Friday, December 29, 2006

Should Have Knocked on Wood

I'm not an overly superstitious person, but I avoid walking under ladders and bless people after they sneeze. Which is why I probably should have knocked on wood after writing my last post. While working on the entry in question, P was helping our younger girls, E and S, wrap presents in the living room. Someone was coughing at the time. I assumed S was the guilty party because she's been coughing all week. I didn't connect the hacking with E until P brushed past S, commented that she was quite warm, and then decided he should take her temperature. That's when I realized E had been the noisy one (which is never a good sign because coughing is usually means she has a fever.) Turns out, my intuition was spot on. E's sick now, too...just in time for New Year's.:(

Pink Dainties, Frango Mint Cake, the Ray Conniff Singers, and Other Trivial Pursuits of a Jolly Writer on Holiday

Busy. Busy. Busy. The last week has included a variety of church activities and services, Christmas day at my mom's, the Ray Conniff singers (because Christmas isn't Christmas without the Conniff Christmas albums), deep cleaning (because writing takes priority the rest of the year), multiple trips to Goodwill to unload what we hope will be someone else's treasure, baking (including pink dainties from my days as part of the Lincoln Jr High home ec program, wheat bread, and four Frango Mint cakes), barbecuing of the bird for Wednesday's Christmas with P's family (because bbq'd turkey tastes awesome, and baking would have taken twice as long), and too much red wine (because now that I've graduated and Vermont College residencies are a thing of the past, I'm way out of practice. But it tasted soooo good going down.)

Overall, fun was had by all, except by our youngest, S, who coughed her way through most of our Wednesday Christmas celebration with P's family. Turns out she has an ear infection and sinus thing. Poor thing. I've been sick for Christmas. It's not fun being unable to have join in with everyone, especially when cousins are visiting. On a positive note, the heavy duty cough formula she took last night gave her her first good night's sleep in almost a week; so, I think she'll be in good shape to enjoy our annual New Year's Eve celebration with our good friends from high school K and D.

Appetite for writing: Since E's home from school and P took the week off between Christmas and New Year's, I've given myself permission not to write. The break's done my muse good. I can feel it relaxing, storing away memories, and gearing up for work once break's over.

Current read: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer. The bustle of the season hasn't allowed much time for reading; so this book's taken longer to finish than the requisite two weeks the library gave me. To add insult to injury, the system wouldn't allow me to renew online because the book has multiple holds. Luckily, the librarian behind the desk yesterday took pity on me and overrode the computer so I could keep the book long enough to finish it. Overall, Meyer's latest is a page-turning blend of vampires and werewolves, along with a human MC loyal to both groups. The push-pull between the MC and the two groups makes for exciting reading.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

One Writer's Early Christmas Present

One of the great delights of holiday shopping is the excuse to explore resale shops for new and gently used books. This year I stumbled upon a gem.

It's a blast from my past, a book I read so many times as a young girl that holding it in my hands again was like reuniting with a long lost friend. The book is The Cookie Tree by Jay Williams. The story begins after a young girl discovers a strange tree growing in the middle of her village. She soon realizes it's a cookie tree. The adults argue about what the appearance of the unusual tree means. The children celebrate the tree's arrival, and, of course, eat its cookies, at which point the tree folds up and disappears.

Rereading the book now I'm reminded of how deeply the story enchanted me. Even now fantasy remains a favorite genre, especially those stories that begin ordinary but become extraordinary.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Enter the Forest

The December issue of Edge of the Forest is available on cyber newsstands. Articles by yours truly: In the Backpack featuring an interview with writer/librarian Ruthann Heidgerken and Day in the Life with author Debby Dahl Edwardson.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Writing During the Holidaze

I apologize for going silent for as long as I did. No one's sick. Our DSL went down.

Here's a Cliff Notes version of what's been occupying my time since my last post:

1. Reviewing the ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) for Special Gifts: Women Writer's on the Happiness, the Heartache and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child. Makes it real to finally have it in my hands.

2. Writing--Spent most of my creative time this week finishing up my ghost story which finally has a satisfying ending. (Now we'll see what the crit group thinks. We meet next week.)

3. Holiday prep--we host Christmas with P's family this year, which means we've a whole lot of house to clean. Upside is we've been unearthing lots of things we thought we'd lost.

4. Shopping--thankfully I'm almost done with that. I've a few odds and ends left to do, then P takes over. Yep, you've read it right. I gather. He wraps. We've had this arrangement for years. Works out really well.

5. Enjoying our older daughter who arrived home Thursday from her first sem of college.

6. Finishing up last-minute prep for tonight's Christmas program at church. We still have Muddy Buddies to make for the potluck afterward. A couple hours and counting before we need to be sitting in the pews.

Fa la la la la la la la la.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Deadlines, Vampires and a Chipped Tooth

Deadlines. I love them and hate them. I love them because they help keep writing a priority when life conspires. I hate them because they prevent me from doing the things that need getting done like laundry so the girls have clean underwear, good, old-fashioned home cooking so we can eat something healthy for a change, Christmas cards because the season's upon us, filing before I lose track of ideas, subs, bills, you name it.

Top of the deadline pile for today: submissions for Edge of the Forest online children's literature monthly. Both "interviews" are on someone else's desk right now, which means I'll need to hustle as soon as copy's returned.

Also vying for my time today: E's tooth. She came home Friday complaining of a tooth ache. Her teacher figured she'd bitten her lip. By the time we determined the real reason for the pain--that E'd chipped off a chunk of her tooth, exposing the nerve--E's regular dentist was gone for the rest of the weekend. Motrin and E's high tolerance for pain allowed us to nurse the offending molar until first thing this am when we were able to see the dentist. I'm ever so grateful we dodged the need to find a peds dentist over the weekend qualified enough to work on E. I guess with everything E's been through lately--mostly recently her neurosurgery--an exposed root is small bananas.

Current read: Just picked up Stephenie Meyers' newest book, New Moon. Looking forward to curling up with this latest installment in the Bella Swan and Edward Cullen saga. For anyone intrigued by vampires with a heart, this author deserves a serious look. Meyer's first book in what I hope will be a continuing series: Twilight.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Crit Group, Brainstorming, and Safe Writing on the Road

One of the ways I've learned to channel the creative energy my critique group inevitably stirs up is to pack a fresh block of Post-it notes in the car. Yesterday's Post-its were hot pink. I went through half a pack during the 40-minute drive back. Using Post-its in the car is a lot safer for me than trying to balance a spiral notebook on my lap while dodging semis on I-80. What's more, the handy 3x3 size forces me to edit my ideas to the most important kernels before jotting them down. My notes end up being more focused and legible. And they transfer to my main KM notebook a lot easier, too.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Crit Group Countdown

Crit group meets this morning, which means I've less than a half hour to finish up emails for this month's Edge of the Forest before heading out into the hinterlands to meet up with J and A.

Looking forward to meeting for so many reasons...the writerly conversation (something that's sadly lacking in this very solitary profession), the critiques, J's neverending cups of English Breakfast tea, and steaming bowls of spicy chili or soup. I'm especially looking forward to feedback about this week's sub, as I'm moving further in KM than the crit group has seen since we began meeting a year ago this fall, and now that I've finally narrowed in on the direction this tome needs to take, I'm curious what they think of it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Writers and Depression

Hats off to Cynthia Leitich Smith for today's link to Nancy Etchemendy's article on Writers and Depression. Not only is the article link timely (because so many people consider suicide during the holidays), the piece should be required reading for any writer, artist or creative soul.

The fact that so many creative types suffer from depression doesn't surprise me. It's an insidious condition, one that often masquerades as fatigue, illness, stress, you name it. All too often we pass off the symptoms as casualties of our avocation. We joke about our addictions to Diet Coke. We commiserate about our insecurities. We muscle through our days.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying every tired, Diet Coke addicted writer is depressed. What I am saying is that we're prone to it. And with good reason.

Writers are sensitive souls. We don't need to work at emphathizing with others; we do so automatically. The problem is we don't just celebrate with others, we feel their pain as well. Knowing writers work in this way, is it any wonder so many of us struggle with depression?

Much of the work I did at Vermont College meant learning to mine my own emotions in order to understand my main character's emotional throughlines. As much as I tried in the beginning, however, I had trouble identifying my MC's deepest need.

After many months of soul searching, I realized that the main reason I was having trouble getting close to my character was that her deepest fears mirrored my own. How's that for writing behind my back, Jane? Once I realized why I was avoiding getting close to my character, KM's throughline became clear, and I made important strides in my own process as a result.

I also made connections about the writer's life in general.

It seems the very nature of our craft--the ability to inhabit our emotions long enough to bring life to our characters--makes us our fears, depression, and addictions and other self-destructive behaviors.

I've no easy answers for how not to become trapped in the emotions we must embrace in order to create our art. I do know that through experience I've learned that my most powerful prose has come from the places that resonate with the strongest emotions. Which means that in order for my characters to find a way out of their darkness, I must find ways to face my own.

Making this connection about my writing hasn't been easy, but it's given me insights into my own process. Reading Etchemendy's article has given me more.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Remembering Sooke and My Place of Power

I firmly believe we writers need a place of power, some when or some where we can visit in person or in our mind's eye, especially when our muse needs peace, clarity and inspiration. My place of power is in Sooke. On days like today when the weather's gray and rainy, and my muse wants to do anything else but sit butt in chair for the hard work of writing, I remember Sooke, the sea, C's Fabulous Sooke Writer's Retreat on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, fresh blueberry Welsh cakes, the big red barn, and hikes through these woods.

