Tying Up Loose Ends

The Muse tells me it’s time to break for summer, and like the Wife (heads up, husbands) the Muse is always right. To that end, I will be on vacation from my blog until the beginning of September, when, I hope, you will join me again.

To tie up a loose end before I vacate: The Sweater has been completed. The Twenty Year Sweater  Here is a photo.

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I know. I never said I was a good knitter, did I?  Check out the oddly puffy sleeves. When I put The Sweater on, I’ve got a weird Shakespeare-in-winter thing going on.

This morning I am going to go outside and paint a watercolor. Even though I have a boatload of books to review and three writing projects awaiting various revisions, I am still going to shove them aside and do a watercolor.  It won’t advance my career or make me money, but. . .

I am the product of two very different people. My mother has, as my dad likes to say, two speeds: slow and stop. But I think he might be envious, since he’s fast and faster. I tend to be more like my dad, until I remember that I’m also part my mom. Once I asked her how she avoided over-doing. She told me that she does three “things”—“things” being chores—per day, and once they are done, she’s off the hook and free to do what she wants. (I believe one of the “things” is making the bed, so you see she’s not unduly stressing herself.)

When I find myself in a muddle of work, I remember her words. Painting a watercolor this morning is going to be more satisfying than disciplining myself through a revision and what’s more, I suspect it will free up other creative areas in my brain, making me more effective when I get back to writing.

If you’re more on the driven side like me, maybe today you can try to do one thing you truly enjoy, for no other reason than that you truly enjoy it–see how it goes.

Until September, then. Have a lovely summer.

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The Journey v. the Destination

I got a friendly, helpful note back from an agent this week. While she declined to take me on, she did tell me she found my story line intriguing, however it started off too slow.

Zing! I knew she was right. I moved the manuscript into Scrivener and started re-arranging scenes in Corkboard. Moving the scenes around allowed interesting gaps to develop—gaps that sparkled. As I was rearranging, part of my brain delighted in this freedom and part of it was aghast. “You can’t do that!” it said, “no one will look at it if you do that.” Well, let’s  be honest, no one is really looking at it yet anyway, as far as I know. And besides, at 56 years old, at least two thirds of my life is over, so what is there to be afraid of? I’ve already experienced rejection and lived through it. I’ve already taken chances and succeeded or failed—and lived through it.

Fiction writing is a fairly new skill for me and I’m learning the craft daily. Even when I think I’ve written something lovely and amazing that really ought to win the National Book Award, or even better, a MacArthur grant, I remember how it was when I first started making baskets. I loved them too—those first ones—every crooked, sad, little lump of them. Then I got more polished and more polished still. And when I looked back at the first ones, I liked their gallantry, but let’s face it, they weren’t salable.

I think the same thing will happen with my writing. I am persistent. My stories will get more and more polished and one day my turn will come and I’ll get what I think I most want right now—a published book.

Even as I think this, though, I remind myself of something that I intuit is true: that the thrill of publication will never equal the satisfaction of the days I have now—of trying, failing, discovering and polishing—in a word, living.

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When the 13th of Friday is also a Full Moon

I just finished a book about the magic and mystery of the natural world and it thrilled my soul like all good books do, especially when the story has to do with forces we humans don’t understand.

Today is Friday the 13th. And not only that, it’s a full moon—two weighted events in many people’s psyches.

The full moon’s effect has entered our lexicon: lunacy, lunatic. And Friday the 13th is considered unlucky—13 being the number outside of the whole number of 12. I’m not sure why Friday, although I do know that sailors will not start a trip on a Friday—I know we didn’t in my family.

But I don’t consider the full moon an adversary and I certainly don’t think Friday the 13th is unlucky. I’ve written about the full moon before Full Moon Dreams and you know that I pay attention to what is shown to me during this time, because instead of being half or fully buried it has now been brought up to a place where I can work with it.

As for Friday the 13th:

I was born on the 13th and I turned thirteen on Friday the 13th. And the day I turned thirteen on Friday the 13th was the full moon.

I think “unlucky” is a way to describe events that happen to us that we don’t know how to process because they are not what we think we want to have happen to us. My personal belief is that everything that happens to me is for my highest good—that the natural world, of which I am a part, has my compassionate evolution in mind, not my destruction. So with that belief firmly seated in my soul, I gratefully take what the world gives me, trying to learn what I am supposed to learn.

One last thing: my Buddhist name, given to me by my teacher, the late Peter Matthiessen, is Tsu Ki. It means, The Moon.

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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

This morning I woke up to an insistent bird song, over and over, clear and repeated. In my subconscious brain I said “oriole” but when my conscious brain took over, something wasn’t quite right for an oriole. Eventually the call came in the tree right outside. That was enough to make me get out of bed and crouch by the window. The bird was right there, but leaves obscured him and I only got a glimpse of his head, beak open in song. But because the light was behind him, his head was in silhouette and I couldn’t identify him.

