A Memoir to Recommend

The imagination is a powerful thing – it can bring video games to life as my son shows me daily.  It can bring a person to tears, even though she knows that she is reading fiction.  It can also make us concoct a dream world out of a place where reality, though more stark and mundane, is far superior.

I’m very glad to have had my Lake District dream world – full of Jane Austen characters and time-worn walking trails  – completely debunked.  This is thanks to James Rebanks whose memoir, The Shepherd’s Life, tells a more complete story.  From his memoir I’ve learned that a young boy can detest school because it vies with the way of life he loves – and this does not make him inept or unambitious.  I’ve learned that this same boy can go on to Oxford, can be capable of attaining the modern dream, and still return to the farm that is home.  I’ve learned that  the hills are called ‘fells’, that ‘winter is a bitch,’ and that selecting the best tup at auction is an art form.

But more importantly I’ve had the privilege of being reminded of an ancient lifestyle of hard work that far exceeds the cozy daydreams in my mind because of the honesty in Mr. Rebanks’ recounting.  I’ve found myself waxing romantic and wishing that I could somehow return to such an existence.  But that is hardly Mr. Rebanks’ point.  Rather, it is to educate – to offer a better understanding to those of us who know little of the farming life and who want to wake from our daydreams.  I’m very grateful to have learned, and I feel better off for it.

You can follow James Rebanks on twitter here and find his book here.   I hope that you’ll enjoy it as I have.

The Twelve Days of Writing

Well it’s December 12th, and this seemed appropriate. Enjoy, and happy holidays!

On the twelfth day of writing my true love gave to me…

Twelve books on writing
Eleven bloggers blogging
Ten readers critiquing
Nine agents rejecting
Eight commas splicing
Seven plots unfolding
Six narratives braiding
Five novels written!
Four that won’t sell
Three more in mind
Two manuscript requests
And a house that will publish my book!

Favorite Finds

The process of researching a novel is like a scavenger hunt. You pick up a pebble here and there. You search for ideas and inspiration without knowing what you will find. You fill your proverbial pocket with an arsenal of useful information – things that you’d have never sought out and learned were it not for your writing.

I have gathered a small collection of new favorite books – all found as a result of writing and researching for The Scars of Martyrs. I thought I’d share some of them with you. Here are my favorite ten finds in no particular order:

  1. Mariette in Ecstasy – a novel by Ron Hansen.
  2. Mont St. Michel – a book of photography by Michael Kenna
  3. Mont-Saint-Michel: Immensity – a book of photography by Olivier Meriel with text by Nicolas Simonnet
  4. The Tides of Mont St. Michel – a novel by Roger Vercel
  5. Joan of Arc In Her Own Words – a book containing transcripts from Joan of Arc’s condemnation trials.
  6. Fatima in Lucia’s own words – a memoir from one of the three children (now an adult) who claims to have experienced private revelations from Mary
  7. Moines & Moniales au Mont-Saint-Michel – a small French book detailing in words and photos the lives of the Religious who make Mont Saint Michel home.
  8. A Still Small Voice – a book on private revelations by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel
  9. Our Lady of the Forest – a novel by David Guterson
  10. Hunting and Gathering – a novel by Anna Gavalda

If you’ve ever had an interest in any of the topics covered by these works, I highly recommend them. And if you haven’t had such an interest – pick one out and give it a try anyway. After all, that’s the fun of a scavenger hunt: finding unexpected treasures.

Writing/Reading Resource

So I stumbled across this great new place, and I thought I’d mention it. They have all kinds of books, computers for research, and they segregate the kids from the adults so the place stays really quiet.

It’s called a Library.

For some reason, I seem to have forgotten that they existed until about six months ago when I decided that reading two books a year is not acceptable (I blame the usual suspects – my children, my husband, yard work, laundry, etc.). I also decided that $4 per used book on Amazon was a fortune I wasn’t willing to spend.

What to do? What to do? If only a place existed where people shared books for free. Where joining the club simply involved flashing your driver’s license and where the employees catered to your every reading whim by emailing you when your book arrived and having it waiting for you the moment you entered the building. Ahhhh. The stuff of dreams.

My mother and sister will be ashamed of me when they read this. They’re both Librarians.

Oh, well, I deserve it. But maybe I can help out some poor soul who, like me, has forgotten about the wonderful, magical library. I have good news for you! They still exist. They still have so much to offer. They still have books for free. Happy days are here again!

Good Old Fashioned Horror

The MonkI am not a fan of horror. Wish I was. But sinister plots give me panic attacks.

So why did I once consider the $900 purchase of a second-edition gothic novel written in the 1700s? First off, I collect antique books. More on that in a subsequent post. But this particular book piqued my interest since it is mentioned in Jane Austin’s Northhanger Abbey, and the idea of holding a copy of the original (or close to it) book that had all of England in a tizzy at the time – well it had me in a tizzy.

In the end I couldn’t justify the purchase, but I did read the book. Well, half of it. Until I started having trouble sleeping at night.

What book is it, you ask? It’s The Monk, a Gothic novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis. And if you like horror but have never read it you are doing yourself a great disservice. This book evidently scandalized the literary world upon its publication as it is fraught with murder, witches, ghosts, romance, sex, evil monks, tragedy, vicious nuns, live burials, and even the devil himself. Mr. Lewis had an imagination that laid the groundwork for modern horror, and although written over 200 years ago his book is very readable. For more opinions on the subject, visit Goodreads.

And now that I’ve followed my own advice and read the reviews again, I think I might get sucked back in. This book is worth a few more sleepless nights.