Thursday, August 30, 2012

The good things

I've had a terrible year as some of you know, but good things have happened, as they do, and I want to do a happy dance for some wonderful moments this summer.
Is this not the happiest little typewriter you ever saw? This bright watercolor surprised me when I opened an envelope with a note from writer/artist Faith Pray at Sacred Dirt, which read in part: "I offer a teeny bit of book swag and a very small painting I did to fuel your writing muse."

And there I was with a smile painted all over my face.

I admit my writing muse has been MIA, most likely due to the stress and grief I've been through, but I hope to keep working around that. In September, I'm attending the SCBWI's working retreat for a few days in LA. Anybody going?
I've decided to leave this next photo as mysterious to you as it was to me: Easter Island comes to Venice Beach.
Not only giant heads but a carnival hit town that weekend. Except hardly anybody was on the rides, which looked time-shifted from the 1970s. It felt like something Ray Bradbury could've turned into a spooky story.
We had a block party on our walk street, too. Venice Beach has residential streets that are pedestrian-only, with vehicle access in alleys behind homes.

It was fun, chatting, watching kids run about, eating. The food was amazing. I made these strawberries filled with cream cheese (just a tad of vanilla and sugar added) and sprinkled with sliced almonds. Big hit--easy, pretty and like healthy cheesecake.

I met this colorful, friendly lady who vacations on her yacht in the marina during summer and lives in the desert Southwest other times of the year. Like me, she's had bouts with skin cancer, so she walks with this gorgeous purple parasol.
I love when someone turns an obstacle into a celebration.
And, look! A guy reading on the beach! Doesn't this make your writerly, readerly hearts flutter?
I hope everyone had a happy summer. May fall bring us a cornucopia of goodness.

And I have to mention a couple of book releases coming right up:  THE SEVEN TALES OF TRINKET by Shelley Moore Thomas and Natalie Bahm's THE SECRET UNDERGROUND. Two fantastic writers who will make the middle-grade readers in your life happy when you buy these books.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The continuing journey

A journey can begin in many ways.
It can be the act of traveling from one place to another, like this flight I took from L.A. to Phoenix. Or it can be a passage from one stage of experience to another, which was what drew me to Arizona in the middle of summer.

After days of sitting by my father's hospital bed, of being caught in a slipstream of my own making, I needed to take a drive.
I found a road that stretched for mile after mile through sparse brush and cactus. It was a relief to have a road almost to myself, no lanes packed with commuters and semis, no sense of jostle and push, just endless desert and sky.

And the occasional timeless mesa.
Out here I could let my thoughts go where they would. I had a lot to remember, a lifetime of love and regret to ponder, as my father faced the last journey he would ever take, one in which he had to travel alone with no luggage, no map to guide him.
I drove my rental car up, up, up a steep mountain road, needing to keep going, not knowing where. I came upon this.
When I stumble on nature in all its terrifying, stupendous glory, I'm reminded that we are the short-term visitors on this planet. Each of our lives, which seem so intensely important as we live them, is but a blink in the universe.

My father's death came right before this year's WriteOnCon. I thought I would sit this one out. For those who don't know, the event is a free online conference for writers of children's lit. Tons of editors, agents and authors come together to talk  writing, revising, publishing.

I stuck my nose in, just to check it out. Next thing I knew, I'd decided to put a small sample of a WIP on the forum boards. Soon I was devouring the live chats, posts and critiques.

This year, the event helped me step back into life, but not just because it's inspiring and informative, which it is, but because of the people. There is so much good will, so many helping hands. And that's what life should be about.
None of us knows when our journey's exit will be here, but there's a lot we can do to make the ride itself worth the price of the ticket.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Swept up in a caper

Woo-hoo, what a fun read! I've had Heist Society for a year or two, bought on a whim and buried in the TBR pile. I'm so glad I picked it up to read yesterday also on a whim and then couldn't put it down. A brilliant teen protagonist and her crew get into danger way over their heads. Or maybe not.

I loved all the art references and historical import embedded in this thrilling mystery/caper about a family of thieves and con artists. Fun and smart is a winning combo. Ally Carter you've got a new fan.

