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.