Category: Writing

All the doors thrown open

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woman watches spring

Writing a book can be a funny thing. Occasionally it feels like control has been unintentionally ceded to some other power: the original vision just doesn’t fit on the page. The character refuses to do what the writer has planned. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it can.

Writing a life, well, do we get to that? Do we get to write our own plotlines, choose who we will become? To some degree I strongly believe that the answer is yes. Right up until it seems to be out of our hands.
I’ve had a strange week. It’s been wild, it’s been wonderful.
What can I say? Well, not everything. Okay, frankly, not much. Hardly anything at all, in fact. And I apologize for being mysterious, and will let you know that the news that I cannot tell is good, and that it is writing-related.
You know that saying, It never rains but it pours?
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soccer coach, in reflection
Throw into the mix: Kevin away in Winnipeg, a mysterious allergic reaction that sent me to the doctor, solo parenting on the weekend, having to coach our youngest’s soccer team, and several more soccer games including my own on Sunday evening, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s been … overwhelming. 
Imagine me walking uptown on Saturday with my brood of children, running errands in the brilliant sunshine. I say, “Kids, I feel ten feet tall.” “But you’re short, Mom. We’re short people.” “I know. But I feel like I’m much taller than I actually am. I feel like I’m floating.”
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I have spent more than twenty years aiming myself toward this moment. More than twenty years working to accumulate the knowledge and skill to write books that people will want to read. More than twenty years of tenacity and, let’s admit it, almost obsessive effort, even against self-doubt and the rejection that comes to every creative person who opens herself to the world. And here I am, more than twenty years on, dropped into the perfect moment in which the universe says: What you wanted? Here it is.
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The Juicy Jelly Worm

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And, suddenly, the world is green again.

I’ve got news: I haven’t signed on the dotted line, but my agent tells me the deal is done, and promises that I won’t be jinxing myself by making an announcement.

Deep breath, here goes: I’m going to be a children’s author!

I’ve read a few children’s books over the years. In fact, I’ve done the math and figure that I’ve read at least 7,665 picture books since embarking on motherhood nearly twelve years ago, although I have to wonder how many of those constituted multiple reads. You know, the favourites that got “lost” because the loving parent couldn’t bear even one more read? I also wonder whether there are even that many pictures books at the library? Numbers are not my forte.

Anyway, it’s been an education. And I know what I like. So I wrote a book for children.

The title is The Juicy Jelly Worm.

I was helped along the way by brainstorming with my kids (but of course!). I riffed on plot ideas. I wanted to make them laugh. And in the end, I wrote text that has no moral to the story (gasp!). None. The book is purely for fun. It’s approximately 700 words in length. The publisher, OwlKids, will find an illustrator to bring the story to life, and really, as a neophyte children’s author, I don’t know how the process will unfold, other than it appears to be underway.

A few more details: OwlKids is known here in Canada for publishing the popular kids’ magazines Chirp, Chickadee, and Owl (our household subscribes to all three). And the tentative pub date is 2015.

So there you have it: The Juicy Jelly Worm, coming to a library/bookstore near you, a few years from now.

Meanwhile, I present to you Spring. Appearing right here, right now!
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How to write like you look like a real writer

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writing at soccer practice

This was me, yesterday evening. I was stuck on a plot point that just wouldn’t fix itself, so I took my notebook and pen to soccer practice, rather than taking my running gear (nasty head cold, so that made the choice easier). An hour and a half later, I had the full outline for the second half of the book. It’s a short book, let me add. I still use writing advice bestowed upon our sixth grade class by a teacher I remember fondly: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. I even like the Stupid part of the saying, which would probably be dropped by teachers now (would it?). I’m not that smart when it comes to plot. That’s where I really need to apply the KISS principle.

These photos crack me up because I’m clearly not writing. Pen does not meet paper. I’ve had a few portraits taken by photographers who want me to “look like a writer,” by which they mean, “look like my idea of a writer, please.” I am then instructed to pose with a pen and paper. I can explain til I’m blue in the face that I write my books on a computer. But people want to see their writers writing. (Nancy Forde, you are the exception to this rule!)

