Category Archives: Travel

A break from the maelstrom

As much as I love the crazy, complicated chaos that is the internet, there comes a time every year when I sign out of Facebook, stop tweeting, and push the power button on all my devices.

Now is that time.

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I will miss (at least a little bit) Lenny Kravitz’s wardrobe malfunctions and cats-vs-roomba and the latest kerfuffle in the YA community. I will miss (much more) the sharp insights and biting wit of my colleagues.

And I will miss you (a lot).

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But I will be listening to pebbles and sliding through water on wings of my own flesh and feeling the smooth wood of a paddle shaft under my palms. The smell of wood smoke will curl through my dreams, and when I wake early, and the mist is still rising, I will crush a leaf of sweet gale between my thumb and forefinger and breathe deep.

It is time.

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When I see you next, my dears, I will be more me and less maelstrom.

Intuition, trust, faith – Lessons from SCBWI-WWA

IMG_5930I always leave writing conferences full of new ideas. Maybe a workshop has offered insight into some element of craft that I want to implement in my work in progress, or perhaps I’ve gleaned new strategies for social media and marketing.

I came home from the SCBWI-Western Washington Spring Conference with something a little different and probably far more valuable.

Sharon Flack and Nina Laden reminded me about intuition. Can I step back from over-analyzing and over-planning my projects and embrace the deep knowing of what my story needs?

Rachel Or asked us to trust in each other, in our art, and in ourselves.

David Wiesner spoke of faith in the ultimately unknowable act of creation that occurs when you commit to showing up on the page. Can I believe whole-heartedly in the process by which ideas are made manifest?

And to all this I will add kindness. A thousand thank yous to Dana Armin, Dana Sullivan, and Lily LaMotte for taking such good care of all of us this weekend. I was so happy to be among my people, to see your projects come to fruition, and to share my own. This writing business can be solitary and frustrating and heart-breaking, but it is also filled with the best people in the world.

And thus I begin work this morning full to brimming…

Intuition
Trust
Faith
Kindness

May they be yours as well.

 

The kindness of book people

IMG_4920This weekend, I was lucky enough to spend three days in beautiful Dumas Bay with book people. I woke today wondering how to capture the SCBWI-WWA retreat in a blog post.

Bald eagles.
A run in the rain.
Cookies and whisky.
Feeling like a giantess in my tiny convent room.
Hilarity and sand dollars.
Open hearts.

How could I give this to you, I wondered, in a wrapping of words that captured falling leaves and infinite mud flats and the way sound carries over water?

Then my writer friend, Kiersi, posted an article about what makes relationships last.

The answer? It is so simple. Kindness. Walking toward the outstretched hand and taking it. Holding out your own.

In one of the sessions this weekend, Sara Crowe, talked about the characteristics of career authors. One of them was to be kind, to reach out your hand to the editors and the assistants, to the published and the not-yet-published, to all you meet along the way. And while he might not have realized it, Andrew Karre reminded us to be kind to ourselves, to shut out the noise of reviews and the market, the expectations of genre, and the general cacophony that gets in the way of turning the multitude of wonders in our cupboard into story.

So this is what I want to tell you about my weekend: It was replete with kindess.

  • The kindness of Sara and Andrew when they talked about their authors and their books written and unwritten.
  • The kindness of critique partners who saw strength in the craft of others and named it.
  • The kindness of writers who shared the stories of their hearts with me and who, in turn, listened to my own. 
  • The kindness of laughing together (and leaving no one behind on the mud flats).
  • The kindness of every moment that honored both the gifts and challenges of this thing we do, this thing we share, the way we strive to bring forth the story only we know.

Thank you, Andrew and Sarah. Thank you, Allyson and Lois. Thank you, compatriots. It was a beautiful weekend.

Wide Open Spaces (Required for Writers)

My family and I spent spring break in a rented house on North Andros, the largest island in the Bahamas but one rarely frequented by tourists.  There are no large resorts or mega-hotels, no gift shops, no high end spas.  In other words, my kind of place.

