Sunday, October 15, 2017

On the Passion That Drives Our Writing

October 2017
"I do not believe you have to have children or be around children or act like a child to write for children. But I do believe that good children's writers share two characteristics with their readers: curiosity and enthusiasm. These qualities are what make books for young people such a joyful challenge to write and read: the ardent desire to learn more about the world, and the passion which that knowledge is received and shared." --Linda Sue Park, 2002 Newbery Award Acceptance speech for her book, A Single Shard.

Curiosity and enthusiasm. Ardent desire to learn. Passion. What wonderful words to define characteristics of a children's writer. I was inspired to look into advice from award-winning author, Linda Sue Park, when I realized I missed a great opportunity to actually hear her speak earlier this year at the SCBWI Northern Ohio Annual Conference. Oh, dear, maybe another time? But I was able to do the next best thing: check in with my friend, Peggy Harkins, herself author of a great fantasy book, The WindSinger (harkinsbooks.com), who did attend.

The theme of the conference, which was held this past September, was "Blazing a Trail: Your Creative Journey." Ms. Park, author of (among other titles) A Single Shard, A Long Walk to Water, and Kite Fighters, was the keynote speaker. She spoke on: "It Had to Be You: The Importance of Writing the Story That Only You Can Write."

Passion, it seems, is a big part of the answer to writing the story that only we can write.

Thoughts that Peggy shared from Ms. Park's message:

"A writer's passion must include a love for the written word, both writing and reading."--Linda Sue Park

"It's a big thing that you be passionate about the details of life. Everyone has some things they are passionate about. Those are the details that should go into our stories...(and) we are responsible to write the best stories we can. The formula? Passion + craft = 'magic.'" --Linda Sue Park

"Write about your passion and come back to your passion when you get stuck." --Linda Sue Park

All of this left me with a desire to discover what additional advice I might glean from such a talented author. A bit of research brought me to the following:

On the Fun in Writing: "What I like most: Reading well-written sources that take me to another world for hours at a time--and being able to call that 'work'! Also, of course, finding a gem of information that is either exactly what I was looking for, or else fits perfectly into the story in some way." --Linda Sue Park (Brainy Quote)

On Making Progress in Writing: "When I'm writing, I try not to think things like, 'Gosh, I have to finish writing this book.' Books are very long and it's easy to get discouraged. Instead I think to myself, 'Wow, I have this great story idea, and today I'm going to write two pages of it. That's all--just two pages.'" --Linda Sue Park (Brainy Quote)

On Vision in Writing: "I want all my books to provoke some kind of response in the reader, to make them think something or feel something or both, and for that to become a part of them and work into their own lives." --Linda Sue Park (Brainy Quote)

On Making Connections in the Writing Process: "Making connections has always been the most important element of story to me. Connections to another time and place and to my own ethnic background in historical fiction; connections to a character within the text; connections to people around us because of a text." --Linda Sue Park (2002 Newbery Award Acceptance Speech)

According to Peggy, Ms. Park mentioned some of her passions in her conference speech. They include baseball, gardening, and Korea. Based on my reading, I would suggest that libraries and librarians are a passion of hers as well. Check this out:

On Libraries and Librarians: "What people truly desire is access to the knowledge and information that ultimately lead to a better life--the collected wisdom of the ages found only in one place: a well-stocked library...To the teachers and librarians and everyone on the frontlines of bringing literature to young people: I know you have days when your work seems humdrum, or unappreciated, or embattled, and I hope on those days you will take a few moments to reflect with pride on the importance of the work you do. For it is indeed of enormous importance--the job of safeguarding and sharing the world's wisdom...The ability to read and access information isn't just a power--it's a superpower. Which means that you aren't just heroes--you're superheroes. I  believe that with all my heart." --Linda Sue Park (GoodReads)

And this passion seems to stem from a special link to her childhood. In Ms. Park's Newbery Award acceptance speech, she also said, in part: "Once upon a time there was a young Korean couple. They had been in America for only a few years, and their English was not very good...The young woman cut out...cartoons (ones that taught the alphabet phonetically, published in the city newspaper) and glued them onto the pages of one of her old college textbooks. In this way she made an alphabet book for her four-year old daughter...That was how my life as a reader began--like so many stories, with a mother. Mine continues with a father who took me to the library. He took me to the library. Every two weeks without fail..."

