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Archive for the ‘Wild Beasts’ Category

It’s crazy how fast this year has gone.  And even crazier how fast Christmas is coming up.  If you, like me, are looking for a few last-minute gifts, here are some suggestions:

Beeswax candles from Three Sisters Farms.  We buy a pair or two of tapers every year at the end of the summer. When we burn them on those long, cold winter nights, I feel a bit as if we are conjuring back the sun.  They are beautiful and have a rich honey scent.  (Also, a gift of honey to go along with the candles would not be remiss.)

Soap by Red Antler Apothecary.  I’ve become obsessed with their root beer soap.  It smells exactly like the drink, and puts me in a good mood whenever I use it. It’s cheerful and happy, and who couldn’t use something like that to start their day?

Books.  Of course books make the best gifts!  (You were thinking I’d say something else? Come on — this is a writer’s blog.)  This year, for your dystopian-obsessed teen, check out The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.  First in a trilogy, it’s the smart, fast-paced story of star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of a war. For your middle-schooler, I can’t say enough good things about David Barry’s The Worse Class Trip Ever and The Worst Night Ever. They are hysterically funny and at the same time absolutely gripping.  Finally, for the adult thriller junkie, consider Go-Between by Lisa Brackmann.  (Admission — this is the sequel to Getaway, which I have not read but have heard very good things about. You are probably better off starting there.) It’s an intelligent and all-too-realistic look at for-profit prisons, drug laws, and politics, with plenty of suspense to keep you turning pages and a tough talking female protagonist who may just have you believing in conspiracy theories by the end of the story.

So there — my gift to you.  (That and the picture of the Slobbering Beast.  Many, many cookies were involved in the taking of this photo.)

Happy Holidays!

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Photo by the awesome Kevin Harkins.

 

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Happy almost Halloween!  I have all kinds of treats here, and very few tricks, I promise.

all-the-ugly-and-wonderful-197x300First, I’m over today at Writer Unboxed, interviewing the talented Bryn Greenwood about her novel All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.  Bryn is the kind of writer who takes my mind, turns it inside out, stretches it, gives it a good beating, then puts it back together so it’s never quite the same.  Her books aren’t what I would call easy reading, but they shake me up and make me think.  I’d love it if you would stop by and check her out.  (And there may or may not be a picture of her own Slobbering Beasts there too.  Just sayin’.)

51h9kbdnbjlNext,  I am sooooo happy to announce that Author in Progress, a book to which I contributed a chapter, is available for sale.  It was spearheaded by the lovely and amazing author Therese Walsh, who is a cofounder of the Writer Unboxed site.  Over the years she’s managed to pull together a tribe of writers who are supportive, kind, and just plain fun to be around.  If you are a writer in any way shape or form, published or not, the group is one of the nicest and most drama-free I’ve ever known and well worth checking out.  As is the book.  (See my subtle plug there?)  And if you aren’t a writer, but know someone who is, I promise the book makes a lovely gift.

Finally, Monday is Halloween.  So I couldn’t let this post pass by without at least one trick.  Which I played on the poor Slobbering Beast, who will be confined to his crate that evening so as not to lose his doggy mind during the constant ringing of the doorbell.  (And also to avoid any surreptitious snacking on stray candy bars.  Hey, a dog can dream.)

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Totally Johnny Depp.  Okay, maybe Johnny after a few beers.

 

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Hi there!  I’m over at Writer Unboxed, talking about a topic that is very dear to my heart — how to create readers and read more yourself.  (Hint:  It has nothing to do with balancing books on your head.)  Please stop by and let me know what you think!

 

harleybook

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I never used to have gray hair.  Or wrinkles.  Or a loud voice.  I do not blame these things on age.  I blame them on the little being who came to live with us almost 10 years ago.  The one who likes to jump off tall lifeguard stands (resulting in a knocked-out filling), run helter-skelter down the stairs (resulting in a scar on his chin) and bomb along on uneven pavement at 100 miles an hour.  (That’s the scar over his upper lip.  We like to pretend he plays hockey to explain it.)

You know, the little being with the Y chromosone.

We had a pretty quiet life, my daughter and I.  We read books, and took long walks, and painted and colored and managed to do all those things with a lovely stillness.  Sure, we got rowdy once in a while — who doesn’t — but we are both on the introverted side, so the rowdiness never lasted for too long before we’d settle down on the couch, cuddled under a blanket, to snuggle and look at our favorite stories.

