Sunday, May 30, 2010

From (Not For) the Birds

"Chorus Line" Print by Artist Wendy Wegner
The woodpecker started it all. I heard the tapping--actually, it was more like hammering--before I saw him. I was surprised at how small he was compared to the noise. He sure worked hard for his supper.

Then a flock of goldfinches sprang up. Have you ever noticed the gladness in a goldfinch's flight? They dip and soar like iridescent bubbles blown from a child's wand. A little farther on and a cardinal flitted by, a splash of red on green canvas, and a dove cooed. An owl hooted.

And I took messages from them home with me...

Woodpecker: Dig deeper for the good stuff, even if it sometimes feels like you're beating your head against a tree (or computer). Your writing--and relationships--will be better for it.

Goldfinch: Write, and live, with as much gladness as you can. There are many things to be thankful for that are often taken for granted. Just like you can't hold bubbles or a goldfinch in your hands, time passes too quickly to get bogged down in the little things.

Cardinal: Brighten someone's day at the birdfeeder, water cooler, supper table or any other gathering place. Your stories, and your days, will be better because you reach out to others.

Owl: Give a hoot--for what someone else has to say. We might feel like we'd like to hole up alone in a tree sometimes, but we can learn a lot from others.

Dove: Go in peace as much as you can. Find ways to reduce stress. Work out the tension in those tight muscles. And tell someone how much you appreciate them. Especially this Memorial Day--a day to reflect on our blessings, and to remember and honor those who sacrificed to help make them possible.

Happy Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Historical fiction is one of my loves--I guess that's why my first children's book is in the genre. I've always loaded up on stories about history at the library or in bookstores--starting in childhood with Little Women, the Little House books, Caddie Woodlawn and the like-- and the pattern has carried over to writing.

But here's the problem--at least my problem--in writing historical fiction: TMI.

Yes, TMI as in "too much information." Not  too much in relation to research, getting the facts straight, being true to the period, representing life as it was in the particular era--that's the first thing historical fiction writers will address. You've got to know who your character is, where she fits in to her time frame, where she comes from. But most of what has been researched, catalogued, stuffed in the brain--if used--will be an overload. What we're looking for here is story--a good one. Not a history lesson. So I'm open to inspiration in dealing with the problem. Here are a few words on the subject:

"The best research doesn't do any good if you can't tell a great story--gripping for children, who are often interested in things that we aren't, and bored by things that we think are keep them reading."--Jennifer Jensen, Suite 101

"When we convey dialect, we should use a light touch to keep the text readable and so as not to parody our characters. In historical work, the dialog shouldn't be too historical-- a few thees and thous go a long way." --Paula Fleming, 

"The good historical novel is the wise selection of the right fact for the right effect. It doesn't surfeit the reader by too much information, it doesn't starve them with too little." --Caro Clarke,

And perhaps the most helpful words of all come from Ann Rinaldi, author of over 40 historical books including The Second Bend in the River and Nine Days a Queen:

"...and so it is that historical fiction writers build on facts and take the leap of imagination..."

Yes--imagination! The big key. I'm so ready to drop my TMI overload and take the leap.

Wanna' go with me?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Discovery Friday

Another day of revision on my middle grade novel has passed. And at one point, a fun discovery snuck up beside me and typed itself right into my manuscript. I had no clue it was coming, hadn't given it a thought, until--voila!--there it was. And instantly I recognized that, yes, this new thought is just exactly right: my main character's cat has big ears.

Big ears? Ha, how silly is that? Pretty silly I'd say--except that it turns out that this little detail can play into the relationship. Who would have guessed? Now another layer exists in the bigger scheme of the story. Someday when the book is published (see, we say when, not if!), my readers will know what I mean.

Isn't discovery in writing fun? At least, today, it was for me.

And so I end this week on a high note, both in writing and in the special events of the past few days here in the family. And I also take a moment at the end of this work week to share a few thoughts on the subject of discovery in writing:

  • "We don't write what we know. We write about what we wonder about." --Richard Peck
  • "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." --Marcel Proust
  • "Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and you learn as you go." --E.L. Doctorow
  • "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." --Joan Didion
  • "Writing is a tool of transformation and can shine the light on the inside, dispelling darkness, taking us through external layers, bringing us closer to our souls." --Hillary Carlip
  • "You always find things you didn't know you were going to say, and that is the adventure of writing." --John Updike
Happy weekend--and happy discovering!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Story of Joy

Jumping for joy is good exercise. --Author Unknown

It's been a fantastic day. First and foremost came the news that our second grandchild--and first grandson--was born last night. Can't help but share our happiness. We are excited, and I've been jumping for joy all day--which truly is good exercise!

With this wonderful family news came the development of a new skill. I've finally learned how to use my cell phone for more than just making the occasional phone call. I know, I'm a bit late in getting into this game, but sometimes we learn things only after they become a necessity. In our case, the new parents--our son and daughter-in-law--live on the west coast. I plan to get out there to hold the little guy for real sooner than later, but until I can, I'm thrilled to receive photos of the new life on a small screen--especially the one of him at only 15 minutes old. Be still my heart!

