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Silly Old Bear

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the world of Christopher Robin — his Thousand Acre Wood and a toy bear named Pooh and all his toybox friends: a donkey named Eeyore, a Tigger that bounces, a Piglet who forever stays a piglet, Kanga and Roo, and Owl and Rabbit.

I’ve had this 1958 copy of The House at Pooh Corner (pictured above) since I was a kid, and when I had my own littles, I must have watched the VHS tape of Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day a thousand times with them. And Winnie Pooh and the Honey Tree, and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too. I could recite the entire scripts and sing every lyric of Heffalumps and Woozles.

When something is woven into the best memories of your childhood, and then into your children’s childhood, you tend to feel a bit possessive of it, even if the thing itself isn’t really yours.  So when I heard a movie was being made about A.A. Milne and the genesis of the books and characters I loved, I felt a pang of instant caution. I wanted to run headlong into whichever studio was trifling with perfection and yell at the top of my lungs, “Whatever you do, don’t muck it up! You hear me? Do it right or don’t do it at all!”

But then I saw this trailer and my heart was pricked and my emotional center was engaged and I thought to myself, “I think this might be very good.

I actually can’t wait to see it. And I probably shouldn’t assume from the get -go that movie studios just want to get it wrong. After all, I was so pleasantly surprised by such movies as Mr. Holmes, Saving Mr. Banks, and Finding Neverland, so at least by my count, they’ve gotten it right more than they’ve gotten it wrong.

How about you? What do you think of this trailer? What do you think of movies that bring beloved characters and their creators to life? Have you been happy with what the movie industry has given us? Tell me…

Ellis at last!

WsigningatEllishen A Fall of Marigolds – a novel set primarily on Ellis Island in 1911 – was published two years ago, I daydreamed of signing this book at the bookstore in the main immigration building someday. I didn’t know if the opportunity would ever present itself but I remained optimistically hopeful. Well, as if often the case, that optimism paid off. Last Saturday I spent a wonderful five-hour stretch signing A Fall of Marigolds at Ellis Island, with all the proceeds from the sale of the book going to the Save Ellis Island campaign to restore the hospital buildings.

The Save Ellis Island staff who prepared a table for me and chatted up A Fall of Marigolds to bookstore customers and to hospital tour attendees, were so very kind and welcoming. The hours just flew by. And the best part was playing a small role in the effort to raise awareness for the plight of these historic buildings. If read A Fall of Marigolds, you will remember that Clara’s story takes place largely in the Contagious Wards of Ellis Island Hospital in 1911. Those hospital buildings — and there are many — will continue to rumble into ruin without intervention. Save Ellis Island exists to spearhead the restoration effort to keep that from happening.

920607While I was there, the event planner, a wonderful gal named Jessica, showed me a book that is a recent add to the bookstore inventory. The outside cover drew me at once and then I opened the pages and fell in. The Arrival by Shaun Tan is not like any other book that explores what it was like for immigrants to forever leave all that was familiar to come to a land of supreme unfamiliarity. There are no words in this book, only masterfully done sketches. It’s truly a graphic novel, in every sense of the word.

Here’s the description of this book from the publisher, because it so aptly describes this book:

“In a heartbreaking parting, a man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He’s embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life- he’s leaving home to build a better future for his family. Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant’s experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can’t communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character’s isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy.”

TheArrival2It’s a book to ponder slowly because the story is one to be discovered not one to be fed to you. If you’ve wondered what would it be like to strike out for a new and foreign horizon where the only certainty is your desire to go, this is the book that will show you, in heart-tugging detail, what you give up, what is handed to you, what you must chase after to do it. Highly recommend it.

Have you been to Ellis Island? Any of your relatives come through there? Did they share any stories with you? Share away…

Where it all began

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From left: Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, producer David O. Selznick, and Olivia de Havilland.

I’m in Atlanta as I write this, sitting inside a hotel room at the Georgian Terrace Hotel, the very place were the Gone With the Wind premiere party was held in December 1939, and where all the stars of the film stayed the night of that momentous occasion.

I had the distinct pleasure last night of speaking at the Margaret Mitchell House about writing STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD and why I chose the movie set of Gone With the Wind for its backdrop.

When first I learned I was going to be speaking about this book here in Atlanta, I wanted to do cartwheels. I was that excited. A couple seconds later, though, I fully realized that I’d be speaking to a group of people who are more tied in to this film and the book than I could ever hope to be, and at a far more intimate level. That’s when I needed, if you’ll pardon my reference to Aunt Pittypat, my smelling salts.  What right does a San Diegan have to speak about Gone With the Wind to an Atlantan crowd, seated in the very place where Margaret Mitchell wrote it.

