The Freelancing Life

It's early for Valentine's Day, but never too early for love stories, and I have one for you, in this month's issue of the new Hallmark Magazine. See that story on the bottom right? "true love." That's me and a few other writers who have shared stories of "How We Met" in this month's Hallmark.

As a freelancer who pulls from several wells to make a living, I especially love magazine writing and the essay form; I cut my writing teeth on personal essays (or personal narrative, as I tell my students). As a human being telling stories, I especially love love stories. Real love stories.

So, when Hallmark said, "Five-hundred words on how-we-met, can you do it?" I said, "You bet." Famous last words! As I sat down with my notebook and began brainstorming -- the prelude to almost all my writing -- I realized, before I even began a draft, that writing a publishable 500 words was akin to writing a publishable picture book manuscript, and every word was going to count -- every word.

Try writing just 500 words about a topic you are passionate about -- a large topic, too, because we met twice, Jim and I, once when we were teenagers, and again when we were in our forties, and both meetings are crucial to the story I wanted to tell.

How would I narrow it down to the essentials and still keep a narrative arc? How would I choose just the right focus that would give me the most bang for my story-buck? How to connect with readers on an emotional level in 500 words? How do you do it? I find it helps if you have a good teacher, or editor, which I did. We did good work together. And today, the magazine came.

So we celebrated, at my house. (Well, my editor wasn't here, but my new husband -- he of the how-we-met -- and I were here, along with a couple of guys hanging out on the roof, and two cats. That's enough for a party.)

I grated some cheddar, whipped some eggs and milk, and baked a vegetable pie using yesterday's leftover stir-fried beets, turnips, onion, broccoli and cauliflower.

And I basked in the beauty of the car house that Jim Williams and Stoney Vance are roofing with tin today. See my shadow? ("Wanna see my essay?" "Nah, that's okay... we're workin' with tin here...")

Now it's the end of the day. The river rock is in place, the workers are gone, the pie is eaten, the sun is setting, and the story is in print. First line: "He wore wingtips."

So... one more story out there in the world, to be shared. And isn't that what it's all about -- sharing our stories. For me, telling stories is a way to make a living, as it's what calls to me most strongly. Writing these stories makes me braver in the world, somehow. It's the way I understand myself and the world around me. Richard Rhodes said it in his book HOW TO WRITE: "Story is the primary vehicle human beings use to structure knowledge and experience." Yeah. Somethin' like that.

When I taught "Writing Techniques for Teachers" at Towson University, I used to invoke the words of Mrs. Frizzle of THE MAGIC SCHOOLBUS:
"Take Chances. Make Mistakes. Get Messy." It's what I tell fourth graders when I'm teaching personal narrative writing and showing them my messy notebooks. It's what I told the fourth graders at Mantua Elementary last week. And, bless their hearts, they made a mess. A joyful mess.

I showed them my drafts, too. I did three major revisions of this 500-word story for Hallmark, all of them messy. I had a great Mrs. Frizzle, my Hallmark editor. And I just kept trying to structure my experience, figure out what I had learned -- what knowledge did I have, if any, and how could I tell this short story from the deepest place I could touch? I believe story comes from what you know, what you feel, and what you can imagine. And I love the challenge of writing short.

So... if you've got your notebook: write 500 words about how you met your sweetheart. One of your sweethearts. Your child! A best friend. An enemy. Remember: What you know, what you feel, and what you can imagine. Show, don't tell. And have fun. It's just for you. See what comes up. As you write, keep in mind these words by poet Mary Oliver:

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Meet My Staff

This is Emma. Emma is holding down the fort while I fly to D.C. and work at Mantua Elementary School on Thursday. She will answer all correspondence while I'm gone, even though she has a limited vocabulary... she'll still do a better job at correspondence than I do. And since she lives just across the street, she won't have far to go to answer my phone, which she'll do better than I do, since I rarely hear or answer my own phone.

Emma is the recipient of many of the books I gathered from independent booksellers on the AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS book tour in September. It has been so much fun to watch her eyes swallow a book -- you know what I mean... that wide-eyed "is it for me?" look, that look of wonder, "what IS it?" and that delight in discovery -- colors! words! pages! STORY! "Again!" Emma is already an avid reader -- she reads cover-to-cover in her own way -- because her mom, Elizabeth, reads to her.

