The stories we read

Matilda Bone

Synopis

Matilda Bone by Karen Cushman is the story of a young girl in 12th-century England. Left by the monk who raised her at Peg the Bonesetter’s shop, Matilda finds her new life dirty, unholy, and lonely. Her knowledge of Latin and religion is of little use amidst the stinking, loud messes of town life. As she waits for Father Leufredus’s return, Matilda learns about healing of the body-and of her own heart.

Quoteworthy

…Matilda once again called for heavenly assistance: Dear Saint Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, I do not like it here at the bonesetter’s, where it is cold and dark as a tomb. I pray you rescue me.

My child, she heard the saint replying, I understand your unhappiness, for I too was left in a cold, dark tomb. Of course, I was dead. Have courage.  (p. 8)

[Peg says:] “By Saint Kentigern’s Salmon, you are so priest-ridden that one might think you have nothing of your own to say.” 

Of course I do, thought Matilda. But I try not to say it. Father Leufredus wished her to subdue her will to God’s. And to his. And she struggled to do so. (p. 39)

My Take

This was my second read through of Matilda Bone and I enjoyed it even more this time. The protagonist has a clear character arc that is delightful to watch unfold amidst the colorful setting of Medieval medicine.

There is plenty of humor too. Aside from the comedy that ensues from the disparity between Matilda’s past and current circumstances, I found her conversations with the saints hilarious.

Cushman weaves purpose into every detail so that readers are immersed in the time period.  Matilda’s relationship to the church through Father Leufredus illustrates a lot about the church’s control of religion at the time. I love how Matilda learns to think for herself. I love the fact that her prayers change but do not cease. With Peg’s care and the friendship of others, Matilda learns that loving others will not make her unfit for higher things, but that loving others is itself a higher thing.


 

The stories we read

The Squire’s Quest


Synopsis

Squire Terrence observes the arrival of both Emporer Alexander and a young unknown at King Arthur’s court. The following events lead him  across the map and into dangerous international intrigues. Power is not the only motivation, though. As Terrence himself observes, “people do mad things for love”.

Quotes

This time, I thought I’d share pages from the book rather than (spending time copying) lines. Pressed for time and all that. 

 

My Take

This is the 9th book in Gerald Morris’s series and the 6th I’ve read. I thought the plot of this one took a while to leave the ground, but once it did, it was full of Morris’s trademark wit and wisdom. As usual, things-and people- aren’t all they appear to be. The exception to this is Guinglain, the simple hermit whose small role nevertheless illustrates the theme beautifully. Morris pokes fun at courtly love, especially through Dinadan, the knight minstrel. His and Terrence’s sports-like commentary on the religious politics of a marriage between two empires is hilarious. Some of my favorite parts are the sections of humorous dialogue between Lady Sarah, Lady Eileen, and Terrence. This story has the broadest scope in terms of setting, traveling from King Arther’s court to Athens and beyond, but it doesn’t fail to see Terrence learn something about himself in the process.

The stories we read

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Synopsis

Gilbert Markham, a gentleman farmer, recounts the tale of the mysterious Helen Graham, a newcomer to the community with whom he falls in love. Readers get Helen’s first hand account of her past and the obstacles that lie between her and Gilbert.

Quotes

“Let me counsel you to leave this house as soon as possible…because it is painful to be always disguising my true sentiments concerning you, and straining to keep up an appearance of civility and respect towards one for whom I have not the most distant shadow of esteem[.]”

“I would not send a poor girl into the world, unarmed against her foes, and ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power, or the will, to watch herself.”

My Take

Of all the Brontë sisters’s books, I’ve only ever read Jane Eyre. There are quite a few similarities. This book was difficult to read at times. It’s a picture of moral disintegration, primarily among men, although there are evil women as well. The striking thing is the difference between the men and the women. The men are vicious and destructive; most women, save one, are petty and malicious at worst.

The most difficult thing for me was reading about one character’s incredibly selfish manipulation of his wife and her belief that she was bound to do everything within her power to redeem him. Honestly, I don’t know which one was worse. Anne Brontë, like Charlotte, challenged the belief that a woman’s pure influence served the purpose of saving her husband from evil, whether his own or that of the world’s. By carrying this to extremes Brontë illustrates the danger and falseness of such a belief.

Sigh. There goes another Brontë sister, writing another shocking piece of literature to challenge the status quo.

I almost didn’t find the end satisfactory-one character makes a full 180 by the skin of his teeth and I can’t say he’s my favorite protagonist by a long shot. (It’s probably not who you think it is.)  But it’s been a while since I read 19th century literature. The depth of language skill, style and imagery is why I will always love this genre, epic burns included.

Have you read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Or any Brontë book? Do tell!

