1 Day -- Avoiding Pitfalls

What a great writing day -- thanks for the good vibes, y'all. I can feel them. WHAT a great day. I've sat here since whatever-time-this-morning and have moved for small breaks, and that's it. Have barely looked up. Have made tremendous progress. Am still not done. And, when I look at all there is yet to do, with Day Zero staring me in the face, I admit I won't be done-done. But I will be so well-done that I can celebrate and send this sucker off.

The books to my right and left: FREEDOM'S DAUGHTERS by Lynne Olson, PARTING THE WATERS by Taylor Branch. TRUMAN by David McCullough. A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn (who is a mentioned character in my book), THE AMERICAN EARTHQUAKE by Edmund Wilson, THE EYES ON THE PRIZE CIVIL RIGHTS READER, EUROPE, CRISIS AND CONFLICT, by Robin Winks, RITES OF SPRING by Modris Eksteins, and THE 42ND PARALLEL by John Dos Passos.

Whew. There's another pile on the other side of the table, but I'm not going to budge right now to read them off. The small of my back is killing me -- this started yesterday. I think it's stress. I haven't pulled anything. When I'm most stressed, this always happens... the small of my back seizes up on me, making walking difficult and bending over impossible.

Ah, I've done it to myself. And, I'm doing the best I can. Mostly I'm concerned with the narrative right now -- the story itself. Is the plot holding up? Is it earned, every bit of it? Are my characters alive and full and rich and fine? Is the storyline plausible? Does it droop in the middle? (PLEASE, no.) Did I make the right choice about that dang letter and am I racing for the ending with the best letter in the best place? Something like that.

I know my ending. I haven't written it yet. Endings are the hardest thing for me. I love beginnings -- adore them. I have a full steam ahead with beginnings. Endings have to echo everything that has come before them. There is so much that's subconcious in the writing (that I often can't see), and it all must be summed up, along with all that's splat there on the surface.

I tend to get in my own way at this point, too, and lose perspective. I am sending this novel off to my editor not a day too soon.

But I still have tomorrow. So I forge ahead. If I can get a day tomorrow like today, I'm not going to be embarrassed by what I send off on Monday morning. Cross all your fingers. And toes. And nose.

Back to it.

2 Days - Splitting Atoms

Thanks so much for those lovely, supportive, "I've been there, too" emails, y'all. It helps to know you're not alone in whatever you're doing or going through, eh? It helps me, anyway.

Today I'm back on the horse. I'm writing forward. I have figured out Jo Ellen's letter -- I know more about her now, I know exactly what she's doing and why, and it makes total sense to the overall story arc and characters. It only took me two and a half-months to figure this out.

I seem to be cursed to write chronologically. I cannot "skip this part" and go ahead and finish the book. I've never been able to do that. I can, however, chart out the rest of the book, what I think happens, and how.... and I have done that, this past two months as I've wrestled with the letter-knot.

I've also gathered lots of the extra material I will need for this novel, and have placed much of it within the narrative. I have smoothed and polished and have revised scenes, have moved some around, have figured out the path. And, I have asked some trusted readers to tell me what works. I've now figured out the knot I've been stuck against for so long, have written that letter, have done loads of research on where I'm going with it, and can now write my next chapter and race for that oh-so-close ending.

I've done this in the midst of travel for work, family upheaval, illness, smooth sailing and rough, and I've done it by showing up at the page regardless of how I feel or how much I accomplish. Some days I show for longer than others. Some days I am barely there -- but I am there. Some days I feel as if I accomplish nothing. Even yesterday, when all I could do was stare at the page, I read.

I read about 1962. I revisited my research. I did more research with the books I had available. I have a brand-new biography of Harry Truman from the library. My used copy of the 1956 edition of OUR FRIEND THE ATOM just arrived. My oral history of women in the civil rights movement in the early '60s was at my elbow. So was Howard Zinn's A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. I unearthed my photo archive of those 16 days in October, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I chose the just-right photos, as I'm at that part in the narrative where it makes sense to do that.


I worked yesterday, even if I didn't move forward. And now, today -- forward motion! I have today, Friday. Saturday. All day Sunday (Day 0) to polish up and write a letter and send off this draft of this novel first thing Monday morning. I can do it. And I will. Thanks, friends.

4 Days, 3 Days -- Tellin' It Like It Is

Oh, y'all. Should I paint you a rosy picture, or should I just be honest?

