Only one week until Nerviest Girl‘s pub day! It’s hard to think about much else. There’s an awful lot of behind-the-scenes work that happens in the months before and after a book’s publication—all kinds of outreach you’re supposed to do—without being obnoxious about it, of course. And yet everyday life rolls on, full of its usual deadlines and tides and busy-ness. On Instagram the other day I wrote about a new daily rhythm my family is trying out—a radical shift from my decades-long pattern of homeschooling in the mornings and working in the afternoons/evenings. We’ve flipped the day so that I work mostly before noon (with another burst in the late afternoon), and we do our high tide studies between 12 and 3. Today is only day two of this experiment. I decided to see if my old, tried-and-true method of blogging as a transition to other writing & paid work would work as well as it did when I was balancing babies and books.
First, the Nerviest news!
• Julie DenOuden, a California teacher and blogger at Girl on the Move, published a delightful piece about Nerviest Girl yesterday: Literary Travel: California Adventure. She uses the book as inspiration for a fun Southern California exploration. Makes me homesick for San Diego!! In a world without Covid, I’d be heading that way next week to celebrate pub day in the town that inspired the novel. I appreciate the opportunity to travel vicariously through Julie’s fun post!
Since she includes a visit to the San Diego mission, I’d like to recommend An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Jean Mendoza, & Debbie Reese. Important context for any study of the missions with kids. (Amazon affiliate link since I couldn’t find a listing for it at Bookshop.org. Odd!!)
• Do you subscribe to Chris Barton’s newsletter, Bartography Express? It was one of the first newsletters I created my treasured “Good Things to Read” folder for in gmail—the folder I turn to as an antidote to doomscrolling. You should definitely sign up in time for his August issue, which comes out tomorrow. Just saying!
• To celebrate launch day, I’m going to do a FB Live/IG Live readaloud event next Tuesday, August 18, at 1pm Pacific. More info coming soon, so think of this as a save-the-date. I’ll read a couple chapters of Nerviest Girl and do a little Q&A in the comments.
• Another fun thing happening next week: the Reinventing the Author Visit workshop with Julie Hedlund and Kate Messner. I was pretty bummed, last spring, to realize my fall travel plans would have to be canceled—I’d hoped to be making lots of school visits this year. I’m still hoping that! They’ll just have to be virtual visits. I signed up for this workshop to help make my Zoom/Skype presentations as lively and smooth as possible. (If you’re a teacher or school librarian interested in author visits, please keep me in mind! You can reach me via the contact link in my menu.)
More book-related news coming as the week rolls on. Right now, I need to hop up and put my bread in the oven. My baking schedule got jumbled this week—I usually prep the bread on Saturday and bake on Sunday morning.
Then I’ll work for a few more hours (with a break for fresh bread, obviously!!) and begin easing back into high tide with Huck and Rilla. Huck is taking an Outschool course that uses Hot Wheels to teach the physics of collisions. Rilla and I are planning some art history studies this year. I miss homeschool blogging and hope to do a lot more of it this season!
Just came out of the oven!
Only nine days left until pub day! Delighted to share this SLJ review:
Photo by Jennie Baker
The Nerviest Girl in the World
WILEY, Melissa. 208p. Knopf. Aug. 2020. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375870385.
Gr 4-7–Set in early 20th-century San Diego, Pearl lives on a cattle and ostrich ranch. One day her brothers’ advanced horseback riding skills get them recruited to be “Death-Defying Cowboys” in a director’s moving pictures. While visiting the set, Pearl’s horse gets frightened, and her unique way of remounting her horse gets her noticed. Soon, she too becomes an actress. From jumping out of windows to sliding down ropes, she discovers a love for stunts. Life as an actress, however, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her relationship with Mary Mason, a girl in town, is strained at best, and Pearl’s mama doesn’t like her doing stunts. Can Pearl learn to balance her acting with real life? Inspirational, funny, full of bravery, and based off a true story, Wiley does a great job of bringing the time period to life. The characters are engaging, realistic, and witty. VERDICT Readers who like historical fiction, nuanced heroines, and humor will enjoy this book. Recommended for libraries where funny historical fiction is popular.–Kira Moody, Salt Lake County Lib. Svcs.
