Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Autumnal Reflections

When the leaves are golden and the sky washed blue,

Walk into my woods amongst the maples.

Listen to the wind tickle the birches.

Follow a path under a bower of branches

Over a bridge to a mirror pond.

Where reflections cast murky depth,

Abstraction is more vibrant than reality.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Tempest of Scattered Leaves

Looking at the fallen leaves, I feel empathy for the trees. At the peak of creativity, my colorful ideas are scattered all over the place. Last Friday a storm straight out of The Tempest blew through Maine. Rain lashed sideways and trees toppled. We lost power. In the dark, I sketched out an outline for a new novel (really plot fragments that could be woven into a narrative later) and quit work for the day.

Then I met two friends for a two-hour lunch at Trattoria Athena, a new Greek restaurant in Brunswick. I highly recommend the gyros and catching up with old friends. Years ago we used to get together weekly for playgroup. Our sons have remained close friends, but we had drifted apart lately. We laughed over how much busier we are driving our teenagers to activities now than when they were toddlers.

Not only am I a soccer mom, I’m a Shakespeare mom. My daughter plays center forward and on weekends Shakespeare takes center stage in her acting class. My son quit soccer to play evil Antonio in The Tempest, with rehearsals every day after school and tech work on weekends. I drive miles for the Bard. Luckily, my young adult novel “as u like it” is about teen actors and Shakespeare so I’ve been observing rehearsal and acting classes, getting double credit for parenting and work.

On the road I rake up inspiration for my novels. It’s hard to know where to draw the line between art and life. Am I writing about teen actors who love Shakespeare because of my kids or do my kids love Shakespeare and acting because I’m writing about it? I like to think that my young adult novel could plant the passion for Shakespeare. It keeps me going…mile after mile after mile.

Photos: back step, front yard maple, backyard maples, view from Bradbury Mountain in Pownell

Shakespeare Watch:

Helen Mirren is playing Prospero in a Miramax production of The Tempest! It looks absolutely amazing (movie release date: 12/10/10.) At my son's school, a talented girl was also cast in the lead role of Prospero. The character is actually more believable with the gender switch.

I'm always on the look out for Shakespeare themed novels. Don't you love the cover of this one?

Illyria by Elizabeth Hand takes Twelfth Night as an inspiration for an illicit love story between cousins who discover the joy of theater. Although Illyria was published (2010) as young adult fiction in the USA, the topic of incest, the 1970’s setting and the literary style make it better suited to an adult audience, in my opinion.

Hand is a Maine author, but Illyria was first published in the UK in 2007. Thank you, Beth Kephart, for the recommendation. No free products were received.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Stella's Last Walk

I write with shaky fingers as tears stream down my face. 
No dog lies at my cold feet. 
The only trace is a well-worn patch on my office floor. 
Stella was frequently mistaken for a puppy at age six. 

Her golden coat hid the tumors. 
She went from healthy to dying in a matter of weeks. 
There was nothing we could do other than make her last week perfect 
and her death painless at home.

Stella came into our lives when my husband was having health problems. 
That mischievous fluff-ball chased away tears and retrieved laughter. 
 Now that my husband is well, it seems unreal that this lively bundle of joy is gone.

As my daughter said, 
“I was supposed to say goodbye to her when I went away to college five years from now.” 
At an age when even good friends alternate from kind to cruel as hormones ebb, 
a loyal pet was a safe harbor.

Stella demanded walks in all weather, keeping us fit.
We took her on our sabbatical to England
She tongue mopped the kitchen floor and shredded garbage for easy recycling. 
 Dirty socks were matched with their owners. 
She had good taste in music, teaching my children to be more careful with their iPods.

Our house sounds quiet. 
 We notice her absence even more than her presence in our busy lives. 
 Once we were welcomed with genuflections of ecstasy. 
 The worst part now is coming home.

Nothing is left but these photos of our last walks at Popham Beach and Bailey Island. 
That final week was a gift, a time to take Stella to special places, 
knowing that when we returned that she’d still be inside us. 

My daughter labeled those final days“sehnsucht,” 
a longing for what we cannot experience, sort of the opposite of déjà vu. 
She discovered this uniquely German word and taught it to me.

The hardest act of love is letting go.

Stella by Starlight 7/16/04-9/24/10

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

before i fall by Lauren Oliver (mother-daughter review)

Reviewers' Disclaimer: novel purchased at Nantucket Bookworks.

Usually if I don’t like a book, I quit, but I’m glad my daughter convinced me to keep reading "before i fall" by Lauren Oliver. Despite the unlikable characters, the story is meaningful and thought provoking. Oliver’s debut novel captures American high school at its ordinary worst.

Here’s the premise: a popular senior dies in a drunk driving accident. Sam wakes up the next morning to the same day. Given the chance to redo, what would she do differently? In this self-proclaimed homage to the 1993 movie Groundhog Day (video clip below), Oliver replays that fatal day six more times in variations. The problem is we are stuck in the head of a conventional teenaged girl instead of the hilarious Bill Murray.

This observation on popularity made me stop reading on page 18 of "before i fall:"
“So now I have first pick of everything. So what. That’s the way it is. Nobody ever said life was fair.”
Sam cheats on quizzes, dates a popular jerk, flirts with her teacher, goes to drunken parties and ridicules losers. She’s in a clique with three popular girls, who rule their suburban public high school with sassy entitlement. If this sounds familiar, it’s meant to be.

The novel gets much better on day three when Sam realizes that she has to change. This is when the Clique/Gossip Girl world is flipped upside down. The story avoids sounding preachy because Sam acts like a real teenager. Slowly, a code of morality evolves through trial and error mixed with introspection. Despite focusing on death, this amusing book is about living.

Oliver’s frequently philosophical reflections are delivered in a true teen voice:
Sam’s heart-throb boyfriend: “It’s like the idea of him is better than the him of him.”
"I’m popular - really popular - but I don’t have that many friends.”
On sophomores: “Lindsay calls them s’mores because they always stuck together and more than two will get you sick.”
“I’m dead, but I can’t stop living.”
After the first two chapters, "before i fall" is a book you can’t stop reading. Then it will make you think.

Groundhog Day Trailer (one of our favorite movies)

My 13-year-old daughter’s book review:

I picked up "before i fall" on a rainy day on Nantucket Island just after my mom told me about it. True, she didn’t seem very convinced, but that was just part of why I picked it, to see what it was really like.

Oliver narrates this book from a very believable voice. Sam has flashbacks to being a loner in middle school before she got popular. This perspective allows her to understand the loners in high school. I was worried the book would be repetitive, but it surprisingly wasn’t. It was interesting to see how the same day could go in so many different directions and still go back to the beginning by morning time.

"before i fall" was somewhat addicting and a very funny, pleasurable book. My only criticism would be the characters, most of which were not very likeable, although I did love Izzy and Kent. Unlike my mom, I never considered quitting a quarter way through, and despite my mixed feelings, this book was well worth reading.

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@Barrie Summy

Book Blog Watch: Check out a new book blog, The Contemps, posted by a collaboration of authors who write realistic contemporary fiction for teens. Congratulations to Beth Kephart for selling her thirteenth book to Egmont.