I'll tell the truth.

Yesterday was a hard writing day. Family stuff dominated, but it's too much (and too burdening) to go into. Think of what has felt impossible for you, family-wise, with your own writing. Turf wars? Disagreements? Vomit? Sleepless Toddler Nights? Rearrangements of the Known Universe? That's the ticket.

Can't discuss it, and neither can you. What you *can* do is reiterate your commitment to your story and your deadline... yes? YES! Come on... come on with me. Come on and say YES, say yes to your story's right to exist (who told you it didn't?) and your duty to get back to it.

So a quick post today to let you know I'm still here. After a day of mostly staring at my story, gathering myself together, I am back at work. I'm writing. I am.

5 Days -- Jump Started

This morning I rose at 5 and worked for two hours before I headed to Rabun County Middle School. It was exciting to be immersed in my story and make forward progress! (Thanks again, Enthusiastic Trusted Readers.) And... I was excited to be visiting RCMS, which is home to the Foxfire program.

I want to write about the program in another post -- perhaps in a personal canon post (I haven't forgotten about them).

For now, let me say that I had one of those Uncle Edisto days -- so joyful and so challenging, all at the same time. I saw 7th and 8th graders today, in four sessions. I am ever-mindful of how hard schools work to bring an author to school. Librarian Deana Harkness had her students selling cookbooks they had put together, in order to raise the money to bring me to Rabun. And that's just for starters. She gifted me with one as I left -- I can't wait to sit and read it in front of my fire. Recipes from the north Georgia mountains.

Thank you, Deana! Thank you, students. Thank you, teachers.

I loved walking the halls of Rabun Middle. I imagined, years ago, the Foxfire program just getting its start at RCMS, teachers teaching students how to use cameras, tape recorders, video recorders, connecting the work always to the curriculum, taking students out into the mountains to gather oral history from those who still butchered hogs, caned chairs, dug ginseng, bottled moonshine, churned butter, made their own music, and lived off the land. I took a photo of the mural made years ago by those long-ago students, to illustrate the richness of the stories in these mountains.

Later in the day, I captured three students sitting under the mural, playing guitars and singing.

Not every student at Rabun participates in Foxfire, and (like so many other programs across the country) its funding has been cut and cut again over the years. But I love the fact that it remains, a way of teaching that informed my way of looking at the world. A way of learning that informs my teaching. And parenting.

One day maybe I will write about those years I gathered oral history in Frederick, Maryland, and took fifth-graders with me to listen to knife makers, trolley conductors, seed savers, dairy farmers, corn harvesters, and more. I'm convinced that those years of listening to so many voices tell so many personal stories defined me as a writer. It gave me an ear for dialogue. It gave me a sense of connectedness.

That time stays with me. Those days still serve me, even though what I meant to do was to serve someone else, to create a patchwork of stories that defined Frederick's history. Little did I know I was shaping my own.

6 Days -- New Eyes on the Prize

I'm in rural Georgia, lovin' every minute of it. Not writing a word. But I've done something important with my story, something that will help me finish -- more on this in a moment.

Stephens County Middle School -- Thank you! What a wonderful day -- thanks, Cindy Hensley, for all you did to make this day happen. I spoke to over 1000 students in three sessions today, and we laughed so much. We did good work together, while we had fun.

SCMS is in a fantastic new building, four years old. It's beautiful, and it's BIG. It's so big -- the hallways are so long -- that this is how Principal Tony Crunkleton gets around.

Here's something I loved about today. Principal Crunkleton came to every single session today. So did his assistant principals. So did all teachers. Sometimes I work in schools where I never meet the principal. Where teachers are grading papers (well, that doesn't happen anymore, because I Just Say No), or are otherwise involved. Once I worked with kids and never met their teachers, as they treated the assembly as a special, and did their planning elsewhere, while their kids were with me. What a lost opportunity!

Here at SCMS, every student, teacher, and administrator will be able to have conversations about what we did today, what we learned together, and how we worked on personal narrative writing, our own stories. How that will extend the lesson! How that will make a difference!

Yay for a commitment to literacy that involves bringing an author to school! Yay for a commitment to teaching and learning -- for a curiosity! -- that brings EVERYONE to assembly. Yay, Stephens County Middle School!

Today after school, I drove to Clarkesville. Tomorrow, Rabun Middle School. I'm excited. The Foxfire program has been a huge influence on my teaching. Here is its home.

