In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

This Strange and Exquisite World

Red eft, courtesy of Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
It's good to have "city" company hanging around -- someone who is as astounded by the greenery and the explosions of blossoms as I was when I began garden-tending in Vermont. These many years later, I am still daily astounded, but in different ways: I see things with fresh eyes on the best days, honoring that joy that seems to link our eyes, breath, mind, and soul together. But I also look harder, with questions.

In the past week or two I've indulged in evening walks. They are by definition very different from morning ones: The light is fading instead of brightening, the breeze quiets to a whisper, stars begin to show up in the darker segments of the sky. This week there's the arc of a waxing (growing) moon, too; when it's full, we'll start the countdown of another month left before we have to watch for early frosts. But not yet.

Still, the evenings can be chilly here on the mountain ridge. I saw a skunk hump across the road two nights ago, fur fluffed up for warmth. It crossed where I saw the porcupine last week. With this year's questions and hypotheses, I make a guess that the marshy area that lies on both sides of this stretch of road is more than a deer path (I've seen their tracks, no need to guess that part), is also -- maybe because its vegetation is low and soft -- a path for other mammals.

The chill of the evening caused one "crossing creature" to be stranded on the cold road a few evenings ago. Its bright red skin and delicate limbs fascinated me. Definitely a red eft, the juvenile stage of the Eastern spotted newt. Without enough air or land warmth, and without the ability to make its own, the creature stood still, about a quarter of the way across the road. Car alert! Hazardous crossing!

Well, of course talking to it wasn't any use. I tenderly lifted it onto my palm -- the warmth turned the eft into a lively squirming tangle of legs and tail almost immediately, and I had to hurry across the road to release it before my fingers -- so much larger than its limbs! -- would damage it. It immediately hurried into the greenery, vanishing at once. Then I finished my walk, happy to have seen something that so rarely crossed paths with me.

This week I also read the novel BORNE by Jeff VanderMeer. It's a dystopian novel, set on a world or part of a world where an inventive "Company" has destroyed natural life and seeded the terrain with "biotechs" that can be very threatening and smart. The protagonist, Rachel, sets a new pattern in motion when she gives maternal attention to a bit of tech-made flesh that she takes home -- something that was clinging to the fur of a monster, and which becomes her pet, or her child ... she has "borne" it, and names it "Borne."

The powerful thread that ties the characters and their perils together in BORNE is a question: What is a person? If you love some creature, and it loves you in return, does it have personhood?

(I hasten to say the book does not appear to be indicating anything about the age of personhood for a human fetus or baby.)

Rachel, her friend Wick, and Borne become the testers of their world, determining whether compassionate survival is possible. I like the book; I'd recommend it to anyone curious and questioning and willing to suspend disbelief in what the future of Earth could be. Age 10 and up, I think. It will mean more to adults -- and to those who've read other dystopian novels -- but the tenderness and kindness embodied in VanderMeer's world, page after page, fit the book for skilled younger readers as well. I'm glad it was on that list of "7 Books to Read After ..." (see my earlier post).

Yes, this is how I feed the source of All Good Writing. By reading, exploring, and asking questions. Hope you have a few minutes to explore the rest of this writer's blog.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The "Wonder Woman" in My Heart

It's been a busy few months -- I resumed writing short stories, thanks to a crazy Saturday spent reading the stories I wrote in the 1980s that I'd forgotten all about. Still pushing daily for the "handles" of entry into the poems for a collection of "Pleas and Praise/Prays." And, of course, editing (my income-earning task). Hiking the ridgelines. And tending the gardens.

But above all, this season took me back into my newest novel, which Five Star/Cengage will release in April 2018: THE LONG SHADOW. Working with an insightful editor, I didn't just tidy up loose ends (fresh eyes help so much!). I looked into my heart to discover why I wrote this book, in which three teenage girls in 1850 confront Vermont's confusing mixture of attitudes toward abolition ... try to take care of each other ... and suffer the consequences.

As I wrapped up the responses to the editor, the film Wonder Woman arrived at the local theater. By that point, I needed to catch up on editing again, though, and with a sense of loss, I missed the chance to see the movie. (Hope I'll catch it in a few months when it's on a streaming service.) The reviews made it clear to me I'd missed a really good one -- one that asks questions about what it is to be both a woman and a hero. The questions I tackle in every book, story, and even poem that I write.

So when I saw a related list online, "7 Books to Read After Watching Wonder Woman," I figured I'd at least start tucking those books into my evening reading hours. My fabulous local librarian, Jen, tackled getting the books with enthusiasm and power, and I've just finished reading the one I chose for "first": AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad (publisher's author website here; public radio interview, not so great but still interesting, here).

What a novel! Dystopian in the sense that The Hunger Games series is ... featuring a strong and relentless woman ... set in the American South, which I always realize is like another country, for this Yankee woman to visit ... and testing what people will do to each other in the name of politics and manipulation, as well as love.

Most important to me at the moment is also the detail that the woman of interest in AMERICAN WAR, Sarat Chestnut, is dark-skinned, tall, and with frizzy hair, and loved wholeheartedly by her not-identical twin sister, who is shorter, light-skinned, and has the smooth hair that I always envied in my own sister. (It's the little things, it's always the little things. My sister will read this -- her courage astounds and touches me. Meanwhile many Other Big Things sneak up on us, in fiction and in life.)

What will our nation be like after climate change forces the seas to rise above the coastal cities? How will religion-based terrorism ever resolve? Will our nation of 50+ interdependent states remain United? And what do we exchange, for the satisfaction of following through on our own longing to become Wonder Woman within the bounds of our very diverse lives?

AMERICAN WAR spoke insistently to me. I expect some of the echoes to penetrate what I write next: the sequel to THE LONG SHADOW (already underway), the prayer/praise collection, the long work on aging, the very personal novel I'm working on for an editor who trusts my ability to get there in the end. There are things worth crying about. And many, many people worth supporting, as we all struggle to make a good life, one that's honest and deep and caring.

Onward.