Monday, June 28, 2010

In Memory of Trees

Yvonne Osborne is hosting The Festival of Trees and I signed up to be a part of it. It is a fitting event for me, since right now a human-caused fire has taken 16,000 acres of our old growth Ponderosa forest. We always knew this day would come, since the forest has been fire suppressed for so long, I’m just sad to see it come in my lifetime. Because it will not heal in my lifetime.

There is no place where I feel as alive as I do beneath a tree. Trees bring out a vitality in me I can only name as something holy. Even when I was a backcountry ranger, as beautiful as the high country above treeline is, I could not wait to get under the embrace of the forests below.

So, here is my humble tribute to the woods around my house and what they mean to me and my family. (Pictures courtesy of my good friend and photographer, Becky Cain, my husband, and some of my own.)

(I’ll not be posting until after the US Independence Day weekend, so if you get lonely for me, please read yesterday’s post—it’s embarrassingly jam-packed with me, me, me. *grin*)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sunday's Six

1. Fire.
Thank you all for your well wishes about our recent fire. This has been the worst fire Flagstaff has ever known and I’m sad to say that the whole half of the mountain that faces me has almost all burned, most of it old growth Ponderosa Pine. I knew that this kind of fire was inevitable and in normal circumstances healthy for the ecosystem, but I’m sad it’s at this moment in my life time—so many places I love exploring. All because some careless person didn’t put out their campfire. On the upside, the fire is 55% contained and the wonderful fire crews on the job have managed to save some really unique areas. So far it’s taken about 16,000 acres.
This video is heartbreaking...

2. I haven’t heard from agents.
The publishing business definitely has a hurry up and wait system, as many of you know, and I’m being patient. I’d love to hear something, but I’m going to hold off from asking for a status update for at least a couple more weeks.

In the meantime…

3. I’m in the middle of writing the climax for my Jedda Hitler book!
So very fun. It’s invigorating to know I’ve now created a third full novel. Granted, it’s a skeleton of book. And it’s ribs are all out of place, but at least it’s something tangible to beef up.

4. Dragon Books.
My oldest daughter is crazy about dragons and books about dragons. She loves Shelley’s Happy Birthday, Good Knight and reads it over and over again along with her other Good Knight books. She also loves the How to Train You Dragon series. But I’m kind of running out of lively dragon books like these ones. Does anyone have book recommendations? She prefers early readers with a couple paragraphs and a picture every page.

5. Sugar Free Month (aka June 2010) has been hard!
All month I’ve only allowed myself honey and fruit. It wasn’t even a challenge for Steve (a.k.a. The Husband). He’s not even looking forward to its end in a couple of days. I can see where this challenge has been beneficial for me in some respects. I still crave sweets, but not to the extent I was before. On the downside, it did not improve my energy like I hoped and I only lost a few pounds. Then again, I’ve never dieted or cut back before so I might have had too high of expectations for what would happen.

And as the perfect ending to the no sugar month…

6. I won Jessie @ Louder than Noise’s recent drawing!
I’ll soon be rid of the challenge on a high note, eating all the Gourmet Oreos I want and reading debut books purchased with my lovely gift card. Thank you, Jessie! You are so generous! :o)

But enough about me. What about you all? How was your weekend? And for those of you in the US, any big plans for Independence Day Weekend?

Here’s what I’ll be doing… hanging out in Silverton, Colorado. It’s one of my favorite places ever and fortunately we have a cabin there. Here’s a picture of our hundred year old mining bunkhouse we’ve renovated. Yeah, that really is an avalanche shute above the roof. And yeah, I’ve seen it work.
Uh… sorry. I did say enough about me didn’t I? Well, you can take it from here. I promise.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Taking It with You

Some of you may have heard on the news that our little town of Flagstaff, AZ has had a series of wildfires, the worst being the one that started yesterday. And while I haven’t been evacuated from my home, some of my friends have. This is a picture my husband took from our backyard last night:

Watching my friends given notice to evacuate got me thinking: what do you take? Where do you go when forces beyond your control rage around you and you need to escape?

