Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On Beginnings, Hope, and a Journey Down the Stairs

photo courtesy of sxc.hu
The old year has only a couple of hours to go as I sit down to post, and 2014 is just about here. We all wonder what the new year will bring, don't we? For sure there's probably change ahead. That goes with the territory. Maybe challenges. Choices. And celebrations. We can't forget celebrations.

As writers we often add more to our question list. What goals should I set for 2014? Should I concentrate on word count, or keep record of writing hours? How many submissions do I want circulating in any one given week/month? How many acceptances should I aim for? What concrete goals should I set toward publication? What about those with young families where daily life is already packed with details--will catching a word here, a word there suffice?

In past years I've chosen a word or words to set a theme for the new year. In my first year of blogging I posted about targets (and repeated it here). In the second year (2011), my word was potential (here). The third year? Relax, write, create. This past year I went with the p's--potential, permission, pattern, pace, priorities. One trick I've used to stay productive yet not succumb to unreasonable pressure is to list my weekly/yearly goals and then tell myself if I hit 75% of those goals, I'll be happy. I've tallied this year and have come in at 77%. Yay!

Thus, thinking of a new year, I thought it might be fun to open writing books (I have so many on my shelves) and peek into the introductory inspiration laid out at the beginning from seasoned writers. I discovered three themes--and I'm adopting them as my themes for 2014. Take a peek:

1. Beginnings. From One Writer's Beginnings, by Eudora Welty: "In our house on North Congress Street in Jackson, Mississippi, where I was born, the oldest of three children, in 1901, we grew up to the striking of clocks. There was a mission-style oak grandfather clock standing int he hall, which sent its gong-like strokes through the livingroom, diningroom, kitchen, and pantry, and up the sounding board of the stairwell. Through the night, it could find its way into our ears; sometimes, even on the sleeping porch, midnight could wake us up. My parents' bedroom had a smaller striking clock that answered it. Though the kitchen clock did nothing but show the time, the diningroom clock was a cuckoo clock with weights on long chains, on one of which my baby brother, after climbing on a chair to the top of the china closet, once succeeded in suspending the cat for a moment. I don't know whether or not my father's Ohio family, in having been Swiss back in the 1700s before the first three Welty brothers came to America, had anything to do with this; but we all of us have been time-minded all our lives. This was good at least for future fiction writer, being able to learn so penetratingly, and almost first of all, about chronology. It was one of a good many things I learned almost without knowing it; it would be there when I needed it."

2. Hope. From The Writer's Book of Hope, Getting from Frustration to Publication, by Ralph Keyes: "Sit at desk. Examine blank computer screen. Cursor blinks impatiently. Small fan hums within. Neighbor fires up leaf blower. Mail truck rumbles by. Kid's voice pierces closed door: 'Matthew hit me!' Spouse opens door, mail in hand. Hands over two manila envelopes addressed to you in your own handwriting. Spouse wonders when you'll be ready to quit. When indeed?"

3. A Journey Down the Stairs. From Finding Your Voice, How to Put Personality in Your Writing, by Les Edgerton: "A final word before we begin seeing exactly how to get to our own voices, lurking within. Relax. Yep, That's the word. Relax. Even though there are lots of exercises and examples and other nifty ways to get to your voice in the following pages, what we'll be involved in isn't thermonuclear physics or household plumbing or anything like those two incredibly complicated sciences. This is all about the voice you already own and have the owner's manual for. What we'll be trying to do here is have you simply remember stuff you already know to a T but have just misplaced in the basement of your mind. So...sit back and enjoy the trip down the stairs. You won't even need a flashlight. I've already switched on the light for you. Just use the handrail."

The things we need are there--our beginnings, hope, and a journey of exploration.

I think it sounds like a year of fun, don't you? What words/themes would you add?

Happy New Year to all who might happen to drop in!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Most Valued Ornaments

photo courtesy sxc.hu
"The ornaments of our house are the friends that frequent it." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Counting friendship as one of life's many blessings...

Thanks to all my friends (some I've yet to meet in person!) for your kind support and visits here. Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday filled with joy and peace--and cherished friendships.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Snow Days, Summery Touches

Butterfly Garden December 2013
"One must maintain a little bit of summer even in the middle of winter." --Thoreau

My contribution to Thoreau's idea, butterfly wind chimes in a winter's garden. Any summery touches in your wintry world?

Just wonderin'....

May your hearts be warm though your feet be cold!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Snow Gifts

Garden Friends December 2013
"He brewed his tea in a blue china pot, poured it into a chipped white cup with forget-me-nots on the handle, and dropped in a dollop of honey and cream. He sat by the window, cup in hand, watching the first snow fall. 'I am,' he sighed deeply, 'contented as a clam. I am a most happy man.' --Ethel Pochocki, Wildflower Tea, 1993

Snow arrived today (estimates of up to 7 inches!), bringing with it a sleigh filled with gifts:

1. An excuse for another cup of favorite tea. Savor.
2. A good book to read--particularly next to a window with a view of the wonder. Snuggle.
3. A slower pace. Sigh and Smile.
4. Beauty and freshness, a hush and a stillness. Serenity.

