Author duties

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Part of being an author these days is promoting your book. Writers are often the sorts of people who spend long hours alone and like it that way. It can feel like a shock to come out of one’s quiet writing room and meet with people. But it gets easier with time.

Sitting at a book signing table, lonely with your books while passersby try not to catch your eye, ends up being harder to do than putting on a presentation. School visits, while initially scary, usually turn out to be energizing and inspiring. All those kids! All those sweet, smart kids!

Here I am at a recent author’s fair in a library in South Bend. In the background (center top) is my friend Kathy Higgs-Coulthard, with her book of the fantastic title–Hanging with My Peeps. (Hint: There are chickens involved.) She had a great idea of having an activity for kids as they passed by. My librarian friend, Tracy, has come to say hello and lend me some literary support. All it takes to make an author smile is to smile at them while they’re waiting with their books. Try it sometime and see if I’m right.

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Deconstructing

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IMG_1918Recently, I’ve been tearing down hundreds of soccer pictures  from my son’s room. I’ve left them up for years because I’m sentimental. He is the inspiration for my not-yet-published novel about a soccer-obsessed kid, and these walls are a visual reminder of how obsessed he was (and still is).

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Yes, those are players on the ceiling…

But now my son is coaching university boys. And in a few weeks he’ll be a father of his own (he hopes) soccer player. So it’s time for the room to transform.

It feels like I’m ripping down his childhood.

Sometimes it feels like this when I’m revising a story. My carefully cut and pasted words get torn down so the fresh future can be realized.

Not easy to do.

But easier when there’s a baby on the way.

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Serendipity teaser

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I’m having a tough time writing the sequel to Serendipity & Me. Not sure if it’s because I’m doubtful of its publication chances, or what. But maybe by posting one of the first poems in the new manuscript I’ll get motivated. So here it is, (although I can’t get the correct indentations to work here):

I ask Dad,

Does Lola hate animals?

 

Of course not, he says.

Who really hates animals?

            But I saw a dog approach her once

            and she went the other way.

 

I guess they’ve never had the conversation.

The one I expect to have someday with anyone

who will be important in my life.

The one about What Is Your Favorite Animal

and How Many of Them Do You Plan on Caring for?

 

My answer right now would be cats

and a gazillion.

But maybe when I’m older

I’ll be more realistic about the number.

Maybe.

 

Dad takes my silence

for disapproval.

It’s just that I think she might be nervous

                        about animals.

            I don’t want to scare her off.

 

The thought of Lola

makes me nervous.

I wonder if he gave any thought

to that.

 

       

 

 

Changes

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Although I’ve continued to work on fiction, I haven’t posted much here in the last year, other than a few poems. My life has felt different ever since last July when my mother entered the ICU and almost didn’t come out. She was there for 5 weeks; intubated for twice as long as is normally acceptable. I live over 2,000 miles away from my parents, so in the beginning, every day was shadowed and marked with a much-needed update on her condition. There wasn’t room in my brain for a lot more.

My first 10-day visit almost hollowed me out. But by the time I left, she was in an almost-normal hospital room. It felt miraculous, but still tenuous.

My second visit, her first week home, was a different kind of gut-wrench. To see my lively, capable mother so distressed felt equally distressing. (Although I’m sure it wasn’t.)

Then to see how remarkably she’d progressed by Christmastime was a full-out joy.

During this whole time and before, my brother–in-law had been battling cancer. He fought bravely and well for two years, but his last few weeks were devastating. He went Home a day before Valentine’s. His passing has left an enormous hole.

And now it is spring. The day before yesterday we celebrated Easter. I have a first grandchild on the way. I am recounting this now because life is ahead. But I will be forever altered by the last nine months.

Cat poem for fall

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This picture is actually of Murray, and the poem was written about him. But as I was trying to get a poetry collection together, the name “Tigger” seemed to fit this poem better. I did have a cat named Tigger when I was a child. He was the only offspring of our cat, Thomasina, who we kept. For awhile. Until Thomasina decided it was time for him to leave the nest.

This is fall in Indiana in my neighborhood. I wish I could have snapped a picture of Murray being his crazy leaf-chasing tornado self. He looks rather staid here.

