October 19, 2021 @ 4:55 pm | Filed under: Books
We finished The Whisper of Glocken last week and I’m in mourning—no more Carol Kendall books to read aloud. We did The Firelings, The Gammage Cup, and Whisper all in a row, and that’s it. Kendall did write four more books (as far as I can tell)—three for kids and an adult mystery‚ but I’ve never been able to track them down anywhere. ONE DAY. She’s got to be in my top five authors. A magical way with words, characters with flaws and foibles, and utterly unique worldbuilding and plotlines. And funny!
The only antidote for my Carol Kendall withdrawal: Moomins, of course. And here we are sliding toward the end of October, the perfect time to begin Moominvalley in November. I wouldn’t say I usually identify with the Fillyjonk, but today I was really feeling her:
“She began to feel cold because of the rain, and because she had tumbled all the way through her life in a single second, and she decided to make herself a cup of coffee. but she when opened the cupboard in the kitchen, she saw for the first time that she had far too much china. Such an awful lot of coffee cups. Far too many serving dishes and roasting dishes, and stacks of plates, hundreds of things to eat from and eat on, and only one Fillyjonk. And who would have them all when she died?”
Substitute books and pens for the dishes, and that’s my house. Hundreds of things to read and write, and only one me. ::heavy autumnal sigh::
Snufkin is my favorite, of course. He set off for the wilds in early fall, and now, a few weeks in, he’s feeling like he wants to write songs. He’s listening and waiting, knowing the melody is somewhere in Moominvalley waiting for him to find it.
“There are millions of tunes that are easy to find and there will always be new ones. But Snufkin let them alone, they were summer songs which would do for just anybody. He crept into his tent and into his sleeping bag and pulled it over his head. The faint whisper of rain and running water was still there and it had the same tender note of solitude and perfection. But what did rain mean to him as long as he couldn’t write a song about it?”
Reading: Gathering Moss (still, slowly, with lots of marginalia); Black Birds in the Sky, Brandy Colbert’s chilling account of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Reading aloud: The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall—only a few chapters to go, and I’ll miss it when it’s over.
Listening to: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (audiobook). Am listening to these all out of order, whatever comes into Overdrive first. Excellent company during evening stitching time.
Watching: The Morning Show, season 2, with Scott; Tiny World with the kids
Learning about: saeksilnubi (a traditional Korean quilting art) and Roam Research (an incredibly useful notekeeping/mind-mapping tool). Also some basic Korean as I work to translate pattern instructions.
Remembering: Rilla in 2009:
3yo asks, in a knowing way, “Mom, what do you like?”
Of course I say, “I like YOU.”
She looks perplexed: “I thought you liked chocolate!”
Noticing: leaves starting to go yellow all over the neighborhood; the last tomatoes splitting on the vine; a downy woodpecker at the suet feeder
Feeling: mildly feverish and very achy (got my Pfizer booster yesterday)
Stitching: too many things all at once. A saeksilnubi panel for a small crossbody bag. Several handstitched drawstring bags to give as presents. A secret embroidery project. Another secret embroidery project.
Writing: A novel outline; a Brave Writer Dart on Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree.
Glorious soaking rain all day yesterday, and more today. I’m so ready for it. My yard is so ready for it! Our summer water bill was shocking—so many gallons poured into keeping alive the eleven large potted rosebushes my neighbor gave me when she moved. I love them so much…and I think I’m going to offer some (most?) of them on our local Buy Nothing list. A plan not without pain, but that water bill was pretty painful too.
I’ve been in full-throttle high-tide mode for my own projects, and rather low-key middlish tide with Huck and Rilla. We’re about halfway through The Whisper of Glocken; nearly finished with our current Math-U-See book; enjoying Tiny World, especially the part about the absolutely bananas creature called the “mad hatterpillar,” a caterpillar who keeps its outgrown head-skins in a tall stack on top of its head. When its predator, the assassin bug, strikes, the deadly spike shoots its poison into the stack of gross dead head-skins. I’m beyond fascinated, especially when I contemplate the role of natural selection in this bizarre trait. It’s not like there could have been a genetic trait for an old head getting stuck on top of the new one when it got shed. Maybe a tendency toward stickier outgrown skins?
I can’t find a creative commons photo that does it justice, so you should google it. Worth the click.
It’s totally going in my sketchbook, too. I’ve been sketching a lot lately! Mostly blind or semi-blind contour drawings of photos I’ve seen on Instagram. Probably some of yours!
