Wednesday, September 29, 2010

10X10 Art Show in Brunswick, Maine

On Friday 10/1/10 I'll be part of a group art show to benefit Arts Are Elementary. This non-profit organization brings artists into Brunswick elementary schools to work with students.

I usually complete my paintings in one afternoon, racing the tide and waiting for the sun to reveal the shadows. Watercolor captures the flow of the ocean. It is also easier than oil paint to take on location. I use a digital camera to capture a moment. I edit the images in Photoshop Lightroom, but I don’t paint from photographs. My studio is a rocky cliff, a secluded beach or a peaceful lakeshore.

“High Tide at Lookout Point, Harpswell” watercolor and ink 

Lookout Point is a favorite place to paint. At low tide this miniature island connects to land, but at high tide the trees nearly drown. Before I painted landscapes, I worked from live models in a studio. Trees are the figures of the landscape, dancing across the page.

“Basin Point, Harpswell” watercolor and graphite

You might know Basin Point better as the Dolphin Marina and Restaurant, famous for its lobster chowder with a blueberry muffin. Next time you dine, take a stroll down the peninsula to admire the wildflowers and the islands of Casco Bay. Feel the wind blow.

“Island Skating, Harpswell” digital photo on metallic paper

Friends invited my family to skate on an island. My daughter glided across rough pond ice as ocean waves broke on the nearby shore. We skated until the sun dipped behind the pines, painting the landscape winter blue. Metallic paper glimmers like the ice. Blog readers might remember this image from my review of Beth Kephart's novel last winter.

You can preview other pieces in the 10X10 Show online or in the gallery spaces from 10-3 on Friday. All pieces are 10X10 inches framed and priced at $200. Tune to WBOR (Maine Public Radio 91.1 FM) Thursday evening 5-6pm for a feature on the 10X10 fundraiser.

The 10X10 reception will be from 5-8pm, Friday, October 1, 2010 in the Morrell Meeting Room at Curtis Memorial Library on 23 Pleasant Street and at St. Paul's Church Hall at 27 Pleasant Street in Brunswick, Maine. The show will be up for only one night. My work will be hanging in the church. I hope to see some of you there.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jewell Island, Casco Bay

The only way is by boat.

To Maine’s largest tide pool.

And a forest of windblown pines.

Amongst uninhabited islands.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Following the Tides at Simpson Point

We took our last family swim this past weekend. More than the season is changing. My sixteen-year-old drove the four miles from our home to Simpson Point. His recently teened sister was the first to test the water.

At high tide the islands float in a vast blue expanse, but at low tide there is a sea of sticky mud. During the summer, I check the tides daily with the weather, adjusting our rhythms to the pull of the moon and the sun. We are not unlike the herons, except they prefer low tide. Sometimes I follow the birds with my paintbrushes. Too soon they will migrate south.

September light draws a sharp line between ocean and sky. The children return to school, and my view is now a blank wall. To write a novel, I look inside. I see the Atlantic from the opposite shore. My imaginary England is vivid, drawn from memories of our year abroad.

Writing is not that different from painting. First I block out the major elements in washes of pigment. Then I sketch out the plot and place the characters in the landscape. The space between them is as important as their forms. Word by word, I fill in the details and lift the excess with a sponge. The one color I cannot lift is blood red; it stains the page. My characters take a life of their own, and I follow the narrative tide.

Great Blue Heron at Simpson Point by Sarah Laurence

Political Watch: soon the Brunswick Town Council will be considering a proposal to open Simpson Point to clamming. The airboats can be hazardous to swimmers and to kayakers. Also clamming muddies the water. Please urge your council members to restrict clamming at Simpson Point during the summer. Simpson Point is the only public access point to ocean swimming in Brunswick.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sunrise on Nantucket Island

Good morning!

Climb to the attic with me.

Watch the clouds dance,

The sky burn,

And the sea blush.

Dawn is pink and purple,

And braided gold.

They sleep in silhouettes,

While our sun defies darkness.

Blog Watch: 

More seaside vacations: Bee Drunken drove to Wales. Just a Plane Ride Away flew to Italy. While vacationing in Mexico, Books in the City read about Nantucket.

Congratulations to Alyssa Goodnight on her 2 book deal! Reported by David@The Education of a Pulp Writer.

"Moored Sailboats, Nantucket Island" watercolor by Sarah Laurence 8/21/10

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Indigo Notebook and The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau: review and interview

My teenaged daughter and I agree: Laura Resau might very well be our favorite young adult author. Her lyrical prose, multi-aged characters and exotic settings would appeal to many adults as well as to teens. This globe-trotting author trained as an anthropologist, adding cultural depth to her stories.

