Jan 26, 2015

My Dream for You

Several months ago, I read a post from the incredible Brain Pickings digest that stuck with me. It was a look at some rare illustrations by Maurice Sendak, in a book that is now out of print. I scanned through the drawings amazed at the simple yet profound artwork when one stood out to me.

One of the things that is interesting about the writing world, as well as others, is that in a effort to chase our own dreams is often ENHANCED when we help others chase their own. Sure, it might take energy that we didn't want to expend, and it is VERY easy to get caught up in celebrating others, feeling like their accomplishments and joy are our own.

However, the alternative is just as bad. Writing is a very solitary thing, during the crafting process. But so is music and art, dance and architecture. For success, everything after the initial crafting must be shared.

Today, the last Monday of January, many resolutions have dissipated, goals to "make this year the best" have been shoved aside by realities and frustrations can creep in.

Though I may not be able to do so in person, I want you to imagine that I am the little boy in this picture, coming up to you and giving you your dream. You have as much of a right to have one as I do, and I'd love to cheer, support and encourage as your dream manifests and rises. In return, all I ask is that you be that boy for someone else.

Can you imagine how incredible this world would be if each of us did what we could to help another grab hold of their dream?

Jan 7, 2015

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy

This is a book that I heard about when it was first published, and then attention lingered around it as it appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list. I am a sucker for historical fiction, especially WWII, and grabbed a copy that lingered in my life until I could get to it.

I wish I had got to it sooner.

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In 1945, Elsie Schmidt is a naive teenager, as eager for her first sip of champagne as she is for her first kiss. She and her family have been protected from the worst of the terror and desperation overtaking her country by a high-ranking Nazi who wishes to marry her. So when an escaped Jewish boy arrives on Elsie’s doorstep in the dead of night on Christmas Eve, Elsie understands that opening the door would put all she loves in danger.

Sixty years later, in El Paso, Texas, Reba Adams is trying to file a feel-good Christmas piece for the local magazine. Reba is perpetually on the run from memories of a turbulent childhood, but she’s been in El Paso long enough to get a full-time job and a fiancé, Riki Chavez. Riki, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol, finds comfort in strict rules and regulations, whereas Reba feels that lines are often blurred.

Reba’s latest assignment has brought her to the shop of an elderly baker across town. The interview should take a few hours at most, but the owner of Elsie’s German Bakery is no easy subject. Reba finds herself returning to the bakery again and again, anxious to find the heart of the story. For Elsie, Reba’s questions are a stinging reminder of darker times: her life in Germany during that last bleak year of WWII. And as Elsie, Reba, and Riki’s lives become more intertwined, all are forced to confront the uncomfortable truths of the past and seek out the courage to forgive.

Oh. My. Word.
The voice in this novel captured my attention immediately. I loved Reba, for the strong woman she pretended to be, and the vulnerable, incomplete woman she really was. The southern feel of the modern setting came through with strength but not overpowering.

And then there is Elsie, the way she had a quiet spirit, the complications of her situation. Sometimes, with dual narrative stories, there is one voice and story line that is more compelling than the other. I found, while I was happy reading the progression of each woman's story, I always wanted to know how the other's would be completed. There is spirit in both of these women, but in different ways. I also adored that the reader gets to see Elsie after, but McCoy does a great job of not telling us how she gets there.

McCoy has a new book coming out this year. I will buy it.

Have you read The Baker's Daughter? Do you have other dual time period novels you love?

Jan 5, 2015

Quilting Our Lives

Like many people, I've been thinking about new goals, resolutions, how to make myself a better person. As I was considering this, and image came into my mind over and over - that of my mom making quilts.

If you have never made quilts before, you might not know the process involved. Of course, there is *generally* starting with a pattern, a plan of what the quilt will look like. But that is a ridiculously small part of the process. Fabric has to be selected and matched in a way that looks good individually as well as combined with other colors and patterns.

Then the work begins. Cutting precise shapes that will be sewn to make other shapes, which will be put into blocks, which will be sewn to make a bigger shape. And as if that wasn't enough, a back needs to be constructed, and the whole thing needs to be either tied or quilted and then bound together.

Often times, when we are on the path of self improvement, we think picking out a pattern is the key. It is, to a point, but that is only the big picture. If we only think about the big picture, we could quickly get ourselves off track. If we pick and choose aspects of our life on a daily basis because they looked good at the time, and without consideration with how they have to look with everything else, our quilt of life may end up looking like something that belongs on a clown instead of a beautiful fabric piece of art.

While planning a more complete version of who we'd like to be, it is important that consideration be given to both the big and the small. Discussion with any quilter will quickly lead to the small changes that had to be made from the original plan. These small changes are not an indicator of failure, but rather decisions that need to be made along the way. Taking steps back and re-evaluating the master plan, and the pieces available often leads us to creating something better. The little decisions and the minuscule pieces of ourselves that are essential because they connect to something else, they are the details that contribute to the bigger picture.

