Monday, December 29, 2008

Resolutions and thoughts on the journey

My Writer's Group has a holiday party every year. In the past, we've shared favorite Christmas stories, or created a round robin group story. This year we decided to do something different. First we shared all our writing accomplishments for the past year. Then we made an intention, stating what we plan to accomplish in the coming year.
For me, sharing my accomplishments was the most worthwhile. I'd been feeling barren and unproductive, but when I listed all I'd done, I realized that this past year has been a fertile one.
As for my writing resolutions, I'll be more likely to follow through on them, with twelve other people holding me accountable. So what are my resolutions? That I tip the balance of time I spend teaching and writing more toward the writing side.

Writing is a journey, and I decided to reread one of my favorite "journey" books this past week. THE RAMSAY SCALLOP by Frances Temple is set in the year 1300 AD. It follows young Lady Elenor and Thomas, her betrothed, as they make the pilgrimage to Santiago. I love how the author evokes Elenor in the opening lines, clutching her too-long cloak around her, wrapping her fingers in its edges to keep them warm, and standing on tiptoe in her borrowed shoes to catch a glimpse of a beggar musician. Thomas has been off fighting the crusades, and all Elenor remembers of him is that he once locked her in the henhouse.
I'm fascinated by how the author moves Elenor and Thomas across the channel, through France, and into Spain. She uses an omniscient viewpoint, spending most of her time with Elenor, but dipping into the heads of others along the way, the priest that sends them on their pilgrimage, the people they meet along the way, and of course, Thomas, who thinks of Elenor as "the brat."
The author knows how to use a few short bits of description to get the feel of the swamp, or the dessicated landscape, or the mountains. She even manages to project Elenor and Thomas' journey home, without toiling through the actual journey. She's a master!
Wishing you all good journeys in the coming new year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Outside Beauty

I recently finished OUTSIDE BEAUTY by Cynthia Kadohata. Kadohata already won the Newbery for her KIRA KIRA. I think she has another contender here. Her voice is unerring and she somehow manages to debunk the notion that "outside beauty" is all-important while following the tumultuously lives of four sisters whose mother believes that men care about nothing else. Main character Shelby adores her narcissic mother, and barely knows her faraway father. But she has her sisters to cling to, and that's all she needs, until catastrophe strikes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hannah's Dream

For some reason, I seem to be reading a lot of books about elephants lately. Big topic, I guess. :-)
But I loved Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond, even if it is an adult book.
The characters are beautifully realized. I loved the subtle ironies, like how one character's ex-wife keeps accusing him of being deadly boring while he's in the middle of secreting an elephant out of a zoo. There is much to learn from this book on the art of crafting a distinctive voice for each character.
The book is remarkable for a literary adult novel--the characters are likable, and the ending is uplifting.
Plus I could believe in the people Hammond creates and the politics that whorl around Hannah the elephant because of the years Hammond spent as spokesperson for Keiko the Killer Whale.