Excited to be a part of this event! Words & Pictures Festival 2021, a virtual, two-day celebration of local authors and illustrators on October 9th and 10th. Events include a keynote address from local publisher Laura Stanfill of Forest Avenue Press, workshops and panels for writers, events for children and families, Imagined Ink writing workshops for teens, and author readings.
I’ll be doing a Nerviest Girl reading on Sunday 10/10 at 10am Pacific time. 10/10 at 10! Click the link above for more info and to register. It’s all virtual, so you can tune in from afar!
I’m in a good groove with posting right now! Lots of stuff happening on Patreon (including work-in-progress pics of a fun stitching project), and I’ve been busy on Instagram too. To encourage readers to order books early for holiday shopping, I’m posting a series of book recommendations in my IG Stories every day this week. Mostly middle-grade books and younger, with a few selections included for adults. The whole series is viewable in a Highlight on my Instagram profile page. Those links should work for you even if you aren’t an IG user (I think), but if you have trouble viewing them, let me know and I’ll figure something out.
Or you can visit my Bookshop.org storefront, where Beanie is helpfully compiling a list of all the titles I’m sharing. (That’s an affiliate link, but full disclosure, I’ve made less than $20 on Bookshop.org referral fees in total. Amazon referrals were much more lucrative, but I switched over to Bookshop.org quite a while ago, to better support independent bookstores.)
Speaking of Patreon
I added a new tier in August but haven’t told anyone about it (not even current Patreon members) until this moment. Most of my tiers are quite low cost ($1/month for weekly posts on creative practice; $3/month for behind-the-scenes project posts (both stitching and writing); $5/month for a book discussion). This new one is different: I’m offering a limited number of one-on-one sessions. Here’s the lowdown:
One-on-one tier ($60/month; feel free to jump up to it for a month or two, or it may be ongoing). This tier consists of a 45-minute private Zoom chat (and email followup) to work on solving a problem or puzzle you’ve been grappling with. Such as…
• Need help figuring out a social media platform or app, or help creating a social media plan?
• Want personalized recommendations for homeschooling or your reading life?
• Want someone to walk you through iPhone photography settings and how to use photo editing apps?
• Looking for a planner (digital or paper) that meets your specific needs?
• Need a jump-start with habit building or time management?
• Wondering how to establish a daily creative practice that nourishes and delights you?
*Note: just about the only topic I can’t tackle in these sessions is a manuscript critique. I can advise about research tactics, but I can’t chat about story ideas or give notes on a work-in-progress.
I’m offering ten spots at this time. I’d love to help you unpuzzle your puzzles! And you’ll be helping me pay some rather alarming dental bills. 😉 Everyone wins! (Especially the dentist.)
September 19, 2021 @ 11:36 am | Filed under: Books
This is maybe half of my stitching projects currently-in-progress. Plus a pair of middle-grade novels, a picture book, a blog/essay collectionish thing, a nonfiction project, and Brave Writer Dart #5 of the 10 I’m writing this year. (Yep, that’s the whole year’s Dart lineup. The books are SO GOOD, y’all. A joy to write about.) This is why I’m not very good at promoting the books I’ve already published—the ones I really really hope people will keep buying because I love them and want them to stay in print—and I’m low-level worried all the time about neglecting them, but I would always, always rather be working on the next thing than promoting the finished ones.
And buried in this pile are two hoops from a project I am truly over-the-moon excited about, a set of original designs, and it would be awfully nice if someone could rustle up a way to fit about six extra hours into the day. I’m not greedy—five or six will do!
And the whole time I’m stitching, I’m thinking about the books, the middle-grades* mostly. Or, well, that isn’t quite accurate, because at night I listen to audiobooks while I stitch. But reading is a big part of writing, too. So in a way it’s all in service of the work.
*(I can’t decide which to focus on so I’m mapping out two at once, set in the same world. I told a friend on Friday that I’d like to have proposals ready to send to my agent by mid-October. Which is maybe a reasonable goal if I kick the clean-out-the-garage project down the road until, like, spring??)
I love Charlie Gilkey’s book Start Finishing, and I’ve truly taken his advice to heart this past year, but BOY do I have a hard time with the crucial first step in his road map, which is recognizing that most of the time we can’t be actively moving forward on more than five projects at once.
And that’s if all systems are go, no health issues, etc. (In this house, there are always health issues. I’ve had a miserable time with asthma this past month. Which is partly why I’ve managed to do so much stitching: too fatigued for all the household projects I’d envisioned barreling through this fall. Silver linings.)
