Dear Teen Me

Back when I featured E. Kristen Anderson, I didn’t mention this other cool thing that she does. She and Miranda Kenneally host a blog called Dear Teen Me where writers write letters to their teen selves. Advice letters. Reassurance letters. “You’ll get through it; it gets better” letters. The idea, of course, is that there are a lot of teens out there who may find solace in our words and our experience.

My letter to Teen Lindsey is up today. Gulp.

Teen Lindsey: Long haired hippie chick

Quotable Tuesday-Bethany Hegedus

Please meet my friend and author Bethany Hegedus.

In terms of time, Bethany and I  haven’t known each other very long but writers go deep with one another very quickly. When we share our work, especially first drafts, we offer up our most vulnerable parts for critique. There is no better person to share such places with than Bethany. She understands encouragement and kindness as much as she understands plot, voice and character development. She understands that being a good writer is part and parcel of being a good person. She understands what a writer is capable of and is there to cheer as much as push. Small wonder that the quote which sustains her as a person also buoys her up as a writer.

“My favorite quote is one I use to handle rejection.  It comes from the poem The Well Dressed Man With A Beard by Wallace Stevens:

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.

“I love the line because it reminds me that there can be many nos–in life, in love, in the pursuit of a dream but eventually given time, space, determination–a final no comes. The naysayers stop and when that triumphant “yes” is heard–it shifts things. I believe a miracle is as Marianne Williamson defines it–“a shift in perception.” That is what hearing that yes is. A miracle. A feat. A blessing. We hear many more no’s in this world but we must tell ourselves yes before we ever hear one back from the world. This quote keeps me believing. Believing in art, in miracles, and even in myself.”

If you would like to read the entire poem by Wallace Stevens, please go here.

Bethany is the author of two outstanding middle grade novels, Between Us Baxters and Truth with a Capital T.  Her blog feature interviews with authors all over the world.

Faith and Writing

Birches

Earlier this week, I watched a PBS special called Fire and Light. It was about glass artist Dale Chiluhy’s exhibit for the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2008. As it was Chihuly’s first exhibiton in San Francisco, he and the de Young folks decided to make it a really big deal. Huge. Chihuly would fill eleven rooms in the museum with new and archival work. Eleven rooms. Eleven gallery size rooms.

Chihuly painted and drew and conceived what would go in each room. He thought big. He didn’t hold back. Then the glass went into the fire. Because Chihuly knows his materials, his vision came very close to what transpired in the fire. But sometimes, something different and unexpected happened. I watched how he went with the surprise of it when he placed these bowl-like shapes inside each other. Separate, they were lovely and liquidy. Placed together, their drama plunged us into another world.

As writers we know our tools: nouns, verbs, POV, setting. But when we begin to tell the story, it is like glass going into the fire. We put the first draft on paper and, as Stephen King says, “we tell ourselves the story.” Then we look at it. We find the heart of the story. We build to its climax. We shape the dialogue. We hide knowledge from the main character until just the right moment. We spin the hot molten glass until its shape fulfills our vision.

Sometimes, though, we are surprised by something a character does or says. When that happens, we have to pause and look and wonder, “Wait, am I missing something?” Do we rebuild the story to make room for that surprise? Do we go back and contain that emotion, harness it, hint at it, so that when they story turns that inevitable corner at the end, it all makes sense?

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.

We don’t sit down with the book in our heads. Yet. We don’t know if it will work or what will turn out. We don’t know until it is on the page. That first draft is so delicious and scary. We allow for surprises and magic. They are, for me, part of the wonder of writing. But, at some point, we have to take the helm and make decisions and choices that leave some of those surprises on the dock, so to speak. We have to shape and trim and make the essential vision sparkle.

What allows me to make these choices is faith. When I sit down to write, I have an idea, an image, a sketch, if you will. I write. I find the story. I let the image speak to me. I let it tell me what it’s doing in my head. I write. I have faith that the shape will come. I have faith that I know my materials well enough that I can find the story and tell it so it comes alive on the page. I have to believe this when I sit down to write.

If Chihuly were to walk into my home right now, I think I might say, “Wow, eleven rooms. How did conceive of filling eleven rooms with your vision? Was it a little scary, a little daunting?”

In my head, Chihuly might smile and say, “No scarier or more daunting than filling one hundred blank pages with a whole world.”

If you can dream it, you can do it. Have faith.

Quotable Tuesday-Mari Mancusi

Mari Mancusi

Behind that sweet pixie-ish face is the brain of Mari Mancusi who has penned six books in the Blood Coven Vampire series. Seriously. This delightful woman dabbles in the dark. Fearlessly.

How does she do it? What quote sustains her in the darkest writing hours?

“What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?”

When she snaps on the light by her computer late at night, this quote by Robert H. Schuller stares up at her from a paperweight on her desk. Says Mari, “I think it’s a great motivational quote – since fear of failure holds so many people back from doing what they love!”

Clearly, it works.

Scary Mari

On The Reading Table-The Secret World of Walter Anderson

I am a meanderer in my reading. Oh sometimes, I go on a particular research bender and check out, for instance, all the short story cycles at the library so I can look at how each author constructed their particular cycle. But more often than not, I am a wanderer, responding to my daughter’s urging to read Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy or going to a friend’s book signing and reading her book immediately or pilfering my friend Anne Bustard‘s amazing collection of picture book biographies. It is the last place where I found a stunning biography of a man I didn’t know existed.

The book is The Secret World of Walter Anderson (Candlewick, 2009) by Hester Bass and Illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

Not knowing a thing, I opened the book. Here are the first words:

“There once was a man whose love of nature was as wide as the world. There once was an artist who needed to paint as much as he needed to breathe.”

This is a beginning that announces a kind of greatness.

And yet, I had not heard of this man. I was curious. I read on and together, Bass and Lewis took me into the world of this delicate artist who would wade up to his shoulders to draw a sphinx moth against a pattern of bullrushes. I travelled with him in his leaky green skiff to Horn Island. I followed him tracking the wild hogs to find fresh water on Horn Island. I shared his meals of peanut butter, apples and raisins. I sat with him in the magic hour as he drew raccoons and ducks and frogs. On one page, I watched him paint a tern who had died because even in death “they were still magnificent and because images were food for Walter Anderson, and on an island, no food is ever wasted.”

This is my kind of picture book: rich with words and story, spare and stunning moments described with just the right a mount of detail and oh the images! Hester Bass says she was born to tell this story. E.B. Lewis illustrations put me on the sand, by the water, in the bullrushes.

After I closed the book, I wanted to get in the car and drive to Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I wanted to see his one room cottage which he painted floor to ceiling with images. I wanted to explore his family’s compound where they created Shearwater pottery. Then I wanted to borrow a skiff and row out to Horn Island.

Instead, I opened the book and read it again.