Posted by: MaraPurl | September 1, 2021

Close Encounters of the Animal Kind

August was the perfect month for sitting on our refurbished deck. (Our Colorado Springs home, along with many others, had severe hail damage in 2018 and repairs throughout interior and exterior are finally almost complete.) We had some delightful al fresco potluck dinners with local friends, which was more special than ever, since we”d all been unable to gather for nearly two years,

In the mornings, my husband and I take our tablets and coffee to the deck to read our newspapers. An angled segment of railing parallels a mountainside with a double row of boulders. Amongst the big rocks, potentilla bloom yellow and various grasses and small shrubs crowd into crevasses. Above the boulders a stand of tall pines marches higher and continues over the ridge.

It’s our little slice of heaven, but we share with an abundance of creatures. Bunnies hop through the grass and blend into a river-rock swale that carries storm water away. Turkeys parade and deer chase each other leaping through the trees. Hummers nest in their favorite Russian olive, then dart towards the feeder my husband constantly refills, and the little birds thank us with aerial displays and occasional close hoverings.

One morning, after a sip of coffee, I looked up to find myself eye to eye with a bobcat. We held one another’s gaze for a long moment as it crouched on one of our boulders, ready to spring up the hill but too curious to dash away too quickly. Spectacular in her wildness, she allowed this brief exchange, then went on her way, perhaps in search of aforementioned bunnies.

I value this moment, because my character Miranda, a wildlife artist, has a similar experience when painting a bobcat. So the visit seemed to be completing my research and granting me permission as I draft this chapter.

Perhaps this conversation opened an internal door wider than I realized, because I had another encounter on our deck. Reading in a chair shortly after dawn, I clearly heard heavy breathing, and imagined we might have an out-of-breath hiker who had lost his way. But when I looked up, it was a magnificent mountain lion breathing hard, standing well above the boulder wall, his long body in full view, head turned toward me. Again we held an eye to eye gaze for what might have been a full minute. His breathing calmed and his immense body and beautiful face appeared luminous in the early light. Though I could have snapped a photo, I did not want to lose eye contact, as both of us waited in utter stillness.

For me personally it was a special moment because I’ve lately been studying the work of animal communicator Anna Breytenbach. Her conversation with a jaguar that’d been abused is a stunning tale. The beautiful and powerful black jaguar had been brought to a marvelous big cat sanctuary, but never settled in and had remained dangerously aggressive or sullenly aloof. During a meeting with Anna, the animal’s concerns were aired, expectations shared, and a sense of mutual respect established. Also the cat complained that he didn’t like the negative connotations of his name, which had been Diablo. He asked to be called Spirit, and this wish was granted immediately. Spirit’s behavior completely changed and he now enjoys his new home. Here’s a video of this conversation. You may find it as inspiring as I do.

I’ve waited each morning for another glimpse of my mountain lion neighbor, knowing it’s unlikely I’ll see him again. But I see him every day in my mind’s eye, feeling his intelligence, and listening for whatever message he might be offering, even if it’s only, “What are you doing here in my forest?” The new deck has been blessed by these encounters, as our various co-inhabitants inspect the new space. And really it’s we who are blessed by their presence.

Posted by: MaraPurl | November 3, 2020

# Send Indie Gift Book

As the pandemic began to cause event cancellations, at first book signings, seminars, and festivals were rescheduled. But then, like a series of cascading dominoes, all my 2020 events were canceled. Fortunately, many of our author outreach programs are already internet-based. But does anything truly replace the in-person event? And does holding an e-reader truly replace the heft, aroma, and feel of a “real” book?

Among my very favorite events are book signings at independent bookstores. Would these bookstores be able to stay open with mandated closures? Would they still exist when we came out of this shut-down? I really wanted to make sure. So, I began to think this through.

I now had monies that’d originally been allocated for my 2020 book tour. 2020 became a different year and I had some funding that wasn’t used. I had readers all over the country who might love to receive a free book now when they’d likely have extra time to read, and nowhere to go. Could I afford to send out a few freebies? What if, instead of sending books directly, I ordered them from independent bookstores?

A plan began to formulate. Here’s how and why it works.

1 – Contact a reader, ask if he/she would enjoy receiving a free book. So far, every single reader has said yes.

2 – Next, ask for that reader’s mailing address.

3 – Use to look up the independent bookstore closest to their location. Why? Two reasons. First, it keeps the shipping cost low. Second, and most important, it connects that reader to his/her local store.

4 – Call that bookstore and order your own book.

I’ll admit that this usually causes some confusion. The bookseller starts to take the order, looks up my book, finds it in the Ingram database, and then asks for my name and billing information Then they pause. “But . . . if you’re Mara Purl, why are you ordering a book by Mara Purl?”

My answer is: “I’m ordering my book to support you, and to connect you to your local customer.”

“Really?” they ask. The warmth in the bookseller’s voice is unmistakable. Now they’re thrilled. They place the order, and sometimes when the book comes in, they give it a special wrapping before sending it on to their local customer. Sometimes they even hand-deliver the book!

The emails and notes from readers and bookstores alike are overwhelmingly appreciative. Why is it that receiving a free book is so incredibly special? Because a gift “out of the blue” during this time of social distancing, shut-downs, and loneliness is truly something special.

To cap off the project, I post to social media about the bookstore. I post in my own social media feed, but also in the bookstores. I created a poster featuring the logos of all participating bookstores. And I created the hashtag #SendIndieGiftBook, so this program can reach farther.

