"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." ~ William Wordsworth

The Writing Life Too

And if you're reading this, it means you're not writing.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sky is nearly a battleship grey and I must confess to not venturing outdoors all day. But it's time to pop out to buy a bottle of champagne. I want to wish you and your family health and happiness in 2010. If you're a writer, I'm wishing you success along with patience and endurance. And few more quotes for you:

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." Ralph Waldo Emerson

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” Little Golding II

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential. ~Ellen Goodman

And of course have heart, be calm, and keep writing. And thanks so much for stopping by, Jessica
I'm dancing back and forth today, flitting among several projects because some days this seems to work best. But I just realized that I hadn't read today's The Writer's Almanac entry as I normally do each morning and alas, now have an acute case of writer envy. The cause? Mary Oliver, who else?

Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh
by Mary Oliver

All winter
two blue herons
hunkered in the frozen marsh,
like two columns of blue smoke.

Find the rest of this lovely, lovely poem at The Writer's Almanac. Note: Today's poem is written by John Berryman, the Oliver poem is from December 27, 2009
Steady rains this morning and in fact, the skies are the color of rain. A few days ago I was reading the January issue of Smithsonian magazine and read Jayne Anne Phillips gorgeous essay about her hometown in the Allegheny foothills that she claims was "the perfect birthplace for a writer." As I read, I kept stopping from time to time to admire the elegance of her language and clarity of thought. And yesterday I read the interview with her in November issue of The Writer magazine. I'm blown away by her life as a writer, by her vision. And decided that in 2010 I'm going to read her body of work. So if like me, you've been neglecting this amazing writer, you might want to begin with her essays at her website.

Here's an excerpt from Dreaming of Beauty:
When people ask me how it feels to write a novel, I tell them it's like serial dreaming. Our dreams feel inevitable, no matter their content. We may be moved, aroused, frightened, inspired by our dreams, but the pictures in which dreams play out are spun from one another and hold together. We can't argue with them, unless, of course, the argument is part of the dream. Those layered distortions of recent or long-ago realities can be startling or nearly magical; still, something stays true. A memory may be almost completely transformed, but the seed of its very appearance lies in its inalienable, essential nature, and the nature or truth of a memory turns up in prose as surely as details turn up in dreams.

Beginning a novel, the writer dreams in daylight, arguing with herself with a kind of gentle, persistent persuasion. The writer takes on the persona of the lonely orphan, the (grown) child alone with potentially dangerous images. Somehow, she must persuade herself to speak, and this requires courage -- the courage to let the words inhabit a purely white field, to submit what is only partially understood to intense scrutiny. And there is no scrutiny more intense than that of emptiness, space that goes on for years. The writer, almost by definition, has carried these images around half a lifetime, forgetting them to protect them, until it is time to write the book. The writer begins to dream. It could even be said that the writer struggling to complete a novel never quite wakes up until the book is finished. Women who write live the Sleeping Beauty story again and again, but we assume all the roles in the fairy tale, circling, scaling walls. Making our way on foot through the dense, thorny forest that surrounds a barely visible castle. We seem to remember that we ourselves may have tended this garden when it was only rosebushes and hemlocks, supervising its impenetrable growth for just this chance -- to see it from the inside when it has grown vast and assumed shapes we could never have planned or imagined. There is a castle at the center, something hidden, but it may be a year or more before we're really that interested in catching sight of it. The writer gets addicted to any glimpse of the miraculous, and the real miracle is in the process itself. Is this what we mean by beauty: no maps, no guidelines, no guarantees? Loving something fearsome, even terrifying, out of instinctual belief in what lies beneath the surface? Forget Beauty, the good, perfect one in the diaphanous gown. We could call our story "The Buddhist and the Beast." In writing there is no surface, or there shouldn't be. The minute we begin to describe it, we sink into it.

Writing is like seeing in the dark, but more sensual. There's a partial blindness amidst murky, indefinite shapes, a delicious taste in the mouth, and a beckoning foreboding. There's a sense of recovery. We do recover what was lost -- by making it up. Fictional territory can't be considered real, and is certainly not history, yet certain places or geographical features are etched in light Place, within a novel as in real life, is far more than what can be described or astutely observed: it is atmosphere itself, absorbed by (spiritual) osmosis and somehow rendered whole. We write about place, enter it, translate it through the screen of the material. We understand who we were, and where we might have been. Like the traveler in T.S. Eliot's 'Four Quartets," we come to the place where we started, and know it for the first time.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And this is another reason why I write:

Dear Jessica Morrell,
I would just like to say thank you. Your book " Thanks but this isn't for us." was inspiring. I've been writing for two years, almost three actually, and you book was extraordinarily helpful. I don't nean to take up your time, I realize you are busy. Just wanted to tell you that you really did help my writing.
(name withheld)
I'm constantly inspired by the insights and lives of other writers. Here's one such inspiration from author Gary Willis: In choosing our teachers we do not have to depend on lucky accidents--on finding the one person among our contemporaries who has the time and will to enlighten us: the great Academy of the Past is open to all who would use it.
Clouds moving in and our lovely snow is melting. As you can see, I'm remodeling around here because I want to update the look of this blog and I like how this color looks like old parchment. I'll be adding a list of blogs about writing and publishing and other fun spots to visit when you should be writing....because reading blogs is inspiring. If you have suggestions for more features, please let me know at jessicapage at spirtone. com.

Meanwhile, just a reminder for Portland, Oregon residents--I'll be the speaker at the January Willamette Writers meeting on Tuesday, January 5th at the Old Church. I'm talking about Killing Your Muse....and other advice that will make sense, once I figure out what I want to say.

What are your writing plans for 2010?
Snow fell in Portland today and I went out walking three different times, happy as a school kid on the last day of classes. I was out at about 7 p.m. and the world was hushed and white with mounds piled in the tall firs and bare winter branches frosted. I kept stopping to look around it was all so gorgeous, so magical.

I've been thinking a lot about what I want to accomplish in the coming year and decade. What are your plans for writing? Dreams aren't enough, goals require plans and steps and determination. And let's throw in passion and discipline.

For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. T. S. Eliot

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Don't disregard your life. It is too precious. This moment, right now, is the only life you will ever have. You can't store it up for the ideal time. When you walk, walk with your whole body and mind joining the floor. Place your eyes in the soles of your feet, walking as if the floor were a dear friend. This is intimacy with all things, where the whole world is self, where there is no "outside" or other."
- Pat Phelan

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sky still dark this morning and the wind is howling like an angry beast caught in a trap. I'm back home after three days off and every time I started thinking about my to-do list of projects and my usual worries, I firmly banished my thoughts and went back to the order of the day--cooking, eating, cleaning up after eating, relaxing, walking against the gales, watching movies, chatting on the phone with relatives in the Midwest, playing with the kids, reading to the kids, playing games with the kids (Sketchy--lots of fun) petting the dogs.....you know, down time. On Christmas day here the sky was so blue I swear I didn't recognize it, so I'm curious about the color of today's skyscape.

I need to work on an editing project for awhile, which brings to mind this quote from the oh-so wise Voltaire: The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.

Have heart, be calm, keep writing and dreaming.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Across the street my neighbors have sprinkled white lights over their shrubs and bushes and I'm reminded of the fireflies of my childhood. Fog has settled over the valley and my gifts are wrapped, cookies are baked, and I'm getting ready to join my family later today. Meanwhile, a blizzard has hit the Midwest and it sounds like my parents are going to be snowed in today in their cozy home on a northern lake. They'd planned to drive several hundred miles to my sister's home, but I'm hoping they stay home so I'll be calling them soon. It seems to me that no matter where and how you spend Christmas or Hannukah, that you never need to feel that your celebration is hollow or some consolation prize because there is something soft and miraculous about this time of year.

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

And here is a link to a great interview of Dylan Landis Details are my Weakness.

Happy Christmas to all

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice and first day of winter. Solstice is Latin for 'the sun stands still.' From the Writer's Almanac:

In the northern hemisphere, today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. ... It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun.

The January issue of National Geographic has a terrific article and pictorial of Scotland's Hebrides Islands and includes a stunning photo of Callinish, a circle of standing stones. Some of you might know that author Diana Gabaldon used standing stones found around the world as a central device in her Outlander series.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Smoky-looking skies this mornings and I've got a bunch of presents to wrap and cards to send. Last week I found myself way too wrapped up in politics and the health care reform vote and have been so concerned about our legislative process in this country and how it's influenced by corporate interests. I keep asking myself what each person can do to make a difference. There are always phones calls to your representatives and the White House, but I'm going to keep looking for more ways to be involved, be a voice. Also looking for a way to stay informed about the politics of our time, but still feel optimistic about life and the future of our country.....especially since this is Christmas week.

Here's a writing prompt:
Write about a time when you clicked, bonded, or fell in love. For an extra challenge, write it from the other person's perspective.

