Coffee Mess

#1LineWednesday #FaithCanMoveMountains

Marshall Lindsay is the antagonist in my novel, Faith Can Move Mountains. He enters the book on the first page, in the first line. He disrupts Faith’s world and resurfaces as an unwelcome and dangerous presence in Faith’s and Josiah’s lives. Here’s a taste of Marshall.

“Mr. Lindsay set his coffee on her father’s desk, upsetting the delicate cup on the open ledger where the dregs stained the paper.”

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The Kitchen House and Beyond

20160817_135242As most writers do, I read all the time, magazines, internet articles, newspapers, whatever is handy. But nothing is as satisfying as finding a really great book I can dive into and remain submerged in for days. I’m not picky about genre, but I prefer historical fiction over most other genres simply because I’m fascinated by history and the way people lived in times past. I’m always on the lookout for books of historical fiction, especially ones that offer a new perspective about a subject I thought I knew already. The last book like this I devoured was All the Light We Cannot See  by Anthony Doerr, which won the Pulitzer for fiction. If you haven’t read it, it is a World War II story from the perspectives of a blind French girl and a German boy. The characters will linger in your mind long after you finish. No surprise I liked that one, but  the latest book that caused me to lose sleep and do little else for a couple of days was The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

Not for a long while have I read a book that has so captured my imagination from page one.  And, might I add, it started with a prologue, something publishing professionals usually caution against. I found the book, which I had never heard of before, stashed in my classroom on a bookshelf, probably part of another teacher’s classroom library. I picked it up several times over the last three years but never bothered to take it home to read. When I left my job this year, however, I couldn’t leave this book behind, so I packed it with my other belongings when I left at the beginning of summer.  At home I shelved it on my bookcase with others of its genre, intending to read it “one day.”

Last week, after revising my work-in-progress in which I also use the words “kitchen house” to describe  the area where Belinda works at Haddon Hall,  I remembered it and finally sat down to read. For two days I rarely was  without this book in my hand. The story hooked me right away. Here is the first line of the prologue: “There was a strong smell of smoke, and new fear fueled me.” There is unknown conflict here, and I like the first person narrator. The novel spans about twenty years of the main character’s life. Her name is Lavinia, but at the beginning we don’t know that because she has been so traumatized that she doesn’t remember anything of her life. And she’s only a child. The reader learns she is Irish, and that her parents died on a voyage across the ocean, so in the late 1700s Lavinia becomes an indentured servant at Tall Oaks plantation to work off her passage to America. She is set to work with the slaves in the kitchen house. It’s no surprise that Lavinia becomes attached to those who look after her and call her Binia, and therein lies some of the conflict of the book because Lavinia is white and her”family” is black. Again, there are some similarities to my own book here, which is why, I  think, I was so intrigued throughout the book.

The Kitchen House opened my eyes to a new aspect of the Southern plantation era and defies the mythology that grew up around it. Kathleen Grissom does not sugarcoat the ugliness in this book, but the beauty, grace, and redemption she includes keep the story from being too dark. Here is an excerpt from Grissom’s website that gives a synopsis of the story but doesn’t capture the author’s artistry or the emotional response I think you’ll have to the characters:

“In 1790, Lavinia, a seven-year-old Irish orphan with no memory of her past, arrives on a tobacco plantation where she is put to work as an indentured servant with the kitchen house slaves. Though she becomes deeply bonded to her new family, Lavinia is also slowly accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. As time passes she finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds and when loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare and lives are at risk.”

Even now, three days after I finished the last chapter, I find myself thinking about the characters. I wonder about Lavinia  and Will, Belle, Beattie, Papa, and all the others. I understand why other readers wanted Kathleen Grissom to write what happens next because I wanted that also. After I finished the book, I hopped onto Amazon to see what else she had written. I was thrilled to find a sequel to this novel was released in April of this year. It’s called Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House. Guess what my next book will be! I just reserved it at the wonderful Waupaca Public Library!

If you are looking for a really good book and don’t mind losing some sleep here in the last days of summer, I highly recommend The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom’s wonderful first novel. I’ll let you know if her second book about the people of Tall Oaks lives up to the first.

The photo below is completely unrelated to The Kitchen House, but I couldn’t believe my luck seeing a herd of six deer in my yard this morning, so I had to include it here. These three ladies are moving pretty quickly, but they were followed by three bucks with velvet still on their antlers. They were beautiful, but, alas, that picture was too blurry to post! I guess I was too excited to hold still!
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A Place of Peace

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Photo courtesy of Caitlin Podemski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publishing my novels is still my dream, but twice now I’ve submitted my writing to Word of Art, the creative brainchild of In Print Professional Writers Organization, an affiliate of the Chicago Writers Association. Each time I’ve had something chosen for publication. On Friday, September 4, my husband and I drove to Illinois for me to read my very short descriptive essay for the book release reception to a packed room of artists, writers, and their guests.

