While You’re Isolated…

Obviously there’s not a lot to love about our current circumstances. Most of the world is in some form of isolation due to the Corona virus. We’re all in the same, miserable, anxious boat. But I do love that some people have used this as a time to connect creatively, teach others, and share art. I’ve made a list of some people, hashtags, and websites that I feel are providing great resources during this troubling time. Feel free to provide others:

Hashtag Love

  • #SunshineSongs Broadway star Laura Benanti  reached out to kids who were supposed to perform in the school musicals only to have then canceled. She asked them to perform on twitter using the hashtag, and she got a beautiful response.
  • #ArtFromHome The Ayala Museum in the Philippines has started an  #ArtFrom Home Challenge. 15 prompts are posted, every other day, for 30 days. People make
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    art according to the prompts and post with the hashtag.

  • #InternationalPoetryCircle Poet Tara Skurtu started this project. Poets from around the world are sending in videos of themselves reading their work, or just their favorite poems. Not only does the thread have some beautiful work, but it’s a great way to discover contemporary poetry.

Children’s Literature

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  • Gene Leun Yang’s book tour for his novel Dragon Hoops was cancelled, so he started “touring as a cartoon” from his Instagram page, where he responds to reader questions in comic strip form.
  • Amy Kaufman is hosting a weekly #kidslitgoesviral twitter party for MG and YA authors whose promotional plans have been upended by the virus.
  • Grace Lin is posting drawing tutorials and readings from her books on herYoutube channel. She started doing this as a way to combat the anti-Asian rhetoric has come up amid the Corona virus fears.
  • Author/illustrator Mo Willems is invites kids to draw with him every day for Lunch Doodles in which he walks viewers through his studio, answers questions, draws creatures and created simple animations for them to try at home.
  • Mac Barnett reads a book aloud every afternoon on Instagram Live.
  • Oliver Jeffers is reading on Instagram Live on weekday afternoons. Afterwards the recordings are available on his website.
  • Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady graphic novels, is hosting daily drawing sessions on his youtube.
  • Peter H. Reynolds’ tour for his most recent book, Be You, was also cancelled. He’s taken to reading aloud from his work on Facebook Live every day.
  • Susan Tan started an Authors Everywhere! Youtube channel. She provides workshops that are supposed to teach aspiring authors as well as give kids an emotional outlet for addressing their fears about the pandemic.

Theatre

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from playbill.com

  • Stars in the House concerts–  Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Seth Rudetsky is doing an interview/concert series with Broadway stars via skype benefiting the Actor’s Fund.
  • The Irish Repertory Theatre has launched a digital series called The Show Must Go Online, featuring homemade videos of their actors performing favorite songs, poems and monologues from Irish and Irish American playwrights, poets, and musicians.
  • The National Yiddish Theatre is offering it’s Folksbiene! Live series featuring livestreamed theatre, American Jewish performers, workshops, talkbacks, and other events.
  • The American Conservatory Theatre has cancelled performances of the plays, Gloria and Toni Stone. However, a video of the performance is available to stream.
  • The Show Must Go Online (popular title!) is a weekly Shakespeare reading group covering the plays in the order they were written, as a way for actors and theatre makers to stay connected during unprecedented times. First up is Two Gentlemen of Verona.
  • Mike Lew’s play Teenage Dick at Theatre Wit in Chicago is available for remote viewing.
  • Broadwayworld has launched Living Room Concerts where the stars perform from their living rooms.
  • Broadway Star Elena Shaddow is doing a live concert on IGTV every night at 8PM EST. She takes requests from viewers and accompanies herself on the piano in her living room.

Performing Arts

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  • The Metropolitan Opera is offering “Nightly Met Opera Streams” a free series of Live in HD presentations of their past performances.
  • The Vienna State Opera has opened is archives and will broadcast recordings of opera and ballet performances. The performances can be found here, with instructions and information about how to access them here.
  • The Seattle Symphony is sharing live broadcasts of their performances.
  • The 92nd Street Y has recent performances available from pianist Garrick Ohlsson,  and mezzo soprano Fleur Baron.
  • London’s concert hall, Wigmore Hall, has past livestreams available on the website.
  • The Paris Opera is streaming performances online for free. Full performances are available on their website.

