Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

This week is Beatrix Potter's birthday--her 146th!--on July 28th.

Sure, I know. I've already done two blog posts on Beatrix Potter. But she is such a remarkable lady that I can't resist doing just. . .one. . .more. 



Oh, who am I kidding?

  • Beatrix started a secret diary when she was 15 years old and kept writing journals until about age 30. She invented a secret code for her diaries that wasn't cracked until about 15 years after her death in 1943.

  • One of Beatrix's early interests was mycology--the study of fungi. The Potter family lived near the British Musem of Natural History in London, where Beatrix spent a lot of time studying and drawing fungi. In her late twenties, she wrote and illustrated a book on the subject. Her uncle presented the book to the Royal Botanical Gardens, but they expressed no interest in her work. Potter was one of the first people to recognize that lichens were a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae.
  • When it came time to draw up the publishing contract for Peter Rabbit, Beatrix was not allowed to sign the contract. The reason? She was a woman. Duh. Maybe the flowered hat gave her away. Her father had to make the agreement on her behalf.
  • There is a curious "co-incidence" about some of the names used in Beatrix Potter stories. In Brompton Cemetery near the Potter family home, these names were found in computerized records of tombstones: Mr. Nutkin, Mr. McGregor, Jeremiah Fisher, Tommy Brock, and Peter Rabbett. (“Cemetery clue to Potter animals,” BBC News, 27 July 2001)
Brompton Cemetery

  • Beatrix had a mind for "merchandising" as well. She created a Peter Rabbit Doll and told her publisher Norman Warne that they should sell well at Harrod's, a London department store. She also envisioned wallpaper, board games, "painting books," and china tea sets, based on her work. She was so far ahead of her time.
  • As Miss Potter got older, her eyesight became poorer, and her paintings became more impressionistic. Eventually she lost interest in painting and writing.
  • If you're planning a literary tour of England, you won't be able to visit the burial place of Beatrix Potter. After she died, her husband William delivered her ashes to their chief shepherd, Tom Storey. Beatrix wanted to make sure that no-one knew where her ashes were scattered. Not even her husband. Tom did tell his son, but the son died suddenly and unexpectedly. Now no-one knows the final resting place of Beatrix Potter. Mwa-ha-ha.
Hyde Chapel
  • However, if you've got your heart set on a grave site, the author's parents and grandparents are buried in Hyde Chapel, east of Manchester. In 2008, the chapel held a Beatrix Potter exhibition (pictured above).
  • Beatrix left nearly all her property in the Lake District to The National Trust--more than 4,000 acres, sixteen farms, many cottages, and herds of sheep and cattle. When William died 18 months later, he left the remainder to the Trust. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012



By Patty Kyrlach

ADVANCE—Millions of dollars in currency, negotiable bonds, and gold bars sent to you by your publisher. . .right before the anesthetic wears off and you re-enter your body

AUTHOR OMNISCIENT—A know-it-all who once wrote a book

BLANK VERSE—A poetic form which usually signals the need to change the ink cartridge in your printer

BYLINE—Credit given to you, the author, after an editor has completely rewritten your piece

CLICHES—Old expressions, which like old shoes, wear well but smell bad 

COMPUTER—A device that reduces writing to electronic impulses and writers to tears

COPYRIGHT—Legal proof that I stole this idea before you did

EDITOR—A mail clerk in charge of attaching form letters to manuscripts and returning them unread

EDITORIAL GUIDELINES—The mail clerk's suggestions on how you can make her job easier

FEATURE ARTICLE—Any article that I write 

FILLER—Any article that you write

FREE VERSE—Poetry you send to a journal that PAYS IN COPIES

FREELANCE WRITING—A fail-proof weight-loss plan that reduces the amount of income available for buying food  (Caution:  discontinue if dizziness or death occurs.   Do not operate heavy machinery while on the diet.  Pregnant or nursing mothers should consult a physician.) 

KILL FEE—A large sum of money, usually in foreign currency, paid by an editor to a professional hit-man when a writer really ticks him off

MAINSTREAM—A teensy trickle running off the river of Romance, Fantasy, Gothic, Mystery, Sci-Fi, and all the stuff people actually read 

MS.—A lady writer (MSS.—Two lady writers  MSSSSSSSS.—A lady writer being swallowed by a cobra)

NOM DE PLUME—A false name used by writers who malign living relatives with Mafia connections

PAYS IN COPIES—An ingenious editorial ploy whereby they pay you with your own product  (Warning:  don't try this in the grocery store.)

PAYS ON ACCEPTANCE—A post-Machiavellian plan of economics whereby a writer is paid during her lifetime

PAYS ON PUBLICATION—For those dear saints who do not want to lay up treasures on this earth where moths corrupt and thieves break in and steal

RIGHTS—Your rights as a writer:  First Rights—You have the right to remain silent. . .  Second Rights—You have the right to an attorney. . . Last Rites—see FREELANCE WRITING

SASE—An acronym for the Publishing Imperative: Stiff the Authors, Save the Editors

SUBSIDY PUBLISHING—The one publishing system that always results in prompt payment—since you pay. . . (Oddly enough, these people rarely accept PAYMENT IN COPIES or even PAYMENT ON PUBLICATION)

UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPT—Writing that is totally uncalled for

WORK-FOR-HIRE—An arrangement with a publisher whereby you sign away copyrights, movie rights, oil and mineral rights, and your first born child

WORKING ON SPEC—A 12-step program for writers who are compulsive gamblers   

WRITER'S BLOCK—An economically depressed district of Greenwich Village

WRITERS CONFERENCE—Unbridled revelry in the name of educational enrichment

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Guerrilla Grannies?

