Saturday, December 21, 2013

Short days, warm hearts

Happy Winter Solstice! I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season whatever you celebrate.

Yesterday we had the sweetest snowfall. I awakened, drew back the curtain and found an inch of white had drifted silent and soft upon the world.

I pulled on my fuzzy-lined snow boots and my hat and jacket and went out walking, letting snowflakes land on my nose and eyelashes. There were magic things like pink ornaments with snow tops.

Kids swarmed out of houses, packing up snowballs and chasing one another, laughing and beaming with excitement.

Under foot, the crunch of snow, while the flakes still came down in silence.

I'm settling into my new space, my new life, feeling as excited as the children in the snow. There is a freshness and sense of seeing the world anew.

I loved coming upon this still snow-covered street with its wide-open view of hills beyond. On clear days, the Cascade mountains can be seen along that horizon.

As the chores of house-selling, moving a thousand miles and setting up in a new state begin to wind down, I've been finding time to read again and plan to post some year-end reviews. I feel the writer in me stirring with anticipation after such a long hiatus.

Soon I hope to start filling my pocket notepad with haiku as I ramble the new walking trails I've discovered (photos to come!) and to open my neglected manuscript. I'm sure that will be a shock!

This snowy birdbath looks kind of like a giant mushroom, yes? I'm ready for adventures large and small.

I miss my blogging friends. *waves* *blows kisses* Let me know how you are!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dawn, sunset, and a good book in all their glory

Dawn from my backyard deck in my new home a thousand miles from my old home.

Dawn. Such a literal as well as philosophical cusp—the shedding of darkness for light, a portal from past to present.

One of my favorite middle-grade classics, BELLE PRATER’S BOY by Ruth White has a theme based on this beautiful Rumi poem about dawn:

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don't go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don't go back to sleep!

I’ve always found dreams to be a chance to sort out problems and recharge, and dawn brings a golden opportunity to DO something, to take what I’ve discovered and run with it.

I realize I’ve never written a review of Belle Prater’s Boy, even though I’ve listened to the audio version countless times. I love the reading by Alison Elliott and the lyricism and authentic voice of Ruth White’s storytelling.

Here’s the opening line: “Around 5:00 a.m. on a warm Sunday morning in October 1953, my Aunt Belle left her bed and vanished from the face of the earth.” A few lines on: “Never before had anything like this happened in our county, and once the word got out, folks were fairly jolted out of their ruts.”

The story is told by 12-year-old Gypsy whose cousin Woodrow comes to live next-door in their grandparents’ home in Coal Station, Virginia. Gypsy is one of the more privileged in this mining town, living in a ranch house with new appliances, while Woodrow once showed up at a party in hand-me-down pants held up with a piece of rope. Like a junior Nancy Drew, Gypsy peppers Woodrow with questions about his mother, trying to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

But if Woodrow knows anything, he’s not talking, although he talks plenty about everything else. He’s a natural-born storyteller, who makes friends easily despite having a crossed eye. He is also adept at using his wit to deal with bullies and busybodies.

These two kids stole my heart. They are compassionate, smart, and tough, even though each suffered a terrible abandonment and has a bitter truth to face. They find real beauty and friendship as their story unfolds.

I’ve asked myself why I like to listen to this story again and again. I think it’s because I feel at home in the story, even if I didn’t grow up in Appalachia. That is one of the greatest gifts an author can give her readers.

That brings me back to my new home, where I actually live. It’s in north Seattle, nestled among towering pines and maples.

 This is my street a month ago.

This is that maple now that its leaves have fallen.

 I’ve always loved bare tree limbs against the sky.

It’s stark and structural.

And here, for old time’s sake, is one of my last sunset walks on Venice Beach before moving.

I still love it with a passion, even though I’m falling in love, too, with the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Moving on

Moving is defined as producing motion. Change of residence, transfer of furnishings, vehicle in motion. The second definition is something that evokes a strong emotional response, that stirs one deeply.

All the above applies. I've been looking for a new home, leaving an old one that has decades of family history seeped in its walls.

