Monday, September 26, 2016

Burning the Wood

"But people need to have their real sadness and fear to be justified, then begin working through it, to accept that their greatest wounding can be their greatest gift. That's what I call burning the wood. Only after you've burned all the wood are you ready to move on."

Your Story is Your Medicine: A Prescription for Healing in an Imperfect World. by Shelli Stanger Nelson

My dad and his animals during better times.
I love these photos.

I burned the wood by writing a novel inspired by my dad's long and insidious battle with Parkinson's. The story percolated in my cerebral cortex for years after his death. Spinning and spreading until I decided to listen to the voice urging me to write it down. Now that I'm weaving the story onto the page and nearing the end, I'm glad for every day that my brain functions normally. Scenes and sentences drift through my brain quickly and peacefully, like a bubbling stream, when ever I conjure them. And my fingers spryly tickle the keyboard. For now. But I worry. What if I'm afflicted by Alzheimer's or Parkinson's someday? 

Every story has a great villain. And Parkinson's is a sinister foe. 

 In my book, a retired farmer named Oren Walton is plagued by Parkinson's and menacing hallucinations. The visions start out benign enough. Small things really. Bugs that others don't see. A stray animal darting through the house. Little things. As Oren's disease progresses, so do his hallucinations. Crows act as a menacing harbinger as the hallucinations escalate mysteriously, as if fertilized by a poisonous and insidious farm chemical, until they become the central conflict of the story. 

All of the characters revolve around this conflict.

I'm almost done with the book. My wood has been reduced to flickering, undulating embers. 

I think we could all benefit by burning our wood pile...

Monday, September 19, 2016

Read, live long and prosper!

I just read in the Science and health section of the Star Tribune that book readers live an average of 2 years longer than non readers. The Yale study found a similar (but weaker, gulp) association among those that read newspapers and periodicals.

Well, luckily, I read lots of books as well! Here are 3 short and sweet book reviews I created for Springtime in Magnolia.  Including my newest review of The Dead Lands.

 Read, live long and prosper!

The Dead Lands is first and foremost, a re-imagining of the journey West by explorers Lewis and Clark. This time, in a post apocalyptic future, the expedition is led by Mina Clark and Lewis Meriwether. These characters didn't earn my love or reading devotion throughout the book. They seemed one dimensional, leaning on the harsh side. But since they were on a journey of survival, they were written in a singular way. The characters had little time for anything but staying alive. My favorite character was the psychopath Slade. He collected odds and ends from unlucky victims and adhered them to his mannequin collection. Delightfully wacky.

But it was an enjoyable and expansive story. Inventive, interesting and wildly creative. The book begins in the dusty, captive world of the Sanctuary.  Formally known as St. Louis. As the journey West unfolds, the reader flips back and forth between the struggle West and the trials of life in the militant Sanctuary.  If you think Trump would be a bad president, the character Thomas, Mayor of the Sanctuary, would be ten times worse! 

As an aspiring writer, I'll never forget the author's line, "...her teeth chattered a skeleton's song." That isn't an exact quote, since I couldn't find the passage. But the character was cold. And the sentence described it beautifully. 

This book isn't for everyone. I read it because I don't have a particular or preferred genre. I love them all. And Benjamin Percy is a Minnesota author endorsed by Stephen King. You can't beat that.

I have to admit, the first thing that intrigued me about Michele Raffin's book The Birds of Pandemonium was the beautiful cover. It's really hard to believe how many exotic and dazzling bird species fly our skies and nest in our trees. I love to spot them in the jungles of Central America. But most of them live in places that only exist on my bucket list. 

But not for Michele Raffin. On a whim, she rescued a dove by the side of a California road. No kidding. That is how it all started. We've all had that impulse. To save an injured animal. Or adopt a sad, abandoned pet. Michele took that impulse and ran with it. Now, her sanctuary is one of the largest in the country and she has rescued over a 1,000 birds. And many of the 89 species she has saved were threatened. 

Well, all of that is admirable.  But the real question of a book review blog is, "How's the book?" It is so charming. The reader wakes up with Michele and experiences the subtle, sweet sounds of bird chatter. Well, it is not always so soft and sweet. Sometimes it is demanding and deafening! And the birds, all 1,000 of them, have their own personality. You will discover that not every bird story has a happy ending. But you'll be glad you entered their feathered world for a little while.

It's a good read.

I brought the book Gone Girl with me on my last vacation. Well, it was so good that it was gone in a flash! But luckily the rental where we were staying had a pile of books. It was especially opportune since we were lodged in a remote area of Costa Rica. The Tico Times or a Spanish novella might have been my only other options. 

