Welcome to Rypma Writes
Author, The Amber Beads (time travel 1917 Russia) and Baba Yaga & the Stepmother: Retelling of Snow White (adult fairytale)
Author, The Amber Beads (time travel 1917 Russia) and Baba Yaga & the Stepmother: Retelling of Snow White (adult fairytale)
What if Snow White were really evil and her stepmother completely innocent? Author Tom Paterson calls Rypma's new novel "an inspired recasting that unfolds in surprising detail." Fairytale expert Kate Koppy admires how "a compelling heroine & lyrical prose transport the reader into a world of magic steeped in history."
When a young Prussian princess is summoned to the Russian empress's court as a potential bride, she has no idea her life will yield heartache, danger, intrigue, and endless power struggles. Meanwhile, when a 21st-century American teen visits St. Petersburg, a statue at the Hermitage inexplicably catapults her back to the 18th century. Lost and bewildered, she emerges as a maid of honor to the future Catherine the Great.
As Catherine struggles with an unbearable marriage and fights despair, her new lady Maria falls in love while struggling to keep her identity and modern worldview a secret. Neither feels safe in the glittering, treacherous, and lust-filled world of imperial Russia. In chapters that alternate their points of view, "In the Shadows" is a meticulously researched tale of romance, friendship, pageantry, spies, and deceit that explores the early years of the world's greatest stateswoman.
ORDER IT HERE: Kazoo Books https://kazoobooks.com/
Michigan News http://www.michigannews.biz/ OR Amazon link below
BOOK CLUBS: Scroll to find suggested discussion questions you can use. Ask your local librarian to order enough books for your group.
“I couldn’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next.”
In the Shadows, a meticulously researched, accurate account of life at the Imperial Court of Russia in the 18th century, serves as a model of what a historical novel should be. Judith Rypma’s familiarity with Russian life leading up to and including the beginning of the reign of Catherine the Great shines through on every page. This novel is an engaging way to introduce readers to the complicated treacherous history of Russia in the 18th century; it also is a mini “refresher course” for experts in the field. Even though I must have taught this very history for over 40 years, I couldn’t wait to turn the page to see what happens next.
Dr. Edward Alan Cole
Professor Emeritus of Russian Intellectual History
“Pushkin’s Captain’s Daughter Meets Gabaldon’s Outlander.”
Most attempts to return the time of Catherine the Great have been either carefully or creatively done. Judith Rypma somehow manages to do both in her well-written historical novel, In the Shadows, the first in a planned series. It’s a story of secrets—of a young American who finds love and identity as she is mysteriously transported back into Enlightenment-era Russia, and of the young princess whose loves and ambitions shaped one of the great world empires. Along the way, readers are exposed to the sparkling, precarious court life of prerevolutionary Europe; to celebrated Russian imperial sites; to the enchanting world of royal gems, and to perhaps the thorniest coup of the 18th century. Our two heroines experience the times in full: royal privilege, love, heartache, smallpox, and intrigue. But drawing on a rich resource base, Rypma does more. In the Shadows takes us on a journey of discovery into what made Catherine the remarkable woman and ruler she was, and what it would be like to try and make a life, as well as an impact, as a woman in what was very much a man’s world. Parallels about Russia, power, and gender today suggest themselves throughout the novel. Heartily recommended!
Dr. Scott Van Lingenfelter
Author, Russia in the 21stCentury
“I cannot wait for the sequel.”
With her latest novel, Judith Rypma lets us time travel with her intrepid heroine back to Imperial Russia as an insider during the early reign of Catherine II as she transforms into “the Great.” Characters come alive on every page as they weave their way through the intrigues, romances, and misadventures while the court travels from palace to palace. In inexperienced hands, the historical details that make up the foundation of the novel could potentially bore readers; on the contrary, Rypma’s well-researched background as a renowned scholar of Russian language and literature; a poet and novelist of note; and a former travel journalist add to the sparkle of prose—not unlike the many jewels that adorn her heroine. Vivid characterization, expert plotting, and accessible writing make this novel a pleasure to read. I cannot wait for the sequel.
Dr. Christine A. Rydel
Retired Prof. of Russian Language & Literature
Editor, Ardis Publishers
“It is a book written with love—and a book meant to be loved.”
This fascinating look at 18th-century Russia through the eyes of two charming protagonists is an elegantly written novel that offers a fresh look at two nations. The author’s passion for Russian culture and her careful, thorough research provide a thought-provoking alternative to the destructive tendency to cancel otherness in today’s political climate. Above all, it is a book that takes seriously the history of a country outside Rypma’s own culture. I am proud to have had the rare opportunity to witness much of the author’s research on some of her numerous trips to Russia to collect information and examine artifacts. It is a book written with love—and a book meant to be loved.
