Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Tag: books

Our Only May Amelia


Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm is a story set in 1899 about a girl growing up in the state of Washington. She has seven older brothers and no sisters. She’s not only the only girl in her pioneering Finnish family (besides her mama), but the only girl ever born in their settlement. They live along a river where she and her brothers work, play, fish, explore, and encounter all sorts of outdoor adventures in their logging/fishing/farming community. May Amelia has a very hard time behaving or dressing like the proper young lady her family expects her to be. Maybe it would be easier if there were at least one other girl around, she thinks. Her secret wish is for a sister. And then Mama gets pregnant. Maybe she really will get a baby… Let’s just say this is a great story, wonderful setting, wonderful main character. It’s one of my all-time favorite tomboy novels.

The sequel to this story, The Trouble with May Amelia, came out in 2011.  just discovered it in doing this post and looking up the cover image for Our Only May Amelia, but I can’t wait to read it now.


Jennifer Holm is the award winning author of several middle grade and YA books I’ve enjoyed, including Boston Jane and the other books in the Boston Jane trilogy (as well as Newberry Honor Book Penny from Heaven).


The Virgin’s Promise, by Kim Hudson

A few years ago I got an email from a writerly organization I must’ve inadvertently signed up to receive mailings from, and something in it caught my eye as I was about to delete it. I clicked to read more about it and was so glad I did. Because it led me to Kim Hudson’s book, The Virgin’s Promisewhich could’ve most fittingly been titled The Heroine’s Journey, and probably would’ve been if there wasn’t already an excellent and related book out there by that same title, by Maureen Murdock.

I’d read about Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey” (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey;Mythic Structure for Writers, which is a book many writers use in developing novels and which is based largely on Joseph Campbell’s ideas. Vogler outlines the 12 stages of a journey a hero passes through, saying that there’s a basic mythical structure that all stories follow. The hero and the characters he meets along the way on his journey are all archetypes, character types that have occurred throughout human history and are in all movies and stories–the Shadow characters/villians/antagonists, the Mentors, the Shapeshifters (werewolves or vampires or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde types, or just two-faced people…), Tricksters, Allies, the Wise Old Man, the Crone, the Goddess, the Hag, the Whore, the King, the Puer…

Hoping Campbell and Vogler’s ideas would help me with plotting issues, I tried hard to see how my story/stories fit in these 12 stages, or could be made to, but sometimes it seemed like such a stretch, like trying to fit something in a mold that wasn’t quite right for it.

But when I read the email article about Kim’s book, The Virgin’s Promise, I immediately thought, Yes! This sounds more like it. Someone else found that the stages of the Hero’s Journey didn’t match what was going on in her story either, and it doesn’t mean that your story’s ‘wrong’–it can mean the template is wrong for your story. And I ordered the book and read it. And reread it, and highlighted. It gave me a lot to chew. It made sense. It fit my stories.

Basically, Kim’s book explains why the hero and heroine’s journey are often different (has to do with a lot of very interesting stuff about the differences between the masculine and feminine; she has a background in Jungian psychology, which is also the psychology behind the archetypes of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler’s work), and she gives her own flexible template (13 beats) that the heroine’s journey often follows, the feminine journey. She gives many examples of how the 13 beats of the Virgin Story can be seen in various popular movies which fit the Virgin’s Journey rather than the Hero’s (even a story with a male protagonist can be a Virgin’s Journey).

Her idea of the Anti-Virgin Story (where the Virgin/heroine/protagonist is driven to suppress her inner nature/dream and her community is pushing her to bring her true self to life; a flip-flop of what happens in the Virgin’s journey, where the Virgin is trying to let her true nature/dream out and the community is suppressing it)–was particularly helpful to me, as that’s what one of my stories is, an Anti-Virgin story.

When I applied Kim’s stages to my stories, things made much more sense and fell into place. Her ideas were so helpful. I could now see things I needed to do that would strengthen my plot, or how a little reordering of the scenes I already had might help.

There were a few things I didn’t understand, and was eager to, so I contacted Kim with my questions by posting on her blog. She was more than generous in explaining the concepts and helping me understand them and see how I could apply them. I highly recommend this book, and Kim.

If you’re interested, check out her blog:


Bonnie Jo Campbell

Once Upon a River and Q Road, both by Bonnie Jo Campbell, are two really interesting stories–adult fiction. I really enjoyed them, and I don’t often read adult fiction. My mother-in-law and father-in-law loved them so much they bought them for me. They thought I’d appreciate the treatment of the rural Michigan setting, the skill of the author in her ability to show how the land and the water of an area can become a part of a person. So I felt I had to read them. And now I’m glad I did.

