Wednesday Wonders: Falling Back

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“For this weekend, you get to call yourselves writers loud and proud instead of in a small voice at the end of a long list of other things you do.”

My writing teacher Lois Brandt said this (or something very like it) at the beginning of our Weekend on the Water retreat with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

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Lois wasn’t lying. All weekend long, I talked and heard about books. I talked about my books in progress, I heard from debut authors, and I listened to the faculty tell of how to write as well as what they as editors and reviewers look for when they read. I chatted with my group about their writing and heard what they had to say about mine.

It was glorious. 

Sometimes, I learned, it’s good to be stuck. Sometimes it makes me stop, look at what I’m doing, open my eyes and ears, and hear something new. Sometimes the stuck let me hear old things in a new way.

Gradually, I felt the cement blocks on my creative feet and fingers lifting.

When I got home I found a contest to submit to and the deadline is soon. After that I have my short story who sits so close to my heart I have to crack her open and send her out as soon as I can find a possible home.

And my middle grade novel. This weekend I felt my character wake up inside me as I listened to another writer give me story idea after idea from his own experiences with characters like mine.

Here is what I learned in my two full days at a former convent in Des Moines, Washington:

We do not create alone. 

Even as I sit at this keyboard, far away from everyone I met this weekend and from any of you reading, I feel all of them and you with me.

It’s crazy sappy, yet I have to say it because it’s truer than true.

May you find joy in the people who love life like you do.

And do remember the anonymous quote Kim Baker told us as we went our separate ways:

“You are a ghost driving a skeleton made of stardust on a rock flying around the sun. Fear nothing.”

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The published works of the writers I got to meet over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

 

 

 

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Last on this post, but first in my heart, Amanda Hosch. She told me her book journey from the summer of dreaming about her character to the 6 weeks of writing it in a flurry to the agent to the book deal after three years. She was so elated and bubbled over with book joy. Amanda is now one of my heroes. MABEL OPEL PEAR AND THE RULES FOR SPYING hits the stands and the websites in the fall of 2017. Hooray!!

 

 

 

Wednesday Wonders: Young Clarinet Player Wins Award Named After a Clarinet Playing Doctor

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Special Note: This is a piece I wrote for the Puyallup Valley Community Band, a group I rehearse and perform with throughout the year. It’s a wonder to me that music can mean so much to so many at all ages. 

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For Katriel Looney, reeds are the biggest problem with playing the clarinet. It’s a constant struggle to find good ones and maintain a decent supply.

“Brass players have no idea,” she said.

Recently, she found enough good reeds to audition with Puyallup Valley Community Band and win the 2016 Lovezzola Music Award. Originally called the Outstanding High School Soloist Award, the band renamed the scholarship after a local doctor when he passed away in 2012. Dr. Mike Lovezzola was a founding member of the Puyallup Valley band and played clarinet with the group for twenty-two years. Looney is the first clarinet player to win the award since Lovezzola left the bequest to help fund it.

Looney’s private teacher Stan Purvis knew she was going places when he first met her in her 7th grade year. “I don’t think I’ve ever told her anything she hasn’t remembered.” He praised her innate sense of tone, ability to project, and knowledge of phrasing.

Katriel isn’t a newcomer to the Puyallup Valley Community Band. She’s been rehearsing and performing with them since she was fourteen and the youngest member of the all ages group.

Now eighteen years old, the Puyallup High School senior practices an hour a day after her chemistry class at Pierce Community College where she is also a Running Start student. Not short on ambition or talent, she is considering a double major in molecular biology and bioengineering along with music performance.

For the Lovezzola audition, she played the same concerto by Carl Maria von Weber that won her a college scholarship to the University of Washington and a superior rating in the Valley Regional Solo Ensemble Contest.

Purvis said he knew she needed to challenge herself with the more athletic and aggressive piece to expand her abilities even though it was not the more lyrical style she often favors.

His encouragement and her years of hard work paid off while Lovezzola would surely be pleased to know she found the right reed.

You can hear Looney perform Weber’s Clarinet Concerto in a concert with the band at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20th at First Christian Church of Puyallup, 623 9th Avenue S.W.

Admission is free.

Ivan the Gorilla Was Right After All: How Success Can Sneak Up On You

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In looking back over the past year on my blog, I’ve noticed something that surprised me and made my writing heart happy.

I posted The One and Only Ivan and a Measure of Peace after reading a kid lit book based on his life. The One and Only Ivan is a fictional story about a gorilla based on a true story of an animal I saw as a child in the Tacoma B&I. Katherine Applegate’s story sunk deep into my heart, and I published my review feeling like it was one of my best. No one commented or seemed to notice.