How I Amused My Muse This Thanksgiving

Whew! Didn't get much writing done during over Thanksgiving break, but not putting fingers to keyboard was a good trade off for an action-packed weekend that's sure to amuse my muse for years to come.

For the holiday we traveled over the river, through the woods, and past hundreds of acres of corn fields to visit P's folks near Springfield, Illinois. After three-plus hours on the road Wednesday evening, and a dinner break at the Bloomington-Normal Steak N Shake, we arrived with enough time to stretch our legs, visit, and introduce Jewel to Truman, the newest member of the household.

Truman is an eight-years-young wire-haired terrier. P's dad adopted him in October from a rescue organization in Minneapolis. The dog's a gem. He knows how to beg, sit, stay, roll over and play dead. He even heels without prompting. But despite his fine breeding, he resented E's service dog Jewel entering the house..which made for an interesting evening.

The next morning, P's dad came up with the idea of holding onto Jewel's leash, showing he was in control of the situation. Once Truman saw that P's dad was in charge of the interloper, he relaxed enough to tolerate Jewel as long as she kept her distance. By midday he allowed her to explore the house and prance about, but made it known he'd rather lay about, and don't push him to do otherwise or suffer the consequences, thank you very much. Here's what amused my muse: Jewel's three times the size of Truman, yet she gave him his distance. Watching the two dogs work out their differences was a fascinating, dog-whisperer type situation. Thankfully, Jewel was willing to step aside from the alpha dog roll she assumes at our house. Amazing how the pack mentality kicks in so quickly.

For Thanksgiving dinner, P's dad did all the planning, prep and cooking. Midafternoon, we gathered around the table for a feast of honey-crusted ham, turkey breast, creamy ranch potatoes, green bean casserole, two different kinds of jello molds--one with walnuts, celery and apple slices, the other with pineapple, corn casserole in honor of B (P's brother who passed away six years ago), pumpkin pie, and more I'm certain I've forgotten. As always the visit was great fun, but too short.

We returned midafternoon Friday with enough time for our oldest E to connect with The Boys (the name she's given the group of nine-plus boy friends who adopted her as one of their own her senior year of high school) for a feast, a game of capture the flag, and Dungeons and Dragons.

Saturday our family headed to the mall for a family picture, something we haven't had the time, energy or health to do since before E's aneurysm rupture six years ago. Feels good doing something so mundane and ordinary. Feels as if we've finally come full circle.

Current read: Deborah Wile's Each Little Bird that Sings. It's lovely, and takes on difficult topics--death and grief--with grace and humor. I can see now why it was nominated for a National Book Award. And I have to say that having the opportunity to meet Deb and listen to her speak at Vermont College during my MFA program (and hearing the inside story of how the book came to be) gives her story that much more power and depth.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The new Edge of the Forest has Appeared

The new Edge of the Forest online children's literature monthly is now available on cyber newstands. Surf on by for reviews, interviews, and more. Contributions by yours truly include an interview with the very funny and very talented children's book writer, Carolyn Crimi, and a "man-on-the-street" survey of writers, editors and an agent about "What's in Their Backpack."

Monday, November 20, 2006

Crit Groups, Short Stories, and E on her New Bike

A few weeks ago I posted news about writing a grant for E to receive a handcycle from Athletes Helping Athletes, and winning said grant. I wanted to post a pic of E on her cruiser to accompany that post, but was unable to do so because our camera was on the fritz at the time. Well, we finally convinced Best Buy to give us a replacement camera while they continue to "fix" the one that's been in and out of their shop since Labor Day. Which means we were able to take a pic late yesterday afternoon. Sorry about the lighting. By the time P and I figured out all the bells and whistles on the camera, the sun had nearly set.

One the writing front, critique group meets today. On tap for me: feedback on my ghost story so far. It's not quite done, but almost there...probably less than 500 words more to wrap it up. I can't believe I've been working on it for this long. I started this puppy midsummer. I remember Sharon Darrow mentioning in a Vermont College discussion once that she averaged nine months or so to draft and finalize a short story. I didn't quite grok the concept then. Now I do. Syncing the events so they unfold just right is like piecing together a puzzle when you don't know it's shape.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Chatter, Time-outs, and Prairie Writer's Day

Let's face it. We writers value our quiet time. In this space we commune with our muse and discover our stories.

If we're lucky enough to find ways to cut the chatter long enough to do so.

During the months following E's aneurysm rupture, I struggled with so much chatter I was too emotionally exhausted to return phone calls let alone form a coherent sentence. I remember suffering a tremendous amount of guilt preferring Gilligan's Island reruns to something with substance, and waiting for friends and relatives to call me instead of initiating anything.

Looking back on that time now, I'm not surprised I had trouble. My brain was on overload. Much of the chatter I lived with arose from my fear of not knowing who E would be after she recovered, my grief at finding our family in that place, and my anger that such a thing could happen to me, to us, and to E, who'd come into the world with so many challenges ahead of her.

Through trial and error, I discovered ways to reduce the chatter long enough to leverage the alone time I needed to channel my muse. Vermont College was a catalyst for change. So were my advisers, Ellen Levine, Sharon Darrow, Jane Resh Thomas, Tim Wynne-Jones, and my classmates, the MVPs. Their patience and support shepherded me through dark months when I seriously questioned my decision to pursue an MFA in writing for children while guiding E through her recovery.

Fortunately, I discovered what works for me. Unfortunately, the quiet place where my muse resides very often brings me face to face with the fears that built up the chatter in the first place.

Thankfully, I've learned ways to summon the strength needed to banish my fears long enough for my characters to step forward so that I might tell their stories. The tools I've collected in my writer's toolbox don't always work. However, on good days, my characters enter the stage of my story ready to work, and my biggest challenge as their lives unfold like a movie is typing fast enough to keep up with them.

The good days are the reason I write through the dark times. Muscling through when every sentence sounds like crap is part of my process. So is muzzling my inner critic if at all possible when I do so.

I muscle through the dark days because the payoff is worth it. Light exists on the other side. As does a paragraph, page or chapter that sings.

Let the dishes call. Let my daughters dig through the laundry baskets for clean underwear and socks. Instead of giving in the siren's call of leaving my chair to do anything else but writing, I dig in my heels. I slog through the shit. I keep writing. Unless my kids run into the room screaming about blood or fire. Or my characters start acting out of character.

When my characters grow grandiose, petulant, close-mouthed--you name it, they need space. And I need space.

I give myself permission to shut my laptop. I might write in a notebook instead. Or write outside or in a cafe. If that doesn't work. I find something else to do...reading, research, another project. Anything to give my story breathing space. I've found that even in that space, my muse is still writing, working out character arcs, sorting out events.

Last weekend's Prairie Writer's Day provided my story the perfect simmer time because, quite frankly, nothing quite inspires my muse the way a roomful of writers does.

I know I've talked about many of these reasons in previous posts, but they're so powerful for me, they deserve repeating.

With fellow writers:
* you don't need to explain why you're not published yet.
* you don't need to explain why you keep submitting in the face of rejections.
* you don't need to explain why your idea of a good time is cruising a bookstore for the latest titles
* you don't need to justify the high you get after writing the perfect opening line.
* you don't need to explain why writing the book one time through doesn't mean it's ready for an editor.
* you don't need to explain that wherever you are in the process, you don't need to rush it. Where you are is right for you.

With fellow writers, you need only be yourself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Conference Report, Part Deux

Three editors and an agent attended Prairie Writer's Day:

Beverly Reingold -- Farrar Straus & Giroux
Clarissa Hutton -- HarperCollins Children's Books
Julie Romeis -- Bloomsbury
Stephen Fraser -- Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency

Each of the editors participated in a panel called "Editor/Author Duos." During the session, the pairs discussed the publishing process, including the months of rewrites and meetings required to bring their books into being.

Duos included:
Brenda Ferber and Beverly.
Aaron Reynolds and Julie.
Laura Ruby and Clare.

This session was one of my favorites. Brenda and Beverly read from the letters they sent back and forth during the months of revisions to Julia's Kitchen. Aaron and Julie talked about Chicks and Salsa, the importance of timing, and the spark needed to catch an editor's eye. For example, one of the main reasons Chicks and Salsa appealed to Julie is because she (and the rest of her office) loves South-of-the-border food. Clare and Laura talked about Lily's Ghost and the many loving revisions it took before it went to print and was nominated for an Edgar.

What I learned:
*Be patient.
*The publishing business is glacial.
*Surround yourself with friends and fellow writers who understand.
*Do your homework.
*The right editor will love your book and characters as much as you do.
*The right editor will be a cheerleader, mentor, counselor, friend and advocate who loves your book so much he or she will lead you where you need to go in order to make your book the best it can be.
*Trust is a big factor in this process.
*Trust your editor. He or she knows the business.
*As you work with your editor, remind yourself, "the book is no longer mine, it's ours."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Conference Report

What a an awesome turn out for SCBWI-Illinois' Prairie Writer's Day. More than 175 writers attended. Most hailed from Illinois. Some traveled from Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and as far away as Pennsylvania.

I've so much to report about the day, I plan to post a little bit each day this week.

