Saturday, May 28, 2011

I never want to live without stories

Despite the difficulties in my life right now, I keep on reading and want to share a few good books with you. I've put these reviews on Goodreads where I go by Patricia J. O'Brien.

And I've added a great quote about reading and writing at the bottom of this post. Makes me want to shout, YES!

I'd never want to live without stories and storytellers. I can't imagine a life without imagination and wonder and contemplation and adventure and knowledge and the deliciousness of what if.

BLOOD RED ROAD by Moira Young

Oh. My. I started reading this advance copy weeks ago and put it aside because I had trouble adjusting to the narrative style. I'm so glad I picked it up again and soon found myself completely at ease with the language. I wouldn't want this marvelous story written any other way. I haven't seen a female protagonist this flawed and tough and compelling since Katniss.
It's dystopian in a Mad Max kind of world, and the narrator, Saba, doesn't read or write. Words come out as they sound, and there aren't quotation marks. Still, it's not hard once you get into the cadence. Here's a sample:
Yer young, she says, an strong. A natural-born fighter from the look of it. I knew it right off. You'll be perfect.
Perfect fer what? I says.
She straightens up. Looks at me with her small dark eyes, cold as stones.
Perfect, she says, fer cage fightin.
The little hairs on my arms stand on end. I shiver.
That's right girlie, she says. You better be afeared. Cage fightin's mean. Nasty. An it's big business in Hopetown. You'll do well fer us.
I ain't doing nuthin fer you, I says.
You ain't gotta choice, she says.
You cain't make me do nuthin, I says.
Oh you'll do ezzackly what I tell you, she says

THE LIAR SOCIETY by Lisa & Laura Roecker

Sassy, fun and mysterious. For anyone who's read Lisa and Laura Roecker's blog you know they can be hilarious. Their debut YA has a taste of Veronica Mars to it with a smart, gutsy protagonist, Kate, who won't let herself be intimidated in her quest to find out why her best friend died in a suspicious fire. A list of suspects grows as she discovers that many students and faculty of her private school hide secrets.
Kate is urged on by emails from her dead friend, which make the reader wonder if the story is paranormal or if Kate is being led on by someone. I hate spoilers so I'm not going to sketch out the plot, but I liked the way Laura and Lisa kept adding new suspects and clues. Kate's sidekicks--a nerdy neighbor with a crush on her and a hot bad boy, who may or may not be a suspect--are nicely drawn and, eventually, endearing.

THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman

I've heard some people call The Magicians a Harry Potter for adults, but that doesn't begin to describe this coming-of-age tale, written in a great voice of a nineteen-year-old guy who finds out he's got a talent for magic. Lev Grossman spins a fine fantasy but does it with literary style and a complex company of characters who are smart, sly and flawed. Quentin and his friends at a secret school of magic have extraordinary power, but they're teenagers, complete with insecurities, hormones, jealousy and rash decisions. When they step in it, some really bad things happen. My heart broke near the end of the book, but the actual end returns to a satisfying bit of hope and humor and a measured appreciation of the world and its mysteries.
I stumbled across this great quote by Michelle Obama when she talked to some school girls in England. Full article.
"So I would encourage you all to read, read, read. Just keep reading. And writing is another skill. It's practice. It's practice. The more you write, the better you get. Drafts--our kids are learning the first draft means nothing. You're going to do seven, 10 drafts. That's writing, it's not failure, it's not the teacher not liking you because it's all marked up in red. When you get to be a good writer, you mark your own stuff in red, and you rewrite, and you rewrite, and you rewrite. That's what writing is."


I've got my red pen (actually purple) and I'm going to revise two chapters of my dark fairy tale today. How about you?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Voices lifted to the night sky

By the waters

the waters of Babylon

We lay down and wept

and wept for thee Zion

We remember thee remember

thee remember thee Zion

Two family friends, sisters Montserrat and Maximilian, led a small group in singing "Babylon" at sunset. We were a dozen or so family/friends remaining at my father-in-law's house in Venice Beach and we'd walked out to do one of his favorite things--watch the sunset. (It was a gray sunset, not this one that I'd shot another day. I wasn't taking pictures during the wake.)

We learned the three verses and sang in rounds. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect way to end an incredible day. My heart swelled and soared. I think from the expressions around me that the singing did the same for everyone else. Thank you so much, ladies, for pulling us into that circle.

The lyrics are based on a Psalm. Besides use by Jewish and Christian religious groups, many composers and poets have borrowed from or referenced these powerful words. Among them, Giuseppe Verdi, Stephen Schwartz, Don McLean, T.S. Eliot, Stephen Vincent Benet, Paulo Coelho.

That long link to culture would have pleased Ken. He and his wife, Fern, surrounded themselves with friends who were writers, artists and musicians.

In the house, we put dozens of his photographic prints around and a slide show of his pictures. At least fifty people came, bearing love.
I'm still in an emotional--highly-charged but also very drained--state. I'm going to be making a move back to Venice and trying not to lose the momentum on my dark fairy tale, which is two-thirds complete. So my blogging may be sporadic during the next couple of months. I will visit you all when I can. As always, I thank you so much for visiting me. Peace.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Farewell to a man who changed my life

Walking on Venice beach, I saw lots of snowy egrets in the last few days. I'm used to seeing them along lakes and wetlands but not so much where waves meet sand. This shot reflects they way I feel right now--deeply reflective.


My father-in-law died Saturday. Ken was a quiet man, a private man, quite the opposite personality of my mother-in-law, Fern. But between them they exposed me to a world of wonder. They changed my life, showing me the richness of experiences available if we open ourselves up, reach out.

They always traveled, often spending months abroad, staying with people they'd met or with friends of friends all around the globe.

Life was meant to be explored, to be tasted and contemplated and shared. She did it through words. He did it through pictures, capturing extraordinary moments in his portraits and landscapes. When people visited, they begged for him to do a slide show of his images, many of which made it into galleries and on Corbis. I think this link to Ocean View, an exhibit at the UCR/California Museum of Photography is still viable.

(The link takes you to the main page. You must click on artists and Ken O'Brien to see his work, I discovered when checking the link.)

Ken gave me my first SLR camera and taught me how to compose photos and how to develop them in his darkroom. He showed me by example that capturing good images means getting out and about, being on the lookout and then being patient, waiting for the right light, finding the best composition.

In no way am I offering these shots on this post as examples. They are just what I found while walking and contemplating his long, well-lived life. And I shot them on the fly with a phone camera--something that would have shocked his meticulous nature.



He was a man who'd always kept himself trim and active, but his health declined and turned him into a shell of who he was. His passing was expected. His friends and family knew it was time for him to bid adieu to this world with all its wonder and pain.
The Easter egg party I wrote about recently was an incredible send-off. So many people were there who had known him for years and spent happy days at his home. Normally, he napped a lot in his final days but he sat in his wheelchair for the whole party. I like to think he absorbed all the love that filled that house.


Anyway, that's why I've been absent from the blog world and will be sporadic in the days ahead as I have many family issues to deal with. I will visit you all when I can. Thank you to the new followers and all who comment. It always means a lot to me.