New Beginnings

Wow! What mail! I'm bowled over. Thanks so much for joining in the conversation about teaching writing. It's a hot topic, eh? I've had such a good (and instructive!) time reading your thoughts.

Here's where I write to you; a few days ago I blogged about teaching personal narrative writing and finding the heart of your story. I'm about to go on the road to talk about this very thing, so if any of you are members of South Carolina IRA (SCIRA) or Southern Breeze SCBWI, come see me so we can gab in person.

My schedule is always on my website, here. I'll be speaking in Myrtle Beach on Friday, Feb. 22, and in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 23rd and 24th. And, I'll be in Chicaco, at the Bolingbrook Country Club, courtesy of Scholastic Book Fairs, on Feb. 28. You'll need to contact your SBFs sales rep if you haven't already RSVPd to this wonderful event.

I have publishing news, but it will have to wait until I'm back from my travels. When I arrived home Dec. 5, after a full three months away more than I was home, I did a little collapse and said, "Next year will be for the writing." I vowed I would find a way. Freelancing (teaching and speaking and writing on assignment) has been my day job for the past seven years, and has allowed me to write in the cracks. Last fall, even as I was having a wonderful time and doing meaningful work, I knew the writing was waiting, waiting... suffering, even... and I pined to be with it.

So. This year, less travel. I have determined to afford it. There are ways, eh? (Oh, and there used to NOT be ways, not at all, I have been there so often, so it's delicious to be in a position, finally, to Find Ways). Six months, I told myself. June to December 2008 I will be off the road. That's still the plan. This year so far, I have fooled myself (as I always do) with the occasional school visit, writing day, conference here and there -- just a day or two out, a night or two away from the writing, I say.

But the writing -- the stories -- will not be fooled! "What about us!" they demand. And I see their point. I agree.

It's hard to find that passion and courage for a story (which I wrote about in last week's blog post) when you're a constant road warrior, although I remember I did it with LITTLE BIRD, writing in airports and hotel rooms, and taking a three-month stretch off the road in order to focus and complete the draft. I did it with ALL-STARS, unbelievably, as my schedule was so packed.

On the other hand, RUBY and FREEDOM SUMMER, my first books, were written with the luxury of time at home, every day suiting up and showing up, every day feeling the leisure of spaciousness, process, the ideal I talk about in the classroom so often.

But I became suddenly single as RUBY and FS were being published, and the road became my friend. It has kept my youngest daughter in college. She will graduate in May, thanks to a good financial aid package and all the teaching, speaking, visiting, and some lovely booksales over the years, and all the fantastic state book award lists that my books have been on. Thanks so much, teachers, librarians, parents, readers! You have served as my benefactors in this crazy business and I appreciate you more than you know.

And I do love being in the thick of your lives -- I love schools. I love young readers. I love talking about their stories, listening to them come up with that one clear moment in time they want to write about so passionately, watching that story come alive under their fingers, in that processing time... watching a miracle, really.

All stories are miracles. This new trilogy -- The Sixties Trilogy that I am embarking on -- feels like a gift, a miracle, a ship that is about to sail. So I will honor its coming by giving it the time it needs to come to life. I can't wait for those strings of days that I will spend with these stories, learning from them, fashioning them, publishing them -- with a new publisher, Scholastic -- and a new editor, and a new way of creating in the world.

So I guess I've told you my book news. I knew I couldn't keep it to myself for long. I've been shedding such sad tears of goodbye, although it is never goodbye, in my experience, not goodbye to the two editors I lost last year, not goodbye to my publishing home of 12 years, Harcourt, or my colleagues there (where I am still a Harcourt author, with the Aurora County Trilogy in good hands at Harcourt, with ALL-STARS so newly minted and coming to life in paperback next year... and who knows what the future brings); not goodbye to friends and colleagues who have steered me through the past two months of finding a new home for this trilogy. Not goodbye. Just different. But I still mourn for what was, while at the same time I shout from the rooftops my joy and delight in new beginnings.

It's an Uncle Edisto/messy-glory moment, for sure. A business decision. The result is that The Sixties Trilogy is home, and so am I, and off we go to work together on a new adventure. I need to have the completed manuscript for book one on my new editor's desk by Halloween. You can bet you're going to hear a lot from me about process. I'm ready.

Soon I will return from South Carolina and Chicago. I hope to see some of you in my travels. Come love my neck, as my great-great aunt Mitt would say. We'll celebrate being together. And we'll create new stories to tell!

As you can see, the Little House in the Little Woods is being painted. The colors are actually "beach purple" (which, darn it, looks blue in these photos; trust me, it's purple) and "impetuous," which is not quite chartreuse... my across-the-street neighbor, Elizabeth (Emma's mom), helped me pick out the colors. "I love it!" she says. My next-door-neighbor, C., hates the colors, marched across the grass to tell me so, and when I said, "I love it!" said, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?" and stalked away. Then she wrote me a stern letter asking me to reconsider. Jim found the letter in the mailbox on Saturday, typed, no signature. I was catapulted back to being Comfort's age and cowering at my mother's "aren't you ashamed of yourself?" And of course, I was, because I was told to be.

But I'm not ashamed of myself, for heaven's sake. Still... it's another Uncle Edisto messy-glory moment, isn't it? I like my neighbor. I love my neighborhood. And I love my little house. What would Ruby and Miss Eula do? After all, they have a Pink Palace!

WW: -20.6 pounds as of Friday. All that road weight coming off, just in time for me to get back on the road again. Ah, well. I am rested and ready, and I won't be out long.