October 11th, 2011
|11:18 pm - A Way with Words|
Writing can be a solitary profession, which is why I am so grateful for my two critique groups and other author friends who support me personally and professionally. Through almost twenty-five years I have worked on a young adult historical novel even while I have been writing other books, magazine articles and curriculum. At long last, considering the manuscript finally ready, I sent it out to an editor who shall remain nameless (though I hope to be able to name her and call her MY editor at some point). She read the first three chapters and synopsis, was interested enough to request the full manuscript, and still has the book under review.
Since I sent her my novel, I have lived in author's limbo-land, the "wait-and-see" that can lead to publication or... rejection. So while I am waiting, I decided to send my work to a variety of capable readers who happen to be experts on the subject about which I wrote the book. (I'm not trying to be cagey here. It is simply not yet time to divulge more details.)
Both of my writing groups and several other writers have read the work in various stages, but until today my only feedback was from a fourteen-year-old reader who wrote me because she was doing a research project on my subject, and my name came up. The young woman gave me positive, helpful feedback. That was months ago and I continued in my long, lonely wait until today when I heard from the first fact checker/reader of this manuscript, who wrote, "Phew... let me catch my breath here... and stop crying!!!... You have such a way with words! You have definitely done your homework...your book is so well written I can really find nothing wrong. Thanks for the gift of this story... It will be one I would like to recommend when it's published." I appreciated her enthusiasm and helpful comments.
This woman's words boosted my spirits. I feel a little like Sally Field when she won the Academy Award for PLACES IN THE HEART ("You like me, right now, you like me!") And at least for today, I can dream that this book will actually be published and other readers may be moved by a compelling story that has been so much of my life's work.
August 24th, 2011
|11:35 am - Let's Hear It For the WOMEN!!!!|
Lucky me! I grew up with strong female role models in my mother, her sister, and both grandmothers. I also had a slew of great-aunts, each formidable in her own way. From the time I was young, my mother told me I could do anything, and she taught me about some of the more famous women who had paved the way. Eleanor Roosevelt was always a hero in our house. And by the time I was in high school, I had added Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Gloria Steinhem, and numerous women of my own experience who influenced, encouraged, and inspired me.
As a young adult, I kept a hand-markered sign in the back of my car: GOD LOVES UPPITY WOMEN. I considered myself a feminist and chose to enter the Christian ministry, a traditionally male profession. I enjoyed pushing the limits, acting on the "girls can do anything" philosophy my mother had taught me. I was in college when the Equal Rights Amendment (first proposed in 1923) passed both houses of Congress, but when the ERA was not ratified in time to become law, I was confused and angry. (The United States still does not have an Equal Rights Amendment.)
So much has changed over the past decades, but many young people today don’t realize how far we have come…or how far we still have to go. Women not only have the vote that we celebrate today on National Women's Equality Day, but have been presidential candidates. Yet the United States has not yet inaugurated a woman to the Oval Office. (Many other nations have been led by women.) Women still earn only 76% of what men earn. Worldwide, women represent 70% of the world’s poor. Women are chosen as astronauts, but in thirty years of space shuttles, only two women have commanded the crew.
I still consider myself a feminist. In my writing, I feature strong female characters who solve their own problems and fight for what is right. My current Work in Progress is about a quiet, timid girl who is inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1935. And on this, Women’s Equality Day, I encourage you to take a walk through your own history. You might want to check out this timeline of the American Women’s Movement, but don’t stop there. Think of the women in your own life who showed you what it meant to be smart, strong, determined, unstoppable. If they are still alive, give them a call or send a call. And think of the younger women you know. Whether you are male or female, how can you encourage and support them to be the best individual they can possibly be?
August 21st, 2011
|11:12 pm - When bookstores close...|
A sad sight: the closing of the huge Downtown Crossing Borders in Boston.
August 4th, 2011
|02:07 pm - A Histotry Geek's Dream|
At the New Deal Festival with Eleanor Roosevelt, AKA Patty Cooper
Years ago I wrote a picture book about the community built in Arthurdale, West Virginia by Eleanor Roosevelt, her friends, and the U.S. Government as part of the New Deal. The book didn’t sell because its narrative arc wasn’t quite right. Editors were fascinated by the time period and the history, but my protagonist’s story was not compelling enough. So I am now expanding that shorter work into a chapter book. Why waste all that good research? Why not share a story that has not yet been told?
Recently, I traveled to Arthurdale for their New Deal Festival. I’ve been there before to do research, but this quick trip was to specifically be present at a time when many people who grew up in Arthurdale would return for special activities. Thanks to helpful people at the Arthurdale Heritage Association, I was able to make contacts that would ensure interaction and interviews with the people who, had my fictional character been real, would have grown up with her, attended the same school, lived in the same unique neighborhood.
