Marcia Strykowski

Visiting Carl Larsson

Larsson_-_Self_PortraitCarl Larsson (May 28, 1853 — Jan. 19, 1919) was born very poor in Stockholm, Sweden. Between attending the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts and later meeting his wife, Karin, a fellow artist, his life turned around. In 1888 they received a house from Karin’s father. They completely renovated their new home according to their unique artistic tastes and raised eight children there. Still today, tourists flock to Sundborn to visit this historic site.
Above is one of Carl’s self portraits and below shows Karin and two of their children in her kitchen.LARSSON Till_en_liten_vira_(Carl_Larsson)LARSSON Söndagsvila

cottage frontKarin’s designs throughout their home are shown in many of Carl’s paintings. They created a newly recognized Swedish folk style that replaced the current style of heavy, dark furnishings.
Several summers ago my family and I were able to stay in a secluded oceanfront cottage located on the coast of Maine, and inspired by Carl and Karin Larsson’s home. Vibrant lovely details were throughout the house. We felt like we were in Sweden!cottagekitchen 4lossy-page1-1280px-Carl_Larsson_-_Ett_hem_10_-_1899.tifRoyal Princess SuiteNote the similarities of color and design in the above two pictures of a four-poster bed—one from Carl’s paintings and the other our summer cottage.
Hall area2ship ladder to loftUp the ship ladder to the loft. Look at that ocean view!Loft for a Prince

I’ll end with this gorgeous painting of Little Red Riding Hood, created by Carl in 1881. For another article about Little Red Riding Hood illustrations, please click here. And for a similar post about Monet’s beautiful home in Giverny, here.Larsson_-_Little_Red_Riding_Hood_1881

Food Fun

Below are a few recipe cards I’ve recently added to this blog’s Recipes & Crafts section. To find lots of other fun ideas, click here, or on the menu tab. Happy snacking!
fruit bowl

Even though it seems summer has hardly begun, Halloween will be here before we know it.
halloween treatshalloween treats 2

September Author Spotlight

phoebe stoneI’m excited to have award-winning author Phoebe Stone share her thoughts on this month’s author spotlight. Not only is Phoebe a prolific author, but she is an amazing painter, as well. Be sure to visit her website after viewing the beautiful photograph of her with a few of her paintings at the end of this post. Meanwhile, let’s get right to the questions.

Please share a little about your books.

PS1All my novels so far have been written in the first person. It’s quite a challenge to get the voice in each book to sound different from my others. But that’s a challenge I love. I usually write from an eleven or twelve-year-old girl’s perspective. I wrote “The Romeo and Juliet Code” and its sequel “Romeo Blue” using my childhood experiences in England and my love of the sea and my interest in World War II. PS4aThe main character Flissy Bathburn is English but I set that book in a large old house on the ocean in Maine.
My new book (to be published by Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic) is coming out next spring.  It takes place in present day France! This is the very first time I have told anyone about it!  It will be called “Paris for Two.” I am pretty excited about it.

Congratulations, Phoebe, “Paris for Two” sounds wonderful!

How has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work?

The sense of place is very important in my books.  When I am writing a story I know I will be spending many hours in that place so I want it to be an interesting and enriching place, a place with personality, a place with mystery and poetry, a place that inspires me. And I love houses. My grandmother’s house, my mother’s house, houses my family lived in when I was growing up, houses I long to live in that I have only seen from afar, houses with a sense of romance, houses with a sense of intrigue, houses with a story of their own to tell.
Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

When I begin writing a first draft for a novel I have no idea where I am going. It’s quite a bit like a journey that you set out on with a little knapsack on your back with only a few supplies…I am no good at reading maps and I never plot out a story before I start. So there is a bit of anxiety when I begin.  Where am I going? What’s going to happen? Will I find the end, my destination? phoebe double 4I just start writing and yes, at first I wander a little bit because I haven’t determined the direction.  And then suddenly things begin to take shape. I find the road and begin to understand where I am going. Sometimes along the way I can glimpse the end of the book far off in the distance. I stop and write it down. That eases my anxiety.  At least I know where I am going to end up. Then I can begin to figure out how and what happens in order to arrive at this end. 

For me the anxiety puts an edge on things and I think that’s good. If I don’t know what will happen next and am in a process of discovery, perhaps my readers will feel the same.  

In a fumbling way I find my story. Then I go back and cut my earlier wanderings.  I begin to shape the book. And I talk things over with my editor.  Every time I rework a story, a new layer occurs. I arrive at things I never could have in just one pass. So yes, I take the journey many times, but the first journey is the most exciting and the scariest.
phoe double 2What advice would you give to new authors/illustrators hoping to become published?

