Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cheers! It's Pub Day

That's pub as in publication...not as in dimly lit bar. But, hey, why not combine the two? Secret Keepers is officially out, perching on book shelves, and hopefully flying off them.

And speaking of perching and flying...this little fellow below appeared at my kitchen window where he tapped with his open baby beak maw, his mohawky tuft of feathers, and peered in at me with his googly damp baby bird eyes. Clearly, he'd heard in Birdland that I keep meal worms in the kitchen...but those worms are for the blue birds, or so I tried to explain to him. It's not like a run a drive-through with (worm) fries. His mother-- a cardinal as it turned out-- came and chirped at him and he fluttered off in that zig-zaggy Woodstucky fashion.
I love spring.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading Tonight for Emrys Reading Room

I'm reading tonight for the Emrys Reading Room at the Handlebar in Greenville, SC. I plan to read some scenes from the first and second chapters of Secret Keepers. I'll skip around a little like a stone across a pond-- give a little taste of Emma and her daughter Dora.

I'll be joined by Keith Lee Morris, author of
The Greyhound God (2003) and The Best Seats in the House (2004). His latest novel, The Dart League King, was published by Tin House Books this past October.

Here are details from the Emrys website and the Handlebar online calendar.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

These boots were made for planting

When I hit the road for a book tour in a couple of weeks, I'll be bringing along a LOT of footware. But not to wear. These are boots. Discarded ones. Some pilfered. All stuffed with sumptuous succulents and posies.

The friends, loved ones, and strangers unaware they've donated to the booty cause will surely be charmed by the results. I'm still collecting boots and gathering up plants. I'll be giving some bootylicious planters away at readings and signings-- while supplies last. Hope to see you there.

Addendum: I've already written about the cover of SECRET KEEPERS--those boots are on my front porch. I keep getting asked--but WHOSE boots are they? Well, one of them is a husband's and one belongs to some dude from the 80's. I think. But that sounds like an entirely new novel.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day to You, Happy Earth Day to You

Do I sound like a broken record/CD/podcast? The earth IS us, people.

From the NY Times Magazine article by Paul Bloom:

"Many studies show that even a limited dose of nature, like a chance to look at the outside world through a window, is good for your health. Hospitalized patients heal more quickly; prisoners get sick less often. Being in the wild re­duces stress; spending time with a pet enhances the lives of everyone from autistic children to Alzheimer’s patients..."

Or, to quote Emily Dickinson's "Nature is What We See":
Nature is what we know
But have no art to say,
So impotent our wisdom is
To Her simplicity.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A room with no view, please

Writers complain a lot about distraction and procrastination. It's not just email, Twitter, Facebook, blogging-- it's the window. Yep, the room with a view. Especially in the spring, with birds nesting and flowers blooming. A room of one's own, as Virginia Woolf said, is necessary. But maybe not one with a window. I think it was Annie Dillard who advised to position your desk so you're facing a blank wall.

And so I'm trying not to look up from my laptop and watch the birds. I have a tendency to micro-manage the bird feeder. The bluebirds are nesting, and I feel privileged to have them as guests. I feed them meal worms. I have the live kind you buy from bait shops or pet stores. They come in containers with little holes at the top that say MEAL WORMS, and you keep them in the fridge. [Ever seen the look of a guest after he opens the fridge and sees MEAL WORMS beside his Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio? Try it sometime. It's fun.]

They are sluggish little worms because they're, you know, cold, and if worms had teeth they'd be chattering. Once you take them out of the fridge, and select a doomed few for the birds, you're supposed to keep out the rest for a hours and feed them pieces of apple to keep them alive. Then you put them back in the Tower of London fridge to chill out. With all that feeding and attention, you may end up thinking those invertebrates are pets, too, after a while. They do have their charm, the way they squirm and thrash-- not going gently into that good night, as Dylan Thomas said.