I like it, here in the mountains.

If I felt like bowling, I could.

But I don't wanna bowl. I want to finish my novel. Yesterday I sent my closely-held pages to a couple of trusted readers. It's the first time anyone has read my new book besides my editor and agent. The first time my trusted readers can read what I'm up to.

And already I'm receiving feedback. "I need cheerleaders, to get to the end," I told them.

And they are cheering me on, right and left. Oh, it's grand to hear the good stuff, isn't it? We NEED to hear the good stuff. We need to know what's WORKING. Time enough to fix what's not, but tell me what's working, puff some wind into my sails, jump up and down and rah-rah-rah! Tell me I can do it! Tell me I can get to the end! Thank you, friends. Thanks for reading, and thanks for every single good word. Let me do the same for you, when the time comes. I'll go home tomorrow, rarin' to finish, buoyed by your friendship and encouragement.

8 Days, 7 Days, 6 -- Ohmy!

Wait, wait. Six days is tomorrow. But I've sorta skipped right over 8 and 7.

I've been writing. I started at the beginning -- I feel confident enough in what I have to start over and trust the story to give me the answers to hard questions. I can't figure out a knot near the end -- just can't get past it. So I drove into the north Georgia mountains today, checked into a B&B, took a long, hot bath in a claw foot tub (HERE'S my tub!), and am about to crawl into bed with my story and a banana.

I don't know why the banana.

It's sort of like my story: I don't know "why" -- or better yet, WHAT, with this letter. I just don't know. But it IS. It's there. It needs to connect. It needs to have resonance, and it needs to lead me to the end. Somehow. I've been stuck here forever. I've tried numerous paths out of the weeds, but I just keep getting stuck.

I made a list of all the secrets this letter could contain. None of them worked. Then I ditched the letter. The whole story began to shake. I need that letter. So... what? What? Waaaaaaah!

WHAT, already!

So. I'll fiddle until sleep comes, and then I'll work with middle schoolers tomorrow. Stephens County Middle School in Toccoa, Georgia. I'm so looking forward to hanging with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.

What a place this is -- mountains and waterfalls everywhere.

Maybe the mists and the mountains will work some magic.

9 Days -- Deep Wells

Shhhh.... Here sits a working writer, working.

I'm not in the bathtub. I'm in the pink chair. But I covet this bathtub. I saw it at my friend Ruthie's house recently. We were fresh from a funeral, and everyone was somber, mostly strangers to one another, awkwardly shuffling around in the living room as the pot luck was arranged on the dining room table by too many helpers.

So I went to the bathroom, which is where I often go during awkward periods. It gives me something to do until the awkwardness passes.

As soon as I shut the door, I stuffed a EUREKA! back down my throat. Then I whipped out my camera.

I have been looking for this bathtub forever. It's deep. It's cast iron. It has a wide ledge on one side. It's simple. And I want one.

There is nothing quite so soothing to my soul as a good bath with lighted candles, a few drops of lavender essential oil in the hot sudsy water, and about six hours to kill. I do good thinking in the bath. Story knots come undone (I wonder if I can count this bathtub as a business expense?). Next to climbing Stone Mountain, the bath is the place I do my best thinking about story. (And the best thinking about nothing.)
I have lots of water-spattered notebooks from jumping up to scribble down a thought that came to me in the bath.

I bought this house almost five years ago, and I've been remodeling it, bit by bit. Now it's time for a deep bathtub. I've been waiting. It's past time, actually.

I don't want jets and whirlpools or air massage or chromotherapy. I just want a solid bathtub.

I don't care what else we do to the bathroom, actually, as long as I find a soaker tub. I'm talking DEEP. A 60 x 30 x 20 or 21 or 22"deep bathtub. And I don't want to spend $3000.

Where oh where? How oh how? I've been looking for months. Literally. It seems they don't make this tub anymore. I might be looking in the wrong places. If you know where I should look, will you tell me? I've tried bath showrooms, Lowe's, Home Depot everywhere, Craig's List, Freecycle, online sellers, ebay and more.

I wish I could ask you to do this with my novel. Where or where? How oh how? If you know how I can get to the end of my novel, will you tell me? hahaha. Not.

I used to put this Red Smith quote at the top of my syllabus for ECED422, Writing Techniques for Teachers, at Towson University: "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

I want my novel to be like my dream bathtub:
deep and beautiful, with a strong and sturdy throughline, a compelling story that readers (and bathers) will want to come back to again and again.

