Glad you're here!

Welcome to my personal blog. Squirrel(!) is such an appropriate title for this spot on the Internet. This began as a way to share the journal from my walk across England with hubby Jan. That trip is archived here for you to enjoy (June of 2012), but now when you visit you'll read my crazy musings on everything from horses, to cars, to grammar, to books, baseball, or weasels. Don't get whiplash trying to figure out a theme; just watch out for the squirrels!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Happy Week After Christmas--I hope your celebrations were wonderful!  And - - happy "Welcome Back to The Squirrel(!) Blog Day!  I've been letting this site languish and be no more than an archive for the online diary of my trip to England this past summer. It's always been my intention to start blogging again in the new year -- and a nudge from one of my best writing buddies has given me just the launch topic.  I was invited to take part in an ongoing hop from blog to blog of writers talking about their own "next big things."  So I'm back here to update you on the story that's almost finished and ready to send off to my agent and editor.  

At the end of the post you'll find some links to other authors telling you about their works in progress (aka WIPs). I hope you'll click through and circle around to see what's coming.  And check back during this week to see who might be blogging their next big thing next week.

So--drum roll--here are ten questions I was given to answer about Liz Selvig's "Next Big Thing."  

1. What is your working title of your book?

The original title of this manuscript was “Angelwings.” But I already know that won’t be the final title. I’m currently calling it “The Horsewoman’s Hero.”

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is a very, very old idea—and an old book actually. It’s a revision of my very first manuscript and really just grew over a long time as I got to know the characters.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

This is definitely a contemporary romance. The story takes place in the fictitious town of Kennison Falls, MN – the place I created for my first novel, “The Rancher and the Rock Star.”

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters  in a movie rendition?

I have photos of the two people who I’d love to play Chase and Jill. Do you remember the gorgeous old Diet Coke commercial where all the women in the office ran to window at break time to watch a construction worker remove his shirt and drink a Diet Coke? The construction worker was Lucky Vanous and he’s the perfect Chase. As forJill, she’s a beautiful ex-Miss World Sweden. Nobody would know her, nobody would recognize her. Trust me that she’s a beautiful, doe-eyed, dark blonde!

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A woman with Olympic hopes, a man with a heart-breaking secret, a magical dog, a teen with purple hair, and a cranky farmer with a giant horse and the surprising key to everyone’s happiness, form an unlikely bond during a summer that flips dreams upside down and nourishes the unlikeliest of loves.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have a wonderful agent, Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein from the McIntosh & Otis agency. She’s patiently awaiting this manuscript, as is my editor at Avon, Tessa Woodward. I don’t have a contract for the book yet, but I was promised that they want it—so I’m excited!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Oh, the answer to this is almost embarrassing now—I worked on this story for years when my children were little and when I was toying with the idea of being a romance writer. Once I finished “Angelwings” in 2005, I marketed it and actually found an agent to represent it. But, truth to tell, it was a first draft, really. I consider the “real” book to have been written in the past six months – and I’m so thrilled with how it’s turned out.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think people who enjoy books by some of my biggest inspirations will like “Horsewoman’s Hero.” Robyn Carr, Katherine Anderson, Susan Anderson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Bernard.  I think I have my own style—and I love rich, layered stories—but these wonderful writers are who I strive to be like.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

This book is purely and simply a work that’s grown out of years of daydreaming and favorite movies, and ways I always imagined a hero of mine would act. I feel like I’ve been living with Chase and Jill for a very long time. I love them dearly!

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

This book  has a very special dog in it--Angel, the black and white mutt with the batwing-shaped ears. Angel shows up just when she's needed most, and has an uncanny knack for getting her new people to exactly the spots they need to be in, precisely when they need to be in them! Is she magic? Is she just a smart puppy? Or, is she even more special than that?

I’ve also brought back a few of my favorite secondary characters from “Rancher,” so anyone who’s read that will be glad to know Gray and Abby each make cameos, as do the wonderful cockatiels Lester and Cotton. And, of course, it wouldn’t be Kennison Falls if The Sisters (Gladdie and Claudia) weren’t there to save the day in their own inimitable ways!

Plus, there are some really fun new characters, like the irascible old farmer Robert McCormick. And—if you love horses, I have several beauties for you:  Dragon, Jill’s talented black thoroughbred, Belle a beautiful golden Belgian, and Gypsy, the gorgeous Clydesdale who gives birth to the funniest foal this side of Black Beauty: T.N.Tatters. 

And, as usual, there'll be the four things I always put in my stories:  horses, a British accent, a Beatles reference, and an elderly person. You'll have to read it when it finally comes out and search out each reference!