 

 

Chilling your darlings

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I recently went to a weekend-long SCBWI conference (Wild Wild Midwest) that smacked my should’ve-had-a-V8 forehead. You can hear writing advice over and over sometimes before it really sinks in. This time it has sunk. It made me realize what was wrong with the beginning of my sisters novel (finally), and now that I’ve fixed that, I’m working on cleaning up the rest.

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The main smacker was Lisa Cron of Wired for Story fame. You can get a glimpse of her charisma in this TED talk. She has a new book coming out in August, but I couldn’t wait for that. I got her old one so I could get straight to work.

One of the things I’ve relearned is that if there’s something in the story that isn’t necessary, it needs to be cut ruthlessly.

I found an entire scene that I’ve kept in up until now just because I liked the mood of it. But it is not moving the story ahead at all, so it must be cut. And since it’s hard to accept that it will never see the light of day, I’m putting it up here (even though you have no idea who these characters are or what’s happening in the story). That’s how hard it is to throw out writing.

And now for your viewing pleasure (or not), here’s the cut scene from Home Is Where:

Rain has left the air fresh.

I’m so tired from my sleepless night, that I drift off to the swaying of the car.

When I wake up, something smells different. We’re not in town anymore. The house we’re approaching is tall and thin and it sticks up out of the landscape like Luna Lovegood’s house, only not so crookedly.

There are two old ladies inside who belong to us somehow. Sisters to each other. Maybe cousins to Grandma. Or maybe aunts. I search my memory for the odd names and finally remember–Lulujean and Maydell.

We don’t stay long. We enter the house in a museum-going way. Mom is acting like she found a lost locket, drinking in the faces of the live portraits before her. Stroking the old ladies’ hands like they’re bunny-soft.

One sister pats my shoulder. The other lifts Zoë’s hair with wonder, like it’s strands of golden necklaces.

Zoë stands still for once in her life.

            Remember? the sister says to the one near me right before we leave. Remember when we had hair like this?

 

Setting is key

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I’ve started work on a new book. With this one, the setting is so important to the story that I had to understand it well before I could begin writing the book.

I knew the story was going to take place in a Victorian house. As I researched, I learned that I was thinking more specifically of a Queen Anne style house. I searched the web for a house I could use as a touchstone. This one fulfilled the requirements of what I needed:

Victorian house sketch

The bottom floor of the tower will be my heroine’s bedroom.

I searched Pinterest to find floor plans that would work with the house so I had a clearer idea of how the interior might look to the characters…and how it might help develop the plot.

For additional building space on the property, what popped into my brain was a unique setting I had visited myself. The chauffeur’s quarters of the garage of a house museum will be the apartment of the heroine’s new friend.

I love old houses. I live in one.

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(The trees that are hiding my neighbors’ houses in this picture are no longer there, and we’ve added windows to the second story.)

Because this book will depend so much on the character of an old house, it will be even more of a joy to write.

 

 

Valentine Dragon Story

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An homage to these guys (and for the Valentiny Contest):

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Part of an illustration by Pascal Lemaitre.

Dragon Hearts, by Judith L. Roth (214 words)

 

I hear their hearts beating. Dragon hearts.

Blue’s heart beats like a tambourine because he’s flashy.

Green’s heart beats like a drum. So steady.

Yellow’s is bouncy like tap shoes.

But Red’s is grumpy. Today, Red’s heart is like a sad tuba with nothing happy to say.

What’s the matter, Red? I ask.

Red turns away. He stomps on each flower he passes.

A smash-flower bouquet? I ask.

Red turns away. He picks up stones and flings them into the stream.

A rock-skipping dismal day?

Red turns away. He bats at each redbud leaf he passes. Then he snaps one off, holds it high, and scorches it.

I finally notice. Each flower bud, each stone shape, each redbud leaf is a heart.

Valentine’s Day has come to the forest, and no one has given Red a valentine.

I race back to the others. Blue sprinkles Green and Yellow with flowers from a bleeding-heart fern. Green plants a heartful seed-pod in the dirt. Yellow serves up a dish of strawberry hearts.

Red has left too soon.

I call him with my beating heart. Come, tum-tum, and see.

            Blue, Yellow and Green join in. Come, tum-tum, to me.

            Red rumbles back, paws full of nature’s gifts–unsmashed, unflung, unscorched.

The best kind of hearts. Dragon hearts.