Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Booknotes: The War of Art

January 2, 2021 @ 12:53 pm | Filed under: , , ,

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

A reread to help me jump into a new year and a new project. Steven Pressfield’s take on Resistance is some of the most useful teaching about writing I’ve ever encountered.

“I wake up with a gnawing sensation of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact. I’m present. But I’m not.

I’m not thinking about the work. I’ve already consigned that to the Muse. What I am aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

I go through the chores, the correspondence, the obligations of daily life. Again I’m there but not really. The clock is running in my head; I know I can indulge in daily crap for a little while, but I must cut it off when the bell rings.”

Affiliate links: Bookshop.org (supports independent bookstores) • Kindle

“…fields everywhere invite you into them.”

December 29, 2020 @ 8:59 pm | Filed under: ,

I set this afternoon aside for reading, a whole glorious seven hours of it, and reading always makes me want to write. So here I am, blowing the dust off this dear old blog. I neglect it for weeks at a stretch because I spend so much of my day writing other things, and when I open this tab I often feel drained or blank.

There’s also an aspect of blogging that feels like homework—combing my photos for the right image, choosing tags, looking up books on Bookshop.org or Amazon to add links, the kind that send a few cents my way, defraying the costs of maintaining the site. Chores I find tedious and sometimes embarrassing. The book links aren’t as necessary as I tell myself they are—you can Google anything that catches your interest—but money’s as tight for us as it is for most everyone else right now, and omitting the links always feels, in the end, a bit irresponsible. Even now I’m staring at the word Bookshop up there, feeling internal pressure to stick my affiliate link in place like a sensible blogger.

But this is my magic week, when I don’t have to be sensible. I try to reserve the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day for combing through the year’s notebooks, revisiting, panning for gold. It’s mostly iron pyrite so far, but that’s often useful in its own way. I gave yesterday afternoon to a single notebook, distilled now to a page of notes and asterisks. Today, as I mentioned, was hours and hours of reading other people’s work. Twyla Tharp’s Keep It Moving, a packet of poems, a Mary Oliver essay that cut me to the quick. Lordy, I love her. Both of them. Twyla shakes you by the shoulders and Mary raises her eyebrows at you until you cry uncle. You’re right, I’m constantly shouting back, of course you’re right! I’ll go for a walk! I’ll try to enter the long black branches of other lives! More birds, less Twitter! 

The line that made me gasp tonight—it was like an adrenaline syringe to the heart—was in her essay “Of Power and Time”:

In creative work—creative work of all kinds—those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.

She writes about her three selves—the child she was, who exists now in remembered experiences; the “attentive, social” self who makes dentist appointments and remembers to buy mustard; and a third self, “occasional in some of us, a tyrant in others.” A self “out of love with time,” a self that “has a hunger for eternity.”

The shock of recognition was severe. These past several months, my capable, responsible second self has—out of necessity—run the show. I’m a bit sick of her, to be honest. My third self, more tired than tyrannical in this bizarrest of years, is stretching her limbs and wondering when the prime minister took over running the kingdom.

I’m being a little unfair to the second self: someone had to get the FAFSA done and the health insurance renewed, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the poet queen. Mary Oliver’s delight was in lying down in the grass, as though she were the grass. My delight has been in showing the grass to my children and teaching them how to find its secret name. We walk in different fields, is what I’m saying.

But. Sometimes the second self tumbles or leaps into the whirlpool of distractions—most of them connected to the internet—and promises the third self her turn will come “as soon as.” As soon as the election is over, as soon as this assignment is turned in, as soon as the bathroom floor is mopped. The as-soon-as train has an infinite number of cars.

Twyla Tharp would say: you must make a pledge to the third self. Promise her time on the throne. Mary Oliver says to put your foot into the door of the grass and to sit down like a weed among weeds and rustle in the wind! 

Every day, I get up before dark to give the third self a little time in the chair. I’m dedicated to this practice and it bears fruit on a long, slow timeline. But here at the end of an infuriating, stupefying year, those morning hours already feel like a distant memory by the time breakfast is over. The poet queen refuses to compete with Twitter. She won’t come back until all the tabs are closed. That’s Mary Oliver’s point.