About Wildflower Tea (Grades 1-4) from School Library Journal: "'One sunny Monday in May, an old man went out with a basket in one hand and a walking stick in the other...He stooped to caress a white stone polished smooth by the water and there, by the toe of his shoe, he spied some violets their faces turned up to his.' So begins a lyrical, seven-month record of a nature lover's scavenging. In November, the bounty he has reaped all summer provides his wildflower tea." 

Who was Ethel Pochocki? 
From Goodreads: "Ethel Frances Pochocki (1925-2010) was a children's book author living in Brooks, Maine. She developed a passion for books and writing working at the New York City Public Library. While raising eight children, she turned to writing in the early morning hours. Her writing career began when she won an essay writing contest about her experience taking in inner city kids with the Fresh Air Project in New York City." 

From About the Author, Amazon: "Ethel Pochocki described herself as 'an ordinary person' who happened to 'make soup and raise kids and write stories.' Both kitchencraft and the experience of raising children--eight of them--contributed to a whimsical, down-to-earth and understanding touch...she concocted adventures with the ordinary but vivid ingredients of life--'books, cats, music, frogs, hollyhocks.'"

Ethel sounds like someone I could relate to--"making soup, raising kids, and writing stories." Though I'd never heard of her before, I'm thinking about checking out her books now.

But maybe not until the snow stops falling.

How do you enjoy a snow day?

Hope you're able to enjoy it in safety. Have a super weekend.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts

Lake at Miami Whitewater Forest, Hamilton County OH Park, November 2013
"On the banks of the James River, a husband erected a tombstone in memory of his wife, one of those 100 maidens who had come to Virginia in 1619 to marry the lonely settlers. The stone bore this legend: 'She touched the soil of Virginia with her little foot and the wilderness became a home.'"--Eudora Ramsey Richardson

The power of a tiny step...
The power of a kind word, of an outreached hand...
The power of a grateful heart, of enduring hope...
The power of love.

Maybe it all starts so small.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

10 Branches of Narrative's Tree

image courtesy of sxc.hu
“If in the first chapter a hurricane is going to blow down an oak tree which falls through the kitchen roof, there's no need to first describe the kitchen.”— James Thayer

Narrative, simply put, is story--the trunk of the writer's work. For some reason, I got to thinking about this word the other day and decided to check it out--explore the word's roots and see where such an adventure might take me. I found myself climbing branch to branch, ten in all:

1. Narrate: to tell the story of (from the Latin narrare relate).

2. Narration: the act of telling a story.

3. Narrator: a person who tells a story.

4. Narrative Arc: the structure of story. This is often described as that of a three-act play--a beginning, a middle, and an end. Narrative arc is also often pictured as a bell curve: "It starts at a point on the lower left hand side of a graph, rises in a curve to a peak, and then drops back down again." (Robb Grindstaff). In this image the story is shown progressing from introduction and setting of the stage (beginning) through conflict and complications (middle) to the story's climax, denouement, and resolution. This is also referred to as narrative structure.

5. Narrative Authority: grounding the character in authenticity and context. Nancy Lamb in her book, The Art and Craft of Storytelling, calls this anchoring. Anchor your character in time and place, she says, otherwise they won't be able to come to life. Research for authenticity. Employ the use of all five senses. Know your setting. Things like that.

6. Narrative Continuity: orienting the reader in time and space. Lamb addresses this as well: "Whatever strategy you use to increase suspense, always remember to maintain the narrative continuity of your story by orienting the reader in time and space. When you reconnect with the main plot, include a prompt about where you are." Lamb's example is a character named Lia who is on a ladder. While there she has a flashback. But the author doesn't leave her there. Lia then "grips" the ladder, bringing her back to the reader's present.

7. Narrative Threads: the storyline or, in other words, plot threads. "A narrative thread (Wikipedia) refers to particular elements and techniques of writing to center the story in the action or experience of characters. The narrative threads experienced by different but specific characters are those seen in the eyes of those characters...each thread of which is woven together by the writer to create a work." Lamb weighs in here, too. "If yours is a book," she says, "that has required lots of research, make certain your story doesn't take a back seat to the facts and figures you include. Otherwise your narrative threads will be overwhelmed by details and your story will be lost along with your reader."

8. Narrative Voice: your natural tendencies in storytelling. This definition comes from Joseph Bates in his book The Nighttime Novelist, quoted by Roseann Biederman in the Writer's Digest article, "How to Find Your Narrative Voice." In the article Biederman says, "A strong narrative voice gives your fiction a distinctive flavor and makes it stand out in a slush pile. But many beginning novelists struggle with finding their narrative voice." She continues by quoting Bates, "You may already have an understanding of your natural tendencies in storytelling; if so, wonderful. But if not, let me reassure you that those tendencies are there, that your own voice is waiting, and wanting, to emerge...(but) it's a process of trial and error. Write without overthinking what happens, and take note of what patterns you see emerge in your work that might suggest your natural strengths in voice."