Health/Wellness

  • Pandemic Check-In is sort of a pop up podcast that’s really a call in show for people who needs some mental health support. The people at Brooklyn Minds, a psychiatry/psychology center are behind it, alongside the LA Based podcast studio Western Minds.
  • headspace-mindfulness-appHeadspace, a popular meditation app is offering some free meditations that you can listen to any time. The collection, called “weathering the storm” includes meditation, sleep and movement exercises that can help you through a variety of different situations.
  • Outlander star, Sam Heughan,  has created a 30 day social distancing challenge for free as part of his My Peak Challenge program.
  • Planet Fitness is offering a live 6PM “work in” every evening on Facebook, led by personal trainers. You don’t even have to be a member.
  • Core Power Yoga has a collection of free classes available  any time.
  • Studio Three is a Chicago area gym that combines yoga, cycling, and interval training. They’re hosting classes on Instagram Live at several times throughout the day. Workouts are available for playback on the app.
  • Pop Sugar fast tracked the release of their new app Active, and is offering it now for free.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The above quote is from Albert Einstein. He was a fairly intelligent fellow himself.

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Last week, @theorangutanlibrarian shared this article (Five reasons to stop reading your children fairytales now) along with some humorous responses as to why it was absurd. But even though the advice in the article is troubling, people listen. Keira Knightly and Kristen Bell are among the people who have listened to this advice. While I think that looking at artistic/literary material through a critical lens is always worthwhile, I think that this trend  is troubling because the lens through which it looks at the material is flawed.

Yes, there are troubling, sexist tropes in Disney films and in the fairy tales on which they’re based. But banning them is not the answer. For one thing, forbidding children to read/watch something is just guaranteeing that it will be more interesting to them. Have people really not figured that out by now? Children will seek it out, especially if it’s something as universal and commonly referenced as fairy tales. But if they seek it out themselves, parents will have lost the opportunity to make those troubling elements explicit and discuss them with kids. Instead of having that critical lens, the children will only have the lens that’s given to them in the story/adaptation.

But beyond that, some of out problems with these stories come more from perception. I discussed that a bit in this post.  You could look at Cinderella as a  girl who waits around for a prince to save her. Or you could look at her a survivor of an abusive environment, who never loses her characteristic good nature. Instead of perpetuating the cycle of abuse, she’s kind to even the lowliest mice. Why not highlight that when a child wants to read/watch Cinderella? Maybe speculate as to why her stepmothers and stepsisters would be so cruel to her (are they in pain? was someone cruel to them?). Present it as a story about the ways that people respond to cruelty.  Point out that while Cinderella was tormented by her step family she had the loyalty of all those to whom she’d been kind.  Point out that her stepmother wanted one of her daughters to marry the prince, and that she could have had that if she accepted Cinderella as her daughter. Show them that it’s better to be kind even when it doesn’t seem like a reward is imminent.

The same can be done for other fairy tales. Yes, you could see The Little Mermaid as a woman who changes who she is to impress a guy. But you could look at her as someone who was so fascinated by another culture that she she made sacrifices to live among them. Snow White could be seen as a foolish girl who takes gifts from strangers. But you could also see her as someone who escaped a threatening situation. She was a princess who had probably never worked a day in her life, and in order to survive, she rolls up her sleeves and takes a job cooking and cleaning for seven men. Is it troubling that men kiss sleeping/comatose women in these stories? Point that out to kids! They can understand from an early age that touch is only OK with consent.

But there are so many fairy tales out there in which a female character takes an active, even heroic role. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle saves her father by going to live with the Beast. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon, the princess goes on a quest to rescue her prince. In The Snow Queen the girl travels to the frozen north to save her male friend. In The Six Swans the princess endures years of silence and hardship to free her brothers from a curse. In Hansel and Gretel, Gretel outsmarts the witch and saves her brother. Disney hasn’t adapted all of these as films, but there are other adaptations out there. Why stop with Disney? Why not expose children to all that fairy tales have to offer?

Frozen may be loosely based on The Snow Queen but it changed a lot. If you have a kid who enjoyed Frozen maybe read the original story with them. Check out some of the more faithful film adaptations. There’s the 1950’s Russian cartoon that was dubbed in English by Sandra Dee and Tommy Kirk.  Or check out the 2002 miniseries with Bridget Fonda in the tile role.

If they like Frozen, introduce them to another wintery fairy tale with a kick-ass heroine. In East of the Sun, West of the Moon we see the princess go on a long quest to save the prince.  While there’s no Disney film, there is a live action film adaptation called The Polar Bear King. Compare it to the story. Compare the heroine of this story to Gerda in The Snow Queen. Ask your kids who they think is braver?

