Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Little Feathers: In the Heart of the Beholder (warning, no logic fo...

Little Feathers: In the Heart of the Beholder (warning, no logic fo...: Christmas Eve is my favorite. There is something about the anticipation that captures my imagination. In my mind, the shepherds and the ange...

In the Heart of the Beholder (warning, no logic found here)

Christmas Eve is my favorite. There is something about the anticipation that captures my imagination. In my mind, the shepherds and the angels got to Bethlehem tonight. I realize that if Christmas is the day Jesus was born, there was no baby there tonight. But years of Christmas Eve service with its candles and carols, choirs and manger scenes have convinced me that tonight the sky will be filled with the impossible light that signals the arrival of God's ultimate gift. Tonight is magical, in the very best sense of the word. Magical as in Magi and people who follow a star that leads them to a surprise. Not what they expect to find. The magic that is a quiet moment in the night, a still piece of the year when everything stops to breathe and remembers an ancient story of love so surprising we can't really grasp it and must take it in small doses of understanding. Does it really matter what day of the year we choose to stop in this moment? If I were a wiseman (man as in mankind, a species not a gender), I would choose every moment of my life to remember. But I am more of a shepherd, needing the direct order of an angel, than a king from afar who follows a star. And tonight, the angel tells me to fear not.  I and my sheep (unruly thoughts, in my case) are headed for Bethlehem.
Some think Christmas has gotten out of hand. That it belongs to the admen (more species) and the greedy. Since, for the most part, I have the liberty of choosing the world I live in none of that bothers me. Keeping the Christ in Christmas, for me, has nothing to do with what words we say at this holiday, or what colors are displayed in schools or stores. I'm pretty sure Jesus had neither decorated tree nor candy canes in his stable. It has a lot to do with treating people with respect. It has a lot to do with loving this holy day myself without insisting everyone else must love it, too. A sidebar...why would we want to keep Christ in Christmas? Christ is beyond a holiday, beyond the dogma of any church, beyond the tiny fragment of insight that I can muster. End of sidebar.
Tonight when we light the candles and sing silent night, there will be magic. When the organ stops and only voices are raised, I know I will arrive at the manger. I will stand beside my mom as she spends her first Christmas without my dad, and by Bob who has stood beside me every Christmas since we were teenagers. Babies will be there tonight with parents who are seeing the story in a whole new light. There will be children who hear the story with an acceptance that any theologian would envy. The magic will happen because the story is about love and hope and peace. The miracle this world needs so desperately. What I need most of all. It won't make sense by the standards of logic. Whether I call it a miracle or magic is semantics. God works magic, and it is miraculous. May hearts be filled with peace and hope and love. This night and all nights.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Balancing

She wept, holding tight to her grandmother's hand as they lowered her grandfather's coffin into the earth. Sobs shook her eight year old shoulders hard, and Grandmother knelt beside her and took her in her arms, hugging her tight.
"Let them fall, little bird. Let them fall. There is no shame in tears."
After a moment, she pulled back and looked into her grandmother's face. There was no disapproval in that face, only love. And tears. Overwhelmed with a wish to comfort the comforter, the little girl stroked the beloved face before her.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I'm sorry you are sad."
"I am sad, you are right," said Grandmother, " we will be sad together, for we loved him so. But when all the tears have fallen, we shall be happy again. Together."
The little girl believed the promise, and tucked it away to think of it again and again as the days passed, the weeks passed, the months passed.
It was a year to the day, and the nine year old held the flowers for Grandmother as they walked together to the spot where Grandfather's body lay. Grandmother was walking slower now, taking her time moving across the uneven ground. The little girl took her hand, this time to add the strength and steadiness of youth.The breeze was a little cool, the clouds looking as if they might drop rain on them at any minute.
"You'll have to lay the flowers, little bird. I don't want to embarrass Grandfather by kneeling here and not being able to get up again!" Grandmother said with a little laugh.
In spite of the laugh, it troubled the little girl that Grandmother was getting so frail. It scared her. Grandfather was frail before he died. She lay the flowers carefully, then turned to this women she loved more than anyone and threw her arms around her.
"I'm sorry if this is hard for you, sweetheart," said Grandmother softly.
The little girl shook her head against Grandmother's arms.
"It isn't Grandfather. I mean, I still miss him. But Grandmother, I can't bear it if you die too!"
Grandmother stroked her hair, rocking side to side for a long while. "Sit here with me, little bird."
They sat together on the cold marble bench beside the giant oak whose branches spread over half the gravestones. The little girl worked hard to stop her crying, breathing deeply and slowly, drying her tears with Grandmother's soft white handkerchief, the one with the tiny purple flowers in the corner. It smelled like the woman who raised her, who cooked for her and washed her clothes, who helped her with homework and laughed at her jokes. It smelled like the lavender sachets in Grandmother's clothes drawers.
"My girl, we know that I will die too. All people die. When it is my time, I will join your Grandfather. I hope for more years with you. I hope to see you grown and settled and happy," Grandmother said, "but if I die before that happens--"
"No! Please! You can't die. I would be lost without you," said the little girl, "please say you won't die. Please." A new torrent of tears, silent this time, streamed down her face.
"Little bird, let me tell you what my mother told me. It has helped me all my life. It helped when your mother died, when you were just a tiny baby. You see, for every tear we cry, every heavy grief that weighs us down, there is another time when we feel joy. When we laugh or smile, dance or feel such happiness it seems we will burst with it. It is the balancing of life. Without the one, we can't really experience the other. If our time was endless, would we cherish our time together now? It would not be precious. If we never cried great tears, the times of joy would not be so sweet." Grandmother paused. The little girl sat quietly, waiting. She knew more words were coming.
"If babies kept being born and no one died, soon the earth would not hold us all. It is the balancing, sweetheart. If all was sunshine, we would have no water to drink. Do you understand?"
The girl nodded slowly. Grandmother squeezed her hand.
"You don't need to be afraid. We don't want to be sad today about something that will happen another day. Today we have each other. Today we can be happy."
The little girl sighed deeply, leaning her head on Grandmother's shoulder. They sat quietly, listening to the faint tinkle of the wind chimes high in the tree. The little girl shivered slightly, and stood to get off the cold bench. Grandmother smiled as she pushed off the bench and stood. The sun came through a small patch of blue sky, and they both lifted their faces to it, basking in the welcome warmth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Little Feathers: The Hero's Journey (Thanks, Highlights For Childre...

Little Feathers: The Hero's Journey (Thanks, Highlights For Childre...: My dad died last Wednesday. Since then, the words have been building up inside, and this morning the phrases that must be typed woke me up. ...

The Hero's Journey (Thanks, Highlights For Children)

My dad died last Wednesday. Since then, the words have been building up inside, and this morning the phrases that must be typed woke me up.

In 2009 I went to Chautauqua, NY for a writer's workshop put on by Highlights For Children magazine. It was empowering. Up until then I had written musicals for children, mostly volunteer for church youth groups, and semi-volunteer (wee tiny paycheck) for a couple of schools in Austin. At the workshop I learned many things that have helped me step out into the world of picture books and publishers, young adult novels and formatting, and the murky, intriguing world of blogs, web sites, links and "followers".  But the biggest impact on my imagination was made in a workshop by Peter Jacobi (look him up...it is worth it) called "The Hero's Journey". I remember clearly the moment when Peter Jacobi said,  (paraphrase--the Judy version) "The hero may have followers and many who support and attend him, but there will come a moment in the story when the hero must descend to the depths, to face the enemy, alone."

