Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Portland Waterfront & Eastern Prom

During our staycation, the kids and I visited Portland, a half an hour south on the coast. It’s the biggest city in Maine with only 64,000 people. The salted murky scent of the sea hung on the air.

Sarah Laurence by her daughter

Satori Salon on Fore Street was our first stop; it had been almost 6 months since my last haircut. Perhaps I’ve been a little too wrapped up in revising as u like it. I was able to step outside without a hat or even a coat. Can you believe this is February in Maine?

After a delicious Japanese lunch at Sapporo, we walked northeast on Commercial Street along the harbor. The busy road transitions to a waterfront path at the ferry station. Check out the windmill on board the tall ship.  I've been noticing nautical details since I created a maritime museum curator for as u like it. A visit to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath last year provided inspiration. I love being able to track novel details like that.  My blog is a travel log of my works in progress.

The Eastern Promenade offered a spectacular view of the islands in Casco Bay. The water was a deep winter blue. You might remember the Eastern Prom from a research trip I took for NOT CRICKET. Even when I’m not writing, I’m sketching ideas in my head.

Normally the Eastern Prom would be white with snow. Every big storm that has hit the eastern seaboard since mid January has missed Maine. We usually ski over February break, but I have to admit that I  enjoyed a week of warm sunshine.  Snow mixed with rain is in the forecast today.

From the hilltop, you can watch the old Narrow Gauge trains pass. There is a railway museum too. The caboose had to be my last image. Vacation is over so I’m happily back to work on my latest novel.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

With sunsets like this, why leave home for vacation week? My 12-year-old daughter and I have been reading by the fire. Here’s her review of a favorite book:

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray is set in the high, stone-walled and ivy crept turrets of Spence Academy for Young Ladies, a preparatory boarding school outside London, 1895. Girls laugh and play in the forest, dipping their feet in the ponds and gossip about attending balls, suitable men to marry some day, and the new green-eyed, slightly rebellious Gemma. She had caught the attention of most with her occasional cursing, red hair, moving from India and her mother murdered mysteriously… but of course her mother’s death is covered by the lie of an unfortunate case of cholera.

After a time of fitting in, Gemma has stitched a close bond with Felicity, Pippa and Ann and as they tell each other secrets, Gemma tells them every deep, twisted truth about who she really is. They form an Order, after being informed by a somewhat mythological group of witches, and retreat at midnight to caves to perform rituals, tell secrets and stories and try to feel magic, until they figure out what magic truly is… and soon everything goes sadly wrong in the paranormal.

I adored this book; it is my favorite novel that I have read recently, most definitely. I usually do not like paranormal fiction, but this one is absolutely amazing! I liked every aspect of it: the paranormal, the time and setting, the very original, intense plot, unique romance, the developed characters (I especially liked the descriptions that helped etch out in my mind each character like Felicity, Kartik and Ann) and I loved getting to know the voice telling the story, Gemma. It is very interesting as it is set in present tense, first person. I think it was a bit odd how it switched from imperfect to present at different times, and I slightly wished it just stayed with imperfect tense but ah well. It is a very whimsical, entertaining, compelling, passionate story about friendship. I thoroughly loved it.

An excerpt:

"Felicity ignores us. She walks out toward them, an apparition in white and blue velvet, her head held high as they stare in awe at her, the goddess. I don’t yet know what power feels like. But this is surely what it looks like, and I think I’m beginning to understand why those ancient women had to hide in caves. Why our parents and teachers and suitors want us to behave properly and predictably. It’s not that they want to protect us; it’s that they fear us."

My daughter with English bluebells.
Our family lived in London in 2004 and in Oxford in 2007-8.
My daughter can relate to being the new girl at an English school.

Sarah’s Review: I chose the excerpt after reading and enjoying A Great And Terrible Beauty (2003) on my daughter’s recommendation. The best parts were about girl empowerment, maturity, romance and friendship. Some of the author's Victorian period details were off, such as referring to men's evening wear as tuxedos. Would have corsets been part of a boarding school's uniform? Anyway, these are just details, and there is definitely a strong atmosphere to the book. I liked how A Great and Terrible Beauty teaches girls today about the restrictions of women in that time period. Gemma is a strong protagonist and a believable teenager. Her love interest, Kartik, is very appealing and breaks racial stereotypes. There are two more books in the trilogy: Rebel Angels (2006) and The Sweet Far Thing (2008). My daughter is reading them over vacation.

