Posted by: MaraPurl | July 2, 2019

What’s In Your Library?

MaraPurl-Signs-TatteredCover-cropOriginally posted by interviewer Patrice Samara at Wordeee.com.

Mara Purl is a true Renaissance woman. She’s the co-author, with Erin Gray, of Act Right: a Manual for the On-Camera Actor and the author of Milford-Haven Novels & Novellas, which have won more than 30 book awards. As a journalist, her writing credits include cover stories for Rolling Stone, staff writing with the Financial Times of London, and an Associated Press assignment to cover the Apollo Soyuz mission, as the youngest reporter ever to win the NASA pool position in Mission Control. As an actress, Mara’s regular role on the TV soap opera Days Of Our Lives opened the door for her to create her own soap. She co-starred in Sea Marks by Gardner McKay and stars as Julia in Becoming Julia Morgan and is a narrator for audio book on Audible.com.

A frequent speaker at writing and author conferences, she was named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women and a 2019 Top Female Author by the Author Show. We caught up with Mara on a recent book tour to ask about her beloved library.

What’s special about your library?
I believe a person’s library can be seen as a portrait — of interests, of history, of development. That’s what makes my library so special to me. It contains, for example, the course work notebooks and texts I read and studied to earn my literature degree in English, American, and Japanese lit. It also includes books that became landmarks — some for personal, some for professional reasons. It has a rotating selection of fiction and non-fiction books that I donate after enjoying. And it holds earlier editions of my books, as well as published works by friends, colleagues, and consulting clients.

How many books in your library?
Roughly 3,000.

What is your favorite genre?
I have several. First is Women’s Fiction, because it’s the primary genre for which I write. I love my readers and want to know what else they enjoy reading. And I have a community of fellow authors in my genre. The second genre I enjoy is mystery and a few of its sub-categories, like Cozy, Police Procedural (Michael Connolly, Linda Fairstein), and Historical (Anne Perry, Ann Parker). In non-fiction, I enjoy Memoire, Sociology (Malcolm Gladwell), and Spiritual/Psychological (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Caroline Myss).

When did you receive your first book?
In infancy. My parents surrounded me and my sister with books and had an expansive library themselves that they always encouraged us to explore. I was the youngest person in our town to be granted a library card at age 3, by which time I was already an avid reader.

What was your favorite book as a child?
The Secret Garden.

Do you have an all-time favorite book?
The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki. This is thought to be the first novel written, and it was written by a woman. It’s a detailed picture of the multi-layered life in the ancient Japanese court, but it takes us into the interior of the characters’ lives. My second favorite is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, the first novelist to write not just the behavior but the consciousness and internal dialogue of her characters.

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Posted by: MaraPurl | March 27, 2019

Why Do Words Count?

CO Authors Hall of Fame-squareRecently I was invited to join the founding Board for a new organization, The Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame! Of course, I’m honored and excited, as are all the members. Authors are all about words, so I decided to weigh in on the question: why do words count? For me, the short answer is in three words: realizing; forming; sharing. The long answer goes something like this.

1. Realizing
Realization comes as we notice something making sense in a new way. It might come as a metaphor: that swooping butterfly is a Blue Angel jet streaking across the sky. Or it might come as a fresh perspective: I didn’t know I really love to cook. Whatever the realization is, it comes in words.

Some people aren’t great with words, some are. If you’re not, there are writers whose words can make sense of whatever you’re trying to understand. If you are, you’ll get confirmation from fellow word-smiths that you’re onto something valuable.
Words are the connective tissue between idea and expression. We tell ourselves about our ideas with words, using them to move from vague conjecture to clear concept.

2. Forming
Formation of ideas happens as we wrestle with our concepts. This formation process occurs as we try to put our ideas into . . . you guessed it, words.

This means words might be the most important tool in the universe: the Manifestation Tool. Once we have something expressed in words, our concept becomes actionable. We can list goals, enlist colleagues, plan deadlines, and make it all happen. Let’s say we want to build a house. How would we do it without words? How would be label the drawings, look for property, explain our concept? We couldn’t. And that brings us to:

3. Sharing
Now that we have realizations and ideas that have taken form, we get to share them. I can tell you about my new project, or my recent conversation—which also took place through words.

Some sharing we do in real time. But some of what we have to offer gets shared later. A memo can be read a week later. A letter can be read years letter. A book can be read centuries later.

Louis L’Amour, my friend and mentor, may still be writing in heaven, and I sure hope he is. But meanwhile, he left behind collections of his words in his hundred-plus books. He left a legacy of insight and detail about the American West that we just couldn’t understand nearly as well without his work.