How does the budget work? Well, the purchase of one book, with shipping, is just under $20. So, if I have $200 to spend, I can send out 10 gift books. If I have $2000 to spend, I can send out 100 gift books. It’s entirely up to me and my budget.

So far, I’ve worked with about thirty bookstores all over the country. It’s a joy each and every time. I love the feeling of being generous, providing a surprise, doing something nice for my readers, and supporting indie bookstores, which are important community hubs.

And here’s one more benefit I had not foreseen. As quarterly sales reports began coming in, my book sales were up–all over the country. The sales I had generated were there, of course. But many customers, now reconnected to their local store, decided to buy other books in my series too or to send out gifts themselves.

Can other authors use this program? Of course! I designed it for all of us to use. Just follow the simple steps I outlined above. I guarantee you’ll be doing something practical, something good, and something generous.

Popcorn & NetflixNote: Part I of this post appears on the wonderful Writing About Writing Blog by Anne. R. Allen & Ruth Harris

Every author wants their novels to be made into a film or a television series. Right?

Is that where the real fame is? And is that also where the real money is, in this era of the long, slow death of reading?

Wait . . . not so fast. First of all, people are reading, and possibly even reading more now than in those ancient “normal” days before the pandemic, the shut-ins, the stay-at-home orders, the closed economy, the heartfelt protests, the torn-down statues, the racial comeuppances, and the presidential race where candidates have to (or should) campaign from home. Did I leave anything out? Americans are still reading voraciously, even if they no longer head to the local bookstore to buy their favorite hardcover editions.
Second, to be sure, people are viewing voraciously, too. Just ask Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Peacock, Disney Plus, CBS All Access, Crackle, and any other streaming service you can name.

So let’s continue looking at how these two worlds of “series”—both the readable and the viewable kind—connect, overlap, or compete.

Most authors really don’t want their work to be thought of a source material for someone else’s creation. After all, they’ve sweated bullets over every word, every character decision, every plot point. And yet, if that dream of the big TV deal ever does come about, the author will have to surrender the quilt they so lovingly designed and sewed, then watch it be ripped apart and reassembled in what is sometimes quite a different—or even unrecognizable—way. And once their contract is signed, they’ll have very little to say about it.

There are authors who refuse to step onto that yellow brick road, even with the promise that it’ll lead to the Emerald City. Best-selling author Sue Grafton, for example, was adamant that she’d never allow her “Alphabet novels” (beginning with A is for Alibi) to be adapted for the screen, whether large or small. A quote posted on her website says, “Hollywood can’t believe writers aren’t panting for the money and the recognition—the glamor of film—but I wrote in Hollywood for 15 years and believe me, I’m cured.”

Some authors are persnickety about artistic vision to the point they will, or have, walked away from more than one TV deal. C.J. Box, best-selling author of the Joe Pickett mysteries, is an example. Producers have come after him several times, but they always wanted to superimpose their own vision on top of his. He felt these two realities would slide against each like planers gouging into good wood, so he said no. When two young producers from Sundance Productions came calling, he saw light at the end of the tunnel. But then, they lost their funding. So, for now, Pickett rides along his Wyoming ranges in our imaginations, unhampered by extraneous interpretations. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting CJ at a couple of book events. A quiet man with a wickedly rye sense of humor, he tells both the “Dudley Doright” aspects of his protagonist and the viciously dark side of his adversaries with a deft hand. And he draws a sharp line in the sand when it comes to control of his franchise.

In Part I, we took a look at works by Diana Gabaldon (the Outlander series), Craig Johnson (the Longmire series). Here, we’ll take a look at Michael Connolly (the Bosch series), and I’ll share of my experiences (the Milford-Haven series.)


As I mentioned, any author who sits down to write fiction has to choose whether to write in first or in third person.

The Bosche series ( ) is told in third person for most of the books. Then suddenly, in The Lost Light and The Narrows, we’re in first person, seeing only the world that Harry Bosche sees. It makes for an interesting shift during the course of a book series, enlivening the perspective. For the television series there is no narration, but again the excellent cast, and absorbing, brooding performances by Titus Welliver as Harry, make it clear this is his story. We care when he does, and he cares a lot.

The Milford-Haven radio series (now available as an audio drama podcast { had The Narrator as a quirky character who stitches episodes together from scene to scene, reminding us of context and setting. The fabulous performer, Freedom Barry (his real name) had a Maine twang that also tied together the Wales roots and the California branches threading through New England where the first American Milford was founded in the 1600s. The novels do not have a narrator, but are written with very strict adherence to character POV: each chapter segment begins with a character’s name, signaling we’ll see through his or her eyes for this piece. The television scripts written so far do feature the Narrator as a mysterious character who knows all, and can walk through time . . . and walls . . . as needed.


One of the rules for the Women’s Fiction genre is that the text must touch upon each of the five senses as the story unfurls. An example I frequently site when I speak at writers’ conferences is the distinction between a restaurant scene written for Women’s Fiction versus Men’s Fiction. In men’s fiction, there is generally a sense of velocity, brevity, a getting to the point. This obviates some of the details. The man steps into the diner, looks around at the patrons, chooses a seat where his back isn’t to the front door, and orders the first menu item that jumps out at him. Now imagine that same scene for Women’s Fiction, which generally includes a more lingering sense over the delicious details. The woman walks into the restaurant and is truck by the fresh flowers on the tables, the delicate aromas wafting from the kitchen, the silky feel of the fine linen napkin, the live guitar music heard over the sound system, and finally the taste of dill on the grilled fish.
Here’s an interesting post on the subject at Writer’s Edit called How to Use All 5 Senses to Unlock your Fictional World.

