Summer’s Almost Here!

I know I said I’d be participating in a blog hop this week, but I got my dates mixed up. So stay tuned for the blog hop next week.

In the meantime, summer is fast approaching. Can you believe June is just a few days away? I spent about fifteen minutes at the beach this afternoon with my middle child, taking a quick walk before we picked up my eldest from work. The beach was a little crowded (but beautiful, as always) and I wished we could have spent more time there. The beach got me thinking of summer travel destinations. Today’s walk notwithstanding, my kids don’t generally like the beach and I have to come up with other activities during the summer. Though we spend lots of time reading, we can’t do that all the time, so I thought I’d share with you some of the websites I like to peruse when it’s time to do something fun in the summertime.

The first one is http://annettesnyder.blogspot.com. Annette’s blog is called “Fifty Authors from Fifty States” and features a different author from a different state each week. Full disclosure: Annette has invited me to participate in next week’s blog hop and I will be appearing as a sidelight on her blog in July, as one of the authors from New Jersey. Anyway, each week is a virtual tour of an author’s home or adopted state (the states proceed throughout the year in alphabetical order) and there are some amazing travel tips in many of the blog posts.

For example, did you know that Pizza Hut opened its first store in Wichita, Kansas?

Did you know that you can find the world’s largest Cheeto in Algona, Iowa?

Did you know you can learn about pigeon racing in Moline, Illinois, at the Fall Flemish Fest? If you’re not interested in pigeons, try a Belgian beer or a 12.5-inch Belgian pie while you’re there.

Visit Annette’s blog to find out what an author from your state suggests for fun.

The second one is http://www.nps.gov. This is the website for the U.S. National Park Service. Here you can find information about the national parks in all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Visiting a national park can be a very inexpensive alternative to other activities, and you’ll almost certainly learn something during your visit.

The third one is http://www.traillink.com. This is the website of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. You simply put in a zip code and it gives you a list of nearby trails for biking, walking, running, and hiking. It gives you the length of each trail and what comprises its surface (e.g., sand and asphalt or ballast and cinder). I’m planning at least one or two day trips this summer to try out some of the trails I’ve found on the site.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to visit the websites I’ve offered and maybe plan to try something new this summer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and you might find something in your own neck of the woods that you didn’t know was there.

And don’t forget to take a good book. (I have a suggestion: it’s called Secrets of Hallstead House and I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it!)

Until next week,

Amy

Read Any Good Books Lately?

I’m not going to make any excuses, but I haven’t had time this week to put up a new post for today. I could give you a play-by-play of my son’s Little League game (he stole two bases), or write about the work I had to have done on my car (it passed inspection!), or tell you about a new recipe I tried (it involved ham and pasta and it was great), but I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’ll tell you what I’m reading. It’s called Daughter of Jerusalem by Joan Wolf and so far I’m enjoying it very much. I haven’t had a lot of time to read, but I sneak in a few pages whenever I can.

Anyone else reading a good book?

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. Next week I’ll be participating in another Blog Hop, so stay tuned!

A Review: The Plum Tree

For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may remember that one of the books on my TBR (to-be-read) list was The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I’ve finished reading it and I hope you’ll read it, too.

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The Plum Tree is a beautiful story about a young woman, Christine, who lives in Germany during World War II. She is in love with a young Jewish man, the son of her employer, and the horrors of the Third Reich and pre-war Germany begin early in the story. Christine’s journey of love and loss and hope is heart-wrenching; the reader easily forgets that this is a work of historical fiction, not a memoir. The story is filled with characters and events that seem so real and so close that one is sure that there must be a real Christine out there and Ellen Marie Wiseman has somehow read her mind and put Christine’s feelings onto the page, into words that are at once touching and terrifying.

More than once I had to put the book down because I didn’t want to read what came next, like the scene where a little boy is torn from his mother’s arms upon their arrival at Dachau. More than once I gasped out loud because of my revulsion over what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, making my own children ask what in the world I was reading that was having such an effect on me. More than once I flipped ahead (I know, I know) because I couldn’t stand not knowing who would live and who would die.

But I always went back because I had to read the rest of the story.

And the story didn’t end where I expected it to. It introduced me to the shocking conditions that existed in Germany after the war ended, something I’d never thought much about. It reminded me that innocent Germans suffered, too; many of them paid a steep price simply because they were German.

If you’ve ever read Sarah’s Key, you’ve experienced the haunting feelings that linger after you’ve read the last paragraph of The Plum Tree. It’s a book that will stay with me, as I’m sure it will stay with anyone who reads it. I think it would be an excellent reading selection for a high school history or English class.

Next up from Ellen Marie Wiseman: What She Left Behind. If it’s anywhere near as good as her first book, I’ll love it.

The Genesis of an Idea

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking at Career Day for one of my kids. The students who signed up to hear my author spiel were quiet, respectful, and asked some thoughtful questions. The question I received the most was “Where do you get your ideas?”

There are as many places to find ideas for stories as there are writers who write those stories.

This is what I told the kids: I start with my setting. I find that once I decide where my story is going to take place, the ideas flow from that. My first novel takes place in the Thousand Islands; as you might imagine, there are parts of my story that could only take place on an island in the middle of a river. My second novel takes place near Charleston, South Carolina, so a plantation great house has an important role in the story. Not every writer starts with a setting, of course. Some get an idea and the setting grows out of it.

One thing I told the kids on Career Day was that some writers get ideas from reading the obituaries. They read the obits and imagine things that may have happened during the lives of the people who have just passed, whether it was someone who survived the Holocaust or someone who emigrated from Italy as a teenager or someone who spent his or her life as a singer/songwriter. The obituaries are fertile ground for vivid imaginations.

Where else do writers get their ideas? How about newspaper articles? Some writers get ideas from reading the headlines and making up their own backstories. Some read regular columns and make up corruption and intrigue that amp up the excitement. Others use stories from their own jobs; there are more than a few ex-lawyers who use real legal cases in their books. The same is true with doctors and almost any other profession you can imagine.

Ever heard of the book Cape May Court House: A Death in the Night? It’s a book by Lawrence Schiller, an investigative journalist who studied a real case from Cape May Court House, New Jersey (not far from where I live), involving a husband, a wife, their daughter, and a tragic event. Though Schiller stuck very close to the original story, there are lots of real crimes that get fictionalized by authors who are looking for a realistic story line.

The last thing I told the kids was this: ask “what if?” every chance you get. You’re driving by an abandoned house. What if a murder took place there? What if the most recent owner was a recluse? Or you see a father strike his child at a grocery store. What if that father was stressed out because his wife just left him? What if that man wasn’t the child’s father? Maybe you see two people talking on a park bench. What if they’re undercover agents? What if it’s a clandestine meeting? The possibilities are endless.

So think of a place you’d love to set a story. Read newspapers and Internet news stories and the obituaries. Ask “what if?” every once in a while. You’ll stimulate your own imagination and you might just think of something fantastic.

Where do you get your ideas? I’d love to know.

Until next week,

Amy