January 20, 2020 @ 7:16 pm | Filed under: Bloggity
I’m feeling very memory lane-ish tonight! Fifteen years of blogging—not always steadily, but persistently. Thanks to all of you who’ve hung in here with me this long. I’ve been working behind the scenes to tidy things up here and have lots and lots of plans for the coming year—things I’m eager to share—but I’d love to hear from you, too, about what you’d like more of, what you miss, what you’re curious about.
In the meantime, here’s a little blast from the past—a post from a randomly-chosen January in my archives. I landed on 2007 and discovered so many moments I’d forgotten, like this epic battle over…wait for it…dryer lint. I’m howling. The involved parties, now all grown up, are going to howl even louder when they read this.
(And don’t miss the recipe for dryer-lint clay in the comments. Clay!!)
Here’s a post I wrote on Instagram, the day before my cover reveal last week:
Real talk: here’s what my fancy author life looks like. Snuggled up in my writing chair with my boy (“We’re going to need a bigger chair soon, Mom”), breakfast half eaten, hair unbrushed, trying to overcome my profound self-promo embarrassment in order to give my book a proper sendoff. Huck helped me create my cover-reveal announcement on Canva and picked the color for the countdown clock in my Stories. It’s the time of day when we usually do math and Spanish and read poems, but the reality of work-at-home homeschooling life is: lots of days go in different directions! Right now Huck and Rilla are watching a really good video on space (How the Universe Works on Prime Video—so good!) and I’m sitting here writhing over hashtags. Hashtags! I have “Tom’s of Maine” written on the back of my hand to remind me we’re almost out of toothpaste. I’m wondering if it’s too early in the day for gummy bears. I’m thinking I should wrap up this post and go on a nature walk with the kids. I’m remembering I haven’t sent out an issue of my author newsletter in YEARS and I should really revive that thing for the cover reveal tomorrow! Eep! Forget the gummy bears: this calls for chocolate.
I should hashtag THIS post too but y’all, I’m hashtagged out. My bird clock just chirped the 1pm bird at 11am, so I guess that’s something I should go address. Okay! A plan! Chocolate and bird clock—no one can say I don’t have my priorities in order!
Six days later:
• Bird clock: fixed.
• Nature walk: didn’t happen that day but we made time for it on Friday, and on the way home we stopped for pumpkin snickerdoodles at the German bakery. Oh how I love living in a city neighborhood again! Today’s another pretty morning, a gray sky shot through with light, so I think we’ll make time for another walk this morning, after our Moominland Midwinter readaloud.
• Newsletter: still a work in progress. 😉 If you’d like to sign up to make sure you don’t miss its return issue, here’s a link. If you were signed up before, you’ll get it automatically (unless you unsubscribed at some point).
Here it is!!! I’m so excited to share this with you: the cover of my upcoming middle-grade novel, The Nerviest Girl in the World, which will by published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on August 18, 2020! This cover, which makes me squeak with joy every time I look at it, is by the awesome Risa Rodil. I’m over the moon!
I love it so much. The book is about silent film and ostrich-ranching and wild rides on horseback—and Risa captured all the excitement I feel about this story, which grew out of my time in East County San Diego, where the book is set.
(And just WAIT until you see the interior illustrations by Mike Deas! So great!)
August still feels far away, but I know the time will go fast. The book is already available for pre-order at Indiebound, Amazon, and B&N! (Pre-ordering is a really great—and much appreciated—way for you to help give a book a boost.)
Stay tuned for an ARC giveaway coming soon!
I am sooooo excited to share artist Risa Rodil’s FABULOUS cover art with you! Tune in tomorrow for the big reveal!
Patreon subscribers: you’ll get a sneak peek today. I can’t wait!
Five things I did today:
• Cleaned my studio, top to bottom.
• Tended all my houseplants, rescuing a few I neglected during the past two months of an intense workload.
• Went for a nice walk with Scott: intermittent sunshine, crisp air, still some red leaves clinging to the trees—most branches now bare.
• Doctored Huck after he collided hard with a slide rail at the playground.
• Caught up on Kortney’s blog. Her Homeschool MFA series is a delight.
Five things I saw today:
• A new bird at the feeder—I’m 99% sure it was a Bewick’s wren. Didn’t get a picture. But Rilla saw it last week, so hopefully it will return. Cute little thing, a warm brown with a bright white eyebrow and that distinctive wren beak.
• A chubby little bulldog out for a walk with his owners. He was the funniest guy—kept giving short bursts of speed as if he were going to break into a run, but after two or three steps he had to slow back to a walk. Running, it seems, is more of an aspiration than an achievable outcome for this doggo.
• Blue ink stain on my finger: my fountain pen is leaking again.
• Scott, appearing in the doorway with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. I’d marry him again right this minute.
• A ten-dollar bill in the bottom of my boot—the boots I wear every day! This is a complete mystery. I moved them into the hall while I was cleaning the studio, and later I noticed the money crumpled in the bottom. Is the Boot Fairy a thing?