I hired Emma both for her sense of wonder and because of her special skills. She is especially skilled at petting cats (look at Cleebo discovering snow last week!) and digging in the dirt, so if you need any cats petted or dirt dug, call Emma while I'm gone. She is also very good at overseeing construction (new driveway... look at that red Georgia clay!).

I'm teaching personal narrative writing to fourth graders at Mantua tomorrow. I've brought my notebooks, my stories, and my work in progress. I've got a new hat! I've brought a tangerine, a banana, a red pear, homemade granola, and a carrot-raisin muffin with peanut butter. (WW last Friday: -14.6 pounds so far.)

And I've got 150 fourth graders. With notebooks. All day tomorrow. I can't wait. I'll chronicle it all right here, so hang on, as I send updates. To Emma.

Atlanta in Winter

I wrote about the fake snow in Atlanta in December, so imagine my surprise -- and everyone else's! -- to see real snow falling yesterday! Daughter Hannah called from her dorm room, where she had just the day before been deposited, squealing, "IT'S SNOWING!"

The guys working outside in my driveway weren't so thrilled. Oy and oy vey at the mess. They had rented the Bobcat for only a day, and they were determined to get the new driveway carved out on the side of the house... and they did. Dirt -- or, now, mud -- removal was another issue.

They were here until 10pm last night, dumping dirt/mud into their pickup trucks ("We should have rented a dump truck") I heard one of them say. Jim Williams, Contractor of the World, had hired these guys, and it became hilarious to watch them work in the snow/rain, because they were laughing and joking, too.

This is Josh (JimWilliams is behind him, looking over the excavation work) smiling big before it got dark and the icy rain began to sleet down, coating everyone with red mud.

I stayed inside, kept the fire going in the fireplace, made hot coffee, heated Campbell's Tomato Soup (hey, you use what you have on hand) and made grilled cheese sandwiches. And JimW. was right in there, helping, digging the trench for the drain in the middle of the pseudo blizzard -- what a day/night.

And they are back this morning. Already they've loaded up the last two loads and are headed out. They'll be back to finish up the odds and ends. "Did you sleep?" I asked JimW. this morning. "Like the dead," he answered. I'll bet. He left here last night soaked to the skin in his red-muddy overalls, sweater, hoodie, boots.

And soon the river rock arrives for the new driveway. Let's hope it's on a dry day! Snow still dusts everything this morning -- beautiful. Hard to believe that, less than a week ago, I was outside raking leaves all day on a 65-degree day. That's Atlanta in winter for you.

The snowy day brought Cleebo home. (Yes, named after Cleebo Wilson in THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS; he's just as clueless as that Cleebo, hence the name.) He was out on a five-day drunk -- we thought we'd lost him -- but here he is, back on my writing couch, making himself right at home.

Move over, Cleebo. I'm late for work.

The Garden (The Stories) in Winter

I have committed raking. I spent all day Saturday outdoors, rake in gloved hands, collecting the fall leaves and depositing them on the garden beds. I love the meditative quality of raking, and my neighbors love it that I rake at least once a year. On all sides of my house I hear leaf blowers on Saturdays, and lawns have a picture-perfect quality to them. "I'm a yard man!" says my neighbor Pat.

My yard remains coated with leaves until some warm January morning, when I pick up a rake and give myself permission to take all the live-long day to put the front yard to rights. Pat still likes me. What he and Clarissa and Scott and Elizabeth and even toddler Emma, who is quite my gardening friend, don't know yet is that I plan for the entire yard to be a garden one day, with pea gravel pathways winding around the bee balm, the yard art, and the benches.

Until that day, I dream, and January is perfect for dreaming. I'm dreaming about color choices for the house (see my shutters? You can also see how the carport enclosure is coming along), I read cookbooks in bed and dream about recipes I want to make (this is how my Lively-up Yourself Lentil Soup came out -- it was delicious; you can compare my version to Holly Swanson's at 101 Cookbooks)...

...and I dream about the stories I want to write. I moved to this house in Atlanta in June 2004. I came with files, notebooks, and boxes of stories, some of them published books, some of them half-finished orphans, some of them just sketched-out ideas or half-pages of notes. I've added to this stash in the years I've been here. So this week I decided that, in this January dreaming month, I would open my story cupboards and make a list of what I had, so I could get what I still needed as recipe ingredients in order to turn these partial ideas into full fledged stories.

Or not.