There are several film adaptations of Hansel and Gretel. The 1987 Cannon Movie Tales film with Cloris Leachmann is fairly child friendly.  There’s also a 2003 film featuring Lynn Redgrave. Or why not introduce your kids to opera while you’re at it? This film uses stop-action animation with Kineman dolls (a precursor to claymation) and lavish sets as a backdrop for Englebert Humperdinck’s opera.

Actually some of the fairy tales with female agency are ripe for adaptation. This was the only film version of The Six Swans that I could find!

And why limit your kids to the traditional Western canon? There’s a whole world of cultures that have their own fairy tales. Some of those are thematically similar to the ones that we’re familiar with. Do some research and draw parallels with kids. Appreciate the diverse world in which we live!

My point is that instead of conflating Disney’s fairy tale films with fairy tales in general, separate the adaptation from its source. Kids can appreciate from a very young age that there is more than one way to tell a story. Introduce them to stories that Disney hasn’t yet adapted to show that there are many values that are espoused in fairy tales, not  just the ones that get mainstream adaptations. Let them watch Disney films. Point out the good in them and make the bad explicit too. Instead of banning things that are difficult, raise your kids to be critical thinkers. Don’t just “throw out” stories that have endured for generations.

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Read in 2018

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For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday: 

January 1: Best Books I Read In 2018

Happy New Year to all! Let’s kick off this year with a look at some of the great books I read last year.

  1. 41yjnrznaol-_ac_us218_Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo– This novel of tradition coming into conflict with modern values surprised me several times.  Yejide and Akin are a young Nigerian couple. They don’t have any kids yet but aren’t really worried, until immense pressure from their families causes Akin to take a second wife, despite the couple’s desire to avoid polygamy. In response, Yejide decides to do anything it takes to get pregnant. Both Yejide and Akin make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of family.  Both want to do the right thing, but each sacrifice has lasting consequences. Set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing culture and world, this story broke my heart.

2.61ciiq0YV9L._AC_US218_ Idaho by Emily Ruskovich– Years ago, Wade’s first wife, Jenny murdered their younger daughter, while their older one ran away. Now Jenny is spending the rest of her life in prison. Wade has married Ann, and is starting to lose his memory. Ann suspects that there may be more to the incident that destroyed Wade’s family than he lets on, but how will she ever know? This book unfolds from multiple points of view over the course of about thirty years. The mosaic of voices eventually comes together to suggest the truth, but that remains unsaid and ambiguous. I appreciated the craft (gorgeous prose) and the ambiguity, but I can see where some might not like it.

3. 41Q9fVyDjRL._AC_US218_ All New People by Anne Lamott– Nanny Goodman enters adolescence as America enters the 1960’s. Her father is a writer and her mother is an endless source of material. As Nanny comes of age, she sees a culture mirror her as it descends into drugs. There is a mass exodus of fathers from her town. Real estate and technological development change the landscape of the small California town where she lives. An adult Nan narrates she childhood memories with humor and emotional complexity.

4. 41Krb0iOt7L._AC_US218_The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell- Elsie thought she’d found her happily ever after when she married the wealthy Rupert Bainbridge. But when Rupert dies only a few weeks into their marriage, Elsie is stuck with Rupert’s cousin amidst resentful servants and hostile villagers. When Rupert’s cousin, Sarah,  discovers a carved figure that looks a lot like Elsie, as well as a diary, Elsie doesn’t think much of it. But when the figure’s eyes begin to follow Elsie, she starts getting nervous… This eerie, atmospheric Victorian Gothic ghost story, is wonderful tribute to the likes of Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier.

5. 51uyvcmgxil-_ac_us218_Commonwealth by Ann Patchett– When Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party and kisses her mother, he sets in motion a chain of events that breaks apart both their marriages and joins two families. Spending the summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children form a bond that is later tested when a tragedy sends shockwaves through both families. The story takes place before and after the tragedy, over the course of fifty years. We do eventually learn what , happened that changed everything (yet again) for these families, but before we do, we learn what led up to it, and what the consequences were.

6. 51W3InymdaL._AC_US218_Tangerine by Christine Mangan– I was surprised to see that  this book has a lot of negative reviews on Amazon and goodreads. I think the reason for that is that none of the characters are very likable. But if you’re OK with that, I found this atmospheric, noirish whodunnit to be a lot of fun. A British ex-pat is living in Tangier with her husband in the 1950s. When her former college roommate turns up at her door one day, memories of the past (including a violent death) begin to emerge. It turns out that both ladies have things they want to hide, and that the beautiful city of Tangier might be an exotic ground against which their struggle plays out. I think that this would appeal to fans of Patricia Highsmith.

