Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Opening the Gift

Today is the Fourth Day of Christmas, and I am reflecting on all the lovely celebrations our family has had this past week. We started with my daughter Deb's birthday on December 22cd, which we celebrated by attending the Nutcracker, the Pacific Northwest Ballet performance. This was a special gift since my 7-year-old grandson Weston was seeing it live (with full orchestra) for the first time, and was enthralled. His delight was a gift to all of us, as he watched the entire performance, eyes wide, barely moving in his seat.

The next day we had our family celebration at my daughter Laura's home, with lots of laughter and food, and of course, the opening of presents. Grandson Josh opened a huge container of Lincoln logs and from that point on, he and his Daddy, and several of the other cousins were totally absorbed as they built an entire village (or so it seemed as tracks and buildings spread across the living room.)

On the following morning (Christmas eve) 25 members of extended family met for breakfast at a local restaurant, and who should make his appearance but Santa Claus, astounding all of us (who really didn't expect him so early.) The gift of his appearance brought smiles to all of our faces.

Christmas eve night, we followed our family tradition of opening one gift each. Seven year-old Weston could not wait to have his Mommy open the gift he had made for her, a lovely India ink etching of a cornstalk.

An hour later, after hanging stockings, I was off to church, with the joy and privilege of singing in the choir for our Christmas eve Mass. Such gift, as we sang those familiar hymns, the church lit with candles, Christmas trees filling the nave with their spicy fir smell, glowing with hundreds of white lights. My heart was truly full, God's Gift of Love so present all around and in us.

And all of this, before Christmas morning,which was wonderful in itself.
There are Gifts of all kinds. This Christmas week, I am thankful for all of them, but most especially thankful for the Giver.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hang On To the Leash!

Last night I saw a dog walking himself.

I was strolling along in our local park just before sunset when a Golden Lab trotted by me, one end of his leash properly attached to his collar, the other end neatly folded between his teeth. There was no master-type person in sight.

I watched, transfixed, as the dog trotted purposefully along the park walk, but then as dogs will do, picked up an intriguing scent and veered off on the grass, heading over the nearest hill. At that point, a jogger in the distance, turned around, and, catching sight of the dog about to disappear over the hill, gave a holler. The dog, fortunately, did respond and galloped back, leash in mouth, to his owner.

I couldn’t help smiling, and thinking, as I’m apt to do, how this very situation reminds me of my story writing process. Too often, I forget that I am the author, the master of this story, and I let it go galloping off, far from where I was initially headed. “My character just took over,” I say sometimes. Or (worse) “I think this is just one of those plotless stories.”

Nope. It really isn’t so. What’s usually happened is I am so busy being “creative” I’m not taking the time to plan out the story, or to periodically go into my editing mode to see if plot, character, setting and all those other writerly things are happening in my story.

I’m letting the story go off on its own, just like the dog last night. At first it may seem to work, the story may trot along on a nice story arc, but sooner or later, without a little tug on the leash from me, I guarantee that story will gallop off over the hill, and I probably never will find a decent end for it.

It’s a good thing to ponder at the end of my writing day.

Coming up soon: Part 2, Creative Detours,
Or: Is it ever better to just let the dog go over the hill?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Backyard Campfire

This week we had a fire in my rose garden. Really.

My grandkids (Josh, 4 and Amanda, 6) asked me, “Grandma can we make a fire in the backyard and roast marshmallows?” And I, good grandmother that I am, agreed.

First we had to find a safe place to build it. There was a nice bare spot in the rose garden. (I spend more time writing than gardening and my rosebushes periodically succumb to neglect.)

Josh and Amanda cleared the area of stray weeds and dug a small fire pit. Next they circled it with stones, and then together, we carefully arranged a pyramid of paper, small kindling, bigger kindling, and readied a log to put on top, should our fire stay lit long enough to do that.

We were (to my great surprise) successful! After a couple of false starts, our fire began to burn bright. As Josh and Amanda did a delighted fire dance, I began to think how this process of making a campfire is like the process of making a story.

First we have to clear a space, both in our lives for the time it takes to write, and in our hearts for the emotional work needed to create a story.