Anyway, five projects. Words that send me into helpless laughter petering out with a rueful groan. When I try to narrow down All the Things, I cheat a lot.
1. Homeschooling (an ongoing project, decades deep now)
2. Client work. Lots of it. Counts as one big ongoing project with many, many subtasks.
3. Books in progress. A major cheat to count them as one project. At a certain point, I have to tuck a bunch of ideas away and focus on just one manuscript. But this is not that point.
4. A wild card spot. Any kind of household project bigger than basic daily chores. OR: the ongoing project of navigating Wonderboy’s medical appts and services. There are periods where this becomes intense, with several appointments in a short span of time, and that’s for sure when other things on this list have to be back-burnered. OR: a biggish reading project; research; study.
5. Book outreach — the one I’m forever neglecting — my newsletter and blog posts and reaching out to podcasters & teachers. I mean, this is really a whole job by itself! There are, like, professionals who make their entire living out of it! But the vast majority of published authors can’t afford that kind of help. We’ve got to champion our books ourselves. Which is…kind of excruciating? I would rather champion OTHER PEOPLE’S books. (Like Tanita Davis’s new one. You should buy it!)
But what about…?
Stitching, you’ll notice, doesn’t land a spot on my Five Projects lists. Which may seem a bit bananas, since I’m obsessed with it and pretty much want to stitch all the time. But there’s a reason for it—a mini-revelation that gave me a lot of peace.
The thing about Projects is they require focus. Charlie Gilkey defines a project as activities that require time, energy, and attention. (TEA.) Most projects have some kind of Admin component, but to really move the work forward, the critical need is for Focus blocks. (What Cal Newport calls Deep Work.) Good-sized chunks of time—90 minutes to 2 hours is a good target, although for writing or, say, garage-cleaning, I prefer a 3-hour Focus block.
Most of us can only manage one, maaaaybe two Focus blocks in a given day. In Start Finishing, Gilkey notes that the rest of our time goes to routines, and admin, and social blocks (meetings, outings, phone calls), and…if we’re being good to ourselves, if we’re being wise: recovery blocks. Down time. Rest. Fun.
It was this Recovery part of Charlie’s road map that helped me make peace with the Five Projects (at most!) reality-check. Yes, I think of my stitching projects as projects. And they do take time and attention. But—here’s the glorious part—they don’t drain my energy. They restore it. They exhilarate me, thrill me—and they provide me with something I rarely experience otherwise.
I’m sitting still, stitching. My mind is still. I mean, it may be roaming, exploring the valley where my little book people live, or chewing on a post I mean to write—but it’s a contented, calm state. Not agitated. Not hyper. Not stressed or worried. Not holding mental arguments with That One Friend on Facebook. Not tacking items onto an endless to-do list. For me, stitching is a meditative activity; a vital part of my writing process; a means of rest and, yes, recovery.
A few years back when I was feeling a bit desperate over a too-intense workload, my brilliant coach friend Helen McLaughlin suggested I make a list of activities that drain my energy, and activities that give me energy, to make sure my days had a reasonable balance of both.
Tops on the refueling list were: reading to my kids, singing with Low Bar Chorale, and making art. At the time, I was only just beginning to venture into embroidery. I was filling a lot of sketchbooks, trying to learn to draw and paint. Sketching stills my mind in much the same way stitching does. But the stitching high lasts longer: I like the way my embroidery projects come out more than I like my drawings. Gradually handstitching took precedence.
Interestingly, I find there’s an admin component to a stitching project, too. Cutting fabric, transferring a design (my own original one or a purchased pattern, depending), choosing colors, assembling supplies—this is the busywork part of the process that I usually save for weekends. That leaves me ready to sink into the bliss of a recovery state after a workday’s Focus session. If I time it right, my background mind can go on untangling whatever knotty problem may have popped up during the work, without me really noticing it. I think I’m puzzling out which stitches to use, and all of a sudden I discover I’ve written the next paragraph, the one I was sure I’d never get right.
Writing this post (which believe it or not, started out as a simple Instagram Story caption—hahaha) has untangled its own kind of problem. The garage is going to have to wait. My much-avoided Project #5 needs some time in the spotlight. I’ve got to put my needle down and spend a little time joining the chorus of authors and booksellers who are encouraging readers to place holiday book orders as soon as possible. Worldwide shipping delays have the publishing world in a tizzy: everything (not just books) is taking a much longer time than usual to get from Point A to Point B, as I’m sure you’ve heard.