First of all, my First Pages critique went better than imagined. Discussion among the editors and agent ranged from the story's voice, to its tone, to its high fantasy feel, to the fact that the story opens from the antagonist's point of view.

Questions raised: The magical system is so unique it needs further simplification so the reader can better visualize its workings. (No surprise here. This has been a constant refrain with all my readers, even while developing the concept during my VC days. The more I read the novels that work, the more I realize how simple and specific magic needs to be in order for a reader to grasp it. Its almost there. I can feel it.)

Another observation: the language needs tweaking here and there to keep the tone from sounding too purple in places. An easy fix as I was experimenting with an omniscient narrator during deadline time for the First Pages submission, but hadn't yet had time to refine his voice.

Overall, comments were positive. I wish I had specifics about what was said. I tried taking notes, but my hand was shaking too hard to make sense of any of them.

Bottom line: Two of the editors are interested in reading KM. The third doesn't do fantasy. The agent wants to see more as well.

I feel a real connection with one of the editors. During the networking session late in the day, I introduced myself so she could place a name and face with the piece. She asked me more about the novel. I pitched the book, explaining the premise and the three alternativing points of view. She confirmed she definitely wants to read more. Woohoo.

Now all I have to do is finish quilting together the many versions of my story.

No pressure.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Off Days, Days off, and Prairie Writer's Day

My muse continues to cooperate. Although now that I'm on a roll, my girl's are home for a long weekend because of school conferences.

Having the girls home is a mixed blessing. I love the unstructured time. The lazing about the house in pjs until lunch. The talks over tea. The squeals of delight as my girls watch old favorites on Nick Jr. The respite from the routine is welcome. Unfortunately, the routine is what I depend on where my writing is concerned.

As a compromise, I've placed Post-it pads all over the house. By the end of the day, I need to search table tops, counters, and the dashboard for all the squares of paper I've generated. Writing in this way is less than ideal, but at least I feel like I'm making some forward progress.

A long string of post-its relate to my duties for tomorrow's SCBWI-Illinois Prairie Writer's Day. The popular day-long retreat offers novice and experienced writers the opportunity to connect with and learn from acquiring editors and agents.

Featured editors and agents scheduled to attend include:

Clarissa Hutton, Harper Collins
Beverly Reingold, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Julie Romeis, Bloomsbury
Stephen Fraser, Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency

The retreat will be held at the Priory campus of Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. With its vaulted ceilings, flagstone floors and stained glass windows, the Priory reminds me of a castle.

As PR co-chair of the Illinois SCBWI chapter, I'm on point for greeting the editors, agents, and special guests "at the door," introducing them around, ensuring they know where to sit, where they need to be, where to freshen up, etc. I'm thrilled and terrified by this opportunity. Thankfully, fellow crit group members, A and J, have offered to assist in this effort.

One of the most popular features of the day is the first-pages section. During this part of the program, anonymous first manuscript pages are read to the entire group (we're expecting 125 people or more), after which the editors and agents critique the sub, remarking on its strengths and discussing areas that raised questions.

Last year, one reading prompted an editor to jump up, asking, "Who wrote that?" Upon looking the elated author in the eye, he said, "We need to talk. Find me after we're done." Every writer's dream.

Since KM has evolved into multiple points of view, I submitted a first page from my antagonist's story. My fingers are crossed I don't embarass myself.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Muse Lost...and Found

My muse went on strike late last week. No matter how much I prodded and cajoled and begged, she led me in circles.

Talk about unnerving.

I finally withdrew, letting her be while I turned to other things...tidying up my work space, unearthing and paying overdue bills, making lists for my lists. And wracking my brain for reasons why my muse had gone silent.

While organizing the writer's corner in my dining room, I realized my mistake.

Normally, in order to ease into my creative writing zone, I read and meditate about some aspect of craft (usually something I'm struggling with in relation to my current work), and I write Morning Pages ala Julia Cameron in an effort to quiet my brain of the extraneous stuff before I channel my characters.

However, in my rush to make weekly deadlines for the online Writing YA class I took last month with Lauren Barnholdt, I let my morning ritual slide. For a time, I got away with it. Bouyed by positive feedback, I made terrific progress on KM, and even found a fresh new voice for my MC. Unfortunately, although the momentum sustained me through the class and then some, it ran dry last week.

Yesterday, desperate to write a scene that didn't spin in place, and facing a deadline for tomorrow's crit group, I returned to my morning routine. And kicked myself for not returning to it sooner.

First, I did a Medicine Card reading. Then I read a chapter on structure from Janet Evanovich's new craft book, How I Write, Secrets of a Bestselling Author. Next, I wrote about my readings, and anything else that wandered into my head.

What a difference Morning Pages made. By giving my thinking brain a formal place to dump all the crud--my worries about my girls, the concerns fueled by my inner critic, the fear that I truly am on Tolkien's timeline (read 15 years) for finishing a first novel, I cleared out the clutter.

And freed my muse.

Yesterday, I cranked. Not only did I write enough to make deadline for Wednesday's crit group, I felt more accepting of my own process.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Grants, Handcycles, and the Mighty Power of the Pen

Every now and again, I'm reminded why we writers must keep submitting in the face of the inevitable rejection.

Midsummer or so I wrote Athletes Helping Athletes on behalf of my 14 year old with the hope the group would consider awarding her a specialized handcycle, one we'd been told by her therapist would benefit her continuing recovery, but couldn't possibly afford on our own.

Well, *pumps arm wildly in the air* we won the grant.

E's bike is a low-rider, custom-built and midnight blue. Instead of pedaling with her feet, she pedals with her hands. The cycle arrived on a semi late Friday afternoon.

The first words out of E's mouth after she tried out her new wheels:

"This is awesome! You know my other bike? We can give that to a two-year-old who needs it."

E's other bike is a Fisher Price tricycle designed for toddlers. Unfortunately, it's the only one that fit her very small stature when we went shopping for it a couple years ago. Problem was none of E's friends rode three wheelers. She needed assistance getting onto and off the bike, requiring us to chaperone her at all times. And her left leg (affected by the aneurysm) slipped off the pedal if not strapped down.

Seeing the joy on E's face as she pedals down the street on her new bike puts all the rejections I've ever received into perspective. And gives me hope that the writing I'm most passionate about will continue to spark positive responses, and possibly someday soon, win a contract for my YA fantasy.

As for the tricycle, it's in the donations pile in our garage.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Stroopwafels, the Writer's Life, and Laying About Eating Bon-bons

P returned home Saturday night bearing gifts after a business trip overseas. To S he gave the gift of fairies, for E princesses, for L squares of gourmet chocolate, and for me bon-bons and stroopwafels.

Stroopwafels, a traditional Dutch treat, are so sinfully delicious I plan to use use them as rewards for sitting butt in chair. As for bon-bons, I'd heard about them for years, but, until yesterday, have never had the pleasure of laying about eating one.

Imagine a foil-wrapped chocolate orb as large as a good-sized cherry tomato. Listen to the wrapper crinkle as you scrunch it and set it aside. Bite into chocolate so smooth and rich that Hershey's will never taste the same. Imagine wanting nothing more than to make that chocolately goodness last forever, and you suddenly understand how that old joke about eating bon-bons might have originated.

In recent years, my version of the joke has evolved into something like this:
"What does she do all day while pretending to write books, sit around and eat bon-bons?"

Taking a break from kid lit to read: Dates from Hell, featuring four otherworldly tales of paranormal trysts. The book has its moments, and vampires. Just in time for Halloween.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Explore the Forest

The new Edge of the Forest online children's literature journal is ready to explore. Here's what Forest editor Kelly Herold had to say about it in her post yesterday.

The current issue includes exciting features, interviews, reviews, and more. Contributions by yours truly include an interview with library associate Barbara Crispin (Crofton Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library, Crofton, Maryland for What's in their Backpacks, and a chat with children's writer, Patricia Malone, for A Day in the Life.

Regular readers will also want to know that a new Subscribe feature's been added to the site. Just enter your name and e-mail address and you'll receive notification when each new issue is published.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pumpkins, Haunted Houses, and Funky Gold Frogs

Some writers complain that they need to scrounge for ideas for their next project. I often struggle with the opposite problem...a brain that won't turn off.

Here are just a few of the people and events that fed my muse last week:

1. The Gently Used Clothing Sale at Church--While sorting and folding clothes last week in preparation for the sale, I couldn't help but wonder about the stories behind each item. Who wore the red patent leather shoes? Who owned the faux fur vintage swing coat? And what's the story behind the pioneer dress with matching bonnet? The dress was a lovely pink rose print, fitted to the waist, and trimmed in lace. Who used the dress before it found its way to our sale? Did the donor realize a gold pin encrusted with crystals still graced the collar? And what about the funky gold frog earrings with emerald eyes? Who donated those? Did they signify something special to the owner? Or did they languish in someone's jewelry box, treasured, but never worn?

2. Pumpkin Fest--P, the girls and I attended this free annual event Saturday. Festival goers received free pumpkins, face painting, entry into kids carnival type games (including pumpkin buckets), hot dogs, popcorn and more. With the sun shining, the trees turning and the leaves crispy beneath our feet, the day was a perfect reminder of why fall is my favorite time of year.