There’s a different set of rules about the senses when it comes to writing narrative voice versus scripts. For obvious reasons, writing for the screen generally means writing only what can be seen or heard. After all, the technology can’t deliver anything to the other senses—at least, not yet. So the only way we get to vicariously experience smell, taste, or touch, is through a character’s experience or comment. Books that adhere to that rule are said to be written in “cinematic third person.” There’s an interesting discussion about this by Lee Bagel called Screen writing and first person writing-and-first-person-d9a21ba2302c


What words of wisdom might Connolly have for us about developing these characters?

1 – Dimensions. For Connelly, a key attribute for his protagonist Harry Bosche is inner turmoil. He obsesses about each and every case, is never satisfied till the case is closed, and even then, finds ways to blame himself for outcomes which often seem mixed. After all, a death has occurred in every case, an even over which closure may never be possible. This quality again makes us care about Harry, because he cares about his cases and the victims for whom he aches to find justice.

Here’s an interesting post called The Evolution of Harry Bosch on the Crime Reads blog:

The Evolution of Harry Bosch

For my Milford-Haven series, there’s a “character gauge” that measures embracing of versus resistance to progress and growth. Those who embrace their own forward momentum keep opening doors and having “aha” moments. Those who don’t keep finding their feet further entangled in the detritus of their own mistakes.

2 – Setting. Both Connelly and I have California series. Connelly set his character in the middle of the Los Angeles crimescape, meaning the inner turmoil of his character is matched note for note by the external turmoil of his city. Connelly is an avid Angelino. He knows his city well and portrays its rich textures with a kind of tender regard, despite its dirty underwear. A former crime reporter for the L.A. Times, his former newspaper wrote a piece about the 15 most iconic Bosch haunts that’s fun and interesting for his readers. And frankly, every author should know his or her setting equally well.

For the Milford-Haven series, California’s Central Coast is not only the setting, it’s virtually a character. Detailed research is foundational when setting is so key to a series, so by now I can tell you which plants bloom in which months, what color the ocean is at different times of day, how many minutes it takes to drive from one coastal town to the next, what the air smells like in the evening, and how the offshore fog behaves. Many readers send me comments about this—some because they know the region well, and some because they feel they’ve visited there in person after reading my books.

3 – Caring. No one can connect to a story in which we don’t care about the characters. And one great technique for having us care, is having the character care about someone, some issue, some outcome—something. We don’t necessarily want to be hit over the head with this information. The general rule in all good writing is—Show Don’t Tell.

Harry Bosche cares about closing his cases more than he cares about anything else. This may sound cold and clinical, but instead, we see the fervency of his approach to his work as someone who refuses to let anyone—even strangers he never met—fall between the cracks.

In Milford-Haven, protagonist Miranda Jones cares about others to a fault—even to the point of putting her own needs second or third. By contrast, her manager Zelda McIntyre cares almost exclusively about herself, her upward mobility and her money. Construction boss Jack Sawyer cares about doing this his way, even if it means breaking the law. Samantha Hugo cares about rules and regulations, even if it costs time, money, and friendships. These contrasting predilections among the characters make for moments, scenes, and storylines filled with tension that propells the story forward.

A producer looking for “source material” who finds characters about whom readers and viewers can truly care tends to create the confidence needed to raise the millions of dollars needed to create a series for a visual medium.


Though both publishing and television are fueled by popularity, these days the onus has shifted more and more to authors (creators), not only to create great stories, but to pre-prove their worth by having followers. A producer looking for material is far more likely to choose an author whose books are selling well, and who has a few thousand social media followers, than one who writes beautifully but has no “social” gravitas.

Connelly normally has a full schedule of events. I also have a calendar that’s normally filled with bookstore events, writers’ and authors’ conferences, and special fan events. Though all events for all of us (and most authors everywhere) are canceled for 2020, all these authors continue to post blogs, write essays, conduct interviews, and “stay present” for their followers.

I’d be less than candid if I didn’t mention the likely time lag. In the case of all the authors focused on in these two posts—Gabaldon, Johnson, Connelly, and Purl—the move to television happened about twenty years after the books became successful. Just saying.

How do these authors feel about the television series created from their books?

Connelly expresses great appreciation for the screen team—cast, writers, production values. And Johnson has fully embraced the television series as a species he likes and understands.

I do have a couple of stories from my own annals that are worth sharing. Over the years, there have been several producers who’ve believe Milford-Haven would make an excellent television series. It began life as a drama series albeit for radio. But at the time I originally wrote the show, I was immersed in writing and performing on television, so it only made sense when I was approached.

I signed a deal with Frank, a successful, smart, sensitive producer whose work I admired. He set up meetings at several studios. We were looking forward in particular to our meeting with a well-known TV production company and they welcomed us into the comfortable offices warmly. After we’d sunk into the leather couches and accepted the proffered coffees and waters, they further impressed us by bringing forth storyboards they’d commissioned to show us how they planned to produce our show. Watercolors mounted on large posterboards were marched in by two assistants. We listened to the spiel, tuning in carefully to hear about these characters I had created, waiting to see how well they’d actually been understood.

