Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sunday Stills: Circles

So I was sitting there wondering what on earth I could photograph for Ed's latest challenge and right in front of me was this:

And near the bookcase containing the stereo speaker were these brass bowls:

I like the highlights and shadows of the rim around the speaker and edges of the bowls.

This might be stretching it, but I liked the shape of the "O" in the book title (The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker). The over-size book is laying on its side on the shelf so I left the photo that way.

To see how others met the challenge, visit Sunday Stills.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book Club Read: "The Forgotten Garden"

The neighborhood book club discussed Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden last week. Morton is an Australian writer and portion's of the book were set in Queensland -- so we were reading about some of the very places that were experiencing devastating floods. Made the news reports that much more poignant.

This story follows three generations of women at significant times and locations in their lives. Morton leaps back and forth between characters, eras, and settings -- which was one of the major criticisms in reader reviews of the novel. One of our members had a heck of a time tracking events. I found that I had no problem following the story as long as I didn't put down the book for a day or two. But when I did take a brief break from it, I also struggled to recall minor characters and past events when I resumed reading.

That said, Morton mainly pulled it off to create an intriguing story.

During Nell's twenty-first birthday party, her father pulls her aside to tell her a secret that her parents had been keeping for most of her life. She is not their natural daughter. In fact, her "father" found her abandoned on the Australian dock after a ship from England had disembarked. Unsure what else to do, he brought the small girl home while he pondered the situation. He and his wife were sadly without children and feared they would never be blessed. In a fateful decision they kept the abandoned girl and relocated so they would not have to explain the sudden appearance of the child in their home. Much to their joy, years later the girl they named Nell became a big sister.

Nell reacts to the information by pulling away from those who love her most. Her younger sisters adore her and her parents dote on her. But Nell labels herself "disposable." She is convinced that she was discarded by a bad mother and must therefore be one herself. She breaks her engagement to her childhood sweetheart and begins a lifelong search for her real identity.

As the novel unfolds the reader learns other characters have also been abandoned, generally by the death of a loved one.

In addition to Abandonment, Guilt is another issue in the book. Nell's father lived with the guilt of keeping the little girl without attempting to locate her relations. But in the process of relieving his guilt he still keeps back the entire truth -- because it also carries guilt.

Morton reveals the mystery of Nell's true identity through her actions, those of her granddaughter Cassandra, as well as the life of "the Authoress" -- the woman who had placed the little girl on the ship to Australia. Generally the transitions between point-of-view character and setting went smoothly. After a clue is discovered by one character at a later period, Morton would in the next section or chapter take the reader back to the referenced scene and fill in more information.

I have to say, very early on (in the first 60 pages) I came to a conclusion regarding Nell's true identity and read the remainder of the book with that in mind. I thus was able to appreciate Morton's clues and misdirections. However, she did create doubt in my mind later in the book but I was only momentarily put off track. I was correct about Nell's origins, but not in how it came about (more about that later).

In general, our group enjoyed the book and near the end we were thoroughly absorbed as all the clues were coming together. But, like me, by the next day we were feeling a little cheated. Although Morton did a good job of dropping in her clues, we felt she didn't completely play fair with a couple of them. After building up the sociopathic tendencies of one character, Morton raised fears and expectations among we readers that seemed to peter out following the single action she required of him for her main plot. We were most bothered that the primary answer to Nell's identity required a hefty suspension of disbelief from the reader, with little lead-in as preparation. And none of us really understood why Nell rejected everyone who loved her when her origin was revealed to her on her birthday.

Some of the imagery was a bit blatant -- an English hedge maze symbolized Nell's and Cassandra's difficulties in uncovering the truth. On the other hand, the image of dust motes caught in a ray of sunlight was a lovely connection between distant yet similar scenes.

The big questions were: Did Nell's "father" do the right thing by keeping the abandoned child? Should he have told Nell about her true origins? I'll let other readers decide for themselves. We concluded that Nell's father was wrong to keep the abandoned girl without attempting to determine her identity; however, this actually turned out to be the best thing for Nell.

I'll conclude with our favorite dialogue from the book: We make a life out of what we have, not what we've lost.