9. Narrative Clutter: too much detail resulting in confusion for the reader. Ansen Dibell in his book Plot makes some good points on this subject. For example, "Don't mention the names of any characters who aren't vital to the scene or to the scene immediately following. Develop or introduce extra characters later, when the context calls for them and they have something to do. Don't have your entire cast of characters, and all their relationships, cluttering the narrative at the beginning."

10. Narrative Roots: writing from what you know, from where you come, and what you feel. "It is by the nature of itself that fiction is all bound up in the local," said Eudora Welty. "The internal reason for that is surely that feelings are bound up in place...Fiction depends for its life on place."

I'm sure there are many branches of Narrative's Tree I missed. Are there any you've explored, any you've swung from--or fallen out of? (!)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Forks in a Writer's Road

Abandoned bike seen on walk, November 2013
"I've always been interested in medicine and was pleased when my brother became a doctor. But after thinking seriously about that field, I realized that what intrigued me was not the science, not the chemistry or biology of medicine, but the narrative--the story of each patient, each illness. --Lois Lowry

I saw this bicycle one day last week while on my walk, and got to wondering about the paths the old bike might have been down, the stories it could tell. Who were its riders who might have felt breezes blow their hair while coasting downhill or gasped for breath going uphill? What forks in the road challenged them to explore--or change direction?

Newbery Award winner Lois Lowry (Number the Stars and The Giver) says she was drawn to writing because of people's stories. But first she considered entering the medical field. Interesting background on a talented writer (she's written over 30 books) showing the fork in the road she faced.

Lowry has also written about how she became a writer: "I was a solitary child, born in the middle of three, who lived in the world of books and my own imagination. There are some children, and I was this kind of child, who are introverts and love to read--who prefer to curl up with a book than to hang out with friends or play at the ball field. Children like that begin to develop a feeling for language and for story. And that was true for me--that's how I became a writer."

How did you become a writer? Did your life's goal start out one way only to change direction? Did you encounter a fork in the road, or did you hop on an imaginary bicycle, close your eyes, and pedal furiously down the road of surprise?

Hmmm, not such a bad idea. Except that maybe we should keep our eyes open...?


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Announcement: Free Critique Giveaway

Chasing ducks at the park, November 2013
Looking for a chance to chase your (writing) dreams? Dear Editor is offering a giveaway that just might get you a little closer!

In celebration of meeting her deadline for the first half of her new craft book, Writing the New Adult Novel: How to Write & Sell 'New Adult' Fiction, Dear Editor is giving away a free critique of the first 10 pages of your fiction manuscript. Entry deadline: November 7, 2013.

Though the deadline is nearing, there's still plenty of time. You qualify if your manuscript is fiction in any genre--adult, new adult, YA, MG. No children's picture books, though. The winner will be randomly selected and announced on November 8, 2013.

Dear Editor explains the critique: "In a critique the author receives general feedback about the manuscript sample's overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children's books only), concept, and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line 'line edit.'"

Pretty neat, huh? Well then, if interested, hop on over to Dear Editor (here) where you'll find details on how to enter--and incentives to spread the word.

Chasing dreams and/or ducks--it's all a matter of getting closer to the goal, right?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reflecting: Mirrors and Character

View from a downtown Cincinnati street, October 2013

                        "A writer can never know about a character's feelings what is 
                         not somewhere mirrored in her own." --Katherine Paterson

Been reflecting on this thought here of late...

Any writing subject in particular you've been pondering?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Writer's Postage Stamp

"I was trying to talk about people, using the only tool I knew, which was the country that I knew...I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it." --William Faulkner

Hubby and I participated in our second-ever 5K Volksmarch yesterday (last year's here), a "German-style walk" hosted by the local German Society in our area. A volksmarch is defined as "a people's march," a non-competitive leisurely walk along a marked trail. The goal of a volksmarch? "To develop physical fitness and good health and enjoy the camraderie of fellow walkers." We can attest to that--it was great fun, and the German food afterwards delicious! And in talking with my brother after the fact, I found out that years ago he participated in volksmarches where they originated--in Germany itself. He was stationed in the army there at the time and recalls great memories of the native soil he strolled through.

Do you agree with Mr. Faulkner, that the "little postage stamp of native soil" wherever we writers might live is worth writing about? I know I captured a few images yesterday from my native soil. Wonder how I might draw inspiration for writing from them. Hmmm...

