Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Genius of Kindness

Don't you just love Oscar Wilde? If you're a long-time admirer of his wit (as am I), I'd like to bring up another aspect of his genius: his kindness. His ability to place himself in the shoes of another human being, to feel compassion, to understand what it means to be human.
This is a little random, I suppose, but I've been thinking a great deal lately on the way that reading great literature and attempting to write it has the power like little else in life to spur us on toward growth in virtue. Patience is an obvious one...perseverance...but the one I've been thinking on most is compassion. There are so many people who don't bother with compassion because they equate it with weakness. But I should hope that as writers we become so trained in imagining what it is like to be someone else that we will always take that extra thought before saying something that might be hurtful--and if we do say it, perhaps we are more culpable than those who didn't pause.
My sister Rose (I know, I've been blogging about you a lot, Rose--sorry!) is writing her senior thesis on Oscar Wilde. I'm going to mess up the thesis statement completely here, but it's something along the lines of: Oscar Wilde's passion for beauty was his salvation. Ok, yes, the poetry of her original statement was just ruthlessly murdered--but even as poorly as I put it, it's something to think about...
I was psyched when she told me this, remembering a line from one of Wilde's little-known fairy tales, The Young King: "And it seems that from the very first moment of his recognition he had shown signs of that strange passion for beauty that was destined to have so great an influence over his life."
Isn't it amazing what a love of beauty can do to you? It makes ugliness so much uglier. It makes unkindness so much crueler.
Anyway, as a result of our discussions, Rose sent me an extremely well-thought-out article by Stephen Fry. It's a couple years old and a little long, but you should absolutely read it if you have the time. I'm going to quote the last line here, because it is the one on which this whole rambling hinges:
"It is odd that we value knowledge above feeling and persuade ourselves too that knowledge is more difficult than feeling..."
I believe that the ability to feel is a genius in itself.

(If you haven't read everything Oscar Wilde wrote, you probably should go to the library...but here's a few for starters:
The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde
Lady Windermere's Fan)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Stitch by Stitch

I have no delusions that I am unique in saying this has been a difficult month for writing. My WIP seems to be progressing so slowwwwly... In the 27 days of April, I have completed only twice as many new pages.
This drives me crazy. Why can some writers--really talented, skillful writers--shoot off pages like rounds in a machine gun, while others of us are left feeling like we're hand-throwing giant rocks at our targets?
I get this same frustration every time I watch my little sister knit. She is so darn fast. I recently decided I would start to knit a washcloth--this being about as reasonable a goal as I could set for myself in this area--then heard my sister say that she loves knitting washcloths because she can complete one in the time it takes to watch a movie. Hearing that, my mind instantly tells me, "Ok, why bother? This is going to take you for-evah. Course of a movie? Sure, if we're talking the extended edition Lord of the Rings--all three movies. Plus interviews. And ALL the credits. And, yeah, with a toddler and a baby, I obviously have time for that.
Every time I pick up the yarn and needles, I am tempted to put them right back down, because I know I will not have time to make any visible progress. I realized the other day that this is an obstacle I face in my writing as well. I don't have chunks of time. This frustrates me, but that's just life right now. I have to remember that every time I sit down and write a paragraph--though little progress is evident--that's one paragraph I didn't have before.
I finished my washcloth yesterday, after a few weeks of work on it. And I am determined to finish my WIP, word by word, slow paragraph after slow paragraph. And, hey, I have 60 pages I didn't have a month ago. I wish it was a whole book...but at least I'm training myself in persistence. Someday, instead of empty-nest-syndrome when my youngest goes off into the world, I should be able to write a few books a month. ;) Or maybe, at least, knit a sweater.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm assuming that "Beautiful Blogger" refers to my blog...

...but I may pretend it's a personal compliment just for fun. ;)

Thanks to Rena who gave me this Beautiful Blogger award last week!

I'm rather excited, because I've never received a blogging award before; now I have some blogger bling to put up. :)

The rules say I am supposed to pass this on to ten other bloggers. But, in the words of our pirate friends, I tend to see rules like this as "more actual guidelines"... So forgive me if I only pass it onto a few--so many of my blogging friends already have received this award multiple times over, and besides picking ten would be excruciating because I love so many!

So...I'm being a rebel and changing things up. I'm awarding the Beautiful Blogger Award to three bloggers who have had some of the greatest impact on my own writing:
Mark (a.k.a. my cute husband) at Plot of Gold... I would probably still be on about Chapter 7 of my first book without you, Mark. (I love you!)
Paula at Write Now, critique group buddy and amazing writer who has provided me with some of the most well thought-out and insightful critiques I have ever received and is a constant source of encouragement.
and Betsy at Betsy Devaney's Blog, another wonderful critique group friend whose heartfelt stories have the ability to make me smile on the roughest days.

And, um, to continue my rule-breaking spree, I'm going to make the pass-the-award-along thing optional. Instead, I'd like to request that each of these bloggers blog about a random something that makes his/her life beautiful.

