12.30.2009

the second to last day

There's not much time left in 2009 before the credits roll and the custodians come through to sweep the popcorn from under our feet.

The ends of years always make me wistful--no big surprise, considering how I keep a death grip on time, and feel breathless whenever I turn the page in my calendar.

Shouldn't there be something epic and wonderful I could do, to tie off the end of the year and wave goodbye? (And I don't mean a New Year's party--appetizers, firecrackers, countdowns... it's not quite what I have in mind.) I don't know. Something big. Something splendid.

Today, however, is quiet instead of splendid. So this is how I'm celebrating December 30 this year:

* I watched the snow trickling into our backyard.
* Worked on roughing in more of my novel's sequel. (That's big and splendid. Woo hoo!)
* Made a list of knits to make for Squirrel & Serif before Valentine's Day.
* Talked with Mom over a cinnamon mocha (yum).
* Stared out at the glow of our Christmas lights in the early evening.

It makes for a peaceful second-to-last day... and maybe that's all right for an ending, after all. Maybe that's all right.

12.26.2009

hello, much-neglected blog. remember me?

I know. I know. I can see it on your face, blog. I can hear it in your (slightly snide?) Hello, stranger. I've been gone for a while. And I haven't thought much of hanging out with you. I'm sorry, blog. I'm trying to be better.

But I've been so swamped! And bewildered at being swamped. You understand, right, blog? (Of course you don't. You're all in neat little columns, your lists are alphabetized, everything has dates and titles... what do you know about swamps??) All right then. Explanation:

What I've been doing:

* Celebrating another Christmas with my wonderful family.

* KNITTING. There has been a lot of knitting. Plenty of things for our Etsy store (which then sold!), and then Christmas mittens for my sister. (Finished today... they turned out wonderfully!) Now I'm working up some new ideas for the store... hopefully, I'll get a chance to post them soon.

some legwarmers I designed (and then modeled!) for our store...

* Watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on hulu.com (hellooooo, all five seasons!!) as I knit and plan.

* Dyeing my hair red again. Bright red. I absolutely love it! I feel like I fell out of a comic strip, or something. Um, a comic strip where they have excessive amounts of knitting?

* Oh. And then, I've been missing writing. Starting and stopping. Forgetting some ideas. Starting again. Stopping again.

What I haven't been doing:

* Oooh. Cleaning my room. That would be a good idea.

* Cooking for fun. (Notable exception: today my entire morning was devoted to making an extraordinary four-layer cheesecake. Mmmmm. Cooking, I missed you.)

* Reading. I raided the library a few weeks ago, and that huge stack of books is just gathering dust on my dresser. I pat it lovingly from time to time, but that's about it.

* Um. Writing. Yeah, that's the big one.

These last three weeks have been a kind of limbo, blog. I've been super focused on the Etsy store, and I love it! I really, really love it. We've had so much success--we've shipped things all over the U.S. by now (and one package went to the other side of the world). I'm full of new ideas for January, for spring, for summer. I'm thinking about collections and themes and colors and patterns. All my creative energy has gone the way of knit and purl.

I really love it.

... And I really miss writing.

I know that I can do both: write my usual amount every day, and work on the store in the evenings. I know there's enough day, enough creativity, enough energy to go around. But I haven't found my balance yet--I've put everything toward the store. And honestly, I feel a little lost. I care so much about the store, but writing is who I am.

I'm sure I'll get back on track soon, but I've never had much patience with transitions like this one. I usually freak out, or make dozens of lists (and promptly misplace them all), or focus on a single thing to the exclusion of all else. And then, eventually, things sort out.

So I'll get back to writing regularly very soon, blog. Writing my novel (I've just started pre-production on my third manuscript... woo hoo!), and writing posts for you. Soon, I promise. Meanwhile, merry Christmas. Happy Boxing Day.

(... What do you say for boxing day? I have no idea. Have a nice box. I hope it came with pretty ribbon.)

12.08.2009

announcing squirrel & serif

There is nothing like a dream to create the future. -- Victor Hugo

I go through weeks where everything I think of feels like a blog entry. And then other weeks, I might remember, might: "I have a blog?" Guess what sort of a week it's been. (Sorry.)

But there is so much going on--such exciting news! Our Etsy store is open! YES!! Squirrel & Serif is live on Etsy, so go take a peek when you can... We are so proud of it. We've already made our first three sales, which is amazing and daunting as well.

I've heard other crafters talk about how humbling it is to sell what they make, but I didn't start to understand it until this week: We began getting comments and questions from Etsy buyers interested in what we've made. And knowing that something you've thought up and knit together made someone happy ("Love this! Can't wait!"), or will be a Christmas present for someone... pretty amazing to intersect other lives that way.

Anyway, so far the store is full of knitted wear, but Kristen has plans for other sorts of products... graphic design student that she is. I'm safer sticking with knitting, so that's what I'll be creating.

(She is, of course, the Squirrel side of the equation. And I'm Serif... one of my favorite word words.)

No other news, but here are a few pictures from our "shop":




Stamping tags for our items, and Kristen tying up our very first purchase...

Anyway, thanks for cheering us along!

(Oh, and where does writing fall amongst all this? Very good question. When I figure it out, I'll let you know.)

11.29.2009

in a few words

Back from a Thanksgiving trip to Florida, which was truly wonderful. We had nearly a week with my younger sister's family, and it was full of laughter and cooking and fun.

Now I'm back, and thinking about the last month of 2009 (augh!!!), about writing, about knitting. But my brain's running pretty slow, so none of my thoughts are coherent, except for this tiny announcement:


Yeah. That feels good.

Even better, it was actually finished before we left, so I was free to focus on making some truly extraordinary food (!!!) with my sisters. Which is a pretty good way to spend Thanksgiving week.

More to come, after a bit of recovery...

11.18.2009

why my fingers are sore.

41,830 words total at the end of my writing day.