Have heart, stay calm, keep writing.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Low stratus clouds tinged in silver this morning. I just wanted to recommend today's lovely poem from The Writer's Almanac. It's called Going to Bed by George Bilgere. Here is a segment:

The stars are halogen-blue.
The constellations, whose names
I have long since forgotten,
look down anonymously,
and the whole galaxy
is cartwheeling in silence through the night.

Meanwhile, keep dreaming, keep writing, and keep reading poetry.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So it's evening and the rain seems to have stopped for awhile. Today I met for the last time with the writers in my critique group and they were fun, and talented and inspiring and funny. What else could I want from a group? Was dashing around buying a gift for my brother-in-law in Milwaukee, stopped at the post office for those flat fee priority boxes for mailing, and then met a writer friend for drinks. Arrived home all jolly and started wrapping and generally feeling smug about crossing off an item on the holiday to-do list when I realized that I brought home the wrong boxes. The ones I have are only meant for the military. In my defense the post office was low on boxes and I was trying to make it to my writers on time. Back out with the masses tomorrow--imagine me in a long postal line.

But I need to share this terrific list from Poets & Writers of the 50 Most Inspiring Authors in the World. And was happy to see Floyd Skloot on the list. A huge congratulations to Floyd and the others included. Have heart, be calm, keep writing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Human beings can't live without the illusion of meaning, the apprehension of confluence, the endless debate concerning the fault in the stars or in ourselves. The writer is just the messenger, the moving target. Inside culture, the writer is the talking self. Through history, the writing that lasts is the whisper of conscience. The guild of writers is essentially a medieval guild existing in a continual Dark Age, shaman, monks, witches, nuns, working in isolation, playing with fire.

When the first illuminated manuscripts were created, few people could read. Now that people are bombarded with image and information and the World Wide Web is an open vein, few people can read. Reading with sustained attention, reading for understanding, reading to cut through random meaninglessness - such reading becomes a subversive act. The writer's first affinity is not to a loyalty, a tradition, a morality, a religion, but to life itself, and to its representation in language. Ego enters in, but writing is far too hard and solitary to be sustained by ego. The writer is compelled to write. The writer writes for love. The writer lives in spiritual debt to language, the gold key in the palm of meaning. Awake, asleep, in every moment of being, the writer stands at the gate.
The gate may open.
The gate may not.
Regardless, the writer can see straight through it."

- Jayne Anne Phillips

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Steady rain this morning and world is soggy and gray. Last night I went to a friend's Christmas ships party. Before I moved to the Northwest I'd never heard of this tradition of decorating boats with Christmas lights and traveling along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers so that people can watch them pass by. We stood beneath umbrellas as the boats chugged past decked in festive colors, most featuring figures from convertibles to whales and salmons.

According to The Writer's Almanac today is Edna O'Brien's birthday. She was working in a chemist's shop in Dublin when she discovered a slender volume called Introducing James Joyce: a selection of Joyce's prose,with an introduction by T.S. Eliot. She later said: "I opened it to a section from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the Christmas dinner scene, with the blue flame over the Christmas pudding. Up to then, I had been writing rather fancifully, with a lot of adjectives. When I read that, I realized one thing: that I need go no further than my own interior, my own experience, for whatever I wanted to write. It was truly, without sounding like St. Paul, an utter revelation to me." To this day, Edna O'Brien keeps the book handy, its yellow hardcover now faded. Inside, she inscribed it: "A Book that taught me more than any other about writing. Purchased for sixpence in Bachelor's Walk in 1950 or 1951."

What book or author taught you the most about writing? What book set fire to your desire to write?

Monday, December 14, 2009

If I worked for a paint company as a person who branded color names, I'd call today's color Winter Sky and it would be placed among the various shades of muted grays. After a busy weekend I'm reading a client's manuscript this morning and there is no tension in the first 90 pages. This makes me so sad for the writer and for me as the person who needs to explain why this lack in a story is deadly. Tension keeps readers turning pages. Writers don't forget that you don't want happy readers, you want worried, uneasy readers. You want your story to grab their imagination and senses. You wanted reading to be an experience that they can feel in their bodies.