3. Fall Gardening--I trimmed and covered the last of my rose bushes last week. The bush was a late addition to the garden outside my kitchen door. Thanks to a couple of warm days over the last few weeks, I managed to coax five more roses out of the plant before the weather turned too cold. The buds are on my dining room table, displayed in a squat white bud vase hand-painted with pansies and trimmed in gold. One of the buds has opened. With any luck the others will, too.

4. Late Season Tomato Harvest--Since E and I are big cherry tomato fans, we grew them this year in containers outside our front door. Saturday, E and I harvested the last of our crop. Siamese tomatoes. E did the honors, prying the two apart and sharing one with me. Nothing beats the taste of a homegrown tomato. Yum.

5. Wiffle Ball--Played wiffle ball with my youngest S, cringing each time she wacked the wiffle ball my way. Did you ever get hit by a wiffle ball? Y-ouch! But I was willing to take it if only to hear her belly laugh each time I ducked.

6. Painting--Late Saturday afternoon, I set up the dining room table with paints so E and S could decorate the pumpkins they picked at the pumpkin fest. After decking out her pumpkin, S stayed at the table for an hour or more painting one picture after another. Our kitchen door is now a gallery dedicated to S.

7. Three-Alarm Chili--I made a big pot of chili for Sunday's Haunted House set-up at church. Yes, our church does a haunted house. Cool, huh? Anyway, the youth group sets up the entire thing in less than a week's time, transforming all three floors of the education building into a tour that gives me the heebie-jeebies when I walk through it. My younger two girls have yet to make it through the entire thing, even during one of the lights-on tours. But this fact doesn't seem to bother them. They're content to help with the free face painting we offer patrons waiting in line on the first floor. The doors open Friday. Wahahaha.

8. Camper--This weekend we packed up the pop up for the winter, returning it to its resting spot beneath the red maple tree. Feels so good that we actually used it this year. Gives me hope we'll double our outings next year. Camping out under the stars with no phones, TV's or computers did us all good.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Where I Write, How I Write, and Other Musings

Although I have an upstairs office, my best creative time comes while writing at my dining room table. I hadn't given much thought as to why I prefer this set-up until we began a discussion today in the "Writing YA for Girls" class about writing routines.

E is probably the biggest reason I work downstairs these days. In the month's following her first surgery and homecoming, writing in the dining room was a lot more convenient than running downstairs and back up every time she needed help in the bathroom, getting dressed, or getting into and out of bed. Along the way, I invested in a laptop which allowed me even greater flexibility in where I worked. P, my resident computer geek, even set me up so I was networked with our printer and totally wireless anywhere in the house.

Now that E's back at school full-time, and doing so well healthwise (knock on wood), my muse still prefers the dining room.

A typical writing day begins after I drop off the girls at school. First I wake up my writer's brain by working out. Then I return home, steep a pot of green tea or break out a trusty can of Diet Coke, and spread out my notes and post its, many of them scribbled while in the car. Before diving into KM, I read a chapter from a craft book and write my Morning Pages ala Julia Cameron. Then after checking email for anything that needs immediate attention, I review my work on KM from the previous day and forge ahead with new creative.

Some days I write in circles before I get into the flow of things. Other days my characters talk faster than I can type. If I'm able to put in three solid hours of writing I consider the day a success.

My goal at the end of that time is a modest one. Two pages. Some days those pages are crap. Other days my writing sings. Without fail, I need to wade through a lot of crap before I get to the good stuff.

Another reason I prefer the dining room these days is that the table's centered in front of a picture window. Our property is wooded, and the slope of the yard out back leaves the impression that I'm all alone in the big woods. The leaves are beginning to turn. Soon the yard will be ablaze with color, and now and again a fox wanders by. Being this close to nature does my muse good.

Most recent read: Adele Griffin's My Almost Epic Summer.

Current read: Doppelganger by David Stahler, Jr.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Writing Breakthroughs, Deadlines, and Catching Up

Ten pages are due tomorrow for Lauren's class. Ten.

And how many do I have completed? Less than half. But it's only 3-ish the day before deadline...

I had good intentions to be further along by now. Really, I did. But here's the thing. Monday was a holiday, which made putting in any good uninterrupted writing time next to impossible with both girls home. And I'm just too tired to write at night, so I don't even attempt working on creative in the evenings anymore. So, I thought, okay Tuesday I'll get started and still have a solid four days to revise my second chapter. But then E caught whatever cold everyone's passing around. And unfortunately, everyone else's 24-hour bug is a 36- or 48-hour one for E. So, you can probably guess how that turned out.

One good thing that came out of the beginning of the week: I made a major breakthrough on my KM manuscript. Finally. I've written and rewritten this novel so many times from so many points of view that I swear I could probably generate at least six books out of the various versions.

A clear path forward on whose story to tell, and, more importantly, how to quilt the pieces of his/her story together has eluded me until this week. I'm so happy to finally be in this place. Whenever people ask me how KM is coming along, I joke that I'm on the Tolkien 15-year plan of writing the fantasy novel. After making this week's breakthrough, I'm hopeful I'll have a completed manuscript in hand a lot sooner.

Other work I'm trying to catch up on (but feel woefully behind):

*crit group crits
*K's manuscript (which I've had forever)
*T's manuscript
*T's thesis
*follow-up letter re SCBWI Illinois PR plan

Current read: Adele Griffin's National Book Award Finalist, My Almost Epic Summer. Delightful.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mini Writer's Workshop: A New Way to Look at Emotional Throughlines

My favorite lesson learned to date in Lauren Barnholdt's Writing the YA class comes courtesy of one of my classmates. In a recent post, she recalled advice gleaned from a Romance Writers of America session not too long ago. In the workshop, the leader described a unique way of keeping track a main character's emotional throughline from beginning to end.

To ensure each thread is carried through an entire book, the MC should carry the equivalent of a literary suitcase from one scene to the next. Each decision, worry, reaction, etc., that comes as a result of a scene or chapter, should be packed away into that suitcase, never to leave the MC's side.

Seems to me that a story with a weave this tight would allow a careful reader to explore any chapter, and come away with insights into the MC's emotional journey.

Very intriguing way to look at this concept.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Teens Speak: Holden Caufield Out, Harry Potter In

According to Anita Silvey, editor of the Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators and author of the soon-to-be-released 500 Great Books for Teens (Houghton 2006), Holden Caufield's teen hero days are over.

In the most recent issue of School Library Journal, Silvey writes of "amazing shift in teens’ reading habits in the last five years."

According to Silvey:

1. Holden Caufield is out, and Harry Potter is in. Today's teens prefer fantasy, suspense and mystery to the problem novels made popular by J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.

2. Today's teens crave books that feature "characters thrown into extreme circumstances and exhibit amazing heroism" like Harry in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, or Eragon in Christopher Paolini's novel by the same name.

Silvey's findings affirm much of what I've observed about the reading preferences of my two teen daughters and their friends, but have been unable to quantify. Silvey also gives me hope that one day soon, more book award committees will give scifi/fantasy novels a nod.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Seventh Carnival of Children's Literature

I've been meaning to post this link for some time now. The Seventh Carnival of Children's literature has rolled into Wands and Worlds. Surf on over for a bountiful harvest of all things kid lit.

Feeling Writerly Today

Finalized and sent 10 pages recently to Lauren for the critique portion of her Writing the YA novel class. Next up final prep for my writing workshop tomorrow, including a handout for those in attendance so they don't need to worry about taking notes.

On the publishing front, some interesting news. Turns out the book I'm a part of-- Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Heartache, the Happiness and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child--is getting an even bigger buzz than the publisher anticipated. The news translates into a bigger initial press run, and wider distribution when the book's released next year. Very cool.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Hard Work of Writing and Other Necessities of Making It

Over the years, I've been fortunate to converse with some of my favorite authors about what makes or breaks a writer. One such dialogue occured with Vermont College faculty member Margaret Bechard during pursuit of my MFA in writing for children and young adults.

On the dark day in question, I sat in front of my computer in tears. My packet was due in less than a week. I was 10 pages short. And my muse was running me in circles. Then Margaret's email arrived.

"How are you doing?" she wrote. "Are you getting excited about next semester?"

The exchange went on from there, until we found ourselves on the subject of writing, specifically the hard work of writing day-in day-out, especially when life conspired. Feeling particularly gloomy that day (probably because E was home for something like the third week in a row), I shared an insight I'd had about the hard work of writing.

"This business," I wrote, "feels less about talent and more about persistence."

Her reply went something like this: "Writers need to know how to write, but in order to succeed they need something more: patience and persistence."

Margaret then shared a story about a writer she knew who was phenomenal at her craft, but for whatever reason never published. Reading Margaret's email between the lines, I could hear her regret that the writer's voice had never been heard publicly.

The story struck a chord with me, so much so that I've made connections between it and my own process ever since. Writing is hard work. Keeping it a priority is often more difficult than anything else I'm asked to do. So why do I stick with it? Certainly not for the money.

1. I write because if I didn't do so my characters wouldn't shut up.

2. I write for the high that comes from crafting a scene that sings.

3. I write for the rush I get after completing a piece, and knowing it feels right.

4. I write because doing so gives me insights into my own hopes and fears.

5. I write with the dream that someday one of my young readers will love my story so much they'll get yelled at for trying to read it at the dinner table.

