Books: The Perfect Christmas

I picked up this book at Value Village just before Christmas, and only just now got around to reading it. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it very much.
This two-tale book is well written, as are all of Debbie Macomber’s books, I’ve found. The first and longer tale, The Perfect Christmas — © 2009 — is one of those non-romantic romances where two people meet and don’t like each other. However, the author does this in a realistic way with no phony melodrama, no spitting nails at each other, such as you often see in modern anti-romances. The characters and dialogue are believable, professional, and respectful. The idea of paying that much money to find a spouse is the only thing I found incredible — but I don’t live in big city USA.
Seeing as the dating scene hasn’t delivered her dream spouse, Cassie Beaumont takes a friend’s advice and hands over $30,000 to a professional matchmaker to find her a well-matched mate. Rude and abrupt Simon Dodson may be, but she has to go along with his programme if she wants results. Determined to find the man she can live with, and have a family with, she can’t afford to have Simon, the psychologist running this business, get upset and refuse to work with her.
He proposes three character tests for her — and these are real jewels in themselves! I really enjoyed the realistic experiences Cassie has and what she learns as she works in these situations Simon has set up for her. Hats off to the writer for an excellent job on this part! She passes the tests and Simon promises to deliver the perfect spouse for her. But a wrench lands in the gears…

Can This Be Christmas? is an older, shorter story (© 1998) the writer has added as a bonus, yet it’s worth buying the book just for this one. Focusing on five characters needing to join family for Christmas, this morphs into a heartwarming human interest account of strangers stranded in a train station by a winter storm. None of them want to be here, but the Christmas spirit softens each one individually and melts them together as friends.

I rarely give a book five stars, but this one deserves them all.

Truth, Lies, and Desk-ku

According to haiku poet David Lanoue in his book Write Like Issa, “Many poets and some editors of journals dislike so-called “desk-ku”; haiku dreamed up as works of pure imaginations. Such writers and readers much prefer haiku to erupt from raw, genuine sensations and feelings.”

the furious sea’s
cat-and-mouse game with the ship
the band plays on

I guess this is desk-ku, since I’ve never been on a cruise, nor at sea in a storm. I was on a whale watch cruise once and did sense the power of the deep sea below. Also, I’ve read A Mighty Tempest by Michelle Hamilton, who describes her own experience in a small craft during a ferocious storm. So I let myself envision what might go on if a wild storm suddenly swept down on a cruise ship and picture the wild sea tossing even a behemoth like that into and out of troughs. I imagine the crew trying to distract passengers from the danger and keep up morale. I remember the story of the Titanic, how the band played as the ship went down.

In reality, cruise ships nowadays have enough weather-watch equipment to avoid that kind of a storm. Passengers would be ordered to their cabins until the danger was past. Oh, well…exciting to imagine.

This thought of genuine experiences and emotions versus writer imagination brings to my mind a similar sentiment expressed by a couple of different friends: “There’s no point reading fiction. It’s just lies someone’s dreamed up.”

To which I’ve replied, “Not very many writers just dream up everything they write in their stories. While the setting itself is invented, fiction involves weaving in incidents we writers have seen, heard, and experienced ourselves. The characteristics of our heroes and villains may be over-balanced compared to real-world people, but if they behave too irrationally, the story is spoiled and the reader disgusted — unless they like fantasy.

I think of Jesus, whose parables have come down to us through the ages, and how He left his stories open so readers could put themselves in the place of his characters. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus no doubt had a real situation in mind. He didn’t tell this as a dry account, however. He didn’t explain how “Twenty years ago back in Bethlehem, A, a middle-aged farmer, had two sons, B and C. One day C decided he’d had enough of working long hours in the fields; he wanted to see the world. So he says to his dad…and then he takes his share of the inheritance and heads off to xxx where he shells out his shekels on booze and parties. Etc.”

Leaving the actual facts unsaid, Jesus invites his audience — and us today — to see ourselves in all those characters. Haven’t all of us wandered down some wrong path — in attitude if not in fact? Then something woke us up, we saw where we were headed. We sensed we were polluting our minds, bodies, lives, with garbage, and we turned around. Haven’t we all had to go back and admit, apologize, figuratively if not literally ask to be taken back into the family or friendship?

Years ago a teen wanted “freedom” from the restrictions of her Christian home. She became infatuated with a ‘leader-of-the pack’ type, the head of a biker gang, and became his girl. But those bikers worked their girls; she ended up in the pigsty of prostitution, not at all free, and was finally cast aside by the leader. One day, soon to give birth, she finally came to herself, thought of her parents, the love she once knew, and started walking. She started to hemorrhage there on the sidewalk; a good Samaritan picked her up and drove her to the hospital. From there she and her baby girl went back to Mom & Dad and were welcomed back into the family fold.

Most parents can identify with the father, anxiously watching for the return of his prodigal. Whether the child has distanced himself in fact or in spirit, haven’t we hoped and prayed they’d come to their senses, deal with their sour attitude, and get their life back on track?

If we’re honest, we can place ourselves in the role of brother B, who kept his nose to the grindstone, bearing an extra-heavy workload because C took himself off to the fun-fair for a year or two. Now here comes his long-lost brother, crawling home broke and wasted, and their father lays out the red carpet, kills the fatted calf, and is in the middle of a big “Welcome Home” party for this loser.

Some writers do spin fantasies. Even if they try to cover their tale with a realistic setting, no real human beings would react the way their characters do. In real life, if you’re harsh and demanding, often rake your friend or partner over the coals for minor faults, he or she is not going to respond with profuse apologies and promises to get it right and pay attention to your feelings from now on. Trust me. Won’t happen. Modern romances really lead you astray on this one, because real human beings will either lash back or clam up and resent — just like you would if treated that way.

When I was a girl my mom wanted me to take an aspirin for whatever “growing pains” I had, so she’d crush it on a spoon together with sugar. The sweetness masked the taste of the medicine that relieved my pain.

That’s what writers do, sort of. A good fiction writer can take real life situations, dream up a fiction setting, give various incidents a twist — so Aunt Vanilla doesn’t know this humorous bit is based on her baked beans and Uncle Shellby doesn’t realize we’re describing his snoring — and head into a story that has a theme, a point. Something to ease the reader’s pain if they’re hurting.

I recall a time when I was worried about a situation that needed to be addressed somehow. It seemed someone(s) must see the light before too much damage was done — but I could hardly go and educate the attitude-riddled parties involved. Then a story seed dropped into my fertile mind and expanded into a somewhat exaggerated illustration with the point snugly wrapped inside.

My take on the gossip after a minor accident in our community, and how you just can’t believe everything you hear, became Brother Ed’s Accident in Silver Morning Song. Poor Brother Ed had a simple incident when hauling cattle, and thanks to the arrival of a helping hand, the problem was easily solved. But when he got to church the next Sunday… When I asked another writer for a critique, he told me, “This exact thing happened to me after I had a minor accident; the gossip had us dead and dying and what-not-all.”

One local farmer read that story and said he didn’t believe cattle could ever be rounded up that easily, I told him, “I’ve seen it done.” I also researched stock trailer doors online to find out if they might occasion pop open. Yes, it has; a horseman once lost a good stallion that way.

Writer integrity is the key phrase here. Realistic fiction, like all other writing, is a blend of personal experience & emotion, eye-witness accounts, stories heard, and a LOT of research. It shouldn’t be dismissed as “Just a bunch of lies.”

Writer’s Clock

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“Oh, what a beautiful morning!
Oh, what a beautiful day!
The suns is so cheerily shining
and snowbanks are melting away.”

(With apologies to the original songwriter.
And thanks to Pixabay for the ClipArt Vector)

A week ago spring came back to our land and has settled in so pleasantly. Today I even saw half a dozen Canada geese overhead. Mind you, they were going south, and might have been some who wintered over down by the dam. But still, it’s the principle…

It’s been a few days since I last posted — not that I suffer from WRITER’S BLOCK so much as WRITER’S CLOCK. That is, not enough time to sit down and write everything I’d like to, especially now that the days are so spring-like and the house needs a good cleaning.

Our cats definitely have spring fever and want to be out…in…out…in…out… all day long. Our lawn is slowly appearing and the gravel road by our property is nice and firm for walking on now, though the driveway is still slushy and spongy.

Wandering the internet for awhile this afternoon, I discovered another online haiku journal, the Wales Haiku Journal. Interesting! In fact I even dared submit a few of my newest verses. Perhaps with a nod to my gr-gr-gr-grandmother Jones from north Wales. Having a Jones from Wales, John Smith from London, and John Turner, an Orangeman from Ireland, among my forebears, I feel very standard-issue. 🙂

This past week I’ve been working quite a bit on my book of haiku, have transferred it to Kindle Create and set it up. I’m inserting some pictures now. Soon, soon…!

Monday night I hit the silliest glitch: I could not insert the copyright symbol. I tried every which way and listened to a couple of instruction videos supposedly explaining in detail how to create a Kindle e-book. Alas! They both slid through the front matter in a few sentences.

I enjoyed watching the one young fellow wave his hands around, though — in real life he must play a piccolo. Several times he said, “I’m sure you’ve all worked with this type of program before and know all this,” and I wanted to yell, “Would I be listening to you if I had?”

Note to wannabe self-publishers: If you’re doing your book on Kindle Create — and it really does work well — it’s best to have the Title page, Copyright info, Dedication page, and Preface or Foreword, all written up the way you want them, as well as the actual book pages, before saving your e-book document as a pdf that you will transfer to Kindle Create.

At any rate, I discovered that it’s really very simple to add that little © — once you know how. 😉 Actually, so many things in this old world are so simple once you know how!

This includes tossing out. As part of my spring cleaning urge, yesterday I opened a cupboard that I haven’t looked in seriously for a long time — and bravely threw out all those 5″ floppies and 3.5″ hard disks I squirreled away about 7 or 8 years back, when I got my new computer. You know the rationale: “A person never knows when this new flash-drive system might break down and we’ll need to go back to these…” NOT!

I hope you are all enjoying lovely days, too, dear readers.

Seasons of Gold

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

…a time to ponder; a time to write down your thoughts, and a time to share the things that impress you.

Though I wasn’t specifically thinking of these verses when I chose the title for the new book of poems I’ve been working on, they are very fitting when it comes to verses about nature, the seasons, and human nature.

The book is pretty much compiled, but I want to organize the verses I’ve chosen then set up my file on Kindle Create and insert some graphics. I’ve obtained the ISBN for both print and e-book but will do only the e-book for now.  I’m thinking the title font should be the same as we used for Silver Morning Song; otherwise here’s what the cover will look like:

GA.Rain.largest flower

My next big question: How many poems make a proper-size book?

Capturing Their Feelings

I recently purchased and have been reading a book titled Write Like Issa: A Haiku How To, by David Lanoue.

The writer talks about the compassion Issa often showed for the creatures he saw. He seemed to  look through their eyes for a moment and express, in an understanding way, how they were reacting to heat, cold, pain, etc. Be it the fly in a hot stuffy room, the toad on a chilly morning, the chicken dragging a damaged wing, he could display through his verse, without actually stating, their physical feelings.

The sparrows we see in winter puff up when it’s cold and they must feel an icy wind ruffling their feathers. Or we may see a baby bird hopping after its harried mother, crying for more food. Issa wrote a famous verse identifying himself with the hungry chick, by throwing in the words “step-child bird.” Knowing that the poet was a step-child neglected and harshly treated by his father’s second wife, we get the picture of his own hunger and longing for affection.

One of the exercises Mr Lanoue gives readers is to recall a experience shared with a some creature and then capture that in a haiku. I think we can all recall instances when a creature, especially a pet, shows some “feeling” we can identify with. One day as I was walking to the mall, I saw a salamander alongside the curb, twisting his head this way and that in obvious distress as cars swished past not far away. The traffic wasn’t steady; but every so often another car would pass and frighten him, yet the poor creature couldn’t go up the curb to escape that way. Just observing him a moment, I caught his fear and bewilderment. I could easily imagine the desperate cry of, “Which way shall I go?”

I’m not sure I could condense that scene enough for a haiku — if you want to give it a try, go for it, and leave your verse as a comment. But here’s a quick and easy scene for a verse. I don’t know if it’s a great haiku or not, but have you ever noticed how a fly is attracted to a dish or jar that once held something sweet?

fruit fly explores
the just-washed jam jar
something tells him

Blogs, Books, and Slough Water

Good morning everyone!

You will notice that my site looks different — and it’s not an improvement. This morning I sprang for the upgrade WordPress was offering … and somehow lost my ability to customize the background of my current theme — and my pale yellow background. Either that or I lost the “all across the page” choice of background. The center strip reverted to the default grey, so I changed the yellow side margins to match. At any rate, the pretty pale yellow has been replaced by plain old grey and I’m not happy.

The upshot of this is that I’m going to be trying out new themes and customization until I get the look I like.

I’m fussy about appearances, I guess. I’ve spent a week trying to get just the right title and the right cover image for my upcoming book of haiku. I finally settled on one Monday and it has been approved by friends & family. But then I was checking haiku books online last night and began to wonder if I was being too high-flying in my choice.

I came across a book titled The River Does Stink haiku and senryu. Intriguing, right? Quite down to earth — no birds and flowers.

My grand-daughters liked the idea of me using something prairie-ish, so how about a title like, Scum on our Slough? Our sloughs can look and smell pretty bad in late spring unless they’re replenished by fresh rain water.

Actually, Stars in the Slough could be a nice prairie-touch haiku book. What do you think? Mind you, after all I’ve bothered my family and friends for their opinion on titles and pics and we’re now all on the same page, they might be ready to toss me in the slough if I change my title again. As soon as I’ve applied for my copyright, I’ll post the cover design.

Our weather is improving every day. Last weekend we had a -34 morning and several days of bitter wind all day. Yesterday was milder, got up to -12. It was -24 this morning — and wind — but the sun has power now and warms us up in the daytime. Our cats take advantage of the sunshine and want in-out-in-out-in-out all day.

Hope you’re having a great week. I’m happy to report that, after the second antibiotic did its work, my skin infection has cleared up. Now I’m off to cook for the seniors at the Villa this morning. 🙂