For writers in the Northwest, here's contest announcement from Ellen Waterston, Director The Nature of Words

The Nature of Words, Central Oregon's premier literary organization, announces the launch of its sixth annual literary festival with the call for submissions to the Rising Star Creative Writing Competition for young writers. The competition, now in its fifth year, is awarded at the literary festival, scheduled for November 3-7, 2010 in Bend, Oregon. Prizes will be awarded in fiction, literary non-fiction, nature essay and poetry in two age categories, 15-18 and 19-25. Winning writers will receive a cash prize, inclusion of their winning entry in an anthology, recognition in an awards ceremony at the November festival, and a scholarship to one of The Nature of Words workshops in their winning genre.

Submission Guidelines

The competition is open to writers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Competition genres include poetry, fiction, literary non-fiction and literary non-fiction/nature essay.
All entrants must be a member of one of the eligible age categories: ages 15-18 or ages 19-25.
Submitting writers who have won in the past two years may not submit in their winning genre(s).
Submitting writers may not have published a first book or chapbook, but may have had individual stories, essays or poems in print.
Submit each entry, accompanied by a short biographical summary, via email to risingstar@thenatureofwords.org. Poets may submit two unpublished poems (4 single-spaced pages, total); prose writers may submit one unpublished double-spaced piece of no more than 3,000 words per genre. "Publication" includes appearance on any Internet source except a blog. Use one inch margins, Times Roman typeface and 12-point type. Submissions must be in Microsoft Word format. Entries will not be returned, so entrants should retain a copy of their submissions for their records.
The author's name, mailing address, phone number, email address, genre of the submission (poetry, fiction, literary non-fiction, literary non-fiction/nature essay), age category, and word count must appear on a separate cover sheet with each entry. The author's name must not appear on the submitted entry.
Entrants' short bio should include information about themselves and their interest in/experience in writing.
Winners must submit a photo (head shot preferred) for use in publicity and the Event Guide.
Entrants must mail a check in the amount of $5 per entry (submission fee), payable to The Nature of Words and addressed to P.O. Box 56, Bend, Oregon OR 97709 or pay via the PayPal link at www.thenatureofwords.org/Donate. PayPal payments must include 'Rising Star submission fee' in the payment description.
Entries must be received in The Nature of Words email (risingstar@thenatureofwords.org) no later than 12 midnight on the submission deadline date of May 10, 2010. Entries dated after this date will not be read.

The Rising Star Creative Writing Competition is sponsored by Julia Kennedy Cochran.

For more information about the Rising Star Creative Writing Competition and The Nature of Words, visit www.thenatureofwords.org, email info@thenatureofwords.org or call 541.330.4381.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"I can imagine nothing in the world preferable to a nice, well-heated room, with the books one loves and the leisure one wants." Gustave Flaubert
Dust-colored skies this morning and so far the snow, ice, and freezing rain predicted for Portland have not arrived yet. Heat blasting in all the rooms and NPR on in the background with yet another story about Tiger Woods. So much speculation about why he did it---isn't that obvious?

But anyway, I wanted to post my latest news. I received an email from Gabrielle Moss, my oh-so helpful editor at Tarcher that my latest book Thanks, But This Isn't For Us: A (Sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why Your Writing is Being Rejected has gone into a second printing. So my thanks to anyone who bought it or told friends about it.

Since the weather outside is going to be frightful I'm baking cookies with kids this afternoon and am looking forward to the warmth and smells of cinnamon and chocolate.

Stay warm out there and keep writing, keep dreaming.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Another morning of blue skies and cold temperatures but a storm coming in from the south is arriving later today....which means snow and ice which this city doesn't tolerate well. I've got my place decked out for Christmas and I'm going to bake more over the weekend.

I just wanted to call your attention tot he acceptance speech by
Herta Müller when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It's an amazing story of endurance. She said in part:

Can we say that it is precisely the smallest objects—be they trumpets, accordions, or handkerchiefs—which connect the most disparate things in life? That the objects are in orbit and that their deviations reveal a pattern of repetition—a vicious circle, or what we call in German a devil's circle. We can believe this, but not say it. Still, what can't be said can be written. Because writing is a silent act, a labor from the head to the hand. The mouth is skipped over. I talked a great deal during the dictatorship, mostly because I decided not to blow the trumpet. Usually my talking led to excruciating consequences. But the writing began in silence, there on the stairs, where I had to come to terms with more than could be said. What was happening could no longer be expressed in speech. At most the external accompaniments, but not the totality of the events themselves. That I could only spell out in my head, voicelessly, within the vicious circle of the words during the act of writing. I reacted to the deathly fear with a thirst for life. A hunger for words. Nothing but the whirl of words could grasp my condition. It spelled out what the mouth could not pronounce. I chased after the events, caught up in the words and their devilish circling, until something emerged I had never known before. Parallel to the reality, the pantomime of words stepped into action, without respect for any real dimensions, shrinking what was most important and stretching the minor matters. As it rushes madly ahead, this vicious circle of words imposes a kind of cursed logic on what has been lived. Their pantomime is ruthless and restive, always craving more but instantly jaded. The subject of dictatorship is necessarily present, because nothing can ever again be a matter of course once we have been robbed of nearly all ability to take anything for granted. The subject is there implicitly, but the words are what take possession of me. They coax the subject anywhere they want. Nothing makes sense anymore and everything is true.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Here's a link to a fascinating interview with author Tod Goldberg. He says in part:

