Finding a Treasure Trove

When someone you love is suddenly gone from your life, there are obvious things that you will miss—their captivating smile, their warm embrace, that goofy joke they told at every family gathering.

Not surprisingly there are other heartaches that we cannot anticipate or measure—things we never imagined that we would long for after a loved one passes away. This was the case with my father. This April it will have been two years since he departed and I am shocked at how quickly we have forgotten some of his character traits and idiosyncrasies. For a while, I couldn’t find any recordings of his voice, and I was distraught. Yes, I remembered exactly how he would say “Hello Nana-Banana” when he gave me a hug, but I wanted to remember more, each intonation. Thankfully, several friends and family members found recordings on their phones that they shared with me- one even highlighted his laughter which was a treasure to hear.

The reverse of this is also true, however. I have discovered memories of my father that I didn’t know existed. In our family, we always called him the “Mad Clipper” because he constantly cut out cartoons and articles from local papers. He would hand these out to a particular person he thought would benefit from a laugh or a tip. His clippings could range from a Wizard of Id cartoon to a Consumer Reports article about the best dishwasher brands, rated and ranked by price.

Just the other day I uncovered a notebook I had never seen before. The front is covered with a variety of stickers: Tin Can Sailors, Retired Navy Pride, Association of Naval Aviation (ANA). Inside I found a treasure trove—book reviews of his latest reads, mostly related to the military service. He also kept correspondence between his friends as they shared their latest “good reads” analysis.

This is like uncovering another glimpse into my father’s life and his interests. He read books that I would never have thought to read, and he took notes on them, too. This discovery dredged up a memory, too. Every year when we headed to a local Christmas tree farm, he made sure to exchange books with the owner. Turns out they had both served in the Navy and had similar interests.

Needless to say, I thought I might share these findings with you, dear reader. Granted, these titles are older, but the good news is they will be readily available since they’re not “hot items.” To be sure, you will quickly catch onto the nautical theme of these selections:

Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin. As if December 1944 didn’t have enough trouble of its own, this is the story of a popular naval hero, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, who “unwittingly sailed his undefeated Pacific Fleet into the teeth of a powerful typhoon” later named Cobra. Admiral Halsey’s task had been to maneuver two dozen fleet oilers to provide fuel for the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. When hit by the typhoon, three destroyers capsized. Any survivors of this catastrophe faced shark-infested waters, seventy-foot waves, exhaustion, and dehydration before rescue arrived. Thanks to Lt. Com. Henry Lee Plage, “who, defying orders, sailed his tiny destroyer escort USS Tabberer through 150-mph winds to reach the lost men.” According to my father’s notes: “Weather reporting was few and sketchy at best at this time. There wasn’t much warning of a typhoon. Ships were low on fuel and couldn’t refuel due to high seas and wind. They tried various methods and none worked.” Basically, hands down an amazing story of a lesser known World War II event.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. Many of our library patrons love to read O’Brian and his acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin series. That said, I had no idea that my father was also a fan, at least of O’Brian’s first book. In Master and Commander, the friendship between Captain Aubrey, R.N., and Stephen Maturing, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent, is established. Set in the Napoleonic wars, O’Brian captures the life of sailors and servants in Admiral Nelson’s navy. As a quotation from the Guardian reads, “There are two types of people in the world: Patrick O’Brian fans, and those who haven’t read him yet.” I believe it’s time to read at least one O’Brian story so I can also become a fan, or try the Master and Commander DVD with Russell Crowe.

The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw. Many readers first learned of Captain Linda Greenlaw in The Perfect Storm, where her boat the “Hannah Boden” was the sister ship to the fated “Andrea Gail.” In this book, Greenlaw has adventures of her own during a month-long swordfishing trip in the Grand banks. My father was impressed with this Colby graduate’s sailing skills. He also took note of the average expenses of running a five person fishing boat and the hardships that they face on a daily basis. In Greenlaw’s own words: “If we don’t catch fish, we don’t get paid, period. In short, there is no labor union.”

Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do by Michael Tougias. I know my Dad loved to attend local library programs where local historians like Michael Tougias presented their latest books. I remember Dad sharing the story he had heard about the brave captain of the pilot boat, the “Can Do,” who set out to rescue the tanker “Global Hope” in the Salem Sound and the Coast Guard patrol that was caught in the maelstrom as well. According to Dad’s notes, Tougias “did a good job describing the main characters and their families and the results to each of the loss.” That sounds like a win!

Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas by John S. Burnett. I can understand how this book would have fascinated a retired Naval Commander like my father. As he wrote, piracy is still a big problem for “whole ships disappear without a trace. Crews are captured, killed, tortured.” In particular, Burnett focuses on an area between Singapore and Sumatra called the Malacca Straits which is susceptible because “it’s a narrow area and very busy and a highway of ships going to and from the far east.” Amazingly, 25 ships per hour, 600 ships per day, pass through this area and pirates have no trouble boarding them by “climbing up ropes, poles, anchor chains etc.” Combine this read with the movie, Captain Phillips, and you will be staying off the high seas for some time.

The Good Times by Russell Baker. I’m not too surprised to find Baker’s second memoir on Dad’s list, since he also served in the Navy and grew up in the Depression. I remember my father regularly following his column entitled “The Observer” in the New York Times. Like my father, Baker spent his childhood delivering papers in his neighborhood and finding humor in so many day-to-day events. According to the Library Journal, “Aspiring writers will chuckle over Baker’s first, horrible day on police beat, his panicked interview with Evelyn Waugh, and his arrival at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in top hat, tails, and brown-bag lunch.” Who doesn’t appreciate a man who brings a brown-bag lunch to the Queen’s coronation?

While Dad’s list consists of book titles that I would not have picked out on my own, it has been wonderful to add a little variety to my repertoire. I hope you think so, too. I also hope you discover a treasure like this from your own loved one, providing insight into their interests, hopes, and dreams.

 

WRAD 2020

Long before COVID-19 was on our radar, back when we were only worried about the common cold, I had a fabulous visit with the Cottage Street Elementary School in Sharon for World Read Aloud Day (February 5, 2020). What amazed me, as always, was how deep and real and fabulous the students’ questions were about my picture books. These First Graders and Kindergarteners were such discerning readers, asking all sorts of questions about writing and dragons. If all goes well, I will venture back to their school in April to create a few Double Happiness poems.

A Few Fall Events

Here are a few places where I’ll be hanging out this fall!

~~Aesop’s Fable, Holliston, MA…on Saturday, September 12th, at 10:30 am for storytime. https://aesopsfable.com/

~~RI Coalition of Library Advocates (COLA), “Launching Young Lives: Why Authors Love Libraries.” Barrington Public Library, Barrington, RI…on Saturday, September 21st, from 2:30-4 p.m. 

~~Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA…on Sunday, October 6th, at 10:30 am for storytime. https://www.brooklinebooksmith.com/events/2019-10/nancy-tupper-ling/

~~Blue Bunny Books, Dedham, MA, “So You Want to Write a Children’s Book” author/agent panel…on Wednesday, October 16th, 7 pm. 

~~Barnes and Noble, Framingham, MA, anthology book signing…on November 16th, 1:30 pm.

Elizabeth Ling

 

 

Talent Search

We all have a variety of skills and talents. Perhaps we have worked hard to develop these abilities over time or perhaps we were lucky enough to be born with a gift or two. For example when I’m asked to write an article for the weekly library column, I feel equipped to do so. I’m comfortable writing children’s books or poetry. Crafting words is a skill I’ve developed over time. Likewise, I enjoy entertaining. I become a whirling dervish beforehand, but hosting a family gathering or holiday party is definitely my cup of tea.

However, the question I often return to is this: What am I doing with the wee talents that I have? Am I using them to the best of my ability? Do you ever ask yourself the same thing? And how wonderful it is when people share their talents, whether it is here in the library or at a local hospital, school, or homeless shelter. My coworker, Marg, is an example of someone who is always giving of her time and talent. She ventures to the housing facilities in town, teaching crafts like wreath-making and decoupage. My father was the same way, spending more time helping others than finishing his own projects.

