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Showing posts from November, 2010

#BuyThisBook: "Happiness in a Storm" by Dr. Wendy Harpham (How I met the author and why the right book makes a powerful gift)

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I get a book in the mail almost every day. Publishers and PR firms have me on their lists as someone who reads alot, blurbs occasionally, blogs as often as possible, and is generally willing to do whatever I can to help other authors succeed. But yesterday I received a book from a friend. As a gift. It made me freshly sensitive to what a real gift is and why books make such potent and meaningful presents.

Backing up: In the spirit of "tis the season to sell, sell, sell", we're posting gift/book recommendations through the holidays. Today's book is...
Happiness in a Storm: Facing Illness and Embracing Life as a Healthy Survivor by Wendy Schlessel Harpham, MD
Recommended by Joni, who recommends it every chance she gets.
Perfect for anyone struggling with cancer or other serious illness in the family.

I first met Dr. Wendy Harpham in the pages of her second book, which was published at the very moment I needed it. The summer of 1995, I'd just finished several intense mo…

The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting

I was asked to share some thoughts on "The Art and Economics of Ghostwriting" in an article on AOL Daily Finance.
They say "everyone has a book in them." I say everyone has a spleen in them, too. In both cases, it takes a particular skill set to get it out. Obviously, baseline writing talent and solid knowledge of the craft are required for this job, but a good ghostwriter is also a good listener, meticulous researcher and all-purpose book nanny, with the ability to keep the client's secrets, build a bridge between the client and publisher, and completely set ego aside...The article goes on to answer the three most common FAQs: "What does a ghostwriter do?" "How do clients and ghosts find each other?" And, of course, "How much do ghostwriters get paid?"

Read the rest here.

3 Qs for Charlotte Gordon, author of "The Woman Who Named God"

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Faith, doubt, and the ageless power of stories are themes in Charlotte Gordon's meticulously researched and beautifully written books, The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths and Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America's First Poet, both of which I loved. She's now at work on The Marys, a book about Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft. Last week, Charlotte wrote in her blog:
Writing a book is like having a permanent secret. On Sunday, Mary Shelley died. Yesterday, I gave a test on Oedipus Rex, made sure my genocide students understood the events leading up to the Rwanda genocide, took my son to orchestra and tuned several violins, bought a pizza, and went to a program at my son’s s school. At no point did I mention that she had died. After all, this is old information for the world. But today I am brooding over the aftermath. Mary wanted to be buried with her parents in St. Pancras churchyard, but her devoted daughter-in-law, J…

#BuyThisBook: "Inspirations" by Paul Coelho

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Wracking your tryptofan and powdered sugar addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve!

Inspirations: Selections from Classic Literature selected and edited by Paulo Coelho
Recommended by Meghan Fallon, Publicity Associate Viking/Penguin
Perfect for budding readers

"This is a fantastic introduction to a wide selection of literary classics and makes for an excellent gift to a budding reader. From the author of The Alchemist, a unique and edifying literary journey inspired by the four elements. An anthology, as Coehlo describes in his preface, “comes from the Greek words meaning a flower gathering, in other words, a bouquet of flowers. An anthology then would be a sort of reminder of something else, a small token of something much larger.” To say that INSPIRATIONS is just an anthology would not fully encompass the magnitude of Coelho’s selections, his collection of stories, arranged accor…

Not to be a downer, but . . . .

I laughed so hard at this!



And thanks to my buddy J. W. for passing it along via facebook!

#BuyThisBook: World faiths collide in Charlotte Gordon's "The Woman Who Named God"

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Wracking your tryptofan and powdered sugar addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve!

The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths by Charlotte Gordon
Recommended by Joni Rodgers (bestselling author, parochial school survivor, religion history nerd)
Perfect for anyone who loved The Red Tent.

Buy from Amazon
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At the root of all three monotheistic faiths (and a whole lot of violent conflict) is the oft repeated but catastrophically misunderstood story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar: three all-too-human people in a disastrous love triangle. To understand the story's world-shattering impact, we have to go to that time and place. PW says The Woman Who Named God is "provocative...Gordon gives new power to a woman often left in the shadows. Focusing on Hagar's vision of God in the desert, Gordon argues that Hagar is a prop…

Buy This Book: ROOM by Emma Donoghue

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I read a lot of books and share many recommendations to people I think will enjoy them, but occasionally I come across a book so powerful, such a game-changer, that I pester everyone I know to read it. I think the last one that really got me to this degree was Kathryn Stockett's The Help. This year, the book drug I'm pushing is Room by Emma Donoghue.