There’s a romantic notion about what it is like to be a writer vs. what it’s actually like to write, which is of course an entirely different experience. So I think people have an idea that it’s a kind of life that is a purely intellectual pursuit where they could spend their lives telling the kinds of stories (or writing the kinds of essays, or constructing the kinds of pop-up books, or…) that they’ve always wanted to read and that, in process, they will be loved and adored and treated like a celebrity who, unlike, say, Paris Hilton, is famous for something intensely worthy. They probably think they’ll be invited to salons. There is a slight chance they imagine themselves in Paris during the Jazz Age. Certainly, there’s a belief that their life would be better as a writer than as a plumber or nurse or lawyer or dog-catcher or…well, you get the idea.

What they never seem to factor in—“they” being the people who tell me this sort of thing on a fairly regular basis—is that they’d actually need to sit down for hours and, you know, write. Writing is one of the few professions everyone thinks they could do. I blame the dreadful adage that “everyone has a novel inside of them” on this belief. Not everyone has a “specialty in thoracic medicine” in them or an “ability to understand what the knocks and pings in the average Honda Accord foretell in relation to the transmission” either. So I think people find this life seductive because it isn’t the life they have, but it’s one they can imagine having if only they had the time or the volition to sit down and write. But of course it’s a job like any other job when you get right down to it and sometimes, like at night when I can’t turn off the story, it’s enough to make you wonder what life as a dog groomer might be like.

I come from a family of writers—my mother was a journalist, my father was a TV newS journalist, my brother Lee Goldberg is an author and television producer and both of my sisters, Linda Woods and Karen Dinino, are authors, too—so I don’t feel like I’ve ever been seduced per se. All I’ve ever really wanted to do, from as young an age as I can recall, was to tell stories, to entertain people. And that’s still what drives me each day I sit down at the computer: an overwhelming desire to tell a story and to make someone feel something.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The morning sky is as blue as Paul Newman's eyes and we're in the midst of a cold spell. Love it! Yesterday I took a vow to slow down and savor the holiday season and so with that in mind went to hear Portland Baroque Orchestra perform Bach. And somewhere while the violins and cellos were producing their bright and mellow tones, I felt something in me unlock and ease.

So going to hang onto that sense as I go about my days and check off items on my constant to-do list. A friend just sent me Quarantine by Eavon Boland--I recommend that you Google it. Last week I spent some time at Jeanette Winterson's blog because she fascinates me with her capacity for language and the way she sees and experiences the world. Here is a bit more of her rich thoughts about poetry:

"Yes, I do think of poems as lie detectors, it's because the language has to be precise, exact, profound, and layered. Language isn't just about conveying meaning; it's also a metaphor, a way of saying many different things. That's what poetry can offer. In a poem, the language is always authentic. We live in a world of spin, where we find it very difficult to believe anything that we read or anything that we hear. Either we have to put up with that kind of chopped up karate syntax of the sound bite, which is what you hear on the TV, or a kind of verbal incontinence favoured by politicians.

When you go to the poem you find something which is exact, which is precise and which is true in the best sense of the word, that it is about an authentic emotion, or an authentic experience that really happened and is therefore passed on. So it's a place of trust. When you bring poetry into your life you find that it asks you not to lie, not to lie to yourself and not to lie to others, because art has a way of challenging our laziness, our apathies, our inertias and asking that we be better than we are. I think that regular contact with poetry works as a kind of homeopathic medicine and some trace of it still stays under your tongue so that when you next speak, you too are speaking with that precision, with that exactness, with that emotion, with that authenticity. We need, all of us now, to have that authentic voice and not to be seduced by the blandishments of spin."

