Thursday, March 23, 2017

Books and Brews: A Trip to Ireland

One thing I guess I don't mention much is that my children are all half-Irish, as in their dad comes straight from Rush, Co. Dublin. 

They say write what you know, and when I wrote about Amy giving birth in a foreign country, this is something I know.  It is quite an experience to be 20 years old, having your first child across an ocean from your home.  My oldest son was born at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin--delivering babies since 1745.  (One of three maternity hospitals in Dublin, by the way.) 

It was very different from having a baby in the United States.  Apparently my fame preceded me, as every time I spoke, a nurse would say (in their very wonderful Irish brogue which I wish I could capture here!), "Oh, you're the American!  Were you on holiday?"

We drove home from the hospital three days later with my father-in-law through small, winding, cobble-stone streets in very old towns.  At one point, a car blocked the street that didn't deserve to be called two lane (yes, that phrase in The Minstrel Boy is also based on heart-stopping, gasping personal knowledge!)  The owner had gotten out of his car to go chat with some friends in a pub!  So my father-in-law simply got out of his car, opened the other and started pushing it out of the way!  The owner came screaming out of the pub, shouting and yelling, What are you doin' to me car! 

And there I was in the back seat holding a three day old baby, wondering how far this was going to go!  [Yes, holding him.  Car seats weren't really deemed important that year in Ireland.]



My children have a funny family connection to the Easter Rising of 1916 and its aftershocks.  Their father's paternal grandfather was a young member of the IRA--which their father will tell you was a very different organization in 1916 than it was in the 70s and 80s.  And so, on May 25, 1921, my children's great-grandfather (their father's paternal grandfather) marched with his brigade on the Customs House.  Shooting and burning commenced.

It so happened that their father's maternal grandmother was, at the same time, inside the Customs House getting a copy of a document--wearing a very fine red hat!  As the shooting and flames erupted, began, people ran from the post office, her clutching her very fine new hat to her head!  There was much consternation from those around her, pointing out that it made a fantastic target!

The sad end to this story is that it was actually a British officer who shouted at her to take the hat off--moments before he was hit.

She, however survived, and in one of the ironic twists of life, her daughter would grow up to marry the son of one of the men shooting at the crowd that day.  And this son and daughter eventually became the grandparents to my children.

Above, I gave the Sinead O'Connor/Chieftains version of The Foggy Dew, which is about the Easter Rising.  Here is my flute rendition, played on the shore of the very Great North Sea the song mentions.  I bow to Sinead and the Chieftains, but I had fun doing this!



War, rebellions, uprisings, and battles have long been potent fodder for bards, poets, and writers.  The Easter Rising, in fact, the whole of the Irish Wars of Independence, is no different.  On Saturday, we'll be talking about a couple of those.  Hope to see you there!  Well--actually, that would be very awkward as the studio is small.  But I hope you'll tune in and listen and maybe give us a call!

COMING UP:
  • March 20-24, 2017: Indie-Con, an online convention of indie authors in which I'll be participating with guest blogs, Q&A, and critiquing.

To learn more about my books, click on the images below.
If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author's posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this article, you might also like
OR other posts under the


 







Monday, March 13, 2017

Literature and Life: What Edward Heard

Please welcome back Megan Easley-Walsh:

Hi, Laura and Readers!

Thanks for having me back to discuss my novel, What Edward Heard, and its connections across time.

Literature and art are wonderful bridges into the past and across time periods.

One of the best parts of being an author of historical fiction is getting to immerse myself in a new time and place.  Something that I loved about writing What Edward Heard was the ability it afforded me to explore several different time periods.  What Edward Heard is really two parallel stories.  The first is of Edward Jamison, a returned World War I veteran, who has been injured on the Western Front, and the life and mystery that he finds in England.  The second is of a portrait that is painted in Venice in 1566 and the painting's journey to Edward in 1916.

good books, what to read next, WWII fiction, magical fiction, mysterious painting
What Edward Heard is historical fiction with the added element of magical realism, because the painting is able to read people, the way that art critics and historians usually read meaning behind a painting.  Without giving too much away, I'll say that the painting is able to read hidden thoughts, heart's desires, and messages for the characters and this influences many lives in interesting and diverse ways.

This plays out across the span of centuries.  Some of the many locations and time periods that the painting travels to are the colonies during the American Revolution, France in the nineteenth century, Switzerland in the sixteenth century, and England during World War I.  Part of how the characters and the painting interact is dependent on the individuals in the circumstances, but the times also impact how the events are interpreted.  For example, in the American colonies, a character encountering the painting fears witchcraft, while in nineteenth century France, Jules Verne and science are the comparison.

Art and literature are products of their times, but they are also continually being rediscovered and reinterpreted by subsequent generations.  I am reminded of a very interesting piece I read about how Shakespeare's plays, though popular for many centuries, have appealed to different audiences for different reasons.  Popular plays in one period may not be the same plays that another generations finds most memorable.  History, culture, and economics can all be reasons attributed to this and they also play a part in the unfolding of the paintings' story in my novel.

