Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sweet mystery

What is more mysterious than life, than the intricacies of nature? This fern captivated me from the moment I noticed it in the garden of my late mother-in-law. Her name, too, was Fern.


The writer in me sees: A fairy's chariot. A creature from a distant planet. A deep sea being, like an octopus, curling into itself when flung upon land. A mystery waiting to unfold.


I love that my eyes, my mind, take these leaps. And I know that helps my writing.

I'm currently two-thirds done with my fairy tale WIP and ready to take the giant leap into the climax and resolution, where all the complex, mysterious threads come together. I've been hearing the characters' dialogue for weeks. I haven't written down these confrontations, because I see them, I know them. They are developing, waiting to unfold and will be there when I need them.


Here is another view of a fern frond unfolding. This one looks like an upside down seahorse, doesn't it?

Fern loved the sea, lived by it most of her life. She also loved literature but rarely let anyone see her writings, her words scribbled on backs of envelopes, scraps of lined paper or sometimes typed.

After she died, my daughter found a folder of her writings with a note (on an envelope) to me. It read, "Did I ever show you, I think not, these poor, few travesties of lyric songs. You may see them, dear."


A moment, please. My eyes tear, my heart aches. I do miss her.


Since April is National Poetry month, I'll share one of Fern's poems, hoping that I found the most finished draft she wrote.


She called it No Myth.


Forewarned, Psyche dared not find

the face of Love in light,

nor flare of discontent which might

unseat that lord; no sight

reveal if he be radiant or foul.

And yet he knows her contour,

slant and color of the eye,

her soul, computerized,

conditioned, tidied, tamed,

claimed, tuned to die,

he shoots the shaft, reversed, towards home.

Did she risk an open query,

haggle over price to pay,

trade, while tugging at Love's sleeve,

deceit for immortality?

Or make that godly, girlish move

aware, sure, pure in sin,

knowing lone Beauty, Love

needs not consort with Truth to win.


Thank you, Fern, for opening my eyes to so much, to the magic and the truth all around us.


(once again, I cross my fingers that Blogger won't make too much mess of the paragraph spacing)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: This, Not That



For a better Earth.








April 22, Earth Day, 2011. We can all do something. Clean up a park or beach. Plant a tree. Join an ecological organization.

Monday, April 18, 2011

There's a lot to be said for tradition, as I was reminded at an annual gathering to make Ukrainian Easter eggs or pysanky.


About fifty people, who are so ingrained in the fabric of my life that they are all family, came to my father-in-law's home in Venice for a day of egg dying, feasting and beach time.


None of us is Ukrainian, as far as I know. We started doing this years ago when my mother-in-law, who loved art, literature and all things cultural, decided to take a class in the craft, bought the necessary tools and set her vast numbers of friends and family on this annual journey.

She's been gone awhile now, but she would have loved seeing her house filled to the brim with loved ones, having a fantastic time--children skittering around, eyes sparkling, laughing and then settling down to try their small hands at the task.



Some make the intricate, traditional designs that incorporate geometric patterns and symbolic figures. The symbolism dates from pagan fertility celebrations and later Christian beliefs.


Many of our group do free-hand design of anything from abstract to pop. One year, Max, who is an artist, made an egg that looked like ancient Greek pottery.


There's something meditative about the process, which is much more complex than ordinary egg dying. For one thing, the eggs are raw! Yes, that means sometimes there is breakage and tears.

* The dying is batik-method, using non-edible dyes. With a stylus, the person scoops up a tiny bit of beeswax, melts it over an alcohol lamp and draws thin lines of wax to hold color. So if the design calls for white, the first lines are done before any dying. Then the eggs are dipped in each dye (from light to dark colors) for each part of the design to be waxed in that color.


The person in this photo is locking in yellow with the wax.


* When the egg is done, it is soaked in solvent to remove the wax. Dona, the Wonder Woman, who has brought all the equipment for the party for decades, takes home the finished eggs, blows the insides out and varnishes them to bring back the next year. She does this for students in classes at her pottery studio, as well.

* If that's not enough, Dona also makes enchiladas for the annual event. John makes chili. I make deviled eggs (for 50 people that's a lot of peeling!). Other people brought pulled pork, salads, tamales, dips, cakes. We ate well. We created well. We loved each other anew.


Fern, we did you proud.



I read somewhere that pysanky derives from a word meaning to write. So you write on the eggs. I think a bit of the person's spirit, what makes them unique, extends to their eggs.

* I had a contemplative, sensory-filled, fun and satisfying weekend. Hope you did, too.


(PS. Still have trouble with Blogger's paragraph spacing, as I know others are, too. So if this is wonky, that's why)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pitch Perfect

Writing a killer pitch is one of the most important things a writer can do besides writing the best book possible. Those few lines may be with your book for its entire life, luring an agent to represent you, snagging a publisher to print your book and enticing readers to choose it.

Today I sat in on a sort of pitch session with an agent. I didn't have to leave my home office to do it.
WriteOnCon, the fabulous free online summer conference, offers chats and events with agents and editors all year. This time Natalie Fischer read through a ton of queries that had been sent in previously.

Her instant reactions are priceless as far as I'm concerned. Any writer, even an agented and published one, can learn by watching an agent tear through submissions. This is reality. There's not a lot of time, there are tons of people jostling to sell a book, and the agent has pretty much seen it all and has personal preferences.


I applaud writers for putting their queries up for scrutiny in public. I did it last summer during the conference and learned quite a bit from the process. Many queries are quite good, and the stories sound interesting, but they get shot down because they sound too much like all the other books. This is something we all need to consider in a very competitive market. What makes your story truly unusual?


