Category Archives: writing

The Loudest Minds

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Yesterday, as I was bringing my kids home from piano, I entered into a line of cars that were stopped at a stoplight.

While we waited for the light to turn, I started thinking. I was thinking about the canyon in Utah between Heber City and Provo. I was wondering if there were very many deer that crossed that highway and if it was dangerous for drivers. But, I reasoned, there are a lot of deer here in North Carolina, so it wouldn’t be any more dangerous than driving to my own home. What would really be dangerous would be a moose. We don’t have those in North Carolina. Or an elk! After all, elk are big and have pointed antlers. But I have heard that moose are meaner. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that bears hibernate in the winter, so if I were to go snowshoeing (which I love to do) I would not have to worry about a bear. But a moose! Yes, I would definitely have to worry about a moose. And if I were out by myself, in snowshoes, and a moose charged me, what would I do? Ring a moose-bell?  I guess I would try to hide behind the nearest tree. But what if the tree was too small and the moose was able to to reach around it with his antlers? I guess I would have to climb the tree. But I would first have to take off my snowshoes. I wonder how long that would take? Would it take longer to remove the shoes and climb the tree, or try to climb the tree with my shoes on? I would probably have time to get one snowshoe off and then start climbing. But seriously, I am almost forty years old…would I even be able to climb the tree? I might pull a lot of muscles. But what are a few pulled muscles compared internal bleeding wounds from the blunt moose antlers?  What would most likely happen would be that my one foot with the snowshoe would get wedged as I was halfway up the tree, and as the moose started ramming the tree I would lose my grip and then be swinging there, my hair brushing the snow, looking at the moose from a unadventagious perspective, watching it as it pawed the ground, getting ready for what every moose knows as The Final Death Ram.

By now my heart is racing. But then I blink and I realize that I am not on a snowy hillside hanging upside down about to be killed by a moose. I am in my car. My kids are in the back seat. I am still waiting at a stoplight that is now green and all of the other cars in front of me have left. And I am holding on really, really tight to the steering wheel.

Later that day my mother-in-law called me to tell me she read my book, The Last Messenger. “How do you come up with stuff like this?”she asked. I thought of telling her the moose story, but I didn’t want to confuse her.

There is a quote that I love. It is:

Quiet people have the loudest minds.

I originally thought this was said by Stephen King. When I looked it up I found it was said by Stephen Hawkins, which makes me wonder who stole it from whom?  It doesn’t matter because with either Stephen the noise level must be deafening.

While I’m not exactly shy, I do have far too much going on in my brain. It is why I can’t go to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow like my husband (not that he isn’t a thinker. He is. But his thoughts are in numbers which I believe are more obediently put to bed. I haven’t had a number in my head for years.) It is also the reason I worry about things that will never happen and why I had many inner anxieties as a child.

I read once that when you have a child with a lot of anxiety issues, and you have to take them to see a doctor, you should reassure them that they are not going because they are crazy but because they have an incredible imagination, and that the doctor is going to help them organize all the monsters and scary stuff (and moose) so they all stay in the proper places.

I wish someone would have told me that, because I thought I was crazy for a very long time. But it doesn’t matter, because I have learned what to do with all of my thoughts. I have found a way to tame them, organize them, and make them mind me.

I do it by writing.

I make grand, wonderful stories out of them…stories that are too fantastic to ever be true.

It is quite freeing. It also makes me grateful for challenges, because when we understand them, and learn how to turn them into strengths, they can do wonderful things for us.

But I am not sure what a police officer would think if I’m ever stuck at a North Carolina traffic light for too long and I tell him it was because of the moose.

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Writing Without Regret

Today is the release day of my second book, and according to all marketing logic, this is the day I should be posting some big announcement about how awesome my book is and how you need to buy it because it will forever change your life. I should be smothering you with photos of me opening up my newly minted novels, saying things like “here is my sixth baby!” while I lift up the book, pose, and give it a kiss for the cameras.

