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 Under an outdated children's reader, I discovered a pristine copy of Julia Cameron's The Vein of Gold, A Journey to Your Creative Heart.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.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Vancouver Island Bound

Greetings from Seattle. Took two flights, a layover and 300 plus pages of The Book Thief (which I finished), but I arrived safely Saturday night. Did the requisite tour of Seattle yesterday before meeting K and J at the airport. We walked the downtown, toured Pier 52 and the famous fish market, ate seafood marinara at a place called the Crab Pot, strolled by the original Starbucks, drove past the houseboats and the Space Needle, and last, but not least, visited Seattle's largest independent bookstore, The Elliott Bay Book Company. What a glorious place! Located in Seattle's famous Pioneer Square, the bookstore boasts 150,000 new and used titles. Books, books everywhere. My kind of heaven.

Today, M drives K, J and I to the ferry where we'll travel north along the sound to Vancouver Island. C's to meet us in Sidney, just outside of Victoria, after the three-hour ride. From there, she'll drive us to her parent's place where we'll await the arrival of other former classmates. Then the fun begins. I'm unsure how connected I'll be on the island but will try to check in as the retreat progresses.

Friday, June 16, 2006

I Need a Clone: Writerly To-Do List and Retreat Prep

Aaack! My to-do list includes so many Post-Its I need a list for all my lists.

Here are just a few of the tasks I must check off before leaving Saturday for the first leg of my journey to C's First Annual Vancouver Island Writer's Retreat:

1. Put out signs and sandwich boards for this weekend's church resale. Price and sort last-minute donations. Bake cake this am with a handful of other volunteers for the church's chicken ala king dinner this weekend. (This Canal Days tradition benefits church missions).

2. Finalize and submit critique group crits. (Judging by the growing length of my to-do list, I might end up doing these on the plane.)

3. Proof my Edge of the Forest articles before the June/July issue hits the cyber newsstands.

4. Decide on retreat workshop piece, make appropriate number of copies, and select potential projects to work on during the week.

5. Back-up my PC before traveling with it.

6. Print out boarding pass for the flight to Seattle where I'll spend the weekend with M, K and J before taking the ferry to Vancouver Island on Monday.

7. Pack enough clothes for nine days, raincoat and umbrella for the three-hour ferry ride, camera for whale sightings along the way, birth certificate for traveling across the border, notebooks and voice recorder for journaling and brainstorming, backpack for day hikes, pleasure books (including my current read, The Book Thief) and craft books (including Natalie Goldberg's The Essential Writer's Notebook and Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens.)

8. Create a detailed schedule for P so he knows where each of the girls needs to be while I'm away.

Jewel Report: Good News

Tuesday's walk-through of the school with Jewel and E went much better than expected. Instead of another barrage of questions about Jewel's potential to disrupt others, and appropriateness at school, discussion centered around how Jewel will be integrated into every aspect of E's school day.

Encouraging turn around, and such a relief. Gives me hope that the needs of the few (so often devalued by the majority) will be protected in this case, after all.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

E earns an A+

E, Jewel and I visited the lead neurosurgeon today for a follow-up to E's post-operative visit the end of February. Bottom line: E's doing so well after her aneurysm surgery that Dr. B gave her an A+, and cleared her for normal activities. Woo-hoo!

Edited to add: I forgot to mention Dr. B's other good news. She doesn't have to see E for another follow-up until this time next year. (Doing the happy dance.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Kat's Eye Writing Warm-Up

Looking for a creative way to exercise your gray matter before butt-in-chair time? Consider the following:

Select one of the items listed below (by the way, I discovered them all during last night's church rummage sale set-up):

1. Cast-iron stove, the perfect size for a doll house.

2. Area 51 sign, complete with warning that deadly force has been authorized for use against trespassers.

3. Off-white antique soup tureen and matching ladle, hand-painted with wildflowers.

4. Old white porch swing, rusty chains included.

After choosing your item, write its story for 10 uninterrupted minutes. Set a timer if you have to. Do not lift pen from paper or fingers from keyboard for the duration of the exercise. (Doing so will encourage your inner editor to second-guess what you've written. )

If you're stuck on how to begin, start the exercise with the sentence: "I remember when..." then insert the item in the opening sentence. If you're looking for a further challenge, write an additional 10 minutes, this time telling the item's story from your MC's perspective. (Even if your MC would never interact with the item on the actual stage of your story, you might be surprised by what you learn by placing it next to him or her during the exercise. I know I was.)

Why 10 minutes? In yoga class, J allows us at least that long to shed ourselves of the outside world before moving into the more rigorous asanas. Each breath, each movement during those beginning minutes brings us deeper inside ourselves, until our cares drop away, and all that matters is entering the pose to the best of our ability, and becoming one with it.

The focus I find during yoga feels very similar to the focus I achieve on good days with my story. Through experience, I've learned that by allowing myself a warm-up, I can ease into the flow of a piece more readily, my inner critic loses its power, and all that matters is the story.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Resale Frenzy, Retreat Prep, and Play

Wow. Summer's supposed to be a break from the frenzy of the school year, isn't it? Instead, I seem to be even busier now. On tap this week (and I know I'm forgetting something):

1. Continued recovery/clean-up from Saturday's grad bash for my oldest, E. I still can't believe she's leaving for Marquette in a couple months.

