Archive for May, 2014

How my daughters are furthering my education via Minecraft

May 30, 2014 @ 6:00 pm | Filed under: Family, Fun Learning Stuff, These People Crack Me Up

 

myhouseatnight

I mentioned that the kids and I share a Minecraft world. Its name is Calpurnia, after a favorite book. When I got a dog in the game, Rose offered to name it for me. The next time I logged in, “Darwin” was running around my attic—Darwin because of Calpurnia Tate, get it?

Then I wound up with a second dog. It ran around my house nameless for a day or two; then one day I returned home from a grueling shift at the ruined castle we’re building in the mushroom forest, and there, wagging its tail alongside Darwin, was “Newton,” newly monikered by Beanie. It seems I’m raising a bunch of scientist dogs, which is fine by me.

One day I accidentally fed both Darwin and Newton too many pork chops at the same time, and you know what that means: a puppy. I couldn’t wait for this new pooch to grow up, so I could see what name the girls would give it.

When I came home this afternoon, half dead after a skeleton ambush, the pup was waiting beside the front door, all grown up and sporting a new blue collar. Her name was Annie, the hover-text informed me. I was a little surprised that the girls hadn’t continued the scientist theme.

Shows what I know.

minecraftsignage

Rose, evidently aware of this gap in my education, had helpfully left some signage on the living-room carpet:

The dog’s name is Annie ’cause of Annie Jump Cannon, who
was one of the greatest female scientists; she organized the
stars. We still use her system today. Also, she was deaf.

I learned a lot more about Annie (the human, not the canine) after I logged off. She featured in a recent episode of Cosmos and my girls were quite impressed by her accomplishments. Her lifetime spanned the period between the Civil War and World War II, and as Rose explained, she was instrumental in the creation of the star classification system that is still in use today.

The girls have yet to account for the pig in my living room.

THE NATIONAL STATIONERY SHOW??

May 29, 2014 @ 7:54 pm | Filed under: Links

I did. not. know. this. was. a. thing.
Eye Candy from the National Stationery Show, Part I | Chronicle Books Blog.
Via Chronicle.com

I might die of swoon.

Eowyn For the Win

May 29, 2014 @ 4:34 pm | Filed under: Family Adventures, Photos, These People Crack Me Up

RoseIsNotInvitingYouIn

Rose put up some NO TRESPASSING signs outside her house in the Minecraft world the kids and I share. My favorite was the addendum: NONE OF THIS NONSENSE.

Well, of course I couldn’t resist a throwdown like that. A LITTLE NONSENSE NOW AND THEN, I wrote back, when she wasn’t looking, IS RELISHED BY THE WISEST MEN.

And her reply, proving the student has surpassed the teacher: I AM NO MAN.

That’s my girl.

The Writing Process Blog Tour

May 27, 2014 @ 5:29 pm | Filed under: Author stuff, Books, Work in progress, Writing

So, funny story. A few weeks ago my friend Sarah Tomp, whose upcoming YA novel My Best Everything I can’t wait to read, wrote to ask if she could tag me in the Writing Process Blog Tour. It sounded fun, but I was feeling pretty swamped that week, so I thanked her and declined. A day or two later, another local writer friend, Marcie Wessels, asked me the same question, and again I said I appreciated the nod but would have to pass. Well, about a week after that, my pal Edith Hope Fine issued the same invitation! And that very same day, my friend Tanita Davis did one better—she went ahead and tagged me. 🙂

SleepyTime Me by Edith Hope FineWell, okay, I can take a hint! And what do you know, a holiday weekend rolled around just in time for me to participate. So first: a big thank-you to all four of these generous friends, so eager to share the bloggity fun with me. Do click through on the links above to read their very interesting answers and find out more about their books. (Edith decided to sit out the hop herself, but you guys—I got a sneak preview of her new picture book, Sleepytime Me, illustrated by Christopher Denise, and it is a swooner. This year’s favorite bedtime reading, mark my words. It launches tomorrow! And I happen to know she’s got a companion workbook coming for her excellent Greek and Latin roots book, CryptoMania!, and it’s top-notch. Homeschoolers and teachers, you’re going to love it.)

Okay, so here are the questions, which I actually feel pretty shy about answering. I hardly ever talk about my process.

• What are you working on?

Inch and Roly and the Sunny Day Scare by Melissa WileyGenerally, multiple things at once. The Main Project, always, and then two or three other works-in-various-stages-of-progress, and a scrawly list of ideas. Right now, the Main Project is the book I’ve been laboring over (very much in the childbirth-metaphor sense of the word) for a very. long. time: a historical fiction YA I’m writing for Knopf. It’s a project very close to my heart (involving a good bit of my own family history) and is probably the most challenging book I’ve written yet, in terms of research and subject matter. And I’ll want to talk lots more about it before too long.