And then — BAM — I had a boy.  And almost every day since he learned to talk, and then walk, life has been a big adventure.  He’s an extrovert, as wiggly as a puppy, and he loves to sing and whistle and in general just MAKE NOISE. Even when we are doing a quiet activity.  Which — surprise surprise — is actually no longer quiet.

He also likes to push the envelope. A lot. And he’s good at it.

There are days when I wake up and tell the universe I’ve grown quite enough spiritually, thank you. I don’t need any more parenting lessons.

And then I went to the Writer Unboxed Conference last week, which was chock-full of good writing advice by luminaries such as Brunonia Barry, Lisa Cron, Donald Maass, Ray Rhamey and Heather Webb. Meg Rosoff was there too, leading a class on voice, but all of her writing advice was lost on me after one of her comments.

She was talking about being true to yourself, even if that’s hard for other people to understand.  Meg is funny and brash and the kind of person you want to just sit and listen to — like very few people around. Then she said that her mother, who is in her 80s, still gets upset when Meg does something she doesn’t like.  She’ll say ‘You always have to do it your own way, don’t you?’

And Meg looked at the class and said “What other way should I do it?  I’m me. Of course I’ll do it my way.”

Those words hit me so hard I couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of the class. Because I’ve had that conversation with my exuberant boy more times than I care to admit.   But of course he’d do it his own way — what other way should he do it?  Mine?

Well yes, sometimes.  In matters of major safety. And public good manners.  But the rest of the time, why should I expect a nine-year-old boy to do something the way a (insert age here) adult should?

My kid is funny, and outgoing, and so energetic there are days I’d like a nap by 8 a.m. He’s the polar opposite of me in almost every way.  He has a huge heart, and a huge imagination, and every single day he stretches me as a person and as a parent.  Sometimes that stretching is painful. Sometimes, by not accepting my ‘no’ or ‘you can’t’ he makes me think about why I said no in the first place, what my answer is based on, and who it is benefiting. Sometimes he drives me to distraction and to a glass of wine.  But always, always, always, he drives me to be better — even if it’s because I wasn’t my best that day.

I want my kids to be individuals when they grow up.  I want them to think for themselves, to contribute to society, to be good parents and good citizens and just all around good people. I want them to figure out how to make the world better by seeing it in a way that no one else before them has — with their own eyes and their own hearts.  But to do that, they have to discover themselves, and discovery is an ongoing process — it doesn’t begin at age 21 when they move out of the house.

It begins now.  By doing things their own way. And sometimes as a parent, that means getting out of the way and letting them.

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self portrait

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Remorse.

Remorse.

A few days ago, a friend and I met up for a hike.  Just before the trail entrance, we heard a weird noise, like the commotion of a bunch of chickens.  We stopped, tried to locate the sound, couldn’t, and continued on.

The Slobbering Beast was with us, and it’s been a bit since he was on a trail.  He was excited, bounding in giddy circles. He was even more thrilled when two other dogs showed up.  Since I didn’t know them, I put him on leash and called for their owner.   No one appeared.  We waited awhile, the dogs wandered off, and The Beast, my friend, and myself  got back to hiking.  Since we were heading into an area where there’s a lot of wildlife, I kept him on the leash and we jaunted along quite successfully until almost the end.  When the two dogs appeared again.

Still ownerless, but with something white and fluffy between them.

Yep.  A (recently dead) chicken.

I don’t know if it was the excitement of seeing his potential pals, the smell of blood, the sight of something soft and fluffy, or a combination, but The Beast lost his mind.  He hurtled a small bush and dashed into the undergrowth. He scraped through plants that might have been poison ivy.  He bumped up against several small rocks.

And since I was still holding the leash, so did I.

By this time I was prone, surfing the ground on my shoulder.  My friend was yelling, The Beast was still gallumping happily away toward the dead chicken, the two other dogs were barking a bit, and a single thought went through my mind.  Let go, you fool.  Let go.

So I did.