I mean... sometimes you find that you no longer want to write about The Incredible Hulk or gumshoes named Mud, don't you? If I was no longer interested in a topic, out it went, like the moldy corner of cheese still in the dairy drawer of the fridge. But if I got a tiny tingle when I read through the pages of research, the failed drafts, the snippets -- and especially, if it made me laugh when I read it -- I rinsed it off at the sink and I kept that story, tidied it up and gave it a folder all its own, labeled and ready for my attention.

I used a sketch book and colored pens to list all the stories. I didn't go in any particular order, just grabbed pile after pile of papers, and I didn't color code anything; when one marker didn't suit me (or when I got interrupted and came back to my chair), I used another. I drew lines and circles and doodles as I made connections. For instance, I've got one snippet that reads, "I have an office. My associate sleeps at my feet. Her snores are a rhythm I depend on." It made me laugh. I've drawn an arrow from that snippet to this one: "People smell. Have you noticed this?" Ha! This dog (whom I've named Buddy, it seems) also says, "I don't understand fried okra." Who knows what this might someday mean, but I remember when I wrote the second snippet. It was during a freewrite, in Vermont, on retreat.

Have you ever pulled all your work together from wherever you've got it stored, and listed all of it in one place, in one notebook? I filled five pages of my (large!) sketchbook with lists of snippets, ideas, drafts, work-in-progress, rejected stories that I still love, and more. Five pages! I look at these five pages and see that I have been much more productive than I have given myself credit for.

How do you track your progress, in writing? In life? What does success mean to you? Not so long ago, success was survival, for me.

To be able to sit here, in a home of my own, and look out the windows onto a world of my own making (see the unraked yard?) seems like success enough. To look at these five pages of story ideas -- all of them with potential, because all of them hold a piece of my heart or they wouldn't be on the list -- I think I am rich! I have just needed to rake them up, these ideas, to put them in one place together, in a sort of garden-in-winter, in order to see how hard I've been working at telling my stories, and how much I have done. These ideas aren't going anywhere; they are waiting for me to return to them, waiting for inspiration, enthusiasm, hard work from me. Waiting for me to stop mixing gardening and cooking metaphors, maybe.

And now what? What do I do with this list? I gave each story a folder. The snippets I put in a folder called "new work." All folders are in one big file drawer now, all together. The research that won't fit into folders is on one shelf, each bit labeled appropriately. That in itself is satisfactory to me. It's satisfactory to create, to organize, to try my best to finish something using all the skills I possess, to revise, to improve, to revise again, to weather rejection to try again, to be finally lucky enough to put a story out into the world, to find readers. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

I did this story gardening work on Monday, January 14, the day of the ALA award announcements. I knew ALL-STARS was not on the list, as I had not been notified, and I stayed away from my computer most of the day and immersed myself in my own stories.

And. you know... part of me had wished, from time to time, for award recognition -- it would be human, of course, and hard not to get swept up in the hoopla for a book that made so much noise in the world and that my publisher (Yay, Sweet Harcourt!) and booksellers, teachers, librarians, readers worked so hard to promote (I guess I did, too!), a book that got such wonderful reviews and such kind attention from readers.

And, if I'm being honest about it, which I'm trying to do, financially it would mean a few years more off the road, too -- a while longer to work at what I love and not take on the proverbial day-job to support the writing (something I've put out there as a goal), and the ability to continue to publish (I have opinions on this, too, but for another time). So, I'll admit that I looked at the possibility, when I looked at it, with more of a practical than emotional eye.

I used to wax romantic about writing and publishing children's books. No longer. This is a business. Years ago, children's publishing occupied a benign corner of the adult publishing realm, where it was patted on the head and not expected to turn a profit. Not so today, of course. The pressure inside publishing houses is intense, and the pressure that writers feel as a result... well, it's a hard business sometimes, and it's best for me to remember that it is a business, and that I am trying my best to make a living and grow a career.

Still, I have steadily learned, in these past few years, to disconnect from the award aspect of publishing and to focus on the page. And I'm healthier for it. I really do know what's important and what feeds me artistically, emotionally, spiritually, even physically... it's time, space, quiet, home, routine, love, family, kinship, peace.

I need these things most of all, in order to create, to be healthy, to live well. So. I wasn't disappointed on Monday: I am making a living in the arts, I am writing well, I am being published, and I have readers, solid reviews, good sales figures!, a great big cheering section, and lots of possibility ahead of me.