August 4, 2020 @ 5:40 pm | Filed under: Books
Have idea for book about a kid in silent film; start project file.
Begin researching, but you’ve got another novel coming out and it gets all your attention for a while.
Sell a different book on proposal, spend years researching & writing. Eventually decide it doesn’t want to be a YA novel after all; it’s an adult book. Probably not even a novel—it wants to be narrative nonfiction. Later, you’ll be intrigued by the possibilities this revelation opens up, but for a while it’s a hard pill to swallow.
Get breast cancer and move to Portland in the same week. Call your editor to ask if you can shelve the not-actually-a-kids’-book draft & give her something new, there’s this idea you’ve been playing with for a long time. Hooray, she loves the concept! Have this conversation in the hotel literally the day after moving away from the town where your book will be set. Then go do the surgery and radiation thing. Watch lots of silent films during your recovery.
Holy cats, you have a book to write. Reinvent your entire daily schedule so you can get pages done before the kids wake up. Research during every spare minute. Write like mad.
Plan a research trip to San Diego. Cancel the trip when your child is hospitalized for MRSA. Reschedule the trip when he’s better. Borrow your friends’ in-law suite. Spend days blissfully working in the microfilm archives of early 20th century newspapers. Find ideas for about six more books.
Summer 2018-early winter 2019
Write like mad. Hold down several freelance gigs on the side. Homeschool your kids. Panic a little each time you glance at a calendar. Turn in your manuscript on the last second of the last minute of the due date.
Edits! Revisions! Realize the grandfather disappears halfway through the manuscript, so just kill him off entirely. Sorry, Grandpa.
Copyediting! Galleys! Swoon over the cover art & squeal with glee over interior sketches. Fly cross country for your brother-in-law’s wedding & huddle over final pass pages in the hotel lobby. Start drafting your author’s note in the airport. Finish it at your favorite pub back in Portland after your trip. Write “author’s note” on the receipt (tater tots + a Coke) and stash it where you’ll find it a year later, just for the smile.
Make an appointment to have the weird spot on your nose checked. When the doctor wants to biopsy it, ask for a few days’ grace period. Call your brilliant photographer friend Jennie and book a head-shot session with her because your previous head shot is 12 years old and who knows what your nose will look like if the spot turns out to be something.
The spot turns out to be something.
Have a fascinating and unnerving surgery to remove basal cell carcinoma from the middle of your face. Get 45 stitches. Feel really glad you splurged on Jennie’s photos the week before Christmas. During your recovery, start making travel plans for next summer & hope your nose won’t look too scary for your young readers.
Oh hey it’s a global pandemic! Turns out no one cares about your nose, not even you.
Spend half the day on Zoom. Fondly recall the Before Times, when you went places. Cancel all your plans to go places. Figure out what to do for your book since school visits and conferences are off the table. Feel a little sick about the timing. Know that it could be worse. Suck it up and start sharing the preorder link. Hold your breath as the reviews start to come in. They’re great! Start breathing again. Scream for your spouse when a reviewer on Twitter compares your book to a Beverly Cleary novel. Wonder if you could have that tweet engraved on your gravestone.
Two weeks before launch day, become convinced you need bangs. Watch a lot of Youtube videos on how to cut your own bangs. Recognize that all these people have straight hair and yours is never going to look like that. Scrap the whole bangs thing. Stress over what to do on launch day. Realize that this is technically event-planning, an activity that lives at the absolute bottom of your skill set. Decide to focus on something that sits a whole lot higher on that list, which is reading to kids. Ask a local bookstore if you can make arrangements for people who want to order signed copies. Start a large-scale embroidery project to soothe your frazzled nerves. Realize you’ve been sitting with a needle frozen in the air for twenty minutes…because you’re lost in thought about a scene in your next book.