Here's a sample from the opening chapter, which says a lot about Kat and her family:

"Kat's bags were packed in twenty minutes. She might have lingered, saying her good-byes, but there were no good-byes to say. And so, after three months at Colgan, Kat couldn't help but wonder if the day she got expelled from boarding school might become the proudest moment of her family's long and colorful past. She imagined everyone sitting around Uncle Eddie's kitchen table years from now, telling about the time little Katarina stole a whole other life and then walked away without a trace."

There are hot boys, of course, but, like the rest of this story about beautiful things, they are far more than eye candy. Here's another writing sample, still early in the story but setting up the danger to come:

"She tried to pull away, but Hale's chest was pressed against hers. His hands were warm against her skin. There was a new urgency in his voice as he whispered, 'Listen to me, Kat. He's not a bad guy like your dad and Uncle Eddie are bad guys.' He took a deep breath. 'Like I'm a bad guy. This guy? His name's Arturo Taccone, and he's a whole different kind of bad.' In the two years since she'd met him, Kat had seen Hale wear a lot of expressions: playful, intrigued, bored. But she had never seen him scared before, and that, more than anything, made her shiver."

And, finally, here's a snippet of a scene when she is closing in on the terrible secret at the center of this mystery:

"Despite the freezing wind, she pulled her black ski cap from her head. In the glass of the door's small window she saw her hair standing on end, felt the static coursing through her--a charge that had been building for days. She knew answers lay behind that red door. Not all. But some. And she feared that if she turned to walk away now, gripped the metal railing of the stairs, the charge might stop her heart."

For regular followers of my blog, my father did pass away last week. I will, no doubt, write more about that loss, but I don't want to now. There is gratitude that I spent time with him and we talked, as well as grief, of course. Lauren Oliver's Liesl & Po, which I wrote about in the last post, helped me tackle some issues, and this review of Heist Society is just what I needed to regain my footing in life, which goes on and is always filled with import and wonder despite its sorrows. And, anyway, my dad loved to read and he always enjoyed a good mystery. Here's to you, Dad.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Writing from the heart of loss

I haven't had an easy time reading lately due to life stuff, but as soon as I picked up Liesl & Po I was sucked in. Perhaps it was because my father is dying and the the first line of this MG novel is "On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost." I felt drawn to the story then, as if it was meant to be read at this time, and, also, I'm a fan of Lauren Oliver's storytelling, having loved the incredible YA books, Before I Fall and Delirium.

Liesl has been locked in the attic of her family home by her stepmother since her father took ill. Po, a shadowy figure who exists in the Other Side, comes to visit her, curious about the pictures she draws. He helps her escape whereupon she meets Will, another orphan escaping from wicked adults. This has the feel of a Gothic fairytale for kids, dealing with the murky concepts of life after death, of the possibility of ghosts and why they stick around, of something else beyond that in-between place. I thought Oliver did a good job of exploring these concepts and their nebulousness.

Here is a sample of when we meet Will, the mistreated apprentice of an alchemist who sends him on errands at all hours of the night: "As he walked down empty street after empty street, past row after row of darkened houses, in silence so thick it was like a syrup that dragged his footsteps away into echoes before he placed a heel on the ground, he had imagined it perfectly: how he would come around the corner and see that tiny square of light so many stories above him, and see her face floating there like a single star."

And Liesl as she remembers life before the attic: "And so she squeezed her eyes tight and climbed down the tower of months she had been in the attic, reaching back into the rooms of her memory that were dusty and so dim she could catch only little, flickering glances of things. There! Her father leading her into the shade of the great willow tree, patterns of green dancing across his cheeks."

And here is a sample of Po's reaction when Liesl tries to grab the ghost's hands. The ghost's gender is nebulous, as well, by the way: "Po could pass through brick walls without feeling a thing; it could disperse into currents of air without pain. But it had felt the girl's hands, somehow, as though she'd been able to reach in and pull at Po's Essence. Essence was not a physical matter, Po knew. No one could touch it. No one could destroy it either; that was the nice thing about Essence."

And that is the nice thing about Liesl & Po, it lets us imagine the possibility of something beyond our troubles, to find comfort in friendship, to accept the wonder that is the essence of those we love.

When I read Oliver's Author's Note, I knew why the book resonated so well with me. She had written this story from the heart of loss, after the death of her best friend. She says writing isn't an escape, it's a way back in, a way to make sense of the world. And so is reading sometimes.