That mix of permanence and transience is a theme explored in the pages of What Edward Heard.  Edward was surrounded in life being cut short as he battled at the Somme.  Then, he returns to England and unwraps layers of age through the antiques and the painting he discovers.  Ultimately, the painting then unwraps layers of him that he never knew were there, many from earlier times in Edward's life, but also revealing pieces of its own past to Edward.  Part magical realism, part historical fiction, part mystery, and part literary adventure, What Edward Heard reminds us that though times change, the most important lessons often remain the same.  I'll be exploring those lessons in the next post.

My best to you all,

Megan

COMING UP:
  • March 20-24, 2017: Indie-Con, an online convention of indie authors in which I'll be participating with guest blogs, Q&A, and critiquing.

To learn more about my books, click on the images below.
If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author's posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this article, you might also like
Welcome, Megan Easley-Walsh
Dan Blum: The Feet Say Run is Live!
Time Travel and Mozart with Brendan Carroll
OR other posts under the


 







Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Reflections on the Vehicle of Expression, by Valerie Borey

Dear Readers,

Please welcome Valerie Borey, owner of the Vehicle of Expression which I have written about in previous posts.  Today, Valerie tells us about how it got started--a story I really enjoyed reading!  Welcome, Valerie!

 ~ ~ ~


The Vehicle of Expression was a bus for writers and readers, parked on the ice at White Bear Lake throughout February, as part of the 2017 Art Shanty Projects.

writers, how to write, writing process, kill the inner editor, writers co-op
Outside the bus were magnetic poetry, bookfacing (selfies with a book cover that morphs into your body), giant Bananagrams, Guess Who Writer’s Edition), and typewriting. Inside, people wrote steadily for five minutes, contributing their stories to growing volumes of genre-based notebooks parked in each seat. Writers and poets read original works, and there were two shows daily of Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus, where passengers became part of a scripted play. Over four weekends, about 8, 470 visitors came to the Art Shanty Projects.

I can’t remember exactly how the idea for the Vehicle of Expression came, but I felt it nagging at me while I tried to work on other things. It was like a puzzle that needed to resolve itself: what if we put together a bus for writers? What would that look like? What kinds of things would happen here? I decided to write up a design for it, thinking I just wanted to see what it would look like, but wouldn’t actually need to follow through on it. I just wanted to see it on paper. 

Once it was on paper, though, it seemed like something that had to happen. For real. 

vehicle of expression, learning to write, writing process
I remembered reading, as a teenager in the 90’s, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and how impressed with the idea I’d been, of a group of writers and artists traveling together, of being either on the bus or off the bus together, committing to a shared vision, or not. I like the fact that there’s really not much room for gray space here. I don’t like being a half-hearted participant. If you’re on the bus, you’re in. You’ve committed yourself to traveling in some specified direction 100%. 

If you’re off the bus, well, that’s fine too. Move along. 

The other mantra-like thing that stayed with me from that time as well was Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Most people associate the phrase with use of psychedelics, but for me, it was about frame of mind and understanding the limitations we artificially place on ourselves. 
  • Turn on: a call to open one’s mind to alternative ways of doing things. 
  • Tune in: a reminder to find and notice the sweet spots of connection, and to draw out those
    beautiful, unanticipated moments. 
  • Drop out: permission to say “no, thank you” to the junk and clutter of lifestyles we impose
    upon ourselves for no reason other than we didn’t realize there was a choice. 

The call for Art Shanty proposals brought some of those thoughts back to me, in the form of an idea for a bus of writers; of finding and sharing that sweet spot of pleasure in the written word, outside of traditional environments. It was important, too, that the worlds of playwriting and poetry and fiction and creative non-fiction be allowed to collide and mingle, and influence one another. 

We put together a team of incredible writers to represent the various parts of the project: Matthew Everett (playwright), Christine Jaspers (poet), Jaymee Kjelland (creative non-fiction/writing facilitator), and Beth Sowden (fiction), with me serving as more of a general bridge between, and things started falling into place. We bought a bus. We invited writers to come read their works. Scenes for Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus were written. We decided on a format for involving people in the writing process. And suddenly, there we were.
christine jasper, laura vosika, blue bells chronicles, blue bells trilogy
The biggest highlight for me personally was just meeting a bunch of cool people (Laura Vosika, for instance!), and getting a chance to spend some time out in the wilds (or milds) of winter together. Eric Tu would sometimes hang out on the typewriter after reading. Bruce Pomerantz. Tony Plocido.  Actually, a lot of really memorable and wonderful characters.

I got to hear some great readings. I got to witness the different ways in which writing and literature has touched people and penetrated their beings. I heard crazy stories about meeting writers like Charles Bukowski, Isabelle Allende, Salmon Rushdie, and Marlon James. I heard poignant or outrageously funny narratives that were being composed on the bus. Sometimes I’d just sit and type out the beginning of a story and wander back around an hour later to see if anyone had done anything with it, which was strangely satisfying in its own way. 