Current read: Bras and Broomsticks by Sarah Mlynowski.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Happy Dance, Writing and Bread Dough

Woohoo. I'm doing the happy dance here in my little corner of cyberspace. Why? The essay I submitted for Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Heartache, the Happiness and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child was accepted. According to the editor, only 35 stories were chosen.

The book will be published by Wyatt-MacKenzie, and sold in bookstores such as Barnes and Noble. The release date is May 2007.

The proposed cover looks fantastic. I'll post it here as soon as it's finalized. And, how's this for the benefits of working with a small press? I should have an ARC in hand by Christmas.

Next in line: My ghost story. I really need to put this one to bed soon. If not, I'll have to put it aside for the month of October. Why? Lauren Barnholdt's online writing the YA novel class starts Sunday, which means I'll have little or no time left to work on other projects.

Don't get me wrong. Allowing a story to percolate has its benefits. Writing, like bread dough, almost always seems to benefit from being allowed to rest during the process.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Homework, Bras and Broomsticks

Next week I start my online YA novel class with author Lauren Barnholdt. Required reading includes: Gossip Girl #1 by Cecily Von Zeigesar (a book my 18 year old has reread so often it's dog eared), and Bras and Broomsticks by Sara Mlynowski.

Why take this class now?

1. Enrolling in a writing class has languished near the top of my 2006 Writer's Resolutions list since creating it New Year's Eve. Now that E's finally on the mend, the Jewel-at-School saga is behind us (knocks on wood), and the fourth quarter is nearly upon us, it's time I make it so.

2. I work best with built-in deadlines (especially the kind I've purchased).

3. Writing-for-children classes are plentiful. Advanced writing-the-YA-novel classes are rare, and almost always an impossible drive away given my hectic schedule.

4. The class comes highly recommended, and it's online (which means I can access it in my pjs if necessary.)

5. The class features a query letter clinic, the first I've ever seen in an advanced class of this caliber.

6. According to her website, Lauren sold three books in 2005, two of them in an unprecedented two-book deal to Simon and Schuster based on just three chapters and a synopsis. Add this point to the rest of the reasons, and the class is bound to be a winner.

Now, if just a pinch of Lauren's luck (and wisdom) rubs off...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Enter the Forest

The new issue of Edge of the Forest online children's literature monthly is now available on cyber newsstands.

The lead article features an interview with Rick Riordan author of the highly aclaimed Percy Jackson series, about his newest book, The Sea of Monsters.

Articles submitted this month by yours truly include:

1. "A Day in the Life" with children's book author Carmela Martino.

2. "What's in Their Backpack?" -- a look at what's hot with young adult readers in Cynthia Vaughn Grandberg's classroom in Grand Canyon High School, Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Current read: Bridal Jitters by Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle. Yes, I know. Not literary. Total escapism. Yet, this book has its pluses. Krentz is a master of tension and pacing. She writes in two points of view (which is fresh in this genre of bodice ripper.) Her concept of psychic archaeology is imaginative, and well conceived. And the ghost-hunting plot is fascinating.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

History in the Making: Free Online Writer's Conference

Be a part of history in the making. The Muse Online is offering what might very well be the first ever online writer's conference the week of October 9th.

Registration is free. Attendance is free. Topics appear to target all levels of writers. A large number of sessions look well worth the time to "attend." Some are in real time. Others will take place in cyberspace for a week with free downloads to any registered attendees. Opportunities include virtual meet and greets with acquiring editors.

The only downside I've found: So many of the sessions look great, I need a clone in order to attend them all.

See you there.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Arrr! Talk Like a Pirate Day Tomorrow

Avast, me hearties, sharpen your sabers and synchronize your sun dials. Tomorrow is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and since my ghost story-in-progress is about pirates and treasure, the day must be given it's proper due.

Most recent reads: Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins, Short & Shivery, Thirty Chilling Tales retold by Robert D. San Souci and Half Magic by Edward Eager, on loan from and highly recommended by fellow crit group member J. Thanks J for a great read!

Current read: Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich. Even with 20-plus copies in the library system, I've been on hold for this book for what feels like forever. Enjoying this newest Stephanie Plum adventure. I want to write like Evanovich when I grow up.

On deck: Archer's Quest by Linda Sue Park, Silly Sausage and the Spooks by Micheala Morgan, and Mercy Watson Fights Crime by Kate DiCamillo.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wandering Monsters, Migraines of Unusual Size, Vampires and Pizza

Okay, so, according to the neurologist, the wandering monster that dragged L into the Twilight Zone without warning was a migraine. And not just a classic migraine, mind you. In the spirit of all my girls, whose die rolls seem to win them the rarest types of nasties, L's migraine type is one of the rarest versions: a migraine of unusual size (M.O.U.S.), also known as BAM. No cure with this type--or any type of migraines for that matter. If you get them, you get them for life. Welcome to the club, sweet daughter o' mine.

On an up note, L's likely to grow out of her M.O.U.S.'. On a not-so-up note, she'll likely grow out of them into the more classic version yours truly suffers from--the head-banging, kill-me-now, light-sensitive kind.

Learning you're not invincible isn't the best news to hear at such a tender age, but she's dealing. In fact, P says L's so motivated to put this unscheduled trip to the Twilight Zone behind her, she turned down his offer to take her shopping for snacks and other dorm essentials in order to make her Thursday night date with friends for pizza and volleyball.

That's my girl. Stake that vampire and go get pizza.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Twilight Zone Update and Escapist Reads

FWIW, last night's MRI ruled out brain tumor and stroke. Tomorrow L meets with a neurologist. Because of schedules and proximity during the day, P will accompany L. Best guess at this point on what's causing the extreme dizziness, tunnel vision and head pain: migraines. I'll go there. Migraines are treatable. Brain tumors, not so much.

Finding my first-time read of Mates, Dates, and Inflatable Bras by Cathy Hopkins a diverting jaunt.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Trapped in the Twilight Zone--Again

We'd begun to coast. The Jewel-at-School Saga was behind us. E and S were settling into school. L, my oldest, seemed to have survived the move out of state to begin her studies at university. Even my writing was breaking loose, basking in the freedom and inspiration that comes from entire days of uninterrupted writing time.

All was well. Until L's dizzy spells started.

When they first appeared this summer, L attributed them to dehydration. Made sense. After all, working the weekend in full Renaissance garb can do that to you.

What we didn't learn until this past weekend (when L sent an email to P's Blackberry at o'dark thirty) is that the spells had progressed. They were happening every few hours or so, she wrote, and the dizziness was extreme, followed by headaches.

A Sunday visit to a urgent care labeled L's events as migraines and sent her home with orders to see a GP or neurologist in 7 to 10 days, or sooner if the symptoms got worse. A second opinion visit to the university health center this afternoon at our insistence painted a grimmer picture, and the need to rule out serious possibilities.

L is scheduled for a CAT scan and MRI early this evening. P's headed up to be with L while I stay here, keeping the girl's lives as routine as possible.

Pray for us.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Waiting Game, Ghost Stories, and Going to the Edge

Whew! Made deadline with my essay last week for Women Writers on the Heartache, the Happiness and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child. Many thanks to my crit group members who gently but firmly ordered me to dig deeper with each draft. The result, I hope, is a raw and heartfelt window into my emotional journey raising E. Now, the waiting game begins.

To help me from stalking my mail carrier in coming weeks, the following projects are on deck:

1. Two articles for the next issue of Edge of the Forest online children's literature monthly.

2. Continued revisions to my ghost story.

3. Follow-up on the viability of a nonfiction project I've dubbed Paul.

4. Finalization and submission of a short article to Once Upon a Time.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Writer-ly To-Dos and Catching Up

With the Jewel-at-School saga finally resolved, and my girls back at school full-time, much of the week has been spent catching up on all the writerly to-dos I abandoned while advocating for E.

So far this week:

1. I've written at least six drafts of an essay due Friday for an anthology called "Special Gifts: Women Writers on the Heartache, the Happiness and the Hope of Raising a Special Needs Child."

2. I signed up for Lauren Barnholdt's popular online writing YA class blogged about by Cynthia Leitich Smith here.

3. I attended Crit Group today. Last week I was forced to miss our meeting because of the Jewel-at-School saga. So grateful everyone agreed to meet again. Why? The feedback's informed, the company of other writers does my muse good, and by articulating what works and what raises questions in other people's work, I find I inform my own.

4. Started and finished Melissa De La Cruz's new YA novel, Blue Bloods. A fun read for anyone who loves vampires.

On deck:
1. Edge of the Forest contributions for September.

2. My ghost story--Yes, M, it's coming.

3. My next read: California Demon, the Secret Life of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kemmer

Friday, August 25, 2006

Sixth Carnival of Children's Literature

Looking for inspiration, reviews, and more about all things kid lit? Surf on over to the Sixth Carnival of Children's Literature.

Don't Miss This Month's Edge of the Forest

The new Forest has appeared. For insights into children's literature, reviews of the latest children's books, an interview with Newbery winner Linda Sue Park, and more, explore the latest issue of Edge of the Forest here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Jewel at School Update

Hi all. I apologize for not posting an update sooner. Between the Jewel-at-School situation, last-minute school supply shopping, and my oldest daughter's departure for college yesterday, life's been more than a bit crazed. I'll begin where I last left off:

The slingshot handed us late Thursday afternoon worked much better than expected. By Friday afternoon, the school offered to meet with us before classes started to discuss our "misunderstanding," and finish up last-minute preps before Jewel arrived.

