Last week we drove through the Berkshires, where we lived once upon a time. Along the way, we stopped in Williamstown and went to the Clark Museum, a place that blissfully combines two of the things that make me happiest in this world–art and being outside. To get to one of the buildings, you climb up through a wood limned with white birch, and afterwards you stroll back down through a pasture (be sure to close the gate behind you). From up there– views of mountains as far as you can see, as well as sculptures like this one:
We drove on to Boston, where our oldest girl received her Physician Assistant degree. My favorite speech offered this advice: “Keep your courage in an accessible place.” A pocket crammed with courage, a backpack brimming with fortitude–these young, compassionate, dedicated healers need just that. Here we are with our own brave Zoe.
No words for the love and pride!
And still some summer left!
As a public service, I’m passing along this link to a post by uber-librarian Betsy Bird (also author, with Julie Danielson, of “Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature”). There are so many wonderful kidlit blogs out there, serving readers, teachers, parents, and librarians. Here’s an overview of some of the best and most fun.
A warning: resist clicking unless you have a couple of hours to spare! http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2014/08/08/the-state-of-childrens-literary-blogs-today-prepare-to-update-your-blogroll/
Our house is getting painted. Like too many of life’s ventures, we set off on this one with glee, only to quickly thunk to earth. Who knew color was so crazy complicated? There is no such thing as yellow or green or even gray, and don’t get me started on white. (The names don’t help the confusion–who wouldn’t want a house painted Dragon’s Breath rather than Knapsack?) Our house is tall and pointy and surrounded by old trees, which means that the light up top doesn’t match the light on the bottom, and when it comes to color, light makes all the difference (If in my next life I’m lucky enough to come back as an artist who intuits all this, I’ll be an en plein air painter, lugging my easel across poppy-bright meadows, flicking my brush as the lark sings overhead).
Anyway. No sooner did we choose colors (out of bewildered exhaustion more than certainty) than it began to rain. What a bizarre July–so wet and so cool, for a few days I padded around in wool socks.
But the clouds have parted and the painters are here! Hooray! Only they listen to talk radio! (Were there a paint crew that pledged to listen to Diane Rehm, I’d hire them sight unseen). And remember about the house being tall and pointy? The screech of extension ladders? Ee-yoo!
(Speaking of ee-yoo: All this makes me sound like an entitled and obnoxious suburbanite, I know! Really, we are flabbergasted and grateful to be able to afford to hire painters. The house was last painted twenty years ago, and it was Paul climbing those awful, scary ladders. So we feel very privileged–and old–to be paying others this time around).
All this tests my concentration and so far my grade is C-. But lucky for me, I’m working on Book 3 in the CODY series. Cody is not a girl who gives up. She stands ever-ready to help. The sight of someone in trouble twangs her heart. Right now, she’s having a bit of trouble herself. The new book is about rules, not high on her list of favorite things. Also, confusing. For example, everyone and his uncle knows that stealing is wrong wrong wrong. But is it stealing if you’re taking back something that belongs to you? Cody is keeping me thinking (and laughing).
Revising the first draft of my new middle grade novel is up next. This book’s form is different from anything I’ve tried before. Remember these puzzles?
(Hey, just realized this: the way we used to work these, with our thumbs, was great practice for texting. ) That’s how the book’s elements feel to me right now. I’m sliding them this way and that, hoping to make a whole, but not right away, and not in a predictable sequence. Tricky fun. (For a book that does this masterfully, see Emily Jenkins’s “We Were Liars”, which I read in one sitting on a recent plane trip).
By the way, the house paint we picked is Hinoki. Can you guess what color that is?
Halfway–let us face the truth– through the summer, and time to take a tally.
I’ve been to two beaches.
I’ve eaten the most delicious and enormous (approximately the size of my head) artichoke ever.
Our beloved Habibi has survived a serious illness, thanks to some wonderful caring vets (and a whole truckload of money).
With great trepidation, I shared an ARC of “Moonpenny Island” with my friend Mary Norris, who is a superb copyeditor at The New Yorker, and she found only one minuscule mistake (which was my misspelling of minuscule). Bonus–she loved the book!
I’ve finished a draft of my new middle grade, and gotten a start on my new CODY.
I’ve had to leave two beaches.
Deer devoured my beefsteak tomatoes.
I discovered that buying a Mother of the Bride Dress is another level of hell.
A broken pipe gave us a new slant on the phrase “flash flood”. (More truckloads of money).