Don’t give up. You might have to be a bit of a maniac.  Writing is not  a part time thing. Expect you will have to sacrifice some real life for inner life.  Dedicated writers actually give up quite a lot to accomplish what they have accomplished.  “No, I can’t go on that hike with you guys, I have a deadline!” It takes many hours to learn to write well and then to maintain it.  We aren’t ballerinas or basketball players but it takes the same kind of constant will and practice.
PS5For novelists, if you wish to get published you have only one goal: to get good at what you are doing. If your book is good with good unique writing and good characters and a good sense of place and a good plot, you will get published. It will happen.
And I always advocate listening to great books read aloud on CDs. It’s important to hear the cadence, the flow, the rhythm of good lines in great books. It’s a wonderful enriching way to learn.

Phoebe-Stone-with-her-artwork-1favorite movie = Doctor Zhivago.  I know, it’s a tiny bit dated.  The clothing and hair-dos are so 1960.  But what a movie! What a plot! Such romance and poetry, such characters, such music and the sets are memorable. Omar Sharif is magnificent. And I believe the critics panned the movie when it first appeared. I think that broke the director David Lean’s heart. 
favorite hobby= I like to go to flea markets and find some piece of fabric, perhaps a curtain from the 1800s that  will inspire me with its color and design and make me wonder who owned it and why. I also love to paint. In fact, I started out as a painter and went to art school.
favorite color= Right now it’s yellow. A yellow room is a room full of sunshine.  It’s a rich color but it never steals the light from a room.  Instead it adds light and paintings look beautiful against yellow. 
favorite book= Anything by Beatrix Potter. She has such charm and such style and she is such a master of her craft. Wow.
favorite vacation= All of them.  They bring so much joy and inspiration.  And a vacation stands out forever in one’s memory. More please!

To learn more about Phoebe and her beautiful books, please click here for her website.
Phoebe, thank you for this amazing look into your creative life!

Audio Book Update

I’m a big fan of audio books. I listen to them coming and going from my library job and while waiting for my daughter at the train station. Sure, you can sometimes get distracted in traffic (since paying attention to the road is your main concern, of course :) ) but the beauty of audio books is you can go back a track and catch up on what you may have missed. Other times, when you are able to listen carefully, you’ll be able to hear the rhythm and flow of sentences, the difference in character voices and feel the pacing of the story as a whole. Here are some of my recent ‘reads.’audio collage

I tend to choose a lot of historical fiction titles. As well as the above all being great stories, much of the enjoyment depends on who reads the novel. For example, you can’t go wrong with Sissy Spacek reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” or Reese Witherspoon reading “Go Set a Watchman.” For a special treat, listen to Jacqueline Woodson reading her own “Brown Girl Dreaming.” I’m only partway through “The Nightingale,” but I know I’ll continue to enjoy it because the reader’s voice is wonderful. Whereas “At the Water’s Edge” probably wasn’t one of my favorites. Great setting and concept, but it had a slow start and all it takes is a bit of an odd inflection in the reader’s voice to bring you out of the story. “Divergent,” like “Hunger Games,” keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the discs. And I’d be remiss to leave out the Penderwicks. All four books in the series are read to perfection.
If you click on the below picture of audio books you can learn about these favorites and more from my March 2014 post. How about you? Any favorite audios or novels in general?

audio favorites

Edith’s Beautiful Home

edith 8It’s time for a peek into another long-ago famous author’s amazing home. Influential writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937) designed and built ‘The Mount’ in lovely Lenox, Massachusetts, beginning in 1902.
Edith Wharton's houseWhile living on this 100+ acre estate she wrote some of her most beloved works, including “The House of Mirth” and “Ethan Frome.”
edith 3edith 4Although she was pretty much self-educated, Edith still managed to win the Pulitzer Prize for “The Age of Innocence.” Significant to note, she was the first woman to be honored with this prize.
edith 1 Inside The Mount, her dining room table is set with name placards of a typical dinner party, including a place for her friend Mr. Henry James to her left.
edith 5Edith_WhartonThe posed picture, at right, shows Edith at her writing desk, but she actually did all of her writing in bed. In this room, original handwritten pages of her work are laid out for visitors to see. DSC00278 - CopyPortraits of her father and brothers hang over the headboard. She produced over 40 books in 40 years, including novels, short stories, poetry, and well-regarded works on travel, architecture, garden, and interior design. Only nine of those years were spent at this location. The outside grounds of The Mount are absolutely gorgeous. Edith considered her skill in gardening to be greater than her ability to write.
edith 6
I am amazed at the success of my efforts. Decidedly, I’m a better landscape gardener than novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth. . . “edith 7“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”–Edith Wharton

edith 2For previous posts on author homes, please see Mark Twain and The Concord Authors.

Can you imagine living in such beautiful surroundings ’round the clock? I’m sure we’d all create great works if we did :), but meanwhile check out some of the ongoing events (including ghost tours) held at The Mount and thanks for joining me for another author house stop!

August Author Spotlight

Colby author photoNext up is Rebecca Colby, a picture book author and poet from England. Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected pantyhose, taught English in Taiwan, worked for a Russian comedian and traveled the world as a tour director. We’ve included a link to a fun scavenger hunt at the end of this post, so be sure to read carefully for clues. But first, welcome to Rebecca!

Please share a little about your books.
Thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog today, Marcia. You know, even though it’s been almost 18 months since my first book came out, I still have to pinch myself when I’m asked that question as I can’t believe the dream of publishing my work has come true.

HI RES BATS & FROGS coverI write picture books and poetry and both of my published books feature some rhyme. The latest book, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, has only just released with Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan) and is illustrated by Steven Henry. It’s about a young witch named Delia, who has been looking forward all year to flying in the annual Witch Parade. But when parade day brings heavy rain and threatens the parade, Delia decides to take action. Using her best magic, she changes the rain to cats and dogs. But that doesn’t work too well! Then hats and clogs. That doesn’t work either! Each new type of rain brings a new set of problems and Delia has to find another way to save the day.

lassie 2My debut book, There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie, came out in March 2014 with Floris Books and was illustrated by Kate McLelland. It’s a Scottish twist on the much-loved rhyme about the old lady who swallows a fly. In it, the wee lassie swallows a succession of Scotland’s favorite creatures to catch that pesky midgie—including a puffin, a Scottie dog, a seal, and even Nessie. But you’ll have to read the book to find out whether or not wee lassie finally eats her fill.

Breaking news from Marcia: I’ve just learned that Rebecca has sold yet another picture book manuscript. Keep your eyes peeled for Motor Goose and CONGRATULATIONS, Rebecca, that’s AMAZING!
Now back to our previously scheduled interview.

How has where you’ve lived or traveled influenced your work?

Anything that is experienced by a writer can influence their work, and that’s certainly the case for me. While I feel most of my work is influenced by my childhood upbringing in the States, There was a Wee Lassie who Swallowed a Midgie probably wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t traveled regularly to Scotland as a tour director in the past. Also, my recent release, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, was very much influenced by the rainy weather we have where I live in England.

Could you briefly tell us your writing process?

I spend a lot of time staring at blank pieces of paper. I started this bad habit as a teenager, falsely believing that I could channel a talented, deceased writer to do all the hard work for me. Sadly, this process never worked, so instead, I try to come up with a catchy title and plan a book around the title.

I don’t necessarily recommend this process, but it works for me. In part, it works because I’m so enthused about my title, that I find any way possible to make it work. I believe it also works for me because I allow myself plenty of time to ruminate on that title. I don’t push myself to write too quickly. I sit and day dream. Or I go for a long, meditative walk. This is not a luxury I allowed myself when I first started writing. I felt all writing time had to be spent doing just that—writing, and getting words down on the page. But with time, I’ve realized the wisdom of ample thinking time in advance of writing. And the thinking time really does pay off! (And here’s your pay off—if you’re playing the scavenger hunt, Agatha is one of the answers.)

What advice would you give to new authors hoping to become published?
Plan to do lots of reading, lots of writing, surround yourself with like-minded individuals, and don’t ever give up! It’s easy to become impatient with the publishing industry and frustrated with the many rejections that come with the job. You’ve got to take the long-term view, have faith in yourself and your work, and the determination to not give up on your dream no matter how long it takes. The best thing I ever did for my own career was join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and to find a good critique group. Both of them have been instrumental in pushing my writing to the next level and connecting me with people in the publishing industry.

favorite book = This is an impossible question for me to answer. Like my children, I have more than one and they’re very different but I love them equally. Anything on my bookshelf by travel writer and humourist, Bill Bryson, is bound to be well-loved but one of my favorite children’s books has always been The Lorax.
favorite movie = The Sound of Music. It’s one of the first films I remember seeing as a child and one that never grows old. My own children love it now too.
favorite vacation = We took a family cycling trip around the Netherlands that was pretty fantastic! I’m generally up for going anywhere that I haven’t visited before but preferably somewhere with lots of outdoor activities and hiking.
favorite hobby = Hmm…I’d like to say it’s writing but I’d be lying because I’d far rather be dancing.
favorite color = Fuschia pink! The brighter the better.

If you weren’t a children’s book author, what career(s) would you like to try?
Ooh, there’s so many to choose from (and dare I say, so many I’ve already tried)! Top of the list would be a drummer in a country western band, a dance choreographer, or a screenwriter. I just need to learn to play the drums first!

Thanks for your fun answers, Rebecca. I’m looking forward to that percussion act. Keep in touch with Rebecca via these links: website  Twitter and in case you were sharp enough to catch a clue, here’s the link to her Scavenger Hunt. To answer your question–are there prizes?–YES!


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