Life’s soundtrack should be big: Rossini Opera Festival makes a splash

Front door of Rossini Theater with palm tree and poster for Rossini Opera Festival
Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet is on the radio and I’m thinking about emotion in music and the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

The Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy was over the top! I love watching live orchestras and this one had 5 string basses. 🙂 And the audience was as fun to watch as the opera!

I didn’t expect a fashion event. Of course people are well dressed at a fancy cultural event, but there was so much creativity in people’s outfits. Italy takes fashion seriously.

Black "flat" shoes with sequins and bow ties in three places.
These beautiful sparkly shoes would please any Dorothy or reform any Wicked Witch.

La pietra del paragone was set in a wealthy Duke’s house, complete with swimming pool on the stage. In the opening scene, the cast sang while wearing 1950’s swimming suits in bright colors.

How can you sing, fall into a pool, come up dripping, and sing some more? Don’t people have to breathe?

The comedic characters were dressed in ever more extreme fashion with amazingly clashing shades of salmon and mustard. Of course, the hero and heroine got more and more elegant.

I’ve always enjoyed the comedy of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and accessible operas like Carmen and The Magic Flute. This performance made me feel that singing at the top of your lungs is the only way to live.

Things are going on in the world. Make a noise! Belt it out! Articulate at top speed! And dress up. 🙂

Is what we mean by catharsis? I thought the “sense of relief from extreme emotions” only applied to tragedies. This wasn’t one.

When my mom was getting chemotherapy years ago, she listened to Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle. At the time, I wondered if that would ruin the music for her. But I think it was a way to give a heroic backdrop to a life and death battle.

Life is ridiculous and tragic and heroic. Opera with a swimming pool is just the ticket.

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Basic Garden Vocabulary in German and a side-trip to Mexican Oregano

Vegetable garden overtaken by poppies, nasturitiums, cosmos and zucchini plants
Clearly this garden needs tools and more plants. 🙂

I’ve never grown vegetables in Germany–until this year. That means I need lots of new words!

If you’re considering gardening in Germany, maybe this list will help you out. Or provide you with a little entertainment. Or I’ll just be able to look things up here when I forget them. 🙂

die Gartenschnur–garden twine, jute, often dyed green here.
die Harke–rake (memorization: Rake and Harke both have r’s in them.)
die Hacke–hoe

Note: When my father-in-law (from Northern Germany in Sauerland) said Hacke or Harke, I always thought it was the same word. He pronounces the “r” way back in his throat, somewhere near his toes. When we visit this weekend, we’re going to have a Harke/Hacke challenge. Stay tuned!

Update: I’m crushed at how wrong I was. Even I can hear the difference when he says them. On the bright side, I can finally ask for the tool I want.

die Samen–seeds (not to be confused with der Samen which means seed of the human variety.) Or stay on the safe side and use:

das Saatgut–seeds

der Setzling, die Setzlinge–young plants ready for transplanting into the garden.
das Unkraut, die Unkräute–weed, weeds
die Kräuter–herbs

And for the Dark Side:

der Laubbläser–leaf blower. I was hoping for a creative word for the whining distractions like the German word for vacuum cleaner–der Staubsauger–which is literally “dust-sucker” but I guess you can’t get more literal than leaf blower.

Oh no, now I need to buy 8 different kinds of oregano–these all sound so delicious!

According to the Californians at Rancho Gordo, who are experts in beans of all kinds, these are the two kinds of Mexican Oregano I need to try.

Mexican Oregano

and

Oregano Indio

Who says book research isn’t a plus for family life? You’re probably wondering what Mexican Oregano has to do with 11th century Italy. I was looking up how to cook beans in a glass fiasco for my revised Chapter 1. Anyway, I’m sure Mexican Oregano helps keep up with the zucchini harvest.

Uh, no. My chapter isn’t done. Funny you should ask.

Bye!

Hope your writing, reading, and summer are all going well!

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Forgiving yourself for what you did “on purpose”

Window with six panes looking out on a street with church and palace towers in the distance.
Forgiving yourself can change your perspective. Image: View of yellow palace housing University of Bonn from Greek/Latin library. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Whack! The little girl smacked her tiny rainbow umbrella down on the restaurant’s marble table with an unexpectedly loud crack. No one was hurt; nothing was damaged–or even knocked over–but her eyes widened in horror.

