Category Archives: books

The Curious Case of Life Imitating Art

The muse must have been looking over my shoulder yesterday because, unexpectedly, I stumbled upon a case of life imitating art. Or was art imitating life?

I’d spent most of the day walking my dog, talking with friends online, and reading Anna Quindlen’s novel, “Still Life with Breadcrumbs,” the story of a photographer whose career is in decline.

In late afternoon, I decided to take my car out for a spin, since the last time I’d started it up, it had been sluggish. I feared the battery was about to reach its moment of planned obsolescence. (That would be about par for 2020.) But I hoped that if I drove around for an hour or so, maybe I could revive it.

On a whim, I grabbed my camera before heading out (something I haven’t done in a while, since it’s been too hot during the day for photography). “You never know,” I thought, imagining for just a second a chance encounter with a dust devil, or maybe a space alien. The car sputtered to a reluctant start. Before it could die on me, I put it in gear and headed north.

My destination was Oracle, about half an hour up the road – an unincorporated town whose most famous resident to date has been Buffalo Bill Cody. En route, it occurred to me to plug in an audiobook that was in my phone.

Unfortunately, I’m not too good with modern audio systems in cars (or in phones, for that matter). In fact, I was surprised I’d managed to get the book copied into my phone at all. So as not to cause an accident, I turned off the main highway, Oracle Road, and onto Biosphere Road (which, inconsequentially, leads to Biosphere 2) in order to park, thumb through my owner’s manual, and figure out how to tell my car to read a book to me.

After a few hundred feet, I came to a turnaround. It looked like an ideal place for rattlesnakes and tarantulas to hang out, but I wasn’t planning to get out of the car and join their party, even if they were wearing masks. Heavy, dark storm clouds were gathering in the distance, and a few were above my head. I was anxious to queue up my book and get back on the road.

The clouds had other ideas. They suddenly moved out of the sun’s way, and a shaft of light landed on something smooth, tall, and bright along the trail: a scarred and dusty shrine in the middle of the desert.

It seemed to be a case of life imitating art. You see (spoiler alert), on page 37 in Still Life With Breadcrumbs, that book I’d been reading earlier that day, the protagonist goes for a hike in the woods and comes upon a shrine – a white wooden cross with a glittering child’s volleyball trophy lying on the ground next to it. She takes some photos.

I felt like life was trying to tell me something, so I shut off the engine, grabbed my camera, and got out of the car. Scoping out the ground for snakes or spiders, I cautiously approached the little memorial and took a few photos. As soon as I’d finished and gotten back in my car, I realized I might have made a mistake.

It was 107 degrees out, and there I was in the middle of the Arizona desert with a car whose battery was on its last legs. I wondered how long it would be before AAA could find me. I turned the key in the ignition. The engine choked for a few seconds, and then, reluctantly, it caught.

I sighed, turned the car around, and glanced back at the shrine, but by then the sun had ducked behind the clouds again; the scene was now in shadow. I’d gotten there just at the right moment.

All I could think of on the drive home was the phrase, “life imitates art.” So today I looked that up and learned a thing or two. The idea has been around since at least the time of Plato, who believed art was a poor imitation of life, and for that reason could be dangerous. Aristotle, on the other hand, welcomed art’s imitation of life. And Oscar Wilde’s take was that life imitates art more often than art imitates life. Even Dostoevsky got into the debate, describing it as more of a codependent relationship, where art imitates life, which then imitates art, causing life to owe its very existence to art.

As for me, I was totally flabbergasted by the way my life (finding the shrine) seemed to be imitating art (the book I’m reading). Or maybe art (the book) was imitating life (its pathos) which in turn was imitating art (the shrine). It’s something I thought was worth pondering, especially when I realized one more thread:

In “Still Life With Breadcrumbs,” the protagonist doesn’t notice a certain, possibly significant, detail on the cross until she gets home and enlarges the photo. That same thing happened to me – I didn’t notice the coins at the base of the statue until I got home. Can you spot them?

