Sunday, November 08, 2009

Putting the pieces together to make a Story

Okay, so I promised I'd fill you all in on the summer family reunion.
True to my word, I did not write this summer, but still the story wove in and out as our family gathered here in my creaky old house with old plumbing. They came from Berlin, Germany, from Santa Fe, from San Anselmo, from Tucson, from Texas. And as we gathered, events began to unfold.

We had a wasp invasion, right through the living room wall one memorable Sunday morning.
We had a major plumbing blow-out (tree roots in the pipes).
We had a record heat wave, 103 degrees, and no air-conditioning.

But we also had a great wedding reception, welcomed the newest baby, Anika Faith (see picture) and celebrated the first birthday of our Berlin baby Ceci, along with that of her Daddy, Michael, (my eldest son.) We had lots of late breakfasts on the deck, a trip to the zoo, lakeside swimming parties at my daughter Laura's home (oh hooray for that lake when the temp soared to 103).

And each day, no matter what the joy or catastrophe (usually some of each) I journalled, just a bit, before I went to bed. Just bits, but the story was weaving, in and out, flashes of character, bits of dialogue, scenes to remember, some dramatic, some funny.

Will these come into the new book I'm beginning? Maybe. But for sure they are woven now into the fabric of my life, part of the bigger Story. The story of family that undergirds everything else I write. I'll share next time some of the smaller bits, those colors and textures that stand out, the pieces of that bigger story.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Third Eye

Last Saturday I had the great joy of participating in the Northwest Bookfest, presenting a session with my writing buddy Mary Jane Beaufrand (author of PRIMAVERA, and the soon to be released THE RIVER.)

Our topic for the session was "How do you get your ideas?" and I had the brilliant (last minute) idea of heading for our Halloween fun store and purchasing a rubber eye, which I attached with spirit gum to the middle of my forehead, my Third Eye, so to speak. It was blue and a bit wrinkly around the edges, and I must say pretty realistic, once I'd attached it to my forehead, and added a bit of beige face toner.

I explained to my intrigued audience at Bookfest that this Third Eye is what all writers need, the ability to see in a new and creative way, so that we notice those great ideas that just slide by otherwise. Brainstorming together as a group, we used some "what if" situations, and an assortment of objects ranging from Russian nesting dolls to odd-shaped rocks to come up with story ideas. We had everything from aliens perched in neighborhood trees to teleporting tennis shoes. We let the ideas fly with no editing, and I know at least some of the delighted attendees headed off home to write up (perhaps) their first story.

Afterwards, I inadvertently created a lively story scene myself. Driving home from Bookfest, I made a last-minute stop at Trader Joe's, totally forgetting my Third Eye was still firmly in place. I was cruising the aisles with my basket, wondering why I was getting all the strange looks when I remembered it. I quickly combed my bangs over my forehead as best I could, kept my head down, and headed for the checkout stand.

The check-out girl did a double take, but didn't say anything. When I finally made it back to my car and looked in the rearview mirror, I had to giggle. The third eye was peeking out through my bangs, looking more realistic than ever.

All the way home I chuckled as ideas for stories, both funny and weird, zipped through my mind. So yes, the Third Eye, that most creative and unusual way of seeing things, really works.

Try it yourself. I'd love to hear your stories!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer of the Family

Okay, I know this is heresy, but I am not writing this summer.
This is my Summer of the Family.
In exactly nine days, my beloved son Michael, his wife Christiane, and my almost year-old granddaughter Cecilia will arrive from Berlin, Germany to spend 5 weeks here with me in our home.

While they are here, my other two daughters and families will come from New Mexico and California, so that all the sibs and grandkids can have time together, as we all join in the fun with the families already here in the area. Some of our Tucson family will come, too: my sis Nancy and husband Mike, my brother Frank, and maybe more.

We will do lots of eating, talking, hiking, swimming, and lounging about, with occasional trips to the zoo thrown in. All in all, it doesn't sound wildly exciting. But I am smiling, even as I write this. And though I have consciously decided to set aside my writing times this summer so that I might be totally present and ready for family enjoyment, I know the stories will be percolating in my head and heart, stories springing from this very family time together.