But today I am going to break all rules of book promotion and tell you that as great as I think my book is, it is not why I breathe. It  does not hold my hand, it does not sing silly songs, nor make me cry, nor make me laugh. It does not crawl in bed with me early in the morning and commandeer the sweet spot between me and my spouse. Besides, I have always been uncomfortable when people kiss inanimate objects like trophies, medals and books, because I don’t kiss things. I kiss people.

A person in the United States can expect to live about 80 years. Raising a child takes 18 of those years. But they are really only a “child” for 12 years, and they are only a young child for five years. So out of the 80 years I will be alive, I have only five years to mother this young child. Five years out of 80 does not seem like much time.

Here is another way to look at it:

It is always tragic when a child dies, but in a way, all children die. They die every year, at every age. I adored Naomi as a three-year-old. She was so spunky and fun and quirky. She and I would dance to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue until I would collapse on the couch and she would tug at my arm to get me to stand up and dance again. (Rhapsody in Blue is a long song.) But the other day Naomi (now age 9) and I were in the car when we heard Rhapsody in Blue come over the radio. I asked her if she recognized the song. She said no. I reminded her that it was the song we used to dance to over and over. And over. She smiled but she could not remember. My three-year-old Naomi had vanished.

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But now I have a 9-year-old Naomi, and she bounces around the house singing jingles. Anytime anyone says anything she makes up a jingle on the spot. When she finishes she says “Woot!Woot!”, makes two kissing sounds, and then strikes a pose. In her spare time she goes out to the garden and belts out Broadway songs to the tomatoes to help them grow. She doesn’t even eat tomatoes. I’m pretty sure she won’t be doing these things when she’s 13. How sad will that be!

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But when she is 13 she will be doing something else interesting . . . and on and on. So there is loss, but there is also such great discovery! How wonderful children are! Yet how fleeting!

It was always the great dream of my heart to have a family. But hearts do have room for more than one dream, and when I got the idea for my first book I knew that it had to be written down, and I had to be the one to do it.

So I started writing, and right away my imagination took me to places that were far more interesting and exciting than laundry, sweeping, diapers, repeat. My mind was electrified with ideas–ideas that turned doing the dishes into brainstorming sessions and vacuuming into opportunities to solve plot dilemmas. Everything around me was punctuated with meaning and symbolism, from the feathers of a bird to the perfect swirl of hair at the back of my baby’s head. I certainly knew my life had “meaning” as a mother, but now I had a dazzling new purpose. I had become an idea volcano. If someone had hooked up a brain scanner to my head during those first few years of writing I’m sure the machine would have exploded.

Mothers need kids. But mothers also need something to keep their minds from petrifying. My antidote was writing, and wow, was it effective. I could easily sit in my room and write for hours a day, oblivious to the world, and I would be as happy as bear at a boy scout jamboree. It was my husband who stepped in and made me realize that my writing had become my drug. He reminded me that the real stories are happening outside my bedroom door. And if I am sitting in here typing away while they are out there, I will not be in their stories.

Scccrreeeach, went the brakes.

After that I restructured my writing schedule. I did everything I could to not write when my kids were around. I wrote early in the morning, while they were at school, and while they watched tv. I sacrificed my free time, not theirs, and I never wrote on Sunday.

What this means is, my progress was very, very slow.

But that was okay, because I was consistent. And ultimately it all worked in my favor. You see, I always got interrupted before I could conclude my writing sessions, so during dull moments (folding clothes, driving, loading the dishwasher) I would re-work the scene in my mind, and in the meantime my kids were constantly giving me new ideas to spice it up. It was the perfect writing environment: I was surrounded by inspiration yet I was kept away from my computer. Then, when I was finally able to get back on my computer the ideas poured from my fingers like Niagara Falls.

And now I have two books and five kids and I don’t have regrets about the time I spent because I did everything I could to put my kids first. I didn’t let writing bewitch me into slicing away time from my kids. I was part of their stories, just as they were part of mine. Plus, they had a mom who was energized and happy because she was in the midst of creating something extraordinary. And when Mom has a skip in her step and a sparkle in her eye, the kids are the first beneficiaries.