7. 51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– Over the course of three decades we read letters to a heroine who we never meet directly. These letters come from her family: her father is a narcissistic former child prodigy. He has divorced her mother and married a traditional Chinese woman. They have a son who wears suits to bed. Her mother is a therapist who never remarried, but may be in love with her Rabbi and overshares on a regular basis. Her sister may have given up on college in order to own guns and land in Arizona. We read letters from all of these characters to our heroine, Julie. We read thank you notes, condolences, family gossip and more. Also included are gems like “The Gerbil You Drowned in 1990 Would Like a Word With You”, “Your Uncle Figured a Mass E-mail Was the Best Way to Discuss His Sexuality” and “Your Intrauterine Device Has Some Thoughts on Your Love Life.” It made me snort with laughter at several points.

8. 518ejevmohl-_ac_us218_The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn– Anna Fox is a child psychologist who suffers from Agoraphobia so debilitating that she can’t leave her Harlem townhouse. She spends her days watching old movies, interacting with people online, and spying on her neighbors (just a little!). When she sees a crime take place in a house facing hers, she calls the police. But her copious consumption of alcohol and prescription drugs means that she’s not the best witness. Anna’s fondness for old film noirs permeates this book and makes it feel like an homage. I definitely recommend this to Hitchcock fans!

51njfgrvqcl-_ac_us218_9. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden– This is the first book in Arden’s Winternight trilogy and it definitely has me interested in reading more in 2019. Vasilisa lives in the Russian wilderness with her family. When her mother dies, her father brings a new wife from Moscow. Vasilisa’s stepmother is a religious woman who forbids the family from honoring the traditional household spirits. Vasilisa fears the potential consequences of these actions as misfortune comes to the village. We see several conflicts play out in this book. Traditional religion plays out against Christianity (which was still somewhat new at the time this book was set). Vasilisa also comes into conflict with her stepmother. But really I see the primary conflict in this books as the independent, strong minded Vasilisa coming facing the limited roles that her her world offers for women. 61ftpdsyagl-_ac_us218_

10. The Changeling by Victor LaValle– When Apollo and his wife Emma have a baby boy, they’re thrilled. But soon, like many new parents, they’re exhausted and stressed. When Emma starts behaving odd, Apollo worries it’s Post Partum Depression and encourages her to see the doctor. But before that can happen, Emma commits a horrific act and then vanishes. Apollo must venture into a city that he only thought he knew, to find a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets and a forest full of legends. It’s only by working alongside a mysterious stranger whom he may not be able to trust, that Apollo can hope to regain what he thinks may be lost forever.

Why You Should Read My Book

I know I promised to slow down with the shameless self promotion and I will. Just one more post…

I’ve blogged about my book, Beautiful, but I realized that I hadn’t actually told you why you should read it. So here, in random order, are the reasons you should read my book:

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  • It features two protagonists who are sympathetic but flawed. Both grow in significant ways over the course of the novel. No Mary-Sues or Gary-Stus here.
  • It actually features a healthy YA romance. No triangles, no insta-love, no possessiveness, no mind games.
  • It explores aspects of a popular fairy tale that are aren’t often addressed in retellings.
  • We see two characters who have both grown up with a certain degree of privilege try to stand on their own two feet for the first time. They are successful in some ways. Other ways are harder.
  • There is a brief introduction to two of the characters featured in my follow-up novel.
  • Reviews are good. According to Amazon reviewers, it is “compelling,””vivid,” “a delight to read,” and “sweet.”
  • It’s free on Kindle Unlimited and only $2.99 to own.

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  • Make a great gift for fantasy/fairy tale lovers this holiday season.

#WhatToReadWed

On instagram, I’ve created a book recommendation tag. Each Wednesday, I’m recommending a book.  I’m trying to suggest books that aren’t everywhere so that hopefully people will seek out some hidden gems. But I’m also not averse to raving about the latest bestseller if I think people should read it. You can check out my Instagram here. Here are the books I’ve featured so far. Please join in and tag your posts #WhatToReadWed!

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In honor of the beginning of a new school year, my #WhatToReadWedpick for today is Bel Kaufman’s Up The Down Staircase. This novel is told via letters, notes passed in class, interoffice memos, and scraps of paper taken from lockers, notebooks and trashcans. It was written in 1964 about a 1st year teacher in a NYC high school and what’s remarkable is how much (and how little!) has changed. Anyone who thinks that having summers off makes teaching an easy job needs to read this. Read it to appreciate the teachers in your life a bit more. Or just read it because it’s a fun (and funny) book.

