good storytelling

Hey there. I want to direct your attention today to the New York Times' annual feature "The Lives They Lived." Usually the Times profiles the famous who have passed away that year, but 2011's subhead is "These American Lives: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives."

Not famous, then, but even better, to my mind, the stories of ordinary people. And they are amazing. The one that had me in tears was "Uneasy Rider" by Mike DeStefano, an HIV-positive comedian who died last year. He tells a story about riding his girlfriend (who was in hospice care at the time) on the back of his motorcycle one last time, IV bottle held high, hospital gown flying. An excerpt:

I’ll never do anything that great again. Freakin’ HBO specials, whatever you want to give to me, nothing will be better than that because it was such a deep reckoning within myself that I am not a piece of crap, that I don’t deserve to stick needles in my arm. I am a good person, look what I’m capable of. I’m capable of deep love and commitment, you know? That was my whole life was taking care of her..

Start there, and you can make your way around, if you like. Good storytelling.


Hey there. Hope you had a great weekend. We stuck close to home, close together, and did a whole lot of nuthin' (which was really a whole lot of sumpthin') because that's just what we'd planned. Some work together, some play together, some eating together, some sleeping together.  A together kind of weekend. Perfect.

All those quilts and blankets were on our bed! They got a proper airing, and then I retired some of them. Somehow, we build little forts in our big bed every winter, as we turn down the heat at night. "I need an extra blanket" -- "so do I!" -- and on it goes, until we've got fifty pounds of blankets piled on us in the winter nights, some on his side, some on mine, depending on whose feet are coldest or shoulders are shivering.

The tarte tatin was a treat -- we're not using sugar these days, so a real delight it was. The recipe is adapted from Michael Ruhlman's recipe here. I used apples instead of quince, as I had so many of them. I had been inspired to make this while watching David Levobitz's "Visit to a Paris Market" wherein he makes an apple tarte tatin. So, kind of like writing a novel, where you pull and little from here, there, who-knows-where, this dish was a little David, a little Michael, a little Debbie, and voila! Tarte Tatin. We loved it, even though I burned it a bit in the cast iron skillet. It was still lovely, and I will try again, and next time I will do better.

But my pie crust was perfect. Perfect! I texted my daughter: "I have finally mastered pie crust!" and when she texted me back "woo! congratulations!" I texted again, "tutorial on request!" at which she just laughed.  Now I have to find low calorie, low carb recipes (hahaha) for this decidedly non-low-calorie-carb pie crust, so I can make this crust over and over again. Made a quiche. Made a tarte tatin. What's next?

And all from the inspiration I got from watching David's video, which took me back to France, which is where I was headed for my junior year of college way back in the dark ages, only I never actually got there because... well, it's a long story that broke my heart until it didn't, but I pined for France. For years. Decades. I had taken French lessons since I was nine. I was fairly fluent by the time I went to college.I had memorized pictures and places and dates and had my favorites already picked out, my course already charted...

Isn't that the way it is, though? We think we know what we're doing (even with a novel), and then life tosses us a left curve. And, if we can stay with that curve, work with it, learn to embrace it, it has so much to teach us. That's what happened to me, anyway, even though at first I went kicking and screaming all the way, and then learned to love my life more than I can say. It's all good, and all is well.

This might not be the time to bring up the idea of going to France for my birthday in two years... so I won't. I'll talk about that later.  Ahem.

In the meantime, I took to my clean, Sunday morning bedroom this weekend and caught up in my google reader while Jim played at his steady Sunday church gig. The weekend was a bit carb heavy and yet totally restorative (including the texting-watching of Downton Abbey and Once Upon a Time with Cousin Carol on Sunday night, while finishing off the popcorn and also knitting several more rows on Abby's sweater. Who says I don't still multitask? Who says I'm not overly chatty today?)

And now it's Monday. I'm ready to go to work. I don't even know what chapter I'm working in, as I label each chapter "chapter next" as I'm working in draft, as I often pull a chapter or replace one or add one in along the way. This "chapter next" saves me the trouble of having to re-number.

At any rate, I've rested myself and my wee brain, and I'm ready to tackle the week's work. January is almost over! One month of my twelve home. I want to make the most of each day, so off I go to Greenwood, Mississippi, 1964, Freedom Summer, for book two of the sixties trilogy. An update on my month's progress, along with current questions, next.

Have a great week, y'all. 

mid-month check-in

Whew. I'm almost three weeks in to this year of being mostly home and I'm realizing lots of things:
 ::  Helpers are fun. Abby is digesting The Good Earth so I don't have to. Sunny is reading The Good Earth in book two, as well as 16 Magazine.

::  Juicing is not my thing. I miss cooking too much. I felt good when following a whole foods, plant-based diet and have gone back to it.

:: I want to write something for young readers that includes cooking.

:: Music *is* my thing. I'm enjoying the playlist that's coming together for book two.  I'm enjoying watching the piano "lessons" with Grandpa Jim and Abby.

::  While routines *are* my thing, schedules are not. Does that make sense?  I don't know what that means yet, just noticing. It's as if I set a schedule and immediately try to figure out how to circumvent it.

:: Last year I committed to more handwork. I'm doing that again this year. I like doing handwork in front of the television, always have, so now I'm watching (if you can call it that) while I knit, after many years' absence from teevee. Once Upon A Time and Downton Abbey. And Pan Am. I know, I know. And the Golden Globes, a tradition with me'n'Hannah. Aside: Mad Men returns March 25! We'll be planning a premiere dinner just as we did last season and the one before. Hmmm... actually, those two links should be swapped. Julia Child was two seasons ago, and the fun but ridiculous processed foods dinner was last season (1964).