Jewel's trainer, Jack, P, Jewel, E and I attended the Monday meeting. We learned A, B and C were no longer required before Jewel was allowed at school. We held a mock fire drill to see how Jewel would do when an alarm sounded. To say the alarm was loud would be an understatement. Didn't seem to bother Jewel. She nudged her nose against E, tilted her head from side to side, and stared at us staring at her, almost as if she wondered what everyone found so interesting.

Tuesday was the official first day of school. E, Jewel, S and I navigated the crowded sidewalk to S's 5th grade door, escorted S to her classroom then wound our way through the halls to E's class where we met up with Jack. After the teacher took attendance, Jack introduced Jewel. E's classmates asked lots of great questions, and seemed to relish having the scoop on Jewel before anyone else.

Later that morning, the entire middle school gathered for an assembly to hear about Jewel and meet the new teachers and principal. Jack's presentation was excellent. He talked about service dogs, and involved the audience in a discussion about how dogs can and do help individuals with disabilities. In addition, he talked about how Jewel helps E, and how her classmates can help keep Jewel on task.

After Jack took the last question, and the gym erupted with cheers, the principal said a few words then donned her teacher hat.

Ok, everyone, she said. Let's see what you learned. Can you touch Jewel?

No, hundreds of voices said at once.

Can you feed Jewel?


Who's in charge of Jewel?


Meanwhile, E was grinning ear to ear, and Jewel just laid at her feet, seemingly unconcerned with all the fanfare.

P did dog duty at the school yesterday while I moved my oldest to school. Again, Jewel did extremely well.

So far so good.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Slingshots and Ghosts

In an earlier post I made reference to how much of a David I felt in this David vs. Goliath situation. Turns out, in the space of just a few harried days filled with lots of angst and phone calls, the world's looking a lot brighter.

Why? Late yesterday, someone handed us a big slingshot, and offered to show us how to use it.

On the writing front, the Jewel-at-School issue has taken up so much of my energy lately, I've had precious little uninterrupted time to work on my ghost story. Luckily, the deadline's been extended. Also helps that after an exhausting string of phone calls yesterday, I had a breakthrough on a project that's been stalled for quite some time. Very exciting.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Writing? What's That?

If I billed someone for the time I've spent so far this week on phone calls, consults, web research, and record-keeping re the Jewel-at-School issue, I'd be able to buy dozens of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market guides and then some.

Ever so grateful for the Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen as I contemplate the continuing inanities of this situation.

School starts Tuesday. Time left until Jewel and E arrive (and the fun begins): T-minus seven days and counting.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Morning Pages, Blowing Off Steam, and Allies

Morning Pages have been filled lately with mutterings about Jewel and E and what may come the first day of school, along with an odd mix of excitement and loss as I anticipate my oldest daughter's departure for college next week. A theme emerging out of my most recent writings re Jewel and school: I'm feeling very much a David versus a Goliath.

Current read: M.T. Anderson's The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. Quirky, quick, pure, laugh-out-loud Tobin. A perfect foil to the inanity of current events.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Jewel at School? The Saga Begins

Just when we thought E's school had become comfortable with the idea of a service dog at school, we learned via email late last week that the dog will be refused admittance unless A, B, and C are in the administration's hands beforehand.

The email was sent last Thursday. The first day of school is next Tuesday. Interesting timing.

You know that space between a rock and a hard place? I refuse to enter it.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Adventures in Camping, Part II

Nothing like a camping trip to restore the muse, and remind you of the pros and cons of the activity. For example, when you're camping:

1. Sleeping late is not an option. A tent (and a pop-up) becomes a sauna once the sun clears the trees, especially in Illinois in August.

2. No matter how much bug spray you apply, mosquitoes will find the one spot you couldn't reach, and feast on it all night.

3. Two retrievers in a camper is doable, unless they're wet from a day at the beach, or one--like Kate DiCamillo's Winn Dixie--has a pathological fear of thunderstorms.

4. You're reminded that stars do still shine in the night sky. Other than the North star, Big Dipper, and Orion's belt, we rarely see the stars anymore from our Chicago suburb in the Midwest. The night sky from our campsite was another matter. Shooting stars lit the sky each night we camped, their tails trailing behind them like shimmering ribbons. And we saw so many satellites crossing this way and that I seriously wonder how they manage not to collide on any given night.

5. Rain in a pop-up is a lot less soggy than a tent.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Adventures in Camping, Part 1

We didn't end up leaving home for our camping trip until mid afternoon last Wednesday. Packing took way too much time thanks to last-minute items we'd somehow left off our master list. Forgotten items included essentials like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, sleeping bags, dog food, etc.

Since our oldest, L, works at the Renaissance Faire during the weekend, we drove two cars up to the campground so she could leave Friday evening to meet up with a girlfriend. I rode with L, chatting with her about college (which begins on the 23rd), her pirate boyfriend, and her adventures as a Maid of Honor at the Faire.

The excitement began along the I-88 somewhere west of Dekalb after we drove into a line of thunderstorms. The wipers had trouble keeping up with the rain, but other than that it was no big deal--until L spotted a dark, low-hanging cloud drifting off to our right.

"Check that out," L said, her voice low and almost reverent.

The cloud lowered, forming an anvil shape. "Is that a tornado?" L asked.

The music from Twister began playing in my head. A few mile markers later, the anvil dropped out of the sky, lengthening like a bit of rope.

"My gosh," L said. "I think it is a tornado."

"Maybe we should get off this road," I said, paraphrasing a line from Twister. Unfortunately we were surrounded by cornfields and miles from the next exit.

By the time I decided maybe we should pull over and dive for cover, the rope lost form, the remaining tendrils floating off in different directions.

"Cool," L said with a smile in her voice, "I've always wanted to see one of those up close."

By now the sun was breaking through, and I realized I'd been holding my breath. I loosened my grip on the steering wheel, took a deep breath, let it out, and smiled.

One thing was certain. If I had any doubt my image banks would lack for filling up, they left me then and there. Here's to camping weekends and storm-chasing maids of honor to show a writer-mom a good time.

Current read: Gothic, Ten Original Dark Tales edited by Deborah Noyes

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

My Place of Power, II

Another view from Sooke:

Road Trip Reads

Books on tape the girls picked out for our camping trip:

1. Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux (We read when it first came out, but the girl's loved it so well, they jumped at the chance to hear it again.)

2. Eleanor Estes' Ginger Pye (a new read for everyone).

3. Laura Ingall's Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. (Another favorite.)

A book I'm this close to finishing (hopefully, tonight after settling down at my mom's, I'll get a chance to finish it):
Absolutely, Positively Not a first novel by David Larochelle about a high schooler Steven who declares he's absolutely, positively not gay, although signs indicate otherwise. Sensitive subject, handled with humor and grace.

Laugh-out-loud book my youngest girls are working their way through:
Babymouse Queen of the World by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Actually a graphic novel, this book is ideal for both girls who struggle with reading. It's tiny, pink, funny, and friendly to reluctant readers.

Camping Today

Well, this is it. We're leaving today come heck or high water, and judging by the weather report it'll be both. Today marks the seventh day in a row with temps nearing 100 degrees. Add to this the fact that we're expecting a front to move in--a violent one that's spawned multiple tornados in its wake. Yee-hah.

Shouldn't be surprised. P and I have been rained on so often while camping we call this phenomenon the (insert our last name) rain effect.

Bring it on. The rain's bringing MUCH cooler weather (20 degrees difference), and the fact is we won't popping up the camper until well after the front goes through. Tonight we plan to "camp" at my mom's place which just happens to be a few blocks away from the state park where we're headed.

On the to-do list for today (which means we're still hours away from leaving, which means we'll probably be driving through the front, which means our trip should be really exciting, but we're still going, darn it):

* check the wheel bearings on the camper to be sure we won't have to abandon it on the side of the road (P's putting down the camper as I post so he can take it to be checked)
*load firewood (the idea of a fire right now in 100 degree heat is unappealing at best, but the front is rumored to be coming through later on today, and what's camping without a kick-butt fire?)
*pack the food/coolers
*stop the mail and paper, put lights on timers, buy last-minute groceries, pack for myself
*there's more to do
*I guess we're a bit out of practice
*No, scratch that...I know we're out of practice
*there's a message in here somewhere for a writer, isn't there?
*the closer you stay to an activity--say, like camping, or writing--the easier it is to begin again without reinventing the systems needed to do it well.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ghost Stories, Beginnings, and Memorable First Lines

While writing my ghost story, I've been reading ghost and fantasy short stories for inspiration, and examples of what works and what doesn't in the genres.

Beginnings seem key to a story's success, particularly opening lines so powerful and/or intriguing they speak volumes about the story to come without the need to piggyback on the promise of a book's title to give them clarity.

Some first lines that made me want to read more:

1. "I, Earthling" from Bruce Coville's short story collection Odder Than Ever:

It's not easy being the only kid in your class who doesn't have six arms and an extra eye in the middle of your forehead.

2. "Stealing Dreams" by Ruth O'Neill, from the short story collection A Glory of Unicorns:

When Michael Evans was a baby, his parents covered his room in magic wallpaper.

3. "Harlyn's Fairy" by Jane Yolen, from the short story collection A Wizard's Dozen.