Which means, I've added something like 8500 words.

And that's without coffee. Not one single drop today, aren't we astonished? (I am completely astonished.)

... This means that I am totally going to finish Nanowrimo before Friday.

... And it also means that I can barely think of one more sentence for this post. So it's going to stop right here.

11.17.2009

round up the usual muses

[He] was, by her watchfulness, most abundantly supplied with coffee and muffin. -- Jane Austen

Nanowrimo is going so much better this week! I'm at 33,324 words (up from Saturday's 23,812!), and I'm really glad I didn't give up on it. Really glad. These characters are so much fun...

So, will I be done before Friday? ... No. No, I won't. But I'll get as far as I can, and then splice little moments of writing into my Week of Craziness. And hopefully, it will be enough to reach 50K before the thirtieth?

Is this the triumph of hope over experience? Quite likely, but I'm still going to try.

Meanwhile, this is what makes the writing good this week:


1. There has been homemade crancherry pie. Pie always helps. That's worth repeating, so say it out loud with me: Pie always helps.


2. As does coffee. A lot more coffee! I learned my lesson Saturday night, and have been well-caffeinated since. French press coffee with pie? Yes. Starbucks' new caramel brulee latte? Absolutely.
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(YUM, by the way. Burnt sugar in my coffee? Yes, please! I can write for hours with such encouragement...)
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3. And then there's knitting. Hooray, once more, for knitting. I grab the outline for my next few scenes, and then I pull out the latest scarf and start knitting away. My mind starts stirring around the next bits of the book, and then characters start talking and things begin to fall into place.
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Knitting and daydreaming. It's a beautiful thing.
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(On that note: we're hoping to open our Etsy store on December 1!! More news to come on that one, so stay tuned.)
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4. Most definitely, long chats with my writing partner... who also happens to be my mom. So we compare notes at meal times, when we both stumble out of our writing stupors and compare our progress. So much easier to marathon a novel when you have someone to run alongside!
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5. And then there's the weather. There's something about the gloom-and-doom of these rainy, soggy, flooding sort of days. The sky is near enough to touch, and my room is cold. So I peck away at my keyboard, swathed in afghans and legwarmers. Perfect weather to stay inside and create a dynamic world of crazy characters and the trouble they get into.
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16,676 words to go... By Friday, right? Maybe?
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...
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How much coffee do we have?

11.14.2009

oh, the difference a mocha makes...


A true story, just in case you didn't believe me about my serious (serious!) need for coffee.

Me, before drinking a Kaldi's white chocolate soy latte:

What was I thinking, signing up for Nanowrimo this year? I mean, 50,000 words in a month? Who does that? Honestly, who does that? It's insane. And it's going to wreck this novel idea, too.

(Sigh. Check word count again, sullenly.)

And it's a shame to wreck a good novel idea. At least, I used to like it. Not so sure now. Are these characters even human any more? They seem to say "instead" a lot.

(Check word count again. Stare at the word count. Blink a few times.)

That's it. I think I'm going to quit. I'm allowed to quit, I didn't pay anyone for this, no one can make me finish. It's not like it's "failure," either, if I stop Nanowrimo. I mean, honestly. It's Nanowrimo. Nobody dies if I don't finish.

And maybe this year, it was a mistake. This November's pretty busy. Crazy busy. A dumb idea, really, to write fifty thousand words in such a busy month.

Yeah, it was a mistake. I can say that. I'm allowed to make mistakes, right?

It was a mistake. I'm going to quit. I'll just--tell everyone. Hey. I'm quitting. Who needs it.

I AM TOTALLY QUITTING.

...

Me, after drinking a Kaldi's white chocolate soy latte:

What a beautiful evening. This is seriously a fabulous evening!! Gorgeous.

Oh, I love my desk. This is a wonderful desk.

And here are all my characters again. HI, CHARACTERS! I love you alllll. And I love writing about you. You say the best things. You make me laugh. All this stuff about feet is truly witty.

Look, I've just revised my schedule. This is how I'm going to complete Nanowrimo on time. Why haven't I thought of it in these terms before? Look at that plan! It looks so EASY! So much fun!

I love this!

I love writing! I love my novel! I love Nanowrimo! Woo hoo!!

And now I'm going to get some more words in, and talk really fast to everyone in my family, and then clean my room, and maybe finish knitting this scarf, and then add a few more lines to this novel...

Yeah.

I wasn't kidding. Coffee is a vital part of my writing strategy. Always.

11.13.2009

the craziness of mid-november.


We eat what we find and slurp coffee from anything that is sturdier than coffee. ... This is because we are in the middle. And in the middle, things are rough. -- Maureen Johnson, Nanowrimo pep talk
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Here I am, middle of November, middle of Nanowrimo. Blinking at this screen with burning eyes. Somehow to page 67 of my Nano manuscript--hooray! 19,785 words. And I've slinked away from my Word document to check the Nanowrimo web site again and to read the latest pep talk. (A very encouraging one, by Maureen Johnson. I love pep talks. They make me happy. They also give me a Nano-approved break from working.)
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And soon I'll slink back, and add a few more thousand words before grabbing the latest scarf-in-progress. I've been either a word-generating or scarf-generating fiend this month...
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But I'm starting to get worried about Nanowrimo. I'm nearly at the word count that the site says I should have at this point (21,667), but there's something that I know that the site does not: I'm trying to finish this draft before next Friday. Because starting next Friday afternoon, my life becomes very pleasantly crazy for about a week.
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And there won't be much writing. In fact, I highly doubt there will be any.
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So, the question is: can I crank out the remaining 30,215 words in one week flat??
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Second question: does this still count as a break? (Not exactly, no.)
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Hmm. Well, I'm still going to try. I have a little arsenal of techniques that have seen me through my first 67 pages... maybe they'll carry me through the end? Even if that end has to be in a week?
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And just in case anyone reading this is also Nano-ing and word-desperate, I'll share.
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My Top Nanowrimo Strategies
1. Use the word instead. Use it a lot.
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2. Discuss every character's feet in detail. Great detail. (I don't know why I'm obsessed with feet this year. It never really came up before. But I'm just brimming with toenail detail that seems urgently necessary to the draft...)
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3. Use every adverb and adjective you can think of. Gratuitously. Cover every descriptive angle you can.
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4. Give characters four-word names, and use their complete names often.
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5. Reward yourself with chocolate and coffee as many times as you can.
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6. Doodle. (I always feel so profound when I'm doodling. No idea why.)
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7. Go back and reread what you've written. Everyone from Nanowrimo will tell you absolutely do not go back and reread, but I do it all the time, and find it a great help. Why? Because when I go back, I add more insteads, more feet detail, more adverbs, and more names.
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8. And then I get more chocolate.
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There. That's just what I needed to remember.
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I can so take those 30,000 words. Bring them on. I'm going to find myself a bit more chocolate, and then off I go.
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Cheers and good luck, fellow writers!!

