Author Suzanne Lilly’s blog

Suzanne Lilly2013_THThanks for stopping by my blog, Suzanne Lilly blogging as the TeacherWriter.  I’m a teacher, an author, and an avid reader. I mostly blog about books I’ve read or teaching and writing, but occasionally something else sneaks onto the screen.

On social media, you’ll find me as Suzanne Lilly. So if you’re looking for the TeacherWriter, on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, here are the places I spend the most time:

Oh, and the person blogging as Suzanne Lilly on a blogspot? Yeah, that’s not me. I’m just letting you know.

Sign up for my occasional newsletter to win prizes and find out about my new releases before anyone else. One subscriber is chosen to win a $25 gift card each time the newsletter comes out.

You can also drop me a line through my contact page. I’d love to hear from you!

 

The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett

Voyage of the Narwhal cover

Just one look at the cover of this book will give you an idea of the complexity and complications faced by the 19th century Arctic explorers. In this engrossing tale of the search for Franklin and his lost expedition, Andrea Barrett brings to the page the hidden motivations and desires that accompanied these men on their ships.

On the other hand, we get to know the women standing watch patiently at home waiting for the explorers to return safely. Andrea Barrett breathes life into these characters through her literary prose and her incredible knowledge of the era.

Erasmus Welles sets off in early summer on board the Narwhal with Ezekiel Vorhees, his friend and soon to be brother-in-law. When Ezekiel begins making unconscionable demands of the officers and crew, and goes deeper into his own personal quest, Erasmus is torn between his instinct for survival and the consequences of that survival.

The power of the ice, and the unrelenting landscape and seascape join forces to test the men beyond human limits. The Esquimaux come to their aid, but consider the explorers inferior and helpless. What Ezekiel brings back from his journeys is as cruel and shocking as can be imagined.

This book is a satisfying mix of historical fact, character development, and human psychology. The author leaves many questions unanswered, open to the interpretation of the reader. This is a serious work of fiction, a fulfilling tale of adventure and acrimony.

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout

I love being in a book club at the local library. We read books together that I might never hear about or discover without them. The February 2015 selection was The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout.

The writing is as sparse and cold as the Nebraska countryside in which the story takes place. This served to make the story even more real to me, as I read of personal tragedy and personal triumph. Swarthout’s writing style is reminiscent of Hemingway, whom the author reportedly admired.

From the very first chapter, surprises happen. I’m always in awe of the strength and stamina of our pioneer forefathers, one reason I like to write about the 1800s. Yet we seldom hear about the people who didn’t have the psychological strength to survive those harsh conditions. This story tells the tale of women who lost their mental grounding and needed to be escorted back east to their relatives or to a sanitarium.

The main character, Mary Bee Cuddy, volunteers to take the women home across the plains in the dead of winter. A degenerate criminal named Briggs joins her, not because he wants to, but because she saves him from a bizarre sort of hanging. Plus, she offers him $300 to be paid upon the safe delivery of the women. Mary leaves her homestead in the care of a neighbor, a risky gamble at best. With every move they make along the journey back home, the plot twists in unexpected ways. At one point, I was so shocked by a character’s actions that I wanted to give up the book. However, I read on to the end, and was delighted with the denouement.

After reading the book, I watched the movie. Tommy Lee Jones is the perfectly cast in his role as Briggs, as is Hilary Swank as Mary Bee. They truly bring the story to life. Here’s a trailer of the movie.

https://youtu.be/u6uQkoXKGxM

Glendon Swarthout was a prolific writer in several genres. The historical accuracy and plain good writing make this book one to add to the shelf of anyone who loves Western American Historical Fiction.

Laura Morelli, Art Historian, on Venice

I had the recent pleasure of reading and reviewing The Gondola Maker, by Laura Morelli. Her book is an enjoyable way to immerse yourself in the past culture of Venice and Italian arts. In addition to writing this historical fiction novel, Ms. Morelli has a series of travel books about Italy. They’re full of interesting facts, insider tidbits, and fabulous photography.