It’s hard for me to let go — of work that’s not working, of friends who are no longer friends, of emotions that are not serving my best interests.  So every now and then, the universe likes to remind me in the most physical way possible to move on.  It happened with riding — letting go can sometimes mean the difference between a good, clean fall and a bad fall where you get tangled up with the horse and gear — and now, since I’m not currently riding, the universe has apparently tapped The Slobbering Beast as a stand in.

I can’t control the loose dogs or the dead chickens life may throw at me.  Some days, I can’t even control The Slobbering Beast.  But I can control my response, and hanging on to something that’s not working mostly only hurts me.

Sometimes, as the song that’s playing everywhere these days says, you have to let it go.

 

 

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Lately when riding, I am a hot mess. (That’s the technical term.  The actual term used by my instructor is unprintable here.) There are so many things going on — my seat isn’t balanced, my legs slide forward, my knees are jammed up against the knee roll, my reins get floppy — hence, the hot mess. (In fairness to my past riding self, it’s not all bad all the time — but compared to how I used to be, it certainly feels that way.)

This week, my instructor brought me back to basics.  She took a long whip, threaded it between my elbows and behind my back, and told me to keep it there while cantering.  Lean forward and hunch your shoulders toward your ears (my favorite riding position, apparently) and the whip pops out. Humiliation galore. (And an exciting ride if it happens to hit your horse on the way down.)

It’s an old trick, but it worked.  To keep the whip in place, I had to roll my shoulders down and lean back. Which centered my seat. Which fixed my leg. Which got my hands out of my lap and improved the way I held the reins.

One small change, and everything fell into place.

Writing is like that too.  Looking at an entire manuscript is overwhelming and can make you feel like a failure.  But if you pick just one thing to work on — your dialogue, for example, or the way you transition between scenes — one of two things will happen:

Either you’ll fix the main problem, and everything else will snap into place, or…

You’ll find out you have more work to do.  Which isn’t the end of the world, I promise.  It just means picking the next one thing. Fixing that. And moving on.

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(And if you’ve read this far, here’s a reward — one of my favorite riding videos is at the end of this page.)

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We had a chance to take a last-minute trip last week, to Ireland. When we were lucky enough to go two years ago, I had plenty of advance notice. That meant I checked out the six-disc audio book on Ireland’s history, signed us up for online Irish lessons, collected movies on Irish culture, and basically created a home school Irish program with which to torture my children.

This trip, there was no time for any of that, so I tried a quick review.

Me to Boy: What do you remember about Irish history?

Boy to Me: Hmmm. Well, when they weren’t fighting everybody else, they were trying to kill each other.

Me: Good enough. Let’s go!

So with that and a Dia dhuit, we were on our way. And you know what? We had a great time.  Maybe we didn’t see every castle and museum in a 25-mile radius of where we were staying, but we saw enough, and we had fun.

My husband booked a trail ride for me. The day I was supposed to go, it poured. Absolute buckets. So the instructor suggested we do a private lesson inside.  She asked if I’d ridden before (I had) and wanted to know what I’d done.  And about fifteen minutes later, she was saying things like

Instructor: “Okay!  Pick up the canter at the letter F!”

Me: “I haven’t cantered in years!”

Instructor: “That’s great!  Canter now, please!”

And so it went.  Every time I said I hadn’t done something in years, she would give a perky reply and tell me to get on with it, and in no time at all I found myself facing a two-foot jump.  Which doesn’t SOUND very high, but when you are sitting on top of a large animal and you’ve just realized there’s no seat belt, it’s more than high enough.

But here’s the thing:  My brain was making little gabbling noises in the back of my head, but my body remembered.  My body was saying things like “Shut up. We can do this,” and shortening reins and lifting my butt out of the seat. And when I shut down my brain and just moved, didn’t think, everything went surprisingly well.

As writers, we live a ridiculous amount of time in our heads. For me, that means not just when I’m writing, but when I’m living, too — I’m always analyzing everything, teasing apart whatever meaning could be hidden in a conversation, a glance, a silence. This habit can get in the way — of creating, of relationships, of simply living. Sometimes, we need to tell our brains to shut up and get out of the way.  It’s a lesson I need to be reminded of again and again, and when I am, whether by design or by accident, I’m always amazed at how present I feel, how sharp everything seems, and often, how much fun I (and those around me) manage to have.

Tell me — how does your brain get in the way? And what are your tricks for shutting it down?

Tall horse

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