Friday, March 30, 2012

Blogging from A to Z--an Alphabetization of Antiquities

This blog has been very random of late; since there’s nothing to cure disorder like a little alphabetization, I decided to join over a thousand other bloggers in the A to Z April Blogging Challenge.

My theme will be: old stuff. :) Or, putting it more academically (and alphabetically), noteworthy objects, practices, quodlibets and rarities...of the past. (Yes, quodlibet was in there just for the Q...but because it’s one of my favorite words, I promise I will use it at some point in April.)

I’m pretty nerdy when it comes to history, so it should be an entertaining and educational month around here. :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

C. S. Lewis News!

I know you guys love C. S. Lewis as much as I do, so I'm passing along some exciting news relating to him that I've discovered over the past few days.

First, this book is coming out June 1st:

It includes multiple drafts of a hitherto unpublished Lewis short story, "Light," as well as commentary on how the story was found, how it was written, and how its themes intersect with some of Lewis's most beloved works. My reader brain is screaming, "Yes! More Lewis!" And my writer brain is screaming even more loudly, "Multiple drafts! I can get an insight into Lewis's thought process!"
Come back in June, because I am definitely going to have a giveaway. In the meantime, you can read more about the book here.

Second, a movie about Lewis's early life is in the making! I received the following email, which I'll share with all you fellow fans of Lewis here:

Dear fellow C. S. Lewis and Tolkien lovers,
My name is Louis Markos and I am a Professor of English and Scholar in Residence/Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities at Houston Baptist University.  I am the author of Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis can Train us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern WorldApologetics for the 21st CenturyRestoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C. S. Lewis, The Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis (lecture series), On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue in Tolkien and Lewis (due out from Moody in Fall of 2012), and From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics (inspired by Lewis’s belief that Christ was the myth that was made fact). 
I have co-written a screenplay, The Lion Awakes, which tells the exciting story of how an imagination-phobic atheist named C. S. Lewis became the 20th century’s greatest defender of Christianity and the author of the Chronicles of Narnia.  The script captures as well Lewis’s dynamic friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien, a friendship that helped lead Lewis to faith in Christ and Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings.  The film climaxes with Lewis giving his Broadcast Talks over the BBC during the dark days of WWII—talks that were later published as Mere Christianity.  To find out more about this film, which is poised to go into pre-production, please visit the following link, which not only gives full information on the film (including a concept trailer and a video with testimonies from the production team) but offers Lewis and Tolkien fans, through KickStarter, the chance to donate money to the film and to receive some wonderful gifts in return.  We need to raise this money so that we can go directly to investors and thus avoid having to partner with a Hollywood company that would steal away our script and strip it of its full and rich Christian content.
As a fellow lover of Lewis and/or Tolkien, I ask of you three things: 1) please visit the link and read about our film: 2) please consider donating; 3) please forward this email on to everyone in your address book.  We would like to create a huge groundswell that would allow us to tell, faithfully, the story of Lewis and Tolkien.  Only with your help can we accomplish our goal.  Thanks and blessings,
Lou Markos

Sounds exciting to me....
Happy Monday, everyone! 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Budding Ideas

The peach tree outside my window
is covered with buds that are tiny and tight
and about to burst.
But for now 
they bring a splash of pink
into a grey morning.

They remind me of the new ideas 
that swirl about my mind,
glowing rosy and wonderful,
but still lacking the sun and water
that will make them blossom.

But they've done their part--
the watering is up to me.

Happy fourth day of spring! 
Isn't every day more marvelous than the last?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oh so loverly

Way, way back in February, amidst the supreme craziness of my life, Heather Day Gilbert bestowed upon this blog the “Lovely Blog Award.” Do these things expire? If not, here’s my attempt at redeeming it by following the rules and sharing seven interesting things about myself:

1. When I was eight years old, my secret dream was to be the only Clancy Sister. I had a tape of the Clancy Brothers’ Songs of Drinking and Rebellion which I would listen to every night; I had every song memorized, along with a really terrible Irish accent. I’d go around crooning, “O Whiskey, yer the divil, yer laiding me astray...!”