Next we need to circle up the stones—to put up some barriers around that space we’ve created. For me that means saying no to lots of lunches with friends, shopping, TV, and other such things.

Then we arrange the materials that will create the fire. It takes some time and thought to arrange those flimsy paper thoughts that will then light the kindling of a stronger story idea. This, if carefully fanned by the breeze of our spirit, then flames up with a real, true-to-my-deepest-heart plot that catches fire with a believable character and setting to finally ignite that mysterious and wonderful fire log we call STORY.

We did roast marshmallows that day, Josh and Amanda and I, a most satisfying end to our day. Just like a good story can be.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Family Reunion

We did it! 40 of us came together in my Kirkland, Washington home this summer for a long-awaited family reunion. Children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews came from New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, California, and even from Berlin, Germany to celebrate.

For me, a sun-lit moment occurred when my granddaughter, 2 year-old Anika reached out and took the hand of 3 year-old Ceci, her cousin from Berlin. “We are family,” she said.

And I admit it, I had to swallow down my tears, because in 3 words, my granddaughter Anika spoke the core truth of why we had come together.

We are Family.

We have different ideas about almost everything:

What to eat (vegetarian for some, barbecued steak for others)
When to get up (5:30 AM appears to be the time of choice for 1 year-old Louisa, but definitely not for the rest of us.)
And where to go (Seattle Center and the busy waterfront shops for some, a quiet forest hike for others.)

And yet we somehow managed to accommodate everyone, not all at once, and not without compromise. We laughed a lot, ate a lot, talked all hours of the day and night, and we cried together, especially when we had to part.

Through it all the blessed truth rang through, and left us all smiling to remember:

We are family.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Watching For Whales

I just got back from a wonderful writing retreat on San Juan Island,
For 6 blissful days, I, along with the other 5 members from our Diviners writing group, spent hours at a time writing. We stayed at a wonderful house that looks out over the waters of the San Juan Channel with Mt. Baker in the background, and tiny Turn Island almost within touch.

Yesterday we drove to Lime Kiln Point to look for whales, The resident orca pod had been spotted there just the night before. We didn’t spot any whales, but each of us has had the great joy of experiencing at least one good Whale of an idea in our time away here.

Much of writing, I find, involves watching for whales: first that whale of an idea that will captivate our energy and interest for the unexpected amount of time it will take to write the story or book. Then we watch diligently, searching for a whale of a good character who will carry our great plot idea forward.

And of course, there’s a whale of a lot of writing and rewriting involved in this whole process.

So it seems especially appropriate that we spent our writing retreat here on San Juan Island, where everyone agrees, Watching for Whales is a worthy way to spend your time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Vacation Research

Tomorrow I head home from my wonderful San Francisco vacation. The evening sky still glows an azure blue, as I watch the oak trees silhouetted along the top of the ridge outside my bedroom window. I'm thinking of Bree, main character in the novel I'm currently writing.

Part of my reason for this visit (besides spending time withLinda, my delightful writer daughter) was to get a feel for the area where Bree spent all her life before her recent move. So Linda and I spent time in the Embarcadero area, where I imagine Bree spent time skateboarding with her friends.

I got the feel of it in a way I couldn't from just reading--the smell of the breeze off the bay, and the sounds at noon, with folks grabbing wraps from the nearby lunch stands and sitting on the steps by the fountain and fending off the pigeons looking for lunch as well.

And now I have a memory, a Bree memory that has already popped up in the new scene I wrote this week.

I love doing research this way, for my stories on vacation. It makes me see and feel and experience all of life, not just my stories, in a new way, an all-of-the senses way.

Try it. Wherever you travel this summer, listen, and taste, and smell. Look at the colors and shapes of all you see. Writer or not, it's wonderful research for Life.