A few samples of my postage stamp this October:


I must say I don't think I will ever exhaust the idea-possibilities abundant in my corner of the
world. What about you? What's your postage stamp like, and do you draw inspiration from what you see around you?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Poem, A Poet, and Gold Dust

view from my porch room
on a beautiful October day 
              by Karle Wilson Baker

Some days my thoughts are just cocoons--
      all cold, and 
            dull, and blind,
They hang from dripping branches in the gray 
      woods of my 

And other days they drift and shine--
       such free and flying 
I find the gold-dust in my hair, 
       left by their brushing 

I found this poem in an old book on the shelf, One Thousand Beautiful Things (copyright 1947 :-) and thought of my friend Peggy who often drops in and encourages me with her comments. But when I posted about the hummingbird, Peggy answered with "I feel a lot like a hummingbird--beating frantically just to stay in place." When I posted about the praying mantis and asked what insect readers might draw parallels from, Peggy responded, "The worker bee--buzzing around, working like crazy, never having time to smell the roses."

And I felt the frustration behind the words. Feel it in my own writing world sometimes. Know it's in many lives. So, I post this poem to say, let's spread some gold dust around! Here's a sprinkle for you, Peggy, with hopes that the upcoming week slows down a bit so you can do some of those things you really want to do--filled with thoughts that are free and flying.

Oh, and by-the-way, who's Karle Wilson Baker anyway? I wondered about that, too, since I had never heard of her before. That's right--Karle Wilson Baker was a woman as I found out in my research. She lived from 1878-1960 and became well-known in the early 20th century as a noted poet from Nacogdoches, Texas. I immediately felt an affinity to Karle, the poet with the unusual name (for a girl) and also for the fact that I once enrolled in a novel-writing course and my instructor was from...Nacogdoches, Texas!

"Poetry came naturally to her," according to Sarah Jackson in an on-line biography (here). Her poetic styles included the lyric, sonnet, narrative, and ode. Jackson also writes that she had "a strong sense of imagery and of figures of speech, especially metaphor."

In Karle's own words in a diary entry dated 1917, she wrote: "Writing my poems is seldom more laborious than skimming the cream from my thoughts. It just needs time and quiet to rise."

Oooh, if it were only that easy, right? Well, although we might envy such a talented poet, Jackson reports that while poetry came easy, Karle's attempts at fiction did not. So she had her frustrating writing days, too!

Maybe those were the days when a girl named Karle wished that gold-dust fell from the sky, too?

Are you having cold, cocoon-thought days lately, or flying-thought days when you wear gold-dust in your hair?

Friday, October 11, 2013

4 Writing Lessons from a Praying Mantis (and Isaac Asimov)

view from the window October 2013

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success--but only if you persist." --Isaac Asimov

One week it was hummingbirds out our porch room window. This past week the fascination--especially for the kids, cousins aged five, three, and almost three who played practically nonstop through a four-day visit--came in the form of one of the strangest of insect creatures, the praying mantis. "Come, look!" we said. "See if you can find the praying mantis among the vines."

An up-close encounter with the praying mantis coupled with discovering the above quote (thank you, Isaac!) elicited a chuckle. Parallels popped to mind between the strange insect, the quote, and the writer's life. Bear with me :-)

1. "You must keep sending work out..." A perfect camouflage cover, our cardinal creeper vine has the same same green hue as the mantis. The stick-like figure fades from view in its tangled shoots and leaves--never to be seen unless one intentionally focuses on it. Sort of like that manuscript buried in the bottom of the file drawer.

2. "You must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer..." You do know, don't you, that the female praying mantis is known for sometimes eating the male after mating? Don't let that manuscript lay in the drawer for fear it will eat its own head off!

3. "You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one..." The praying mantis can turn its head 180 degrees. It also can scan its surroundings with two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes located between them (fact source: National Geographic). A writer would do well to emulate a praying mantis' observation skills, both in researching markets and in working on the next project--details, details, details.

4. "If you have  talent, you will receive some measure of success--but only if you persist..." The praying mantis, named for the bent position of its front legs, suggests a prayerful pose. Ah, a little talent and persistence as Isaac Asimov says and--my addition to the equation--maybe a little prayer? For me, it's one of the most important needs of a writer since, ultimately, success is a gift to be thankful for. So my goals for the upcoming week? Get that manuscript out of the drawer. Query with persistence. Attack the WIP. Attempt a poetry prompt or two to encourage the words to come. And pray.

Lessons from a praying mantis? You bet.

Any other parallels you see? Is there an insect you take inspiration from?

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hummingbird Magic and Inspiration

"The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still." --Robert Frost

We're going to miss our little friend, the one that visited us so many times this summer and whom we could watch from our porch room window--a small green hummingbird that sipped from our Cardinal Climber vine that trains up the trellis below. We watched it hover and flit many a time and never got tired of watching it, especially when savoring the moment over a cup of tea. The fascinating creature only caused frustration when I tried to take its picture. After many attempts, this is the best snapshot we got.

But just like the season of summer is behind us and September now fades into memory, the hummingbird takes flight to warmer climates as fall's cooler temperatures beckon. But, because I want to carry the picture of the hummingbird with me for a little bit longer, I share some of its story here--mainly so I don't forget its magic.

