Thursday, July 30, 2009

Households in Every Tree

That's how Emily Dickinson put it in her poem, For Every Bird a Nest

Here, on my back porch, what looks like a shrine to empty nests, is a collection of "households" from the spring birdhouses. After they leave, you're supposed to clean out the bird houses, and then, lo and behold, they come back and nest again! Tireless avian producers...bless them. I'm happy to help them along.

They are such architects, these birds. Such resourceful, focused designers. These nests are made of twigs, pine needles, Otto's dog fur, bits of screen, moss, a gum wrapper.

Pictured are two blue bird nests [one with a tiny blue egg that didn't hatch], from a pair of blue birds who raised two broods in our front yard; also a chickadee nest [made of moss and dog fur-- softer than cashmere!], a tufted titmouse nest, and two nests from a pair of Carolina wrens.

I can't resist. More about nests, through a poet's eyes:

...But in my hand it was
intricate pleasure, even the thorny reeds
softened in the weave. And the fading
leaf mold, hardly
itself anymore, merely a trick
of light, if light
can be tricked. Deep in a life
is another life. I walked out, the nest
already by the step.
From "Nest" by Marianne Boruch

Monday, July 27, 2009

SECRET KEEPERS and Read-It-First

I love it when I go to, say, Whole Foods, and they have trays of different delectable treats on toothpicks that look and smell heavenly, and they say, here, try one, it's free... and you can't help but indulge. They give you a taste, a smidge of delicious, enough to make you realize you just have to have more, you just have to try out this recipe, and whoever thought star fruit and jalapeno peppers would be so...strangly addictive?

Well, this week SECRET KEEPERS is that delectable snack on a toothpick. Help yourself!

Here's how it works: Today starts a week-long email excerpt of SECRET KEEPERS from Suzanne Beecher's Read-it-First e-mail book club.

Each weekday morning, Read-it-First sends a few pages from the week’s featured title right to your email. By the end of the week, you’ll have read the opening chapters of that week's selection. It's a great way to sample a lot of different books-- books you may not have otherwise read or stumbled upon. Think snack tray.

You'll get a real taste, and you might even want to share the recipe, ummm, novel with your book club.

You can join READ-IT-FIRST here for an a tantalizing taste of SECRET KEEPERS...and all kinds of books in the weeks to come...and did I mention it's FREE?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

When to Seek Feedback on Your Writing...or Not

One of the discussions we have in writing workshops: when do you know a piece is ready to workshop? An early draft may be too embryonic, "too soft" to prompt helpful's just not fully formed. The writer, herself, is still trying to figure out voice, or point of view...basic elements. Comments, at that point, can be confusing.
Honor the potential, before the bloom. [Like the sunflower here in my garden...early draft.]

On the other hand, if a piece is heavily revised, and if you want everyone to say, 'perfect!' Then it's too finished-- and you're too invested in the piece-- for critiquing to do much good. [Except, you know, to burst your delicate bubble-- not helpful, btw.]

So when is a piece just right for feedback?

Here is an excellent guest post by Jennie Nash on the 10 do's and don'ts for writers seeking feedback. This Writing Life blog by Christina Baker Kline is a real treasure for writers...especially if you're writing a novel.
Critiques should open the blooms-- but they might sting a little.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Whale of a Dream

Everyone dreams of a place they want to visit. Emma, the protagonist in SECRET KEEPERS, has a bad case of travel lust.

What site, what country or city or mountain do you long to see?