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Foggy as a Dickens novel here this morning and I'm declaring today the official beginning of the holiday baking season. Luckily, I've also just joined a gym again--so maybe I can salvage my waistline during the excesses of the season. I'm a big Cormac McCarthy fan but he's rarely interviewed. So I was happy to learn that he's in The Wall Street Journal. Here's the opening in the article:

"Novelist Cormac McCarthy shuns interviews, but he relishes conversation. Last week, the author sat down on the leafy patio of the Menger Hotel, built about 20 years after the siege of the Alamo, the remains of which are next door.

The afternoon conversation, which also included film director John Hillcoat of "The Road," went on 'til dark, then moved to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Dressed in crisp jeans and dimpled brown cowboy boots, Mr. McCarthy began the meal with a Bombay Gibson, up.

The 76-year-old author first broke through with his 1985 novel "Blood Meridian," a tale of American mercenaries hunting Indians in the Mexican borderland. Commercial success came later with 1992's "All the Pretty Horses," a National Book Award winner and the first installment of a Border Trilogy. Critics delved into his detailed vision of the West, his painterly descriptions of violence, and his muscular prose stripped of most punctuation."

Friday, December 04, 2009

A Writing Prompt:

Today on Facebook Jacqueline Mitchard describe the cold on her face like "rhinestone bees." What does the weather,especially the cold, feel like against your skin?
Skies are still dark here and I've got lots to accomplish today, tomorrow, and the days to come. All week we've had this rare, glorious almost-winter weather of clear skies, brisk temperatures, and winds howling down from the Columbia Gorge. And the moon last night was so mysterious and gorgeous it felt like you could launch into the sky to chase it down. On Tuesday night I took part in the Willamette Writers Book Faire. I'd been reluctant to go because I have a bunch of deadlines this week and I wanted to stay home and work. All day I wrestled with an urge to call it off. But I arrived toting my box of books and piled them up on a table, and said hello to the woman sitting next to me.

And then a kind of miracle happened as if I had stepped into the Republic of Words. Writers and readers, some I knew and some I didn't, kept coming up to me and saying hello and buying books and complimenting me on books and the column about writing I've been cranking out since 1998. And yes, that's a lot of columns. And yes, I do run out of ideas.

And they told me their stories. Of bad editors and books that aren't selling and hopes for books to come. It was a noisy as a swarming hive, and my brain was feeling rattled when a group of kids joined the fray. They belong to the Young Willamette Writers and meet each month while the main meeting is taking place. And they'd been assigned to interview writers about their careers.

Three girls interviewed me Elle, Constance and Jasmina--all fifth graders. And by coincidence I told them how when I was in fifth grade, living in a small town in Northern Wisconsin, Mr. Becker, our half-mad teacher would tune into a public radio show that was a creative writing class. And how because of these weekly assignments I started writing tales of monsters and castles and faraway places and got hooked on writing. The girls were so fragile and fine and shy. And small--I kept trying to imagine myself that small, and in love with words and stories. I gave them each a copy of my first book and urged them to keep writing.

If you read this blog you know I'm a big fan of salon.com and its writers and content. I especially appreciate their coverage of books, arts, and politics. They also feature a columnist Cary Tennis who writes Since You Asked in which people send him their thorniest dilemmas and he pens amazing answers of grace and enlightenment. Tennis has cancer and will be operated on and hospitalized for a month. He's a beautiful, humble writer and I would like to suggest that you might want to buy his books and print-on-demand books because he needs the money to get through all this.

Again, the link is at http://www.salon.com/life/since_you_asked/index.html?story=/mwt/col/tenn/2009/12/03/medical_imaging

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Books last for years and make a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah gift. You can pass them around, read out loud to a child or friend,spark a conversation. This morning NPR featured Susan Stanberg talking to independent booksellers about their choices for the season.
John Banville, on the BBC, the morning after unexpectedly winning the 2005 Man Booker Prize for Fiction
'While thought exists, words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.'

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Low, overcast skies this morning and I'm working on editing jobs and pinching myself because I cannot freakin believe that December has arrived already. Don't dare to think about all that must be accomplished this month.

Tip of the day: Do not send your first draft to an editor--the results will break your heart.

Second tip of the day: Check out the always-sassy Chelsea Cain writing at Storyfix--
What I Wish I Knew About Getting Published Before it Happened To Me I especially like her advice to carry a corkscrew, avoid red wine before speaking in public, and the consolation that it's normal to hate your copy editor. There is one copyeditor that I still cannot think of without fuming, but names will be avoided to protect the guilty.

Also, the piece below Chelsea's written by Bill Johnson on narrative tension is also great advice. Keep writing, keep dreaming, stay calm.