Clearly this book was left behind by a female traveler. It definitely was not part of the home owner's collection. His stash seemed to be all male. Politics, John Grisham and obscure biographies. But this booked screamed, "Read me on the beach! I'll entertain you." And it was a fun and fast read. Just look at the cheery cover. That usually says it all.

I'd definitely take Elizabeth Noble on a vacation. I bet she is just as fun as her characters. But she would probably prefer I take one of her books. In this book we meet Natalie and Tom. Tom is trying to win Natalie's heart. So far, he's been unsuccessful. Then he proposes an unusual arrangement of dates that run the garment from A- Z. The first thing they do is Abseiling. What the heck is that? Well... 

Abseiling (/ˈæbseɪl/ or /ˈɑːpzaɪl/; from German abseilen, meaning "to rope down"), also called rappelling, is the controlled descent of a vertical drop, such as a rock face, using a rope. Climbers use this technique when a cliff or slope is too steep and/or dangerous to descend without protection.

It was a fun book.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Human Wrangling

I've never wanted to be a human wrangler. Never. My friend Nina called me a cat wrangler in jest once. My new part time occupation stuck like a barbed tongue full of fur. Cat wrangling just sounds cool. But people? No way. 

Well, a couple months ago I created a new social group on the Meet-ups site. It is a website where cowpokes and their ilk, can coral groups of people with similar interests. Like reading, hiking, dining, traveling or cat wrangling. Whatever. I decided to start a book club for women writers. So far, it has been a small success. I've managed to rope in a few gals. And, I've even fenced in a few free laughs. Here's my open call...

This is a book club for women writers. We have a unique perspective. The books we read not only entertain us, but inspire and strengthen our written word. We'll socialize over a glass of wine and most importantly, take turns answering questions and discussing books. Everyone will get a chance to shine in this club. The future goal will be to form a small and intimate group of kind, thoughtful and committed readers and writers. 

As a creative, I use words like a paintbrush. And reading is my part time job!

I ran into a few wayward calves on my ride. First, I posted a few simple questions to weed out the prime Kobe beef from the mutton. Some of the answers tickled my funny bone. While others left me wondering if anyone really cares how they come across anymore. In the age of i-phones, it seems there's only a select few who attempt to spell, capitalize or give a generalized hoot about what they say. It makes me sad. If you were attempting to join a group of people who like to read and write, wouldn't you try to come across as doing both successfully? Here are some unsuccessful answers...

Why do you want to become a Novelista?
like the club description
What is the last book you read?
the turner house
What kind of creative writing do you do?
none....want to start
There's no need to attend every event. But, we'll be a small group. So please rsvp carefully. And if you need to cancel, be sure to change your status. How often do you hope to attend?
?? don't know
We'll be a small and intimate group. If you belong to dozens of meet-ups, this group might not be for you. Can you tell me what makes you Minnesota nice?
good listener,

What kind of creative writing do you do?Not much. I love to read.

What kind of creative writing do you do?Due to limited time, commenting on blogs.

What is the last book you read? 
I did just answer this.
We'll be a small and intimate group. If you belong to dozens of meet-ups, this group might not be for 
you. Can you tell me what makes you Minnesota nice?Can't. From Iowa.

No, you didn't just answer (Chris Hansen reference) The Iowa remark is pretty funny though. I'm left wondering, why would you want to join a group of writers, if you don't even write a darn thing? 

At least it gives me something funny to write about!

Uff da. 


Monday, September 5, 2016

Survey Says!

Facebook research indicates, "...that dog-posters tend to be more extroverted, more upbeat and luckier in love than their feline photographing friends." (According to the photos and posts of facebook users.) 

What you talk'in about Willis?

"Meanwhile, cat people tend to be single, express a wider range of emotions (including chiefly exhaustion and annoyance), and to harbor an unusually strong interest in fantasy, anime and science fiction."

This is from an article posted in the Star Tribune by Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post.

Thanks facebook. I already hated you. You always make me feel like a loser when I post a favorite photograph and get 3 likes while other people post that they just burned their toast and get 100. Now, according to you, I'm an emotional, exhausted nerd too. (O.K. facebook nailed it) Because I don't have a dog. If I did, I'd post lots of upbeat photos of him or her on facebook. And if I'm lucky, get 4 likes. Maybe 5.

So goes my love/hate relationship with facebook. When I post something on facebook, I feel like James Corden, struming his guitar while singing his heart out on the street in the movie Begin Again, only to look up to discover no one is listening. No one at all. My "likes" might not be quite as pathetic as all that. But close. Most of the time. 

