Discovering The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley



This week, I am reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It is another book I found at the thrift store, and I found to my delight that the writing is bold as the woman’s red hair on the cover.

Kearsley paints pictures so perfectly in my imagination that I am disconcerted when I need to put the book down.

Writing this blog post feels like a premature book review, but I need to talk about how I feel. I am fond of stories such as this, where the main character is an author; it’s fun to recognize problems in the writing process, storytelling quirks, and the determination of a writer to tell a tale.

It’s a book where the characters speak to their author. I wonder if my own characters speak to me as loudly and I do not hear. I find that, especially in the winter, it’s difficult to keep my mind clear enough to listen, in particular when I lack motivation. It must be something that comes with practice.

It breaks my heart when I find half-finished books at thrift stores. Whoever owned this copy of The Winter Sea before me read half of it and then gave up. I can tell because there’s a clean fold in the middle; the pages in the second half look fresh from a bookstore, while the first have dog-eared corners.

I’m glad to give it the love it didn’t receive from its first owner, using pencil to underline sentences I find lovely (something I would only do with a used book; I could not bear to write in a brand new novel). Some of those phrases wind up as quotes on my Instagram, because works of art should be admired, even if only a sentence out of five hundred pages.

Persistent as a cold winter breeze, the story soaks through me. It’s creeping into my list of favorite books. In it, historical fiction and romance balance like in ballet. The last time I felt this way about a book was for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, another thrift store find that someone had abandoned half-finished.

Perhaps I’m noticing a pattern. Let the half-finished books come to me: I seem to fall in love every time.

The Written World by Martin Puchner


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On the surface, The Written World looks to be a history book on the topic of literature. I discovered it was something deeper, far more delightful.

Author Martin Puchner has a love for books much like my own; this book is his journey to find the soul of literature, the source of her power, the reason she can change the world. Its reflective nature made it more powerful than a history book. Because the author included himself as the explorer, the journey feels romantic.

I have always had similar reverence for the power of reading. There is more to any book than symbols on a page; the classics, for example, have become immortal for a reason. Something about them reached into the soul of society; something about them survived, while other manuscripts vanished into history, only a few to be discovered later.

From this memoir, I gathered something I already knew: give someone the gift of literacy and they will never be helpless. Teach a child to read and you never know what they will achieve. They will discover topics that fascinate them; they’ll find their vocation, and perhaps go on to win Nobel prizes.

Of course, it suffices that they read. The power is, in the end, to read.

Once upon a time, books were expensive to own. Only the wealthy could afford to build a library. Books are more accessible now, but do people recognize their value? It is not the same to download a file off of the Internet. Books were expensive back then because of their power; let us not lose sight of that power now that they can be obtained for free.

The prices of books have changed; their value remains the same. A book can still turn the world upside-down. It was worth reading a book about books to put this into perspective. It was worth reading The Written World so that I could understand my place as a writer. It opened my eyes to the great power I have: I can read, and in doing so, I can change my world.

Walking the Unpaved Road


I know few people can travel for the sake of creativity. It isn’t the only way to overcome Writer’s Block, but it does work. I am blessed to have been able to visit lovely places and have new experiences.

It’s true that adventure, exploring the world, will do your creativity a wealth of good. Here in England, I have been brave enough to start a new novel.

There are many firsts in this novel. To start with, it’s inspired by what I see: old buildings, rides in the train, rainy weather. The first scene takes place in a train, albeit an older version. Secondly, I am not planning to make it a series. I don’t care about the length of the piece; what I want is a good story from beginning to end.

Leave your comfort zone and drink in what you see. I promise that eventually you will feel a new story growing in you, a flower pushing through hard dirt. It might take years for the seedling to see light, but if you’re patient enough, it’ll be something you love—something you want to write.

My favorite quote has always been by Vincent Van Gogh—

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

I am fascinated by Van Gogh and his very sad story. I did not expect I’d be able to see some of his work in person.

Today we visited the National Gallery in London; I saw wonderful works, including his famous paintings of the chair and the sunflowers. I obtained a copy of his letters. I want to know how he saw the world, and connect with him a bit.

Museums give me chills. It’s a shame we went too late and were not able to see all the paintings, but I am happy with what I ran into. It’s possible we might return before we leave England, but if not, I have art books at home.

Reading about art isn’t the same; books are still magical.

I am not the same person I was when I left home. When a dream comes true, something in you feels brighter. You are like the flower pushing through the dirt, except the flower has bloomed. Eventually it’ll wilt and drop seeds for new flowers, new dreams. I have grown and I know it.