“But I did it on purpose!” A storm of tears followed and she hid her face against her mother. I wanted put an arm around her and say, “We’ve all done things on purpose. I’ve felt exactly the same way. And so did St. Peter.”

When we see the shocking results of something we’ve done “on purpose” we’re dismayed. Sometimes we hurt someone we love and that makes it even worse. But sometimes a “small” failure horrifies us needlessly. We send ourselves off into a spiral of critique and hurt ourselves most.

This morning, I’m trying to start work on the umpteenth revision of a particularly stubborn work-in-progress. Instead of an umbrella beating a marble table, I’m beating up on myself. The familiar inner critic’s comments show up right away: I made this mess of a draft, I did it to myself, it’s my own fault.

A classic case of I-failed-and-I-did-it-to-myself.

I only know one remedy. Go somewhere private–like the middle of the forest–and confess my limited-ness out loud:

I can’t do this by myself. I need help. I tried and I failed. Forgive me for my shortcomings. Forgive me for my ludicrous resentment of the shortcomings of others. Let me hide my face for a while.

It always surprises me. As soon as I stop making myself the center of the universe, I can show my face again. Relief! I’m not the boss. I can start again with a lighter heart.

It’s so deceptively simple and it saves so much heartbreak.

What helps you when the critical voices threaten to shut you down?

Resources:

Carolyn Kaufman’s excellent blog posts:

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part 1

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part 2

Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame and vulnerability is a good intro to her work on living a whole-hearted life.

An inspiring conversation about courage with Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey

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Growing into shape: A 1,000-year-old linden tree

Enormous linden tree with a green canopy that makes an almost perfect half-dome over its thick trunk.This 1,000 year old linden tree has such a perfect shape from the outside. A really old tree gives me a new perspective on life and how long it takes to grow something beautiful.Close-up of linden tree showing a trunk almost as wide as a compact car.

This one almost certainly saw a procession of Emperors passing by. It’s very near the open-air museum of Tilleda, a kind of “Emperor rest-stop” as old as the tree.

The sign says this tree stood in the cemetery of a Cistercian convent, in the village, Kelbra. The tree is still here, but there’s no sign of the cemetery.Sign in German Klosterlinde, Alter: ca. 1000 Jahre Standort: ehem. Friedhof des Zisterzierserinnen Klosters Kelbra.

Things look far from effortless on the inside. View up into the heavy branches. Some were braced against the trunk with huge straps.Looking up into canopy of linden tree. Thick branches and lots of green leaves.

It’s a comfort to see a tree loved so well. I recently went to a reading where the author said the content determined the shape of the book. A tree makes it really clear how much the shape of anything depends on the space around it.

If you love old trees, you might like this epic tree too.

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Sometimes the only thing that helps stuck project

. . .is walking around it.

Am I the only one who has to move to get my brain to work? I’m getting the big creative “guns” out today: Scissors, tape, markers in all colors.

What do you all do when a project Just. Won’t. Budge?

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Sketching, the “saggy middle” and The Winged Pen

Paris metro station under construction with spikes covered with orange balls imbedded in the crumbly wall.
A “sketchy” metro station in Paris looks more like St. Stephen pierced with arrows. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Today, I’m over at The Winged Pen’s Master Your Craft blog post series.

What–you ask–is Master Your Craft? Each Wednesday, the Winged Pen discusses prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING.

(Handy list of Master Your Craft topics so far.)

My post is about that devious stretch of story landscape known as “the saggy middle.” This morning, I realized I left something out: sketching.

Sketching is what you do when you’re feeling your way into a piece. This isn’t about the whole outline versus drafting controversy. As we all know, there’s more than one way to figure out a story. I always have to use ALL the ways.

Drafting, in my mind, is letting the imagination lead you through an experience.

Outlining, in my mind, is hovering above a story to see which way you’re headed before dropping back down into it.

