Friday, May 30, 2008

Poetry Friday: In widening circles

After an intense week of revisions, I'm grateful for the balm of Poetry Friday. Last week, I was late. (Really late. I posted my poem on Monday of this week.) This week, without an original poem, and without much time, I was worried I would have nothing to post at all.

Then I opened Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God.

From The Book of a Monastic Life

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

---Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I want the story I'm revising to be a falcon, a storm, and a great song. I want to give myself to it. And yet, I circle, and circle.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader. She is also interviewing Paul Janeczko!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Kissed by a Cow

How are revisions like being kissed by a cow?

Please leave your answers in the comments because as desperately as I would like to relate this post to writing or books, and as neck-deep in revisions as I am at this moment, and as recently as I have been quite close to some Holsteins---even I don't know the answer.

I just wanted to post this picture from my recent trip to Tennessee.

All that's missing is my devilish laugh.

Oh, wait! I thought of something bookish: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type.

But you can do better. How, I ask you again, are revisions like being kissed by a cow?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What procrastination looks like

Today, I'm debating whether I should work on my revisions, or Make An Anatomically Correct Brain Cake.

Arguments for making the Brain Cake:

1) Instructions include the lines:

"4 drops of red, 4 drops of yellow, and 2 drops of green makes a good grey matter color."

and " Work one cortex (area) at a time."

2) I don't think I would eat it, but I could.

3) Neuroscientists might be in the neighborhood, going door to door, looking for just such a thing. Or aliens. Think how helpful an anatomically correct brain cake would be to invading aliens.


Revisions it is.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Collaborative Art

Remember when I shared the Letters From Rapunzel page from the collaborative book my sister, Ruth, and her friend, Jill, are making? Here's how that page got transformed into the next collage, based on Shakespeare's play, The Comedy of Errors. I especially loved how Jill twisted the post office box numbers "5667" around, making them part of "errors" on the page. (For example, the 5 becomes 5aktz, a misspelling of the five acts of the play.)

The artist, Jill Smith, says this:

"I probably should make up some exciting way the numbers you gave me immediately made me think of this play, but that would be...shall we error. This time I picked the theme and figured out how to make the numbers work (more or less.) I picked Comedy of Errors primarily because we went to see it together and I enjoyed it. .....I like the idea of confusing or playful themes and added some "famous twins" images. ...The broken pieces of paper on the page represent the broken lines that start the tale and the gold chain...represents everything coming together... I used various image transfers and color laminates to connect with the concept of illusion or appearance vs. reality.... The seven sticker is supposed to be a question mark and the other numbers relate to other errors or misunderstandings on the page....

Here's her statement in its entirety, but you'll have to click on it to enlarge it enough to read it.

Memorial Day

"The past is never dead, it is not even past."

~William Faulkner


They have been given
flags, these children,

to plant between the stones–
decorated sticks, each insertion

point chosen with grave
care, the same they give to tugging

lace tights onto stiff-kneed
baby dolls, building

landing craft from perforated
plastic blocks, and arraying–

piece by piece–
squads of battered

soldiers along the arms
of couch and chair.

They have been given
flags, these children.

-Sara Lewis Holmes

From RN Clara Hart's post at The Sandbox:

It’s Memorial Day and while I want to remember, I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to remember my friends killed on September 11th, or the others who've died serving our great country. Those who I’ve worked so hard to save only to fail. I don’t want to remember the broken bodies I try so hard to fix. I don’t want to remember the scarred hearts that may never be mended. Read the rest.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I've been meaning to ask: Did you read these fabulous posts?

While I'm busy revising (and watching my son's team row,) I offer up this list of maybe-you-missed-'em posts. Each of them is a meaty read, except the last, which is something that amused me. Fine, fine writing all around....

From Crooked House: Thaisa Frank On writing to Strangers

From Chasing Ray: Why I Wrote My Thesis

From Educating Alice: Dad's Deployment

From BB-Blog: Old school stickies set

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Even More Revision Tips Wednesday

Not so much tips, as observations....

1) My house gets cleaner when I revise. I feel the need to straighten my outside world as I work on the interior one of the manuscript. I used to view cleaning as procrastination, but now I see it as a) thinking/processing time and b) the only way certain cleaning tasks will ever get done. My baseboards aren't gleaming, but they sure are happy that I noticed that they exist.

2) Negative thinking has its place---for about a week. I can growl, feel sick, whine, and think the worst of myself. Then I have no time for it. None.

3) The Dog Whisperer is a great show for writers. Cesar says to visualize what you what to happen and then make it so. (Sounds flaky until you see him do it, time after time after time.) He's also great at psychology and character motivation. It's never the dog; it's always the owner. Training a dog changes the trainer; revising a novel changes the writer. Why else would I be doing this?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More Revision Tips Tuesday

The take it or leave it wisdom continues. Remember, I'm blogging this mainly for me, to remind my own self of what's worked in the past. If any of it pleases you, feel free to walk away with it. (I hope you brought your own bag.)