If you can travel, do.

Thoughts on the Louvre


I mourn that I was unable to see all the works in the Louvre and appreciate them. It would require a lifetime studying each piece from every possible angle. I would have to make my home in the halls of the museum: each piece of art offers hours of contemplation.

I cannot live in the museum; this is the reason that art books exist, so that we can take the pieces home with us, in a sense.

However, books do not give us chills in the same way as the real works. Gazing at an original painting, we imagine the artist before his canvas, working to shade an eyelid or smile, or chiseling the look of agony on a statue’s face.

Books will not give us the same connection with the creator. Museums have this power: walking from frame to frame, statue to statue, goosebumps rise on our skin.

We feel mixed emotions. First comes hope—because such beauty is possible and can come from the human imagination, can be created by human hands.

Then follows a sense of despair, because to create such glorious pieces, we must dedicate our lives to practice. Most of us give up too easily.

But there is another despair: many of these artists had no way of predicting their work would be loved centuries later. They died in obscurity.

Does this not also give us hope? Art is not about fame, but fulfillment.

I choose to hold onto the positive feelings that gave me chills at the Louvre. My writing might seem scarce at this moment. I sense I am not doing enough to create something immortal. Fame is not the point. Perhaps my words will become famous after I have left this world.

What to do in the meanwhile? I will continue to create—because it heals me and fulfills me. I will not worry about fame.

In peace and in love, I will live a life of creating and learning.

My Own Account of London


When I first started reading books, I discovered their ability to transport the reader to different places. Between covers I have been to many locations, a good percentage of which are not real…but many that do exist somewhere on this planet. Of these I have enjoyed glimpsing between the lines.

How strange to think I am visiting these places. France? England? These were lands I knew because I read of them. For years I devoured written accounts from authors, fiction and nonfiction.

I’ve seen different versions of England, from Dickens to Rowling. Many French authors—classic and contemporary—have taken me to Paris. What a blessing to be going. I will have a chance to see these countries from my own angle; I will be able to tell readers of my own version.

I will have accounts of my own. My feet will tread cities ancient, sidewalks that have seen revolution and change. I’ll encounter buildings immortalized in beloved novels. I will have a chance to visit the graves of great authors, pray in old cathedrals, see castles.

a glimpse of a Peruvian street

As I packed, I listened to The Four Seasons and La Vie en Rose, letting the beauty of song mingle with my excitement. I have chosen Pride and Prejudice to read on the plane from San Francisco to Paris. I have daydreamed.

Oh! the stories I will write. My craft will be changed permanently. I will gather magic wandering these places so old but new to me. The stories growing in me! They might be novels or short stories, but whatever they are, they’ll be the most poignant tales of my life.

I had always thought that, if I were to see these places, I would be old and gray. No, I am blessed to see them with the energy of youth. Thanks to my mother for helping my dream come true so much earlier than I imagined. She is without a doubt the greatest and I love her.

Oh, the poems I will write. I am ready to meet the muses who helped build these great cities. I won’t have enough time to see all I want to, but there will be pictures, and the memories will stay. I won’t forget a moment of this visit—not a smell, taste, sound, flavor—I cannot forget.

Dwelling-Place of Storm


I am a poet,
Keeper of flowers
Dwelling-place of storm.

My emotions
Manifest in
Terrifying form.

I can destroy you
With my words,
Feeling no remorse,

Or I can calm you,
Fighting battles
For you at the source.

I’ve learned there is
No middle ground:
Believe me, I tried.

I am a dwelling-place
Of storm;
Friend, I never lied.

Hundred-Acre Grave


Yesterday, the blue and gray
Skies rolling overhead,
Sighing, seemed to me to say
The rivers had turned red.

Treading gentle on the grass,
I sought peace but found none.
April, she had come to pass,
Her faithful weeping done.

Musical, the ancient trees
Groaned with the bluegray sky.
Their duet, a mournful sound,
Spoke of a world awry.

One persistent hummingbird
Called, as if I could save
Her home from the fate I heard,
A hundred-acre grave.

As I trekked an ancient trail,
Trees around me died.
Had April seen her tears fail,
Longer she’d have cried.

Poetry


Bottle up your pain
In an old, glass jar.
Let it sit there for a day
‘Til it’s black as tar.

Fall down on the grass,
Find a feather there.
Take your bottle; feel the sun
Shine down on your hair.