2. Ironically, considering that I’ve written a novel about a vineyard (not to mention the number of Irish drinking songs I know), I rarely drink. But when I do, I really really enjoy the North Country Red from the Thousand Islands Winery in upstate New York. It’s very sweet. Since it’s not sold in Connecticut, it’s a rare treat.

3. I have a terrible fear of killer bees.

4. My guilty pleasure reading is P. G. Wodehouse. It doesn’t plumb the depth of human emotion like Jane Austen, but as a good friend from college said, it’s “brain candy.”

5. My favorite kind of candy is Sweet-tart Jelly Beans. They only sell them at Easter time, so we usually buy a few bags during the after-Easter sales and try to make them last at least through the summer.

6. I love making apple pies, especially if I’ve picked the apples from an orchard myself.

7. My very favorite food is Chicken Tikka Masala.

Happy spring, everyone!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Girls will be girls (and a list!)

Illustration by Robin Preiss Glasser
In a home whose X to Y chromosome ratio is 9:1, we spend a lot of time being girly. Thinking about girly things. Doing girly things. Thinking about what it means to be a girl.

And as a writer, I find that femininity is a theme that keeps coming into my stories. I guess having three daughters makes you think thrice about the type of girls you represent in your stories, about the types of role models you are creating for any young lady who reads your books. My daughters are 4 ½, 2, and nine months--thus yet unburdened with society’s vision of what a girl should be. Lucy, the oldest, is a fearless creator with a beautiful imagination. Zoe, at 2, has a personality that seems to double in strength with each day that passes. Even Genevieve, only a baby, shows her burgeoning personality in so many ways: in her cuddling and her smiles and her sweet brown eyes. Every day I tell them that God made them so beautiful. The two that can talk say, “We know that.” They haven’t learned yet, and I pray it will be a long time before they do, that much of popular society would rather view them as objects than as people. That their beauty will be defined by their weight or their height or how absurdly thin they pluck their eyebrows. That their creativity will be questioned if it doesn’t fit into a certain box the world has fashioned.

Fortunately, they have a family who can counter that, a mother and grandmothers and eight beautiful aunts and several girl cousins who are wonderful role models in what it means to be a lady, a father who isn’t afraid to be their father (or get down on his knees so he can teach them to waltz), grandfathers and uncles and boy cousins who love and respect them. I had a similar experience growing up, but I know that not every girl is so blessed.

Which brings me back to the book side of the issue. Even with my wonderful family, I found that the books I read helped me decide the girl I wanted to be. Even though my daughters have respect and love and support from all angles, I still make a point to read books to them that will strengthen the positive image of strong femininity that they already have. So here’s the list (you know how I love lists ;) of girls being girls in the best possible ways:

1. Fancy Nancy (and series), by Jane O’Connor. Don’t let the glitter and the enthusiastic marketing job fool you. These stories have a spunky, creative heroine who is actually beautifully unselfish and finds great strength in her family. The fact that she’s not afraid to wear a tiara in public should be viewed as a plus.

2. Ladybug Girl (and series), by David Soman and Jackie Davis. Girl out to save the world. One backyard at a time. In a tutu and wings, of course.

3. Fanny, by Holly Hobbie. Fanny wants a Connie doll (strikingly resembling the scary Bratz dolls) like all her friends have, but when her mother refuses to buy her one, Fanny decides to sew her own rag doll. Wonderful.

4. Christina Katerina and the Box, by Patricia Lee Gauch. One of my favorite picture book heroines ever. The book is out of print, but I’ve heard rumors that it is being reprinted. Hooray! (Also, her Tanya books definitely deserve to be on this list.)

5. Little House in the Big Woods (and series), by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pioneer women are my heroes. They raised families, baked homemade bread, fought off wolves and weather and bad guys, and still found time to sew beautiful dresses. (For girls who are still lap-readers, there’s a lovely set of picture books using chapters from the books and illustrated in a very beautiful Garth Williams-esque style.)

