Sunday, November 23, 2014

Look what showed up in my inbox . . .

Dear Ms. Solod,

My name is Sage Cooley and I am 6th grade. You met my mom, Carol Cooley who is also an author, at the VCCA in September. She gave me a book you wrote called Coyote Summer. I just finished reading it and I thought it was really inspiring. It exampled the characters personalities strongly; it almost felt like I knew them myself. I thought Jessie’s discovery was so unique. The fact that she went out of her way to save Lancelot (that's so cute by the way) and the pups to replace a bad memory is heartbreaking. I got so involved in this book I refused to go to sleep.

I used your book for my English report. I matched all the main characters with animals that fit their nature. 

Lara = Deer

Susan = Koala

Jessie = Coyote (of course)

Mrs. Silva = German Sheppard

Susan’s Dad = Bear

Daniel = Rabbit

Amanda = Dolphin

I look forward to your upcoming books and I think you’re really talented. (Thanks for the autograph in the book 😊) 

Thank you so much for the amazing story,

Sage Cooley

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Dear Sara Loewen . . .

(I have no idea why this showed back up here, when it was written a year ago. Oh, the mysteries of the internet . . .)

Why am I calling you dear?  I spoke to you for perhaps forty-five seconds at this year’s AWP conference.  You were manning the University of Alaska press table when I walked up.  I had no idea who you were, never heard of your book.  I’d attended a panel of Alaskan writers that morning and was actually there to purchase someone else’s book.  I don’t remember whose now, only that it wasn’t available and you told me I’d have to order it.  I’m sure I did, perhaps I’ve read it by now, or perhaps it’s sitting on my shelf;  in the stack of books waiting until I have more time.

But oh, my dear dear Sara Loewen.  You suggested your book, sitting on the corner of the table.  You said perhaps if I enjoyed reading about Alaska I would enjoy your book.  I liked the title, Gaining Daylight, and was taken by the subtitle Life on Two Islands.

 I spent years on an island.  I may have talked to you briefly about that.  But mostly I bought your book because you were there, and you pointed it out, and I would’ve been embarrassed not to buy it.  It would’ve felt somehow rude.  I wouldn’t have wanted someone to walk away after I’d suggested they buy my book.

I picked your book up last week, out of that pile of ‘to be gotten to’ books.  I picked it because it was small and light, because it was short essays that could be carried in my bag and read in waiting rooms.  I had no expectations.

Dear Sara Loewen,
 Your writing stuns me.  I read each essay slowly, once, and then again.  It’s been a long time since I savored a book as much as this one.  Every image is so clear, so bright.  Every word seems to be the perfect word, the only word that could possibly have been used to convey that idea, but that sentiment.  The things you write about and at the same time encompassing everything.  I don’t have the words to describe your words.  I’m not that good.

Dear, dear Sara Loewen.
 Whether you’re writing about salmon fishing, running your own skiff, substituting for second grade, whether you’re telling me about the Russians encamped on Kodiak Island, or Rose Tweed, the Bell of Kodiak during World War II, or baby humpback whales, it feels like everything you’re saying is true and right and important, and I want to know what you know, and I want to feel what you feel.  Do you know how rare this is to a reader like myself?  Do you know how good you are?

Sara Loewen, you inscribed my copy of Gaining Daylight.  You wrote “hope you visit Alaska one day soon.  You’ll love it.”

I visit Alaska.  In small, beautifully rendered, beautifully written essays.  I visit Kodiak Island and Amook Island.  I visit fish camps and beaches swept by fall winds, I visit the 1890’s Russian settlements, and the Army barracks in World War II.  I visit Rose Tweed Lake.  And it’s all because I happen to be in the right place at the right time on a snowy day in Boston.  And because of you, Sara Loewen.
Thank you.  Truly.

You can visit Alaska, too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A very roundabout review . . .

When I was in grade school my best friend was Elizabeth Holmes.  I might not have been her best friend, but I considered her mine.  I was not a kid who made a lot of friends.  Elizabeth and I wrote poetry, and traded first and second places back and forth in contests for several years.  Every year we ended up in the teachers lounge at school, as the winners of the local spelling bee, working on memorizing words in order to make regional or state champion.  Elizabeth usually went farther than I did.  She had more determination, even at that age.

 Fast-forward about thirty-five years.  I run into Elizabeth’s mother in our hometown when I’m visiting my father.  I screw my courage up (I hate asking questions to which I do not know the answers, because what if the answer is bad,) and ask her how Elizabeth is doing and where she is.  I get a phone number and an address in upstate New York.  I hate the phone, so I write. 

I tell her I was in the theater, and now I am running an Inn and cooking and that I started writing poetry again.
Not surprisingly, she is a professor.  It’s that concentration thing again.  And she writes poetry.  In fact, she has a book of poetry out.  I believe I overwhelm her with my eagerness to connect.  We don’t write again.  I buy her book of poetry.

Jump forward ten years.  I have several prize chapbooks and a book of poetry  published.  I look Elizabeth up on that amazing  new thing called the Internet.  She now has two books of poetry.

Elizabeth has married a professor of English.  I have married a professor of English.  Both of our professors are creative writers.
I write a sort of memoir of my time on the island.  Before and after this book I work on a series of middle readers for 8 to 12-year-olds.

It is 2014.  I am fifty-seven years old.  My first middle reader came out in April.  Elizabeth leaves a lovely note on my blog.  I look her up again.  She has published three middle readers.

I immediately buy her books and download them onto my Kindle.
Here’s my review for the first one:
Pretty Is by Elizabeth Holmes is one of a rare and rapidly vanishing species of middle reader, a well-rounded story told in an age-appropriate voice, a story with a plot and equally strong subplot. The characters are finely drawn and utterly believable, and there’s action, suspense, and even a moral that doesn’t sound preachy.  And yet, there are no vampires or werewolves, no epic battles, no fantasy worlds and no alternative dystopian futures.  How could it possibly interesting?

Erin and Monica are sisters, but they couldn’t be more different. Monica is one of those embarrassing older sisters who just doesn’t fit in. And Erin wants desperately to fit in, to be surrounded by a large group of friends. But the girls she used to be friends with are changing, and she’s feeling left out. And Erin knows that’s only going to get worse, as next year she will have to go to the same school with the embarrassing Monica, which will, she is sure, destroy any chance she has left of winning her old friends back. The summer starts out awfully, and goes downhill from there. No spoilers here, but through a series of events and misadventures Erin learns that not everyone has to be popular the same way, and even and older sister like Monica can turn out to be a pretty good friend when the chips are down.

Holmes captures perfectly the angst of that age, those girls on the cusp between adolescent and teen and feeling the pull of both worlds.

I don’t mean this to sound as if I have been in competition with Elizabeth Holmes my whole life.  What I’m trying to say is that I think it’s uncanny how two friends in elementary school can go such separate paths and yet windup somehow connecting at certain points all along the way.

She could always waterski better than me too.