Why was I so blown away? First off, there's the narrator, five-year-old Jack, who has never been outside of the single room he shares with Ma, a room he believes to be the entire world. All other places, people, animals are make believe, or as he calls it "on TV."

Jack and his Ma share a beautiful bond, a relationship that fills the reader with admiration for a mother making the very best of the worst situation imaginable. For even filtered through Jack's innocence, the reader gradually comes to understand that this unimaginably brave young mother is not trapped in Room by choice,

To share more would be to lessen th…

#BuyThisBook: Ken Harmon's "The Fat Man" is high camp holiday noir

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Wracking your tryptofan and powdered sugar addled brain for gift ideas? We asked our publishing peers and peeps to help us recommend a book every day from Black Friday to Christmas Eve!

The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir by Ken Harmon
Recommended by Stephanie Manas, Dutton PR diva

"A hard-boiled satire, a send-up of all the great noir novels and films, mashed up with all the Christmas legends we know and love. The title is a play on the classic Dashiell Hammett novel The Thin Man, and the book is full of not only elves and Santa Claus but Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and every beloved holiday character in between. Even the murder victim gets his eye shot out by a Red Ryder BB Gun, owned of course by Ralphie from A Christmas Story."

Buy from Amazon
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'Twas the night before... (or "darkest hour just before") A holiday excerpt from Ellen Rogers' "Kasey to the Rescue"

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Ellen Rogers' memoir, Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a Monkey and a Miracle, tells the story of her family's difficult journey after her son Ned is left paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident. The surprising superhero in the book is Kasey, a 25 year old capuchin monkey trained by Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled


Buy this book for: Anyone who needs a reminder to be thankful for life's small miracles. It's not YA, but will appeal to youthies with a cast of (other than mom and monkey) teens and twenty-somethings. 


We decorated Ned’s hospital room with a tiny tree and Christmas decorations and piled his gifts around it. Little things like CDs and T-shirts. He couldn’t make use of much else. Happy faces firmly in place, we went to Ned’s room on Christmas Eve, pretending everything was merry and bright, but ghosts of Christmas past filled the room. Our family traditions were all about food and fun, games on TV, a festive round of house…

When to Play Possum

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There's never a dull moment when you have terriers. At dark-thirty this morning, the fuzzy one got up earlier than her partner-in-crime and managed to take a young possum by surprise. At the sound of her frantic I've-got-a-varmint-Mom barking, I ran and grabbed a flashlight and checked out the small, curled body.

Zippy (shown here contemplating her awesomeness) along with her newly-awakened pal, lost interest immediately, because their terrier instincts only prompt them to throttle and shake to death fleeing prey. When it comes to eating what they kill, they take a pass and opt for dog food.

I felt bad about the murder, especially when I noticed the victim was still breathing. Was it suffering, neck broken? Would I need to get the Shovel O' Doom to bring this story to its sad but seemingly inevitable conclusion?

And then I remembered we were dealing with a possum... a small furry critter, with rather dim-witted but generally well-meaning natural enemies, such as the type of &…

Coming next March to a theater near you: Michael Connelly's "The Lincoln Lawyer"

Spoiler alert: It ends with Colleen and Joni going out for overpriced gellato and agreeing that it wasn't as good as the book...

Tis the season to #BuyReadLove! (Watch this space for holiday book deals and recommendations)

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I don't know about you, but I've had a great reading year, and I'll be passing some of my favorites along to people I love this Christmas. I've also asked friends and colleagues in the publishing biz to let me know what great books they're giving and recommending this year, so keep an eye on BoxOcto if you're at a loss for gift ideas. Every day from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, we'll suggest at least one book that would make a great gift for a particular reader/writer in your life. (You might even spot a few you absolutely have to nab for yourself.)

Shout out to our fellow authors, PR folk, editors, agents, and booksellers: We'd love to have you stop by and briefly plug books to give as gifts. "Buy This Book For..." posts should include, title, author, person for whom the book is perfect (postman who always rings twice, jolly thriller junkie, grrrl next door, Uncle Elbow Patch, book club buddy, myself but we'll pretend it's from…

Encore: Good Grief! Revision in Five Stages

Within a single hour this week, I received a batch of edits for one manuscript and a revision letter for another, which interrupted yet another set of revisions. Whew!

As overwhelming as it can be, I took heart, remembering this 2009 post I wrote for BtO. Thought it would be worth reposting because every writer who ever finishes and sends out a manuscript is likely to get gobsmacked by revisions. It's only those who learn to handle it who go on to be pros.

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As I wend my way through a particularly challenging batch of revisions, I was brought to mind of the Kubler-Ross model on the stages of grief, which is all too apt in chronicling the reactions of your average working writer.