 Went here recently, just wandering:

and here, where the view from this lot was breathtaking (hard to see in the shot):

and here to have a cup of tea and get out of a downpour:

 oh, and since it's October, I stumbled across a very scary abandoned day care when checking out another neighborhood:

None of these pictures are great photos, since taking pictures was an afterthought of four days covering almost 500 miles of driving in Seattle-Tacoma looking at rental properties. Yes, that is where I'm going to move, leaving Southern California for the Pacific Northwest.

The area is beautiful, and there are lots of writers and artists, so I expect to enjoy myself, fit in, and finally have time to get back to writing.

Any of my blog buddies or SCBWI folks up there? I'd love to meet you sometime. I expect to be settling in during November.

All my SoCal friends I will miss terribly, but I'll come back for visits. That's a promise.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Finding childhood and the fabulous Neil Gaiman

I came close to drowning in the Atlantic when I was four or five. My sister, who would’ve been fourteen, had taken me to the beach near our house in Oceanside, N.Y.

The funny thing is that I barely remember the fear. The image in the far reaches of my memory is a neighborhood girl a few years older than me deciding that I’d been using my inner tube long enough and she should have a turn. So she yanked it over my head. My initial reaction was outrage at being dumped, but that immediately turned to surprise that without the tube I sank. I hadn’t been taught how to swim. I flailed up and went under again. At some point, my sister who was chatting with friends on the beach noticed and came to rescue me.

There was helplessness in being so little and suddenly unanchored in the vastness of that water, of it rushing over my head. Each memory I have of those early years may be fading on the edges but every one of them carries some visceral punch: the blue-and-white feathers on the floor that were all my dog left of my parakeet; sitting abandoned at the kitchen table peeling the “skin” off canned peas I had to eat; fever dreams of hulking beings whose shadows and crazed chatter bled into waking hours; being swallowed by the skyscraper canyons when we went to the city; euphoria and power in becoming a witch or gypsy at Halloween.

Amazing as it is that we remember events from our early childhood, it’s even more awesome when a writer can settle deep into those moments, pulling up raw truth and turning it into a story new as dawn and old as time itself. Neil Gaiman’s THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE is one of those books for me, and is the reason I rummaged around my head for those early memories, wondering what I’d find, and then being awed yet again by Gaiman’s ability to wander the paths of childhood and unearth its joys and terrors.

The novel is only 178 pages but packs in a vivid story of mythic proportion. A middle-aged man attending a funeral decides to drive past his childhood home and finds himself continuing to the end of the lane where an old farm reveals his forgotten past.

 Truly frightening at times, it weaves the nebulous quality of memory and the ability of a child to see with both confusion and absolute clarity; there’s an honesty to children’s observations despite lack of experience (or maybe even because of it).

All sorts of labels could be attached to this book—fantasy, horror, magical realism, fable. To me, it’s just storytelling at its finest, the kind of tale that is true down to its very bones.

Here are some snippets in Mr. Gaiman's words:

It was dark, and our candles cast huge shadows, so it looked to me, as we walked, as if everything was moving, pushed and shaped by the shadows, the grandfather clock and the stuffed animals and birds…

Ursula Monkton smiled, and the lightnings wreathed and writhed about her. She was power incarnate, standing in the crackling air. She was the storm, she was the lightning, she was the adult world with all its power and all its secrets and all its foolish casual cruelty. She winked at me.

“Oh, monsters are scared,” said Lettie. “That’s why they’re monsters.”

The water was cool on my foot, not cold. I put the other foot into the water and I went down with it, down like a marble statue, and the waves of Lettie Hempstock’s ocean closed over my head.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dead or alive?

I just finished 82k in rewrite--and I do mean rewrite. I feel a little like this drawing I found on the beach. Is it a flipper-person, a forensic drawing? I'm not sure if it's embracing the world or collapsing. But I love it, just like I love discovering anything someone has created for the joy of it. I may be exhausted, but I'm still ready to happy dance.

I am ecstatic to have written "The End" even though I know I'll need to let it rest and read it for continuity, gaping sinkholes, etc. But I have the perfect excuse for letting it rest since I'll be at the SCBWI conference for the next four days. Can't wait to soak it all up, to listen to people talk about storytelling and how to make it better and better.

