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.

 

 

Timepiece: A Bit of Fiction to Share

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(Nadja Maril and Peter Crilly )

This photo  has nothing directly to do with the link I am posting to The Stonecoast Review, but it does reflect my state of mind. I’ve got a big smile on my face because I’ve made it through a demanding month of packets for my Masters Program, three to be exact,  as I ramp up for the Stonecoast July residency.  Currently I am reading Mary Kean’s Liar’s Club for annotation and listening to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for a workshop on Historic Fiction and writing several hours a day.

What is it like in a  low residency MFA program? Click on the link below to find out and while you are at it, you can read my little piece of flash fiction.  I’d also like to give a little shout out to the editors of Stonecoast Review who have worked so hard to make certain that all blind submissions  (unmarked so that the reader is not prejudiced by information about the writers’ past credits, geographic location, or educational background) are read multiple times and pieces are thoughtfully selected and edited. Hard work and all done on a volunteer basis.

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Keep Me Posted- Short Story Published

No one ever dies on Facebook or do they?

I’ve been away from the computer for several weeks. Just back from China with my husband Peter celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  This photo shows me standing by the Yangtze River.  Catching up on publishing news after my return, I can share that my short story “Keep Me Posted” is now online in the April issue of the Scarlet Leaf Review. Here is the link. If you have comments, please share them on the magazine website. Thank you!

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Just back from China

Nadja Maril, Writer and Blogger

I’m switching this blog up a bit.  Several years ago when I started blogging, my objective as an editor of a local Annapolis area magazine was to promote events around Anne Arundel County. Thus I named my blog “Write On Annapolis”.  While I’m still doing some marketing and freelance magazine work, part of my day is devoted to writing fiction.

I’ve also been writing a poetry, which I’ve also been posting here, as well as still writing memoir.. What I find difficult to do is to promote my own  writing. I’m very good at promoting causes, organizations and businesses, but when it comes to promoting my creative work I often run out of steam.  So I’m going to try to use this blog to share my writing accomplishments and pursuits with the world and I will start by posting a link to my short story published in Scarlet Leaf Review (a work of fiction) entitled “Trying to Be Normal”. I’d also like to share that another short piece of mine was recently published in the first issue of Fire Pit a literary magazine published by Eight-Stone Press. It is entitled “The Real Thing.” If you’ve followed my previous career as an antiques dealer, you’ll find it enlightening.

I hope to share more publishing successes as I continue to write short stories and will be embarking on another National Novel Writing Month adventure starting November lst. Thank you for reading. Without readers, where would writers be?

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The sun was in my eyes, so there is a bit of a squint but I am wearing a Nano T-shirt in honor of the upcoming National Novel Writing Month. This photo was taken by my husband Peter on the Corn Hill Beach in Truro, Cape Cod, my most favorite place to write.

 

Keeping Alive My Memories of Diane Fien Kelly

Diane BenchThis past weekend we celebrated Diane FIen Kelly’s birthday. She would have been turning 57. So her dear friend Jean Melton lit 57 candles and put them all around her house and threw a big party where we ate, and drank, told stories and jokes, and reconnected with old friends. It was the kind of party that Diane would have liked. I could almost hear her laughing.

Diane plaque

The following day was the dedication of a bench, purchased by our book club in Diane’s honor and memory, positioned on the trail by the USNA stadium trail by her home.  Diane loved to be outside walking on a trail, and her last year on earth she made of point of truly savoring every precious moments, moments that included her two children Brendan and Lauren and her dog Stuart, a rescue from Hurricane Katrina.

Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes, and with a variety of procedures and traditions for choosing books, organizing discussions, and providing food and libations.  While some years Diane was busy with her work, training teachers in the field of special education teaching deaf and blind children, when present at a book club gathering her enthusiasm for our selection (even if she didn’t read the entire book) and for the food being served was always heartfelt.  She was the one who kept asking us to keep a record of the food being served with our selections for a future cookbook. Diane’s big heart and positive approach to just about everything she did was inspiring. She was the kind of person who was always looking out for the “little guy” and the person who when faced with adversity always managed to see the situation in a positive way.

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Last week we were asked by her college friends for suggestions of the books which were Diane’s favorites and while initially I thought of her puzzling over Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills , it was Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards which tells the story of the impact of a doctor’s decision to give away his infant daughter at birth because she has Downs Syndrome, that I remember being one of Diane’s favorite books. The doctor in the story assumes his wife will be satisfied raising the daughter’s healthy twin brother and thinking her daughter died at birth, but he’s wrong. Meanwhile his former nurse raises the baby girl as her own in another city and as the years pass memories are not forgotten. That’s all I’m going to say because I certainly do not want to spoil the plot for those who haven’t read the book.

So in closing, if you are walking along the trail around the USNA stadium and want to take a moment to stop and think about your day or listen to the birds and feel the breeze rustle through the trees (There are a few small ones nearby) have a seat. Read the plaque and think of Diane!

Thank you to Eileen Leahy and the Department of Recreation of Park for helping to organize the bench installation.

Diane

Summer Reading Courtesy of Annapolis Book Club

Some great ideas for summer reading.

There are many wonderful book clubs in our fair city but the book club I belong to is the best (Not that I’ve belonged to any others) But I do believe we serve the best dinners, have the best conversations, and choose the best books. Oh yes and we do have a great time.
Each year we pick a theme and then each hostess picks her book which she tries to associate with the theme, or not. Our theme is “water”. Our book for this month is Anita Shreve’s “The Weight of Water”. Set on a sailboat docked near an island off the coast of New Hampshire it utilizes the parallel timeline of an historic event to highlight the life choices and challenges of a present day character, a photographer who unfortunately is more in touch with the past than the present. It’s a page turner.
On a lighter note, an earlier selection was “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. What was life like for the British residents of the Channel Islands occupied by Germany during the second World War? The story is told through the colorful correspondence of a journalist communicating with her colleagues, friends, and members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. While a potato peel pie may not be delicious, but the in’s and outs of the characters’ lives make for some delicious reading. Enjoy your summer.