I just felt the slightest touch of the evening breeze. Must sign off now, to go outside--to taste and smell, and feel it, before I head for home tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bald spots in our writing--and life

My, oh, my--this picture tells it all. My beloved 4 year-old grandson Josh took a pair of kid scissors to his hair this week, and now has an outstanding bald spot. Even the best efforts of Mommy's favorite hairdresser couldn't do much about this!
Sometimes it's like that with our writing too. That well-intentioned chapter just doesn't turn out the way we planned. And sometimes no matter how we try to smooth it all out, to trim around the edges, to make that bald spot blend in, it just doesn't work for the story.
Sometimes we just have to wait. There are times when we need to ponder and dream and mull it all around, while we wait for the story to "grow out" the way it's supposed to.
Just like Josh is waiting for his hair to grow out.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Building a Monster Bug, and Other Writerly Research

I sometimes find myself doing research for my stories in the strangest of places. Like this week when I found myself on a local Seattle pest control website.

I love to use animals and bug creatures of all kinds in my stories for kids, and have found it zooms the interest level up when I do – a story bonus both for the kid readers, and for the busy editor who wants something a little startling or unusual.

So I was delighted when I found the kid page on the Eastside Exterminator website. The very first Fun Fact (about an ant lifting 50 times its weight) gave me a great idea for a story for Clubhouse Magazine, one of my current publication targets.

I admit I got sucked into the website for longer than I’d planned, when I discovered the Build a Monster Bug Game included on the site. But hey! I built a very credible lady bug while I was there, and now I’m mulling around a way to get ladybugs, of which I’m particularly fond, into another of my stories.

I encourage all you kids, and writers for kids to take a look. Even those of you who like to write scary stories may be inspired. (Did you know a cockroach can live up to 9 days after losing its head? Now that’s creepy!)

Have fun with your research. You just might find yourself coming up with a brand new story that excites and delights you.

And your readers too.

PS. If you happen to run into any real bug problems (like I did when wasps invaded our house the week of our big family reunion) Eastside Exterminators can help out there too!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sesame Street, This is Your Life

I received one of the most startling, albeit joyful, shocks in my life two weeks ago when our Western Washington SCBWI awarded me the first Lifetime Achievement Award during our annual conference at Mariott Hotel in Redmond. It was truly a surreal moment to recieve a standing ovation from over 400 of my dear fellow writers and illustators.

My award included an engraved plaque and clock, and an all expense-paid trip to the national SCBWI conference in LA in August, which I joyfully look forward to.

But what stay in my heart in these days since the conference are those words of love and affirmation spoken by so many of you during the "Sesame Street This Is Your Life" portion of the presentation. Sara Easterly sent me a copy of all of these, as I was too much in shock to take it all in as you were speaking. My heart is warmed each time I read these over.

You give me courage, all of you, as I continue on my writing/teaching journey.
I'll continue to share some of the joyful moments in late posts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Ack! I see snow in my last blog entry--must get a new blog entry. Okay, so I could do a blog with lots of rain images, and how the rain makes our creative spirits grow, but right now, today, at 3:42 this lovely Tuesday afternoon, the sun is shining, and my red tulips in the front yard are just starting to peek out. (The brave white ones bloomed two days ago, even in the rain.)

So that is how it is with our writing too--some of the stories just huddle away in the quiet parts of our hearts until the sun shines on them enough to open them up to our conscious. But some of our best stories open out and flourish in the rain, even sometimes in the storms of life.

It's a good thing to remember for those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest!

May your stories bloom this week, both in the sunshine and in the rain.

Looking forward to seeing many of you at one of our favorite Story Blooming spots, the SCBWI conference in Redmond Town Center. Just three days to go!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snow Day in February

Our unexpected snow storm has me smiling. I love walking in the snow, I love making fresh snow cones, flavored with maple syrup. I love making snow angels and snow forts with my grandkids.

But mostly (today) I love that I am snowed in all alone, and everything else I had scheduled has been canceled. That means I have a writing day with no interruptions, no hurry, just time to try this and that--to brainstorm that devotional I just thought of, to finish up the Clubhouse Jr. story and send it off, to work on my new Highlights story, "Sophie and the Dragon." I can put all those handwritten scenes into the computer for my new novel, THE BOOK OF BREE.

All things are possible on a Snow Day. I'm signing off now, to have the best kind of Snow Play ever--playing with my writing.