Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ringing out the Old Year

Three hours to go before 2009, and I am determined to do one more post to my Blog for 2008.
This is my commitment to blog more often in this coming year.

Blogging (for me) is a means of noticing some specific event of my life, searching out the meaning of that in a bigger way, and that making it truly mine by sharing it with you. For example, I (along with the rest of my fellow Seattle folk) have just come through two weeks of snow and ice, of postponed Christmas gatherings, and slippery, slushy roads.

For most of us in western Washington, this is unusual, and not all of us coped so well, quite a few getting truly stir-crazy and attempting icy hills with cars that should have stayed in warm garages.

I admit I loved being snowed in. I would like to say I wrote fast and furiously, reworking my Finding Nonna revision, and I did do a bit of that. But mostly I played Christmas carols, baked tons of cookies, made snow angels, walked in the snow (and yes, skidded on the ice at times, but in my hiking boots, not in my car.) I found it altogether lovely, and my one concern was the safety of family and friends who at times were out driving around.

My daughter, visiting from California, was snowbound with me and we loved cocooning in at night watching old Christmas movies, and eating (I regret to say) LOTS of those Christmas cookies I made.

So, did I waste my time, that precious writing time?

I don't think so.

I think I filled up my writing soul in a delightful way, as I looked out at those feathery flakes coming down, and the bare branch tree in my neighbor's yard, even the tiniest twig of it magically crusted with snow. I don't write fantasy novels, but that fairyland tree could easily inspire me to try one!

My spirit feels at peace this New Year's eve, rested in a deep way that I haven't felt for awhile.
I have just talked to (or left messages) for each of my five children, and I am ready to begin anew.

The snow is melting now, even the most cautious of snow chickens (like me) can get back on the road again. The postponed Christmas gatherings can take place, people can get to each other without sliding off into a ditch on the way.

But in that hunkering-down time when the snow was falling, falling, falling, and the roads were icy, I filled up that deep part of me writing soul.

Let the New Year begin!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Berlin Baby and Other Joys

I'm back! It's been an amazing few months: An end-of-summer trip to Berlin, Germany to hold my brand new grandbaby Cecilia, who of course, is strikingly beautiful, and coos in both German and English. You may suspect I'm stretching it just a bit, since Cecilia is just two months old now, but that's how it sounded to me Saturday, as she told me a long story in her coo language.

Cecilia is richly blessed with a trumpet-playing papa (my son) and a dancer mama: Christiane who was born in East Germany, and who you will soon see is quite beautiful. Besides the great joy of being with this loving family for three weeks, I had the remarkable experience of writing some of my chapters for Finding Nonna sitting on the rocks by the waterfall at Victoria Park, my home away from home in Berlin. Not only are there wooded paths for wandering as I pondered just what Ellie would do to discover Nonna's secret, Victoria Park also has a great outdoor cafe with lecker eis (delicious ice cream). Each day I rewarded myself for my roughed-out chapter, by ordering " eins waffel mit eins kugel vanille und eins kugel erdbeere." (one cone with one scoop vanilla and one scoop strawberry.)

All in all, it was a lovely three weeks.
Less than 24 hours after I returned from Berlin, I welcomed my 4 year-old grandson from Santa Fe, New Mexico, along with his mommy and daddy, for ten days of blackberry picking, visiting with cousins, going as high as we could on the swings, buying two new swordtails for our aquarium, going to the Turtle Park, making muffins, making a magic wand, and other such delightful pursuits.

I rejoice in saying I suffered little Jet Lag from the Berlin trip--there just wasn't time for it!

And now the third Rejoicing I want to share with you all: I finished my revision of Finding Nonna this week. My writing group, the Diviners (see picture with the blog entry before this) gave me a round of applause. I was a little startled when I got to the end--somehow it just didn't seem that could happen, after all the time I've been working on this book.

Yes, I still have some rewriting to do--I've been at this business long enough to know that. I will be printing the book out this week and reading it all the way through to see what I still need to do before I begin marketing it. But for now, tonight, I am smiling, my heart happy at all the surprising insights, and the unexpected action scenes (who knew that Mark was going to be a skateboarder? Not me, at least not when I started.)

As I sign off from this first entry after my summer absence, I promise to be back much sooner this time around. In the meantime, my hope is for all of us to keep our hearts open to the Rejoicings all around us, be they cooing babies, double scoop erdbeere cones, or finished chapters of our books.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Celebrations on the Journey

Pictured here, Holly Cupala, Katherine Grace Bond, Janet Lee Carey,
our celebrated author,Molly Blaisdell, Judy Bodmer, and myself, Peggy
Not pictured: Justina Chen Headley, and Dawn Knight

The trials of the writing journey can sometimes discourage us, and then how thankful I am for my writing group, the Diviners. We meet each Wednesday afternoon to read and critique each other's work, to console during hard times, and to celebrate the grand events of our writing lives. This past week was one such glorious event, as we gathered to celebrate our dear Molly Blaisdell's new book, Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs, just out through Barron's Publishing. Molly has such a fresh and wonderful take on Rembrandt's life through the eyes of his son Titus. This book is going to be a must-read for teachers, librarians, and lots of delighted kids, and we are rejoicing with our dear Molly! We cheered her (note the pom-pons) and had fun with flowers, cards and gifties of a writerly sort.

