tender new grass (this is February in SoCal, remember) and, again, the punctuation of jutting, sprawling rock.
I once heard piles of weathered boulders described as woolsack, presumably for a resemblance to sacks of wool. I'm not a geologist, but they sometimes do look like a jumble of sacks.
Stone gives the world texture, substance, history--forged in the beginnings of earth time, breaking down to allow new life.
There is so much going on when you look closely.



Late in the day, I saw this
but took no photo:

white ghosts of mountains

flicker in and out of the

drifting cloud bank

and this:

bare branches, storm-stripped.

through the lattice of their limbs,

piles of dusty-pink clouds
And, as it always does, Nature pulled me to my feet, gave me a staff and said get on with it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Big names, big hearts

This week has been painful. I lost a dear family friend, Joanne, to cancer Wednesday. I will hold her always in my heart as the funny, bright, energetic woman she was. The same day, author L.K. Madigan died of that damned disease. May you both be at peace after the long suffering. May we find a cure someday.

No photos really work for this, so I chose a moment of peace in nature, which always calms my soul.


The loss of my friend followed on the heels of the horrendous earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand that has taken more than a 100 lives, with more than 200 people missing and possibly buried in the rubble of what was once a beautiful, thriving city.

How can we help, especially if we live half-way around the world? Let Neil Gaiman show us one way. Yes, that's a teaser. The answer lies ahead.


While the search for the missing continues in the NZ's Canterbury region, people who survived are dealing with injuries, homelessness, loss of all they owned. The Red Cross is already stepping in to help the survivors, and two New Zealand speculative fiction writers have come up with an amazing way to assist that.

J.C. Hart and Anna Caro are compiling an anthology of short stories with themes of survival and hope. The funds are to be donated to the Red Cross Earthquake Appeal and other charities. They contacted numerous authors and have received promises of stories for the book from many established writers.

Among them, *drum roll* NEIL freakin' GAIMAN!

Mr. Gaiman, not only writes surprising, marvelous stories, he's proven time and again that he is a generous man, fully involved with life.

I'll be buying this anthology, for sure, when it's published. You can keep up on the progress at Tales for Canterbury.

Thank you in advance for lending support to this fantastic project.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Those in need

I've been gone for days and was going to post some pretty beach pictures and haiku or musings, but I've chosen just one sunset. I hope the defused, bronzed light and enameled surface of the sand will soothe me. And you, if you please.
My thoughts are with the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, who've suffered another massive earthquake, but this time with numerous casualties.
For those who know my blogging/writing buddy, Wen Baragrey, she and her family survived but not without terrifying moments. Recently, she had a give-away contest to celebrate the homecoming of her grandson, Jayden, who has spent most of the first few months of life in hospital. He was there again when the quake struck and the hospital was evacuated. You can read Wen's post here and the NZHerald here. Please send her and all the people of New Zealand your prayers or healing thoughts. Thank you.
P.S. One more link. Walk Through Sorrow is so heartbreakingly eloquent.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A quieter place

Historical fiction is usually a quieter read than paranormal, dsytopian or fantasy. But that doesn't mean it can't transport you to another land and leave you breathless.

I just finished Jennifer Donnelly's A NORTHERN LIGHT, a Printz Honor book, and a while back I read Kirby Larson's HATTIE BIG SKY, a Newbury Honor book.

They are lovely, nuanced stories that are not without traumas. One of the things that intrigued me was that the authors had been drawn to write these novels by real-life events. Kirby Larson's tale grew from a family story about a great-grandmother who homesteaded by herself. Jennifer Donnelly, too, had family stories handed down from relatives who lived in the Adirondacks--the site of a murder that made sensational news in 1906.

Both authors also researched historic documents so the books are filled with authentic detail and a sense of having walked in the shoes of those who came before us. My editions include bibliographies of works the authors read to better know the time and place of their stories.

I'm going to give you teasers. A bit of blurb and sample to perhaps lure you into these fine books.

For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up her late uncle's homestead claim. (from back cover)
One minuscule step at a time, I battled toward the barn, praying for help: "Lord, I can't do this alone." But no help came. It was up to me. I drew in an icy, ragged breath. I couldn't fail. Couldn't lose my way. Or lose my cow. That thought propelled me forward the last few steps. Finally, finally, I reached the barn, gasping and sobbing for air. My face was raw. I tasted the salt of blood trickling down my cheeks.
A NORTHERN LIGHT is set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Donnelly's novel puts a teenager trying to escape a hardscrabble life in the middle of the mystery surrounding another girl's death.
It was dry and remarkably warm for the start of April, and I was tired and dirty and dripping with sweat. The muscles in my arms ached and my hands were raw from guiding the plow and I was just as mad as a hornet. Pa had kept me home from school again. . .
Can't resist another sample:
I sat slumped on my milking stool, knowing that the last chance I had to go to Barnard was on its way into the till of some bartender. Knowing that my uncle was off on a three-day spree. Or four. Or five. Or however many days it took to spend a hundred dollars. It was a hard and hopeless thing.
So, yeah. We learn a lot about our present by delving into our past. Hope you pick these books up if you haven't read them yet.