Occasionally, apparently, it happens. I write like I look like a real writer. (Now, if only I can decipher my own scrawl …)

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see, pen not touching page

Kitten update: Turns out Fooey would be happy with a fish. She just wants a pet of her own. I guess the dogs are too communal as far pets go? We had to break it to her that a kitten would not sleep in her bed, or not for long. I still kind of want the kitten, but I’m not telling her. Maybe I have a diagnosable problem: the desire to collect living beings to care for, possibly in volumes greater than I can actually manage.

Manage. Well, even if I can’t manage them all, I can still care for them all, right? Manage and care not being the same thing, when you get right down to it.

I’ve got some news. It’s small and I haven’t signed on the dotted line, but I’m going to tell you anyway, because it’s really kind of out there news for me: I’ve had an offer for the text of a children’s picture book!!! Details to come, assuming it all works out, and dotted lines are signed, etc. I’m so looking forward to saying, “Why, yes, I do also write for children,” when asked, which is regularly. In fact, the notes, above, are on the plot to a children’s novel I’m in the midst of.

The thing I’ve discovered about being productive is that you just have to sit your butt down and write. KISS. One word after another. And if you get stuck, it’s good to have a few projects spread out and on the go in different stages of completion. It’s pleasant if the projects are quite different in nature, too.

I’ve got my ideas basket over here. My opening paragraphs bin over there. My lonesome disconnected short stories haunting the cobwebbed corners of my office. My research files stuffed into the cupboard behind me. The half-written manuscript that hasn’t found the right structure lying in wait. Meanwhile, the completed manuscript that is looking for a home is not mine to worry about, not right now. Do the work. Let it go.

The other thing about being productive is that it’s nice not to be productive sometimes. To leave your desk and computer (or pen and notebook, as it were), and go have lunch with your husband to celebrate an offer on your first ever picture book. Woot! I’m off!

How are you?

where are you going, where have you been?

How are you?

I always reply, as expected, I am fine. Most of us do, right? It’s a polite greeting, back and forth, not meant as a deeply searching opening.

But, how are you? No, really, you can tell me.

And then I’ll tell you.

I’ll tell you, in truth, that I am struggling. Fold down the corner on this page. It’s only one page in a whole book. Mark it off. This too shall slip into the past. There is nothing specific to attach my struggle to, and perhaps that is why I am struggling. There is no news. I wait for news, knowing I can’t control when it arrives, nor what message it will bring. If I could learn how to live within this, what a gift it would be. I could learn real peace of mind. But so far, I am struggling.

In my dreams last night I signed a book contract only to discover that there was no editor to help me edit the book, and I would need to go it alone based on a few scribbled notes that included instructions to write “a wedding scene.” My book has no wedding scene, nor any obvious place to include a wedding scene, given that the main character never marries. Also, I wouldn’t get paid until the edits were complete. On the plus side, assuming I could complete the edits, I would earn a healthy sum. On the minus side, my personality in the dream could be summed up as: socially awkward. It’s my second socially awkward dream this week.

What can it mean?

This dream melded with another in which my entire family was riding in a helicopter while I ran in a field underneath them, watching the helicopter tilt and crash-land. But everyone was okay. We went into a nearby house and I realized we’d forgotten to bring the piano books. Crisis in dreamland! How would the children practice the piano?

So, how are you?

Me, I’m flat as day-old soda pop.

But this morning is clear and sun-filled. All of my kids still love to be hugged tight. Tonight is poetry book club. There is the possibility, always, that peace of mind is within, waiting for me to alight upon it. So, just now, I’m going outside, friends. I’m leaving this desk for a little while. I’m going outside.

I am thankful

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all of these photos look even better viewed in full: click on them to see

I ran on Tuesday evening: 10 kilometres. I ran again on Wednesday morning with a friend: 8.8 kilometres. I ran again on Thursday evening, in a light rain: 10.5 kilometres. I ran again on Friday evening, in a wind that took the breath away, cursing with fury the weather: 7 kilometres. On that run, fist at sky, a grin broke across my face somewhere in the second kilometre. Running makes me happy, no matter how irritable my mood, no matter the weather. That’s when it came to me. I had run every day since the explosions at the Boston marathon. I hadn’t chosen to do it consciously.

