Bending in the Wind

Happy post-Easter! I had a great Easter. If the celebration of Easter is part of your tradition, hope you had a good one too.

While out for a walk in a high wind the other day, I couldn’t help noticing the flowers. Many were doubled over, their stems bent by the wind. Bent, but not broken. This roused my curiosity. Why was this the case?

Botanists have studied why plant stems can take the pressure of the wind without breaking. The vascular tissue in a plant stem helps stiffen the plant enough to take the wind, while keeping it flexible enough to bend and not break.

While searching the Internet on the subject, I discovered a new word: thigmomorphogenesis, which is

the response by plants to mechanical sensation (touch) by altering their growth patterns

A “mechanical sensation” like wind can cause a plant to change the way it grows. A plant hormone like ethylene also aids in this process.

Imagine that—change inspiring growth in a new way.

You’re probably not here for a botany lesson, so I’ll get to the point. I couldn’t help comparing myself to the plant stems I observed. When the winds of change come, I tense up, rather than welcoming the change as a catalyst for growth. Instead, I plant my feet—the very image of inflexibility. I’m not overly fond of change—especially change involving discipline.

Growing up, my mother used to say that I was stubborn. I preferred to think of it as firmly resistant. But lately I’ve also noticed that the more resistant I am toward change, the easier it is to be broken by an unavoidable change. Bending seems a lot healthier.

For those of you who are reading these words (and I’m grateful you took time to do so), please don’t think this post is a veiled attempt at calling you or anyone else out. It’s totally not. This is what I observed about my own life.

Since Easter is a celebration of new life, I can’t help being reminded that new life can mean a new attitude. I desperately need one. Because like it or not, change comes like the wind. I can either bend with it or break.

How about you? Do you bend with change or resist it?

Photos by L. Marie.

First Post of 2017!

Happy 2017! Since I didn’t make a list of resolutions nor do I have goals to share, I’ll just get to the point of this post. I wanted the first post of the year to involve a giveaway. Here are the first two items.

In a previous post, I mentioned some Christmas gifts I received, which included this tea (which came in a six-box lot)

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and this book:

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This book, by Jessica Julius, appealed to me for a number of reasons: (1) Zootopia was one of my favorite movies in 2016. (2) I love books about the process of making a film or writing a series. (3) The world building in Zootopia was fantastic, and is well covered in the book.

So I’ll give commenters a choice of one of those items (don’t forget—you’ll get about six boxes of the maple apple cider tea) or one other. Having recently seen and loved the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I was inspired to add the following book choice:

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Please keep in mind that I didn’t read this novel. I only saw the film. But this is the novelization of the film.

So, you might wonder, what’s the catch with all of this? Am I flinging money to the winds because I’ve gone insane? No, but since you asked so politely, I’ll tell you why. Lean closer. . . . Closer. . . . Closer. . . .

That’s close enough. Are you ready? Here’s the answer: no reason. Just because.

Happy 2017! When you comment below, please state which of the three you would like. (Please note: If the tea is your choice, please keep in mind that I’m not sure if Amazon delivers the tea out of the U.S.) When you comment, you don’t have to give a reason for your choice. But if you like, you can share how you rang in the new year. I’ll start: I fell asleep around 11:30, but was awakened by the fireworks outside.

Rogue One novel cover from Goodreads.

The Year in Review—2016

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For some years, there are no words.

Perhaps you can relate. Twenty-sixteen definitely has had its ups and downs with project losses and gains, illness in the family, graduations, etc. And at the end of the year, I find myself striving to write anything. This wordless state is a bit scary for me. I’d love to be in a fulsome state of writing right now. But some things can’t be forced, I guess.

One Christmas gift that inspires me is this (click on Christmas gift to find out more about this book):

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And this tea is insanely good!

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Early in the new year, I’ll do a giveaway of Christmas gift inspirations like the ones above. In the meantime, I hope 2017 is good to you. What are your hopes for the coming year?

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My new Jane Austen quote journal. We will spend lots of time together in the new year.