1) Do your revisions in a different physical place. For me, I often draft (and blog) while sitting on my comfy couch. For revision, I go to my office and sit at my desk. It helps get my brain in gear, and makes me treat my manuscript as if it belonged to someone else. Sitting at desk = Ruthless! Fearless! Organized!

2) Wear something fun. I have the Frog/Toad bracelet I bought earlier this year, and you'd better believe I'm wearing it. But it could be crazy socks, a kickin' T-shirt, or a beanie. Whatever makes you smile.

3) Don't be afraid to move. This means your body----walk, pace, lie down and think, sit on the floor, jump up and down. And it means big chunks of your manuscript. Nothing is irreplaceable. Nothing must be. You are in charge of the story, so don't let what you wrote before rule you.

4) Trust the instinctual part of your brain. If it winces at your choice of words, it's right. If it starts skimming over the boring parts, it's right. If it wiggles uncomfortably when you try to slide a plot point past it, it's right. Yes, use your intellect, make plot diagrams, charts, whatever---but ignore your instincts at your very great peril.

And now my instincts are telling me to put on my bracelet and get to my desk.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Revision Tip Monday

This will be quick, because there's a Summer Blog Blast Tour going on, and both you and I need time to read all the fabulous interviews out there today (and the rest of the week.) But I did want to briefly post this:

I've begun revisions to New Recruit. To all of my blog readers' credit, no one seemed stunned when I mentioned last week that my revision letter was fifteen pages long. Dang. You guys are hard to impress. Kids at schools always gasp in horror when I show them the seven page letter I received for Letters From Rapunzel. I was hoping that fifteen pages would make me seem like a SuperBad Writer to them. No one could need that much redemption! No one could survive such a long, hard fall! When I stand before them with New Recruit in my hands---in the fall of 2009, I hope---I want them to see me as She Who Made Mistakes and Lived. I want them to know that writing is revision and redemption and completely and totally for those who can't get it right the first time.

In the spirit of that, I'm going to take blog notes as I go along. I'm calling these Revision Tips, but really, I have no idea if they will work for anyone but me. They're more like notes to myself: hey, dummy! You learned this once, now don't forget it next time!

Revision Tip:

Expect to discover new connections between characters. I don't think I could manage a level of intertwining like LOST, but without fail, when two characters share a past, or a future goal, or a present space, they automatically become more interesting, both to each other, and to the reader. At least let them reach for the licorice at the same time. Or discover they know the words to the same song. Everyone has seven degrees* of separation from everyone else, at least according to Kevin Bacon, so why shouldn't your characters?

*OOPS. Shouldn't that be six degrees?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poetry Friday: Run


The neckline is faux-torn,
which is embarrassing.
The stitched Nike logo
puckers the tissue-weight
white fabric. It hasn't held
up well. I laugh---each time---
at myself for buying it.
I put it on.

I hook my running
shoes by the dingy heel cuffs,
swinging them off the shoe rack.
I clip my bite-sized iPod Shuffle
to my flimsy shirt.
I pony-tail my hair.

I stick my mouth sideways
into the pelting tap water,
slurping what I should have
consumed instead of three
cups of coffee. I leave
the house.

I lock the door. I put my key into
the pocket that lies flat
against my back.
I pull down my shades.

I have already walked
the dog. It is hot. There is
a breeze. Men are building
a new house right in front
of me. I have nowhere
to go.

I'm only running,
running, running,
up this slow, endless hill
in the middle of the day
because there is music
in my ears, my legs
do what I say, and
I am savagely

----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Listen to me read this poem.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Two Writing Teachers.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Birthday Box

My sister made me a beautiful box for my birthday.

I wanted to show her how much I enjoyed it, so I took photos of the box, including some of me playing with the mirror on the bottom of it, and turned it into a mini-movie. (The writing at the beginning is on the inside walls of the box, and it's from letters I've sent to her over the years.)

In case you can't play the movie, here are a few more still images:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

By Fives

Kelly tagged me for a meme. I don't do memes much, but this one seemed easy, so I bit.

What were you doing five years ago?

  • Good thing I keep a journal, or I couldn't answer this question. Living in Columbus, Mississippi while my husband was the Operations Group Commander for a pilot training base (attended a graduation every three weeks for the two years I was there.) Reflecting on turning forty. Homeschooling my kids (a short stint.) Trying to give up on being a writer and do something else. Reading What Should I Do with my Life? by Po Bronson. Also, Lying by Lauren Slater, Atonement by Ian McEwan, and the script for Arcadia by Tom Stoppard. (My reading life has gone downhill, for sure. Yesterday, I read InStyle: The Shape Issue.)

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

  • Help my daughter pack her car
  • Walk the dog/myself for exercise
  • Make non-creamy pasta salad for my son's crew team, and deliver it, along with a large cooler half-filled with ice
  • Put myself back in write/work mode to tackle revisions
  • Tell you guys that I'm going to SCBWI L.A. and that I would LOVE to see you there
What are five snacks you enjoy?
  • Popcorn
  • Apple w/peanut butter
  • Graham crackers dipped in milk
  • Almonds
  • Cheese of any kind/bread or crackers
What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
  • Go on long, outdoor adventure trips with my family
  • Build a house with porches on every side
  • Hire a gardener to create and maintain a gorgeous walking garden
  • Fully fund the arts in as many schools as possible
  • Have my own plane
What are five of your bad habits?
  • Worrying
  • Leaving junk in my car
  • Writing hunched over on the couch, instead of ergonomically at my desk
  • Filing by piling
  • Shoes

What are five places where you have lived?
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Stuttgart, Germany
  • Newport, R.I.
What are five jobs you’ve had?
  • Waitress: Pizza Hut, Cajun's Wharf, Williamsburg Hospitality House (breakfast shift--yuck)
  • Historical interpreter, Colonial Williamsburg (I had a green dress with a lace-up vest and a purple one with hip hoops. And a wicker basket "purse.")
  • Student work/study jobs: Research on Mennonite family records, and marketing for the Virginia Shakespeare Festival (free theater tickets!)
  • Program Coordinator, USC Master's Degree in Systems Management program, Okinawa, Japan (free half of a master's degree!)
  • Writer (no tips, costumes, free tickets or degrees. But the best job I've ever had.)
What five people do you want to tag?

You, you, you, you....and you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I wanted to burst back in from my blog vacation with a post shining with casual glamor, like returning from the Caribbean with a golden, glowing tan. I would unload my suitcase of carefully chosen literary souvenirs, which I had scooped up during my time away, slide photos of my high-minded pursuits into the conversation, and weave an amusing, insight-laden tale of my days sans modern comforts like blogging.

But that would mean that I'd been think-blogging during my time away, now wouldn't it? (Think-blogging: composing posts in your head while experiencing real life.)

The reality is that my daughter's been home; I've been enjoying her company; and I'm about to tackle the fifteen-page revision letter for New Recruit. (Don't cry for me. I love this stuff.)

So all I have for you today are marshmallows:

1) From NBC's official site for Lost: Sawyer's Nickname Generator. Maybe you've already played with this, but I hadn't. My nickname? Moonbeam. I'm irrationally pleased. Not the reaction Sawyer intended, I'm sure.

2) In extremely light, but strangely satisfying news: Blogger has now removed the unnecessary quotation marks from its Delete Post page's "Cancel" button. Get the initial investigative outcry here, and the official capitulation here.

3) If you're not watching Masterpiece Theater's Cranford, why not? As the town gossip puts it: "Put no further pastries to your lips or you will choke when you hear the news." Watch the trailer here.

3) And should you lack delightful pastries to refrain from choking upon, I offer my brother's Marshmallow Bites recipe:

1 pkg puff pastry, both sheets thawed for 40 minutes to bring to room temperature
1 bag large marshmallows
2-3 Tablespoons melted butter
cinnamon sugar (store bought or mix 1 T. cinnamon into 1/2 cup sugar)

Roll out the pastry to gently smooth any folds and thin it slightly. Cut each sheet into 12 squares. Roll marshmallows in melted butter, then cinnamon sugar. Place each marshmallow in a pastry square and squeeze the edges together, like wontons. Pop the squares into well-greased muffin tins and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Cool enough to avoid molten sugar burns. Eat plain or with vanilla ice cream or top with sliced bananas and chocolate sauce.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Break

I love it when my daughter is home, because she shares cool science/art links like this:

The 2007 Periodic Table Printmaking Project.

Check out the way cool wolf-element Tungsten...or volfram, if you're Swedish.

I'll keep an eye out for comments, but mostly, I'll be taking a blog vacation to be with her. :)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Artist of the Week: Ruth Lewis

My sister, Ruth Lewis, surprised me last week with this amazing image:

It's from a collaborative art project she's creating with a friend. Each page of the book they pass back and forth is a collage of images, created in response to a book or story that the artist chooses. One rule (maybe the only rule?) is that the receiving artist must use one item from the previous page in her creation. This is what my sister wrote to her fellow artist upon finishing her piece of art:

"I was waiting for the right item around which to build a page about my sister's book, and you gave it to me when you passed the Ace of Hearts. One of my favorite parts of "Letters from Rapunzel" is the theme introduced when Cadence finds a note written by her father: "You must be willing to have your heart broken in order to live."

