Morning Walk

I’m walking through the cemetery this morning
Sometimes I use it to pray 
But I’m just listening to an old radio show
And dreaming of hot coffee and milk
Anyways, I have my bright teal
umbrella and my backpack and I’m stomping through the wet leaves with my headphones
And I look back
And there’s a figure all in black with a black umbrella
And I can’t see their face
(I don’t have my glasses on)
(It’s drizzling)
But I couldn’t even make out where the head was
Hat maybe, under the umbrella
So I turned towards the woods
because the cemetery gates on that side are always locked
And when I look back, the person is still in the cemetery
Taking my path
And I really can’t see their face
And the coat is really long
Like a black trench coat
And they’re just following me
So I get to the street and cross, and I can see the person just standing at the rocks staring at me.
From behind the gates.
Or I think they’re staring, because I never saw their eyes.

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Books that Stayed with You – Second Verse, Close to the First

Posting “ten books that have stayed with you” started going around facebook again. I resisted for a bit, but decided to try again, knowing I might have a few of the same answers and a few different. Depending on the day and your mood and your memory, you can answer the same question a thousand different ways.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – I believe this was on my list before. Yes, it was a book first. A perfect humorous fairy tale with a Shakespearian Comedy-type ending. Also, read the Chrestomanci series. Also, anything else by her.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – Because I thought it was going to be as funny and lighthearted as his poetry, and it broke my heart.

Remember Me by Christopher Pike – A ghost has to track down her own killer. I loved the views of the afterlife in this one. The story was also relatively not-weird compared to his usual fare.

Peter Pan by JM Barrie – Didn’t read this until college, which made the reading experience excellent. You can read Peter Pan as someone not quite human, and the ending is that Peter comes back for a Darling child to spirit away every generation.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery – I loved the idea that the family mistakenly adopted a girl when they wanted a boy to help them with hard farm labor. Also features hilarious underage drinking. It’s like a Canadian pre-teen “I Love Lucy.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis – This is obvious. I still wish I had my own writing pocket dimension where you can visit for years and no time passes in the “real world.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – One of the only classics I read independently as a child. The reason it stayed with me was the image of an old woman in a bridal gown dancing by herself as her house burns down around her.

Hole in my Life by Jack Gantos — A recent read, but I’ve known the story for a while. A Boston children’s author’s memoir of his time in prison.

Cradle and All by James Patterson – When I was ten, my gram told me this book was too mature and I shouldn’t read it. So I waited until she returned it to the library and checked it out. Now I have a thing for religious horror thrillers.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I love Mary and Dickon, but Colin was the one I was most fascinated with. Colin’s father was so grief stricken by his wife’s death that he protected his son fiercely. So much so that Colin hardly ever saw the sun and couldn’t walk on his own, though there was nothing physically wrong with him.

Also, be proud KidLit writers: Almost all the books people said influenced them were written for children. Keep doing good work for young people. 

Don’t Freak Out

Lesley University’s MFA Program in Writing for Young People

Steven Cramer, the Director of the Creative Writing MFA at Lesley spoke to us during our first semester orientation class in June.

One of the first things he said was, “‘The Work’ should be more fun than fun.”

I’m not sure if I can live up to this, but its definitely what I strive for. I’d say half of the people I know who write love it completely. The other half, who I tend to work more closely with, are the ones for whom writing is a labor and a struggle. It’s not something ‘fun’ but we love it in our own way. The act of creation is a labor; even if it doesn’t feel like it’s one of love sometimes, we keep going.

“We are better critics for others than for ourselves. You are your first and worst critic.”

TRUTH. At this point during the seminar, I doodled a writer throwing their wine glass and manuscript into the fire and watching them burn.

Then we were given terrifying advice on How Not to Waste this Opportunity.

“If a great creative vigor isn’t employed in the attendance of an MFA program someone is cheating themselves.”

On the spectrum of creative people, I am of the type who like to self-sabotage unconsciously. (For the thrill? For the stress? Because creative brains are broken and put back together strangely?) Whatever the reason, I am prone to procrastination, all-nighters, breakdowns, and napping when I have free time rather than writing.

