Herman Maril Artwork Inspired Books for Children

I thought I was writing it for children, but I was really writing it to answer all the questions people would ask me as an artist’s daughter–

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My first publishing success was a children’s book, two books— Me Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat and Runaway Molly Midnight; the Artist’s Cat—illustrated with artwork by Herman Maril.

Home for a visit after college, I was ecstatic to be surrounded by my father’s paintings, after living in an environment with mostly bare walls.  My mother Esta Maril, a psychiatric social worker, had just written a book about a little boy who only ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch every day and she was going to show it to a publisher, Barbara Holdridge at Stemmer House. An aspiring writer myself, we talked about the elements present in a children’s book over dinner.

That night, unable to sleep, I went downstairs and started writing a story told  from the perspective of  our black cat Molly, who had once belonged to me but had switched allegiance to my father.

I thought I was writing it for children, but I was really writing it to answer all the questions people would ask me as an artist’s daughter, questions like:

How long does it take your father to complete a painting?

Where does he work?

 What kind of materials does he use?

Where does he get his ideas?

Does he ever put you in a painting?

Are you also an artist?

 

Then I had  another idea. I could illustrate the story with actual paintings my father had done with Molly the black cat in them as well as photographs from our house, settings that had inspired my father’s artwork. My mother liked my manuscript so much, she took it with her to her appointment with Barbara Holdridge. Her book was never published, mine was. However, Barbara did not like the idea of mixing photographs with original artwork and she nixed my illustration concept. She also did not like the idea of the story being told in first person by the cat and asked me to change it to third person.

I did what she requested. Then she changed her idea again about point of view after she fell in love with the painting she chose for the cover, “Suzanne and Cat” and became entranced with the idea of alliteration, Me, Molly Midnight. So, one afternoon while sitting in her parlor on a lumpy couch revising my manuscript, desperately hungry for something to eat and too shy to ask her for permission to take a break, I changed it back to first person. I was young and eager. After it was published I visited many schools, gave readings and encouraged elementary age school children to create books of their own.

As one of the many programs associated with Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience on exhibit through October 29that the Cahoon Museum of American Art,  September 15th at 1:00 p.m., I’ll be in Cotuit, Massachusetts on Cape Cod doing a reading and leading a workshop for children on making a book for about your pet. https://cahoonmuseum.org/programs/

I’d still like to do a children’s book with a mixture of photographs and paintings.  My pet of choice these days is a dog, Chloe the labradoodle, a dog my father never met. She’s quite striking, tall in stature and white when she’s clean.

In answer to that last question, fans of my father’s work often ask me, Are you an artist like your Dad?Tthe word artist is not limited to visual art.  Following in my father’s footsteps, I  am an artist, I create with words.

 

 

 

Harshly Judged for Reading The Good Mother

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Intently reading the final chapters of The Good Mother by Sue Miller, while standing in line to board my Southwest Airlines flight back from Boston to Baltimore, I  bent down to retrieve my bookmark that had slipped onto the ground and sensed the woman standing next to me was glaring at me in disdain.  Did I do something wrong? Was I standing too close?

“How can you stand to read that book?” she said.

I looked up from my book into her face. I judged her to be between the age of sixty and seventy.  “What do you mean?” I said.

“Well she was obviously such a bad mother. I couldn’t stand it. You know you get to a certain age, and you decide I’m not going to keep reading something I don’t enjoy.”

“The protagonist did make a number of poor choices. But that’s part of the premise and the plot. She was flawed. She had unresolved issues with her own mother. “

“Yes. but she was just a bad mother. I raised a family and I know what it takes. She wasn’t fit to care for her child. I didn’t want to waste my time reading it.”

Over the intercom, our boarding group was called and we walked forward. I was following my husband who carrying our shared suitcase. He was wearing earphones and absorbed in listening to a book on tape, Killers of the Flower Moon,  oblivious to the conversation I’d been having. The woman followed behind me.

As we approached the gate and there was a pause. I didn’t want this woman to have the last word.  I turned and said, “Well actually, I’m in a Master’s program and I’m reading this book from an analytic viewpoint for craft .”

“Oh well that explains it. You have to read it.”