Last winter was so terrible, my usually trustworthy imagination failed me. I couldn’t call up summer, not a single image or scent or taste of it. Yet here it is, the phlox perfuming the air, my wet bathing suit draped over the porch railing, my neighbors ambling by with their happy dogs, the taste of peaches on my tongue. I can still easily imagine winter, though, which is all the more reason to head for the garden right now.
with my dear friend Kris Ohlson, sniffing a Jeffrey pine (they smell like caramel)
I managed to finish a first (messy, flawed, loudly begging for revision) draft of my new middle grade novel on schedule! For my reward, a bask in the garden. You come too…
What is this unidentified bulging object that has landed on someone’s ridiculously messy desk?
What can be inside? Is it friendly? Do we dare peek? Stand back! The portal is opening.
It’s not a UFO! It’s…it’s…ARCs! (And as you can tell, my over-the-moon self was so excited I shook as I snapped this photo).
Somebody’s about to go visit her daughters! In place of a post this week, here’s one I recently did for From the Mixed Up Files. I know I’ve mentioned the site before–well worth check ing out if you enjoy middle grade:
At the community rec center where I work out, there’s a cheerful, colorful poster titled “I Walk Because…” (you can see it here www.journeyworks.com) Inspirational posters normally give me the whim whams, but the first line of this one caught my eye. “Life is not a race.” How many times have I said that very thing about writing? (usually when I’m past a deadline and tearing my hair, but still…it’s true!) Some of my other favorite lines:
Because it’s cheap.
Beacuuse I’m proud to be a biped.
Because I can check on my neighbors’ gardens (aside: one of my favorite things about living in Cleveland Heights is how many people grow their flowers in their front yards).
Because it’s a great way to meet people.
Because it’s a great way to escape people.
I noticed they didn’t list the reason I became a walker: because my knees hurt too much to run any more. But the poster got me thinking about what an essential part of my creative process the after-writing walk is. After all that sitting, walking is pure pleasure. The act of it unties knots in my muscles and my brain, and it’s a rare walk when I don’t solve a problem–major or mini–in the work. I love turning something so every-day into a kind of mediation, both nourishing and creative. It’s pretty much impossible to feel anxious or depressed while walking, the horizon–or your neighbor’s perennial bed–beckoning.
The last line of the poster is corny but like so many other corny things, worth considering: I walk because every step is a new adventure.
Candlewick is going to publish two more Cody books! That means I will have my first real live, actual, official series! The first, “Cody and the Fountain of Happiness”, with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler, will publish this coming April.
I just came home from a five day writing vacation on the southeast shore of Kelley’s Island. I shared the rental cottage with two dear friends, one a poet, the other a prose writer. I’ve done this kind of thing before–most recently in VT on a bigger scale–and always there are surprises.
It’s a water snake, the kraken of Lake Erie! I’d heard rumors of them but this was my first encounter. They loved our rocky quiet shore–my friend Mary even began to name them (Ava, Letty). I was witness as one devoured a fish whole. Needless to say, this was zero at the bone stuff, and put a big crimp in my desire to go swimming.
—One night I outlined the plot of my new novel and described a dilemma I’m in. This is Unheard Of Stuff For Me. I never talk about work in progress, partly because it relentlessly evolves and partly because I have a deep fear of jinxing myself. But Mary and Susan were so helpful and pointed out some things lying right before my unseeing eyes. It made me wonder how much of my working methods are left over from when I began writing, when we lived in a very rural area, and the internet was still a gleam on the horizon, so sharing my work was more or less impossible. There’s a chance I’ll be less guarded in the future.
—Angry Birds is not just a game. One evening as I sat outside eating my black walnut ice cream, a handsome bird politely eyed me. I shared the tail of my sugar cone with him, but as he flew away with it, a bigger bird pecked him and stole the cone. The humiliated little bugger turned around and pecked me on the head! There is a story here, but it’s probably not for children.
–St. Brendan the Navigator once set anchor on a large pebbly island, only to discover, when he began to build a fire, that it was the back of a fish. Now that is a good story (thank you, Susan!).
Our cat Habibi has made it his lifetime work to teach me how to relax. He’s forever demonstrating techniques and strategies. Today I’ll share his Sunbathing 101. Feel free to adapt to your own needs.
The Wait, Is There Something Else I’m Supposed to Be Doing, For Example Meeting a Deadline?
Close your eyes and add a soundtrack of birdsong–relaxation guaranteed.