Some facts about hummingbirds (from Yes I Know That):

  • The hummingbird is one of the smallest and most beautiful birds in the world, weighing only about 5 grams.
  • Hummingbirds can fly backwards, up and down, and sideways.
  • Some of their senses are so much stronger than humans, they can see farther and hear better than we can.
  • Their average life span is about 5 years but most die in their first year of life.
  • They can beat their wings from 10-100 times per SECOND according to their size, increasing to 200 beats per second when diving.
  • Their flying speed may reach 49 MPH.
  • Some smaller species can make their nests on leaves of trees.

Awsome little guys, huh?

Another site with interesting info' on our friends includes "Hummingbirds: The Birds that Kiss the Flowers" (squidoo), an article that shares legends,  a list of the best plants that will attract them, rescue stories, and hummingbird organizations. You also might have bought a Papyrus greeting card and noted their message printed on the back of their cards: "Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird's delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life's sweetest creation." --Papyrus


Might we learn something from the hummingbird that we can apply to our writing--and to our everyday lives? Things like beauty, wonder, savoring moments, laughter? Maybe something about heart, courage, vision, and focused efforts? It's worth a thought, anyway.

Such musings will carry over with me until we meet again. Happy travels, little friend. Hope to see you next year!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Words of Wisdom from Robert Frost

photo courtesy of hxc.hu

"Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes the pressure off the second." --Robert Frost

I came across this quote the other day, and it gave me pause. One of America's best loved poets, Robert Frost expressed in a colorful metaphor a concept I've found to be so true--if I talk too much about a writing project before getting it down on paper, the idea seems to lose power--and drizzle to a drip. Ah, what else, dear Robert, could you teach me (besides something about being a better poet??). Let's see...

"I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew.Writing a poem is discovering."

"Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down."

"The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get to the office." (Boy, isn't that the truth?)

"Forgive me my nonsense, as I also forgive the nonsense of those that think they talk sense."

"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words."

"Pressed into service means pressed out of shape."

"The best way out is always through."

Just some food for thought as we continue on this week. Any of Robert's thoughts jump out at you? Do you find that your writing ideas lose their punch when you talk about them too soon?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling, by Emma Coates

Maybe you've seen this graphic, maybe not: "22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling." In case you haven't, I thought I'd share since it's a visual that covers all kinds of great writing prompts and inspiration--and packs quite a writer's punch in a compact, artistically pleasing form. What do you think? Pretty cool, huh?

I first saw this in a post by Martina, over at Adventures in YA Publishing. Thanks, Martina!

Digging a little deeper, I found that this graphic was originally designed by storyboard artist Emma Coates when employed by Pixar. She wrote the rules herself, but says she learned the principles from senior colleagues while at Pixar. The beauty of it all is that the 22 Rules can also be purchased as a poster. What a neat idea. What better gift for a writer friend, or maybe even yourself? I know I've been inspired by it.

In fact, I've spent a bit of time this week looking over the 22 Rules from the viewpoint of my finished mss, now in the querying process, and my current WIP. What tips have I actually put into practice? Which ones do I understand better now than I did, say, two years ago? Which ones am I currently dealing with? Which ones do I plan to use as writing prompts or avenues of going deeper?

A few of my stats:
1. Those things I can say about my finished mss: #3, #8, #11, #14.

2. Those things I understand better than I did before: #1, #2, #16, #17, #19.

3. Those things I'm addressing in my current WIP: #5, #6, #7, #9, #12, #13, #21.

4. Those things I have made notes of and plan to experiment with: #10, #20, #22.

The poster provides quite a feast, wouldn't you say? Something from which we can take to fill our writer's toolbox, play with, contemplate.

Overall, I'd say my favorite is #11: "Putting it on PAPER lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, A PERFECT IDEA, you'll never share it with anyone."

Which, of course, speaks to the number one cardinal rule of a writer: WRITE.

All other advice simply branches out from that...

What points jump out at you? Anything you want to do, or do better? Which rule is your favorite?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Generations, History, and 90th Birthdays

Sandy, Mom, me, Grandma, Great-Grandma

"Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted." --Mary McCarthy, On the Contrary

My mom turned 90 this week, and as we gathered to celebrate--son/son-in-law, daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchildren--we tried to peek through the keyhole of the past to what interesting history those 90 years carried with them. We pulled out photos taken through nine decades. We laughed over fashion styles. We wondered who looked like who then and now.

A favorite picture for the four generations present was this one of four generations past. At the time the photo was taken, my sister Sandy and I were two oldest of a number of great-grandchildren. Mom is the one in the futuristic (or retro depending on your point of view) sunglasses. Doesn't she look like fun?

Fun, however, is relative and not always the best choice of words when describing a long life. There are times of great pain and loss (including that of a beloved child, Sandy), disappointment, unfulfilled dreams. But there are also long-term values and legacies to pass on--things like commitment, dedication, the lighter moments (like fancy sunglasses), love, and hope.