What I was on Monday, was curious. Hmmm... and I suppose it's arrogant (I'd prefer to think it's hopeful or naive) to even assume ALL-STARS had a chance for that recognition in the first place. It's all such a puzzle; there are so many good books out there, and I actually have lots of trouble with the whole notion of awards and prizes and bests, being an inclusive sort of gal.

At any rate, I didn't plan (and certainly don't write) for awards. I planned for an introspective, inward-looking, homeward-bound, good-writing year this year (for the first time in seven long years!)... and I will have it. When I came back to my computer at the end of the day, Monday, I found an email about ALL-STARS from an adult reader, an engineer, who I bet has never heard of the the Newbery, the Caldecott, the Printz, and other ALA awards. But he has heard of ALL-STARS:

"I was emotionally connected from beginning to end. True to theme, just about everything in the book resonated with me. Even the Redbug catcher seemed eerily familiar. As a kid I lived and breathed baseball. Played every day until dark; knew all the major leaguers - my favorites being (of course) Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Gil Hodges, Yogi Berra, and the rest; - had all the baseball cards; knew all the statistics, etc. My brother and I would lie in our bunk beds at night, room all dark, and quiz each other, What was Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average?, How many home runs did Mickey Mantle hit in 1952?, What is Ted Williams' nickname?

"Early in grade school my teacher took us to the school library and told us all to find a book to read. I wasn't interested. Up until then, reading had just been a rote exercise like spelling or adding and subtracting: Look Dick, See Jane, blah, blah, blah. My teacher, Miss Tremarene (who was also my next door neighbor), said, "Read about something that you are interested in." The concept sort of blew my mind. I said, "Can you do that? Can you read about anything you want to?" She said, "Sure." So I said, "I'm interested in baseball." She helped me find a book. The first book I ever read was The Pee Wee Reese Story! Weird, huh? It changed my life. I've read
non-stop ever since."

Just think: a book (and a teacher) that changed someone's life. It could be any book. It could be the book you write. It needs to be the right book for that particular reader. And the right book for one reader is not necessarily the right book for another.

I asked Kate DiCamillo once, if she'd meant it when she said, at the end of her Newbery acceptance speech for DESPEREAUX, "I know I don't deserve it." Absolutely she meant it, she said. And we talked about how you just never know: who's on the committee, what do they love, how do they interpret the criteria, what can they agree on, and more... it's all so arbitrary. And yet it's not, Kate. I think good work rises up, like cream. I have to believe that. And yet, I get it. There are many good books out there. Many good books in this season alone! There are so many stories. It's a wonder and a treat for readers... I'll never get to read them all.

So I look at this year's awards list and I grin. I like it. What I like best about awards is that we get to celebrate our common community, our business of writing and publishing books for young people -- we get to celebrate all our stories.

Then I turn to my notebook listing my five pages of stories, and this time a slow smile spreads across my face. Here are the stories I have control over. Here is my garden. Here are my ingredients. Here is my future, a work in progress.

Time to get to work.

Book News and Bottle Trees

How did it get to be January 9 already? I'll swan, give a girl a chance to hunker in at home, and she starts baking her famous homemade granola that she hasn't made in five years (travel, travel), she roasts hazelnuts and puts them up in saved olive jars, she eats well and sleeps well,

and she hires her friend Jim Williams to enclose the carport and turn it into a gathering room, following her desire to implement pattern 182 of A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander (who knows this book? I'm using it like a Bible as I work on this house...

...I'm investigating Pools of Light (252), Warm Colours (250), Different Chairs (251), as well as Communal Eating (147) and Family of Entrances (102), Entrance Transition (112), Car Connection (113),
and more, but that will do for now. Ha!)

Oh, and she plans to build a bottle tree. (This is a photo of Felder Rushing's blue bottle tree in Jackson, Mississippi. I love Felder and I want a fire bowl like his, but I digress.)

She also opens the mail that has been piling up since the last ice age. And just look what's in the mail! EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is still cutting a rug on the book world's dance floor. First news is that LITTLE BIRD has won the Alabama Book Award as the Young People's Book of the Year from the Alabama Library Association! Joy and Happy Day! RUBY won this award in 2004, and I know how special it is, both because I've seen how wonderful this conference is (I've met those wonderful Alabama librarians!) and because I was born in Alabama, so coming back is like going home. But the best thing about this award is that LITTLE BIRD finds its way into the hands of more young readers in Alabama. I'm so glad. Thank you so much, ALLA! (And Tim Berry, I'm trying to email you, but your email keeps bouncing...)

