This photo was taken in June, 2018, in a little town on California’s Central Coast. At least that’s how I remember it. Today Portland is gray and bedraggled, and I needed a bit of color.
This photo reminds me that at one point, I had a whole secret theme going on my Instagram. I never told anyone (except Scott, of course) what I was going for, but I kept the project going for months. It wasn’t every photo, just one or two a week, and the theme would have been hard to guess at. It was a look at juxtapositions of color: manmade structures and objects behind or next to objects from nature. Flowers against walls, brilliant red poppies in front of a bright blue recycling bin, lime-green moss next to yellow rain boots, that sort of thing. I remember one of my favorites was a scatter of autumn leaves in a leaf-shaped pothole.
It was fun, having a secret art project. I tend to spill all my artistic secrets out of enthusiasm—sometimes to their detriment. It’s easy to lose steam on a project after I’ve had the fun of telling about it.
Back when I was writing Little House prequels, I used to have to turn in outlines for approval by the Laura Ingalls Wilder estate. Outlines are deadly to my writing process; once I’ve mapped a book out in that level of detail, the energy fizzles. It’s like I’ve had the fun of telling the story and now what’s left is the hard part, the actual writing.
So every time one of these outlines was approved, I’d sit down and write a totally different book. I never meant to; I would just start writing in the middle somewhere, searching for life, and suddenly the story would grow legs and skitter off in a different direction than the map I’d submitted.
And you know what? No one ever seemed to notice. When I turned in a manuscript, my editor edited the book she got, not the one she didn’t. I’m proud of those books and I’m happy they wouldn’t stay in their boxes. Some of the broad strokes do parallel the original outlines; there were parts of each story that I knew from the beginning I wanted to tell—the Roxbury hurricane; the story of Charlotte’s baby brother—but most of the everyday happenings in those stories grew as I wrote, not before.
I’ve been treading cautiously with my current novel-in-progress. With this one, I could see the broad outline very clearly from the first—danger! But as soon as I started writing, new developments elbowed in, pushing the early conception to the far corners of the page.
Which was a huge relief. I have to do this dance with any written work: know enough, but not too much. I remember once complaining to Scott that I had a paper due, and it seemed like a pointless exercise: “I know I can write it, and the professor knows I can write it, so why can’t we just leave it at that?” Heh. That was toward the end of a rigorous two years in graduate school and I was tired. Grinding out that paper felt rather, shall we say, academic.
Anyway, that’s where my thoughts have wandered on this cloudy afternoon. I didn’t plan this post in advance; I just searched “color” in my photo library and let my thoughts roam where they pleased.
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 chuckling over the word “encounters.” In my Rule of Six (or Seven) list, that word flows naturally: encounters with beauty, encounters with living books, encounters with ideas to ponder and discuss…
But when I lift the phrase out of the list, it becomes comical. My entire day is a series of “encounters” with books. I might as well say I’ve had an encounter with air, or that my feet have encountered floors.
Actually, come to think of it, my feet have had plenty of encounters with books, too, because there is never not a stack somewhere in kicking distance. Right now: beside my bed, next to where I leave my slippers at night—i.e., exactly where I groggily aim my toes in the pre-dawn darkness every single morning. You’d think I’d learn after the sixth or seventh stubbed toe, wouldn’t you?
Narrator: she wouldn’t.
But okay. With what books have I had a particularly close or meaningful encounter in the past week?
When You Reach Me
Well, I finished our readaloud of The Wind in the Door, the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time. And for once I wasn’t tormented with indecision over what the next readaloud should be: I had Rebecca Stead’s lovely When You Reach Me waiting in the wings. It’s a natural next book after Wrinkle. (But we’re studying the parts of a cell in our biology lessons, so OF COURSE I had to read Wind in the Door first. After that book, you’ll never forget what mitochondria do.)
When You Reach Me is, as I expected, going over like gangbusters. Scott listens along with us, and since it’s set in 1979, with a narrator only a year or two older than Scott and I were that year, it feels like home. And Miranda’s Manhattan neighborhood is familiar to us from the years we lived in Queens and worked in Manhattan.
For Huck and Rilla, this setting and time period are new territory, an interesting backdrop to an incredibly gripping story. Miranda’s favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time, and she quotes from it or narrates bits and scenes quite often. I love love love internal references like this: they’re the best kind of organic connection, and our brains loooove connections. I’m always talking about giving kids hooks to hang other knowledge on, like the way the Horrible Histories English monarchs song is a useful set of hooks for us to sort other historical events by. “That happened around the time of King John,” I might say, and the kids burst out with: “Poor King John, what a disaster, rule restrained by Magna Carta.”