Small delights: flowering oregano and coneflower. Two ripe blueberries. Chickadees chatty in the bushes. The air still cool. Kimiko Hahn, Billy Collins, and Ross Gay in my head. Huck working out percentages in an absorbed murmur as he comes down the stairs. Bees in the lavender. Pens in the jar.
My fountain pens all got leaky, and I can’t embroider with ink-stained fingers—too risky. So sometime during the past few months I shelved my beloved Hobonichi planner (acquired in the Before Times) and shifted back to recording my daily “done” lists in Evernote, where I can easily search them later. I very much rely on these daily lists, which capture what I need to do and what I actually did, and lots of other things besides.
At some point in my paper-planner years, I tried out a Panda Planner and loved a lot of things about the format of its daily pages—especially the way each day begins with a Morning Review section: What I’m grateful for; What I’m excited about. When I set up my Evernote daily template, I folded in those items. It does me good to sit a moment at the start of the day, cocoa steaming beside me, birds waking up in the bushes outside my studio window, to make these small lists. Over time, they paint a picture of the things that brought me joy in a particular season—even the difficult seasons. And when I start filling the page with checkboxes of things I absotively posilutely must get done this day, the Happy Things lists keep me from feeling overwhelmed. There are so many small good things that make up a day.
Today’s gratitude list was simple:
—cool morning air
—the Linda Gregg poem Holly Wren Spaulding shared on her Patreon
—my nice clean studio (I did a major overhaul on Saturday)
—the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap (related)
—the Portland “wall of moms” at the downtown protest
And under Excited About, I wrote:
—fresh bread soon (I had a loaf ready to go in the oven before the day’s heat set in)
—Brave Writer Summer Camp
tomorrow (I’ll be reading a Nerviest Girl
chapter to the attendees’ kids—there’s still time to sign up, and it’s free!)
There’s so much troubling me at this fraught moment in time, and it’s easy to get caught in an agitated doomscrolling/info-sharing loop. Those concerns find their way into my poetry notebook but I try to keep the daily task lists focused on concrete actions I can actually take—and moments I can savor. The giant pink lilies my neighbor brought to our porch. The fringed nasturtium seedlings my friend Ron gave me. The song sparrow tossing leaf litter under the hedge. My good bread, baked now and rapidly devoured by my beloved horde. An eight-year-old blog post I was reminded of this morning in a lively conversation with dear friends—and the pleasure of revisiting its rabbit trails. The welcome news that our favorite pediatric urgent-care doctor has added primary care to his practice, and he’s in network. Kids laughing uproariously at dinner. Evening walks with Scott, wearing masks handmade by a bighearted friend. The cheerful check-ins at my daily Patreon coworking sessions. My son’s bird photos. The cream soda bottles on my windowsill painting rainbows on the wall.
Not this year’s calendar
I’ve been updating little bits of my website all week—home page, blog sidebar, booklists—a never-truly-finished job but generally a low-priority one. The higher priority task is updating my school visits page (which looks straight out of 2008) and recasting it into a Covid-era Skype visits situation. That’s a thornier chore than the busywork I’ve been doing, which explains why I’ve done the busywork instead.
In the course of updating my 2020 booklist in the sidebar, I bumped into a discrepancy with Goodreads: there’s a book missing somewhere and I can’t be bothered to track it down. I noticed that I’m reading a lot less this year, which surprised me: it feels like I’m reading a ton. Then I remembered I’ve been working on slowing down, savoring books, not gulping them like they’re Halloween candy. Listkeeping has its perils: the numbers next to the items begin to steal focus from the items themselves.
Why do I number them anyway? When did I start doing that? Maybe I’ll go back through and delete the numbers. Anything to put off revamping that school visits page!
Six months ago, I thought I’d be spending this fall traveling, making lots of school visits. I was mildly agitated that San Diego Comic-Con, which Scott and I had planned to attend, was too early for my book to be out—it would have been fun to plan a couple of local events while I was in town, given that the book is set in a fictional version of La Mesa, the small suburb just east of San Diego proper where I lived for eleven years. Now, of course, that agitation is irrelevant, almost comically so. SDCC will take place online this year, and I’m not going anywhere at all. Like, not even to the grocery store. (Scott handles the shopping. Portland moved to a Phase 1 reopening two weeks ago, but our family is staying home indefinitely for the protection of our high-risk kiddo.)