“It is six a.m.,” she writes, “and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be.”

This last week of the year, I invite the third self to occupy the chair not just in the dawn hours but for a string of entire days. The second self can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, jump! urges Twyla—there is literally a chapter about jumping in Keep It Moving, in which she recommends four different kinds of leaps you ought to fold into your day. Beside her, Mary is calling: Fall in, fall in!

December 1st

December 1, 2020 @ 3:31 pm | Filed under: ,


There’s autumn, all stitched up. I feel myself shifting into winter mode, despite the bright leaves still lingering here and there on the neighborhood trees. I packed up the backyard bird fountain for the winter and replaced my studio blanket with an electric throw. On our walk yesterday, I discovered that I need to have my warm ankle boots resoled—I could feel every piece of gravel underfoot! I’ve logged a lot of miles in those boots on my treks around Northeast Portland.

Speaking of Northeast Portland! I’ve been reading—and loving to absolute bits—Beverly Cleary’s memoir, A Girl from Yamhill. As a young child she moves from the family farm in Yamhill to a rented house in Portland just a few miles from my neighborhood. And then, a year or two later, she moves to a house “a block and a half north of Klickitat.” I live a block and a half north of Klickitat! Just nine blocks away from the place Beverly lived for a while—a direct line east of where I sit as I type this post. I knew that she had lived in Northeast but I only knew about the homes near Grant Park and Fernwood Elementary. I didn’t know she’d had an interval right here in my own small neighborhood. She saw her first movies (silent films!) at the very same theater in which my family saw Avengers: Endgame. Goosebumps.

The sun is bright today, a rarity this time of year, not to be squandered. I’m itching to get out for a nice long tramp. At the same time, I’m longing to cuddle up under that heated throw and read more about Beverly, or dive into a chapter in the gorgeous book my friend just sent me: Nichole Gulotta’s Wild Words. It’s been a full day.

How to get a signed copy of The Nerviest Girl in the World

September 30, 2020 @ 7:51 am | Filed under: ,

Annie Bloom’s Books, a wonderful Portland bookstore, has kindly offered a way for customers to order personally inscribed copies of The Nerviest Girl in the World. If this is something you’re interested in, you can place an order at Annie Bloom’s website and the shop will let me know. The following weekend, I’ll head across the river to sign the book and then the Annie Bloom’s Books folks will ship it directly to you. (Sundays are usually the best day for me to make a drive to the west side of town, so you’ll want to factor that into your timeline.)

On the book’s order page, you’ll see a note asking customers to include any personalization requests in the comments field at checkout.

Now’s a great time to get the ball in motion if you’d like to give the book as a holiday gift! I’m beyond thrilled to see how much fun kids are having with it—making hot-air balloon bookmarks, starting a Gordy fan club (!), and even shooting their very own silent films. I’m continually blown away by my young readers’ inventiveness. Check out my Instagram highlights for a passel of pics (and immense thanks to all the parents and teachers who have been sharing them).

Nerviest Girl on the web:

Loads of resources & activities to pair with the book in this guest post at Random House Teachers & Librarians

•  Brave Writer Arrow selection literature guide (includes Party School ideas for book clubs)

• California teacher Julie DenOuden of Girl on the Move wrote a Southern California Travel Adventure inspired by the book

• Podcast interview at Everyday Motherhood

• Interview with authors Anne Nesbet and Chris Barton at Bartography

Reviews

Goodbye to this strange summer

September 21, 2020 @ 8:55 am | Filed under:

autumn flowers embroidery project

Oh my dears, what a time we’ve had! All of us—you and I. Our ten or so days of unbreathable air really did a number on me. Losing our daily walks, and my ritual of walking around the yard and literally stopping to smell the roses—brutal. On Friday the rain came at last, and the air went from Hazardous to Very Unhealthy to the miraculous-seeming Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups. Imagine celebrating a designation like that! Especially since three of us in this household fall in that Sensitive Group.