Anyway, we’re about a third of the way through When You Reach Me and I’m beside myself with happy anticipation of what’s in store for my listeners.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time with B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits, which I devoured when it first came out and have been enjoying revisiting more slowly. One of my 2020 achievements was becoming a certified habit coach via Coach.me, because—as you know if you read Bonny Glen back in the beginning—habits have been a subject of particular interest to me since the day I first picked up a Charlotte Mason book in the mid-’90s.
Tiny Habits adds new layers to the subject through Stanford professor B.J. Fogg’s research on human behavior and what he calls “behavior design.” His premise is that you can coach yourself into any behavior you wish if you approach it incrementally, taking advantage of certain hardwired aspects of human behavior—and that willpower has nothing to do with this process. He explores prompts, ability, and motivation—motivation being the least powerful factor of the three, when it comes to creating a habit.
James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before also unpack this topic and explore related strategies. Gretchen incorporates her unique and highly useful theory about the Four Tendencies into her discussion of habit formation. I loved her book, because she zeroes in on the importance of understanding yourself (your tendency) in establishing the right bite-sized habit and the best-for-you prompt.
A very long postscript
This post could go on and on, but I’m trying a new practice. I have hundreds of unfinished draft posts sitting in my queue—because life is so full that if I don’t publish them right away, it’s hard to come back later. The momentum is gone. The energy I have for persistent, gradual progress on a piece of writing goes entirely to my books and to my working creating Brave Writer literature guides. But whenever I let my blog slip, I start to feel twitchy. It’s an important chronicle for my family and an important vehicle for my own learning and exploration. I need to write in order to know what I think. And I need to share that writing—narration is such a crucial piece of learning and critical thinking!
So what I’ve decided to try—and I’ll be evaluating the success of this plan in real-time, as I go, probably out loud—is writing for a set amount of time (most days, 45 minutes) and then hitting publish even if I had more thoughts to think, or (as with this post) more books to dish about. I’ve rearranged the day to allow this pocket of time (swapping it out with my Morning Pages practice, because the truth is, Morning Pages bore me silly after about the third day) most mornings. And when the timer goes off, I’ll give it a quick scan for typos and then smash the publish button, even if I had more to say.
I have plenty of outlets for more polished writing. Patreon, Medium, Darts, Arrows, my books. For the first ten years, blogging worked brilliantly for me as a catalyst for discovery and analysis. I resisted the shift toward professionalization of one’s blog and I bristled at the trend toward prioritizing the inclusion of beautiful photos, creating a magazine effect. (Do you know what I do for images here these days, most of the time? I click the “Add Media” button and type a word, loosely related to the content of the post, into the search bar. Then I pick one of the zillion photos I’ve shared here in the past. Thus the ancient snapshot at the top of this post.)
Because social media favors posts with a captivating and properly sized “featured photo,” I kept leaving drafts in the queue to await a moment when I could take or find the right picture. And of course you’re supposed to use keywords and subheads or your SEO plug-in yells at you. Mine loathes the length of my sentences and paragraphs.
And I find that I no longer care. I seldom bother to share links to Bonny Glen posts on Facebook or Twitter any more. I use subheads sparingly and mainly because I love that shade of blue.
Now, I realize I’ve gone and written a whole second post to explain why I’m publishing the first one practically mid-thought. Once again, I’m thinking out loud, firming up my vague notions by articulating them to you.
This practice—which, again, is an experiment I’m testing to see if it clicks for me—will mean more frequent, less polished posts. If you’re still here reading Bonny Glen after all these years, and through my long silences, I’m guessing you won’t mind. If you ever feel I’ve given short shrift to a topic and you’d like to hear more, please let me know! I’d be happy to tackle it the next time I set the timer.
P.S. No time today for adding book links! If you’d like to give me the affiliate credit, here are links to my Amazon & Bookshop.org portals.
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).
Something fun happening this week: on Wednesday, September 16, I’ll be doing an Inch & Roly readaloud on Snack & Read Live with SimonKids! Grab a snack and come join me for a live storytime on Facebook, at 11am PT / 2pm ET. Click the link to sign up for an event notification. I’m so excited and hope to see you there!
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!
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!
• 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!
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.