At last year’s reception, I read a poem about my son leaving home to go to college. I was terribly nervous to read, partly because I had never read anything I had written out loud to my peers before and partly because the poem was so deeply personal. Also I am not a poet, but that was the form that piece wanted. I felt then and still feel at times blindsided by my children growing up and becoming independent adults. Through that poem I relived the emotions of letting go of a child, so I was off-balance and aching. Even now when I read it, I choke up. I managed to finish reading the poem last year after stumbling only once.

This year was different. My essay, “A Place of Peace,” was about a grassy area beside the river behind my house where I can see both the river and the surrounding grassy prairie and marsh, a place I’m lucky enough to visit every day. Though the room was very hot and I was one of the last people to read (third from last),  I didn’t stumble over the words or the title even once. A feeling of quietude came over me before I even began.

Sometimes when we write, a confluence of events come together, serendipitous moments that seem to have been arranged by God. I felt that as I read this year. When I was working on this piece for submission, the snow was on the ground and the bitterly cold winds of winter were blowing outside my window, but I was standing by the river in the heat of summer beneath the shade of the oaks and basswoods. I saw the summer sunset and was surrounded by birdsong and the sound of running water. I was enveloped by the heat of a summer day rather than the heat generated by man. That same feeling of inhabiting two places at once happened again as I read. Seldom am I able to overcome being present in the room by being present in the writing. Often I’m too aware of my own shortcomings to do that, but at Word of Art 2 only the writing and the place it evoked mattered, and I managed to be there in both places at once.

Writing transports me. I experience the place and time of my imagination. At the podium in Illinois on September 4, I relived quiet moments by my river, experienced anew the place and its atmosphere. I didn’t see my audience, only the natural world of my memory and imagination combined. Last year I read a deeply personal poem which carried the emotional weight of a mother’s love for her grown son. This year I read an essay which transported me to a place where a river runs, washes away the weight of the world, and leaves behind the peace of reverie.  Even in a crowd.

Here is the beautiful art that Sarah McCashland created to go with my words:

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Here is the essay, “A Place of Peace.” The book is so popular that there is a second printing of it. You can order a book here.

A Place of Peace
On summer evenings the river gurgles past boulders and trills over stones. On the riverbank, damselflies light on my sandals where I stand amid rushes and purple irises. The breeze slides down the riverbank setting the tall grasses atremble with a sound like rain. Behind me oaks and basswoods climb the rise toward the collapsed line fence that separates the river from the prairie. Bluebirds streak across the dusty grassland, where goldfinches roller-coast toward the river. The last rays of the sun sparkle on the water and gild the treetops.
Then the light grows soft. Mayflies hatch, a sylvan spectacle. Trout feed in arcing, splashing frenzy. Cedar waxwings, like the bandits they resemble, swoop and dart, giving chase to escaping flies. Chick-a-dee-dee-dee echoes in the canopy behind me as twilight arrives.
No longer spangled with sunlight, the river mirrors the shift to early evening, its surface the murky greens and browns of the brook trout beneath it. A tender pink sky glows above me, intensifying summer’s green. By the river I think no frenetic thoughts, worry about no deadlines. Time passes, but the river remains the same, a place of peace, true and beautiful.

Many thanks to Kristin Oakley, my sweet friend, president of In Print, and award-winning author of Carpe Diem, Illinois, who told me about this opportunity, and to Mary Lamphere, super creative and talented writer and artist who designed and took the pictures and everything for the Word of Art books. Check out her very clever blog here.  You ladies rock!

Incidentally, this last photo below is near the spot beside the river I wrote about. It is never as beautiful in my photographs as it is in my imagination.

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A Sign of the Times

Yesterday I ran some errands downtown. In Waupaca, a town of just over 5,000 people,  we are very lucky to have a thriving Main Street with almost everything we need offered by local merchants here and in the surrounding area, no Walmart or other large big box retailers to speak of. We even support three bookstores! I know! It’s unheard of! Unfortunately, in another couple of weeks, that number will shrink to two.

Book World in Waupaca

One place I stopped was Book World to buy a copy of a book I’ve been waiting forever for, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon, (yes, hardcover, and I paid full price and am so excited to read it!). I did get a 20% discount, however. When I asked my friend Maria, the manager, about it, she told me they were offering a discount because Book World will be closing several of its stores. Waupaca’s store is one of them.