So that’s the front-burner book. Then there are the things I work on when that one is being obstreperous: I’m playing with a new Inch and Roly idea, now that Sunny Day Scare has packed its knapsack and gone off into the world to seek its fortune. (They grow up so fast!) And there’s a fantasy novel I play with when historical fiction is besting my brain.

And! And! Very very slowly, very very occasionally, I add a little to a memoir of sorts I’m writing (or thinking of writing, is probably more accurate) about our years in Astoria, New York, when Jane was going through chemotherapy. I have a lot of stories piled up from those days.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

That is a really good, and really hard, question. I feel like in a way it’s a question best answered by readers, not by me about my own work. I like to work with characters who are grappling with ethical dilemmas—Louisa struggling to find a way to clear her father’s name without revealing Angus’s secret and therefore exposing him to probably dangerous public scrutiny (The Prairie Thief); Martha wrecking her dustgown and getting away with it, but fessing up after an internal struggle (Little House in the Highlands). Kids trying to sort out right and wrong when the lines seem fuzzier to them than adults give the impression they are. I think in terms of my style itself, I may work differently (but who knows?) in that I’m hearing the work read aloud as I write—probably in part because read-alouds are such an enormous part of my life. I mean, I’m reading aloud all morning long; I’ve spent nearly nineteen years this way, days full of the written word spoken. I think that gets into your fingers, as a writer: the cadence and lilt of a good read-aloud, the distinct character voices, the aural underscoring the visual images created by the text. I think, too, my having studied as a poet comes into play here. I entered my MFA program as a poet and emerged as a writer of prose fiction, but you can’t get poetry out of your blood.

• Why do you write what you do?

I put this question to Scott, adding lamely that I write the stories I’m burning to write. “I don’t know how to nail it down more accurately than that.” He chuckled. He knows me better than I know myself. “Well, first,” he said, “there’s the pioneer thing—” and he’s right; he doesn’t mean just Pioneers of the American West, though certainly that period is a lifelong fascination of mine and my original concept for Prairie Thief jumped right out of Edwardian England, where I’d envisioned it taking place, and emigrated happily to the Colorado prairie, circa 1880. Scott, who knows what ideas are crammed into my mental Possibilities drawer, was speaking also of my love of all kinds of frontier stories—the Pern books, the Darkover novels, any kind of pushing forward to unknown terrain and making terms with it.

The Prairie Thief by Melissa Wiley“But also,” he continued, “there’s your fascination with miscommunication and injustice. The injustice that arises when someone has been misunderstood. You’re always wanting to set that straight, in your work and in real life.”

As soon as he said it, I could see it: this thread woven through so much of my work. It’s the central conflict of Prairie Thief, of course: a man falsely accused, his daughter intent on clearing his name. And other misunderstandings nested inside that larger one. But also: there’s Martha’s first governess, who doesn’t like her and misreads all her errors as deliberate. I had to bring in Miss Crow, didn’t I, to understand her. 🙂 Over and over in those books, there are miscommunications between family members that lead to conflict. Scott pointed out that Sunny Day Scare, too, plays with this theme: Inch and friends are interpreting a horror in the grass in different ways, and Roly simply has to figure out what the scary thing really is. Even Hanna’s Christmas, my little commercial tie-in from long ago, has Hanna’s parents incorrectly blaming her for all the acts of mischief around the house. This is kind of revelatory, actually, and you can bet I’m going to be pondering it further.

• How does your writing process work?

Ahh, a nuts-and-bolts question. Now I’m in my element. The way I work is married to time. When Jane was a baby and I was first starting out, I had to hurry and write during her naps, sometimes actually wearing her in the sling, though it was hard to type that way. After Rose was born and Scott left his job at DC Comics to stay home and write, I worked longer shifts, a couple of hours at a time. I had very tight deadlines in those deadlines, staggeringly tight as I look back, and had to work with furious efficiency in the spaces available to me. I probably work best that way.

Later still, after Beanie came along, Scott and I settled into a rhythm. My writing time was from 3-6 every day. So again, mega-focus required to stay on task. I started this blog as a way to help me do that: after a day with the kids, spending 20 minutes writing about them helped me transition from mom to writer, and then I could work on the book at hand.

We had a rough year after Wonderboy was born, but that same schedule allowed me to work. It was after Rilla came along that things changed dramatically: Scott took an editing job out here in San Diego, we moved, he was away long hours, I wrote on Saturdays. That’s why The Prairie Thief took so long: years of Saturday afternoons. In 2011, he came back home to freelance (hurrah!) and now I get the whole afternoon and evening to work—meaning both my fiction and my editorial gig at Damn Interesting.

