Posted in Creativity, Ideas generation

Measuring a year – In a [writer’s] life

My view as I sat on our dock this morning thinking about birthdays in the past and what this year might bring.

Today is my birthday.  I’ve never been daunted by the number of candles on the cake.  I am the age I am, I’ve always thought.  Twenty, thirty, forty – they were just numbers.  But July 10 is always New Year’s Day for me.  How I take stock of the year has evolved over the years, though.

Several years ago (perhaps more than several now – that’s what birthdays do to you!), we experienced the Broadway musical Rent while traveling in New York.  More specifically, my husband and I were dragged there by our then-seventeen-year-old son, the dancer (the one who made me the ballet mom I wrote about in my memoir published a couple of years ago).  For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Rent is a modern-day version of the opera La Boheme (sort of).  It is set in an artistic ghetto-like area of presumably New York that’s populated by a variety of down-trodden artists…well, you really had to be there.

The most memorable piece of music in it is a song that you’ve probably heard since.  It’s called Seasons of Love and it asks the question: How do you measure a year in a life?  There are 525,600 minutes, but that’s not enough, is it?

I measure my years in the things that inspired me: the people in my life, the places we traveled, the things we accomplished, and by the legacy I’ve left.  So, this past year has been full of inspirations – inspirations that should begin to populate my writing and my other work.

I could write a book about a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, since I started my year on a Queen Mary 2 voyage.  Or perhaps I could pair this with the historical Queen Mary which I visited in California later in the year, and write about a stowaway in the late 1930’s.  Or maybe I could write about a Canadian dancer in Europe (heaven knows I traveled part of this year’s journey with one).  Maybe I could write a travel book about cruises – it seems to be the subject so many web surfers are interested in.  Or maybe I’ll write about an accidental university professor – because that’s what I am!

In the end, I think I’ll spend today thinking about all of this and contemplating Murray McLauchlan’s song The Second Half of Life.  Because as he says, that’s when the fun begins.  “The most important time may not be from nine-to-five…”  Oh, he is so right! Now that’s a great name for my new book.

Posted in Ideas generation, Reading

Writing Christmas

Someday I’m going to write a Christmas book.  But since I also plan to try my hand at a travel book, perhaps I’ll write a Christmas travel book.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past week as I get ready to head out on the annual Christmas pilgrimage to visit our peripatetic son who now dances with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo in Monaco.  Spending Christmas in a hotel might not be something that many of you would like to do, but I hardly know how to spend Christmas any other way at this point in my life!  So, I think I’ll write about Christmas in a hotel.  I’m going to think about that over the next couple of weeks, but before I leave, I thought I’d give my writing blog readers a bit of a Christmas gift — a book recommendation and a Christmas travel story.

Have you read Skipping Christmas?  At fewer than 200 pages in a small format, it’s one of John Grisham’s lesser known books.  However, if you’re a Christmas movie junkie, you sort of know the story.  Hollywood turned his gem of a book into Christmas with the Cranks.  I wish they had kept the title and a bit more of the soul of the book.  Grisham’s story-telling has a lot more depth than the scriptwriter’s has; you should order the book, pour yourself a drink of your choice, and curl up with it before the onslaught of the season begins in earnest.

We tried to skip Christmas one year… I now invite you to our travel blog to read about it.  Merry Christmas – or whatever other kind of holiday you might be celebrating.   Just click on the Christmas tree…

Posted in Ideas generation, Reading

The things that shape us: Books & their stories

Green Darkness: The original cover from 1972. I remember it well.

From time to time I wonder if what I read as a child and young adult has had any impact on what I write today – or on what I like to read.  It would make sense that it would, since what we read and experience do influence us in many other ways (our beliefs, attitudes etc.).  It’s in my mind right now because I’m currently re-reading a book that was one of my favorites back in the early 1970’s and has stayed in my mind for many years (it has also made me wonder if books I loved years ago would feel the same to me now.)

The book is Anya Seton’s classic historical novel Green Darkness.  I remember the feeling of the book more clearly than the content of the story.  I remember being swept up in it as the characters move from the 20th century to the 16th and back.  It’s a bit of a romance I guess, but it’s the historical detail and the characters that paint the picture for me.  As I read it now, with the benefit of maturity (I guess), I’m struck by the writing this time around.  Seton is a classic historical novelist who died in 1990 but not before writing more than a dozen books, many of which were bestsellers, and several of which were subsequently made into movies.  But, back to my original musing: has this book that I first read thirty years ago influenced my writing?

I think it probably has – but it’s difficult to say which came first – the reading or the influence.  Why did I choose the book in the first place?  I think my sister recommended it, but if I were not interested in historical fiction I would likely have ignored her – God knows I have ignored other recommendations she has made over the years!

So, there must have been something that compelled me to read and enjoy historical fiction at that time – long before I ever considered writing it.  Somehow, though, that love of reading historical fiction has manifested itself in my love of research and writing in this area, and not because I studied history in university.  I did not.  So if Anya Seton’s work (after Green Darkness I read several others all of which I enjoyed), influenced me, what other kinds of books influenced me?  Or at least, what are the most memorable books I read over the years?

At the top of the list – more of a favorite than Green Darkness – is Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier.  If asked to identify my favorite all-time book, this is it.  It is, of course, now a classic (originally published in 1938) and it has been made into a move more than once.

Eighth Moon: Today's cover with its sub-title.

I also remember a book called Eighth Moon by Sansan as told to Betty Bao Lord which I notice now has a sub-title (I’m certain it did not when I read it – I wonder if we need sub-titles these days to select books).  The modern sub-title is The True Story of a Young Girl’s Life in Communist China and it takes me back a very long time.

I know that I read a lot of books back then, but this is the only one I remember.  I can remember particular aspects of the book, like when she had to work in fields where human feces were used as fertilizer, and that’s going back a very long time in my life.  I read it in junior high school.

Eight Moon: The original cover -- the one I can actually remember!

I can only imagine how I found the story so divergent from my own life experience with this young woman who was about my age at the time of the story.

I can’t really articulate what it is about the book that it is the only one I remember from that point in my life, but I’m sure that remembering is reason enough to think it has influence.

What books influenced your work?