Thursday, February 9, 2017

Snow Day

Snow is a funny thing.  It's so soft, so light, and yet it has such power over us... power to thrill and terrify.  My students were abuzz yesterday with the coming storm, a day off from school being taken as a given thing long before the official cancellation was announced.  I'm not sure what they do on a snow day, these nine year olds of mine, but it certainly beats being in school - at least in their eyes.  I like to think that they spend at least a chunk of the day frolicking out-of-doors, rather than plastered to the living room floor with their eyes on a big screen all day.  Or, at least, curled up with a good book.

Yesterday evening was a different story, as I stopped by the grocery store to pick up brownie mix (this constituting my entire plans for the day off work - making brownies with my boy).  The parking lot was solid-packed with cars, and all about me hustled grim faces and carts filled to overflowing with survival rations.  You'd think that the weather had been predicted to blizzard for three days, rather than a one day dump of six to twelve inches.  Not a smile to be seen, up and down the aisles - employees stone-faced, restocking shelves picked over by the shambling mob, parents looking vaguely desperate in the breakfast cereal section.  I had to restrain myself from laughing out loud; we New Englanders are a notoriously sturdy bunch, and here were people behaving as though they'd be snowed in for a week on scant provisions.  Didn't they listen to the weather?  Or were the family larders really that bare?

Or does something else happen in between childhood and adulthood?  Something that changes a snowstorm from a one day "get out of jail free" card to something more sinister?  It can't be just the shoveling, though I'm no fan of that myself and am happy to leave it to my husband - at least until we  join the technological world and invest in a snow blower.  I doubt that it's being home with the kids, though cabin fever sets in quickly for me, so I can empathize with others who feel the same.  Could it be the snow itself, awakening some long-buried racial memory of a time when even a one day storm could and did cause rations to be guarded and people to hunker down for days?  Or maybe we're just programmed to dread winter weather as we age... those of us who can, fly south for the winter; those who can't, well, we stick it out one way or another.

Snow is, for sure, a funny thing.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Today ends the week of the In-Betweenies.

In between Christmas and New Year, in between the end of one year and the beginning of another, in between the joy of decorating for the holidays and the melancholy of taking down the tree, in between that period of holiday lights brightening up the December night and the beginning of the Long Dark of winter in earnest... that's the In-Betweenies.

I don't like the In-Betweenies much.  As a person who struggles with the seasonal blues brought on by too much dark and insideness and cold, Advent with its candles and the holidays with their myriad lights are my tether to brighter times - but of course, they can't last forever, no matter how I wish they would.  I spend a good bit of the In-Betweenies refusing to take down my Christmas decorations and  trying to stretch the holidays out as long as I can.

For me, the In-Betweenies are primarily the harbinger of the Long Dark, that period peculiar to northern climes where all there seems to be are early dusks, bare-branched icy dawns, and nights where you don't stay out too long to look up at the stars due to the chill and damp.  Like our ancestors before us, we must face that Long Dark as best we can.  The lucky can pack up and head south, combating the Long Dark with milder nights that invite you out walking and days that laugh at the sour northern winter latitudes above.  The rest of us huddle under extra layers and rush from car to door and back again, and dream of spring.

I'm a bit jealous, really, of those who are outdoorsy sorts, like my friend Steph - for her, the In-Betweenies are the gateway to the rest of winter where, if she's lucky, enough snow will fall to let her get out and snowshoeing.  If it doesn't, well, Steph is a committed hiker in all seasons.  For many outdoor lovers, including scores of children, the rest of winter is a time of hoping for snow enough for making snowmen and snow forts and for sledding or skiing, for hot cocoa with marshmallows, for exulting in the tingle of icy skin made warm again when outdoor time is done.  Me, I'm a weather wimp.  My idea of getting outside in the winter is going for a drive.

For others, the In-Betweenies are positively welcome for the homeyness they bring - they herald the end of the hectic rush of the holiday season, or the emphasis on holidays they don't celebrate to begin with, and signal a return to Everyday Life, albeit a bit colder and darker for a bit... a time for stews and comforting soups on the stove, fresh-baked breads, and indoor activities of the recreational or necessary variety.  These folks clean out closets and reorganize pantries, scrapbook or quilt or knit, catch up on shows they've been meaning to watch, complete jigsaw puzzles, or websurf places like Pinterest to get newer, better ideas for how to feather their nest in cozy and charming ways.  Me, I have more ideas than talent and tenacity to put them into action.  Pinterest is not my friend.

But today, the In-Betweenies officially end... a new year is started, regardless of whether it is greeted with great joy or trepidation, regardless of how we plan to use it.  And my grouchy, anxious feelings about that in-between time of the year morph into thoughts about the wide-open spread of 2017 that stretches far beyond the Long Dark of winter.  It's a feeling not unlike looking at a blank page, and wondering what to write on it.  There's always a bit of anxiety there, too - but as soon as the first word is written, that feeling passes.