So I keep coming back again and again. I stare at the page, then stare into space, like I'm trying to see through frosted glass, into the unknown.

But I'm making progress. I'm bleeding across the page this afternoon.

10 Days -- The Great Assemblage

Thank you, thank you, for the mail, for the encouragement. I'm here. I just needed a couple of hours to sleep like the dead after a school visit today, at Brookwood Elementary in Snellville, Georgia. Great school. Wonderful students. Stellar teachers.

Students stayed right with me today -- I move quickly and we cover a lot of ground. One intrepid 4th-grade teacher was reading LITTLE BIRD with her class. That class took far more away from assembly than any other in that session -- it adds tremendously to the experience if students and teachers are familiar with my books.

We say this all the time, we authors, and it sounds self-serving, perhaps, but it's not. It's really for YOU that we say it. You are paying us to come and share with your students, and the deepest sharing, the most meaningful connections -- the most long lasting results of this day -- come when students are prepared for that particular author, when they know the characters in that author's books, are familiar with the stories -- their faces shine when they recognize those characters, that storyline, and we laugh with recognition at how they are like us.

Here's a shout-out to the two writing teachers at Brookwood who are using FREEDOM SUMMER with their second graders. I was floored at these kids' faces... they were radiant. I was amazed at how deeply they understood this story, how much they resonated to the theme of justice -- an abstract term if ever there was one... but these seven-year-olds got it. And we were able to talk about Joe and John Henry and friendship in ways that would not have been possible if they were coming cold to the story.

One more thing I want to mention about Brookwood. This is a school where writing workshop takes place every day in every grade -- Every day! Every grade! And it shows. In the fifth grade assembly today, teachers brought their notebooks (I have all fourth and fifth grade students bring notebooks to assembly), and teachers were working, right alongside their students. Marvelous modeling. Excellent. I have learned to use chart paper in assembly now, to model what I want to see as well... a constantly evolving thing, teaching writing within the assembly. And I love it.

I also love my story, and got no further on it today. But you know I was going to say that. I knew I would have four days in this 13 that were not going to be writing days. But tomorrow -- tomorrow I start in fresh and will be the better for having had a break.

So... tomorrow. Until then. For now -- I'm off to pick out a bathtub and some paint. Thanks so much to media specialist Kris Burnett for working with me and putting together such a great day at Brookwood. Thank you, teachers! Thank you, students. Don't forget to tell your stories.

11 Days -- Mindless Meandering

I'm sifting today, that's all I can give as an excuse. I must be sifting all that white heat writing of the last two days. Making connections here and there, subconsciously. Who knows. I do know that nothing I did today helped me move my story forward, if you count moving forward in words, which I do right now.

I took myself out to work today. Stoney and Jim Williams were doing their bathroom renovating thing, and I told myself I needed to be elsewhere. So I drove to Panera and settled myself in my favorite spot there. I was soon surrounded by five mothers and their toddlers. There was very loud talk about recessive genes, lotteries for special schools, training pants, milk allergies, husbands, and lots of "come back here!"

A sippy cup sailed too close for comfort.

So I moved to the back of the room, to the crummy tables and the bathrooms. Then I had to go to the bathroom, but so did each kid at the aforementioned tables, one at a time, with each mother. There was lots of flushing and hand washing. I waited. When they all left the restaurant, fifteen hours later, I went to the bathroom and then reclaimed my primo table.

Then the music was too loud. I ordered a salad -- I'd at least eat, and then find a quieter place -- and I inquired after the music. The gracious manager turned it down two notches. So I ate my salad, and stared at my story. But I couldn't concentrate. I just couldn't concentrate.

It was 18 degrees in Atlanta this morning. My steering wheel was so frozen, it hurt my hands to hold on to it. (Of course I don't have gloves; I live in Hotlanta.) By the time I left Panera, we had us a little heat wave going on. It was 34 degrees. And, inside my car, with the bright sun spilling everywhere, it was almost toasty.

This heartened me. So I drove to my local coffee shop, Mighty Joe's. I walked through the door, hailed my friends, and ordered a decaf. Then I looked around and saw that there was not one unoccupied table. Not one. I looked at my watch. Lunchtime. My construction friends would be gone for lunch. So I took myself back home, only to find Stoney and Jim Williams eating bag lunches at the table next to my writing place by the fire. Bless their hearts.

