Monday, November 17, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Thanksgiving Books

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It has yet to be commercialized. (I sure hope I never see the day when we have a Turkey on a Shelf!) It has some of my favorite foods. It doesn’t involve candy.  And at the risk of sounding Scrooge-ish, I am so glad that no gifts are involved. Gratitude is the emphasis. So refreshing.

In light of that (and because I am woefully behind on my middle grade reading), I am posting about two of my favorite Thanksgiving books. These are both picture books, but I think they would even appeal to older kids. I’ve never been one of those parents that ban picture books or push my kids to only read “at their grade level.” I still read picture books myself. We don’t grow out of them.

The Thanksgiving Door:

I discovered this a few years ago when I was looking for some Thanksgiving read alouds for my kids. It’s a different kind of Thanksgiving story. There are no pilgrims, no Native Americans, but there is a beautiful example of hospitality and giving thanks. Ed and Ann, an elderly couple, burn their dinner and end up going down the street to a restaurant run by new immigrants. The door is open because a potato has been jammed under the door, and they are asked to join in the immigrants’ Thanksgiving. One of my favorite lines: “In old country Thanksgiving door is like a happy heart, opened up big and wide. Potato good for that,” Grandmother said. It reminds me to keep the doors of my heart open this time of year.

The Secret of Saying Thanks:

I discovered this book several years ago when my in-person critique group went to a reading by the author, Douglas Wood. He read this particular book at the reading, and I was struck by how poetic the text was. I was especially drawn to the emphasis on being thankful about nature. I bought a copy, getting it signed for my kids though they were too young to understand it at the time. Now that they’re older, they come back to it. This has gorgeous illustrations, and the secret, when you discover it at the end is poignant and beautiful.

What are you favorite Thanksgiving or holiday books? Is there something you’re particularly thankful for this year?

I won't be posting next week, due to the holiday, but to my American readers, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing about a Place You’ve Never Been

Scotland--Where I'd like to go....
Always in the past, I’ve chosen to set my novels in places where I’ve traveled, but after awhile, you run out of familiar settings. With my current project, I wanted to write about a place I wanted to go to, but haven’t traveled to yet.

Can it be done?

For a long time I thought that writing about a place you’ve never been was impossible (it completely violates the “write what you know” adage), but then I read a writing book by an author who wrote a series of books about India. He had never traveled to India, but loved the country. Of course, he did a lot of research. But he was certain the reason his books did well was that he was passionate about the culture--not because he was an expert.
I tend to agree. Writing what you love is more important than writing what you know.

So, if you’re considering writing about a place you’ve never been, here’s a few things I did to help me picture this place in order to write about it:

  1. Talk to people who’ve been there. It’s interesting how easily outsiders can characterize a place. I talked to a few people who’ve traveled to the settings in my novel and asked them about the details their impressions. This helped me include authentic details.
  2. Read travel guides. I found travel guides to the country I’m writing about invaluable. From everything from how long a particular ferry ride takes, to common expressions, to the taste of the country’s favorite soda, I learned details that will help me make sure I got things right.
  3. Watch films about my setting. (Nothing like an excuse to hang out on Netflix and/or You Tube for awhile.) I found You Tube great for movies about tourist destinations, the insides of buildings, and the countryside. Netflix was good for movies set in my country and historical documentaries. Watching a DVD series about this country’s history (although I won’t use most of the details in my novel), helped me get a better feel for the people and what has shaped them as a culture.
  4. Memoirs. These were invaluable, especially since the memoirs I read were from outsiders. (My protagonist is a tourist.) Again, the details were helpful, but also reading memoirs helped me gain a sense of place and culture.
Have you written a story set in a place you’ve never been? Do you have any tips?