In my case-- I yearn to visit the whales in Isla San José, in Baja California Sur, Mexico. There, as a recent article in the NY Times Magazine by Charles Siebert describes, something incredible is happening. The whales are watching us. Truly, the experiences between humans and whales are incredibly moving. Case in point:

A female humpback was spotted in December 2005 east of the Farallon Islands, just off the coast of San Francisco. She was entangled in a web of crab-trap lines, hundreds of yards of nylon rope that had become wrapped around her mouth, torso and tail, the weight of the traps causing her to struggle to stay afloat. A rescue team arrived within a few hours and decided that the only way to save her was to dive in and cut her loose.For an hour they cut at the lines and rope with curved knives, all the while trying to steer clear of a tail they knew could kill them with one swipe. When the whale was finally freed, the divers said, she swam around them for a time in what appeared to be joyous circles. She then came back and visited with each one of them, nudging them all gently, as if in thanks. The divers said it was the most beautiful experience they ever had. As for the diver who cut free the rope that was entangled in the whale’s mouth, her huge eye was following him the entire time, and he said that he will never be the same.

Monday, July 20, 2009

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

Some of the best, brilliant, inspiring things happening on the globe, the "ideas worth spreading," are available to everyone through the TED (Technology Entertainment Design) conferences. For more than 25 years, TED has hosted speakers whose work and worldviews--on a huge range of subjects-- are radically inspiring. The TED talks are readily available for free and you're encouraged to share them.

Need a shot of inspiration with your espresso? Here, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, gives an inspiring and humorous talk for TED on nurturing creativity by sharing "the radical idea that instead of the rare person 'being' a genius, all of us 'have' a genius." It's the idea of a writer as a portal through which creativity flows or "visits"...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Unflappable Hawk

On my gussied up days--a couple of times a week-- I put on mascara. Radical beauty regime, right? The other day, I about dropped the Maybelline when I heard a loud boom. LOUD boom. I looked outside our living room window. A red-tailed hawk had flown into the window and was sitting on the ground. He was stunned and BIG [they have four feet wing spans] and looked to be unscathed, just a little dazed. Like, if he were in a cartoon there would be little birds flying around his noggin'.

I called Wildlife Rescue for advice-- not that I was going to offer him an ice pack or ask how many fingers I was holding up-- but you get the feeling these creatures--majestic, okay? I know the adjective is overused when it comes to birds of prey, but he was majestic. Lots of pride. The live free or die thing. What did I need to do to protect him?

The cool thing about the Wildlife Rescue line is that it's staffed by volunteers who specialize in different kinds of wild critters, so you get the message asking you to "press 1 if you need help with an injured raccoon, press 2 if you need help with an injured possum, 3 for squirrels and chipmunks, 4 for hawks and owls..."and on and on. So I pushed 4, and talked to a kind, collected hawk expert lady who told me to watch my handsome raptor friend, and if in two hours he hadn't flown or at least perched somewhere-- then call her back. "They usually come out of those dazes fine after they fly into something," she said, which vastly relieved me. Not that I was going to finish applying mascara or anything, but she calmed me down. She probably heard the panic in my voice.

I was already a fan of Hawk, even if he was staking out the birdfeeder, 'cause hey, hawks got to eat, right? I loved his bright yellow feet and his piercing stare and his- "I meant to do that" attitude, as he, several minutes later, hopped up on the front porch step, gazing across the front yard. Did I mention he had a wingspan of four feet? The wildlife rescue lady told me the important thing for me to do was to keep dogs, cats, and people away from him until he recovered. That was no problem-- he looked fierce and intimidating-- a feathered gorgeous gargoyle there on our front porch. Ain't nobody getting near that.

Meanwhile, the chickadees, wrens, cardinals, Jays, and titmice were raising a ruckus. There are lots of nests in our yard, and baby birds, and the birds clabbered and called like weather sirens, but Hawk remained unfazed, unflappable until he flapped and flew--to our neighbor's tree, and then up and away.

He came back later that day with his peeps [his mate? his parents?] for a little squirrel buffet in the backyard.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

AWOL in Pluto

It's high summer, and my front-yard garden is a hub of activity. Just yesterday the baby Blue Birds "fledged" and flew off with their parents. The tomatoes are ripe. The sunflowers are gazing up. The bees, with their impressive work ethic, are busy as usual. There's weeding to do...someday. Not now.