What I’m doing instead is: planning virtual events via Skype and Zoom, and hoping to give the book a hearty shove out of the nest and into the hands of readers. I’ll be a guest author at Brave Writer’s free Summer Camp on July 21-22, giving a sneak-peek readaloud of Nerviest Girl at 1pm EDT each day. More info here if you’re interested!
LOL my window needed help, eh? (This photo’s a few years old.)
What else am I doing this month?
—Writing Arrow literature guides for Brave Writer
—baking bread (sourdough and honey wheat)
—watching Breaking Bad (finally)
—reading How to Be an Antiracist; Greenglass House; The People Could Fly; and revisiting Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing
—enjoying my daily Patreon coworking sessions
—practicing drawing cartoon figures thanks to Eva-Lotta Lamm’s “Little People” tutorial
–playing lots of Animal Crossing with (and, let’s be honest, without) Huck—we got our longed-for blue rose yesterday!
—working on a stitching project (always)
—reading Sara Pennypacker’s novel Pax to Huck & Rilla
—trying not to spend all my time following COVID statistics and wincing at pictures of maskless crowds
—eating Rose’s homemade almond biscotti (very heaven! the best biscotti I’ve ever had)
—waiting impatiently for more Emily St. John Mandel books to hit my Overdrive account (I savored The Glass Hotel last month and may have to read Station Eleven yet again very soon because it haunts me)
—trying to decide which topic to sift my blog archives for and compile into a book—tidal homeschooling? Funny parenting stories? Reading notes/literary essays?
What is your July looking like? (Here I am at the end of this post asking myself: it is still July, isn’t it? It’s all a blur these days.)
June 28, 2020 @ 8:19 pm | Filed under: Books
Just two months left before The Nerviest Girl in the World makes her entrance! The pub date is August 18 and if you’re inclined to preorder now, well, that would be awesome!
Publishers Weekly review:
Pearl, 11, lives on a cattle and ostrich ranch outside San Diego, where she helps to tend temperamental ostriches, learned to ride horses early on, and rivaled her older brothers on horseback by the time she was nine. The brothers’ advanced riding skills get them recruited to play “Death-Defying Cowboys” in the new moving pictures. When Pearl visits the set and her horse spooks, her ability to remount the galloping animal earns her a part in the director’s next film. Pearl learns to act on the job (“Can you show me scared instead of stomachache-y?”) and begins her career doing parts that require stunts, such as jumping out of a window and even shinnying down a rope out of a hot air balloon. Along the way, she discovers a passion for acting and navigates relationships with her difficult brother, as well as Mary, a town girl jealous of Pearl’s film roles. Lively illustrations by Deas mirror the heart, humor, and bravery of Pearl herself. Set in the early 20th century and inspired by real-life silent-film star Pearl White, Wiley’s (The Prairie Thief) vivid snapshot of cinema’s early days, as well as Pearl’s life on the ranch, offers warmth and wit.
Wiley channels the spirit of silent-film star Pearl White in this lively yarn about a rancher’s daughter roped into the movie business. This Pearl—Pearl Donnelly—could ride a horse before she could run, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She loves living on her family’s ranch in Lemon Springs, California, though she wouldn’t mind if someone else had to tend their ornery ostriches. But that was before Mr. Corrigan came to town to film moving pictures called westerns. Pearl’s older brothers quickly get work performing stunts in his movies, and Pearl accidentally gets a break when the director sees her hold her own on a spooked horse. Soon, Pearl’s jumping out of windows and riding like lightning for the camera. Wiley’s novel is a thrill ride excitingly grounded in film history, which is discussed in a fascinating afterword. Best of all is Pearl, a treasure of a protagonist whom readers will love for her candor and bravery as much as for her willingness to admit to her own failings.