1. Denial - Surely, the editor doesn't mean my masterpiece! This must have gone out to the wrong author by mistake.

2. Anger - What the (insert strongest, vilest expletive that comes to mind)? Who do those stupid hacks think they are, screwing with me like this? Are they @#$! bli…

"Nobody is going to give you a thing:" Excellent advice from Dear Sugar

Whether or not you've seen this "Dear Sugar" post, it's worth revisiting, particularly if you're a woman. It's Dear Sugar's advice to a 26-year-old writer struggling with her identity, her gender and her art. Every time I read it, when I get to the end, I want to stand up and cheer. I also want to give a shout out to my friends in VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. If you're a writer and a woman, and particularly if you write about your "lady life experiences," both of these sites are worth a look. I only wish they'd existed back when I was 26. And regarding the "vagina as metaphor" concerns of the original questioner? Maybe she should take a cue from playwright Eve Ensler. Imagine if Ensler had felt even the slightest bit delicate about her Vagina Monologues. Would the show be the worldwide sensation it is now? Would colleges around the country perform it every February to raise money to provide safe havens for the vict…

Via Red Room: The polka dotted history of one author's favorite character name

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This week Red Room is encouraging authors to blog about favorite character names, and I happen to have a great one, so I thought I'd cross post.

The summer I was twelve, I went through a serious Michener phase, and my favorite book by far was his sweeping epic Hawaii. The religious themes particularly resonated with me; I'd gone to super strict parochial school since first grade, and it was really beginning to rub me the wrong way. So I was particularly moved and enlightened by the part about the "farm of bitterness" in which the starched evangelist, Abner Hale wins the selfless hand of beautiful, brave Jerusha Bromley, who accompanies him on his mission to the islands and emerges as the true example of what Christianity is supposed to be (if only Christians would give it a try) before she dies in the measles epidemic brought to the natives by their generous benefactors.

I subsequently saw Julie Andrews as Jerusha in the movie version of Hawaii, which homed in on th…

Trending much? Another small press scores a big award (but can they handle it?)

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To be totally candid, I was more intrigued by last night's "Top Chef Just Desserts" finale than I was by the National Book Awards ceremony. I glanced at the twittering just enough to know that speakers were predictably verbose, Patti Smith was predictably fabulous, and another small press scored another big award when Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule routed the big name fiction nominees.

It's a trending topic. Little engines that could.

The 2009 Pulitzer went to Paul Harding's Tinkers. And more recently, Johanna Skibsrud's The Sentimentalists took the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize, having sold a grand 400 copies after it's release by teensy Gaspereau Press.

But here's a bit of a conundrum, as reported in The National:
An independent publishing house well known for its lovingly and painstakingly designed books, it is definitely a case of quality over quantity for the Novia Scotia-based publisher, which pressed a mere 2,000 extra copies of The…

Bajo, Edwige and the Luchadors

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Thanks, Joni, for interviewing David Bajo. I think Panopticonis a mesmerizing novel about several kinds of borderland. In addition to its real substance (which is clear in the interview) and its brilliantly turning eyes on the world we live in, the novel abounds in pop cultural references.

Which leads me to this confession: While working to bring Panopticon into print (I was its editor), I found myself dipping into the adventures of Blue Demon and Santo. Great fun.

And, of course, I used the book as an excuse to watch old Edwige Fenech gallos (Italian bedroom farces from the days when a mainstream movie-maker could first show bare breasts with impunity).

And then there were the "thrillers". I wanted to screen The Case of the Bloody Iris[nudity alert] on a silent loop in our booth at Book Expo this spring, but I figured I'd be run out of the Javits Center.

If I'd had a booth at Frankfurt, though....

This Book Will Light a Fire!

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Reading The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow is a little like reading the grandest fairy tale only it’s real. Your imagination is totally hijacked to find out such things as we are made from the same ingredients as stardust and we contain more atoms within our bodies--so small in relation to our astral cousins--than there are stars in the universe. And it is only by this very specific arrangement of certain events, through a particularly mixed concoction of ingredients, that life such as ours is even possible. And the cosmos doesn’t have a single history but a multiplicity of histories, of possibilities. Within its potentially infinite grasp lie endless, numberless, fantastic capabilities. Okay, so maybe I’m reading my own take into what is actual fact. I don’t even pretend to understand the scope of what is contained in this book. But I loved it, every word. I wrote in the margins and on the end pages. It caught fire inside and raised gooseflesh on my skin! And th…

Ever get that feeling you're being watched? (A conversation with "Panopticon" author David Bajo)

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I won't lie; I had to look it up. Turns out the Panopticon was an 18th century prison design -- basically an ingenious surveillance machine in which the incarcerated could always be seen but were never able to see the guards, who could see everything without ever being seen. David Bajo uses this metaphor to great effect in his second novel, the darkly erotic and chilling Panopticon, which is now in bookstores (deftly sucking readers' heads inside out.)