Long afer we are gone, our words remain. The words we use stay in the memories of those who have heard us. And the words we write last forever encapsulating moments in time, creating gems in amber—like a Authors’ Hall of Fame.

Posted by: MaraPurl | June 10, 2018

Short Shorter Shortest Fiction

small medium large - decorativeAs a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, I study publishing industry trends, and do my best to track new opportunities for authors and our readers. My guest post all about the latest trends in shorter fiction is being hosted today. Here’s a brief intro, followed by a link to that post. Enjoy!

In today’s world of fiction writing and reading, almost all things are possible. You might beg to differ. “No one reads any more,” proclaim the naysayers. But I promise you, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Not only are people reading by the thousands, hundreds of thousands, and by the millions, but they’re reading both some of the longest, and some of the shortest fiction ever penned.

Newer delivery systems like e-books, blogs, and podcasts, have made it not only possible, but easy, for authors to reach their readers directly, without agents, traditional publishers or even bookstore owners dictating what form is acceptable.

When the latest and greatest iteration of my Milford-Haven saga was about to launch, I wrote my first short-fiction piece as a brief intro to my series. When Hummers Dream became my first best-seller and the rest of my books have followed, so my readers and I are on the same page. This is a great way to augment a series of novels.

The terrific fellow author and awesome blog host Anne R. Allen invited me to write a post for her marvelous blog for writers. Link right over to her blog to read the post, and be sure to let me know what you think!

Short Fiction is In! All About Novels, Novellas & Novelettes

Happy reading, happy writing!

Posted by: MaraPurl | May 29, 2018

Irritating Characters – Nemesis Mrs. Lime Debuts

When Hummers Dream_FinalWhen Hummers Dream, my first novelette, came about as one-quarter remembrance and three-quarters imagination.

The setting and the tone of this story is idyllic and even a bit magical. Based in part on a real experience I had, I remember so clearly the beauty of that day as my friends and I enjoyed lunch in a gorgeous garden with a spectacular ocean view. And then something bad happened . . . and it transformed into something transcendent, as you’ll see in this novelette.

In real life, we’d been enjoying ourselves, the experience made more marvelous by the hummingbirds flitting over bright blooms, when a hummer flew into a glass wall. My friends pronounced the little creature dead, but I thought not. Lifting the delicate bird, I carried him to a far corner of the garden, spoke to him as he rested in the palm of my hand, and felt his spirit near. After half an hour he flew off. Not only was I elated, but for the following year, every time I was in that neighborhood, a hummer “buzzed” me as if to say “Thank you!”

I knew I would write about this one day, and would try to include the magical-mysterious-spiritual aspect of the experience. Sure enough, the little bird tapped on my window pane as my publishers were preparing novel #1 of my series for launch. “Aha,” I thought. “It’s time!” Believe it or not, while I wrote this novelette, a hummer repeatedly hovered in the frame of one particular window pane, my little winged editor making sure I got the story right.

So yes, some of this story actually happened . . . but much of it takes place in the imagined life of my protagonist who helps her little bird by painting a dream-garden for him. Where reality ends and imagined-reality begins is hard to say.

And one element that did NOT happen in real life was the arrival of “Lime Woman” — a bossy, intrusive pill of a woman who barged into my story, startling me as much as she startled my protagonist Miranda. She seemed to arrive of her own accord and I had no choice but to let her walk all over my beautiful, peaceful story! But my author-self knew enough to trust that she actually belonged, even if I’d have loved to kick her out.

Comic relief . . . dramatic tension . . . extreme contrast . . . she serves all those purposes. She had me laughing, then my editor laughed out loud, and soon my readers decided she was a “contrarian favorite”.

When Hummers Dream launched, and this novelette flew to the top of the best-seller lists. The story, published as a prequel to What the Heart Knows, set a trend for prequel short fiction, and was embraced by the huge communities of hummingbird lovers I’d never known about, who wrote to me from all over the country. How wonderful to discover so many of us treasure these precious, tiny but mighty birds who fly thousands of miles each year, bringing joy when they arrive.

So even if  “Mrs. Lime” doesn’t love hummers—nor much of anything else—see if she brings you a laugh as you enjoy your visit to the magical garden in Milford-Haven.

Visit MaraPurl.com to subscribe to Mara’s newsletter and find out more about her books.

 

Posted by: MaraPurl | February 14, 2018

Writer at Work, Otters at Play

My latest book is When Otters Play, the next novella in the Milford-Haven saga. In honor of my “heart” series, I offer a special promotion each Valentine’s day. This year is particularly special because I’ve joined other Women’s Fiction authors to bring you a fabulous selection of books on sale for 99cents February 14th through February 20th. Click here to explore your next reads! http://www.tammylgrace.com/promotions/ From my heart to yours.

The word PLAY loomed large in my childhood, as it should in the life of any child. Children may not yet know how to navigate the world though language, comparative analysis or diplomacy, but at play they are experts.

I remember so clearly making castles of sand, or even of thin air, peopling them with fantastic characters, and inviting friends to join me in enacting elaborate storylines. Looking back, at first glance the dramatic role-playing seems cute, predictable, with some usefulness thrown in. How adorable that was, learning how to get along with others by taking turns playing the evil queen.

But then I looked deeper, and began to realize what child-psychologists and observant parents have always known: there’s a purpose to all this play, a step-by-step building of personality and self-esteem, of balancing shyness and privacy with standing up for oneself while creating rapport and friendship. Some of these moments may shine down the years, and some friendships may last a lifetime. Sadly, some experiences may also create terrible scars on a soul that a person then tries either to overcome—or to exact revenge—decades later.

So play is a word both bigger and deeper than it seems. And it’s in this sense that it became part of the title of my latest book, When Otters Play. http://marapurl.com/books/when-otters-play/

The protagonist of my Milford-Haven saga is the artist Miranda Jones, who paints landscape and wildlife. She has the same passion for her work as I do for mine, and both of us are committed to doing extensive research before we begin to take words to paper or paint to canvas. Though the core serial-saga unfolds in my novels, there is a set of stand-alone novellas I privately refer to as the “Critter Chronicles” of which this is the third. (The first two are When Hummers Dream http://marapurl.com/books/when-hummers-dream/ and When Whales Watch http://marapurl.com/books/when-whales-watch/ , in case you want to read them.)

In each, Miranda investigates a particular animal in the wild to prepare for completing some a painting or mural. I choose creatures from California’s gorgeous Central Coast where my series is set, and where Miranda loves to explore. One of the most iconic inhabitants of the region is the Southern Sea Otter, who truly is a coastal-critter, never wandering very far from shore, and living almost entirely within sight of humans—and who therefore themselves have humans in their sights daily.

Tourists and residents alike see them, but what do we see? We see cute creatures evidently at play. They play with their food—banging scallop shells to crack them open, for example. They play with their mates—rising up out of the water to collide, or rolling together in the branches of their native kelp beds. They play with their young, and their young are constantly at play, exploring their world as precious bundles of glistening fur, wide-eyed and curious, adorably awkward, mischievous and fascinating. Perhaps part of their appeal is that they have some almost-human qualities: sweet, symmetrical faces, and articulated paws, the closest thing to hands possessed by any creature in the sea.

But just as is the case with we humans, the sea otters have an overwhelming and demanding purpose to their play: to survive. Unlike all other sea mammals, the sea otter has no blubber to keep it warm, so it must constantly groom, as any oil or debris trapped in its pelt reduces the capacity to provide that shield of warmth. To keep up with their constant expenditure of energy, they must eat almost constantly. So when they’re not eating, they’re foraging. Diving to the bottom, they gather shellfish, among other delicacies, and tuck them into the folds of skin below their arms which form handy pockets.

History shows we almost lost the Southern Sea Otter entirely. With pelts more richly dense than any other on the planet, the species fell prey to Russian fur hunters whose own need to survive freezing winters led them on chases all the way along the coastlines of Alaska, Canada and the U.S. until they could find not one more otter to slay. This is chronicled in a marvelous book by Roger Seiler, Master of Alaska about which I blogged last summer. http://marapurl.com/meet-my-guest-author-roger-seiler/

As my protagonist discovers, in 1938 the environmentalist Margaret Owings discovered a small group of otters living in the mouth of Bixby Creek in Big Sur. It is thought that today’s population of southern sea otters all come from that small group, protected by Friends of the Sea Otter, there now exists a solid, if not yet robust population.

But into what context did these inventive creatures reappear? When I first began reading up on the current state of the sea otter, to my surprise, I found all kinds of conflicting reports. Some articles talked about how the otters were damaging fisheries and should be removed from the area, while some claimed the otters were actually saving the coastline. I didn’t see how both these arguments could hold water, as it were.

Then I read about an attempt by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to establish a colony of otters on San Nicholas Island—off the coast of Santa Barbara—in the hopes that if there were a devastating oil spill along the coast, the new population would continue to thrive and sea otters wouldn’t be wiped out completely. Because this new population was closer to lucrative fishing grounds in the Santa Barbara area, USFWS, responding to pressure from commercial fishermen, established a “No Otter Zone” from which the otters would be removed if found there.