I had a week’s reprieve from email (the wifi was down most of the time), to-do lists (other than: eat, read, kayak, swim, snorkel, bird-watching, sleep, repeat), deadlines, and the interwoven schedules of my family of four.

I re-remembered and re-affirmed that what I love and what I need is wide, open space.  I need the horizon so I can see where the moon sets each night.  I need the expansive sea so I can track the rise and fall of the tides.  I need the untrammeled sand, twice renewed each day, to find my path.  And most of all, I need the wide, open spaces of my mind once it is cleared of all the must-do, should-do detritus of daily life.  I can not create without  it.

 

 

Give me a sailor and let me run away to sea

This is the thing about writing…  I get to fall in love over and over again.   And not just over shiny story ideas.  I know writers gush about that a lot, but I tend to make an idea prove itself to me before I commit.

(Run with that, Dr. Freud.)

No, I fall in love with the deep substance of the story and–especially with nonfiction–the subjects.

Last week, I spent three days in Astoria, Oregon, doing research for a new book project on the pilots who work the Columbia River bar.

I interviewed two pilots, toured the boat basin and climbed aboard both of the pilot transport boats (Chinook and Columbia), and checked out their shiny new helicopter at the airport.  And, in a completely unexpected turn, one of the pilots offered to let me ride along as they transferred a pilot to an inbound bulk carrier ship.

AMAZING!!!

The two bar pilots I interviewed held me rapt.  I could have listened to them talk for hours.  And if you had been there and heard the way they talked about the sea and the ships and the life of a sailor, you would’ve fallen in love too.  And if you had been on Chinook, zooming across the most dangerous river to ocean crossing in the world, you would have lusted for the power of her engines, the grace of her handling, and the perfection of her lines.

You would fall in love too.

 

Why writers need empty spaces

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or are my Facebook friends, I know I’ve been annoying you with pictures and pithy quips from the sandy, sunny beaches of Hawaii.  I’m back to the doom and gloom of a Portland winter so I’ll stop being an irritant.  However, I hope you’ll bear with me for one parting thought about my vacation.

Vacations are important and amazing for all the normal reasons. We don’t work or clean our houses or do our laundry.  We don’t set alarm clocks or exercise or make grocery lists.  We play.  And there was lots of serious play on my trip to Hawaii, but there was also something else–EMPTY SPACE.

During the last week, I had chunks of time with nothing to do.  I didn’t reach for a book or a pen and paper.  I didn’t even let my mind turn toward the next scenes I need to write in the Angel Punk novel.  Honestly, I didn’t think about writing at all.

Instead, I watched people.  I got lost in movements, gestures, voices.  I stared at the sea and sky and sand and twisted lava.  I got drunk on textures and swooping lines, the way stillness and motion merge at the horizon.  I dove into my senses: the feel of wind and blowing sand, the scent of wet earth and papaya.

A whole universe was born inside a 1987 Westphalia Pop-Up.  My family of four lived for a week in the lovely Hula Wahini, cruising the islands and inventing new phrases for our own personal family dialect.  “Going Pahoa” and “Ghetto Wahini” and “Happy Camper” will forever be part of our shared story.  I rolled around in the new-oldness of my little team.  I revisited myself (because she’s been too busy to even grab coffee lately.)

Evolutionary biologists like to say that “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  (Variously attributed to Aristotle, Spinoza, and Parmenides, but I’m too lazy to track down the real source.  Sorry.)  What we mean is that any empty ecological niche will eventually be filled by the adaptation of some species.  There are no empty places because life is cramped and crowded on this planet and any chance of freedom from competition will be exploited.

My mind is often a cramped and crowded planet.  It’s jammed with to-do lists and calendars and works-in-progress and family needs.  We keep a wicked pace.

Yet, empty spaces enveloped me last week.   And, as the philosophers promised, the empty spaces proffered by Hawaii were filled–and filled with riches that I’ll draw on for a long time.  Now if I can just remember to go Pahoa, I’ll be fine.