"The Ruby Apple" tale ends happily ever after when a daughter saves her father's heart—not by protecting it, but by planting it in the Royal Orchard. In "The True Story of Rapunzel", a farmer boy offers to plant one of his apples so that it will sprout a tree tall enough for the in-towered princess to pick fruit.

Finally, her father urges Cadence "Promise me you'll always listen to your own heart." Wise advice."

I can't tell you how much I love this. Be sure to click on the image, so you can see all the details. Ruth made those authentic-looking fortune cookie sayings, so she could put words from my book on them. There's writing on the bridge, too: armed with only poetry and tears. (If you've read LFR, you'll know where those words come from.) And the broken-open heart at the bottom: I keep seeing it as one of my red pencils, split in two, a reminder of how writing and art---and the response to them---breaks open everyone who's willing to live.

Thank you, Ruth.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: The Artist's Way

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron is a classic, and I almost didn't think it worth blogging about, since so many people know about it already. But if I'm going to use Nonfiction Mondays to post about writing books that inspired me, it would be wrong, wrong, wrong to not feature this one. (Yes, I know I have ignored NF Monday the last month or so, but I love the idea of it! Help me get back on the bus.)

First, if you're a creative person and you haven't read The Artist's Way, go do it now. It'll take you twelve weeks, and I don't want to hear any whining about that. The reason this book works is because you can't gulp it. It's the first (and maybe only) workbook for which I did all the work. True confession: I treat writing exercises like I treat cooking magazine recipes. Fun to read, but who has time to do them all?

But for this book, I actually rationed my reading, not allowing myself to read more than one chapter a week, which gave me time and space to fully participate in the questions and exercises. Most importantly, I wrote daily in my spankin' new spiral notebook for twelve straight weeks. All my other attempts at diaries, writer's journals, and notebooks had failed. They failed because I hated writing in them. I felt pressure to have them be "literary." I wasn't using them; they were using me. Now I know that notebooks for writers are really dumpsters. And I love my ratty pages like I love a best friend. I no longer write daily pages in a separate journal (Cameron calls these Morning Pages) but because of The Artist's Way, each and every new project begins with a new notebook, in which I scribble with abandon.

The second big thing I took away from The Artist's Way was the concept of Artist's Dates, the technique of scheduling time to refill your creative well, lest it run dry. I know when I'm in trouble creatively. It's when I suddenly notice that I'm cutting myself off from beauty, from originality, and most specifically, from other artist's creations. It's as if I think that because I'm not working as hard as I would like, because I'm failing at this Writer Thing at the moment, I somehow don't deserve to view heart-stopping art, or read literature-that-makes-me-weep, or view so-lovely-they're-painful movies. Instead, I'm flipping through TV channels, scanning the newspaper, and playing way too much Scrabulous. Art Dates, because they're scheduled, snap me out of it. Remind me of what's important. Open my heart back up when I've closed it up tight.

But---I'm confessing some more---I've gotten complacent. I stopped scheduling. I figured I loved Art (I'm including all forms under that capitalization) so much that I wouldn't forget it, ignore it, ration it. Foolish, foolish me. I did go to the Hopper exhibit, and it was fabulous. But that's it. And that was months ago! I need to date more often!

Here's an idea for a future date: I have a soft spot for fountains, and for A Midsummer Night's Dream. So this excites me. I may need to go down there and see it in person. Thanks to Endicott Studios for the link.

But that's June. What about now? What about this week?

See? That's why The Artist's Way is a classic. It still makes me think. It still makes me question my life. It still makes me change my life.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Poetry Friday: Bad

It's all in how you see it.

From the ars poetica site, by Alice Pero:

Bad Poem

Anything can be excused away,
even a bad poem
Just give it the title, “Bad Poem”
and it won’t matter,
syntax chopped, stilted meter,
improper number of syllables
in each line
A poem with clich├ęs,
a love poem that smears itself

Read the rest here. Then come back to discuss: what makes a poem bad?

Poetry Friday is hosted by She-Who-Started-It-All-and-Now-Keeps-Us-Organized (that would be Kelly) at Big A, little a.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What's in a Name?

I would write a blog entry today, but I have to entertain this crowd:

Pen Name: Lloyd N. Reepacheep

Blues name: Bowlegged Peaches Lincoln

Hobbit Name: Ruby Grubb of Little Delving

Elf Name: Merenwen Ar-Feiniel

Peculiar Aristocratic Title: Her Most Noble Lady Sara the Unique of Wimblish upon Frognaze

What should I feed them, Tadmack?