Glimpses of Everyday Life BC (before cameras)

Those who enjoy historical novels set a century or two ago encounter young ladies busy doing their fine sewing (white sewing was never seen by callers) and music and watercolors. But we rarely see examples of the first and last.

Equally rarely do we get to see the art made by ordinary people, ones deemed at their time, and after, to be absent of genius. But I’ve always loved discovering sketches, especially from life, by ordinary people—one can see the details of life as perceived by them. Sometimes I find these more fascinating than the glam work of the genius, consciously aimed to please the generations to come.

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Why do characters…#2: Why do characters lie?


  1. The Big Lie

The Unreliable Narrator is a character who tells the reader a story which cannot be entirely trusted, or taken at face value.

The narrator might be deliberately deceptive, or they may be telling a perfectly reasonable story according to THEIR worldview, their reality, which may not be the reader’s. Perhaps they are working from a misconception because they are not privy to all the relevant information.

Basically, the unreliable narrator storytellers cannot be entirely trusted to tell YOUR truth.

Here’s a piece of homework – think of a story with an unreliable narrator. I’ll start you off. “Clockwork Orange”. “Life of Pi”. “Rebecca”. “Gone Girl”. Justine Larbalestier’s “Liar”. Quite possibly Alice, of Wonderland fame (I mean, she dreamed it ALL…) That’s a start. Cast your mind over books you have read. Add them to the list.

If you are creating your own unreliable narrator, there can be pure exhilaration in doing it, doing it well, and knowing that at some point the reader will gasp sharply when they realize that the things they have been led to believe are real and true… may not be. It is a very delicate web to weave, but when done properly it is an amazing dance between the writer and the reader, and these are books that are remembered for a long time after they are done.

There are a number of ways of doing this. The hardest one is the clue layering all the way in, right from the start, nudging the reader along inch by inch until you pull the curtain on the reveal. The dangers there are obvious.

It is possible to give too many clues, leaving the character way too open to being unmasked too early in the game.

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The News From 2Dits Farm: The Boiling Moon

The Moon of Boiling or the Sugar Moon, the time in March when the Native Americans made maple sugar, has come early this year. After a warmer, drier January than usual, we got as much snow in one week earlier this month as we often get in a whole winter. Now, just past Presidents’ Day, it’s melting fast, with daytime temps in the 40s. Fortunately, it is still below freezing at night, I say ‘fortunately’ because these above- and below-freezing swings mean the sap is running. The maple trees think it’s spring.

I was in the hardware store the other day to pick up chicken feed, and I wandered over to look at the maple sugaring display they set up every year. There’s a section of a real tree with a recirculating pump built into the back so that a trickle of water flows continuously from a metal spile, or tap, into a collecting bucket, reminding us all that one of the greatest gifts of these northern woods is there for the taking. Old sugar maples still line many of our roads, a parade of stout ancestors spaced across front yards on both sides of the street. Many people tap a few trees and boil down the sap, keeping alive one of the important wild harvests that provided a sweetener much less expensive than imported molasses or cane sugar. There are also many commercial sugarhouses all over Maine. Most people do not know that Maine ranks second only to Vermont as a producer of maple syrup in the US. Canada makes us all look like small potatoes, of course, their iconic maple industry so important to the nation’s self-image and economy that they use the tree’s leaf as their national emblem and maintain the world’s only strategic maple syrup reserve. (And while we’re on the subject, I’m talking about real, 100% maple syrup here. It is not the same thing at all as the stuff marketed as ‘pancake syrup,’ which is just white sugar syrup colored with caramel and flavored, perhaps, with a little maple extract. That’s the stuff you get if you tap a telephone pole.) Continue reading

Posted in Food and Cooking, gardening, Nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 13 Comments

Constructing the Golem

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischConstructing the Golem

by Ursula K. Le Guin

The legend of the golem varies according to the teller, but I will follow the version that tells how in a time of persecution a rabbi made a mighty giant out of mud, a golem, and wrote a sacred word on its forehead — “Truth” — that gave it life. With its frightening size and enormous strength, the golem was to defend and safeguard the Jews. But the golem was not rational, not controllable. It was a danger in itself. So the rabbi removed a single letter from the word on its forehead, which then read “Death,” and the life went out of the giant, leaving only mud. Continue reading

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A Tricoastal Woman: Where Do You Go to Church?

Henry VIIII grew up in the Bible Belt, so it’s not surprising that so many of my youthful memories are tied to religion. A certain kind of Christianity was integrated into the culture so thoroughly that it was impossible to avoid.

The public school in Friendswood, Texas, didn’t hold dances, because the two biggest churches in town – the Quakers and the Baptists – did not hold with dancing. Opposition to this policy also had religious overtones: our Episcopal Church started holding dances on a regular basis.

My parents were among those who made the dances happen, because they believed that it was important to give kids something to do to keep them from getting pregnant. (The Episcopal Church also did some sex education, a subject neglected in the public schools.) Given my experience in high school, my parents were on to something: all the girls who “had to get married” attended fundamentalist churches. Continue reading

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Lego Batman: A Brief Review

Steven Harper PiziksSaturday we all went to see the Lego Batman movie, mostly because Maksim (my youngest) wanted to see it, and partly to get out of the house on a Saturday evening.

Batman and the Joker are facing off in a self-aware Lego universe.  The Joker is upset that Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his #1 enemy, and so embarks on a master plan to destroy Lego Gotham and force Batman to admit the Joker is indeed his arch-enemy.  Meanwhile, Batman is also dealing with the ramifications of spending his life alone. Continue reading

Posted in Media, movies, Reviews | 2 Comments

Hurrah for David Levine!