I paused for a bit like I do when I get crickets and then kept writing.

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It took me a while to notice, but over the last year and a half Ivan has gotten more hits than any other post. People have viewed it 151 times. Ivan has gotten more views than the nostalgic pictures of Auburn High before the wrecking balls came through this past summer in My Doomed High School (74).

It doesn’t always take this long for others to notice posts I’ve poured my heart into. The Triple Amputation School of Beauty got noticed around the world quite quickly but still does not have as many views as Ivan.

And, honestly, I have no idea why people have been drawn to my posts. The interest in Ivan may have nothing to do with how well I wrote it. Maybe clickers are drawn to the book by an interest Applegate or maybe they just love gorillas. But a little slice of joy lights up inside me whenever I notice that people are still looking at my words about a story that captured me.

In case you want the graphics, here’s the full review of 2014 including a map of the places in the world where people could be reading about a gorilla who once lived in Tacoma, a condemned high school, or a brave woman who lives life to the fullest.

Click here to see the complete report.

I wish you all found memories of your time in 2014 and the years that came before. This year I learned sometimes it takes a while for people to notice when you’ve done your best work.

Besides. Those stats reminded me that even if people never noticed and even if they were only looking for a book review, I would still be glad I wrote about the inestimable Ivan. May you all keep doing whatever it is that brings you slices of joy whether you get crickets or clicks.

The Little Things: How Small Rewards Lead to Big Projects That Get Done

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Writing a novel takes a ridiculously long time. So do many other things that are incredibly worthwhile like raising children, practicing for a concert, or knitting an afghan. (I hope to finish this for my son before he gets too cool for it!)

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To keep myself going, I create small rewards for myself as I go along.

My rational grown up serious brain shakes her finger at me and says fussy things like:

“You shouldn’t need a reward! The work is its own reward! What are you? Some kind of kid who needs a treat for every little thing?”

To which my creative kiddo self says (in a tiny little voice as she kicks the gravel): “Yes?”

More and more of the time I block out the fussy voice and give myself treats.

A few weeks back, I finished a rough draft after about 11 months of work. The book’s not done of course. There will be revising and revising and then more revising. But I resisted the urge to push on and made a treat for myself.

I went to the Seymour Botanical Conservatory on my lunch break that very day. Here’s my Facebook post from that day:

I was typing along this morning when I realized I had finished the first draft of my middle grade novel. To celebrate, I went to Seymour Conservatory today and shelled out the 3 bucks to go inside. The lady there gave me a Ponderosa lemon tree leaf and an Allspice tree leaf. They smell delicious! Plus, I saw another work in progress. I’m trying guess what the chainsaw artist will create. Something with a dolphin…

I also bought glass earrings from the Hilltop Artists inside the conservatory that day. Every time I put them on, I think about finishing my novel and about supporting some other artist out there as a celebration.

For my next bigger reward I’ll buy a print from Summer Kozisek when I finish my focused reading program.

Something about giving money to other artists feels like a call to my own muse.

Other ideas I’ve seen for tiny rewards include keeping calendars or making a small celebration at dinner. I especially like Steven Pressfield’s idea of writing on a paper wall calendar and using check marks and the end of each day. It’s so visual and kinesthetic that it really appeals to me.

I’m scanning the shelves for new wall calendars since it’s almost 2015 and my current cupcake calendar is almost done.

Rewards, after all, need to come daily, not only at the end of big projects.

My treats are marvelous. Sometimes they are even the whole point. Not only does it keep that little gravel kicking kid happy, but the finger shaking lady gets happier, too, when she realizes more gets done in the end.

Besides. What fun is it to be creative without joy? The careless driver at the intersection in front of my work might hit me tomorrow before the novel gets done, the kids are raised or the afghan is knit. I’d like to tell St. Hildegard that I loved the gift of life while I was here.

Our Brains May be Shorting out on Skimming

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As I painted my son’s ceilings over spring break, I listened to the the radio streaming from my computer in the next room. A piece came on about our brains and the effects of skimming material while surfing the Internet in our Information Age. Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University, said that we have begun to lose our ability to process complex sentence structures even as we have created this amazing ability to look quickly for the information we need.

I found myself nodding my head as I dripped white paint into my hair and splattered it on my glasses with the roller.

Last week I talked about my bookmares and how I cannot get through tough scenes in audio books. When it gets too heavy in audio, I have to get the print book so I can skim to the safer parts. I’ve also written about how I often prefer reading with my ears because the audio versions make me slow down and drink in the images I might otherwise push through to find out what happens next.