I went to LDStorymakers conference last spring. It was bigger than I expected. There were 700 writers there! Who knew that many Mormons liked to write? The conference chairperson was Jenny Proctor, author of several books and mother of six kids.  I was not acquainted with her and wanted to introduce myself (since we are both from North Carolina), so after the opening ceremonies, as people drained from the room to go to their classes, I followed her, waiting for my chance.  As she was finishing up her conversation with the conference photographer, I couldn’t help overhearing what she was saying.

“I want you to take a picture of me when I am up at the podium. Only, I want you to take a photo of me from behind so that you can see me and the audience. I really want to my kids to see what I do. I want them to see how big this is.”

She didn’t say “I want to post this on Facebook so people will see what I do and how big this is,” or “I want to post this on my blog so people can see what I do and how big this is” but she wanted to show her kids. Because kids trump everything.

My favorite characters are not the ones who live in my head, but the ones who live in my home, and my favorite stories are the stories they are making for themselves. They constantly surprise me with their plot twists and cliff-hanger endings, their unpredictable, entertaining, laugh-out-loud fun. I want to keep turning the pages of their stories for as long as I live. They are books I never get sick of (though they DO make me tired) and books I want to keep reading over and over again.

When you have the opportunity to choose between your child or your muse, always choose the child.

Okay, I’ve said enough. Buy my book if you want. It really is good, and it gave me a lot of joy to write it. But if I accomplish anything of importance in my life it will not be writing novels. That is why you will never see me kiss my books, and you will never hear me call my book “my sixth baby” because my baby are sacred words, reserved only for the choicest people I know, with whom I have the privilege of sharing my home, my life and all my stories.

 

 

 

 

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The Last Messenger: FAQs

It is one month until my book The Last Messenger of Zitol will be released. I’ve been getting questions from people about the book so I thought it was time to make sure everyone knew what was up. Here is are my best answers to the most frequently asked questions:

I ordered the book a month ago, why hasn’t it come?

Because you are an early bird! The official release date is September 13th. You will probably get the book earlier than that if you pre-ordered it, but probably not until at least Aug 30. (And you can still pre-order! If you order today you will get a 19% discount!)

On Goodreads I see that some people have already read the book and posted reviews. How can that be if the book hasn’t been released yet?

During the editing process I sent out some Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) to a limited number of people to give it an early review. Some of these people I knew, and some were complete strangers. These copies were not proofread yet, and not ready to be seen by a wide audience, but they helped give me an idea of what the response will be to the book. You can check out their reviews on Goodreads here.

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Can I order it now?

Yes! click here. It will be delivered around the release date, Sept 13.

What is your target audience?

Anyone who enjoys reading Young Adult fiction. People who will particularly enjoy it are: teenage girls, teenage boys, anyone who has ever been in love, anyone who has looked up at the stars, anyone who has paddled a canoe in the ocean, and anyone who loves chocolate. I would definitely recommend this book for mother/daughter book clubs.

Is this book a sequel to your first book The Cenote?

Nope. But, like The Cenote, this book was inspired by the Aztec and Maya cultures of ancient Mexico. The setting for The Cenote was a small village, but The Last Messenger takes place in a dazzling ancient American city at the pinnacle of its prosperity.

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Is this book an allegorical novel like The Cenote?

Yes and no. The main message of this book is a little more obvious than the more covert message of The Cenote, but I love books that take some deciphering, so I included plenty of allegories, metaphors and symbolism for you to savor and mull over.

Tell me what the book is about in one sentence.

This book is a young adult romance/adventure/coming-of-age-story about a girl who is kidnapped and taken away to a faraway city to be sacrificed to the gods.

What point of view is the story told in? 

The story is told in 1st person, from the perspective of a selfish prince.

Will there be a party? 

Yes! There will be a party/book-signing in September here in Hillsborough, NC. More info TBA.

That is all I can think of for now. Did you have a question I didn’t answer? Ask it in the comments and I will get back with you asap!

