Monday, April 29, 2013

Mother's Day Retreat

By Pamela

This year for Mother's Day I'm tempted to make a list of what I want and top of that list is a retreat of some sort. We've talked at length here about how invaluable retreating to write is for us. Each year we get away for a four-day retreat, and I am not alone in saying how much I cherish that time with my co-bloggers/writers. Love it. Can't do without it.

Options for retreats for writers vary as widely as genres. There are structured retreats led by other writing professionals designed to further your craft. You sign up, pay a fee, show up and get out of it what you put into it. Others require a submission before they let you attend. You can expect a more structured workshop environment at those and will likely pay a higher fee as well.

Here are some links to upcoming writing events*:

Appalachian Writers' Workshop; Hindman Settlement School, Hindman, Kentucky; July 28-August 2
A Room of Her Own; Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico; August 12-18
Haven Retreats with Laura Munson; Walking Lightly Ranch, Whitefish, Montana; August 7-11, September 4-8, September 18-22
Iowa Summer Writing Festival; The University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa; dates vary over June/July
Patchwork Writing/Yoga Retreat; Hawley, Massachusetts; October 3-6

This is just a smattering of writing getaways offered. Some amazing ones such as Squaw Valley and Bread Loaf have already closed their applications, so put those on your list for next year.

Or you can create your own retreat simply by holing up in a nearby hotel, crashing at someone's lake house or spending some alone time at the beach. You can also pair up with a writing buddy who shares your work ethic and half of the expenses. But attending an event surrounded by others who take the business of writing as serious as you do helps you focus on the goal of getting words on the page.

The message is: make getting away a priority. Schedule it. Make it happen. Happy Mother's Day from you to you.

*I have not attended any of these; nor did I get compensated for mentioning them. Explore at your own risk!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Big Scare, A Few Scars, and a Three-Pound Bundle of Love

By Kim

In her post last Friday, Susan mentioned an incident that occurred at my children’s elementary school on the same day as the Boston Marathon bombings.

Here are the facts, as reported by the Dallas news stations. On the morning of April 15th, 2013, a pregnant woman was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. The murder occurred a block from an elementary school, which was placed on lockdown until the suspect left the area. He was later located by police, and a long car chase ended back near the crime scene, where the suspect shot a police officer (who lived) and barricaded himself into another house near the school. The school was placed back on lockdown until the end of the day. The suspect was arrested about an hour after school dismissed.

When I returned home after a morning of running errands, I received an automated message that simply informed me the school was on precautionary lockdown due to criminal activity in the area. All children safe and accounted for. I decided to stick close to home until I heard back, but was not particularly worried. Then I received a second automated call. This time the principal’s voice contained a hint of distress. She said the school was again on lockdown as police tried to apprehend a suspect who had shot an officer and barricaded himself into a nearby house. All children were being kept away from windows.

Now I was worried.

While trying to find out what was happening , I learned about the bombings in Boston. What if the guy near the school had explosives and intended to blow up the house, and himself, in close proximity to my babies. He had killed a pregnant woman and tried to kill a cop. This is Texas. His life is over.

I paced as I waited for a third call. It came. Lockdown still in place.

Live web footage showed dozens of cop cars blocking off a familiar street. I knew exactly where they were. If disaster happened, the auditorium side of the school would bear the brunt of it. My second grader’s classroom is uncomfortably close. I prayed she was being kept in the gym.

Photo by Deborah Downes
When the lockdown lifted for dismissal it was like driving into a war zone. Police cars everywhere. Checkpoints. Frantic parents approaching on foot only to be turned away. Harried teachers and children standing in organized clumps on the lawn in front of the school. News cameras recorded everything from across the street. They’re like buzzards waiting for carnage, I thought. Thankfully, they got none.

My second grader told me she had spent four-and-a-half hours sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor. She was told to hunch down and stay silent. The kids didn’t know what was going on, only that it was not a drill. She did not want to be left alone when she got home, and her legs hurt from being still so long, but was fine after being assured she’d never been in danger and that the bad guy was in jail.

