Collected Wisps of Thought

{May 23, 2006}   The Courage of Little Dogs

Last night, as my husband and I were shutting off the lights and our house fell into complete darkness, I heard a single gun shot. It wasn't far away. Maybe it came from across the street. Maybe it came from the next house over.

I sat straight up in bed, alert, my heart pounding, my ears straining to hear even the smallest sound…

Then there was a noise. An outside-our-house noise. The type of noise that can't be easily described or placed. An unfamiliar noise.

Being modern people, we got up, turned on the lights in each room, and then we turned to the one true source of comfort and security in today's world. We turned on the television. Would the purple glow let intruders know we were awake? Or did we just want the comfort of meaningless sound?

Yet over the television voices, we still heard the barking of the neighbor's dog. Relentless, breathless barking. High pitched, ceaseless barking. We shut off the TV and pressed our faces against the cold window pane.

The trees outside made dark, waving shadows and the barking continued for so long we knew something was wrong. Out of place. Disturbed.

Then my husband saw the shape. A huge shape, blacker than the night around it. It was the kind of shape you can't distinguish at first, but then gradually becomes clear. Forms itself into something solid. Real.

A giant black bear was standing between two trees facing off against our neighbors little dog.

A brief word about our neighbor's dog — he is tiny. Smaller than my cat. I once saw this dog and my cat stand nose to nose, one barking, one hissing, and felt certain my cat would win.

But now this same little dog was facing down the biggest bear I've ever seen. Even in pictures. And he'd been barking without hesitation for the last fifteen minutes.

The bear swiped and lunged, but that tiny dog stood his ground.

If there is ever a doubt in anyone's mind that animals have souls, capable of devotion and courage, I would give them this image of dog against bear.

Only when the dog's owner called as relentlessly as the dog barked, did the dog finally leave. (His name was Rocky, btw, which would have been laughable before the bear incident, but now I feel he's earned it).

My husband and I stood at the window and listened to the sound of the little dog running back home through the woods. We yelled to our neighbor — "He was barking at a bear!" — felt the rush of relief at disaster diverted. Then we watched the bear turn and lumber into our yard, across the place where the moonlight illumines the lawn.

To see such a powerful creature so near, to watch him move so slowly and gracefully through the night, to hear the leaves crackle under his paws and know that he is there, real, existing side by side with us — that even when we don't see him, he is someplace near by because this is his home too — how humbling and stark. How grateful I felt for the shelter of our home with its solid walls. How relieved to find that the creature outside our doors was a bear and not the most frightening of all creatures — a human being.

How humbled I felt by the courage of little dogs.


{May 8, 2006}   The Writing of Saint Iggy

Like Fat Kid Rules the World, the idea for Saint Iggy originated with the first sentence, which came to me whole and suggested a voice and character that was too compelling to resist.

Iggy seemed to me a great anti-hero type of character. I was tired of reading so many YA novels where the main character is "artsy" and "quiet and mousy", and they "escape into books" and learn about the world through "making an awesome video or photography project". In so many ways, authors create and idealize themselves in character form, but so many kids are not like that. Iggy had a camera once, but he stole it, and then he broke it. He's not really talented at anything and he hates the kid at school who writes all the cool poems. But he does see the world in a way no one else can.

I also wanted to explore the ambiguity of life. There's almost nothing black or white in this book. Always shades of gray. Iggy makes the "wrong" choices for the "right" reasons and the "right" choices for the "wrong" reasons.

Setting the story in the projects seemed like an ideal choice because I spent part of my volunteer years with Mennonite Central Committee working and living in one of the New Orleans housing projects before it was demolished and then flooded. What I learned was that poverty clouds many issues that those of us privileged enough to live in wealth would judge from the outside as clear-cut. But if we were poor and living day by day, we'd find the world of morality is suddenly much more subjective than we thought it was.

This is Iggy's world.

{May 4, 2006}   Galleys

When it comes to being an author, one of the best feelings in the world is opening a box with your galleys in it.

Today I arrived home from the gym to find the long awaited box on my doorstep. I took it inside and told myself I would wait to open it until my husband got home so we could open it together… than I promptly got out the scissors and tore through the thick packing tape having restrained myself for approximately 2 seconds.

It's such an amazing thing to see this first printing of your book. In some ways, it's even more incredible than seeing the actual book because by the time the actual book comes out, you're used to the look of it. The cover. The page design. The jacket flap.

But when you see the galleys it looks like someone else's creation. The first time I see mine I usually think, "Did I actually write this? How is that possible?" All of those long hours of sweat and tears and jubilation fade away into a blur and all I see is this product before me — a real book with my name on it. 

For the first time, I actually allow myself to believe that my work will be printed. Up until I hold a galley in my hand there is always that small voice in the back of my head that says, "Maybe they'll change their mind". When Fat Kid was published I didn't spend a penny of the advance until the book was on the shelf. Not one penny. Some part of my brain was always thinking, "This can't possibly be for real, can it?"

Now I have galleys of Saint Iggy. They sit on my kitchen table waiting for my husband to get home so we can look through them together. Soon, I will sit down and read one of them and after all the drafts and all the work, the pages will finally be, once again, brand new.   

{May 3, 2006}   Blogging Beginnings

I'll admit I haven't quite gotten the hang of this blog thing. I keep telling myself I'm going to do it, but if I wake up feeling even mildly creative I want to work on a novel of some sort, so then it gets pushed aside until all my steam is gone and I don't feel like doing it anymore. But today is different. Today I have lots of steam and nothing to channel it into.

I just sent a middle grade novel off to my editor last week, so there's nothing I can do with that one for a while and then I took out an old YA novel I'd like to resurrect and worked on that for about fourteen hours straight yesterday, so I pretty much exhausted myself.

Today I feel blessed with an abundance of books. Now if I'd written a couple weeks ago, that would not have been the story.

The strange thing about writing is the extreme highs and lows. About a month ago I would have sworn I would never have another book published again. This was it. End of my career. The middle grade was giving me trouble. The YA seemed impossible to revive. It was all too much. But the one thing I've learned from being published is that everything changes.

What is dismal today is glittery tomorrow.

So today I feel good. Today I feel like both these books will make it out into the world, and that's a fabulous feeling. I am floating on air… until I get my next editorial letter. ;-}

et cetera