See you on the other side...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing and life in its wonder

My writing is rewriting (I've passed 71k, the end in sight!) these last few months, changing my fairy tale dramatically--tossing out whole scenes and writing completely new ones. My life may change dramatically, too, since I may move again, leaving this beach I love for something I hope will be new and filled with wonder. But it's pretty hard to beat this evening shot at the end of my block that picked up the green and made magic.
That kind of magical shift in perspective is what I want when I read fiction. I just finished Paul Rudnick's GORGEOUS. That story lives up to its title. Here's what I said on Goodreads:
Biting social commentary and characters who stuck with me after the story ended, GORGEOUS, is a fun and, often, funny read, which makes the reader think about important issues, like the way society views beautiful people, fat people, rich people, poor people, glamour, fashion, celebrities, royalty, well, just about anybody.

I adore the voice of the MC, Becky, who opens the story with: "I grew up in what some people would call a mobile home and what other snobbier people might call a manufactured home, but I was always fine with calling it a trailer. That's right, I said I grew up in a trailer. Fuck you."

Becky's mother weighed 400 pounds, and while most kids would be mortified by that, Becky loved her mother without reservation. But a strange and magical thing happens after her mother dies, Becky turns into the most beautiful woman in the world. I won't give away the plot but let's just say Becky discovers that being beautiful and famous and rich doesn't come without a pricetag.

This book is for anyone who likes smart, hilarious, thought-provoking fairy tales with happy endings.


I feel like I'm on the cusp of some huge change, which carries with it a basketful of emotion. I see the world in all its terrible beauty. Here is a moment from last night when the sea reflected the sunset like an enamel artwork that encompassed the egret and me.
Anyone going to the SCBWI summer conference? Look for me!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Loving that block of mine

The block I live on is called a Walk Street. The houses face each other with driving access in the alleys behind. For years, the inhabitants have held Summer Solstice block parties--a time for great food and conversations, kids making chalk drawings.

This year, some folks decided to get more elegant than folding tables. Pretty seductive, right?

The street filled with people a bit later. It was a fabulous party and a great welcome to summer. The longest day was a total winner. And Lucy was there.

I haven't been blogging as often as I used to, and neither have a lot of other bloggers I know. The world shifts and so do we. I will put up posts, though, in between finishing my writing project and attending the big SCBWI summer conference. I'm pretty excited about taking novel intensives with editors Ari Lewin and Krista Marino.

Hope everyone had a wonderful solstice and has bright days ahead, too.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Funny and painful, WINGER is a winner

I had to go for a long walk after I finished WINGER by Andrew Smith. I can’t say I was sucker-punched by the ending because I’d guessed what was coming. I was still gutted and distraught, because the characters are so real I felt like something terrible just happened to a friend.

And somewhere on our planet that terrible thing (I won’t give away the spoiler) has happened to someone’s friend, their loved one, and it will never be okay and we must never forget. I believe that books like WINGER matter. They can open eyes and hearts.

  But, that said, there’s a ton of witty, laugh-out-loud humor, love and hope in this story of a brilliant fourteen-year-old boy who is the youngest junior at a private boarding school for kids of very rich, too-busy parents. He’s been moved to the dorm for troublemakers, full of boys much bigger than he is. Some of them are dangerous, and some of them are his rugby teammates, who are tough, courageous and tight-knit.

The protagonist Ryan Dean is smart and cocky—this gets him into and out of trouble again and again. I loved him except when I sometimes wanted to yell at him, like his friend Joey does, to get his shit together.

His relationship with his best friend Annie is a perfectly penned story of young love—rocky, uncertain and pure despite Ryan Dean’s missteps. In one scene, he draws a Venn diagram (the book is sprinkled with his often hilarious drawings) to show Annie that he wishes people wouldn't always focus on what's outside the overlapping circles, which in his case is his age.

If you don’t like cussing or being in a teen boy’s head when his hormones are raging, this may not be the book for you. But I recommend it to anyone who likes storytelling that shakes up the world, that makes you both feel and think. The emotions and the consequences in this are very raw and very real. I have a feeling I won’t forget these characters for a long, long time. If ever.