The Forgotten Garden begins with a fascinating premise and gives the reader a cross-generational mystery that raises some excellent questions about when and how much truth is appropriate.

Our next book is Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah. It will be my initiation to ebooks -- I'm reading it on my new Kindle (thanks, Mom!).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Northwest Author Series

April Henry
"Commit the Perfect Crime: Writing Mysteries & Thrillers"

After taking a break during the busy holiday period, the Northwest Author Series hosted by the Wilsonville Library resumed this month with April Henry , an Oregonian and a New York Times bestselling author.

April is the author of the Claire Montrose series that began with her first published book, Circles of Confusion. She's since gone on to publish young adult mysteries and teamed with Lisa Wiehl for adult mysteries.

April didn't so much present information that was new for me as she did reinforce good guidelines that I've read and heard before. Her recommendations for writing mysteries apply to any genre of fiction. Create characters that the reader will invest in, and keep cranking up the problems for the main character to create page-turning tension. Good advice no matter what type of fiction you're writing.

April defined mysteries as "why?" and thrillers as "how?" Elsewhere I heard the distinction described as the reader learning clues along with the protagonist in a mystery, while thrillers often give the reader more information than the protagonist. April described mysteries as often occurring in a limited setting, while a thriller moves to the outer world and generally moves as a faster pace.

April began with plotting; where she gets her ideas and how she develops her main plot. The story inspiration may come from anywhere - news articles, magazines, photographs, overheard conversations, music lyrics, etc. Next she brainstorms "what if?" Whether it's a huge over-arching issue or a minor irritant, she mulls over what type of situation or what issues she strongly cares about that would make her take action outside her comfort zone.

As for "writing what you know," April said we all know how we've felt in various situations throughout our lives. For example, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when your car loses traction on black ice. We may not have personal experience with all the situations in which we place our protagonist, but we all know that creepy feeling in the dark when we hear a board creak behind us. So even though you've never been a Boston police officer or an archeologist in the jungles of New Guinea, you can apply genuine responses to your imaginary settings.

The reader must care about the protagonist before you place your hero or heroine in jeopardy. This ties in with Larry Brooks' Story Structure and Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method. They explain the first quarter of the book as Set Up -- gaining the reader's involvement with the main characters and preparing the reader for the wild ride ahead.

As for creating and maintaining tension, April provided a long list of ideas: the ticking clock (Ever notice that all the bombs on TV have a digital timer that is periodically flashed on the screen?), each time the heroine overcomes an obstacle replace it with a worse one, make the protagonist unable to take action (Lincoln Rhyme, anyone?), use our universal fears (darkness, spiders, etc.), have evidence disappear or be disproved, have the protagonist lie, eliminate the prime suspect as the killer, etc. To keep your readers up all night, end the chapter with an unresolved issue.

Dropping clues (this is what we came for!): Misdirect the reader by spending lots of time on the false clue while glossing over the significant clue. Reveal a clue that appears meaningless at the time. Surround the big clue with minor clues. The motive for the crime isn't the one originally believed (the clearest motive isn't the murderer's). Something is missing from the crime scene that should be there.

Here are some of my favorites from the session:

*Read, read, read.
*Write, write, write. Keep a journal, write your story for however many minutes a day you can squeeze in, use story prompts from books on writing to get you started if not working on a novel.
*Story Prompt: This is a story about _____ (main character) who wants _____ (story goal) more than anything else in the world but is prevented by _____ (obstacle) until he or she does something to overcome it.
*"What if?"
*"How can I make it worse for the protagonist?"
*Don't be afraid to interview an expert. Most people love to talk about their areas of interest. Some may give you the cold shoulder, but others will give you more than you expected.
*Give every character in your story a goal.
*Even the villain is the hero of his or her own story.
*Pit your protagonist's personal values against each other. Give her or him an impossible choice between two desirables or two evils that must be made.
*Every character in a mystery has a secret, just not the secret. What do they do to conceal their personal secret that throws suspicion on them?
*There is no one single method for every writer. April has made outlines before beginning the first draft as well as started writing to discover the story. Do what works for you.
*"Show don't tell" - Watch movies and television to observe how emotions and characterization are shown to the viewer. Take notes for your own writing so you can show rather than tell the reader what the characters are feeling.
*You can always edit crap. You can't edit nothing. (See "write, write, write" above).
*Attend author readings at book stores. You'll learn something from every writer you observe and you'll discover that published authors are folks just like you.

