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July 2014



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Jul. 7th, 2014



If inner critics or little worrying voices are too harsh, if the internal doomsayer won't shut up about catastrophic what-ifs, here are a few countering questions:

What if everything turns out OK?
What if I can accept that I'm doing the best I can?
What if the worst doesn't happen?
What if it doesn't have to be perfect?
What if I trust that there will be a solution?

Still having computer issues, so my online presence is spotty, but I am able to post this today.

Jul. 5th, 2014


I'll be away for a bit

Last week, a severe electrical storm caused damage to our electronics that we are still dealing with. Therefore, I'll continue to be unavailable for a little while longer. Hope you all are well!

Jun. 28th, 2014

uih cover

If I knew then

It's my turn to blog at YA Outside the Lines, where we're writing letters to our younger, aspiring selves. An excerpt from mine:

"... I need to tell you this part, too: after you publish again, you will still doubt yourself. Publishing doesn’t “fix” anything. It brings you much joy, interesting opportunities, and a little money. But it’s not a magic ticket ..."

Jun. 26th, 2014


Memory prompts

Just for fun and warming up, some possible writing prompts:

What was it like when you stayed home sick from school?

How did you celebrate Independence Day while growing up? (If you're not in the US, pick a different holiday.)

How was alcohol handled in your house? What were the rules and customs around it?

Did you know your grandparents well, or not? What did you know about them?

What were your favorite games when you were little? With whom did you play them?

We never know what little details may catch, what incident or memory may be connected to a larger story. These are exercises in memory, in observation, in description. In standing outside what was once ordinary and familiar, and capturing it from a different perspective.

Jun. 24th, 2014


Active characters

There's a certain story pattern that I'm becoming more disenchanted with: the character who fights all sources of help and has to be dragged out of trouble or isolation by the repeated efforts of other characters. We all need a helping hand from time to time; we all benefit from those who reach out to us. Occasionally we will push away those who could help us. But at some point, a character who is going to grow will have to grab the helping hand, or seek it out. And secondary characters should not wait around forever for that moment, with endless patience and persistence, as if they have no lives of their own.

A character who is actively trying to help him/herself is also easier to root for. (Or a character who at least wants help, even if s/he doesn't know how get it, or has to fight off inner voices counseling a more self-destructive route.)

Jun. 21st, 2014


Green beans now

Today we attended the launch party for this book:


Bow Wow Wow! Green Beans Now?, a picture book by Jessica Dimuzio. It's the true story of two dogs who love green beans, and it discusses the organic gardening that produces those beans (among other vegetables). Appropriately enough, the launch party was held at Really Cooking with Robin, a caterer, cooking school, and food and kitchenware store focusing on healthy foods. (Their healthy chocolate mousse was divine.)

The author is a friend and critique partner of mine, and I've gotten to see her grow from an unpublished writer to the owner of her own business, Nature Tales and Trails, which includes two picture books, school visits, and nature education programs.

Making healthy food fun is important, and this book delivers with dog pictures, jokes, and sense-rich descriptions of the food woven in among practical information about gardening.

Jun. 19th, 2014



Here are two interesting quotations from the book I'm reading (Fairyland, by Alysia Abbott):

1. "'What kind of writer are you if no one's heard of you, and you make no money?'"

(My answer to that would be: the usual kind.)

2. "'Be brave. If you're not, pretend to be. Nobody knows the difference.'"

(I've done an internet search to see if I can find the original source of this one. A few sites attribute it to H. Jackson Brown, Jr.)

Jun. 16th, 2014


Hawk story

Cornell Lab hosts a couple of cameras that have been keeping watch on a red-tailed hawk nest. Three young hawks hatched back in April, and--this being the fifth observed brood from this pair, were christened E1, E2, and E3, in order of hatching. This past weekend there was much excitement, as E2, the first young hawk to leave the nest (or "fledge") returned, while E1 and E3 were strutting and flapping their wings, making like they were going to fledge at any moment. The cameras are accompanied by a chat room, where chatters anxiously anticipated the first flights of these birds. Any time I looked in on the proceedings, there were about 2000 other people viewing the camera feed at the same time.

Think about that for a minute. 2000 people, all focused on one hawk's nest in Ithaca, NY--many of those people hundreds or thousands of miles from Ithaca. At Cornell, there are also volunteers who observe and help ensure the safety of the nest, and there are volunteers who moderate the chats and educate people about hawks.

On Saturday morning, E2 flew off the nest again, followed shortly by E1's maiden flight. After a few hours of having the nest all to himself for the first time in his life, during which he mostly stared pensively off the edge of the nest ledge, E3 fledged also.

The hawks spend their early fledgling time figuring out how to fly--their mistakes and clumsiness, their earnest flapping before they can become airborne, a reminder of what a miracle flight is. Birds learn quickly, so most of the birds we've seen in our lives are accomplished fliers who make it look easy. The fledglings remind us that, like much else in life, it takes practice.

Sadly, after only a day off the nest, E3 had a mishap when he perched under an automated greenhouse window vent. It closed on his right wing, breaking the bone. The hawk-watching community agonized over the fate of the injured bird, which was ultimately rescued by a wildlife rehabber and taken to an animal hospital. (E3 is now undergoing treatment; the vets are hopeful they can repair the wing and ultimately return him to the wild.)

I have been marveling at the resources, the care, the energy, that have gone into tending this one family of hawks. And here's my point: this is the power of story, the power of specific characters. Biologists could lecture all day long about the importance of hawks or any other animal, their magnificence, their role in the ecosystem--and most people's eyes would glaze over. But when you can show people a specific nest with individual animals, when people can watch and get to know one family, when they can follow a few birds' lives and root for an egg to hatch, a bird to take its first flight, a wing to heal--then they care in a way that grows into a more general understanding and caring about a much larger population.

That's what story does. We zoom in on a few characters and tell a specific story, encouraging readers to bond, hoping that the story's meaning will be extrapolated and generalized deeper and farther.

Jun. 14th, 2014



I seem to be seeing this message a lot lately, in so many places and forms that I can't even remember them all:

Write from the inner voice. Don't be so swayed by a thousand external voices. Reach for truth. Make the emotional connection. Write with passion.

Jun. 11th, 2014


Testing assumptions

I took a writing workshop last weekend, and there was so much to it that it will take me a while to work through it all. One of the big take-home messages, though, was to be willing and open to fundamental revision. Not to get too attached to our words too soon. Not to think of revision as just polishing the draft we've already got down.

Everything is subject to change.

When I was in my mid-twenties and making some life changes, I reached the point where I was willing to question everything I thought I knew about myself: what I wanted out of life, what I was good at, what was best for me. I let go of assumptions and began to build back from the ground up. In some areas, I found that I wanted what I had always thought I wanted. Certain strengths and weaknesses were exactly where I had originally assumed them to be. But in other matters, I went in new directions. I tried new things, and they worked. I let go of other things and never missed them.

Change doesn't mean that what has come before was a waste of time, even if we spin 180 degrees in the other direction. It can be so hard to drop the baggage, but we are lighter without it.

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