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Monday, March 31, 2014

Seasons in Books

Not the cover you'd picture for "It was a dark and stormy night"....

"It was a dark and stormy night..." This is perhaps the most clichéd beginning of a story. It does serve a purpose though. No one expects a story about a dog falling in love with a kitten that begins with a dark and stormy night. Instead, the audience is clued in; this is a story about suspense or a mystery. Chances are, something sinister is lurking as well.

On Wednesday, I talked about Daisy Miller and the seasons. Today, I'd like to explore seasons more and talk about the clues that are presented to the reader through setting. This is useful to consider both as an author and a reader.

Seasons signal themes or events in books. In addition, there is more than one way to think about each season.

Winter may be thought of as a time of decay and stillness. Or, it may evoke fresh possibilities and the blank slate of snow. Snow might also signify innocence, particularly if it is used as a backdrop for blood.

Spring may signal a time of thaw, where tensions begin to ease. Or, it may be seen as a time of new birth- not only physical, but also in terms of ideas or feelings within the character.

Summer is often viewed as a time of full bloom and potential reached. On the other hand, it might signal that the character is sweltering or "feeling the heat" of a situation.

Perhaps no season encapsulates change as vibrantly as autumn. An explosion of color rips through the world. Spring too is a time of transition, but it is accompanied by the muted pastels and not the vibrancy of yellows, oranges and reds. Autumn then may signify the largest change of growth or a turn of heart. 

The next time you pick up a book, consider if it occurs in more than one season. Do the seasons symbolize anything? What season does that book begin in and what does that tell about the state-of-mind and state-of-affairs of the characters?

Do any examples spring to mind? Please comment below with your ideas or reflections. It'd be great to hear from you!

My best to you all,

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Writer Wednesday- Daisy Miller

It's time for Writer Wednesday when I discuss another author and his or her book.

I have consciously been aware of media influencing what I read two times.
1) I read The Picture of  Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, because of James Blunt's Tears and Rain: "Hides my true shape, like Dorian Gray."

2) I read Daisy Miller by Henry James, because of the title of the Gilmore Girls episode, "Say goodbye to Daisy Miller", in which this line is delivered: "The young lady acts up and her family ships her off to Europe? Say goodbye to Daisy Miller!" 

The book that I'll be discussing this week is Daisy Miller, although Blunt's title of tears and rain, does factor nicely into the topic. In short, Daisy Miller is to me a book about setting. It is told in two parts: near Château Chillon in Switzerland
and Rome, Italy. Both places I've been to and provided much of the interest for me in the story.

Setting can become a character in books. In  Daisy Miller, it seemed as though Daisy herself were part of the setting. I do not mean that she was static or in the shadows, that she was not a character in her own right. Rather, she was changeable with each part of the book and embodied the strength or the fragility of a particular location as they changed.

Her name also encompasses this. Daisy is a nickname, not her given name, and others have already pointed out that there is a play-on-words between the fragility and vitality of a daisy. I think that her last name also merits attention. Miller conjures someone who takes in the harvest and churns out a good. It implies changeability and progress, but also the passing of the seasons. Daisy's character through the short pages of her story do that as well.

Join me on Monday, when I'll discuss seasons and how they are used in writing.

My best to you all,

Monday, March 24, 2014

Museums and Historical Fiction for Museum Week


Museum Monday is a reoccurring feature that happens on some Mondays on Past is Prologue.

Today kicks off Museum Week for over 300 British and European museums, including The British Museum- home to the Rosetta Stone and over eight million other objects! To virtually participate in this exciting week, follow the hashtag on Twitter #museumweek.

Museums, a source of valuable material for referencing not only non-fiction but also fiction (particularly historical fiction), also offer some insightful pieces of writing advice.

First, the most beloved museums are often the most interactive. Rooms grouped according to country, colossal displays, and hands-on-activities are all some of the ways that visitors are drawn into history. Historical fiction ought to be like that as well, enveloping the reader in another place and time.

