Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hermione Didn't Belong in Ravenclaw

From time to time, I've wondered for a moment why the Sorting Hat didn't place Hermione Granger in Ravenclaw. After all, Ravenclaw is for the intellectual elite of the school, isn't it? And wasn't Hermione "the cleverest witch of her age"?

Pausing on the question for a bit longer the other day, I decided Hermione really didn't belong in Ravenclaw, after all. Ravenclaw is for those of an intellectual and philosophical bent. Remember the entrance riddles for Ravenclaw Tower and their solutions? Somehow I can't see Hermione caring greatly for that sort of thing. She has a brilliant and inquisitive mind, but her interests are more practical. She reads history, but in the magical world, as in ours, history often sheds an important light on current problems. I would imagine that many students in Ravenclaw read and discuss literary fiction. I doubt Hermione even makes time for novels.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Preface and Chapter One of Wander Home

As promised, here's the (very short) Preface and Chapter One of Wander Home.


This book is set in an afterlife: what sort of afterlife, the reader may decide.

Chapter One

  Cassidy stood tall and watched the wave approaching. Fifteen was a good age for confronting the ocean. That morning she had been five years old, playing happily in her sandbox;  from sand to beach, from beach to ocean waves, seemed a natural progression.
  The wave loomed above her, glowing turquoise and green. She dove under the crest, through the surging water, and popped up behind the swell, bobbing in the follower waves. The water held her and rocked her; over the hiss and roar of the waves, she could hear the distant squawk of seagulls. All around was the smell of seaweed and salt and sunshine.
  Once, her mother had held her, carried her, rocked her, surrounded her with love and safety. She had no idea how long it had been, but she remembered. Remembering, she let herself slip younger as she floated on the swells. But larger waves were coming, so she grew again, six, ten, sixteen; then caught a wave and rode it into shore.
  Her grandparents and her great-grandmother were waiting for her. Great-Grandma was young today, slim and blonde and straight, standing like a dancer just before the music starts. Grandma Sarah and Grandpa Jack had chosen to be older, gray-haired, with the comfortable look of a couple who for years have weathered each other’s moods and followed each other’s thoughts.
  Cassidy ran up the beach toward them. She slipped to eight years old as she reached them, so Grandpa Jack could pick her up and toss her in the air. The sun flashed in her eyes as she flew up, and again as she fell back toward his hands. He set her down again and flopped onto the sand, patting the space next to him. She sat, folding her legs tailor fashion; Great-Grandma flowed gracefully down to sit on her other side. Only Grandma Sarah remained standing, younger now, her hair in a long red braid.
  Grandpa Jack and Great-Grandma both put their arms around her. Cassidy looked at Grandpa Jack. He was blinking as if he had something in both his eyes. She swiveled around toward Great-Grandma; Great-Grandma nodded toward Grandma Sarah.
  Cassidy threw her head back, looking up at Grandma Sarah and squinting in the sun. Grandma Sarah squatted down in front of her. "Cassie, love, we have some news for you. Good, important news."
  The seabirds were calling as if they wanted to be first with the message, whatever it was. Grandma Sarah leaned forward to kneel in the sand, reached out and took Cassidy's hands.
  "It's your mother, sweetheart. She's coming. She'll be here soon. We'll all be seeing her again."
  Cassidy felt herself getting smaller, small. She was two years old. She scrambled to her feet. "Mommy!"  Her own shrill voice frightened her, and she called even louder, twisting from side to side, searching the beach and the water. "Mommy!  MOMMY!"
  Great-Grandma had slipped old, white hair shining in the sunlight, her cheeks pink, soft wrinkles in her face, smelling of flour. She pulled Cassidy close, crooning, "Hush, hush. It's all right, baby. Shhhh."  Cassidy burrowed against her and breathed the comforting scent. She thought she might feel better if she got big again, but nothing happened.
  She heard Grandpa Jack speak. "Mama, Sarah, let's go somewhere cozier."  Then the sun, the waves, the seabirds were all gone, and they were in Great-Grandma's living room. She was snuggled up next to Great-Grandma on the big shabby couch. There were shortbread cookies on the coffee table. Grandma Sarah sat on Grandpa Jack's lap in the big armchair, Grandpa Jack playing with Grandma Sarah's hair.
  "Cassidy, honey, it's time to be a big girl. We have more to talk about."  Great-Grandma stroked her cheek, then kissed it.
  Cassidy squeezed her eyes tight. "I'm trying. It's hard. Why is it hard?"
  Grandpa Jack spoke. "Well, baby, you were just this age when your mama left. You're remembering it so hard, right now, that you're maybe a little stuck. Relax, honey, and know that everything's all right. It'll come."
  Cassidy took a deep breath, and another, and another. Great-Grandma skootched away to give her room. Cassidy opened her eyes. She was thirteen years old. She reached for a cookie.
  "There, that's better, isn't it?"  Great-Grandma picked out a cookie for herself and took a hearty bite.
  "When will she be here?  When can I see her?"
  Grandma Sarah brought Cassidy a glass of milk, then sat back down on Grandpa Jack's lap. "Honey, those are two different questions. She'll be here very soon, and you can see her just a little while after that. It's going to be —"
  "Why can't I see her right away?"  She didn't want to yell at Grandma Sarah, but she felt like yelling. It was always harder to be patient at thirteen. She slipped to twenty, but it felt wrong, too big, too grown up for a little girl missing her mother. She slid back to ten.
   "Cassie, you were so young when you got here, only six years old. You weren't set in your ways yet — you expected to learn new things every day, to have adventures and surprises. Coming here was just another and bigger adventure. But it's different for older people. It's more of a shock. We think it'd be best if Great-Grandma welcomes her first, and explains things."
  "How long will that take?"  Cassidy swallowed tears and washed them away with a gulp of milk.
  Great-Grandma moved back over and hugged her.  "Not as long as it will feel to you. I'll bring her to see you as soon as I can."