I can’t stand writing by hand. I have complaining wrists. With the current novel, I began working in Scrivener and fell in love—it keeps all my notes, fragments, timelines, character sketches, and primary source material organized and accessible much more handily than any paper system I could contrive. I mean, I really think I’d be lost without it.

I’m a slow writer in that I self-edit ruthlessly, never having managed to do the sort of pour-it-out first drafts that the writing instruction books urge upon you. Dear Anne Lamott, I’ve tried, but I just can’t pull it off. And it’s too bad, because I always write way more than actually belongs in a book. I’ll labor over huge chunks of manuscript, polishing at the word-level, and then wind up ripping them out, a stitch at a time (agony) to hide in a file somewhere. If I were to gather up all my Martha fragments, I’d probably have enough for a whole nother book. (Sorry, it’s not in the cards.)

Every day, I dread starting. After I’ve made myself enter the cave, hours pass in a blink, like Narnia time.

I think I probably love the research stage best of all. I’m happiest with all my papers and books spread around me on the bed, and some old newspaper enlarged on my screen. An orchard robbery in 1817; the constable arrested “a man named Peter Twist and two well-dressed women.” What’s the story there? No one can tell me, so I’ll have to make it up.

Up next:

Now I’m supposed to tag some writer friends. Laurel Snyder (The Longest Night, Bigger than a Breadbox, Seven Stories Up) and Jennifer Ziegler (Sass and Serendipity, How Not to Be Popular, and the hot-off-the-presses Revenge of the Flower Girls—how’s that for a great title?? both said yes, so look for their replies in a week or so. I’m also tagging Chris Barton (Shark Vs. Train, The Day-Glo Brothers, Can I See Your ID?) and my dear friend Anne Marie Pace (Vampirina Ballerina, Vampirina Ballerina Hosts a Sleepover, A Teacher for Bear), in case they’d like to play along. But no pressure, guys! (See paragraph 1, above.)

And Sarah, Marcie, Edith, Tanita: thanks for tagging me. I had fun!

Chee chee chee chee crazy goes

May 23, 2014 @ 8:26 pm | Filed under: Fun Learning Stuff

It’s possible this is a you-had-to-be-there moment, and if you speak French or know anything about French songs, this won’t be as uproariously funny to you as it was to us this morning. But boy did we howl. See, every day we’ve been starting out by listening to a couple of tunes off our Lucienne Vernay Songs in French for Children CD—this started as a thing for Rilla but the truth is we all get a kick out of learning French ditties. We don’t speak French, you understand. This is important to the story.

Well, today Beanie asked for the Train song. “Le Petit Train,” you can hear a piece of it here. It’s sprightly and cheerful, with an enjoyable “ch ch fff, ch ch fff” repetition laced throughout. I decided to look up the lyrics, but my first click seemed to turn up a different Little Train song. “This can’t be it,” I murmured, scanning the lyrics. A quick comparison of the first lines confirmed the obvious. Totally different song. Laughing over the incongruity—the juxtaposition of these bleak, melancholy words with our chipper little tune—I read the song, so obviously not OUR song, out loud.

The little train of my youth
The little train is fading away
Above the roofs
Slowly through the windows I see him
Slowly and doesn’t come back
He has nothing to say
He has nothing to do
He has nothing to say
And I don’t care

About the time which goes by
About the time which hurries
The illness of my youth
I had never loved anyone else than myself
Even not you
And I was so happy with you
And I was also happy without you

I don’t care about the wind
Which comes which goes away
I don’t care about the life
Which ends or not
I don’t care ‘bout your crazy stories
I don’t care if the rain comes through the roof
I don’t care about misfortune about happiness
About joy
And all this time which is fading away
I don’t care about sad songs
The keys which open the lock
I don’t care about the life which slips away
I don’t care about the earth which closes again

I don’t care about karma of stars
About collapsing sun and the days without tomorrow
I don’t care about grief
I don’t care about grief

The little train of my youth
The little train is fading away
He bumps and continues straight ahead
I didn’t need anyone and no one needed me
And I abused the time and now it’s abusing me

The little train of my youth
The little train is fading away
And I said nothing.

“Ahh,” sighed Rose with satisfaction, “the French are my kind of people.” Nobody savors existentialist ennui like a fifteen-year-old.

Grinning, I continued my search. Our perky little train ch-ch‘d its way through what seemed to be some happy pastures, judging by the encouraging moos in the background. Clearly our tune was a celebration of the French countryside, of shiny engines gaily chugging through a bucolic landscape. True, the mental picture presented by the melody is perhaps a bit English, the conjured images perhaps a bit too reminiscent of the Island of Sodor, but—don’t you hear those happy cows, that blithe and bonny whistle?

Aha, there it was. “Le Petit Train” by André Claveau. The same lively melody, the playful lyrics, ch ch fff, ch ch fff, a tune that radiates joy!