Wonderful, how varied and unique those things that lay the groundwork for our passions in writing.

Thanks to Peggy, I was inspired to look into not only the wisdom of a great author, but into my own space to see where my writing comes from, the passions that fuel the words I want to write. I've also pulled Ms. Park's book, A Single Shard, from its place on my shelf to re-read it and be inspired by her style and her passion. I may not have been able to attend the SCBWI conference this time, but the inspiring seeds sown there are still bearing fruit!

What about you? What words by Ms. Parks resonate with you? What are some of the passions that drive your writing?
_____________________________

Thursday, September 28, 2017

September: Bridge Between Summer and Autumn

on late September walk 2017
Along the river's summer walk,
The withered tufts of asters nod;
And trembles on its arid stalk
the hoar plumb of the golden-rod. 
--John Greeleaf Whittier, American poet (1807-1892)

I don't think I ever really noticed the true colors of September before. If red and green are December's colors and orange and black speak October, I suggest that September claims purple and yellow as her signature. The goldenrod blooming wildly next to purple asters have been beautiful on this month's walks. Interestingly, the colors are complementary, sitting opposite each other on the color wheel. As one source says: combining complementary colors "creates a vivid and energizing effect." I think so!

September: a bridge between summer and autumn, decorated so brightly. What a pretty picture. Maybe we should tuck the colors in our hair and step sprightly across that bridge as we skip into the last quarter of the year? 

What complementary colors stir your energy bank?


"With daffodils mad footnotes for the spring,
And asters purple asterisks for autumn."
 --Conrad Aiken, American writer/poet (1889-1973) 
____________________________________

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Charlie Brown, Summer's End, and Slowing Down Time

August 2017
"Sigh...there goes another summer, Snoopy!" --Charlie Brown

Seems like our family's littlest one might have been thinking the same thing at the playground the other day...

And so, with the thought of how fast the calendar year is speeding by, I was especially interested in an article posted by Elizabeth Spann Craig, Bestselling Cozy Mystery Author titled, "How to Slow Time for More Relaxed Creative Writing Sessions" by Colleen M. Story, author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue. In the article, Story gives tips to "help you slow your perception of time so that when you do get a moment to write, you can approach it with a calm, relaxed state of mind."

Good stuff here. I appreciated her suggestions, especially "slow down your movements." Story continues, "When you purposely slow your physical motions down, you signal your brain that you have plenty of time, which helps you to feel more relaxed." Other tips are equally valuable. If you find yourself feeling stressed over not having enough time to write, you might check out this post. Conceivably the advice could help in other areas of life's time management challenges as well.

Except maybe the speed of passing summer days. Increasingly, they seem to be on speed dial :-)

Any advice on how to get a handle on time--in writing or otherwise?
______________________________

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Poetry Day, In Pictures

What a day made for poetry! An historic solar eclipse first of all--itself an amazing phenomenon. Though only a partial in our neck of the woods, we still felt its impact. But prior to that was a morning walk in which roadside flowers put on their own stylish display, albeit less dramatic. It's as if I'd been invited to one of Nature's poetry readings, filled with resonance, heart-lifts, smiles...

Although I have no personal snapshots of the eclipse, here are samples from my 'poetry' walk among the flowers (with quotes): 

"The poet doesn't invent. He listens." 
--Jean Cocteau, French writer (1889-1963)

"The poetry of earth is never dead." 
--John Keats, English poet (1795-1821)

"Poetry is the language of surprises." 
--Steven Taylor Goldsberry, The Writer's Book of Wisdom

"It is the job of poetry to clean up our world-clogged reality by creating silences around things." 
--Steven Mallarme, French poet (1842-1898)

"Poetry is not always words." 
--Terri Guillemets, quotations collector and founder of The Quote Garden

"Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom." 
--Robert Frost, American poet (1874-1963)

Poetry: a moment, a tug, an echo, an awakening. An experience, a discovery, a dance, a flight. A glimpse, a hint, a mystery, hope. 

poetry speaks in
heartprints but like fingerprints
no two are alike
                                    --Kenda Turner

Have any poetic moments spoken to you lately?
_________________________________

Monday, July 31, 2017

Echoes in Our Own Backyards

John Rankin House, Ripley OH, Summer 2017
"The great eventful Present hides the Past; but through the din of its loud life, hints and echoes from the life behind steal in." --John Greenleaf Whittier

Ah, what a chance for the hints and echoes of the past to break through the walls of the present! We recently took a mini-road trip, hubby and I, to historical sites relatively close to our backyard. In all the years we've lived near them, this would be our first visit to each. We traveled just up the Ohio River from us and into eastern Ohio, branching off on seemingly back roads. Back roads to us now, but major points of activity over 175 years ago for the people back then. And what a group of people they were, as we were soon to find out.

John Rankin house
John Rankin House, Ripley, OH. The story of abolitionist John Rankin (1793-1886) and his family is amazing. I had already begun reading Ann Hagedorn's Beyond the River, the Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad, and was fascinated with the in-depth account Hagedorn presented. I knew of the 'house on the hill,' and how a lighted candle would be lit night after night as a beacon for escaping slaves across the river in Kentucky. What I didn't truly comprehend, though, was the depth of compassion John Rankin--and others in this small town of Ripley--had for these shackled, oppressed people until I actually stepped into that house on the hill.
view of Ohio River from hilltop
These weren't just people you read about. These were real people whose stories stir our hearts, risking their lives to free others. Their children were also involved, often escorting fleeing slaves to the next 'station.' There were the beds they slept in, the kitchen fireplace where they cooked their food.  In a Cincinnati Enquirer interview (March 16, 2003), just after her book came out, Hagedorn was quoted as saying, "I was drawn to the people in the book because as a reporter I had covered crime for years...But after years on the crime, grime and slime beat, I really wanted to write about people with good values, people who did something bigger than themselves. People here were on the front line of the war against slavery simply because they wanted to do the right thing." It is estimated that over 2000 slaves passed through Rankin's care to freedom between 1829-1865. I echo Hagedorn's words, again from the interview: "And I learned things. I learned that the Underground Railroad was really about choices--the choice of slaves to escape, the choice of a free black (see J. P. Parker, below) to risk helping them and losing his or her freedom, the choice of white people to believe in racial equality enough to risk life and livelihood to help. There's a lot to be learned from people who made those incredible choices." Walk the original wood floors where these people walked, climb steps to upstairs rooms where Rankin's 13 children slept, look out over the wide river where desperate people risked everything to cross, and you'll feel the same way.

John P. Parker House
John P. Parker House, Ripley, OH. The Underground Railroad network in Ripley included a man born into slavery, John P. Parker (1827-1900). His story includes being sold at the age of eight and made to walk ragged and barefoot from his original home in Virginia to Mobile, AL, chained to other slaves. In Mobile he was sold to a doctor where the doctor's sons taught him (illegally) to read. Eventually he purchased his freedom and moved to Cincinnati. By 1849 he settled in Ripley. His story is also fascinating. He owned a foundry, working there during the day and helping fugitive slaves escape at night. During the Civil War, he was a recruiter for the 27th Ohio Volunteer Infantry (Colored) Regiment. He was a successful entrepreneur and inventor with at least three patents to his credit for agricultural inventions. Though we didn't get to tour this home (it was closed the day we were there), it stands as a testament to courage, determination, and vision. Parker's book, His Promised Land, the Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Salve and Conductor on the Underground Railroad now sits on the top of my reading pile, close to Hagedorn's.