Imagine our bedazzlement when the Director of Development said, “We see Samantha as a hedgehog.” I truly didn’t know what to say. And I got no help when I turned to look at Frank, whose mouth was hanging open. I then wondered whether we were actually in the right meeting? Did we turn left down the hall when we should have turned right?

Once assured that we were talking about Milford-Haven, I paused. “If you’d like to work with us on a new animated series, we’d be delighted to discuss the possibilities. But this is not Milford-Haven.” The meeting concluded abruptly, and Frank and I have been scratching our heads ever since.

The last meeting we “took” (as we say in L.A.) before our contract ran out had us flying to Montreal at the expense of our prospective producers, who were obviously serious enough to invest in several meetings and show us around their shooting facilities. Though we’d have to add “Canadian content,” this wouldn’t be a problem. My story is about a small, coastal town, and the eastern coastline of Quebec has the iconic settings about which I wrote.

We resonated with the director, who loved and understood my characters (not in a hedgehog kind of way); we felt the producers totally understood my themes; the budget made sense; the schedule worked for everyone. We flew home ready to okay the deal. Then, the Canadian government withdrew funding for the kind of drama we were going to produce. Our new friends were chagrined. Frank and I felt we’d given it the old college try. I turned toward the publishing opportunities that’d started to beckon. Almost everyone still asks me when Milford-Haven will be available as a TV show.


As I explained in Part I, every building needs a set of blueprints. Every trip needs a road map. Whatever your metaphor, structure is going to be important, whether you’re writing for a narrative voice or screenplay format.

Unlike the other authors mentioned in these posts, I began not with fictional text but with scripts. Milford-Haven USA began as a radio drama that became a hit on BBC radio. Later I responded to interest from publishers and listeners, and began to adapt the story into a series of novels. So my fiction is informed by script elements: plot points and dialogue.

Once I had my characters, premise, and a basic arc for the story, I created a Show Bible, which is common practice for soap operas. (I was performing a role on Days of Our Lives shortly after I began writing Milford-Haven. This has always proved to be a tremendously valuable tool for me. Each episode was broken down into six scenes; each had to advance the story for at least six of the major characters. I still use a more in-depth version of this as a technique for tracking the braided storylines of my series of novels and novellas. Here are two great resources I found about how to write a TV show bible:
TV Show Bible Template
TV Show Bible Examples

40 TV Show Bible Examples to Download and Study

An abundance of advice is available for how to structure a novel, which I included in Part I.
Structure for scripts is far more strict than it is for novels, and I detailed some good resources in Part I.

How does the structure compare from books to screen among the authors we’re considering?


The Bosch books are masterfully gritty, poignant, and haunting. We’re drawn in by excellent writing and a character who evokes both admiration for his talent, and compassion for his inability to create the happiness that seems to shimmer all around him in the City of Angels. The television series is excellent, and brings all these qualities to the screen. But to do so, it sacrifices key elements of the original timeline.
As Connelly explains, Season 1 took storylines and events from the first three books in the series. As the television series played out, certain key plot points were retained, but out of order. For example, in the book series, Harry doesn’t have a child in the first several books; in the television series, not only does he have a child, she’s a young woman by the time we’re meeting her. This threw into disarray the relationship with the protagonist’s wife/ ex-wife/ dead wife, making it quite confusing to try tracking the two media concurrently.

You can read an interesting interview with Connelly on the subject here:



This adaptation went in reverse. The story appeared first as scripts, and was later adapted into novels. Again, there are a few significant plot changes. For example, Sally O’Mally isn’t able to keep her child in the radio series, but in the novels, she is. That’s a big shift in the arc of a character. But to serve the needs of readers, who expect much more depth and detail in narrative than what can be fit into a 30-minute weekly episode, this choice makes sense. Though the child’s father exits the relationship in both media, in the novels, a man from the past—the lost man of her heart—reappears and joyfully accepts a parenting role.

Generally I find that in the adaptation process of going from script to novels, the issues are more deeply explored, the dialogue has more context, and the sub-text, rather than being left to the interpretation of my marvelous original cast, is now left to me to bring to the surface.

Every author I speak to—and this goes for me, too—will tell you that our characters surprise us. “What do you mean?” I’m often asked at events attended by readers. “I mean, you’re making it all up, aren’t you?” The answer to that question is Yes . . . and No. We authors dig deep to find the truths lurking in the souls of our characters. When these truths surface, we have little choice but to write them down, if we want to be authentic. And remember, the root of the word “author” is the same as the root of the word “authentic.”

Blog for Anne Part I Post photoA Guest Post by Mara Purl

Every author wants their novels to be made into a film or a television series. Right?

So let’s take a look at how these two worlds of “series”—both the readable and the viewable kind—connect, overlap, or compete. Some people discover a great series first on TV, then want to dig deeper by reading the original books. Some don’t want to see the adaptation on a screen until they’ve delved into the books, sometimes referred to by producers as “source material.”

Here we’ll take a look at works by Diana Gabaldon (the Outlander series), and Craig Johnson (the Longmire series).

Enjoy reading this post at the Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris Writing About Writing Blog.

Posted by: MaraPurl | February 21, 2020

Gift Books Across the Sea

Box of books for blog upside downIt was a day off from teaching on the Publishing at Sea Cruise, and my husband and I were looking forward to our first visit to St. Maarten—Sint Maarten, as the Dutch side of this Caribbean island is called. Rain visited the island that day, the only time the skies were clouded during our voyage. So, clad in our rain jackets, we disembarked and walked into a charming village that looked like a European enclave rain-slicked for the tourists.