We were blessed as a family to know the end was near for my dad. The hospice workers (who surely will get gold stars somewhere) were able to tell my mom when Dad had hours or days left. For two days, we gathered around his bed in the living room where he spent the last weeks of his life. Sometimes we sang, sometimes we read to him or visited with each other, or sat silently holding his hand. He was unresponsive, but we knew he could hear us. And he knew we loved him. My brother, who was flying his 747 (well, I guess technically it belongs to United, but I'm pretty sure it knows Mike is the real owner) back from Sydney as fast as he could, and he was able to tell Dad on the phone the truth we told him in person. I love you. It's okay. You can go, because I know how hard you've fought, I know how you need relief and release. I will see you on the other side. Peace, Dad.

At the end, for my dad, death was a friend. But the hero's journey formula still applies. Though we gathered around my dad, he took the next step alone, as every one of us must do. I have written before about my dad, the hero. He did many heroic things in his life, serving as a fireman and a father and husband and friend. Maybe his most heroic effort was the way he faced his disease, and his death,with courage and grace and selfless love for my mom, his caregiver.

Like every good story that I love to read,  my dad's hero's journey does not end with that step into the unknown darkness. My dad's story has a triumphant ending. He is already healed, restored in my memory to the strong, adventurous, humble, loving man who encouraged me all my life. He is already beyond the hard part, the cruel disease has no hold on him. My dad is still here with his loved ones, but he is here as the man who stepped into the void and lives on in our hearts. I believe my dad lives on with God, as well. But I don't need to wait and tell him my feelings when I make the journey, because he is here with me now. It is a good story, the Hero's Journey of Frank Todd, with a strong ending that inspires me and others who love him. Well done, Dad. Thank you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Little Feathers: In the Bleak Midwinter

Little Feathers: In the Bleak Midwinter: Last night, while watching a youtube video of an acapella group singing The Little Drummer Boy , I had an ah-ha moment. The words of In the ...

In the Bleak Midwinter

Last night, while watching a youtube video of an acapella group singing The Little Drummer Boy, I had an ah-ha moment. The words of In the Bleak Midwinter have been running through my mind for days now, and the two combined for a little lesson for my soul.  I hope to get it in writing before the ghost of the thing fades completely.

In my faith tradition, Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Not only the time we spend at the manger, admiring the babe, the angels who announced him, the shepherds who worshiped him, and the mother who bore him, but also the preparation for the second coming, when Christ will come as King of Kings and end the suffering, war and spiritual illness once and for all. The Lutheran church has centuries-old traditions that mark this time of waiting, like the lighting of the Advent candles to honor the light of the Love of God, incarnate in Christ, that shines in the darkness of winter, in the darkness of our separation from God.

Much has been made of the prophecies of the end times, but the Gospel of Mark reminds us that no one knows when Christ will come again in glory. For as long as I can remember, I have not understood the preoccupation with the end of the world. According to Yahoo Answer Man, 151 people die every second. For them, this world has come to an end. It will come for all of us.

Now, back to the ah-ha (did you wonder if I forgot that part?)-- it's simple really. Like the writer of  In The Bleak Midwinter, we all come to the manger empty handed. The richest people on earth show up with same gifts to honor the babe, and the king, as the poorest. No mansions convey, no gold or jewels, fame or influence make it past our deathbeds. We only have our hearts to give. Laying our hearts before God happens now, in this season of life on earth. It happens when the wealthy give millions in aid to the poor, but it also happens when any one of us looks with compassion on another, seeking to give them hope by any act of kindness. It happens whenever voices are raised to fight injustice. The opportunities to give our hearts are endless, at our fingertips, ever before our eyes and our conscience. No gift of time and effort and love is less worthy than the bequest of a huge monetary gift. We are all wealthy with gifts to give those in need. In the end, only kindness matters (sing it, Jewel!), and that is really good news for those of us who want to show up with a gift in our hands. Philanthropy, defined as love for humanity, is an equal opportunity employer. And it is our only gift to give that lasts beyond our lifetime.

I played my drum for him, pa rum pa pa pum. I played my best for him, pa rum pa pa pum....then he smiled at me, pa rum pa pa pum, me and my drum.

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give him? Give him my heart.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Little Feathers: Hoppin' on the Blog Train!

Little Feathers: Hoppin' on the Blog Train!: My friend Janie Sullivan writes, teaches writing, and runs fun and rewarding writing contests through her Center for Writing Excellence. I m...

Hoppin' on the Blog Train!

My friend Janie Sullivan writes, teaches writing, and runs fun and rewarding writing contests through her Center for Writing Excellence. I met her when I discovered her short story contests and entered a few. She writes a great blog (http://janiewrites.com) , and asked me if I wanted to participate in a Blog Tour. Sounds fun, right? I get to answer a few questions that other writers have been answering in their blogs, and then pass the baton (okay, mixed metaphors--sheesh). So, I'll answer them this week, and then I'm tagging my friend Lisa Matthews for next week. Lisa writes great ghostly works, and you can read about her projects at http://bumpinthenightblog.wordpress.com when she joins the blog tour next Monday, Nov. 4th. All aboard!
What are you working on right now?
I have three major projects going right now. I just had my first picture book, Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane released on Oct 1st. I have been having a lot of fun with book signings, a school visit (with two more schools on the books) a library story-time, and great response from friends and family who are helping me get the word out. I like to write in rhyme, probably because I spent years writing lyrics for children's musicals. This book is a rhyming story, and I have sequel, Itchy, Itchy Annabelle Jane, written and about to begin the editing process. I have learned a lot about working with a publisher, and the learning curve is steep at times. But I am very happy with my book, and I am in love with reading it aloud to anyone who will listen.
I also co-wrote a YA novel, Raina Rising, with my grown daughter, Sally Nava. I found that collaborating is inspiring and invigorating. The paperback will be on Amazon by the end of next week, as will the ebook. Together, Sally and I are Tessa Franklin. Raina Rising is the story of a Russian ballerina in a Soviet ballet school in the 1960s, and is the first in a series of three. Sally and I have begun book two, but have a ways to go!
My third project is a collaboration with a symphony composer, Thomas Pavlechko, who wrote a number of Halloween "scarols" (think Christmas carols in a minor key with Halloween words). Together we came up with a narrative poem, 'Twas All Hallows Eve, along the lines of Night Before Christmas that tie the scarols together into a story. We just finished producing it with a choir of professional singers, an orchestra and a professional dance company. A film student is making a documentary of it and we are hoping it will find it's way to TV right after Charlie Brown's Great Pumpkin. Who knows? If we don't put it out there, how can we find out?
How do these projects differ from other works in their genre?
I'm not sure that my picture book really differs. After I attended a Highlights for Children workshop and met Eileen Spinelli, my inner poet was revitalized. I love her books. If you get a chance, pick one up and just read it aloud. I hope to be in her class someday, but in the meantime, I'm happy just writing rhyming stories.
Raina Rising is not just a ballet novel. It deals with challenges that face young people as they decide what price they will pay for their dreams. And who they will sacrifice.
I have not seen anything like 'Twas All Hallows Eve.  Thom and I are hopeful that the scarols will become so well known, and such a part of Halloween, that families sing them together. 
Why do you write what you do?
I have heard before that children's writers have a child of a certain age still inside them. Some have more than one. I seem to have a five year old and a teenager in there rattling around. I also have written for adults, mostly devotionals for the Lutheran church, but the child inside is what gets excited and demands to find a voice in my laptop keys. I write because it is fun, and because words build up until I need to let them out. 
How does your writing process work?
I am a project girl. I work on something until it is done, and usually the process itself involves committing to enough chair time to meet my goal. But I can't sit down and make myself write if my brain isn't ready. Or, at least, nothing that shouldn't be deleted! So I do a lot of thinking about the story until I have an idea, then I sit until I get it down. I love co-writing with Sally because we go for walks and talk about the characters and what will happen, and it plays like a movie in my head.
Any departing words of wisdom for other authors?
Write because you love it. Write because you want to see the words on paper or on the computer. If you are writing for a paycheck, I'm sure that changes some things. But it doesn't ruin it, because it is terribly rewarding for someone to say that they like what you've written enough to buy it. I feel very liberated by being fifty nine years old. I don't have to prove anything. I get to write, I don't have to write. But that is my story. I say, however writing fits into your story, do it your way. Make it work. Don't let someone else tell you what to say. Writing is self expression. I feel very fortunate to be writing today when there are so many routes to getting our work before the public. Go for it!
Thanks for reading, and be sure to look for Lisa's blog next Monday at http://bumpinthenightblog.wordpress.com/