And so I have turned to the dried, crunchy [dead] kind of meal worms that smell like corn chips and dirty feet. You have to soak those in warm water about 15 minutes before your put them out for the bluebirds. The grackles like worms, too. They're aggressive and greedy-- the Wall Street birds. They still have to feed their young'uns, too, so I let them take a few gulps then I shoo them away so the bluebirds can come in and have their fill. We sort of have a routine now: the bluebirds know I bring out the meal worms about ten in the morning. The grackles swoop in, gulp, and I shoo them away, and that's the bluebirds' cue that brunch is served. But I think they might like tea and dinner, too. Need more worms!

Some good news:
The shaggy dog story--see previous post-- has a heart-warming ending. "Wallace" the cute mutt who showed up, homeless but gregarious, in our neighborhood has found a home. After we fed him and fell in love with him, he went missing a few days. After several of us plastered posters everywhere [and found out his previous owner had moved and left Wallace no forwarding address], I got a call from a friendly dog-loving bartender who found Wallace hanging out and flirting with folks in line for a show and took him home. Wallace, who has extremely good dog manners, fell right into the two-dog family and is bathed, and heading to the vet for shots and neutering. There are a lot of dog-loving, kind people out there. Really.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Booktour-- more events

Here are a few new book tour events--virtual and real--for Secret Keepers. You can also check on the appearances page on my website for the full schedule. Happy, happy spring.

LibraryThing Virtual Author Chat
May 4-18
Mindy Friddle, author of Secret Keepers

Tuesday, June 2

Burry Bookstore
Book & Author Luncheon
Noon-2 pm
130 West Carolina Avenue
Hartsville, SC 29550


Thursday, June 4th
Fireside Books & Gifts
4:30-6:30 pm
Valerie. Jones, Manager
2270 Hwy 74A Byp., Ste. 509
Forest City, NC 28043

Saturday, June 6
City Lights Bookstore
7:30 pm
3 East Jackson Street
Sylva, NC 28779


Friday, April 10, 2009

Overflowing with Rain & Ideas

My rain barrel runneth over. Last summer's brutal heat prompted many of us to find ways to save water. I got this cool rain barrel to catch water from my gutter. April showers now, and it's overflowing. I'll catch what I can to keep the shade garden in the back lush when the dry heat of July sets in.

Ideas work like that, too. For first drafts, especially. Gushing sometimes, overflowing so you write as fast as you can to catch it all, to keep your garden of words lush, too. You'll need that pure fount of inspiration, of metaphor, of vivid dreaminess to sustain you later when the first draft is finished, and ready for sifting through, deleting, editing, revision. Kill your darlings, Faulkner said.

I've been talking a lot about first drafts lately. Writing first drafts of novels is such a different experience from subsequent drafts and the revision and editing that comes later. [And because my extended metaphor today runs watery and fluid, here's a dry and dirty take: Stephen King likens writing a novel to dusting off fossils-- as if the ideas and characters, the stories, are already there, waiting to be discovered.]

As tempting as it is to tread water and start editing or tinkering with sentences midway in a first draft, I've found--and heard other novelists say--one should try to keep the momentum, and don't get snagged. This seems especially true with first chapters: one tends to re-read and polish those opening pages again and again, investing so much time and energy in them that you'll naturally resist any revisions or major edits [or deletions] to them later, when you have a whole organic manuscript to consider. Keep on going.

A worthy goal for a first draft: 1,000 words a day. Let it pour.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

To Do List or To Be List?

Are you a list maker? I am. I write and rewrite lists on stickie notes, deposit slips, notebooks, and--on rare occasions, when I'm feeling organized--I sign up for a task list email thingy. It's the kind of task master system that sends you emails to remind you what to do everyday. Such ambition for compulsive organizing and prioritizing is [for me anyway] fleeting. Thank goodness. Now if I could get an email task list everymorning that said: drink coffee and listen to the birds, write half the day, garden, take a long walk with the dog, have a drink and a leisurley home-cooked meal with your man, read for hours, repeat next day....well, I'd sign up for that one.