My sixth grader had it far worse. The murder scene was visible from her classroom window. She chose not to look when she saw police cars surrounding the home, but a few of her classmates reported seeing a bloodied woman being loaded into an ambulance. Worse, those kids knew the woman was the mother of one of their friends, a boy in the next classroom over. He had already lost his father in Iraq.

Photo by Deborah Downes
My daughter’s teacher was understandably distraught, likely because the faculty and administration communicated over e-mail. She would have known the woman had died and that police had come to take her son away. Perhaps it was for this reason that my daughter was never told the suspect was not in the building looking for more victims. She was merely told to hide and keep quiet. She claimed never to have been scared for herself. She was frightened for her sister, whom she couldn’t get to. She was scared for her friends, and spent some time considering who in the room she would try to save if the room was invaded. She was most scared for ME, and how I would take it if something happened to her.

Yes, my eleven-year-old would be one of those people running toward the blast in Boston, trying to shield little kids. She would be one of the “helpers” Mr. Rogers mentioned in his now famous quote. I can only aspire to be so selfless, and am both proud of and terrified for her.

She, too, has recovered now other than for concern over the boy who lost his mom.

It will take me a bit longer to be fully okay. I remind myself every day how lucky I am that I can hold my children. That they are alive and whole and that no one had actually intended them harm.

I’m sure this contributed to what on the surface seemed like a rash decision this past weekend. The girls have been begging for about a year now, and I no longer had the will to object to something that shows faith in the future. We have added a six-week-old Boston Terrier to our family. She is deaf, but this only makes her more special to us. Freya is a fearless little girl, an alpha female to our zeta male, Thor. Who could resist this face?
Photo by Deborah Downes

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Another One Gone

by Elizabeth

You get Publisher's Lunch, right? It's fun to peruse each day, see what's up, what's sold, scan the job listings in case I get a hankering to move to New York. And then they always list if anyone in the publishing world has passed away.

The other day, they announced the death of E.L. Konigsburg, probably know best as the Newberry-winning author of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Which, by the way, was a book I was aware of in my elementary school days, and which won accolades the year after I was born, but which I believe I have never actually read.

But reading of her death, I didn't think of that book at all, though it's of course the one that was mentioned. I instead remembered another book, the one I did read, and read, and read, in elementary school.
My copy, purchased as an adult

I am sure I first picked it up in our school library/multi-purpose room (there I go giving away my age again: is there a more education-in-the-70's term than "multi-purpose room"?) because, well, it had my name in it. There were a number of books I read, and mostly enjoyed, that were chosen for that reason. But this one stuck with me, and now, three decades or so later, I've probably read it a good dozen times or more. Forced my kids to read it, too. In fact, I went hunting for the copy pictured here when I read of Ms. Konigsburg's passing, and found it in my daughter's room rather than on the bookshelf in our playroom (where it goes, ahem).

About a month ago, I wondered who we would regret never getting to read our books. I confess that this writer of my favorite book as a child didn't cross my mind then, but after reading her author page on amazon, it more than occurs to me now. Here's what amazon says about E.L. Konigsburg:

"E. L. Konigsburg is the only author to have won the Newbery Medal and be runner-up in the same year. In 1968 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler won the Newbery Medal and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth was named Newbery Honor Book. Almost thirty years later she won the Newbery Medal once again for The View From Saturday. She has also written and illustrated three picture books: Samuel Todd's Book of Great Colors, Samuel Todd's Book of Great Inventions, and Amy Elizabeth Explores Bloomingdale's. In 2000 she wrote Silent to the Bone, which was named a New York Times Notable Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, among many other honors.
After completing her degree at Carnegie Mellon University, Ms. Konigsburg did graduate work in organic chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. For several years she taught science at a private girls' school. When the third of her three children started kindergarten, she began to write. She now lives on the beach in North Florida."

She began to write the year her third kid started kindergarten. Well. I began writing in earnest the year my youngest began pre-K, which surely provided about the same amount of time to write as she had back in the 60's. (I had half-day kindergarten myself, and our district here only began full day kindergarten they year my son started.) Which means, this lady who is likely familiar, through the book I loved, or the one everyone else did, or one of her many, many others, to pretty much every American reader who is a target audience of all six of us on this blog--got her start at roughly the same moment in her life as I did.

