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Posts Tagged ‘Marian Allen’


Here’s Mary, tour guide extraordinaire.

Today we’ve put the Magic Dog on a leash and walked down the street to the Corner Cafe, where we’ve caught up with Mary Montague Sikes, a woman who knows exactly what a vacation should involve–an exotic location, a mysterious, studly stranger, a beautiful woman (who is “us,” of course), a spice of danger, and romance. How do we know this? Her popular Passenger to Paradise series proves it. She’s been writing books that offer her readers a taste of the perfect summer vacation for 10 years now.

Bodie: Hi, Mary, thanks for meeting us. We’re all curious, though–why here?  What is The Corner Cafe, and what’s so special about it?

Mary: Almost every small town has a gathering place—a diner, a cozy family-run restaurant. That’s what the Corner Café is for me. This quaint little restaurant has been in business for many years and is now a community landmark.

Bodie: But The Corner Cafe  is also a charming collection of short stories produced by Dani Greer, mastermind and blog book tour maestro, and you have a short story in it, right?

Mary: Right–“A Face at the Window.”

Bodie P: “A Face at the Window” starts out like many of your travel books–a young woman finds herself in dire need of a vacation, so she packs a bag and heads out. But that’s where the similarities end. Your central character, Arianna, has tragically lost a child, and in seeking to escape the anniversary of her loss she winds up in Milwaukee, possibly one of the least “exotic” cities in America. And there’s not a whiff of beefcake in sight. What prompted this story?

Mary: Last summer we spent several days in Milwaukee where I visited the beautiful art museum located on Lake Michigan. One of the exhibits that most impressed me was the bronze sculpture with a countless number of the same male figure, mouth open in a cry. That exhibit left a lasting memory for me. The story itself was prompted by something that happened years ago when our middle daughter was four years old. We were crossing a street to one of the Smithsonian Museums when she suddenly disappeared. I still remember my terrible panic which, of course, she never understood. What if I had never found her?

Bodie: Remember that movie, Tootsie? There’s a scene where Jeff (played by Bill Murray) says, “I don’t want people to say, ‘I saw your play. I liked it.’ I want them to say, ‘I saw your play. What happened?’ “A Face at the Window” is like that. I read your story.  And after I read the closing words I found myself wondering, What happened next? I don’t want to give away the end of the story for those who haven’t read it yet, but is there anything you can share without doing that? If you see Arianna and her daughter in another ten years, where are they? What are they doing?

Mary: That’s a very good question. In this age of the Internet, people do reconnect. Children find parents they never knew. Sometimes reconnecting can destroy a family. I know of one such case. I can see this story as the beginning of a novel. I’m going to think about it.

Bodie: In Arianna, you’ve written a character who badly needs the sort of escape your “Passenger to Paradise” series offers. Since we’re just heading into summer, can you recommend a few summer reading destinations you think we’d particularly enjoy?

Mary: I love the Caribbean where St. Martin is one of my favorite destinations. Although I haven’t written about it yet, I have a story set there waiting for me to tell. My book Secrets by the Sea  is set on another favorite Caribbean Island, Antigua. A sequel, Jungle Jeopardy,  is more of an adventure and is set in Central America. Jamaica is my favorite destination of all—we’ve been there more than a dozen times. My very first novel Hearts Across Forever  is set there. If you enjoy reincarnation stories, you’ll want to read this one.

Bodie: Thanks, Mary, and thanks for introducing us to The Corner Cafe. (All right, all right–full disclosure prompts me to admit that I already know about it, and this is part of a little thing we like to call a “blog book tour,” where a bunch of us bloggers get together and decide we’re going to blog about one thing–in this case, a book for which many of us contributed a short story or two–and we’re going to do it in succession. And so the party rolls across the internet, going from blog to blog, spreading the glad news that The Corner Café is open for business. Tomorrow The Corner Café book tour visits Heidi Thomas‘ very fine blog. Stop in and say hi. If you’d like to download The Corner Cafe for yourself, you can do it here for the very fine price of 99¢. Or, if you’re really thrifty, wait for a free download weekend–I believe we have one coming up soon (like in a couple of days).