We did our work, too, reading and giving feedback on current chapters we'd brought, feeling fresh energy from our time of rejoicing. I left smiling, newly confirmed to keep on keeping on. The writing journey is worth it, and these joyful celebrations are one of the ways I remember this.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Catching Air

My almost-ten year-old grandson Jordan attended skateboard camp this week, and I, as his chauffeur learned right along with him. It was pretty cool, if a bit unnerving to watch Jordan zip up and down ramps and half pipes, trying out new tricks. The first trick to learn is the ollie, I discovered. This involves slamming down the tail of the board and leaping up in such a way as to "catch air." It looks easy when it's done right, the skater and board coming up as one.

But it's scary, too, and painful when skater and board don't reconnect in the right way. Jordan has an impressive-looking bruise on his left shin as testimony to this.

Still, the ollie is the basis for all the other skateboard tricks, including the kickflip, which mesmerized me as I watched the experts do it, leaping up, nudging their boards to spin in the air, then reconnecting gracefully: board, skater, and ramp.

Jordan and I both learned a powerful lesson this week: If you want to be a master skateboarder, you have to be willing to "catch air" no matter how painful the learning may be.

Writing (and life) are a lot like that too. Catching air means leaving behind the firm ground and taking at least a little leap. This summer, I've committed to doing just that with my current book project, Finding Nonna. I'm leaving behind the firm earth of the old plot and leaping up to catch some unexpected story twists involving an Italian greengrocer, a neurotic dog, and, as of this week, a skateboarding friend for Ellie.

I have to admit, as I leave the terra firma of the old plot, which was quite serviceable, my stomach is sometimes churning. But wow! As I catch air, and sometimes land on my feet by the end of the chapter (like yesterday) my heart soars. Each day I'm getting better with my writing Ollies.

I think this week I'll try a kickflip.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Singing to the Birds

I saw a woman singing to the birds this weekend. She was standing under a gigantic willow tree in my favorite Juanita Bay Park, and chirping and trilling at two birds perched high up in the branches. She eagerly identified the two birds for me--a dusky flycatcher, and a common yellow-throat. "You just missed a Wilson's Warbler," she told me.

"I bet the birds love it, when you sing back to them," I said.

Her face lit up. "I know they do. If I were Cinderella, the birds would make a dress for me."

What a delightfully startling statement!

I will always remember this woman and her love for birds because of this. It made me ponder my own writing: Do I say things in fresh and startling ways, so that my reader will be pulled in and want to read on?

At a recent writing conference our facilitator at a round table discussion urged us to do just this. "Shock the Broca," Jim Rubart told us, explaining about that very small part of the brain (the broca) that filters out the ordinary, the usual, those expected words we all seem to spout in our first drafts.

In writing, as well as in life, we want to be heard and remembered. I think that's why I put iguanas and llamas in so many of my kid stories. Who could ignore a llama named Rama? That's what I hope at least.

And so, as I write today's chapter for Finding Nonna, I'm looking for ways to shock my readers' brocas. It has to be true to the story, of course. I can't just put in dramatic language for the sake of it, without moving the story forward. But I'm having fun today with the once ordinary Mom next door, who now mutters in french when she gets upset. And of course, she has some startling things to say to Ellie about the injured snow goose Bela.

Am I tantalizing you? I hope so. I want to shock your broca, just a little bit, and encourage you to use fresh and unusual language, both in life and in writing.

Who knows what you may sing up?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mazatlan Musings

Here I am back from Mazatlan, and it was truly as wonderful as I'd hoped. Iguanas (BIG ONES) on the sidewalks and in the trees, walks on the beach, checking out the flamingos with my grandson Weston, and just relaxing and pondering by the pool as we ate shrimp fajitas. (Mazatlan is the shrimp capital of the world, or so they told us. )

And yes, I did work on Finding Nonna. Okay, so a lot of it was subliminal, but I came back with a good feeling for this rewrite. I am up to Chapter 6, as well as back to the general fast-forward of life, with library workshops, and teaching writing classes.

But besides just the fun of Mazatlan, something else happened that is a blessing for me now in this busy time. To explain what happened, I need to tell you a story that our pastoral coordinator, Kathi Rowley told us at a workshop, just before I headed for Mazatlan:

The CEO of a big California company headed for Africa for a safari vacation. When he arrived, he hired some tribesmen to carry for him on the safari--he had lots of stuff.

The first day the CEO and the tribesmen got up very, very early and traveled very, very far, very, very fast.

The second day, the CEO and the tribesmen got up very, very early and traveled very, very far, very, very fast.

The third day, the same thing--the CEO and the tribesmen got up very, very early and traveled very, very far, very, very fast.

