Thursday, July 29, 2010

Before and After the Grapes

Chautauqua; a beautiful enclave of creative, intellectual thought and meditation. It is such a hard place to describe. It's built around an ampitheater that houses daily lectures, creative discussions and a host of evening perfomances...symphonies, operas and even the Oakridge Boys!

A maze of streets with ornate, gingerbread style houses weave their way down to the sea, Lake Chautauqua. The Athenaeum Hotel with its wide porches and large wicker rockers welcomes visitors from all walks of life. There are churches of all denominations and people from birth to 90 and beyond. Small boarding houses, condominiums, larger single family homes and mansions crowd the space along the shore. But there's a balance of open park space and walking trails too.

In the upcoming days, I hope to wrap my mind around this wonderful Chautauqua experience. I was transformed by the company of adventurers that joined me while I was there. We were seekers, set on a journey to explore the craft and the ideal of writing and storytelling for children. But first we had to come to know ourselves...just a little bit more.

On the last night, Kent Brown, former publisher at Boyds' Mill Press and founder of the Highlights' Chautauqua Institute for Children's Writers, spoke of a time in his town where grapes were the currency of all that was done. The pay-off apparently, always came after the grapes were harvested. He asked us to think of our writing as not before or after grapes, but before and then after Chautauqua. I feel like I crossed a bridge as a writer during that week's adventure in Chautauqua. It sure was a Utopian place to be. I'll be passing along the little bits I experienced there in the upcoming week, and in that...I hope to process it all myself!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Things I Know by Heart

What really lies in a name, anyhow? How insulted would you be if someone forgot your name, but could remember everything about you that really mattered to them over a lifetime?

My friend, Jim, is a fighter...beyond any type of fighting I've ever known in my life, that's for sure. He's fighting fighting four brain tumors that are trying to rob him of the many things he's known all his life. Names are a problem.


Jimmy? Knows so much in his heart, he actually doesn't need names to pick out his friends in a crowd. I've seen Jimmy twice in the past two weeks. He's been out and about, fighting to keep up with the world.

First, we all went out to dinner, and his wife sent him with a picture of all the guys. He showed it to us all and said, "See this horseshit? This is what it's come to..." Superimposed over each of the guys' tee-shirt was each of their names. But Jimmy was laughing as he showed it to us, still proving that he can rise above it all. A couple of times I heard him refer to my husband and one of his other good friends as "my man," which really cracked him up, and of course, cracked us up too. Laughter is good medicine. It's the stuff that our circle thrives on.

The second time, we went to see James Taylor and Carole King in concert. We met in a parking lot and drove up together, Jim and his wife in one car and all of us in two other cars. When we approached the car, we could see the look of terror in his eyes. He was overwhelmed. We immediately backed off. But once we got to Tanglewood, and the music began to play? I watched Jimmy transformed back into his old silly self. He sat back in the chair, a wicker rocker, and just let the music take him a place where names and memories just drift along in midair. Music is a healer too. It allows a spaciousness and a freedom...a place to rise above it all.

The music that evening gave us all a certain sense of hope and self-forgetting. It reminded us that our friend Jim has the heart of a lion...and an army of friends that would do anything on earth to bring him to the other side of this nightmarish disease that eats at his brain each day. Jimmy tells me all the time, "Don't give me anymore of that Mets shit, or I'll kick your..." But I'm forever reminding him that it is I who'll kick his scrawny butt. Right now, however, I'm hoping he can keep up all this fighting, scratching and clawing...staying in the now. Because it is precisely in the "now" that a miracle could actually occur!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Finding My Ground and Trusting the Process

Revision sure is a tricky old friend. It requires great thought and tremendous dedication to the process. When I first got started on my latest revision of this current WIP, I had to settle back in, outline a bit, but prepare for the unexpected.

Getting myself out to the cottage every day is not a problem. In fact, that's the easy part. I set up a plan, reread the previous day's work and fire up a new chapter to get started for the day. But it's the unevenness of new ground...ideas that pop into my story that really starts to make me itch.

The other day, I wandered into the house for a cup of tea, a seltzer, a switch the laundry, etc., etc., etc. I've come to the conclusion, that I don't mind word-smithing, layering more detail or adding to a conversation. But when ideas come out of left field...well, I just fight it. I don't know what it is. Honestly. Am I afraid I'll have to write a different novel? Am I afraid the new ideas will ruin my chances for publication? I have to my heart, I'm a storyteller, so that can't be the reason for my angst.

Fortunately, the answer to all of this lies in my writing group, and my wonderful mentor, Patricia Reilly Giff. Many friends and family members have offered to read my work. They know books, they're readers of course...and I completely respect them for the types of books they enjoy. But...a seasoned writer can call me on it when I'm dodging the fire in my story. My partners in crime know my pitfalls, and they always get me back on track. They keep me focused, so my eyes don't wander too far, and they force me to make my work pay-off for the reader.

Right now, I'm marinating and simmering...sometimes coaxing the flame in order to keep that one idea lit. But that is the process. And for now, I just have to trust the tender nature of the process, my writing partners, and that elusive Muse...because she eventually shows up each day. Most of all, I have to trust myself and simply write the best book I'm capable of...a word, a paragraph and a single page at a time.