Harlyn had not expected to see a fairy that day in the garden.

edited to add:

Note to self: how memorable/effective are my first lines?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

My Place of Power

Every writer needs a place of power. Mine, for now, seems to be located in Sooke. Whenever I need a centering place, my muse returns and remembers the Hobbit house where we slept, the horses, the hummingbirds, the gardens, the woods, the babbling brook, the stag cresting the rise at dusk, the bonfire, the stars winking in the night sky like crystals on black velvet, C's Grandma's fabulous Welsh cakes, the red barn, and the company of writers.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why I Write Now, Revisited

Writers come to their craft for many reasons. I write for my children--who they are, who they were, and who they're becoming. Here's a picture of my oldest, reprising her role as Bridget Manners, Maid of Honor to Queen Elizabeth I, as she dances with Sir Walter Raleigh at the Renaissance Faire recently. Oh, to be 18 again.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why the Mouse, a Camper, and Coming Full Circle is Good for the Muse

A lifetime ago, our family drove to Disney World to see the mouse for the first time. We bought a pop-up camper for the trip, with plans to camp there and back again.

Afterward, we parked the pop-up beneath the red maple next to our detached garage, congratulating ourselves on the fact that we had stretched our budget, and ended up with a nifty way to indulge our family's love of camping in years to come.

The camper's remained there ever since. Not because we haven't wanted to use it, but because E's recovery and illnesses since her 2001 aneurysm has kept our family in what feels like perpetual bunker mentality.

Over the years, P's suggested selling the camper. The first time he floated the idea, I was a full-time Vermont College student, bemoaning the bills, specifically the high cost of grad school as I inspected a VC invoice.

"You know," he said, gazing at me over a steaming mug of tea one Saturday morning, "the camper would pay for a semester of school and then some."

My stomach fluttered. My heart thumped wildly. Sell the camper, I thought. No. We can't. I won't. Selling it would mean...would mean...I shook my head, clenched the bill tight. I didn't know what it meant. But this much I knew. Selling the camper felt wrong somehow, almost as if doing so would mean selling a piece of my self.

P never pushed the idea, but his suggestion niggled at me over the years. One spring, after doing taxes and realizing what a big chunk E's meds and medical care take from our income each year, I actually wrote copy for a classified ad.

Thankfully, I never submitted it. We dusted off the pop-up this weekend with plans to go camping next week.

Appetite for writing: ravenous.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Writerly Update (or How I Fed my Muse While DSL was Out)

Aaack! I apologize for not posting sooner. My DSL's been down. Writerly things I've been doing while unable to post:

1. Met with critique group Thursday for a marathon meeting. Learned I'm headed in the right direction with my ghost story. Key elements to work on: deciding for certain my characters ages so that their voices stay consistent within each scene, and more importantly, finishing the story in time for the proposed anthology.

2. Went blueberry picking with my two youngest girls Friday. Honestly, I consider this activity a writerly thing to do because it endulged my need for a weekly artist date ala Julia Cameron.

Here's why the day was so awesome: I've picked blueberries while camping, but finding a berry here, berry there, doesn't compare to picking blueberries at Tammen Treeberry Farm.

Imagine rows of eight-foot tall blueberry bushes stretching out for as far as the eye can see. Listen to buckets clanking as families, friends, and couples crowd onto hay racks for the bumpy ride into the field. Behold berries so ripe an entire handful drops into your hand after you brush the ripe underbellies with your fingertips. Eat the entire handful then reach for one more and one more and one more. Return with a bucketfull of berries, many the size of your thumb, all for just over a dollar a pound. Imagine all this and more and perhaps you'll understand why this outing filled my image banks to overflowing.

An aside: E loves berries. A friend told her about the blueberry patch the summer before her anuerysm rupture in 2001. She's begged me to go ever since. Unfortunately, she's never been well enough. Felt good to walk the fields. Almost as if we'd finally come full circle.

3. In keeping with a tradition that dates back many years (since high school for me), our family attended the Renaissance Faire in costume on Saturday. This activity indulged my muse as much as it did my family.

S dressed as Tinkerbell so she could frolick with the fairies. E dressed as a gypsy, complete with tambourine. Jewel dressed as a jester. P and I dressed as pirates in keeping with the faire's nautical theme.

For snacks, we carried pouches filled with homemade beef jerky, gorp (our version of trail mix), and grapes. We tied mugs to our belts, refilling them with water to keep hydrated throughout the day. (A must when wearing layers of skirts in 80 degrees-plus weather.)

In between shows featuring harpists, hammered dulcimer players, mud show beggars, acrobats, fighting swordsmen, and more, we remained on the lookout for Queen Elizabeth. A queen sighting meant our oldest daughter L wouldn't be far behind. L's a member of the cast this summer. She portrays Bridget Manners, an actual person from history, one of Queen Elizabeth's most beloved Maids of Honor.

How'd a trip to the faire endulge my muse? Pirates. Women in finery. Men in tights carrying swords and strutting about. Add a children's fantasy writer into a realm like this, and, well, need I say more?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Company of Writers

Writers. Bring them together for an SCBWI meeting, critique group, retreat, even a movie, and magic happens.

* No need to explain why you'd rather lounge with a glass of wine rather than be the life of a party.

* No need to worry about cracking writerly related jokes that no one else gets.

* No need to justify your obsession for daily alone time, or the crankiness that ensues if you don't get it.

* No need to hide the fact that your ideal night on the town includes a couple of hours at a bookstore.

These thoughts and more have been foremost in my mind as I anticipate tomorrow's critique group meeting with J and A. Haven't seen them face to face since school let out. Why? C's Fabulous First Annual Sooke Writer's Retreat and E's summer school schedule haven't allowed it.

So looking forward to the company of writers.

Cool writerly quote:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss it, you will land among the stars. Les Brown

Monday, July 17, 2006

Moving Meditations and Morning Pages

I've entered a new rhythm with Morning Pages. The journaling isn't pretty. But it isn't meant to be. Rambling is encouraged, wandering a must. I needn't even be able to read my scribbles afterward (which is usually the case once I get going.) The exercise is meant for dumping--lists, fears, to-dos, desires, plans, whatever.

The practice has become a powerful moving meditation, one that clears the clutter in my head so that I can more fully enter my story when time comes to sit butt in chair and begin the hard work of writing.

Late Friday afternoon, my inner critic questioned why I hadn't tried Morning Pages sooner. After all, it groused, had I paid attention to the idea when I first learned of it way back when, the practice could have saved me a lot of time and aggravation, especially while pursuing my Vermont College degree. Good question. None of my answers made sense until Saturday morning's yoga class. As Janet led us through sun salutations, she reminded us--as she often does--not to compare ourselves to others, not to be judgemental about what our bodies can and can't do that day. In yoga and in life, she said, "honor where you are."

At that moment, I realized worrying about morning pages, and what might have been or should have been doesn't honor my process.

Where I am now is right for me.

Current read: Brilliance of the Moon, book three of the Tales of the Otori by Lian Hearn.

Quote for the day: Travelers, there is no path, paths are made by walking. Antonio Machado

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Quotes to Live By

Waiting for inspiration? The following quotes suggest that perhaps the waiting isn't as important as the journey itself.

I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work. Pearl Buck

Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inpiration. Igor Stravinsky

Work and play are the same. When you're following your energy and doing what you want all the time, the distinction between work and play dissolves. Shakti Gawain

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Morning Pages

Some of you may recall that a couple weeks ago, I allowed my muse to steer my car to a subdivision garage sale instead of returning home to write after a morning of errands.

Down the first street, I found myself parked outside an unlikely house...unlikely because the driveway was cluttered with toddler toys and Little Tykes furniture--items P and I have vowed we're done with. Brimming with a sense of play after C's Fabulous First Annual Sooke Writer's Retreat, I indulged my muse by taking a look. Inside the garage, buried beneath a pile of cookbooks, I discovered a used copy of Julia Cameron's book The Vein of Gold, A Journey to Your Creative Heart.

The first chapter alone is worth the two dollars I spent. In it, Cameron introduces the first tool in her "prescription for artful living."

Morning Pages.

Writing three single-spaced 8 1/2 x 11 pages each morning, Cameron says, will "center you, steady you, empower you, enlighten you(,...) comfort you, console you, stimulate you, intrigue you, challenge, irritate, and activate you." This promise alone was enough to convince me to try the daily exercise, but Cameron doesn't stop there.

She devotes an entire chapter to the practice. After listing more benefits, she offers what, for me, was the most compelling reason to include Morning Pages as part of a daily writing routine:

"Practiced over time," Cameron says, "Morning Pages become a reliable bridge to the Universe itself. Through them you will encounter the workings of your spirituality, the great Creator within, with all its grace, wisdom, and power."

I wrote my first three pages this morning.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Dog-Day Afternoons, Revisions, and Second Drafts

Working with a service dog means federal law allows you entrance into any public place. The problem is some of those public places are eaiser to navigate than others, and not all the people working them are aware of the law.

One of the best ways to handle these situations is to learn by doing. This is the main reason why Jack is hosting a summer group at the Hanson Center for teens and their service dogs. We meet today for the first time. In addition to socializing, the girls will plan outings for the rest of the summer. Jack wants one of the trips to be to the mall. E's psyched.

Appetite for Writing: Hungry.