But you know, everyone who loves Gone With the Wind, and there are millions of us, is connected in a small way to the mother tree, if you will. What I brought to the gracious attendees who came to hear me speak last night was my own personal bit of ponderings and musings about this story, from way out on my little limb. It was a lovely evening!

Here are a few photos from the inside of the Margaret Mitchell House (If you get to Atlanta, it’s a must-see). The tour offers so many insights into how Peggy Marsh’s life experiences influenced her the story of Gone With the Wind.

Have a lovely weekend!

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The front porch of the house looks onto Peachtree Street. Margaret was born in 1900 a few blocks away, just off Peachtree St, and died in 1949, a few blocks the other direction, also right off Peachtree Street. She was hit by a drunk driver while crossing the street.

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The furniture inside the apartment are period pieces that are close copies of what John and Peggy Marsh had. So you can actually sit in this blue chair if you wanted to…

The Margaret Mitchell House used to be an apartment building for ten renters. Peggy Marsh (aka Margaret Mitchell) and her husband John moved in to apt 1 on their wedding day on July 4, 1925.

The Margaret Mitchell House used to be an apartment building for ten renters. Peggy Marsh (aka Margaret Mitchell) and her husband John moved in to apt 1 on their wedding day on July 4, 1925.

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Before Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, she was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal. Here she is with the heartthrob of the day, Rudolph Valentino.

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And this is me, sitting in the exact spot where Margaret Mitchell created such memorable characters as Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashely Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton.

Echoes of the Past

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A view of the main hospital from the immigration building.

Two years ago when I was in the final stages of writing A Fall of Marigolds, I planned a trip to Ellis Island to see for myself the hospital buildings where I set the story and which have been unused for more than fifty years. They weren’t open to the public then and I was going to be given a private and guided close-up look for research purposes. I had my plane ticket, a hotel room booked, even a reservation on the ferry all set up, but Hurricane Sandy swept in a little less than a month before I was to arrive. Ellis was one of the places that the storm hit hard. The damage to the landing docks was extensive and Ellis would end up being closed for repairs for more than a year. I still went to Manhattan. I met with my editor, took photos of the Upper West side to find the best spot for my fictional Heirloom Yard fabric store, went to the 9-11 Memorial, touched the building that had been the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, looked out over the river toward the island and the hospital buildings, and hoped there would be another time, some day, when I could walk the halls that Clara walked.

This past week, I finally got my wish. On Friday I finally got to see and touch and feel the hospital buildings that served as the detail-rich setting for this book. This part of Ellis is open now to hard hat tours by reservation only. I highly recommend the tour if you are a history devotee, if you enjoyed A Fall of Marigolds, and especially if you wish to join in the effort to preserve the buildings. They are crumbling into ruin as old buildings do if they are left on their own to time and the elements. Proceeds from the tours go to the Save Ellis Island effort. It’s also easy to donate toward the preservation campaign on their website. I send a small portion of the royalties from A Fall of Marigolds to assist in this endeavor.

The primary photo you see above, is the reflected view of the Statue of Liberty, visible from a mirror above a sink in a room in an isolation ward. The terrible irony here is that the patient whose room this was, was likely a third-class TB patient who would never be allowed to immigrate while infected with tuberculosis. He or she would be stabilized until healthy enough to make the journey back to where they came from…

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One of several curved hallways in the contagious ward. Curves, so it was believed, kept bad air from settling in the corners.

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The caged area was where those with supposed mental illness could get some fresh air during their stay. The mentally ill – diagnosed back then as imbecile, idiot or moron – would sadly be sent back to where they came from as it was believed they would become a burden to society. Only those who could work and make their own way in life were allowed to emigrate.

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During the hospital’s golden years in the early 1900s prior to 1930, the lawns and landscaping were professionally cared for. After the buildings were abandoned in the late 1950s, trees overtook the empty spaces and their limbs broke more windows than vandals and heavy storms.

A hallway in the contagious wards. Clara walked down it many times…

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Many of the window openings have been covered to keep out the elements. But not this one.

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Being a public hospital, it was also a teaching hospital. This was the autopsy theater.

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Unfortunately not everyone admitted to the Ellis Island Hospital could be cured. Hence, the morgue. The top two shelves would be packed with ice.

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A haunting artistic display is currently on exhibit at Ellis. A French photographer has placed many of these images in different places. You can see more of this exhibit on the website linked above.

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This is Ward K, where I put fictional Andrew, who wore the scarf around his neck on the day Clara met him…

 

Me in my hard hat!

Me in my hard hat!