Mary: Thank you so much for having me as your guest, Bodie. Now I want to hit the road for one of those beautiful destinations where a fragrant summer breeze dances through my hair.

And thank you, Gentle Readers, for joining us on this stop of The Corner Café’s blog book tour. Here’s the tour itinerary. Please join us for tomorrow’s scheduled event!

June 8 Heidi Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com
June 11 Marian Allen http://www.marianallen.com/
June 12 W.S Gager http://wsgager.blogspot.com
June 13 Chris Verstraete http://candidcanine.blogspot.com
June 14 Helen Ginger http://straightfromhel.blogspot.com
June 15 Kathy Wheeler
June 18 Morgan Mandel Double M http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
June 19 Pat Bean http://patbean.wordpress.com
June 20 Shonell Bacon http://chicklitgurrl.blogspot.com
June 21 Alberta Ross http://albertaross.wordpress.com
June 22 Karen Casey Fitzjerrell http://karencaseyfitzjerrell.blogspot.com
June 25 Pat Stoltey http://patriciastoltey.blogspot.com
June 26 SB Lerner http://www.susanblerner.com
June 27 Maryann Miller http://its-not-all-gravy.blogspot.com/
June 28 Mary Montague Sikes http://marymontaguesikes.blogspot.com
June 29 Stephen Tremp http://breakthroughblogs.blogspot.com

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Today I get to  open my second present, the “Versatile Blogger” award from Marian Allen. The Magic Dog and I are beside ourselves because, hey, you can do that when you’re versatile! Or flexible! At any rate, we’re very, very happy. Getting recognition for blogging is lovely. It’s like getting money for talking. Sort of. Anyhow, we’re pleased as punch to have the “Versatile Blogger” award with which to deck the Magic Doghouse this holiday season. It’s getting very festive around here.

However, as with most of these things, this award comes with strings and conditions. I could, of course, simply keep the award and ignore my moral obligations, but where the fun be in that? Also, probably no one would ever give me an award again. So before I sit back, relax, and enjoy my award, I’ll take the time to say “thank you” nicely to Marian (“Thank you, Marian, this is really lovely.”) and then I’ll fulfill the geas placed upon me as a condition of accepting the award. Here we go:

I must:
Thank the person who gave me the award and link back to her. (dunnit)
List seven things about myself.
Give the award to seven friends.

Seven things about myself? Holy cow. I don’t think I even know seven things about myself. Still, though, Marian’s likely to come and repossess the award if I don’t at least give it the old college try.

1. The first thing about me is that I was probably born in the wrong century. Those who know me have referred to me more than once as a “Renaissance Woman.” For those unfamiliar with the term, a Renaissance Man, Woman, or person was an ideal developed during the–you guessed it–Renaissance. A Renaissance person could do a wide range of things well, though he or she might not rise to the level of genius at any of them. For instance, Leonardo DaVinci’s keen interest in engineering, art, and anatomy marks him as a Renaissance Man, though less of one than Raphael, who could paint,and compose music, and sing, and write poetry, and design buildings. None of his work reaches the level of that produced by DaVinci, Michelangelo, and others, but where their genius was deep, his was broad. That’s me. I do a lot of things well, but I’m not a genius at any of them. For instance:

2. I can wire an old truck. This is because we were getting ready for grain harvest one year and the blinkers on my truck didn’t work. My dad handed me a roll of electrical wire, a box of fittings, and a set of wire cutters and told me, “Start at the back lights and trace the wires. Where they’re broken, wire them together. Go until you get to the battery. Make sure it’s connected. Try the lights. If they work, you’re done. If they don’t work, start at the back again and figure out where the connection is broken.” And I did it. I could do it again.

