Wednesday, March 25, 2015

High Tatras Hikes: Popradske Pleso

Spectacular Hike #2 in the High Tatras: Popradské Pleso

Blue trail near crossroads to Simbolicky Cintorin (symbolic graveyard)

Features:  easy ascent, rugged mountains rising in indescribable splendor all around you, mountain lake (tarn), lunch or drinks on the terrace of Popradské Pleso Chata, watching skiers in winter at Štrbské Pleso.
Length:  9 km
Climb:  391 m
Descent:  323 m
Estimated time:  3 hrs

Beginning of trail near Popradske Pleso train stop

Blue trail, near Popradske Pleso

One of the mountain lodges at Popradske Pleso
The lake is behind, all covered with snow

If you go...

Starting point:  Popradské Pleso train stop.
Ending point:  Štrbské Pleso train station
Color codes:  Blue trail to Popradské Pleso
Green trail and then red trail to Štrbské Pleso (or take the red trail all the way if it's open)

Warnings:  Can be treacherous in winter on the way down if snow has been melting and refreezing, turning icy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

High Tatras Hikes: Skalnate Pleso to Studeny Potok

Spectacular Hike #1 in the High Tatras: Skalnaté Pleso to Studený Potok

Features:  Sweeping views, mountain lake, alpine trail that descends into forest, pretty stream with waterfalls, mountain lodges where you can stop for tea or food.   
Length:  8.1 km
Climb:  66 m
Descent:  904 m
Estimated time:  2 hrs 10 minutes
Actual time when snow is icy and treacherous:  at least 3 hours

Lomnicky Stit from the trail

A nice little picnic spot on the trail

Me in front of Slavkovsky Stit

Half frozen waterfall

Studeny Potok

If you go...

Starting point:  Skalnaté Pleso, accessed via two cable cars from Tatranská Lomnica.
Ending point:  Tatranská Lesná, from which you can catch a bus or the electric train to other HIgh Tatras towns.   
Color codes:  Red-marked trail from Skalnaté Pleso to Zamkovského Chata (mountain lodge)
Green trail to Vodopady Studeného Potoka (Waterfalls on Studený Stream)
Yellow trail to Tatranská Lesná

Warnings:  Not for those extremely afraid of heights.  In late winter, when temperatures have been above freezing, the snow will be icy and treacherous.  Be very careful and only attempt with good boots.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

The Picture  of Dorian Gray has a really cool premise.  An attractive young man, lamenting that age will rob him of his beauty and youth, wishes that the newly painted portrait of himself were the one to age, and that he himself would retain his youth.  His wish comes true.  Not only does his picture take on the slow ravages of age; it also takes on all his sins and debauchery, growing uglier and uglier with evil.  But he retains his pure-faced youthful innocence.  The for yourself.  

I love the idea of it, and the writing is very good.  

My main problem is about two thirds of the way through, when Wilde starts in on the long, detailed descriptions of the jewels Dorian collected and the tapestries his studied and long lists of people and historical/mythological references I didn’t care enough about to research.  Oh, and a whole poem in French.  This goes on for pages and pages.  I know what Wilde was trying to do.  It just didn’t work for me.  There were a few other repetitive bits that could have been trimmed.

Otherwise, it was an interesting and enjoyable read.  

Dorian Gray's friend, Lord Henry, is perhaps the star of the book, and I heard that he might be modeled on the author himself.    His speech is amusing and often thought provoking, with some killer lines and witty repartee, but it’s so unrelentingly clever that it’s a little hard to believe.  Still, it's fun to read.

The beginning and end were engrossing (and usually I’m a person who likes middles most), and the quotable lines were many.

I recommend it.  And the e-book of The Picture of Dorian Gray is currently free on Amazon.  Enjoy!

My rating:  4 stars

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fiction Magazines with Themes--Spring 2015

From "The First Line"

I compiled a list of fiction magazines with themes, and listed those themes for any of you writers out there looking for inspiration or just a challenge.

My favorite upcoming themes:

"Memory Loss"--Infective Ink
"Portals"--Crossed Genres
"Laura liked to think she was honest with herself; it was everyone else she lied to."--The First Line

For more, and links to submission guidelines, check out my article:

"Submitting to Fiction Magazines with Themes--Spring 2015" by Melinda Brasher

Friday, March 6, 2015

Indie Author Spotlight: Barbara Paetznick

The Book:
It’s October 1955, an era of Eisenhower politics and stringent sexual roles. The airways have recently given birth to rock ‘n’ roll. James Dean has just died in that sexy, low-slung Porsche of his, and in the sleepy little town of Windhaven, Minnesota, Sibyl Webber has succumbed to pneumonia. The lives of her closest relatives are about to be transformed.

Young Natalie cannot mask her grief for her grandmother, but she dreams that the return of her absent father may fill the emptiness inside her. Her emotionally damaged father, however, has his own demons to fight.

Natalie’s mother, Alice, is once again dating her beau from high school, the fast-car-driving rock ‘n’ roll aficionado, Jake Baker, who has been more of a father to Natalie than anyone else and who doesn’t like the idea of her biological father’s return to Windhaven. A surprise in Sibyl’s will allows Alice to pursue a deferred dream, but is it a blessing or a curse?

Helen, the maiden aunt who still lives in the stately old family home with Natalie and her mother, hides a dark secret. But with the death of her controlling mother, she reevaluates her life and decides to make an unconventional proposal.

A Time of Need invites the reader to examine the lives of these fascinatingly flawed characters.

My Review: 

A Time of Need, by Barbara Paetznick, is a beautifully written peek into the culture of rural 1950s Minnesota. 