Perhaps I'll keep you posted via this blog. Stay tuned!

And may your summer be wildly creative, in some delightful way--be it family and friends, writing or sketching, surfing or rock-climbing.

Eyes open for blessing, hearts open too--let us seize the glory of these summer days.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tantalizing Tidbits from the Feast

Our Western Washington SCBWI conference is two weeks in the past now, and still some of the wonderful snippets of wisdom and tantalizing tips stick in my mind, and continue to to nourish me.

I'll not forget Nina Laden (ROMEOW AND DROOLIET) reminding us, "If you don't make mistakes, you may not make anything."

And Deb Lund (MONSTERS ON MACHINES) reading her unforgettable poem about that inner voice that harasses us as we write, and summing it up by telling us, "Sometimes we have to revise our own story, that story we tell ourselves."

Krista Marino, Senior Editor at Delacorte, reminded us to take cute out of our dictionary, when talking about children's books.

Nathan Bransford (Agent, Curtis Brown Ltd.) gave us his pet peeves for story beginnings: Don't start your book with
  • the weather
  • your character waking up
  • looking in the mirror
  • sarcastic characters (too flip and negative)
Steven Malk (Agent, Writer's House) says it's great to be aware of trends, but don't write to them.
He also advised us to be nice to everyone, not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because you never know when that editorial assistant may become the Senior Editor.

Kelly Sonnack (Agent, Andrea Brown Literary) told us to avoid
  • forced pace-building (suddenly, quickly, at that moment)
  • copious tears (only one tear per story)
  • faces draining white or blushing
  • exclamation points!

Justina Chen (NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL) encouraged us to "say yes to the emotional truths of your heart."

And Sundee Frazier (BRENDAN BUCKLEY'S UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING IN IT) told us she has to write, that she cannot deny that creative part of her being. "I could not deny the One who created me."

I've offered just a few nibbles of that wonderful feast that was spread before us at our unforgettable Feed Your Genius conference. Now fully fueled, it's back to work. Happy writing, everyone!

Picture above: Some of my favorite people in the whole world--Molly Blaisdell, Janet Lee Carey, me, Katherine Grace Bond, Holly Cupala, all members of our Diviner Writing Group, all of us enjoying the Conference Feast

Monday, May 18, 2009

Meet The Creature

Oh yes, I admit it was wonderful and scary at the same time.
Our Western Washington SCBWI conference this weekend, that is.
The joy! Bubbling, bursting all around us as 400 writers, illustrators, agents, editors, joined together in a Giant Monster Mash, to figure out together how we can do the very best books possible for kids. We had workshops, gab-fests, and lots of food.

More details coming, but for now I leave you with this picture of our Mystery Guest, who made an early morning appearance Saturday to start us all off on our Adventure-Filled Weekend.

Flying High at the Kid Lit Party.

Wow! Just got back from our Western Washington State SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference, and I am flying high! I feel like a balloon filled with helium, ready to soar. So many wonderful writers, editors, agents, all eager to share, each having a special gift to enrich us.

The Kid Lit party Friday night was a time for us to just hug and rejoice in being together again, some of us who don't get to see each other often. Okay, so it was in the Mariott Hotel Bar and we could have little drinks and snacks to go along with our vibrant conversation. My good friend Mary Jane Beaufrand treated me to a strawberry daiquiri. I don't usually drink, but it was so deliciously filled with strawberries, and made me feel quite brilliant and happy. (See picture, above left, Mary Jane striking in turquoise blue, surrounded by, left to right, Sue Nevins (Mockingbird Books) and on Mary Jane's other side, Rene Kirkpatrick (Third Place Books), Janet Lee Carey, whose wonderful book, STEALING DEATH, will be out soon; Justina Chen, author of the amazing NORTH OF BEAUTIFUL; Holly Cupala, whose yet untitled but amazing YA book you are all going to love; and moi. Janet, Justina, Holly and I are all in the same wonderful writing group, the Diviners. Lucky girl am I!