Mostly tell. Because:
I remember how, as a kid, I used to come home from the library with a stack of books—as many as I could haul home on my bike—and then find it impossible to decide which book to read first. I’d spread them out, flipping through this one and reading a page or two of that one, feeling the torment of indecision sweep over me, paralyzed by all the enticing options.
I’m fifty now, and nothing has changed.
Which book to read next? Which book to write next? Which stitch to try in my embroidery project? Which color? Or maybe I’d rather sketch. Paint. Take a walk. Take a photo! Write a blog post. Water the plants. Fill the bird feeders. Read a book. Oh no, which book??
This hits me hardest on Sundays, when I have a little free time. I often have to start the day by making a list of all the lovely things I could do. It’s funny, though—I can power through a to-do list like nobody’s business, but a fun list? Let me just sit here for an hour, doodling in the margins as I try to decide.
Example: I went to the Portland Book Festival yesterday and had a splendid time. I’m bubbling over with tidbits to share, but when I sat down to begin, I fell into the old needs-to-be-an-organized-well-crafted-post trap. Organized writing takes time! I often think: I’ll save this topic until I can do a proper job with it. Turns out that’s a death sentence for most topics.
Then it struck me that when I read AV Club recaps of a show I’m watching, my favorite part is always the list of bullet-pointed “stray observations” at the end. (In fact, I usually huff with irritation as I read the main body of the post, because so often the reviews seem to be grumpy takes on how the episode could have been better if only it were an entirely different episode, and possibly a different show. But the “stray observations” tend to celebrate memorable moments, and that’s what I’m there for!)
All right, stray observations—that’s an attainable goal. 🙂
• There are a lot of really great independent bookstores in Portland, and I need to visit more of them.
• Had lunch with Kortney and Tonia, and I need way more time with them too!
• Had a very interesting chat with Sue Campbell of Pages and Platforms about book launch strategies. She winced when I admitted that yes, I do have a mailing list, but I haven’t sent out a newsletter since 2015. Um. Yeah. Sounds like I need to bump Project Revive My Bookletter higher on the list.
• (Ugh, you guys, promoting your own work is the worst part of being a writer. I can happily, eagerly talk about other writers’ books until I’m blue in the face! But my own? OH THE PAIN.)
• (Having said that, I am pretty doggone excited to do the cover reveal for my new novel. December 2nd! It’s getting close! The cover is sooo great. I squealed pretty hard when I saw it. You’ll see.)
• I got a demo of a manuscript-writing app called Shaxpir that surprised me by knocking my socks off! It has some features similar to Scrivener (which is what I’ve used for my last two novels) but with a cleaner, better-for-me interface and some extremely nifty tools to clue you in to patterns in your writing. I’m just finishing a trial of Ulysses, another kind of writing/publishing software which has some features I like very much indeed, but I think I might like Shaxpir better. The two platforms are really quite different. Stay tuned for a report. Also: how fabulous is this logo?
• (I’ll always love Scrivener for the corkboard with movable index cards, though. I love moving scenes around on that thing!)
• Shaxpir has a related website called Prosecraft: Linguistics for Literature. If you’re a word nerd, you’re in for some serious fun.
• I enjoyed a chat with the publisher of Two Lines Press, which publishes “exceptional new writing and overlooked classics that have not previously been published in English.” Their list looks amazing. Books from all over the world. I started enthusing about a recent episode of Commonplace Podcast in which Rachel Zucker’s interview of Jennifer Croft knocked my socks off—Jennifer is the English translator of Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and the author of a novel-memoir called Homesick—and it turned out the Two Lines publisher is close friends with Jennifer. Such a fun conversation. Naturally I jumped on Edelweiss as soon as I got home and requested a review copy of That We May Live, a collection of Chinese speculative fiction stories. Stay tuned!
• When I’m at a downtown event, I love to walk across one of the bridges toward home and let Scott pick me up on the east side. Easier drive for him and a beautiful walk for me. I left the festival and reached the Hawthorne Bridge just in time to see the riverfront lights pour themselves into the water. Magical.
Looking back toward the west side
October 31, 2019 @ 8:53 am | Filed under: Family
Our first Portland Halloween, 2017
As I type, there’s a bustle of creative activity outside my door: Rilla and Huck at work on their costumes, which have been planned for months and in progress for weeks, and for which there is still much to do before tonight’s fun. Yesterday there was a pile of beading wire, aluminum foil, and masking tape on the dinner table; today it’s an antler crown. Rilla has intense requirements for her Artemis costume. Huck is less exacting about his Apollo costume, but his sister has a vision and he’s content to roll with it.
Both immortals needed a quiver for arrows, I was told. I wondered if we could do something with a small poster tube—maybe Jane (a crochet whiz) could whip up a carrier of sorts? I blinked, and there it was: Jane really is a kind of wizard. Two custom-made quivers with straps, all done in yarn that glitters. Blue and silver for Artemis, gold for Apollo.
We went out to the side yard, where bamboo has climbed under our neighbor’s fence, and cut several long, thin stalks from which to make bows and arrows. Rilla had a handmedown blouse from the neighbor on the other side—my kids are her dogwalkers—that will serve nicely as a toga (worn over warm layers because it’s coooold here), and I clipped the corners off an old white pillowcase for Huck.