Monday, October 21, 2013

Little Feathers: Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors

Little Feathers: Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors: I usually write on this blog when the words build up and I need to hit the release valve. Most of the time I just tap away, trying to get my...

Gates and Electric Fences and Mixed Metaphors

I usually write on this blog when the words build up and I need to hit the release valve. Most of the time I just tap away, trying to get my thoughts down before they disappear. But this time I had a shift, one of those changes-of-angle that I love to feel come over me, even before I began to write.

I have written before about the huge changes in the publishing world. I know I've said, "the gates are down" several times. We writers now have access to routes of publishing that no one has had before. The gatekeepers, those agents and editors and publishers who in the past have given us permission, or not, to get our words out are no longer the final word. There are hybrid publishers who will do much of the same work as a traditional publisher, but require an "author investment". Some of those publishers will publish anything, and lack of selection does affect the marketplace. I have to say, there was a lot of not-so-great writing on shelves before that change in business practices. There is also the mysterious process of self publishing, allowing writers launch their works on Amazon, among other distributors.

A year ago I decided that I am too old to wait for the rejection letters to change their spots. I got some really encouraging help from some big name industry editors, and decided that my picture book was good enough to publish. I felt rebellious and secretly powerful that I could take an alternate route to publishing. I went with a small outfit, one that has a mixed reputation, because I believed the promises they made about what they would do for me. By and large, I like the way the book turned out. The illustrations are cute. And my words are on the inside...an amazing gift. I can hold it in my hand.

I've had really good response from teachers and librarians, a book store owner and many friends. But the most affirming reactions have been from children. 

So, what I am writing about? Well, it started to be about the snobbishness that still remains in the industry. I want to shout, "Judge the book! Tell me if you like the book!" when I come up against people who still think a book needs a New York address to be good.  The gates may be down, but that pesky underground electric fence is still zapping writers.  Then, that little voice that reminds me of stuff spoke to me during a Jazzercise routine (some of my best thoughts happen that way) this morning.

I was the one who was rebellious and went with a small publisher. I decided that getting my book out there while I'm still able to drive myself to book signings was worth bucking the system. So, how can I rail against the slings and arrows of people who still believe there is no use reading a book not cut from the Agented Author cloth? Do I care if bookstores turn up their noses at a signing request? Of course I do. Does that mean I'll give up? Of course not. In for a penny, in for a pound.

The really nice owner of a great independent bookstore in Salt Lake City, Weller Book Works, gave me some great advice. She said that the success of my book depends on getting it into the hands of families. However that happens, whatever roads I take to make it happen, that is the point of writing a picture book. Anything that falls into place as a result of children hearing this book is gravy.  Ms Weller's advice is very important to me because it is an affirmation. She took a chance on me and Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane. And she liked us.

I am not writing to complain, I'm writing to remind myself that there are certain things about this book business that I can control. Like being willing to put myself and my book out there when possible. The rest of the stuff, like anyone else's agenda, I can let go of. Weight off my mind, believe me. Wouldn't it be a burden to believe that I was actually in control of another person's thoughts?

Whether you have a book you want to write, or whether you have other dreams and goals that seem fenced in by rules of engagement, I hope you will brave that little zap you feel stepping over the electric fence. Believing in yourself is still the only requirement for taking the next step. And, it truly could be that getting a little zap now and then keeps us alert and alive. Courage, my fence jumpers. Courage.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Little Feathers: What Could Be Better?

Little Feathers: What Could Be Better?: There really is nothing more fun for a children's author than to have a child be excited about your book. Nothing compares! Yesterday ...

What Could Be Better?

There really is nothing more fun for a children's author than to have a child be excited about your book. Nothing compares!

Yesterday Bob and I drove the 100 miles to Boerne, Texas to do a signing at a coffee shop that my publisher set up. To tell the truth, I was leery of the coffee shop gig because last week I had a zero, nada, no fun signing at a coffee shop here in Austin. But it was a beautiful day for a drive, I had the great company of husband/best fan/partner, so I thought I'd give it another shot. After all, we could enjoy a nice latte if nothing else.

We arrived at the Daily Grind and were lucky enough to set up on a sidewalk table on a busy Saturday in super-cute historic Boerne. Lots of families strolling Main Street. Bob got us a latte and we sat back to see what the day would bring.

First, our friend Mary Jo stopped by on her way back to town from her ranch to buy a couple of books for her grandchildren. I love signing them to people I know! Then another grandma stopped by and bought one for her grandchildren. Then two things happened that made every moment and every drop of gas worth it.

The first was a beautiful little girl from Utah named Jillian. She walked by with her mom and some other women who were not planning to stop at our table. Jillian did a double-take and picked up a book. I told her a tiny bit about the book and she called her mom back. Jillian told me she would like a book signed to her. I told her how much they cost and asked how her mom felt about it. Jillian took the book to her mom and said, " Look. It's about a girl who is very angry. I want one." Mom shrugged and opened her purse. Jillian and I talked a little as I signed her book. Then she gave me a giant hug. "I love people who smile," she said. So do I, Jillian, so do I. Keep that open heart and big smile.

A second gift was a little boy named Steven (his mom said I could share his picture on the Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane fanpage, facebook.com/pages/Mad-Mad-Annabelle-Jane) who spied the book from a nearby table where his family had stopped. Steven asked me about the book, and his mom came over and asked him if he could read the back cover. A second grader, Steven is already a great reader. He laughed in just the right places in the synopsis. He grinned real big and told his mom he wanted the book. While I signed it to him, he stood by to have his picture made, and as he walked away, he showed it to his little sister. I heard him tell her he would read it to her, and the pride in his voice made me feel really good.