And my favorite of the day: "Tenacity is as important as Talent."

As busy as she is with her own fiction, April also teaches writing on occasion. Visit her web site for more information about April and her best selling books.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sunday Stills: The Color Green

This week's challenge might have been difficult for the snowbound, but all I had to do was walk out the door. The most recent weather front moved eastward and the flood waters have receded. We're now looking forward to a series of dry days, so I brought my camera with me on Indy's morning walk.

This is my favorite photo of the day taken on the high tech campus across the road:

The moss, which grows everywhere, appeared neon green this morning. I liked the texture of the tree trunk and sunlight highlighting the moss:

This is the first day I noticed my mother's bulbs have broken ground. A promise of Spring to come:

And as we stepped inside following our walk I noticed the interesting folds of my down vest hanging on the coat tree:

Green is an easy assignment in the Willamette Valley. To see how others met this week's challenge, visit Sunday Stills.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kibble a la Indy

No -- it's not a doggy "accident." It's a Milkbone treat with peanut butter and kibble. On the carpet -- where Indy left it for later consumption.

Unlike most dogs I have known and owned, Indy does not scarf down his food immediately upon feeding. Usually he leaves his dish alone until whatever time he decides to eat. However, he will pick up his Milkbone treat and move it to a different location on the carpet to be eaten later.

I give Indy a powdered supplement (Missing Link) that I mix with a little peanut butter and smear on a Milkbone that I then roll in his ration of kibble before placing his dish with contents on the floor in the kitchen. Sometimes he checks out his dish right away, other times he doesn't show much interest (it will be there when he's ready). Once in a while he'll nibble around the Milkbone. But most of the time he examines his dish, picks up the Milkbone to deposit it elsewhere, and then returns to whatever he was doing.


Yes, I've picked up the treat and replaced it in Indy's dish. Most of the time it will remain there until consumed. But every once in awhile he picks it up immediately afterwards to return it to the rug -- where he leaves it. We, of course, are in stitches.

I would love to know what is going on in his little canine mind. Where does this come from? Indy's habit of ignoring his food until hungry was a problem while dog-sitting his cousin Trixie, since we didn't want her to eat his food yet wanted it available to Indy when he was ready. Otherwise, it's fine with me if he doesn't gulp down his food immediately upon presentation.

Indy's odd little habit is fascinating to observe and often humorous in implementation. Yet another reason the Fluffy Puppy is also known as my Little Goober Boy. :-)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Stills: Macro Pics

I was amazed by all the wintery white photos from last week's challenge. No snow here in the Willamette Valley. In fact, right now we're being blasted with a "Pineapple Express" from Hawaii. Warm and WET.

However, I did manage to take a few pictures outside earlier this week. Winter in the valley generally means the moss, mildew, and lichen are thriving:

The following is one of my father's finds. He played trombone professionally but collected anything related to brass instruments:

And here is something I keep on my computer desk for inspiration. It's supposed to be a Christmas ornament, but Snoopy at his typewriter is representative of all published author wannabes.

To see more macro pictures, visit Sunday Stills.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Diary

My cousin recently forwarded a diary written by our grandmother. Our fathers were brothers who grew up in the Alberta Neighborhood of Portland. My father passed away in 2001, my uncle just passed away in November.

What an opportunity -- to read the thoughts and feelings of my grandmother who died when I was only 5 years old!

On the first page my grandmother writes that she had long wanted a diary and received this one from my grandfather at the end of December, 1941. Only weeks after Pearl Harbor. Not only was the diary of personal interest, but also of historical significance.

My grandfather was a professional musician who was a member of the Portland Symphony and played his violin for various dances, shows, and other music jobs that came his way. He was also working evenings at the shipyards (which I wasn't aware of until now). My uncle was completing his senior year of high school and job hunting. My father was serving in the Oregon National Guard (41st Infantry "Sunset Division") and, as you can imagine, he was immediately called into active duty after December 7.