I'll start, with one meaningful and one mundane:

Learning with Lucy! We planted seeds a couple of weeks ago--I love seeing the world again through the eyes of a toddler. Everything is a miracle! There is nothing average about anything, and the world is filled with wonder. footwear! These are my silver dancing shoes. My philosophy is that life is too short to not have something fun to look at as you walk.

 Thank you again, Rena! (And sorry about the rule-breaking!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Acting Lesson Number 1: Take a Risk

Despite being a creative writing major for a whole semester in college (I switched to Spanish and Education, because I figured I could never teach myself those things), the best class I ever took as far as writing goes was actually an acting class.
I learned more about myself, more about characters, more about drama and plot, etc etc etc in that class than I have anywhere else. I've decided to share some of that here, bit by bit...
Lesson One! Which was in fact my first assignment in class:
Take a risk.
We had to take a risk (a personal, emotional risk, as opposed to sky-diving risk) then write an essay about it.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it was probably one of the most life-changing assignments of my life. I hate taking risks. I do not like trying things I might fail at. Though I now succeed at it most days, it is still a conscious effort to look people in the eye. So my assignment had me sweating. I decided--gulp--that I would find a stranger who was sitting all alone in the cafeteria, you know, poor lonely freshman, and eat lunch with her. I was pretty sure that I might develop hives at such a drastic act, pretty sure that said freshman would think I was crazy and probably tell the whole campus what a weirdo I was, but I was so terrified of getting a B on my assignment that I forced myself. was easy. Once I sat down.
So, I determined that it probably didn't count. At dinner, pushing myself further, I sat with a whole group of people I didn't know. And...they were nice to me. They waved at me the following day and made small-talk in the breakfast line.
I pushed myself further and further, until finally I realized: that is the point. The risk lay in making the decision to do something I feared. The actual experience would never be as bad as I had imagined.
I'm not sure if I would have ever finished a book if I hadn't learned this lesson. I would not have entered it in any competitions, or submitted it to agents and editors. (I certainly never would have started a blog!)
Thus...your assignment: take a risk. Take several, daily. And, if you'd like, share a past risk that has changed your life. I'd love to hear about it!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Great new blog!

This is a fun day for me. I convinced my husband Mark that he should start his own blog about writing (yes, I have to take the credit for something) and he just did. Literally, just.
But I also promised him that his posts wouldn't be sitting in the blogosphere oblivion, unread. So go on over and read his first post, in which he waxes eloquent on the value of goats in literature--and say hello!
(Be ready to laugh. He is hilarious. I'm not just saying that--see for yourself!)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Come shamelessly plug your character :)

A few days ago, Hilary Wagner hosted a cool opportunity for writer bloggers to introduce themselves to each other in her comments... I've had the chance to meet and begin to get to know lots of really fun writers (hi!).
But now that I know you, I want to meet your characters! So I have some questions for them, this time:

1.What would your perfect day be like?
2. What is your worst nightmare?
3. Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Answer any or all of these questions in the comments (or on your blog and share a link), so we can get to know your character-babies. :)

As an example, I'll answer the first two for my character, Jenny (she's a 15-year-old orphan who works in a vineyard in Medieval France, just so you know):

1. A perfect day? Is such a thing possible for me? I saw a girl walking in the village once, with her parents. Her mother held her hand and her father walked behind, protecting them, smiling, proud. They belonged together. If I could have one such moment, I would never be so presumptuous as to ask for an entire perfect day. Perfection is a luxury for the wealthy.

2. My dreams are plagued with demons of my past and fears for my present. My stomach is always empty. Beggar children in the street stare at me, and their mothers turn them away. Again and again, I am thrown from others' homes. Homes that will never be mine. I laugh at them in my dreams, and I wake laughing, for there is nothing else to do; but my laughter is bitter as unripe grapes on my tongue.

(The image is Juene Bergere Debout, by William Adolphe Bouguereau. I know it's the wrong time period, and Jenny's not a shepherdess...but it encompasses her personality so completely that it is how I picture Jenny now!)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Did you know you have a wine personality?

I'm still plugging away on my vineyard story.
In my research, I came across this quiz: Find out your wine personality. Wine personality? Hmm, intriguing enough to distract me for 2 minutes.
Interestingly, my wine personality came out as the type of wine made in my story: Pinot Noir. Here's what it said about me:

"You have very discerning taste, carrying into your style, relationships and fashion. Like you, the Pinot Noir grape variety is very selective in choosing the perfect conditions, but when these conditions are met, Pinot Noir grapes have and will continue to make the world's most memorable wines.
You are worldly, but you consider one place as your home. As Pinot Noir is tried and tested in a number of wine growing regions around the world, its true home is Burgundy - producing extraordinary wine that will captivate you with one taste.
Pinot Noir pairs perfectly with a roasted turkey breast sandwich with brie and cranberry sauce on brioche."

Cool! I go well with a turkey sandwich and brie! ;)

Which I could really use right now, along with that glass of Pinot Noir. It's been a tough writing day.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some contests!

You know, all these contest people are setting an awfully high standard for those of us who have yet to earn contracts and figure out our own fun giveaways...but we forgive you!

