Michaeline: Rain Meditation Number Two

It’s been another week in the time of Corona, and let me pay my brief respects to US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died September 18, 2020, of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, according to National Public Radio. She was an icon for many, and is known for working through three broken ribs, gallbladder treatment and cancer during the last two years. An amazing woman, an amazing fighter, and an American heroine and role-model.

I can feel the grief from over here. People on Twitter barely could speak of her death and the causes, and my timeline was littered with cryptic profanity and little anecdotes of short and supreme sweetness. The Americans often did not say her name; they assumed we all knew. Rest in power, rest in peace, RBG.

People elsewhere in the world are also having a rough week, so I’m going to show another Rain Meditation from our farm in Japan. This was taken Friday morning. One of the five stray cats shows up in the beginning. Don’t get invested – Tabby leaves around the 10-second mark. There’s nothing to do, nothing to think. Just take care of yourself and breathe for one short minute, then go out and be kind to one another. What are you grateful for this week? Please leave some gratitude in the comments.

Jilly: Fix It With Gold

Just when you think 2020 might be getting a little better, it gets a whole lot worse. Elizabeth captured the zeitgeist perfectly in her Wednesday post, Living the Conflict Box. That’s exactly how the world feels to me every time I check out the news.

I spent much of yesterday staring at my laptop, trying to decide what to talk about today. Eventually, for reasons I hope will become apparent, I settled on the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi.

According to that fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia:

Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as kinsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

I’m not Japanese and I’ve never been to Japan, so clearly I’m not the best person to talk about this (hi, Michaeline!), but I can broach the subject and invite you to learn more. I’ve been in love with the idea ever since it was featured on BBC Four’s 2017 season celebrating all things Japanese.

Click here for an article from the BBC series, including some stunning photographs.

I’d love to own a piece of kintsugi, but it would have to be something that has personal significance for me. If I ever break a cherished vase or bowl, say a wedding present, maybe something that was bought for my husband and me by my parents (who aren’t around anymore), I’m going to see if I can find somebody who can fix it with gold.

The reason I like kintsugi so much is that it doesn’t seek to hide a fracture, or even multiple fractures. There’s no attempt to mend something that’s seriously broken by fixing the damage so that it’s invisible to the naked eye. Quite the reverse. The idea is that the breakage is an important part of the pot’s history and should not be hidden or forgotten. But if it gets fixed with care, and love, and valuable materials, the pot not only becomes usable again, it becomes differently beautiful—a celebration, a reminder, even a triumph.

I love the idea so much that I incorporated a version of it into one of the stories I’m currently writing—a novella about sibling rivalry and family fractures and reconciliation.

And I hope it doesn’t sound naïve or pretentious to say that it’s what I wish for our world. The sooner the better.

Take care, be kind, and see you next Sunday.

Jilly: A True Story, Brilliantly Told

Have you ever watched a great musician play? Wondered at the way they seem to be one with their instrument, physically and emotionally?

If you wanted to express the intensity of that connection through the medium of dance, wouldn’t it be inspired to use two dancers, one for the musician and one for the instrument? That’s what choreographer Cathy Marston did in her recent one-hour modern ballet The Cello, based on the life of renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pré.

The role of the cellist was created for British ballerina Lauren Cuthbertson; the role of her cello was created for Portuguese dancer Marcelino Sambé, and the way they move together, almost becoming the music, is breathtaking.

The storytelling is inspired. Everything centers around the cello. The instrument is the emotional link between the cellist and her husband, the celebrated conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim. Then it becomes the means to express the loss and heartbreak they suffer as du Pré develops the multiple sclerosis that cut short her career, and then her life. She died twelve years ago, aged 42.

Even if you’re not a dance fan, you might enjoy this four-minute discussion between the choreographer, the cellist who accompanies the piece, and the dancers who play du Pré, the cello, and Barenboim. They discuss the process of creating the story, including working from a selection of word prompts. Click here to watch on YouTube.

If that whetted your appetite for more, click here for a New York Times review of the ballet.

Best of all, if you’d like to watch The Cello, you can. It’s free to watch on the Royal Ballet’s Youtube channel for another 12 days. Have tissues to hand. Click here.

Sigh. Have a lovely weekend.

Take care, stay safe, and see you next week.

Jilly: Getting Away From It All

It’s a holiday weekend here. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and we’re in limbo, waiting for the corona-crisis to be resolved or at least assimilated into our post-pandemic daily lives. Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe and well.

Usually around now people in the UK get the first inkling that summer is around the corner. That promises vacation, relaxation, maybe a change of scenery, perhaps a beach read or two. Except this year relaxation is not an option, and the scenery is depressingly familiar. Mr. W and I had tickets to visit San Francisco at the end of July for RWA Nationals. We expected to meet up with California-based friends and to enjoy a civilized meander down the coast with Kay. Clearly none of that will happen. We’ll be lucky if we’re allowed to hop on a train and visit friends and family outside London.