Was it possible otters would happily settle in their new home and abandon the habits of centuries? And whom did this project benefit? Some said the oil companies, with a string of valuable offshore rigs nearby, wanted them moved for their own protection in the event of a spill. Some said the military, with a key base on the area, wanted them moved to prevent obstruction of vessels. It became clear that the weeks I’d set aside for research might not be sufficient to the task before I could begin writing. Little did I know at the time that the research would extend for three years, involve scores of interviews, and give me the chance to work both with the director of the sea otter rescue program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as with the Department of Fish and wildlife who monitor the wild population.

And here’s something more I discovered about the otters’ “play” and how it fits like a perfect puzzle piece in the local ecology. A particular favorite in their diet is urchin. And here’s one of nature’s brilliant full-circle designs. Kelp forests form the home for sea otters and many other species along the coastlines. Urchins attach themselves to the holdfasts—the root system—of the kelp stipes, or branches. Unless the urchin are kept in check, they can destroy an entire kelp forest more quickly than one might think possible. Enter the sea otter, who plucks the urchin away from holdfasts for a tasty snack, thus saving its own and its fellow coastal dwellers’ home.

So here was this cute, inventive, self-sufficient creature who was an “index species”—that is, one whose presence was a key to the ecological well-being of its own region. I was liking these furry, sweet-faced critters even more than I thought I would.

There is, however, more than just cuteness and play where sea otters are concerned. They’re serious about capturing their food, and underwater footage shows how efficiently they can use their claws to dig out their prey. And when it comes to protecting their young, they can be every bit as vicious as any mammal in the wild. This side of their nature is made evident in my story (spoiler alert) so don’t be taken in by the adorable faces on the cover and read my novella to your child. This is not a children’s book, but a tale for adult readers.

So, yes, the word “play” is as deceptively simple and as richly complex for otters as it is for humans. You might say otters, with their obvious intelligence and cleverness, really know how to use their heads. But what will endear them to you when you read my story is how they reveal their hearts. When you visit Milford-Haven, I hope you’ll enjoy exploring our fellow coastal inhabitants, and find out how much is at stake . . . When Otters Play.

Posted by: MaraPurl | January 27, 2018

Book Signings at Sea

Publishing at Sea: I was recently a faculty member at this marvelous conference for authors. Those of us who have published works—whether faculty or conference attendees—were invited to sign our books at two separate signing events on the third-largest cruise ship in the world. What an opportunity! What an honor! And what fun to connect with so many new readers!

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Sea is, indeed, the third-largest cruise ship on the oceans: 1,186 feet in length, rising 236 feet above the waterline, and weighing 225,282 tons, an engineering marvel apparently effortlessly afloat. On the sixteenth deck—that’s right, the sixteenth—you can sit in sheltered splendor inside a solarium, gazing out at nothing but ocean. On the eighth deck, you can sip tea or wine in one of the enclaves edging Central Park—a massive deck replete with trees. On the third deck you can sit in comfortable classrooms and conference rooms attending meetings or sessions. And on the Main Promenade, the ship’s Cruise Manager worked with our Publishing at Sea Founder Judith Briles to arrange for us to array our books on tables and greet the 6,000 passengers who strolled by.

Imagine being featured inside an elegant, well-appointed mall, with passengers hearing announcements about authors signing their books. They add us to their schedules, or happen by as they consider where to shop after lunch. Our events were something like that, though better, since we had a captive audience. What we found was that people were curious, inquisitive, and eager to find just the right book for themselves, or to have gifts to offer when they returned home from their cruise.

All the authors in Publishing at Sea follow a practice not only of courtesy toward one another, but we also have an awareness of the value of synergy. If I talk about my colleague’s book, he may make a sale. If I hear a reader mentioning a topic of interest, I might know where to direct him or her. Readers notice this behavior, and appreciate it. Who would want to buy a book from a self-absorbed author who doesn’t care about others?

I’ve done book signings in so many bookstores and in so many locations over the years, some well-planned and well-attended . . . some not. Since I love bookstores, I never think of these events as wasted time. But being part of a truly fabulous, inclusive author signing on an elegant cruise ship somehow beats sitting alone at the back of an empty store. If you’re thinking of joining us for Publishing at Sea next year, here’s one more reason to say yes. Well-planned signings are wonder challenges for the head. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow authors and reaching across tables to connect with readers . . . well, that’s a fulfillment of the heart.

Posted by: MaraPurl | January 26, 2018

European Legacy in the Caribbean – Cozumel

Publishing at Sea: I was recently a faculty member at this marvelous conference for authors. We enjoyed excursions on our three non-teaching days. As our magnificent ship left port in Florida and headed for the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, I was struck by the fact that our ports of call would be three islands, each with a history of colonization by a European country. Though each had established sovereignty at least a century or two earlier, still, woven into the fabric of these island cultures were the threads left behind by their colonizers.

