Wow! I can't believe we've reached the fall equinox, and summer zoomed by without me mailing out one newsletter. What can I say? It was a hectic summer, full of travel, house guests, getting kids ready for college and graduate school, and book production tasks. But, truth be told, when I wasn't bustling about, I often opted for a quiet hour on the couch reading (hence I have a few books to recommend to you below!), or sitting by
the fire roasting marshmallows with family and friends rather than opening the laptop. Not a bad thing per se, right? Especially in the summer when we're supposed to slow down? I take it as a symptom of me actually learning how to take it easy, one of the few positive results of my long recovery from last summer's hip
Speaking of recovery, since many of you were privy to that painful ordeal, I am happy to report that finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. While we were in Washington, DC in August to situate our youngest at George Washington University, I noticed that I was able to sit in a restaurant booth without the pain in my
groin building after a few minutes. What a pleasant discovery! 13 months post surgery I finally felt like some healing has been going on. I am not out of the woods yet, but I am better.
When I did open the laptop this summer, I worked on Book No. 2, title: Writing Family History into Compelling Stories. Thank you to all who volunteered to be beta
readers. You're all part of my Advance Team now, which means:
- You'll be on a separate email list that gets advance notice about anything book related. Please look out for that subscription confirmation request in your inbox soon.
- You'll get the chance to download a pdf of the formatted book way in advance of publication in exchange for:
- being an advance reader and letting me know if you spot any errors
- being part of the actual book's soft launch when it will be available at a reduced price
- posting a review of the book to Amazon as quickly as possible after launch day
If you haven't raised your hand yet and are interested in joining the Advance Team, simply reply to this newsletter and let me know!
Even though I've been through publishing a book before, it amazed me again how much work goes into this. Not "just" the actual writing, which I had finished in June, but the various aspects of book production. I decided I wanted illustrations in the book, and it's been an interesting process to make an illustrator understand what I am envisioning. Here's a sneak peek--this is actually the sample illustration on which I
hired this particular illustrator, Wei Lu:
The image of this perky clothesline popped up on my SmartPhone while I was squished in a tourist bus, rattling up the serpentine dirt road to Machu Picchu in July.
Yep, this summer I had the good fortune of traveling to Peru with my son and daughter. My older son had committed to an internship in Chicago, and my husband had
various reasons for not going, mainly that he gets altitude sickness. This turned out to have been a wise decision, because my younger son's asthma kicked in the minute we landed in Cusco (altitude 11,152 ft/3,400 m). Thankfully he was able to do the trip to Machu Picchu, which is at a slightly lower elevation ("only" 8,000 ft/2,400 m), but he was puffing on his inhaler on every ascent. After that, he was on an oxygen tank in our hotel room getting cabin fever, while my daughter and I
gallivanted from Inca site to another.
Here we are at Palcoyo Mountain, one of the Rainbow Mountains,
altitude 4,900 m. Both of us could feel our hearts pumping heavily
each time we were going uphill, but still, it was grandiose,
and we were so grateful our bodies held up.
However, most stuck in my mind from this trip to Peru are not the images of the magnificent highlands of the Andes, the glistening glaciers all around, nor the formidable Inca stone works, or the ornate Spanish colonial architecture; no, it is the images from our excursion to the Ballestas
Islands that are haunting me.
My favorite shot of the Ballestas Islands--some gothic story
goes with this picture, I just haven't figured out
which one yet...
Located on the Pacific coast about a 3-hour drive south of Lima, these islands are a marine life and bird sanctuary. They made Peru rich in the 1840s as century-old mountains of bird shit, rich in nitrogen and phosphate, were harvested and exported worldwide as fertilizer. Not pleasant work, for sure, and not healthy work either, done mainly by African and Asian workers. These days the bird shit is still
harvested, but only every five years or so. More on that in a future blog post!
It was an amazing trip--so many impressions, such amazing food, so many great experiences that I haven't even digested them yet, nor have I sorted through the millions of pictures I took. But, to give you an idea, the first book I want to share with you is about Peru.