If you are like me, you may have a “Bucket List of Talents” – skills you would like to master or perfect before you depart from God’s green earth. When my father passed away this April, my wish list grew longer. I thought about all his talents that were foreign to me. For years before Dad become a Dean at Central Connecticut State University, he had been an Industrial Arts teacher. While he inspired his students with his designs and craft, no one in my immediate family had learned to use the tools on his work bench. He had saws and drills and levels galore, and yet I hadn’t a clue how to handle them. How sad was that?!

For a brief amount of time I considered researching the topic of woodworking at the library. After all, we had book titles from Quick and Easy Woodworking Projects by the Handyman Club of America (2000) to Woodworking Simplified: Foolproof Carpentry Projects for Beginners  by David and Jeanie Stiles. Maybe I could learn to craft something. It wasn’t impossible, was it? In middle school I made a candle stick holder on a lathe. Perhaps I could watch a Youtube video or, better yet, take a Woodworking 101 class. The only problem was my heart wasn’t in it. While I marveled at my father’s talents, I didn’t feel an ounce of excitement toward wood unless it was going into the fireplace. I loved my father, but his passion wasn’t going to be my own. Instead my mother and I found a wonderful neighbor who adopted my father’s collection; he knew exactly what to do with each and every tool.

Nevertheless I hoped to follow in Dad’s footsteps in some fashion. It couldn’t be sailing – too expensive. Or model planes – too many parts. Since it was spring, I began to think about gardening. Again, I checked out a few books: Stuff Every Gardener Should Know by Scott Meyer; Improving Your Soil by Keith Reid and Practical Gardening by Jackie Matthews, Richard Bird and Andrew Mikolajski. I also peeked at his Harris Seed catalog. Lo and behold, I found a box of his seeds in his basement that was waiting to be planted (tears)! At least gardening was a talent I had begun under his tutelage. In my backyard, I’d managed to grow a small plot of tomatoes and peppers over the years, enough for salad and soup now and then. Dad’s garden plot had rich soil waiting for someone to start seeding. Turns out, I wasn’t that person.

Surprisingly, my 15-year old daughter, Sarah, was the one who took on this project. She researched which seeds to plant and how to plant them. Working in “Papa’s Garden,” as we called it, was healing for her. It also became a community project. The neighbors brought over seeper hoses and black weed barrier cloth to make the work lighter. In no time the seedlings took root and the garden began to thrive. Sarah even succeeded in growing bundles of eggplant, which had never grown for me. Along one edge she kept my Dad’s rhubarb, while colorful zinnias lined the other end. In between there were peas and beans and zucchini and peppers. Perhaps this talent had skipped a generation, but it was growing nonetheless. I decided to stick with the herbs on my deck and in my kitchen instead. After all I had the Indoor Edible Garden by Zia Allaway to help.

What I’ve come to realize is that there are some talents that may never come my way, as hard as I might try. Woodworking is one of them. And why struggle with a garden when I can sit back and enjoy the fruits of my daughter’s labors? That said, I did discover one of my father’s passions that I can do with gusto. I watched all of the World Series with a sense of pride and an understanding of why it is America’s “greatest pastime.” It seems my talent search ended right where it began, with words, these words: Go Sox! Damage Done!

It Takes a Stretch

You must have a favorite author. Someone you turn to when the rest of the world seems in chaos. Someone who is as comfortable to be with as your warm fuzzy slippers and a chair beside the fireplace. Perhaps it is Jamie Ford or Susan Meissner (two of my favorites) whose lyrical stories carry you back in time and make you fall in love with their characters. Or maybe you are addicted to Mary Higgins Clark or Louise Penny, and you cannot wait to settle down with their latest creations in your hands.

While there is something magical and wonderful about those treasured authors, there is also something to be said for those books that you never ever thought you would read, and suddenly you do. Perhaps you’ve been astonished when your world expands after being stretched by a story or concept that greeted you when you dared to open a book that wasn’t part of your regular repertoire.