U.S. Grant Boyhood home
Boyhood Home of Ulysses. S. Grant. Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), 18th president of the United States, was born in Point Pleasant, OH and grew up in Georgetown, OH, just up the road from his birthplace. I've read some about President Grant, even did a post about him a couple of years ago (see  Moving Rocks, and Historical Figures) where I shared about a humongous rock that Grant, when 15 years old, moved into town from the local creek when none of the men could complete the task. I always thought I wanted to see that rock and now I can say I did! I also learned more about the man who became Commander of the Union troops and later President of the United States. More than that, I got insight into his childhood and the acquaintances and close associates that influenced him and his family. Many were deeply involved in the Underground Railroad in the area, a fact chronicled in a book I discovered while there:  Ulysses Underground, The Unexplored Roots of U.S. Grant and the Underground Railroad, by G. L. Corum. Another incredible book I scooped up!
rock moved by Grant, 2540 pounds

Oh, the whispers and echoes of that time that continue to resonate.

We also visited Kentucky Gateway Museum in Maysville, KY, and had supper at The Olde Wayside Inn, a restaurant on the historical stagecoach route called Zane's Trace. This old-time building at one time hosted such dignitaries as Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and General Santa Anna after his defeat in TX by Sam Houston following the Battle of the Alamo. The location and owners of the time also played a significant role in the Underground Railroad network.

All in all, it was a significant trip, effective in pulling back the curtain and letting the hints of the past filter into the mind, settle and percolate. I'm sure some of the threads will show up in my writing. For sure people I only once read about have become alive in my mind.

Are there places in your 'backyard' you always thought you'd visit one day but haven't? What are some of the local places of interest where you live that you would recommend others visit?
________________________________

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy 4th, with an Erma Bombeck Smile

image courtesy Pixabay
"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness." --Erma Bombeck, 1927-1996, writer and columnist

Happy 4th to all! Hope your celebration is special and your potato salad stays fresh :-)

Familiar with Erma Bombeck?  She could sure offer up great humor, especially some of her takes on parenthood. Many times she managed to be funny and profound at the same time. She also was a prolific writer. Some of her titles include: If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?; The Grass is Always Green Over the Septic Tank; When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It's Time to Go Home; and At Wit's End.

Samples of her quips:

"Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died."--Erma Bombeck

"All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them."--Erma Bombeck

"Housework, if you do it right, will kill you."--Erma Bombeck

"I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, and then it will go on overload and blow up." --Erma Bombeck

Hope you enjoy the holiday. What's your favorite picnic food or Fourth of July tradition? Do you have a favorite Erma Bombeck quip or story?
___________________________

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Word from Washington Irving

June 2017

"There are certain half-dreaming moods of mind, in which we naturally steal away from noise and glare, and seek some quiet haunt, where we may indulge our reveries and build our air castles undisturbed." --Washington Irving

I've never done an official tally of the types of reading I do in a week, but selections often range from children's books to historical fiction, nonfiction, YA, inspirational, classics, history, poetry, devotionals, books at the library that catch my eye, and titles others suggest...it's no wonder I'm all over the map when I sit down with a book. This time it was a quote, particularly the one above, that sent me reading. All I knew about Washington Irving (1783-1859) was from my high school days when we had to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. So who was this man? He speaks of things we can identify with: a writer's affinity for quiet moments and our need for space in which to build our stories. What else might he have added to the discussion?

Well, it turns out, quite a lot...

courtesy google images
1. Contributions. Washington Irving first and foremost is credited for perfecting the American short story. That's why his Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle (found in his widely popular The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon) have endured. If you have not read them in a while, you might want to--in retrospect they are quite a hoot. Ichabod Crane, the schoolmaster in Sleepy Hollow, infatuated with the local beauty, finds himself up against his rival for her hand, the reckless Brom Bones, and then...well, if you remember, there's a headless horseman who throws his head at Ichabod, the disappearance of the schoolmaster, and the later discovery of the man's horse, saddle, and...a smashed pumpkin. And Rip Van Winkle is the rather feckless and ne'er-do-well henpecked husband who disappears for twenty years. The humor in the situation is summed up in the story's final lines: "Even to this day they never hear a thunderstorm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins; and it is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle's flagon." You have to read the story to capture the picture in full!