Photos: chosen by my daughter & taken by me. 
Sunset at Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, Maine.
Swans in Regent’s Park, London. 
Rousham Garden, Oxfordshire. 
Upper Library window and books at Christ Church College, Oxford. 
Merton College, Oxford. 
Bluebell Woods, Oxfordshire.
Sainte Chapelle, Paris, France. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Waves at Reid State Park

Sick of snow and ice?
Play wave tag at One Mile Beach.

No crowds in February,
Silver sealines are yours alone.

Without snowdrifts,
Only the surf is white.

The waves are green,
Crashing down.

Rocks too slippery to climb
Entrap tide and rustle sand.

One man dares the ocean
To sweep him away.

Music Watch: my neighbor Robert Rand recorded waves at Reid State Park to create relaxation music, Wavepool. Here's his story:

For the Wavepool project, I engaged in recording sorties from the studio in January 2008. The task was to find that very pace and texture, a surf softly breaking, almost like breathing, that I had heard in early January during a kind of daydream when my muse graced me with a visionary sound for a time one day. 

After four months of sometimes repeated visits to multiple beaches from Bar Harbor to Plum Island, it was in May 2008 that I returned once again to Reid State Park. Several times I had visited Reid that Spring, as if I had somehow sensed its potential. Yet each time, I had come away without a useful recording. 

As I walked onto One Mile Beach with my pack and gear, a happy couple nodded and smiled as they returned to their car and drove away, leaving me alone. There were no cars, no people, no happy dogs, no lovers, no gulls or terns, no boats or planes, no blustery winds. It was, for once, an absolute soundscape of slow surf. 

Precisely halfway down One Mile Beach, the surf sang to me, and I recorded. Then time passed back in the studio immersed in composition as I recreated and mixed the simple, deep ensemble my muse had delivered four months earlier.

You can listen to a clip of Wavepool in the upper left corner of Robert Rand's website.
Note: I did not receive any free products or compensation. 

Blog Watch: Cynthia@catching days went beach walking too.  Lakeviewer@sixtyfivewhatnow lives on the beach as does Delwyn@a hazy moon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl: interview & review

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl will captivate fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. This new young adult novel takes its inspiration from Harper Lee’s classic and from contemporary paranormal fiction. Magic, romance and history are served with a side order of southern charm. The atmosphere, replete with dripping moss and Civil War gravestones, is a character in itself.

From To Kill a Mockingbird, we get a story of senseless persecution and bigotry in a small southern town. Eccentric Macon Ravenwood is called the Boo Radley of Gatlin. His niece, Lena, has just moved into his old plantation home. Rumor has it that Ravenwood Manor is haunted.

Ethan narrates this Gothic romance in a true teenaged boy voice. He recognizes Lena from his dreams, but she ignores him and everyone at school. The other girls ridicule Lena for wearing black and a necklace of junk mementos. Lena breaks windows and writes poetry. The weather always seems stormy when she’s around. Lena is also under a curse, coming to term on her sixteenth birthday. Ethan is smitten, but he’ll have to choose between Lena and his friends.

 Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, North Carolina, photo by Kami Garcia

I picked up Beautiful Creatures at a Harvard Coop bookstore and couldn’t put it down. I loved the writing and the southern flavor. The food descriptions were good enough to eat. I really liked Ethan, but I never quite connected with Lena, although I related to her inability to fit in. The other high school kids were stock characters, but the rest of the cast was marvelous. Ethan’s surrogate mother Amma, who practices voodoo magic, and Lena’s Uncle Macon were my favorites. Having well developed adult characters, sophisticated literary references and beautiful descriptive prose broadened the appeal of this young adult novel to an adult audience.  It was one of the best young adult novels I read in 2009.   Unforgettable!

Although Beautiful Creatures was remarkably well crafted for a debut, it had one problematic flaw. Too much back-story about the town and the families slowed the opening, although the pace really picked up later in the narrative. My 12-year-old daughter quit on page 30 of this 563-page book. She prefers a book with a faster pace and a strong female voice (instead of a male narrator.) Perhaps she’ll return after she reads To Kill a Mockingbird. Many, many teenaged bloggers have raved about Beautiful Creatures.