David, thanks for stopping by. What inspired this novel? Did you find it alarming when what you'd written about seemed to be becoming reality?
As a journalist, I was assigned to cover a group in southern California called Border Witness. What they did was host field trips to crossing hotspots along the Tijuana Riverbed. The group’s idea was to sit and watch as a collective the riverbed, the gathering of potential immigrants on the Mexican side, and the Border Patrol sentinels in their trucks on the US side. Everyone could see…

Four Quick Cures for Your Story's Tension Headaches

We all know tension when we see it. From that perfect pause before a first kiss to the ominous music when the horror movie's designated sacrificial victim climbs the staircase to the impeccable timing of a comic genius, we recognize and respond with a sigh, a scream, a peal of laughter.

A lack of tension in our own stories may not be as easily diagnosed. But we can recognize it in our own reluctance to complete the project, beta readers who take forever to get back to us, a lukewarm response from an agent, or that special brand of "didn't love it enough"/"wasn't as captivated as I wanted to be" rejection - when one isn't getting the pre-printed form variety.

Here are a few quick tips I've found helpful for upping the ante in a story's tension. Try taking two, then call me in the morning.

1. Accentuate the differences between characters. Polarized pairs highlight each other's attributes. Felix wouldn't be half so interesting without Osca…

Dr. P. and Mrs. Evil: A prison student's take on Jekyll and Hyde--and me

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This semester, I've been using Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a way to get my prison students to connect their backgrounds as behavioral science majors to the reading and analysis of literature. I've had all sorts of interesting responses to the novel, including this gem, from a student's homework. All the student had to do was write a one or two paragraph response to a question about duality, but this student decided to have some fun--and I loved it so much that I got his permission to post it here. Hopefully you'll love it too:

The meaning I perceived from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that there is always an opposite extreme to anything, whether it's a situation, an institution, or a personal characteristic. An alternative way of framing this work is described below, in the form of an example. The example shows that a person's level or extent of happiness that's expressed with a smiling face can certainly conceal the opposite extreme beneath it, and when gi…

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the NYT Book Review on the evolving lists...

Buy This Book: Panopticon by David Bajo

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Read an excerpt

Quickly rising to the top of my TBR pile is David Bajo's tantalizing Panopticon fresh out a few weeks ago.

From the flap:
As the California borderland newspaper where they work prepares to close, three reporters are oddly given assignments to return to stories they've covered before -- each one surprisingly personal. The first assignment takes reporter Aaron Klinsman and photographer Rita Valdez to an abandoned motel room where the mirrors are draped with towels, bits of black tape cover the doorknobs, and the perfect trace of a woman's body is imprinted on the bed sheets. From this sexually charged beginning on land his family used to own, Klinsman, Rita, and their colleague, Oscar Medem understand that they are supposed to uncover something. They just don t know what. Following the moonlit paths their assignments reveal through the bars, factories and complex streets of Tijuana and Otay, haunted by the femicides that hav…

John Scalzi opens up a can of whoop @ss on James Frey, MFA programs, and clueless cleverati students

Had to stand up and cheer for John Scalzi's Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students), which comes in the wake of this New York Magazine article about James Frey's...I don't even know what to call it. It's kind of like Amway, only books instead of laundry soap and vitamins. Scalzi and other writers have spoken out about the oppressive contract terms and general uncoolness of the whole thing, but Scalzi reserves some mamaslap for college writing programs.

Saith Scalzi:
I don’t blame Columbia University’s graduate writing program for inviting James Frey over to talk to its students about “truth.” ...It’s always a joy to see how a master of bullshit spins himself up; publishing and literature being what they are, the students should probably learn to recognize this species sooner than later, all the better to move their wallets to their front pockets when such a creature stands before them.

...Frey was no doubt counting on the students being starry-eyed at t…

How to Get Back to Writing

So interesting to read Colleen's post, below.  After weeks on the road lecturing and leading workshops, giving my guru-energy to others and gently and generally setting writing aside for a time so that the work (and I could) rest and recharge at the well of human contact, the voice inside me (as I said it would in this post) told me that it was enough.  Time to begin again.  Time to sit and write and revise again.  And so I did, beginning a few days ago.  How good it felt.  The back of my chair.  Wing of cherrywood.  The heart, the keys ready to take the punch again.