Prof. Svetlana Shimberg
Leningrad State University
Pushkin, Russian Federation
Suggested book club discussion questions:
1. Rocks, minerals, and gemstones repeatedly drive the plot. Yet they also serve in various ways to enhance the narrative through symbolism, imagery (metaphor, simile), and other description. Did you find some examples of this while reading the novel (or can you think of any in retrospect)?
2. Find examples of instances where the italicized epigraphs preceding most chapters written in Catherine’s point of view enhance your understanding of the character. Do they accomplish anything else, and if so, what? What—if anything—would the novel lose if these quotations were eliminated?
3. Did you find Maria’s reactions to her predicament believable? If not, what else would you have expected from her? Do you think her age made a difference in her eventual acceptance of her plight?
4. Catherine falls for three men (and is married to another) through the age of 32. Do you think she actually loved one or more of them? What surprised you about her marriage? What else might she have done to ensure that the empire produced an heir?
5. Did you notice times when the Maria and the Catherine chapters work together, reinforce an image, play off one another, or compare/contrast the two women’s personalities?
6. In what ways is Catherine a strong and brave woman—or is she? What about Maria?
7. Do the descriptions of the imperial Russian setting engage your interest—or distract from the plot? Can you find favorite or least favorite portions?
8. After you’ve finished the novel, skim back over the first three chapters. Can you find instances of foreshadowing (seemingly insignificant hints or clues of later events)?
9. Did you notice a lot of references to mythology/folktales/legends? If so, where?
10. Did you find the sex scenes believable or well handled?
11. Do the “Notes” and “Author’s Note” clarify anything important? Where are they useful and/or interesting?
From stalagmites widening into “seven-layer wedding cakes” to a trip through a rock shop that feels “like fingering/all the candies/in a trick-or-treat bag,” rocks, minerals, and jewels seldom fail to dazzle and delight young & old . . .
Fiction about family mental illness
Is the old woman living across the street a witch, a murderess, or just an eccentric neighbor? Although Marigold gets the opportunity to discover the truth, she remains consumed with keeping her own secret about her mother's mental illness. This middle grade novel reinforces the idea that sometimes friendships and understanding bloom in unexpected ways and places.
Marigold doesn’t want to talk about her mother’s mental illness. And why would she? The adults in her life and even some of her friends avoid the topic. This novel reveals the all-too-familiar convoluted path young people often must take in a society that would rather hide the realities of mental illness than discuss them openly. Fortunately for Marigold, understanding and support blossom when the weeds hiding the truth are yanked away.
Sue McMillin, The Denver Post
Two decades after racing in terror during an elementary school air raid drill to escape the “dreaded Commies,” the poem’s speaker finds herself battling the restrictions of “Soviet-Style Touring.” In poems that provide a lyrical witness to a Russia in flux, from glasnost to the embattled 1990s to 21st century pride, Rypma offers not only touching and often humorous observations, but portrays a deep love for a country Churchill once called “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Whether exploring Stalin’s bunker, the logistics of Lenin’s preserved corpse, or the witch Baba Yaga, the poems provide delightful and keen glimpses into a place often seen as the Big Bad Wolf on the world stage. Like nested dolls, the nation and these poems slowly reveal themselves the way “colored glass and beads / rearrange themselves / with each twist / of the kaleidoscope’s wheel.” Worshipping at Lenin’s Mausoleum invites you to open each and every one.
Poet Katie Manning, author of Tasty Other, and other collections, points out that “these poems not only engage with Lenin, Stalin, and Catherine the Great, but also Raggedy Ann, Dorothy Gale, and Baba Yaga. This short collection is at once historical and immediate, political and spiritual, familiar and surprising.”
Rypma, who has travelled to Russia and the former Soviet Union over 30 times, has published over 150 poems in literary journals, as well as six chapbooks and three full-length poetry collections.
"Worshipping at Lenin's Mausoleum" is a collection of poems tracing an American child's fear of air raid drills during the 1960s an adult's experiences from the Soviet through the glasnost, perestroika, and Russian Federation eras. Published by FutureCycle Press.
From Black Opal Books:
When a teenager inherits the contents of her Great Grandmother’s Michigan farmhouse, she has no idea what awaits her—except for piles and piles of hoarded junk. However, after fiddling with an amber necklace she discovers in a locked room, she finds herself suddenly whisked back in time to the court of the last ruling Romanovs and a Russia in the midst of World War I. As the events of 1916-17 kindle a flame that becomes the roar of Revolution, they not only touch her life and that of her new family, but force her to cope with new ways of seeing the world, her cultural heritage, and even the complications of a unique and complicated love.
This is the subject of AMBER BEADS, a historical time slip/travel novel set in Russia on the brink of and at the beginning of the Soviet Revolution.