Every month I lead between four or five book clubs. I know! I should have my head examined. Still, I enjoy each and every one of them. When I started these groups, I surveyed my readers to see what type of books they loved to read. Many of them preferred mysteries. Hands down! Ironically, it is a rare month now when I select a mystery for a book club read. When it comes to this genre, I find there isn’t a lot to talk about in a group. Trust me, I’ve tried. Once you know “who done it,” the conversation tends to be a bit sparse. So I decided to choose a wide range of books and topics instead. And yes, I like to stretch my readers. Actually, I like to stretch myself, too. Sometimes this means I pick a total flop. This doesn’t bother me, though. We’ve had the most engaging conversations even when the book choice is a bust.

An example of this happened recently. The Spy Wore Red by Aline, Countess of the Romanones was a big hit with my book clubs. Everyone loved the suspense in this true life story of a World War II spy. With this success behind me, I decided a similar read entitled A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre was appropriate. Boy, was I wrong. This was the story of a friendship between two spies, Kim Philby and Nicholas Elliott, and the years that Philby deceived both MI6 and the CIA. While we had a lot to discuss, the style of writing was rather dry for most of my readers. Nevertheless, we learned a lot about the circle of Cambridge University friends that the British intelligence recruited. Certainly, our minds were stretched.

Over the years my book clubbers have read a variety of genres that they might not have tried on their own. While we covered classics like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Margaret Smith, we have also tried a western or two like True Grit by Charles Portis and post-apocalyptic science fiction like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. On occasion we jumped into young readers like Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Why? Why not! Challenge accepted.

If you’re willing to stretch your definition of “good reads,” you might be drawn into another reader’s obsessions as well. I have a coworker who loves books about cats, any and all cats. Who am I kidding? I’m surrounded by coworkers who read cat books. To be honest, felines don’t always tickle my fancy as characters but, lo and behold, I found myself swept into a picture book called Caramba by Marie-Louise Gay when I saw it on my coworker’s desk. Now I’m addicted. I’m hoping Caramba, the cat who can’t fly, has many more stories to discover.

Likewise my husband has certain topics that fascinate him and I’m not sure if there’s any rhyme or reason for them. For a while Appalachian history captured his interest. For several nights in a row I fell asleep as he read out loud Night Comes to the Cumberlands by Harry M. Caudill. Soon I became intrigued by Appalachia as well. When Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was hot off the press, I raced to get a copy. Later, when my husband’s curiosity shifted to the topic of North Korea, I followed suit. A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim and North Korea Undercover by John Sweeney are two books I would never have touched without my husband’s influence. It seems that other people’s obsessions are catchy.

Truth be told, I enjoy being stretched. I bet you do too! In the words of Charles Scribner, “Reading is a means of thinking with another person’s mind; it forces you to stretch your own.” The only problem is finding enough time to fit it all in. I’d highly recommend trying something completely new. You might even win a prize if you take the opportunity to fill out our Summer Reader’s Bingo in the process. Consider some of the categories: “A Book With a Beach Setting,” “A Book Set in Winter,” or “A Book With a Food Theme.” Go ahead… give it a chance. What have you got to lose?

 

It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask

Funny thing! My Dad told me this a lot growing up: “Go ahead! It never hurts to ask!” As a shy child, I wasn’t so sure. Secretly I hoped things would work out on their own so I wouldn’t need to say a word. Requesting information, like “how much does that movie cost” or “where do you shelve the toilet paper,” took a monumental dose of bravery on my part. I am the model child for Susan Cain’s book Quiet.

Whether we like it or not, life provides opportunities to stretch ourselves, even on a daily basis. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t stick my head into books all the time as a librarian. I am called to be social and help our patrons. Likewise a big part of my day is spent answering patrons’ questions, which means asking a few of my own. And, as I’ve discovered, asking the right question at the right time can sometimes bring surprising results.

Case in point, several years ago I asked a question that changed my life. For years I’d submitted my poetry to June Cotner’s anthologies. When several of my poems first appeared in Baby Blessings, I was over the moon. After that first acceptance, June and I began corresponding regularly and she soon became my mentor in so many ways. 

Harmony, 2002
Andrews McMeel, 2017

 

Then in the summer of 2012 I discovered I’d be heading from Boston to Seattle for a writer’s retreat. At last June and I were to meet in person!