We sold a few other books and were packing up to go when the last fun thing happened. A woman rushed up and apologized for her wet hair, saying she had hurried to get the book she had seen advertised on the events page of the paper, submitted by my publisher. It turns out she is a play therapist and wanted four books to use in her practice. How cool is that? I am very pleased to think that my book might be tool to help a child.  A perfect ending to a very, very nice day. Lucky me.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Little Feathers: Instead of This, That!

Little Feathers: Instead of This, That!: A thought occurred to me yesterday, and as those things do, this one is itching to be written down and explored. I've been working on c...

Instead of This, That!

A thought occurred to me yesterday, and as those things do, this one is itching to be written down and explored.
I've been working on changing the angle at which I look at certain things, (thanks to Mary Marino-Strong for that provocative tool) and I keep discovering new angles that are a blessing to me. At the same time that I understand 'there is nothing new under the sun', new to the universe and new to me are not the same. This particular thought is new only in application. The notion has been with me a long time. Enough pre-amble!
I'll give a personal example. After my treatment for breast cancer 2 1/2 years ago, my body really changed in the way it metabolized food. Eating the same as I had been was a slow gain formula, and I did not really understand that for a long time. In our culture, where thin is revered and thick is not, I was not happy with the creeping weight gain. Not only our culture, I have to say. I would like to think I give a good amount of attention to being healthy, and a weight gain was not in my long term health plan! I'm working on it, but so far have only managed to stop the upward creep. What does this have to do with changing the angle?
A couple of weeks ago another friend asked me to consider that, if I truly accept life on life's terms, then I need to accept everything about myself. Not as being particularly better than another way of being, but as being exactly where I am supposed to be at this time. I mulled that over. And I realized that acceptance is an important ingredient in authentic spiritual growth.
So, this is what occurred to me yesterday. I can actually give thanks for this weight gain. It means I am on the other side of breast cancer. It means that, even though I went through a course of treatment that made weight issues stickier to handle, the real and amazing thing it means is that I was cured of breast cancer! How can I not be grateful for that? And every time I look at myself, I will see a woman who is blessed to be living this day cancer free. It is a focus change, a change in the angle. And I think it is the one God has in mind for me, because gratitude is such a better response to the gifts in this life than being dissatisfied with imperfection. And it makes breathing so much easier, and more fun. I am beginning to understand that old advice I have heard all my life but never really internalized,"in all things give thanks". It is from Thessalonians, but it is echoed in wisdom teachings everywhere. Instead of always wanting something to be different, see the blessings in the way things are. I like it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Little Feathers: A Light Goes Home, Not Out

Little Feathers: A Light Goes Home, Not Out: This morning early I got an email in response to a request I sent to a dear friend. A funny man. A dancing servant of God. But he didn't...

A Light Goes Home, Not Out

This morning early I got an email in response to a request I sent to a dear friend. A funny man. A dancing servant of God. But he didn't write me back, his wife Earline did. Charlie Oertli, one of my very favorite people in the whole world, went home to God last night after spending the day celebrating his 84th birthday. He won't be playing Jolly Jack O' Lantern in our Ghoultide play. He won't be cutting up in Sunday School or singing in church. He won't be at Mop and Hammer or Habitat for Humanity. But his legacy will. He made St Martin's Lutheran church, and this world, a better place.
Through the years, Charlie said 'yes' every time I asked him to do something. He played a computer who lost his memory, singing and dancing in a foil covered box created just for him (with purple tights). He played St. Peter interviewing dead folks at the pearly gates. And dozens of other characters. I could always count on him to put himself out there with grace and humor. This year would have been a pumpkin suit. Ah, Charlie. I'll miss your grin, your hard work, your faith-in-action. We could always count on you, Charlie. Not because being willing was easy, but because being willing was your nature. I know that you are home. You will be missed, Charlie, but you won't be forgotten. The things you helped to build will stand forever. Maybe not the brick and mortar kind of standing, but surely your legacy will live on. Your children carry your blood in their veins. Your friends carry your song in their hearts. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Little Feathers: One of the Really Great Ideas

Little Feathers: One of the Really Great Ideas: I think I have discovered what may be God's best idea ever. Kids. Children. Second graders at Enos Garcia Elementary, to give perfect ex...

One of the Really Great Ideas

I think I have discovered what may be God's best idea ever. Kids. Children. Second graders at Enos Garcia Elementary, to give perfect examples.

I read to five classes today, sharing my picture book Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane. I have read the book to a lot of adults, and to preschoolers at the library, but today will go down in my memory as one of my most favorite experiences.

The children were really well behaved. They sat quietly as I read to them, they raised their hands and waited politely to be called upon when we talked about everything from how to create a story to the difference between being mad and being mean. I thought at first that my favorite part was watching their faces as I read to them. Their little expressions were so animated. But I had to change my mind when they began to offer thoughts of their own.

Their eyes took on a starry twinkle, and I could clearly see the adventures taking shape in their minds. I loved the little boy who sat near me and told why a fierce hamster would his main character. His sincerely told story ended happily, thank goodness. I would hate to hear about a hamster who fails his hero's journey. Another little boy that I will remember forever told me in the couple of minutes remaining for questions that I look much younger than his forty six year old grandmother. One little girl whispered to me as I left that she is going to be a writer and wear really pretty shirts like mine.

Of course, I loved the way they made me feel about my story, and about my pretty shirt (and maybe my hair dye), but most of all I loved the way they made me feel about the future of the world. There are beautiful children who care about all the important things in life who are sitting in classrooms across the world. I only hope they can hang onto the magic of imagination. I hope they will all have teachers who give them tools to keep learning, wherever they go and whatever they do. I hope they will be spared the really sad things until they have their feet under them. They really are the best idea ever.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Little Feathers: Are We There Yet?

Little Feathers: Are We There Yet?: I know, I know. Life is a journey, not a destination. But I keep waiting to get there. Now I'm waiting for October 1st, which is the off...

Are We There Yet?

I know, I know. Life is a journey, not a destination. But I keep waiting to get there. Now I'm waiting for October 1st, which is the official release date for my picture book, Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane. Oh, I have some of the books already, and the publisher has it in their catalog. Friends in our New Mexico mountain valley have already bought it. I'm getting signing gigs for October set up by Tate Publishing. But I'm waiting for the book to be on Amazon in October. And I'm waiting to finish the edits on the YA novel, Raina Rising, that Sally Nava and I are writing. I have a goal of Oct 1st for that as well, because we have decided to see how self publishing through Create Space and Amazon's Direct to Kindle goes compared to the picture book launched by a publisher. So, when Oct 1st arrives, will I be there yet?

I know all the wisdom about not projecting, about living in this day and being content with the blessings of life right this moment. I tell myself how true it is that I will miss the beauty of this day if I'm waiting for tomorrow. Somehow, knowing and accepting are different things today. But I'm working on it. Here is my action plan for today: be grateful for this patch of roadway that is my life today. Be grateful for the chance to see my name on the front of a picture book, no matter what happens with the book. Be grateful for the chance to read it to children. Be grateful for the lessons learned in writing a novel, because that is a very different process from writing a picture book!