We-e-e-et! When the warning whistle pierces the night, Sarah shakes off her covers and prepares to do battle. At her post, she punches the secret code on her buzzer: “Grandma Vigilante reporting for patrol.”

Sarah soon learns the cause for the alarm. “There are sleepstealers on the prowl.”

Grandma Vigilantes: by day, they are homemakers, scarf-knitters, and cookie-bakers. Ah, but when danger looms near, when the cry for help is heard, who can you call? The grandmas set to work immediately by dropping down on their stiff, bony knees with a mission. They pray, keeping vigil over the city.

The Tales of the Kingdom books by David and Karen Mains tell the story of Scarboy, an orphan who escapes from the Enchanter's minions and joins the underground resistance movement. And one of my favorite stories is "Grandma Vigilantes," the story that opens Book Three, Tales of the Restoration.

The Grandma Vigilantes may look harmless, perhaps laughable to some, but “the Enchanter’s legions had learned to fear their blitz attacks….” For the vigilantes know a secret: “those who practiced deep knee bends at night became filled with Kingspower.” Go, grannies!

They may look harmless,
perhaps laughable to some. . . .

Grandmothers are undervalued in today's youth-oriented culture. But many of us wouldn't be here today if Granny hadn't stepped up to the plate to raise a second family when parents abandoned their posts. Or to babysit while mom went to work. And we may never know how often Grandma's prayers have kept us from harm's way.  

The Grandma Vigilantes show the very heart of the Kingdom of God—a topsy-turvy, counter-intuitive kingdom where the weak say “I am strong,” where the first are last, the meek inherit the earth, harlots are honored, poor widows give the biggest offerings, a giant is killed by a boy with a slingshot, and a little child can lead. 

I have loved this story for many years, but now that I am a grandma, it means even more. I may not "drop down on my stiff, bony knees"--since I prefer the comfy couch cushions and a glass of tea close by--but it is still my joy and my privilege to pray on behalf of my family, my friends, my country, and my world.

And did I mention that I have the cutest grandkids ever? I'm pretty sure I have a few (thousand) pictures here somewhere. Oh wait, there's the oven timer. The cookies are ready!

These stories are a good marriage of fantasy and a Christian Aesop's Fables. They bring narrative, sight, and sound together to tell a convincing story with excellent moral fabric.
          -- Walter Wangerin, author, Book of the Dun Cow, American Book Award

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mythic Places

I recently reconnected with a high school friend on Facebook. She told me that a few years ago, she and her husband had moved to Benton, Kentucky.

So you're thinking, that is just too (yawn) interesting. Please tell me more.  

Or not. 

But here's the thing.

She might as well have told me she had moved to Never Never Land. Or Camelot. Or Flatland. Or Tatooine. Or Oz. 

In my mind, Benton, Kentucky isn't the sort of place that a real person can move to. It doesn't exist in the same universe as say, Chicago, London, and Yellowstone National Park.

When I was growing up, my dad usually took his vacation to paint the house or work on cars. Boring, responsible stuff. But two or three times we took a mythic journey in the green Oldsmobile to visit my brother's family in Benton.

Happy memories. Eating watermelon with my nephews and niece down in the creekbed, so we wouldn't get hopelessly messy. (We did anyway.) Visiting a crazy, colorful, and wonderful assortment of aunts and uncles. Splashing in a washtub outdoors.  Picking blackberries. Eating catfish at the Pelican in the Land Between the Lakes. Riding a horse. Lazy summer days and sparkling nights with singing crickets and shooting stars. Shopping in Padukah. Aunt Wid's best-ever bean soup and Aunt Luna’s pies with golden curls of meringue. (Even the names are crazy and colorful.)

And through the years there would be other Benton memories, not all happy. Funerals for many loved ones who died. The day my boyfriend found my college class ring in Kentucky Lake after it had slipped off my finger. Making my wedding dress on the sewing machine from hell, while I stayed with my dad in Benton for a few months. A baby shower my sister-in-law gave for me, where people I didn't even know knit booties and brought gifts. And for funerals, they came with pies and cakes and sandwiches. A neighborly place, Benton.

Dad with Cousin William's tractor, in Benton

Benton memories are few and far between, but they are all special, all infused with an other-worldliness, with great sorrow or great joy. Whenever I went to Benton, I left this world behind. 

I suspect that we all have mythic places in our lives. Places that loom large in our imaginations. Places we can never quite explain to "outsiders." Sometimes we long to return, as Adam must have longed to return to Eden, but the entrance is barred. The house has been sold. The people have died. The landscape has forever changed. 

Most places we've visited, most places we've lived, are stored in our minds, but mythic places are stored in our hearts. We can visit them only in dreams and memories. And yet, no bulldozer or tornado--not even the slow but certain ravages of entropy--can destroy them. 

In mythic places, the dead still walk and talk in all their endearing quirkiness. What we felt is more important than the facts. What we remember matters more than what really happened.

At Dad's house in Benton,
my brother and sis-in-law with my first baby

And though we can never really return to a mythic place, maybe we don't need to. We carry it with us always--it becomes a part of who we are. And likewise, we become a part of the place, a part of the story.

As King Arthur sings to a boy at the final curtain of Lerner and Lowe's Camelot:

     Don't let it be forgot
     That once there was a spot
     For one brief shining moment
     that was known as Camelot.

We remember, and we share the stories. That is how mythic places live on.