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I’ve searched online for other photos of this shrine but couldn’t find any, so I don’t know who it’s for. I wish I did. In any case, I think I’ll return soon and add some coins to their collection.

 

 

A Little Play about a Little Prince

Have you read The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry?

(If you haven’t, I highly recommend that you stop reading this, go find a copy of The Little Prince, and read it. It’s much better than this blog. But then please come back!)

Do you have tears in your eyes now, the way I did tonight when I saw the stage production of The Little Prince? My eyes started watering with the VERY FIRST LINE and were still wet when the actors came out to take their bows.

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I’ll admit I’m a little biased. I’m a huge fan of the book, and I’m not alone. It’s sold 140 million copies worldwide, and it’s been translated into 300 languages and dialects.

In college, my very good friend Margo gave me the hardcover edition (shown above) as a gift. I love the book on its own merits, but also because it reminds me of Margo.

Several years ago, my daughter, Katie, gave me a Little Prince kitchen magnet.

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She also gave me some Little Prince postcards. I’ve got one of the cards tacked up on my wall at work.

The other day, I found a Little Prince plastic cup in my work mailbox. I asked around and found out it was from a teacher, Ms. S.,  who works there. “Ms. S. does things like that,” someone told me. “It must have been her.”

Sure enough, it was Ms. S.  “I noticed the card in your office,” she said. “I love The Little Prince. He’s been my inspiration for years. I even have a Little Prince tattoo!” Wow. That’s some serious inspiration.

The next day, a pair of Little Prince socks appeared in my work mailbox, from — guess who? Ms. S. strikes again! I wore them to the play tonight.

The character of the prince was played by seven different actors who took turns wearing his royal blue costume seen above. I don’t want to give away the plot, but this is perhaps the sweetest, most poignant story ever told.

The first line of the play, the one that made me start crying right off the bat, is this quote from the book:

“One truly sees with the heart; what is essential is invisible to the eyes.”

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(This is post #2 for NanoPoblano2019.)

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I’m Living in a Children’s Book

My two-week Airbnb guest house in upstate New York comes with ducks and chickens. I didn’t know this when I rented the place, but I’ve discovered that I enjoy waking up to the sound of quacking and clucking in the morning. Sure, I have to be careful not to step in duck poop when I enter and exit the building, but I’m getting back to nature!

It had rained overnight. Good weather for the ducks, who were quacking up a storm this morning as they waddled around drinking from the puddles. Then the sun came out, and so did the chickens, clucking and pecking and watching me with their beady little eyes.

One of them came up to me and circled around my legs. She didn’t try to peck at me, so I put her to work as my model. I felt like a professional fashion photographer as I complimented her fine feathers and jaunty gait.

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The photo shoot continued as we headed over to the chicken coop. I was hoping the door to the nesting box would be open so I could collect an egg or two for breakfast. Sadly, the door was closed and latched. I thought about opening it, but I wasn’t sure all of the chickens were out roaming around.

Just then my model chicken started clucking like crazy. Apparently, she really wanted to get inside of the coop. I thought about opening the door for her until I noticed a pair of eyes looking out from an opening in the nesting box. It was a rabbit.

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What was a rabbit doing in the chicken coop? Guarding the eggs? Keeping them warm? Just hanging out? Maybe the chicken and the rabbit are BFFs. I’m dying to know. Could this be the inspiration for my next children’s novel?

The “Frog and Toad” books were a big hit. Maybe “Chicken and Rabbit” would be even more popular with today’s kids … especially if I include illustrations of duck poop.

Any illustrators out there interested in collaborating? If you act fast, I can pay you in fresh eggs.