Independent bookstores are begging customers to order holiday gifts early—like, NOW, no time to lose!—to ensure deliveries by December. Which means we authors need to make that plea, too. If you’d like to give one of my books (or Scott’s! They’re awesome) to the kids and teachers on your gift list, now is a perfect time. Same goes for any other books. Especially backlist titles that may already be in stock on the shelves at your favorite indie bookstore. Snap those up and everybody wins!
Prairie Thief and Nerviest Girl are middle-grade novels, great for kids 8-12. Fox and Crow is a Level 3 beginning reader (also a fun readaloud for younger kids) and the Inch & Roly series is Level 1, for kids just beginning to read on their own (and good read-alouds for toddlers and preschoolers, because: roly polies! Inchworms! And of course all children’s books make excellent gifts for the teachers in your lives.
If you order online from Annie Bloom’s Books here in Portland, they’ll ring me up and I’ll zip over to sign your copies before they ship.
batman adventures, book orders, cal newport, charlie gilkey, comics, creative practice, deep work, early readers, embroidery, five projects rule, Fox and Crow Are Not Friends, global shipping delay, holiday shipping, Inch and Roly, nerviest girl, prairie thief, Scott Peterson, start finishing, stitching, Tanita Davis, writing
August 2008. The baby has several inches on me now but the bookstacks are just about the same.
I’ve learned, by now, that in the days before a writing deadline, many of my good habits and creative practices slide away. Often, I go into overkill mode and obsessively power through chores that could absolutely wait until after I finish the writing assignment. Last week, with yesterday’s Dart deadline approaching, the obsessions were updating my long-neglected (we’re talking months) Goodreads & sidebar book logs, and a handstitching project meant to help with the writing, not haunt my every thought.
The Goodreads update took so long that I fizzled out before getting to the sidebar; and then I had the bright idea of outsourcing the update to Beanie. (I mentioned to a friend that I was hiring Bean to do some virtual assistant work for me. The friend gave me an amused look and asked, “Don’t you mean actual assistant? Not virtual? You’re in the same house.” I burst out laughing. Yes. Of course. Not virtual when you’re in the same house. Maybe I’m tireder than I realize.)
Well, thanks to Beanie, all my booklists—including the sidebar here—are up to date. Links go (mostly) to Bookshop.org, where I have a little storefront that supports independent bookstores and sends a small referral fee my way. Both Bean and Rilla jumped in to add favorite titles to a few of the lists I’m building there—Rilla started her own list!—and we plan to keep adding to our collections. Most of our lists are still in their infancy. It’s a big project, combing our shelves for our best-loved books.
But where was I going with this post? I started it twelve hours ago and have lost the thread. Oh yes, breadcrumbs. When I curled up with my cocoa this morning, I felt like a stranger to my own self. What did I use to do in these quiet dawn hours? It had only been a week, less than a week, but my poetry mornings felt extremely far away.
I reached for my notebook and was relieved to find I still inhabited the pages. Read—write—stretch—stitch—breathe. As simple as that. Maybe sketch a little, water the garden before the heat flattens us all. My “seven sevens” (pick any activity from that list and do it for at least seven minutes, and fall into whichever one opens up for me) caught me, stilled the aimless spinning, reminded me how creative practice works.
It seemed hardly ten heartbeats later that Huck came to get me for our walk. He finished his garden-watering job on Monday but we decided we both loved the early-morning walk so much that we wanted to keep it up. Today he wanted to visit the giant sequoia seven blocks east. Another seven, sending me into the day.
It’s early, and I’d like to be stitching. But my fountain pen leaked all over my fingers and even after scrubbing off the ink, there are stains. I worry about leaving black marks on the piece of linen I’m—ah, and now I’m derailed by the search for a verb that accurately describes what I’m doing to the linen. Not embellishing, ornamenting, decorating—all too ornate, too fancy. Ferning, perhaps. Covering it with ferns.
I’m handstitching a drawstring bag (this pattern) because handstitching, including and especially embroidery, is one of the very few activities that quiets my mind enough for real thought. Gardening works, sometimes—if I don’t fall into a swirl of longing for plants I have neither time nor budget for—and has, in the past, yielded entire books while my fingers occupied the rabbity part of my brain. Mopping wood floors works: the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap, the light gathering on the boards, the repetitive motion. I miss the job I had for a couple of years in San Diego, cleaning the floors of a yoga studio on Saturday mornings before it opened. I did some of my best writing while vacuuming or mopping those bare floors in empty rooms.