Today the AQI readout is green, glorious green. We can breathe deeply once more. Scott and I went for a walk yesterday evening and of course the world had changed during our days of huddling indoors. Summer slipped away and autumn is coming in: air quivering with golden light, trees tinged with color, asters and brown-eyed Susans stretching out their arms. All over the neighborhood, we saw giant sections of tree trunk sawed and awaiting removal—very likely casualties of the fierce winds that ushered in our days of smoke. Just around the corner, an entire treetop is sprawled on the side of the road, cordoned off. Scott and I had a moment of retroactive alarm, imagining what might have happened if our next-door neighbor hadn’t taken down the dear old dead birch in the sidewalk strip right next to the boundary of our yard. We were sad to see it go—but it kept dropping larger and larger limbs, and safety demanded its removal. Just in time, I think. If the winds had taken it down, all the power, phone, and cable lines would surely have gone with it.

This morning feels like a fresh start. I love fresh starts! I began a new embroidery piece during my creative-practice time—a Sarah K. Benning design, a tumble of fall wildflowers. Usually when I work designs created by someone else, I like to change up the colors to put my own stamp on the project. But this time I think I’ll stick to Sarah’s palette, which is full of yellow and gold and orange and brown—colors I seldom reach for on my own! Those brown-eyed Susans are insisting on it.

Join me for a live Nerviest Girl readaloud!

August 14, 2020 @ 7:35 am | Filed under: ,

Image of a hot air balloon with ostrich inside and Nerviest Girl book cover

Up, up, and away! I can’t believe The Nerviest Girl in the World‘s publication day is almost here! Friends around the country have been sending me screenshots of their Amazon delivery pages with my book marked “Arriving Tuesday.” Exciting!

On launch day, Tuesday, August 18, I’ll be celebrating with a live readaloud and Q&A on Facebook and Instagram. Please join me (or have your kids tune in) at 4pm EDT, 1pm PDT, on Facebook Live or Instagram Live. I can’t wait for you to meet Pearl!

In other news: Giveaway alert!

Author (and friend) Chris Barton recently published an interview with Anne Nesbet and me about our middle-grade novels & silent-film favorites. Anne is the author of Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen, which, like Nerviest Girl, celebrates the early days of motion pictures. I had so much fun chatting with Anne and Chris. You can read the interview here (complete with some favorite movie clips)—and enter Chris’s giveaway of both of our books!

Out today: Everyday Motherhood podcast interview

The delightful Christy Thomas interviewed me for her Everyday Motherhood podcast. The episode airs today! We chatted about homeschooling, creative practice, Harriet the Spy, my secret history of writing Plumfield fan fiction, and my research & writing process for The Nerviest Girl in the World. Christy is a wonderful interviewer. Enjoy!

I hope to see you at the book launch on Tuesday!

One week more

August 11, 2020 @ 8:45 am | Filed under: ,

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!

Photo of a loaf of homemade sourdough bread in a Dutch ove

Just came out of the oven!

 

School Library Journal review of The Nerviest Girl in the World

August 9, 2020 @ 11:17 am | Filed under: ,

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.

Publishing life cycle

August 4, 2020 @ 5:40 pm | Filed under:

2011
Have idea for book about a kid in silent film; start project file.

2012
Begin researching, but you’ve got another novel coming out and it gets all your attention for a while.

2012-2017
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.

Summer 2017
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.

Early 2018
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.

Summer 2018
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.

Spring 2019
Edits! Revisions! Realize the grandfather disappears halfway through the manuscript, so just kill him off entirely. Sorry, Grandpa.

The Nerviest Girl in the World by Melissa Wiley cover by Risa RodilSummer 2019
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.

December 2019
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.

January 2020
The spot turns out to be something.

February 2020
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.

March 2020
Oh hey it’s a global pandemic! Turns out no one cares about your nose, not even you.

May-July 2020
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.

August 2020
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.