3. I can work all the way through a Kenworth’s gears–up and down–without grinding, and without using the clutch. This will mean nothing to many of you, but I spent every summer from the year I was fifteen to the year I was twenty-four honing that skill, and I still take great pride in it.

4. I can put just about any baby to sleep. It’s not exactly a skill. I don’t really know what it is, except that it’s probably related to my skill at managing dairy cattle without getting them all het up and without getting kicked. It’s probably also related to my soothing effect on clients. People and cows come around me, they calm right down to the point they’re practically comatose.

5. I can multiply decimals. This is my Math Skill, developed because otherwise how could I figure out invoices? I’m hopeless at fractions, geometry, and algebra, but I’m hell on wheels with decimals.

6. I can paint a picture from scratch using PhotoShop. It’s too technical to go into in great detail, but I can hold an image in my head, lay it out, apply color, blend and brush stroke it (no filters; that’s cheating), and come out with something printable. If you doubt me, go check out my online show. The paintings here have been printed numerous times, at sizes ranging from six feet tall to 8 inches tall. And they work.

7. I can write. And I do. Please check out the tabs at the top of this page. Or better yet, buy some books.

8. I can teach. I’m very good at it. And I’m going to be starting doing it again this spring.

9. I can keep three computers, a drafting table, a fax, a telephone, an adolescent boy, and the House Leroy busy, all at the same time.

10. I can type with a cat sitting on my hands.

It appears what I can’t do is either a) follow directions, or b) count. I was only supposed to do seven things; I did ten. Maybe this should become number 11: I’m an over-achiever?

Okay, now for the part you’ve all been waiting for: Who gets the award? I’ve decided to give it to the following people. Enjoy, folks–come get your award–and don’t forget the rules.

Adventures in Children’s Publishing
Barbara Ardinger’s blog on Women’s Radio
Charles Forgues
Kara Petersen’s Ponderings
From the Compost
Writer Advice
HearWriteNow

That does it, people–take a few minutes and check out these blogs, then come on back. We’ll be waiting.

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“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” my dad used to tell us. What he meant was just that the absence of a jack was no excuse for not changing a flat tire. “Look around you,” he’d say impatiently. “If you don’t have the right tool for the job, figure it out. There’s always stuff in the back of the truck, and lying on the ground.”

I got to be very, very good at building tools out of rocks, old railroad ties, and baling twine. It’s a strange skill, but there it is. I have a knack for seeing relationships that aren’t always immediately apparent.

I like to think of it as having a touch of the metaphysical poets. My Romantic English Literature professor put it another way. “Boy, do you ever have a vivid imagination,” he said.  I still got an “A”, though, so that was all right.

But even my metaphysical brain didn’t expect to find common threads running through books as seemingly diverse as Brenda Peterson’s memoir, I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here On Earth, and Marian Allen’s fantasy, Eel’s Reverence. It wasn’t until I was actually writing the reviews for the two books that I found myself saying, “Hey…”. And then I started looking. And there they were–a lot of them, actually, far too many to discuss here.

The most striking, of course, is the examination each offers into the knotty subject of personal spirituality versus organized religion.  Readers who haven’t been following the discussion can catch up if they wish; just go back to Marian Allen’s interview, and read forward.

The central conflict in Allen’s book grows out of that very issue; Aunt Libby, a “true” priestess advocating a personal spiritual experience stripped of the trappings of religion, finds herself squared off against not the “reaver” priests, who offer a turnkey approach to soul maintenance and seem to operate more or less peaceably with the “true” priests, but a corrupt coalition of priests set on destroying all other spiritual options, and garnering all temporal and spiritual powers for themselves. Peterson’s memoir explores the same issue from another angle–she describes growing up a mystic in a family of Southern Baptists.

What strikes me most about the two books, though, is not that they both explore the relationship between religion, spirituality and power–after all, tthe question is the subject of constant debate these days. What I find most amazing is that both writers seem to find a system that gives power to neither path, but permits both, to be the uneasy solution.

