Mermaids and daily word counts. Here's what I've been up to...
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Welcome to “The Weathervane”

     This year I decided it was time to stop bumbling around in MailChimp, the application I use to send you these newsletters, and hire somebody to design a newsletter that would be easier for me to edit and easier for you to read. And prettier, too. I hope you’ll find “The Weathervane” all that and more. Not much else has changed. I’ll still be writing on topics that I hope will be of interest to you as readers, telling you about what I’m researching or writing, and sharing what I’ve just read that I think you’ll like. I’ll also be adding a Guest Book Club review in the next issue. I invite your book club to send me an e-mail, tell me what book you loved recently—especially a book we might not have heard of—and let me know you're interested in writing a brief guest review! mermaid weathervane
     So, why the title “The Weathervane”? A few years ago, I was in New York City for a meeting with my brand new agent, and I had a couple of hours to spend before meeting the editor who would later publish my first novel. While I waited for our appointment, I decided to visit the nearby American Folk Art Museum. At the time, it was located in a narrow, tall space on West 53rd Street. There were lots of wonderful works of folk art on display—paintings, books, needlework, ceramics, mixed-media pieces, furniture—but the collection that captivated me was a series of weathervanes. Hung on the central pillar that spanned the stories of the building, these copper and zinc and iron creations, some of them finished with gold leaf, struck me as beautiful yet practical relics of a time when so many people’s work depended upon the weather. The weathervanes came in a surprisingly whimsical variety of shapes: a unicorn, a grasshopper, a donkey, two men on a steam fire engine pulled by a team of horses, a bear, a butterfly, the archangel Gabriel, and a huge weathervane of Tammany, a chief of the Delaware Indians, shot through with bullet holes by marksmen in East Branch, New York, where it stood atop a public building for seventy years. I don’t know what about them so captured my fancy, but I stood on the stairs for a long time and copied down notes from the display cards. Writers do this kind of thing. We don’t know when we’ll use something, or how, just that someday we will.
     When it came time to redesign this newsletter, I began to play around with ideas for titles, and those weathervanes came back to me. They seemed just the right metaphor for creativity, for following the wind, or pointing the way. When I went back to find my notes, what I also found was something I’d forgotten: that afternoon, I sat in the folk art museum and began brainstorming ideas for what has become my second novel. I hope I’ll be able to tell you more about that soon. I hope, too, that you’ll continue to follow The Weathervane. Please pass it on to your reading friends by clicking on the envelope icon below! 

photo credit: Mermaid weathervane at my alma mater, Dickinson College. From the college's Pinterest page.

Do You NaNo?

     November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, an international event in which aspiring writers pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a short novel—or the start of a longer one. NaNoWriMo bannerIf you make it to 50,000, you’re a “winner.” And you have the first draft of a new manuscript! According to the NaNoWriMo website, last year more than 325,000 participants from six continents joined in the fun. Since the event began in 1999, more than 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally (rather than self-) published, including Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that also provides classroom materials to teachers through its Young Writers Program; free resources to libraries, community centers, and local bookstores through its Come Write In program; and virtual writing retreats via Camp NaNoWriMo.
     I’ve been meaning to try NaNoWriMo for years. Usually, I’m already in the middle of a project, so I watch from the sidelines on Twitter, where writers tweet their progress. However, this year I decided to honor an old promise to my youngest daughter to write a novel for her and her friends. Like many NaNo participants, I’m just barely keeping my head above water—or my daily word count above the graph line that plots the course to victory. Check in with me and my fellow writers on Twitter or follow me on Facebook to hear how the rest of my month goes and whether I manage to cross the finish line on time!


Station Eleven • Emily St. John Mandel
     When I read a book that I really enjoy, I always go back and analyze it as a writer. I want to know why I enjoyed it. What did the writer do that so captivated me and made me look forward to getting back to the book the next day? Emily St. John Mandel does a lot of things right in this post-apocalyptic novel about how societies are constructed and the role stories play—from comics to Shakespeare—in their survival and their downfall.
     The premise of Station Eleven is terrifying: a fast-moving, highly fatal flu pandemic hits before quarantines can begin, and the vast majority of the world’s population is dead within weeks. Unlike end-of-the-world scenarios in other apocalyptic novels, I found this one totally, terrifyingly credible. Perhaps the most fascinating part of Station Eleven is how Mandel answers the question, what happens next? Because some people do survive. What will the world become now? Her imagined new societies are often surprising but always believable. But that’s not all that fascinated me about this “breakout” fourth novel by a writer finally getting the attention she deserves. A good portion of Station Eleven takes place before what is known as “the collapse,” beginning with a beautifully-rendered opening reminiscent of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, which takes place in Toronto during a final production of King Lear on a blue-lit stage spangled in plastic snow. Another portion of the novel—not separate, but interspersed with the first—takes place twenty years later, when there is “no more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights. No more porch lights with moths fluttering on summer nights. No more trains running under the surface of cities on the dazzling power of the electric third rail. No more cities.” A traveling caravan of musicians and actors brings productions of Shakespeare to the outposts of human civilization that have coalesced, the most important of them—to the novel, at least—in the Severn City airport, where a hundred or so uninfected, stranded travelers now live.
     So, from a writer’s perspective, what makes this novel so much fun to read, beyond Mandel’s imagination of a new, struggling civilization? It includes several mysteries, with little hints and revelations along the way that entice more than resolve; characters who could be us; and big questions looming just beyond the text, like: Would it be better to die or to survive? and How would I behave in such a situation? Station Eleven has its flaws, including a jumpy sequence of events that sometimes doesn’t serve the story. But it’s a compelling read and one guaranteed to raise difficult and interesting questions.


A mother’s choices in a time of crisis threaten the one person she means to protect—her only daughter—and force her to make the boldest move of her life.
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The year is 1889—a boom time for American industry, fortunes and scientific discovery. Yet in New York City, thousands of babies are dying from the simplest of causes: spoiled milk. It’s a tragedy that Hattie Paige cannot abide. An overeducated young woman with a Vassar degree and a position teaching chemistry at an elite school for girls, Hattie determines to solve the “milk problem” herself. But book knowledge alone won’t ensure her success. She will have to enter into a new world far from the sheltered mansions of her youth, where testing her hunches requires risks she has never taken before, and the consequences of being wrong are greater than she can imagine.
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Copyright © 2015 author, A Violet Season, All rights reserved.

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