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
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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

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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





 







Friday, March 3, 2017

Literature and Life: Quiet Courage, Silent Strength


How to Start a Fight on the Internet

1. Say something.

Despite my best intentions, I did it.  I posted a poem...on a poetry site.  It was not appreciated.  I was going to write here about the specific poem and my interpretation of it, which is directly opposite that of the person who objected.  But we live in a day when buzzwords, like a switch on a track, often throw people onto one side or another of a discussion, such that ideas are no longer being discussed.  And it is exactly ideas of which we need more, and deeper, discussion these days. 

Tone does not always come across well in writing, especially when we don't know another person.  However, the initial comment regarding the poem I had posted struck me as aggressive and condescending, telling me what is wrong with the poem, rather than what the poster interpreted the poem as saying.... The tone left me with the impression that anyone who thought otherwise would be branded a Very Bad Person.

Indeed, the one person who pointed out that the tone of the original post might squelch discussion was quickly branded several disparaging things, strengthening my feeling that there was really no discussion to be had.

Two questions:

  1. Is this really where we want to go in this country?  To squelch ideas, squelch discussion? 
  2. Do we really want to steadily cut ourselves off from others by dismissing them as human beings, by branding people we've never met with character assassinations?

To the first, I say definitively no.  Isn't the whole point of college, of learning, of reading, of poetry, of arts, to expand our minds, to consider the wide world around us?  To listen and learn?  This doesn't mean necessarily to agree, but sometimes in listening, even if we don't agree, we may understand our own beliefs better, or find something worth having learned, or a new facet or depth we hadn't seen before.  This is less likely to happen, of course, if we condescend to others and/or call them names right out of the gate.  We all pay the price for the loss of what could have been a good discussion.

Regarding the poem in question, it addressed a common and universal experience--the divide between two people who were once close.  How many among us have not experienced a painful separation from someone we loved, a separation we wish could be healed?  And how often do those divides continue because neither party makes the first move?  And why does neither party make the attempt?  In many situations, the answer is fear.

It's a risk to offer the olive branch, not knowing what reception one will get.  It takes courage and strength to lay one's heart open after it has already taken a beating, after hurtful words have been said.  It takes courage to understand that maybe those long-ago words were spoken out of pain and make the first move, knowing that maybe those same ugly words will be spoken again, that perhaps the end result will be more scathing words and ridicule.

good poetry, good poems, courage, strength, civility
In this particular poem, one person, a woman, does try.  She has to all appearances made the effort to contact the man, not knowing if she'll be left waiting.  She speaks first, not knowing how he'll respond.  She is the one to put her heart on the line, to take the risk in order to bring them both to something better.

Courage.  Strength.  There are ideas worth talking about.  What is courage?  What is strength?  Patience, forgiveness, second chances, the humility to admit that she was not entirely blameless either--these take a certain strength, of a kind that is rarely discussed and not enough understood or credited in our present climate and amidst many of our current beliefs.

In the end, there will be disagreement about exactly what does and does not exemplify these qualities.  But doesn't it enrich all of us to think about these ideas, on how they impact our own choices and paths and how we want to live?

Regarding the second question--do we really want to separate ourselves from others this way--my answer is no, I don't want to cut myself off from everyone who holds a different view from me.  Had I seen a poem I disliked or disagreed with, I would have either moved on or asked about it in a way that invited discussion.

CS Lewis, the great divorce, civility
As I read around the internet--as I see people's interactions with one another--I am reminded of the bus stop in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce.  In this scene, one group discovers a point of disagreement with another and moves away from them, not wanting to be around their kind.  Within each group, another point of disagreement springs up.  Those who were friends, united against those awful Others, now separate further, each concluding that their former friends are not so great after all.  And so on.  Until we have two people applauding each other that they are the only reasonable ones and thank goodness they've moved away from Those Awful People.  Until--not surprisingly--they find a point on which they disagree with each other. 

And each lives alone, in the gray world, rather than in the world of beauty and wonder to which all are called.

We end up with people living isolated lives, because they refuse to be friends with--even to see any good at all in--any person who does not agree with them on every single thought.  Because they jump to calling people names.

Are we making ourselves happier or the world a better place, by continuing to separate ourselves this way?  My life has been deeply enriched by many people who see the world very differently than I do, in some cases to extremes.  I'm grateful I didn't dismiss them because they disagreed with me on one point or another.  And clearly, from their actions and choices, said people have also found something enriching in knowing me.  How often do we miss out on the good that could have come to us, by jumping to conclusions about others?

And this circles back to the poem.  There are times when harmful and ongoing behavior requires us to step back.  But there are many, many times when reconciliation is possible, when both people have had some time to think, to step out of the heat of the moment and finally see both themselves and the other person more clearly: perspectives, attempts, and failures all.  But it takes someone to step forward and risk asking: Can we reconcile?  Can we come together and maybe see if the good we once knew is still there?

This poem recognizes a quiet courage and a silent strength that is all too rarely recognized, understood, or valued in today's world.  And it is in reading such things in literature and considering the possibility of healing broken friendships, that lives, that people, may be healed and change for the better.


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