6. Betsy-Tacy (and series) by Maud Hart Lovelace. Set in turn-of-the-century Minnesota, these books are full of wide skirts and wide hats and parties and pompadours. And the beauty of friendship, what it means to be a lady, and the importance of respecting yourself. The main character wants to be a writer, and no one close to her ever tells her that she won’t succeed.

7. Everything by L. M. Montgomery. Of course the Anne books go without saying, but I love the focus on creativity in the Emily series, especially.

8. The Goose Girl (and series), by Shannon Hale. Which proves that you don’t have to wield a sword twice your size to have serious girl power.

9. Ella Enchanted and Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine. I love all her stories, but these two in particular embody the themes I want my girls to learn. The first has a beautiful message of selflessness and courage, and the second approaches the idea of image in the context of a gripping story.

10. Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, by Louisa May Alcott. Like all Alcott’s stories, they might be a teency bit on the preachy side, but the love story is so sweet and the girls are ladies and the boys are gentlemen and the friendships are of the truest sort. Everything a girl should know about self-worth and self-image and self-respect and education and the fun of wearing a pretty dress is in these books.

A very incomplete list--which is a good thing, because it means there’s an abundance of stories for my girls to read and from which to learn. And, oh, I can’t wait for the day I give Lucy her very own copy of Pride and Prejudice....if every girl in the world read Pride and Prejudice the world would be a better place.

And, now, with this inspiration behind me, I’m off to work on my own stories of brave and strong and good young women. They’ve got a lot to live up to....

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lucy's Shakespearean Debut

If “all the world’s a stage,” like the Melancholy Jacques says in As You Like It, my daughter Lucy will be just thrilled. Unlike her mother, who gets butterflies in her stomach at the very idea, Lucy practically leaps onto center stage. When she was born, she thought the midwife was her first audience, and she has spent the next almost-five years of her life developing her stage voice to perfection.

A month ago, the Yale Center for British Art hosted a “Pirate and Princess Day,” which (of course!) we attended, in full pirate regalia. (Pirates are more dramatic than princesses.) As if the chance to dress up in public wasn’t enough excitement, music, activities and sugar-filled snacks were provided. ;)
Lucy’s favorite activity--no surprise--was the mini-production of “Shakespeare’s Scottish Play,” by the Elm Shakespeare Company. First, a note on the company: every summer, we’re treated to top-notch, beautifully conceived and directed and staged, amazingly-acted, FREE Shakespeare plays, outside under the stars in Edgerton Park, one of my favorite places in the world. If you’re ever in Connecticut in the late summer, you have to go to one of their plays.
For Pirate Day, two actresses, in lovely princess garb, announced they would be casting, directing, rehearsing, and performing the opening of Act I, Scene 1 of Macbeth. They chose three innocent-looking girls to be the witches, then three rather rambunctious youngsters to be “sound effects.” While the witches were doubling and bubbling, Lucy slowly made her way through the crowd and over to the sound effect corner. When the actress looked back from watching the witches, suddenly she found four children awaiting her direction. She smilingly waved off my attempts to corral my daughter, and started assigning sounds.
“Okay,” she said to the wildest of the bunch--the little boy who couldn’t keep his legs from wiggling.  “You need to be our wolf. Let’s hear a big howl.”
What we heard was: “Um. A...oo.” Or, at least we saw his lips move like that.
“All right...” said the actress. “I think we need two wolves so everyone can hear you.” She chose an older boy from the audience, and together--staring frozen at the audience--they made a howl about as loud as a wolf spider might make.
“Well, we’ll move on,” said the actress. “Next we need the sounds of a scary storm.” The little girl destined for storminess took one look at the audience and let out a mewl.
“Um...and raging wind.” The actress turned to Lucy. “Do you want to be wind?”
“No,” said Lucy.
“Oh...okay. Do you want to be the storm?”
“Well,” said the actress, taking Lucy’s personality in stride with seasoned skill, “often it’s best if actors do their roles the way they want. So, what sound would you like to make?”
With a big grin and not a trace of stagefright, Lucy let out a loud, trumpeting roar.
“Wow, that was a very scary sound,” said the actress. “What is it?”
Lucy said, “An elephant!”
I will forever be grateful to that actress for resisting the urge to laugh along with the audience; instead, quite seriously, she said, “You know, I think a big scary elephant is exactly what Macbeth needs.”
During the performance, the actress called out, “Cue the wind!”
We heard a slight whistling sound.
“Cue the storm!”
Some hesitant clapping.
“Cue the wolves!”
We couldn’t actually hear anything over the whispering of the audience.
“Cue the scary elephant!”
Lucy trumpeted with all her might.