Barbie Made to Move™ photos and other photos by L. Marie.

Happy Holidays 2016

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Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled:
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With the angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.

Words: Charles Wesley (1707-88), George Whitfield (1714-70), Martin Madan (1726-90), and William Hayman Cummings (1831-1915)
Music: “Mendelssohn” chorus by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-47), adapted by William Hayman Cummings

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Merry Christmas!
Chag Sameach to those who celebrate Hanukkah.

Before we go our separate holiday ways, I’d like to announce the winner of The Spirit Well by Charles Yallowitz. (If you are confused by that statement, click here.)

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That person is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . . (I could go on like this all day.)

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jill Weatherholt!

Congratulations, Jill! You know the drill—please comment below to confirm, then email your info to me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com.

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Believe it or not, Kitty received gifts from a grateful fan. She chose not to share her Christmas bounty with anyone.

Baby Jesus image from freeimages.com. Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other photos by L. Marie.

You’re a Mean One, Miss Kitty

The following poem is my version of Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, with a bit of inspiration from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. It explains what Kitty’s been up to lately, which I’ve hinted at a couple of times. (Yes, I know this is more appropriate for Christmas Eve. But you don’t want to wait that long, do you?) So, if you stopped by to learn who won the books in the latest giveaways (click here and here for the author interviews), check the end of the poem.

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, save Kitty—that louse!

While the children drew close to the warm fireplace,
Kitty took herself up the stairs to rob the place.

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But a child crept upstairs to observe her at work.
Yet Kitty heard her creeping, and turned with a jerk.

“Are you Santa Claus?” asked the sweet little tike.
“I’d like a Nintendo, and some kind of bike.”

“A Nintendo what?” asked the grumpy fake Nick.
“Nintendo’s a company. Please be specific.”

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“You’re not St. Nick!” cried the suddenly wise child.
“You’re grumpy and harsh; he’s sweet and warm and mild.”

“He sounds like a hot drink,” the would-be thief sneered.
“Take my advice. This Santa Claus? Well, he sounds weird.”

Kitty shooed the child off with a ten-dollar bill.
She returned to the sack she had hastened to fill.

But suddenly outside, there arose such a clatter.
To the window she raced. What on earth was the matter?

Sirens squealed in the distance—what a kerfuffle!
The window was shut; but the noise would not muffle.

She would be caught with the stuff she had stolen.
What could she say about a large sack so swollen?

So, she threw off the disguise, and then she made haste
Down the stairs with her usual cupcake at her waist.

“Oh children,” she said, “I’m a neighbor so near
I stepped through the window to visit you here.”

The child with the ten, not a word did she say.
She felt keeping mum made life better that way.

So, they gave Kitty cocoa and showed her a chair.
And soon, Kitty realized, she was better off there.

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Now let’s turn from a larcenous “Santa” to the winners of the books. As a reminder, I am giving away a copy of How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear by Eric Pinder, as well as Hard to Die by Andra Watkins and Our Justice by John Howell.

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The winner of Eric Pinder’s picture books is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jennie!

The winner of How to Die and Our Justice is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy!

Winners, please confirm below. Jennie, please email your snail mail information and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. (Amazon will not deliver without a phone number.) Andy, when you email, please include the email address you use with Amazon.uk. I believe you can only get the Kindle versions of Hard to Die and Our Justice through Amazon.uk. Hope that is okay.

Thank you to all who commented!

Book covers from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie. The Happy Places Shopkins Happy Home is a registered trademark of Moose Toys. Hello Kitty is a registered trademark of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

Check These Out: Books for a Thrilling Christmas

Greetings! With me on the blog today are two authors already known to many of you: the fabulous Andra Watkins and the equally fabulous John Howell.

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They’re here to talk about the latest books in their series. Click here and here for series information.

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Hard to Die was published by Word Hermit Press. Our Justice was published by Keewaydin Lane Books. Stick around later for the giveaway info.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: 1. I’m afraid to answer FaceTime, because my parents like to call when they’re either naked or scantily clad.
2. Once I break the seal, I eat SweeTARTS until my mouth turns raw. I cannot stop.
3. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. My husband thinks that’s inconceivable!