A peek into the history of others is often full of those things, too.

For example, I've been reading a small little book entitled, Kiss the Children For Father, Letters from a Civil War Prisoner at Fort Pickens. Lucius Merritt was a confederate civilian held political prisoner in Pensacola, Florida during the Civil War. Family members in subsequent generations were not only able to save and pass down the letters he wrote during that time, but a descendent, Merrit Nickinson, compiled them for others to read. Talk about history! This book's a treasure.

In one letter, addressed to his wife and dated November 14, 1862, he wrote: "Dear Wife, It is hard for me to pourtray (sic) my feelings--when I saw you and our children fading away in the distance on the steamer Sykes we have been parted so little during our ten years marriage-that our separation is much more painful now. But Providence orders all things for the best and we can extract from adversity the essence of good."

"...extract from adversity the essence of good..." I haven't finished Kiss the Children yet, so it remains to be seen if Lucius carried that sentiment throughout the rest of his life, but I'm going to guess he did. A pretty special legacy to pass along to future generations, wouldn't you agree?

More thoughts on the subject of history:

"Professor Johnston often said that if you didn't know history, you didn't know anything. You were a leaf that didn't know it was part of a tree." --Michael Crichton, Timeline

"History is a novel for which the people is the author." --Alfred de Vigny

"History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard. It is a poem with events as verses."--Charles Angoff

"Hope is the other side of history." --Marcia Cavell

And, for my mom and all the other beautiful ladies who've shared such loving and giving lives:

"History is herstory, too." --Author Unknown

Are you a history buff? Did you like history in school? Do you enjoy reading history, writing about it? Do you celebrate longevity, cherish and record the stories of those in your family who have passed through decades of history themselves?

p.s. we also threw a "card shower" for Mom. To date she has received 56 cards. Now that is fun!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From a Kid's Eye View

The giggles of a five-year-old are infectious. And the things that tickle them tickle us. I can't help but share the latest, most favorite ticklers of the five-year-old in our family--which, in this case, are these two jokes:

"What did the boy octopus say to the girl octopus?"

"I want to hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand."


"Why is 6 afraid of 7?"

"Because 7-8-9."

Can't you just hear the giggles?

Oh, and one of her (she's our oldest granddaughter btw) favorite stories? Well, Grandpa started it all by entertaining the kids with story after story. The made-up tales always started the same: "Once upon a time Angelica Bellica Boo and Grampsy Gramps (and of course Little A, Little Nick, and later Little C) decided to..." (fill in the blank)--and off they'd go on another adventure. In each story they did something different: explore the creek, climb a tree, go to the circus, eat Grampsy Gramp's chocolate bread. And as these kinds of stories were pretty predictable, the ending was always the same: "The End."

Well, the day came when Angelica Bellica Boo decided she wanted to tell a story. This is how it went. "Grandpa," she said, "I have a story to tell. Are you ready? 'Once upon a time. The End.'"

That's it. Six words. Six simple little words. But to a five-year old, six of the funniest words you ever heard. We loved how her own little joke tickled her.

Imagine our surprise then when we learned there is actually a book out there by that title. Once Upon a Time, The End, by Geoffrey Kloske. From BookList:

"'Is there a pea under your bed?/then what's your excuse?/Go to bed.' Reading at bedtime to his kid, who refuses to fall asleep, a desperate dad shortens the old stories, twists the nursery rhymes, and adds his own messages ('Why are you still awake?') in hilarious, short, fractured fairy tales and verse."

That's the gist of the book, but in our case the five-year old couldn't get past the title when we saw the book on the library shelf. "Once upon a time, the end?? We have to take this book to Grandpa!"

And so we did.

And the fun continues.

Writing books for children? Do you get a chance to get down on their level to see what makes them tick? Or giggle, as the case may be? It's good exercise!

Any kids tickle your funny bone lately?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Neil Gaiman on Making Good Art

Friends of the Library, wall noting names of supporters, Public Library of Hamilton County, Cincinnati

"Life is sometimes hard...And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art. I'm serious. Make it on the good days, too." --Neil Gaiman

We ended up at a library again this week, this time Cincinnati's Main Library downtown. (It's been a summer of libraries, it seems.) This time we were in the city for business, walking from one location to another--and the library was located between the two. It was too enticing and we couldn't pass up the opportunity. So we stopped in.

While there, I stumbled upon a gem on the new release shelf: Neil Gaiman's Fantastic Mistakes, Make Good Art. The delightful tome was actually a keynote address he gave to the University of the Arts Class of 2012, University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Next to actually being there, this is the next best thing. Maybe even better since the layout helps make the book. The graphic design takes you through the speech in an artistic way with bold font, small font, poetic form, slants, surprises and flair. You have to see it to appreciate it.

