Consider the Sunflowers

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I’ll get to the A-Z Reflection post soon, but now I’d like to share a book I’ve recently read.

First, let me ask you this:  What do you know about Mennonite life and tradition?  

I didn’t know much, if anything, so this book — a 1940s-era novel about love, Mennonites, faith, & betrayal — was a great learning moment. I enjoyed it so much, I wrote one of the longest book reviews, which I will share with you below:

CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS, by Elma Schemenauer

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The author

Tina’s father wants her to follow Mennonite tradition. He also wants her to marry Roland, a rich man, but she’s in love with Frank, a half-Gypsy who doesn’t share her faith. The novel pulled me right in with an extremely visual opening scene. Tina, her father Obrom, and Roland are trapped in a snowstorm when their truck gets stuck in a ditch. This in 1940 Canada, and winters are brutal. Not far from there, however, is Frank’s farm — Frank, the half-Gypsy Tina is in love with — and after much effort the trio makes their way to the farm.

By alternating the chapters from Tina’s viewpoint to Frank’s, the author offers glimpses inside the love they share as well as the obstacles standing in their way. For example: what would Obrom do if Frank asked for Tina’s hand? Get very mad. Also, Tina wants to follow tradition Frank is not keen on following. Aware of this, he wants to break it all off, as he and Tina weren’t that good together. Too many rules, angry words, accusations.

The author does a masterful job describing time and place. When Tina moves to Vancouver to work as a secretary, we see through her perusal of the Vancouver Sun, that Hitler still threatens to invade Norway. Germany and Italy to form alliance against UK. America remains neutral but for how long?

Also, in Vancouver, Victor Graft, a carpenter, enters the story. While Tina corresponds with Victor and sees him, her heart remains with Frank, the half-Gypsy back home.

Eventually, Tina and Frank find their way back to each other when she returns to Dayspring. The author’s descriptions of place and character are beautiful, with lines like: Frank with eyes so brown. She could lose herself in those eyes, follow their promises to the ends of the earth.

Theirs is not an easy relationship, and that is what captivates. Frank is an interesting but complex character. Having lost his mother as a child, he carries a certain burden with him, a situation complicated by the fact that he’d rather associate with Scandinavian and British than Mennonites in Tina’s community.

When they do become a couple, the tension only intensifies. We see Tina struggle to accept life on Frank’s farm as she hopes that even though he doesn’t accept her faith he will change.

The author leaves us with a sense of hope, beautifully accentuated by artistic descriptions. Be sure to read the timeline at the very end. It summarizes the history of Mennonites who emigrated from Russia to North America as well as those who came from Switzerland and Germany.
I very much enjoyed reading this novel and highly recommend it.

Consider the Sunflowers can be ordered from Chapters Indigo http://tinyurl.com/nsylp5j or the publisher, Borealis Press http://tinyurl.com/lfdo9pf . E-book coming later. More information is at http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs.

Zoe Sinclair ~ A to Z Blogging Challenge

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“How much of yourself have you put into Zoe Sinclair?” I was asked in a radio interview, “As far as looks, age?”

Physically speaking, nothing. The door to my heart and thoughts, however, was thrown wide open,  the similarities endless.

I spent little time describing Zoe because actions and thoughts should do the work. I wanted someone who is completely and totally her own person. Someone flawed. She is not conventionally beautiful, yet can’t be ignored. I wanted intelligent, complicated. Intense.

A lot to ask of any character. So, how does one accomplish this?

Well, I gave Zoe the entire emotional, psychological, and moral weight of the story, since Stranger or Friend is written exclusively from her viewpoint. I didn’t want her role pushed to the background, become incidental or one-dimensional compared to other characters.

Why? First, because characters are the most important element — in my opinion — of almost all fiction. As a veracious reader myself, I respond most to compelling characters facing distinct challenges in memorable settings.