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

4. I love to meet my readers. The furthest I’ve traveled to meet a reader is Australia. She was delightful. But all my readers are.

John: 1. I have written a thousand words a day for seven days a week since 2012.
2. I began writing after turning seventy, five years ago.
3. I love to write poetry but won’t show it to anyone.
4 I live with my wife and three rescue pets on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind your series?
Andra: What if you disappeared? Or no one knew exactly how you died? And because nobody knew what happened, you couldn’t fully die?

I’ve always been fascinated with unresolved deaths. Somebody, somewhere, knew what happened, at least for a little while. Both Hard to Die and To Live Forever give real people with unresolved deaths new adventures. It’s speculative fiction at its ‘what if’-iest. If you’re skeptical about giving me a try, here’s what real readers say about this series:

“One of the most imaginative books I’ve ever read.” Jen Mann, NYT best selling author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat
“I LOVED this book!” Nicole Knepper, author of Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind
“Absolutely thrilling read!”
“My new favorite.”
Hard to Die is hard to put down.”
“Riveting.”
“One of the best reads I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“A magical tale.”

John: My sister and I were touring the Aircraft Carrier Lexington moored in Corpus Christi. [Photo below.] Our father was a naval aviator during World War II and served on the Lexington. We wanted to walk the halls and in some way get a sense of his experience. While standing on the flight deck, it occurred to me that this symbol of American military strength was unarmed and vulnerable to anyone who would want to destroy this treasure. Although my series is not about the Lexington, it did set the stage for the subsequent terrorist quest to embarrass America.

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El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Andra: Several books informed my Nowhere Series. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind was a white-knuckled tour through Barcelona. I loved the fantasy, the inventive ties to forgotten books, and the homage to the landscape. I hope Zafón taught me how to keep a reader turning pages.

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Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, is a slim gem of speculative fiction. His short afterlife tales are so tight and inventive. He first made me think about what an alternative afterlife could be.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is a grounded fantasy tale I wish I’d written. Gosh, the writing is gorgeous. I love how she chose to deal with loss, death, and the afterlife, all through the eyes of a mute little boy. I’d read this book over All the Light We Cannot See.

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John: I am inspired by Nevil Shute and his book On the Beach. I was impressed in the manner that he could make up a fictional situation and characters and craft the position so that it seemed real and did not have a happy ending. Kurt Vonnegut inspired me in several books by how he could use actual situations as backdrops to a fictional story. John Irving gave me the courage to write about whimsy, and did it with a boldness that allowed the reader to believe the appropriateness of a sometimes outrageous situation to the storyline. Finally, Andra Watkins continues to inspire me through her determination to bring her stories to life in spite of all challenges to her personally.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Andra: Keep writing. 2016 has been tough for many people. It’s been especially hard on me. I launched a book a week before the election while I was afflicted with a significant illness. I don’t think I need to tell anyone how that launch turned out. I’ve cried and raged and questioned myself ten thousand times, but in the end, writers must write, even when writing makes no sense. Especially when writing makes no sense.

John: A talented writer, Craig Boyack, wrote a post on how to add suspense to a story. Although sometimes we don’t think of adding suspense in certain situations Craig pointed out a way to add a small portion even though it has no meaningful outcome to the story. The reason I thought this was great advice is we often think of suspense elements as some core plot elements and not a way to raise the enjoyment level of a story. I think his opinion changed that concept for me.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andra: I Am Number 13 is the third book in the Nowhere Series. It will be available in Spring 2017. I have at least three more characters lined up for future installments, though I no longer say how many books that will be. These characters become their own very insistent people. Hard to Die wasn’t supposed to be part of my Nowhere Series. That’s how insistent Theodosia Burr Alston is. And the male narrator, Richard Cox, wasn’t in the first three drafts. I look at Hard to Die now and can’t imagine it without him.