Joy comes in several forms, one of which--in addition to grandchildren--is the joy of writing. Jane Yolen's Take Joy, A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft is one of my favorite books on the subject.

For sure, I'm not suggesting that writing carries a deeper joy than that which comes from a precious new life. But at this special time in our lives, I was drawn to Ms. Yolen's book and was not surprised to learn that she draws joy from grandchildren, too--and links such joy to the world of writing. She says (p. 173):

I contend that a writer is always working, whether standing or sitting,
whether lying down in a hot bath or walking up a steep hill,
whether brainstorming with an editor or dreaming on a train trip.
Activity that stimulates the cardiovascular system also stimulates the imagination.
Don't forget to smell the grandbabies.
Pay attention to good food.
Lie down on your stomach in the tall grass.
Listen to the rhythm of ocean waves.
Put your hand on graven stone. Finger silk. Touch a loved one's hair.
Breathe in the world.

Good advice all the way, but did you especially notice, "...don't forget to smell the grandbabies..."? It's part, she says, of breathing in the world. I can't wait for the day I can do this with little Nicholas.

So that's my story of joy for the day. Just thought I'd share. How about you? Any snippets of joy you'd like to share--or favorite breathe-in-the-world pastime to tell about?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Getting From Here to There

My regular walking route includes an uphill stretch--and, after all these years, the climb to get from here to there never seems to get any easier!

Once a group of four bicyclists passed me on that hill. The first three pedaled by with apparently little effort. Whish. They were here, there, and out of sight. But then I heard labored breathing, and a fourth rider came up on me. She struggled. She strained to pedal. Her front wheel wobbled. But, with a zigzag here and a zigzag there, she pushed on and finally reached the top. A seemingly off-beat technique--but it worked for her.

I'm struggling with an attempt to get from here to there, too--in a passage in my WIP. I need a smooth transition from one season to another, while skipping over a season in between. It's been an uphill climb to keep from slowing down my story's pace.

Irwin and Eyerly's Writing Young Adult Novels has helped give me perspective on the subject, especially Chapter Ten's "How to Get From the House to the Barn." Here the authors describe such transition solutions as "The Flea Hop," and "The Long Jump," giving great tips on how to bridge time along the way.

In some ways, it all seems rather simple. But in other ways, I'm still zigzagging. Have I used the best technique to get from here to there? Does the passage still bog down, stretch out too much, or have I shrunk time effectively--and (seemingly) effortlessly?

All are things that still need to be considered. But like any uphill battle, progress will be made one step, one pedal, one word at a time. And I'm learning as I go, and enjoying the view.

So how's your climb going--in writing or otherwise? Any tips for getting to a desired destination?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Flowers for Mother's Day

Recharging the batteries and enjoying family this Mother's Day weekend. But first,
I offer a few flowers--and thoughts--to those who happen to drop by. Enjoy!

"Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever
to have your heart go walking around outside your body." --Elizabeth Stone

"What feeling is so nice as a child's hand in yours? So small, so soft and warm,
like a kitten huddling in the shelter of your clasp." --Marjorie Holmes

"All babies need a lap." --Anonymous

"You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be
I had a mother who read to me." --Strickland Gillilan

"There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.
One is roots. The other is wings." --Hodding Carter, Jr.

"The precursor of the mirror is the mother's face." --D.W. Winnicott

"When I was a child, my mother said to me, 'If you become a soldier, you'll
be a great general. If you become a monk you'll end up as the pope.'
Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso." --Pablo Picasso

"There is only one pretty child in the world, and every mother has it." --Chinese Proverb

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Word of the Day

Whimsy (hwimzee)--1. flight of the imagination, fancy;
2. endearing quaintness or oddity; the quality of being slightly odd
or playfully humorous, especially in an endearing way.

If you took a look around my house, you would find a number of what might be described as "whimsical" objects--including these two drawings. Both were created by my kids--before they got all grown up on me. Keith was only three when he made the first, which I titled, "Keith, a Self-Portrait." Melissa drew "My Family" when she was four (notice the pet cat in the lower left hand corner). I love these prints which now hang in an upstairs hall. They are a humorous--and endearing-- reminder of the joy children bring, and still elicit a smile when I glance their way.

I have my friend Margie to thank for inspiring the idea of "whimsy" as my word-of-the day. She recently wore a darling silver pin handcrafted by a silversmith into a fun representation of A.A.. Milne's Eeyore, from the Winnie-the Pooh stories. She received the pin as a gift at a time in her life when most girls get an engagement ring. Though she didn't get the ring, she got a fanciful Eeyore pin, an enduring marriage to the guy who gave it to her, and a story to go with it.

There's a place in life for whimsy--a special something capable of generating a smile, rendering a pleasant memory, or stirring the imagination in a quirky kind of way. Whimsy has a place sometimes in writing, too. A classic example of this is in Cynthia Ryland's book (and Newbery Medal winner)--Missing May. This beautiful children's story about love and loss in an orphan's life features a slightly odd collection of whimsical whirligigs. Missing May has been around a few years, but still captures the emotions and heart of the reader and, once you've read it, you won't think of a whirligig the same again.

Whimsy. What touch of whimsy has captured your heart recently--or entered into one of your stories?