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Archive for March, 2012

What happened to spring?

It has been pointed out to me that I’ve been sounding a wee bit melancholy lately.  I suppose I am.  Living in New England is a special gift.  You see, first hand, how fast the time goes with the changing of the seasons, how quickly the buds blossom and disappear.

Heck, sometimes we don’t have to even wait months for a change of seasons — in New England, it can happen in a day.  On Saturday, for example, we were frolicking outside in shorts.  Today, I had to dig out the winter coats and explain why they must be worn to my son, the future lawyer, who argues each decision as if before the Supreme Court. The robin that was having such a good time in my bird bath two days ago is clearly regretting his decision to visit us. “What’s WRONG with this place?” he’s clearly thinking, miserable and hunched up in the rhododendron bush.  “Who turned the heat off?”

An excellent question.  Not one I can stay to answer today, though.  Instead I’m going to direct you to some interesting links that I stole from friends, as well as do some blatant self-promotion.  (WHAT?  A writer’s gotta do what she’s gotta do these days.)

How can something without feet be so smart? The incredible mimicking octopus. (Think it talks back to its mother?)

Can your kids fend for themselves in the kitchen? My friend Jan O’Hara talks about why this skill  is important, and steps you can take to make them more independent.

Amy Sue Nathan is celebrating the one year anniversary of her blog Women’s Fiction Writers with a mega book giveaway.  Head over there for a chance to win some great books!

Finally, since I post to this blog only on Tuesdays, I wanted to let you know that on Friday I’ll be guest blogging for one of my very favorite virtual people, Rosemary DiBattista. (I keep trying to meet her for a drink and make her nonvirtual, but it hasn’t happened yet.)  She’s funny, warm, and kind, and she has her own book series (!!) coming out beginning in 2014.  She’s a doll.  And she’s letting me share one of my best recipes (the one that doesn’t involve ordering pizza and opening wine) so please remember to stop by!

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When we moved to our current house, eight years ago, I bought a bag of 100 daffodil bulbs.  It seemed a ridiculous number, a luxurious indulgence, and as I planted the brown lumps I imagined a riot of yellow color, uncountable riches poking through the ground to announce Spring’s arrival.  It’s my favorite season, and in the time we’ve been here the daffodils have naturalized, spreading throughout the garden.  But it’s not the blanket of uninterrupted color I thought it would be.  The hundred bulbs that seemed to be so plentiful when I was digging them into the ground turned out to be not quite enough.

Last week I took the kids to the doctor’s office for a checkup.  I was leafing through a parenting magazine when this statistic caught my eye: There are approximately 940 Saturdays between when you bring your baby home from the hospital and when she heads off to college.  I’m no mathematician, but that number seems about right.

Almost 1,000 days.  It would have seemed a lifetime to me, all those years ago when I first became a parent. But now I’m over halfway there, and the days are slipping through my fingers.  The harder I try to hold on, to pack each moment with meaning, the faster they go. One thousand Mondays to kiss a sleep-scented, bed loving boy awake.  One thousand Sundays to curl up in the sun with my book-devouring daughter. One thousand weekends, while I blink and each crop of daffodils grows and fades, a reminder of how fleeting is Spring, the giddiest, most promising season of all.

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Back when I started writing Evenfall, I had very little time for writer’s block.  I had one, then two, small children, a barn full of horses to keep fed and cleaned, and a very busy freelance job. Writing fiction was a break, a moment stolen from other responsibilities. It was fun.

Today, the horses are gone, and the children are bigger and require less care than I like to admit.  I’ve made a conscious decision to cut back on freelancing, and while I’m still busy, I have two days a week where I block out time just for writing fiction.  And every now and then, guess what?  The words, they don’t come.  In the hopes you might find it helpful, I’m sharing what I do when that happens.

Don’t panic.  Okay, maybe I panic a little — this is me we’re talking about, after all.  But YOU shouldn’t panic.  Remind yourself that this has happened before, it will happen again, and it’s a natural part of the writing process.  Really.

Work on something else. Put your manuscript away for a bit.  Work on your query letter, your synopsis, even a blog post for the rest of the day.  Sometimes, just the act of writing can help jumpstart your process.

Zone out.  And I don’t mean on Facebook.  Do something intense that engages your brain and your body fully, so that you can’t think about anything else but what you are doing.  I’m not talking about a nice walk in the woods, either.  You need something that shakes your brain synapses loose.

My activity of choice used to be riding, because if you stop concentrating while on horseback you are liable to find yourself on your back looking up at the sky.  Since I’ve ended my equine addiction, fencing is a handy substitute — my son fights like a crab, scuttling back and then charging in for an attack, and he’s very excited that he has permission to get stabby with me, so my full concentration is required.  If you don’t have someone willing to stab you, try a Zumba class, yoga — anything physical that fully engages you. You don’t have to be good at it, you just have to get moving.  I don’t know why, but this type of activity usually works to get me typing again.