Staying the course

Ever had a season in your life when everything that is constant in your personal universe decides to change? One moment you’re putzing along in your little boat on a lazy, little river of which you know every bend, and the next you’re speeding down foamy rapids that don’t know the meaning of lazy. I’ve had times when big changes tossed me out of the boat for a cold, hard swim (no more of those, thank you) and I’ve also had times when the deviated course made for a thrilling ride (the changes were for the most part good), but that didn’t mean I could just lay back and trail my hand in the water – know what I mean?

There is this little joke spinning about the planet that says if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. We smile at that, but really I don’t think plan-making makes God double over in holy chuckles. I don’t think he’s the cosmic prankster some have made him out to be. I think life truly is what happens to us when we’re busy making other plans. It’s great that we get to make plans. But it’s also imperative that we adapt to the unplanned. Making plans is smart, forward-thinking, reasonable. Adapting to the unplanned is exactly the same, I think. Some people like change, some don’t. But change is like rainy days and the fifteenth of April and trips to the dentist. It will come, whether we like it or not.

I am in one of the seasons where the river is changing its course; it’s all — for the most part — pleasant and exciting. This is the time to sit up, take the oars (if nothing else than for something to hold onto) and enjoy the ride. The water will settle in time and there will be a new normal for awhile. I don’t want to not get there. And I don’t want to close my eyes to all the sights and sounds around me while my boat heads down an unfamiliar stretch of water. There are things we learn when we’re not where we’ve always been, and not doing what we’ve always done. “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination.” – Carl Rogers

The best stories I’ve read and certainly the best I’ ve written are the ones about characters responding to change.

So here’s to a more thrilling life story! See you ’round the bend…

 

Happy Birthday to the good doctor

tweetle_beetles_fEvery March 2, when Theodore Geisel’s birthday rolls around, we who grew up reading Dr. Seuss and who nourished our children on his stories get a little nostalgic. We suddenly want a Red Fish, Blue Fish fix or Hop on Pop, or – dare I say it – a little Fox in Socks. (Oh, how I remember my kiddos asking for Fox in Socks at bedtime after a long, hard day and, knowing I would never get through all the tongue-twisters, asking them if they wouldn’t rather have me read Are You My Mother? instead.)

We couldn’t keep all the books our kids had on their bookshelves when they were little, but we did hang onto all the Seuessian books. We hoped there would be a time when we would have grandkids and they would be at our house and we’d want there to be books for them to read or have read to them. Now that we are expecting our first grandchild in June, I see I must unearth Fox in Socks and get back to speed on the oral delivery of its pages.

In honor of the good doctor’s birthday, and to celebrate the recent announcement of a forthcoming Seuss book What Pet Should I Get, Barnes and Noble came up with a fitting hypothetical question: what if Dr. Seuss wrote the plots for other famous books? The first three are:

A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin
One king, two king. Dead king, who king?

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
He has brains in his head. He has feet in his shoes. But the ducks just keep flying wherever they choose.

The Twilight series, by Stephenie Meyers
When you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself requires sparkling in the sun.

You can find all the rest here:

How about you? Could you Seussify the plot of a famous book? Here’s my stab at it:

Gone With the Wind: The wind can take a lot of things, naivete and plantation kings…

Now you try!

 

Want to be an advance reader of The Amish Clockmaker?

08 25_2563Word of mouth is and will probably always be the best way to get the word out on a new book. With that in mind, I’ve a question for you. If you like books with Amish characters or books in an Amish setting, if you like stories that dovetail faith, hope, and love, and if you are a fellow writer or aspiring writer of if you have a blog or are active on Facebook or influential in your book club or if you just love to get the word out on new books, I would like to chat about sending you a copy THE AMISH CLOCKMAKER for you read and then chat up wherever you have social contact. It’s my favorite one of the three-book series that I wrote with my good friend, Mindy Starns Clark and it comes out in February 2015.

This is the third and last installment in the Men of Lancaster series that Mindy and I co-wrote and it’s the perfect blend of what she does best, mystery, with what I do best, dual-time period plots. Here’s the story in a nutshell:

“Newlywed Matthew Zook is expanding his family’s tack and feed store when a surprising property dispute puts the remodel on hold—and raises new questions about the location’s mysterious past.

Decades earlier, the same building housed a clock shop run by a young Amish clockmaker named Clayton Raber. Known for his hot temper, Clayton was arrested for the murder of his beloved wife, a crime almost everyone—including his own family members—believed he’d committed, even after charges were dropped. Isolated and feeling condemned by all, Clayton eventually broke from the church, left Lancaster County, and was never heard from again.

Now the only way Matthew can solve the boundary issue and save his family’s business is to track down the clockmaker. But does this put Matthew on the trail of a murderer?

A timeless novel of truth, commitment, and the power of enduring love, where secrets of the past give way to hope for the future.”

Comment below if you’re interested and I will email you so we can chat.  Have a great weekend!

Coffee: The nectar of the gods!