I smiled a wan smile and took myself back out again. I went to the library. There was not one parking place available. Not one. And this is a tiny library with a huge parking lot.

So I drove around aimlessly. I actually did this. I aimlessly drove around Tucker, Georgia. I said it out loud: I am driving around aimlessly!

Do you ever have days like this? What do you do about them?

I went to a 12-step meeting.

Now I am home, my workers are gone for the day, Jim has made a friendly fire in the fireplace, and I am sitting in my pink chair. I am going to work. Here I go. Yep, here I go. Here. I. Go. Go. Go...

12 Days -- Filling In

Don't look too closely. This attractive space was home to my toilet for 37 years. (How that for a lead?)

Today was all about creating and filling in.

To bed at 1am, woke at 4 -- excited about today's presidential inauguration, a bit anxious because I know daughter Hannah will be in the thick of things, and eager to get back to my story. So I got up and started right in.

I've finished a second draft of the Harry Truman piece that acts as a bridge between the fifites and the sixties and explains the scary mood that opens the Sixties Trilogy, with the Cold War about to peak.

If you've read the John Dos Passos trilogy U.S.A., you'll know what I mean about "opinionated biographies." I'm working on several of these, and this one comes first. I had left it blank and had written around it, now I'm writing it. I have several of these blanks -- I've had to figure out how to make them work best for the story.

When I wrote LITTLE BIRD, the Life Notices and newspaper articles and recipes came last. I had to concentrate on the narrative first. That's what I've done here, too. I've left blanks to fill in, and those blanks -- song lyrics, newspaper clippings, ads, recipes and more -- all have work to do. They have purpose. As I make them do their work, I rework the narrative -- I don't have to explain so much, I can smooth and cut and tweak.

I also don't have an ending to the story yet. Well, not completely true -- I know how it ends. It's getting there that's plaguing me. Once again I have thrown out a huge chunk -- I removed an entire subplot after talking with my editor last week and having that light-bulb effect a few hours later -- oh! OH!

Now I'm rearranging my thoughts -- AGAIN -- and it's too much. HOW do I GET there? So I've let it go, and I'm filling in my blanks. And it's hard work. How do you write a biography -- very opinionated at that -- of Harry Truman and explain the origins of the Cold War in under 1000 words?

500 would be better. I'm doing my best, and I'll rely on an editorial eye when I'm done.

And, to be honest, two weeks ago Harry Truman was not on my radar -- I hadn't considered him necessary or appropriate. But he appeared, and he works here, and I have gone to town researching, to get up to speed on Give-'em-hell Harry.

So. Wrote from four to eight this morning. Wrestled that bio to the mat. Took a break and watched the inauguration, went out for lunch with my husband, came back to my desk (er.. pink chair). And now, workers have left for the day. There is no toilet in the master bath, as you can see -- that space needs to be filled in, too. We've got some creating to do.

There's a fire in the fireplace. I'm sipping very hot Throat Coat tea. My voice -- an entire week after the school visit where I lost it -- is still croaky. I need it to be in top form the day after tomorrow, when I'm in schools again. Honey. More honey.

I'll work a late-afternoon session now, then treat myself to inauguration festivities on television while I knit. One can only concentrate for so long (this one, anyway).

Heard from Hannah. She worked for the Obama campaign for months, she swung Ohio, she had a purple ticket to a special section to watch the inauguration... and she never got through the gate and onto the mall, despite the fact that she was there at 6am. If she had been there at four.... maybe.

Still. She's safe. She's got a ball to attend. And it has been a good day today. A good day. And that's saying a lot.

13 Days

On February 1, I will send off whatever I have of this new novel to my editor, David Levithan, at Scholastic. Please God, may I have an entire book, Book One of The Sixties Trilogy. (Working title: THE END OF THE ROPE. This will change.)

Remember my first line? "I am eleven years old and I am invisible."

Franny Chapman wants to survive nuclear attack, if it comes, and she's pretty certain it will, in October 1962, outside of Washington, D.C. She's writing a letter to JFK and Chairman Khrushchev. She's spying on her older sister, Jo Ellen. She's fighting with her best friend, Margie.

Halloween is just around the corner. So is a gravel pit, a brother who wants to be an astronaut, a fighter-pilot dad, a perfect-hostess mom, and crazy Uncle Otts, World War I vet, who is the self-proclaimed neighborhood air-raid warden. Can you say embarrassment?

