Threads of Realism in Fantasy: The Great Library

As regular readers of this blog know, I have put together a slide show—Threads of Realism in Fantasy—to go with my YA novel, Maya and the Book of Everything. (I recently gave my first presentation at the University of Maine at Orono.)The gist of the presentation is this: Even though my book is a fantasy that takes its heroine, Maya, across the universe, there are elements of realism to ground the novel. The story is partially set in central Maine, and I weave my Franco-American heritage into the book.

Central to Maya and the Book of Everything is a place called the Great Library. It is home to the sentient Book of Everything, which can travel through time and space. Both the Book of Everything and the Great Library definitely fall into one of my favorite categories—fantasy, fairy tales, and folderol.  But even here I used realism when I imagined what the Great Library would look like.

Because I love fairy tales so much, I immediately thought of a castle in envisioning the Great Library, and I ended up picking out two castles—one for the locale and one for the actual look. Both castles are from France. I didn’t set out to choose castles from France, but somehow I did. It must have been my Franco-American roots urging me forward.

The first castle I thought of was Mont St. Michel, which certainly looks like it comes straight from a fairy tale. I love how remote it looks and how the castle is surrounded by water when the tide is in. Mont St. Michel also happens to be in Normandy, where some of my ancestors are from.

Here is another view of Mont St. Michel.

So that was the locale I wanted.

But for the actual look of the Great Library, I wanted something more compact, something that looked a little less Gothic, a little less like a cathedral.

For this I chose the Chateau de Chaumont, which is in France’s Loire Valley.

One of the things I especially like about fantasy is that you can mix and match various aspects of realism if you want and still have a magical story. Maine, my Franco-American heritage, and two castles from France all come together in Maya and the Book of Everything.

Lucky Sunday

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny Sunday, just perfect for an outing to celebrate the fact that I, along with millions of other people, still have affordable health insurance that provides good coverage.

And where did Clif and I go? Why to Lucky Garden in Hallowell, of course. I was feeling extraordinarily lucky. And grateful.

Lucky’s was full of people, and the atmosphere was lively, even festive. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one who was relieved by the turn of events on Friday? At any rate, the food on the buffet was hot and fresh, and Clif and I had very tasty meals.

When we came out, we stood on the deck and took pictures of the Kennebec River. The ice chunks are gone. Surely spring can’t be far away?

After that, it was on to Falmouth, just outside Freeport (home of L.L. Bean) to check out the Goodwill. We had heard that it was an extra special Goodwill because it is an affluent part of Maine. Well, maybe we just hit it on an off day, but the Falmouth Goodwill is no better than Augusta’s Goodwill.

However, all was not lost. Next to Goodwill is The Book Review, one of those special bookstores that makes you want to come back again and again. As soon as we entered, I was smitten. First of all, there is that lovely smell of books. Second, there are dark wooden shelves. Third, the many comfortable chairs tucked here and there. And, finally, and most important, the books themselves, a wonderful selection that would appeal to a wide variety of readers.

I headed right toward the children’s section. While I do read novels written for adults, it seems to me that I really do prefer middle reader and young adult books. Clif and I discussed this on the way home.

“The storylines are cleaner, more direct,” he said. “Middle reader and YA books often have a clarity that’s lacking in adult books.”

Clif is right. As a reader, I place great value on clarity of writing and clean storylines. Or maybe it’s just a case of arrested development. Whatever the reason, I know I’m  not alone. Many adults, especially women, like middle reader and young adult novels, and my own Maya and the Book of Everything is developing quite a following among adults.

Naturally, I bought some books at The Book Review.

Last night, I read The Penderwicks, a middle reader book in one greedy gulp. It’s a gentle, almost old-fashioned story of four sisters and the misadventures they have on their summer vacation in the Berkshires. There are dark threads woven in—the mother has died of cancer, and Rosalind, the eldest, reflects on how she doesn’t have time or energy to nurture plants when she is so busy nurturing her sisters. (I’m paraphrasing. Jeanne Birdsall phrases it much more eloquently.) The ending is satisfying—happy, even—but realistic, too. The children don’t get everything they want.

