Your Life & Mine: Ironing Day

My brother Bob and I loved ironing day. On ironing day, our mother filled the laundry basket with dampened clothes. She wrestled her old wooden ironing board from its place in the closet and plugged in her iron. Then as she pressed out the wrinkles in our clothes, she told us stories.

Knights and kings, giants and witches, fairies and unicorns shimmered in the space between her board and our chairs, drawn up close. Magic grew like beanstalks above the homey scent of cotton, hot and steaming under my mother’s iron.

My mother was a tiny woman, more than a foot short of my father’s six-foot-one- inch height. Little Patty Sawyer was dark of hair and eyes, her skin was as golden as a warm day. Exceedingly bright, exceedingly shy, in love with her husband, her children, music, books, language, her piano students, her faith, her God. I’m quite sure I’m a novelist because of the words my mother spun as she smoothed away life’s small problems with the joy of her stories.

Is your family blessed with storytellers? Tell us about them.

My mother is the little girl with the book (of course) at the back of the picture. The photo was taken in 1939 when she was in fifth grade.

Blessings!
Sue

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Our May 2017 Free Book Winner!

Congratulations to Rashawn, who won our drawing for THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd!

In answer to our question about birthday presents, Rashawn said that her favorite gifts were books, and she knew she wanted to be a writer when she was still very young. Congratulations, Rashawn, please email me at sue@sueharrison.com with your address and I will send the book ASAP!

Happy Reading,
Sue

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May 2017 FREE BOOK!

This past year, my reading group selected THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd for one of our discussions. We all loved it.

From the back cover: “A triumphant story about the quest for freedom and empowerment, Sue Monk Kidd’s third novel presents the extraordinary journey of two unforgettable women: Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave in early nineteenth-century Charleston, and Sarah,[ her owner…. The novel] is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful.”

You will love this story and the ending, which is magnificent.

Our give-away copy is a new trade paperback. To have your name included in our Wednesday, May 17 drawing, just answer this question: Do you remember a birthday gift from your childhood? If so, tell us what it was.

Happy Reading!
Sue

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Your Life & Mine: Small Treasures

Once upon a time, when my husband and I were almost 22 years old and had been married nearly 3 years (Wow, that’s young.), I gave birth to our first child, a beautiful baby girl we named Koral Kristine. My doctor immediately noticed that something wasn’t “right” about our baby. She wasn’t crying normally and her fontanels seemed swollen. We learned that she’d been born with meningitis and, after a valiant and painful fight of nearly five days, our little girl took her last breath. From then until now, including all the tough times we’ve been through — fourteen very rough years of parent care, deaths of both our mothers to dementia, and the small personal heartaches everyone goes through — the loss of our daughter has been the most difficult, but God has been close, and we have been blessed with two lovely children and now two lovely granddaughters.

Perhaps you have found as I have that sometimes, during great heartache, small treasures help us get through. For me, one of those treasures was a plant friends sent for Koral’s funeral. The scientific name is Sansevieria trifasciata. It’s better known as a snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, a name I prefer not to use. I had a sweet mother-in-law. These plants are very tough and can endure a lot of abuse, but, for the first few years of its life, I asked my mom to care for it. I thought if it died, my heart would hurt a bit too much. Eventually, I took the plant to our house and was able not only to keep it alive, but to allow it to thrive.

One day about 15 years later, a February 20th, I walked through our dining room where that plant lived and a beautiful scent wafted through the air. The plant was blooming with the most glorious spike of lacy white flowers. They smelled like gardenias. The reason I know it was February 20th is because that’s Koral’s birthday.

The dedication page of my first novel, MOTHER EARTH FATHER SKY.
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Fast forward to the year 2016. For some reason my lovely plant was not doing well. I tried everything I could think of, but one by one the long green leaves died until only one was left, and the day came when that leaf fell over rootless and lay across the pot. I reminded myself that it was 44 years old, which had to be old for a plant. I told myself to let it go in peace. I even threw the leaf away. But an hour or so later, I decided to try an experiment. I dug it out of the garbage and slit the bottom of the leaf then set it in water. For weeks and weeks it just sat there, but finally, finally it grew roots! A couple months later, this bright green nub appeared.