Then there is the boy across the street. Don't get me started on the boy across the street, or on those 13 days in October when the world came as close as it has ever come to nuclear annihilation.

That's what I'm writing about, in the larger sense. But it's Franny's story.

I have 13 days to finish it. Same time frame as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I have so much left to do.

I am going to post here every day, and I will twitter multiple times per day (you can see these at twitter, or by going to this blog's online presence -- where some of you are now). I will also separately update my fan page (haha! FIFTY FANS! We're going to have to rent a stadium! Or a stake-bed truck) from under the blankets draped across the furniture. Oh, the perks of being in the all-inclusive club.

So there are several ways to keep up if you are 1) interested and 2) willing to cheer me on. I am seriously behind, but I am determined. You can opt out at any time, of course, you can ignore me the next 13 days, etc., but I could use your energy and good wishes, which is why I'm going to pepper you with posts. I may not be able to reply to comments, but I'll be living on every word.

I tend to write in white heats. I sink down, down, down, and the world goes away while I concentrate for many hours, days, weeks at a time. This next 12 days, I will be in that place, but I will also have three school visits to do, locally, and a non-functioning bathroom. All of this was scheduled when I was going to be done by November 1, of course.

I spent the weekend in my pajamas, in the pink chair, by the fire, laptop and coffee and concentration. I got dressed to go to dinner with Jim last night, as I had eaten nothing but half a chocolate bar all day. Today I ate some Triscuits and mozzarella. I polished it off with a diet Barq's and called it dinner.

This afternoon I researched until I had to take a nap. I read about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I. I read all about Harry Truman (Harry Truman -- who knew! And I found a wonderful primary source -- his letters to Bess).

I collected recipes from Peg Bracken's I HATE TO COOK BOOK. I gathered the top 100 tunes from 1960 through 1962. I listened to Sam Cooke ("Don't know much about history..." bliss), and studied up on the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary. I took notes on the 1960 Olympics in Rome (Wilma Rudolph, Cassius Clay, Rafer Johnson) and on the 1962 integration of Ole Miss, when federal marshalls escorted James Meredith to register and Governor Ross Barnett refused him at the door. What a time.

I read the following comment on a blog about sixties appetizers, laughed out loud, immediately wanted to create this character, and settled instead for stealing her style and using it to tell you about my dinner:

My mother used to take a slice of salami and put a slice of provolone on top. Then she'd put a plop of prepared tuna salad in the middle, lay an anchovy across it, roll it up and put a toothpick in the whole thing. Then she'd throw back a Grasshopper or a Pink Flamingo, tug on her Doris Day wig, and call it a party.

Yeah! These are the people I'm writing about! I hope they make you laugh. So back to it, armed with today's research to answer the questions I bumped against today. I'm also going to take a bath, because tomorrow, as I said, the bathroom... goes. This is just the sort of distraction I need in the next 13 days.

I was supposed to be done a long time ago, you'll remember. My goal had been Nov. 1. Then I lost an editor in October, lost momentum, began fall travels, slid into the holidays, and... well, now I'm finishing, and the bathroom is beginning, and I will not be delayed again! So. Bath. Then bed. Then -- 12 days.

This and That

Feeling red, white, and blue as we head into inauguration weekend.

Here's how you can, too, at Obamicon.Me, courtesy of the fun folks at Atlanta-based Paste Magazine.

I look kinda like Zorro in this picture.


Happy Weekend. I'm going to spend mine with my face planted in the Sixties. I hope to send off this novel next week!

PeeEss: Facebook Fanpage Update:
40 members! 40! The teeming masses just keep flooding in!

I must not have told y'all about the initiation. :>

But don't worry: there will be cocoa and marshmallows after. Real cocoa. Homemade by me, with dark chocolate and whole milk and whipped cream. And stories in the candle-lighted dark, around my crackling fire.

Do I know how to run a club, or what? Time for me to step back and let new president Annie Gage plan the agenda for our first meeting (will we send out glossy autographed photos?), and Jan Olafson, Activities Director, plan the crafts (I have glitter and glue sticks), and Sandi Thomas, Chief Decorator, drape the living room tastefully with blankets (I have plenty of blankets AND encyclopedias to keep the blankets from sliding off the furniture).

Thanks for volunteering, friends! See y'all tonight!