I've been in Pluto, North Dakota-- in soul if not body. I'm reading Lousie Erdrich's masterful, beautiful novel, The Plague of Doves, about the intertwined, fascinating lives of the Ojibwe and whites who hate and love, murder and intermarry.

Weeding? Nah. Reading? Yeah.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Out of My Gourd

As I've mentioned on my website, when it comes to writing novels and gardening....I like to see what happens. The element of surprise, the openness to what develops, is what keeps me going. Curiosity and creativity go hand in hand, you might say.

I've had minor characters in fiction start small, a cameo role, and then insert themselves, intertwining more and more with the story. Kind of like gourds.

Yes, gourds. I planted a few gourd seeds this spring, thinking it might be cool to make birdhouses for purple martins [the only birds, by the way, that prefer gourds...most of them don't like their houses to swing in the wind.] My gourds, all different kinds--winged, warty, dippers--are bolting across the yard, intertwining with tomatoes, scaling the birdfeeders, and climbing the trees [my Camilia bush looks absolutely festive, like a holiday gourd tree] I'm planning to give away a lot of them to friends and family who want them for craft projects [dry and paint them], bird houses [dry and hang them] and holiday decor [dry and arrange them.]

They're extroverted, assertive plants, that's for sure...and very abundant.

Meanwhile, I may be out of my gourd, but I won't be out of gourds anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pulpwood Queens Book Club Selection

When I find myself sitting on a panel or talking to book clubs, the quickest way to liven up the crowd is to tell everyone about the Pulpwood Queens Book Club. It's the brainchild of Kathy Patrick, who owns Beauty and the Book, the only combined bookstore and hair salon in the country. It's in Texas, where everything is bigger-- you know, the higher the hair, the closer to Jesus. And it's break-out-the-bubbly to have your book selected for the largest "meeting and discussion" book club in the country: 239 Pulpwood Queen Book Club chapters from coast to coast.
My first novel, THE GARDEN ANGEL, was a Pulpwood Queens selection, and I was thrilled to get to actually go there, to Jefferson, Texas, on my paperback tour. There, after a cover-dish dinner, surrounded by Redkin products and a fun group of women, I signed copies of my book. In a hair dryer chair. Wearing a tiara [which I got to keep, by the way.]

Kathy wrote The Pulpwood Queen's Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life about how reading, books, and authors have been a godsend in her life. She is a tireless crusader for adult literacy, too. I've blogged previously about her book here, and my fun and memorable experience with the Pulpwood Queens here.

Now that SECRET KEEPERS has been included as a Pulpwood Queens selection for August, I'm rejoicing all over again. It's a big, hairy deal!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sowing the Seeds of Imagination

Vacation weekend is over, and so is my --virtual and physical--booktour. Maybe my gargoyle should be holding one of those checkered finish line flags...but then again, a finish is always a start, too. For me, July feels almost like January--renewed goals, time to get back to 1,000-words a day [mornings are my best time].

Meanwhile, the garden is bearing fruit--actually tomatoes and lots of squash and cucumbers and gourds[!]--and it feels glorious to reap...and prepare for sowing. This feels like one of those "if...then" questions on the SAT: reap is to sow... as published novel is to writing.

I stumbled upon this blog--a fun look at the daily routines of famous people, including writers, who juggle child-raising, jobs, bills, life... Here's a quote from Toni Morrison, who has for years risen at dawn to write:

Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It's not being in the light, it's being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?
-- Toni Morrison
Daily Routines

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dear Reader Seedy Character Contest Winners

More than 200 entries. Five winners drawn.

It sure would be nice to send a free signed copy of SECRET KEEPERS and selections of my favorite seeds to everyone. Thanks, again, to everyone who emailed and entered the contest.

There's probably a way to insert a drumroll sound effect here, but I haven't figured it out yet...

The Dear Reader "Seedy Character" contest winners are:

Tessa from Wisconsin
Deena from Connecticut
Jayne from Missouri
Pat from Maryland
Marlene from Ohio

Happy reading and growing, everyone.
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