I didn’t ask about profits or traffic or the recession or anything like that. I’ve read enough about what is happening in the publishing world and the economy to know how difficult it is to sell books these days, especially with the competition of Amazon and Barnes and Noble to deal with. As a result, small, independent booksellers are a disappearing breed, even small chains like Book World. Although Dragonwings Bookstore is still hanging on ( thank goodness!) as is The Book Cellar, I am saddened to think that a community like Waupaca will have one fewer choice at which to browse the shelves for books and magazines, calendars and bookmarks. We will have to look elsewhere to find the perfect book for a gift or experience the thrill of purchasing the latest book in a series that has taken years to read, as I just did.

If your community still has a book store, I beg you to support your local independent bookseller, even if it costs a few dollars more to buy from them. The experience of browsing the shelves in peace and quiet as you sample the worlds within the newly inked pages, of smelling the perfume of new paper, glue, and ink  which is unique to books, and of looking for a title and finding several you weren’t looking for but which you, ultimately, can’t live without is priceless. I don’t know anyone who would find going to the Amazon warehouse and browsing the shelves  comparable to being greeted by name and having books recommended by a friend.

 

“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
― Mary Ann ShafferThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Book Blogger Test

A Familiar Books Quotes

I follow a blog by Jodie Llewellyn. She is a wonderful writer and blogger. If you don’t know about her blog, you should check it out. For a post the other day she answered the questions to the book blogger test from a blog she follows called Brin’s Book Blog. She liked the questions, and so do I. Even though I am not nearly an expert on books or blogging about them, I decided to answer the test questions for my post. I love answering those quizzes on Facebook that tell you what song was written just for you or what you’d be in the wild west, so I’m approaching these in much the same way! I’d love to hear your responses to some of these questions, especially books you’d recommend!

What are your top three book pet hates?

1. I know books about vampires were really popular, but I hate the whole vampire thing. If I never read anything with vampires, it will be too soon.

2. Reading a book that doesn’t live up to its hype. It’s why I haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars, the Harry Potter series, etc. I know I’m missing out, or so many people have told me, but I haven’t been disappointed either! 🙂

3. I hate when my favorite books are turned into movies and the characters look NOTHING like I imagined them, or they add a scene, or totally change the ending. Things like that lead me to wonder if the people who made the movie even read the same book I did. Case in point–has anyone seen The Great Gatsby?

Describe your perfect reading spot.

My perfect reading spot is on my couch in my living room with a cup of Lady Grey or Paris vanilla tea. I snuggle into a beautiful cream colored throw my friend Kay crocheted, and if it is cold here in Wisconsin and the fire is burning brightly, there is nowhere I would rather be! I could stay for hours happily killing time.

Tell us three book confessions.

1. When I was growing up, I didn’t like to read. I know that sounds crazy for an aspiring author and an English teacher, but I would rather have played basketball or have ridden my bike or my unicycle, anything but be cooped up indoors!

2. I have never read Gone With the Wind. I think I just heard a collective gasp from some of my friends down in Georgia. I know! But I just never was all that interested.

3. I have never read anything by Jane Austen. Okay, I just heard it again. This time I think it was from my English teacher colleagues. One day I will try one of her novels, probably the Mr. Darcy one, but there are just so many books to read and so little time!

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I don’t usually cry when I read books. I cry when I see movies, but I think the last time I cried during a book, I cried because I was laughing so hard when I read The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. I dare you to read that book and not laugh till you cry!

How many books are on your bedside table?

Currently, only one because my husband’s relatives just came for a visit from Norway, and I didn’t want them to see what a book slob I am. Ordinarily I have a whole pile, sometimes an entire basket full! When the hubby is away for business, they even creep over onto the bed with me!

What is your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?

I don’t like to eat when I read, but I love to have a hot drink, preferably black tea with honey and milk.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone.

Only three? This is the hardest question of the whole list, I think, so I chose the ones I have reread over and over again because of the magic of being transported through time and place.

The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

 Show us a picture of your favorite bookshelf on your bookcase.

This is my favorite shelf because it is the one with books by southern writers or about the South. I just reorganized my bookshelves!

 Write how much books mean to you in just three words.

Inspiration. Entertainment. Companions.

What is your biggest reading secret?

When I try to read “classics,” most of the time I don’t finish them. I think I feel obligated to at least try to read what others throughout history have found worthwhile, but sometimes the classics are…boring. I know I am setting a bad example for my students; nevertheless, it’s true. Sometimes I  appreciate classic novels; other times I don’t. Usually when I do, I have read something by an author which captured my fancy and then set off to find other books by the same author. That’s what happened when I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I fell in love with Thomas Hardy’s writing and have read every novel he ever wrote. Sometimes that happens for me, and I’m so glad when it does.