I don’t imagine I can now let go of the actors reading to me in my car, but Maryanne Wolf made me want to try a bit of complex reading or, at the very least, do more print reading to keep my brain in shape. I’m always telling my students how good it is for their brains to learn a language. (I’ve got to say something encouraging about the gargantuan task now and then to keep them going.)

I’d feel insincere if I didn’t take some of my own medicine, so I am now shopping for dense language in well written books. Suggestions, again, are welcome.

Pictures of skimming escaped me today. But I did find a video of this crazy event I never knew of before: pond skimming. Maybe skimming in reading is just as fun as these goofy people who made me smile this morning. I’m hoping for warmer weather and water when I soak in the pool of words in a book.

 

Free Soul Comfort Class Drawing

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In a slight change from my usual posts, I’d like to offer you the chance to win a video course through the Brave Girls Club. I took my first course from these ladies in January 2011, the month I learned my dad had pancreatic cancer. Soul Restoration held me together through that time and the year that followed after his death. Something about gluing things on paper kept me glued together.

Since then I’ve shared truth cards with my church and writing group, trying to spread the joy and comfort of gluing and creating beautiful words.

The Brave Girls Club is offering a new course and giving bloggers the chance to hold drawings for free classes. I’m pasting a few of their blurbs and a video below so you can decide if it intrigues you. I hope it does. Soul comfort for the holidays might be just the thing we all need.

Melody (course creator and teacher) says, “I want to teach you some new habits of creativity mixed with simplicity that I have learned over the years. Being a recovering hoarder of supplies and techniques, this is really a new way to give yourself permission to do things simply but beautifully.

One of the most wonderful things about this course is that everything fits into one fabric tote bag . . . I wanted to create a whole course where all of the supplies fit into a tiny space so that you could take it everywhere you go…so that you could do it sitting on your bed, on your couch, with your family, do it with your children, in the car, wherever your day takes you. It’s incredible. This has changed my life. This has been something that I have used on my own and I can’t wait to share it with you.”

And here is Melody Ross with her delightfully wacky hat to tell you more in a video:

As I look at this course and create this post, I’m impressed with how connected it feels to my last post about finding balance and resisting the urge to do it all. I did not plan to do this drawing until after I’d written about the Dallas Brass.

If you’d like a enter the drawing, post a comment here, answering the question:

“What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Soul Comfort’?”

I’ll do a random drawing from the comments on Monday, September 23rd at 9:00 pm PST.

Driver’s License Guy of Awesome

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The Driver’s Licence Guy at the Department of Motor Vehicles where I live has an impossible job. He sits at the front of a snaking line of people in unhappy moods because they must stand in his line. He tells them they have to pay money to have a picture taken that they will invariably hate, or they can’t take their test today, or some other thing they don’t want to hear. He says the same things an unimaginable number of times. And then he gives them a number to sit down with for the next stretch of waiting.

It’s an impossible job, but when I went to the office of doom to renew my license this birthday year, I saw the man who made it look possible. He talked to each of us individually, taking the time to answer our questions and make us feel like he cared. He smiled. He told us how many people waited in front of us for our particular numbered problem. At one point I heard him talking with a young lady and her mother about taking the driving test instead of paying 25 dollars for an ID card. He thought it would save her money.

The Driver’s License Guy felt unreal. And, yet, he was also the most real person in that stifling waiting area. People smiled at him and he lifted the mood of the place with uncomfortable plastic seats and bells ringing while numbers flashed on the boards.

My favorite scene with Driver’s License Guy happened when he gave the picture taking lady a break. He called those of us waiting for the digital camera over toward the counter. He read our names, took our papers and then stood the first lady in front of the camera. While he waited for her photo to process, he set up the next guy, laughing and joking, keeping the grouchy mumbling people fascinated by what he was doing against our wills. I enjoyed watching him move us around and juggle one part of the process with another like a guy flipping bowling pins through the air.

At one point, he called a lady back when her picture popped up.

“Oh, we need to do it again. You’re not going to like that one.”

It wasn’t even irritating that he held me up a bit longer with the retake. I loved that he cared enough about the face on her card to let her have a do over.

As the regular picture lady came back from break, he left us happier than before.

I’ll be starting classes again on the 23rd. I am hoping to channel some of the Driver’s License Guy’s energy to see me through and work some of his magic into my days this quarter.

“You owe me,” he said, smiling and pointing to the lady with the retake. And I do believe he’s right. What I’d like to do to repay him is pass that joy forward this school year. Please wish me luck. Testing and registering with school paperwork can feel like tossing bowling pins, too.