In preparation for our trip, I began to read Mark Adams' account of his 2011 quest to trace the journey of Hiram Bingham, on the centennial of the Yale professor's "discovery" of the lost city of the Incas. Guided by a Crocodile Dundee-type Australian trekker, who knows in the Inca sites of the Andes inside and out, and a group of locals who cook and set up rather primitive camps, Adams bumbles along the steep ascents and
descents of the Sacred Valley, while his soft New Yorker butt slowly grows into a hardened "grapefruit." His book is an successful amalgam of his entertaining and at times funny travelogue, sobering tales of the Spanish conquest and the Incas' ultimately futile attempts to retreat from the Spanish onslaught, as well as stories of Bingham's life and career. Adams wraps up this back and forth by summarizing how circumstances congealed after 1911 to eventually make Machu Picchu one of the greatest
tourist sites on this planet. I found the book made even more sense to me once I had been there, as the various Quechua language names of sites are hard to keep track of. The almost vertical landscape of the end of the Sacred Valley is hard to imagine, even for someone like me who grew up hiking in the Alps.
After immersing myself in the, to me, rather alien world of the Incas, I must have been hungry for the more familiar world of the Bible, because I pulled this book from my shelf. It is the original German version of the now classic Und die Bibel Hat Doch Recht (literal translation: "And the Bible is right after all"). It belonged to my grandfather.
The book itself is a treasure, a real hardback with a bookmark ribbon. Sadly, its leather spine is dry and disintegrating. Whenever I pick it up, I later find small brown tidbits wherever I was reading. Written by German journalist Werner Keller, rather than an archaeologist, it is an entertaining compilation of archaeological finds that corroborate the stories of the Bible. Since it is from the 1950s, some of the
research might be outdated, but as I am not on the up and up on any of it, I might as well learn from this first.
In the beginning, it was a bit of challenge for me to get used to this book's sophisticated High German, where sentences are sometimes five lines long. (An English equivalent would be reading Henry James, which I also haven't done in eons.) A sentence will begin with a certain thrust that doesn't culminate until 20 words later, and you have to hold your concentration to put its meaning together. Now I quite
enjoy the challenge. Who writes like that anymore? Thankfully, chapters are short and thus more easily digestible, even if the information is dense. I pretty much read it one chapter every night, always looking forward what new thing I might discover. I feel it is almost written like a mystery novel, and indeed it is about solving some of the mysteries of the grand stories of the Bible.
showing the layer of clay formed 4000 BCE, which jives with the Great Flood
in the Story of Noah's Ark
I am happy to report that there is an English translation, but judging by the reviews on Amazon, you must make sure to get the original 1956 edition. Subsequent editions apparently lack the exquisite illustrations of the original, see above.
My reading was rather eclectic this summer! This book really falls out of line of what I usually read as it is written by political commentator Tomi Lahren. I spotted this book as my husband and I had time to kill at Reagan National Airport in DC and were browsing the bookstore. I am not a follower of hers but I did remember seeing her on some TV
special and being impressed by her astuteness. So I leafed through the book and happened upon a page where she talked about her creative process: "One minute of TV equals one hour of work." I thought, “Here’s someone who could be my daughter. Let’s see if I can actually learn something from her.” After all, she achieved considerable TV success by age 26. It turns out, I did learn a lot from her. It wasn’t necessarily
new stuff but it never hurts to hear good advice, tried and true, from a successful creative person. I read half of this book on the plane and the rest the next day, so it is certainly a swift read and a nice break from my usually more cerebral reading material (see above). I underlined many passages, which for me is always the sign that I am reading a good book worth sharing. You can find my more detailed assessment under Excellent Advice for the Creative Soul from an Unlikely Source: Tomi Lahren.
With this I shall wrap up. I hope this long edition of my newsletter wasn't too long for you and made up a little for my silence over the summer. I wish you a good beginning to fall, my favorite season, and a good time
reading, writing and whatever else you are up to.