Scroll down this blog to see our whole wonderful group--or most of us, in the archived blog, July 27, 2008.

Another joy for me at the Kid Lit party was having several of my writing students attend: See the pic on the right with four of them from my Bellevue College Advanced Class, The Magic of Writing for Children. From left to right they are: Jacquie Hill, Don Jenny, me, Erik Pulkka, and Neil Hoyt. We are going to be seeing published books from this crew--I'm looking forward to autographed copies, down the road!

I'll be blogging more about this wonderful SCBWI conference--the Kid Lit conference was just the start!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A papier mache Pig

I'm back from Santa Fe, after a joyous visit with my four-year-old grandson Weston.
Our main project while I was there? A papier mache pig.
Weston always has a list of projects for us to do when I arrive, and the Pig Project was the one on top. We started with a pink balloon, fully inflated, and attached toilet paper roll ears, snout and legs.

Sometimes the simplest of materials, those basic things of life can be the beginning of something wonderful, be it a new story idea for a book, or a papier mache pig. It's a good thing for us to remember as writers!

Weston and I proceeded to make a very sloppy paste, and to tear hundreds of strips of paper. These we had to slather on, layer by layer, over our pink balloon pig. What a messy process! Reminds me of that middle stage of writing a book, all those pieces that have to somehow be layered in and on our story.

Then we had to let it sit for awhile and dry. Yep, just like our book, when we get that first draft done.

After that we attached a Baker's clay tail, such a lovely curly tail.

But oh my, wouldn't you know it, when we tried to poke in the Tail End the whole inside of the pig exploded (that pink balloon) and there was a gaping hole in our beautiful pig.

Repairs needed. Some major, some minor. We made more paste. Tore up more newspaper. Slathered on more layers. Attached the ears more firmly. Let it dry again.

Ah, lovely! This pig version was much better. Those ears looked so cute at that new angle, and our pig was firm, fat and fully dry.

Weston and I painted him a lovely crimson, and Weston put on the finishing touches--his eyes and nostrils. Such a wonderful pig.

Such a wonderful story.

May you all have a joyful week, enjoying your stories and life, even if the process is sometimes messy. Even if your story, or your day explodes.

Just keep at it, slather on a little more paper and paste, and let it dry. Sooner or later, you'll wind up with a new creation, more lovely than before.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On my Way to Santa Fe

I'm so glad that writing opportunities come in bursts at unexpected moments.
I'm on my way to Santa Fe for an 8 day catch-up with my four-year old grandson Weston -- the one who knows the meaning of onomatopoeia. (Okay, look it up, it's a fun word all writers should know!) Weston is my soul mate--loves words and reading, and I expect will soon be writing his own stories. (His mom told me he did his first crossword puzzle last week!

So all that is to say--here I am, barely re-entering from my amazing pilgrimage to Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey, and I'm off again--with all my Writer Antennae fully extended, smiling as I watch for the story ideas that will be popping all around me.

When I get back, I promise to continue with those joyful and intriguing bursts of insight from my Holy Land trip--and I know I'll have some zaps of insight and writing delight from my Weston, and the Santa Fe trip too.

Until then, may you all have joyful and provoking experiences of life.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A Felucca Ride--and discovering Treasure

Okay, I promised tidbits about my recent four country trip. First stop: Egypt.

We (my sis and I, and our tour group of 84 others) started out in Cairo. On day one, eleven of us took a rollicking ride on the Nile River in a felucca, which is an Egyptian sail boat. We rocked and skimmed, and I clambered up to the front mast to get a better look at life along the Nile. Our guide Islam was nervous about this, and stayed close by my side until he could convince me to go back and sit down. But hey! I think we writers have the urge to do this often, to stand up and stretch, to look for the unexpected, even if we do rock the boat sometimes!

Our felucca made it safely back to shore, and we headed for lunch at a floating restaurant at the edge of the Nile. Delicious Egyptian food. I'm not sure what I ate, but it included a mix of meat (lamb?) and vegetables and spices mixed together in a delightful way.