So--there's my WIP for you. I plan to turn it into my "bosses" by mid-January, and I'll definitely let you know what the plans are for it after that.

Now for a couple of other  Big Things -- please check out these awesome blogs from some cool writers: Jennifer BernardMorgan Q. O'Reilly, Boone Brux.  

Ans thanks for checking out my blog today. I promise more random fun in the New Year. (Maybe I'll do "Diary of a Wimpy Writer.")

Happy New Year everyone!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Journey's End: SuperLambBananas to War Horses

Liverpool - Day 3

A note: Forgive me for this slightly longer-than-usual post (“surely not,” you say, “how is it possible they could get longer?”) but this marks the last official travelogue entry. Read on to find out what a Superlambbanana is and see a clip on the making of the play “War Horse.”

Since yesterday was all things Fab Four, we needed to take a day to explore Liverpool’s non-Beatles treasures, of which there are many. And to shop. 

The Walker Art Gallery
We started at Liverpool’s beautiful and beloved Walker Art Gallery. The building opened in 1877, but some pieces in the vast collection date back much further. According to the guide book, John Lennon called it “the Walky Through Gallery,” and Liverpool’s private art collectors have been enthusiastic and generous with bequests of art.  We spent several hours in the Walker and certainly didn’t even scratch the surface of the wonders held there.

We got a special treat when our friend Joy texted (as she’d been doing for a day and a half to make sure “The Pool” was treating us well!) and asked if she could come meet us for tea one last time. We met in the tea-shop atrium of the art gallery and had a lovely hour-long (hour-short, really) reunion with her!
Here I am with Joy -- tea and cookies at the Walker!

Here are just a few of the treasures we explored in the gallery after we finished tea:
The most famous portrait of Henry VIII hangs in the Walker.

Lower right is a portrait of Elizabeth I

Self portrait by Rembrandt.

There are modern galleries too. More on Jan and modern art below.
Maggie May's cafe - the Scouse is advertised bottom of the board
After we finished in the Walker (we could have spent two days there and not studied everything), we hit the streets to find some good souvenir shopping and take a few (haha, okay a TON) of pictures.  We found a cute café on Bold Street called Maggie May’s  that served homemade Scouse. Liverpudlians take their nickname, Scousers, and the name of their distinctive dialect Scouse, from an old, old traditional stew. The version I had was hearty but very mild, similar to the beef stew we make at home—totally yummy!
The Liver Bird adorns all public structures
Hahaha! Liz & Phil masks!!
After lunch we hiked back to the River Mersey, ate ice cream at Albert Docks, found some t-shirts we liked and  a few more Beatles souvenirs (we couldn’t really have a completely Beatle-free day). 

Random Beatles themes pop up all over.

The Sign
 Here I need to mention one of my very favorite silly things about Liverpool:  the SuperLambBanana. It’s 17 feet tall and weighs several tons and was developed for a 1998 exhibition, the  ArtTransPennine Exhibition. The artist intended it as both a comment on the dangers of genetic engineering and to honor the history of Liverpool since both sheep and bananas were once common cargos in the city's docks.
The 17-foot  SuperLambBanana
 In 2008, as part of Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, 125 miniature replicas were created. They were painted and sponsored by businesses in the area and the mini Superlambananas were located throughout the Liverpool region. We didn’t make it to the original, which is moved periodically around the city, but we did find quite a few smaller ones. And, I bought my own to bring home!

A parade of mini SuperLambBananas
Ceramic replicas in the store window -- I have the yellow one!
 We wound up at our second museum, the Tate Liverpool, a modern art gallery that’s one of four Tate museums in England. We went to a special exhibition of three impressionists from three centuries: Joseph M. W.Turner (18th Century), Claude Monet (19th Century) and Cy Twombly (20th Century).  It was fascinating, and while Jan only solidified his opinion of modern artists—claiming our dog Magic could paint as well as Mr. Twombly (apologies to any of his fans) we both reaffirmed our love of Monet. I really could live in a house filled with his paintings.
Monet's Poplars

Turner's Sunset

Twombly's . . . Autumn? - Jan's (not) favorite.
We capped off the night with a bus ride to south Liverpool and visited Calderstones Park, a beautiful old park near Menlove Avenue and Forthlin Road—the streets where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up.  But, in truth, we didn’t go for that reason.  Calderstones featured prominently in a not-yet-published book I wrote several years ago. I have plans to resurrect it very soon—so this was research, pure and simple!  I’ll give you a preview of the beautiful park, but stay tuned for another post on Places from “Isabella’s Song.”  All my Alaskan writing buddies will remember the story!
One entrance to Calderstones Park - For my  CPs in Alaska - where that first kiss took place :-)  More in another post!
 Finally, we had to make our way back to the hostel for our last night in Liverpool. It was sad. Jan was surprised at how much he enjoyed the city. I am simply in love with this place I’ve been thinking about for so many years—to see the sights I’ve been researching was amazing! Oh, wait, I’ve already said that.
In the morning we had plans to take a National Trust tour to Mendips (John’s home) and 20 Forthlin Road (Paul’s home) before hopping on a train back to London. Here are some of the Liverpool sights buzzing through my brain as I tried to sleep!