I flew to Pittsburgh, then drove through beautiful Pennsylvania and West Virginia hills to Arthurdale, population 700. My first event was “Tea With Eleanor,” a lovely event with character actress, and history alive presenter Patty Cooper, portraying Eleanor Roosevelt. Before and after the lunch, I met numerous septuagenarians and octogenarians who had been children in Arthurdale. Several of them began to tell me their memories of life in the 1930s.
For dinner that night I was privileged to attend the Arthurdale Reunion with 150 people, most of whom had graduated from Arthurdale High School between 1935 and 1956 when the school closed. I found it quite moving to see the members of “the class of 19__” stand together. As one man said to me, “I made my best friends here in Arthurdale in second grade, and they are still my best friends.” There was a memorial to those who died in the past year, then I got teary again when everyone stood and sang a rousing round of the Arthurdale School Cheer. I had so much “book learning” about this project, but it was real-life people who touched my heart.
The following day, hundreds of people thronged Arthurdale center for the New Deal Festival. I was kept busy the entire day interviewing the “former Arthurdale kids.” I’d worried that there wouldn’t be many individuals who would want to take time away from the festivities to talk to a stranger, but I hardly had a break. People sought me out, ready to talk about their childhood experiences. I learned what childhood games they played, how they interacted with Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, what school was like, and more. The details they shared will make my book more true even though I won’t use anyone’s experiences verbatim. My guess is that as hard as I’ll try to disguise individual experiences, there was enough commonality in growing up in Arthurdale as part of a New Deal project during the Depression, everyone I spoke with will recognize something of their own story.
And when it was time to leave, one woman asked, “Will you come back every year?” I probably looked surprised since I’d already felt as if I might be horning in on their special time together. Imagine how my face changed, then when she added, “Because you’re one of us now.”
I hope I can tell my protagonist’s story in a way that honors the children of Arthurdale, now grandparents and great-grandparents, or already buried in the Arthurdale Cemetary. And I am proud to be “one of” the Arthurdale community.
June 18th, 2011
|10:51 pm - What was it like to be "The Duchess?"|
Whenever I read a book or see a film set in an historical time, I invariably look up more details on the internet. So recently, when I checked "The Duchess" of of the library and watched Kiera Knightley's nuanced performance of Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (1707-1806), I researched the facts. Look her up--her life reads more like a modern soap opera than that of an ancestor of Princess Di and other royalty. What most struck me, however, was on one of the DVD's special features in which the film's producer, Gabrielle Tana and Amanda Foreman, author of the book on which the movie was based, leaf through Georgiana's actual letters which give an evolution of the Duchess through her life.
Foreman says, "Even though these were written in the 18th century...they don't feel they are from another time. They speak to you as if they had been written today." Georgiana's deep emotions are certainly apparent, especially when she wrote in her own blood to her son at a time she worried she might lose him. The author encourages viewers to visit Chatsworth, Georgiana's ancestral home. "Then they'll understand what it was like to be someone as beautiful, famous, clever and emotional as she was in the 18th century."
Producer Tana says the challenge of the film's production was helping audiences connect with someone so different from modern day viewers. That is the draw of history for me as a reader, writer and movie lover: discovering the living, breathing core of people who lived long ago and connecting to their life experience. When a young reader recently read my as-yet-unpublished historical novel, she told me, "I enjoyed the romance between Muskrat and Jennie and I thought it was really sweet. I felt it emotionally when he left her, as if it actually broke my heart."The fact that a modern teenager from Tennessee felt the pain of a young Cherokee girl in 1838 made me feel I had accomplished my goal as an author.
April 4th, 2011
|07:53 pm - Revising, not Blogging|
In case anyone thinks I have disappeared from the face of the earth, the truth is two-fold: I have been fortunate enough to be traveling to interesting places around the world (England and Spain recently; Thailand, Singapore and Bhutan next) and when I'm back in the United States, I have been diligently working on revisions of a novel and five picture books. The books are all out to editors and I am working on four other projects. Although I enjoy the initial creative process more than the hard work of revision, I feel good about the way I have dismantled earlier works to reassemble them as new, improved and hopefully, marketable books.
I appreciate my writing colleagues who enjoy writing blog posts and I may get back into a routine later, but for now, this blog will probably remain mostly silent while I enjoy the next big trip. When I travel, I find airports, plane and train rides, hotel rooms to be marvelous retreat spaces in which I continue to work on my craft.
Thanks for understanding.