As if Alabama -- and the United States -- weren't enough, here comes news, too, from IBBY -- the International Board on Books for Young People -- that LITTLE BIRD "has been nominated by the U.S. Section of IBBY for the IBBY Honour List 2008 for the quality of its writing."

Be still my heart. IBBY! One of IBBY's objectives is to encourage international understanding through children's literature. Sharon Deeds, chair of USBBY's Hans Christian Andersen committee (the U.S. Section of IBBY) wrote me some months ago, but it wasn't public news until now, and I wasn't sure I believed it, but now I have official confirmation. Sharon had written me: "Each section... nominates three honor books: one for writing, one for illustration and one for translation. The Honour List began in 1956. The books are chosen to represent the best in U.S. publishing in the previous two years."

I'm floored, I'm honored, I'm humbled. And may I throw in delighted... I am. Readers! LITTLE BIRD will have international readers... what a thrill. The entire Honour List from around the world will be part of a traveling exhibition in Japan, the U.S., and Bologna. Then, according to my Official Letter, these books "will be kept as permanent deposits at the International Youth Library in Munich and other research collections in Belgium, Russia, Japan, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the USA."

I knew it. I knew it all along, that everything is connected (as Uncle Edisto says in LITTLE BIRD), that we are more alike than we are different, that we exist in community, through our stories, on this planet. This lovely IBBY award is confirmation and validation of that fact -- just imagine these books, written in many different languages, traveling together next year. Just imagine the kinds of stories they tell individually. Imagine the story they will tell together, of their journey.

Oh, thank you, USBBY committee members, for honoring Comfort Snowberger's story, she who has been to 247 funerals and thinks she knows all about death, only to find out that life is about to take some turns she can't anticipate, and that the most important thing to know about death is that it is part... of life.

There is so much life going on at my house right now, on a warm January day. The carport area rings with hammering and the stapling of screens to the framing. Husband Jim's music wafts up from his basement studio, where he is practicing. The cats want in and out every fifteen minutes. The granola is finished and sits in 12 sweet, squatty little Mason jars, ready for ribbons. The hazelnuts in their jars are standing tall next to the granola. The crepe myrtles that needed to come down (talk about death... sob!) so a new driveway can be built, have been cut and deposited on my back porch so I can gather the most earnest, most enthusiastic branches for my bottle tree.

In the book I'm working on now, a character named Partheny, who is old, wise, and superstitious, makes a bottle tree for her front yard, to ward off evil spirits. I want to make the tree that Partheny would make.
So I've got my branches now. I've been collecting my bottles. I need the just-right bucket and some cement, I think. Let me see what I can do, gathering these elements that you wouldn't naturally find together, and making something brand new out of them. Sort of like the IBBY award. Sort of like stories. Sort of like life.

My notebook is getting a workout with LISTS these days. Lists of projects I want to do, lists of supplies needed, lists of administrative tasks that need to be tackled, grocery lists, lists of stories I'm working on or want to work on this year. In January I list. (Well, I list all the time, but in January, especially, I list for myself: what would you like to accomplish this year? How might you make that happen? I start with a fresh notebook for my lists. I know that I'll fill up several notebooks this year, but this is the first for a new year, with lists, including, this year, lists of what I eat each day, how far I walk (I've walked over 25 miles so far this year), lists of my weekly WW's numbers (11.3 pounds so far -- who's still with me? I'm so serious about this...).

Looking at all these lists, I see patterns, too -- it's the same every year; I bring many disparate elements together to create a life. Kind of like my Southern serial-story-turned-into-full-fledged novel, THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS... so many elements and so many characters fairly seething with their wants and needs and aspirations, conspiring separately but finding out that together they make one movement out of whole cloth. You do it, too, don't you? You are interested in so many things, just as I am, you make your lists, either in your head or on paper, and you pull together a life. In doing so, you see how different you are from every other human being on this earth... how different your family is from every other family, how different is your home, your mind! And yet. We are also so alike, wanting to love and be loved, to belong, to achieve something worthwhile, to understand how the world (and each heart) works, to have purpose.

Each of us individually, AND together, makes up the symphony true.

Making Connections

There you are. I hoped you would come. I'm glad you did. I'm sitting by my fire this morning -- it has turned very cold for Atlanta, so I'm working in front of the fire with my laptop. Time to get back to work. Time to face the page.