The book is full of compelling, well-drawn characters.  It’s fascinating to explore the differences between sisters Helen and Alice and between Jake and Benjamin, two men important in Alice’s life.  I love watching young Natalie and how her imagination tries to modify her reality.  The story begins with the death of Sibyl, who is Helen and Alice’s mother, Natalie’s grandmother, a character pivotal in the lives of all the characters.  We don’t know Sibyl except through the characters’ memories and opinions of her.  This creates a fantastic study of the dichotomy possible in how people view each other.  Really insightful…and realistic.

There are several very touching, emotional scenes, yet the author does it without melodrama.  The prose is lyrical and warm.  The plot moves well.  It’s an absorbing read, and I look forward to more from Barbara Paetznick.

Exclusive Author Interview:

1)  A Time of Need takes place in the 1950s in a small town in Minnesota.  Did any of the inspiration for the book come from your own life, growing up in a similar setting?
The answer is yes and no. I grew up in rural Minnesota in a small post-war bungalow, but the isolation that the youngest Webber female, Natalie, experiences was definitely similar to my own. The old Victorian home that the main characters of A Time of Need live in is a home that my husband, author/historian Lloyd Hackl, and I moved into after our marriage. It became center stage for my main characters.

2)  If you could have dinner with one of the characters from A Time of Need, who would it be and why?
My choice would be Benjamin Raleigh, a tragic boy whose personality is shaped by his alcoholic mother and pious minister father and further crippled by the violence of his experiences as a soldier during World War II. In my opinion Benjamin is the most complex of any of my characters and the tragic hero of this novel. It gave me great comfort as an author to give him some small modicum of love and peace as his life slowly moves forward in the novel.

3)  What is one of your favorite scenes in the book?
I truly enjoyed writing all of the sections in which different types of music took center stage. I hope that my musical choices, and at times lyrics, became actual characters within the novel.

4)  What’s your favorite thing about writing?  What’s the most difficult?
I love the rewrites and editing far more than the original hard work of the first draft. With the help of my awesome critique partners, who are both tough and fair with their comments of my submissions, I enjoy going back into my original manuscript to make my feelings and messages clearer. Often I learn new facets of my ever-so-interestingly-flawed characters I hadn’t even known existed.

5)  You also write poetry.  Can you tell us a little about that?
The poetry I write is, to coin a cliché, truly from the heart. I find being able to capture a time, an experience, a thought, in as few words as possible a marvelous and rewarding challenge.

6)  What are you writing now?
My latest endeavor is a rewrite of an old manuscript, Whistling Girls and Crowing Hens. This novel takes place in the same Victorian home that the Webbers of A Time of Need occupied several decades earlier. Whistling Girls central character, Rebecca Morgan, is a middle-aged English teacher who has recently lost her husband to a sudden death and is dealing with near crippling grief. As the story unfolds, in alternating chapters the reader meets the young Rebecca and, in first person narrative, learns of the little girl and the experiences that shaped her into the grieving widow she has become. The reader also becomes involved in two students’ lives—that of a meek young lady and her boyfriend, a young man who as a youngster suffered abuse and witnessed great violence. At the time of the novel, both their lives have spiraled out of control and, ultimately, their dramas lock into that of Rebecca’s destiny in a confrontation that is bound to cost any or all of them their lives. The ultimate question that the reader will face is how a person survives and continues a life having lived through great trauma. I hope to have this novel available the summer of 2015.

7)  How can readers find you?
My novel, A Time of Need, is available on Amazon. Just type in my name, or visit my Amazon author page.

Buy A Time of Need on Amazon

As with the character of Helen Webber in A Time of Need, Barbara Paetznick was a high school English teacher in Minnesota for fifteen years. 

She has won many competitions and awards for her short stories and poems, including first prize in the National Humanities Advancement competition for poetry, the Writer’s Digest first prize, and the Amelia Award for Poetry. 

She has devoted the last several years to full-time writing and thoroughly enjoys “hanging out” with her characters.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Snow in Vsetin, Czech Republic

My delightful surprise this morning, after a couple of weeks of spring-like weather.
So of course I took a walk in the mountains

Perfection in the smallest details

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Burying the Bass--A Czech Tradition

Jasenka, my favorite Czech Folk group
 I love Czech folk dancing and Czech folk traditions.

Here we are at Fašanky, the Wallachian word for the pre-Lenten Carnival, dancing and singing and playing up a storm in traditional costumes.

That's meat on those swords--
Czech sausage that people might give up for Lent
Though my students and friends can't tell me why,
the bear is a traditional mascot of Carnival (Masopust) here.
And the pig's fun too.
Now comes the Burial of the Bass--Jasekna style
A drunken gravedigger starts measuring the grave in chalk.
A frowning communist police officer with a big gun comes to give him trouble.
Even after he accepts a bribe of slivovice (local plum brandy), he's no less demanding
Now comes the procession:
solemn girls draped in white sheets and carrying candles
The still-drunk gravedigger
Death with his scythe
Weeping girls in folk costume
The still-frowning communist officers who demands IDs from unsuspecting members of the audience
Serious Mafia-like pall-bearers with the bass on their shoulders
A happy Gypsy with her pet bear
The rather sacrilegious pope--who has just sprinkled us with holy water with a toilet brush.
And during all of it, folk musicians give more slivovice to the mourners

Highly entertaining, all of it.  

Now the bass is buried. No more music or merriment all during Lent, I suppose.  
Although in this not-terribly-religious country, I suspect the music and merriment will go on.