Category Archives: Reading

ECHOES OF HERESY

THE WINTER GHOSTS by Kate Mosse

MosseI first came across Kate Mosse’s books because Labyrinth dealt with Cathars. It was one of those so-so reads with a great setup which somehow missed the mark in the end. At the time, I was reading a lot about the Cathars who were the most successful of the groups of medieval heretics. And now a few years later my own Cathar novel is ready to take its turn amongst agents, I was drawn into another Mosse book about the heretics. In a way, it brings me full circle back where I started.

Photo: Nhamblen

Photo: Nhamblen

The Winter Ghosts follows the story of Freddie Watson who, too young to fight in WWI, suffers the loss of his older brother and only friend. On the mend from a mental breakdown, he travels through the French Pyrenees during the winter of 1928. During a mountain storm his car slides off the road. Poor Freddie hits his head and he knows he must go for help or die in the exposed elements. He eventually finds shelter in a small village, but while there an annual celebration opens the doors of time. Freddie meets the mysterious Fabrissa, several famous historical Cathar leaders, and is drawn to uncover dark secrets from the past. The tale is not terribly complicated, but gives Mosse the luxury of being able to delight in atmosphere and setting. Freddie’s loss and Fabrissa’s, although separated by hundreds of years, are the same. This is a perfect read for those long winter nights, tucked safely inside away from haunted mountainsides.

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Filed under Albigensian Crusade, Cathars, Catholic Church, death, Ellis Nelson, France, French history, ghosts, hauntings, heresy, Kate Mosse, literature, Medieval Church, medieval heresy, memorials, paranormal, Pyrenees Mountains, Reading, The Winter Ghosts, time slip, visions, World War I, YA

ACROSS GENERATIONS

Pluto with satellites

Pluto with satellites

Recently I watched an episode on Gaiam TV where Regina Meredith was interviewing an astrologer. I’ve been interested in astrology off and on since I was a teenager, but over the past year or so that interest has become more intense and I watch quite a few YOUTUBE astrologers as they explain what’s going on in a given month. It is fascinating and personal.

Scorpio2

What resonated with this interview concerned the movement of Pluto and how these long transits (248 years to circle the zodiac) influence generations. With Pluto in a given sign anywhere from 11 to 32 years, it defines a whole generation. In a way, this is the opposite of personal because I share influences with everyone in my age group. As a writer for young people, this idea intrigues me. It especially drew me in as the astrologer talked about my adult children’s group (Pluto in Scorpio). He talked about the attraction for this group to pagan religions and pure philosophy. My daughter describes herself as pagan and my son is currently exploring nihilism and its intricacies. Further extrapolating, I thought- wow, this was the perfect market for Harry Potter. Some people think JK Rowling had a unique idea or that the books were exceptionally well done. But most of us realize that young wizards going off to school has been done before. Perhaps then, Pluto in Scorpio almost guaranteed Harry Potter would make publishing history.

Sagittarius2

The youngest of the children of the Pluto in Scorpio generation will turn twenty soon so as a children’s writer, I bid them farewell. My attention turns to the Pluto in Sagittarius (1995- 2008) group. This would be my target audience and astrology should help me see who these kids are. What are the characteristics of this generation? Sagittarius rules religion, philosophy, long distance travel, and foreign countries. This generation should have a keen interest in these areas and Sagittarius has a can do enthusiasm that Scorpio lacks. They value freedom, are easily bored, and may not be as well-grounded and realistic as some. If I were to try to predict what would appeal to the Pluto in Sagittarius generation in terms of books (and movies), I’d list novels with far away settings, diverse cultures, exciting plots, maybe some quirky humor. I’m not sure dystopia like Hunger Games and Divergent will continue to appeal. Those seem more tied to earlier Scorpio themes. The Sags should be interested in religion and philosophy so perhaps visionary fiction will find its place. Time will reveal what this generation gravitates toward and what the next big blockbuster will be. Just about the time we start to see how obvious it all should have been, the Pluto in Capricorn (2008-2024) kids will show up and we’ll be scratching our heads all over.