11.07.2009

cranberries, you delight me

Made cranberry syrup last night from scratch, thanks to the gorgeous Apples for Jam cookbook. We poured it on french toast. I love french toast. I could marry french toast.

And because this is my favorite season, and because I'm finally healthy again, and because the warm cranberries just smelled so incredible... um, here are a bunch of pictures, just to inspire. (Like I need an excuse?)





11.05.2009

if you like baby pictures...

... then go peek at my other blog for a couple shots of Draft Three. Because it's just so cute.

And enormous.

11.04.2009

and our little (d)raft reaches the shore.


Anyone who has written a book knows that it's impossible to write a book. -- Ed Gaffney

You probably heard it, didn't you? That burst of fireworks last night? The cheers, the shrieks, the gleeful laughter? (Also, incidentally, an inability to string together many words to express said delight...) So you already know: I finished writing Draft Three of This Immense Novel of Mine.

Finished. Writing. Draft Three.

(You also probably heard a loud popping sound yesterday afternoon, and another such sound two nights ago... kind of like a transformer blowing up? That was just the cramping of my brain as I coaxed another few thousand words out of it... Pay that no mind.)

It took a rush of 14,000 words added in two days (ack!), but it's done.

And I am thrilled. Even if it has reduced my vocabulary to words like Ack.

Today, then, I'm floating around the house. Burning out toner cartridges trying to print the entire draft. (Our poor printer rolled over with its feet in the air after 201 pages... Send flowers. Or more toner. Both are appreciated.)

I spent the morning doing a kind of "closing ceremonies." Meticulously reformatting it, scrolling through all those chapters, adjusting the margins. It's the kind of work that isn't efficient or even necessary, but I linger over it just the same. It's like watching the year 2009 go by again, like flipping through a photo album of the past months.

No one else would see the same things, looking at these words. But I can tell how the year has left its mark on my characters, just as it has on me. My protagonist's voice is different at the beginning of the book--the things she said in February, versus how she sounds now, as the leaves are falling, at the end of her long, long journey.

I recognize the paragraphs I wrote in parks, the sentences I scribbled on road trips. There are the chapters I wrote in a fit of inspiration at 1 a.m. in March, and this is the character I created during an emotionally dreary week in May. These are the lines that made me laugh; there are the words that made me wince.

Buried in the paragraphs are also little notes to myself: cheerful, encouraging things like "that plunking noise was your reader falling off her chair, sound asleep, or, possibly, bored to death. please rewrite."

Or desperately modest things, like: "yes, it's really true, you are a genius and this dialogue is BRILLIANT. Do cross "Go," do collect $200."
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Ah. It's the little things that keep me going...
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I spent most of the year saying, "Why is it taking so long to write this draft!" But now, now that it's done, I can't believe it. I really can't.

Just the same, it's time for a little break for the novel and for me. All my characters are sitting around the break room, eating nachos and swapping stories. (Why are they eating nachos? I have no idea. I just do what they ask, and they wanted tortillas and cheese.) And as they compare salsas and critique the guacamole, I'll be researching for their next draft. Thinking about where Draft #4 will take us. Making bigger plans.

Oh, and tackling Nanowrimo. It must mean I am a sick, sick little person, but Nanowrimo feels like a break this year. I'm using it more for play, since I won't be writing on my main novel, but a new idea. And even though I'm trying to get all 50,000 words in before the 21st (and a trip to Florida), it still sounds like fun. New characters! New plot twists! New setting!

New craziness! Sheer craziness.

10.27.2009

today

Even in the grandest of adventures, occasionally the staggeringly mundane rears its ugly head. -- Peter David

These have been quiet days. A whole two and a half weeks of quiet. I'm pretty sure that I have some sort of walking pneumonia, so I'm still taking it slow. Some days I feel cheerful enough to get out of the house for a while; other days I creep from nap to nap. So yes, it's been quiet.

But lovely. And really, autumn is the best time to be sick. The days are so pretty, and there is apple cider and pineapple cake...

Serious yum.

And the rainy days feel companionable in a way that sunny ones can't be. Though clear days have their uses too... The sweet gum tree in our backyard is playing its annual farewell symphony. It changes every day, and I snapped a few pictures on a crystalline afternoon...



Lovely.

The writing is still going, going, going. I'm trying to finish this massive third draft of my novel before the end of the week, and the start of Nanowrimo (which will take me into an entirely different book, woo hoo!)...

Today went well, but if you see my protagonist, give her a hug. The scene I wrote today (2435 words so far, and hoping for more) brought her to one of her lowest points in the whole book. Poor thing. Moral: Never ever be a protagonist in a novel. It's a messy business.

And, too, I'm knitting away, turning out scarves and coffee cozies for our Etsy store. Maybe we'll be open in a week or two?? I'll keep you posted... It's exciting and a wee bit nerve-wracking as well. (This black and green scarf I've designed? I'm knitting as fast as I can, but I can't tell yet if it's going to be disastrous or my favorite ever...)