Reading the diary decades after it was written, I know that both my father and uncle came home from World War II to marry and begin families. But this, of course, was unknown at the time my grandmother recorded her concerns.

Many of the diary notations regard my father and a mother's fears for his safety. He was at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington, when the 41st departed. At the time, no one knew where the men were going. My grandparents received a cablegram from my father informing them that he was at Fort Dix in New Jersey. When the 41st shipped out not long afterward, the family still had no idea where the men would be fighting.

The lack of communication from my father made each day an ordeal for my grandmother. She recorded daily events -- having the living room painted and papered, doing laundry, shopping, visiting family and friends. But practically every entry ended with thoughts of her oldest son, "God knows where."

The neighborhood mothers shared information when they heard from their boys. The radio deluged them with war news. Finally, my father sent another cablegram followed by letters. The 41st was in Australia. They would be fighting the Japanese.

My uncle graduated from Benson High School that spring and registered for military service. My grandmother mentioned the friends and school mates of her sons who were shipping out. When my uncle was inducted and sent to Louisiana, my grandmother stopped making entries in the diary. The year 1942 was nothing but heartache for her.

My uncle went on to serve in the European Theater. My grandfather bought my grandmother a globe set atop a wooden floor stand so she could keep track of her two boys at opposite ends of the world.

The Potter boys wrote when they could -- their letters censored to ensure that they didn't inadvertently reveal military information. My father added cartoons to his letters and mailed home a replica of an outrigger canoe the men had sailed (and flipped over) plus the carved and fully uniformed characterization of a Japanese soldier.

The fears and anxieties expressed by my grandmother were those felt by any mother of sons at war far from home -- regardless of the era.

What a difference from today, when friends and family can e-mail, tweet, or talk via Skype with the men and women serving in the armed forces. I wonder what my grandmother would have thought of that?

For now I'll cherish the diary and, when the time comes, forward it with other mementos to my young cousin who wants to be the keeper of the Potter family history.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Stills: "W"

So here is the representative "W:"


And here is the combination:

"W" stands for wood.
(The cover of Eric Sloane's A Reverence for Wood)

And here is the "W" logo:

To see how others captured the letter "W" visit Sunday Stills.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Books Read in 2010

These are the books I completed during the 2010 calendar year:

Where Serpents Sleep, C.S. Harris; The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle; Talking about Detective Fiction, P.D. James; The Crying Tree, Naseem Rakha; The Companion, Ann Granger; A Mortal Curiosity, Ann Granger; Tau Zero, Poul Anderson; Necropath, Eric Brown; The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan; Medicus, Ruth Downie; Terra Incognita, Ruth Downie; Kaleidoscope, Dorothy Gilman; Pirate Latitudes, Michael Crichton; The Outback Stars, Sandra McDonald; Heaven's Net is Wide, Lian Hearn; The Stars Down Under, Sandra McDonald; This Body of Death, Elizabeth George; The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Stieg Larsson; The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Dealing With Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, Talking to Dragons), Patricia C. Wrede; Too Much Money, Dominick Dunne; The Atrocity Archives, Charles Stross; Santa Clawed, Rita Mae Brown; Cat of the Century, Rita Mae Brown.

Books read with our new neighborhood book club:

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson; One Thousand White Women, Jim Fergus; The Help, Kathryn Stockett; The Hearts of Horses, Molly Gloss; The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie R. King; Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen.

I'm nearing the end of the current book club read (The Forgotten Garden) and already thinking about what book I'll pull off my bookshelf next. I seem to require a book in progress. Even if it's just a matter of making the selection and inserting the marker at Chapter One.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sunday Stills: Best Shot of 2010

Best shot of 2010? Singular?! Can't do it. Here are my favorites by category.

Favorite photo of Phantom:

Favorite photos of horses owned by friends:
Zorro at CEC

Monty at Devonwood

Favorite horse show photos:

Walking the course.

Favorite seasonal photos:
Spring blooms.

Fall foliage.

Favorite B&W and possibly favorite for 2010:
Park pavilion.

To see more best photos of 2010, visit Sunday Stills.