Friday, November 28, 2014

The Benefits of Moving

We’re moving. As I contemplate the demands and logistics of organizing, packing, and notifying friends, family, agencies of our new address, I wonder if there is an up-side to moving. The answer is, yes.

I haven’t moved often as an adult, but throughout my teaching career, I did change schools and that isn’t a lot different than a house move. Packing up the classroom – files, books, teaching materials necessitates much the same organizing and sorting.

Classroom contents such as textbooks belong to the school, but every teacher has a truck load of their own materials. My own books, posters, manipulatives, pictures, etc. go into boxes. Then, with each move, I face the filing cabinet, go through each file carefully—something I often haven’t had the time to do in years. Many things can be discarded as obsolete. Files I’ve used often and know I’ll use again get packed along with the rest. And often I stumble across gems that elicit an “Oh my, goodness, I’d forgotten all about this.” Ideas for teaching that I’d used with success in the past and somehow let fall by the wayside. They’ll be put to good use again in the new school.

Our last move was from a house to a condo and the process not much different from that described above. Decisions were made regarding which pieces of furniture to take and which to sell. The accumulation of “stuff” in the basement sorted, some of the items to be sold, others to be donated or junked. Cupboards and closets opened and emptied.

“I didn’t know we had this,” I said (more than once) as I sifted through boxes from the bottom of the closet.

“If we didn’t know we had it, do you think we can live without it?” my husband asked.

Settled in our new home, everything unpacked, pictures hung, I’m determined to keep our belongings minimal, to avoid the “acquiring” mode of my younger self.

Now as I prepare for this move, I see that I’ve partially succeeded. We still have too much stuff and much of it will have to go as we sort and pack. Some of the decisions will be harder than others. Do we really need those glass plates that were wedding presents, but never used? Do we really need two sets of dinnerware? We haven’t used the fancy ones more than once a year. What to do with those afghans Nana knit for us? Ah, we’ll give them to the grandchildren.

Where, in all this work, is the up-side of moving? Is it in the flood of memories that come with the finding and handling of items we’ve had for so many years? Is it in the freedom of parting with items we’ve had for so many years?

For me, the process of moving has invariably been positive—a cleansing of sorts. It’s rejuvenating to leave the old behind and move to the new. It’s liberating to divest oneself of material acquisitions. Of course I’ll keep the things I hold dear—family antiques, books, special souvenirs of Mali—but the rest will be downsized once again and I won’t miss any of the things I leave behind. Perhaps this is a piece of the freedom we all aspire to.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Picture taking - virtue or vice

Writers create worlds with their words.  And if the writer is a master at his or her craft the words allow the reader to “see” a vivid picture of the scene, understand the characters, and thrill with the action. For many readers, creating their own images and impressions from word pictures is what makes reading superior to visual media.  

Yet, as I type this, the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” reverberates in my head.

How do I feel about picture taking?

Very guilty:
Many years ago, I sat on the upper deck of the General Soumare plying its way up the Niger River to Tombouctou. We docked at Goundam and watched, fascinated by the desert life on shore. Without moving from my chair, I reached down into my purse for my little camera. I had it partially out of my purse when someone in the circle of Touraug women spotted it. They began to rise and depart. I dropped my camera back into my purse and they settled into their circle again.

Guilty and angry:
I time travelled to the Dogon area of Mali. I use the words “time travel” deliberately as we were among people surviving in Stone Age conditions. What they lived on was hard to fathom. Of course I wanted pictures. I raised my camera to capture a mother and her child. The moment she saw my camera, she picked up her child and posed, then held her hand out for money. I put my camera away. It wasn’t surprising that she would want money—any little bit would help the villagers to survive, but I was angry too, furious that careless camera toting tourists had created this situation. There are many better ways to support the poor.