A sketch tests a tricky part of your outline on another scale. . .if my hero said this, what would happen? Sketch it and find out. Test your thinking with your imagination.

A sketch hints at a possible sequence in your “messy draft”. . .make a list of scenes you’ve already written. Do they make a chain? Test your imagination with your thinking.

I’m sure this seems obvious to all you industrious writers, so what’s my point?

Alternating between outlining and sketching can get you there when everything seems hopelessly stuck. Libbie Hawker writes about “beats” to fill out a story outline. Rachel Aaron writes about the power of getting excited about a scene you are going to write.

Do you do something similar? Or something very different? Please share in the comments.

 Read the Winged Pen post on “saggy middles” here.

Close-up of unusual spikes capped with orange balls.
Getting a fix on your story. Image: Close-up of unusual spikes capped with orange balls. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

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Persistence and the artistic dream in SOMEDAY, SOMEDAY, MAYBE by Lauren Graham

book cover of girl in red jacket going over bridge in New York City
Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham is a charming and funny story of a young woman pursuing an artistic dream.

Usually I write about middle grade, young adult books, or writing craft books here, but this story of a young woman pursuing the acting dream has lots of parallels with the writing life. A nice novel to cheer up overworked writers with a bit of unexpected creative philosophy built in.

Someday, Someday, Maybe is a charming debut novel for adults by actress Lauren Graham. It’s funny, with perfect, believeable details–except maybe the terrible script which is perfectly AWFUL.

 

 

 

My two favorite quotes:

One of the characters explains J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. (I was grateful for this because I’ve read Salinger’s novel and never could figure out what it was about.)

“. . .the act of repetition itself–will bring enlightenment. That’s the thing that always stuck out to me–the idea that quantity becomes quality. I always took it to mean if you do anything enough, if you keep putting effort in, eventually something will happen, with or without you. You don’t have to have faith when you start out, you just have to dedicate yourself to practice as if you have it.” –Chapter 29, pg. 249

I love this explanation of the actor’s advice: “Faster, Funnier, Louder.”

“FASTER–don’t talk down to the audience, take us for a spin, don’t spell everything out for us, we’re as smart as you–assume we can keep up; FUNNIER–entertain us, help us see how ridiculous and beautiful life can be, give us a reason to feel better about our flaws; LOUDER–deliver the story in the appropriate size, DON’T be indulgent or keep it to yourself, be generous–you’re there to reach US.” –Chapter 30, pg. 255

I’m off to do some repetitive practice with my novel revision!

Happy writing and revising!

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Looking in from the outside: Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series

Book cover for THICK AS THIEVES shows boat with masts, white mountains and a tower in the foreground, black background with gold title font.
The newest in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series.

Thick as Thieves came out this year (Yay! I read it twice in a row!) and I’ve been enjoying re-reading Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. She’s making me think about the story from an outsider’s perspective.

Megan Whalen Turner’s beloved Eugenides character is showcased in a way that reminds me of Dorothy Dunnett’s well-loved Francis Crawford of Lymond. Both authors have a lovely, twisty plotting style with snappy dialogue to warm any reader’s heart.

Dorothy Dunnett rarely gives the reader an inside glimpse of Lymond’s mind or heart. Rife and contradictory speculation lets the reader discover Lymond’s true character, just the way we get to know people in real life.

In The Queen’s Thief series, Megan Whalen Turner moves the point of view progressively further away from her key character, Eugenides.

The Thief is told in the first person by the Queen’s Thief.

The Queen of Attolia seems to be third person omniscient because we get interior thoughts from both the Thief and from the Queen.

The King of Attolia is told by an Attolian guard who resists being won over by the new King of Attolia.

A Conspiracy of Kings is told from the King of Sounis’s point of view.

Thick as Thieves is a quest story about an Attolian guard told from the point of view of Kamet, the head slave of the Mede Emperor’s nephew, as he figures out what the King of Attolia is really like. The relationship that develops reminds me of the one between Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander.

What are the advantages of an outsider’s perspective for a story?

  1. It makes the reader “an accomplice” and works especially well in a series where we already know and love the main character.