Here are some writing samples. The first one is a tiny prologue. I’m not always a fan of prologues but I really like the set-up of this one:

Joey told me nothing ever goes back exactly the way it was, that things expand and contract—like breathing, but you could never fill your lungs up with the same air twice. He said some of the smartest things I ever heard, and he’s the only one of my friends who really tried to keep me on track too.

And I’ll be honest. I know exactly how hard that was.


It took about five minutes for me to unpack. That’s all. I didn’t have anything. Of course Chas wasn’t there. He’d be out goofing around with his friends, or sneaking off somewhere with Megan Renshaw, who I also thought was unendurably sexy, but not in a mature, Annie kind of way; it was more like an intimidating and scary female-cop-that-arrested-me-in-Boston way. But she was still hot. And, yes, I did get arrested in Boston when I was twelve. It’s what inspired my parents to enroll me in Pine Mountain Academy in the first place.

I know you’re going to ask, so I might as well tell you: It was for breaking into and trying to drive a T train.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Book love: The Witch of Little Italy

My New York grandmother used to read tea leaves and cards. She whispered to me a secret--that she’d done this until one day she saw a man’s death, then she did it no more. It is one reason I like magical realism—stories set in ordinary life but with fantastical elements, things that are not easily explained, the mysteries of life. However, this isn’t meant to be a discussion of what constitutes magical realism or whether it’s just another name for fantasy. It’s about falling in love with a story no matter what genre is slapped on it.

What I can say for certain is Suzanne Palmieri’s The Witch of Little Italy is about authentic, flesh-and-blood relationships, and it’s magical—a wonder of a debut novel.

When I picked up The Witch of Little Italy I felt at home with the characters and their intuition, their ability to know things from afar or before they happen. Suzanne has created a richly-layered family of women who all have The Sight, which gets them into trouble as well as leads them out of difficulties. The few surviving members of the Amore family (a number of them died on one terrible day) live in a Bronx apartment house they’ve owned for decades.

If you like the stories of Alice Hoffman, you should love this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to the audio version of Hoffman’s The Probable Future, and what I love most about that story are the relationships between grandmother, daughter, granddaughter.

  Suzanne has developed women and relationships every bit as complex, difficult, estranged and heartrendingly beautiful. It’s what I hoped I’d find, since I’d been following Suzanne’s blog for a long time and admire her honest and beautiful writing. She’s gutsy, inventive and lyrical.

  In The Witch of Little Italy, college student Eleanor Amore, is pregnant by an abusive boyfriend. Her mother is dismissive and cold, so Eleanor takes a chance on a grandmother and grand-aunts she hardly knows since she’s lost her childhood memories. They welcome her to their apartment house as though they expect her. Because they do; they all had “seen” her come home. They see something darker, too.

I won’t give away spoilers. The story slowly reveals the family’s secrets and mysteries. And gives the characters a chance to breathe and grow.

Here are some samples of writing style:
(From Eleanor’s POV):
 Eleanor stood very still outside her family’s building on 170th Street. The night was mild for December but the snow fell anyway, glittery dancing dust. It rested in delicate layers, coating Eleanor’s hat and oversized sweater. She kicked the snow and faced her past.

(skipping ahead after Eleanor becomes nervous and stubborn about going inside, even after several invitations from the inhabitants.)
Eleanor turned around and walked to the curb to try and hail a cab.

A crumpled ball of paper flew over her head and landed in the snow at her feet. It began to unfurl. Eleanor picked it up.

That’s right. Move along. Nothing here to see. Love, Aunt Itsy.

“Itsy,” Eleanor said the strange name aloud. It rolled off her tongue and mingled with the snowflakes. Her heart knew the name even if her mind only contained a small recollection. She turned back to see the woman who tossed the paper, but as she turned the door shut tight against her.

(From great-aunt Itsy’s POV):
 I thought of the girl, her back pressed against the door in the hallway. That face. Light, like Mama. Soft features, not hard like Carmen. A softer version of her mother in all the good ways. The last time she was back she was about thirteen or so. She wasn’t at all the little spitfire she’d been when we’d first had her. I remember I was so worried that night. Worried she’d remember—just like I am now.

(Itsy, remembering her mother, Margaret Green, who taught them magic and more)
"Life gets heavy," she told us, "like hot summer nights. At first you toss and turn, but slowly you learn that if you keep very, very still your body can capture a random breeze that latches onto you and cools you for a moment. Infinite and blissful, your body soars to greet it and holds onto it, but it leaves. And that's love. That's what love does."