Our third visit was to Cozumel, once a colony of Spain, now part of Mexico, off the eastern shore of its Yucatan Peninsula. Once we glimpsed its azure waters, it was easy to understand why it’s one of the world’s most famous destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. We’d hoped to snorkel, having managed to fit our gear into our luggage. But when we discovered we wouldn’t have time for that lengthy of an excursion, we decided to stay in port where we found all kinds of treasures.

Shortly before our cruise began, we’d started listening to the audio book of James Michener’s Caribbean—a fascinating book which, true to form, begins with the pre-history of the region. I know his books are carefully researched—I actually worked for him as one of several researchers while I was a college student. But I did some of my own research about Cozumel, too, discovering that the Maya are believed to have settled the island by the early part of the 1st millennium AD. According to their religion, the island was dedicated to the Moon Goddess, but eventually had to battle the warring Caribs who destroyed temples and practiced human sacrifice on the original inhabitants. The island does have Mayan ruins, which we wish we’d had time to visit.

The Maya were still there when the Spanish arrived in 1518, greeting the visitors more peaceably than people on the mainland, and resupplying their ships even after Cortes destroyed some Mayan idols and replaced them with statues of the Virgin Mary. Sadly, most of the Maya were killed by small pox, brought to the island by a later Spanish expedition. Those left on the island were later evacuated to the mainland to avoid frequent raids by pirates.

A compelling landscape of jungle, soft, white sand beaches, and the spectacular waters, now surrounded by the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park, beckon to visitors. But we found the charming portside shops equally compelling in a different way, offering the gorgeous craftsmanship of silversmiths, as well as jewelry of all kinds from tribal to polished and refined—all of it offered by expert bargainers who love nothing more than a good negotiation over price.

Since I write about a small, coastal town that draws tourists both with its picturesque beauty, and it’s local arts and crafts, I always find it fascinating to find parallels in other locations. So Cozumel deserves a closer look. At least we scratched the surface of that beautiful island off the Yucatan, and we look forward to returning to those sparkling waters for further adventures.

Posted by: MaraPurl | January 24, 2018

European Legacy in the Caribbean – Jamaica

Publishing at Sea: I was recently a faculty member at this marvelous conference for authors. We enjoyed excursions on our three non-teaching days. As our magnificent ship left port in Florida and headed for the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, I was struck by the fact that our ports of call would be three islands, each with a history of colonization by a European country. Though each had established sovereignty at least a century or two earlier, still, woven into the fabric of these island cultures were the threads left behind by their colonizers.

The second port-of-call on our voyage was to Jamaica, once a British colony, that still has elements of the cool, collected English culture woven into the bright, vibrant fabric blended of indigenous and African peoples. One still drives on the left; one may still take tea in the afternoon; language has a touch of formality; bearing is upright; and the island is enticing in its beauty and grace, while at the same time being a complexity of profits and losses, of abundance and of want.

The original inhabitants of Jamaica, like those of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) are believed to be the Arawaks, also called Tainos. Migrating northward from South America 2,500 years ago, they named the island Xaymaca, meaning “land of wood and water.” Peaceful by nature, they were adept at agriculture, developing bounty by growing cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, various other fruits and vegetables, plus cotton and tobacco.

There follows as colorful a history as can be imagined—and has been, in numerous books and films. Christopher Columbus arrived in 1494. In 1509 a new group of Spaniards arrived to establish a colony. In 1655, the English attacked Jamaica and the Spanish surrendered. By 1673 the English had installed the pirate/ privateer Henry Morgan as its Lieutenant Governor. And by 1739, 430 thriving sugar plantations had been established—built upon a labor force of enslaved Africans. Frequent slave rebellions gradually eroded the false stability of the island, with their full freedom granted in 1836. Jamaica’s history remained tumultuous following the freeing of the slaves, but there was always a drive toward autonomy and in 1962 Jamaica gained political independence from England and its Constitution took effect.

Our ship pulled into Falmouth, alongside a Disney cruise ship, which looked enormous, until we looked back toward the harbor from land, and saw it wasn’t as large as our own. I imagined, for a moment, how many ships had docked here over the centuries. For passengers aboard our cruise, marvelous excursions were available to take advantage of sugary beaches and water sports, which many people enjoyed.