Okay, so if gratitude is the difference between taking today for granted and enjoying the journey, you would think I would have that down by now. I am, after all, fifty nine years old! Maybe when I'm sixty I'll automatically turn away from the fruitless waiting and look for the blessings of breathing this breath in this place on this day. Maybe when I'm sixty I'll be there. After all, when I'm sixty, I'll have two books out. Right?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Little Feathers: It's Not About the Finish Line

Little Feathers: It's Not About the Finish Line: Now that Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane is a reality (in pre-release on the Tate website and on Amazon Oct 1st) I am learning again something I alr...

It's Not About the Finish Line

Now that Mad, Mad Annabelle Jane is a reality (in pre-release on the Tate website and on Amazon Oct 1st) I am learning again something I already knew. We never really"get there".

It is wonderful to hold in my hand the book that grew in my mind about three years ago. But it is really strange that it doesn't change my itch to write. I realize that the success of the first book depends largely on me, that if no one finds it and reads it, it doesn't matter that it is out there. So there is much work to be done. And that work is a privilege, because not everyone gets to have their book published.  But I'm not done writing.

The way it works for me is that words build up inside my blood vessels, and I have to sit down at my keyboard and type away to relieve the pressure. Some stuff that comes out is worth saving, and some stuff is blessedly gone when I hit the delete key. But it has to come out in little gasps and globs until I feel done for moment. And that may be the greatest blessing; the ongoing challenge.

I have discovered that I will never arrive at perfection, either. At first that was a bummer. I thought if I was just good enough, I could avoid the potholes of guilt and regret. Evidently I would not continue to grow as a person if that happened (sigh), so I work instead on forgiveness, relying on undeserved grace and mercy. What does that have to do with writing? Everything.

If I were perfect (if is such a big word) I would have no need to spend time on my knees. And there is an angle of perspective that changes from that position. I would miss some of the most amazing sights.

If I were content with one book, there would be no need to keep writing. And I would miss the chance to discover more scenery from my imagination. Of course, I could do without the back alley/ dumpster/ littered roadside type stuff. But that is what the delete key is for. And some days I get to spend time in the quiet wilderness where no one has yet mucked up the place. I'm working on the leave-nothing-but-footprints technique myself. I'll probably not master it. It seems the effort is the point.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Little Feathers: Little Endings

Little Feathers: Little Endings: There are big endings, and little ones. The big ones are obvious; the day you take your child to kindergarten and realize you will no longer...

Little Endings

There are big endings, and little ones. The big ones are obvious; the day you take your child to kindergarten and realize you will no longer be the biggest influence in their lives. The day you watch your sixteen year old son drive out of the driveway. The day your youngest leaves for college and the clock is suddenly the loudest sound in the house.
Then, there are little endings. Like yesterday when I watched our horse trailer pull out of the driveway behind someone else's truck. Funny how some inanimate things have a personality, and a power to stand for a time in your life!
About fifteen years ago, when two of our three kids were still at home, we bought a miniature donkey to keep our Norwegian Fjord horse company. Funny little fat donkey, Nandor was sold to us because she could not get pregnant. But funny little fat Nandor gave birth in our pasture about a month later to an even funnier fluffy baby donkey that we named Noel since she was a surprise gift. Noel was part lap dog and part imp.
And suddenly, we need transportation for two donkeys and a horse. So we bought a used two horse trailer. It was green and gray, and it always this air of fun about it the way it tilted up when hitched to the truck. That trailer was not only donkey and horse transport! It was also retro fitted to carry Bob's Indian Chief motorcycle (one time, all the way to Sturgis) with a special box welded onto the front to extend it just a bit. Chiefs are much longer than horses and donkeys.
When we built our cabin in New Mexico, it was time for the horse and donkeys to find a new home. And they did. The donkeys are still making mischief at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Bastrop, the Nine E Ranch. But now the trailer had a new use. It was a furniture mover! It made so many trips back and forth from Northern New Mexico to Central Texas, it could almost make the trip without the truck. Then, the day came when there was no more work for the trailer to do. It sat out under a big pine tree in back of the cabin for a few years. It even tilted up when unhitched...looking hopeful that more work would come its way soon.
Then, yesterday, more work did come its way. Some young fellows who cut down some giant trees that were too close to the cabin took it in partial payment for their labors. And I knew it was a good thing. Trailers are meant to be out there on the road. Maybe horses would ride in it again, facing forward and a tiny bit up.
Funny how watching that trailer pull out seemed like one of those little endings. The end of a time in our lives when we were moving stuff. No more horses and donkeys now. No more motorcycles, even. No more furniture to haul to the cabin. Just lots of good memories. And a little ending.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Little Feathers: Word Paintings

Little Feathers: Word Paintings: Today I learned a lot about writing. In an art class! Up here in our mountain valley above Taos, NM, we have several fine artists. One is Ke...

Word Paintings

Today I learned a lot about writing. In an art class! Up here in our mountain valley above Taos, NM, we have several fine artists. One is Kevin McPherson (kevinmacpherson.com), who paints and teaches all over the world. He and his wife, Wanda, are very generous with our community, and we were invited to watch Kevin demonstrate painting outside. It is called En Plein Air, French for 'in the open air'. Kevin is a master at it, and today he took us through the thought processes he uses to create his paintings. As he did, I got more and more excited about what he was saying, because it was as true about writing as it is about painting.
He talked about squinting down to see the essence of color that may in fact be a mountain or a tree; it is made of light and dark. Of warm and cool. So he mixes a color and fills in the shape with this dominant, medium range color that is revealed to his eye. Detail will come later. And, as Kevin explained his technique, I thought about creating a character for a story or a book. I start with a general idea of who this person is. So I color him in. If he is more dark than light at this point in the story, I see him that way. I write him that way. But if that is all he was, he would not be interesting. Or real. He would be one dimensional. So then I begin to look for the little edges of light, however tiny. The ambivalent parts that are lighter shadows or darker highlights. I see how what is around him colors him. The sun shining on a green tree is a very different picture from that same tree on a rainy day. What is happening around my character, and how does that shape him?
An analogy? OK. A technique? For sure. It extends to plot, as well. I need to know the focus of my story. I need to see the completed picture before me as Kevin sees the lake and trees, sky and mountains he will interpret. Not the minute detail at first, but certainly the flow of color, the shape of light and dark. Maybe not the idiosyncrasies of every character (because we know how those characters like to take over our interpretation of them sometimes). Maybe not the subplots. Maybe those jump onto the page like the suprising yellow Kevin added to the white clouds when the sun hit them.
I am excited to get back to work on the sequel to Raina Rising (which is coming out soon), I can't wait to paint her ballet master, her fellow dancers, and the Soviet ballet school itself.
Thanks, Kevin!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Little Feathers: The Shadowlands

Little Feathers: The Shadowlands: I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm. Most people know it..."The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". I heard it many places, but no...

The Shadowlands

I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm. Most people know it..."The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". I heard it many places, but no hearing made a bigger impression on me than hearing it at a funeral. I thought that the beautiful lines, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," were the psalmist considering his own death. And maybe they were. But they have a different meaning to me today.