It's time to get to writing on this new year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November Rain

There is something deeply melancholy, but at the same time deeply soothing, about the sound of a heavy November rain on the rooftops.  I'm not sure how this is making me feel tonight... I'm in the throes of creating my very first Facebook author page, and contemplating how to make this blog of mine a bit more dynamic, so I suppose I feel both.  Melancholy for the knowledge that I could have been managing my online presence more proactively... comforted and soothed, because it's wet and clammy out there and I am warm and dry inside, in front of my computer, able to focus on one of the great loves of my life... my writing.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Yay! It Happened Again!

I'm thrilled to report that my second picture book, THE STABLE CAT, has been accepted by Worthy Kids/ Ideals and will be released in November 2017.  It's a Christmas fable that I wrote for my church some ten years ago, after becoming tired of never seeing cats included in any Nativity scenes.  (I rarely see dogs, either - a gross oversight, in my most humble opinion!)  I've been sitting on the manuscript, waiting for "the right time" to send it out - in my mind, when I was established enough to have a say in the choice of illustrator or illustrative style - until I realized that "the right time" wasn't ever going to get here, at the rate I've been going.  I haven't been getting any nibbles on my other work, and I knew that THE STABLE CAT was well-received by pretty much everyone who had read or heard the original draft.  So... why wait?

Worthy Kids/ Ideals is a firmly established and respectable house.  They've published Berenstain Bears titles and Eileen Spinelli, as well as Veggie Tales books and a pair of children's devotionals that I'm particularly fond of.  Honestly, I couldn't be happier with WorthyKids/ Ideals as a home for my book - and I can't wait to see the finished product!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Character Creation: Twitch

Once, in a writing workshop, the topic of character creation came up - specifically, how similar or dissimilar our characters are from ourselves.  It was a fascinating conversation, and one that really draws a line between the beginning writer and the professional.  Writers beginning on their journeys, or so the conversation went, have a tendency to try to create - or to create unintentionally - characters that are very similar to themselves.  Fanfiction writers, it seems, are particularly guilty of the sin of fictionalizing themselves and placing those characters into tales as the saviors or love interests of the established characters they have chosen to write about.

Writing a character so close to yourself, it seems to me, is dangerous for the writer.  Not in any real-world peril - but more in terms of making it hard to distance yourself from rejection.  If you're writing a novel and the protagonist is a thinly-veiled you, or a you-that-you-wish-you-were, how easy is it to take even constructive criticism?  How much will it sting when the novel is rejected?  Our written works are our babies anyway - but to have them be an extension of ourselves is risky to our creative hearts, thick skins be darned.

So I set about to create a character who was the virtual opposite of myself... just to see if I could.  To see how difficult it would be to get into the head of someone intentionally Other.  I created Twitch, who I saw as a sort of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH protagonist.  Her story hasn't gone far, though I keep thinking I'd like to play around with it... it's mired in the planning stage right now... but I found that I truly liked Twitch, the sassy, anti-human, who-needs-romance leading lady.

Well, a lady of a sort...


Let me start off by saying this:  I do NOT like you.  No, really.  I really don’t give two whiskers what you think of me, or if you think I’m out of line for saying it.  It’s true.   I really, truly, can’t stand you people.  But it’s nothing personal.

Okay, it’s REALLY personal.  

I am a rat.  Yes, a rat.  Not a mouse.  Not a hamster.  Nothing that you human types would consider remotely cute and fuzzy.  A rat.  R - A - T.  Rat.

I do not wear clothes.  When I was a little squeak, I read some human book where the mice and moles and badgers and all were dressed up as monks from the Dark Ages - robes, sandals, the whole shebang - and lived in a castle of some sort, just their size.  Unbelievable.  Besides the walking on two legs, which is insane if you want to get anywhere fast, ROBES?  SANDALS?  Seriously?  

And don’t get me started on Beatrix Potter.  Puh-leaze.  

For the record, NO animal wears clothes, except you humans and those humiliated little dogs some of you insist on dressing up like dolls which is, really, incredibly disturbing.  So - no clothes.  Real animals don’t need ‘em.  Fur is more than fine, thank-you-very-much.

But back to the point.  I am a rat, and if you have issues with that, I don’t want to hear about them.  No “eww, that tail” or “gross, a rat” or any of that turd-drop stuff.  You don’t like rats?  Fine.  There’s the door.  Don’t catch your tail in it on the way out.  I couldn’t care less, because - as I said before - I hate you people.

You can’t blame me here.  Rats - decent animals going about minding their own business, trying to find food, shelter, water, and raise the next generation.  Humans - not so decent animals who can’t seem to pass a rat on the street without screeching, stomping, throwing something, or trying to kill it in any one of a thousand barbaric ways.  Humans have been waging genocide on rodents for centuries… poisons, traps, tortures, you name it.  And then, if that’s not enough, you’ve bred an entire population of rats purely for your own scientific tortures.

If you were me, would you like you very much?  Didn’t think so.  And don’t give me “but not all humans are evil.”  Not all rats are filthy disease carriers, but that doesn’t stop YOU people, does it?


