Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver

This month I’m celebrating YA fiction with posts, prompts, and guest bloggers all dealing with the genre I write. I had a tough time picking a book to highlight, and then I remembered Where the Lilies Bloom by Bill and Vera Cleaver.

As a child, I was first introduced to the story through the 1974 movie that was made from the novel. I only saw the last quarter of it, but I was drawn to the story about four siblings trying to hold their family together in the North Carolina mountains after their widowed father dies. I know what attracted me was the setting and people looking and speaking like my relatives. Appalachian stories have always snagged my attention, especially when I was a kid because it often seemed to me that everyone lived in cities, and that environment was alien to me.

At my first library job, I found the novel and read it. The story is told from the POV of fourteen-year-old Mary Call. She takes over her family when her father dies because her eighteen-year-old sister Devola is “cloudy-headed”. Her biggest help comes from her brother Romey, who is twelve. They also have to look after their five-year-old sister.

A Heroine You Can Root For

One thing I love about the novel is the character of Mary Call. She is an inferno of determination. Following their father’s instructions, Mary Call and Romey bury him in an unmarked grave in the mountains and then try to keep up the pretense that he’s alive they won’t get separated. But Mary Call also comes across as a realistic fourteen-year-old, who doesn’t understand much of the adult world. The kids’ lives go from bad to worse before Mary Call realizes that she can’t keep the promises she made to her father, but she hangs on as long as she can, like the loyal daugher she is.

A Setting You Can Live In

Another great quality of the novel is the setting. I feel like I’m experiencing life in the Appalachian mountains. To make money, the kids resort to wildcrafting, the science and art of collecting wild plants for medicine, as their mother had done. So the setting is more than just a backdrop to signal the poverty the kids lives in.

If you get a chance to see the movie version of Where the Lilies Bloom, you won’t regret it. It’s an excellent adaptation of a book, sticking closely to the novel and capturing its tone. According to Wikipedia, it was filmed in North Carolina and local residents were used in small parts. I love it when a movie uses authentic locations. Several years ago, the History Channel made about the Hatfield and McCoy feud, which took place in West Virginia and Kentucky. They filmed it in Romania. Huh?

If you’d like to read about another one of my favorite YA novels, click here for my review of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

What are your favorite YA novels?

Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel

When you’re done with NaNoWriMo, you’re faced with the hardest but I think most rewarding part of writing–editing. This phase can make you want to tear your hair out or tear your manuscript up, but it will add magic to your prose if you stick to it. Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel by Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson provides all kinds of help through this crucial process.

Edit Your Novel is an inaccurate title because the books covers so much more than that. A little over half of the book concerns editing, both macro and micro. Don’t know what those words mean? Get the book because it will explain that macro- editing is revising the big issues, such as character development and theme. Micro-editing is all the tiny things that need taken care of, like knowing when to insert or remove commas.

One of the most helpful sections under micro-editing is the chapter on punctuation. Author Jill Williamson sets out the rules from how to punctuate dialogue to how to correctly type and use en-dashes and em-dashes. I would have loved to have had this handy guide earlier in my career

The other half of the book provides all kinds of advice on how to get published with chapters on how traditional publishing works, how to write a synopsis and a query, find a literary agent, and deal with rejection.

The extra chapters at the end are the kind of bonus material I love. There’s self-editing checklist, brainstorming ideas, and the authors’s list of weasel words and phrases, which are words and phrases each author falls into the habit of using over and over again in their first draft. “Just” is a particular weasel word of mine. When I edit, I have to find them and retain only the ones that actually serve a purpose.

For those of us who’ve found so much help in Go Teen Writers: Edit Your Novel or on the Go Teen Writer’s website, there’s good news. Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel is coming out December 3! Be sure to pre-order a copy.

What books on editing do you recommend?

Writing Tip — Favorite Books: One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

winterw-1998359_1280Did you know One Hundred and One Dalmatians was a middle grade novel before it was a movie? And did you know it was a Christmas story?

I’d forgotten all this when my youngest, the Fishing Fanatic, watched a bunch of classic Disney movies on a long drive this summer. We recently watched it again, and I remembered how much I loved the novel as a kid. I’m reading it to my kids now, and they love it, too.

The movie is a very good abridgment of the novel. So if you liked the characters and the fantasy world of the dogs, you’ll love the book, which gives much greater details than the movie.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a young couple, the Dearlys, who live in London with their Dalmatians, Pongo and Missus. Their neighbor is Cruella de Vil. She lives for furs. She only married her husband because he is a furrier. Missus gives birth to fifteen puppies, who are stolen. Pongo figures out that Cruella has taken them because she wants to make a Dalmatian coat.

When Scotland Yard says it is “Frankly Baffled”, Pongo and Missus decide it’s up to them to find and rescue their puppies. They use the Twilight Barking. A dog barks a message, and the next dog to hear it barks it on. They spread the news all over England.

A week before Christmas, Pongo and Missus receive word that their puppies are being held out in the country at the ancestral home of the de Vils. They set out, relying on the dog network to provide food, shelter and information, while trying to avoid all people because their “pets”, as they call the Dearlys, have advertised that they have gone missing, too.

The details of the dog network are wonderfully imagined. Once Pongo and Missus bark that they are leaving, the dogs swing into action, working out a route, that will get them to the home. Other animals help out, as if they are an underground network of resistance in enemy territory, as author Danny Peary points out in his book Guide for the Film Fanatic.

Cruella is one of the great villains of fiction, and in the book, we learn more about her. She puts pepper on all her food, and when one of the pups nips at her ear, it tastes like pepper. We also get some of the history of the de Vil family and how their country home came to be called Hell Hall.

The main reason this story has stayed with me all these years is because it has one of the best descriptions of evil that I’ve come across.

At the end of the book, Cruella’s cat comes to live with the Dearlys and Pongo and Missus. She tells them the de Vils are financially ruined. Missus says she feels sorry for Mr. de Vil. He seems so meek, and Cruella dominates him so much that she made him take her last name.

But the cat says not to bother. “He’s as bad as Cruella. The only different is she’s strong and bad and he’s weak and bad.”

When I read that at as a tween, I knew it had great insight. Even now when I create bad guys, I often think about whether he or she is strong and bad or weak and bad. And like the cat said, both kinds of personalities are equally evil.

What books from your childhood have always stayed with you?

 

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