48 days, day 41-43, we are stories surrounded by stories

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.


Wesley, my granddog, hoping for scraps.

My friends at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi always wrap my books in brown paper. I love that.
I am surrounded by the stories behind the stories as well...
The past three days were full of good writing energy. And, as so often happens when you prime a pump, not only did I work on the two mss that were full drafts, I worked on Rachel and the ms that wasn't (isn't) finished and is made up from whole cloth (let's call it PAPER CHAIN, as I am getting confused on the blog, at this point), AND I worked on an old biography idea that was sketched out and abandoned (let's call it SONNY).

There was also brunch with my youngest girlie -- a treat -- and the first squash of the season in our yard, and the last of the beans, and the sunlight that filtered through the blinds and onto the dusty banjo in the corner, showing me how long it has been since I played it.

This last three days has felt like play -- go figure! And I want more play. I talked with a writer friend over the weekend about this very thing. Next month, I want to take two art classes (I mentioned them here), and I want to dust off my banjo, and I want to finish -- and submit -- some of these stories I've worked on in this 48 days. That's the plan.

We leave for Los Angeles on Friday. REVOLUTION has won The Golden Kite Award -- HOORAY! -- and I'm heading to L.A. to accept it, to teach a workshop on structuring your novel, and to soak up our peeps who live there... I am beginning to turn my energy and attentions to travel now. Here's a Q&A I did with Lee Wind and the lovely SCBWI folks about REVOLUTION.

My writing energy will be dissipated this week with the travel planning, but I can still work. I've just picked up my library's Emily Jenkins holdings. These are the books of hers I don't have on my shelves, and I want to study her work. I am captured by how she writes about everyday life, how she has a different illustrator for each picture book, and how she now has a picture book to go with the  TOYS GO OUT chapter books trilogy. I'm intrigued. What is she up to? What can I learn from her?
I could ask her, I guess. But I'm much more interested in studying the work on my own. I have learned that there is so much to discover when I immerse myself in the work. Mine and others.

Writing them, reading them, living them: I am surrounded by stories, and the stories behind the stories... we are each a living story -- you know that, right? Our job is to sing them, dance them, write them, draw them, paint them... to tell our stories and to listen to others tell theirs. As I tell kids in schools all the time: It's hard to hate someone when you know her story.

We are stories surrounded by stories. 



48 days, day 39-40: a welcoming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Ha! The joke is on me. I have two manuscripts, here in my enormous trove, that are finished, that are revised multiple times for different editors (editors I no longer work with and who have changed houses as well), that went to committee at two different publishing houses more than ten years ago, that still seem (to me) relevant (even more so!), and that I now understand, as I read through the many editorial letters and scratches on manuscript pages, what the heck they were talking about 15 years ago. I just couldn't see it then.

Why aren't I working on these?

So that's what I've been up to, yesterday and today, days 39 and 40. It took me over a month to realize that I've got two amazing stories sitting right here, complete stories, with notes from two fanastic editors all over them, with editorial letters suggesting changes, asking questions, championing me from a far-away desk in a long-ago time, but still -- there it is. The stuff of story-making.

What was I waiting for?

I think I needed the way to clear, the dust to settle, the noise to stop, the heavy (emotional) lifting to quiet, the movement to cease, the push-to-publication to give up and allow me to find what feeds me. I thought it was going to be some sort of rhythm or discipline or focus or habit or hours of having my head down and plowing through, creating brand-new. It's none of those things.

Instead, it's a welcoming. 

40 days in, I see that I needed the do-the-work train to come into the station and empty itself out. I don't have to push so hard. These two stories came twinkling down the steps -- they've been in plain sight all along, waving out the window -- as my engine stops gunning and quells the I have to get this done; I have to make this up; I have to find my way; I have to hurry;  I have to do do do do do from scratch; oh why can't I do it better and more and more, hurry up, there are only X days left.

I love these two stories so much.