The Notebook series follows Zeeta and her hippy mother, Layla, as they move to a new country every year by whim. Zeeta keeps a different colored journal for every country. The Indigo Notebook is set in Ecuador (photo at left) and The Ruby Notebook is set in Southern France (photo below.) Zeeta’s love interest in both books is Wendell, who was adopted from Ecuador and raised by Americans. He’s an artist with visions that come true. Like Isabelle Allende, Laura Resau weaves the magical elements into the narrative seamlessly, creating mystical realism.

Most young adult novels ignore the parents, but the most compelling character in the series is Zeeta’s mother, Layla, who seeks sacred waters, quotes Rumi (a 13th century Persian philosopher) and has flings with clowns. She’s a free spirit who treats her daughter like a sister, leaving Zeeta to worry about practical issues like saving money. Layla is a wonderful parent in other ways, encouraging her daughter to embrace life and non-materialistic values. All Zeeta knows of her father is that he had dark skin and made love to her American mother on a moonlit beach in Greece.

Nonetheless, The Notebook series is suitable for tween as well as teen readers and bridges the gap between middle grade and edgier young adult fiction. If anything, The Indigo Notebook is too innocent. I have only one tiny criticism about The Ruby Notebook: homing pigeons do not send two-way messages. The books should be read in sequence and are both wonderful. Even the covers are gorgeous. My daughter and I are not alone in our praise for Laura Resau's writing. Kirkus Reviews gave The Ruby Notebooka a starred review.

My 13-year-old Daughter's Review:

Laura Resau writes with such rich language and detailed description of character, place and actions, but still manages to be fast-paced and not at all boring. I fell in love with The Indigo Notebook when I started reading it. It is set up perfectly, and I was instantly intrigued by the character, Zeeta, who travels the world with her Rumi-quoting, capricious mother, Layla, whom I also love. It is most likely because I haven’t visited Ecuador- or in fact South America- that made me also very interested by the small village, Otavalo (photo at left), in which the book is set.

I really like Zeeta’s voice. It sounds like she has wisdom because of all the places she has been and yet still sounds like a teenager, but an intelligent, exotic one. I especially liked how she described her surroundings and wrote them all in her notebook, along with asking questions to people about hopes and dreams, then writing those down too.

The story line was very fresh and interesting, and was really fun to read. As for the love-interest portion, I thought it was good, and I liked it. However I thought it could have been a bit more…romantic? Most of the time it just seemed like they were good friends even when they were “boyfriend and girlfriend.”

The Ruby Notebook, the sequel, was spectacular as well! I thought it would be hard to live up to the first one, which I loved, but this one was amazing too! It had unexpected twists and turns, friendship, lovely characters, romance, and a very interesting plot. Once again I loved the setting, however not as much as the first one in Ecuador. The Ruby Notebook is set in Southern France, and Zeeta describes it beautifully, however since I have been to France, it wasn’t quite as intriguing or exciting as Ecuador to me.

minor spoiler alert for this paragraph:
My only other criticism of The Ruby Notebook would be that by the end when lots of exciting events were taking place, it was slightly disappointing to see that nothing much really happened after all the built-up suspense. Also, I slightly predicted a couple things that were true in the end. However, despite those minor flaws, this book was amazing, and very intriguing and fun to read. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

Our Interview of Laura Resau
author photo by Ian Schneider

Are you more like Layla or Zeeta? 
(Photo at left of Laura at Zeeta's age, sixteen.)

These were fun characters to write because in a way they represent very different, conflicting parts of my personality. Like Layla, I was an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for many years, and like her, I felt incredibly alive and stimulated while traveling and living abroad. At one time, while living in Mexico, I considered leading a nomadic existence, switching countries every year or two. Instead, I ended up settling in Colorado, giving in to the "homebody" part of me that is more like Zeeta-- the practical part that craves a strong, stable community of friends. It was interesting for me to see this tension play out in the characters of Zeeta and Layla. That's a magical thing about writing-- you can live through your characters by letting them take a path you didn't.

What is the appeal of Rumi to you, and how did you form the character of Layla?

A few years ago, in a bookstore in the mountains, I stumbled across The Essential Rumi. His poetry and ideas resonated strongly with me, and I wished I'd been exposed to his work as a teen.  Later, as I was writing the Notebooks series, I realized that Rumi's philosophies fit beautifully with Layla's character.  She's very much into living every moment to its fullest and finding "enlightenment" in everyday things.  She takes Rumi's ideas to an extreme, in a well-meaning yet comical way.