There it is, the daily news. Go toast the red and yellow leaves with a mug of apple cider.

10.13.2009

she's not too creative today.


I've been sick for a bit, but I mustered words enough for a post on my other blog--a happy little meditation on being sick and being well, so click over there if you'd like some words today.

I'm not creative enough for a second post, but if you'd like an antidote to grey and rainy weather, here are some beach shots from my Florida trip two weeks ago... enjoy!





(Note: please excuse the spacing on these pictures. My blogging template and I are having a philosophical discussion about it.)

10.08.2009

days with rain in them


It's been pouring for hours, surrounding us with that half-light that tricks you into thinking this day has no time--it's still morning, or maybe it's evening, and what does it matter?

I've reached the bottom of my mug of hazelnut coffee. Just the last, cold, bitter sips. I've been knitting this morning as I watch the rain--two new coffee sleeves, destined for our Etsy store. I love calling knitting work. Propping my feet up, knitting and purling, "oh, I'm just getting a bit of work in." Marvelous.

Now the morning has become afternoon, and I'm still lounging around, pretending to get my thoughts together... but actually I'm avoiding my writing. I spent the last two days working on a scene that was meant to take half of a day. But it kept wandering around, this scene. Skittering away, deflecting my attempts to get to its end. And then the characters would go silent and stubborn on me. So I'd chip away at it, sentence by grinding sentence.

Oof. Not my favorite way to work. I'd rather be surrounded by all their voices and unable to keep up. I finally got through Scene Terrible, and it has its moments of loveliness, I admit. Even amidst all the dangerous "the writer doesn't know how else to convey this information so she's dumping it all HERE" paragraphs. There are a few of those...

The next scenes are far more promising, but I have this sentences are hard! mindset, so I'm rainwatching instead. And taking the last sips of coffee.

Oh, and contemplating the insane: I'm doing Nanowrimo again this year, my third time. I've had good luck before, winning in 2006 and 2008. I used it to leap ahead in my drafting pace for my main novel. But this year I'm doing something different: I'm trying out a completely new idea during Nano--a middle grade manuscript I thought up during August.

It will be a juggling, chaotic month: Nanowrimo with this new idea--its feisty characters, its twisty possibilities, its hilarious names. I have no idea what will happen in it, no clue to its ending. Just a handful of characters and a sense of the tone. But I can't wait, I can't wait, it feels promising and fresh and daunting all at once.

But I'll also be planning the next huge revision of my main manuscript... annnnnd working, very slowly, on its sequel. Oh, and knitting for the Etsy store. Oh, and visiting my niece again.

That's right. That's November.

My brain feels a little full--a lot of people chattering in there, bouncing off one another, and off all my knitting ideas, my dread of the day's work, my lovely memories of family...

Reason enough to absorb the peace of falling rain today, isn't it?

But there's hot apple cider to chase me away from the windows and back to my desk, to this next scene. So I'm living from rainshower to rainshower, slow sentence to the next, mug of coffee to mug of cider. It's that sort of day.

10.05.2009

and i am back...

After ten days of road tripping to Florida and back, here I am again.

My brain is fuzzy, there is laundry to do, there are photographs to print, and a life to remember... What all was I in the middle of? Which draft? Etsy? Was I knitting something?

It was a wonderful trip to see my little sister and her family, and there are thoughts and pictures to share later...

But just for now, I'm going to go make a dozen lists. Lists make me feel like my life is in something resembling an order. Lists that are neat and clean and bulleted, with slick margins around the edges...

Hmmm. Number your papers from one to ten...

9.23.2009

because ink + yarn make cozy friends

Strait waistcoats would be called for and padded cells dusted off. -- P.G. Wodehouse

It was a love-at-first-sight kind of idea.

Mom was the one to mention it... I was sniffing and dithering about how to earn money while still working hard on writing. Draft Three is nearly done, and I already have some ambitious plans for the next draft, for agent research, for what it will take to finally launch this much-loved book of mine.

(Note: I do know that many many successful people balance full-time jobs and spin engaging novels at the same time. And yes, I've had people tell me to just get a job and let the chips fall where they may. But you've heard all my rants and fears about how long this novel takes... I can't imagine slicing another twenty-plus hours out of each week. Checks in my savings account just don't feel worth that kind of heartbreak. And yes, I do know that this makes me insane. See the epigraph. I know.)

Anyway. I took a break from feeling mournful and showed Mom the knitting projects I'd done while she was away for a week: two hats, a set of fingerless mitts, and a long skinny scarf. They all turned out happily enough, and I was twisting the scarf into knots when Mom mentioned Etsy.

Etsy, where I could sell the things I knit. The things that I'm knitting as I write.

Yes, my mother is a genius.


I've given it intense thought and have decided to take the plunge. After all--it's autumn! We're coming up to Christmas... what better time to knit up a storm? Besides, I've always wanted to get carpal tunnel syndrome before the age of thirty... (joke.)

Bonus: my brilliant and talented sister will be joining me on it, which broadens the scope of what we could sell... And she has so many great ideas! It's fun to be doing something like this together...

I could wallpaper my room with the lists I've made this week--ideas, plans, time tables, required materials... My ideas for knitted goods have fast outstripped anything I could reasonably do! But oh, it's so very exciting. Daunting... but exciting.

Part Four (of my novel) is still going very well. If it's intimidated by its writer giving her heart to all things yarn, it hasn't shown it yet. So we'll just be one happy family, me, this little Etsy store, and my monstrously long and lovely novel.

I'm hoping to open my Etsy site in a month... about the same time that I'm hoping this latest draft of the novel is done. (Wow. That will call for confetti. Confetti, fine food, and hysterical laughter.) I'll keep you posted!