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Giveaway! Contest! Win! Win!

Hi everyone! Over the next two weeks I will be having a Goodreads Giveaway! (For real, this time!)

Five lucky people will receive a FREE, SIGNED copy of The Cenote, no strings attached. All you have to do is click on “Enter Giveaway” in the widget below and follow the instructions. That is it!

After June 4 five random winners will be selected and I will mail you a signed copy of The Cenote. But wait–you already have a copy? No problem! Just forward this to a friend or family member so they can enter the contest.

This is the first giveaway I’ve done (sorry it took so long!) and if goes well there will be an even BIGGER giveaway for my next book, The Last Messenger of Zitol when it comes out in September. So stay tuned!! Everybody loves free books!

(Have I told you The Cenote is a great bookclub book? I’m about to go to visit my fifth bookclub for this book next month!!)

 Goodreads Book Giveaway
The Cenote by Chelsea Dyreng

The Cenote

by Chelsea Dyreng

Giveaway ends June 04, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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Cover Reveal: The Last Messenger of Zitol

So remember when I told you that it took me five years to write The Cenote?

Well, I lied.

I actually was writing two books. This is the other.

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I could’t be more thrilled to share this book with you. This is a young adult novel about a girl who is kidnapped from her island and taken to the land of her ancestors where she is forced to choose between retaining her virtue or preserving her life.

I wrote this book because I was tired of going to the bookstore and seeing all the latest YA books about teenagers giving up their virtue. I wanted to write a book about a young woman who was determined to keep hers, no matter what.

I will be updating my blog over the next few months to let you know when you can pre-order The Last Messenger. Until then we are just going to have to wait. You and I both!

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In Case You Missed It

This last week members of the Moonlight Bookreaders Guild helped me throw a book launch party for THE CENOTE. I had a lot of friends and family that couldn’t come (because of 2000 miles) so just in case you missed it, here are all the details!
I am so grateful to Angie, Erin, Nicole, M’Liss, Anson and especially Scott for making this all happen. Great people and great memories!
And I am especially grateful to the surprise V.I.P. who showed up at the last minute. You’ll have to scroll down to see who it was. 🙂
Thanks for reading everyone! I am so glad so many people are enjoying Lark and Sandpiper’s story.

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Everyone was given a “cenote name” that was later used for a drawing for chocolate and a free book.

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The only beverage I was planning on serving was water with limes, but  for some people that wasn’t enough so they had to bring their own drinks.

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Then, a couple days later, we had another magical evening at the Dorrance’s home in Chapel Hill.

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Everyone taking the “Which foods are native to America” quiz

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Here she is, the VIP and most honored guest of the evening. I am so glad that MY MOM was able to come out to see me and celebrate this exciting time with us. I only found out she was coming the DAY BEFORE. Someday I hope to be as cool as my mom.

 

 

 

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My Path To Publication: The Cenote

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It is September, 2010.

I am standing at my sink washing the dishes, thinking about two things: a good friend with a troubled marriage, and a National Geographic article about Mexican cenotes (say-no-tays). While these two unconnected ideas are swirling around in my head I am also listening to my daughters playing upstairs (women can think of many things at one time, research shows). “Let’s pretend that these people can hear something, but these people can’t,” I hear them say. Suddenly, deep inside my brain there is a brilliant flash of light. I have an idea!

October: I type out a few sentences. Then a first chapter of sorts. I read it to my little sis over the phone. She says, You are going to change the world! Which is exactly what sisters are supposed to say.

October-December 2010: I check out and read every book about Maya and Aztec people that I can find from my library. I read a lot. I take notes. I start writing.

Christmas 2010: Husband gives me my first laptop. He might as well have given me my very own rocket.  I blast off.

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Jan-June 2011: I write. I write. I write.

Summer 2011: Kids are home from school. Writing stops.

September 2011: Kids start school. Writing resumes during the baby’s naps.