We had some leafy vines in the Christmas bin which are being repurposed as Apollo’s laurel crown and quiver decorations for Artemis. Toga, crown, bow and arrows…I forget what else they’re cooking up!
One thing I’ve learned after all these years of homeschooling is that Halloween week is all about costume creation. Gotta level up those glue-gun skills!
grainy party photo of happy party faces
photo by Jenny Wills
The news that Yahoo is deleting all the old Yahoogroups archives has rattled me a bit. It’s not a surprising decision, and I had no plans to dive back into those old threads and revisit all the things we said to each other when the internet was new; but there’s no small amount of dismay in the thought that all that history will blip away forever.
I was active on the internet for ten years before I started my blog. First: AOL boards—now all gone. Then: private listservs—now mostly wiped. Then: Yahoogroups—soon to be disappeared.
For the next ten years (2005-2015ish), I archived my own thought on this blog. If I made a contribution to the Great Conversation, I brought it back here and developed it. If I had a good idea, I recorded it here. And of course there were the booknotes, the kid quips.
Even after social media altered the pattern of blog discourse (comments happening on FB threads instead of in the comment box here), I stubbornly maintained my daily chronicle for quite a long time. It was work demands that crowded it out, eventually. I took on a lot of grantwriting work and boy did that dry up the blog! Ever since, I’ve struggled to find time after paying work for my own creative practice.
I have certain hacks that work very well for me, like the stitching habit I posted about yesterday. My morning poetry reading/writing time is probably my favorite part of the day. I sketch almost every day, sloppily, often as a transition to paying work. I set Downtime limits on my phone and religiously pick up my Kindle at night—the only screen I’ll allow. When I’m obeying my own rules, you know.
So the creative work does happen. (I don’t like my terms here: all my work is creative. The distinction is between creative practice—work I do for my personal projects, things that aren’t under contract and may never be, as well as books sold on proposal, when that applies—and work that pays my bills. When I say “creative work” I mean work I do that isn’t contributing to next month’s living expenses, but which I find fulfilling in other ways. Important ways!)
The creative work happens, and I get excited and post about it on Instagram. Instagram! Which could also go poof someday, like other platforms we thought would last forever.
Yesterday I had to laugh at myself. I’d written that post about my Dropcloth sampler—wrote it in Slack and posted in on Instagram. Got annoyed with myself: it was a blog post! Why’d I give it to IG? Toyed a moment with the idea of just crossposting everything I share on IG to this blog, so I’ll have the archive at least (but how annoying for friends who follow me in both places). Thought: there’s gotta be an easy way to make that happen, an IFTTT applet or something. Opened IFTTT and remembered I’d already done it. I activated an Instagram-to-Wordpress app MONTHS ago. I set it to save the blog posts as drafts so I could go in and tweak or expand before publishing. There are dozens and dozens of drafts queued up. All those posts! That’s what made me groan and laugh at myself. What’s the point of a good idea if you forget you had it?
And now some of those drafts are old enough that anyone who saw them on IG will have forgotten them anyway…which means I have dozens of posts ready or nearly ready to share here. I’m going to try! If I forget, remind me, will you?
This post I’ve just written has nothing to do with the photos at the top. But they were the ones sitting at the front of the draft queue. So here they are, stuck in my own personal album! I went to a Halloween party with my crowd of singing friends (or singing crowd of friends?). Didn’t get a pic of my striped Pippi socks, but you’ve seen them in my witch costumes of years past. I’m always a last-minute costume assembler. We sang a lot of karaoke—that’s been one of the most amusing developments of my life in Portland: the necessity of having a couple of karaoke tunes in my pocket. (Current standbys: “The Show” by Lenka, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb, and “They Don’t Know” by Tracey Ullman. At the party on Saturday I felt brave and sang 99 Luftballons in German. An actual party trick!)
It amuses me to think of posts that have little or nothing to do with the formerly-Instagrammed photo stuck at the top. The scattershot approach may be my best bet at recording the multitude of things I’m, for whatever reason, driven to record.
I like to use up all my spare bits of floss from other projects on this Dropcloth sampler. It’s one of several hoops that live in a basket beside my writing chair. I pick it up often to occupy my hands when I need to think about the work for a minute. I have magnets stuck to a tin candle jar that sits on a shelf in arm’s reach, and whenever I have a long tail of floss left in the needle after finishing a section of another project, I stick the needle to one of the magnets. That way it’s easy to grab one when I hit a tricky spot in whatever I’m writing. This red-stripe sampler has accompanied me for months—through the final revision of my novel, a slew of Brave Writer Arrow literature guides, a dozen poem drafts, and any number of posts. It’s my mental scratch pad! Every stitch represents a moment NOT spent scrolling a feed and killing my flow.
I think what I love most about this practice is that each bit of thread is tied to concrete experiences. I can glance at a row and recognize the color I was using up from another stitching project—oh look, it’s that flower petal!—and the work I was puzzling over when I added stitches to the row. It’s a kind of coded journal. Unintentionally, serendipitously. Turns out my best writing hack was a total accident. The happiest kind!