Shakespeare might have said that Lucy was “born under a merry star.” She certainly intends to be a merry star. And I am very grateful every day for the way she shares her joy and herself with the world.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Truth of Ghost Stories

Once, twenty-some years ago, my big brother Nick got into an argument with a neighbor over whether or not there were such things as ghosts. The neighbor insisted they were made-up. My brother insisted they were real. When the neighbor laughed at him for his belief, Nick rolled his eyes and said, “Haven’t you ever heard of the Holy Ghost?”

Ghost stories may seem like nothing more than a staple of thriller literature, and I’m quite sure that 98% of them or so are totally made up. Yet even some of that massive number, through their fiction, tell a truth that is essential to the way I live my life. Because I absolutely believe in ghosts. I know that my body is only part of myself. I know that life continues after death...that death is not an end, but a birth into a different world. But that world is so close to ours, so different and yet so thinly separated, that I think it likely that there should be communication between the two.

Sometimes ghosts show themselves overtly, like fiction shows us in the surprising occurrence at the beginning of Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce:

When I looked up, there was someone there--a tall, bony woman with bright blue eyes. I knew who it was right away. I said, “Clare of Assisi (1194-1253).”
She smiled and said, “Is right.”

When Damian, the protagonist of Millions, reached a very difficult point in his life, some of those souls who had passed over allowed themselves to be seen so they could help him. While I imagine that such revelations are more common than is generally accepted, often that thin veil between our worlds makes it difficult to see so clearly. Nobody Owens in The Graveyard Book was given a special ability to see the dead, but as he grew into a man, his experience grew more like our own:

“I can’t see anything,” said Bod. “It’s too dark.”

Death is dark. And unknown, and therefore frightening. It is, like the Bible and J. K. Rowling tell us, “the last enemy.” Yet because of that, who could be more fitting to help us defeat that enemy than those who have already conquered? Perhaps Harry Potter’s experience of having his loved ones with him as he faced the end is not so fantastical or so unique. During the last days of my husband’s grandfather’s life, he told his family of how he was visited by two little girls, who would keep him company and talk to him when he was alone. He was quite a sane man, and one not prone to believe in miracles, with the stubborn common sense of an old New Englander. But he believed these little girls were the souls of the two children his wife had miscarried decades before. Ghosts.

A week ago, my mother-in-law, Nancy Hough, passed away from this world. The sense of lack that we feel is very great; she was only sixty years old, and her death was somewhat sudden. But as her family gathered around her in her last days, I can honestly say that we felt no fear. More than one of us have likened the experience to that of a woman giving birth, and through our sadness, there was an overwhelming sensation of love and even excitement, as strange as that may sound. I have no doubt that we were surrounded by others who had passed that way before, who helped us see it as it truly was: not an ending, but the beginning of a journey.

There is a description of another journey in literature, which is one of the truest bits of fiction you’ll ever find...if you’re as nerdy as I am, it won’t take you long to recognize it:

...and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.
But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.

Like Sam, it is difficult for me to hear anything other than sighs and murmurs. Like Bod, it is hard for me to see past the darkness. But I have the whispers of friends who have already made their journeys, reminding me of the truth. And I have the witness of my little 4-year-old girl, who is so much wiser than I. She talks to her Nana now more than ever. And I would not be surprised if her Nana decided some time to whisper back.