Next stop: Khan al-Kalili, one of the biggest bazaars in the Middle East, and the oldest, dating back to 1382. As we wound our way through the maze of canvas-covered alleyways, we were plunged back into the time of Aladdin. Mysterious robed figures reache out to thrust scarves into our arms, and gold and brass and copper vases and statues glittered in the cave-like shops. At first I was intimidated with the shouting and the haggling, but our guide Islam stuck protectively beside us, and my sense of adventure kicked in quickly. By the time I emerged an hour later, my arms were filled with treasure. I smile, thinking yet again how much Khan al-Kalili is like the writing life--some days I have to coax myself to go into the winding, unpredictable alley-ways of my story--but if I venture in, I always discover treasure of one kind or another!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Four Countries in Twelve Days, Oh My!

And the traveling continues, most unexpectedly! Thanks to a lovely gift from my sis Kathy, I found myself March 10th, hopscotching to Rome and landing in Cairo for a twelve day pilgrimage of the Holy Land. I responded as a writer--I journalled every night when we came back to home base on our cruise ship, the Cristal, at least a bit, no matter how tired I was. And now I'm grateful as I read over the snippets of what we did each amazing day, to be able to break open each experience and relive it, coming to understand more fully as I write.

I'll share my insights with you, bit by bit: Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Greece. The very presence of these countries in my being now shapes my writing in ways that will surprise me, I know.

One bit for today--an experience in Galilee that rises quickly to the top for me. We stopped at the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a holy spot where tradition teaches Jesus spoke those eight wonderful Blesseds to the people. There on the green hillside sloping down to the sea our little group of pilgrims, in the Catholic tradition, celebrated Mass. Olive trees trembled in the afternoon breeze, their leaves green and silver. The birds (sparrows?) sang a spring song to us as we gathered on the top of that hill where Jesus taught almost 2000 years ago. And I had the joy and privilege of standing where Jesus stood and reading the Scriptures aloud at that Mass, Micah's words, "Shepherd your people, the flock of your inheritance." And then Psalm 103, "Bless the Lord, oh my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name."

It was a moment to be held tenderly for all my life. Someone told me afterwards my face glowed as I read--I'm sure it did. In that moment I realized the powerful blessing of God's goodness in a way that I will not forget.

So many moments in those twelve days. This is one of the joys of being a writer, to take each of these life experiences and hold it like a jewel, seeing new facets, then sharing the treasure in some way with my readers. I smile just thinking about it. Who knows what wonders will come forth?

Thursday, January 08, 2009


I love this time of year! In our church year, we call January 6th Epiphany, the time when the magi arrived bearing gifts for the Child Jesus. But also, symbolically the time when the wider world (symbolized by those three wise men) came to know about this newborn King.

The Epiphany was an Aha! moment for the world, and even the word epiphany has come to mean an awakening, a sudden knowing. I love it! This is one of the most exciting things about the writing life--those little light bulbs going off when a new awareness comes. Sometimes it's the moment when I suddenly understand my character, and what she's all about, like when I finally got why Ellie feels so connected to her mysterious, long-dead Great-aunt Eleanore, in my newly finished Finding Nonna.

Sometimes it's a great plot twist, something unexpected, that comes in the middle of the night, or when I'm out on a moodling walk, like that Aha! moment I discovered what happened to the cruel Red-bearded soldier in Two Moon Journey, that was going to be mean a life and death decision for Shanote.

Sometimes the Epiphany is wordless, a feeling, something moving inside me, like the moment I had just after midnight New Year's Day, our neighborhood sky dripping bits of glitter from fireworks, and the snow covered trees glowing white in the velvet night. I stood there by the window, feeling an inner joy, an excitement for this year to come.

Kids have this excitement, this willingness to watch, to be surprised. See the watchful look on my granddaughter Cecilia's face? She's ready for the epiphanies of this year.

And this is my New Year's hope and prayer for you. May we stay awake in our deepest being, watching and listening for those epiphanies, great and small. May we see and hear them all.