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Monday, April 22, 2013

Don't be afraid of big bad grammar

I was recently invited to write a little piece on grammar for Christine Schimpf’sblog.  Chris has taken my Creative Writing class for the past few years. I had the privilege, week by week, of watching the birth and growth of her fascinating book Nick, the Journey of a Lifetime. Here’s what I wrote for a future post on her blog:

After teaching English and writing for decades, and after edited hundreds of manuscripts, this is what I think: people are way too scared of grammar. They should pay more attention to usage.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Virtual book tour: Christine Schimpf tells an immigrant's true story

I’d like to share an interview with Christine Schimpf, my writing student and friend, who recently published her book Nick, the Journey of a Lifetime. It’s no secret to any reader of my blog that I love all things ethnic. How could I not love a story like Nick’s?

Christine Schimpf at a book signing
Gail: Tell me about your book, Chris.

Chris: What I have heard the most about my book, from those who have read it, was “It was hard to put down.” The story begins with an aerial view of the village of Calma, Yugoslavia, formerly the Austrian-Hungary Empire. The reader enters the world of a small ethnic group of people known as Donauschwabens. Soon the reader is walking in the shoes of the Nicholas Russ. He’s a young man working a carpentry apprenticeship. The coins in his pocket are jingling as he walks down the cobblestone walk, making his way to local Gausthaus to meet up with his favorite girl Theresa.

Gail: Interesting background. How does the story take off?

Chris: Well, the reader soon discovers that Nick has a bit of a problem. He finds out that his sweetheart, Theresa, has been promised to a butcher in the next village. Now, this is not that unusual given the time period. Parents often arranged marriages for their offspring to benefit not only their child, but themselves as well. In this case, an alliance with a butcher would be welcoming, as meat was a scarce commodity. Unfortunately, this arrangement is not what Nick had in mind, so he does what any man in love would do.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"42" - We didn't want it to end

My husband and I loved "42." As we walked out of the theatre, I told him "I heard that music getting louder and I thought, Oh no, it can't be ending."

Mike said, "That's exactly how I felt. I didn't want it to end."

This was a first for us.

"Warm Bodies" - warm fun!

I'm belatedly reviewing the movie "Warm Bodies" because it deserves note.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why do we keep reading about the Holocaust?

Anne Frank
I just finished reading Night by Elie Wiesel. It's a small book, a bit over 100 pages long. It kicked me in the gut. It tells the story of a teenage boy, Elie Wiesel, who loses his family - and his faith -when humans demonstrate their inhumanity in the Jewish ghetto and in the concentration camps.

By coincidence, just before I read Night, I read the two graphic novels in the Maus series by Art Spiegelman. Like Wiesel, Spiegelman records one tale after another that breaks my heart.

I've read so many books about the Holocaust. Why do I keep reading them? Why do I keep them on my bookshelf instead of giving them away?
Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eight reasons book clubs are fun

I just got home from my second book club appearance as an author.

From these two book club visits, I have learned these things about book clubs:

Monday, April 8, 2013

An Emerging Miracle in the Middle East

Just below is an article written by my friend, James F. Palka, with big news for Tucson - and for all of us. This Palestinian/Israeli peace project reminds me of the Ulster Project that I am part of - in which Catholic and Protestant teens visit Milwaukee during the whole month of July to play, party, pray and serve together, then return to Belfast with an understanding of each others' humanity. If they can make peace in Northern Ireland, they can make peace in the Middle East.... Here is Jim's article:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"On the Road" movie - I went for Jack

I fell in love with Jack Kerouac a dozen years after he died.

I'd been an English major in college, and I smugly figured I certainly had "met" all the American writers. Then a friend of my brother's said, "You should try reading Jack Kerouac." The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I had never read the man.

I found a copy of Jack's Big Sur in my hometown Menomonee Falls library, and was instantly hooked. I loved the way Jack wrote from the heart. I admired the way he captured an era. Those are my goals as a writer.

I barrelled through Kerouac's books one after the other during the next several years. My husband, Mike, became a Kerouackian also. We traveled to Quebec in 1987 to participate in an amazing Kerouac conference that celebrated Jack's French-Canadian roots. We also went to a couple of the annual "Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!" conferences in Jack's Massachusetts hometown. We were there for the 1988 opening of Kerouac park. I got to shake Stella Kerouac's hand and say to her, "Thank you for taking care of Jack." She was a tiny old lady. She shook my hand and smiled.

When you say "Kerouac" to most people, they say, "Oh yeah, On the Road." It's his most famous book and represents a parting-of-the-sea moment in American literature and, one might argue, in American culture as well. On the Road is a rambling account of cross-country travels with a wild bunch of people who do not fit in with post-WWII conformity. On the Road is not my favorite of Kerouac's books. I prefer his more quiet and personal novels Dr. Sax, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, and Visions of Gerard.

The movie version of On the Road just came to Milwaukee. I almost didn't go after I learned that Kristen Stewart had a lead role - I tired quickly of her bored look in the "Twilight" movies, although I did like her as Joan Jett.

I was also discouraged from seeing the movie when I read a scathing review of the film - to the effect that the movie captured all of the dissipation and none of the joy of the book, and that the film went nowhere. After seeing the movie, I agree with that assessment, but I'm still glad I went. I went for Jack, who so longed for the movie to be made.