Will Beautiful Creatures become the next big hit since Twilight and Harry Potter? It has been a New York Times bestseller since its December 2009 release. Two more books in the trilogy are in the works at Little Brown, the publisher of the Twilight series too. The movie rights have already been sold to Warner Brothers and the fan club launched. What a magical debut!

My Interview of Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Authors photo by Alex Hoerner

Sarah: Who are your favorite young adult authors and what made you decide to write in this genre?

Margie: My favorite young adult authors are Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley, but Kami and I both love Cassandra Clare, Melissa Marr and Holly Black. Holly Black's ARC of WHITE CAT (Spring 2010) is one of the best books I’ve read in years. I write YA fantasy because that is what I read – and always have - and I identify as a reader more than a writer.

Kami: I love S.E. Hinton, Clive Barker, and Ray Bradbury. I also worship Cassie, Melissa, and Holly. I had the same reaction to WHITE CAT – it was one of the most original novels in urban fantasy. I decided to write in this genre because these are the books I love to read. Also, I work with teens, and Margie’s daughters are teens, so I think we feel comfortable writing them.

Sarah: Why do you think paranormal fiction is so popular with teens today?

Margie: I think we all want to feel powerful. And none of us seem to feel “normal,” so why not let ourselves feel what it is to be paranormal? (Photo of Margie Stohl at age 16 by her parents.)

Kami: In some sense, all romances feel supernatural. They don’t feel natural—because each one is so special and unique. A supernatural romance takes those feelings and magnifies them, and allows us to explore them.

Sarah: Why didn’t you call the novel “Sixteen Moons” like the book’s theme song? Who composed the song?

Margie: The original title of the book actually was Sixteen Moons, and it is still called that in France, 16 Lunes. We didn’t call it that in the US because of the many titles with “moon” somewhere in the mix.

Kami: Michele McGonigle composed the music and sang the song on the audiobook, and we wrote the lyrics.

Sarah: Which character in your novel do you most closely identify with and why?

Margie: I identify with Ethan. I almost never feel like I fit in anywhere, but I never want to rock the boat. Aside from Ethan, I identify with Marian. I always have my nose in a book and my head is full of bits of everything I’ve ever read…

Kami: I identify with Lena. I grew up not fitting in and not caring and writing poetry in my own journals. I also identify with Amma, because I’m ornery and incredibly superstitious! (Photo of Kami Garcia at age 15 by her friend Madeline Smith Scoular)

Sarah: Despite having two authors, the voice in Beautiful Creatures is remarkably consistent. How did you split the writing of the first draft? Do you write together or separately in sequence? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing a novel as a team?

Margie: We outline obsessively in a shared office in my house, which is full of crazy, color-coded whiteboards. Then we each take a chunk of writing to work on, and hand it back and forth to each other until we’ve hacked it apart and written over each other.

Kami: By the end of the process, we have a hard time remembering out who wrote what. But we also naturally have similar voices, and a shared vision for the series. We fight all the time like sisters, about stupid things, but never once about the books themselves.

Sarah: What is the best advice you’ve had on writing?

Margie: My oldest friend, the brilliant middle grade fiction writer Pseudonymous Bosch, likes to say there’s no such thing as a bad book, only a bad draft. It’s really true. Just keep going!

Kami: Clive Barker told me that Ray Bradbury once told him to read everything he writes out loud. It is so painful, but so helpful. If something sounds awkward when you read it, it needs to go.

Sarah: When is the next Beautiful Creatures novel due out? Can you give us a hint about where the series going? What is happening with the movie?

Margie: Our sequel will be out in the USA in December 2010. The next book is more intense, and the stakes are higher. Broken hearts, true love, pie – everything you’d expect from Gatlin!

Kami: Richard LaGravanese, our screenwriter and director, and Erwin Stoff, our producer are hard at work on the film version for Warner Brothers. We completely trust them!

Sarah: thank you, Kami and Margie, for squeezing in this interview right before your book tour.  Best of luck with the future!

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@Barrie Summy

Half moon photos at Bailey Island, Maine.