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It’s #WhatToReadWed again. My recommendation this week is a book I’m #currentlyreading. Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Woolstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley reads like a novel. Both Marys were tough, smart, shocking and light years ahead of their time.

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Once again it’s #WhatToReadWed. This week I’m featuring Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. The title character is a retired widower who lives in a small village in the countryside. He’s conservative, opinionated and well… cranky. When he falls in love with Jasmine, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, these very different people will have to find a way to make it work. This book is about the value of culture and tradition. What is worth preserving and what should change with the times? Ultimately it’s about the ways people are different and the things that we have in common. And most importantly it proves that falling in love is just as sweet at the age of 70 as it is at 17.

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It’s #WhatToReadWed again. Today’s pick is Samantha Ellis’s memoir “How To Be A Heroine” which is one of my favorite books about books. Ellis revisits favorite books from different points in her life and evaluates them in the context of what she’s learned.

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It’s #WhatToReadWed again! My pick this week is “Idaho” by Emily Ruskovich.
If you are someone who wants everything laid out neatly, this isn’t the book for you. But if you appreciate ambiguity accompanied by gorgeous prose, give it a try. It explores an act of violence in the years before and after. We see the lead-up and the consequences from several perspectives. By the end, there are strong hints as to whodunit and why, but nothing is told to the reader outright.

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My first pick for #WhatToReadWed is “Tangerine” by Christine Mangan. This is perfect for fans of Hitchcock, film noir and whodunnits. Set in Tangier in the 1950s, it follows a British ex-pat who lives in Tangier with her husband. When her former college roommate shows up unexpectedly, memories of their past- involving a violent death- begin to surface. Through most of the book we’re not sure who we can trust, and the exotic atmosphere is palpable.

I’ve Been…

  • Loving every second of my summer vacation
  • A published author for about a week now. It still only feels semi-real. Most of the feedback that I’ve gotten so far has been good. I know that negative feedback will come sooner or later (it does to everyone) but at least I can balance it out with some of the positive.
  • Checking Beautiful on Amazon at least twice a day for any change in review status, ratings, sales, etc.
  • Working on the paperback release of Beautiful. It should be ready by early next week. Maybe holding an actual, physical copy of my book will make it seem more real? 51noohzpcsl-_ac_us218_
  • Included in New York’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction.  The story they’re using is the same flash fiction. that was posted in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal last year.
  • In what might be the opposite of a reading slump. What do you call it when you’ve read several really good books in a row? In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been really impressed by The Immortalists, The Changeling, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and Margaret the First. I’m currently reading and enjoying The Stolen Child.
  • Pleased to hear that Jane Austen’s final, unfinished novel, Sandition, will be adapted for television. As much as I love Austen’s finished novels, I don’t think that we need another TV adaptation of the same old thing. I look forward to something a bit different.
  • Continuously shocked and horrified by the actions of my government. Writers for Families Belong Together has a number of auctions and lotteries for prizes from book sets, ARC’s of highly anticipated books, manuscript critiques from agents, editors, and authors, and much more. All proceeds go to reunifying families. Check it out, before it ends on July 15, and participate if you can!

I’ve Been

  • Eagerly anticipating my spring break, and now it’s finally here. So far this break has consisted of some hardcore resting.
  • Loving this blog. Catbird is a Brooklyn jewelry shop. While I like jewelry as much as the next girl, I normally wouldn’t follow a jewelry store’s blog, but with lots of literary quotes, beautiful pictures, fangirling old movies, and interviews with successful, creative women, this blog seems made for me.
  • Watching a lot of British murder mysteries on Netflix. I don’t condone violence of any kind, but I do find that murder is always more tolerable when it comes with a cup of tea and a British accent. In the past few months, I’ve watched the most recent seasons of  Broadchurch and The Fall as well as The Bletchley Circle, Grantchester, and Happy Valley,  and I’m currently watching The Five. The nice thing about British shows is that the seasons are quite short, so if I watch an episode each evening I can finish a whole season in about a week (if that!)   Of course, the downside is that if I really like a show, I’ll be through it all too quickly.
  • Trying to embrace more poetry this National Poetry Month. I’ve always had a weird relationship with poetry. While I like it, I can’t dive into it, and inhabit it,  like  I do with prose. But I do think I’m a better writer and a more aware, appreciative person when there’s poetry in my life. Right now I think there are a lot of exciting things happening with poetry, but there are also a lot of poets who have been heavily marketed thanks to social media but strike me as more style than substance. Any recommendations for poets I need to check out ASAP?
  • Editing. A lot. Since I’m not independently wealthy, I can’t spend as much as I’d like to ensure that Beautiful is well, you know… Often I’ll do an exchange with other writers for a critique or a beta read. I just did one that turned out to be way more work than I’d anticipated.
  • Deciding that my target publication date for Beautiful is July 4th. That means that I’m panicking every time I think about what needs to be done before then and wondering how I’m going to pull it off.