TAYLOR JONES: In The Amber Beads by Judith Rypma, 16-yr-old Julie inherits the contents of her great-grandmother's farmhouse in Michigan. To Julie, most of it is junk and she spends some time sorting it all into boxes to be given away. But when she finds a key, she remembers the secret room whose door was always locked. She tries the key and the door opens. Inside, she finds a necklace made from beads of amber. She puts the necklace on, passes out, and wakes up in her great-grandmother's house in 1916 Russia, where she seems to be living the older woman's life as a teenage girl. Julie, now Olga, knows what is coming in 2017. She wants to warn Olga's family, who are members of the Russian nobility, but how can she? For one, they would not believe her, and two, how could explain how she knows what she knows? Impossible. All Julie can do is play along and hope that amber beads will take her back to 1995 before the rebels take over Russia in 1917. Rypma has created a history lesson in vivid detail, giving us much more than just the events, but the attitudes and emotions of the people at the time as well as a glimpse into the past so real, it makes you think you've gone back in time with Julia. A wonderful read.
REGAN MURPHY: The Amber Beads by Judith Rypma is the story of Julia, a 16--year-old American in 1995. Julie and her great-grandmother Olga were close, much more so than Olga and Julie's mother, so when Olga dies, she leaves the entire contents of her Michigan farmhouse to Julie. Julie knows Olga was from Russia, and as she sorts through the debris of Olga's life, Julie thinks about her Russian roots, and decides that it doesn't matter where you are from, we are all Americans. That is, until she unlocks Olga's secret room and discovers a necklace made of amber. When she puts the necklace on, she is whisked back in time to 1916 Russia and thrust into sixteen-year-old Olga's life.
At first, Julie thinks it is all a dream, but when she doesn't wake up, she slowly accepts the situation. She is really back in the past, living her great-grandmother's life in Russia. Then, to her dismay, Julie discovers that she is in Russia in the winter of 1916, less than a year before the Bolsheviks revolt, take over the government, and kill off the aristocracy, which includes Olga and her family.
How can Julie persuade her family to flee what is coming, when Olga could not possibly know the future? And how can she get the amber beads to take her back to 1995 where she belongs? The Amber Beads is both a coming-of-age story and a cunning history lesson. With vivid descriptions, charming characters, and a solid ring of truth, Rypma pulls you in until you feel as if you are right there in the scene with Julia/Olga, struggling to survive in war-torn Russia. It takes a talented author to do that.
CONTACT YOUR LIBRARY ABOUT BOOK CLUB ORDERS
POET PUBLISHES COLLECTION ABOUT FAMED RUSSIAN AMBER ROOM MYSTERY
As Prof. Wolfgang Eichwede once put it, “Some people have princesses and fairies. Others have the Amber Room.” Often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Amber Room was commissioned by Prussia’s Frederick I in the early 18th century. With over 100,000 pieces of various shades of amber inlaid with mosaics, the room caught the eye of collector and amber aficionado Peter the Great, who would eventually receive it as a gift from Frederick’s son.
In its new Russian home, the room fascinated Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine the Great, so much so that the latter commissioned artisans to add additional elaborate mirrors, Romanov crests, gemstones, and 70 objets d’art that dazzled all who saw it in its presumably permanent home in a palace outside St. Petersburg.
But the story, far from ending here, evolved into one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. It is this story of the world’s most famous missing treasure that Western Michigan University English Associate Professor Judith Rypma explores in her poetry book, Looking for the Amber Room.
“It’s a tale of stolen art, but it’s also a legend that has enthralled—and continues to frustrate—armies of treasure hunters who at this very moment are scouring four countries in search of it,” Prof. Rypma says. “In fact,” she notes, “the past few months have been pretty exciting with the discovery of a train in Poland that is rumored to contain the missing chamber of amber.”
As Rypma explains, the room remained in Catherine’s Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (now Pushkin) until 1941, when the Nazis marched into the area, disassembled and seized the room’s panels, transported them to Prussia, and displayed the Amber Chamber there until 1945. But as the Allies advanced on Könisgsberg (now Kaliningrad), the room “simply vanished.” Since then, endless questions, investigations and books have pursued the mystery, which, according to Rypma, “involves possibilities ranging from sunken ships and underground bunkers to hidden salt mines and billionaire collectors. There are even murders associated with the search.”
These mysterious possibilities and theories play a role in Rypma’s poems, which also trace amber from its prehistoric origins through its medieval popularity (so much so that fishermen who stole a piece it were hanged) and its development as a room that played a role in the lives of three Russian rulers. She also tracks the theft, the room’s curators, attempts to hide it, and even Hitler’s fascination with it.
The poems, ranging from lyric free verse to haiku to prose poetry, reflect Rypma’s deep love for her subject in a way that almost makes the reader forget how much research went into the book. “I’m accustomed to doing research for poetry, but I had never envisioned that I would spend years doing it for this book. But the material out there is voluminous,” Rypma admits.
