First Impressions

Today is my father’s birthday! Happy birthday, Dad! Since you enjoy good quotes and memorable sentences, this post is right up your alley.

Back in the day, sentences like this were all the rage:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Don’t get me wrong. That’s an incredible sentence. It ranked number 9 on American Book Review’s list of “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” But with shorter attention spans these days, sentences like the above aren’t as much of a draw. See, there’s a reason why Twitter posts have a 280-character limit. (Though that used to be 140, so maybe things are changing? Anyway, Dickens’ quote is 611 characters with spaces.)

Why am I harping on first sentences? Because we’re told that a reader needs to be interested from the first sentence of a book. As I read in this article, “How to start a novel: First sentences, first paragraphs” (which you can find here):

When starting a novel, you have one goal: To create an inviting entry point into your story.

And your first sentence is that entry point, beckoning a reader to draw near. But it needs to hook the reader. An article by Jeff Vasishta entitled, “Opening Lines: The Most Important Part of Your Story” (written for the Institute for Writers) describes it this way:

A newspaper headline serves one purpose–to make you want to read the article beneath it. The opening sentence in a novel tries to do something similar. It should make you want to read the second sentence.

And the next, according to Mr. Vasishta.

One of my favorite first sentences in a novel comes from Three Times Lucky, a middle grade novel by Sheila Turnage:

Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.

It has verve.

Olive the Ostrich and Babette the Owl have verve though they are not sentences.

It made such a good first impression, I had to read the second sentence, and then the first page. That being good as well, I finished the book.

What about you? What was the last sentence that really drew you into a book? Do you have a favorite first sentence to share in the comments below? If you’ve written a book, how many sentences did you go through before you landed on the sentence that starts your book?

Birthday image from sodahead.com. Photos by L. Marie.

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Sometimes, Storms Come

Last week started off like a gentle breeze literally and metaphorically. The temperature was warm and inviting. I had a lovely time with Kate Hosford on the blog. (In case you missed that post, you can read it here.) And I read a beautiful post by Penny over at her Life on the Cutoff blog. The photos of colorful flowers paired with a poem by Robert Frost made a powerful and uplifting combination. (You can read that post here.)

   

My birthday happened midweek. I spent much of the day in a windowless room without wifi. I’ll say more on the why of that in August probably. I can’t discuss it now. In celebration of the day, a friend gave me flowers (below) and a ton of my favorite tea.

Inspired by Penny’s post, I went in search of flowers to photograph, but found many of them windblown and defeated looking.

   

The gentle breeze earlier in the week had turned cold and dreary, thanks to the relentless rainstorms that shoved their way into the area. Fitting weather for the events ending the week. First, a friend texted me to say that her mammogram resulted in the need for a biopsy of “something suspicious.” And then my sister-in-law texted to announce that her mother had been rushed to the hospital.

It doesn’t look good, she wrote. Less than half an hour later, I heard back from her: She’s gone.

Yes, sometimes, storms come.

Even if a loved one has reached old age after living many years in poor health, you still aren’t ready for that person to leave. But after taking turns with my brother to desperately give her mother CPR (no response) until the paramedics came (still no response) and watching the medical team at the hospital try to rouse her mother (no response), my sister-in-law reluctantly let go.

So that was the week—a grim reminder of the cycle of life: birth and death.

On Saturday, the friend who learned of her need for a biopsy handed me this hyacinth:

A reminder that though storms sometimes come, life goes on.

Speaking of life going on, thanks to the random number generator, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, you can expect a copy of How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea to come your way. Please comment below to confirm.

Photos by L. Marie (except for the author photo). The paintings in the background of one photo were painted by Rick Smith. Copyright © 2016 Rick Smith.

What Do You See?

What do you see in the photo below? (This is not a trick question.)

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When I asked two people that question, both said, “Two trees.” One added, “One with pink leaves, one with white leaves,” for extra credit points, I guess.

Now look.

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It is one tree, or at least two that became so interrelated as saplings, that they are now one tree. Changes your perspective a bit, doesn’t it?

You’re probably waiting for me to correlate this image with diversity—the fact that we’re all different, yet we’re part of the same “tree”—humanity (humani-tree, I guess). When I began this post, I thought I was going to do that. But something else more obvious struck me: I walked by that same tree year after year, and never noticed that what I thought was one tree is really two until last week.

Observant much? Yep. That’s me. But sometimes, I get smacked in the face with something that’s always been there, waiting for me to finally take notice. Like a beautiful sunrise or a sunset I’ve been too busy to stop and admire.