Sure I have a 72 hour kit packed for each family member. Our important papers are in a somewhat consolidated place. But really, how do you walk away from everything else? Years of accruing things and then all of the sudden you realize they’re just things, baggage you have to haul away.

We were sitting in church when the evacuation announcement for certain neighborhoods was called. Some people, who were not in those neighborhoods, left anyway to make sure all their possessions were packed up and ready to go in the off chance they were ordered out. Others left to help those that lived in the threatened neighborhoods. Some didn’t come at all, waiting to see what happened from home. I’m not saying any of these people were right or wrong, but simply wondering where you would be when the announcement came. I stayed all three hours, fulfilled my teaching responsibilities and helped those who had to cover for those that weren’t there. But I admit all the while I was thinking I should be doing something else, helping others or myself to prepare for potential disaster. I tapped my foot and bit my nails the whole time.

And just to prove I’m crazy, I’ll say as I watched people leave, I first felt grateful all my family was together on that pew and second I thought of all my books at home and wondered how fast I’d have to pack them up to get them safely away! I guess we know my priorities don’t lie with the TV or other electronic devices. LOL.

Q4U: What do you take and where do YOU go when you need to escape non-physical forces you can’t control?

My answer: To that happy, therapeutic writing place. And to your blogs. Which I’ve truly missed the last few days.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The When to Write

In our great discussion on Friday, Margo got me thinking about timing and writing. When is it a good time to become a writer? At what point in our lives can we take our dream of writing seriously? Many of us have jobs, kids, and other time-consuming commitments. Sometimes it’s even poor health that gets in our way. Yet, as Margo pointed out, ideas keep coming and the fire to write doesn’t quell just because we haven’t the time. So I’m wondering, friends, what do you do when life or health or whatever won’t dish out an hour or more a day to let you write? Do you stop? Do you wait? Do you make do with the time you have?

It’s probably not a coincidence that I’m thinking about this just as summer break has hit. My schedule is in upheaval and the warm weather beckons me outdoors most of the day. But despite it all, as I said on Friday, I can’t fight the urge to write. So I work it in and make do with the time I’m given. Because all things considered, there probably never IS a perfect point in our lives to write. There will always be something that keeps us from the ideal. And even if there were an ideal time, I can’t say as I would want to wait. These stories are aching to be told right now for one thing. For another, I don’t really want to be at the end of my days, as Susan pointed out, having never tried for my life’s dream of publishing those stories. I’m reminded of how many authors have overcome time-constraining factors and managed to write their greatest works while inhibited:

1. Jane Austen suffered from what was likely Addison’s Disease. I’m sure there were many days she didn’t feel good enough to sit at her little writing desk and yet she did.
2. Jo Rowling was depressed, out of work, recently divorced, and had a new baby. If these obstacles would have stopped her, we would never had had Harry. (You know, those books that opened the door to many other kidlit books).
3. Charles Darwin suffered from an unknown illness that caused severe headaches, fevers and debilitating stomach pains. Yet he worked through the pain, tirelessly writing, researching, and thinking.
4. Virginia Woolf could only stand to write her books, her mental illness and eccentricities forcing the habit. Even if she couldn’t sit, she found a way to write regardless.
5. Hans Christian Anderson was word blind and dyslexic. How many lives have been blessed by his stories?
6. Avi, Fanny Flagg, Agatha Christie, James Joyce, William Yeats, Gustave Flaubert are/were also dyslexic and discouraged from pursuing writing as a profession.
7. Many authors are tortured by mental illness, two prominent yet prolific ones being Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy. They used their experiences to add depth and a reality to their words.

I could go on, but I’ll leave you to mention any other inspiring cases in the comments. Instead, I’ll just quote Jane Yolen, "Just write. If you have to make a choice, if you say, 'Oh well, I'm going to put the writing away until my children are grown,' then you don't really want to be a writer. If you want to be a writer, you do your writing. . . if you don't do it, you probably don't want to be a writer, you just want to have written and be famous—which is very different."
I’ll be visiting my mom and dad most of the week, so I apologize if I’m a little slow in getting back to you. Be assured I will eventually, though. I promise! (And for those of you that know about my mom’s poor health, please keep her in your prayers again. The chemo clinical trial she was involved with just dropped her from the study. Now the course of treatment is kind of up in the air—a bit scary, but we're keeping positive.)