And.

There are habits I've developed over the years to get back into writing when I've been away from it for a spell.  One is not to make too big of a deal of it.  Don't start on Monday.  Pick a casual day of the week (I chose last Thursday), and if possible go back and revise something that has already been written (you see it so clearly now, don't you, you can get a handle on it, whereas a month ago…

The Limitations of Mountaintop Gurus

I believe there is a kind of writer's karma, where every act of generosity attracts positive energy to the giver. Whether it's pouring hours into judging contest entries, helping a newer writer vet an agent,understand a contract, or improve her craft, or reading a critique partner's manuscript, doing good feels good. So good, in fact, that some writers stop taking risks (including submitting their own manuscripts) and instead pour all their energies into helping others. After all, guru-dom is so much safer and emotionally rewarding than periodically having one's heart torn out and stomped on -- which is something publishing is bound to do from time to time.

Gurus know all, where working authors come to realize that writing and publishing are unknowable.

Gurus offer wisdom from on high, where writing and publishing all too often toss one down the mountain.

But unless the guru is still out there risking failure, he/she forgets what it's like to work for weeks, months, …

Buy This Book: Happiness in a Storm by Wendy Schlessel Harpham, MD

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On her blog this weekend, physician, lymphoma survivor, and bestselling author Dr. Wendy Harpham marks the 20th anniversary of her cancer diagnosis and takes a moment to ask "Why me?" -- but not the way you think. Wendy says:
I feel humbled by the great mystery of my survivorship. In the course of my 20-years-and-still-counting journey, I've lost friends and family -- many of whom were diagnosed after me. I can only wonder why Wendy Schlessel Harpham is still walking, talking, writing, speaking, eating, loving and...living. Why me?Wendy's first two books (published at exactly the moment I needed them) take survivors by the hand, addressing the hard information that needs to be dealt with in an accessible Q&A format. Both Diagnosis: Cancer: Your Guide to the First Months of Healthy Survivorship, Expanded and Revised Edition and After Cancer: A Guide to Your New Life were tremendously helpful to me and my family. But my favorite of Dr. Wendy's books is Happiness…

Meet our new blog crewmate, PR diva, author, PW contributing editor Lucinda Dyer

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Delighted to introduce our newest BoxOcto crewmate, Luncinda Dyer. I can't improve on the bio she sent me (chick's in PR, and it shows) but I can add that she impressed the heck out of me with her seasoned, even-keeled view of industry trends, and I'm looking forward to hearing what she has to say about marketing, emerging authors, books she loves, and whatever else comes up in conversation.

From her press kit:
Lucinda Dyer has been publicizing books and authors since Oprah hosted a local talk show in Baltimore and authors (even ones who weren’t tabloid famous) were regularly invited to sit on the “Tonight Show” couch.

Over the last far too many years, Lucinda’s freelanced for all the usual publisher suspects and done national media campaigns for authors ranging from Pulitzer Prize winning reporters to eHarmony.com founder Neil Clark Warren and Arctic explorer Helen Thayer. She’s promoted non-fiction titles on everything from worm composting and homeopathy to UFOs, Dean M…

And the Promise Goes On

Dr. Wendy Harpham, author of the blog, "On Healthy Survivorship," sings the praises of Promise Me.  Harpham writes today of our blogmate Joni's work with Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure:

"We have front-row seats to everything . . . from Brinker's family joys and travails to her rise from retail clerk to CEO of a foundation that has contributed more than $1.5 BILLION for research and community programs. . .

"I will never look at a pink ribbon or the SGK logo in the same way again."

Buy it this holiday season for a woman you love!

Get this Book: Oxygen by Carol Wiley Cassella

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Oxygen - everyone needs it. In the novel, Oxygen, by Carol Wiley Cassella, Dr. Marie Heaton is the expert anesthesiologist who delivers it. And then the day comes when an eight-year-old girl is delivered into her care, the mentally fragile, precious only child of a woman who has already suffered her share of losses in her life, her share of hard knocks. The mother searches Marie’s face; she’s looking for reassurance, a way to trust. A wilted daffodil is pinned to her pocket; there’s another, also wilted, woven through the eyelet of her daughter’s blouse. You can see this: Marie crouched looking up into this mother’s anxious face, wanting her to find the reassurance she needs to give consent for what should be routine surgery. Your mental eye fastens on that poignant detail: the twin daffodils. It is so significant of the mother’s deep love for her little girl. You know something terrible is going to happen. When the nightmare becomes the reality, Marie is horrified, bewildered; she is…