Life surprises us in delightful ways, occasionally. Which is good, because lately, I’ve had enough of the bad surprises, like when I learned that a teen I know has to deal with cancer yet again—this time a much more aggressive phase, or when I heard of the sudden death of a friend’s mom. And there were other surprises that sent me reeling in the last few weeks. Even writing has been frustrating.

The blows we take in life can change our perspective too—toward the good or the bad. The choice is ours, of course. Unfortunately, I haven’t always chosen a good perspective. I struggled with that recently. Lately, I’ve felt like cracked clay. But breath-catching moments, like when I finally noticed the tree above, also are soul-sculpting moments. What do I mean by that? Moments when I feel my soul expand like clay taking shape on a potter’s wheel. In those moments, I’m reminded that beauty still exists in the world. And good surprises.

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So, yeah, in the midst of a sobering week, I celebrated the fact that this tree surprised me. I also celebrated my birthday last week. Because I posted an author interview (and arranged for others), I didn’t post my usual birthday giveaway. But rest assured—there will be surprise giveaways in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a couple of photos of craft projects I’ve been working on in my spare time to unwind after a hard week—making doll furniture and crocheting friendly looking dragons (a change from the T-Rexes I had to crochet for a kid’s party weeks ago; patterns for fiercer looking dragons are not free, however). To make the doll sofa (it is about 7″ wide and 5″ tall), I watched a tutorial on a great YouTube channel—My Froggy Stuff. The sofa was made out of cardboard and a fabric remnant that I paid $1.49 for at Michaels. The pillows were made out of felt (39 cents at Michaels). The dragon came from a pattern that can be found here.

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How have you been surprised in a good way lately?

Clay on the wheel image from somewhere on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Films with Rounded Edges

I’ll get to the birthday giveaway in just a minute. But first, this. . . .

In my quest to cut back on violent imagery (which I discussed in this post), I watched three movies with a softer touch. Two—The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) were directed by Irish filmmaker/illustrator Tomm Moore.

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Tomm Moore

Both were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Here’s the trailer for Song of the Sea.

The third was Lego Batman: The Movie—DC Super Heroes Unite (2013), directed by Jon Burton. This movie is based on a videogame. You can watch the trailer here.

(To avoid overcrowding this post with trailers, the Secret of Kells trailer can be found if you click here. But only if you want to.)

Lego Batman has fight scenes so innocuous a five-year-old can view them without twitching. That’s not a criticism. I loved it and Tomm Moore’s gorgeously animated films.

The Secret of Kells is based on a real book—the Book of Kells, a medieval illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels on display at Trinity College Library in Dublin. It features Brendan, a boy living the monastic life in a walled village, where his uncle, the abbot, fears an impending attack by the Vikings. A visit from a famed manuscript illuminator sets Brendan on a life-changing journey. In Song of the Sea, Ben—one of the main characters—grieves the disappearance of his mother while avoiding his six-year-old sister Saiorse, who has yet to speak a word. Being sent away to live with a stern grandmother sets Ben on a journey of discovery about his sister and why their mother left.

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Book of Kells Chi Rho page, which the film mentions

What I love about both films, besides the utter beauty of the art, is the exploration of Celtic mythology. Fairy stories are generally a way to gain my rapt attention. Brendan meets a fairy—one of the Tuatha De Danann. Ben thrives on stories of fairies and selkies.

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Brendan with Aisling, the fairy Brendan meets in the forest

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Ben (bottom right) with Saiorse (the little girl in the center surrounded by fairies)

In an interview at the GhibliWorld.com, Moore cited Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo; Spirited Away), Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack; Hotel Transylvania), and Michel Ocelot (The Princes’ Quest; Tales of the Night) as influencers. (If you know Miyazaki’s work, you know that Studio Ghibli was founded by Miyazaki and another filmmaker—Isao Takahata.) If you’ve seen the work of these filmmakers, you know the beauty and scope of their projects. I have certainly appreciated their work over the years.

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Hayao Miyazaki

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Genndy Tartakovsky

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Michel Ocelot

I know what you’re thinking. An attack by Vikings? Evil villains teaming up to destroy a city? (If you saw the Lego Batman trailer, you’ll know who the villains are.) Aren’t those violent acts? Yep. There are scenes of peril in all three movies. But the peril is definitely palatable for a young audience. The deliberately softened edges in some scenes help.

And that’s what I appreciated overall—the rounded edges. In his behind-the-scenes presentation, Tomm Moore talked about the deliberate choice to match the style of the Book of Kells by featuring circular imagery in many of the scenes. In his commentary, Moore described these images as “a little bit more friendly.” If you look back at the imagery on his films’ DVD cases and the other pictures above, you’ll see the rounded edges of the heroic characters. The antagonists, however, have sharp angles.