Having lost people I love, including grandparents, parents-in-law, a sister-in-law, and many friends, I find myself drawing comfort from those lines as a survivor. I see how the shadow of death touches all of us, from the time we are born. And the shadow of death darkens each day that I hear about a tragedy like killer tornadoes or fire fighters lost in an apartment blaze. The shadow chills the bones, and not just with the human-nature reaction of realizing I am going to die. But with the grief of the people who don't die, but lose the ones they love. The shadow falls on those who are living with disease, with the loss of their health, and those who love them.

Living in the shadow without fearing evil--that seems like an impossible task sometimes. Sometimes we are simply overcome with grief at the loss, the incredible loss, to be endured. I understand that grief is not evil. It is the emotion that must be felt keenly and completely in order to move on with living. Yet there is evil, very real evil at work in the world, and that is what strikes fear into my heart. Hearing of child abuse, torture of prisoners, injustice and racism and oppression...the ability of mankind to become monsters whose compassion and decency has disappeared strikes fear into my heart.

So, how to live in the shadowlands without fearing evil? The phrase I left out of the 4th verse is the key, for me. "...for Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."  I have to admit I have no idea why a rod and staff would work--I'm sure Bible scholars could tell me exactly-- but I certainly get the gist of it. God lives in the shadowlands with us. There is no tragedy, no death, no atrocity that occurs apart from God. The age old question of why bad things happen to good people is a difficult one to address. But I do believe that God walks beside us in our grief, and in our fear.

Life in this world is life in the valley of the shadow of death. So I am grateful for a God who "leads me beside still waters," who "restores my soul".  I can feel God beside me sometimes, and sometimes I just have to take it on faith because I don't feel it. I draw comfort from that nearness, and from the memory of it. And comfort lets light into the valley.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Little Feathers: Humble Pie

Little Feathers: Humble Pie: When I was growing up, I thought the phrase, "humble pie", sounded really awful. Like something I never wanted to taste. Right up ...

Humble Pie

When I was growing up, I thought the phrase, "humble pie", sounded really awful. Like something I never wanted to taste. Right up there with pie made of four and twenty blackbirds. Now? Well, now I still don't really like the thought, but I have lived long enough to understand humility a little better. It doesn't mean feeling inferior, or bowing and scraping. It means understanding I am no better, and no worse, than anyone else. It is the truth about my place in creation.
I have been working full speed ahead on some writing projects, pushing, pushing them in hopes that an enlightened publisher will see their worth and help me launch them into the cosmos. And that is a good thing. Unless I lose sight of the truth. Unless I start to take my writing, and my life, for granted. Unless I forget that I am blessed beyond measure with the chance to sit and write at my leisure. If I forget to be grateful and begin to think I am in control of what happens when I hit the "send" button, or put stamps on my self addressed stamped envelope, then I am needing a little ego adjustment. And humble pie is on the menu.  It must be nutritious, because it surely isn't tasty!
I had two projects that were looking really promising. In fact, I had mentally decided they were in the bag. So when I got rejections, it was unnerving. I did a tail spin onto the other side of humility which is also a lie. I worried that I really don't have anything of worth to contribute. That I should just give up, and why did I think I could write to begin with! But that is not the flavor that my creator intended for humble pie. That thinking is every bit as self absorbed as egotism, every bit as self focused. Self pity and self doubt both begin with "self".
So, this morning I am sitting at my laptop desk in a beautiful cabin in New Mexico that Bob and I were blessed to help build. I am reminded of the truth about my life. That every good thing has been given to me, and I am blinded by smallness if I forget to live in gratitude. Writing from that place, from the sure and certain knowledge that I am loved, is my privilege. I am starting fresh today, chalking up the rejections as lessons to be learned. Hopeful that opening my mind to the blessings of the day will set my fingers on a good path. A path of gratitude for everything, including humble pie.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Little Feathers: Warning...theology/theosohpy/theothinking mentione...

Little Feathers: Warning...theology/theosohpy/theothinking mentione...: There are so many silly, limiting, arbitrary rules in our society. I feel free to disregard them. Like traditions, they are only good if the...

Warning...theology/theosohpy/theothinking mentioned

There are so many silly, limiting, arbitrary rules in our society. I feel free to disregard them. Like traditions, they are only good if they continue to serve people, rather than vice versa. Like fashion rules...many seasons go by when the clothes that are in style look goofy on me. So I'll pass. Or unspoken hierarchical rules...that some people are worth more respect because they are famous or beautiful or rich. Silly.

Then there are rules that protect us from ourselves. I've been thinking about the 1st commandment...the one about having no other gods than God. When I was young this one bothered me. I thought that if we were serving a jealous God, we were not serving a perfect being, one who was above petty human emotions. I remember being relieved when I read what Luther said about that commandment: whatever we hang our trust and hope on becomes our god. And there are no temporal things, not money or power or fame or beauty, that will bear the weight of our ultimate trust (total paraphrase; no quotes but only good intention).

If you have ever struggled with addiction, or even a firmly entrenched habit, you can see how hollow the promise of solace from that behavior truly is. There is not enough alcohol or drugs or food or work or exercise or gambling or shopping to keep us safe from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (OK, a little quoting...thanks William). And because God knows this, and God knows that human beings will seek solace somewhere, God made a really good rule. One that makes sense, one that protects. It doesn't protect God from anything because God does not need protection from humans. Rather, it seeks to remind us that there is an eternal good, a happy ending, a balm for the grieving soul that never, never forsakes us.

We humans seek God in many ways, in many places and through many stages of belief and unbelief. I am grateful that we are given that freedom. I am grateful that no one can prove that their interpretation is the only one. Lots of people think they can, but they cannot prove anything.  Ultimately we all seek the face of God in our own private longing, on our own journey to stand in the presence of Love. We support each other, gather with others who believe as we do. We try hard to be the earthly hands and feet and heart of God, to serve one another in love. When we remember that none of the man-made rules or behaviors will bear up under the weight of our souls, then we can be set free from the mind-numbing race to be good enough. To be enough anything.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Little Feathers: The Denouement

Little Feathers: The Denouement: I only learned this word, denouement, a couple of years ago. And it is a great word. In a novel, the denouement is the tying together of al...

The Denouement

I only learned this word, denouement, a couple of years ago. And it is a great word.
In a novel, the denouement is the tying together of all plot aspects; the solving, the resolving of the intricate thing that is a story.
I have been re-reading some novels by Elizabeth Peters because, even though she is writing in a different genre than I am, I am astounded at her ability to create an ending. About 50 pages or so from the end, this writer begins to gather up her details. If you imagine that you have been floating down the wide river of story, Peters comes to a point where she begins narrowing the banks of the river. The story flows faster and faster until I am breathlessly turning the pages because I have to get to the end. I am compelled.
I want so badly to be able to craft a satisfying denouement. I want the novel Sally Nava and I are writing to have a real ending with an honest denouement. Well, you say,that makes sense. Who wouldn't want to write a great ending?
Just now, just a minute or two ago, I got a glimpse of another kind of denouement. My own. I have long been trying to figure out why life goes by faster the older you get. It would seem that it would pass more slowly as we have more time, less of a hectic life. But every year goes by more quickly. And I think I finally get why.
We have all been living this story, this interweaving of relationships and details, events and lessons learned. We have been given insight into what is really important, what is worth living for. So perhaps, a few years out from the end, we can't help but be swept along in the ever-swifter resolution of the story that is our lives. My story. My loves, my hopes, my dreams, my lessons learned. I notice that I long for clarity, for peace and for resolution. It is not that the mind gets more narrow; if anything the narrowing is the awareness of the temporal nature of life.  We were never promised long life. Only this day.
I feel an urgency to finish some things. Not morbid, not fearful, not depressed. Just purposeful. I want published books. I want them out there. If I live another 30 years and write another 30 books, great. I am taking the chance now, putting them out there. So that my denouement has more denouement.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Little Feathers: A Garlic Necklace

Little Feathers: A Garlic Necklace: I have to admit, I was slightly smug about my healthy eating habits.For years, I read all the latest nutritional information to keep my body...

