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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | J.K. Rowling

Skinny Dip with Karen Blumenthal

Matzo ToffeeFavorite holiday tradition?

Food! I love to bake and holidays are the best excuse for baking! Peach cobbler for the Fourth of July, apple cake for the Jewish holidays, dozens and dozens of cookies for friends and family in December, and this killer candy that we call matzo toffee at Passover. I make a ton of it for friends and even send some to special editors. It’s the most addictive thing ever and it proves that chocolate makes everything better.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s challenge?

Mostly a teacher’s pet. I had poor eyesight and super-thick glasses and had to sit up front. But I also have strong opinions, so I’m sure I was a challenge as well.

Mexia TexasWhat’s the first book report you ever wrote?

This is embarrassing, but I don’t remember book reports in elementary school. I remember reports on a town in Texas (I chose Mexia, pronounced Me-hay-a) and other subjects, and even a report on Nixon’s trip to China, but no book reports. Maybe I blocked them out! We did do them in junior high and I got in trouble for choosing a 1934 novel by John O’Hara that the teacher deemed too old for me.

First BookDo you like to gift wrap presents?

That’s kind of a funny question. Yes, and no. Here’s why: For the last 12 or 13 years, my family has gift-wrapped books at local bookstores during the Christmas season to raise money for a literacy organization called First Book. Some years, we worked many shifts at several bookstores and some years, we worked just a handful of shifts. But nearly all of those years, we gift-wrapped on Christmas Eve, which is a crazy day when all the last-minute or visiting-from-out-of-town shoppers come in. By the middle of the season, I could hardly bear to wrap our family’s own gifts.

All together, our wrapping raised more than $20,000 for First Book. But we decided 2014 would be our last year. Our daughters, who were 12 and 14 when we started, are now grown and live on opposite coasts and we don’t get to spend much time with them.  It was a great experience though, and I’m now an excellent wrapper!

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

Hmmm. I enjoyed writing at that age, but was becoming self-conscious about it, and I had classmates—including another Karen—who were more skilled. Probably I would tell her that passion and persistence are about as important as anything and to keep at it.

ph_dinner_300What 3 children’s book authors or illustrators or editors would you like to invite to dinner?

One of the really great things about being an author is that you get to meet other authors, and even have a meal with them. So I’ve gotten to meet some of my heroes, like Russell Freedman, Steve Sheinkin, and Susan Bartoletti.

Oh, this is so hard! Beverly Cleary, for sure, because she was one of my early favorites and still is.  J.K. Rowling, because that would be amazing. And maybe John Green, because he’s so cool.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Anywhere! Really! I’ll read just about anywhere, though I prefer a chair. I read a lot at my breakfast table, but also in a comfortable chair in our den, on the bike at the gym, on planes, and when I’m waiting for an appointment. 

 

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Virginia Euwer Wolff: Considering Flaubert

by Virginia Euwer Wolff

Flaubert photo

Gustave Flaubert

For years I’ve taken primitive comfort in Gustave Flaubert‘s mid-nineteenth century remark in a letter to a friend: “Last week I spent five days writing one page.”

And Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac reminded us (Dec. 12, 2014) that Flaubert often put in a comma one day and took it out the next. Yes, sure, fine, yeah, we all do that, and we can tell the keyboard, or the cat, whoever keeps us company, that in these insertions and deletions we’re honoring Flaubert and the noble tradition. But these hours of wifty indecisiveness may instead illustrate my own inability to perceive accurately, rather than Flaubert’s lofty aesthetic.

In this same Writer’s Almanac we hear that Flaubert said this (translated from the French):

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire     universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I  was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red  sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.

We’ve all been told: Write what you know. Some of us have rolled our eyes when we hear it. A couple of decades ago, Winnie Morris  was the first author I heard say this to that: “Instead of writing what I know, I work at writing what I want to find out about.”

Ah, yes. Did Jean Craighead George know how she herself would live with wolves when she sat down to begin Julie of the Wolves? Did Tolstoy know how Kutuzov brooded? Had Jerry Pinkney ever been a majestic Serengeti lion in violent distress? We can bet that J.K. Rowling didn’t even know the Quidditch rules when she began.

My hunch: Gustave Flaubert, that man of scandalously racy mind, knew not a whit or a jot about actually being a horse or a leaf. I’m willing to guess that instead he paid scrupulous attention to things, cultivating a visceral sense of life in motion, an immersion in the drift of passionate giving and taking, using and being used, of hope, sorrow, envy, greed, kindliness, faith and faithlessness, of the plucky pulse of planet earth breathing. How else could he know about “love-drowned eyes”? And those things he had to learn about included horse and leaf. And he helped himself to them.

I think that must have been how he was able to force me to the front of my chair and cause me to plead, “Oh, no, Emma! Not him! Please, no!” Just as I want to leap from my seat and shout at Romeo in the tomb: “No! Don’t!” And to cheer Winnie Foster on as she makes her choice not to drink the water at Treegap. And every time I write “for deposit only” on a check, Dicey Tillerman comes to mind, and I thank Cynthia Voigt for letting me into that big story.

We set out to make a narrative nobody else has written. Of course it’s scary in there, that room or that cave we enter, alone, not knowing if those sounds are the voices of our story or of the forces that don’t want us to write it. As an article of faith, we pay attention. We examine the dripping walls of that cave, we find it’s the cave of our unconscious, and everything lives there: love and hate and envy and devotion and betrayal and exuberance and grief and uproarious laughter at what marvelously various fools we mortals be.

woodpecker photoJust now a female downy woodpecker is scooting up a pine tree outside my window. She doesn’t find an insect in every hole. She keeps hunting, hopping about, doing her work, going where she may never have been. I don’t expect ever to be her, but I certainly learn lessons from her tenacity, her routine of scooting, scampering, soaring.

As I’m considering Flaubert and wrestling with a recalcitrant manuscript, I’m reminded that Maurice Ravel took a year to compose the three and a half minute “Bacchanale,” the lush commotion that concludes his Daphnis et Chloé ballet. A year to move from the periphery, where it may have seemed easy, into the inviting and defiant heart of the matter.

Some faint melody, some shadowy story is waiting, just over there. Of course it’s been made before, and by wiser minds than mine. But maybe I can do it with a difference. Maybe. Make it an eighth-note just there. No, no, wait a minute: Make it two sixteenths. Yes, that’s it, exactly. No, I was wrong. Back to the eighth-note. Yes. I think.

 

 

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Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book in the Harry Potter series, came out a few months after Child #1 was born. In my sleep-deprived stupor, I didn’t notice for awhile; but it quickly became difficult to be a citizen of the world and not know about Harry Potter. Suffice to say, the […]

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