:: I may talk less here about writing and more about finding balance. It was hard to find on the road, but it's an art to find at home, too.

:: I need to pull out my battered copy of  The Writer's Journey by Chris Vogler and use it to figure out the structure of this current novel. I have a timeline, but that's not the same as plot. How do I get Sunny from event to event, and what happens to her in between? Who are her mentors, who are her enemies, and what is the treasure she seeks? What does she want?

:: I know these things, but I need to know them on a more tangible level now, instead of that gut level I tend to write from. This is such a big story -- so many characters and so much happening. I get mixed up and then stalled. I haven't used The Writer's Journey since I plotted my first novel, Love, Ruby Lavender. It's time to take another look at that mythic structure for storytellers.

:: Structure and framework interests me so much right now. I look at these photos of Abby at the piano with her grandpa and I can practically see her mind putting together the if-then thinking that goes with structuring: How does this work? Oh, I see! I touch (bang) these keys and a sound comes out of this rectangular box!
:: I like being home. I stay inside for days at a time, working on the novel, creating routines, skittering around the schedule, stoking the fire, not wearing makeup or planning a trip. I don't know where my wireless remote is, the one I use for PowerPoint presentations. I do know where my knitting row-counter is, where the Thai curry paste is, and where my favorite leggings are.

::  I'm thinking about measuring success. What does that mean? Is it enough to have gone through the day with mindfulness and kindness? Is it enough to have love and sustenance and music and some well-chosen words as requisites for the day's journey? Sometimes I think so. This  year I want to slow down and think about just what success means, what a day needs, and what my heart is trying to tell me.

Abby has no intention of slowing down. Her world is all about discovery these days. Even at the piano, at some point, she's ready to move on and see what else is out there in the big world.
 :: I'm enjoying my own version of seeing what's next.

1 down, 51 to go

I woke at 4am, wide awake, worried about my IRS appeal. hahahaha. Well, it's true. I've been hit with a penalty for late filing, but I filed an extension before my tax deadline. The IRS evidently didn't receive the extension, and my accountant didn't send the paperwork by return receipt or delivery confirmation. So I called the IRS last month, and we are working it out, and all will be well, but I have this paperwork to do, you see.
 And I didn't do it this week. I wrote, every day, twice a day. Hooray! But I need dedicated time to do paperwork, time when I'm not chomping to get back to the writing (or dreading it, as the case may be and has been some this week).
 So I'm going to shift the schedule some. I'll write on Friday mornings, break for lunch, and dedicate Friday afternoons to administrative tasks and errands that need tending. Then, I'll slip in a block of writing time on Saturday morning (hmmm... maybe) before the day gets away, Sunday off, begin again Monday.
 Week One is almost done. 51 weeks to go, in this year I've bought myself off the road. What did I do with this week? That comes next. I've got to answer the IRS first.
And yeah, there's a reason for the food photos. I'll explain later. It has to do with a story. Actually, a couple of stories that have been brewing for some time. Stick with me...

new year, new routines

This year I am home more than away for the first time in ten years. I have four gigs (as Jim calls them) in 2012, each purposely chosen for certain reasons we'll get to during the year when I actually do travel. I can't tell you how strange it feels to be looking into January and not planning for travel. Frees and lets loose all kinds of energy.
 Other than those four working travels, I am home this year to write. I have big plans. I'll parse them out over the year, here, so let me start by saying I'm working on book two of the sixties trilogy now, trying to get the draft to where I can send it to my editor, so he can do his thing and they can do their thing at Scholastic, so we can get permissions for the scrapbook elements, so design can get going, so the revision notes can come, and so the book really begins to take shape.
 I hate to admit how much is not done yet. Conversely, I love knowing how much is known; it's just not pulled together in a linear narrative. This book will have a huge cast of characters and an enormous task: to bring Freedom Summer, 1964 Mississippi, alive for its readers.

Not only that; there's more, but that's a start, and it's the heart of the work just ahead.
 I have a year to see what it's like to be a full-time writer who is not on the road over 100 days a year to make her living. I bought myself this year. And I hope to use it well.

To that end, things will change. I've got new routines and new schedules. I've put together a ten-hour weekday for myself and it's working nicely so far. I've got a solid block of writing time in the morning, and another in the afternoon. I've got a fat block of time in the middle to do the things that need doing in the middle. I've got time available after those ten-hour days (they start early) and on weekends for friends and family and other pursuits. Sounds like a real job, doesn't it? It is, and I intend to treat it as such.
 I work right here, in my own office, in my own home. I have no commuting time to factor in. I have my own gym (more or less). I have my own health care plan (expensive). I have an on-site, fully stocked kitchen where I can eat what's good for me. It's a simple set-up, and I'm ready to work.

I need to be my own best employer this year in order to make this year count, which is why I'm writing about it here, in order to be accountable to myself. I'll use this space and my facebook page to share what I'm working on, to house some of my working notes, and to tweak and shape and catalog this gift of one year to write. I may not get another one, and I'm aware of that. 
It's a new day in a new year. How will I define success? Success is a strange word; it means lots of different things to me. I won't worry right now about what it looks like. I know what happens this year will largely depend on how and where I focus.

So let's do this thing. I'm ready.