Morelli-Venice-cover

Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More is a handy guide to everything a shopper and traveler needs to know while visiting this city on the water.

It’s divided into sections by topic, and begins with a chapter teaching the reader how to shop in Venice. How does one know if a piece of art is authentic, and what is a fair price for various items? What questions should one ask an artisan before purchasing their wares, and what is the best way to send the new treasures home?

In addition to answering these typical questions that might arise during a Venetian shopping trip, the author gives a short art history lesson about each of the topics. For example, in the chapter on Murano lace, there is information about sixteenth century lace pattern books, and historical designs. She even goes as far as describing how the lace is made.

I found the chapter on masks fascinating, especially the section on a particular style worn by the Plague Doctor, or medico della peste. My favorite chapter is the one on paper and bookmaking, in which the author writes about the techniques used to produce marbelized paper and customized bindings. She even suggests taking a small class with an artisanal bookmaker if you wish to delve deeper into this topic. I think that’s something I’ll have to add to my bucket list.

In addition to her marvelous books, Laura Morelli has an art history blog that I highly recommend. Her articles are short and interesting anecdotes covering all sorts of things you may or may not find in her books. Reading her books and following her blog will make you feel like an expert in Italian arts.

About Laura Morelli

Laura Morelli, author photoLaura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, andMade in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.

Write Away, by Elizabeth George

Write Away coverSometimes when you take a writing course, the syllabus includes reading books that are phenomenal. Write Away, One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, by Elizabeth George is just that. Phenomenal.

This is one of the writing books that will have a special place on my writer’s craft bookshelf, shoulder to shoulder with other great books that I refer to time and again.

Elizabeth George, if you don’t know, is a bestselling author of crime novels. She lives in California, but her books are all set in England. Her chapters on setting and landscape are the best I’ve ever read. She explains her entire process of creating her English settings from beginning to end.

She maintains a chatty, friendly tone throughout. Her book makes you feel as if you’re sitting down to tea and a private lesson with a master of the craft. She doesn’t nag, she doesn’t berate. She’s encouraging, helpful, and aware that your process may be different from hers. But she gifts you with jewels of advice to take away from her table.

My favorite part of the book was her detailed description of her writing process. This topic covered several chapters, and left me wanting to know more. Her books are well-developed with intricate plots and subplots. Learning how she pulls all the threads together without dropping a stitch was enlightening and empowering.

The book is broken into sections, and each section has several chapters.

Part 1 An Overview of the Craft

What makes a great story idea? How do you make a setting seem real? How do you transform your characters from flat cardboard to flesh and blood? Here she goes into great detail about story, character, and setting.

Part 2 The Basics

do you wonder what people mean when they talk about an author’s voice? How can you make your dialogue true to life? The author writes about how to choose your story viewpoint, how to find your unique voice, and tricks to master dialogue.

Part 3 Technique

George gives advice on how to master the finer points of writing.

Part 4 Process

From baby steps to bum glue, this is the nitty-gritty of getting it done.

Part 5 Examples and Guides

This part ties everything together into an easy to access guide with references and notes.

All in all, this book is one I recommend as a worthwhile investment for writers.

If you found this post helpful, you might enjoy these other Writing Tips posts on my blog.

Happy reading and writing!

 

The Girl on a Train is a fast thrill ride

Girl on a Train coverWhat a ride! I couldn’t get off this train until I finished the entire story in one sitting. Paula Hawkins is a master at telling a story and diverting attention from the real crime and criminal.

My book club decided to read this book, and the hype about it is true. Paula Hawkins conjures the spirit of Hitchcock in this tale.

This psychological thriller is told from the viewpoints of three women, none of whom are reliable. The reader is left to piece together clues. Clues which are as unreliable as the narrators.

Rachel is an alcoholic, unemployed, divorced, young woman who rides a train to and from London each day, in an attempt to fool her flatmate into thinking she still has a job.

