Collected Wisps of Thought

{October 29, 2006}   New Novel

I realized today that I am simultaneously working on a middle grade novel, a YA novel, two picture books, a short story for an anthology, and a non-fiction project. This seems like a lot, so I thought it over and did what any author would do under the circumstances… started a brand new novel.

Yes, that’s correct. (Make that TWO middle grade novels.)

At first glance this seems insane. In fact, on second glance it also seems insane, but on third glance… Now that’s where the wisdom becomes apparent.

The truth is, there are times when practicality must go flying out the window. Being a writer is often about the fine art of juggling what’s smart and saavy business-wise with the creative muse. When business wins out, the work is dry and tiresome but the bills get paid and the work gets done on schedule. When the muse wins out, discipline takes a back seat which can mean that nothing gets finished or polished, so the work (though inspired) remains sloppy.

I have always been one of those people who errs on the side of getting things done on time, following the rules, worrying that I won’t be prepared to delve into a fresh round of editing if my head and heart have already moved on to the next project, but I know enough to shanghai a great character when one pops into my brain, and when the passion builds for an idea whose time has come, I won’t let anything stand in my way.

Thus the new novel.

Each and every project will get its due in the end, but today is not about being practical. Today, the pendulum swings in favor of the muse.


{October 10, 2006}   Loving Your Characters

So, is it lame to love your characters?

I mean, of course you should love them as you’re writing, but is it lame to love them after you’re done writing and the book is on the bookshelves and the critics have said what they liked and didn’t like, and readers have responded, and marketers have promoted, but still you feel like this character is someone you love? Like you really know them and think about them and wish you could spend more time with them?

Today I quoted Iggy in an e-mail to my editor. It was one of those accidental quotes that just happened, but it made me smile and I thought, “I am so glad I created Iggy”. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to have created him. I just think Iggy is the coolest, most lovable guy and I’m glad I have this connection to him. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks about him. I mean, I’d love the book to be successful, but when it comes to Iggy the character, it’s just unconditional love.

It’s a wierd maternal feeling.

Or maybe it’s the same feeling you get from having a best friend. Your best friend is associated with you, and other people can know them too, but you’re the one who shares secrets with that person. You know all their hidden crevices and you genuinely like them for who they are.

That’s kind of what it feels like, only the person isn’t real. You made them up.

Hmmm. Well, when I put it that way… yes. Definitely lame.  


{October 2, 2006}   Mourning

Sometimes it seems like beautiful fall days should come with a warning.

I went out to the gym today and on my drive there, along the Delaware river, past scenic overlooks and around winding curves, I was mesmerized by a “perfect” fall day. The temperature was just right, the leaves are turning colors, and the sky was amazingly blue. It was the kind of day that makes you feel good about life, like maybe this world we live in isn’t so fucked up after all.

But someone else, on this same day decided to walk into an Amish school house and shoot innocent little girls execution style.

You know what? Maybe it is…

As I’ve discussed on many occasions, I used to work with Mennonite Central Committee. MCC headquarters are located down in the Lancaster, PA area and I remember my time spent there very fondly. Mennonites are closely related to the Amish, preferring to live simply, eskewing material posessions and the worldly values of modern life. They are good people. People who reach out to others.

When I got married, I wanted to share some small piece of my MCC experience with my husband. The two of us took a trip down to the Material Resources Center where the Mennonites and Amish collect vast quantities of food, clothing, shoes, blankets and quilts, as well as many other items that get shipped to people in need around the world. 

What’s the Material Resource Center like? It’s huge. There’s a sewing room where Amish and Mennonite women make the most amazing quilts which then get auctioned off to raise money. There’s a little old man who takes the blue jeans you or I might throw away and cuts them into strips that get woven together into floor mats. The mats are beautiful creations — so many shades of blue. These too get sold to raise money for people in need. While we were there, my husband and I met a man from India who now works at the resource center and tells the story of receiving his first pair of shoes from MCC as an adolescent. A team of older men take shoes that are old and worn and scrub them with toothbrushes until they look new. There’s a warehouse stacked from floor to ceiling with crates of necessities ready to be shipped as soon as the next war, earthquake, flood or emergency hits.

When my husband and I visited we worked in several different areas, mostly sorting shoes and clothing. One day, an Amish school was visiting. I will always remember the row of little straw hats and shawls hanging on the pegs on the wall. The kids were there with several adults putting together school kits. They were rambunctious, laughing and running around like any kids. But they were also helping — being taught from the time they were small what it means to reach out to others.

Today, I mourn the Amish children who were killed by a senseless act of violence. Killed by someone who was not taught how to see through another’s eyes and feel compassion. Someone who didn’t learn what it means to do something good in this world. A person whose value system was non-existent.

I don’t know what this man’s motives were, but I know that no motives would ever be reasonable.

I don’t know if this man was insane, but his actions in terms of premeditation of the event imply that he had the ability to think things through and he made a choice. A choice to place his own needs above the lives of others.

I don’t know what we need to do to create human beings who DO know how to empathize and CAN make moral, humane decisions, but I know that we need to.

It’s time for beautiful fall days to be trustworthy again.

et cetera