January 2012: Finish Draft 3, I print it out for the first time. I revise like mad. I am obsessed, burning the candle at both ends of the night. I never sleep. I’m never tired. I never have any “writer’s block” either, only floods of inspiration flowing from my brain and out of my fingertips like beams of light as they dance over the keys. I write, I write, I am like lightning. I am like thunder. I am a blazing chariot of writing fire!!

January 24: Not one friend remembers my birthday. I acknowledge that it is a direct result of the hermit-life I have created for myself.

Later in January 2012: Husband says, “Who is more important, here? Me or the book?” The chariot of writing comes to a screeching halt.

Husband and I pow-pow. A plan is formed: he makes breakfast in the morning, and I never write at night.  We kiss on it. All is well. But now I realize a dilemma: No one will ever believe my story unless I go to Mexico myself and research. Don’t you want to go to Mexico and swim around in a cenote, Husband? Husband says no.

February 2012: I receive an email from my aunt, addressed to all of her nieces. It reads:

Aging aunt seeks short term female traveling companion in the time period of March 2-9, 2012 in Merida, Mexico. Will provide lodging and all the fresh fruit smoothies you can drink. Must be able to walk 8 miles a day, endure temperatures of 80+ degrees daily and be willing to immerse yourself in the climate, culture and customs of Mexico. Inquire or respond immediately.

Coincidence? I think not.

March  2012: I go to Mexico with my sister to visit my aunt. She takes us to temples, ruins, pyramids, lost cities, jungles and three cenotes. I savor every moment. I write down every detail. I swim in a cenote.

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March-May: Added details from research in Mexico. My book is “finished,” but I keep working on it anyway.

June: School’s out. Writing stops. Instead I do research by planting my own “Three Sisters” garden: Maize, beans and squash.

July: I discover I am pregnant.

August: My Three Sisters garden becomes a Two Sisters garden since my corn dies. I would not have survived long in pre-columbian Mexico.

September 2012-October 2012: School is back in. I start revising again. I’m on draft 7 now.

October 2012 Danny stops taking naps. No more writing for me for a while. Sad.

Sometime in early 2013: Breakthrough: my mother finally reads the book. She calls me. She says, Chelsea, this actually reads like a real book! This is a good sign. 🙂

April 7, 2013: Levi Scott Dyreng is born. (Best decision ever.)

April 2013-Jan 2014: No writing. Queried a little bit. Collected some rejections.

January 2014: A writer friend asks if I want to submit anything to her start-up publishing company. I say YES. I submit. They say KILL YOUR DARLINGS, so I get out my ax.

February 2014: I hack away at my beloved manuscript, taking it from over 100,000 words to 78,000 words. I send it back to the fledgling publishers. They accept my sacrifice.

March 2014: One of the editors of the fledgling publishing co. has to call it quits. The other editor (my friend) kindly tells me it would be wise to start querying again, so my book is once again homeless.

October 2014: I attend my first writing conference. I learn. I meet writers. I make a fool of myself in front of agents. I have a great time.

January 2015: Feeling daring again. I send my manuscript to a publisher called Cedar Fort.

March 2015: I get a phone call, “Hi, my name is Emma Parker from Cedar Fort Publishing . . . ” after which I have a heart attack and die.

March 2015: “My” editor says I need to do some revising. I say, Yes, ma’am!  By now I’m not sure what draft I am on any more… 9? 10? 25? One character is troubling me, so I kill him.

April 2015: Editor sends me the cover of my book. I am actually sitting under the moon by a campfire when I receive her email. I can’t open it. I hand my phone to my husband. “You look at the cover first. I can’t.”

He looks at the cover.

And grins.


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I look at it all night while I swing in my hammock under the stars.

May 2015: The cover has to be modified a little because there is no seaweed in cenotes. They find a different aquatic plant and send a new cover:

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Excellente.

May 2015: Editor sends me the substantive edit. I have one month. Lucky Scott is back to making breakfast for everyone again!

June 2015: I finish the sub edit the day before school gets out. I find out my book is ready for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. They even say how much the books weighs. (Don’t tell anyone, but the book doesn’t even exist yet!)