My husband and I, and a few other friends, however, chose to spend our day differently. The ship offered a “Pay It Forward” option that would allow us to spend a day first at a homeless shelter in the country, then at a soup kitchen in the inner city. This was exactly our “cup o’ tea” and we boarded a mini-bus that drove us past the vast estates with their lush vegetation and ocean views that used to be the plantations. These eventually gave way to hotel-row—huge, walled properties offering protected beaches and all manner of amenities. At last we arrived at the outskirts of Montego Bay, where we spent the morning.

We were greeted by Junice Norman, a force of nature. Articulate and passionate, she welcomed us and explained the services offered their homeless guests while enlisting our aid in harvesting eggs from their chicken coop, and planting new rows in their gardens, where my husband mastered the technique of planting with a machete. Neither guests nor staff are indolent, and all the tasks at this shelter are designed to train, or re-train, temporary residents, giving them practical skills with which to re-enter society.

As a writer, I thought about what words I might use to describe these surroundings: modest, basic, limited. Yet with the conviction that infused the musical intonations of our host, so much more became discernible: generosity, industry, progress, hope.

At the lunch hour, we were transported to the inner city to the organization’s other facility: a soup kitchen that serves hot meals in the heart of town, where those in need take seats at long tables, or wait just outside its doors to receive a tray. Among the scores of people who arrived, as many were bringing food as were requesting it, and a spirit of caring overbalanced the sense of want. The organization is called Open Heart Charitable Mission. https://www.facebook.com/Open-Heart-Charitable-Mission-1598957550409304/

There’s a special place in heaven—and Earth—for those who dedicate themselves to managing this special place, and places like it. What minuscule assistance we were able to offer during our excursion day seems paltry in the face of hardships born by so many. Those who run the shelters and services use their heads to manage budgets, ask for funding, repurpose every element they can, and work miracles. But what they really do is see beyond present circumstances into the new possibilities they can create with and for those in their care, an endeavor which is all heart.

Discover more about Mara, her books and events, at MaraPurl.com. Mara’s cruising photo by Ashlee Bratton. Join us on a future cruise at Publishing At Sea.

Posted by: MaraPurl | January 23, 2018

European Legacy in the Caribbean – Haiti

Publishing at Sea: I was recently a faculty member at this marvelous conference for authors. We enjoyed excursions on our three non-teaching days. As our magnificent ship left port in Florida and headed for the sparkling waters of the Caribbean, I was struck by the fact that our ports of call would be three islands, each with a history of colonization by a European country. Though each had established sovereignty at least a century or two earlier, still, woven into the fabric of these island cultures were the threads left behind by their colonizers.

The first visit was to Haiti, which shares an island with the Dominican Republic. The island of Hispanola, originally colonized by the Spanish, was later divided into two nations, with the western side becoming French in 1697.

Before colonization, the ancient tribes—the warring Caribs and the more peaceful Taino—inhabited the island, but succumbed either to disease or to brutal labor practices at the hands of their colonizers. As the Europeans began to develop huge agricultural enterprises, they replaced the native laborers with African slaves, who arrived by the tens of thousands to make possible booming sugar and coffee exports. Despite thousands of deaths among this new labor force, by 1789, slaves outnumbered the free population by four-to-one.

Haiti is the only nation to have won its independence, rather than having had it granted. The brave Haitians, led by former slave Toussaint Louverture—an educated man who’d studied the campaigns of Julius Caesar—strategized well, pitching the battle for independence during years the French government was engaged in their own Revolution and in the Napoleonic Wars. Later in its history, Haiti went on to become a founding member of the United Nations.

Cruise ships don’t pull into Port-Au-Prince, which is still struggling to rebuild after the devastation of the 2010 earthquake. Magnitude 7.0, the quake affected three million people, causing the death of from 100,000 to about 160,000. The government of Haiti estimated that 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial buildings had collapsed or were severely damaged, with existing poverty and poor housing conditions having increased the death toll from the disaster. Help from other nations, including the U.S., have been helping the Haitians rebuild.

Meanwhile, the cruise companies dock at Labadie (the French spelling) or Labadee (English) where a tourist-aimed village shines as brightly as the tropical sun. Kiosks line a market street offering crafts and fabrics, jewelry of beads and shells, obligatory T-shirts and hats.

The people are striking—elegant and proud, a hint of formality infusing their posture and speech. The melifluous tones of Haitian Creole are carried on the gentle breezes, and a childhood song starts to play in my memory: Angelico, Angelico, allez cai Maman . . . My parents bought a childrens’ record collection that I loved, filled with songs from around the world. I memorized them all, and am amazed, now, that all the lyrics come drifting toward me as if carried on that same breeze. Po pas donne me disagrement.

