Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Viral Power of Blogging

Among the lessons I've learned in publishing a novel is that the Internet is an amazing tool to spread ideas.  Blogging enables distribution of information at the headwaters of a network of connections that lead all sorts of unexpected places.

Last week's book review of One Summer in Arkansas by Aimee Whetstine on her popular blog "Everyday Epistle" has opened so many doors, especially among young people around the country who follow Aimee's work and respect her opinions.

Today, another popular blogger, Amy Heinz, whose parenting site "Using Our Words" is followed by many parents of young children, used some of the characters in One Summer in Arkansas to address the persistent specter of parenting gone wrong, including a giveaway of the book on her site:

When you undertake the serious work of writing something you hope will see the light of day, you expect to encounter challenges and to learn something along the way.  Sometimes you're surprised at what that turns out to be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Have You Read Any Rilke This Week?

In an age of disruption – the economic displacement caused by globalization, the social changes enabled by technology, the fractiousness of political polarization – it’s easy to lose your bearings.

Nothing grounds you like good poetry.

Many of the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke speak of surrender, of yielding to something bigger than yourself.

For all of us who are determined to control our lives through force of will, it’s useful to listen to what Rilke has to say about the swan – so awkward on land and so magnificent when, reluctantly letting go of solid ground, he gives in to what he was meant to be.

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water.  It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

Thank you, Mary Maaga.

Friday, January 18, 2013

‘One Summer in Arkansas’ Book Review by Aimee Whetstine

Marcia Kemp Sterling’s first novel One Summer in Arkansas draws readers into the “intoxicating warmth” of a southern summer, from Thomas Hinton’s soulful cover art to the final twist of resolution.

The story spins around small-town golden boy Lee Addison. His smarts, hard work, and genes are about to pay off. At the behest of his mother, Lee returns to his hometown of Riverton in rural Arkansas to spend one last summer there between graduating from Stanford Law School and beginning his career. It’s the early 90s, and Lee is poised for success in the sleek, corporate law firms of San Francisco. But Lee’s last summer in Riverton resurrects a tangle of abandonment, addiction, murder, passion, and sullied histories that rise to burn with the summer temperatures.

Read the full review by Aimee Whetstine...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Beginning for the New Year

For the last 15 years we’ve spent New Year’s Eve weekend at a small retreat held at Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula, just up the road from Spanish Bay.  The Ano Nuevo retreat was started by a local couple who didn’t care for New Year’s Eve parties but did enjoy conversations around a fireplace on issues that matter.

There are walks along the sand dunes under the bright California sun as waves shatter onto the rocks and deer nibble grasses under the pines, followed by fireplace chats among friends that lend a new perspective on issues that affect all of us.

This year I moderated a discussion on the subject of how to keep growing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually during the retirement years.

Like every other phase of life (raising children, establishing yourself in your profession), success in the retirement years requires strategy and new skills.  While it’s a relief to own your own time and escape the pressures of work, we need to keep trying new things to maximize our enjoyment and vibrancy during this phase of life.

Using the work of Martin Seligman to frame the discussion, we talked about the three elements of a life of well-being:  (1) positive emotion, (2) engagement and (3) meaning.  The last two are key elements for seniors.

Seligman talks about engagement as “being in the flow,” i.e., when you are so wrapped up in what you are doing that you lose sense of time.  If asked, you couldn’t say whether you were happy or not because you were so completely engrossed.  This “flow” is triggered by different things for each of us.  Seligman talks about it as using your greatest talent in the face of your greatest challenge.

His third element, leading a life of meaning, may involve devoting yourself to a higher cause, a relationship or establishment of community.  We talked about the difficulty of finding community in our busy American culture where friends no longer drop by unannounced and we’re pulled in a million directions.

We talked about hanging onto the wonder a child feels and the joy of anticipation which can fade when you’ve done so much and been so many places.  We also talked about the resiliency some people have when facing illness and loss and where that reserve of positive energy comes from.

We always come away from Asilomar refreshed and looking forward to the year ahead.