High-end jewelry shops lined the walkways, and we stepped inside first, to get away from the increasingly heavy downpour, and then to marvel at the sparklers on display. Clearly, one could do serious damage to a budget in these parts, and we turned that first foray into a museum stop rather than considering it as part of a shopping spree.

At a different store, we did fall in love with Larimar—the only gem mined in the Caribbean and, though not classified as a precious stone, it will forever be precious to me, because my husband did buy me something I’ll always treasure. Feeling blessed, happy, and definitely done with purchases, we were en route back to our ship, when we stopped into Pandora. Not only am I a third-generation charm braceleter, I’ve even designed some Pandora-style charms to coordinate with my novels, so I always take a look to see what this company may have added to their designs.

On this day, however, I found something more interesting than charms. I began chatting with a lovely young woman who worked there. When she asked about my visit to the island and I explained I was an author teaching on board, her eyes lit up. “Books,” she said. “I love books!”

Having found a kindred spirit, I inquired further. Did she enjoy reading ebooks or print books? Did she have a favorite genre? She answered, and then shared an astonishing fact. “I collected one thousand and one books,” she declared.

Thrilled and impressed, I asked more about her impressive personal library. “Well, I had my 1,001 books until the hurricane, that is.”

Stunned, I asked disbelievingly, “They’re all gone? Every single one?”

“Yes,” she said, the note of resignation unmistakable.

I paused for a moment and then said, “Could you give me your mailing address?”

She frowned in confusion.

“I can’t send you a thousand books,” I said. “But I can send you some.”

Though she probably didn’t believe what I’d said, she politely wrote down an address to which I could send a package. We left the store with her information tucked safely into my pocket. When we arrived home from the cruise and unpacked, I gathered a copy each of my own books. Then my husband and I went through our own library and chose about 30 more titles we could part with, a wide selection of genres, including some from my mentor Louis L’Amour. Then a neighbor, inspired by our tale, added a few from her collection.

The box was heavy, carefully packed to maximize every square inch. It cost a hefty chunk of change to ship. But with absolutely glee, I signed the paperwork, and included a note in the box, sending my best, and requesting that she get in touch when she received the package so I knew it’d arrived safely.

A few days later, I received an international call from an unrecognized number. No, it wasn’t my new friend. It was a FedEx employee saying there was a problem with the address, and asking whether I had another. I don’t, I said, but I know where she works. Before I let the FedEx woman ring off, I asked whether I could tell her about the package. I relayed the story briefly and there was a moment of silence. “I’ll follow this up,” she said, her beautiful lilting accent as melodious as a song.

It was the following day when I received an email from my friend. She gushed with gratitude over receiving the bountiful box of books. I felt such gratitude myself, along with relief that the gift had arrived, and a certainty that the FedEx employee had gone out of her way to ensure its safe delivery.

Books have always been special to me, and they’re an important part of my life. I love sharing them, helping others to write them, and writing them myself. But rarely have I had an opportunity like this to simply pay it forward.

There’s a person, now, whose love of books inspired me, and who I’ve been able to encourage in turn with a simple gesture. She had collected books to enjoy and to share. Who knows, now, how far and wide her own sharing will reach? I know I touched her heart, and she touched mine.

Posted by: MaraPurl | December 31, 2019

Untangling Our Strings

00001_p_r15ambjl6720203_r“Strings attached” usually has a negative connotation. The good news is, yes, you’re receiving a gift. The bad news is, no, it’s not exactly free, because it comes with “strings”, or conditions. You can borrow the car is you don’t drive over 55 miles per hour; you can stay rent free if you do all the yard work; you get the idea.

Sometimes, though, strings are the very things that make the magic happen. Such is the case with marionettes. Unless they had strings, they’d just be immobile dolls. With strings, they seem to move as if by magic.

I was introduced to this concept at a very young age. We all believed in Santa at our house, and he appeared without fail after my sister and I reluctantly went to bed on Christmas Eve. Of course, we bounded out of bed at the crack of dawn Christmas morning, raced down the hall in our feet pajamas, and discovered a glowing tree festooned with favorite ornaments and replete with presents crowding its skirts.

But one Christmas, there was more. That morning we couldn’t seem to get our bedroom door open, and through it, the voice of our dad was heard to say that he and Mom had been given a couple of extra jobs by Santa and that we’d be let out soon. I don’t think we totally destroyed the springs on our twin mattresses as we bounced on them for the next hour. Finally, we exploded out the finally-opened door and when we arrived at the living room, beside the tree stood a full-fledged puppet theatre.

Oh, the squeals of delight and discovery, as we thundered up the hidden steps to find our beloved marionettes each had a special place to “hang out” backstage! Oh the scripts I wrote every day to be performed every evening. Oh the musicals I wrote and performed, with my sister’s able assistance, every weekend. Our theatre was an endless source of joy, and no doubt helped two little siblings to grow into professional performers, producers, and writers.

Eventually, these lovely puppets were packed away and journeyed (as did My Box of Dollies) back to America. Years later, when my nephew was a tot, Mom and I dragged out the puppet box from her storage room. Always eager for a theatre project, Mom and Dad decided to resurrect a simpler version of the astonishing and amazing puppet theatre they had built for my sister and me when we were tots. This time, the theatre would be far more modest, but it would serve as the centerpiece of a Christmas puppet show and party for their grandson and the grandkids and children of neighbors and friends.