32 Fans

I now have a Facebook fan page, and I have 32 fans. Thirty-two fans! It's nice to know I have 32 fans online, in one place. Such a friendly place, too.

This message is just for you, you 32 fans. Welcome to the fan club! I have never had a fan club before, although, as a kid, I started a secret club or two... the kind where you had to have a password or a secret knock to get in. I loved the idea of those clubs, but we really didn't know what to DO with them. It was more the idea that we had a club, than we actually DID anything. So we ended up disbanding after a while, just sort of frittering away from one another, bored, nothing to do, might as well go watch cartoons.

I don't want that to happen to the Deborah Wiles Fan Club. So let's make some plans. Let's have cookouts and pinochle parties and make peanut brittle. Let's camp out in summer and use flashlights to chart the constellations. Let's build snow forts in winter and play outside until ice cakes our mittens. And let's exclude nobody. Nobody. I mean... there is nothing worse in a secret club (or any club) than feeling excluded.

So all 32 of us -- let's get to know one another. Let's make sweet tea and egg-salad sandwiches and have a get-to-know-you social, so we're all comfy with one another, and let's build a fort in the woods with sticks and mud. I know a place, a great place.

Let's ride bikes!

We'll get to know one another so well, we won't even consider new members, but of course we will, because we're an inclusive bunch, remember, so we won't turn new members away. But we won't advertise ourselves, either -- when we have meetings, we'll hide under blankets draped over the furniture because, with just 32 of us, we've got a really intimate group! The perfect number for two teams of touch football and a heap of cheerleaders, and even a few someones to supply us with Fizzies and cheese dogs.

I think we're pretty perfect, just as we are. 32 fans. Geeez. Thanks so much.

Technology and Pie Crust

I have a new, homemade, blog banner. It doesn't quite fit, does it?

This is the one I first created:

I REALLY had trouble making this one fit.


Resolved: 2009 will bring some professional techie help and a complete overhaul of my poor website, which has been built from the ground up by me (and one other kind writer soul who got me started), and shows it. It's eight years old this year, and it's time for a fresh, clean look.

I'm hoping to include this blog on the sparkly new website, and perhaps move everything over to WordPress: anyone have thoughts on WordPress as a blog/website? Anyone love TypePad better? I'm gathering opinions. I've gone about as far as a neophyte can go, using Dreamweaver and Blogger, and have reached the point of diminishing returns. I'm going to hire someone to help me move into the 21st century.

I have lived a mostly self-taught, hand-made life, and that includes my approach to writing. But there is a time and place for professional help. At several points along the way, I got professional help with my writing (thank you, Anne at RH, Liz at Harcourt, the HTGs, and Nancy Johnson at FCC, not to mention my colleagues at Vermont College).

Now I'm assessing the help I need technologically. I made a list: Website. Blog. And:

I'm buying a new camera. I've exhausted myself with possibilities and options, so much so, that I'm at a stalemate on which one. What's your favorite? I need a camera for sharp close-ups (all that food!) and low light. Great zoom and clarity is nice, too. I've been using a Canon A630 and have loved it, but need an upgrade now. It doesn't have to be an SLR. I just need great shots.

Next, I'm breaking down and buying an MP3 player. I listen to Sixties tunes all the time now, as I revise or think about what I've written, and I want something I can take with me on a walk up Stone Mountain, or to my pink chair at 4am when I go to work -- right now I'm using headphones with my laptop and downloaded music. I also want to be able to listen to NPR or the oldies station when I jump around on my tramp or walk the neighborhood.

So. A Zune. 4GB or 8GB? (I can't imagine needing more space than this -- I am not a podcast or movie or take-photos-with-me person, although I guess I could become one, and I always hear "buy UP" so maybe the 8GB for now...)

I want a Zune because of its FM radio, not to mention I like bucking the iPod trend (although I must admit I covet an iPhone... but will not buy one... now). And yet, after all the good things I heard about iPod possibilities in Lisa Yee's iPod University class... well, I may need to look into this more, at some point.

There are other techie goals on my 2009 list. I want to talk about social networking at some point. Those of you who visit my blog on the web (as opposed to receiving it in email or a reader) know that I use twitter to update you daily on what I'm doing, in between posts. I like this kind of communication.

And, I finally joined Facebook. After an initial nekkid-making moment that made me disable my account and cancel most of my "friends," I reinstated the account, and have found ways to make Facebook tenable and even useful (dare I say "fun"?)