Angry and insulted:
At one time we lived in a unique river-side community in our city. Cyclists on the trails careened to a stop to talk about our houses. Cars drove by slowly, passengers gawking out their windows. Invariably, cameras appeared—the tourists ready to take pictures of the quaint locals infuriated me. Is that how others felt when I wielded my camera?

Guilty again:
I take pictures for my blog—many of them in Mexico. They’re not very good photos, because I feel that I’m intrusive of people’s lives and homes so I snap quickly and hide the camera. I don’t believe I have a right to invade their lives in this way.

Of course I come home with regrets for the photos not taken.  I would dearly love that picture of the man on the horse waiting at the red light alongside my car or the man walking his cow across the main street of town.

Pictures are important, providing glimpses into the past, evidence of crimes, sights to marvel at, an opportunity to travel from your armchair, but at what cost to the subjects of those pictures?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Construction of a Novel

To the layperson observing a construction site, it's often difficult or impossible to visualize the finished project. In small town Mexico, where most construction is by done by manual labor, the dichotomy is even more pronounced as evidenced in these pictures.

As an author, I can say that the before and after of constructing a novel isn’t all that different as evidenced in these examples.

Before:           Em is forced to fight.


The man uttered a crazed laugh as he loomed over her clearly expecting her to cower and plead for mercy. Instead she flowed into his attack, blocked his swing with her left hand on his wrist, blended her body to his and used his forward momentum to throw him over her hip to the ground. He was a big man and her throw, though clumsy, slammed his head against the door jamb knocking him unconscious.

The guys I trained with should see this. Hell, they should be here with me. Jake too.

The man’s body blocked the one behind him. In her peripheral vision she caught sight of another man attacking from her right, with an arching back swing. She blocked his motion, grabbed his wrist with her right hand, his upper arm with her left and slammed his elbow against her raised knee. The blow was not strong enough to smash the joint but it did send the knife flying from his hand. He bent forward reflexively tucking the injured elbow into his side and she hammered his head with a closed fist sending him sprawling across the church doorway.

She spun to face a third man swinging wildly at her, ducked, slammed her shoulder into his hip, grabbed his legs behind his knees, lifted and sent him back down the steps. His falling body flattened two of the men still pushing forward and momentarily slowed the advance. A man grabbed her from behind. She reacted with a head butt and knew she had broken his nose when she felt warm blood and snot splattering the back of her neck.       From EMBATTLED

Before:           Jasmine tries to explain her visions to Victor.


“I have never told anyone about this, Victor. Not even Steph. They started when I was in first grade and continued almost daily for exactly two years.”
“What started?” Vic asked when she fell silent.
Jasmine sighed and a look of utter contentment came over her. “I would call them dreams, but I can’t because they happened when I was awake. They were more like experiences, like I was living someone else’s experiences along with them. I say that because I never felt I was alone. I was always with her. Maybe in her would be a better way to describe it.” From EMPOWERED

Before:           Love scene for Abby.


“You’re so beautiful.” He kissed her hand, her hair, her eyelids. “I love you,” he whispered. He didn’t need to say it. She knew.
“You must.” She giggled. “If you say I’m beautiful. I like the lie.”
“Abby, please, don’t joke. It’s not a lie.”
“Sam, give it up.” They were silent for a time.
“Abby, know this, I love you. I have for a long, long time and I will forever.”
“Sam,” Abby raised herself on one elbow to look down at him. His eyes were closed. “Sam? Look at me.”
“I don’t need to open my eyes to see you, Abby dearest. You are in my heart where you belong, where you will live forever.” He smiled. “It’s all right Abby. Everything is fine.”
“Sam, open your eyes.”
“I love you.”
That was the last thing Abby remembered.  From EMBRACED

Before:           Emily is forced to face the fact she might not be able to or want to go home again.


Tory took Emily’s hands in her own. “Can you stay away? Tell me honestly. You’re in love with Yves. You’ve got the kids and Essan sleuthing for you. You’re training with CC and me. You’re friends with Elspeth and Teeg and Exelrud and Zo. You’re embroiled in our lives whether you like it or not. Not to mention that you think something is dreadfully wrong up here, something none of the rest of us sees.”
Something is wrong.
“If you are right, you’re needed here. Desperately. And if you’re not, you’re still needed here. Yves needs you. He won’t be able to function without you.”
Emily sniffed. “He did before.”
“No, he didn’t. He was never without you.”
“You’re talking about those other women?”
“You, it’s always been you. No matter your name, no matter the time, it’s always been you.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

When you're finished reading my books, try these.

I flog my books via blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc. so I thought it only fair to recommend books I’ve discovered and liked, some, but not all, written by fellow indie authors. Here are my reviews of six books I’ve enjoyed recently. All can be found on Amazon.

The Palaver Tree - My books are partially inspired by my experiences in Africa so this book was a natural for me. Subtle, direct, gentle, and jarring, The Palaver Tree takes the reader on an incredible journey from the safety of small town England to the dangers of Africa. But, for Ellie, Diane, and Tiffany, England isn't safe either as the wily and unscrupulous Gabriel cons them all.
And the Africa Ellie comes to know and love—the friends she makes and the children she teaches—cannot protect her from the dangers of either Gabriel or the rioting as rebels attempt a coup to overturn the government. I've lived and traveled in West Africa and found this book taking me down memory lane. Thankfully, I never had to face the dangers Ellie faced. If you're looking for a good read, that takes "ordinary" people into extraordinary circumstances, this is it. And, the ending is perfect

Night Must Wait - Masterful. Authentic. Gritty. Gripping. Complex characters. Night Must Wait has all the elements to make this novel so much greater than just another war story. Winter's subtleties in depicting the characters, the setting, the basic elements of Africa add depth and dimension much appreciated by this reader.

I lived in Mali at the time and could not visit Nigeria because of the war, but did travel through Niger, Benin (then called Dahomey) and Togo. I saw enough and knew enough about the area to relate to much in Winter's book. I have great admiration for what she has accomplished with Night Must Wait.

The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor - Good books intrigue and keep you turning the pages. Great books draw you in and wrap their soul around you until you feel that you are part of the landscape, and one with the characters of the story. The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor is just such a book. The fact that Charlotte is a historical rather than fictional character makes each aspect of her story that much more poignant. You read the book and immediately wish to reread it for fear you've missed some small detail. When you come to the last page and are forced to admit there is no more, you are left with a bittersweet heartache and know that Charlotte will be with you for a long time to come.

The Winter Pony - Wow! There aren't enough adjectives to describe how wonderful this book is. If I was cranky the next morning, it's Mr. Lawrence's fault because I couldn't stop reading. Who would have thought that a book written from a horse’s point of view could be so engaging? This tale of the trek to the South Pole provides a whole new perspective, one that this reader greatly appreciated.

Domingo’s Angel - A survey of fiction readers showed that the one most important aspect of a novel to readers was what they learned. Domingo's Angel fills the bill perfectly. The reader learns about conditions in Spain during Franco's rule through the lives of villagers in the mountains. The story is beautiful, heartbreaking, and haunting. The characters, depicted so vividly, stay with the reader long after the book is done. This is one I will read and reread. Do pick up a copy. You won't be disappointed.

Grows That Way - I don't like YA. I don't read YA. Caveat - I read (more than once) and loved Skinnybones and the Wrinkle Queen. So why am I writing a review for a YA book? Not just one, but the whole trilogy? Because Ketchen's books are amazingly well written and keep getting better and better. I won't call this a coming of age story as I can't stand that expression. What are they then? A story of a girl dealing with her family and friends at the same time as she is dealing with Turner Syndrome. Ketchen's characterizations are subtle and she informs as well as entertains. Each book can be read as a stand alone, but I urge you to read, in order, all three. You won't be disappointed. And then pass them on to any teen you know who loves horses.