First of all, my most sincere thanks to the lovely Hilary Wagner for hosting an amazing contest which I entered really cuz I just wanted to say hi to her--and I actually won. Ok, you don't understand--I never win anything. Anything random, anyway. I'm good at watermelon seed spitting contests. If you haven't already, you should go check out her blog and read about her upcoming book and tell her she's a really cool person.

Second, I just discovered another recently-contracted author, Sarah Wylie, who is hosting yet another amazing contest. Another gasp-for-breath-did-I-just-read-that-right contest. (Think agents, editors, lunch, books, twizzlers...)

Third, Danette Haworth is having a giveaway of her soon-to-be-released The Summer of Moonlight Secrets. I've read it already, in fact--here's a review--and it's a lot of fun. You should so go enter so you can read it before all your friends. He he he.

Ok, that's all for now. :) I need to go write. Gosh, you contest people. You're so distracting!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ok, I know you have a huge pile of books to read, but... should read Crunch, by Leslie Connor. It released at the end of March, and I'm nearly finished reading it now.
Here's why you should read it:
1) Amazing characters. I love when an author is able to create a moving, interesting story that is centered around a loving family. I know that every story doesn't work this way (hmm, none of mine do, come to think of it--I've got a couple orphans, I admit), but I have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf for ones that do. Crunch is going right up with my Elizabeth Enright, Eleanor Estes, and Jeanne Birdsall.
2) Intriguing premise. The world is running low on gasoline. And Dewey Marriss is in charge of running his family's bike shop while his parents are away for a few days--except those few days turn into a lot of days when every gas station closes their pumps.
3) Isn't the cover beautiful? Love it.
5) If you happen to live in the general vincinity of Connecticut's shoreline, you'll get a kick out of her use of the setting. I'm having a lot of fun picking out towns and places I know in her story. (Similar to the stories of another CT author mentioned above, Eleanor Estes!)
4) Leslie Connor is an amazing woman who gave me one of my first positive critiques on my very first chapter of my very first manuscript, as well as other works. But even if she wasn't a friend, I would still tell you to read this. Truly.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Spring is not the easiest writing time for me. I'm getting up early, forcing myself to write at least two pages a day...because once the sun comes up, I'm useless. It's so beautiful outside who in the world wants to sit and write?!
But, as I mentioned before, along with spring comes the insatiable urge to read L. M. Montgomery books. I don't know why...but I've read at least one of her novels every spring since I was...ten, I think. This year, in my devouring of Anne of Green Gables, I've been jotting down some of the wisdom I find there to share with you.

Here's one that has "writer" all over it:
"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?"
You know you're a writer have more interests than you know what to do with, so you write about them!

And another that should be inspiring:
"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"

This one I found particularly timely (Molly, I thought of you :):
"There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting."

Ok, I'm going to go be unproductive some more. Or maybe scare up some dinner. Sigh. It'll be a picnic!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You have to read this post...

...from Samuel Park's Daily Pep for Writers. Whether or not you're a writer, if you're a lover of books, a human being who has ever escaped into a book when you are disillusioned with people you meet in the real world, you will appreciate it. It's an extremely well-expressed thought. Wow.

In my world...Golden Bells are blooming. :) And I'm getting some good writing done.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The new honor of my new WIP

I've left Revolutionary America for the time being and sped back to Medieval France, the setting of my current work in progress. The new blog look is supposed to keep me I just think it's pretty.
Here's a little blurb about my new book:

Medieval France.
Genevieve longs for a home; since her father's death when she was a child, she has known many lodgings but never a place where she belonged. At fifteen, she is under the care of Antoine and Colette, the owners of a vineyard in the south of France. Though she seeks to make a place for herself amidst their rows of vines and within their hearts, the vines are failing and their hearts are cold. When she finds a mysterious manuscript buried under a dead vine in the corner of the vineyard and discovers that its first word is 'Jacques', the name of Antoine's one-time friend and long-time rival, she suspects it may contain the answers she needs to save the vineyard. Genevieve vows to learn to read it, to earn herself a place in the world despite her lack of education or support, and soon finds that the book may be even more than she had thought. It may contain the answer to a secret of her past.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

by Joyce Kilmer

The air is like a butterfly

With frail blue wings.

The happy earth looks at the sky

And sings.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Something you illustrators might find interesting...

This is a "Color IQ" test on how well you discriminate hues, which I was referred to by Nora's Lemons for Lemonade blog.
It's wicked hard, and I have a teensy headache now (though I guess I scored okay, with a twelve--best score being zero, worst something in the thousands). But fun. You should just try it for yourself. :)

Friday, April 2, 2010

I haven't been blogging because...

...I've been listening to violin music!

My husband has the very cool day job of luthier, fancy for violin maker (it sounds even cooler in German but I don't know how to spell it...). He just finished his newest model (yes, it's the one in the picture), and I've been priveleged to be the first to hear it sing! (Also, amazingly, it absolutely enthralls our six-month-old...I must remember to put on violin cd's when I have a writing deadline!)

You can see more pictures here, if you like!