Anna is the woman who married Rachel’s ex-husband Tom and had his child. Anna and Tom live in a house Rachel passes by each day as she rides the train. Anna comes across as a stable, loving wife and mother, but as her story progresses, things get a little bit…weird.

Megan is a woman who has faced major tragedies in her life. She’s a bit nomadic, and has been a runaway, a waitress, owned an art gallery, and is now unemployed. Rachel also watches Megan each day as she passes by on the train.

As these women’s stories unfold, they are so entangled that it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s imagined. It’s up to the reader to try and work through all the knots, and discern what’s to be believed and what’s to be tossed.

The story is fast paced, and I absolutely could not put it down until I read the entire thing in one sitting. In the end, I was taken by surprise, but it all made sense. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a psychological thriller.

If you’re a writer, this is a perfect book to study how to develop authentic characters, and how to develop a good mystery.

The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli is a written work of art

The Gondola Maker

Don’t you just love it when you come across a book that you want to read again and again? This happened to me with Laura Morelli’s The Gondola Maker. As soon as I read the ending, I went back and reread the beginning and started over.

I came across this book through one of those ubiquitous recommendations on Amazon. It seemed a good recommendation, so I added it to my TBR wish list. A couple of weeks later, I went to Laura Morelli’s website. I like to find out a bit about the authors whose books I choose to read. She’s an art historian and an expert on Italy. I love all things Italian, so I subscribed to her newsletter.

Shortly before Christmas, she sent an offer of receiving  a signed paperback copy of The Gondola Maker for only the cost of postage. “Absolutely!” I said. “Sign me up!”

When I read a novel, if I really, really, love it, I slow down in my reading, turning each word over in my mind’s eye, delighting in turns of phrase and prose, sometimes rereading sections before moving forward. I read The Gondola Maker slowly, stretching out every stroke of the oar, floating through the Venetian waters in my mind.

The sights, the smells, the senses that Laura Morelli evokes in her book bring the world of Venice in the 1500s to life. The art and craft of the gondola is turned into a living thing in the author’s hands, taught and passed down from one generation after another. Watch the TedEd video Laura made about gondolas and their history.

 

Yet, what if someone decided to take a different path than the one ordained through his family history?

This is the story of Luca Vianello, a young man witnessing the burning of a beautifully handmade gondola in the opening scenes of the book. When tragedy strikes Luca’s family, he runs. He runs as far away from his family as he can get, changing his name and identity. He meets a woman so far out of his reach, he’s a fool to even imagine he might ever be able to have a future with her. He has a stroke of luck that brings him into touch with his past and allows him to engage in his passion and talent in boat making. He finds out that we all make mistakes, but we don’t have to let our mistakes ruin us.

The story travels a circular route through the canals of Venice, somehow ending where it began. It has just the right amount of tension to pull you through the waters and the art of the era without making you feel rushed.

I encourage you to add this book to your collection. Then pull up a comfortable chair with soft cushions, and lean back in your own personal felze to enjoy the ride with The Gondola Maker.

About Laura Morelli

Laura Morelli, author photoLaura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, andMade in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.

venetian-gondola-c1689-granger

Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster

TeacherWriter:

Kristen Lamb always has meaningful posts, and this is no exception. This New Year’s post will help you set priorities. Been there, experienced that, kept on writing! You can do it too!

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb's Blog:

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Happy New Year! 2015 is now here and it is up to us what we will do with the time each of us is allotted. We all have heard the saying, “DaVinci had the same 7 days and 24 hours.” I would actually make a different point. Folks like DaVinci, Mozart, Shakespeare actually had LESS time.

There was no electric lighting and pulling all-nighters was a good way to go blind by candlelight. Thus, I’d say the difference is that these artists lived intentionally.

We all want to know the secret to “success.” First of all, I am going to add a caveat. “Success” is a very personal thing. What is “success” for you isn’t “success” for me. Yet, study after study shows that people who write down their goals are far more likely to reach them.

Why?

We have forced our…

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