 

Report from KidLitCon 2011 – CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY

KidLitCon 2011 was all about CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY.  It was invigorating like this killer mural I passed in Seattle.

(Forgive the cross-posting with VivaScriva.com, but I couldn’t decide which blog needed this post more!)

Unlike many writers’ conferences, which are tinged with an air of desperation, the path to publication was NOT the focus.  Instead KidLitCon attendees are primarily bloggers focused on connecting authors and their books to readers.  Not as marketers (though some authors assume that every blog is a lightly veiled form of advertisement) but as matchmakers devoted to getting the right book in the right hands.  Need proof?  Take the passionate conversation with Colleen Mondor about how her review of a book she loved could “best serve the book.”  Inspiring!

It was deeply satisfying for me to meet others (in person, since I had connected with many via Twitter) who are committed to the tripartite nature of story-telling.  There must be a story, a teller, and an audience.  CONNECTION—I love it!

Another key take home for me was that these connections had to be AUTHENTIC.  Truth starts with the story.  The panel on diversity (Lee WindSarah StevensonBrent Hartinger,Sara RyanJustina Chen) reminded us that the heart of the story is inhabited by authentic, non-stereotypical characters whatever their ethnicity and orientation.  Writers (no matter their ethnicity or orientation) must get it right for truth to infuse the story.

Much discussion on authenticity circled around how we review books.  Bloggers make many choices about their own process and the key is transparency.  If you only discuss books you like (book recommendations vs. critical book reviews) then say so on your blog.  If you’re taking on the crucial job of true book reviews, remember that critique is not a litany of failures.

Authenticity was also a theme of Holly and Shiraz Cupala’s presentation on DIY marketing.  They urged authors to focus on giving value to bloggers, potential readers, book store buyers, and librarians.  We shouldn’t be trying to trick people into switching tooth paste brands.  We should be trying to fill a need.  Shiraz shared a quote from Simon Sinek: “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy why you do it.”  Isn’t that another way of saying we all want the heart of the story?

Perhaps the best gift of KidLitCon 2011 was the synergy with Angel Punk.  Devon Lyon, Matthew Wilson, Jake Rossman, and I presented a panel entitled The Future of Transmedia Storytelling: Angel Punk, Pottermore, and Skeleton Creek.  (For those of you who weren’t there, transmedia tells interwoven but non-overlapping story lines through multiple forms of media.  In our case, film, comics, novel, and online.)  Transmedia is about CONNECTION because of fan participation in the story-telling process and because each form of media engages and unites a different set of fans.  It was exciting to see the enthusiasm of other KidLitCon attendees for both our approach to story-telling and the heart of our story itself.  (Thanks, you guys!)

I’m still flying high from KidLitCon 2011.  I left with real, true, new friends—CONNECTION and AUTHENTICITY.

Writing retreats are serious business even in bikinis

I spent Saturday and Sunday at Cannon Beach in a rented house with the Viva Scrivas on retreat.  Lest you think it was all cocktails and bon bons and Scrabble, let me tell you a little story…

Saturday was the kind of day that happens once or twice a year on the north Oregon coast.  75 degrees.  Clear sky.  No wind.  A day for bikinis.  Seriously!

And we worked, wrote our fingers to the bone.  When I paid our bill at the rental office, the woman said, “I saw you all working away yesterday.  How did you do it?  The day was too nice for work.”

How did we do it?  One word at a time…  Some of us are on deadline (yikes).  Others making good use of the time away from demanding jobs and small children.  Another getting back to writing after a long absence.

Our group tries to get away 2-3 times a year for writing binges followed by those aforementioned cocktails and bonbons.  It’s a great way to be together and make major accelerations in our writing progress.  I wrote nearly 5,000 words to give me nearly 45,000 words written in my newest novel.  I’m into the last 1/3 and let me tell you… IT FEELS GREAT!