She is justifiably proud, therefore, of internationally renowned amber expert Dr. Patty Rice’s “seal of approval” in terms of accuracy, as well as quality. “I loved the book and the way Rypma cleverly manages to work in everything in poetic form,” Rice notes.
Russian diplomat Dr. Vyacheslav Moshkalo agrees: “She has managed not only to penetrate deeply into our culture, but to share her inner world, as well.” The book opens and closes with poems reflecting Rypma’s personal search for and fascination with the room’s restoration, corresponding with the thirty-year period during which a team of Russian artisans devoted their lives to painstakingly restoring a facsimile of the room in its original location. The Catherine Palace and the Amber Room’s restoration workshop in Pushkin (Kalamazoo’s Partner City), was closed to the public on Rypma’s first several visits to the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation. But since its unveiling in 2003, she has travelled to see it four times.
In fact, Rypma has visited her favorite country over 30 times. She holds an undergraduate degree in Russian Studies (from GVSU), and is currently at work on several novels set during the Soviet Revolution and in 18th-century imperial Russia. Her latest poetry collection, Amber Notes, was recently released by FutureCycle Press and also features aspects of amber and ways in which it metaphorically connects to our lives. As Elizabeth Kolbert points out in the Los Angeles Times, “The Amber Room is exquisite and precious and lost. Like all great objects of desire, it is unattainable.”
Yet if there is a way to bring it back, at least for the time it takes to savor these lyrical, imagistic poems, Rypma’s poetic search has discovered it.
“In my teaching, I always manage to incorporate Russian literature and history,” Rypma says. “Americans are generally uninformed about Russia, and I try to remedy that as much as I can with my own students.” Professor Rypma has travelled to Leningrad State University in Pushkin to present papers and to teach classes, and formerly directrf a summer Study Abroad Program that took MU students to St. Petersburg.
Looking for the Amber Room is available at Kazoo Books, 2413 Parkview Ave., KALAMAZOO, MI USA PHONE 269-553-6506. Rypma is available for readings and appearances. Contact www.kazoobooks.com for additional information.
"Rypma's AMBER NOTES is a world traveler's homage to the dance of permanence with transience. An insect in amber is the perfect emblem for this dance, and the image recurs throughout the book. Rypma's poems recount a happy girlhood, the joys and terrors of sexuality, and a mature woman's wanderlust. These poems are charming and wise."
Richard Katrovas, author of 14 books, including
'"Swastika to Lotus" and "Raising Girls in Bohemia:
Meditations of an American Father."
MRS. FLEENEY'S FLOWERS: "Marigold doesn’t want to talk about her mother’s mental illness. And why would she? The adults in her life and even some of her friends avoid the topic. This novel reveals the all-too-familiar convoluted path young people often must take in a society that would rather hide the realities of mental illness than discuss them openly. Fortunately for Marigold, understanding and support blossom when the weeds hiding the truth are yanked away.
Sue McMillin, The Denver Post
Full-length collection of poems published by FutureCycle Press. Dan Veach, editor of Atlanta Review and author of Elephant Water as well as several other collections of poetry, describes the book: "Forbidden Fruit, ancient memory, healing talisman, comforting touch; Judith Rypma's AMBER NOTES is all of these in turn. As she transports us across a lifetime and around the globe, from the domes of the Kremlin to the coral gardens of Fiji, we grow ever more grateful for this mineralogist's gift of 'polished agate for the mind.'"
In this most recent collection of poems, Amber Notes, (FutureCycle Press), Rypma “recounts a happy childhood, the joys and terrors of sexuality, and a mature woman’s wanderlust,” according to internationally known poet Richard Katrovas. He goes on to observe that “Amber Notes is a world traveler’s homage to the dance of permanence with transience. An insect in amber is the perfect emblem for this dance, and the image recurs throughout the book.” Author of 14 of his own books, with a poetry collection forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University, Katrovas is the recipient of numerous grants & awards.
As renowned poet and Atlantic Review editor Dan Veach puts it, “Forbidden fruit, ancient memory, healing talisman, comforting touch: Rypma's Amber Notes is all of these in turn. As she transports us across a lifetime and around the globe, from the domes of the Kremlin to the coral gardens of Fiji, we grow ever more grateful for this mineralogist's gift of ‘polished agate for the mind.’”
Many of Rypma’s poems reflect her background as a travel journalist and an amateur geologist. Other poems explore the benefits and disappointments of old age, yet by the closing poem, the speaker seems to have found that peace that we all covet and “has finally acquired / all the hues of her life.”
September 8, 2020 Sadly, two of my books are now out of print. Rest in peace, Rapunzel's Hair (All Nations Press) and Forget-Me-Not (Finishing Line Press). I still have a few copies if you email me.