John: I am currently wrapping up the editing on a book titled “Circumstances of Childhood.” It is a story about a guy who is very successful until he runs amuck with a Security Exchange Commission audit. He needs to rely on a childhood pal for help but the question remains can the friend help him. The book goes to beta readers in January.

I have also started a thriller about a couple who find a cell phone on the beach. The phone contains some valuable information encoded into the contact list. The guy who lost the phone has been punished and now the boss wants his phone back. The chief of police is right in the crosshairs since he turned the phone over to Homeland Security since he thought some of the photos looked suspicious. The first draft should be finished by May.

Thank you, Andra and John, for being my guests!

Looking for Andra? You can find her here and here.
Looking for John? You can find him here and here.

Looking for Hard to Die and book one in the series? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Looking for Our Justice and other books in the trilogy? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Another place you can look is your front doorstep, because I’m giving away a copy of Hard to Die and Our Justice to a commenter. The winner will be announced on December 15.

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What is Kitty up to? No good, I suspect. Stay tuned. . . .

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from their websites and Goodreads. Still image from The Princess Bride from moviereviewland.blogspot. Gulf of Mexico map from worldatlas.com. USS Lexington at Corpus Christi photo from tourism-review.com.

The Perfect Christmas?

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving if you celebrated that holiday. This past Friday (Black Friday here in the U.S.), my sister-in-law and I made my brother turn from a Star Trek marathon so we could watch a Hallmark movie. Lest you misunderstand, I also was enjoying the Star Trek marathon. But around the fourth episode, I wanted to watch something else.

Anyway, the plot of the movie involved a woman following a list of activities she believed would make the perfect Christmas. For example, staying in a cozy cabin in the mountains (with the perfect covering of snow on the roof), singing Christmas carols, seeing The Nutcracker, making a gingerbread house, buying a real Christmas tree, baking, ice skating, taking a picture with Santa, etc.

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My brother glared at the television. “That’s every Christmas stereotype there is!” he declared, his lip curled.

I laughed, because he was right. But I couldn’t help recalling one Christmas season years ago, when a friend of mine and I followed a list of the quintessential Chicago Christmas activities. It included having lunch near the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s (which was Marshall Field back then), oohing and ahing over the Christmas display in the store windows, ice skating, checking out the Christmas trees at the Museum of and Industry (see photo below; it is not one of mine, however), going to see The Nutcracker (fail), etc. (Click here for a list of holiday things to do in and around Chicago.)

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We waited two hours just to get into the Walnut Room (see photo below; I did not take that photo either). While I was glad we checked that off on our Christmas to-do list, I can’t say the meal I had was memorable. It certainly hadn’t met my extraordinarily high expectations.

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And that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Unrealistic expectations often put a damper on our enjoyment of the holidays. I learned that the hard way.

This year, I don’t feel motivated to rush around, doing holiday things while trying to manufacture the “perfect” Christmas season. Case in point: I skipped shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, over the weekend, I took in a good movie (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) with friends.

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And I don’t plan to stress about Christmas shopping. This year, I’m focusing on the things in which I truly delight, rather than the “have-to’s” of the season. Guess that means crocheting more reindeer to give away (not a have-to, but a want-to), seeing more great films (Moana, you are next), and having quality conversations with friends and family.

What, if anything, constitutes the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah season for you? What are your plans for the season?
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Crocheted reindeer thugs stage a coupe by blocking my coffee mug. While I’m not exactly sure what their demands are, I will make it a priority to find good homes for them this season. And yes, the keyboard below them is very dusty. It’s not one that I use these days.

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Rainbow Kate and her BFF Popette finally finished hanging the Christmas lights on Rainbow Kate’s house, to the delight of the children Kate babysat. But the delight turned to consternation when they discovered Kitty in the living room, drinking the last of the cocoa.

Christmas tree in the Walnut room from anadesigns.blogspot. Christmas tree at the Museum of Science and Industry from commons.wikimedia.org. Santa from hdwallpapersforiphone.blogspot. Fantastic Beasts logo from geeknation.com. Other photos by L. Marie.