On today's creative to-do list: Making final changes to a proposed article for Once Upon a Time, a highly specialized magazine for children's writers and illustrators and those interested in children's literature. In addition, I'll be finishing up the second draft of the ghost story I'm working on for the anthology from Children's Brains Are Yummy. Working on this particular short story has been a hoot, and, given the short bursts of uninterrupted time available to me these days, very satisfying.

Current read: If We Kiss by Rachel Vail.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Escape the Slush Pile--Read, Read, Read

Over the years, the most common advice I've heard editors and authors give aspiring writers about how to get published is to read, read, read. I didn't fully appreciate the notion until I began the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children program.

Reading? I remember thinking as I reviewed the requirements for the degree. They want to give me a degree for writing and reading? Cool.

Didn't take me long to realize why reading is crucial to any writer's success. Reading trains our inner editor. With each book, we deepen our understanding of plot and character, and internalize the poetry of prose and the rhythm of story. In this way, our writer's heart learns how to listen with an editor's ear.

There's an upside and a downside to reading books this way. The downside is that once you've trained your editor's ear, reading for pleasure without analyzing what's working--or not--is damn near impossible. The upside is anything you read will inform your writing, and increase your chances of escaping the slush pile.

With this principle in mind, I pledged to keep an ongoing reading log after graduation. My total since last July: 65 books, mostly novels.

Not bad considering the year we've had, and that fact that I read after the girls go to bed, which means a book had better be good in order to compete with Monk, Lost, Buffy reruns, or the urge to crawl under the covers.

My reading goal for next year: to increase my total by at least half, and to keep better notes about each book.

Friday, July 07, 2006

What Gardening Taught Me About Writing

Weeds. Give them a spot of rain and they'll take over a garden if we let them. That's why I found myself on hands and knees recently, weeding, pruning, and watering the garden I planted this spring.

My garden isn't big, but size truly doesn't matter in this case. What matters is that my garden is the first plot of land I've had the time, energy and desire to tend since E's aneurysm rupture in July 2001.

Notable, too, is that fact that amidst the chaos of balancing work and family, I've managed to create a crazy quilt of living color--lavendar, columbine, fire-witch, black-eyed susans, peonies, roses, and more--outside my kitchen door.

And make a connection between gardening and writing.

Think about it. Weeding. Pruning. Trimming. Exchanging one plant for another in order to achieve the right balance of color. The hard work of gardening isn't in the planting, but in the daily work required for the plot to take shape.

Sounds very much like the hard work of revising creative, doesn't it?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Haiku for the Day

I love haikus, and admire anyone who can write them well. Thanks to bravebethany for blogging about this link brought to her attention by fellow Vermont College grad A.

Short-term Writing Goals and Checking In

Yikes. No posts for a week? Here's why:

Returned from C's Fabulous First Annual Sooke Writer's Retreat a week ago Monday evening with barely enough time to unpack, do laundry, pay late bills, make notes for my ghost story in progress, and repack for a family trip to Milwaukee for the Little People of America National Conference.

Why LPA? Our middle daughter E is a primordial dwarf. Less than 30 of these individuals are known to exist world-wide.

Individuals with this form of dwarfism are very small for their age, and proportionate (unlike anchodroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, in which the individuals sport shortened limbs on an average-sized torso). When we adopted E from Korea at 21 months, she was 24 inches tall and 11 pounds with her clothes wet. Check this link here for more info on primordial dwarfism.

The National LPA Conference is a week-long annual event. Nearly 1,500 little people attend. The event is both social and educational. Dances are held nightly. Physicians offer medical workshops and evaluations. Parents come together for support and networking. E was thrilled to have the opportunity to reconnect with so many of her friends--and to ogle the boys. Despite an illness that hit Sunday evening with a high fever and cough, E muscled her way through the rest of our stay with the same strength that saw her through her two neurosurgeries.

The highlight of the conference: E would tell you she loved showing off her service dog Jewel, attending the nightly dances and wearing her glitter pants. E's younger sister S would tell you the best part was the indoor water park. I appreciated seeing so many thriving primordials, reconnecting with their parents, and exchanging ideas about how best we can help our kids succeed in an average-sized world.

On tap for today: Working on my ghost story and shepherding E through her convalescence. Turns out she has a throat thing--probably strep. The quick-care doc started her on antibiotics yesterday. Here's to better living through chemistry, and the hope that the fever breaks soon. Yee-hah.

Current read: The Kingfisher Treasury of Ghost Stories chosen by Kenneth Ireland.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Garages Sales, God Incidences, Buried Treasure, and Julia Cameron

I love garage sales. Not only are they a great way to recycle and reuse, they're a good buy for the money (especially from a kid point of view when every quarter counts), and for treasure hunters like me, you never know what you're supposed to find.

Take today, for example. After running to the post office during my lunch break, I drove past a sign for a subdivision sale. Normally, I would have ignored the impulse to take a look in order to finish up my errands, and get back to my writing. However, since I'd just returned from C's fabulous Sooke Writer's Retreat where the mantra was to honor your creative heart, and be open to its needs, I indulged my muse, curious where she would lead me.

I drove by all of the garages. Except one.

Remembering the house now, I can't particularly say what attracted me to it. Baby and toddler toys lined the driveway. A set of TV trays and old lamps stood nearby. We're way done with babies, and we've plenty of lights to read by. So, why was I here anyway?

I should have left. I nearly did. Until something at the back of the garage caught my eye.

Books. A whole table of them.

I searched through the piles. Thrillers. Kids summer readers. Teacher aides. Cookbooks. Nothing to get excited about. Except...what's this? Under an outdated children's reader, I discovered a pristine copy of Julia Cameron's The Vein of Gold, A Journey to Your Creative Heart.

Goosebumps moment. Especially since one of the main goals of C's Retreat was learning how to access our creative selves through play. I took up the book, losing the urge to comb the rest of the neighborhood for any other treasures.

Many of my friends believe there are no coincidences, only God incidences. I'm convinced this is one of those moments.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Enter the Forest

The June/July issue of Edge of the Forest has appeared on cyber newsstands. Surf on by for kid lit reviews, A Day in the Life with Leda Schubert, interview with Esme Codell of PlanetEsme about what's hot with young readers this summer, and more.

There and Back Again

The return home from C's fabulous first annual Sooke Writer's Retreat on Vancouver Island in British Columbia began Sunday with an early morning drive into Sidney in time to clear customs and catch the first sailing of the Washington Ferry.

No whale or porpoise sitings during the two-and-a-half-hour ride through the San Juan Islands. However, we did spot seals bobbing in the water both ways.

After docking in Anacortes, Washington (and making an "emergency" stop for lattes), we drove two hours nonstop to Seattle's awesome All For Kids Bookstore in time to make fox ears, and hear author and Vermont College faculty member Laura McGee Kvasnosky read from her delightful new book Zelda and Ivy, the Runaways. J met up with one of her college roommates after the reading. M, K and I hugged J good-bye, before ending the day with fish and chips along the waterfront.

Seattle was unusually clear and warm Sunday. Couples and families strolled the walking paths along the harbor. Mount Rainier loomed in the distance, its steep snow-covered slopes blazing in the afternoon light. After dinner, M and I drove K to the airport where we learned her flight had been delayed. Since K was officially a year older based on New York time, we combed the main drag near the airport for a Dairy Queen (K's first choice for a birthday treat), ending up at a Denny's instead. There, a very tired waiter good naturedly allowed M and K to give him specific directions on how he should build the banana split the two of them shared (chocolate sauce on chocolate, strawberry on strawberry, nothing on the vanilla, whipped cream and nuts on everything).

Once K was safely delivered to the airport, M and I headed north to M's for the night. By the time we unloaded the car and crawled under the covers, it was past 1 a.m.

Aside from the fact that I almost missed my connecting flight yesterday because I'd failed to account for a time-zone change, the last leg of my journey was less eventful. Sudoku and Short & Shivery ghost stories retold by Robert D. San Souci kept me busy on both flights. No luggage lost. Best of all, my girls met me at the airport.

On tap for the rest of the day: unpacking, laundry, organizing of notes from the week, more reading and analysis of ghost stories in preparation for writing one of my own for an anthology, and finalizing the work plan I drafted while in BC.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Retreat Report

One goal of mine while here at C's is to return home with a work plan like the one developed during residency at Vermont College. So far so good. Thanks to late night talks and afternoon creative exercises, I've started a reading list, begun a list of potential projects, and kept notes so I can detail how I'll go about pursuing each project. I've even begun to rank my work projects so I know which ones to pursue first.

So far the week's been true to C's promise of play. We've colored with crayons. We've made sand castles at the beach. We've gone rock hunting. We've hiked along streams, and through virgins stands of pine forests, and loped through open fields ripe with wildflowers.

Vancouver Island is so wild and beautiful, filled with moss-covered boulders, virgin pine forests, and clear mountain streams. A couple of nights ago while walking back to the H's house from the red barn (where the retreat's being held), we startled a deer. It must have been grazing right next to the trail, but this place is so dark (read no street lights for miles) we didn't see the buck until we were upon it. As soon as we neared, it bounded off into the woods, a black crashing shape. Silent, heart pounding I clamped onto the nearest arm, and rushed to the H's front door.

To give you an idea of how untamed this place is we've been asked to hike with at least one partner and to take along a walking stick for protection. Fresh bear scat was found near the stream on Monday. And the neighbors sighted a cougar the day before we arrived.