Let it be about the work you love. 
Squash growing in the back yard where a maple tree (split by lightning) used to be. There are suddenly so many ladybugs on it! I like to think they are doing the work they love... or at least that they aren't trying so hard, they're just doing what they do...
We've been trying to identify this plant that has suddenly shown up. Guesses (on FB and IG) have been the obvious (ha!), hemp, castor bean, buckeye, and names I can't pronounce. We'll keep watching it. It's the only plant like this in the yard, a volunteer, and it is happy here. I think it got off some train...
A surprise present from my kids! An Appalachain pack basket, hand made, with I hope lots of love. It surely seems that way.



All the drains are working! We want to move water along on the property, not let it sit, so we've got drains installed that lead to the creek, but we also want to sink some water and let it recharge the ground. This will eventually be a little frog pond. We already hear the frogs at night and see dragonflies hovering nearby. Lovin' it.
flowing into the creek.... water doin' its thing...
doesn't look like much now, but this is a low point in the yard that we'll turn into a second small pond or wetland. we're listening to the land and doing what it asks us to do... doing what it loves. Okay, enough making a point! Off to do what I love.

48 days, day 37-38: the beating heart

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Taken at Tallulah Gorge in the North Georgia mountains a few years ago... writing is kind of like this... looking for the best view to tackle the story.. or our writing lives.
Well, it rained again, and I slept again, and I got to work again, and I ate a PopTart. All good.

I'm back to Rachel Carson and also back to another picture book I've worked on, off and on, for about five years (maybe more). There's nothing to say I can't work on this new/old idea, too, is there? No, and honestly, it feels easier to me right now.

Easier meaning... doable. Totally made up out of whole cloth. The sky's the limit! This is an idea that came to me that I fiddled with, got some words down on paper, fiddled some more, left to simmer, came back to add a little, left to stew while I wrote other things, traveled, looked at it from time to time and felt that tingle... yes, I love this idea... keep it. With an idea that has no tie to a real person, place, or event, there are no borders, no boundaries, no stops. I miss that.

I have spent several years writing historical fiction, which has taught me so very much and has stretched me as a writer. I'm grateful for it. It occurs to me now, as I am able to be home and pay attention to my days, that I miss the relative ease of realistic fiction, of fantasy, poetry, essay, memoir, myth.

It's all hard, but there is an element of who cares what the history says, write whatever you want! in these mysterious genres, and whenever I'm working on this new/old book I feel the little thrill of discovery, the zing! of contentment, the lightening of the load, the giddyness of aiieeeeee! this is fun! I can go anywhere I want! It's like bumper cars! Bang! Oops! Back up! Bang! hahahaha!

Of course I can't go anywhere I want in the end, but in the mess-making phase, I certainly can. Oh how I have missed it!  ONE WIDE SKY is a book I wrote in rhymed couplets, 88 words, about the joys of the natural world, a counting book: one through ten and back again, morning-noon-night. My research was just outside my door. The Aurora County books were cut from the whole cloth of my childhood summers in Mississippi.

Maybe the "burden" of history/research (for Rachel has plenty of that and of course Book3 I'm avoiding for this very reason) was part of my malaise... it can feel burdensome to be tied to a timeline of years or events or facts or figures... or all four at once, and for such a long time. (There is also a very useful and helpful structure offered up when tied to those things -- another story for another time.) So I am working on Rachel, but I am largely letting her go when I stumble on research holes, and that's when I unburden myself, and give myself to this new/old manuscript where anything goes. Anything!

I love making this mess. I remind myself that this 48 days is for experimenting and discovery, so experiment all you want right now, Debbie -- you'll have to settle in soon enough, make a firm decision when you're back from California, and begin to plow forward. And it will be okay. You will have had your breathing space, I say. Right now: B-I-C. Butt In Chair. Put in some hours. Make a mess. GO.

That's where I've been for the past two days. It feels good. The rain has helped with the watering. I want to talk at some point about the ordering of energies and time and how much we have in a day to give to any one task in front of us. Another day, though. I'm going back to the page.

Let's call the new/old picture book "the Merton book." There is this line by Merton I have long loved and am working with: "There is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Right there lies the beating heart of everything I write.