Have a lovely week, everyone!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Apes and Art

I’ve been blogging long enough now that I’ve watched some friends, followers, and acquaintances blink in and out of activity. Watching that made me think about how hard it often is to stay on projects with no monetary compensation. (Um… writing, for instance?) Most of us aren’t paid for our writing. And those of us that are, it’s likely not as much as we thought it would be starting out.

But is fame or fortune—or any other reward for that matter—really a reason to create? And what’s more, does it create the best possible art?
Picture found here.In his book, The Biology of Art, Desmond Morris tells of chimpanzees who were first taught to paint. Once the quality was deemed good by their handlers, the handlers began to reward them with peanuts. The chimps rapidly figured out that for every picture they painted, they would get peanuts. How did this change them? You guessed it—they began creating sloppy paintings in hopes of getting a reward faster
. This is not to say that every author who cranks out books and sends them to their publisher is creating sloppy work, but instead I’m asking why each of us really creates art.

Why do you? What are your motives to writing, blogging, or anything else you create?
Here’s my answer: If I’m honest, I certainly want to be published. More than once. If I’m honest, I started this blog to develop an online platform (though it’s turned into more than that). And if I’m honest, I want to be paid for writing, enough to meet my needs and NOT in peanuts. But I also want to create for creation’s sake. I can’t stop writing. It has stuck to my soul and I cannot stop even if I wanted to. Even more than that, I wish to make a career out of it. Hopefully. Wishfully. Truthfully. These are my goals.
So... what are your truthful answers?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Original Monkey's Uncle

First, here’s a little tantalizing picture for Sharon and Catherine, the winners of the Great May Scramble. These goodies are winding their way to you tomorrow so you can take a break, read a book, and eat some candy. You’ve earned it.

Second, don’t anybody comment on the candy. Yes, they are the coconut M&Ms I’ve mentioned before. And yes I’m drooling because I’m eschewing sugar the whole month of June. The. Whole. Bloomin’. Month. My husband and I challenged ourselves and we’re stickin’ to it, by golly. (My body needs the break.)

Lastly, I have something to say. It involves this book.

Which I just finished and really loved. And it involves Making a Difference. It’s an ever-illusive thing I long to do. Not for fame or glory, but because there is something, some compulsion, inside of me that hopes I can help the world as a whole in some deep, lasting way. It’s hard to explain and it’s something I don’t usually talk about because truly, it’s not about me. It’s about what’s inside of me. Just like that compulsory need to write, I have an compulsory need to make a difference.

I especially admire people that have already made an altruistic impact on the world. I’ve talked about my adoration of Jane and Jane here. But Charles Darwin is another one I wish I could emulate. He didn’t set out to put the literate world aflame, but he wrote his books because he felt he needed to voice what he had observed in nature. He agonized over it. It even took him more than fifteen years before he could bring himself to publish his theory of Natural Selection. All this I knew about him, but I didn’t know that at the great climatic moment when his research was presented to the Linnaean Society, he was at home tending to sick children. His greatest triumph was his ten children, not his books or findings, not his fame, and not his collections from all over the world. His children were center stage. Thanks to Deborah Heiligman for such a wonderful, unique book.

Maybe someday I’ll have a chance to make a large, altruistic impact on the world. Maybe not. Maybe this desire to do something will go away too. Maybe not. But right now, at this moment, every thing I do makes the biggest difference to this person, her brother, and her sister. And no other influence is as important. Which is why my blogging this summer will be sporadic. (BTW, that isn't a cigarette in my hand and the baby doesn't have wonky eyes. There's a blur from the seven year old's attempt at photography. Just so we're clear. *grins*)

ETA: I just came from Lindsey Leavitt's blog and she and other authors are sharing stories of people impacting their lives. There are some wonderful tributes and if that's not enough, many chances to win books.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mission Accomplished and Winners Announced

The Great May Scramble is over! And it was so very good for me. Here are some things I learned along the way:

1. Encouragement from friends as well as having them work along side you sure helps accomplish a goal.
2. I CAN, in fact, embrace blogging and writing at the same time. Lately they seemed at odds, taking time from one to the other. But as long as I can adequately balance them, each is a nice compliment of the other.
3. Pushing through a first draft just to get the right word count can up my production. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a lister? Well, I’m also a huge outliner. I love outlines and sometimes it’s just okay to not know what’s happening next. Just push through. Things can seem clearer on the other side. (Yeah, you already knew that. But I’ve never done it.)
4. Writing everyday helps your brain stick with the story better, but often I still have to go back and read what I wrote last time. I guess my brain wants that. I don’t remember that being an issue before I had baby #3, when I was writing everyday.
5. How great it was to connect to old follower friends that I hadn’t visited in awhile. And to find new bloggers!
6. It’s much easier to comment and read blogs when I’m not holding a child. No wonder I’m slow about it—before I always saved that for nursing time. Now that she’s weaned, I’m not one-hand typing as often.
7. Most days it was all I could do comment on the blogs of those that comment on mine, let alone find new blogs. In that regard I failed and admire Jen and Susan who did.
8. Visiting ten new bloggers a day didn’t work out for me, three new ones a day was about my limit. Any more and it made me neglect my current friends and frankly stressed me out. Already I feel like there are quite a few followers I’ve lost along the way and I’d much rather reconnect with them. Maybe that will be my June challenge….
9. It is actually very easy to write 1,000 words a day. The hard part was stopping and getting back to real life. It seemed to work best if I scheduled in two smaller chunks a day rather than one huge, unattainable block of time.
10. Giving myself small moments on the internet as a reward worked well. I would muscle through writing bouts of time and then gift myself blogging time (e.g. for every 35-45 minutes of writing, I’d let myself have 10-15 minutes to visit your blogs.)
11. I’ve created a habit of writing and blogging everyday and man has my WIP benefited from it!

For those of you involved, what have you learned? I’d love to hear.

So I suppose now you’d like to know who the winners were. Okay, fine. I’ll not make you wait any longer.
Option #1 Winner: Sharon Mayhew!
Here’s a hint at what to expect in the mail, Sharon: A basket of 2010 debut reads to relax from all your hard work on the challenge. And a journal to document it. :o)
Option #2 Winner: Catherine Denton!
As promised, I’ll mail out Walking on Alligators as soon as Amazon stops being so lame and taking forever sending it to me.

Thanks to all for joining in! And if you'd like, feel free to take the picture and wear it proudly on your blog. You deserve it!
Really, tell me how this experience was for you. I’m dying to know for future drawings.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ill-conceived Niggling and Buzzing

For those of you working along side me with the Great May Scramble (sidebar), I’ve resolved to extend the deadline! That’s right! From what I can tell, we’ve all worked hard, plugged away… then Memorial Day Weekend hit. And since our families shouldn’t suffer from my ill-conceived plan, I’m calling today and tomorrow freebie days. If there are days you need to make up word counts or visit more blogs, by all means use the next two days to get caught up. Thursday is the big day I’ll draw a winner. (It’s actually the first day of summer break at my house anyway.)

And if you haven’t officially signed-up for the two different drawings, feel free to do so HERE.
Now on to an arbitrary topic buzzing in my brain. Discussion and thoughts would be appreciated.

When I was a Sensitive Species Biologist for the state of Utah, I took a crash-course on identifying birds by call. Once I’d learned how to do that better, it was hard for me to just enjoy a bird call for the sake of the beauty in its song. I was constantly dithering in my head if it was a Lark Sparrow or a Song Sparrow and such. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the calls, the magic of the music just took on a whole different meaning. The same thing has happened to me as far as reading a book and watching a movie now. I watch/read them, love them… but there’s always some monologue in my brain about how much I didn’t like a certain plot hole or how that piece of dialogue could have been written better. Case in point? Prince of Persia. I loved it. But there were things that niggled me.

Does this happen to you? Do you now see stories as a writer, songs as a musician, plants as a botanist, or bird songs as a species ID tactic?

Have a great Tuesday—I’m off to spend it in my daughter’s classroom on this the second to last day of school!