Mom and I organized a puppet spa where our clients got their faces washed and their clothes pressed. Pere (a real engineer) reopened the doll hospital where he and my husband (a real doctor) performed surgeries and repairs, as needed. The rejuvenated and restored puppets then took their places backstage, awaiting such time as the curtain would rise on their upcoming performance.

Our puppet cast members, who reminded me they are actually marionettes, were having their own backstage dramas, not least the butterflies in their wooden tummies at having to memorize lines again after such a long hiatus in their tea box. Mom (a real actress and costumer) reassured our cast who, when they looked in the backstage mirrors, were greatly reassured by her deft techniques.

The playwright (myself, a real writer) prepared the scripts and Pere (a real director) did the blocking and gave our stringed actors just the coaching they needed. My sister and I (real actors) lent our voices offstage as needed. (Did I mention I come from a theatre family?)

When guests arrived, beautifully dressed children with parentals and grand-parentals in tow, they giggled and wiggled their way to their seats, then sat quietly, mouths agape, the moment the curtain opened. Entranced by the onstage dolls that seemed to have come to life, they shouted out their worries when the princess was in danger from the witch, or hurrahed the prince when he rode in to save her. They clapped along when Minnie and Mickey danced a jig, and they laughed when the princess impatiently tapped her foot and cocked her head.

That holiday season, we brought the magic back out of those boxes. But it occurred to me as I reflected on these sweet memories, that we couldn’t have gotten anywhere with the whole project if we hadn’t been able to untangle the marionettes’ strings. Of course, they’d been carefully wrapped when Mom had packed them in the first place. That was an expertise of hers. Yet somehow, jostling their way across the wide Pacific, then traveling overland from the coast to the mountains, those strings had managed to twist and tangle into almost unrecognizable masses of delicate colored lines.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t that what happens, say, to memories? We think we recall something perfectly, yet someone else who was there remembers it differently. And isn’t that what happens, say, to interpretations? We saw it one way, they saw it another?

Maybe there’s a knot of resentment that we could untangle with a bit of patience and forgiveness. Perhaps there’s an interlocking loop of mistaken communications that could be smoothed with a phone call or a note. Or it could be that a few moments of stillness—a walk in the woods, down a street, or along a beach—would allow us to relax the tension on those strings and let them disentangle and unfurl like strands of kelp in a gentle tide.

Once we’re untangled, we can feel our connections better. Are we uncomfortably tied to unwelcome manipulations? Or are our only real ties to the beneficent requirements of the Universe, which has a unique place for us and demands only that we perform as our best selves? Maybe I’ll let the Universe yank my strings in the new decade. After all, when our marionettes’ strings were smooth, they could do almost anything: walk, run, bow, curtsey, shake hands, high-kick, and even fly.

Posted by: MaraPurl | December 21, 2019

The Dolls’ Christmas

The Dolls Christmas coverThe house is decorated, the tree sparkles in the living room, the dining table is set festively for upcoming gatherings, and the playlist is poised. Balsam scents the rooms and angels preside from their perches. But this year we have special visitors who seem to have taken over the den and the guest room. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been tiptoeing around while I’m not looking, arraying themselves throughout the house. This just might be the dolls’ Christmas.

It started when I opened that Box of Dollies my mother had kept for me. Once I opened that box, things began to shift. First, the dolls brought with them more memories than I could have fit into a decade of journals. They all wanted to spill their tales at once, so I had to remind them to take turns. The international group also had to be reminded to speak English or French or Japanese so I could understand them. My, what wonderful accents they have: Jamaican and German, India-Indian and Russian, Swiss and Brazilian. Many of this group are dancers, and their joints are a little stiff, so I’m sure they’ve been remedying this by leaping from the box and running exercise classes. In fact, that explains the faint music I’ve overheard coming from downstairs.

The baby-doll and tiny-tot group behave all together differently, as one might expect. Bilo Baby with the smooth china head and long Christening gown just wants to be held: if over the shoulder, her eyes stay open; reclined in the crook of my arm, she closes her eyes and drifts off to sleep. She’s been behaving this way ever since her original owner, my mother, held her and demonstrated her proper care.

Brenda, though, is another dancing fool. She’s the same height that I was when we first met, and once her feet were strapped to mine, we’d dance eye-to-eye, her yellow yarn hair mingling with my long auburn tresses. She wore a dress in those days, but somehow, while living in the box, she managed to wiggle into one of my old outfits: my family tartan kilt, paired with a Tyrolean sweater and knitted cap. The outfit doesn’t match, but it sure looks festive in an international way.

When all these visitors from my past showed up so suddenly, I wasn’t sure at first what to do about their accommodations. Our grand daughters pronounced them “weird” during a recent visit, so evidently their charms don’t translate to a generation already too cool for dolls (unless they happen to be dragons.) To be fully appreciated, dolls require the supple hearts and minds of the youngest citizens available, which is why several of the youngest looking dolls are packing for a trip to Virginia where they’ll take up residence with two tiny cousins.

Meanwhile the international group are being vetted for membership in a professional group that may involve shows, travel, and a certain amount of fame, as befits their status and legacy.

During final preparations for the holidays, I took from our storage shelves a red basket filled with favorite seasonal books: A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and other treasures. It was when I came across the last book in the collection that I knew I’d been right about this year’s theme.