At this point I didn’t want to admit that the book had been my choice.  My mentor Elizabeth Searle at Stonecoast ( University of Southern Maine)  had suggested I read something by Sue Miller—perhaps Family Pictures— and I’d decided that Good Mother dealt more closely with the issues of a woman’s identity in the 1980’s, which would be helpful with my creative work, my own novel currently underway.    One of the conflicts between the protagonist Anna Dunlap and her ex-husband was their different family backgrounds and choices they make to obtain what they think is important.  In her past Anna defines herself through her marriage, but she wants to be independent.

A woman with  low self- esteem, her role as a mother was her affirmation that she could do something well.  But then she fell in love.  Her ability to receive love healed her, but also made her more vulnerable.  Her love affair versus her role as a mother is how the book was marketed in 1986.

“Recently divorced, Anna Dunlap has two passionate attachments: her daughter, four-year-old Molly, and her lover Leo, the man who makes her feel beautiful—and sexual— for the first time. Swept away by happiness and passion, Anna feels she has everything she’s ever wanted.  Then come the shocking charges that would threaten her new “family”…that force her to prove she is a good mother.”

I try again to make my peace with this woman who is scrutinizing my reading choices. “The Good Mother was published in 1986. Social norms change from decade to decade. When did you read it?” I asked. “

“Oh, maybe five or six years after it came out.” she said.

“Well that was a long time ago,” I said, “Things have changed.”

She looked me up and down. “You’re old enough to remember 1986.”

I nodded my head, “Yes.”

“Well it’s not that different, is it?”

I followed my husband onto the airplane and squeezed into the middle seat. She walked on past us and sat a few rows further back.

I marveled to myself on how judgmental the woman had been, what did it matter to her what I was reading?   Then I reminded myself that not everyone reads books to learn something and that probably more people read books to be entertained. Why else are predictable romances where the protagonist always lives happily ever after and cozy mysteries where the crime is always neatly solved and no one but the initial murder victim gets hurt, so popular?

Some of the best books are sometimes a painful ordeal to read when we closely identify with the pain, suffering, and indignities of the characters. If we have the resilience to keep turning the pages we are often richly rewarded by the insights and perspective we gain.  All of us have our flaws, our challenge is become better versions of ourselves. So while my younger self might have told the lady who was so bothered by my reading choice that she was narrow minded bag of wind, I listened to her rant and wrote this essay.

Postscript: For my writer friends who want to know what I am reading this semester, here is my tentative list.

Angels by Denis Johnson  (family in a desperate situation)

House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (time and characterization)

Doting by Henry Green  (use of dialogue)

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Good Harbor by Anita Diamant  (setting)

The Good Mother by Sue Miller  (characterization of protagonist using flashbacks)

The Knitting Circleby Ann Hood

Ill Will by Dan Chaon  (multiple POV and timelines)

 Running by Cara Hoffman (two POV’s and alternating timelines)

 The parenthetical notes indicate what I was thinking when I put the book on the list. While MFA students have the option of doing an imitative annotation, meaning they might write something copying the style of the book being annotated, I’ve preferred to focus on the use of a specific craft element. In The Good Mother, I’ve noticed all the reviews that dwell on the emerging sexuality of the protagonist and the unfairness of the legal system. No one seems to want to write about Anna’s relationship with music and her piano, so that’s what I will be writing about in my annotation.

Read on and  write on.

 

 

Honor of Wendi Winters–Poem for Healing

A pro-active poem for healing

In honor of  Wendi Winters

By Nadja Maril

 

June 28th2018

The Facebook post says mark me safe

I’m safe, here in Annapolis Maryland

I’m safe, I’m safe

Did you hear the news?

White man with long gun and ponytail

An angry vigilante

Glass shattered at the newspaper office

Several people down, possibly dead

But mark me safe

 

Such a tragedy

Did you know anyone?

Do you recognize the names?

Five people killed, five souls

Did you know anyone?

 

Yes

My friend Wendi Winters

My writing colleague Wendi Winter

A  prolific and tireless journalist.

 

Wendi wrote about people

Happy people, lucky people,

People with a cause to promote

Houses, fashion, recreation, the arts

Teen of the Week

A Veteran to be honored

A spectacular home to admire

The United States Naval Academy

The Bay Bridge 10K Race

Sailing regattas, Parades and Fireworks

All part of Wendi’s beat.