Capricorn2

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Filed under Books, Reading, YA

BOYS DON’T READ

I’ve written books for boys and books for girls at both the middle grade and young adult (YA) levels. My recently released novel is geared toward teenage boys, although all my reviewers have all been adult women. LOL! This highlights the difficulty of connecting with boy readers.

If you are the parent of a boy you’re probably already aware of my title’s phrase. Boys don’t read (of course, girls do). If you’re a boy, you might even identify with it. In a 2005 article by the Washington Post called “Why Johnny Won’t Read,” the phrase was equated to a gender identity marker. Although a few years old, the article still rings true. Boys by the high school level have thrown in the towel on reading. Studies have long tracked the gender differences in reading, but in the last few years the gulf has widened significantly. The article cites 59% of girls reading and only 43% of boys reading.

The article blames market and educational trends that seem to stymie boys’ interest in reading starting in elementary school. Curriculum books with strong male characters, especially the kind my husband and brothers read, are gone. Forget those biographies that inspired generations. It appears that educators and publishers are not interested in masculine stereotypes or in the masculine point of view. In middle school and beyond, the current offerings center on problem novels (dealing with issues like drugs, bullying, divorce, etc.) and multicultural perspectives. Neither seems to re-engage boys in reading. By high school many boys have given up. It’s just not worth the work!

As a writer following changing publishing market trends for over a decade, there are some things I think the average American has no idea of. Children’s publishing has always been overwhelmingly female. That includes writers, agents, editors, and publishers. At every level, it is difficult to find a man in this business. Publishers scream for more books for boys and continue to ignore them when offered. There are lots of frustrated writers who can’t sell their boy books. So boys have fewer books and give up on reading. Publishers know boys don’t read, so they don’t produce books for boys. Catch 22 thing here.

It’s not totally hopeless. More studies on what boys need and want to support their continued reading may help. Books that allow a strong male perspective, more adventure, more sports, more SF and fantasy, along with graphic novels may help bridge the preference gap. And if you’ve been to a bookstore and strolled through the YA section, you’ve probably noticed the absence of boys hanging out in front of all those pink covers. We need to make the YA section appeal to both genders.

Anyone interested in helping a boy become a lifelong reader, is encouraged to visit www.boysread.org and www.guysread.com.

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Filed under Reading

WHY READ FICTION?

There has long been talk amongst educators and parents regarding the importance of reading for children and young adults. Good reading and comprehension skills are tied to good grades and we all know how competitive we are. Lately, there has been a focus on how reading fiction teaches and instills empathy and fosters the development of compassion. A reader can walk in the shoes of a character and gain an appreciation of others’ experiences and feelings. This is a very good thing and something society as a whole should appreciate.

And now there is an additional reason for why we should be reading fiction. It’s not just for children anymore. This week’s NY Times Sunday Review contained an article entitled “Your Brain on Fiction.” The piece details new research coming from neuroscience.

Among the findings:
Reading sensory words stimulate areas of the brain devoted to the particular sense. MRI scans show that “cinnamon” lights up the area devoted to smell.

“A velvet voice” or “leathery hands” lights up the sensory cortex which perceives texture.

Words associated with movement like “kicked the ball” stimulated the motor cortex which is associated with body movement.

We’ve known for a while now (scientists starting in the 70s and mystics for thousands of years) that the brain is crucial for constructing our reality, but it often has a tough time discerning it. And reading is one case in point. Whether actually experiencing a life event or reading about it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to the brain. The neurological regions involved are the same. Fiction creates a simulated reality where the reader enters a world of vivid detail and rich emotion. The reader’s brain accepts the unfolding of story in much the same way it accepts events in our own lives. What more could the reader or novelist hope for?

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