Vote for the new book cover!

There’s a very exciting reader poll going on over at the Mother-Daughter Book Club Facebook page right now!


You can’t vote here on this blog, though, only on the Facebook page.  I know some of you don’t have Facebook accounts, so ask your parents, your teacher, your librarian or another trusted adult if they can help you vote using their account.  We’ll be collecting reader votes through the end of the month, and then — the Big Reveal!  

That’s right, we’ll finally be unveiling the new cover for WISH YOU WERE EYRE!

 

Look what two of you did!

Can I brag about two of my readers?

I received a pair of lovely (autographed! yay!) books recently, written and published by these talented young ladies.  Abby’s Starring Eliza is an exciting story about an eleven-year-old aspiring playwright who has to find a way to save a place of great natural beauty that’s special to her:

Abby is donating proceeds from her book to The Nature Conservancy, a very unselfish thing to do!

And Piano Notes on Pavement is a beautiful poetry collection from Hannah:

Gorgeous poems, gorgeous cover.  Wow.

I am SO IMPRESSED with both of these middle-school girls!  Congratulations, Abby and Hannah!  And thank you for the wonderful gifts.  Your books will have a place of honor on my shelf.  ♥

I get the best mail…

As you know, I’ve been catching up with fan mail (there’s still quite a pile on my desk and on my laptop, so if you haven’t heard from me yet I promise I’ll get to you soon!) over the past couple of weeks.

This has to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  Writers spend so much time in solitude — we have to, in order to write our books.  I don’t mind; I relish the space to think and dream and create, and I’ve always loved quiet anyway.  But it’s not like a regular job where you get instant feedback from your boss or your client or your audience; there are no co-workers to bounce ideas off around the water cooler or who might take the time during the day to stop by and to say “well done.”  Sometimes it takes years to write a book, and sometimes an author won’t hear anything, or very little, back from his or her readers.

That’s certainly not the case with my readers!  I’m continually amazed and humbled by all the  ♥ you send my way, and it means the world to me.

This is from a recent email sent to me by a reader named Katie:

“Cassidy, Emma, Jess, Megan, and Becca are not just characters, they’re my friends!”

Could an author ask for a greater compliment?  Wow.  And here’s the funny thing–that’s EXACTLY how I feel about my favorite books (many of which I have inflicted on you through the mother-daughter book club series).  I could walk into a room and instantly pick up a conversation, and the threads of friendship, with characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Jo Marsh and Betsy Ray, because I’ve spent so much time with them over the years and I know them so well.  Same with Wilbur and Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, and Opal Buloni from Because of Winn-Dixie, and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, along with hundreds of others.

Who are some of your favorite “literary friends”?

 

A Churchillian outing

Oops, I got sidetracked there for a few days and left you all hanging!  Sorry!

So in my previous blog post I told you a bit about my trip to the Winston Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri.   I have visited a LOT of museums in my life — probably hundreds — and I have to say, this one is a real gem.  My BFF Patty and I had to go back again for a second visit the next day to absorb it all.   Including this great quote about writing from the great man himself:

Can you read that?  Here, let me help.  Under the heading “A Thousand Words a Day” (Churchill’s goal for himself as a writer) it reads:  “Writing a book is an adventure.  To begin with it is a toy, an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and than a master and then a tyrant.”

In other words, it’s fun at first, and then it gets more and more DIFFICULT!  So true, Winston, so true!

The exhibits in the museum tell a fascinating story, and there are all sorts of fun interactive pieces, including snippets from letters that Winston and his wife Clementine wrote to each other (they sometimes signed them “Pig” and “Cat,” their nicknames for each other, and drew little pictures of the animals, too).  There’s also a fabulous gift shop, which Patty and I had to explore, of course (there’s a bit of Megan and Becca in the two of us)…

The first day we were in town, it was dark and cloudy and windy.  That night there was a big thunderstorm, and other areas of the state suffered severe tornado damage.  This particular morning was bright and sunny, though, and after finishing up at the museum, we wandered upstairs into the lovely church.  Take a look:

Interior of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury in Fulton, Missouri

 

Look at this gorgeous stone spiral staircase!

 

There are no stained glass windows in this church, which is flooded with beautiful, pure light...

 

... and more light.

As we walked around, I couldn’t help thinking that I was walking on the same stone floors that Shakespeare might have walked on.

Back outside the church, our last stop before lunch was “Breakthrough,” this amazing sculpture that Churchill’s granddaughter Edwina Sandys created one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Placing it here on the Westminster College campus was particularly fitting, given that her grandfather had given his famous “Iron Curtain” speech there over 40 years earlier.  Churchill warned of the totalitarianism dividing Europe that the wall would symbolize; Edwina’s sculpture (which is made of actual pieces of the Berlin Wall, complete with graffiti!) celebrated the crumbling of it.

 

"Breakthrough" by Edwina Sandys

 

Close-up of a section of the sculpture

Did you know that German was one of my majors in college?  And that I spent time in East Berlin, behind the wall, during the year of post-graduate work that I did in Germany?  It still amazes me that this barrier, which seemed so permanent, so impenetrable, so dangerous and scary back then, all came tumbling down peacefully.   A truly astounding moment in history.  As I stood there in Fulton a few weeks ago, looking at the sculpture, I was struck by the word “unwahr” spray painted on it.  “Unwahr” is German for “lie” or “falsehood,” which is exactly what the Berlin Wall was–a lie about humanity.  The suppression of freedom is a lie, and ultimately a lie cannot stand, it has to yield to the truth.  It has to crumble.  And the wonderful symbolism of the cutout silhouettes of a man and a woman breaking through that barrier!  It’s a very powerful piece of art.