I've got an essay in mind to write. As I finished up the '07 Tour Blog, I wrote about organizing my closet and putting away my clothes, and how it reminded me of my mother and what she taught me about laundry and ironing and clothes and life, and how I miss her... I think it would make a good essay, and I'm going to try writing that essay in this short first week of a new year.

The idea is sketched out on the tour blog, making that blog a sort of notebook for me, for that idea... so I copied that part of the blog, printed it, and pasted it in my actual, current notebook, and started doodling around it... it led me to search out some photos of my mother, which I copied and also pasted into my notebook. I included a photo of my mother sitting in a rocking chair, holding infant me. (Don'tcha love the mohawk?)

I don't know just how this essay will turn out, but I've made notes in my notebook about how it feels to be living in the world without my mother, how it felt when we were in the midst of battle, how it felt the times we really connected, how it felt to be the person with her the morning she died, how I've grown to see her as a human being and see myself that way as well... and those notes turned into sweetness, the sweetness of all that was good about our relationship...

... the secret goodness that ran underneath our quarreling and disagreeing and my constant pushing for acknowledgement of my truth, and my inability to understand hers, until I was much older and had grown children of my own and was in a similar position.

Any of those moments are worthy of essays. But that's not really what I want to write about. I want to write about that ironing scene I paint on the tour blog. I do want to write about my feelings of being motherless, but I want to show this through my closet, by telling about those two days I spent doing my laundry and thinking about my mother. Something like that.

My notebook is the place to figure out what I want to say, a place that helps me focus, and list what it felt like, smelled like, sounded like, tasted like, looked like, in that closet, and in those days my mother stood at the ironing board in the family room, pressing my father's boxer shorts and watching ANOTHER WORLD, and asking me about my day at school as I ate a butter and sugar sandwich, and how it has felt in the four years I have navigated the world without my mother.

I can see, I'm focusing on what I want to say. Now I'll go to the page. I'll fool around, starting with the closet scene.. in fact, I've got a particular moment I want to write about... the moment I began to button a blouse as it lay on my bed, on a hangar, and realized that I never did that anymore, never buttoned a shirt before I hung it up, but felt compelled to do it that day, for some reason, because my mother always did, and it's what she taught me to do. Perhaps I was influenced by the ending of a year and the beginning of a new one, I don't know, but I will add this idea to the mix and see if it's true.

What I know is that I began to slow down and button each button on each blouse, zip each zipper, tie each string, hang or fold each item of clothing as close to the way my mother did as I could remember.

As I write this scene, the rest will suggest itself to me, perhaps a first-line will come to me; I'll move it to the top. It will be my focus now. And the rest will shift. As I write this piece, I'll understand my mother better. I'll understand myself better. I'll reveal a little more of what's true about me, even the parts I don't want to see. Maybe I'll be brave enough to keep them in the essay. Or maybe they won't belong, and I'll have those pieces of truth for myself, exposed, and they'll inform my life... help me grow. It's a mysterious process, hard to talk about and make sense.

I'm already thinking "Mother's Day." I might be able to share this piece on Mother's Day in a newspaper or in a magazine. But that's beside the point, immaterial. It's not why I had this idea, but it's a logical extension of the idea, for a writer trying to make her living in the arts. Even so, I won't concentrate on market, even though the how-to books say to target a market or a particular publication. I don't do that. If I did, I'd not write a thing worth publishing. I do keep a reader in mind, I must, but I target a story. I target my heart. Then I worry about a market, if I decide the piece is publishable. And I try to remember that no writing effort is wasted.

I'll try to get a complete draft, probably less than 1000 words to sum up a lifetime, in a moment. I'll take a moment, remember it as best I can, and infuse it with meaning. Moments, memory, meaning. That's what I'm after today. So off to work I go. The soup is simmering, the fire is crackling, and I have three weeks home before the next travel. Soon it will be time to plunge into the novel. But a short piece first, to warm up.

How do you warm up? What is your process? Whether you are a writer by trade a writer by night, or a professed non-writer, you are a storyteller. What stories do you have to tell? Open your notebook. What moment in this past week might you mine? How can you connect it to a memory in your past? And what meaning can you give it? What personal yet universal meaning might it hold? I know you've had these moments that make you think, like I did in my closet, of a moment in your past... it's a matter of getting in the habit of connecting and thinking "story."

What moment?