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Cora PoolerHands down, Cora Pooler by Dottie Rexford is the best Amish novel I have ever read. It’s got everything: mystery, beautiful writing, great characters, and an enticing plot line.

Cora, the title character, left her Amish community twenty years ago due to the birth of an out-of-wedlock baby. (Yes, it happens in those communities too.) Cora gave away the baby, refused to name the father, and was shunned by the community.

She went to live as an “Englisher,” the name the Amish have for people living in modern society. When Cora feels the need to reconnect with and reexamine her Amish past in a way that will resonate with any reader older than twenty, there is a subtle yet palpable shift from the vibrant fast-pace of city life to the mysterious romance of nature. Rexford’s descriptive abilities are powerful and bring the reader fully into the sensory elements of a scene. I relished such evocative phrasings as “I heard birdsong, running fox feet crackle the dead ground leaves beneath them [. . .], the drop of a weak branch heavy with ice.” There is a cozy mystery feeling to this story, reminiscent of a Daphne Du Maurier or even an Agatha Christie novel, save with a reflective, religious twist.

Amish girls

Amish girls

Surprisingly, Cora has never left faith even though she has left the Amish. When she decides to return, it is to unravel mysteries of her family’s past as well as of the heart and soul. The reader will appreciate the skillful implications of every decision and thought Cora has.

Rexford presents us with a microcosm of the timeless battle of faith versus faith. She does it with the patient, delicate strokes of a maestro. The picture left in the mind’s eye is unforgettable. This is a book readers will wish to retain on their bookshelves, for it is filled with gorgeous writing. If one reads only one “Amish” novel in a lifetime, this should be it.

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ImageThe more books you put up on Amazon Kindle, the more you are going to learn about the process.

I have just put up my first illustrated children’s book. While my first collection of stories had pictures inserted, the formatting of which drove me crazy, what I learned from the process did not stick long enough in my head for me not to make the same mistakes while formatting this recent book.

A rule of thumb is patience. You can do everything right, formatting your text so that the first line of each paragraph is indented five points (and making sure you never “tab” anything), but it can still come out wrong in the previewer. If the error does not slap you in the face in the previewer, it will certainly do so while you are lying in bed, perusing your side-loaded (or purchased?) version on your ebook reader. You may sigh, as I have more times than I can count, and get back to editing (once more) in the morning.

Why don’t I get it right the first time? Maybe because I am human and fallible. If you get it right every time, first time, please turn off all electrical appliances, scream at the gardeners to turn off their dust blowers, in effect, cut all power and if necessary, take a drive out to a deserted part of the country for utter peace. Then listen. Very carefully. The sound of enthusiastic if sarcastic clapping you hear coming from God knows where will be the echo of my two hands slamming against each other just now.

(Now we can get on to business. That person has clicked off.)

The point is that the previewer is not going to show you things in the same way your word doc file does. Even when you click on the paragraph symbol to show you whether you have tabbed or formatted, everything may look right on the surface. The previewer will demonstrate a rebellious paragraph or two, and you will have to struggle with those with the same persevering patience as a fisherman does to hook his prey. Try blocking and checking how it is formatted. Try making two paragraphs into one. Eventually you will see how the damn sentences are misbehaving.

You are clever. You will fix them. Eventually.

Next we have the illustrations. They look fine in the word doc file, perfectly centered, but for reasons unknown to non computer software programmers, they will show up too much to the right in the Amazon Kindle previewer. Sometimes the inserted picture that looks fine in the word doc file will be partly cut off in the previewer page. You can either narrow the picture while you edit, or make sure it is not indented five points into the paragraph, which your format set up will do automatically.

An inserted picture that looks to be placed too far to the left in the word doc file may come out perfect in Amazon Kindle. Then count on the need for more patience while you upload your edited version, which takes a short eternity, and then to turn pages in your previewer (demanding the same time necessary to turning pages on a clothing store’s online site). Such are the luxuries of our electronic age and the short fuses we have developed to go along with the whole shebang.

On one thing you can be certain: there will always be some edit you know you hit “save” on that does not show up when you are turning pages on the previewer.Image

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ImageThe day before yesterday, I received Roald Dahl’s manual on how to spot a witch (titled The Witches). It arrived about five hours too late, but at least I was able to understand, in hindsight, that my writer friend Connie Kirchberg and I had spent our entire morning and afternoon in a witches’ coven. We thought we were at a simple Christmas bazaar where we took either half of a six foot table to display our books, hers and mine (and for me, a few of my handcrafted dolls).

Home again much disappointed, I found Dahl’s words took a few moments to penetrate my skull: “REAL WITCHES dress in ordinary clothes and look very much like ordinary women. They live in ordinary houses and they work in ORDINARY JOBS.”


Most of the women at the bazaar did wear ordinary clothes, not a dead giveaway in itself, but bright hypnotic, sparkling jewelry dangled off many of their necks and earlobes, the kind of baubles you don’t see on real shoppers. The jewelry left Connie and me stunned and mute.

Dahl writes, “A real witch spends all her time plotting to get rid of the children in her particular territory.” Indeed, there were no children present. There was another writer, of children’s books, who like us had innocently ambled into the so-called Christmas bazaar. The fact that she was not a witch was demonstrated by her being able to pick up our (Muggle) books in her hands. She bought a single book from each of us.Image

She had to be human. You see, witches will not open a Muggle book, just as vampires do not like to pass before mirrors. A witch cannot see herself with her nose in a book (if not about magic) any more than a vampire can cast a reflection in a mirror.  Why didn’t I think of that? Sometimes you forget things. (I need to bone up on my Rowling.)

More than one table at the bazaar had women offering to stick needles into my face. One woman crept up behind me with the offer, crouched in a squat, whispering her indecent proposal with a polite simper: “We sell botox by the unit.”

Connie adds her comments:

The witch thing does explain a lot.

I would estimate approximately 150 women attended the bazaar; of those, perhaps half a dozen actually touched a book. The others either smiled and averted their eyes as they passed our table, or frowned at the strange combination of subjects our books presented. Who, after all, would want to read a biography about two of the most famous men of the 20th Century, Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon? A book that continues to find shelf space in some of our most prestigious universities in the country some 14 years after its commercial publication? What in the world are schools such as Stanford, Harvard, and USC thinking? And who would dare delve into a beautifully written, honest memoir of an American woman’s experience in Saudi Arabia? A book that doesn’t exaggerate the facts to make it more worthy in the eyes of today’s publishers, even though a high brow literary agent requested she do so?

 All sarcasm aside, Tuesday presented Julia and me with yet one more reason to believe the old ways of doing business for writers are over. No one wants to buy books from local authors unless said authors are famous. Like it or not—and most of us do not—the future for the majority of writers is Kindle. And on further thought, maybe that’s not so bad. We have a place to sell our books, we just have to figure out how to build an audience there. That’s no small task of course, but no one ever said being a writer was easy. Well, no one who actually tried it, anyway.

 

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