9.15.2009

spending my days with imaginary people

In dreams begins responsibility. -- W.B. Yeats

Hard to corral my thoughts into a straight line tonight... so many things buzzing about in my brain!

First off, I honestly can't believe that it's mid-September. CAN'T. I'm going through my usual reactions to the passing of time... though I do love watching the leaves outside consider change. Still. The thought of mid-September makes me break out in hives...

But the writing has picked up since my last post--in fact, it's gotten so much better. Life has settled down long enough that I can find my way back to routine, and with it, all the blessings routine can give.

My archvillain is grounded, and it serves him right. He still refuses to be up front with me about how he'll behave in Part Four, so he's stuck in his room with no dessert, no phone, no TV, no computer, no nothing. I'll check on him in a week or two and see if he's feeling penitent and conversational again.

But with the archvillain out of the way, my other characters are coming out and having wonderful conversations with each other and with me. I actually can't get them to be quiet, even if I wanted to. (Sleep has been difficult.)

And they have these fantastic lines--making me laugh out loud at my desk, like a crazy person. They're chattering at me about why they're doing what they do, who they're mad at, what they're hoping for, and how they're going to wind up in the epilogue.

I love it. I can't keep up--even typing as fast as I can, I can't keep up with them.

So that's where I am, even though it's mid-September... I am happy, drinking my weight in coffee. There's always ink on my fingers, and I'm scribbling scribbling scribbling away.

And, too, a new idea has been birthed today, a very, very new idea, with wonderful and exciting possibilities. I'll be quiet about it for the rest of the week, water it and stick it in the sun... If it grows and blossoms, I assure you: I won't be able to shut up about it. So, you might hear some happy news soon...

9.08.2009

so this is september.

It's one of those bits of advice you read when you research blogging... never take a huge break from your blog! Alas. I have. Absolutely unintentional, but nevertheless... a break it was.

But I've taken a break from pretty much everything, lately. Writing has slowed to a trickle, and I've lost my place in a dozen other projects... but it's all for a good cause, one of the best possible causes: my niece has arrived!! And her arrival prompted all the celebrating and helping out that should ensue...

Now the confetti has been swept up, and we're a week into September. September?? I finally look at a calendar again and see that the weeks have rushed past. I'm still surprised that I had a birthday last week--why does twenty-five years old feel the same as nineteen? Shouldn't I know some things by now?

The grocery stores are selling caramel apples and putting out Halloween decorations--anyone else feel rushed? Personally, I haven't said a proper goodbye to summer, so I skirted the apples and picked up enough peaches to make another pie, a farewell-to-summer pie. (With honey caramel. Mmm.)

And at my writing desk, I'm shaking out file folders and rounding up my cast of characters. We have a draft to finish, after all, and I can't do it alone. My archvillain, in particular, has his ears back and refuses to be anything but commonplace. Contest of wills: I want him to be stunning and without cliché. He wants to take a nap. To bolster my courage, I dyed my hair red. I'm hoping that this somehow brings my feisty writer self to the fore...

So this is where I'm at: trying to find my way back to my work, back to the rhythms and patterns of bookery. I'll find my way back to blogging again too, and soon.

8.17.2009

a crafty weekend

I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark. -- Henry David Thoreau

Three moments of creative loveliness amidst a busy weekend...

* Got a chance to browse through this store again with my sisters. It never fails to get me excited... such gorgeous things!

* Then I spent quite some time on this lovely blog. Endless inspiration!! She is so creative: I wish I could borrow her brain!

* And so, after getting inspired, I made this:

(outside)

(and inside...)

Kind of made it up as I went along! But I had knitted two panels up for a pillow... and suddenly fell out of love with the whole pillow concept. So I was staring at one of the panels and trying to come up with some pillow shape bizarre enough to be fun again, when Kristen leaned over.

"Looks like a clutch purse," she said. I blinked. It did look like a clutch purse. Several hours later... it was. The most perfect, yummiest summer purse ever.

A crafty weekend mysteriously gets me ready for another week amidst words and invisible characters. It maintains some kind of artistic balance that I can't quite understand: knitting helps me write? I don't know exactly how it works, but it makes artsy weekends like this a priority... and that's more than fine with me!

8.07.2009

milk + sugar + ghosts

It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of my coat and a pencil and started to write. -- Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I had lunch at Kaldi's today, with my mom and my very pregnant sister. Conversation is always good, the paninis were lovely, and I'm a diehard fan of their Highlander Grogg coffee.

What was delightfully unexpected were the words on the wall. For the record: I love words on walls, doors, mugs, people... almost anywhere at all. And these words were the ones in the above quote by Hemingway.

Even better: when I looked at my coffee, I saw this:


And it just gets me thinking. Hemingway. Coffee. Writing in cafés...

It's supposed to be killer hot this weekend, absolutely scorching temperatures, and I find myself wanting Paris. Paris and small tables and the rain. Trench coats and the smell of newspaper, pigeons and baguettes. Lamplight dancing in puddles, and all those bridges over the Seine. (I also would not turn down a Nutella crepe, thank you very much.)

I don't especially love Hemingway, but I do love the idea of him. I like the idea of pencils and Moleskine journals and his cafe au lait. I like seeing his words hovering in my coffee, because they goad me back to my desk, to the one thing that I can have in common with my Paris daydreams:

It's the words. Always the words.

The heat will try to wither us this weekend, and a St. Louis August is a far cry from a Parisian autumn. No rain, no pigeons, no Seine. (The Mississippi? Not a shred of romance in that muddy water, not for me.)

But it's the string of words that I have to keep weaving--that rope, that web, that net. I am still spinning my story, despite everything. It's probably the only thing I have in common with Hemingway, the thing that connects me back to expatriate dreaming.

Dang.

Another day that I love and love and love being a writer. I'll take it.