2. Prep for our church youth group's annual rummage sale, held this coming weekend during Lockport's Canal Days celebration. The resale requires a week's worth of sorting and pricing, but the work doesn't go unrewarded. Inevitably, the sale's arrival forces us to sort through yet another basement room for boxes of someone else's treasure, and on average, the group raises $1,000 or more to put toward its biennial trip to work at Red Bird Mission in Kentucky.

3. Service Dog Walk-Through -- scheduled for 1 p.m. today at E's school. On the agenda: recreating E's day--from arrival on the bus to lunch to classroom, brainstorming about how Jewel will be used in each activity, and discussing basics like where the dog will be able to take a much needed break midday (and who will clean it up?) In May, the school administration came to the table believing the dog a liability instead of an opportunity. P and I are hoping that the resource packet we sent to the superintendent's attention on E's last day enlightened everyone. My thanks to the Delta Society here for its excellent website on the benefits and whys of service animals. My fingers and toes are crossed that the school has come to its senses.

4. C's First Annual Writer's Retreat. This week I'm frantically paying bills, writing up schedules, packing, and planning for a reunion and writer's retreat with eight former classmates from Vermont College. The retreat will be held in Victoria, British Columbia. Former classmate C is graciously hosting and planning the affair which will include time for writing, workshops, discussion of craft, and more. The week's theme: Play.

5. Critique Group Submission. Due yesterday. Sent very rough copy for a new project--a contemporary novel told from the point of view of the young girl who stepped forward the other day. Curious that this story is finally ready to be told.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Birthdays and Wishes

My youngest turns 10 today. She's absolutely giddy. And why not? After day camp, E met her at the door with a balloon bouquet and a sweet white Beanie Baby kitten. She's double digits for the first time in her life. A handful of friends will arrive in a ten minutes time for cake and merriment. And chocolate chip cookie cake is cooling on the counter.

Last year at this time, I spent nearly every waking minute fingers to keyboard finishing up my creative thesis so I could graduate in time. Though we managed to host the requisite birthday parties and whatnots, most everything felt so rushed I vowed to find a happy medium between my family and writing life after graduation.

Unfortunately, my plan fell flat within weeks, after learning about E's aneurysm, and we embarked on what ended up a six-month odyssey of tests, physicians, follow-ups, false hopes, and, finally, surgery.

As S blows out her candles today, I'll be making a wish of my own: that with E finally in such a good place, and S coming into her own, they be graced with the time to enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Writing in the Dark, Writing Behind My Back, and Other Mysteries of the Muse

Back in the days P and I fondly refer to as B.C. (before children), I prided myself on my ability to remember just about anything I set my mind to--names, numbers, dates, amounts paid for items purchased years ago, even quotes given me while working as a reporter. Three children and too many gray hairs later, names escape me, I must set the timer so I remember to pick up my girls from school, and I find my ideas are lost forever if I don't write them down the moment they occur to me.

I bring up this topic because of a discovery I made Sunday evening during an archaeological dig of my work area. I unearthed a notebook I'd started months ago while struggling to make sense of E's most recent health crisis. What I found was a startling reminder of why I must find a way to keep better tabs on all the papers and post-it notes I make when thinking about craft or brainstorming story ideas.

Within the spiral, I discovered notes for a new story. The moment I finished rereading my ideas, a young girl stepped forward. Didn't matter that the hour was late. Ignoring my need to crawl under the covers, she gave voice to a story so compelling that by the time she finished, morning was fast approaching and my hand was cramped.

I'm intrigued by my young protaganist. She's articulate, sassy, and secure in herself and her friends. But she wasn't always this way. There was a time not long ago when her world was shattered by events that forced her to reinvent her sense of what's right and good about the world.

Jane Resh Thomas, my former Vermont College advisor, often said that our truest stories are the ones we write behind our backs. I've no doubt I've written behind my back in this case.

The lesson I think I need to take away from this is that I didn't reject the ideas when they came to me without a form or narrator in mind. In a way, writing them down gave them substance. And giving them substance gave my muse permission to explore the ideas behind my back until I was ready to give them voice.

My deepest apologies to my protagonist who, given how much time she spent with me Sunday night (and into the wee hours of Monday morning), had obviously been waiting to be heard for quite some time.

Note to self: I must review my idea files more often. At the very least, doing so will guarantee me a better night's sleep.

Monday, June 05, 2006

L's Latest Rave and Reading at Stop Lights

Artemis Fowl can wait. L's recommendation (and Jane's second) that I read Rebel Angels, Libba Bray's companion novel to A Great and Terrible Beauty was spot on. The first page hooked me immediately with its promise of dark magic, and insights into Kartik's story and the "misfortune" experienced by the young ladies of Spence Academy. I now carry Bray's book everywhere, hoping to find five minutes here or there to read it. I haven't yet gone as far as reading it at stop lights, but damn, I'm close.

Edited to add: I have to buy this book, if only to have the luxury of studying how Bray spins her web of intrigue and suspense.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Page-Turners and Reading in Bed

I was working on KM for a submission to crit group late last week when my 18-year-old L strolled into the dining room.

"Mom, this book." I looked up from my laptop as she slapped a novel down on the table. Rebel Angels by Libba Bray.

So that's where the book ended up after I brought it home from the library. "What about it?"

"I never read in bed--I'm always too tired. But this's the first one I've stayed up with in a long time." She slid the book my way. "You've got to read it."

"I plan to." As soon as I'm done with my current drop-everything-to-read-it book: Eoin Colfer's most recent Artemis Fowl book, The Opal Deception.