Monday, February 14, 2011

For the sake of love

I'm celebrating Valentine's Day as concept--a day to appreciate love. I don't have a valentine at this time in my life, but I know too well the spark, slow burn and glow. I'm forever grateful to have lived and loved.

I took this photo a few years ago of friends of mine. I'm not sure I've even shown it to them. I saw them wander off from a huge family/best friends sort of party for a quiet moment together, and I loved the love I saw.


Last night, I re-watched The Last of the Mohicans. You know the one, where Daniel Day Lewis runs magnificently through forests and up mountains to save his love. There's the heart-stopping scene where he must leave her to be captured so that he can live to save her. His final words, "I will find you. I will find you," before he jumps into a waterfall and is carried away. Le sigh.

I'm going to post poetry snippets from some great writers (please search them out for the entire poems and where to purchase their collections) and a couple of badges I received from Rebecca/WordsCrafter. If any of my readers (whom I love) wish to pass along the badges, please bag 'em and share 'em. It's all about the love today. Bloggers=Love was made by Jules at Trying to Get Over the Rainbow for everyone.
stolen from my bone
is it any wonder
i hunger to tunnel back
inside desperate
to reconnect the rib and clay
and to be whole again--(a portion of adam thinking, which appeared in the collection, quilting, by Lucille Clifton. Ms. Clifton died last year. Her voice will be missed but can be savored again through her books.)
I want you to know
one thing.
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
--(a portion of If You Forget Me by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda)

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor's window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
--(a portion of Aimless Love by Billy Collins or his site. This poem is so incredible. Read it all in his Nine Horses collection.)

This post is not complete without haiku from a couple of the old masters.
By flowering pear
and by the lamp of the moon
she reads her letter
--Buson (1715-1783)
Slung over a screen,
a dress of silk and gauze.
The autumn wind.
I wish she were here
to listen to my bitching
and enjoy this moon.
--Issa (1762-1826)

Love to all the storytellers in whatever form they write!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Let's hear it for the guys

I recently got around to reading John Green’s PAPER TOWNS and Scott Westerfeld’s UGLIES. Why did I wait so long? Two very different YA novels--one dystopian, the other contemporary. In surprising ways, both explore personal image and misconstrued perceptions.
PAPER TOWNS—part mystery, part coming of age, part crazy road trip--is meant to be explored, layers peeling back as you go. It’s smart, witty and unnerving.

Green dragged me unwillingly through the first part of the book. Not because it wasn’t well-written but because the character Margo made me anxious. I worried about what she was going to get Quentin, the first-person narrator, into. And that’s the point. She’s not easy, but she sure is fascinating.

Margo is bigger than life, walking the edge, and perceived by her classmates as magnificently fearless and cool. Some significant revelations and changes take place in both characters during the story, but I won’t give spoilers.

A nerdfighter stuck a post-it inside the PAPER TOWNS I purchased in a bookstore. I’d heard that some of Green’s followers were doing this, but I looked when I bought it and didn’t find a note. Then when I was half-way through reading, I untucked a page stuck in the jacket flap and there it was! The discovered note added to the experience of reading a mysterious, thought-provoking story.

One thing I love about Green’s writing (also evident in LOOKING FOR ALASKA) is that his young adult characters have substance. They read, they contemplate, they have conversations and still care about important teen stuff like the opposite sex.

In PAPER TOWNS, Quentin believes Margo left him a clue within the lines of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” He studies it over and over, looking for a breadcrumb trail to where she’s gone. And the novel’s title, too, is worth pondering. It refers to developments that never get built, to towns that exist only on paper.

Here’s a sample, which I hope whets your appetite:
And so we sat there, she with her nail polish balanced on the dash, and me with a shaky finger on the pulse of myself. It was a good color of nail polish, and Margo had nice fingers, thinner and bonier than the rest of her, which was all curves and soft edges. She had the kind of fingers you want to interlace with your own. I remembered them against my hip bone in Wal-Mart, which felt like days ago. My heartbeat slowed. And I tried to tell myself, Margo’s right. There’s nothing out here to be afraid of, not in this little city on this quiet night.