Being in the audience to hear the speech firsthand must have been inspiring, for sure. But I was inspired just sitting there in the quiet, surrounded by books, holding the speech in my hands and taking it in. A sample from the book:

"Looking back, I've had a remarkable ride. I'm not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel...a children's book...a comic...a movie...record an audiobook...write an episode of Doctor Who...and so on. I didn't have a career. I just did the next thing on the list."

No pressure! This from a man who has accomplished all the goals of his 15-year-old self multiplied many times over.

Another tidbit: "If you're making a mistake, it means you're out there. And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once spelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, 'Coraline looks like a real name..."

(Coraline is a favorite Neil Gaiman book.)

I can't do justice in describing this fun little book, I can only say it was neat serendipity to run across it on a random visit to the library and would encourage writers--just graduating or seasoned veterans--to take a peek at it.

You'll be inspired just like those students in that audience must have been.

Question: did you start out trying to make writing "a career," or simply attempt to do "the next thing" on your list until you realized, yes, you are a writer!? Which way is more fun? Do you see your writing as making art?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sage Advice on Proofreading

courtesy sxc.hu

"Proofread carefully to see if you any words out." --Author Unknown


Can proofreading be fun? Even humorous? Hmmm....

Any glaring proofreading mistakes you remember making?

Happy weekend, everyone :-)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Road Trips and Historical Homes

The pump where Helen Keller first learned the word w-a-t-e-r

"The most beautiful world is always entered through imagination." --Helen Keller

We were on the road the last few days and, oh, the places to which that road took us.

First of all, I once mentioned a book (here) that was an anniversary gift from hubbie one year, Historical Homes of America, compiled by James Tackach. The book was an instant hit. A bonus came when we recognized that we had seen one of the houses featured way back in the early years of our marriage, Brigham Young's Beehive House in Salt Lake City. I remember off-handedly saying, wouldn't it be neat to visit as many of these houses as possible whenever we travel?

Well, fast forward to the present, quite a number of years later, and we can now report that out of 67 houses featured in the book, we have seen 19. Two of those nineteen we saw this week while on our summer road trip...

...starting with the Helen Keller house, "Ivy Green," in Tuscumbia, Alabama. It almost gave me goosebumps to actually touch the pump where the breakthrough to words and communication came for the young child struck blind and deaf by illness when she was only 19 months old. Included in the tour is the house where she was born, the cottage where she and Anne Sullivan ("The Miracle Worker") lived while Anne taught and guided her, and a museum room sharing the story of her remarkable and inspiring life.

The second house we visited wasn't just a house, it was a southern plantation and home of the 7th president of the U.S., Andrew Jackson. "The Hermitage" is located outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The tour here took us far longer than we expected. Three-and-a-half hours worth, and if we didn't still have another five-hour drive home from there, we would have stayed longer. Having read The President's Lady, by Irving Stone and A Being So Gentle, the Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Patricia Brady, we've been interested in the subject of Andrew Jackson for a time. Needless to say, the opportunity to visit the Hermitage immersed us in the history of the man, his presidency, his personal life, his contributions, his controversies. Highlights from the brochure give a glimpse into the story: "Life on the Edge," "Connections, Confidence and Cotton," "Contradiction and Conflict," "Politics Not-As-Usual," "A Sense of Style and Destiny." Quite an interesting place in which to get a sense of the early-to-mid-1800s south and its issues.

And what prompted us to take this trip in the first place? Why, Little Nicholas' house! We puttered down the highway to visit the grandson (and his mommy and daddy, of course) who has relocated to the States from Spain and now lives only nine hours (by car) from us. It was his house that really was the biggest draw! And the one most difficult to leave when the trip was over.

Road trips and historical homes. Some great stuff. Our album of brochures and photographs continues to grow. Trying to imagine the worlds of people in the past never seems to grow old for me so I can't help but wonder where we will visit next. For sure, I've got plenty of album pages ready and waiting, whichever historical home it might be.

Any noteworthy houses or sites you've traveled to this summer? What historical site is your favorite? Is your imagination stirred when visiting places of the past?

p.s. The nineteen houses we've visited so far include: Helen Keller, Tuscumbia, Alabama; William Randolph Hearst, San Simean, California; John Ringling, Sarasota, Florida; George Rogers Clark, Jefferson County, Kentucky; Paul Revere, Boston, Massachusetts; Henry Ford, Dearborn, MichiganCharles Lindbergh, Little Falls, Minnesota; Jefferson Davis, Biloxi, Mississippi; Daniel Boone, Defiance, Missouri; Harry S. Truman, Independence, Missouri; William Jennings Bryan, Lincoln, Nebraska; William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), North Platte, Nebraska; Thomas Wolfe, Ashville, North Carolina; George Washington Vanderbilt (the Biltmore), Ashville, North Carolina; Laura Ingalls Wilder, De Smet, South Dakota; Andrew Jackson, Nashville, Tennessee; Sam Rayburn, Bonham, Texas; Brigham Young, Salt Lake City, Utah; Robert E. Lee (the Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery), Arlington, Virginia. All-righty, only 48 more to go!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Musings

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning..." Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

This opening line to a beloved classic is one of my all-time favorites. A simile to savor. Each new August feels pretty much like that, doesn't it--the idea of the year hitting a peak and then descending? Babbitt's great image-provoking description can't be beat.