8.04.2009

eleven lovelinesses for now

Even the afternoon sunlight had a tender, sneezy scent that Molly would have known anywhere. -- Peter S. Beagle

1. My new Paperchase journal with vibrant robots on it... not a typical style move for me, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

2. Cilantro. Fresh. With limes. In rice.

3. Less than three weeks until I'm an aunt!!!

4. A new mystery to read, with a gorgeous cover. Perfect if our threatening sky decides to spill some rain...

5. An armful of enticing yarn to knit.

6. Rereading The Phantom Tollbooth out loud with my younger sister

7. ... and rereading Brat Farrar out loud with my older sister. (Okay. We like reading out loud. Try it sometime.)

8. Finding a wonderful new church in Saint Louis to revisit.

9. Considering a temporary change of scenery for my next draft... Perhaps carting my computer and blank notebooks north to Grand Rapids for a while? Maybe? We shall see, but the possibility is tantalizing at least...

10. My camera's full of pictures of roses from our recent jaunt to Missouri's Botanical Gardens.

... and water lilies, it would seem:


11. And on that note, I'm still smiling over memories of last week's family reunion with my dad's extended family. Such wonderful people! Summers are the best time to see those familiar faces, and hear everything that's happened since we last met.

8.03.2009

oh, the joys of writing your own novel...

Any time your list of characters includes "assorted madpeople," you know you're on the right track.

7.31.2009

overheard

Tonight in the checkout line at Borders, a boy stood with his mom. Couldn't see his face--it was eclipsed by a picture book.

BOY: Mommy, are minotaurs real? ... Because, if they're real, then this is amazing.

MOMMY: It's a legend.

BOY: Oh. (pause) What's a legend?

MOMMY: It means... It means we don't know.

BOY: Oh. (wistfully) But this would be really amazing...

Sigh. One more reason why I go to bookstores, and one more reason why I write: because some stories could still be true... and that's enough for me.

7.27.2009

written or unwritten, books make me giddy

My library / was dukedom large enough. -- William Shakespeare
.
Another milestone in the life of my book! And I should make a cake with candles, or build one of those crossing-state-line signs. "Welcome to the Next Draft, home of brilliant plot twists and happy readers."
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Because Part Three is done again! (Forget the cake. That announcement is worthy of fireworks, after everything this ragged section of the draft has been through!)
.
So it took longer than I wanted, but yes, Part Three has been written again--this makes the fourth time I've written it. Sketched it out during Nanowrimo 2006, then rewrote it the next fall. Made some enormous strides in understanding my character and wrote it again... Fine-tuned last year's enormous strides, and yes, wrote it yet again.
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From scratch. (Is anything for the faint of heart?)
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Part Four--the last section of the book--is next up for retreatment, so I'm shuffling through notes and ideas for it...
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But before that work starts in earnest, I have this delicious weightless sense in my mind. It comes between the intense drafting sessions, this wonderfully luxurious feeling that there are stories everywhere. Which is always true, of course, but it feels palpable somehow.
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Like that summer night years ago, when I really saw, for the first time, the Milky Way spanning the night sky. Standing on a road between cornfields, Dad tracing that galaxy glow. A concept became seeable. Almost--on a night like that--touchable.
.
In these days between drafts, I feel like I could stretch out my hand and drag my fingers through a veritable stream of stories, words, characters, narratives... They're pressing in all around me. If I could just hear them properly, maybe hold my head a certain way to catch their voices, I'd never get up from my desk.
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Truly wonderful for someone who wants to live, always, in the midst of story.
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Which brings us to home renovation. And one more perk of living with my parents for a while: they can afford built-in bookcases; I can afford stacking my books in piles. I prefer the former.
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Look, just look at what July has wrought in our living room!
.
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It has turned into a true library, a gorgeous, bright, wonderful place for coffee and writing and reading. Yum.
.

And these books are another galaxy, another place where all I have to do is stretch my hand out... and which book will fall into it? CS Lewis, or Anne Perry, or PG Wodehouse? A bit of botany or the series on world history or the shelf full of epics?

Bookdrunk, I call it. That dizzy euphoria I always feel around so many pages of words. Heady and upsweeping and unfailing. That delirious knowing that no, no, I could never live long enough to read or write them all.

But I could try.

7.18.2009

a new manifesto

Front yards are boring. Backyards tell stories. -- James Stevenson

I hope I can admit it when I'm wrong. So this is me, admitting: as far back as I can remember, I've declared (rather passionately) that I hate summers. Hate them. Which usually makes people look at me as if I've said something inhuman. What kind of a girl hates summer?

A girl who dislikes slow suffocation, I grumble back. St. Louis humidity is not a gentle thing. And so I prefer what I call Jane Eyre weather over a sizzling July. Not a hard choice.

But they haven't been summers like this.

Today was another gorgeous day, another blaze of writing productivity, another glorious evening. They are gifts, days like this.

A simple supper of eggs and toast, and coffee with Kristen. The coffee taken out to our new deck--recently replaced amidst all the home renovating going on here. The old deck was very exciting but not inviting: you didn't know when and where you might fall through. This new one is entirely inviting. It invited us and our coffee and a dozen hungry mosquitoes.

But the evening was perfect. Perfect. For drinking hazelnut coffee and talking about everything--our weeks and what was on our minds. She introduced me to Owl City, music that completed the summer air.

She worked on a painting, and I decoupaged our ... what to call it? It's the thing that hangs in a foyer to cover the guts of the doorbell. That hideous olivey-puce bit of plastic. That. Covering it is a social service, a saving of civilization...

So we talk. Rave about coffee. Swat mosquitoes. Spray bug repellent. Then find a mosquito actually sitting on the repellent bottle. Consider effectiveness of repellent. Continue swatting. I stick my fingers together with decoupage glue. She stands back to judge her painting. We turn the music up.

We're there until the light is nearly gone, and I am squinting at my project. The sunset would make every artist devote her life to the study of clouds. What kind of God makes the sky his ever-changing, breath-taking canvas? As we're marveling, the bat flicks through.