International Women’s Day Reads

March 8th is International Women’s Day. Women have done amazing things throughout history (often with no credit) and continue to do amazing things every day. Here are some books that I’d suggest to female (or any) readers who want to explore, celebrate, and understand womanhood.

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How to Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis and The Heroine’s Bookshelf are two books that look at how female protagonists have been portrayed in literature, and how these depictions have influenced the authors.

51-74n0euhl-_ac_us218_2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf- In this extended essay Woolf asserts that there have been female literary geniuses throughout history and that the reason that so many go unknown is that women have traditionally not been educated and encouraged to write, as men have. They’ve been pushed in other directions. Even when they did produce great literature it was often anonymous or under pseudonyms, so their work could be judged on its own merits. “I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman,” she says. Contemporary female writes still face sexism which doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But enough of us “have money and a room of [her] own,” (what Woolf saw as the necessities if a woman is to write fiction) so that women are a very real force in publishing.

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood– Atwood’s feminist dystopia is frighteningly close to reality, unfortunately. But then Atwood has said that when writing her tale Gilead (once the United States) she set a rule for herself: “I would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” She makes a strong case for why a woman’s ability to control and make decisions about her own body cannot be separated from discussions of feminism, or humanity for that matter.

51avlw-rakl-_ac_us218_4. Americanah by Chimiamanda Ngozi Adichie- Obviously the lens of my own experience is limited. It’s limited by various factors: education, economics, race, gender and a million others. Everyone has those limits to some extent. Adichie’s work helps us step outside those limitations for a little while. It can help us understand what the world may be like for someone different. In this case, I’m very different from Ifemelu, the female protagonist in this novel. But it allowed me to see some of the struggles that an immigrant woman of color faces in the US, in contrast to her native Nigeria. It also shows what life is like for a Nigerian woman in her home country. Ifemelu’s race and nationality influence how she is perceived in both countries. Through allowing me to see how Ifemelu’s race and gender affect her life, this book helped me see how my own life has been shaped by those factors in a very different way.

51bven7uisl-_ac_us218_5. The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess by Leonard Shalin– This is the only book in this post written by a man, but it may be of interest to anyone interested in gender issues. During pre-literate times, feminine values were dominant. Goddesses were worshiped and a lot of societies had a matriarchal structure. This changed with the rise of alphabetic literacy, which reconfigured the human brain. The act of learning to read exercises the left hemisphere of the brain, making it dominant over the right, which is more holistic and visual. The left brain is linked to masculine values and the right to feminine. As Western culture became more literate there was an insistence on a male deity and a rise in misogyny. Interestingly if you look at major witchhunts in the last millennium, they tend to happen within about a hundred years of a printing press being introduced to that part of the word. Does this explain why the past 2000 years have seen so much subjugation of women? That’s up to the reader to decide. It’s definitely an interesting thesis.

 

 

What I’d Tell Myself About Writing A Book…

 

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This is just a stock photo but whatever the person is drinking looks really yummy!

 

Writing and publishing a novel has always been something I wanted to do. It’s something that sort of happened in stages. As a kid, I had a notebook that pretty much consisted of first chapters. I would write the first chapter and then abandon it as soon as the next idea popped into my head. When I was in college I wrote a novel, based on Wuthering Heights for my senior project. There were blood, sweat, and tears involved, as well as an awesome academic advisor. I got an A- on the project, so it fulfilled its academic requirement, but I’m pretty sure it was unpublishable! Several years later, I did Nanowrimo. Having the first draft was only the beginning of a very long journey. Here’s what I’d tell myself (back then) about it, based on what I know now.