The fourth day, the CEO got up very, very early and found the tribesmen sitting under a big tree, looking out into the distance. They refused to move. "What's going on?" the CEO asked his interpreter. "What do they think they're doing?"

The interpreter looked at the CEO. "They are waiting for their Souls to catch up with their Bodies," he said.

And that's what happened for me in Mazatlan. In that time of reading, and resting, and reflecting, of looking at beautiful sunsets, and basking in the honest delight and wisdom of my three year-old granson, my soul finally caught up with my body. I think that will stand me in good stead these next busy weeks.

But I know this is a blessing that needs to be renewed consciously and often.

As for me, I plan at least twice a day to stop, to reflect, to breathe deeply, and to let my Soul catch up with my Body.

I hope you'll do the same.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Heading for Mazatlan

Okay, so I know I said I wasn't going on so many trips this year, that I was staying here at home in rainy Seattle and write, write, writing. And I have been, for the last two months, faithfully plugging away on Finding Nonna, like I committed to in this very blog. I'm actually starting to get excited again, researching snow geese, and Alzheimer's Disease (both in the book) and having fun getting to know Ellie and Nonna all over again. I'm up to Chapter six, reworking as I go.

But now I have a chance to go to Mazatlan--warm sunny Mazatlan with my Deb, her husband Eric and our 3 year-old Weston, the brilliant kid I've told you about, who last week, sitting in the tub, saying "Bam, Bang, Crash" as he played, called out to his mom--"Mommy, is 'bam' onomatopoeia?" Oh yes, I need to invite this 3 year-old grandson of mine in to do a class for my writing students!

But in the meantime, I'm heading for Mazatlan with them this Monday, and will be doing most of this week's writing on the beach. I do have a laptop, but often on vacation I just take my notebook and pen--and am surprised at the new and exciting plot twists my stories take when I make this occasional switch in my writing mode.

It's a perfect time for a fresh take, too--I've just gotten to the part of the book where I'm getting a bit tangled. Which way to go? What happens next? How do I get to this beautifully plotted end I already have in mind for this book?

I'm betting a week in the balmy sunshine and tropical breezes of Mazatlan will break open some brand new possibilities for Ellie and Nonna, and Bela the Snow Goose.

So now I'm off to pack--a hat, some sunblock, my writing notebook and pen. I'll keep you posted when I get back, on how it all went. In the meantime, I wish you all a creative vacation of your own, whether it's Hawaii, Mazatlan, or your own backyard deck. Any change of pace or place brings new life to our hungering creative souls.

So this week, create that space and enjoy!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Springing into Spring

Okay, so I know it's not really spring, but this morning the sun is peeking out, and I saw a yellow crocus, my first one, while out walking. Not only that, I'm eagerly springing back into a rewrite I've put off for a long time, a novel called Finding Nonna. (In one version, it was called Spring Forward, Ellie, which may be why I feel this fresh excitement to work on it, now with a hint of Spring in the air. )

I'm publicly proclaiming to all of you that I will pursue this time, and get this book completed and off to market. It's a book dear to my heart, dealing as it does with a tough topic: Ellie's beloved grandmother has Alzheimer's (early stage) and is coming to live with them.

But the book has humor as well, and a particularly personable Snow Goose.
Okay, that's all I'm going to say about it, remembering the writer's maxim, if we talk about a book too much, we tend not to write it!

So I'm signing off rather quickly this time. If you're looking for me, I'm holed up at the computer, boldly writing away, while outside on the deck two dark-eyed juncoes, who also believe it's Spring, are trilling along to keep me company.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A January Surprise

Oh wonder! Oh Joy! I have the Starbird Ridge Snowflake in my possession--a gift from my sneaky Sis Nancy and her husband Mike. I so wanted it as a memory of my four years Starbird Ridge fiction series with Pockets Magazine. And once my dear family found out about the Robert's Snow auction to benefit cancer research, they decided to bid on the Starbird Ridge snowflake for me for a belated Christmas gift. There was a lot of bidding going on--thanks to all of you who decided to support this worthy cause.

But my sister persisted, and on January 4th, sitting at their kitchen table in Tucson, I opened the surprise gift and rejoiced. Anni Matsick, my illustrator for the series did such an amazing job of capturing the other Annie (Sammy's youngest sister in the story series.) And Haggis, the family Scottish Terrier! He makes me smile each time I look at Anni's rendering of him. The snowflake will soon be ensconced in a glass case and put in a place of honor here in my office, not only a joyful memory, but also an encouragement as I write, to bring to life my characters for each story, so that readers may have that jolt of recognition when they read, knowing this is a worthy character, real in the best sense of the word.

And now on to the New Year--so many books to be written. I'll be sharing that process with you in its many aspects--from simmering the "soup" of my daily life and skimming off the ideas, to applying writerly glue to the seat of my pants to stay attached to my computer chair each day, to weeding my writing garden as I revise.

There now, I've mixed three metaphors all in one sentence, just to make you all smile.
May this be a year of smiles for all of us.