The lovely voice on the old vinyl sang the song in English the second time through the melody. Go home to Mama, cher, go home to Mama and say never come back for a year and a day.
It had always struck me that the English translation went for a nonsense rhyme, when the original told the story more pointedly: Go home, Angelico, go home to your mother and don’t give an argument (disagreement.)

The French language, part of my own heritage, was spoken in snatches at home as I grew up, and became a study of several years not only at school, but during a summer my family and I spent doing an immersion program in the south of France. So it’s easy for me to slip into French, and I enjoyed speaking it during our day in Labadie, as all Haitians study French in school as well and speak with a beautiful lilting accent.

But the native language spoken there tells the story of the cultural clash and inherent dysfunction of the colonization paradigm: one race as masters the other as slaves. Haitian Creole—which is not mutually intelligible with French—has always been contentious. From the Haitian perspectgive, French was seen as a sign of colonialism; from the European perspective, Creole was maligned as a poor person’s French. Both Haitian Creole and Haitian French are beautiful, and many people speak English as well.

The derivation of Creole continues the story. People ripped from their homes and sold into servitude had myriad techniques for survival, and one of their most important was creating a unique way of communicating. Mastering their masters’ language, they also created a unique, complex blend of eighteenth century French, Portugese, Spanish, English, Taino and West African languages. Haitian Creole is now spoken by 9.6–12 million people worldwide.

During our cruise excursion, my husband and I opted for a tour of the Heritage Village, which began with a short boat ride to a sheltered cove. Tall, elegant Haitian men handed us ashore and we were led to a meadow overhung with palms and furnished with outdoor benches. A stocky, charismatic leader stepped forth and began to speak an international version of English, detailing what we’d be seeing next—sugar cane processing by hand, the precious liquid being wrenched, squeezed and pressed from the stalks, with tiny sample cups offered to the visitors.

Next we were led to a grove of artisans whose colorfully painted and stained wood carvings were fashioned as bowls and boxes, figurines and jewelry. I asked about a beautiful little box, and the bargaining began, a gleeful process handled as masterfully as in any world marketplace.

Then the show began: brightly costumed men and women, dancing and singing to the drum-music played by a small group of musicians who’d probably mastered syncopation about the time they learned to breathe.

The dances they presented were full of symbols, echoing from their Vodoun origins, but edited for the tourist market, rendering the show part exhibition, part concert. The natural talent and self-expression of these beautiful people infused the grove where they performed, making me feel a momentary kindred spirit with them as a fellow performer. Soon we were escorted back to our skiff, and we chugged over the sparkling water back to our awaiting ship. My head knew we had contributed in a minor way to Haiti’s economy, and enjoyed a glimpse of history. My heart reaches out to these lovely people, wishing them well and hoping they create a brighter future.

Posted by: MaraPurl | June 12, 2017

Paternity Test

Thanks for joining me on the Mother’s-Day-to-Father’s-Day Thunderclap Campaign, “You Otter Follow Your Heart” which runs for just 4 more days! To thank you for joining, you’ll receive a FREE Advance Copy of my brand new story When Otters Play. In honor of Father’s Day this month, this post shares moments about my late father.

“Husband your resources,” my dad said. I was standing on a commercial pier in San Pedro speaking on the one and only pay phone. “And have a large time!” How concerned he sounded, and how determined to support this crazy trip of mine that would start within the hour. I was about to embark on a Greenpeace Voyage to save whales as one of twenty-six crew members. We’d be traveling 6,000 miles in the North Pacific with more bravado than experience, our hearts aflame to do right by the cetaceans that were still being slaughtered by huge fleets of commercial whalers from Russia. I loved my dad’s advice. I did work carefully with the rest of the crew to “husband” the resources—like fresh water—that would have to last six weeks. And I did have a “large” time on that world-class adventure.

raymondpurl250x349I got home safely—we all did. But looking back, I can hardly imagine being as supportive, brave and level-headed about a child of mine going so far beyond the boundaries of communication and safety. Then again, as a member of the Greatest Generation, my father had made it through the Great Depression in childhood, life-interrupted by WWII, served as a member of General MacArthur’s staff in Japan following the war, navigated his way through a stunning international business career, and still managed to direct or star in 200 plays as a graduate of Yale Drama School.