Second, the challenges ahead would break her to pieces. Intensity mattered.  In order to complete the journey, she’d have to put the pieces back together.  This story, you see, had been developing for years in the author’s mind. Now, it was Zoe’s journey; she couldn’t be bothered with small things. 

She took her seat … near the head of the coffin. The wool of the black dress on her skin irritated the heck out of her. She should’ve worn a pant suit but brought nothing black from L.A. Conforming to tradition, Zoe threw on the dress from Father’s funeral. The one she’d left behind to forget. But like unwanted company, death returned; so here she sat, back in black.

~~    Well, dear blogging friend, we laughed, moaned and groaned, but … we’ve made it.   I hope you enjoyed the behind-the-scene inspiration for my mystery novel, Stranger or Friend.   Now, a break before returning to our regular schedule.  Thank You.  Your comments this month have been like flowers on my heart. Sending all of you a great, big cyber hug!  Feel it? 

Yearning ~ A to Z Blogging Challenge

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Why do we tell stories? Why do we pound away at the keyboard, trying to express ideas, finesse them, present them to the world?  

It’s a heck of an undertaking — turning one idea into a story with the interest it must present to engage readers until The EndIf writing brings financial success, writers do it for many reasons, but why does it start, this storytelling obsession?

Going back, we know storytelling has always been a way of entertainment, passing on history, teaching. An all-inclusive art.

I would venture to say that it’s also a Yearning. The writer aches to shed thoughts. The reader yearns to be taken to different places.

Harry Potter, for example, is a story about loyalty, friendship, courage. In J.K. Rowling’s words: “I had never been so excited about an idea before. I sat and thought for hours, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real.”

One can almost hear the urgency, the yearning to tell the story of this seemingly unloved boy with no identity.

In Stranger or Friend, I had to tell the story of a woman returning home to an ailing mother. A familiar feeling to many. 

Moreover, observations from years past have stayed with me, leading to questions of trust among people from different cultures, of what happens when trust is broken. It always starts with a question, doesn’t it? 

The puzzle is what keeps the feeling alive. 

Yearning is vital.  It’s what makes us do the stuff we might not like (month-long blogging). It challenges us. Yearning keeps us going even when others think we’re nuts. Yearning asks WHY, even if the question goes nowhere or the answers are uncomfortable.

~~ I can’t thank you enough for staying with me this month. Some days, when unsure I could continue, it was our amazing camaraderie that kept me going. The last post is reserved for Zoe Sinclair of Stranger or Friend. Almost there!

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Image: artofgoodappology.com

Xabi ~ A to Z Blogging Challenge

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Bucharest, Romania, cca 1988

Inspiration comes from old places, thoughts, feelings.

I mentioned in the J post who served as inspiration behind Sebastian Herod’s Greek heritage when I wrote  Stranger or Friend.  A friend from childhood we met on a trip to Greece. A boy named Basi (Basileus). The first who made my heart  jump all those years ago. We remained friends for a long time, until, inevitably, we lost touch.

But when describing Sebastian, I had a different image in mind — another face from long ago, but one of a different memory.

Meet Gabriel, or as we called him Gabi. Second one top-left in the picture above. My very first boyfriend. I am the first one top-left. We were at a party in Bucharest, if I remember correctly, both age nineteen.

Since he is an eX boyfriend, and Xabi is close to Gabi, and I simply couldn’t think of another X word, Xabi it is.

I know, creativity is going downhill fast after twenty-four daily posts. Please forgive me. With that said, please meet Sebastian, the man modeled after Gabi, or Xabi, via description and Zoe’s internalizations:

A slim-built man, his chestnut-colored hair hanging past his neckline, looked from Mother to Zoe, a hint of curiosity playing in his eyes …

He studied her like a critic going over an image and coming away interested. Zoe pushed that crazy notion out of her mind. Nothing wrong with a man giving a woman an admiring look. She handed him the coat and looked away before she saw anything in those eyes that didn’t need seeing.

She didn’t know him. She should say no thanks and go home. But those eyes. That smile.