A Garlic Necklace

I have to admit, I was slightly smug about my healthy eating habits.For years, I read all the latest nutritional information to keep my body cancer free. Well, in all honesty, I can't deny the fact that I did drink diet sodas, so my first sentence is not entirely true. But the second sentence certainly is! I considered myself an expert on nutrition. Then I got breast cancer. It was detected early, I had a pretty easy course of treatment, and at nearly two years out, I appear to be cancer free. When I hit the five year mark, I'll have the same chance of finding cancer that everyone else has. So...what about all that broccoli and asparagus I ate? Wasn't that deterrent enough? Just call me the queen of vegetables. Evidently, we can't really control our health destiny. Evidently there is some rogue thing out there ignoring our efforts.

I had a lot of trouble with my back during my childbearing, and particularly my child carrying, years. But I have been getting lots of good exercise, and considered myself to have worked past that vulnerability. I felt good about remembering to stretch, to keep my core strong, and to nourish my body with lots of...vegetables. Maybe I even felt smug. I hope not! I hope I would not feel smug! But I did kind of feel like my excellent care of my body was the secret to avoiding back pain.  Then, this morning, I did the unthinkable. I bent over to get a plate out of the dishwasher! I felt a small click, more like a little thunk,in my lower back. Suddenly, standing up seemed almost Herculean. Grabbing spasms, those familiar and thoroughly disgusting sensations, took over my lower back. Hijacked it. From strong and flexible to quinky and weak in one little second. One blink of the eye. And after a breakfast of snap peas, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, too! Where is the justice in that? Eh?

Well, I am lucky that Bob has a IFC unit (like Tens) and I am writing this from the relative comfort that comes from having your spasm out-spasmed by electrical impulses. But I have to tell you, my faith in vegetables is beginning to wane. Whatever that rogue health smasher is, lurking to hook us in when we least expect it, it clearly does not respect green as it should. Please understand if the next time you see me I am wearing a garlic necklace. I hear they are very effective!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Little Feathers: Older and Wiser

Little Feathers: Older and Wiser: It has said that we all have an inner child of a certain age that retains a strong voice inside us throughout our lives. The same people who...

Older and Wiser

It has been said that we all have an inner child of a certain age that retains a strong voice inside us throughout our lives. The same people who say that tell us children's writers do best if they write for that age group. Some people have a couple different voices. I feel like that is the case for me. I have a five year old inside who loves rhyming picture books. I remember that when my mom read to me, I loved all kinds of stories, especially ones with beautiful pictures. But I especially loved it when she read poetry; be it Mother Goose or Robert Frost. So I think that is why I drift toward that genre, and why it comes fairly easily to me. Also, there is a connection to musical rhythm in poetry, and I am drawn to that as well.
I also have a young teenager in my head. Of course, I was such a late bloomer that my thirteen year old was more like today's ten year old. When I work on the young adult novel, Raina Rising, that Sally and I are writing together, I feel those feelings again. Strongly, like I did the first time. I remember that invisible audience; feeling like someone would surely see me do or say any awkward thing if I dared to forget to keep my mask in place and reveal myself for the nerd I was.
I didn't hate being a nerd. And I wasn't the super brainy kind. I was just the kind that doesn't fit into the mold of public school. Probably if we asked a hundred teens if they felt "different", eighty seven would say yes. It's a stage in our development as people when we don't see ourselves, or anyone else, clearly. Just when we are questioning everything, and our place in the universe most of all, we can't really discern the truth about ourselves. Which is a pity. Those years of extreme growth would be so much richer if we could quit worrying about ourselves long enough to appreciate our youth.
Since I did feel different and out place as a teenager, myy protagonist in the young adult (YA) book gets to explore that aspect of my youth. And the fabulous thing about writing fiction is that my protagonist is many things I only wished I could be. One thing I am learning from her is that being talented is no protection from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (no, the book doesn't take place in Denmark). Those who rise to the top of social strata still wrestle. At least, Raina does. And she makes me think that most everyone must.
Am I older and wiser than Raina, the fourteen year old Soviet ballerina? I'm certainly older. But she may help in the wisdom category. She is teaching me a thing or two. Go Raina!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Little Feathers: No Fear

Little Feathers: No Fear: My husband, Bob, and I learned a saying a long time ago that we both like: "Faith is saying it is so, when it is not so, in order that it wi...

No Fear

My husband, Bob, and I learned a saying a long time ago that we both like: "Faith is saying it is so, when it is not so, in order that it will be so."  Believing in myself is the only way I will be able to pursue my dream of being an author. Well, I have shared with you already that I can now use that descriptor, since I have a picture book coming out this summer and a young adult fiction book that Sally and I are self publishing under the pen-name Tessa Franklin. So, though I have been a writer for many, many years, and have actually been paid a bit along the way, now I allow myself to use that "a" word. And a lovely one it is, too.
I won't allow the niggling voice of doubt that speaks up loudly to derail my plan. Like the grating sound of self doubt that recently cropped up at a writer's conference (here is a shout-out to a fabulous Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators gathering here in Austin last weekend!). It is a little daunting to hear from Learned Editors and Agents about the barriers to entry for children's books. It would be very easy to decide that I will never be good enough. When I compare myself with award winning authors, I get downright intimidated.
BUT I believe that there is no reason for me to write if I don't intend for others to read my work. I am sure a lot of people find writing cathartic, and the process itself is the reward. Not me. I want to throw it out there into the universe and see what happens. Do I need an award to be an author? No. Do I need to sell books to be an author? Yep.
So, picture me drowning out the paralyzing voices. That tappy-tap-tap you hear is my keyboard under attack from optimistic fingers. Nike says, Just Do It. Okay. I will.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Little Feathers: One Plus One

Little Feathers: One Plus One: I've been working on a young adult novel about a ballerina in a Soviet ballet school for about three years now. It has morphed from one genr...