And then we're shouting at it, cheering it on. Eat those mosquitoes! It is very welcome here.

She has a petsitting job, so I go with her to visit Phoebe. Phoebe the Wonder Dog, I call her. She is so frightened of me that I spend the visit apologizing as she quivers away from me. So I wander the garden behind her house, smelling the flowers, and thinking about gardens at night. On the ride home, I look at the profiles of other drivers. And I think that profiles for some artists (or some writers?) could be what clouds are to others...

So it was a day for revising. For changing my mind. A week like this will make me uproot my thesis about summer, my dissertation on humidity and glare and hundred-degree heat. I will love rainy days and sleet and fog and their accompanying atmosphere, no question. But I think now I have room for loving summer, this kind of summer. Let's make them all like this, please.

It was a full day. And I'm up too late. But there is something intoxicating about such beauty. I hope that it's contagious. That maybe, if I stare long and hard enough, it will soak in, and pour through my dreams. I'll go find out.

7.15.2009

so this is summer.

I cannot write in prose. It is a sun-shiny day. -- Keats, in a letter


It's one of those summer weeks when one day blends into another. They slip past, and then I raise my head and realize that it's summer and it's glorious.

Today was a day of moving the novel along (amazingly), putting one line after another, in the wake of unexpected encouragement. Rediscovering my characters' voices, shuffling through my scene lists, catching the thread of the story again. Watching yellow finches somersault on the bird feeder. Admiring the way the sun falls on the pine tree outside my window.

A fantastically exciting package arrived from this lovely girl, and culinary adventure it was! My dinner plans gave way to a gorgeously simple dinner of pasta and bread, lifted out of the box, a summer Christmas. Crusty bread that went straight into the oven and then into our mouths, dribbled with harissa... Harissa igniting my ignorant tongue, and a blissful artichoke tomato sauce on perfect pasta. Hooray for Zingerman's deli: I am now a firm believer.

Mom and Kristen and I eat and talk. I watch a hummingbird outside and decide for the eighteenth time that the sight of them must have inspired all myths of fairies. I have Italian songs playing in the background, and the girls and I compare notes for tomorrow, for the last stages of our living room renovation project, for the next two weeks of summer madness. (Because there is always summer madness.) The perfect remedy for insanity: one of us perfects a French-Russian accent that would put even Natasha Fatale to shame.

Then to the nearby ice cream stand for twist cones, my fingers getting sticky as I listen to the crazy neighborhood conversation. (If you want absurd conversation, get thee to an ice cream stand. Bring a notepad.) We come back to finish BBC's Little Dorrit, so our room fills with Dickens, my newest knitting project, the painting Kristen is working on. I think maybe, maybe, the neightborhood bat will skitter above our yard come twilight.

And as the day slowly gives itself to peaceful night, it's enough to make me revise my usual woolen, chilly, rainy day attitude, and say yes, summer. I love you after all.

7.07.2009

misty

You want nothing but patience--or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope. -- Jane Austen

I love walking through foggy days, and especially foggy nights. They remind me of London or my college years in Grand Rapids. The world feels more intimate: closer, softer, yet more dangerous. Streetlights form pale tents. Footsteps sound strangely near. Every man should wear a trench coat; every woman can play the femme fatale. Let me pull on my fingerless gloves, hand me a cup of coffee, and ooh, yes, I love the fog.

But not when it's settled over my brain and swathed my writing plans in sticky mist.

I feel like I'm still thinking through a haze, and after two solid months, it is making me crazy. I can't even fully identify what's wrong.

I've done what I know to do: I took long reading breaks to indulge in fabulous novels. I eased up on my writing goals. I cooked up a storm, hoping to entice my creativity home. (Plum crepes, anyone?)

Then I tried pressing harder, cranking out 8000 words in two days, pushing my writing hours farther and farther. I've drunk enough coffee to wake a yak.

But there's still a greasy thumbprint where my brain used to be, and I don't know what to do anymore.

Perhaps the sun will burn the mist off, or rain will come and exhaust the clouds. Whichever it takes, I hope it hurries. My characters' voices are distant and strange in this weather, and I can't see them clearly enough to know whether they're walking toward me or moving farther away.

Or maybe they found a pen on the sidewalk, and are changing this story behind my back, writing me out of my place...

7.03.2009

one more postcard.

For the first time in weeks I felt that lights were on somewhere for me. -- Leif Enger (from So Brave, Young, and Handsome: drop everything and go read it. right now. now.)

On my second day in Bermuda, I realized something. Sitting by the window, staring down at Hamilton's professionals walking by, tourists trying out mopeds on the wrong side of the road, palm trees waving back at me... and then looking at the blank notebook in my lap.

And I finally understood why I hadn't been writing, why my poor little book was sitting at a crossroads.

There was a string of calamities, from major to minor, during my spring: a time I'm now affectionately calling "the perfect storm." If I had sat down and strategically plotted a way to uproot my connection to my writing life, I could not have done better.

I desperately needed to get back on my plan, back on track. I'd hoped to turn my Bermuda trip into a page-producing machine, but on day two, I realized I was completely emptied of energy, of words, of imagination.

And that maybe there was a lesson in Bermuda beyond just a score of closely written pages.

All I had to do was look out at the roofs across the street. Bermudians depend on the rain: when it washes those white stairstep roofs, it drains into a cistern and becomes drinking water. If Bermuda teaches one thing, it's this: if there's nothing in the cistern, there's nothing coming out of your faucets. (Ask my sister, who was once caught with suds in her hair when the cistern went dry...)

I was lying in bed one night, listening to the rain outside and the water gurgling through pipes to the cistern, and I finally put it all together. Maybe if I want to write again, I should try putting back into myself. Seeking the creative equivalent of a long, steady rain.

Oh.