Westerfeld tackles body image and plastic surgery in a bold way in UGLIES. In this future world, everybody gets an extreme transformation from ugly (as in all of us) to picture-perfect pretty when they turn sixteen. Tally can’t wait, especially since her best friend’s birthday came before hers and he’s already gone to live in New Pretty Town.

Once again, I don’t want to give spoilers, but one of the things I appreciate as a writer and reader is the clear structure of this novel. It’s divided in parts like a play in three acts. Each part has a title and an accompanying quote that is spot on. So I’m going to share that much.

Part I
Turning Pretty
“Is it not good to make society full of beautiful people?”—Yang Yuan, quoted in The New York Times

Part II

The Smoke
“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”—Francis Bacon, Essays, Civil and Moral, “Of Beauty”

Part III
Into the Fire
“Beauty is that Medusa’s head
Which men go armed to seek and sever.
It is most deadly when most dead,
And dead will stare and sting forever.”—Archibald MacLeish, “Beauty”

Yeah. These are great reads. Let’s hear it for the guys.
Addendum: There's a contest going on at Wen's On Words and Upwards that you don't want to miss. Signed copies of Helen Lowe's books, and--horse lover alert--a gorgeous drawing of a horse by Wen, who is an artist as well as a writer. Gallop on over!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seeing things

Masks intrigue me. They can be beautiful, terrifying, mysterious and powerful.
I found this nature-made little mask on the rocky shores of Dana Point. Does it not look like a predatory bird?

I know it's a little airy-fairy of me to believe in signs and portents, but when I discover something unusual like this I imagine the hand of Fate, the presence of guardians or, at the very least, good luck in the finding.

People, of course, have long made masks of animals and birds into which are woven stories of creation and moral beliefs. The creatures are given qualities that have become symbols, so that even in our own writing, we may use an owl to signify wisdom, intuition, mystery or protection. A hawk is sometimes seen as a messenger, a bringer of visions and of intense energy.
Any time I hear the raspy scream of a hawk overhead, I look up, feeling a surge of energy. I've watched them swirl and glide and swoop but also seen single hawks hang without moving, as if suspended in space. Watching, I experience.

This is another view of the sea-borne mask.
Perhaps, it would fit a leprechaun or a tallish fairy. Perhaps. I'll wear it in my dreams and soar high and far.


On a boulder, I saw a fading pink rose held down by a small rock. There's a story behind that; we are free to make up our own.
A snowy egret fished the dark tide pools.

I let my tennies get wet to get this shot. I wanted to be part of the surging sea as the sun disappeared. To take a bit of magic home with me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Again and again with pleasure

The prompt today on YA Highway is what books you'd pick to read over and over for the rest of your life.

As I thought about it, I decided to list books I already devoured more than once--time tested to make me hungry for their landscapes, their tales. One thing they all share is a magical sense of other worldliness. It's escape that may, at times, be terrifying but is always fascinating.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones

I don't know how one author can be so prolific, imaginative and funny as Diana Wynne Jones. I adore Sophie, a young girl who gets turned into an old woman by a witch in Howl's Moving Castle.

Some people love the movie, but for me the spunk, humor and fantasy are best in the book. This is where Sophie shines.
Here she is soon after her transformation, aching, cold and feisty as she discovers the castle bumping along on the moor:
She raised her stick and waved it imperiously at the castle.
"Stop!" she shrieked.
The castle obediently came to a rumbling, grinding halt. . . "



I don't know if I will ever love a wizard more than the conflicted Ged/Sparrowhawk of LeGuin's masterpiece.

I've often quoted her opening verse, "The Creation of Ea," because it is the essence of great fantasy and of real life.
Only in silence the word,
only in dark the light,
only in dying life:
bright the hawk's flight
on the empty sky.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Katniss. 'Nuff said.


STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

I have listened to this on audiobook numerous times. For one thing, I love the way Neil Gaiman reads his stories, and I've disappeared with him into the worlds of NEVERWHERE, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, CORALINE, FRAGILE THINGS and the wonderful THE WOLVES IN THE WALLS.

STARDUST feels like an old-time fairy tale with the nuance of an omniscient storyteller taking you to a faraway land that somehow has roots in ours. Every character has multiple layers, intriguing inconsistencies.


THE CHANGELING SEA by Patricia A. McKillip
McKillip has her own shelf in one of my bookcases. She is amazing at weaving fantasy in all sorts of different tales.
What enchants me about this little book is the sea as an extension of the characters' lives.
The tide was low that afternoon as Peri walked home, so low that even the great jagged spires stood naked in the glistening sand, and all the starfish and anemones and urchins that clung to their battered flanks were exposed.
Have you books you read again and again?