 

Before my trip June happened to mention that she was overwhelmed with work because her assistant had recently moved away. Without hesitation, I asked the simplest of questions: “June, is there any little thing I can do to help you from the East Coast?” I thought I might assist her by reading a few of the many submissions she receives regularly. 

I was completely shocked by her answer. “Well Nancy, how would you like to coauthor a book together?” 

I don’t think anything could have knocked my socks off more. I could barely reply with a “Wow!” and a “Really?” and yet my travels to Seattle began a new phase in our relationship. We were becoming coauthors! Of course, that initial question was followed by many more. What project should we work on first? How should I gather entries to our anthology? Who would we submit our proposal to?

As it turns out, Toasts: The Perfect Words to Celebrate Every Occasion was our first book together. June graciously walked me through every step of the way. While I’d written poetry and children’s books before, this was a whole new experience for me. I had so much to learn. What am I talking about? I am still learning. 

This New Year’s Day we signed a contract with Andrews McMeel for our second co-authored book entitled Family Celebrations, and thanks to the fabulous work of our agent, Anne Marie O’Farrell (Marcil-O’Farrell Literary LLC), we are excited to say our first children’s anthology, For Every Little Thing, has been accepted by Eerdman’s Publishing. On top of that, we have co-authored a children’s manuscript called Be Creative that my agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) is shopping around.

Yes, I have to say, I find that I am pinching myself on a regular basis these days. Could this all be real? It is hard to believe this long and winding road to publication is part of this shy girl’s journey. To think it all began with a question, or maybe two or three. What do you think about that? 

 

‘Tis the Season

What a busy spring with school visits galore! And yet there’s nothing like a spontaneous hug from a student, the creation of classroom poems, and the signing of a book to a new reader. After all, isn’t that what writing for kids is all about?

Here’s a few photos of my most recent visits to local schools (Wrentham & Norfolk),  a Boston school (Joseph P. Tynan), the Coolidge Elementary School (Shrewsbury) and the Tuscarawas County Public Library (OH). Did I mention I had a blast!?

I love all of the poems that the students created, each and every one, but there are always a few that are unforgettable, like the boy who wrote about his bed being his favorite place in the world (yes, I agree wholeheartedly).

Happy Summer, my school friends! See you again in the Fall (should I have said that four-lettered word?)

Together at Last!

I am always amazed to hear stories of authors and illustrators who never connect during the picture book process. How can this be? I know publishers can be a bit leery of any author-illustrator relationship pre-publication. After all the author might attempt to influence the illustrator, or squash her creativity. But I LOVE to find my illustrator on social media right away. If the chance arises to meet her in person, all the better. And the ultimate meet up? You got it! A book signing together. 

Chronicle Books was the perfect matchmaker when they paired illustrator, Alina Chau, with my story Double Happiness. Besides being uber-talented, she’s delightful and humble and fun. While I’ve known this for some time, this summer was the first time I was able to see her in action at our signings in California.

First, we visited Luan Stauss’ Laurel Bookstore in Oakland. Alina’s dog, Coco, joined us. When you’re reading Double Happiness, see if you can find Coco in the book.AlinaandNancyatLaurel

PanelatLaurel
Photo by Selina Liu

 

 

 

 

We had a few celebrities join us at our signings, too. Here’s Mike Jung and his famous donuts: 

MikeJungatLaurel

The next weekend we were privileged to be part of an inaugural event thanks to the Book Shop West Portal and West Portal branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Alina and I read Double Happiness in two voices (Gracie’s and Jake’s) at the library. Alina showed the audience how to draw a few of the characters.

Characters2

We had a celebrity there, too–the lovely Deborah Underwood.DeborahUnderwoodWestPortal

 Our last stop was a totally new venue for me. Trickter is a gallery/bookstore in Berkeley, run by Anita Coulter. 

AlinaNancyAnitaSee what happens when you hang with your illustrator! A whole new world opens before you. 

Now if I can only entice Alina to visit the east coast for a few double signings here. That will be extra happy occasion, for sure. 

(As an aside, I had the best fig pizza ever from Summer Kitchen in Berkeley, but I didn’t get to try Mike’s donuts)