Suzanne did a wonderful interview with Joyce Lamb at USA TODAY. She talks about sealing agreements (on the same day!) for two-book deals with two publishing houses. Her second novel, I'll Be Seeing You, is co-written (as Suzanne Hayes) with Loretta Nyhan and will be released in May. It is letters between two women during World War II. You know you want to read this interview and these books. Really, you do.

Monday, April 22, 2013

We live here

We live here.
Well, not exactly, here in this awe-inspiring supernova (photo courtesy of NASA), but our little, lovely planet Earth exists in the midst of space, in the dark wonder.

We are the luckiest of organisms to live, breathe, run, sing, imagine and create--all because our planet evolved to allow sentient life.

And then we make bombs and poisons. We level forests and slaughter animals to extinction. We throw trash on the ground, dump chemicals in the precious water, like Earth is something we can buy another one of whenever we use it up.

I've been thinking of going on hiatus, because my posts are sparse these days. But it's Earth Day and this blog is my little soapbox in the universe. I'm, no doubt, preaching to the choir, with the folks who read my blog. Still, I have to shout out: Do what you can to save this planet. It is the only one we've got.

I love Earth. That is all.

(credit: NASA)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Out of darkness, light

Human beings have known since the beginning of time that survival depends on Spring bringing rebirth. Light after darkness. Renewal. Hope. It is fitting, and probably not coincidental, that Easter (life after death) and Passover (freedom after slavery) are celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox. We all feel the change in the air. We are creatures of nature, of this world.

I have nothing profound to say about a basic human need we all understand; I'm just going to share my joy in the season with pictures of flowers, like the calla lily above, and some silly shots I made by putting artworks outside in our garden to let them live the moment.

This brass bunny is about the size of a walnut and came from Czechoslovakia more than 65 years ago. I set him on a bed of baby tears.
Iceland poppies. They make me smile, bobbing in the breeze like tiny kites. So fragile and yet enduring.

Dancing young bear I found in a shop in Canada. There is something so winsome in his expression. He was carved by Markoosie Papigatuk of Cape Dorset.

Backlit pansies, because I love the sun's illumination through petals, that reminder that light changes the way we see things.

A gift from a friend long ago--vintage glazed ceramic rabbit. I always thought she was beautiful, but taking her off the black enamel cabinet and out into the garden puts her in a new light. Vulnerable, aware, alive.

Ranunculas. Every garden in spring needs them. Such joyous color.

Dancing walrus! Oh, how I love this guy. Purchased him in Canada. Created by Ed Kabluitok Panikotuapik of Rankin Inlet.

Everybody dance, please, 'tis the season.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The week that was

I'm back from my writing-retreat vacation. Well, I did do some writing, and had one excellent world-building idea. But I had a problem with my neck, which made typing on my laptop painful. The good news is it was gorgeous where I was, so I will share the pretty.
Dragon kelp! Really, doesn't it look like a dragon's wide open jaws and slithery body?

Here are some thoughts that came that day as I walked to the far end of the pier:

Birds, white and silent,skim the placid jade-green sea.
From shore, a muffled thud and whoosh.
Farther out,sea lions take to sun bathing and barking from their flat-topped rock.

Storm coming. Actually there were several rain events, but they came in spurts (ha) that allowed for walks and awe.
From a underpass. Makes me feel like an explorer coming into a secret land.

Swinging at the end of the day. And, yes, I found a moment when kids weren't on the swings to pump myself into flight.

A bright splash along a dune.

Have I said lately how much I love walking by the ocean? I do. I do.

As for the writing (rewriting a novel), all that rest and rejuvenation (I had two massages and a facial!) combined with my neck getting better has resulted in three chapters rewritten since I got back.

I wish everyone such a holiday. And, I hope you find a place that makes corned beef pizza (with mustard) and another that whips up dark chocolate crepes. *grins*

Monday, February 18, 2013

Next Big Thing

Sarah Wylie, author of ALL THESE LIVES and one of the funniest bloggers ever, has tagged me for the Next Big Thing Blog Hop. Sarah is working on her second book: SOMETHING BEGINNING WITH YOU (FSG/Macmillan in 2014). She shares a stunner of a line from the book in her Next Big Thing.