January 19th, 2011
|10:52 pm - A Gifted Storyteller and Wordsmith's Work|
Like most writers, I read constantly, voraciously, inhaling books the way I scarfed down bags of Red Vines when I was a kid. I briefly savor the last pages of one book, ready to move on to the next offering on my shelf. Some books grab me so that I don’t want to shift loyalty from one author, one title, one world, to the next. Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall is the rare book that I could almost begin again, start to finish, minutes after I completed the first reading. I will hold off because I read a library copy and want to buy my own Memory Wall so that I can underline the gorgeous writing and meaningful phrases. Terrance Rafferty’s words in The New York Times give a better literary review of the book than I could. Let me just say that Doerr’s book transported me to other times and places, and gave me the privilege of living in people’s heads and hearts in a way that helped me see and understand both our differences and the ways we share the human condition. Doerr’s characters are now part of my life in the way old friends and relatives’ stories are intertwined with my own story. That’s about as much as any book can do for the reader fortunate enough to be touched by a gifted storyteller and wordsmith’s work.
January 14th, 2011
|10:11 pm - Can Compassion Win Out??|
Last night, I heard Karen Armstrong, author of twenty-three books on world religions, speak in a bookstore-sponsored event. When Armstrong won the $100,000 TED Prize in 2008, she used it to establish the Charter of Compassion, a document and movement to encourage people around the world to live out the Golden Rule. Armstrong's new book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, "sets out a program that can lead us toward a more compassionate life." Someone questioned Armstrong last night about why she didn't use the word "love" instead of "compassion." She said that "love" is an overused word with too many meanings in various contexts, whereas "Compassion manifests itself in the world not by thinking, but by doing."
Armstrong's writings speak to people on an intellectual and spiritual level, and because of her strong message of tolerance and understanding, her ideas resonate with people from a variety of religious traditions. She didn't set out to be a writer or expert on religions, but seems to have found/created her niche. Would that all writers could "be of use"* in such a positive way.
*from Marge Piercy's beautiful poem, "To Be Of Use."
January 9th, 2011
|02:24 pm - Angry, Sad, Daring to be Hopeful|
I've been very affected by the senseless shooting of Gabby Giffords and others yesterday in Tucson, my home town. My brother has known Gabby since she was in high school and was friends with one of his students. She has been a guest in my brother and sister-in-law's home and they've hosted fundraisers for her. The grocery store where the shootings took place is near where my parents lived and close to where my brother lives, and I often shop there when I visit Tucson. One of my college friends is Giffords' rabbi. So this event feels very close to home. There was a short period yesterday when I could not get in contact with my brother or his wife, and wondered if they had attended the event. I realize I should be this shaken by any shooting of any person anywhere, so I am ruminating on how often I separate myself from acts of violence to which I don't have a personal connection. If this had been a male Republican politician from Mississippi, would I be outraged? Demanding change?
I am praying that this will be an event that causes national rumination and policy-changing. Did we need this attack on democracy from within our own society to wake us up? Will the image of Christina Taylor Greene, a nine-year-old girl who was born on 9/11 and died in another senseless attack become a beacon for change?
I feel angry, sad, vulnerable, and chastened. I am ready to dare to be hopeful.
December 9th, 2010
|05:23 pm - Book Lust|
How far would you go to own a book that was important to you?Have you ever coveted another person’s library? Do you have a personal list of books you absolutely must have in your possession? Have you ever felt book lust?
I’ve been reading The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett. I’ve learned about the world of rare books, book collectors and book thieves and must confess that although I love, love, love books, it never occurred to me to steal one. What I consider to be prizes in my own collection are:
*Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe—I believe mine is an 1899 publication, so it is nothing near a first edition and is not in pristine condition. I love it for the physical beauty of its cover, the detailed endpapers, the signature of the original owner (Mrs. C. Kundert written in graceful script), and for the inside artwork, which is either pen and ink or black and white lithographs.
*Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell—a 1940 edition with photos from the movie, originally owned by Eleanor Blattner. Again, not valuable financially, but the memory of sharing that movie with my mother, who had first seen it when it came out in 1939, makes it priceless.
I have never read these versions of the books, but checked out copies from the library. I don’t love them for the plot, literary style, social significance, political correctness (lack thereof!) or what other readers might value. With me, it’s strictly aesthetic and sentimental. Many of my other favorite books were also purchased at hole-in-the-wall used bookstores that were almost certainly not members of the American Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association that plays such a large role in Bartlett’s book. I could not identify with “the man who loved books too much” and his desperate need to be seen as an educated, well-read gentleman, judged solely on the books he owned. I do know what it means to love books for either their content or context, however, and am grateful for the joy that my own library (which one friend once said was “a mixture of the literary and the trashy”) gives me.
What are the favorite books in your library? Any good stories to tell about how you got them?
artwork from UNCLE TOM'S CABIN from my edition of GONE WITH THE WIND