And yet, August does speak to each of us, don't you think? What images might we come up with if we tried our hand at similes and metaphors to describe summer's passing?

This idea struck me after my morning walk the other day. With camera in hand, and no specific plan in mind, I snapped a picture here, one there. Upon reviewing the shots, one particular thought came to mind. See what you think :-)

August fireworks exploding!

Sparkly light displays...

...fiery glows.



...and ahhhs.

Yet quickly fading. 
Hold loosely. Release.

August: shooting off its own brand of fireworks in celebration of the passing of summer! May celebrations of your own kind be in store this month for you as well.

To what might you compare the month of August?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Speaking of Libraries...

Trinity College Library, University of Dublin
"In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them." --Mark Twain

In a couple of posts recently, I've mentioned fun excursions to branch libraries in our local area (a children's program, a fun MG title), but the other day I came across this wonderful tease--an article on "10 Mind Bending Libraries from Around the World." Oh, the places we could visit, the wisdom we could absorb!

Of the ten listed (check out the link for ideas for your travel wish list), there's the Philological 'Brain' University in Berlin, Germany--shaped like a human brain, and the National Library of Belarus which has 22 floors. The name for the shape of its building? Rhombicubocatahedron. (What??) San Diego's University of California hosts the Giesel Library, named in honor of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). The French National Assembly Library in Paris was originally created with books belonging to the clergy and aristocrats who left France during the French Revolution. Book lovers can only imagine the wealth behind these walls.

Photos of the libraries in the article show how truly mind-bending these places look, outside and inside. The one that shouted "visit me!" is pictured above, the Trinity College Library at the University of Dublin in Ireland. They say its history goes back to the the founding of Trinity College back in 1592. How would you feel walking through those doors?

Just thought I'd share. If you check out the link, I'd love to hear from you which of the mind-bending libraries you'd like to visit. Which one could you imagine yourself getting lost in?

We can dream big can't we?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Summer Reading, and a Story of an Amazing Reading Streak

"Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory." --Dr. Seuss

Pinkalicious came to town this week and visited one of our local libraries. We joined with a gazillion other mothers, grandmothers, and kids to get a look at her. The room was packed.

Familiar with the Pinkalicious books? I'd guess most of the five-year old population knows her. She's a figment of Victoria Kann's imagination and has captivated little girls now for several years. Who can resist her? All the pink, frills, and sparkles. Not to speak of adventure. Fun books to encourage reading at an impressionable age.

Speaking of encouraging the love of reading--which we're all in the business of doing, right?--I came across an article entitled "Seven Ways to Inspire Your Kids Summer Reading," by Jim Denney. You can read the article here. Among Denney's ideas, he suggests creating a cozy reading nook for your child, starting a family book review blog, and/or encouraging your child to write (yes!) and illustrate their own book.

But the best tip came with a story that tugs at the heart. The tip? "Read with your kids." Something I think most of us loved--and love--to do. But the story that illustrates the point? See if this doesn't touch your heart, too...

Denny writes of a single father, Jim Brozina, who desired to maintain a close bond with his daughter Kristen, ten-years old at the time. So they made a pact--they would read together every night for 100 nights. They started with L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz.

Guess what? 100 nights turned into 200, then 300, then..well...all the way up until nearly nine years passed, up to and including the night Kristen moved into her college dorm. They even read on Kristen's prom night--she all decked out in gown and upswept hairdo. Can you believe it? And the book they read that last night? The Wizard of Oz--the tale that started it all (shared, it is said, as both choked up)! Their streak went for 3,218 consecutive nights.

Isn't that the sweetest story of reading to your kids you've ever heard?

Postscript...the story of Kristen and her father's reading streak has been recorded, by Kristen herself, in her book The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared. Written under the pen name Alice Ozma (taken from "Alice in Wonderland," and the "Oz" books), Kristen is now dedicated to spreading the word about reading. Her story is quite the testimony to a most important practice. I haven't yet gotten a copy of My Father and the Books We Shared, but the title is high on my list. You can check out "Alice Ozma" at her website, The Reading Promise.

Any "reading to your kids" stories you have to share? What inspirational stories have come your way recently that tugged at your heartstrings? Maybe even some special something that you do in your own family? Do you like Pinkalicious?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Artistic Playground

"Writing is very much a playground--an artistic playground. It's the most fun thing I do." 
                                                                                                                                                                                                      --Shania Twain

We headed for a playground a day this last week with the little ones. Clear skies, cool breezes, slower pace, children's laughter. Perfect for recharging a writer's battery!

As always, I kept the camera close. The above image that I captured will be my inspiration this upcoming week when I head off to play with words. I plan to have fun. How about you?

And the photo begs a caption. If you were to write one, what would it be?