I’m fascinated by the emerging research on reading and storytelling, especially research that demonstrates how reading and experience merge in interesting ways. Reading about cinnamon, for example, will cause the olfactory regions of the brain to light up on an MRI scan, which suggests to me that there is something about the experience of reading that renders it live-able to readers. The act of smelling and the act of reading about smelling is indistinguishable on a scan. 

readers, vehicle of expression, blue bells chronicles, white bear lake
Other research shows that the simple act of telling/reading a story out loud to someone will create similar levels of activity (in similar areas) between the storyteller and the listener; their neural activity as measured on an MRI actually mirrored one another, as if both were experiencing the same thing at the same time. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think? To me, that is exactly what it means to be on the bus.  What a charming thought after all, that we don’t exist exclusively within our own skins, but possess the capability, through writing and storytelling, to share our thoughts and experiences that intimately with another. 

That brings me to another point. Matthew Everett put together a great team of playwrights, including himself, Emily Gastineau, Billy Mullaney, and Charles Campbell for Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus. They did some really interesting and playful things with their scripts. The scripts played with the unreality of it all, creating confusion at times, humor, shared nostalgia, etc. One script in particular, by Charles Campbell, ripped into the meat of The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, critiquing the original Ken Kesey crew on the bus for being grotesquely self-absorbed in their own trip. It surprised me, actually, and made me look again. How interesting, I think, that not only can writing leap like fire from skin to skin among contemporaries, but can also leap across time and set fire to a different age. 

In English this year, my fourteen year old daughter read The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2100 B.C.) and Beowulf (ca. 1000 A.D.), texts that allow us to touch the ancients, if briefly, to see the world from their point of view. That’s amazing to me, that writing can create a point of view that is relatable even across thousands of years. Across time. Across cultures. Across perspectives. 

In the history of the world, widespread literacy is really recent, but storytelling and the act of leading listeners down a path of experience, allowing them to see the pebbles on the ground, the overhanging branches, the scent of wet grass lingering in the air – it’s a special kind of intercourse. It was exciting to sit in on Jaymee’s writing sessions to hear what kinds of things passengers were creating, to watch people emerge smiling from the bus after a reading, to see how audiences reacted to Create-a-Play-on-the-Bus, and to hear the conversations sparked by the games going on outside the bus. 

In the greater context of the Art Shanty Project, which featured 19 other shanties, from the Leaf Your Fears Behind Shanty to the Sci-Fi Book Club’s escape pod to the Snow Blind, it strikes me that together we formed a sort of sensory homunculus, presenting these disproportionately enlarged organs of perception/sensation/perspective to the public and seeking representation in their experiences. It was a marvelous experiment and I’m so happy that it lifted itself off paper to enter into reality for a while. 

ABOUT VALERIE:

Valerie Borey, writer, poet, playwright
Valerie is a writer and artist living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she writes, teaches, and participates in research, education, and creative projects.  She has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology, and an M.A. in the Social Sciences, and recently completed the Writer's Program in Fiction at UCLA. In addition to teaching Norwegian to learners of all ages, Valerie works as a writer, actor/improviser, and playwright. Her fiction, poetry, and dramatic works have appeared in a variety of places.  See Valerie's About the Artist page for even more!


COMING UP:

  • March 25, 2017: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Guests: Michael Agnew, craft beer expert, Dr. Chris R. Powell on Irish literature, and a guest author to be announced.  We'll taste Irish beer.
  • Listen to January's program: poetry and coffee beer
  • Listen to February's program: Russian literature and Russian beer
  • March 20-24, 2017: Indie-Con, an online convention of indie authors in which I'll be participating with guest blogs, Q&A, and critiquing.

To learn more about my books, click on the images below.
If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author's posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this article, you might also like
OR
other posts under the LITERATURE AND LIFE label





 







Sunday, March 5, 2017

Blue Bells Quizzes

history quiz, medieval history, bannockburnAfter coming across the idea at another writer's blog, I've been having some fun creating Blue Bells Chronicles quizzes.  The first is general to the books and the second is more of a History Behind the Story quiz on medieval Scottish history. Only ten questions each.

Should you have been left behind on Coxet Hill or are you ready to rule a nation?

Coming...another day...I'll do a better job with these, add pictures, and so on, and make quizzes more specific to topics--warfare, culture, saints, myths and legends, music, etc.  Today, I'm just having fun learning the ropes.  I hope you have fun with them, too, and feel free to suggest any topics you'd like to see!





COMING UP:

  • March 25, 2017: I will co-host Food Freedom on AM 950 with Laura Hedlund and Karen Olson Johnson.  Guests: Michael Agnew, craft beer expert, Dr. Chris R. Powell on Irish literature, and a guest author to be announced.  We'll taste Irish beer.
  • Listen to January's program: poetry and coffee beer
  • Listen to February's program: Russian literature and Russian beer
  • March 20-24, 2017: Indie-Con, an online convention of indie authors in which I'll be participating with guest blogs, Q&A, and critiquing.

To learn more about my books, click on the images below.

If you would like to follow this blog, sign up HERE
If you like an author's posts, please click like and share
It helps us continue to do what we do

If you liked this article, you might also like
OR
other posts under the LITERATURE AND LIFE or POETRY labels