I’m not sure I can keep it alive, but what a lovely small treasure it is to me, and a good lesson as well, in hope, in perseverance, in determination. The hope being mine and the determination and perseverance belonging to the plant!

Do you have any small treasures in your life? I’d love to hear about them.

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Dirt & Bones: The Eyes Have It

In my current novel (Working Title: HORSES OF THE WEST SUN) I write about the ancient peoples from whom so many Europeans descend. In the novel, the two groups I write about are the Volk, who have blue eyes, and the River People, who are brown-eyed. If you have European heritage, likely you have genes from one or both of these two major populations. In other words, you are a descendant of the people I’m writing about.

Recent studies at the University of Copenhagen lend serious credence to the theory that sometime between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago in the Black Sea area, one male baby was born with blue eyes. For those of you who have a scientific bent, that eye color is the result of a mutation in the HERC2 gene that effects the OCA2 (oculocutaneous albinism II) gene, which dampers the production of melanin in the iris. Participants in that University of Copenhagen study, 155 people with blue eyes from areas that ranged from Turkey to Denmark, all carried the same genetic mutation in the chromosomes that affect the color of the eyes.

My mother had dark brown eyes, and my father has blue eyes. I’m a combination of the two. Much like the photo above, my eyes are green at the edges but amber in the center. Despite not being blue-eyed, I’m probably a descendant of this OCA2 mutated individual. Anyone with blue eyes or with an ancestor who had blue eyes is probably also a descendant of this one man.

Tell me about your eyes. What color are they?

(Eye photo, public domain.)

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Our April 2017 Book Winner!

Congratulations to Nancy Rose Stec who won our April 2017 book!!

I’ll get the book to you ASAP, Nancy. Happy Reading!

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APRIL 2017 FREE BOOK!

This year for Christmas my daughter-in-law and son gave me a copy of THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL by Nadia Hashimi. My daughter-in-law had read the novel in her reading group and fell in love with it.

Set in Afghanistan, THE PEARL THAT BROKE ITS SHELL portrays the difficult life of women and girls under the rule of the Taliban. From the back cover: “Kabul, 2007: The Taliban rules the streets. With a drug-addicted father and no brothers, Rahima and her sisters can rarely leave the house or attend school.” Told alternately from the point-of-view of Rahima and her great-great grandmother, the author gives us a rare look into life one hundred years ago and life today in Afghanistan.

Many times in this novel, we are swept up into the nearly impossible dreams of the main characters, especially when they were children. To have your name included in our Wednesday, April 12 drawing, tell us something you hoped you could grow up to become when you were a child.
(I wanted to be a cowgirl!)

Happy Reading!
Sue

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Your Life and Mine: Music!

I grew up in a home where classical music was highly beloved. My mother’s brother, Wilson Sawyer, was an orchestra conductor and a composer. My mom, a classically trained pianist, became a pro at the young age of 13, when she auditioned for and was chosen to be the pianist for a touring swing and jazz band, so we also heard a lot of those great melodies from the 1940s. Mom was also a piano teacher and a church organist and pianist.

When I was about 8, I realized that music would not be my career choice. I knew I just didn’t LOVE music like other members of my family did. However, music has always been a huge joy in my life, beginning with the piano and then the flute, my two instruments of choice.

The one type of music seldom heard or appreciated in my home was country music and its close relative, blue grass, but I grew up in a country town and I married a guy who played the guitar, and somewhere along the line I realized that country music is fun!

My first stringed instrument, a gift from my husband, was a mandolin. When he gave it to me, I looked at it and made myself smile, but I was thinking, “Whatever am I going to do with this thing?” And, of course, the answer was, learn to play it!

What a joy! That little “mando” was the first of many stringed instruments for me. The instrument I’m learning now is an electric stand up base. It’s called an Omni, because it’s really a cross between a cello and base, just the right size for a short person like me! Now, please don’t get the idea that I’m a virtuoso with any musical instrument. I’m not. What I am is a learner, and that’s a perfect fit for me.

So tell us about you! What’s your favorite kind of music — or several favorites? Do you play some kind of instrument? Do you like to sing?