"For my part," Irving once wrote, "I consider a story merely as a frame on which to stretch my materials. It is the play of thought, and sentiment and language; the weaving in of characters, lightly yet expressively delineated; the familiar and faithful exhibition of scenes in common life; and the half concealed vein of humor that is often playing through the whole--these are among what I aim at."

The Alhambra, courtesy google images
2. Travels and Positions. Irving was born to a merchant family in New York City. Later he traveled widely, especially throughout England and Europe, and eventually served in a variety of diplomatic positions including a term as U.S. Minister to Spain. There he had access to the American consul's extensive library of Spanish history which he drew upon to write A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. It was published in 1828. He also lived for a time in Granada, Spain in the famous Spanish castle, the Alhambra, built by the Moors in the 15th century and later home of Catholic monarchs. From this experience he wrote the book The Alhambra. It's a place of particular pull for me since I had the privilege of visiting there a few years back the first time my son and his family lived in Spain and with the fact that his family just recently relocated there again. Later, back in America, Irving wrote a number of books based on his travels to America's frontier.

3. Name and Other Associations. Yes, Washington Irving was named for George Washington. He was born on April 3, 1783, the week of the British ceasefire that ended the American Revolution. So his mother named him after the the war's hero, General Washington. When he was six, the two actually met when Irving's Scottish nanny approached the now first-president of the United States, who at this time resided in NYC, and said, "Please, your honor, here's a bairn named after you."

Irving later became friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, won the admiration of Sir Walter Scott in Britain and Nathaniel Hawthorne in America, and also hosted Charles Dickens and his wife at his home during Dickens's American tour in 1842.

4. Marketing. Is it possible that Washington Irving pioneered the art of marketing a book? Well, his approach to selling one of his first books falls either into the category of marketer--or schemer. He wrote A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty under the pseudonym of Diedrich Knickerbocker. It was a satire on local history, poking fun at the city's "Dutch elite" as it has been described. Prior to the book's publication, Irving set up his hoax. He placed a series of missing-person advertisements in New York newspapers, suggesting that Diedrich Knickerbocker, forthcoming author, had gone missing. Irving's ruse apparently generated a lot of interest. Sales of the book took off when it came out.

5. Stamp on Culture. And speaking of Diedrich Knickerbocker, think of the influence this one fictional character had on the culture then--and now: "In his attempts to embody the traditions of his city in an amusing form, Irving met with a success which must have astonished himself. Within forty years after The History was published, Knickerbocker insurance companies, Knickerbocker steamboats, omnibuses, bakeries, ice factories, and magazines were all profiting by the fame of an Old Dutch historian who had never lived at all, except in the imagination of Washington Irving. The Knickerbocker legend had become part of the national heritage" (source: American Poetry and Prose, Norman Foerster, Ed, Houghton Mifflin, 1960). Today we see the name associated with New York's professional basketball team. Another cultural vestige? In 1807, while collaborating with his brother William on the literary magazine Salmagundi, Irving ascribed the nickname Gotham ("Goat's Town") to the city of New York. This was way before Batman came along.

6. Encourager and Crusader. It has been said that Washington Irving was quite willing to help aspiring authors, including Edgar Allan Poe. "There is not a young literary aspirant in the country," a George William Curtis once noted, "who, if he ever personally met Irving, did not hear from him the kindest words of sympathy, regard, and encouragement." Also, because he himself struggled against literary "bootleggers," Irving championed for stronger copyright laws.

Maybe this is more than one wants to know about Washington Irving, but I found myself fascinated with this 19th century writer. His influence continued for generations. It's also been said that he had the attitude of a gentleman, "solidity of character, honor, courtesy, and kindliness," and a love of both the Old World and the New. Hmmm, maybe he's someone I'd liked to have met. At any rate, I sure identify with his words above. These may be what we used to call the "lazy-hazy" days of summer, but they haven't been so lazy around here. Seeking those quiet moments where air castles--or word pictures for us writers--is an ongoing quest. The swing above looks inviting. Anyone for a push?

Any special places that you seek out to find those quiet writing moments? What author, past or present, would you like to meet?
_______________________