“And this is the genius of Megan Whalen Turner because in book 3, we, the readers, are Eugenides’s accomplices. We sit back and wait for the coin to drop for everybody else as it has dropped for us in books 1 and 2.” —The Book Smugglers

2. The outsider can question what the main character never says (or thinks about). The reader gains a guide and a companion in the story, a Watson to a closed-off and brilliant Sherlock Holmes. Megan Whalen Turner’s Costis does this effectively, as does Kamet.

3. Misdirection, fame, and mystery. An obvious advantage (and disadvantage): we see what the main character looks like from the outside. Megan Whalen Turner uses this to great effect in The King of Attolia when we see what Eugenides looks like to everyone else.

Interestingly, Eugenides’ relationship to the god of thieves is always shown to the reader from the outside. This conveys mystery better than any internal thought process could.

4. Someone to carry the ball. A story that ends in a tragic death can only be told by an outside narrator. Not sure if that’s an advantage. Someone has to be left to do the wrap up. Unless you’d like a Shakespearean monologue after death delivered by your main character. Thankfully, Megan Whalen Turner hasn’t done this yet. (MWT–Please don’t kill off your beloved characters!)

Here’s the link to the whole review by The Book Smugglers which says what I’ve been trying to say about the change in narration and the power of these books, so I’ll stop now. 🙂

What I really want to say is: Read the books!

Here’s another fun mini-interview with Megan Whalen Turner about The Queen’s Thief series. And another one.

Happy reading!

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7+ English Language Bookstores in Paris

Brick and stone arcade with shops in Paris.
Shady arcade along the Rue de Rivoli that houses two English language bookstores in Paris. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

This post is for all you readers of English language books who are living in or visiting Paris. Maybe you need a book for the plane home or presents for your English-speaking grandchildren. Or you just need to browse English books for a while before returning to your adopted home in Europe.

Shakespeare & Company

This famous bookstore has a whole wall of shiny middle grade and young adult books and a tiny picture book nook. Upstairs there’s a bookshelf-lined library for readings. The cushioned window seat goes all the way around the room. Lots of atmosphere and the Seine’s right outside.

Métro: St. Michel

Abbey Bookshop

This tiny store near Shakespeare & Company sells used books in a maze-like store. The children’s books are in the back and fans and soft classical music helps the whole place feel a bit less claustrophobic. The shelves are so full of books and the aisles are so tiny, that it’s challenging to see the titles lower down. The staff is friendly and will help you.

Métro: Odeon

Bookstore with Canadian flag and used books stacked outside on the pavement.
The overflowing Abbey Bookshop in Paris. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Librairie Galignani

We all enjoyed this elegant and comfortable bookstore with leather reading chairs and spacious aisles. It’s near the Tuilleries gardens on an arcade-covered avenue so getting there is comfortable, rain or shine. Their English language young adult section is almost as big as Shakespeare & Company’s. Several books on my list were priced noticeably lower here than at the WHSmith further up the Rue de Rivoli.

Métro: Tuilleries

WHSmith

This British chain bookstore has a generous children’s book section. If you’re looking for books from American publishers, you may have to order them. I found many familiar book friends on the shelves, but not, for example, Megan Whalen Turner’s newest, THICK AS THIEVES. Or any of her earlier Attolia novels.

Métro: Tuilleries

I didn’t get to ALL the English language bookstores in Paris. (What a nice problem to have!) So these are on my list for next time:

Berkeley Books of Paris

San Francisco Book Company

Used Book Café

Gilbert Jeune

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Becoming an artist at The Winged Pen

book cover in graphic novel style, boy and girl in brown medieval cloaks in a snowy dark wood with a monastery looming behind
Jackie Randall’s EMELIN is an exciting adventure story about a girl who is a book artist.

If you’re looking for me this week, I’m over at The Winged Pen interviewing author Jackie Randall about her middle grade adventure: EMELIN.

I really enjoyed this book!

The gutsy girl artist, Emelin, is appealing. Her mysterious friend Wolf is also intriguing.

The story is easy-peasy accessible and the everyday details of England in the middle ages are effortlessly accurate. Try it, you’ll like it.

You can read the interview with author, Jackie Randall, here.

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