I found the lyrics on another page and had to run them through Google Translate to get at the English. And immediately dissolved into helpless giggles.

Here, slightly mangled by the translation bots, it what our song REALLY says. I’m not going to bother to clean it up. You’ll get the drift.

A little train goes in the countryside
Train p’tit goes in the morning
can be seen spinning towards the mountain
chee chee chee chee crazy crazy
Lots of goes … In the fields, there cows always surprised to see even pass p’tit

This train that loose plumes
chee chee chee chee crazy crazy smoke …
The gatekeeper waved his red flag to say bon voyage old mechanic
But wagons zero travelers do not move because they all take the bus and the train is useless …

The train p’tit who wants to believe in miracles
The air of nothing goes whistling and calves enjoying the show
chee chee chee chee crazy mad are happy …

Unfortunately, there are people who think it’s overkill
To give so much money for a P’tit Train
So they told him this time it is well finished
Enjoy it, it’s your last outing …

A train p’tit goes in the countryside
Train p’tit goes in the morning
can be seen spinning to mountain
chee chee chee chee crazy crazy goes …

It reviews the fields and rivers and pathways that feel good summer
It reviews all humble cottages
chee chee chee chee crazy crazy …
In the near Train slows down near the firewall and the mechanic waving
She sees the red light on the rear car who slowly away and is lost in the distance …
The train p’tit lost the battle
This is the end of these beautiful strolls
He goes to the scrap heap
chee chee chee chee crazy crazy It’s over …

But later, tired of long trips
We often will think train
Who sauntered among the green groves
chee chee crazy crazy chee chee tchiiiiiiiiiii
We … regret … the … well …

So. There you have it. The cheerfulest train song you ever did see.

Day at the Beach

May 22, 2014 @ 6:41 pm | Filed under: Family Adventures, Photos

A dear old friend, two lively girls, a lovely gray day, beach frisbee, sand sculptures, geocaching, Dippin Dots: pretty much a perfect day.

Starfish

seahorse

photo 2 (3)

Beth Malone and Lissa Brannon, a long way from Loretto Heights

boardwalk1

boardwalk2

There’s a mysterious world under the pier.

Midweek reading notes

May 21, 2014 @ 8:01 pm | Filed under: Books, Picture Book Spotlight

It is Wednesday, isn’t it? I’m off kilter somehow.

My Name is ElizabethEvery now and then one of my littles will shout “ELIZABETH!”—I would say ‘for no apparent reason,’ because it’s always a non sequitur, but there is a reason and it’s very apparent: what they mean is “I want to read My Name Is Elizabeth! Elizabeth doesn’t like being called Lizzie, Liz, Beth, or Betsy, and although my two youngest children have short names that don’t lend themselves to nicknaming, they wholly sympathize with Elizabeth’s plight, and approve of her insistence on proper nomenclature.

(They also approve—heartily—of the exception she makes for her little brother.)

Whenever this book is rediscovered, I seem to be called upon to read it several times a day for a week or so. This has been one of those weeks. I’m not complaining. 🙂

 ***

Just finished e. lockhart’s We Were Liars. Utterly unsettling. I mean that in a good way. More on it later.

***

And a heads-up for you.

I got an email from FutureLearn about this upcoming course—Literature of the English Country House—and I honest-to-God squealed.

We’ll be using a wide range of texts spanning the history of literature from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ to Oscar Wilde’s ‘Canterville Ghost’. Along the way we will examine sections from a play by Shakespeare, poetry by Margaret Cavendish, and brief passages from novels by Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. We will even look at fiction by a country house resident Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Starts June 2. Thought you might like to know.

Pandas don’t break

May 19, 2014 @ 8:16 am | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

Huck, balancing stuffed panda on head: “Is she very fall-able?”

Me: “Fall-able? You mean can she fall without getting hurt? Yes.”

Huck: “No, FALLIBLE.”

Me: “Fallible?”

Huck: “Yes, you know, like when things break when they fall.”

Me: “Oh! You mean fragile!”

Huck: “That’s what I said.”

Comments are off

Poetry Friday: The Dream Keeper by Langston Hughes

May 16, 2014 @ 7:41 pm | Filed under: Books, Poetry

The Dream Keeper by Langston HughesThe Dream Keeper
by Langston Hughes

Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

SUCH a great poetry class with my Journey North kids today. Iambic meter with lots of examples; personification & anthropomorphism; Langston Hughes. Lots of laughter as they thought up ending lines for an unfinished poem in iambic tetrameter. Only three more meetings to go in this short six-week session, before we break for the summer. It’s gone so fast! We’ll pick up again in a bit, though.

For the Hughes poems, I used this beautiful collection: The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, with absolutely gorgeous scratchboard illustrations by Brian Pinkney.

 This week’s Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Elizabeth Steinglass.