Dec 12, 2014

Inheriting Characteristics

While sitting at a stop light a few days ago, I had my elbow resting on the console, opening and closing my very sore and tired right hand. It is something that has become nearly automatic as my focus has been directed toward regaining as much mobility as quickly as possible. As I was sitting there, opening and closing, another image came to mind, one of my dad.

My dad is quite possibly the hardest working person I know. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, he taught school, coached a myriad of sports and ran a construction company. He often, mindlessly, opened and closed his right hand as well, trying to loosen the soreness that gathered during the manual labor that was building a residence for someone.

Photo credit Wayne Decker (featuring his hands)
At the same time, he has a quality of compassion, a gentleness even that often had him performing these body breaking tasks for people at severely discounted prices in order to provide assistance. While camping and fishing, he happened to take a picture that reflects this clearly.

I started thinking about tendencies that we pick up without realizing we do. I mirror my dad in many ways often, my husband inherited his mother's ability to carry on a conversation with anyone. I see glimpses of stubbornness in my son and daughters which I know they picked up from me, though none of them have it manifest in quite the same way.

Fitting that they are stubbornly unique in their stubbornness.

As much as we would like to proclaim ourselves individuals, unique entities that roam through this world with a plan of our very own, we can never separate ourselves from being the people who came before us.

Chances are decent, if you take a step back and think about it, you too have mannerisms like certain family members. Their presence may surprised you at times as well.

But if we have this, wouldn't it make sense that characters should as well. This isn't the sort of thing that needs to be told to the reader necessarily, but something that should be woven in, something that makes the character have depth by tying them in to the lives that were lived before and with. It may manifest as mine did, in a subconscious movement, or it could be a saying that has latched on to the deepest regions of a character's mind that only shows when all efforts to restrain are forfeited.

We hear all the time that our characters need to be real. I'm of the firm opinion that realness comes from giving them history, and what better history is there to draw from than their own familial tendencies.

What mannerisms and nuances have you inherited? Which characters have you loved that have a strong familial thread woven into their character tapestry? 

Dec 10, 2014

Tasha's Best Books of 2014 (part two)

Yesterday, I shared five of my favorite books on Thinking Through Our Fingers. I grouped them together as they all had an element or feeling of magic, and they felt like they should all be friends. But I couldn't let the year go out without spotlighting three other books that came out this year, each of which is powerful, beautifully written and deserving of attention.

The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft
One wrong step could send her over the edge.

All Penny has ever wanted to do is dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

Kathryn Craft’s lyrical debut novel is a masterful portrayal of a young woman trying to come to terms with her body and the artistic world that has repeatedly rejected her. The Art of Falling expresses the beauty of movement, the stasis of despair, and the unlimited possibilities that come with a new beginning. 

This book had such a powerful impact on me. I'm not a dancer at all, but the character, the struggles she had, the complexity of understanding who she was when she fell and how that could align with who she could be, not to mention the struggles she felt in trying to fit in a world where she didn't quite fit in. I loved the writing, but really felt that Penny was a form of me. Her journey led me to think about ways to improve on my own.

Chasing the Sun: A Novel by Natalia Sylvester 

Andres suspects his wife has left him—again. Then he learns that the unthinkable has happened: she’s been kidnapped. Too much time and too many secrets have come between Andres and Marabela, but now that she’s gone, he’ll do anything to get her back. Or will he?

As Marabela slips farther away, Andres must decide whether they still have something worth fighting for, and exactly what he’ll give up to bring her home. And unfortunately, the decision isn’t entirely up to him, or up to the private mediator who moves into the family home to negotiate with the terrorists holding Marabela. Andres struggles to maintain the illusion of control while simultaneously scrambling to collect his wife’s ransom, tending to the needs of his two young children, and reconnecting with an old friend who may hold the key to his past and his wife’s future.

Set in Lima, Peru, in a time of civil and political unrest, this evocative page-turner is a perfect marriage of domestic drama and suspense.

I fell in love with the cover of this book first, but the writing soon made me forget about it. The premise is so unique, and the tension it creates just there is perfect, but Sylvester isn't satisfied with that amount of story. She weaves in backstory, incredible side characters, descriptions of a place I've never been to but felt like I could identify with all while encouraging me to think what I would do in the situation. This was different than I expected, and I loved it more because of that.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes 

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

This the third Moyes books I've read, and each time, I marvel at the way she can capture characterization and voice in the midst of a plot that isn't earth-shattering. I loved these people, rooted for them, face-palmed when they did something stupid and really wanted them over for dinner (maybe not the dog). Time and again Moyes delivers on books that I'm not sure will work, and they do brilliantly.

What have been your favorite reads of 2014? Any you are anticipating in the new year?