It’s a small, cloth-bound volume whose red linen has faded slightly. It’s filled with watercolor illustrations of two young girls who carefully dress their dolls and bring them to a Christmas feast. The girls in the picture book resemble my sister and me back in the day. They also look so much like our pair of sibling granddaughters just a few years ago. And they look a lot like how my little cousins will look in the next few years. I’d forgotten all about this little book, which brought back another flood of memories.

I had to place it in the front of the red basket this year, for it announces our theme. The title is The Doll’s Christmas.

Posted by: MaraPurl | December 6, 2019

My Box of Dollies

WP_20191220_17_22_03_ProIn Japan, where I grew up, tea boxes are used for storage. Though you may be imagining small, decorated containers—which do exist in abundance there—these boxes are generally two feet long, a foot high, made of sturdy wood, and lined with tin. The metal lining keeps the contents moisture free, making it ideal for storage

Over our many years in Tokyo, my mother collected several of these and put them to good use. And when my parents eventually moved back to the U.S., they came along. In their large, lovely home in Colorado they had a well-organized storage room, and behind the more accessible and recognizable items like Christmas wreaths and Easter baskets, the tea boxes stood silently, stacked against the past, waiting for the future.

My parents passed on a few years ago, and my sister and I spent months sorting through multitudes of their various collections. But a couple of unopened boxes had made their way to my house and had been waiting in our own storage room. I didn’t know exactly what was in them. I did know I should go through them, but kept putting it off. Finally my husband carried one heavy container and placed it on the floor in front of the television. Though it wasn’t tall enough to obscure our viewing, it was an obstruction demanding attention. So at last, reluctantly, I asked him to help me lift the lid.

The moment I did, I burst into tears. I was startled at my own reaction, which happened utterly without warning. My husband turned off the TV and sat near me on the floor. When I calmed down he asked quietly, “What was that about?”

In the top of the box was a small plastic bag with baby clothes. The clothing had, of course, been mine—things I wore at ages one and two. They were lovingly laundered and folded in the ways only mothers and grandmothers do. I could feel my mother’s hands, the last to have touched these garments. And for just a few moments, I could feel her presence and sense her feelings at the joy of dressing her very own baby girl. The sensation passed, but I felt the privilege of having been one of the humans born to parents who wanted and welcomed their children, then spent their lifetimes as devoted parents. Given the heart-breaking and desperate situations many parents face, this was a sobering as well as an inspiring experience.

As I began lifting other treasures out of the box, it turned out these were the dolls of my childhood. Here were baby-dolls and little-girl dolls, once as real to me as my human friends. How patiently they’d waited in their dark enclosure, and how eagerly they seemed to enjoy being resurrected.

The next layer down in this archeological dig brought me to the international community of dolls who inhabited my childhood room. This makes sense, since I attended a school with more than 40 nationalities represented among the students, a cherished experience I wish more children could have.

As these beauties came to light, I marveled at their costumes and poses: the dancer from India with her silken sari holding aloft her finger cymbals; the Flamenco dancer from Spain with her castanets; the Jamaican with her colorful beads and head wrap, her shining dark skin and flashing dark eyes (yes, her lids close when you tilt her back.) Then there were the farm girls: the Russian with her head scarf, the milk-pail toting daughter from the Swiss Alps, the Japanese rice-paddy girl holding on her head a curved basket of flowers.

Finally, in the bottom of the box, were the carefully wrapped music boxes. The tiny brass bejeweled one that plays a classical tune; the wooden water-wheel one that plays a classic Japanese tune, the stuffed doggie one that holds a heart and plays the song “You Are Always In My Heart”. I remember falling asleep to each of these melodies, deriving such comfort from the peace and harmony of their music.

There were several other treasures: elegant shuttlecock paddles with embroidered Kabuki faces on one side; a memo notebook from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; a papier-mâché Japanese cow with a swinging head; a tiny turtle made of shells; the coverlet and pillow from a dolly bed. There are still some tots in my extended family, and they will likely be the surprised recipients of some unusual international gifts from Santa this year. But many of the dollies will likely be headed to their final resting places, so they can begin their journey to doll heaven.

I hope, when I get there, they’ll be waiting for me once again. They were, and always will be, among my most trusted and trustworthy companions.

Posted by: MaraPurl | November 27, 2019

Polishing the Silver

WP_20191126_15_29_35_ProIt’s that time again, when certain things need to be cleaned in preparation for upcoming gatherings. These “things” have special significance as beautiful objects. But for me, they’re really metaphors. What is it, exactly, that needs to be polished?

Both my grandmothers had beautiful silver. The tea pots and creamers, sugar bowls and serving platters were mostly legacy pieces, even then. That means that both families somehow managed to hold onto these treasures through the Great Depression, though whether any pieces spent time hidden in basements or lurking in pawnshops, I’ll never know.

Mamaw, as we called my mother’s mother, was one of several sisters, so I have no doubt she and Granddaddy added to their store, probably beginning with gifts they received on their wedding day in 1913. She kept a spotless home on the farm in Harrisville, West Virginia, a town high atop a winding highway through the mountains. When I stayed with her at ages 3, 4, and 5, I was awakened each morning by the aroma of freshly baking biscuits, and by the time I bounded down the stairs, Mamaw was fully dressed, diamond studs at her ears, starched apron covering her skirt, breakfast well under way. Laundry was done by hand in the cool basement, then pressed through a ringer before being hung to dry on backyard lines. Shelves were filled with jars of her homemade applesauce, which my cousin and I used to raid. The silver was on display in the dining room, and never showed even the tineist spot of tarnish. I remember thinking the giant silver teapot was much too large for my dolls’ teacups.