Dwarsligger: A New Dutch Invention

According to an article I read recently, the Netherlands is responsible for a number of important inventions, including:

  • the microscope
  • the telescope
  • the submarine
  • wi-fi
  • orange carrots

I admit that the above items are all really cool (especially orange carrots), but there’s a new invention on the horizon. I heard about it the other day on National Public Radio, so I believe it to be true. And its presence could revolutionize the literary world. Its name is:

DWARSLIGGER

The word “dwarsligger” comes from two Dutch words: “dwars,” which means “crossways,” and “liggen,” which means “to lie” (as in lying crossways), and which also can mean “a person or thing that stands out as different.” So, a dwarsligger is a different sort of thing that lies crossways. To see what this means in terms of books, try this:

  • Imagine a book that opens like a regular book, except that instead of a regular binding, it has a hinge.
  • Now turn the book sideways and imagine that the text is printed in landscape mode.
  • Make the book small, about the size of a cell phone.
  • Now make the pages really thin, like onion skin.

That’s a dwarsligger – a mini-book you can hold with one hand, with pages that can be flipped out of the way as you read them. It’s like swiping on an electronic device, but better. It’s a real book.

Dutton (part of Penguin Random House) just released its first set of dwarsliggers – all novels by YA author John Green. Being a John Green fan, I can’t wait to get my hands – er – hand on these little dwarsliggers.

And now, in honor of the U.S. midterm elections (November 6, don’t forget to vote!), I’m conducting a mini-poll of my own:

The 2018 LoriStory Official and Unbiased Pre-Election Day Book Poll:

Which of the following book formats is your favorite?

_____ Hardcover

_____ Paperback

_____ E-book

_____ Dwarsligger

_____ Wait for the movie

Vote for as many as you like in the comment section below.

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A Nine-Word Story

What’s the shortest story you’ve ever read?

This week’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community was a doozy. I needed to shave my shrinking story, Mudslide, down to 9 words! (It’s already gone from 297 to 99 to 59.) Not only that, but I was required to write an emotion into the story.

A 9-word emotional story? “Nein!” I insisted furiously. But since I don’t speak German, I ignored my outrage and took up the challenge, using the following 9-step program:

  1. I told myself I could do it. (Critical step!)
  2. I made a first draft and thought I was done:

SLIMDUDE’s call had turned Rachel’s life into a MUDSLIDE.

  1. I re-read the rules and smacked myself in the forehead. “You forgot!” I scolded myself. “The challenge was to write two stories, and they each need to include an emotion!”
  2. I then wrote this version (emotion shown in brackets):

SLIMDUDE’s call turned Rachel’s life into a disappointing MUDSLIDE. [disappointed]

       I could see now that, by comparison, my first emotionless version was pretty boring.

  1. I rewrote the sentence using a second emotion:

SLIMDUDE’s call pushed Rachel’s life down a disgusting MUDSLIDE. [disgusted]

       I couldn’t stop there.

  1. I changed it again:

SLIMDUDE’s devastating call swept Rachel away in a MUDSLIDE. [devastated]

  1. I tried making it even more emotional:

SLIMDUDE’s haunting call hurled Rachel down an infinite MUDSLIDE. [terrorized]

  1. Then, just for fun, I rearranged the structure and ended up with:

Rachel was shocked by SLIMDUDE’s call. Welcome to MUDSLIDE! [shocked]

  1. I took 9 minutes to reflect on how many different ways there are to write a 9-word story, and how important emotion is in writing.

I wonder if anyone’s ever written a 9-word novel. Just think of the trees that could have been saved by editing War and Peace down to these 9 words:

“War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Peace.”

 

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Writer’s Conference Revelations

Yesterday, I attended the 2018 Arizona SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference.

I learned a ton of information about writing everything from picture books to YA, both fiction and non-fiction, and I came away with so many fresh ideas that I think my brain is going to explode very soon. But wait — that just gave me an idea for a picture book called, “My Brain Feels Like It’s Exploding.”

The book sample that I had submitted to the conference was not one of the few chosen for a face-to-face critique by an agent, but I did receive a constructive and thoughtfully-written critique from a knowledgeable and experienced children’s book editor. For that I am forever grateful. So maybe I should write the definitive YA self-help book on “How to Handle Criticism.”