There are several more books in the series, and I intend to read every one of them.

And when I’m back in the Falmouth area, I will definitely go to The Book Review.


A Good Night’s Sleep

Last night, I went to bed at about 11:30 p.m., and I slept straight through until nearly 8:00 a.m. without waking up once. Now for younger folks, this might not sound like much of an achievement. It might even sound a little boring.

But as I have, ahem,  reached a certain age, a full night’s sleep often eludes me.

And why did I sleep so well last night? It wasn’t because of medication—I didn’t even take a Benadryl.

Could it be because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was not repealed, and I still have affordable health insurance, at least for the moment? (With the Republican plan, it was estimated that we’d have to pay over 50 percent of our income for my health insurance. There was no way we could afford this, even if we cut out all our simple pleasures.)

Ever since Trump was elected president, I have been worrying about my health care. Simply put, I did not have a Plan B if health insurance jumped to over 50 percent of our income. And this past few weeks, when the drumbeat for repealing the ACA grew ever louder, I have been worrying even more.

But it seems the Republicans are a house divided—the proposed replacement bill was too drastic for the moderates and not draconian enough for the radicals. Hence, not enough votes to repeal the current ACA. President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill, and as Ryan noted, the ACA is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.

No wonder I slept so well!

Now, if only the Republicans would work with the Democrats to fix what is wrong with the ACA. I know some people whose insurance premiums, while not technically unaffordable, are too expensive and will not cover certain tests. The ACA was a start, not the finish, and with proper amending, these problems could be fixed.

But at least the Affordable Care Act wasn’t ditched, and maybe, just maybe, it will someday be put to rights so that the ACA benefits all who need it.

I can hope.




Abby Paige at the Franco-American Centre: Tous mes Cousins / All My Cousins

Last night Clif and I went to the Franco-American Center at the University of Maine at Orono to see Abby Paige, a terrific performer and writer.  She presented her work-in-progress Tous mes cousins / All My Cousins, an  “intimate new bilingual play about what it means to be French, to be family, to be Franco-American in French Canada, and to be fed up with Jack Kerouac.”

The talented Abby Paige

A very brief history of Franco-Americans in the United States: From the post Civil War era to the 1930s, one-third of French Canada immigrated to the United States, mostly in New England.  Impoverished and hungry, they came to work in the factories the region was so famous for. In forty years, towns went from having no French speakers to having anywhere from 25 percent to 60 percent of the population speaking French. Having so many French-speaking Catholics settle in Yankee Protestant towns brought, shall we say, a certain amount of tension. And discrimination. For those of us who are of French Canadian descent—and I am both on my mother’s and father’s side—there is a distinct feeling of not belonging, of not being French Canadian and of not being fully American.

This is an ideal, albeit uncomfortable, place for an artist to be, the rough grain of sand that produces the pearl, as the saying goes. Abby Paige, who was born and raised in Vermont, is of French Canadian descent on her mother’s side. She now lives in New Brunswick, and Tous mes cousins / All My Cousins explores the notion of not being French enough in Canada and perhaps being too French in the United States.

Abby Paige does this brilliantly, with multiple characters and their monologues—herself, a breathless teenager, an uncle, and Jack Kerouac, who both irritates and fascinates her.  Abby Paige’s transition from one character to another was seamless, and when she went from being the teenage girl to being the uncle, she was almost unrecognizable. I especially loved the uncle’s monologue, where he told of how he occasionally went to an Italian friend’s home, where spaghetti was served—a real treat as the uncle didn’t get this at home—and where there was a picture of Mussolini in the basement.

We learned from the discussion after the presentation that to many French Canadians, Franco-Americans are failures who deserted their homeland. To my way of thinking, this is a mighty strange way of looking at the situation. After all one third of the population left French Canada because conditions were too miserable for families to thrive. Abby Paige explores this dichotomy in Tous mes cousins / All My Cousins in a scene where she speaks halting French at her son’s bilingual school in Canada and endures the patient but condescending attitude of the teacher.

Tous mes cousins / All My Cousins is an impressive beginning of an exploration of not only identity but also of the history of New England and French Canada. I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished show.



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