Isn’t it a lovely cover (minus the glare)?
My written stories

Stair Steps

Charlie always found strange unnoticed things, and that day they found him. The tour guide’s voice droned on as tourists snapped pictures of the crumbling ruins that reached toward the sky like skeletal fingers. Charlie saw the worn steps leading nowhere. The words on the signpost had long disappeared. Maybe they were never there to begin with. It was the laughter that caught his attention, laughter that fluttered beyond the steps. The stones were cold and crackling with mystery beneath his feet. Charlie didn’t mean to disappear, but he did. The group heard the tour guide say, “Be careful around here. Folks who don’t stick to the path get lost.”

stair steps

Photo by J. S. Brand

For Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, week of July 18th.

My written stories

Brassy

Amelia looked in the mirror and moaned. Unlike the flawless model on the box of hair dye, her hair was not a vibrant red. It was a dull, sort of blonde. It was decidedly brassy.

She’d followed the directions! Why did her hair insist on defying her dearest wishes? Her mother would be furious, no doubt. And how could she bear more teasing from classmates? Why on earth had she bragged to everyone about dying her hair?

Amelia flopped down on her bed. A book on her nightstand caught her eye. She picked it up and flipped through it. After half an hour, a smile appeared on her face.

There’s something about finding your heroine in a similar predicament. Amelia’s hair wasn’t red, but it wasn’t green, either. She left her bedroom without a trace of remorse.

This was for The Daily Post‘s daily prompt some time ago. I didn’t finish it in time, so I thought I’d share it here.  

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The stories we read

All Things Laura Ingalls Wilder

Last summer I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my oldest children. Then a few weeks ago I came across a biography of the author by William Anderson. Anderson happens to be the leading authority on Laura. (How cool is that! Where do I get a job like his?)


The biography will tell you many details left out of the Little House books. For example, the Ingallses had already been west and back by the time of Little House in the Big Woods. 

There are other periods of her childhood not captured in her series that you’ll read about in Anderson’s biography. The period spent moving to and living in Burr Oak, Iowa, has been novelized by Cynthia Rylant. It is called Old Town in the Green Groves, and is largely based on Laura’s own notes. I read this one last year and found another thing I want to do when I grow up as a writer. Can you imagine the honor of adding to the narrative of one of America’s most beloved children’s authors? Another job I’d like one day…


Next there’s A Little House Sampler, a collection of writings by Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, again edited by Anderson. I haven’t read all of it yet but it’s quite enjoyable. Laura had many stories and articles published long before the Little House books, and Rose was a prolific author herself. “Rose Wilder Lane, by Herself” is a great introduction to the author. The self-described “check girl in a telegram office, telegraph operator, telegraph manager, […] newspaper feature writer” was also  “a land salesman, a housekeeper, a feminist, and a ‘parasite’ (p. 12)” among other roles.  Her life of travel and independence pays tribute to her parents’ influence while demonstrating her own tenacity.

“A Bouquet of Flowers” is a pleasant reminiscence by Laura about her earliest school days. “Let’s Visit Mrs. Wilder” is an interview of sorts for The Missouri Ruralist, the local magazine in which Laura published many of her essays. From memories of Pa Ingalls’s beloved fiddle to “Laura’s Land Congress Speech” to “The Faces in the Window”, a thrilling account by Rose, any Little House fan will enjoy both familiar and new stories in this book.

Last night I picked up a copy of Little House on the Prairie to read to my kids. Maybe we’ll even get through more than one book in the series before the year’s end.

If you are a Little House fan, I highly recommend picking up any of the books I mentioned. Also, check out William T. Anderson-not to be confused with this guy– for more reading.

(Maybe that’s why he dropped the ‘T’ on his later titles?)

Have you read any Little House books or related works?

My written stories

Fridays with Flora Felda 8

Read all Fridays with Flora Felda here

July 9th, 2017

Well, dear reader, when last I wrote, Lily, James and I had been swept out of the Abyss towards what destiny we knew not. Even the Charm of Charmaine faded from our thoughts. We knew where clothes went-and how few Pollys ever returned from that fate.

“Help!” yelled James. To my horror, I saw him slipping down a sock. Lily screamed as we both lunged after him. Then the wind was in my ears (yes, I have ears) for what felt like hours until-thud-we hit the hard, cold floor.

“What’s this?” The Authoress’s voice rang above us. “Oh, I’ve told them to put my PollyPockets back…” In a second, she had scooped us up. We heard the familiar scrape of our drawer opening. Suddenly we were back with our friends. As the drawer shut, Lily, James, and I were surrounded and peppered with questions.

“One at a time!” I said. “We’ve just been to the Abyss and back. My head is spinning!”

“Did you find it?” someone asked. “Did you find the Charm of Charmaine?” Silence followed.

“I’m afraid,” said James, “It was lost.” He hung his head.

“It was a valiant effort,” sniffed Lily. “What an adventure we had.” That was when I froze.

“Look!” I gasped. “The Charm! It’s in my pocket!” Cheers and gasps erupted in our drawer as we all peered at the object. Lily, James and I hugged. It hadn’t been in vain after all!

“Now the question is,” said James,”does it work?” Sunlight spilled through the crack in the drawer above us. I grinned.

“Only one way to find out.”

These days I’ve overheard the Authoress and her daughter talking about a funny dream they sometimes have. In this dream, they hear the sound of music from some tiny corner of the house. It’s a different corner every time, but it’s the same music. They have this discussion when they are arranging us and our houses on the table. One day the daughter looked into my face.

“Maybe it’s not a dream,” she said. “Maybe they really do it, Mommy.”

“Well,” said the Authoress. “I suppose so. Who knows what happens after dark?”

Dear reader, I have never been so happy to be without a face, because I was laughing so hard when they said that, one look would have given it away!

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a batch of dandelion tea to prepare for tonight. Farewell!

XO,

FF

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The stories we share

Permission to Write

When I started writing, I had no computer or desk. I had no degree related to writing. One of the real difficulties I faced, though, was the belief that these things were true hindrances to writing. I thought I needed permission to write.

Like many writers, I struggled to believe that writing was worth my time. There were lots of reasons behind this, but the idea of needing permission sprouted from this doubt and took several forms. Other people seemed able to carve out hours to write daily or at least weekly, but how was I supposed to do that? I’d feel jealous and yet hesitate to work out a time with my husband for him to watch our children while I wrote.

As great a husband and dad as Mike is, he wasn’t going to just clear out of the house with the children, because I had not made my wishes known. Surprise!

On another front, the idea that I needed permission to write let me feel like an imposter for attempting to do something I didn’t have a degree in. But I’m guessing there are an awful lot of published authors who don’t have Creative Writing degrees. They didn’t let that stop them.

This need for permission began losing its power when I realized I’m the one who gives me permission. If a story was in me, then it was up to me to get it out. I needed to let Mike know it was important to me so we could work something out. I needed to examine my day and see where I could squeeze in a few minutes of writing, and then re-evaluate when my and my family’s needs changed. Like any other published author, I had to learn to give myself permission to try, to work hard, to fail, and to try again-degree optional.

I don’t have a nanny and I’m still waiting and working towards publication. But everyday I remind myself: I have what I need to write. No more asking for permission, because I already have all the permission I need.

How about you? Have you ever felt you needed permission to write? What helped you to overcome that?

A biography of one of my favorite authors. She certainly didn’t have a writing degree, or any college degree for that matter. Her books are popular world-wide.
The stories we share

Sometimes It’s Not Giving Up

When I started writing “seriously”, I was taking a course on writing magazine stories and articles for children. After market research, writing, editing and more editing, I submitted several stories to markets. Years later I have a file of still unpublished children’s stories on my computer.

Over the years, I’ll take one of those stories out, analyze it from every angle I can find, and edit it. Is it too long? Too dated? The right target age? What grammar and punctuation problems did I miss? Is there a different market it’s better suited for? Then the question arises: do I submit it again, or move on?

That last question used to trip me up the most. I love starting projects. Finishing them takes more steam. (This is one reason I love taking writing classes-I have to finish them.) So whenever I’m faced with a revise or abandon situation regarding a story, giving up always looms large in the equation. When should writers abandon projects? Here are a few things I’ve learned about this.

  1. Recognize the mark on the trail. Sometimes I go back to a story and realize, this was great practice.  I learned  _____  while I wrote this story. That in itself is valuable, even if I don’t get a published story out of the process.  Many early efforts probably aren’t publish-able anyway. These stories (articles, etc) may be jumping off points for later projects. I often discover favorite themes from older writings that I resurrect in new stories.
  2. Some projects need a deadline extension. Have you ever begun a project enthusiastically, only to find as it developed, that your timeframe was off by a few weeks? Maybe months? Four years ago, I started writing what I thought would be a short story. Instead it turned into a full-length young adult novel. This is a project that needs more time to reach its full potential, and this meant lots and lots of drafts. Well, ok, five so far.
  3. Some projects need a little simmer time. By this, I mean you’ve written and written, maybe even edited, and then think you need a break from your work. Maybe you need to put it down for a set time and look at it again with fresh eyes. Maybe you’ve discovered  you need to gather more information. Maybe it’s time to send it out into the big wide world and get feedback from a beta group or a writing friend or two. For me, last December marked a stopping point in my novel. My fourth child was about to arrive, and I knew that reaching the end of an era in my novel writing would be helpful mentally. So I sent my novel out to a few friends and closed that chapter. Meanwhile I’ve been working on shorter projects, which are much more feasible with an infant (and three older children). My perspective and editing skills will be all the better for it when I take another stab at my novel in a year.

 

Sometimes what looks like giving up on a project may actually be wisdom. It’s not laziness or being scatter-brained to set something down for a time. Set a time to revisit it. When you can’t pound out a project from start to finish, work is sometimes more a rhythm and flow than a race to the finish line.

How about you? Do you find you work best tackling one project til it’s completed, or do you let your projects simmer?