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I have six more kilometres to run, and then I will have completed the marathon distance, spread over  six days rather than an afternoon.

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It is Sunday afternoon. I have one more indoor soccer game today. I’d like to shut the computer down and run those last six kilometres, but I also want to take time to process photos and to write. I am trying to train myself to be disciplined with my time. On Friday, for example, I had an hour alone in my office, the kids being home on a PD day. I forced myself to turn the hour toward my new manuscript, a children’s novel.

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Kevin is playing top forty dance music while he does the dishes.

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I took my camera with me this morning when I drove to pick up AppleApple from her swim practice. It was my third trip out already this morning, and I thought, let’s document where I spend so much of my time: inside a vehicle, driving these familiar roads. Seen through the lens, the landscape looks bleak, somehow, empty, under construction. I like the resulting photos. Processing them, with Kevin’s music in the background, has given me a curiously crushing happiness this noon, a demolished happiness, like the happiness I associate with being young, with being alive to a potential and possibility not quite defined but present, a streak of light, a flare of anticipation, excitement mingled with melancholy, premature nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment already happening.

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This is the mood I’m in when I want to play the piano and sing.

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This is the mood I’m in when I want to write a new story.

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Or create photographs. It’s a happy mood. It’s a split-the-world-open mood. It doesn’t happen every day. I am thankful.

P.S. Just ran those last six kilometres. With love to all the long distance runners out there.

On the practice of patience

snowdrops in ice

Heavy subjects on my mind, but no clarity. As I don’t feel I have anything to add to the conversation, I won’t talk specifically about what happened at the Boston marathon on Monday afternoon. What felt so very strange was watching the raw photos and eyewitness accounts on Twitter only minutes after the explosions happened, with no context, no analysis, no filter — much like being a witness to something rather than being given a story, or told a story. In the evenings I am reading the Little House on the Prairie books to the kids, and when Pa has to go away to work he walks hundreds of miles, and his family waits for him to come home, with only one letter, months into his absence, to assure them that he is well and alive and will be returning to them.

I wonder if people used to be better at waiting, more practiced at patience.

Now we want to see and know instantly. I can text my husband from the grocery store to ask what’s missing from my list. I can text him a play-by-play description of the swim race my daughter is swimming in, even though we are 100 kilometres apart, and send him photos of the event. I like this. I’m comforted by it.

But I also recognize that I expect it, almost. I feel like I need to know. I also feel like I need to express, immediately, whatever it is I’m thinking. What are we recording in our blogs, in our Facebook statuses, our tweets? It’s the minutiae of where we’re at, in this moment. It’s the stuff of life, the stuff that does not keep, no matter how we mark it, and broadcast it to our friends. This too shall pass.

In the end, I’m not sure our narratives, the ones that are being written now, the stories that matter to us and stick with us, are all that different from the books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote. She wrote her childhood experiences first as a memoir, but that version was rejected by publishers. Finally, she shaped her memories into something different, going from first person to third, eliding experiences, leaving great swathes out, altering the tone, turning the minutiae, the scraps, into a whole arcing storyline. I feel like I’m telling my story in real-time, here on the blog, but that it’s not the same story I would tell if I decided to write a book about my life. Do you know what I mean? And yet, in both mediums, I am hoping to land on something universal, something lasting, some deeper human connection.

This blog plays the part of witness, I think.

Right now, today, I am suspended. I’m waiting. It feels like I’m waiting to find out about EVERYTHING. No amount of texting and twittering and Facebooking can tell me what’s going to happen. In this way, I’m not so unlike Ma, and Mary, and Laura, and Carrie, waiting to find out what’s happened to Pa, going about their daily routines, keeping busy, keeping their spirits up, hoping for the best. No matter how immediate our access to information, Life remains largely mysterious. The shape of our lives remains mysterious, as it is happening to us. And so we pluck out the scraps and offer them for examination. We photograph our meals and our cups of coffee. We record the kilometres we ran today. But it doesn’t really tell us, does it, where we’re at, and what is happening to us, or, more precisely, what is going to happen.

I suspect that the instantaneous nature of contemporary communication only distracts me from this truth. Patience remains an art that needs to be practiced, and appreciated. And so I wait as best I can.

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