Use the feather, trace
Feelings in the dirt.
It would be a shame to waste the
Art found in your hurt.

If a leaf falls down,
Take to it with ink.
Rinse your newly emptied jar;
Just don’t stain the sink.

Finally, you’ll breathe;
Pressure, it will fade.
This is how the realest sort
Of poetry is made.

Calluses


I am building calluses
Around my heart.
Nobody can come in
To hear my song.

She’s losing strength
Because I exposed her
To empty souls who
Did not know,

That she is a melody
Few have heard,
And she is timid.
She will hide.

I will not forsake her
Or sing her to the dark,
So I am building calluses
Around my heart.

Flowers


You were never going to see me
Among all the other flowers,
Watching idle as the strangers
Daily passed me by.

I am not unlike my sisters,
Neither am I just like them;
We are gathered as a body
Staring at the sky.

If you deign to come in closer
And, for once, get on your knees,
You might see my red is different—
Only by a hue—

Maybe if you bowed your head
And plucked me from the ground,
You could press me in a book,
A love poem for you.

The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere + Author Q&A!


Captains-Daughter-3D-trimmed-209x300I enjoy it when historical fiction books are written in different settings. So many seem to take place during the Season or inside of country houses. Though these books are enjoyable, a different setting ensures that I will remember the story.

The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere provided a new setting. A good deal of the novel takes place backstage at a theater! Before reading this book, I hadn’t pondered how playwrights enchanted their audiences. How did they produce the special effects? It was no small feat!

The novel follows two characters involved in theater. First, we meet Rosalyn who, having fled a sticky situation, finds herself alone in London. Her hope was to join her sisters in Bristol, but when she is robbed of her belongings, it becomes clear she’ll need to work to keep a roof over her head. That is when she is hired by a theater to help with the costumes.

The second character, Nate, is a soldier. Having been injured in battle, he’s waiting at home for the wound to heal. He blames the accident on having been reckless and in love, and has sworn never to fall again, convinced it only weakens the judgment. Much to my delight, his conviction wavers when he meets Rosalyn.

If you’re looking for clean, entertaining historical fiction, The Captain’s Daughter is bold and unique! I finished it in a day!

Author Jennifer Delamere was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel. She offers words of encouragement for writers like me who might see the writing process with apprehension. I’m sure they will help you, too. To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website–and read her books!


While researching, did something surprise you about the time period? Why?

I was surprised to discover that London’s Underground Railway (now generally referred to as the Tube), was the first in the world—and that it was opened in 1863! I had always thought subways were a much later invention. However, I should not have been surprised, as the Victorians were at the vanguard of so many engineering feats, from railroads to massive city sewer works. The first underground trains used steam engines, making the ride smoky, as you might imagine. They were not electrified until the early 20th century. For books two and three of this series (The Heart’s Appeal and The Artful Match), I enjoyed being able to set scenes on the London Underground.

What are some old customs you would like to see return to fashion?

I would love to see more etiquette in our dealings with one another. Today our social interactions are somewhat of a free-for-all. Although often dismissed as stuffy and constraining, I think having agreed-upon standards could actually make people more comfortable instead of less so. They would know what to do instead of wondering or feeling clueless. And I’d love to see a return of real dancing! From English reels to waltzes to the foxtrot. Very few people seem to know how to dance today, but it used to be a common pastime. Seems like it made courtship a lot more interesting, too!

As a historical fiction author, which titles would you recommend to fans of the genre?

There are too many good ones to name! And of course, it depends on reader preferences. I can recommend the website for the Historical Novel Society (historicalnovelsociety.org), where anyone looking for a great read can search the reviews by genre (romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc.) and by time period. You might even find yourself stretching a bit by choosing a novel set in a time period or place that you haven’t read about before.

Do you have words of encouragement for the author struggling through the writing process?

Yes – keep at it! Do all you can to learn more about the craft. This includes reading books on writing, attending workshops, and considering feedback from fellow authors. While doing all this, keep writing. It takes time and application of what you’re learning to really digest the information you find in other sources, and then to figure out what to keep and what to set aside. Certain things, such as good story structure, are fairly immutable. Learn those rules well before trying to break them. Other things, such as writing style or how to write your drafts (outlining vs. not outlining, for example), you can refine as you discover what works for you. Ultimately your writing process will not be exactly like anyone else’s. So embrace that! Enjoy the discovery process of how you write as well as what you write. Also remember that no one’s first draft is perfect. Even the best authors have to edit and rewrite. So don’t get discouraged. Just keep writing.

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