Take a break.  If a deadline isn’t breathing down your neck, put the project away.  Box it up, stick it under your bed, put it in your office and shut the door.  Let it hang out somewhere where it won’t make you crazy.  Give it two weeks.  You’ll come back with fresh eyes and it will be easier to see whatever problem your subconscious is wrestling with.

Set limits.  If nothing else has worked, try this — get a kitchen timer, or use the app on your phone, and set it for fifteen minutes.  Open your document, turn the timer on, and get to work.  When that timer goes off, get up and walk away, even if you are in the middle of a sentence.  You’re done — that’s all the time you have to write today. Do the same thing for the next three days.

By the end of those three days, I’m usually dying to get to work, and my block has vanished.  If you try it, let me know what you think.

What are your tips for getting past writer’s block?

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In third grade, I’d exhausted the books in ‘my’ section of the school library.  I’d plowed through all the Little House books, the Chronicles of Narnia, and their ilk.  I was bored and wanted something more.

When the reading van came to school (remember the reading van?) I was one of the first in line.  I bopped in, passed the third grade section, and started browsing in the back, where the older kids were.  One book caught my eye — “Light A Single Candle” by Beverly Butler.  I was intrigued and took it to the check out, only to be stymied by the Sister who was running the cash register. She ordered me to put it back.

When I told my mother that night, she promptly wrote a note requesting I be given free rein not only of the book van, but of the library as well.  I clutched that note like a magical talisman when I approached the check out the next day, same book in hand.

“Well,” said Sister A, scratching her head and looking at the back cover.  “I suppose there’s no sex in it, right?”

I wasn’t exactly sure what sex was, but I know it couldn’t be good. I vigorously shook my head, and the prize was mine.

I remember that moment so clearly, because it was such a pivotal point in my life. Light A Single Candle didn’t have the sex scenes Sister A was worried about, but it did have a lot of teenage angst and maybe a little kissing. It was my first foray into ‘adult reading’ and it opened a whole new world.  (The nuns — who were fabulous English teachers — eventually came round. By fifth grade I was loaning my copy of The Thornbirds to them.)

Of all the gifts my parents gave me, the encouragement to read and the freedom to read what I wanted are two of the greatest. Aside from one embarrassing incident when my mother called me out to show a friend what I was reading (unfortunately, I think I was eleven and it happened to be Forever by Judy Blume) she never questioned my judgement or took a book away from me.

And now, of course, history has repeated itself.  It started a few months ago when my daughter picked up a book from a bargain bin.  I recognized the author’s name, but hadn’t read any of her work, and the cover looked innocuous enough — slightly paranormal, in a pretty fairy type of way. She asked if she could get it, and I reminded her of our deal — I get to read anything she does first.

I kept meaning to read the book, but things kept coming up, and then it wasn’t where I’d put it. I dug it out from my daughter’s room, took it to mine, and read a chapter. The next day, it was gone.  I took it back, read another, and realized the story made me uncomfortable when I thought about my daughter reading it. I put it in the pile for donations.  The next day it disappeared, only to mysteriously crop up by the family room couch.

We went on like this for a few days — me subtly taking the book away, her just as subtly reclaiming it.  I hated to come right out and forbid it, but I wasn’t all that thrilled with her reading it, either.  And then she picked up another book of mine — an autobiography I’d gotten from the library — and asked if she could read that.  I said yes, relieved. An autobiography!  On an educational topic!  Score!

But looking over her shoulder that night, I saw a swear — the swear, actually — on the page.  I asked her if she thought the book was really appropriate for her after all, and she pointed out that she’s heard that same word at school, seen it scratched into bathroom stalls.

“Have you ever heard me say it?” she asked. And I had to admit, I hadn’t. So we struck a new deal, one that she likes much better and that gives my mother payback for the angst I must have caused her. Em can read what she wants.

I’m strict about what my kids watch for movies and TV.  To me, the violent visual images, the sitcoms with the rude preteens, are rigid, in the sense that there’s no involvement from the watcher’s end.  What you see is exactly what’s there.

But books are different. When you read, you bring yourself, your experiences, your curiosity about a subject, to the page. Or, as Madeleine L’Engle has been quoted as saying, readers must be creators.  “The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.”

I’ve certainly read books where passages have gone over my head, nuances have been missed, because I didn’t have the life experience to comprehend them. Reading The Sun Also Rises at fifteen is a much different experience than at twenty-five, than again at forty-three. But not understanding the nature of Jake’s injury as a teenager didn’t stop me from loving the story.

Over the years, books have brought me pleasure and knowledge. I brought to each story what I could understand and took from it what I could handle. My hope is that my daughter will do the same. For the both of us, it’s the start of a wild ride.

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