Moore is not the only one who has this opinion about rounded edges. I found this article on web design: “5 Colors, Shapes, and Techniques That Make Your Company Friendlier.” The writer, James George, states

[A]dding circular elements to your website can help to break the mold and make your website look friendly and more inviting.

Another article that talks about the inviting quality of rounded edges is this one.

I can’t say I know for sure what the thought process was behind Lego Batman. But Lego minifigs usually look inviting. In the film, many of the characters smiled a lot, which made them look, well, adorable.

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I never explored the idea of rounded edges being friendlier until I began writing this post and heard Moore’s discussion. Perhaps that’s why I love the rounded tops of some Tudor-style doors. I don’t know about you, but I want to walk through these doors.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I’m feeling much more relaxed—relaxed enough to announce the winner of the birthday giveaway. (If you’re not sure what I mean, go here.)

The winner, without further ado, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the Life in the Cutoff blog!!!

Penny, please confirm below, and provide an email address where you can be reached. Also, let me know your choice: coffee or tea.

Thanks to all who commented. Have a happy Avengers 2: Age of Ultron weekend!

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Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Lego Batman from flicks.co.nz. Ben and Aisling image from twitchfilm.com. Song of the Sea still from cinemarcado.com.br. Brendan from cinematheque.fr. DC heroes from watchcartoononline.com. Doors from homecurbappeal.com. Genndy Tartakovsky from cn-cartoonnetwork.wikia.com. Hayao Miyazaki from cinekatz.com. Michel Ocelot from lejdd.fr. Avengers 2 logo from comicvine.com. Book of Kells Chi Rho page from-ireland.net

A Birthday Gift for You

I woke up today to discover that Kitty and Jordie were missing.

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This is Jordie and Kitty if you wonder who they are.

My first thought was to check my wallet for missing credit cards. Kitty is a supervillain after all, while Jordie is a bit impressionable. But they turned up eventually before I could alert the authorities. I was touched that they had enlisted the help of others to surprise me with this.

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Awww. Makes me ashamed for having doubted their integrity.

Yes, it’s that time again. (Though by the time you read this, Monday would have rolled around, signaling an end to my birthday.) I enjoyed a number of good meals over the past week and weekend with friends and family. I have good leftovers in my refrigerator and fond memories.

Though it was my birthday, I want you to have a share in the loot. This is one of the gifts I received:

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The coffee, rather than the crocheted car

The Caribou Coffee shops near me are now Peet’s Coffee shops. But Amazon and other stores still sell Caribou coffee.

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Now let me tell you what I’m going to do. I will send to one commenter a 12-ounce bag of medium roast Caribou coffee and one of the above tiny crocheted cars. (I had to make a bunch of them for a child’s upcoming Hot Wheels-themed birthday party.)

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The busy roadway and a Hot Wheels car I could not crochet

If you have a Keurig, um, sorry. I don’t have a Keurig. I’m giving away a gift like the one I received. Unfamiliar with Caribou? Don’t worry. Since I also received some Starbucks gift cards, I can have a bag of Starbucks ground coffee sent to you. Not a coffee drinker? I’m willing to send a box of Tazo or Harney & Sons tea—whatever Target sells—since that’s something I would supply for myself with a gift card.

Comment to let me know what you would prefer (Coffee? Tea? Nothing?) or what your favorite morning beverage happens to be. I’ll announce the winner on April 30.

Tazo tea from javaestate.com. Harney & Sons tea from luxebc.com. Peet’s logo from glutenfreeville.com.

Making Friends with Winter

017After waking up to witness the aftermath of an overnight snowfall (above), I groaned, totally not in the mood for snow. We’d dodged the snow bullet at Christmas, though everyone I know was disappointed, having desired to frolic in the snow.

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Sometimes Winter seems to loom large . . .

Usually when snow falls, my mind dwells on the state of the roads. You get that way when you have dodgy tires and lack the money to replace them. So, I muttered to myself as I brushed the snow off my car windows: “Why couldn’t the snow fall when I didn’t have somewhere to go (i.e., at 3 or 4 a.m.)? If only winter could be more subdued.”

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Jordie tries to subdue Winter. I suspect that his plan is doomed to failure.

As I brushed the snow and scraped the ice off my windshield, I quickly grew tired of my bad attitude. Grumbling didn’t solve anything. I needed to embrace the season since, like it or not, it’s here to stay. But my mind required “winterizing” just like my car. For the car, I usually make sure the fluid levels are on par (particularly antifreeze and water in the radiator). To get myself in the winter mood, I need a constant supply of fluids too, namely, hot beverages like coffee, cocoa, tea, and apple cider.