Please join us in congratulating Book View Café’s own David D. Levine for his Nebula nomination.

His novel, Arabella of Mars (from Tor) is a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult SF or Fantasy novel.

Conga-rats, David! And a big Hurrah!

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In Troubled Times: Tenaciously Hopeful

Recently I’ve noticed more articles on staying grounded in joy and hope, even when surrounded by fear. Perhaps such articles have always been part of the general social media discourse and I am only now becoming sufficiently calm to notice them. But I rather think (hope!) this is a trend. In me, it certainly is. After the initial rounds of fear and trepidation, the constant adrenaline wore off. I’m not naturally a person who enjoys being fearful; from my experience training dogs, I suspect it’s not an appealing state for most of us. Some, I suppose, enjoy the “high” of confrontation, even violence, but I’m not among them. Harming others and myself is not where I want to live my life.

I see also posts affirming commitment to action, often in terms of “We Will Fight On!” and I’ve been resisting the urge to jump on that bandwagon. (Also the “Organize the Resistance” brigade.) It all sounds so necessary, a matter of putting my money where my mouth is. And is just as unrealistic for me as remaining in that state of terrified fury.

As unhealthy.

I am not objecting to others following the paths to which they are led. Resisting fascism and protecting the most vulnerable are inarguably vital to our survival as individuals, communities, and a society. I am thrilled that people have the drive and knowledge to organize such resistance. I will be right there, cheering them on. But I won’t be in the forefront.

It’s taken me a long time, coming from a family of dyed-in-the-wool organizers (labor unions, radical politics, war resistance, etc.) to come to terms with not being one of them. Undoubtedly, seeing the cost to my family played a role in my reluctance. I’ve marched in my share of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, written a gazillion letters, painted an equal number of signs. But it’s not where my heart is. I’ve seen the joy in the eyes of those for whom this is their passion, their “thing.” I want to hug them all and say, “I’m so glad you’re out there, doing this for both of us.”

The fallacy is that making the world a better place is an either/or proposition. Either I’m out there, making headlines by facilitating events of vast numbers for the people’s revolution (as an example), or I’m sitting at home, knitting while Yosemite burns. Continue reading

Posted in anxiety, Community, Health, Inspiration, Politics | 3 Comments

BVC Announces Committing Novel by Phyllis Irene Radford

Committing Novel by Phyllis Irene RadfordCommitting Novel

by Phyllis Irene Radford

People have great book ideas. Yet despite their best efforts, they find it nearly impossible to complete a single chapter. All too soon they give up, disheartened. In this slender, easy-to-use volume, Phyllis Irene Radford–author of over forty books, and editor of twenty-five books and fifteen anthologies–gently guides writers through plot structure, realistic characters, dynamic writing, organizational tools, and the publishing industry from an insider’s point of view. So, if you’ve ever thought about writing a novel, this book can help you create a dynamic beginning, conquer the muddle in the middle, and write a powerful and satisfying ending with an experienced teacher holding your hand and giving examples.

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Month of Museums #2: It’s Electrifying!

This little town where I now make my home, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Cascades, would not be the first place you would think of if you were to consider the establishment of a museum dedicated to electricity (in general) and radio (in particular) – but here it is. When I did a Literature Live event with my local indie bookstore, Village Books, for the Worldweavers books the guy from this museum, Tana Granack, turned up at the bookshop with a portable Tesla Coil and proceeded to wow everybody with a fireworks display probably never before seen by the Village Books reading room; the museum has a particular fondness for Tesla (although you’ll find him disturbingly absent from their website when it comes to their collections, even though his arch-rival Edison is there – but fear not, he is AMPLY and widely represented in the museum itself. How could he not be, the New Wizard of the West, the man who invented the 21st century…?)
This is one fascinating place. It looks fairly unprepossessing from the street, a long low building, a frontage with a couple of large glass display windows which offer up things like one of those awesome old phonographs with the huge curled tube (His Master’s Voice, anyone?), several old-fashioned radios, a bunch of antiquated and once ubiquitous vacuum tubes of the sort that used to form the guts of your TV set once upon a time.Inside, there are five unique collections which lead into one another. They are a mixture of audio-visual presentations, dioramas, more traditional discrete exhibits on shelves and in glass cases.
There’s a little bit for everybody out here – for the kids who come to learn, for the adults who come to indulge in unashamed nostalgia.You make a sharp right as you come in, straight into the The Dawn of the Electrical Age: Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries gallery. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Age of Enlightenment – the time in which electricity began to be more fully understood not as magic but as science. But it was STILL magic, this early on. This was the era of Ben Franklin and his legendary kites, Leyden Jars, experiments with static electricity. You remember the times you got zapped when you were a kid – I recall climbing down a staircase in our high-class hotel on a winter holiday, and making the mistake of reaching out for a metal banister while wearing a woollen sweater positively stuffed with static electricity. The blue-white spark that leaped between the banister and my fingers – and which HURT! – was a Mystery of Life, the spark of life itself. Dr Frankenstein had nothing on the awe and majesty of the actinic blue arc which spanned the empty space between myself and that metal tube. It was one of the most fundamental WOW moments of my childhood – it must have been because I can’t have been more than eight at the time and I still have an extremely clear mental image of this event in my mind. This museum – it just brings back that WOW moment. In SPADES. Continue reading
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