Friday, December 1, 2017

On Family Stories and Heirlooms

Roseville Pottery , "Freesia Blue," circa 1945
"Family stories make the most valuable heirlooms." --source unknown

I remember my first memory of these vases. The image is fixed in my mind. I'm about three years old and my father is holding me in his arms. I'm looking over his shoulder at the mirror over the mantel (this would have been about 1952) and can see my reflection looking back at me. The vases flank the mirror in their place on that mantel. I later learn that they were wedding gifts to my parents in 1946, given by my mom's friend whom we knew as Aunt Reenie. 

How appropriate was Aunt Reenie's choice. The pair of vases is from the Roseville art pottery line "Freesia Blue," and the freesia flower, they say, symbolizes trust and fidelity. And I wonder, did the beautiful gift given at the beginning of a marriage somehow foreshadow how long and enduring that marriage would be--one of over sixty-six years? 

What a sweet heirloom, only lately handed down to me and now occupying a place in my home. And to think the vases were manufactured at the Roseville Pottery Company in Zanesville, Ohio, a few miles east of where my parents lived most of their years together. Ohio, it turns out, produced abundant pottery art (not only Roseville but Rookwood and Weller, too), especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rich deposits of useful Ohio clay made sure of that.

Oh, the history of heirlooms; the stories they could tell. The writer's imagination begins to shift into overdrive. Will any of our heirlooms find themselves featured in our stories? Will they tweak the imagination of readers like they've stirred our own? Will we tell their stories and thus keep the specialness of them alive?

And just how do we keep their stories alive? Links with ideas that might help include:


Which brings one to maybe a more difficult question: what do we do with these special pieces that come to us when we have little room for them, or maybe even little interest. Those items that tug at our hearts but don't necessarily tug at the hearts of those who follow us. As it turns out, there is quite a discussion about this very thing. A sample of some titles:


What special heirlooms do you treasure? What might be their history? Have any of them found their way into your writing--or hold honored spots in your home? How do you pass along their stories? Have you ever struggled over having to give up or pass on a family heirloom?
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Good Writing, Good Reading, and Gratitude

November sunset 2017
“Oh what marvels fill me with thanksgiving! The deep mahogany of a leaf once green. The feathered fronds of tiny icicles coating every twig and branch in a wintry landscape. The feel of goosebumps thawing after endured frozen temperatures. Both hands clamped around a hot mug of herbal tea. The aromatic whiff of mint under my nose. The stir of emotion from a child's cry for mommy...The milky luster of a single pearl. Rainbows reflecting off iridescence bubbles. Awe-struck silence evoked by any form of beauty..."  --Richelle E. Goodrich, Slaying Dragons (GoodReads)

"Oh, what marvels fill me with thanksgiving..." A recent November sunset (above) was one such marvel for me. And almost always on morning walks some previously unobserved detail will pop, even on the most dreary of days. If only I could train myself to be more observant, I would see more marvelous things!

Writers have their own ingatherings that spur a sense of thanksgiving. Ann Lamott, for example, writes about her gratitude for good writing: "...for some of us, books are as important as anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid pieces of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet you or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of the things that you don't get in life...wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded. I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean."

A commenter at a past BookRiot post, "10 Literary Quotes for Thanksgiving" (here) gave an interesting list of what he was grateful for as a reader, including:
...finishing a book just as the train pulls into the station
...seeing someone reading a favorite book in public
...a good beginning
...a better ending
...a mysterious, wistful inscription in a used book
...a bustling bookstore in full holiday swing
...acknowledgements that are honest, funny and humble
...picking up a classic you've been avoiding and loving it

Yet, as writers, what about those times when the writing is hard, the words won't come, and we're ready to give it all up? Annie Neugebauer at WriterUnboxed addresses this issue in her article "Getting Back to Grateful" She writes, "If there's one universal truth about all types of writing and all types of writers, it's probably that this is hard. Writing is difficult...It's also wonderful." But when it's not wonderful, when it's more like "heavy sludge" as Ms. Neugebauer describes it, how do we get back to the feeling of wonderful? Her antidote: gratitude.

"You don't have to buy things or fix things or rearrange," she writes. "You don't have to take a hiatus. You don't have to go to switch genres or go back to school. You don't have to change a single thing you're doing; you only have to change the way you look at them. How? Gratitude." She continues by making the point that science supports the idea ("Gratitude changes your mindset, your sense of contentment, your mental and physical health."); that a 'gratitude depository' (she calls hers a Joy Jar) is a nifty tool; and concludes by listing the many things a writer has to be thankful for. It's a great read.

Finally, from A.A. Milne:

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude." 

Beauty and marvels abound. Books and good words abound. Blessings around our Thanksgiving tables abound. May we give ourselves space to recognize them and, fashioned a bit like Piglet, enlarge our hearts to gather in more of a thing called gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On Writing Time and Mushrooms, from J.K. Rowling

on October walk 2017

"Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have 'essential' and 'long overdue' meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg." --J. K. Rowling

We are fully aware that books don't pop up like mushrooms, aren't we? But while I have a great support system and those who understand the effort that goes into writing, I fight my own battles for time. Do I really protect my writing days? Do I not cave into distractions and other self-imposed interruptions? Am I lax in guarding my allotted writing time from...myself?

Thank you, Ms. Rowling for giving us food (or mushrooms?) for thought. For these are good questions to ponder as the month comes to a close and another beckons.

How I do sometimes wish, though, that my ideas for books would materialize easier on the page like popping mushrooms. Oh, how much easier that would be!

How about you? Do you struggle with outside pulls on your writing time or with your own habits and proclivities?
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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?
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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) 
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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?
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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?
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