I also just read another related article about addiction to social media in the Star Tribune. I guess some people become addicted to facebook and other sites, just like with drugs. The feedback and "likes" act like a drug affecting the dopamine levels in their brain. They get a virtual high. 

How can I get some of that?

Don't get me wrong. I believe that people can experience a real addiction to social media. Everywhere we go these days, people are staring at their phones like in-human drones, strumming them like a guitar. I almost expect them to look up and shoot a penetrating glare my way, revealing mechanical pupils and whirly gigs. It just makes me mad and ultimately sad, that I'll never experience a dopamine high from facebook. Now I really am annoyed!

Monday, August 29, 2016


Each time I begin a new writing project, I remind myself of a writing policy I have: every story is a gift, no matter if it blooms, wilts, or towers over all others like a giant redwood. 

Grant Faulkner

Today, I selected three short and sweet book reviews I created for Springtime in Magnolia over the past year. There's no writing without great reading...

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”
Ruth Ozeki

I know I'll never forget this book. It inspired and enchanted with equal measure. I kept using its more humorous quotes, over and over on my creative writing blog. It spurred so much creativity. It just kept giving. 

There's something in it for everyone. Your time will be well spent.  First we meet the distinctive voice of Nao, a Tokyo teen struggling with serious issues. She was forced to leave her life in America behind and return home. But, it's not really home anymore. Her peers tell her she stinks of hamburgers and bully her relentlessly. At her ramshackle new apartment, her world is crumbling like a sandcastle at high tide. Her dad has lost his way. And so has Nao. Until a summer with her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun, makes her time on earth a little more beautiful. This was my favorite part of the book.

We also meet Ruth. A writer struggling with life on an isolated island.  Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunch box washed ashore after a storm. The plastic wrapped contents become the central mystery of the story. 

It's an inventive read.

I picked up this book at one of our cute little neighborhood lending libraries this Fall. It spoke to me. "You know you like the cover. Take it. Just take it!" yelled the book. So I did.

 Where'd You Go, Bernadette turned out to be an unusual and charming read. The story is told through the unique voice of emails, messages and letters. The central character Bernadette is a fiercely intelligent and reluctant Seattle Mother. She goes missing. And her super smart daughter Bee back tracks through all the above mentioned correspondence to locate her beloved and wayward Mother. Then there's the husband. Another techie smartie pants. Everybody is as smart as a whip! You'll like these characters.

 I get the feeling that the author, Maria Semple, is a real life Mensa wannabe herself. Because she weaved together such a complex and intriguing tale. It was a great book for an aspiring writer (like me) to read. Ultimately, the characters end up in Antarctica. She sounded like an expert.  Now that's research. 

It was such a joy to read Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. I was too young to appreciate the period details and historical significance of the Little House series when I was a kid. I just loved the books for what they were. Entertaining! Now, editor Pamela Smith Hill includes Wilder's original, unpublished manuscript for the Little House series, along with an overwhelming amount of insider information, census data, annotations, diaries, manuscripts, letters, and photographs. 

The beginning of the book follows Wilder's journey to publication. It is always a shock to discover that a series of books that is so beloved by millions, could have had a difficult time getting published. But it did! Wilder and her daughter Rose worked for years to bring the novels to fruition. But, as we all know, they were used to hard work. 

Then, when you start reading the original manuscript, you'll be charmed and educated all over again. I loved reading Wilder's personal notes to her daughter and editor Rose Wilder Lane. They're written here and there through out the original manuscript. I'll let you discover those hidden gems on your own. And the conflicts of frontier life will shock and amaze all over again. Note to settlers of the past...if you find a mummified baby hanging in a tree... leave it there! You'll have to read the book to find out the rest of that haunting story.

Happy Reading!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Dear Friend...

Uff da Lutefisk.

My favorite saying when I'm exasperated.

I've been inundated with a boat load of spam mail lately. It's like I grew a trendy white beard, decided to wear red fat pants and moved to the north pole. In December. Do I look stupid? Or fat. Don't answer that. Now, the bottom feeders are even sending me google + requests. Like this...

Google+ (Stephen James)

Aug 13 (9 days ago)
to jon.snow.conor

How did they know I'm a Game of Thrones Fan? You know nothing Jon Snow... Sigh. But for the most part, they're still following the typical scammer bank transfer handbook. This one has a lot of humorous touches. I enlarged the best parts in case you want to skim. But remember, after you read this, it will self destruct in 6 seconds...