I was awake now, so I got dressed and went to the pond grate to clean it out—it was heavily blocked from the night’s beaver activity—pulling the pond muck into the wheelbarrow to use as mulch for my garden. As I was mucking, the darn birdcall came again. And once again, I could only see a silhouette against a far tree. I finished the mucking and went inside to get the binoculars. I stood outside in the middle of the yard. But of course, there was no birdcall. I swatted at mosquitoes. Nothing. I went inside to have coffee.

Then, sitting at my computer, sipping coffee, a clear, LOUD birdcall came through my open window. I jumped up. There, not ten feet from me, was a brilliant orange and black bird. Baltimore Oriole. Showing himself off. Tired of the game, maybe. Or maybe taking pity on me.

I’ve been sending out query letters all this week and as much as I want an instant response, it hasn’t happened. But Mr. Baltimore Oriole reminded me that sometimes if you can just wait, what you want will come to you.

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Stephen King is My Boss

Regular followers of my blog may be wondering why:

A) I am posting on a Monday and

B) what this blog post is about, anyway.

I’ve been tagged by the wonderful Sharon Roat sharonwrote.blogspot.com for the My Writing Process Blog Tour, and when tagged, the tagee answers four questions in a blog post about their writing process. Here goes.

 

Stephen King is not technically my boss, and, actually, I haven’t even read any of his fiction because when I saw the movie “Carrie” it scared me so badly that I swore off reading anything by him. Until I picked up his memoir of the craft: On Writing. I’m a sucker for plain speaking because it respects and assumes intelligence in the recipient. On Writing is plain speaking—honest, confident and funny. It was a book I could believe in, and a work ethic I could respect (minus the early drug abuse) so I modeled my working day after his.

What am I working on? 

I’m working on three things:

—a young adult novel told in three voices that includes a terrifying sailing adventure, some betrayal, some seriously bad decision-making—but is ultimately about the transcending individuation brought about by courage.

—A middle grade mystery featuring a twelve-year-old boy, his younger sisters, a missing father and a bunch of quantum physics.

—And a picture book that I am also illustrating about a suburban girl who finds a home in the natural world after being relocated to the woods by her wacky new-age parents.

How does my work differ from others in its genres?

The YA is mostly in verse and as my writing group likes to point out, it is a verse novel with tension (!!). I pitch it as Out of the Dust meets The Perfect Storm.

The middle grade has the quantum physics aspect that can almost be interpreted as magical realism, but not quite. I ran it by my older brother (who, in the ‘80’s, was completing his PhD in artificial intelligence at Stanford when he was wooed away by a dot com company. He doesn’t have to work anymore) and the science, weird as it is, he says is legit.

In the picture book, Iris, the protagonist, is the straight-man to her parents wackiness; she’s got agency up the wazoo and it also has the theme—near and dear to my heart—of getting kids out into nature.

Why do I write what I do?

I’m no spring chicken and I’ve had a lot of life experiences.

The YA is, as they say, “inspired by true events.” I knew it would make a good story the moment all the (real) pieces fell into place. The MG was an experiment. Mr. Stephen King told me (through his book) that he writes 2000 words a day; he just forges ahead, day after day. So that’s what I did. I had one image—three kids in a canoe find a blue artifact in a swamp—and from the there, I just wrote.

And the PB: “inspired by true events.”

I guess I write what I do because I like to think and I’ve got a lot of raw material.

How does my writing process work?

At 9AM I sit down in front of my computer and work until 11AM, when I have ‘elevenses.’ After elevenses, I go to work until 1PM, by which time I have hopefully written 2000 words, or I must continue to work. That’s it. Six days a week. Sometimes I draw if it’s a picture book I’m working on. Sometimes I’m on a deadline for a book review and work on that instead. But I find writing consistently is a better schedule for my muse.

“I believe that every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy. These sprites are both old and young, male and female, sentimental and cynical, skeptical and credulous, and so on, and what’s more, they’re completely amoral. . .the story-sprites are willing to serve whoever has the ring, whoever is telling the tale.”

I’m afraid I don’t remember who wrote that, but don’t you just love it.

For next week, I’ve tagged Heather Knight Richard, gal extraordinaire.

Heather grew up near the banks of the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts, quite literally in the family’s pizza shop. Her historical novel in verse, FLY TO THE HILLS, is the story of a mill girl who works downstream from a faulty reservoir dam, and it recently earned Heather the SCBWI Student Writer Scholarship. In May Heather graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She lives and works in the same town where she once sold pizza, now as the parent of five young children (including two sets of twins!). www.hknightrichard.com