In this frenzied hyper-connected digital world, it's easy to get caught up in the undertow of doing, doing, doing and forget being. I try to remind myself that it's the process that counts, not so much the end result. [Yeah, I know. I can hear you laughing. But notice I said, try to remind myself.] If you're just trying to get through something, or get it over with so the real fun begins, if you're just waiting for some point in the future, you're resisting the now of life. You're wishing away the minutes, hours, days, years. I've noticed too many of the "what's on your mind" statuses of my pals on Facebook say, "Can't wait until Friday." Usually that's on a Monday.

It never ends, you think. Paying bills, dentist appointments, taking the critter to the vet, job responsibilities or looking for a job, haircuts, groceries, volunteering, buying birthday presents, and on and on. But dig up an old list in your glove compartment or some dusty drawer, a list you made a year ago, or five or more years ago, and you see all the tedious stuff that's passed, floated on down the river, that debris that seemed so important at the time. "Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans." John Lennon said that.

One approach I like is on the Zen Habit site last week about getting "amazing" things done. The key word--amazing. And I have to add another apt quote from a favorite: "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."--Emily Dickinson

And writers? You'll love this: Novelist Patry Francis [The Liars' Diary] has started a wonderful, inspiring blog called Toil, Solitude, Prayer: Writing as a Practice to "train for the marathon of writing a novel." Today she references this "Tales from the Slush Pile" comic strip about to-do lists, which is genius:

“Tales from the Slush Pile” is an original comic strip that follows the trials and tribulations of a children’s book writer. Its creator, Ed Briant, has written and illustrated a number of picture books, including Paper Parade (Atheneum, 2004), Seven Stories (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2005), A Day at the Beach (Greenwillow, 2006), and Don’t Look Now (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2009).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shaggy Dog Story

Wallace isn't shaggy. He's short-haired. Mutt, comically so. Body shape: beagle. Curled tail: husky. Legs: stocky terrier, like a Jack Russell. Head: squarish, maybe boxer or pit bull. Personality: angel. He's so, so gregarious and cute, and looks at you with his big limpid hazel eyes...well. I have to get a hold of myself. Because Wallace just showed up last Friday at our house and stuck around for the weekend, and now has gone off on a jaunt and hasn't visited. His food and water on our side porch, untouched. And just when I found a forever home for him.

He had on a collar with no info. I took him to the vet-- no chip. They think he's about a year old. He's not neutered [but surprisingly docile], so the first order of things was to see if he was missing and go ahead and get his shots and get him fixed-- because the animal shelters here are overrun with dogs and cats, because PEOPLE NEED TO SPAY AND NEUTER THEIR PETS. Please.

I took Wallace for a long walk and inquired if anyone had seen him before, and after an afternoon of forensic investigation, I discovered Wallace's name and that his "owners" were moving and not to be found. So, with the help of several animal-loving neighbors, we printed out flyers with Wallace's picture, "Free to Good Home" and delivered them to coffee shops, vets, pet stores. But did I mention the shelters are overrun with puppies and kittens every spring? Not an easy thing to find a home for an adult dog.

You may be wondering why I don't adopt Wallace. I would in a skinny greyhound second except that Otto, my 7-year-old shelter-adopted Shusky [shepherd-husky mix] played with Wallace on Saturday, but by Sunday had enough, thank you, and started a big ol' scary fuss. Maybe because Wallace has yarbels and Otto doesn't-- he's neutered of course. But there was a buried squeaky hot dog toy incident, and than a ruckus, and we had to keep them apart. Otto had put his paw down about remaining a one-dog household. sister, who lives out of town, has a wonderful, gentle dog she adopted from the shelter who has the activity level of a rug...he's a rolly polly pacifist, and we decided Wallace would be a great addition to their household.

Only Wallace didn't stick around to get the news. Come back, boy.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Humor in the Garden

That's Mark Twain--got that little figure from the flea market-- surrounded by the chortling little faces of Johnny-Jump-Ups. Always good to have some yuk-yuks on the front porch steps.
Here are a couple of classic quips from the Twain-meister:

"I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position."

"A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain."

And seeing these beauties reminded me of a joke [actually I think it appears in The Garden Angel somewhere]. It's a little "off color":

What's better than roses on a piano?
Tulips on an organ.

Get it?
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