Many of my friends have reported increased cabin fever lately, and I wonder if at least some of it is down to the loss of that holiday promise, the anticipation of a treat or just the idea, the possibility of something new. Chez Jilly we’d have shared days and weeks’ worth of fun planning our road trip, investigating possibilities online, talking to Kay about places to stay, discussing landmarks to visit, imagining food and wine we might sample. Planning a vacay is like a free holiday-before-the-holiday, with only the good bits—no budget constraints, no sunburn, and no jet lag. I think being robbed of that fantasy is almost as bad as missing out on the trip itself. Continue reading

Jilly: Silver Linings Sunday–Watch This!

Another Sunday, another week closer to the new normal, whatever that may be. I hope you and yours are safe and well, and coping with whatever the corona-challenge throws at you.

Kay asked on Thursday Watcha Watchin’? and reminded us all about the upcoming eight-part Netflix series based on Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels. I bet that will be a gorgeous, feelgood watch. Imagine the settings and the costumes, let alone the stories.

While you’re waiting, what about a different kind of eye and brain candy?

I’ve written before about National Theatre Live, the live-broadcast arm of London’s world-class National Theatre. Right now the theatre is closed, but they’re offering free (free!) streaming via YouTube of some awesome past productions that were originally filmed as part of the National Theatre Live service. The lockdown offering is called National Theatre Home. Continue reading

Michaeline: The Power of Writing

"Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases" says an old poster announcing a U.S. Public Health Service Campaign. "As Dangerous as Poison Gas Shells -- Spread of Spanish Influenza Menaces Our War Production"

It’s said that the 1918-1919 Spanish Influenza pandemic killed more people than WWI. https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/ Image via Wikimedia Commons.

I have to share this piece of writing with you. It’s a Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak. 

National Public Radio (US) has an article on how the lockdown is affecting the lives of Chinese residents.  NPR reports that families in Wenzhou (a coastal city in China) have been told to stay indoors, and only send one person out every two days to pick up groceries.

The Reddit post does so much in a relatively small space. Redditor u/mthmchris explains how he and his partner are restricted to the apartment, and how the constraints in finding ingredients and the luxury of time have contributed to better cooking. There’s a brief reverie about the degeneracy of modern cooking, that he attributes to perhaps lack of time, especially now that he’s been living through a period of deprivation (although, not starvation) for the past few weeks. And then there are the dishes he’s made.

I suppose I’ve always been morbidly curious about “Robinson Crusoe” scenarios. So, it teases my imagination – what would I do if we were locked down on our farm with a COVID-19 outbreak in town? The post moves my sympathy for people who really are in the situation, it educated me, and taught me new things about the human experience. These are the things I would love to see my fiction writing do for people. Continue reading

Michaeline: Thoughts on Writing a Modern Villain

Wizard of Oz Illustration. Dorothy consoles the Cowardly Lion with Tinman and Scarecrow looking on.

Faking it isn’t a new problem. If you think about it, almost everyone in *The Wizard of Oz* was fronting. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Hugh Laurie discusses his role as a fake space cruise captain on The Graham Norton Show (aired January 24, 2020) while promoting his new TV series, Avenue 5.

He says: “That’s right. I am a fake. The captain is actually not a proper captain. He doesn’t really know anything about space travel and isn’t even American. He has absolutely no qualifications whatsoever.

“Because the premise is that what matters is confidence, is reassurance, is – the façade is what matters rather than the technical competence. And I think that is a pretty telling statement about the world in which we live.

“That fronting things out has become a more valuable gift than actually knowing how things work. And I think that partly accounts for the great anxiety that the world now feels. That we are now bossed by people who have the confidence without . . . or at least with much much less competence than the confidence – you know what I mean.”

“I hear what you’re saying,” Graham Norton says, tugging on his ear.

There’s so much I want to say about this clip, and so little space to do it in. So let me bullet point a few things, and we can discuss it at length in the comments. Continue reading

Jeanne: Confronting My Own Racism

Butternut squashAs you’re probably aware, over the holidays the Romance Writers of America (RWA) had kind of a melt-down over the issue of racism. A prominent RWA member and former board member, Courtney Milan, received word that her membership was suspended for a year and that she could never serve on an RWA board again as punishment for posting, on her Twitter account, a criticism of a fellow author’s book which she felt to be racist.

There are lots of aspects to this issue. Milan is Chinese-American and has been instrumental in helping RWA to confront some of the bias in its policies and processes. There appear to be some irregularities in how the ethics complaint was handled and there have definitely been some inconsistencies–the punishment was retracted the next day after Milan shared her situation with her 42,000+ Twitter followers.

If you’re interested in more detail, Google “RWA Milan ” The Big G will cheerfully deliver a full day’s worth of information.

In reading through the complaint, I became painfully aware that the last book I released, The Demon’s in the Details, contained character descriptions that Ms. Milan would almost certainly find offensive. Continue reading

Nancy: Revisiting Story Brain

This week, I’m sorry to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit under the weather. While I don’t have the energy or mental focus to write a new blog post, I thought I’d share this one that I wrote two years ago, in which I discuss how stories mold our minds and attitudes, and can ultimately change the world.

How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there. Continue reading

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading