Alpaca Fun on Martha’s Vineyard

alpaca smileAlpacas pop up in the most unlikely places. While riding down the bike path on Martha’s Vineyard, alpacas can be seen through the trees, tempting anyone to stop for a visit.

At Island Alpaca in Oak Bluffs, the original purchase of eight alpacas in 2004
has grown to more than 80, plus one llama named Lucy. Most visitors want to know what the difference is between a llama and an alpaca. They’re cousins, but llamas are larger and they’re known for their spitting abilities.

alpaca smileAlpacas are gentle and timid with faces that resemble puppies or teddy bears. They have no top teeth in the front and they don’t bite. They will run for food and they’ll run away from any trouble. While goats are known to eat anything, when alpacas graze they eat only the top part of the grass so that it can continue to grow.

The alpacas at Island Alpaca have names like Roberto, Zora, Silver Angel, Dom Perignon, or Captain Jack, embracing their South American heritage, their colors, and pirate names for their new island home. Alpacas boast 22 natural colors from snow white to auburn to coal. Their luxurious fleece creates material that’s lighter and stronger than wool while feeling like cashmere.

Island Alpaca visitors are given the chance to help out with the morning chores, feed the alpacas, and learn how to harness and walk them. If they’re lucky, springtime visitors might get to watch a birthing.

Peru, Bolivia, and Chile are still home to the largest percentage of alpacas in the world but with their ability to adapt to most climates, alpacas are being raised in places like Florida, California, Maine, and even islands like Martha’s Vineyard.

There’s a recent trend of adding goats to books. Why not alpacas? They look like characters to me. As long as I’m still revising my novel, I think I’ll add an alpaca.

To meet the Martha’s Vineyard alpacas, visit Island Alpaca.

Island Alpaca, Martha's Vineyard

Island Alpaca, Martha's Vineyard

Have you ever seen an alpaca? Could alpacas be the new goats? Would you want to be an alpaca farmer? (I’m considering it after reading the article below.)

Memorable Characters in Books and in Life

characterI spent most of January with the Brothers Karamazov. They discussed philosophy and psychology while I just sat there and listened. Sometimes we laughed together.

I still think about them and that makes me wonder why. What makes some characters so memorable? The Brothers Karamazov were pretty strange and they did contradict themselves a lot. They didn’t know who to love or what to believe in and while trying to figure these things out, they ended up tormenting themselves. It seemed like Dostoevsky was making fun of his characters and that made the whole story more interesting and even laughable at times.

Not all characters can be strange, but they should be unique in some way. It also helps if something about a character is a little mysterious so that the reader will want to figure that character out. Death in The Book Thief is memorable for that reason, but maybe also just because he’s Death.

Other memorable book characters have been Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath or Scarlett O’Hara (so memorable that I don’t have to name the book for that one). Their struggles become our struggles as we see them fight against starvation and a changing society. Atticus Finch has his own obstacles to overcome, but he’s known more for his patience and ability to explain complicated issues.

In real life, any characters I’ve known aren’t as memorable for their struggles as they are for their personalities. They’re either funny or adventurous or different in some way, and they help me see the world in a different way too.

What are some of your favorite book or real-life characters? Why are they memorable?

One Hundred Fifty Years Later, Charles Dickens Is Making Me Laugh

Dickens’ Dream photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It amazes me that anyone can pick up a book and read the words and thoughts of someone who lived hundreds of years ago.

Classic literature isn’t always treated with the reverence it deserves. Some may describe it as boring or outdated. Yet it can teach us so much, not only about history, but about ourselves.

I didn’t think A Tale of Two Cities would make me laugh as much as it has so far. But it does make me laugh because much of what Dickens describes is still relevant today. He shows that people can be funny, whether they know it or not (and whether they want to admit it or not). To show you what I mean, here are a few passages:

“Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing downhill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.”

“The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog kennel. Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.”

“Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches at Tellson’s, the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books…”

Dickens is famous for his characters. For any writers who might be struggling with character description, I’d recommend reading one of his books. Not only is he entertaining, but he tackles the “show, don’t tell” rule in a very fun way.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Luckily, we can still laugh with and learn from people who lived hundreds of years ago.

What are some of your favorite classics? Which authors make you laugh?

A Few Favorite Books and Why I Love Them

Melk Benedictine Abbey Library

Image via Wikipedia

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks / And all the sweet serenity of books.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”  
– Jorge Luis Borges

Libraries are filled with endless possibilities. Whenever I walk into one, I wish I could read every book. Yet no matter how many books I manage to read, my list of all-time favorites has stayed pretty much the same for a while now. Here’s the list so far:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Stand by Stephen King
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Contact by Carl Sagan
Ireland: A Novel by Frank Delaney
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
The Given Day: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Even though they’re fiction, I’ve learned something from all of these books. Others have been entertaining to read but it’s always a little disappointing to me if I feel like I haven’t learned anything by the end of a book, whether it’s something about a certain time period or the universe or people or even myself.

I love books that pay attention to language and the sound of language. One of the pleasures of reading is to stumble on a perfect sentence or paragraph that illuminates everything. The Grapes of Wrath and All the King’s Men are full of phrases like that. They’re masterpieces and I’m in awe of the authors every time I read those books. Cannery Row is much shorter but it’s still a masterpiece. I love the descriptions of people, from the very first paragraph on.

Maybe I’m a little obsessed with the apocalypse, but Earth Abides is a book that helped me learn more about myself. Different traditions or customs slip away in the post-apocalyptic world, and I was surprised at how upset I’d get whenever the characters let that happen. Then I’d catch myself and wonder why it was so upsetting. It made me realize how ingrained a culture can become. The Stand is also about the apocalypse but its greatness is more in the way the characters are described.

I love Contact for everything it says about the universe and people. Ireland: A Novel weaves history and myths into an already interesting story and the storyteller character is perfect. Pastwatch shows the effects history has on people while imagining a different world if only some events could be revisited and corrected. The Given Day: A Novel describes the time period after World War I so well that I felt like I lived through it with the characters. The descriptions of the Great Molasses Flood alone are worth the read.

People seem to either love or hate A Confederacy of Dunces. I thought it was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Everyone in this book is a true character and I love how they all affect each other in different ways.

What are some of your favorites and what kinds of things do you look for in a favorite book?

My characters aren’t me – really

A few months ago, the joy I felt after hearing a short story of mine would be published faded into what can only be called dread after realizing my family and friends might assume the character was actually me.

There were some similarities. The story opens with a sleepless night because of a snoring dog and husband (though the dog is really much more of a snorer than anyone else). Hopefully there aren’t too many other similarities, especially since I was trying to show how not to be.

In real life, I’m lucky enough to know a lot of characters. It might be tempting, but I wouldn’t turn a person I know into a character. I’d rather write character profiles, figure out the reasons why a character might do something, and watch that character come to life. Especially in a novel, characters need to live a more exciting life than most of us do. That’s why we like to read about them.

The fun of writing is in creating. It’s much more exciting to think up a character than it is to use everything from real life. I like to sprinkle a few real-life details in just for my own entertainment, but it’s still fiction. If some overall human truths are able to seep in, that can make the story better, but it’s still fiction.

Still, the more you say, “It’s fiction,” the more it sounds like maybe it’s not. So then writers have to learn not to care what anyone might think of their stories. Easier said than done, I know.