Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers--Fairies or Angels?

I have been wanting to go to Fairy Stone State Park for a couple of years. I knew my daughter would love hunting for Fairy Stones, so I just had to pick a day to do it. Today was the day. When I know that I'm going to be gone all day, sometimes I worry if I'll get behind on my writing. For most people, summer is a time when they can slow down a bit. For me, summer time is the time I get most of my writing done. Sometimes it's during these times that my writing really is enriched. Or my life is enriched, which affects my writing. On days that I don't venture out, sometimes I find myself sitting down to the computer and wasting time because I don't know what to write. On days like today, I come back with my head so full of stories that I can't wait to get them down.

The legend goes that the woods were enchanted with fairies. When an elfin told the fairies that Christ had died, they cried. Their tears crystallized and became the fairy stones. There is another Cherokee version of the story as well. I am going to look that one up.

The woods and hunting for fairy stones? There is a story in there somewhere. I thought about it all the way home. I took the road less traveled by (you know, the one with no lines on it) and I thought about my story, while enjoying the beautiful mountains. And it was totally quiet because the trip to the park wore both of my kids out and they were snoozing in the back.

I took both of my kids by myself for two reasons 1) the hubby had to work and 2) it's less crowded on a weekday. I packed a cooler full of water, fruit, muffins, and other snacks. I had the jogging stroller (which by the way, was made for camping). And we had a handful of picture books on CD. I listened, my daughter followed along with the text, and we had a fabulous time.

Usually my husband and I tag-team. We are able to handle two kids and all of their paraphernalia without too much trouble. On my own, I have to streamline it a bit, but I was feeling very comfortable with the whole trip. I was amazed by the kindness of total strangers. An elderly man who must live locally, came in to the visitor's center when we did (he didn't work there). He told us all about the fairy stones and explained some of the hands-on skulls and displays set up. He patiently and kindly answered all of my little naturalist's questions.

Then there was the retired principal who led us out to the fairy stone trail, who spent extra time with us helping us to identify which were fairy stones and which were not (and there were about 20 of us that went--we weren't the only ones).

On the way down to the trail, there was the lady who was fairy stone hunting with her grown siblings. She waited for me to get out of the car and asked if I needed help getting my stroller down the rough, steep terrain.

At lunch a young boy, about ten, saw me pushing a stroller and dragging a cooler. He offered to come over and help me.

Perhaps we had been sprinkled with fairy dust. Or maybe sometimes you entertain angels unaware. For whatever reason, I am indebted to the kindness of strangers who made my trip to Fairy Stone that much more enjoyable. As soon as possible, I will pay it forward.

Now, off to write my story.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A few links for your viewing pleasure...

Several interesting links have come my way lately. I thought I'd share the most meaningful ones.

1) Check out an upcoming book entitled Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. You must, must, must watch the book trailer on her book's site. This book is about the Lithuanians that were killed during Stalin's reign. It's one of the riveting stories that has been mostly untold so far. The book trailer is very moving. I haven't read the book, but the story she shares is so compelling, I will be reading it when it comes out.

Thanks to Angie Smibert, fellow critique group member, for the link. Angie and Ruta are both Elevensies with books coming out in 2011.

2) I am a haiku nut, as you may have seen on this blog. I have been following the blog Cobalt Crow Productions. They have a new haiku journal appropriate for anyone but especially geared for students. I will be using this journal with my kids. It's called Berry Blue Haiku. Check out their first issue. It's free. Even if you aren't a teacher, if you like haiku, you will like this online magazine.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reading Like a Writer

One of the joys of summer is that I can finally start reading in that stack of "to-be-read" books that keeps getting taller and taller. My thesis-in-progress is about a young girl who is dealing with grief and lots of change in her life.

Two of the books I read this week are about characters that also are dealing with grief and lots of personal change in their lives. I didn't realize this when I picked these books out of the pile.

Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes
Mitch's parents are getting a divorce and he is mad at the world. He and his Mom go to live with his grandparents on Bird Lake. He spends most of his time being angry and wanting his life to be normal again. Then Spencer and his family arrive at Bird Lake. Spencer's family is returning to Bird Lake after many years because this is where Spencer's older brother drowned. It has taken a long time for his parents to feel like they can try to return. Both of these boys are dealing with their own issues, but they become friends.

As I writer, I loved to see how Henkes developed the psyche of these two boys and showed so many details. His use of setting and emotions really helped me to see how a writer can portray grief and emotions through the physical place and objects around them.

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
This book is by a Virginia author. I had heard so many good things about it. I knew it was about a girl with Asperger's syndrome, but I didn't realize that it also was about this girl dealing with the loss of her brother who was killed in a school shooting. Like Erskine, I was touched by the Virginia Tech shootings. It was 30 minutes from where I live and I was terrified that something so horrible could happen so close to home. Erskine shows how Caitlin, the main character, deals with the loss of her brother and helps her dad also deal with his grief. Erskine portrays the grief honestly and uniquely as seen through the eyes of a child with Asperger's. There are no quick answers, but Caitlin and her dad began to heal.

As a writer, I was deeply touched by the emotions of this book. I loved how Erskine developed the relationship between Caitlin and her brother. We get to know Devon, the brother, after his death, through Caitlin's memories. Erskin weaves this in piece by piece in little details each time. Once again, like Henkes novel, we see how physical objects also hold great emotional weight.

Both of these novels I intended to read for pure pleasure. I had no idea they would help me see how different writers can approach the same subject. And they gave me momentum for pushing on with my own novel with a character in grief.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Running Race #2

Last month (has it really been a month?) I reported that I was trying to finish up school. I was coming to the end of the race, only to start a new one.

I've been out of school since last Thursday. I've been running a writing race since then.

I love summer. I can make my own schedule. Work out in the mornings, write when my son takes a nap, go to the pool in the in between times, and stay up past my bedtime. The only problem with an unscheduled day is that sometimes things on the to-do list never get done. Before school got out, I made myself get organized in my writing life. I found these cool little to-do list templates on Microscoft's website. I personalized it for my writing. My categories are:
* Writing
* Research
* Correspondence/Send out
* Revisions
* Miscellaneous Tasks

Each week I make a new to-do list. When I found myself floundering, or stuck on one part of my writing or the other, I switch gears and do something different. I have gotten a tremendous amount accomplished and I feel very focused.

Things I've done so far:
1) Wrote a new story and sent it to a bedtime story contest. Here's the link to mine.
2) Revised an picture book I've been working on and submitted it to Cheerios Spoonfuls of Stories Contest.
3) Revised another picture book I've been working on and submitted it to the Hunger Mountain Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing.
4) Written and revised over 30 pages on my novel-in-progress (my thesis for my Hollins MFA).

I love deadlines and I thrive off of them. Having these contests to submit to gave me a deadline for revising (or writing) my work. I have to turn in a picture book to my picture book marathon group every month. I turn in pages of my work-in-progress to my SCBWI crit group every month. I also have to submit new pages of my thesis to my Hollins Thesis e-mail crit group every week. These deadlines have been really good for me.

Here's to Race #2. I've been training for this one all year. I hope I finish strong. I will cross the finish line the end of August when I return to my other job.