If you missed today's live event, you can read the transcript. The any-time availability is one of the things I love about WriteOnCon. So what are you waiting for? Go read what Natalie had to say, and, while you're over there, check out this chat with Michael Bourret and Jim McCarthy. It rocked.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Walking on the sky

I went for a walk in a cloudburst of hail and rain and found--a portal.
What land is this where the sky is torn and lies beneath my feet?
I have walked this path a hundred times and never seen this place.
Between dimensions.
A pause.

Monday, April 4, 2011

No smack talking in La-La Land

I heart you, Oxford English Dictionary,
my new BFF,
for keeping up-to-date
on pap and Wags and TMI

OMG, I can’t believe you
validated our texting world
of abbreviated speak.
No smack talk. No.
I raise a glass of flat white to you
and munch a doughnut hole.

And I won’t show off my muffin top, LOL
The Oxford English Dictionary announced its newest words selected for publication (some used above in my silly poem) and a bunch were text-talk.

FYI, the dictionary carries the modest subtitle: The definitive record of the English language. It dates back 150 years and includes the history and meaning of 600,000 words. The photo is early editor James Murray in the Scriptorium.

It’s published by Oxford University, which dates from the 11th century and is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Among a long list of writers associated with Oxford: Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Graham Greene, William Golding, V.S. Naipaul, Phillip Pullman, John Donne, T.S. Elliot.

Don’t you feel erudite, now? Here are a few of my favorites from the new list: couch surfer
tinfoil hat
ick factor
* la-la-la-la-la. I'm singing like the la-la land girl I am. *grins*
PS: I'm having a world of trouble with keeping paragraph spaces in my Blogger posts. This is about the sixth try. So please forgive any weirdness.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why I Love Diana Wynne Jones

I remember the first time I read HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. I was looking for something fresh. The book's protagonist, Sophie, immediately became one of my all-time favorite heroines. Based on the wit, imagination and sheer fun of that book, I purchased many more books by Diana Wynne Jones and filled a bookshelf with them.

You've probably heard that this talented, prolific children's author died last week. Beautiful homage was paid her by Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater.

I want to talk about the joy she brought me through her books. The dedication for HOWL'S is revealing in itself: "The idea for this book was suggested by a boy in a school I was visiting, who asked me to write a book called The Moving Castle. I wrote down his name, and put it in such a safe place that I have been unable to find it ever since. I would like to thank him very much."

Since I love good opening lines, here is this one:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

So poor Sophie is pretty much cursed since birth. She's so lonely she talks to the hats she makes for the family business. She's dutiful and resigned to her fate until a witch turns her into something unthinkable--an elderly woman. What Sophie does from then on and her interactions with the vain Wizard Howl are hilarious. Both characters develop in fabulous ways.

Here's a sample, just a little treat, of when Sophie accepts she's now an old woman instead of a girl and sets out to find a new life. But first, she badly needs a walking stick:

Evidently her eyes were not as good as they had been. She thought she saw a stick, a mile or so on, but when she hauled on it, it proved to be the bottom end of an old scarecrow someone had thrown into the hedge. Sophie heaved the thing upright. It had a withered turnip for a face. Sophie found she had some fellow feeling for it. Instead of pulling it to pieces and taking the stick, she stuck it between two branches of the hedge, so that it stood looming rakishly above the may, with the tattered sleeves on its stick arms fluttering over the hedge.

"There," she said, and her cracked old voice surprised her into giving a cracked old cackle of laughter. "Neither of us are up to much, are we, my friend? Maybe you'll get back to your field if I leave you where people can see you." She set off up the land again, but a thought struck her and she turned back. "Now if I wasn't doomed to failure because of my position in my family," she told the scarecrow, "you could come to life and offer me help in making my fortune. But I wish you luck anyway."

She cackled again and walked on. Perhaps she was a little mad, but then old women often were.


If you've seen Hayao Miyazaki's anime version but not read the book, do yourself a favor and read it. The two are not remotely similar.


Diana Wynne Jones surprised me again and again with many other stories, such as the Chrestomanci, Derkholm and Dalemark books. Her stories are creative and courageous with undertones of deeper meaning. For example, Witch Week shows kids overcoming prejudice, but the story is told with Jones's wit and satire.

In 1999, she won a Mythopoeic Award for DARK LORD OF DERKHOLM, an amazing story that shows the devastating effect of exploitation. The magical creatures and folks of this realm are forced each year to put on a war of good versus evil for tourists who come from another world, presumably like ours. The wizard chosen to portray the Dark Lord in this story is injured and his children--both griffins and humans--must find a way to organize the tour and try to stay alive.

In accepting the award, Wynne Jones said she believed children's books should be first about enjoyment and then should encourage children to think for themselves.


And because she was known to poke fun at her own genre, and because it's the first of April, after all, I'll leave you with the first and last A to Z entries in her tongue-in-cheek THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND, which Terry Pratchett called "an indispensable guide for anyone stuck in the realms of fantasy without a magic sword to call their own."

ADEPT. One who has taken what amounts to the Post-graduate Course in Magic. If a Magic User is given this title, you can be sure she/he is fairly hot stuff. However, the title is neutral and does not imply that the Adept is either Good or Evil. Examine carefully each Adept you encounter and be cautious, even if she/he seems friendly.

ZOMBIES. These are just the Undead, except nastier, more pitiable, and generally easier to kill. When you slash your Sword across their stomachs--which you will inevitably do--they watch their impossibly decayed intestines pour out in a glob, and then look at you with an expression of ultimate pathos before crumbling at the knees. Naturally they Smell quite strongly.



Thanks for all the delicious realms of fantasy you created, Diana Wynne Jones.