Yikes, I thought, do I have anything interesting enough to say? This is me, the perennial writer of a dark fairy tale, currently still in rewrite. But I guess I do get cut some slack for last year, which pretty much sucked all the wind out of any and all of my sails. I’m back now, though, so here are my answers to the Next Big Thing.

What is the working title of your next book? PRINCESS CHARMING: A DIFFERENT KNIGHT’S TALE

Where did the idea come from for this book? I was toying around with the idea of gender-switching a fairy tale and creating a kick-ass heroine.

What genre does your book fall under? YA Fantasy, a retold fairy tale

What actors would you choose to play the part of the characters in a movie rendition? Totally wishful thinking but I’d pick Jennifer Lawrence to play the princess knight. As for her love interest, Alex Pettyfer or Chord Overstreet would do nicely. I don’t ask for much.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book? Tournament-winning dragon fighter, sixteen-year-old Princess Charming believes her “Destiny” is naught but fairy tale until she rides into the uncharted Wilds and discovers her true purpose, which was never as simple as kissing a musty prince awake.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I hope to be represented, but I haven’t even begun to query.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? The very first draft was just weeks because it was a bare-bones, 90-page fairy tale. The subsequent drafts to turn it into a novel and then completely rewrite it from somewhat MG to totally YA have been much longer.

What other books would you compare this to in your genre? There are so many retold fairy tales now it would be hard to pick. This is dark but there are elements of humor.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? I took a workshop with author Bruce McAllister and used a prompt that led me to this idea.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? A bat-shit crazy witch, a forbidden love interest and an ecological disaster—not too much for our heroine to deal with.

And since Sarah shared a snippet, here's one from Charming: I soak up the rare, soft warmth of the sun, which will disappear too soon behind clouds. The wind carries rain in its memory, rain that is coming, rain that is always coming.

As per rules of being tagged, I hereby tag the following writers to share their Next Big Thing. Yvonne Osborne, HoboAnnie (Annie Howland) and Wen Baragrey. I can’t wait to see what these talented women are cooking up.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In which I eviscerate

Laurie Halse Anderson (SPEAK, CHAINS, WINTERGIRLS) tweeted something the other day that made me spew coffee. In part, she said, “Am busy eviscerating the middle part of my book. Ink & guts are everywhere.”

Since I was slicing out whole scenes of my manuscript, I felt a bit bloody myself.

For a long time, I knew the beginning of my story was weak, didn’t capture the protagonist’s voice as it shows up later. I’d also been told by some crit partners that the love interest was coming across as a creep. I tweaked. I revised. I subtracted a bit here, added a touch there.

 None of it worked. The unworkable scenes had to go. *cut* *slash* *burn*

I let my imagination run and a new idea popped up. It added depth to the characters and the world-building.

Some months ago, I had an amazing crit and brainstorming session with Kathleen Duey (SKIN HUNGER, SACRED SCARS). One piece of advice she gave me was to start over with a blank page. I thought I did by changing the protagonist’s POV from third to first, getting under her skin more and by altering some structural elements of the manuscript. But I still tried to save a lot of the original scenes. That was a mistake. It undermined the voice by dragging in elements from earlier versions.

So now I’m in the daunting position of a true rewrite, not tweaking. Amazingly, I’m looking forward to it, because the voice is stronger, the story is more alive and compelling. Already more than fifty pages in and feeling really good about what’s happening.

I found some other great comments on rewrite:

“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” – Don Roff (ZOMBIES: A RECORD OF THE YEAR OF INFECTION)

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.” – Elie Wiesel (NIGHT)

“Books aren’t written--they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”—Michael Crichton (JURASSIC PARK)

“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” – Kelly Barnhill (THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Read to me, please

I saw an article about how adults are flocking to hear stories read aloud at an art gallery. I got to thinking how I loved being read to as a child, how much I now love listening to audiobooks, and how we go to booksignings in part to hear the author read a scene. There’s some deep, primal connection to the ancient art of telling a story to others.