The thing about floors is that cleaning them doesn’t take terribly long. And then they’re finished. You rinse out the mop head, put away the bucket, and you’re done. Gardening is never finished, and neither is stitching, really—I may finish one project but there are a dozen others clamoring in the wings. Lately I find myself dreaming of an interval in which I could tip the balance in the other direction: spend the afternoons stitching instead of writing. What’s with that? I baffle myself. But I have these ideas, you see…
And if there’s anything slower than writing a novel, it’s handstitching! Ha!
We finished our readaloud of The Firelings yesterday. Oh, how I wish this were still in print! If you ever come across a copy at a library sale, snatch it up. I’ve read it at least twenty times since my dad brought it home from a used bookstore when I was eleven or twelve. Probably more. It explores, as I wrote here some years ago, “the relationship between custom and reason”—a tension I have always found intensely fascinating, as anyone knows who has heard me refer to the “ham in the pan.”
I didn’t get my hands on Carol Kendall’s other books until I was older—gosh, much older, my archives tell me. I posted about The Gammage Cup in 2010, shortly after reading it for the first time. (Scott, when you see this, skip the blockquote—I know you prefer to encounter a new book with a totally blank slate. I’m probably starting Gammage as a readaloud today.)
Kendall is one of those writers whose voice I just plain enjoy. She’s a quirky storyteller with a taste for misfits. This novel is about the Minnipins, a tradition-loving people who live in small villages in an isolated mountain valley. Their distant ancestors settled here after escaping from terrible enemies about whom little is known, now, except their names: The Mushrooms. A few centuries ago, one of the Minnipins journeyed over the mountains and back via hot air balloon. Most of Fooley’s souvenirs—and memories—were scattered when he crash-landed back at home, but the remaining fragments have been carefully enshrined in a village museum and in the customs of his descendants. (You can tell them apart from the rest of the villagers by their names, which are taken from a scrap of paper that survived the crash and is now presumed to be a list of the friends Fooley made on his journey: Ave., Co., Wm., Eng., etc. “The Periods,” as these folk are reverently called, run the village.)
Folks in the village like things to be done just so, and they have little tolerance for eccentrics like Gummy the poet or lively Curley Green, who recklessly paints images of things from real life, in disregard of the proper classical style. (My kids love Kendall’s work, but her character names drive them up a wall.) When Muggles, the reluctant heroine, and her misfit friends begin to suspect the terrible Mushrooms are preparing for another attack, they have to persuade the rest of the villagers that the danger is real. Instead, they get kicked out of the village.
Whoops—time to accompany Huck to his garden gig. I’ll come home with strawberry juice on top of the inkstains. You see why I need afternoons free for stitching!
Booknotes: The Gammage Cup
Photo from August 2017
Huck has a job watering a neighbor’s garden for a couple of weeks. In the early mornings, the two of us walk down the block and around the corner to the house where Juniper and Piper, a pair of small goats, live—only they aren’t home right now; they’re boarding at a nearby farm while their owners are away. Huck handles all the watering while I pick a few strawberries and cherry tomatoes. We have an overabundance of tomatoes already, here at home, but the neighbors urged us to take whatever ripened during their absence.
Every other morning, all Huck has to do is run a soaker hose for twenty minutes. We set a timer on my phone and meander through the sleepy neighborhood until it’s time to turn off the hose. A twelve-year-old can pack a universe of conversation into twenty undistracted minutes. I’m receiving quite an education—which has been the persistent thread of my experience as a homeschooling mom.
Yesterday Scott and I moved Rose into her new apartment, a trim little studio in a new building near her university. I thrilled with her over the new adventure—a ramen shop around the corner, an easy bus ride to work and to our house, a short walk to campus. She transferred to this school as a junior, and so far all her classes there have been online. She’ll get to spend her final year of college actually in the classroom—at least, that’s the plan. Portland’s vaccination rate is goodish, and we’re hopeful that the Delta variant doesn’t sending everyone cloistering at home again. Her fall semester doesn’t begin until late September, by which time this strain may have burned through the country and worn itself out.
(I am really worried about some of you. And a lot of kids and immunocompromised people nationwide. Worldwide. This everpresent thrum of worry.)
Later. Both gardens watered: the neighbor’s and ours. Hummingbird feeder refilled. Pancakes made (Huck), and a soft-boiled egg (me). So many roses blooming, and zinnias, rudbeckia, echinacea, anise hyssop. Milkweed blossoms opening, and hope in our hearts.