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Working Alone, Together

Writers have a reputation for being solitary creatures.  It's part of the great nature tome of archetypes - the lone writer, like a lone wolf, majestic and proud.  Writers, it is said, need a still, silent, private place in which to get the work of writing done - time carved out late at night or in the predawn hours, supplemented with long walks alone through the fields and woodlands.  It's certainly a romantic notion.  Charles Dickens subscribed to it, as did William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, and many other great names. But even without long, solitary rambles, writers need, at the very least, a Virginia Woolfian room of their own in which to sequester themselves and get on with writing.

I've never bought into it for myself, honestly.  I hate like poison to be alone.  Being by myself is different - I can do that in a populated place - but being alone, being surrounded by the absence of other human beings, is deeply unsettling for me.

Granted, I am probably the most socially dependent introvert you're likely to meet.  I need people around me, and always have, to feel secure enough to go about my own business.  As a child, I needed to hear my family moving through the house, listening to television or radio, talking softly, in order to fall asleep.  Even now, I often resort to listening to podcasts to help me bridge the divide between wakefulness and slumber.  When  I'm working, that trend remains very much the same... I need to have people nearby in order to achieve the state of peace  I need in which to write.  That doesn't mean I need to be interacting with people, mind you.  That's entirely different; I can't be chatting away and writing at the same time.  I also can't get a darned thing done if the surroundings are too loud or chaotic.  I've tried many times working in Starbucks, for example, and depending on the background music and the clientele, I may or may not be able to focus.  But when it comes to my work, whether it's writing or doing the grunt paperwork of teaching, I generally find that I'm at my best when I have a steady "white noise" of people to ignore.

At the moment, I have fled my too-quiet home for the comparative bustle of our local library.  Even with the radio on and my dogs and cats to keep me company, home was too empty without the bodies of my husband and son filling their usual spaces.  Here, in the library atrium set aside for laptop use, I can hear the chatter of the librarians and the passing of patrons, the clatter and thump of books being returned, the steady tic-a-tic-tic of other laptop users in close proximity.  It's comforting, these lives surrounding me.  I have not said a word to the patrons nearest at hand - the girl playing video games on her laptop, the gentleman with a stack of career books perusing job sites.  I don't need to, and, in fact, feel any greeting would be an intrusion.  We have not come to this place to socialize.  We are aware of one another, alert to the presence or absence of someone close by, but have gathered here to be alone.

Alone, but together.

It's my favorite place to write.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Out of the Cold

I'm a firm believer in the power of a kind word.  Words, after all, are in my bloodstream, in my soul.  It's how I hope, one day, to make a living.  Still, this classic Peanuts strip kind of hits me where I live.  I can definitely relate to Snoopy, fellow writer that he is.

Shivering in the cold, Snoopy needs something... warmth, shelter.  One could, of course, wonder why he's sitting out there in the snow to begin with - he has a dog house - but for whatever reason, he is not availing himself of it.  Schroeder and Charlie Brown, seeing this, feel moved to offer comfort and warmth of a spiritual nature.  In their warm clothing, hats and mittens and jackets insulating them from the bite of the wind and snow, they speak their hearts - then go, leaving Snoopy to, essentially, wonder, "WTF?"

Snoopy doesn't need to be told, "Be of good cheer."  He needs a JACKET.  He needs to be brought inside.  He needs to find physical warmth, not spiritual consolation.  It would be easy to point fingers at the humans in the equation and say, "You should be taking care of him!  You see he's cold - do something, don't just SAY something!"

But that's not the way this works, this being out in the cold.

Really, what Snoopy needs is to get his furry butt off the ground and into some place more congenial for sitting.  As do we all.

It's easy and tempting to daydream about being published.  To envision the agent or the editor who will sweep in, like some knight out of a fairy tale, and scoop up our words, bestowing the boon of publication on us.  We may imagine ourselves as that fairy tale protagonist, a Goose Girl or Cinderella, a Little Match Girl, toiling away at work we'd rather not be doing - teaching, office managing, waiting tables - and waiting for someone to see past the dusty reality to find our true writer selves within.  We, like Snoopy, are sitting out in the cold, gazing wistfully at the published authors and rows of chosen manuscripts transformed into books, waiting for someone to invite us in to the warmth and shelter of our dreams.

But that's not the way this works.

Like Snoopy, we need to get off our furry butts and get moving, if writing is our heart's work.  We know all too well that it's not just a matter of writing and waiting.  There is work there, market research and searching and questing for the editor or agent who has space in their roster for us.  It may be more work than we feel we can handle  -most of us are, after all, already working one or more full time jobs to support our lives and families- but what's the alternative?  To sit, like Snoopy, out in the cold?

To wait for someone to come and tell us, "Be of good cheer" or "You're an awesome writer - just keep at it"?

No.  If we're going to get published, we have to do the hard work of it ourselves.  We need to get ourselves into that warm, sheltered place - even if we need to build it ourselves.  But don't fret too much.  Once we're moving, working, writing our hearts out, there will be people who see that and offer their words of support and encouragement.  And those words will actually mean something, paired with our own efforts.

Be of good cheer.  It's hard, but we can do it.  

Be of good cheer.