July 1, 2015: I meet my editor in person. She is just as nice in real life as she is in her emails!

August 2015: I go over several different copy edits. I add the dedication and acknowledgements (perhaps your name is there!)

Sept 2015: I approve the proofs and finally the book goes to press.

October 10th, 2015: After a long day of waiting this man finally shows up in my driveway:

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It’s been a long, wonderful ride. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this experience. Hopefully it is not once in a lifetime!

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Cenote Tutorial

My book has been sent to press!

While I wait for it to be printed I wanted to give those who were interested some background info on cenotes.

Even though my book is based on a fictional culture in a fictional village, I still had to do a lot of research. Even the most fantastic fiction has to have a foundation in truth.  I had already read a lot about the Maya culture and about the Yucatan, but after I had completed several drafts I realized I would not be able improve my novel anymore unless I had a chance to go to Mexico and learn some things for myself. So I packed my bags, left my husband and four small children (this was pre-Levi) and went.

For fun, and to keep me safe from bandits I brought along this person:

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My sister and I standing on top of a pyramid in Ek Balam

We stayed with my aunt who has a winter home in Merida, Mexico.

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This is my aunt. (That is not her winter home.)

My main objective on this trip was learn more about the Maya culture and and to visit the cenotes.

Yes, the word “cenote” is hard to pronounce or describe. Spellcheck doesn’t even recognize it. But when you consider that the original Maya word for cenote is dzonote, I think the word isn’t that hard after all, don’t you?

Dzonote means “well” as in “water well.”  Basically, a cenote is a sinkhole that exposes the ground water, and the Yucatan is filled with them. Some are “mature” cenotes like the one in my book, others are “young” cenotes or “old” cenotes  depending on whether or not they have collapsed yet and if there is any water left in them. Here is a diagram to give you an idea of what I mean:

Cenotes were significant to the ancient Maya people because it was the only place to get fresh water during the dry season. You might say cenotes were kinda important. Vital, actually. Because of this, cenotes also played a huge role in rituals and sacrifices, and many ceremonial artifacts–including human bones–have been discovered in cenotes. All of this plays into my book.

Zaci Cenote

This is the entrance to Zaci cenote.

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You take these spooky steps into what you think will be cave.
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But then it opens up into a huge pool, surrounded by a stone walkway. We would have gone swimming there but we were there on a Sunday, so alas, we did not. But it was beautiful. Nice that they have a rope across the pool in case you start to drown. 🙂

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Loltun Cave

Since cenotes expose the groundwater, many cenotes are connected to each other underground. Sometimes they even have passages to the ocean, if they are near the coast. The Loltun Cave is a cave that connects several cenotes. These are “old” cenotes, so they are no longer filled with water (although they do get a lot of water in them during the rainy season, our guide told us. But then, he also told us that the reason why Mexican men have very little facial hair is because when they are infants their mamas take boiling-hot cloths and lay them on the places they want hair never to grow, so I cannot verify if the man is trustworthy.) If you ever go to Merida, you don’t want to miss this place. This cave was GIGANTIC and breathtaking. I would show you the photos of the inside but they are all too dark. This is the exit:

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Those long rope-looking things are roots of banyan trees. Banyan trees love water and they often grow near cenotes with their roots “dripping” down to the surface of the water. 

Sacred Cenote

This is one of the most famous cenotes, probably because it is in Chichen Itza, one of the biggest tourist stops in the Yucatan. On the day we were there they had it roped off so I couldn’t get a good angle with my camera. Too many tourists had been falling in, I suppose. Imagine trying to get someone out a cenote. Wow, that would be tricky. Someone should write a book about that.

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Dzul-Ha Cenote at the Sotuta de Peon Hacienda

Finally, toward the end of our trip we got to actually swim in a cenote. The Dzul-Ha cenote is totally hidden underground. It was part of the Sotuta Hacienda and they had convenient outdoor stalls where you could change into your bathing suit (under the bright blue sky!) and then you go down the stairs into this cave where the cenote awaits, refreshing and cool. I am sure my sister is thrilled that the only photo I have of this cenote is of her. I was too busy swimming to care about posing in my bathing suit for ya’ll. 