Dear Friend

Greetings, my name is Mr. Yusuf Fatau, the account manager in charge of audit Foreign Remittance Unit, (BOA) Bank of Africa in Burkina Faso, It is true that we have not meet each other in person, but I strongly believe in trust and friendship in every business. As I am contacting you independently of my investigation and no one is informed of this communication. My reason for contacting you is to transfer an abandoned sum of $6 Million dollars immediately to your private account. The money has been here in our Bank lying dormant for years now without anybody coming for the claim of it.

The funds belong to our deceased Customer Mrs.Shannel Lake who perished along with her family since 9 years ago The Banking laws here does not allow such money to stay more than 10 years, that is the reason why I need your Cooperation in transferring the money to your bank account so that we can use it to secure the future of our both families because I don't want the money to be recalled to the bank treasury as unclaimed fund.

By indicating your interest I will send you the full details on how the business will be executed. Please keep this proposal as a top secret and delete if you are not interested.

My best regards.

Mr. Yusuf Fatau

But other spam pen pals try to pull at my heart strings. Grab your kleenex box and read this...

I need your help. 

I am writing this mail to you with heavy tears In my eyes and great sorrow in my heart, My Name is mrs catherine.thomas and I am contacting you from my country Tunisia I want to tell you this because I don't have any other option than to tell you as I was touched to open up to you, I married to Mr.ouedrago Brown who worked with Tunisia embassy in Burkina Faso for nine years before he died in the year 2009.We were married for eleven years without a child.

He died after a brief illness that lasted for only five days. Since his death I decided not to remarry, When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of US$ 8.5m (Eight Million Five hundred Thousand Dollars) in a bank in Ouagadougou the capital city of Burkina Faso in west Africa Presently this money is still in bank. He made this money available for exportation of Gold from Burkina Faso mining.

Recently, My Doctor told me that I would not last for the period of seven months due to cancer problem. The one that disturbs me most is my stroke sickness. Having known my condition I decided to hand you over this money to take care of the less-privileged people, you will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct here

I want you to take 30 Percent of the total money for your personal use While 70% of the money will go to charity, people in the street and helping the orphanage. I grew up as an Orphan and I don't have any body as my family member, just to end endeavor that the house of God is maintained. Am doing this so that God will forgive my sins and accept my soul because these sicknesses have suffered me so much.

As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the bank in Burkina Faso and I will also instruct the Bank Manger to issue you an authority letter that will prove you the present beneficiary of the money in the bank that is if you assure me that you will act accordingly as I Stated herein.

Always reply to my alternative for security purposes ( )

Hoping to receive your reply:
From mrs catherine.thomas

And don't even get me started on all the E.D. problems striking mankind. Or do. I need something to write about. Every darn day I get Erect on Demand mail with a curious vertical cucumber shouting hello. Hmmmm. Guess what I think about that?

Uff da Lutefisk!

Monday, August 15, 2016

"The cat, you idiot!"

The Internet Cat Video Festival lived on after the Walker Art Center bundled it up in a burlap sack, weighed it down with rocks and threw it over the Stone Arch Bridge. This year it was hosted by myTalk 107.1. Thanks guys. I'm so glad the festival didn't die after four lives. I'm hoping for at least the proper nine. Besides, I told my husband that next year, we're getting VIP tickets so I don't have to eat the canned and congealed slop offered up from every vendor at CHS field. Even my cat Hana, who licks up pepper flakes like glorified fish scales, would turn up her whiskers at that crap. But that being said, the home of the St. Paul Saints is a pawsome place for the great Minnesota cat-together. This year, over 10,000 humans in cat t-shirts attended. Although, there must be a dog t-shirt in there somewhere.

The mostly local videos were good for some furry belly laughs. But my favorite, paws down, was the prank pulled by Cabot Phillips. He convinced his sister, who was still groggy form having her wisdom teeth pulled, that the world was on the verge of a zombie apocalypse. I remember her questioning him with an almost inaudible fat tongue, as to why he was putting gardening equipment in the back of their car if they needed to defend themselves against zombies. Ha! And then he told her, gulp, that she had to choose between the life of their cat or the life of their dog. Only one could survive! 

Millicent Phillips yells, "The cat, you idiot!" 

Purrfect YouTube fodder for a cat fest.

This is the photo I sent in for the pre-kitten bowl slide show. My thirsty cat Akua aired while we were choking down a mac and cheese hot dog. AAACCCCKKK. I'd prefer a hair ball.

Oh, and after every thing was meowed and done, fireworks lit up the night. 

Not too tabby for a cat fest.