  Eleanor felt very strange. Where was she? The pain that had seized and crushed her heart had vanished. She had been in an ambulance; but wherever she was now, the space was not in motion, and everything was quiet. And she could breathe again, freely and easily — no longer gasping for air, but breathing in and out as she had done for twenty-nine years.
  And the room around her kept changing. One moment it looked like a Red Cross donor center, one of the many at which she had given blood from time to time. Then the cot became a bed in a motel room: a room with orange and brown plaid curtains, a tan shag carpet, a small television, a double bed and one hard chair. She had been in that room just once, years ago, and had never wanted to see it again. And now appeared a room from long ago, with pale blue walls and a white window shade, white wooden furniture, a small and overflowing bookshelf; and Eleanor found herself sitting up in a single bed with a wooden bedstead, feather pillows, and a lavender quilt.
  Grandma's house!  Whenever she spent the night at Grandma's, it had been in this room. A room in a house that someone had bought and torn down, years ago, to put up a big modern showpiece, a blue and copper box with patios instead of grass.
  Something lay lightly on her shoulder. It was her hair, long again, its chestnut color restored. And her shoulder and arm were curved, cushioned — no longer gaunt from months of neglecting her needs.
  Eleanor felt a sudden urgency to get out of bed, to get up and go downstairs while this was still Grandma's house, before she found herself back in the horrible motel room. She pushed back the quilt and stood up, looking around wildly; then ran to the door, threw it open and stood, breathing hard, in the hall near the worn wooden stairs. She waited to stop trembling before walking slowly to the stairs and down to the lower floor. She could hear someone moving around downstairs, in the kitchen, opening and closing cupboards or drawers.
  At the foot of the stairs, she stopped, clutching the banister. For four years she had stayed away, in hotel after friend's couch after cheap apartment, assuming that home and family would always be there waiting for her. And then, after the car crash, when it was too late and they were gone, she had longed so desperately and hopelessly to see them all again — Cassidy most of all, of course, but also Mom and Dad and Grandma. She had wanted so much to tell them how she loved them, to apologize, to try to explain. Now, in this impossible place, she might have that forfeited chance — and she had no more idea than ever what to say.
  The stairs ended in the front hallway. The kitchen was toward the back, past the living room. Eleanor walked with small hesitant steps into the living room, stopping to touch the armchair, the couch, the coffee table. There was the framed poster from Grandma's ballet company, advertising one of their galas. Under the poster, on the mantelpiece, stood the row of photographs.
  Dad and his brother, camping in their back yard, lying in the blue tent with their heads sticking out of the flap and grins on their grimy faces. Mom and Dad on their wedding day, with Mom in her gown and Dad in his tuxedo, both in climbing harnesses, hanging from a cliff wall somewhere in Argentina. Grandma and Grandpa on their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Then a much older photo of a much younger couple: Amanda and Stan, no one's grandparents yet, in black and white, standing near an old-fashioned car.
  And then the picture that made her turn away, turn back, and walk closer, reaching out:  Eleanor, on the living room couch, holding tiny baby Cassidy, just two weeks old.
  "Is that you, dear?"
  Eleanor froze in place. She forced herself to speak. "G-Grandma?"
  "In the kitchen, Nory. Come on. It's all right."
  Eleanor headed on into the kitchen. There sat her grandmother, looking just the same — soft white hair, soft wrinkled face, flowered apron, thin rounded shoulders. Eleanor stumbled forward as Grandma got up from her chair. They stood for a moment, face to face, Eleanor speechless, Grandma seeming to feel no need for speech.
  Eleanor found her voice. "Grandma. I'm so sorry. Oh, God, I'm sorry."  She started to cry.
  Grandma opened her arms. "Oh, Nory. We'll talk about that later. Come here and hug me just as hard as you can! and then sit down. I've made some good strong coffee. Pour yourself a cup. I've got things to tell you."