And, railing against my hide-out instincts, I created a Facebook fan page. So far, I have no fans. But I haven't told people -- until now -- that the page exists.

So... I am learning, ever the student. I've been reading Publishing Talk on the web -- the intersection of books, authors, publishers, and social media. It's an interesting conversation and fits into another 2009 techie goal, which is to figure out where and how I'm comfortable using social media (like this blog, Facebook, twitter and more) and how useful it feels to the overall way I'd like to communicate.

I expect I'll be talking about this, this year, as a writer who wants and needs to connect for various reasons, but who is also a very private person -- such a conundrum. So I'm adding a category/tag/label to the blog this year for social networking.

I expect I'll be talking about some of my personal resolutions for 2009 as well, one of which is to master pie crust. Any thoughts on THAT? I hope I don't have to face the fact that I'm a pie crust loser. That would be worse than not figuring out Facebook.

With All Deliberate Randomness

I like these tomatoes.

And these beans.

I had no idea how many cans of each I had until Hannah organized the pantry between Christmas and New Year's Eve, beckoned me to admire her handiwork, and proclaimed, laughing, "No More Tomatoes!" Then she summoned everyone within earshot, to show them just how obsessed I am with these particular tomatoes. And beans. And I just smiled and said, "There's a method to my madness...."

Ever since then, the running joke at my house has been, "Do we have any tomatoes?"

Last year, it was "Do we have any mustard?"

I use these fire-roasted tomatoes so often, and have run out of them so many times, that I have gotten into the habit this past year of chucking a few cans into the cart every time I go to the Rainbow Grocery or Kroger.

It occurred to me, as I stared at this bounty on my pantry shelves... this madness is how I structure a novel. With my current novel (yes, the one I have been blathering on about for months), I have been collecting and stockpiling my tomato treasures against the day I run out of my beloved possibilities. I have been collecting and storing and stacking neatly in chunks, in a very organized way. My novel looks like Hannah's handiwork.

Time to be more haphazard.

Of course, it won't really be haphazard. I know what I'm doing. I had a eureka moment between Christmas and New Year's Eve, when I knew exactly what I needed to do in this draft, to make it come together -- I needed to unstack my tomatoes and tuck them, can by can, into just-the-right places in my novel, on just-the-right shelf, each one, carefully, in a haphazard-looking manner, but all arranged to look like my pantry did before Hannah got hold of it. If that makes sense. Back to the deranged look. Only it's not deranged. Think of the letters and recipes and newspaper clippings and songs and poems and notes and radio snippets inserted throughout RUBY, LITTLE BIRD, and ALL-STARS. Time to be deliberately random.

It's very nice to have these Hannah-organized shelves... on some level it's important. I wouldn't change a thing she's done, and I appreciate her efforts. Now I can stop buying tomatoes, for one thing.

On the other hand... those imposing, stacked tomatoes don't feel like real life to me. Real life, as Uncle Edisto tells us, is messy. It's not organized, no matter how hard we try to contain it. The best we can hope for is some semblance of sweet routine, and meaningful daily rituals. And I do have routine and rituals. Well... I work toward them.

In this long saga of bringing 1962 to life for young readers, it's time to move the tomatoes.

This is a milestone place. To celebrate, I shall make something with these tomatoes. And beans. A soup, most likely. A vegetarian chili, perhaps. I'll rustle up a salad. I'll make my famous cornbread from scratch. And I'm inviting you to share this meal with me.

I want you to come over and sit at my table, you faithful and loyal readers and writers and teachers and librarians and fans and friends -- family, all. For we are family, you know -- we have made a little community, here at One Pom, because we risk enough to read and relate and comment and write and tell our stories... and to listen to each other's stories.

By risking, we create little families, little pockets of people all over the place, connected people of all shapes, sizes, blends, beliefs. We nurture one another, take care of each other, look after one another's welfare, ask after each other, become part of one another's narratives.

I have loved every moment of connecting with you this past year. I have loved your wonderful emails -- every single one of them -- and your kindnesses, your thoughtfulness, and your encouragement. I have treasured your stories.

So, lean across this candle-lit table of a New Year's meal I'm preparing for you. I want to thank you. It has been such a pleasure and such a privilege to be part of your lives this past year, to have you as part of my life.

Happy 2009. Thank you for taking such good care of me.

Do we have any tomatoes?