Thursday, April 30, 2015

Favorite Reads of March and April

"Tea and a Book" was great fun, but it will go on hiatus for a bit. In its place I'll share a brief list of interesting reads for each month. Obviously I am playing catch-up with a two month report, but it's still rather short. (which distresses me!)

How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life, by Ruth Goodman. A wonderful resource for reenactors or writers of historical fiction, this book is written in such an engaging way that anyone with a passing interest in the period would find it a fascinating read. Goodman is a reenactor who has participated in the BBC's Victorian Farm and Victorian Pharmacy. Learn more by reading this New York Times review.

August Folly, by Angela Thirkell. I've been devouring every Thirkell novel I can get my hands on, and this one seemed quite promising with its "village puts on a Greek play" premise. Though it had a slow start with characters behaving in tedious ways, soon enough the humor broke through and interesting things began to happen. Not my favorite Thirkell, but still quite good.

Impossible, by Nancy Werlin. I'm not usually one for fairy stories, but this clever tale inspired by Scarborough Fair makes an outlandish situation very gripping with its deft characterization. Highly recommended!

The Mirk and Midnight Hour, by Jane Nickerson. A unique and atmospheric Southern Gothic inspired by the Ballad of Tam Lin. I've never read anything quite like this book, and I look forward to more from Nickerson.

These were my favorites from the last couple of months -- I sincerely hope to ramp up my reading in May. Any recommendations?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]

Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Favorites: Writing Retreats

A couple of days ago I returned from a seven night Kindling Words West retreat in Marble Falls, TX. The Retreat at Balcones Springs offered cozy cabins and beautiful scenery, and our workshop leaders Nancy Werlin and Karen Romano Young provided guidance on how to find "unseen visuals" in our stories that could help transform our writing.

The goal for our morning workshops was to work on visual poems and other graphic representations of our stories, but Nancy and Karen encouraged us to follow our own path as much as we liked. As it turned out, I got caught up in this (not great) watercolor painting. I started with a random tree, added to it each day, and ended up understanding so much more about my protagonist and her relationship with nature. (Also, I got to live inside her brain in a new way, for she is an artist who works with pencil and watercolor.)

The bulk of each day was spent in silent retreat, and this was my main work station from 10am-5pm. Working on a bed is a little unorthodox, I know, but it turned out to be a good shift for my brain and body. (And strangely enough, I never napped!)

We didn't spend all our time working. Each morning we had the option of yoga, and during the day there were always opportunities for long walks. We encountered bluebonnets and other wildflowers, live oak and mesquite trees, insects, snakes, lizards, and for one group, a herd of wild boars! I really, really need to remember that when I'm blocked, a good walk can shake things up nicely. (I'll steer clear of the boars, however.)

I so appreciated all the time for writing (without the usual distractions), and I treasured the opportunities for communion with other writers. You artistic types out there -- give yourself the gift of a retreat! It doesn't have to be Kindling Words (though I strongly recommend it). You could take a day alone, or gather with friends for a weekend or longer. No matter how or with whom you arrange it, I really urge you to set aside silent work time.

For those who make a regular habit of retreating, what sort of activities, formats, locations, etc., inspired you?

[Cross-posted at Livejournal]