And it’s a piece of art that has echoes for us writers, too.  We often face barriers that seem impenetrable.  Lack of time.  Lack of opportunity.  Or the one you’ve all heard of, “writer’s block.”  That can seem really big and scary sometimes.

There are lots of ways of dealing with these kinds of obstacles, including writer’s block (you can find some of my strategies in the FAQ section of this website), but the ultimate secret for breaking through comes down to something Winston Churchill said.  He didn’t know he was offering advice to writers; he was speaking to a nation at war at the time.  But it’s true for us as well nonetheless:

 

Now do you see why Winston Churchill is one of my heroes?

 

A hero, a church, and a BFF

So I know you’re all dying to find out where I’ve been.   Sorry to disappoint you, but it wasn’t a top-secret mission.  And it wasn’t a research trip, either.  At least not originally.  It was just supposed to be a little getaway with my BFF.  That changed once we arrived at our destination, however, as so often happens when I’m traveling.  For us writers, story ideas lurk in the most unexpected places…

And this time, that unexpected place was the middle of nowhere–the tiny town of Fulton, Missouri, to be exact.

(Sorry Fulton, I don’t mean to insult you, but you kinda have to admit you really ARE in the middle of nowhere…)

The first thing you see when you drive into town is the church.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury

Isn’t it gorgeous?  That’s because it’s a Christopher Wren church.  Wren was the legendary 17th-century English architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, one of my favorite spots in the whole world, which played a part in my book Spy Mice: Goldwhiskers.  So how did this church, built in England in the 12th century, destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666, restored and rebuilt by Wren only to be destroyed again in 1941 during the Blitz of World War II, the church where the poet John Milton was married and where Shakespeare–Shakespeare!— most likely worshipped–end up in MISSOURI of all places, you ask?  Ah, therein lies a tale.

And the tale begins with Winston Churchill, one of my heroes.  Here’s a picture of him:

Winston Churchill

See that quote above his head?  It says “Criticism is easy, achievement is difficult.”  I love that!  Winston was full of great sayings like this — in addition to being Prime Minister of Britain during World War II, he was also a writer.  More on that in a minute.

First, though, let’s turn the clock back to 1946.  The war has been over for a year; Churchill is no longer Prime Minister. Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri (believe it or not this tiny town boasts not one but TWO fine liberal arts colleges — Westminster and William Woods University) decides to invite Churchill to give a speech.  But how to convince this world-famous statesman to make the trip?

President Harry Truman was in the White House at the time, and he and Churchill were great friends.  It just so happened that a Westminster College alum worked at the White House, and he offered to give the invitation to Truman first and see if maybe he would add a personal note as an enticement. Truman did, telling Churchill that this college was in his home state of Missouri, and that he’d be glad to accompany him and introduce him if he agreed to come.

Long story short — Churchill DID come, Truman DID accompany him (apparently the two played poker all the way from Washington on the train), and the speech was a huge success.  In fact, it became one of Churchill’s most famous, and in it he coined the term “Iron Curtain” and warned the world of the communist threat and the coming Cold War.

Have I lost you?  Sorry — I’m kind of a history wonk.  Did you know that about me?  And you wonder where Darcy Hawthorne gets it…

Fast forward a couple of decades.  In 1966, the college decided to create a museum to honor Churchill and commemorate the 20th anniversary of his speech.  The church of St. Mary Aldermanbury, meanwhile, which had been bombed out during the war, was still in ruins and slated to be bulldozed. It was given to the college, who transported it stone by stone to Fulton, and restored and rebuilt it to house the museum in its basement.

So Patty, my BFF (yes, the same Patty to whom I dedicated Home for the Holidays) and I had been talking for a while about a wee getaway next time I visited St. Louis, where I often go to see my son, who attends college nearby.   She knows I love history, and she’d heard of Fulton, so that’s how we ended up there.  We stayed at this adorable B&B called the Loganberry Inn:

Loganberry Inn

I was in the Margaret Thatcher room, where the former prime minister stayed (yup, the very same one that Meryl Streep portrayed in the movie The Iron Lady, and for whom she just won an Oscar) when she came to Fulton in 1996 for the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s famous speech.   Patty was across the hall in the William Woods room.  It was just like being back in college together!  We put our pajamas and robes on and stayed up late watching a movie and talking, and snacking on the inn’s famous homemade cookies.  Breakfast the following morning was amazing — I wish I’d thought to take a picture of it for you.  The apple French toast was both glorious to look at and even more glorious to eat…

Also glorious was the inn’s dog Logan, a most adorable little Shih Tzu.  Here he is snoozing on the rug in the parlor:

What could be nicer than an inn with a resident dog who likes to snuggle with the guests?  Logan spent a very happy half hour in my lap after we got back from the Churchill Museum.

TO BE CONTINUED

Tomorrow:  More fun in Fulton — and another dollop of history — as we peek inside the museum, tour the church, and learn a writing tip or two from Winston Churchill!