My eyes got big and watery. I was loving the whole experience, getting all these big ideas, but how long would my motivation hang in with me? I wanted to succeed. I worked so hard to be here…

The next thing was, Don’t freak out.”

This program has been running at Lesley University for 11 years. I was not the first person to be this way, and I will not be the last. What followed was a list that seemed tailored to people like me.

  • Don’t freak out
  • Be proactive
  • Work on time management
  • Communication is key: Communicate with your mentors.
  • Be fluid. Bring in raw stuff.
  • You’re not locked into the thing you came in doing in this program. Experiment!
  • Writers have to allow themselves to write badly.
  • Writers have to forbid themselves to settle for anything other than the best they can do.
  • Use this time to delve into your own psychology.
  • There’s a lot of scope for getting it right.

Some seminars were refreshingly full of swearing. It made me feel right at home. These were usually the seminars focused on the task of writing itself; swearing is a part of the process. Ask many classic American authors. Mark Twain was a great fan of swearing.

Advice on Submissions:

  • Some people work every night, only work on the weekends, or pull all-nighters.
  • What are you trying to do? How can your mentor help you get there?
  • Giving up the notion that you already have a voice or style will set you free.
  • Promise is a style in the process of defining itself.
  • Before sending your work to anyone else, ask yourself: Is this the work of a writer who cares about what they’re writing? 

Chris Lynch’s Introduction to Workshopping and Critique:

  • Try to tune into what the writer wants to do rather than what you like to read.
  • Read a lot of good adult writers even if its not your genre/category [ex. writing for children]. Don’t limit yourself.
  • There’s nothing that’s not possible in fiction.

In Laurie Foos’ seminar on “Courting the Muse,” tactics for keeping the creative energy flowing, she said, “I know where you’re going. I know where you’ve been. This is your opportunity to put writing at the center of your life.”

And that was the best thing about the residency: You’re with other people who strove to be here to become better writers. To take their passion and hone it into something.

I always love hearing about other writers’ neuroses and habits and fears and interests and talents. There’s nothing like being in this community.

And I think that is the point of residencies in low-res MFA programs:

You’re not alone.

Don’t freak out.

Justice

“When hundreds of women descended on Nagpur district court armed with knives, stones and chili powder, within minutes the man who raped them lay dead.”

‘Arrest us all’: the 200 women who killed a rapist

I don’t believe in the death penalty in most cases, or that people should take the law into their own hands. Not because I think despicable people deserve to live, but that I realize our justice system is flawed. To err is human, and we discover innocence on death row far too often to confidently mete out mortal justice.

But then, I read their story.

Imagine: You’re a young woman in India, growing up poor in Kasturba Nagar, a slum in the city of Nagpur.

Continue reading

Art and Illustrations

I know so many talented professional illustrators in this business. I love experimenting with mixed media, but comparatively, I am obviously a novice.

Someday I’d love to take more life drawing and illustration courses, but I probably won’t pursue art in my career, at least at a time when I’m concentrating so deeply on my writing.

What I do love getting out of my art is being able to show it to my friends and family, and gift them with some. So, I’ve created a gallery on this site to display work that I do when I’m supposed to be writing.

My Gallery

My first graduate school writing submission is due in three weeks, so expect many updates and a peak in blogging productivity as I avoid it for as long as possible.

On the Creative Mind

I see inspiration as an energy bar like the one floating above your character’s head in a video game. The act of creation drains that bar, and your task is to fill it again by reading, looking at art, taking trips to new places, or even just creating a new experience locally.

Like many of us artistic-types, I struggle with boredom, depression; a dry well where flowing creativity should be.  Continue reading

Ten Books that I Still Think About

Many of these I read as a child; a lot of our favorites from that time stay with us. But a few more contemporary works have snuck in there. I can’t resist a good fantasy.

In no particular order:
1. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

An orphan boy named Cat Chant finds out he is a powerful enchanter who has nine lives that were transformed into a book of matches. The betrayal of the sister he saw as a mother figure, a girl who used his lives in order to selfishly give herself more power really interested me.

2. Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Funny historical fiction. A medieval lord’s daughter, who subverts the trope of beautiful Ladies who are quite well behaved, is really rude and plays pranks and plays with the pig boy. I was enchanted.  Continue reading