When Too Much . . .

. . . is . . . well . . . too much.

In writing, there’s such a thing as going too far, or overwriting. In her book Steering the Craft, esteemed author Ursula K. Le Guin says it’s important to “slow down and leave enough white space around the words and silence around the voice.” What you leave out in those pauses, she believes, is infinitely more important than what you leave in.  And yet, there’s a balance. Leave out too much and your reader won’t understand what’s going on. Cram in too many details, particularly in action scenes, and the pace falters. The rhythm, the speed, will be off.

Visual artists know this well. White space, whether that’s literal white space around an image or the grout that fills the gaps in a mosaic, is a key principle in design and applied arts. White space separates and highlights other elements. It allows the mind to rest and reflect, to absorb the message or the image. On the other hand, there are times when words or an artistic medium like paint are overused precisely because that’s the effect the creator is going for (the recent official portrait of King Charles 111 and his big red controversy comes to mind).

Overdoing has been on my mind a lot lately. The first draft of my current WIP is overwritten (as is my tendency in a first draft), the herb bed in the garden is overplanted (I love too many plants; what can I say?) and now my poor back is suffering because I’ve overdone it on a number of levels. My back warned me, but I kept pushing through and didn’t listen. I went too far.

Now, though, too much has been . . . too much.  I’ve been forced to slow down, to pay attention to my body . . . to rest and reflect and to relearn the lesson that life, just like art, also requires some balance. I think Ursula K. Le Guin would approve.

My April Reads

A change is as good as a rest, or at least that’s how the saying goes. I hope there’s some truth to it! We’re on the mainland babysitting our four-year-old grandson and rest is hard to come by. He’s not one for sleeping, and his inquisitive nature is in gear before dawn. That first morning, when he nudged me awake at 5:30 am and I replied that it was ‘too early,’ he snuggled in beside me and tried to engage. “What does too early even mean?” That led to a discussion (one sided) about how I squish my eyes tight in the morning “even like Mama.” So, there’s very little rest to be had, but there’s lots time for laughs and cuddles, crazy bath time routines and books. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller

Abroad in Japan by Chris Broad

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Books read to date in 2024: 22

My March Reads

Today is the spring equinox, that point in time when day and night are the same length all around the world. As we in the north tilt more towards the sun, our days get longer and our nights get shorter. Warmer weather is coming and so is spring. Speaking of spring, our clocks ‘sprang’ forward an hour last weekend, marking a return to daylight saving time. Regardless of whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, this time of year definitely calls on us to get out of the house and be more active. For me, that means more time in the garden and the occasional bike ride after dinner. For now, though, the evenings are still cool, so I’m quite happy to curl up with a book after dinner. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Happy Life of Isadora Bentley by Courtney Walsh

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Books read to date in 2024: 16

Kindness Goes a Long Way

                                       

Today is Pink Shirt Day, an annual event against bullying that’s held in Canada and New Zealand to raise awareness about bullying, especially in schools. It started in 2007 in Canada, and it’s held here on the last Wednesday of February each year.

Books can’t eliminate bullying, but a good story may help people recognize and call it out in their own lives. Most of all, though, a good story often provides victims with insights, coping strategies and much-needed comfort and support. Here are some books on bullying for young and not-so-young readers.

For the picture book crowd:

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; illustrated by David Catrow

Lunch Box Bully by Hans Wilhelm

I Didn’t Stand Up by Lucy Falcone; illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon

What If Bunny’s Not a Bully by Lana Button; illustrated by Christine Battuz

Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess; illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

One by Kathryn Otoshi

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill; illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Dear Bully of Mine by Vicki Fraser; illustrated by Cody McGrath and Sean McGrath

For older readers:

Camp Disaster by Frieda Wishinsky

Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Jennifer Chan is Not So Alone by Tae Keller

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Bullies Rule by Monique Polak

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Blubber by Judy Blume

Some Girls Are by Courtenay Summers

To This Day by Shane Koyczan

Dear Bully – Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones

My February Reads

The snowdrops are blooming, the hyacinths are poking up out of the soil and the buds on the trees are starting to swell. We still have another month of winter before the official start of spring in March. But spring is coming, and that means a much busier time for me as I juggle writing and reading with garden activities. Right now, though, I still have lots of time to curl up with a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell by Pico Iyer

Welcome to Beach Town by Susan Wiggs

Lost Japan: Last Glimpse of Beautiful Japan by Alex Kerr

Books read to date in 2024: 10

The Unnecessary Freezing of Water

I agree with Carl Reiner who once said he found snow to be an unnecessary freezing of water. Nevertheless, when last week’s storm dumped a foot and a half of snow on our lawn, I tried to embrace it. And embrace it I did, for about two days. Just long enough to wrap up a deadline, read a book, clean the house and surf warm vacation spots. Then I was ready to get outside and walk. To get outside, period. But, alas, the snow kept falling.

So, I did what any writer worth her sand and salt would do in my position – I googled snow references in literature. It helped. For one thing, it kept me from looking outside and shivering. For another, it reminded me that some people do find snow beautiful.

In case you’re in the midst of a hellsnowscape, here are some lovely passages to help you see the beauty.

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

The snow did not even whisper its way to earth, but seemed to salt the night with silence.”  Dean Koontz, Brother Odd: An Odd Thomas Novel

“The old curly birches of the gardens, all their twigs laden with snow, looked as though freshly decked in sacred vestments.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“It snowed all week. Wheels and footsteps moved soundlessly on the street, as if the business of living continued secretly behind a pale but impenetrable curtain. In the falling quiet there was no sky or earth, only snow lifting in the wind, frosting the window glass, chilling the rooms, deadening and hushing the city.” Truman Capote, American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940’s Until Now

“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day. And it was on that day I made the snowman.” Raymond Briggs, The Snowman

“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats. It was magical, this snow globe world.”  Sarah Addison Allen, The Sugar Queen

A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.
 Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, The Dead

“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special, even though you know you’re not.” Carol Ritka Brunt, Tell the Wolves I’m Home

And finally, to end on a hopeful note, here’s my (current) favorite passage about snow: “The sight of snow made her think how beautiful and short life is and how, in spite of all their enmities, people have so very much in common; measured against eternity and the greatness of creation, the world in which they lived was narrow. That’s why snow drew people together. It was as if snow cast a veil over hatreds, greed, and wrath and made everyone feel close to one another.” Orhan Pamuk, Snow

My October Reads

                                    

The world outside my window is misty today. The rain is falling, the wind is up, and the autumn leaves are swirling. The garden is nearly put to bed for the winter, though the hardier leeks and chard and kale are still in the ground promising us some good eating ahead. Inside, the fire kicks on more often in the mornings now, the manuscript revision calls, and there are plenty of books waiting to be read. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:

The Starfish Sisters by Barbara O’Neal

Greenfeast: Autumn & Winter by Nigel Slater

The Little Book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi

Books read to date in 2023:  53

My September Reads

Today is the autumn equinox, that point of the year when we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night time. From here, as the calendar marches us towards winter, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. Trees lose their leaves; plants go dormant or die; and animals begin to hibernate. Humans tend to draw inward at this time of year too, and since I have books to write and books to read, I’m fine with that. Here’s what I’m reading this month:  

Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah

Prom Mom by Laura Lippman

Kitchen Bliss: Musings on Food and Happiness (With Recipes) by Laura Calder

Books read to date in 2023: 47

On This Day in History . . .

                                                

. . . a monster was born. Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch. The truth is, on this day in 1797, the woman who unleashed a fictitious monster into the world was born. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the creator of Frankenstein, entered the world in London, England. Why talk about someone born so long ago? Because Mary Shelley was responsible for singlehandedly changing the trajectory of storytelling as we know it.

Frankenstein is considered the world’s first science fiction novel. Published when Shelley was only twenty-one, Frankenstein raises questions about the origins of good and evil, the existence of God, the impact of solitude, and human nature’s tendency to judge others by appearance. More than 200 years after it first appeared, the story of Frankenstein is still considered universal and timeless. In fact, Frankenstein is one of the most adapted novels of all time.

Stories abound as to Shelley’s inspiration for the tale. Some say she created it after having a nightmare. Others suggest it was inspired by terrible global events. 1816 was famously known as the ‘Year Without a Summer.’  The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia triggered massive and sudden climate change, sending temperatures in Europe lower than they’d ever been (and the record for those low temperatures held from 1766 to 2000!). Those low temperatures, coupled with ongoing heavy rain, resulted in crop failures and the largest famine of the 19th century. It was during this gloomy time that Mary and her husband, Percy Shelley, vacationed in Switzerland with Lord Byron and a number of other friends. Forced to spend most of their time inside, Lord Byron suggested they all write ghost stories to share with one another. And that, as they say, is history.

True or not, it makes for an interesting piece of trivia about a story that has become a classic.

My August Reads

It’s the height of summer. That’s what I tell myself, though I know, technically, this is the last full month of summer and we are heading inexorably toward fall (I refuse to go there). The harvest has started – we’re picking masses of blueberries and plums and figs, tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. And beans. Lots and lots of beans. We’ve had friends come to stay and soon we’ll be having a family reunion of sorts with a beloved aunt and cousins. It’s a happy and productive time, but a busy one, and that means less time for reading. That said, I’m stealing a few minutes here and there, and I always fit in a few chapters before bed. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Echo of Old Books by Barbara Davis

The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work At 72 by Molly Peacock

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell

Books read to date in 2023: 42