Eel’s Reverence doesn’t conclude with a triumphant Aunt Libby trouncing her foes the reaver priests, but with an agreement that ensures people are offered both spiritual options–an agreement that allows for cooperation, conversation–and possibly conversion. Likewise, Peterson concludes her book by tracing her own family’s steps toward not agreement, but toward the sort of conversation that includes listening as well as speaking, that seeks to understand, rather than convince.

She includes a quote by Rumi, a 13th-century Afghani mystic poet:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

And perhaps that is the most striking thing of all–neither author sees resolution in the triumph of “right” over “wrong,” but in a world where  there is room for choice: one in which there are indeed many ways to skin a cat. Allen and Peterson may have traveled vastly different routes, but they have both found their way to the field beyond.

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Priests can get their noses out of joint, and old women still have their pride. I’d been a priest of Micah for 68 of my 82 years and a woman for all 82 of them; when my congregation began drifting away to the flashy new temple down the street, something snapped. If my parish wanted a new priest, I wasn’t going to stay and hang on by my nails.

So begins Marian Allen’s newly released novel, Eel’s Reverence, and so begins the great karmic irony of the book: The speaker and central character –82-year-old priestess of Micah “Aunt Libby”—abandons her temple and sets off on a “Final Wandering.” The “wandering” seems to be motivated primarily by self-pity; when a former parishioner offers her a ride and food she is irritated that he has spoiled the “effect” of her leaving, rather than grateful for his generosity.

In short order her “wandering” leads her to The Eel—a coastal region populated by mermayds, reaver priests, mercenaries, and a cowed and fearful citizenry.  When the Aunt Libby is exiled and the innkeeper who gives her shelter burned out she finds herself faced with the very situation that prompted her to abandon her shrinking congregation in the first place—in spades.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I won’t tell you how it turns out. Be warned, though: don’t take anything for granted. Nothing is quite what it seems.

I started Eel’s Reverence expecting a good read; Marian Allen knows her way around a keyboard and a red pencil. She has numerous books and short stories to her credit and hangs out from time to time over at the Blood-Red Pencil, where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a great writer or editor.

What I hadn’t expected was a book that raises so many questions about issues: One of the central conflicts in the book is driven by the uneasy relationship between private spirituality and established religion. Another issue explored is the advantages—and disadvantages—of citizenship. The mermayd population of The Eel is resistant to the citizenship—and taxation, and curbs on behavior—being offered by the reaver priests. Their resistance raises an interesting question about how we outside of The Eel deal with alien populations. How do we balance the right to one’s culture with the need for a certain level of assimilation to the national culture?

Perhaps the most interesting conflict, though, is the one played out in Aunt Libby’s character. She leaves her temple because her parishioners are increasingly choosing the spiritual short cut—the financial salvation the reaver priests offer, rather than the personal soul-searching the “true” priests offer. Faced with the same situation—though magnified—in The Eel, she comes to see that there is a place for both. While some crave personal spirituality, there are also those for whom the simplicity of a finanacial transaction is sufficient—and people are best served by having both options available to them.

Writing a fantasy that feels real is a delicate balancing act, one that Allen manages with deft humor, all-too-believable characters, and the occasional fantastical reference that reminds us that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Take, for instance, the reproductive cycle of mermayds. Like seahorses, the females lay eggs—but the males gestate them in a belly pouch. Like some amphibians, they are capable of switching gender at need. And yet they are physically like mermaids—half human, half fish. The fantasy is real, and believable, because it is rooted in similar structures in the “real” world.

Perhaps that’s the key to Eel’s Reverence both as a darned good read, and as a book that provokes questions about our own world—the fantasy is fantastical enough to be fun, and real enough to be believable.  If you’d like to read more about Marian Allen, her books, and Eel’s Reverence visit her online here. If you’d like to order Eel’s Reverence, click here.

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