I wanted Layla to be the kind of person you might roll your eyes at (as Zeeta does) but still adore… a person whose eccentricities just might hold some wisdom. I also hoped that my readers would become interested in reading more Rumi on their own.  (And based on the reader mail I've gotten about The Indigo Notebook, they have!)

How did your personal experiences of having an adopted brother from Korea (photo at right) and adopting your son from Guatemala shape the narrative and inform the character of Wendell?

While I was writing The Indigo Notebook, I was immersed in preparations for the adoption of my son—going to trainings, reading books, listening to panels of adoptees. I really wanted to be prepared so I could be as supportive as possible for my son in the years to come. As a child, I'd experienced many of the challenging aspects of interracial adoption with my brother (like hearing racial slurs, being told I wasn't his "real" sister, etc.).

In my reading, I learned the different interpretations, questions, and concerns that kids and teens might have about their adoptions over the years— feelings that shift as children go through different stages. I realized that my son will be curious about his birth family at some time in his life, which might result in searching for them, as Wendell does in my book.  Being an adoptive mother myself, I felt it was important to emphasize that Wendell's adoptive family is his real family, the one he belongs with, the one he was meant to be with. If I hadn't been an adoptive mother, I don't know that I would have had Wendell's adoptive parents make an appearance in the book. I also don't know if I would have made the spiritual connection between Wendell and his adoptive parents so strong and important.

You have a background in Cultural Anthropology; was the Indian mysticism in Indigo and the immortal waters and Celtic clan in Ruby based on reality or your imagination? How do you research your books?

The details of indigenous healing practices in The Indigo Notebook were based on reality. While doing research for another book (The Queen of Water) in the Ecuadorian Andes, my Quichua friends took me to visit a local healer who performed a cleansing ritual for me and a divination for my friend. The healing ceremonies described in my book are closely based on the ones I participated in (including having fireballs spit at me!) I was already familiar with these kinds of rituals, since I'd participated in similar ones in Mexico, and studied them in graduate anthropology classes. I took these real-life "mystical" elements and wove them into my fictional story.

As far as The Ruby Notebook, when I lived in southern France for a year at age twenty, I loved visiting the Celto-Liguric ruins outside of the city. I've also been long interested in Celtic mythology and mystical beliefs involving water. The Ruby Notebook contains some actual Celtic mythology and history, such as the handfasting ceremony, the Festival of Light, the instruments and outfits described, and the ancient conflicts between Celtic tribes and Romans. My imagination came up with the idea that this particular clan might have lived on through the millennia as guardians of the water.

My research process for my books always involves participant-observation, which is an anthropological term for immersing yourself in a culture by hanging out with people and helping them with everyday activities (like eating fresh baguettes…) Then I supplement my own experiences with book and Internet research (but the baguette-eating is more fun).

We appreciated the racial/cultural diversity in your books. Can you recommend other young adult novels that embrace diversity?

Thanks! Some YA authors to start with might be Mitali Perkins, Julia Alvarez, Pam Munoz Ryan, Traci Jones, Walter Dean Myers, Matt de la Pena.  If you're looking for fantasy/speculative fiction with interesting cultural settings, check out Nancy Farmer's The Eye, the Ear, the Arm (Africa) and The House of the Scorpion (Mexico.)

[Editor's note: my son and I loved The House of the Scorpion too.]

What is the best writing advice you received?

This always changes, depending on the nature of my current angst!  Lately, I've been trying to remember my friend and fellow author Laura Pritchett's advice, which she scribbled on an essay-in-progress of mine years ago.  She asked for "more heart."  Now, as I'm writing The Jade Notebook, I'm thinking how important it is to look into the hearts of each character, to infuse each and every one with tenderness and love and vulnerability and passion and yearning. This is not something you can do analytically—it's something you feel deeply, something that makes your characters come alive.

Can you give us a sneak preview of The Jade Notebook? Will there be more books (please!) in the Notebook series?

I'm so glad you're looking forward to The Jade Notebook! It will be the third and final installment of the series.  It's still a work-in-progress, but I'll tell you that it's set in a little beach town in Oaxaca, Mexico (based on Mazunte, my favorite beach town!) … and it involves sea turtles! The photo is of the cabana where I stayed during my research trip.

Thank you, Laura, we can't wait to read The Jade Notebook!

The Indigo Notebook (2009) is now available in paperback. The Ruby Notebook will be released on September 16, 2010 in the USA.

Reviewer's Disclaimer: I bought Indigo at Longfellow Books, having heard nothing about it before (the value of a good independent bookstore!) The publisher, Delacorte, sent me a free ARC of Ruby on my request and a second copy of Indigo, which my daughter claimed. Photos were taken by Laura Resau while researching her novels and reproduced with her permission.

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@Barrie Summy