 

Writer, photographer, Girl Scout leader

Publicity and Event Consultant

Former model and fashion expert

The woman who volunteered to chaperone

Just about every teenage event at our church

She served on multiple committees

Ushered, greeted and prepared snacks

The perennial volunteer who always showed up.

 

It’s not easy to be a newspaper journalist

Few jobs, long hours, low pay

No one bothers to read what you write

And now it’s downright dangerous

Grow a thick skin to shield you from criticism

And start wearing a bulletproof vest

You’re the one they’ll blame when truth is revealed.

 

 

Who will fill her shoes?

Tall, slim and fearless

Laughing at the challenges

Taking pictures, always taking pictures

Dramatic, chic, daring

Passionate about her children

About causes for social justice

Organized and precise

Never taking a vacation

Balancing a tight budget

Embarking on adventures

Savoring bread and wine

Music and beauty.

 

 

Mark me not safe

Not immune to crying

Mark me not safe

I’m sad and afraid

Of the destructive hate

Infecting the minds of those

Angry enough to hold a gun in their hand

Angry enough to take another’s life

Angry enough to think it’s okay

To steal a mother from a family

To steal the future from a child

To shatter a community with violence.

Wendi with Hat

Wendi Winters-, one of the 5 victims of the June 28th Shooting in Annapolis.

Books to Enjoy and Discuss in 2018

Several writer friends have inquired how I came to choose Stonecoast over some of the other low-residency MFA programs.

The holidays and start of the New Year is a time when my writer friends and fellow bookies start exchanging lists of favorite books we recommend to put on our reading lists for the upcoming year. This year I am excited to begin my MFA graduate program in Creative Writing. Yes, I’m trading in my journalist’s perspective for a slightly more free-ranging take on the world— to include fiction in all its many shapes and forms.

At the Stonecoast Writing Program through the auspices of the University of Southern Maine, my declared genre is “fiction” but I’ll have the option to participate in seminars on poetry, creative nonfiction, and popular fiction.  As to what is the difference between what is literary versus what is popular, that’s open to interpretation. An excellent piece of sci-fi, fantasy, or a mystery can still be a fine piece of literary writing. Think about the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood or the thought provoking yarns by Ray Bradbury. I’m not a purist and I doubt I’ll be penning a “best seller” any time soon, but I’d certainly like to write stories that are accessible and entertaining while also being well constructed and memorable, a tall order for sure, which is why I’m back in school.

Several writer friends have inquired how I came to choose Stonecoast over some of the other low-residency MFA programs. One reason was the format of a split of two writing workshops per residency as well as their policy to encourage student participation in helping to select the focus and theme of upcoming workshops offered each semester. They also have some fine writers,, committed to mentoring others, serving on the faculty.

In order to prepare for my first residency, (this is what is called a low-residency program where 10 days per semester are spent on campus and the remainder of the work is done long distance) I’ve read some wonderful books in the past two months.. These, I’d like to share, so here they are: Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon, Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton,  Little Children by Tom Perrota, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Transformations (poetry) by Anne Sexton  as well as selected chapters from Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, The Half-Known World on Writing Fiction by Robert Boswell, The Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley ( the 1831 edition) along with several John Cheever stories available in The Stories of John Cheever, an old favorite short story by JD Salinger “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and poetry by James Wright.

Although it is over 500 pages in length, I highly recommend Romantic Outlaws. It is available as an audio book and makes for delightful listening while preparing dinner or doing those mundane tasks of folding laundry and filing bills. Before and After you’ll have to read the old fashioned way, but it is a thought provoking and well crafted novel that I highly recommend. Rosellen Brown is an excellent author, who deserves more recognition for her work.

I never saw the movie, but  the novel, Little Children, is fast paced and by the  author of The Leftovers, the tale that inspired the HBO series by the same name.  It’s a fun read.

In a few weeks I will have completed by first residency and will have a whole new list of readings to complete in the upcoming months.  And yes, I’ll be doing plenty of writing.  Ray Bradbury consistently wrote 1000 words per day throughout his life. I’m going to try to do the same when not in class. So here is to a literary writing 2018 with a little home renovation thrown in for good measure! (More about old houses in another blog post) Happy reading.

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