(Image source: Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Carl Mautz, cartes-de-visite photograph. Creative Commons license.)

One of my fondest memories, too, is reading poetry aloud with a friend in Ireland. We sat by a peat fire and read and read. It’s a sharing—give and receive—of images and human experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how stories are told, probably because I’m deep into rewrite of a fairy tale, which has changed quite a bit since its first version. And also because I’ve brought up the issue in some reviews recently on Goodreads.

There was a time when stories were mainly told by author-as-narrator. Today that sort of narrator is often considered old-fashioned, and many stories are told in close first person or third. This change propels us into the POV of the characters but deprives us of some of the bigger picture view of an authorly narrator.

I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. Some stories are made richer with a narrator, others may be stronger without. I do know that I realize I’d be telling my fairy tale in very different ways, depending on which path I journey on.

Here are links to the article in The Guardian on reading aloud to adults and in The New York Times discussing the role of narrator.

Among books/authors where I settle in and really enjoy the narrator are Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, Dianna Wynne Jones’s HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE.

Any thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The No Kiss Blogfest is back!

The fourth annual No Kiss Blogfest, some of the most fun anyone can have without kissing, is underway, hosted by Frankie Diane Mallis. I wasn't going to join in this year, even though I have every other year. I had no no-kisses and even said so on Twitter.

And then! And then! I got this idea and wrote a flash fiction yesterday that I hope you'll enjoy. I sure had fun writing. I even found a picture that works. I'm beginning to have hope for 2013.

Alys had five minutes. Chronos opened the door between dimensions once at the turn of each year for 300 seconds. Not a second extra would he grant.

She clutched a bone-handle knife and a sheaf of papers. The paper was for Mikel, the knife for anyone who shouldn’t be there.

Stepping through the shimmering light, something like a thin waterfall that had replaced the closet door of her bedroom, she entered an identical room—Mikel’s room in Elsewhere. For the first time, he wasn’t there.

 “Mikel,” she said, not too loudly, not sure if something was wrong.

They’d been visiting one another since they were ten. Mikel had stepped through first, scaring the breath out of her one New Year’s Eve as revelers whooped in her neighborhood.

“Where is this?” he’d demanded as if she’d had something to do with him being there.

“Cuyahoga Falls.”


“Ohio,” she added. When he still looked blank, she turned the questioning on him. “Well, where are you from, just stepping into my room from nowhere.”

“Not Nowhere; Elsewhere.”

But now seven years had passed, and they’d learned to use their five minutes well, exchanging quick words and long letters, full of their hopes and fears, written over the months between meetings. Where could Mikel be? She pulled out of her pocket the beautiful blue enamel timepiece he gave her last year so that she’d never lose track of time and never forget him.

Their precious seconds were vanishing.

The outer door to his room banged open. "Alys." He stood in the doorway, looking taller than last year, shoulders wider, black hair longer. He was breathing hard, cheeks flushed. He shut the door and hurried to her. “I’m sorry. The dimension looters are roaming the streets. I couldn’t let them follow me and find you.”

He grabbed a packet of papers from his desk and thrust them at her. She handed him her papers in exchange and put his in her jacket pocket, where she’d already slipped the knife and timepiece.

“Read them carefully,” he said. “I may have found a way to stay in your dimension without fading. There are things I need you to research for me.”

A closed fist in her chest released, and hope spread like sunshine through her. “Really? What is it?”

“No time, Alys. I…” Instead of finishing his sentence, he threaded his long fingers, still chilled from the night air, into her hair. Gently, he pulled her to him. His eyes were deep purple amethyst, and she hoped if he did find a way to stay with her that he wouldn’t have to cover those unusual eyes with contact lenses. She loved staring in their crystalline depths, but this time she found her gaze drifted to his lips. He was going to kiss her, she was sure of it. How many nights had she dreamed this moment would come?

They leaned into each other, eager, and a little unsure. She placed a hand on his chest and another at his waist. His breath was warm and sweet as apples as he leaned closer, but just then the timepiece rang with a single, haunting chime.

  He dropped his hands to her shoulders and backed her into the veil between their dimensions. “Don’t forget me,” he said as he disappeared. As if that were possible. She grasped the timepiece in her pocket and held it tight.