Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book Review

I mentioned in my last blog that I was going to do a book review.  And so I am.  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, a debut novel by Jacqueline Kelly, is one of the best books I've ever read, for adults or children. I definitely encourage all of you who are writing for kids 10 and over to read this book, and see how Ms. Kelly brings to life her young heroine, Calpurnia.

Calpurnia Tate is eleven years old, going on twelve, in 1899 Fentress, Texas.  She is the middle child of seven, three older brothers and three younger ones.  She is expected to grow up learning...and liking...the humdrum skills of cooking, baking, sewing and handiwork.  All of which she not only hates, but is definitely not good at.  She loves the outdoors, animals and the nearby river which holds all kinds of secrets and fascinations. Calpurnia, surprising herself, creates a bond with her grandfather, a crusty amateur naturalist who prefers the solitude of his library, and his "lab", ( just a shack outside of the house), to the noisy and often boisterousness of his six grandsons. Grandfather gives Calpurnia, unbeknownst to her parents, his copy of Darwin's Origin of the Species, and Callie immerses herself in the discovery of the scientific method and the theory of evolution.

As Callie works with her grandfather in collecting the different species of nature, they discover a new species of vetch, which they immediately send to Washington, D.C., in an effort to have it officially recognized.  While this provides one dramatic issue, the real issue is that of Callie's gradual self-realization that life as her mother wishes for it to be is definitely not to Calpurnia's liking.

It isn't long before Callie's mother realizes that Callie's progress in the skills of being a "lady"...cookery, sewing and severely lacking, so she curtails her free time and insists that she spend more time in the kitchen and in developing all the trappings of young womanhood which will lead eventually to her debut in society.

Interwoven with the scientific theme of the story are all the ups and downs of living in a large family, and of being the only girl among six boys.  We read about the romantic inclinations of Callie's oldest brother towards two different young ladies, the heartbreaking story of Travis, Callie's just-younger brother who has made pets of the Thanksgiving turkeys and tries to convince the family not to kill and eat them, and of J.B, the baby of the family who clings to Callie.

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is a wonderful young girl who is happy, curious, intelligent and thoughtful.  She will appeal greatly to those girls today who see themselves as "different", and don't want to be stuck in the "average" mold by either parents or society.  Callie takes a different journey to self-discovery, trying to overcome her confusion and despair over what she sees as an impossible dream...the belief and hope that she can to go university and become a scientist, instead of having to give in to society's expectations of the "homebody" who struggles with corsets and spends her days cooking and sewing.

The conclusion brings both humor, pathos, and excitement to the arrival of the new year 1900, and leaves Calpurnia's future somewhat up in the air.  What is not up in the air is the fact that this book is written with both sensitivity and humor, and tells a true story of what life was like for young girls at the turn of the century.

I really encourage all of you to get this book and read it.  Written in first person, it is a very appealing story of a young girl's struggle to develop her own identity, in the face of what both parents and society expect of her.

Read it!  Let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blogging and Platforms

Today I've been thinking a lot about the art of blogging.  At least, I think it's an art.  Do you 'follow' many blogs?  I have some of my favorites listed on this blog, but then I go to a lot of others just to see what is going on with them.  Most of the ones that interest me the most are professional blogs...professional in terms of the writing community: other writers both published and not, editors and agents.

But have you ever thought about the differences in the blogs that you read?  Differences in appearance, in what they blog about, in the kind of professionalism ( or not) they display.  No two ever seem to be similar.  One I go to has lots of personal photos, contests...most that are made up by the blogger...personal thoughts, etc.  Another one is almost nothing but interviews and book reports, all about the writing world.  A third is just...umm, well, silly. Nothing professional at all, yet she is a professional.

What does all that mean?  Or does it mean anything?  I keep hearing about how we are supposed to build a "platform" in blogging, if we are or are trying to be professional writers.  I don't know about you, but the only "platforms" I know about ( that aren't the kind you walk on) are political, so I'm not real sure what a "platform" is supposed to be in writing.

So I blog about the things that are important to me, as a writer.  Oh, and I guess I can't forget the 'teacher' part, because being a teacher is something that never leaves me.  I blog about things all writers need to learn, and hope...very sincerely hope...that the writer who reads about them will "learn something new."  Or, if it's not new, perhaps it is just explained in a way that will be easier to comprehend.

I blog about plots, dialogue, characters, setting, research...the things we all need to know and perfect. ( Not that I have perfected ANY of those things !).  A friend told me that I was "predictable"...hmmm...okay, maybe I am predictable, but maybe that's also my "platform?"  Is that good or bad?  I have no idea.  I don't think there is a right or wrong way to blog if you are a professional.  I think you have to what's important to you, and what you'd like for others to take away from your blog.

At least, that's how I feel about my blog.  What about you?  Do you have a "platform?"
Think about it.  Let me know.