That revelation overthrew my plans for the rest of the week. Instead of "words logged," I measured my days by how many hours I could daydream while looking out the window. I took the time to find the coziest places to sit. I drowned myself in reading--a new novel, Winston Churchill's Birth of Britain, a copy of Gourmet... I planned other reading vacations for myself, deciding to spend many more hours reading with intentionality.

It was coming back home that I realized something else: when I need perspective, I need a plane. There's something about lift-off, about watching everything below you shrink to a toy village, and all your problems are so much dust by comparison.

It gets even better at night. I spent the flight from Atlanta to St. Louis with my forehead pressed against the window, feeling all of seven years old, lost in the otherworldly landscape below. Atlanta became the dream of a city, its thin interstates lit with the pinpoint beams of tiny cars. The whole city was a web strung with light, amber constellations forming the cul-de-sacs, neighborhoods, towns... broken by shining green planets of baseball stadiums. (How many stadiums do you have, Atlanta? I was amazed.)

I couldn't take my eyes away. It was the mundane made mysterious, I suppose. Streetlights look fantastic and ethereal from 15,000 feet. They wink through the trees, and beyond them are the great black voids without light. Then in the distance, another city like a galaxy.

(saint louis from the air)

A string of thunderstorms at the horizon made it perfect. The yellow flashes in the distant clouds looked like a storm in a romantic painting--that goldeny lightning, bursting in slow motion. Absorbed in the high drama of it all, this landscape so strange, I half-expected the calm, canned flight attendant voice to announce Welcome to the edge of the known world. I came off the plane dizzy, excited, ready for a dozen novels at least...

6.30.2009

how do i love thee

Personally, I want the sea always... and with it sunshine, and wine, and a little music. -- Max Beerbohm

I am writing this in a park, not far from our home. A blissful, perfect, clear summer evening. Quintessential, the kind you remember as a kid, along with ice cream cones and sparklers... But instead of absorbing the glories of the midwest, I am thinking of Bermuda, and trying to catch that island in words.

(snapping pictures from the back of my dad's moped)

Though it's home for my dad, it's still a strange place for me, even on this, my fourth visit.

There are times when I love it, and yet many things I don't love--the relentless suffocating humidity, the way everything rusts, and the narrow stacked-on-top-ness of the inner parts. I'm used to the sprawl of fields and fields... pinched lanes make me gasp after a while.

But there is much, very much, to love about Bermuda, and that's what I went searching for on this trip, and this is what I found:

* It is away. Sometimes, there are no prices to put on the value of shedding the daily clutter and chaos, the traps in my mind, the patterns I fall into...

* The houses. I fall in love with the Bermudan palette on every visit. What color would I paint my house, if I lived here? I try to choose, as Dad and I buzz around the island on his moped. Would I pick the rich brightness of pineapple-yellow? Or some mellower pumpkin? Would I be mysterious and stormy, and go for grey + white? Perhaps the oddly safe Bermudan pink? Or would I try to echo the turquoise in the waves?


* The names of these bright houses, and the names of the streets. I'm reading everything, everywhere we go, trying to choose favorites. What's most evocative, most funny... Who lives in houses like Casabella, Loquat, Farleigh, Tamarisk Hall, Woodsea, High Five, or Brightside? And what would you find on streets like The Pampas, Black Watch Pass, Point Finger Road, Fractious Lane, and:

(my younger sister thinks we should drop banana peels up and down this hill, and then retake the picture... i think she's right.)

* In some ways, I love the first drive on the island the best: the taxi ride from airport to apartment. It always reminds me of my first disorienting minutes on the island nine years ago--my first trip. I stared out at this new world, from the wrong side of the road, with taxi drivers far less timid than I about taking the corners...

* Or do I love nights the best? Driving home on quiet, winding streets, breathing in the perfume of unknown flowers, stretching my bare toes in the warm velvety air. Or watching the beam of Gibbs Hill Lighthouse as it fingers Dad's windows after dark...

(Johnny Barnes, perhaps the island's friendliest man, greeting every car and bike on their way into Hamilton)

* Or do I love the accents best? The accents that defy my definitions, but are something like sunwarmed, saltsplashed British? Perhaps I do, perhaps I love the accents best, as every spoken syllable reminds me that I'm far away, far away...

6.27.2009

(step over this way for a moment)

There is more, much more, to be said about Bermuda, and I will say it... but for now, skip over to my other blog, to hear about Larry the taxicab philosopher, and what my parents should have named me...

6.24.2009

writers in black & white

When I get up in the morning, I always have the desire to sit down to write. And most of the days I do write something. But then I get telephone calls. -- Isaac Bashevis Singer

I am home now, and well, and I have a thousand things to blog about Bermuda... well, maybe three.
But this post isn't about Bermuda--it's just to say that I am transitioning from post-travel fogginess, and trying to put things together again. Teasing my brain out of hiding, trying to turn my attention back to bookishness, to my story again...

As part of that, I'm rereading The Writer's Desk, a glorious book of black and white photos, by Jill Krementz. (If you are a writer, do not rest until you get your hands on this book.) I love it so much, seeing all these tricky, difficult, brilliant people at work, in chaos, in stark surroundings, in whatever habitat they choose.

So they are keeping me company today, in this half-full, noisy coffeeshop where I'm reading. They encourage me to write wherever I am, to get the paragraphs flowing again. There's Ann Petry, on page 101, so calm and comforting that I want to have tea with her. And Isaac Bashevis Singer, on page 90, who looks so dear I want to reach into the picture and pat his hand.

It is so reassuring to read what they say in these interviews, to know that they are cranky and snarky in the same ways that I am. And hopeful, sometimes, just as I have hope for my book again.

I'm looking at their pictures and their words as if they can be crumbs in the forest for me, as if they will tell me how to dig myself out of this slump, how to believe that my story will stretch and stand up. That times of crisis and chaos pass, and that these words will come back, the thread of my tale return. If I stare at these writers' faces long enough, they will become a map for me, a map to find my way home.