  • You are not done. You are not almost done. You have the first draft. The final product will be very different.
  • You will rewrite this book many times. You will lose count of how many.
  • You will lose any sense of objectivity you may have once had about this book.
  • Writing and keeping a long project organized becomes much easier with Scrivner.
  • Other people need to read it. Lots of other people. Get beta readers, take their feedback and revise.
  • Get an editor. At this point, a developmental edit will be the most helpful.
  • Work on “showing rather than telling.” A lot. Most of the cliche writing advice that you read is true. But not all, so don’t accept it without question.
  • Get another beta read. Revise again.
  • Hire a proofreader. Hire one that copy-edits as she proofreads. You may think you’re almost done at this point, but you’re not.
  • You will rewrite several scenes and make smaller changes to wording and syntax.
  • You will painstakingly go through the manuscript fixing typos, commas, and capitalization.
  • Then you will have some beta readers look at it again.
  • You will probably need another proofread because your changes are likely to have all sorts of errors.
  • At some point, while all of this is going on, you decided that indie was the way to go because traditional publishing takes so long. Try to put together a publication and marketing plan, while putting the finishing touches on your manuscript.
  • Choose a cover. This is important. Even though they’re not supposed to, a lot of people use these as a way to select books.
  • Work full time while doing all of this.

What I’m trying to say is that even though I’ve been a bibliophile since birth, I don’t think I knew or appreciated how much work went into writing them until I took this on. Considering the fact that it’s very hard to make a living writing fiction, most writers do this with limited hope of monetary gain. Sure we all dream JK Rowling dreams, but most have a sense of reality too. I think that I’ve started reading some books a bit differently since I began this journey. Even if I don’t like something I appreciate more the tremendous amount of work, effort, thought and passion that someone put into it.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday;

February 13: Love Freebie (Romances, swoons, OTPs, kisses, sexy scenes, etc.)

I feel like a lot of my favorite romances are pretty well known.  I love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Rochester (why do 19th-century male characters never go by their first names?) as much as the next girl.  But this week, I decided to share a few favorites that might not turn up on everyone else’s list.

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_1. The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Eva Ibbotson was primarily known for her children’s books. However, she wrote five romances intended for older readers (the others A Company of Swans, The Secret Countess, A Song For Summer, and Magic Flutes are also worth reading). They’ve since been re-released for a YA audience. They’re flawed in that they depict relationships with gender roles that are somewhat old-fashioned. But they’re usually sweet enough and fun enough so that it doesn’t bother me too much. I have a fondness for this one. It’s about a Jewish family in Austria. They get out of the country when Hitler invades and make it to England. But they’re separated from their twenty-year-old daughter, Ruth who wasn’t able to get the proper paperwork. Quinton Somerville, a friend of the family, offers to help Ruth. He’s got the papers to get to England, and she can come with him, as his wife. Once they’re safely in England they can get the marriage annulled. Ruth takes him up on his offer, but neither of them counts on falling in love…

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I forgot why I picked up this book in the first place. Novels about cranky old men aren’t automatic reads for me. But something attracted me to this book and I’m glad it did! Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired Englishman who is the embodiment of duty, pride, and traditional values. Major Pettigrew is a widower who is trying to keep his son from selling off the family heirlooms when he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor, Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their cross-cultural romance shocks everyone, themselves most of all. But it also reminds us that while people may seem like opposites, they can still find strong common ground; enough to build the foundation of a relationship. And it proves that falling in love at 70 is just as sweet as it is at 17.

51guog1xvl-_ac_us160_3. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee– I can’t remember how I first came across this book. But its a provocative futuristic sci-fi love story. Jane is living a life of luxury on an Earth that’s barely recognizable to the reader. But she’s not happy. Robots have replaced humans as laborers but when a new line comes out they’re also used as performing artists and the wealthy use them as sexual partners. When Jane meets Silver, a robot minstrel, his song convinces her that there’s something more to him than just metal and programming. Something almost human. She gives up everything and she and Silver run away together. As their relationship grows, Silver becomes more and more human. Is that just a clever illusion created by his programming? Is Jane needy and mentally unstable? Or has she seen in Silver something that no one else can?  If Silver is truly capable of loving Jane, he’s in terrible danger, because he’s more than anyone expected. If he has all of the advantages of a robot but can truly feel and love like a human, then actual humans can’t complete.

51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_4. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– I feel like this book has been getting more attention lately which I’m glad about. But it’s still largely unknown, so I feel like it can go on this list. Valancy is a twenty-nine-year-old “spinster” who lives under the overbearing thumb of her mother and her aunt. When she gets devastating news from the doctor, Valancy is motivated to do some living while she still has the chance! She becomes friends with Barney, a handsome free spirit whom her family does not approve of! She confides to Barney that she doesn’t have long to live, and proposes marriage. After all, he won’t have to live with her for long, and it’ll make her happy before she dies. After they marry, Barney and Valancy are happier than they’d ever dreamed. But Valancy’s fate hangs over their heads. Colleen McCollough wrote a novel in 1987 called The Ladies of Missalonghi, with a very similar plot set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism. Having read both, I think they’re just two novels that have similar plotlines.  I prefer The Blue Castle though.