But I wonder whether any of these world-stage challenges were as demanding as the one that occurred on his own personal stage: fatherhood. Dad’s roots were in the theatre. His father, Billy Purl, was a well-known Vaudevillian; his mother, Beatrice Seville, an established actress and founding member of Actor’s Equity who spent years on the road. Traveling by train, she tread the boards in city after city, her young son sleeping in the upper tray of her travel trunk, imparting to my dad a life-long love of trains, and of theatre. He married my mother when she was not yet of legal age, with the blessings of her family. They had a number of years as a couple, and by the time he and my mother returned from Japan, they each had pages of regional theatrical credits themselves, and were ready to get serious about their careers. Mom, a talent and a beauty, landed a major film role. Dad, move-star-handsome, was about to take the industry by storm, drama-degree in hand. In their head shots—now framed and adorning my family-photo wall—they resembled Vivien Leigh and Tyrone Power. On the way to stardom, something happened: children.

From what I can tell, they leapt into this next chapter of life with feverish joy, upending all their plans in favor of creating the thing my dad later treasured above all things: The Four Purls. That’s how he referred to us, his eyes beginning to pool, whenever we found ourselves together. Often, our gatherings were backstage when one of us was performing, as my sister and I followed in the family footsteps. Sometimes our gatherings involved dinner and dancing. Of course, he never got to sit down. The father of two daughters always had one of three dance partners clamoring for her turn. But before we could enjoy those wonderful moments of mutual support and celebration, there were the childhood years for the two little girls who interrupted our parents’ lives, yet again.

Pere—that’s what I called him—taught me how to ride my bike, a hilarious series of near-disasters as I wobbled my way down the lane, Pere running alongside alternating between grabbing for my handlebar to keep me from falling away, and leaping out of the way to prevent my crashing into him. The overview I recall is thanks to this being preserved on Super-8 film, as were many of our childhood chapters. What I actually remember about those first bicycle forays was that my father was there for me, cheering me on, keeping me safe while at the same time gently pushing me forward into my independence. A few years later, my sister and I would spend our first hour after school exploring our Tokyo neighborhood on our bikes. And still later, I would tackle fifty-mile bike trails in California and Colorado. So the bike-skill became a physical practicality. But as a metaphor, it became so much more.

The key to riding a bike is, of course, balance. And at this, my father excelled. He balanced career and family; he balanced his business career with his passion for theatre, perhaps performing as much as he would have, had he stayed a theatre pro. He balanced his own political and societal philosophies with those of his community, never losing a friendship in ninety-nine years of a full life. He balanced his personal goals with those of his wife in a marriage lasting over seventy years. And he balanced who he was as a man-of-the-world with who he was in his favorite role of all: Pere.

We tested him, as all children test their fathers. There were times we had to agree to disagree. We had a parting of the ways politically, yet we always maintained our mutual respect, as our views were each thoughtfully considered. When I left my journalism career to return to acting and writing dramas and novels, he thought I was making a serious mistake and was in danger of ruining my life. We had a couple of years when I felt bereft of his approval. Yet pushing away from him strengthened me, and as my work began to click, I earned his respect at a new level. We admired one another’s acting work: he directed me in a favorite play, and he performed in my BBC radio drama, both stellar experiences. And then, one day he said, “You know, your writing is damn fine.” Not even the thirty book awards I’ve since earned could ever mean as much as those simple words.

“The longer you live, the better my life will be,” I said to him one day. He took me at my word and made it through to 100, minus a few days. His last year was surely his most difficult. It’d never occurred to him that his wife’s would precede his own passing, so it was the one thing he’d never planned for. He made a valiant effort to hold on, but began to lose his moorings. We cared for him at home, taking turns through an exhausting schedule, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way. To fulfill some speaking commitments, I had to be out of town for a couple of weeks. Cancelled flights led to a slight change of plans that meant I’d be home for a few hours. His house was only a few minutes from mine, but I’d risk being late to the airport if I stopped to see him. Still, I wanted to. Would I scare him by showing up unexpectedly? Disappoint him when I had to leave again just minutes later? Risking all that, I let myself in through the back door and found him slowly making his way across the kitchen.

“Hi, Pere!” I said. He turned around, beaming. He was surprised, was in fact tracking my schedule with perfect clarity. And he was delighted, even when I said we had only twenty minutes. I made us coffee and we sat in the kitchen, sharing our news. Of all the hundreds of precious moments together, this became one of our favorites.

He was always a tower of strength to his girls. We looked up to him, counted on him, expected—no, demanded—he be everything a father could possibly be. And he lived up to all that. During his final years, he became vulnerable in a way he never could have earlier in life. It was one of his final gifts to us—revealing his fears, accepting our help. He let us see that love really is reciprocal. I skinned my knee badly when I was five, and he carried me, screaming, to the sink where he washed and bandaged the wound, soothed my pain, made me feel brave. I helped him walk when he was ninety-nine, reassured him his journey made sense, made a difference, and had value greater than the gold of kings. When it came to the real paternity test, he passed with flying colors.

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