Both stories are set in Michigan, in the Kalamazoo area. The rivers, farmland, and woods of that area, the flora and fauna, they figure so strongly in the stories that setting is like a character. The human characters from Once Upon a River also carry over into Q Road. Both books feature fiercely independent female protagonists, teenagers/young women who are wild lone ranger types who hunt and fish and live off the land (along with a quirky cast of background characters). Although in Q Road it’s harder to say who the main character is; there are almost two of them, a 12-year-old-boy and the teenage girl, and in that story the point of view changes so that you take turns seeing things from inside the minds of many of the people in the rural community, a community where farming as a way of life is dying as the land is being sold off for development.

I don’t want to say too much. The story lines, the characters, they’re original, they’re fresh, they’re down-to-earth and real. There’s action and violence and drama and plenty of emotion but it’s all understated. The writing is beautiful and full of insights into human nature. I highly recommend these books and am looking forward to reading whatever else Bonnie Jo Campbell has written now.

Cranberry Thanksgiving

In anticipation of a a great feast with friends and family in another week, I present a Thanksgiving story I loved as a kid (and my kids liked it, too), an oldie but a goodie, Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin. The illustrations make it. Who could forget Mr. Whiskers? Or they way the ‘sticky’ trees look, so much like Mr. Whisker’s beard? Or the rich detail showing the texture/weave of the adults’ clothing, all those little criss-crossy pen scratches?

The recipe at the end makes a very good cranberry bread as well. Check it out and enjoy!

Where the title of my blog comes from and what I hope comes of it all:

“It is only by expressing all that is inside that purer and purer streams come.”

~Brenda Uela­nd

I found this quote while reading one of Brenda Ueland’s books about ten years ago (I read two in the same year–If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, and Me: A Memoir).  I loved it because it gave me permission to just write and get it all out, everything I wanted to say, with no worry of what anyone else thought of it, and because the expressing of it, the ‘getting out’ of it was good, according to her. And according to me; it felt good to spew out whatever I wanted to say and felt was important, worth remembering or sharing or questioning. At the time, I was feeling criticized and selfish for writing so much stuff about myself, my memories, feelings, thoughts, questions and ponderings. Members of my writers group were making up stories, things out of the total blue, while I was always writing something based on me and my past experiences. But reading Brenda Ueland’s books helped me to see that it was OK. Even if it was navel-gazing or whatever I feared others might judge my stories to be, I was getting them out. And purer streams would come if I did. Hopefully that’s what this blog will lead to as well, purer and purer streams–as well as a few people enjoying wading in my streams or at least getting something out of them.

More of my favorite Brenda Ueland quotes:

“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.”

So much of what she wrote resonated with me! And I’d not read things like this other places, things so affirming and empowering and which matched the way I felt about writing. My initial and primary motivation for writing was never to show off or brag or preach (I was embarrassingly weird and flawed, I knew that! ) but to confess and share what I wished I could’ve read somewhere as a kid–that someone else had felt as I had, and that it was going to be OK. I wanted to connect with kids who I knew felt alone and to share what I knew or learned that had helped.

“At least I understood that writing was this: an impulse to share with other people a feeling or truth that I myself had. Not to preach to them, but to give it to them if they cared to hear it.”

“…writing is not a performance but a generosity.”

Yes, yes, yes! Writing was a sharing, a giving. I could put it out there and people could take it or leave it. I wasn’t shoving it in their faces. As someone who’s always felt the urge to express myself, but someone who’s shy and reserved, that’s part of the great appeal of writing–it’s liberating, powerful, and giving, yet not pushy.

Brenda Ueland (1891-1985) was a was a journalist, editor, freelance writer, and writing teacher. She lived in Minneapolis and Greenwich Village. An interesting character–hearty, brave, fierce, and feisty, especially for her time and gender–she walking briskly for hours (5-6 miles) a day in even the snowiest, bitter cold winter weather. Her writings are deep, spiritual, and encouraging. She found inspiration in Vincent Van Gogh and William Blake, and she passed that on. She inspires me and evidently many others as her book If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit is still considered by many to be one of the best books ever on how to write.

It was so hard to choose just a few quotes from all the many jewels I underlined when reading the book. For a good sampling of them, check out the link below (or better yet, read the book):  http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/145456.Brenda_Ueland