A Good Book

A Good Book
A good book

There are few pleasures that reward better than a good book. I read both for pleasure and to learn how authors develop characters and move their plots along. One of my hobbies is reading the first and last lines of books. How does the author grab the reader’s attention, then hold it? How does he or she use language?

Yesterday I stumbled on a $6 copy of Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity. Many of you may know Follett from his long lasting historical thriller, Eye of the Needle. Follett bases his fictional tales on assiduous research. Edge of Eternity is a contemporary suite of stories happening on several continents. Follett weaves characters active in the Freedom Bus Rides and civil rights movement with characters in East Germany when Khrushchev decides to build the Berlin Wall. It begins in the year 1961 and moves through the ’80s encompassing the civil rights movement, assassination of John F. Kennedy, and our fears and efforts to prevent a nuclear war with Russia. I stayed up very late last night reading.

What are you reading?

 

Marjorie Rawlings: Warm or White Christmas?

Florida Humanities Council posted a wonderful story about Marjorie Rawlings learning to love Florida at Christmastime. It took some time for the writer to adjust to warm air and green plants at Christmas but once she did, she was in it lock, stock, and barrel. Great article.

Paralleling Rawlings, but humbly drawing no comparison in talent, I am spending Christmas in Tucson to promote my new novel, Threshold, in very warm BUT DRY weather. Here we might be sipping margarita’s with lots of lime.

Below are photos I took at Rawlings’ Cross Creek home, now a Florida State Park, and great place to visit on your way down to Key West.

The cherished indoor bathroom.
The cherished indoor bathroom.
All the original furniture.
All the original furniture.
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Ernest Hemingway slept here and maybe Scott Fitzgerald. A steady stream of writers stayed at the Rawlings’ B&B.
Marjorie wrote at this table, probably with an icy margarita!
Marjorie wrote at this table, probably with a whiskey near at hand.

 

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Creating a Character: It’s a Wild Ride

A friend recently asked me how I created the characters for Threshold, my first novel. As all new writers do, I took classes, read books about character development, and read great character writers. Yet, nothing prepared me for what happened as I began to write the story.

Carla takes over!
Carla takes over!

In Threshold, Dr. Carla Connor took over. She did not follow the path I had planned for her. She emerged as a person who changes considerably over the course of the story, finding new parts of herself not even in her own plan for her life. She impacted other characters so that I had to reshape them as well. Yet Carla was perfect for my intent.

Nobody tells you about this phenomena. Just Google “How to Develop Character” and see what comes up. There is nothing about the character coming alive and driving the narrative.

Louise Erdrich, whose characters pop from the page, explained this phenomenon recently with the release of her National Book Award novel, The Round House. Listen to this interview. If you do not want to listen to all of it, advance  to 4 minutes where she explains how a 13-yr old boy took over her story, how she lived his experience, and even how she misses him now that the book is “out there”

So go be kidnapped by characters; let them show you the way to the end. Just a warning: the process also comes with mile-high drafts, buckets of sweat and tears, emotional ups and downs, and slings and arrows.

Wonder who I will meet in my next book?

 

 

The Tucson Ghost of Times Past

Readers know that I’ve been blogging about an uncanny web of contacts and events that keep me ever tied to Tucson. Last week I wrote about how I became friends with a fellow ex-Tucsonan through our mutual membership in the West Florida Literary Federation. We both settled in Pensacola never knowing each other while in Tucson.  Threshold book coverVictoria became an important part of the writers who helped me while I completed Threshold which will be released in November by Fireship Press in Tucson.

ANOTHER UNCANNY TUCSON CONNECTION

While assisting the West Florida Literary Federation to bring two major New York City poets to Pensacola, I learned that one of them – Barbara Henning – lived in Tucson (while I was there) and was on the faculty at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. This link to the Poetry Center features a series of upcoming readings by poets with the focus on climate change which is the subject of my novel. I plan to attend Joy Harjo’s reading and then stay on in Tucson to promote the release of Threshold which means I will miss Barbara Henning’s performances and workshops in Pensacola during the Foo Foo Festival — our local celebration of arts and culture.

What is it that draws people to Tucson? To Pensacola? Check back soon to read “A Tale of Two Cities” and my migratory route between them over a 20 year period.

 

The Tucson Connection

My romance with Tucson seems predestined.  This long relationship began in my childhood with Dad’s assignment to Davis Monthan AFB.

Fifty years later, I moved back to Tucson to accept a position as Director of Education at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Little did I know that a future friend and writing fellow was finding her way to Tucson from her home in the Republic of Columbia, in northwest South America. We never met while we lived in Tucson but we would later share our love of the desert in a more tropical habitat.

That is because both of us left Tucson and ended up in Pensacola, Florida. Vicki is a member of the Portfolio Writers’ Group, one of many writing groups in the West Florida Literary Federation. She is a poet and talented painter who not only continues to inspire my writing, but who, by virtue of membership, became an early editor of drafts of  the Threshold manuscript.

For me it was wonderful having a talented writer/friend who knew Tucson and is bilingual. She was able to spot problems and to provide correction to Spanish terms and translations. (Vicki is a Spanish instructor at the University of West Florida and provided instruction for students at the University of Arizona while in Tucson.)

It seems that wherever I go, Tucson follows along. I am so glad because it is a community that won my heart. I even bled for it (see previous blog). That initiation got buried in my unconscious. Good thing. I might never have returned!