New novel Wander Home now available!

Well, my new novel, complete with title and cover (finally!), is now available as an ebook on Amazon, the Nook Store and Smashwords. :-)

Wander Home is a family drama with mystery elements, set in an afterlife of my own devising. Here's the description that will probably end up on the back jacket of a paperback edition:


Death is what you make it. . . .

Eleanor never wanted to leave the daughter she loved so much. The overpowering urge to wander -- to search, without knowing what she sought -- drove her away. She left little Cassidy in her family's loving care. But Cassidy and the others died in an accident before Eleanor could find her way home.

Now, they are all reunited, in an afterlife where nothing is truly lost: places once loved may be revisited, memories relived and even shared. Surely this is a place where they can understand and heal. And yet, the restlessness that shaped Eleanor's life still haunts her in death. Somehow, she must solve the mystery of her life -- or none of them will be at peace.


I'll be posting the first chapter separately (as part of signing up with 1 Chapter Free.com).

If anyone would like a free copy in return for a review, please contact me at kawyle@att.net.

Happy release day to all! :-)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

PBS Funding and the Boston Tea Party

As Boswell to my husband Paul Hager, who blogs too infrequently, I wanted to report his latest political observations.

Romney has taken some criticism for focusing on PBS' funding, given that it apparently amounts to $1.25 per family. (I'm not sure whether Biden made this point during the vice-presidential debate.) Notes Paul: the British did not predict, and could not understand, why the colonists would throw perfectly good tea into Boston Harbor when the price of tea had been cut in half, and only a very small tax imposed. Principle? Did these colonists actually care so much about principle, when their pocketbooks would be spared by the change?

We've drifted very far from our founding foundations, but perhaps there are some vestiges remaining.

In the interest of accuracy, Paul also notes that Romney may not have been thinking of federal government overreach or the constitutional limits on federal power, the founding principles involved. However, a similar analysis may apply to what Romney did say, which was that any federal expenditure at this point should pass the test of whether it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

American Feminists and Malala Yousufzai

It may not have been reported -- many things aren't, these days -- but I've heard nothing about any American feminist organizations expressing outrage at the Taliban attack on Malala Yousufzai.
Malala, a fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl, became famous -- or from the Islamic extremist point of view, notorious -- three years ago when she blogged, and later spoke publicly, about extremist attacks on girls' schools. Last year, she received a national peace award from the Pakistani government, and was nominated for the International Children's Peace Prize. Yesterday, the Taliban boarded a school bus and shot her in the head.
American feminists have been conspicuously silent about the Islamist desire to keep women powerless, subservient and uneducated. For essentially historical reasons, our feminist organizations tend to be left-wing in character, and leftists are nothing if not respectful of other cultures -- even those whose values they should, according to their own fundamental values, abhor. And of course, it's safer not to criticize homicidal zealots.
I would guess that American feminists feel (without necessarily having examined the feeling) that they can afford to stay away from the vexing subject of Islamist misogyny, even its murderous variant, because there is no danger of this ideology becoming powerful in the United States. I also think it unlikely that American public schools will start excluding girls or requiring them to wear burqas, or that our courts will give American men -- in general -- carte blanche to beat and confine their wives and daughters. I do not expect to see these trends even in Europe, with its growing and increasingly militant Islamic population. However, I consider it a good deal more likely that in Europe and the United States, there will be growing pressure to accommodate Muslims by allowing them to apply sharia law within their own communities.
Our constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, and our equally longstanding respect for the freedom of contract, arguably allow a Muslim woman to enter into a marriage agreement that severely limits her rights during marriage and in the event of divorce. However, one needs freedom to contract freely, and we should not hold anyone to a contract she was coerced into making. Similarly, parents have a constitutional right to determine the upbringing of their children -- but that right has limits, and if the parent 's decision greatly reduces the chance that a girl will be prepared for full citizenship, those limits may have been reached. These issues need attention and discussion -- and feminists should take part in that process.
Meanwhile, at the time I write this, Malala is still alive. She may be flown to the United Arab Emirates or to London for further treatment. If she survives, it might lift her spirits if those women in our country who claim to value women's freedom most highly would acknowledge what Malala has done for that cause. Perhaps they will find the courage to acknowledge hers.