School Library Journal review:
Set in early 20th-century San Diego, Pearl lives on a cattle and ostrich ranch. One day her brothers’ advanced horseback riding skills get them recruited to be “Death-Defying Cowboys” in a director’s moving pictures. While visiting the set, Pearl’s horse gets frightened, and her unique way of remounting her horse gets her noticed. Soon, she too becomes an actress. From jumping out of windows to sliding down ropes, she discovers a love for stunts. Life as an actress, however, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Her relationship with Mary Mason, a girl in town, is strained at best, and Pearl’s mama doesn’t like her doing stunts. Can Pearl learn to balance her acting with real life? Inspirational, funny, full of bravery, and based off a true story, Wiley does a great job of bringing the time period to life. The characters are engaging, realistic, and witty. VERDICT Readers who like historical fiction, nuanced heroines, and humor will enjoy this book. Recommended for libraries where funny historical fiction is popular.–Kira Moody, Salt Lake County Lib. Svcs.
A Junior Library Guild selection
It’s been nearly a month since my last post here, and over a month since I shared any of my own photos on Instagram. This time, the silence was intentional, an awareness that I needed to sit quietly and read and learn, amplifying voices other than my own. I’m working through Mia Birdsong’s antiracism resource list, reading more slowly than is my usual gulping habit. I’m trying to listen more than I speak.
(Facebook friends will know I’ve not been totally quiet over there—that’s the space where I feel most compelled to speak out, for reasons that probably merit unpacking. That’s for another post, though.)
I’ve been wondering when I would come back to this space, and to Instagram, which is where I express myself in visual images—not planning for it, just allowing the tide to carry me back. I never feel entirely myself when I’m not blogging. Last year I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work and thought: aha, that’s it, that’s what I was doing for a solid decade on Bonny Glen—showing my work, thinking out loud, writing to discover what I know and what I think. Learning in public.
Of course, it was easier to “show my work” when the main part of my work was homeschooling young children. Thinking my way through various educational philosophies, curating resources, and chronicling our daily learning adventures—these were practices that felt fluid and natural. Inevitable, even. Once I made up my mind about how best to approach our home education experience, I found I had less to say—just as my feverish urge to discuss a book subsides after I finish reading it.
I wrote (a much longer version of) the above across two mornings. And now today I’ve written a new post, which I thought I was going to put on Patreon but (you’ll see me thinking through it below) decided to move over here, which means now I need to go through and reverse all the heres and theres of the first draft. And it’s getting late! Breakfast is nudging me. But I’m not ready to stop. If I include this morning’s efforts, this post will be monstrously long. Maybe that’s to be expected after a month away!
I’ve been driving myself a little bit crazy in the mornings. You’d think the quarantine would have seen me sinking deeper into the creative practice that nourished me all last year—the early rising, the yoga-stretching while water boiled for my cocoa, the fervent commitment to Poetry Before Screens, the writing of morning pages or what Holly Wren Spaulding calls “zero drafts” of poems, the heady feeling of having written, no matter what else the day brought. How gratifying to have the time and space for this practice; how satisfying to feel well begun each day. You’d think!
Instead, I’ve let my good habits slip, one by one. Standing in the kitchen reading Twitter while the water boils? Ah, there’s the whole thing dashed in one swoop. No stretching, no poetry, screens first. The most agitating kind of screen. One tiny choice each morning: which domino chain will I set off?
I resisted the Twitter urge today, the gnawing desire to see what happened in the night, in the East Coast morning while I slept (good thing, because the news of the Trump administration’s renewed efforts to cancel our healthcare would have utterly derailed any creative activity). It drains you, exercising willpower constantly. That’s why habits are so important; they remove the need to expend mental energy on constant choosing.
I worked hard to build good habits around creative practice. If I start my mornings reading—poems, essays, not news—I’ll want to write. Every time, simple as that. Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, for example, sends me soaring and makes my pen twitch.