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_5. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– This is a fairly new discovery for me. Prue Sarn’s “precious bane” is her cleft pallet. It sets her apart from the other girls in her Shropshire community for better and for worse. It isolates her from her peers, but that isolation is also the source of inner strength. Prue’s brother, Gideon, is determined to lift the family out of poverty. He devotes everything he has to make money, which is the very thing that may ultimately destroy him. In a way money is his “precious bane”. It promises a better life but ultimately destroys life and love. Meanwhile, Prue has fallen in love with Kester Woodseaves, a weaver with a gentle spirit. Like Prue, he’s an outsider, due to his gentle nature rather than anything external. Will his good heart allow him to see the beauty in Prue?

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_6. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– A lot of readers compare this book to the (brilliant) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though it was actually a fictionalized account of the first year of the author’s own marriage. Nonetheless, the heroine, Annie Brown, has a lot in common with Francie, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Annie and Carl get married in the 1920’s just before Carl starts law school in the midwest. Annie leaves her Brooklyn home to go with him. Their families oppose the marriage, but they’re young, in love, a bit naive, and optimistic. They face challenges from poverty to more personal conflicts. This isn’t really a plot-driven book. It’s far more character driven. It’s hard not to root for Carl and Annie as they begin to build a foundation for their lives together.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– I first encountered this novella after seeing the exquisite musical that was inspired by it. It’s a beautiful book as well. Margaret Johnson is an unhappily married, wealthy, Southern woman traveling in Florence with her daughter, Clara in the 1950s. When Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian (and he with her), Margaret finds herself torn between two equally strong impulses: to protect her daughter and spare her the pain of lost love or to hope that Clara might be luckier in love than Margaret was. The story is about the courage that it takes to fall in love and the bravery in hoping (in the face of experience) that it might last forever.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_8. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This is probably an odd choice. It’s another book that I discovered thanks to my obsession with musical theater. Sondheim’s musical of the same name won a Tony in 1994 but is still one of his less popular works, though it’s one of my favorites. The story is about Giorgio, a handsome, young, Italian soldier. He is having an affair with the lovely (but married) Clara in Milan when he is transferred to a remote base in Parma. There he is invited to dine at his commander’s residence, and he meets the commander’s cousin, Fosca. Fosca is terminally ill, highly strung, and unattractive. She is also madly in love with Giorgio. Though he tries to avoid her at first, Giorgio eventually realizes that Fosca is offering him something that Clara cannot: a pure, true, love that requires his total surrender, yet gives him everything that she has in return.

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_9. Katherine by Anya Seton– Though this book is a novel, it is based on a real-life love story. During the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt, son of a king, fell in love with the already married Katherine Swynford. Even after Katherine is widowed, she and John are prevented from marrying due to politics. However, their affair survives decades of struggle, war, politics, adultery, murder, and danger. I can see where some contemporary readers might see John and Katherine’s romance as one-sided or not very romantic. However I think that is holding a couple in the middle ages to modern expectations. In a time and a place where royal used and discarded mistresses on a regular basis, John maintained his love for Katherine over the course a lifetime, even when casting her aside would have been more politically expedient. He regarded Katherine as his wife and his partner. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children, the Beauforts, include much of the British royal family. For fans of medieval literature this book has appearances from Geoffrey Chaucer (who was Katherine’s brother in law), and includes the writings of Julian of Norwich who also appears as a character in the book.

51lsl4lfqql-_ac_us218_10. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux– Hayden Lane is a bestselling romance author with a problem: she’s fallen in love with the hero she wrote in one of her books.  When a psychic tells her that her obsession may be due to something that happened in a past life, Helen decides to see a hypnotist, who transports her to Edwardian England where she encounters a previous incarnation. But she must go back even further, to the Elizabethan era, before she learns how her earliest incarnation, Callie, was in love with a man named Talis, and how they unintentionally betrayed each other and cursed their future selves. In order to set things right, Hayden will have to figure out a way to break the curse and change history. Some elements of the plot are a bit farfetched (even if you believe in reincarnation, the curses can be hard to buy into!) but it kept me reading. Unlike many romance novels, this doesn’t have a traditional “happily ever after”, though the ending is decidedly hopeful.