One Plus One

I've been working on a young adult novel about a ballerina in a Soviet ballet school for about three years now. It has morphed from one genre to another, starting with fantasy and ending up in the real world. But it kind of plodded along. Until now. Now it is zooming ahead with a vigor that more than amazes me. 
About a month ago I got inspired by a little girl, Nelle, who posed for the book cover photo shoot. She lent real physical presence to my fictional character. I got inspired by Katie, my dancer daughter, who posed this little beauty in the photo shoot. Watching her interact with Nelle ended up coloring a dance teacher in the sequel. Watching Nicole shoot the photos, looking at how the light and color palette affected the mood of the pictures inspired a studio description in the sequel. Because one plus one is always more than two in a creative venture!
Last week my daughter Sally had an idea that blew the socks (or tights, in this case) off the ballet novel. Now we are collaborating, and she is writing the voice of the protagonist's roommate. Book two has suddenly been outlined, in a matter of hours instead of months, and we have a firm idea of the conclusion in book three. Viola! A story arch, a hero's journey!
My husband, Bob, used a great word to describe our collaboration: synergy. That word may have entered the business world overused-buzzword hall of fame. But that usually happens because a word is particularly appropriate or insightful. But whatever word we use when inspiration strikes due to bouncing ideas off another creative person...I am very excited about the result.
So, our target date for publication of a paperback and an ebook on Amazon of Raina Rising is April 1st. That may be ambitious, and we may have to be more patient. I have a fabulous friend and editor, Alison, whose work is so important that we can't hurry her along.
And, you need to know this fun fact. Sally and I are co-writing under a nom de plume that combines my parent's names. You'll read our work when you buy a book by Tessa Franklin. How fun is that???

Friday, January 25, 2013

Little Feathers: A Mirrored Chime

Little Feathers: A Mirrored Chime: Some years ago, when our kids were teens, I wrote a song for a church musical. The song was called, "Truth", and the opening lines went: "Tr...

A Mirrored Chime

Some years ago, when our kids were teens, I wrote a song for a church musical. The song was called,
"Truth", and the opening lines went: "Truth twists in the wind, like a mirrored chime. Sun glints from the Truth side, and I lose my sight." It may have been a bit obscure, but I knew what I meant. There are so many issues that are hard to make sense of. What is truth? People become impassioned about their version of truth, to an extent that we as society can no longer be objective about the issue. We are blinded by the arguments themselves.
What is the truth about something as simple as a flu shot? Is it a huge cash cow for drug companies, perpetuated by fear marketing? Or is it a prudent preventative measure where the benefits vastly outweigh the risks?
How about gun control? What is the truth there? Can anyone really insist that limiting the availability of new assault weapons will stop the insanity of mass murders? Can anyone else really insist that we, as a people, have the God-given right to own such weapons? For me, the truth that keeps poking through all this is that we are missing the point of the tragedies. Someone has to be mentally ill to commit such murders. If we would address that, we would have no need for this divisive gun argument. The same is true about abortion. If we would seriously address birth control, abortion would not be the intensely hot topic that it is. But the moral indignation felt on both sides of these issues blinds us to the possible remedies. Moral indignation is in itself a blindness.
How can we be open minded to the truth when the adversaries on both sides are drawing lines in the sand, insisting we agree with them or burn in hell? I added the burn in hell part. No one really says that. But that is the implication. We will be turning our backs on our moral obligation as human beings if we agree with the other side. And both sides say it, loud and clear. I don't know who says it louder. I guess that depends on if you listen to CNN or FOX. Stop shouting! How can you listen for the voice of reason if you are shouting all the time!!! (Extra exclamation marks have been known to indicate printed shouting. Sigh.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Little Feathers: The Gates are Down

Little Feathers: The Gates are Down: Until recently, there was no way for writer to publish a book without going through proper channels. Usually agents, editors and publishers....

The Gates are Down

Until recently, there was no way for writer to publish a book without going through proper channels. Usually agents, editors and publishers. And that process helped to ensure that the consumer could be confident of buying a quality book. Good writing, good story. Of course,  there are several books I've bought through the years that came from traditional publishing houses that were not good writing or good stories. But generally speaking, the gatekeepers did their job.
Now, with Amazon direct to kindle, Create Space free publishing for paperbacks, and several other self publishing companies,all bets are off. It could be that the flood waters of unedited stories will swamp us for a while. How will we know that something we are purchasing has even gone through copy editing? We won't really. BUT! This also means that writers can work to market their books and find an audience without waiting the years and scores of rejection letters it usually takes to get a book published.
I have been asking myself over and over if it is a cop-out to self publish. And maybe it is, in a way. Maybe my books would not find a publisher willing to take a risk on them. It costs an enormous amount for a traditional publisher to get a work released. I read several figures that astound me...$25,000 for a picture book! The book would have to do a real business to even break even.
Self publishing is not for the faint of heart. Putting a book out there with your name on it is scary business. If the first one isn't good, chances are subsequent books won't find readers.
This is where a book that my son Josh gave me comes in. It's called The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield. I hope Mr. Pressfield won't mind if I share a nugget of truth I got from that book in my own words. It is this: the thing that stops us from working toward our dream, from believing in our talent or product or creative ability, is our own self doubt. Our fear that we aren't smart, or talented, or good enough to share our offerings with the world. The war within ourselves that keeps us from trying, or certainly from reaching for our goals, is the wrong side of humility. It is the side that says we are not good enough.
I have no delusions that I am a great literary talent. If I had to be in order to write, I would not click another key. But I have stories I want to tell. Characters that live in my imagination. So I'm putting them out there. Setting them free. Because the gates are down.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Little Feathers: Twelve Drummers Drumming

Little Feathers: Twelve Drummers Drumming: Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Tomorrow the wise men arrive to give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I have often though...

Twelve Drummers Drumming

Today is the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Tomorrow the wise men arrive to give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I have often thought about the difference those gifts must have made for the poor family that Jesus was born into. How many people in their situation would ever, ever have owned such treasures? The pleasure the wise felt in giving their gifts must have been so great!
Our family exchanges gifts on what we call Epiphany, which is whatever day closest to January 6th everyone can get together. We started out doing that a few years ago when our daughter Sally married so that Christmas Day was easily shared with her new family by marriage. But it has become something I love. It makes me think about the tradition of giving gifts, it makes me think about church history and the way the celebration of Christmas has changed through the centuries. It makes me count the days of Christmas, beginning with the First Day of Christmas on the 25th. And it helps tone down the commercialism of Christmas for me because I am not rushing about in the pre-Christmas bustle to find the perfect gifts for the people I love the most. And it extends the holiday I love by twelve extra days!!!
My father in law, Walter C Beglau, passed away on Epiphany in 1991. I always thought that was a very special day for him to arrive in the presence of God. We speak today of having an "Epiphany" as having a revelation. What a revelation it must have been for Walter.
Today I'll remember the story of the wise men, traveling for so long to honor a king they hoped to find by following a star. They are still in route today, like me. They are still seeking, still imagining the face of this king. Tomorrow, on Epiphany, they will have a revelation. They will kneel before a king that has come as a humble babe in the poorest of conditions. Because the human condition is so poor, and so lowly, that only a child born of our own experience could bring us the hope that love does indeed win. That there is nothing this life can throw at us that can defeat us. Because we are shored up, covered in grace. We are never good enough, but we are ever good enough because there is a love living in us that can be tapped, that can get us to the next morning, the next break in the hard part, the next time when we feel the assurance that sometimes we can only take on faith because we feel too lost and alone to endure.
I can hear them today. Those twelve drummers drumming. Their cadence is growing in depth and rich complexity. It's a really good rhythm. Leading to enlightenment. I am pretty certain that tomorrow I won't see the whole picture, because my understanding is too small to grasp it all. But any little Epiphany I can have is gift enough for me. For now. Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas.