Celebrate Independent Bookstores!

indie books

On the last Saturday in April (and every day!) celebrate and support those wonderful, independent bookstores. My mind floods with memories of shops I have known and loved, with many of them now being too many miles away for a quick visit. What factors are most important to you in a bookstore? I certainly have several thoughts on the matter, but also wondered what some of you look for in your “tome travels.” Leave a quick comment about what you think makes a great place to shop, or about your favorite “finds,” on your way out the door to load up on books!

TIP OF THE HAT: Among my all-time favorites is Snowbound Books in Marquette Michigan…

snowbound

What Draws Children to Certain Books?

flicka, ricka, and dicka

During much of my childhood, the public library in our little town was housed in a small area adjacent to the fire station. Each time I arrived at the library with my family, I worried that the fire alarm might sound during our visit. However, I remember a span of several years when I would hurry immediately to a certain shelf where the books by Maj Lindman were lined up, and I soon forgot all my worries.

This author/illustrator from Sweden produced several series of picture books from the 1920s through the 1960s, including those featuring the triplet boys, “Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr,” and also the set of titles built around triplet girls, “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.” I’m happy to say that I’ve collected one from each series, which are library editions published in 1960. I see that Albert Whitman & Company has reissued many of these books (some with paper dolls, no less!); but, for me, those actually printed during my childhood mean so much more.

While looking my copies over, recently, I considered what it was that I had liked so much about them as a child. Possibly I can put some of my discoveries to use when fashioning my own books for young readers. I came up with the following factors:

  • Settings – The country’s name, “Sweden,” is stated in two out of the three books that I own in these series. Even when not mentioned outright, the setting depicted in the book feels very different from my neighborhood that was in the midst of a small town in Michigan.
  • Freedom  – Since many of the stories take place on farms or in other rural areas, the children often seem quite free to roam as they please and have many adventures that often involve animals, as well.
  • Names – Beyond the triplets’ monikers, many of the other characters have names that were also unfamiliar and interesting to me.
  • Family structure – Until I was somewhat older and a nearby neighbor gave birth to triplets, I had never known any such families. (Imagine my surprise when that trio was made up of one boy and two girls!).
  • Visually appealing – The lovely, full-page illustrations are so pleasing to the eyes, and many of the editions use a somewhat enlarged and easy-to-see font.
  • Simple stories that often involve extended families – This serves as a vehicle to get the children away from their homes and broadens the story options.
  • Surprise endings or subtle lessons to be learned – As I remember, the resolutions seemed satisfying to me as a child.

All that being said, it appears that some of the books are rather long and run over 1200 words. My mother preferred to read shorter books for story time, especially since I also had an even younger brother. My father usually chose to tell us stories that he made up, on the rare evenings when he arrived home early enough from work. My older sister was always eager to read to me, though, for which I am forever grateful.

snipp, snapp, snurr

Although the type of stories that appeals to today’s children has evolved, I’m sure, I believe that there are still some nuggets of basic childhood yearnings to be found in the pages from our youth. I’d love to hear about your favorite childhood books and what it was that drew you to them!

 

 

 

 

Peter Mayle: A Life in Provence

provence

 

I was recently saddened to learn that one of my favorite authors, Peter Mayle, has died. The first book I ever bought by Mr. Mayle was Where Did I Come From?, which was purchased over 40 years ago in anticipation of telling my children about the facts of life. Decades later, when I was introduced to his travel memoir, A Year in Provence, I had no idea that this was even the same author. During the intervening years, he had published several other books for children and worked in advertising. He and his wife then took the plunge and gave up their lives in England to relocate in France.

The book was serialized for the BBC, and I came across the videos (yes, videos) at the library, while living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Filmed in Provence, the story was mesmerizing. I could relate in some small way to what he and his wife faced, having myself moved to various parts of the U.S. and adjusted to unfamiliar cultures. Those changes never required learning another language, however!

The views and vistas portrayed in the films were like nothing I have ever had access to on a daily basis, even in the most scenic areas of Michigan’s Great Lakes, North Carolina’s shores, Virginia’s mountains, or Texas Hill Country. Beyond the story’s familiar theme of moving to a different type of world, one can also find the more elusive theme of life never being too far along to try something new. This is such an important belief, and I think it resonates for many of us.

The mini-series wasn’t a critical success, evidently, although John Thaw’s portrayal of Peter Mayle was excellent. I loved it, though, and have watched it more times than I care to admit. Thanks to finding the series on the dusty bottom shelf at the library, I was led to the body of works by this wonderful author. I still remember the pleasure of cuddling up by the fireplace with a snowstorm raging outdoors and experiencing the warmth of the French countryside and the scent of lavender.

Peter Mayle wrote several successful sequels to that book, which are presented a bit more like collections of short stories. All the books contain humor, food, wine, weather, friendship, local culture and beautiful locales. How else would I ever have bumped into truffles (the mushroom-like fungi, not the chocolates), boules, the mistral, or pastis? This author wrote other enjoyable non-fiction, in addition, usually centered on various interesting aspects of French culture. To my delight, there were also his novels to devour, which portray many of the same characteristics as his memoirs, along with crimes solved, business deals conducted and wine produced. There’s some romance to be found, as well. A lovely movie with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is based on Mayle’s book, A Good Year.

With regret, I have to admit that I didn’t bring the entire collection of Mr. Mayle’s books with me when I moved. I did keep A Year in Provence, of course, and I especially value my ARC (advance reading copy/uncorrected proof) of A Good Year, with the plain blue cover. This format seems just that much closer to the author’s keyboard, somehow.

Try his first book, and if you love it, you’ll have a treasure trove to explore beyond that one. I’m extremely sorry that he’s gone, but surely this author knew that his writing had affected the lives of others, as evidenced by the book sales and fans, increased tourism to Provence, and readers who sought him out when visiting the region.

Merci, Monsieur Mayle!

Collecting Memories

As a typical kid growing up in the 1950s, I collected the usual sorts of things, like pretty stones, smooth driftwood, multi-colored marbles, favorite books and treasured dolls. I wasn’t really much of a “pack rat,” though, and by the time I moved away from home the only parts of those collections that remained were a set of Trixie Belden mysteries and a few Barbie dolls.

As the years went by, the basis for my taste in collectible books remained much the same: heavy on the mystery and brimming with nostalgia. Most of the books I’ve sought out or have purchased after being pleasantly surprised by their appearance hold a connection to the past. When my life hit a U-turn a few years ago, and I was faced with downsizing from a house to a small apartment, my treasured book collection took a necessary but serious hit.

map backWhat remains is a selection of childhood chapter books, Golden Books related to memories but collected as an adult, author-signed novels, and a few vintage tomes that are too wonderful (and smelly) to ever discard. The largest set in the lot is my Dell Mystery Map Backs. As a child, I loved books that included illustrations of maps. Imagine my delight as an adult to discover these wonderfully “campy” mysteries with the great front cover art (although sometimes a bit lurid) and maps on the backs to match the stories. When moving day arrived, the only map backs I had parted with were a few duplicates.

Luckily my apartment has ample kitchen cupboard space, since my other main collecting activity has turned toward dinnerware, including Luray Pastels, Fiestaware, and Blue Willow. I really can’t bear to part with most of the pieces, since they were handed down to me from my grandmothers, mother, and several aunts.

Luray

The delicate scrollwork and pastel tones of the pink, blue, yellow and green Luray originated in West Virginia, near the Luray Caverns, from 1938-1961 and were made by Taylor, Smith, and Taylor Company. The set I now have once belonged to my mother’s older sister, and they often make me think of our homes in Michigan. The only piece that I use daily is the yellow salt shaker, and my favorite example that’s on display is the blue teapot. For a period of time, light gray additions were also produced, but never caught on in popularity and were then dropped. Pieces in that color are now highly collectible, and I’m happy to say that I hung on to the gray Luray platter that I bought “for a song” some years back.

fiestaware multiAlthough Fiestaware, which is produced by the Homer Laughlin China Company, also of West Virginia, was introduced in 1936, my pieces are not in the realm of vintage, unless that includes a set purchased through the J.C. Penney catalog in the 1990s. I had admired these colorful, sturdy dishes at the homes of friends as a child, and when I had the chance to purchase dinnerware of my own they seemed like the logical choice. Fiestaware is available in a wide range of colors, and my set is composed of deep pastels, including turquoise.  Over time, I’ve also added select pieces in red to be used as serving dishes. I often make use of the small plates and bowls while “cooking for one” and display the reds in my Hoosier-type cabinet in the fall and around the holidays.

Blue WillowWillow is an elaborate design that has been used on kitchen ware for hundreds of years and probably got its start as Spode transferware. Various colors have been used, and mine is all of the popular blue variety. The lovely scenes that are depicted include detailed buildings, gardens, bridges, and figures, which found their inspiration in wares that originated in China. Various companies appear to use these patterns, and my wide assortment came from both grandmothers, my father’s oldest sister and my mother. They all remembered that I had expressed an interest in those dishes as a child, and that fact makes me treasure them even more. I sometimes use the small bowls or plates and regularly display my favorites. The patterns vary and several that really catch my eye are the ones made in Holland that include camels in their designs.

No matter which type of collecting, my favorite objects will always be those that invoke a memory of the past or the air of childhood. If you were to ask my grandchildren about what I collect, they would probably say “roosters,” and I admit that quite a few of them in various incarnations do reside in my kitchen. Although only a few of them are connected to childhood, like my mother’s egg cups, I’ve had most of them for years. If the roosters could talk, they would tell stories about the history of my former life and marriage, including observations on all of the interesting kitchen renovations where they have “lived.”

As far as the Trixie Belden books and Barbie dolls that I took away from my childhood home as a newly minted adult, I still have them. The pages are somewhat discolored and brittle. The words and pictures still carry a type of intrigue and predictable comfort that I hope to instill in my own writing for children. Barbie and Ken make a curious couple, with his right arm missing and her bouffant hair somewhat worn off from the back of her head. They’re still smiling, though, after all these years.Barbie and Ken

 

 

 

Why I Liked Trixie Belden More Than Nancy Drew (and why it still matters)

Trixie Belden

Let’s face it…books about both characters have withstood the test of time. As a kid, I wanted not only to immerse myself in stories ABOUT Trixie, but I also desired to BE her. Why Trixie and not Nancy? I enjoyed books about them both and still have a wonderful memory of sitting in my classroom at Zion Lutheran Elementary, in Tawas City, Michigan, reading a version of The Hidden Staircase that was “vintage” even at that point in time, in the early 60’s.

I don’t really remember a specific place where I read about Trixie…it just seemed, once I digested the first episode of her life, that “she” was always there with me…at home, in school, riding my bike, walking over to a friend’s house, or worrying about something in bed at night.

Why, indeed, did Trixie grab my imagination and thoughts more than Nancy? I’ve given this some thought, recently, and here are several ideas and memories:

  • A bike was her common mode of transportation, which I could relate to, given my age. She sometimes rode horses, also, which I was always too apprehensive to try. Trixie sometimes envied her friends who owned those animals.
  • Her hair was cut short, which was how I wore my own (by default…it’s a long story), after early childhood. I always imagined that Trixie would have liked longer hair like her friends, Honey Wheeler and Di Lynch.
  • She had a best friend, Honey, who she could count on, through thick and thin. They did have a few misunderstandings, as I remember, but always worked things out. My “bestie” changed a few times over the years, and although I tended to be a loner, that relationship was always very important to me.
  • Completion of certain household chores was always expected of Trixie, which she often disliked. I hate to admit that I was sporadic in my organizational skills, and ranged from “pig-like” qualities in my bedroom to obsessive repeated vacuuming of our living room.
  • She had some trouble in math, to which I could relate after I hit long division!
  • Jim seemed like the model partner to me. He was dependable, nice looking, and gave Trixie plenty of space to be her own person. In several of the later books, Trixie seemed to struggle a bit with just how to deal with her feelings for Jim.
  • She was very brave and actually solved mysteries, which I could only imagine someone doing in real life. I admired that Trixie and Honey already knew what they wanted to be when they “grew up”, with their goals of co-owning a detective agency.
  • She dealt with some fears and worries, to which I could always relate (and still do!).

What does my list tell me? Why do I care, and how can this make me a better writer? It appears that I celebrated our similarities AND our differences. In the end, I think that believable characters are the answer. Some people might want to read about individuals like themselves, while others may be attracted to the more fantasy appeal of characters who are very different or exotic. Either way, REAL is the key word, in my opinion.

I didn’t know just what it was at the time, but I realize after all these years that Nancy seemed more wooden and too perfect. I want to peek into the life of someone with positive qualities and faults, and I imagine that’s true for many readers. I’m planning to keep that in mind, from now on, when fashioning my own imperfect characters!

Definition of “Holiday”

 

hol-i-day   /ˈhäləˌdā/
noun
  1. 1.
    a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.

I found this amusing definition for “holiday” on the Internet, giving me a bit of a chuckle. Many of us are observing holidays, but I’m guessing that a great deal of work is still being done! In fact, I’m under the impression that many writers feel even more inspired at this time of year, due to the changing seasons, observance of religious traditions linked to childhood memories, and emotions carefully hidden that struggle to resurface.

Holidays can also highlight certain literature-related behaviors. Many of us purchase books as gifts to please others (maybe those are volumes we’d actually rather read ourselves?), seek out other cutesy presents for the bibliophiles on our lists (often significantly over-priced), or finally resort to life-saving gift certificates when all else fails (whew!).

Books set during the holidays are widely popular. To meet her readers’ desires, Janet Rudolph yearly presents an extensive list of mystery books set during the holidays on her blog, Mystery Fanfare. I’ve happily tried new titles discovered there, and been pleasantly reminded of vintage offerings I’d enjoyed in the past.

Whatever “holidays” meant for you, I hope that yours were pleasant, safe, and productive!

As a small New Year’s gift, I’m offering my short story, “Romantivores”, free for Kindle through Amazon, from January 8-12. This is a perfect way for readers to meet Jonathan and Solveig, the main characters of my still-to-be-published book by the same title!

To learn more about my “writerly life”, check out the author interview with me, found at “Tyree Tomes – Here There Be Dragons!”

 

 

Culture Shock as Fodder for Writing

globe-460439_1280

An entire sub-genre of writing exists that zeroes in on people who leave their homes to set up housekeeping in radically different environments. The unfamiliar habits of the locals then make interesting and often amusing stories. Some of my favorites are offerings by Peter Mayle, Julia Child, Adam Gopnik and Frances Mayes. I love their books and often picture what it would be like to wake up and find myself in similar situations.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, while planning a trip to visit my daughters and their families in Texas. We lived there together, in what seems like another lifetime, after spending the beginning of our lives in Michigan. As the memories flood over me, I realize that I’ve lost sight of how alien everyday things sometimes seemed during those years. Many writers have experienced relocation to another culture, even if it’s not in France or Italy, and details of those experiences can add interesting twists to story plots.

For example, I remember the chuckles I received from several office mates one day in the “Lone Star State”, when I referred to stopping at the “party store for pop”. At the same time, I never understood why Texans called all soda pop “Coke”, no matter what the label said. At the end of a long workday, “See you guys” contrasted sharply with, “Bye, y’all”. There were differences wherever I turned. Due to the “Blue Laws”, sale of clothing on Sundays, at that time, wasn’t allowed, and many counties were “dry”, meaning they didn’t sell alcohol at all. Of course, the rich drawls and twangs took some getting used to, especially when my older daughter tried them on as her own. I had always thought of my speech as being just plain, but was told by my new friends that I spoke with a “funny accent”!

Travel outside the borders of one’s own state isn’t even required. Within Michigan, people living in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas have interesting differences in ways of speaking and in the foods they enjoy, just to name a few idiosyncrasies. If you’ve never tried cudighi, a type of sausage, or the meat pies called pasties, you still haven’t lived.

Do you think anyone will notice if I take notes during my Texas visit? I’ve forgotten so many of the cute little quirks and need a refresher for future writing!

For books about moves to parts unknown, my “Reading Lists” page details several authors with one of their titles, each, for starters.