This morning I kept my rules, and here I am writing. I had a laughing revelation about myself a few minutes ago: I’d followed the steps of my creative practice faithfully, reading all the right things, and I’ve been trying (even, or especially, on the Twitter mornings) to do a tiny two-minute meditation to clear my mind for writing—just two minutes! With an aim to work up to five. This morning I couldn’t make it thirty seconds—and it hit me that what always happens, half a minute or a minute into silence and breathing, is that my mind starts writing. I wrench focus back to breath and two seconds later I’m scribbling another line in my head.
It was comical, suddenly, to realize that I’ve been trying to cultivate a habit that will help me write, and then I exasperatedly push away the writing that wants to interrupt the habit. It struck me as a bit like swatting away the action verb to focus on the helping verb. (And maybe that’s the point of meditation—sitting quietly with “I am” instead of leaping, scrawling, dashing.)
Laughing at myself shattered the silence and I gave in to the impulse to reach for my notebook. I wanted to write down the path my reading had taken before I tried to meditate.
—A Holly Wren Spaulding post featuring a Ron Padgett poem, “How to Be Perfect.”
—Linked in the post, an exchange of letters between Padgett and a bright young student about Padgett’s delightfully inscrutable poem “Nothing in That Drawer.”
—An Austin Kleon newsletter, which I can always trust to send me in good, writery directions. Such as:
• this article about the arson-suspected burning of Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire sculpture in the Presidio (reminding me, because of a long-ago Goldsworthy connection, of John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic, which I should think about rereading);
• a mention of zuihitsu (re Kenko’s Essays in Idleness), which reminded me I meant to read Sei Shonagon’s Pillow Book, purchased months ago on a recommendation from Kimiko Hahn in her exquisite zuihitsu collection, The Narrow Road to the Interior
—Tonia Peckover’s new blog post, especially this:
In the garden this morning, I noticed the cool-weather crops have been lingering around longer than usual and the summer plants are still small and unsteady, different than other late Junes – but not surprising for this cool and rainy one we’ve just had. There is no sense of frustration there, no anxiety vibrating off the tomato leaves. I want to live by such confidence, content with the sun I am given, and the rain when it falls, taking what I can and growing. I admit I am not there yet.
I have notebooks full of these connection-lists, each entry dissolving into original writing, notes toward poems or posts. It strikes me that I used to do this kind of chronicling of the day’s rabbit trails here on the blog almost daily! Those collections of thought are invaluable to me now, and they’re much easier to revisit in my blog archives than in my heap of crammed notebooks.
I’m sure there’s a reason I needed to spend the past year writing by hand, but I’ve become frustrated with the aftermath: I can’t get to the particular note or draft I’m looking for without paging through half a dozen Leuchtturms. (Not to mention the expense. That paper is a dream to write on, but those purchases were a thing of the Before Times. My quarantine reality is: use what you have.)
I’m uneasily aware that one reason I keep dropping the blogging habit is because of my Patreon. I have the hardest time deciding where a post belongs. There, because it’s about creative practice? Here, where I’ve stashed fifteen years’ worth of booknotes? There, where I have a bit more privacy, which changes how I write? Here, where search engines can find me (meaning I’ll have an easier time, myself, finding references and quotes later)?
For better or for worse, today it’s going here.
I wrote that line on Patreon and then immediately decided, nope, wrong spot. So here it is, all of it. Way leading on to way.
This is me, showing my work.
andy goldsworthy, austin kleon, creative practice, holly wren spaulding, John Stilgoe, kimiko hahn, mia birdsong, Patreon, poetry before screens, ron padgett, ross gay, tonia peckover, zuihitsu
May 27, 2020 @ 8:44 am | Filed under: Books
Don’t listen to me today; listen to Charnaie.
I watched the video already knowing the plot: the villain, the conflict, the climax and the ending. I watched in utter disbelief and complete sadness as another Black man starred in his own urban tragedy. Another day, another Black life lost, another hashtag. George Floyd is his name.
I am outraged for many reasons, but mainly because I already know how this story will likely end. Justice will not be served.
Please click through to read her whole post.