My Tucson "Connection"
My Tucson “Connection”

See Victoria’s new book of poetry including her gorgeous painting.

Right of Passage in a Monsoon Storm

moth-daturacroppedWhen I fist moved to Tucson, Arizona, I was new to the high desert. Biologists refer to its flora and fauna as “lush”–a term that up until then I would not have chosen for a desert.

Through colleagues at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I learned about a poetry reading at University of Arizona by Dr. Ofelia Zepeda, 

Dr. Zepeda is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a lifelong desert dweller, a linguist, and cultural preservationist. In 1999 she was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her work creating a Tohono O’odham book of grammar. However, Dr. Zepeda’s poetry is what I wish to focus on and how the chance encounter with her performance in the first week of my residency in Tucson led to my deep feeling for a place and community as culturally rich as any I’ve known.

The poetry reading took place in the circular auditorium (kiva) in the American Indian Studies Department at U.A. In the large room with rows pitched down toward the lectern in its center, a soft voice rose and fell. Dr. Zepeda’s was reading from her book, Ocean Power She spoke in O’odham and English, alternating between each as she read.  I closed my eyes to listen to the language of desert communities at Tucson’s origin.

She explained the relationship of her family and community to rain in the desert, its precious nature, and how, after the long hot, dry foresummer, the first monsoon clouds gather, and people point and wait for the first cold dollops of rain.

After her lecture, I walked to my hot, dusty car to drive home. Not long after I was on the road, a massive monsoon cloud, as black as coal, threw lightening strikes like explosions on the ground, and rain burst from the sky, falling n buckets, cleansing the car and blinding my sight. I had to pull over. Flood waters gushed around drains, cars stalled as the water rose, but all the people smiled behind their windshields or stood outside their vehicles with open arms, letting the storm soak them to the bone. It was a celebration, first delivered through Dr. Zepeda’s poetry and, then, by the monsoon itself.  I believe to this day that hearing about rain on the desert in O’odham made the impact of the storm much deeper for me. It was a true rite of passage. Listen to a short video about Dr. Zepeda.

 

Shhh: my book is about . . .

head in sandAs a new writer, taking on the task of a first novel with climate change as the protagonist is tantamount to declaring failure before lifting your pen.

Many dystopias have been written about climate change, and numerous Armageddon-style films produced which draw large audiences. Their stories are so outrageous that we count them as impossible. It may be an entertaining read or box office hit but these forms obfuscate the real threat we face.

When I first conceived the idea for writing Threshold, it followed on a years of reading climate science, talking to local scientists about changes they were seeing in local and regional environments, and reading the latest popular books written for the public’s understanding. The Weather Makers is one that comes to mind. The author, Tim Flannery, is an imminent zoologist who has continued to write about world-wide environmental issues related to climate change.

Yet, a great percentage of people still do not accept that climate change exists. Are we hard-wired to not accept climate change? What is it that defies logic, what we know, to respond instead to what we believe? Does it strike at our deep seated need to protect home and family, to disbelieve something as uncertain as uncertainty?

George Marshall devotes his professional life to studying these questions. In his recent book, “Don’t Even Talk About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”, Marshall presents the results of interviews and research that make a credible case that our natural inborn defenses and beliefs keep us from responding. But, Marshall is hopeful because what we share in common is so much greater than what separates people about climate change. That fact may be key to bringing about a consensus to act in time.

Planning the book I had to consider who I was writing it for, who would be my readers. How could I write a popular story that gains the attention of people who normally would not read about climate change, may even vociferously deny it (like Ed Flanagan in Threshold). How could I invite everyone into a discussion about it, and what would I learn in doing so? These questions have occupied my mind over a decade, as I drafted, edited, put aside, and finally returned to finish the story.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.

WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.

Go Set A Watchman: Firecracker that Fizzed?

Just completed listening to Reese Witherspoon read Harper Lee’s book, Go Set A Watchman--a superb rendering of grown-up and 6-yr-old Scout.

Several years ago I read a wonderful biography of Harper Lee, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields. In the biography I learned that the first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird was one in which the publisher (Lippincott) recognized a unique literary voice. The subsequent work with editors resulted in rewriting the story to include more about Scout’s 6-year old self and her beloved Atticus.

Yet, Go Set A Watchman is an entirely different story. The setting and the flashbacks of grown-up Scout to her childhood are familiar and the wonderful writing we treasure. But the latter chapters of the book are an ABSOLUTE SHOCKER.

Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird, is our national model of how we want to be, or how we want an educated Southerner to reason and act. In the pages of Go Tell A Watchman we confront the raw truth: the South bred, and in some places, still breeds, its own brand of racial denigration and violence. In Go Set a Watchman, Atticus sounds like a fine member of the Klan: What would happen if all those black folks got into politics? 

Uncle Jack tries to explain it all away through his twisted logic about why southerners still feel slighted by the nation and still distrust Liberals, Yankees, and Blacks. Then he pulls another illogical stunt: Scout should not leave town and shake the dust off her feet, but stay — because when people close to her are wrong, that is reason to stay — purportedly to change their minds. Huh? That just feels like Harper Lee did not quite know how to end the book. Well, it was her first.

But the whole experience left me wondering: just how much was the original edited? Also, think about this: did the editors believe that the nation, especially the South, wasn’t ready to view racism so unabashedly on stage? Did editors radically reshape the novel that we all came to love and cherish? Or, did they simply make it a better book?

Have you read it? What do you think?