Second, even a small object can hold instant interest if it's connected to a better known historical figure or a well-known event. Characters and settings can spring to life when given a context that readers can relate to or find interesting.

Museums and books both bring history alive. Happy Museum Week!

My best to you all,

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday's Quotation to Inspire: Dickens and Spring

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.  ~Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Writer Wednesday- Reason and Persuasion with Plato

It's time for Writer Wednesday, when I discuss another author and his or her work. Today, we're stepping into ancient Greece to sit down with Plato. Only, this book isn't anything like ordinary Plato. Think philosophy plus super heroes! Think clever cartoons generously interspersed throughout the updated lines of the best known philosopher.

I have mentioned before how I'm a big fan of Coursera. I've taken several of their free courses on a variety of subjects, which have provided excellent research materials. In college, I took two philosophy courses that dealt with Plato and I was intrigued when I saw the Coursera course by the same title of the book Reason and Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato. The class is actually taught by John Holbo who wrote the commentary chapters and illustrated this book. The modern translations of Plato are done by his wife, Belle Waring. He kindly made pdf copies of his book available for free to the students enrolled in his class.

Holbo relates that philosophy ought to be present and thought-provoking, something that is at times lost in translation in old copies of the text. This book presented familiar ideas of Plato, but in a fresh and engaging way. Whether you're old chums with Plato or you've not yet conversed, I'd recommend this very interesting book!

My best to you all,

Monday, March 17, 2014

Saint Patrick's Day

May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
~Irish Blessing

Happy St. Patrick's Day! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday's Quotation to Inspire: Literature and Life

The test of literature is, I suppose, whether we ourselves live more intensely for the reading of it. 
--Elizabeth Drew

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Today is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's birthday and in honor of that, I'd like to share her Sonnet 43, which is perhaps her best known poem. It's certainly the first encounter I had with her, through the magnet with the poem and the rainbow etched behind it that used to hang on our refrigerator. Living in so many places, the appliances and walls, even the addresses change, but the items remain the same in your home and that magnet is one that stands out. May poems and books inhabit your dwelling and our world.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

My best to you all,

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Writer Wednesday and Emily Dickinson's Book

It's time for Writer Wednesday, when I discuss another author and his or her work. Today, I'd like to share with you a poem by Emily Dickinson. It's short, only eight lines, but perfectly shows the transporting power of the word, the illustrative properties of a few constructed lines and the magic of literature.

A Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul! 

My best to you all,

Monday, March 3, 2014

Yes, we're real!


Frozen's wins at the Oscars is something I applaud. I enjoyed this movie greatly, more now even than I probably would have if you subtracted twenty years from my age. So, in my Twitter feed today, when I saw Harper Collins' tweet, "Books for Kids that Loved Frozen" I took a look. That link is here, if you want to see it. I was happy to see that Ella Enchanted is in the list, because Gail Carson Levine visited my middle school and spoke about her book. It was one of a few brushes that I had with "real" authors. You know- the kind who write a book that people get to read after it's been published, the kind that I'm thrilled I now am!

One of my friends teaches English in Chicago and she told her students about her friend (me) who is an author and I realized- I'm now the kind of author that I used to hear about. I imagine that kids in big cities (particularly New York) have more frequent encounters with authors. Perhaps, there's a bit more reality and a bit less sparkle dust around those authors. Or- maybe not. Maybe meeting someone who's really written something in a book is still just as exciting and enticing and magical if it happens frequently.Writing certainly remains magical and thrilling and captivating.

So, my message today is simple. Yes, authors are different from ordinary careers. It takes a lot of dedication and persistence- not only to write the book, but even more so to publish it. For this reason, if you love a book, I encourage you to write and let the author know. Thank him or her for the story. Despite this, though, if you want to write, you can. It's a real career and in the middle of all the magic, yes, we're real!

My best to you all,