It’s National Coffee Day, comrades, (as well as my oldest son’s birthday) and to mark the occasion, I shall list for you my personal Best Coffee Ever Hall of Fame, in hopes that you will share the love and post your top java picks in the comments section. If you don’t like coffee, my condolences. I used to be an infidel in this regard. I didn’t develop a taste for coffee until I was in my late 20’s and living overseas. It was in Europe, where all the best beans are sent, that I got hooked to the yummy elixir, and which is why I start the list (it is in no particular order ) with:

Kronung1. Jacob’s Kronung, which we discovered while stationed at Ramstein Air Base and living in the tiny farming village of Mittelbrun, was our gateway drug, you might say. We started out as bashful, one-tawny-brown-cup–a day to three cups a day of darky dark in a matter of mere months.  I still love Kronung and am so happy that I can get it at the commissary at our local USMC base and at the German grocery store thirty minutes away. Wunderbar.

2. Caribou Coffee, nearly any flavor but especially Mahogany, is probably the most amazing thing ever to caribou-300x242come out of Minnesota besides Paul Bunyan. In Minnesota, there’s a Caribou Coffee on every street corner, not a Starbucks, or at least there should be.  When I travel and find myself in a Midwest airport terminal where there’s a Caribou Coffee joint, no matter what time of day it is, I stop for a Mint Condition, one of Caribou’s signature drinks. I can get Caribou K-cups here in San Diego, but it’s not the same as the whole bean kind. We spent a dozen years braving Minnesota’s audacious winters – and they were made infinitely more bearable because of Caribou Coffee.

IMG_6826.JPG3. A new favorite of mine, from just the last couple of months, is Portland’s Stumptown brew, which I had for the first time while visiting Oregon this summer, also for the first time. It’s possible my first taste of Stumptown was so memorable because I had paired it with an insanely delicious Maple Bacon Bar at Voodoo Doughnuts.  But we brought home to San Diego a bag of freshly roasted beans, which disappeared pretty much overnight — and without any Vood00 Doughnuts to go with — so it’s likely the coffee is fab all on its own.

4. Lastly, this cup of coffee that my soulmate and husband Bob is drinking, is matched by a cup that I am also drinking – across the table from him – and it  was quite possibly THE best cup I have ever had, ever. We are sipping these in a little French town in Provence with severe jet lag weighing on us like a coats of leaden threads. But this cup of coffee, a café au lait of divine origin, was so exquisite, and the company so lovely (we were celebrating our 25th when these photos were taken – nearly ten years ago!) and the church bells so sweet (it was a Sunday) and the croissant so delish, this cup is hard to beat.BobFranceCoffee So now it’s your turn! What’s your favorite cup of Joe or brand?

I am taking notes….

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On my tombstone

SylviaPlathI came across an interesting little blog post this morning which I am taking full advantage of since I am on a tight deadline this week. If you click on this link you will arrive at the post, entitled The Last Word: 9 Famous Authors’ Epitaphs.  Among these nine I found my favorite, the incorrectly quoted gem on Sylvia Plath’s headstone: “Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.”

So it got me to thinking what I would have carved on my headstone if today was the day I had to pick those words (and a if money were no object, because four lines is arguably a lot of words to hew into stone). It’s lifted from Henry Van Dyke’s Gone From My Sight:

“And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

What would you have inscribed on yours? I really want to know! And I mostly promise not to steal it from you…

 

If you’re a Downton Abbey fan. . .

Call the MidwifeA good friend of mine told me not long ago that she’d stumbled upon the British TV show CALL THE MIDWIFE while on Netflix. She added the first season to her queue of choices she could watch right away on streaming and settled down to view the first episode. She was quickly hooked, watched more, and then told me about it., knowing I’m a history junkie. The same thing that happened to her, happened to me. I fell in love with these characters, the post WW2 setting, the costumes, the music, everything about it.

The series is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and is set in east London in the later 1950s. The first series of six episodes premiered in the UK in January 2012. The series pilot begins with newly-trained midwife Jenny Lee arriving to work among other midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, an Anglican nursing convent. The young midwives and the sisters must cope with the many problems among the East End’s desperately poor , and of course they have their own fears, hopes, and dreams.

I finished watching Season 1 last night and am eager to begin Season 2. In the meantime, I can’t follow the series on Facebook or Twitter for fear I will learn something ahead of when I should learn it. Even gathering this photo above and the video below put me on edge as I trolled the Internet for them! The preview below introduces you to Jenny, and you can see a bit of her wonderfully detail-rich character.  If you’re already a fan of the show, I would love to hear your comments about the series, without of course, revealing anything about seasons 2 and 3! If you’ve not seen it yet, I highly recommend you add to your Netflix library.