The reception desk at our hostel.

Yellow Submarine doors to the bedrooms. When you open them . . .

. . . you see George in the submarine window!

Michelangelo in front of the Walker

The traffic circle in front of the museum -- The Wellington Column is on the right.

An English schoolgirl.

Liverpool shopping

The Pier Head on River Mersey

Day 3 ½  - From Liverpool to London

The weather held for us as we made our way for the last time to the Liverpool waterfront. We had to meet our tour group at Kings Dock—right next to our favorite Albert Dock. We had time to explore just a little and watched the Liverpool Echo Wheel and found the John Lennon Peace Memorial that had been dedicated by his son Julian and his ex-wife Cynthia just a few years ago. It’s really one of the prettiest modern sculptures!
The Echo Wheel
John Lennon Peace Memorial
The National Trust tour van - only 15 people per tour!

We also met a pair of 15-year-old Norwegian girls, best friends who are super-Beatles-fans. They’d planned and saved for a trip to Liverpool for several years and talked their mothers into making the journey. They were as excited (or more) as I was to visit John’s and Paul’s houses. It was pretty amazing to see how the Beatles have transcended generations.
In front of Paul's home -- our Norwegian girls are left of me!
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside either house, but we could shoot away outside. The most interesting fact about John’s home is that it was bought and given to the National Trust by Yoko Ono. Turns out, Liverpudlians think quite highly of her. She’s become a great champion of preserving the Beatles’ heritage and of making sure John’s memory is kept respectfully.
In front of Mendips - John's home.
The houses have been restored to the condition they were in and have much of the same décor as when John and Paul lived in them. It was interesting to see how well-off John lived with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George compared to Paul, who’s house was in a government-owned development.  Yet, each home held ghosts of both happiness and sorrow. It was really moving.
But, the tour had to end and we had to high-tail it back to our hostel, pick up our suitcases and schlepp back to Lime Street Station. From the time we got off the tour to the time we caught the train was only an hour. It was a quick good-bye to a really, really cool place! 

Last adjustments in front of our hostel.

The train to London.
But we had no time to feel nostalgic once we reached Euston Station in London. It was now nearly 5:00 p.m. and we had tickets to see the play War Horse at 7:30.  Our first cabbie had the job of getting us to St. David’s Hotel – one of several small hotels built in a set of terraced (row) houses on a leafy horseshoe of a street. 
Our hotel for the last night.
We ditched our suitcases, walked half a block to an Italian restaurant, ate and hurried back to change clothes. By 7:00 we were hailing a black cab and got the greatest driver ever. First of all he thanked us for telling him where we wanted to go. Then he thanked us for giving him half an hour to get 2 ½ miles. Then he took a route I couldn’t have followed along with on a GPS! He told us all about how long it takes to become a London cabbie and once we reached the New London Theatre with eight minutes to spare, he told us he was surprised to get us there on time – something he hadn’t disclosed when we’d started. I have to say, London traffic is not a place for wimps.
A quick Italian dinner spot!

Our last night in England couldn’t have been more amazing. If you EVER get the chance to see War Horse on stage, grab it! The story is touching but the technology of the horse puppets is incredible. If you’d like  a snippet, check out this link:
One word: Stunning.

We left the theater once the play was over and couldn’t quite bear to go right back to the hotel, so we rode the tube to Picadilly Circus. Celebrations were underway for the Italian football (soccer) team who’d just won the semi-finals of the Euro-Cup. Between the flying Italian flags and the shining lights and the crowds to well-rival anything at Times Square in New York, we had a bright and shiny end to our trip to England. A truly stunning trip it was, from beginning to end.
Italians celebrating Euro-Cup victory

It's actually Ripley's Believe it or Not museum--but it's gorgeous at night

Picadilly was bustling even nearing midnight.