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Dirt & Bones: Words, Words, Words

My current manuscript (the first book of the BONE FIRE Duet) is set more than 7,000 years ago in the Wallachian Plains of Eastern Europe (now part of Romania). My main male character is Jorn the Word Singer. One of the primary decisions I had to make as I wrote about Jorn involved the words and phrases Jorn would use as his speech patterns and to convey his thoughts and view of the world.

Jorn is not only a “Word Singer” (bard) but also a warrior. He’s tough. He doesn’t hesitate to fight to get what he wants. Most of the time, in the portions of the novel told from Jorn’s point-of-view, I chose to use short phrases and also short words — “run” instead of “scamper”, “spoke” instead of “elaborated.” Of course, the kicker is that Jorn is also a bard. He composes and recites poetry to commemorate important events, to celebrate warriors, and to help his people remember their history, genealogy, and moral codes.

Jorn’s dual status as warrior and Word Singer gave me a “voice” conflict. Jorn speaks in short, tough sentences, but he’s a poet. The good news for me was that Jorn speaks an ancient language that linguists have been able to partially reconstruct — Proto-Indo-European (PIE).

Today, nearly all major European languages, plus some Middle Eastern and some Western Asian languages are descended from PIE. Fifty percent of people alive on earth speak a daughter language of PIE. If you speak English, or almost any other major European language, you’re one of the 50%.

The green book on the left in the photo above — A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages — has proven to be an invaluable research tool for me. For more than ten years, I’ve studied the contents of that green book, tracing synonyms and PIE root words. Thus, I’ve begun to learn a bit about how Jorn’s people thought. When you write novels set in ancient times, anything that gets you into the heads of the ancient people you write about is an amazing resource.

For example, when I read the many synonyms for the word “dog,” I realized that in almost all the daughter languages, those words are NOT related to one another. So I knew that dogs were named long before the PIE speakers swept through Europe, impacting indigenous cultures with their language and their DNA. That taught me two things 1) dogs had been domesticated for a long time prior to 6,000 B.C. and 2) they were so important to the ancient people of Europe that, when they were conquered and/or intermarried with PIE speakers, they still clung to their old words for that very special companion animal. That’s just one of the many gems I was able to glean from the green book.

Let’s look at the other book in the photo, The Sagas of the Icelanders. The Icelanders are one of the descendant peoples of those ancient Proto-Indo-European speakers, and one of the peoples who speak a descendant language — Icelandic. Their sagas comprise some of the oldest known literature in a PIE-descendant language. As I was developing Jorn’s voice, I read and read and read these translated sagas, which implanted a speech rhythm in my head. I decided to employ one of the Icelandic (and indeed, Scandinavian) literary devises to add word-music to Jorn’s voice.

That device is kenning. Kenning is a type of metaphor in which something is described by calling it something it is not. For example, a lazy boy might be called a coal-biter, because he prefers staying warm by the coals of the hearth rather than going out to fight or fish or hunt.

Also at the end of each Jorn chapter in the novel, I appended a short “poem” comprised of three lines, each line of a prescribed syllabic length: the first line, 2 syllables; the second 4; the third 8.

An example? After Jorn is attacked by a pack of wild dogs, that chapter ends with this paragraph and “word song.”

Jorn fell toward black unknowing sleep. His father called his name, voice broken. Jorn tried to tell him, tried to tell him–

Sing me
Songs of Word Fame.
Let me join the brave ghost warriors.

So there you have a small example of how language studies help a novelist develop a voice for a protagonist!

Which PIE daughter language(s) do you speak? Here are a few to choose from: English, Spanish, Romanian, Swedish, Dutch, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Flemish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Greek, any of the Gaelic languages… For me — English and a bit of conversational German!

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March 2017 Free Book Winner!!

Congratulations to Emma Kinnison, winner of our March 2017 Free Book, DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD by Janie Chang! In answer to our question about what country she would like to visit, Emma said her choice would be Great Britain because her ancestors were from England and Ireland!

Meanwhile, Emma, while you wait for that bucket list trip, we hope you enjoy a “visit” to China via the magic of words in Janie’s wonderful novel.

Happy Reading,
Sue

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