Grandma Dorothy, my father’s step-mother, became a beloved member of the family after my dad was married and had two small daughters. It wasn’t until I was attending boarding school in the town where she and Daddy Bob (my dad’s step-father) resided, that I really got to know her. Her tray of silver treasures gleamed from the magagony sideboard in her small but elegantly appointed living room. By now, I was curious how she kept it so shiny, and she took me right to the special under-sink cupboard where she kept her polish, showing me the pink paste with the sweet smell, and the special soft cloths used to apply the goop, then rub it off, and how miraculously it left behind the perfect shine.

Mother inherited some pieces from each of these grand women, who knew their daughter/ daughter-in-law would care for them well. Not only did Mom care for the pieces just as carefully as her elders had; she used them regularly. Not a believer in “saving the good stuff,” Mom used her sterling flatware, her best china, and her silver for special parties, but also for every day use. “No one is more important than your own husband,” she would say, while scooping something delicious onto a plate for our dad. “Remember that, girls.”

These days, I have special cupboards where the silver pieces I inherited stay. Honestly, I don’t get them out every evening to pour my husband’s coffee. But I do get them out for many special occasions. I’ve created special storage in every available nook and cranny for precious inheritances. The holidays are almost upon us now, and the cupboard doors are flung wide to reveal the treasures, clad in their cloth and plastic. As the wraps come off and the silver gets lined up by the sink, the rubber gloves go one and the polishing ritual begins.

I enjoy the work as a meditation of gratitude—which often begins around Thanksgiving week. It’s a reminder that our gifts—and talents—need to be polished so they shine brightly enough to be shared.

We’ll have a gleaming table through the holidays this year. And every moment spent preparing is worth every moment spent sharing these treasures with friends and family who admire the craftsmanship and the legacy. For the little ones, the table just looks “fancy” and they’re not sure why. But years from now they’ll remember the shine. And someday, they’ll be polishing the silver.

Posted by: MaraPurl | October 23, 2019

The Sound of Her Voice

Linda Ronstadt singingMany events from the last few decades seem to have their own musical themes, as though life itself were a film with an accompanying score. Specific personal memories seem to embed themselves into whatever the prevailing musical tracks that were playing at the time. Maybe at age 12, you held hands with your first boyfriend and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was playing on the radio that day. Or maybe you suddenly understood that your destiny was to become a runway model and Prince’s “You’ve Got the Look” was hitting the charts at the time.

For me, music is a determining factor in the pace, the mood, the progress of any given day in the life. Sometimes a song can yank me back to a memory I no longer knew I had. Sometimes a phrase will open a door into a realm I’d been searching for, suggesting a storyline I should write, or a project I should undertake. It can be deliberate, as when my husband chooses a romantic piece that centers us on the love we share. Or it can be synchronistic, as though the perfect tonalities were sent to me from a distant star, timed to arrive just when I need them.

All these thoughts swirled and enveloped me—and most of the audience—as we watched the new documentary about Linda Ronstadt. It became obvious immediately that the divine Linda R had been walking beside me during the last several decades, whether or not I was always aware of her. She was out there, on the road, in the concert venues, in the news, and in the studio, doing what she loved, and what she was born to do.

She was the force of nature that was so often used to describe her, not so much because she had drive or ambition of talent, though she had all three in abundance, but because she opened her heart to the universe and said, “Use me, I’m yours.” She had a glorious instrument that, instead of harnessing, she let loose upon the worlds of music that inhabited her soul.

Born into a musical family, she was lullabied to sleep by a father who crooned the love songs of his native Mexico, she sang along to her mother’s cherished Gilbert and Sullivan, and then she found her opening through her rock-and-roll heart. She made good songs great, and she made them her own.

“Blue Bayou” was a wonderful song and a big hit for one of its songwriters, Roy Orbison. When he sings it, you can hear that authentic longing for home, enjoy the details of the coastal setting, feel the sultry hot breezes and catch the edges of local accents and flavors. But when you hear Linda sing it, the novella becomes a full opera, telling the story of a longing deep in the soul so poignant it brings tears and reignites lost hope.

Linda and I haven’t met so far, but in the realm of six degrees of separation, our paths crossed many times. While I was writing songs and singing with members of the Doobie Brothers, she collaborated with their friends, and hers, the Eagles. She was interviewed several times for Rolling Stone during the time I wrote two cover stories for the magazine. Annie Liebowitz did her photo sessions, and mine with Jon Voight when I wrote his interview piece. Far earlier, I was playing modest college venues while she was packing the stadiums with audiences of 17,000. Both of us loved our male musical colleagues but had to compete with them, while we collaborated with our female peers.

She has an inkling of how her artistry inspired so many others, though she’s too modest to say so. And she will likely never know how much her courage and great spirit encouraged other young women to stand up for their beliefs and pursue their dreams. These days, the greater the accolades that come her way, the more dismissive she is of the praise and the more humbled by all the universe gave her. To me she appears to be someone who used each aspect of her own heritage as best she could, polishing each element of her talents to a high sheen the better to reflect upon others. That generosity of spirit seems to sparkle through the tales of those who knew her then, and know her now.

The documentary focused mostly on all the good things about her career, and there are no doubt some negatives lurking in the shadows, as there are in every life. But as I rode wave after wave of emotion, carried along by her music, the film presented as a special gift, and I’m forever grateful for the sound of her voice.

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