I made Jan take this pic of us reflected in the Underground train window. It was a most excellent night.
 We were definitely a comical sight the next morning, dragging our 48-pound suitcases and stuffed back packs around the London Underground. Plus, I had a bright blue Beatle’s bag. We were walking neon signs blinking out “Beware of Tourists.”  But other than a few stares and a few naughty words under my breath when I had to haul the suitcase up the fourth flight of subway stairs, we made it to Heathrow in good time and absolutely nothing went wrong with the schedule or the flight.
That's me advertising tourism in the UK!
 Just like that we were back in Minnesota with parents, kids and hot, hot weather.  It was good to be home. But it will be quite a long time before we no longer miss the cool English breezes, the blue suburban skies, and the rain-soaked moops we shared with so many new, wonderful friends.  Would I recommend this trip to anyone else? In a 192-mile heartbeat!!

Thanks, England, for a living dream!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Penny Lane to Strawberry Fields

Liverpool - Designated Beatles Day

All of you who know me can just roll your eyes and get it over with because there isn't much to report today except everything John, Paul, George, and Ringo. 

Paul, George, John and Ringo -- very early days
Our cab's name was "Penny Lane"
Here we are with Alan.
We started with a private Fab Four Taxi tour of every Beatles sight in the city. Even more so than last night, we experienced how intimate Liverpool is – the areas where everything happened in Beatles history are not far apart, and the coincidences that brought all four young men together are not so far-fetched when you can see how closely connected everything is. Our cab driver’s name was Alan, and he brought an unbelievable amount of knowledge to the tour. Many things I knew, but there was a lot of detailed information he had to offer even an old superfan.
The most emotional places for me were John Lennon’s house, St. Peter’s church where Paul first heard John play, and the church hall where they met for the first time. These, according to Alan, are the true Shrines of Mecca for fans. It’s completely corny, but it really was a surreal feeling--like visiting friendly, welcoming ghosts. 

This could be Eleanor Rigby's grave - nobody knows for sure.
St. Peter's Church - site  of the fete where John & Paul met.
John and The Quarrymen playing at St. Peter's - Paul was in the audience.

St. Peter's church hall, where John and Paul actually met.
This plaque commemorates the first meeting of Lennon and McCartney
This neighborhood is The Dingle - where Ringo was born.
This is the actual "shelter in the middle of the roundabout"

George's home in Arnold Grove
The fire station in Penny Lane
We caught all the highlights: Jan really liked Penny Lane and the stories about how everything in the area was part of the Beatles’ youths. Visiting all four childhood homes was interesting. Hearing how each man grew up gave depth to his personality. One interesting fact is that many Liverpudlians harbor a lot of resentment toward Ringo. He was the poorest of the four and doesn’t have good memories of growing up in the city. He’s made a few dismissive remarks about it and, since Liverpudlians are very proud of their city and very clannish (but friendly), they hold his derision against him and not everyone calls him a favored son. Paul on the other hand is beloved. He’s done a lot for the city (like help start the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts - LIPA) and still has family here that he visits regularly. 

Sculpture in front of the old Liverpool Institute-now part of LIPA

Obvious where we are :-)
The gates to Strawberry Field - a former home and school for orphaned children
After our taxi tour, we returned to the waterfront and visited the first part of The Beatles Story, the official museum of the Beatles. We saw a great gallery of photos by a man, Paul Beriff, who took many pictures of the group when he was just 16. The pics have been forgotten in his attic for 40 years and were just released. They were candid and really interesting.

I like this last pic of Paul & George with Liverpool reflected in the glass.

We took a short break from the Beatles and boarded a Ferry ‘cross the Mersey. The weather was gray and a little rainy, but the chance to see Liverpool’s waterfront and skyline from the river was super impressive. Plus we got to hear Gerry and the Pacemakers sing their famous song!

The Mersey ferry - The Royal Iris
The Three Graces on Liverpool's waterfront
We spent the next three hours in the main Beatles Story exhibit. Every detail of the group’s rise to fame is portrayed with recreations of scenes and displays of memorabilia. It was astounding and even overwhelming. By the time we got through and into the gift shop, I couldn’t even choose t-shirts or trinkets—it was like having eaten the sweetest, richest candy all day long and being saturated.  I had to promise myself to return before we left the city so I could process all the images and information!

A few of the hundreds of displays in The Beatles Story
 We walked back past The Cavern, thinking to eat at The Grapes, a famous old Beatles haunt, but it appeared to be just a drinking pub so we went a few steps further to a great Irish pub called Flanagan’s Apple. They had the best burgers we ate during our whole trip.

It was a great first full day in the city, and even though it seems logical I’d fall in love with Liverpool because of the Beatles, it really was the sheer charm of the place that was getting to both Jan and me.