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If you want to see some truly wondrous photographs of cenotes you should check these out:

http://www.melandramzi.com/activities-in-riviera-maya/cenotes/

http://galleonadventures.com/cenote-mexico-explore-riviera-maya-cenote-trail/

I hope that gives you a little more insight into what my book is about. Stay tuned!

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My Top Ten Favorite Biographies

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

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What made this book excellent for me was not that Louis Zamperini survived through what seemed like a conveyer belt of continuous suffering, but his unexpected Miracle in the last chapter. Sadly, the movie adaptation only dealt with the suffering and ended with a strange, artificial climax of Zamperini lifting a railroad tie above his head. The Great Miracle–the the reason the book filled me with wonder and hope as I closed the last page and held it to my beating heart–was omitted. That is why the movie was a disappointment and the book was absolutely brilliant. If you saw the hopeless movie don’t let that stop you from reading the book . . . which is full of Hope.

2. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

mandelaI decided to read this book when I learned that my mom was going to serve a mission in South Africa, almost a decade ago, and I still remember what a great impression Mandela’s story left on me. Apartheid in South Africa was a world of which I was completely ignorant, and I was grateful to learn more about him, his country, and his hopeful persistence. I wrote this quote down to remember: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

3. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

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When the Wright Brothers came to North Carolina with their wood, muslin and dreams, the people of Kitty Hawk first thought the brothers were just a couple of “poor nuts.” When they weren’t working on their flying machine they stood on the beach, their arms outstretched, mimicking the wing movements of birds.  In the end the Ohio boys won the respect of the Outer Banks natives who said that Wilbur and Orville were “two of the workingest boys; they had their whole heart and soul in what they were doing.” For these two brothers, flying was not an impossibility, but merely a puzzle to be solved.  Although neither married, they were devoted family men, and they never worked or flew on Sundays, making even large crowds wait until Monday. They were never haughty or belittling to other inventors of the time that had failed before them. This is not the first biography I’ve read on these two men, and it won’t be the last.

4. Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt
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By the late 1880’s, it was clear to Native Americans, who were being squeezed into reservations, that success in defending themselves against the waves of white men was all but hopeless. But in 1890, one last united effort to reclaim their lands and dignity was kindled by a mystical dance called the “ghost dance.” The purpose of this dance was to plead to their ancestors for help and to summon them fight against the white men. The story of the Ghost Dance movement is described by Black Elk, a healer and a survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee Massacre, and dictated by him through an interpreter to John G. Neihardt.  This book was recommended to me as a teenager by a Native American friend (Thanks, Dan) to help me understand the Native American way of shaman and visions, and the great faith they had in their ancestors.

5. Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

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I thought that I knew something about Galileo before I read this book, but I found out after reading this that I knew as much about Galileo as the Catholics at that time knew about the universe. (Very little.) This is a book of correspondence between Galileo and his devoted and loving daughter, Maria Celeste. Few, if any of Galileo’s letters to her survive (she was a nun, so many of her personal belongings were destroyed), but he carefully saved many of hers. Through these letters we learn how she patiently supports her father as he tries in vain to convince the world that the sun, not the earth, is the center of the universe. She continues to minister to him, through letters, as he enters and undergoes the trial of his life. Notwithstanding his perilous position as potential heretic, Galileo always had great respect for the religious beliefs of his church and wanted to show others that Catholics were not being ignorant or stupid, but steadfast.  Although Galileo was at odds with the church, but he was never at odds with his Maker. As Sobel wrote, Galileo felt that “To imagine an infinite universe was merely to grant almighty God His proper due.”

6. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

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From this book I learned about the power that one determined physician can have when he uses his talents to serve the poorest people on the earth. It is also a book that makes you extremely uncomfortable, because your conscience jabs you and whispers things like “what more can you do for those that are suffering?”   As Tracy Kidder, Dr. Paul Farmer’s biographer said  “ . . . I can imagine Farmer saying he doesn’t care if no one else is willing to follow their example. He’s still going to make these hikes, he’d insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you’re saying that their lives matter less than some others’, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.”

7. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrandimages

When you get tired of reading biographies about people, read this biography (zoography?) about a horse.  This read was excellent. Hillenbrand is not only a thorough biographer but also a great storyteller. And, incidentally, the Seabiscuit movie, unlike Unbroken, is wonderful. 

8. Endurance by Alfred Lansingendurance

The odds were against Shackleton and his crew from the beginning. The odds usually are when you are planning an expedition to Antarctica, and this triumphant story was all but hidden from the world’s headlines since most of the attention was on the Great War in Europe.  Only later did Shackleton’s amazing adventure story get the attention it deserved. I’ve read this book twice and loved it both times. My favorite part is when they cross the open ocean to South Georgia in a small lifeboat, relying on a sextant and the stars. Soooo exciting.

9. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman

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This honest biography of Joseph Smith depicts his successes, his failures, and the parts of his history most church historians like to skip, like his role in early polygamy. I enjoyed this open and candid perspective written by a firm believer in the faith, who demonstrates that we do not need to be ashamed of the history of the Prophet, and that only by understanding history as it really was that we can gain insights into Joseph’s character, purpose and his vision for the eternal destinies of his people.

10. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzaimalala

The Moonlight Bookreader’s Guild (the book club I am a part of) read this when it first came out and we loved every word. There is something about the courage of a young girl that sparks a fire in the hearts of older women. We either hope we could be as gracefully brave or we pray our daughters can. The earth can never have enough Malalas.

Other biographies I want to read:

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

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Five Favorite Poems

My eleven-year-old came home the other day telling me that her English teacher is starting a really boring unit. For the next few weeks they are going to be studying poetry. She said the word poetry in the same tone she says the words clean the bathroom.

And this is my child?

I, the lover of all types of poetry? I, collector of great books of poems? I, the woman who hosted wild, ruckus Poetry Nights with my friends for years when my daughters were wee babes?  This is my child?

I wanted to explain to her that poetry is how people put love and hate and fear and hope into words we can feel. I wanted her to understand that good poetry, really good poetry is like a secret code that you have to decipher, and the best poems have a last line that hits you straight in the heart. I wanted her to know that reading good poetry outloud is like having your mouth filled with chocolate.  Poetry is about passion, child! Passion!

But all I could muster up at the moment was a flabbergasted, “But poetry is so cool!”

My daughter shrugged. “If you say so.”

Okay, so it will take some time for me to convert her. In the meantime, April is National Poetry Month so let’s get the party started! Here are some of my favorite poems:

1. I Stop Writing the Poem by Tess Gallagher

I once told a very wise woman that I had a dream to write books but that I planned to dutifully wait until all my children were in school. She laughed at me and said that if I did that I would loose all my inspiration. She was right. Since then I have tried to weave my writing in with my mothering and wifer-ing and it has worked out better than I had hoped. There are plenty of times I have to stop writing to fold shirts. Or do laundry. Or listen. It is all part of what women do. But without those children tugging at our sleeves and asking questions, what would there be to write about?

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.

 

2. Master Speed by Robert Frost

I think about this poem when I think about the power of marriage.

Master Speed

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

 

3. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman

I read this poem when Facebook gets too much for me to handle.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

 

4. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Every poem by this woman is phenomenal. This one is my favorite.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

 

5. Ode on Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth

This is just a bite of a much longer poem (but it is the best bite).  I taped this (and other poems) to the kitchen cupboard while my daughter Naomi had colic and memorized them while I held her and walked back and forth, back and forth. Can’t remember them now, though, so that is why I have to keep reading them…

Ode on Imitations of Immortality

 Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting 
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
From God, who is our home.

 

Thanks for reading. I feel much better now.cropped-vitamin-c-nicole2.jpg

 

 

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