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Jordie attempts to make friends with Winter.

One thing that helped my mood today, besides a warm cup of coffee, was the gladsome sight of freshly plowed roads. And the trees along the roads were beautifully laced with snow. I can’t imagine a wedding dress more beautiful than those snow-laden trees. That’s one of the perks of living in an area where winter makes its presence felt through snow and ice and iron-gray skies.

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These are not the trees I saw, but they have a snow-laced appearance, albeit with less snow than the ones I saw.

The Frozen-themed birthday party I attended on Saturday in honor of a newly minted three-year-old seems all the more appropriate now with snow on the ground. Alas, I don’t have an ice-blue gown as beautiful as Elsa’s. I’m forced to make do with a fun winter hat.

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This is not my hat. I made it for a little boy. But you can bet I’ll soon make myself a puppy hat.

Some cool good things have happened in this winter season—another reason to be joyful, rather than annoyed. I had a great Christmas and celebrated New Year’s day—my nephew’s birthday—with my family. And two days before the new year, some dear friends celebrated the birth of their second son. Oddly enough, he was born on the same day as the son of some other dear friends. In a season where life seems dormant or brittle, it’s great to hold a brand-new life in your arms. But I digress. . . .

Another way I can winterize my mind, besides having fun building a snowman or sledding (excellent choices), is to reread stories set in winter: The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis just to name a few. I love curling up under a warm blanket while reading a book featuring a frozen landscape with snow I don’t have to shovel. And I have all of these on my bookshelf.

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Happy New Year! And welcome to Winter 2015!

What’s your favorite way to winterize?

Central Park trees from hqworld.net. Elsa film poster from filmpopper.com.

Suits Me to a “Tea”: A Birthday Gift for You

free-giftI had a great birthday weekend. (If you’re totally confused about that sentence or its relevance, read this post.) Friends and family treated me to three great meals during which I ate more than a human being should ever ingest and still hope to retain the ability to stand.

Since I had such a great time and am very full, I want to share the wealth. Before you recoil due to the belief that I’m about to do something disgusting (like provide a photo of myself with gross, chewed food in my mouth ala what my older brother used to do when we were younger), let me quickly reassure you, starting by reminding you of the tea I received as a birthday gift.

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In a minute, I’ll tell you why I brought that up. But first, a quick word about a meeting I attended this past Saturday—the quarterly meeting of my SCBWI chapter. Our speaker talked about e-publishing and mentioned that some of her friends can write 100,000 words a month and therefore produce several books a year. The speaker also had a couple of projects of her own and hoped to squeeze in a third later on.

As I listened, my first thought was, I have a hard time finishing one project. But today, I realize that I’ve convinced myself that I have this limitation. When pressed, I can produce way more than my current level of output, as I’ve done in the past.

It’s funny how you get used to a certain level of activity (or inactivity). There was a time when I wrote three books in a year, because the book packager I worked for had extremely tight deadlines and demanding clients. When I stopped working there, I convinced myself that I was now free from the pressure to produce, and therefore, could focus on quality. But that was an excuse to slack off. I can’t say my quality increased when my output severely dropped. I can, however, put a name to this state of affairs:

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction. In other words, it is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant linear velocity. The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics that are used to describe the motion of objects and how they are affected by applied forces. Inertia comes from the Latin word, iners, meaning idle, sluggish. (Wikipedia)

Having tight deadlines on the job or in graduate school helped establish the discipline of regular writing. Being forced to crank out a certain amount of words every week (for some projects, no less than 10,000—12,000 words) pushed me past my comfort zone. I grumbled, but I met the deadlines. So why do I settle for less now? Picture me shrugging or sitting slacked jawed. The only limits I have currently are the ones I’ve placed on myself due to doubt, fear of failure, or fear of rejection. It’s time to go beyond those limits and reach for the sky.

Number-2-iconNow, about that giveaway: I thought it would be fun to give away something I was given for my birthday. (Um, no, I don’t plan to regift a gift.) I’m giving away two (new) tins of chocolate mint tea, one per winner. Why two? Because I’m writing a duology and 2 is the magic number. Sadly this has to be a domestic, rather than an international giveaway. But if you live abroad, don’t worry. There will be other giveaways.

If the thought of chocolate mint tea gives you the hives, I’m willing to go this route:

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Wondering how you can win one? Just comment below. Share how you’re willing to push yourself past your comfort zone in order to achieve a goal. Winners will be announced on Monday, May 5.

Here’s another gift from me to you, along with these special words of advice:

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Cinnamon sunset burst tea from Target.com. Number 2 image from iconarchive.com. Gift image from thebeautyroom.co.uk. Cat from LOL Cats.