My First Page submission was not one of the 15 or so selected to be discussed by the faculty panel, but I gleaned important insights from the panel’s comments about others’ writing. Now that I have those insights, I’m actually glad mine wasn’t chosen to be showcased. I probably would have jumped up, knocked over my coffee, and tipped everyone off that the anonymous, flawed first draft up on the two gigantic screens was mine. How embarrassing that would have been! And now I have an idea for a Middle Grade science book: “Why People Blush.”

I was not sought out by agents wanting to sell my books, as I had secretly dreamed. One agent did ask me for my “elevator pitch” (after I’d delicately broached the subject), but I stumbled through it, and I don’t think I impressed her. Besides, she specializes in a totally different genre.

I didn’t even win a door prize.

But I LOVED the conference. It was stimulating, informative, inspiring, and friendly. I met some really nice writers, agents, editors, and illustrators, and I’m eagerly looking forward to being in touch with them and seeing them at the next writing conferences and events.

Within hours of the conference closing, I was back at it, revising not one but two books that I’m currently working on. And I plan to keep writing and revising and attending writer’s conferences forever. And thinking up goofy book ideas.

 

Bridges in Literature

I’m reading Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs. Actually, I’m working my way through all 27 hours and 4 minutes of the audiobook version (21 cds) while driving around town. If you see me cruising down the road while I’m immersed in this wonderful novel, please honk or wave, but not so much that you distract me and cause an accident. One can only concentrate on so much input at once while DWEEB (Driving While Enjoying an Excellent Book).

My favorite part of the book so far has to do with how we see life as we get older, as compared with how we view it from the vantage point of youth. I don’t want to try and paraphrase Russo’s well-crafted prose here, or deprive you of the pleasure of dwelling on the passage of time while screeching to a halt at a stop sign. Just go pick up a copy and read it, preferably the 480-page hard copy version that you can spend some time with while reclining comfortably in your armchair at home. The world will be a much safer place without two DWEEBs driving around in a book-induced reverie.

Reading Bridge of Sighs has gotten me thinking about bridges in general, and wondering how often they’re mentioned in literature, music, and other genres.  Off the top of my head, I immediately thought of Bridge on the River Kwai and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Given that a bridge would be a powerful symbol, representing transition and change, I guessed that the bridge image must be commonplace in popular culture. As is often the case, I guessed wrong.

After thinking very hard (a.k.a. “Googling”), I managed to find only seven books worth mentioning with the word “bridge” in the title:

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan
  • A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller
  • An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  • Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
  • Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

(I just couldn’t bring myself to include The Bridges of Madison County.)

I then moved on to songs, and although there were some Top Ten song lists with “bridge” in the title, I’m only going to mention three here, because, to be honest, the other seven didn’t interest me:

  • Bridge over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)
  • Under the Bridge (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
  • London Bridge (Traditional)

Finally, I resorted to adding characters named “Bridge” to my list, and I’m glad I did, because all of them are important in their own right.

  • Walter and India Bridge in the movie, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, based on the books about Mrs. and Mr. Bridge, listed above.

This is important because I read the books AND saw the movie, and the movie has both Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in it, something that just makes me happy for some reason.

  • George Bailey’s bridge in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. 

Okay, the bridge is not actually a character, but if it were a character, its name would most certainly be Bridget, and it would have won an Oscar for best movie prop in a supporting role.

  • Ruby Bridges, the first black child to integrate an all-white school in the American south (Nov. 14, 1960).

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges tells Ms. Bridges’ story in her own words. I think her name is particularly symbolic.

Returning to the subject of Bridge of Sighs, I’m now on cd number 12 of 21, so I’m more than halfway across the bridge, so to speak. This is one of those books that I’ll be sorry to finish. I’ve already become quite attached to Lucy Lynch, its main character. Spoiler alert: Lucy is not at all the way you’re probably picturing him.

So if you see someone in the driver’s seat of a white Subaru Impreza, deep in thought while barreling toward you on the highway, maybe you’d better just stay out of their way, because it could very well be me, on the last page of the last chapter of Bridge of Sighs, possibly crying my eyes out, or smiling, or whatever it is Richard Russo has in store for me, and I wouldn’t want to have to plead DWEEB in traffic court.