I don't know how long it took her to pen either one of those books. I don't know what her journey was, which one came first, or even if anything else came first. But no matter what she did, how she did it, she did it, and she started out in a similar place as me.

I loved that book, and chances are I'll pick it up again in the coming weeks and read it again. In some ways, it will be like the first time, because though she used my name, I never realized before that we had something in common. I wish I'd known a few years earlier. I wish I could have told her.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Piling On

by Joan

Just one of many stacks of boxes
A few weeks ago I mentioned in a blog post that we put our house on the market and I got a jolt of reality when I learned I had no decorating sense. House staged and ready to go, comments from prospective buyers started rolling in: “Needs too much updating.” We were shocked – we had updated much of our house. 

Mom's gold wallpaper
We were like those old people who think their home is “hip” (when we were selling my mother's home, she absolutely refused that we remove the gold wallpaper and curtains – “That's good stuff!”) 

So, here we were, thinking it might be a long wait for the right buyer. 

The house in showing condition and busy season wrapping up at work, I looked forward to a little extra writing time and perhaps some quick weekend trips to enjoy the Texas five-minute spring. My husband would shoot some photos, I’d jot down some observations for future writing, and we’d have nice leisurely days.

On exactly April 15th, we got a contract on the house (three weeks after we listed it). But oh, by the way, the buyers have three kids under five years old (including a one-month-old) and need to be in the house in two weeks because they’ve already sold their home. Suddenly, we had no place to live and no idea where we wanted to be.

The day after we learned we had to move in two weeks, my back went out. I could barely move, let alone pack or look for a place to live. After a few visits to the chiropractor, I was finally able to sit in a car and off I went house hunting. We decided to rent for a while, but when I began to look at single-family rentals I was gobsmacked at the disrepair and filth of the homes. Stained carpet, empty food containers in the bedroom, sagging floors (not to mention handguns on top of nightstands). One of the owners had the nerve to request we remove our shoes before walking through! I would have given anything for my mother’s gold wallpaper. At least her home was spotless and in good working order.

Finally, we found an empty-nester condo, with a perfect-for-us floorplan, great amenities and solid construction for peace and quiet. One slight problem… the current tenants can’t vacate until June 1, which means we’ll have to stay at a short-term rental for a month. The logistics of moving our house into half storage, half smaller place, half long-term, half short-term has driven me off my self-imposed sugar detox wagon. (Pamela, those frozen lemon cake balls are divine!)

Meantime, my mother fell and earned some ugly scrapes. We’ve been pleading with her to use her walker, but as a prideful eighty-nine-year-old and the spry one at her assisted living facility, she refuses. "I'm too young for one of those cotton-pickin' things!" Before I could take a breath, another family member headed to the hospital. Thankfully after a few days, she’s checked out and back home.

So the two weeks is ticking, ticking, and we’re packing like fiends. In the midst of this, a critique partner called and wanted an emergency read-through on a scene she’s turning in to an editor. So I woke early to read through for her and then got back to the packing grind. I’m not getting any writing done, but my new story is playing in my head while I load and tape boxes, and when a brilliant idea strikes, I stop and send myself an email reminder from my phone.

As I pack, I find memories of our time in this house and others. Today I found my son’s silver rattle, three boxes of Mother’s Day and birthday cards from my guys, and my mother’s typed recipe binder from 1992.

As Susan said in her lovely Friday post, “… step back and take the time to focus on who we love and the joy in our lives, instead of the latest tragedy. Because when I look closely at the past seven days, my life has still been filled with beauty and art, not just the bombardment of tragedies.”

Yes, I've had a piling-on week. But in light of everything that’s going on in the world, my snowballing drama reminds me I have a full life, lots of friends and family to love, and books to read—and write!

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Letter to People in a Crazy World

By Susan

Dear People in a Crazy World,
       As I write this, bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is still on the run in Massachusetts five days after two bomb blasts killed three and injured 170 people at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Seventy-five miles south of me in West, Texas, work crews, volunteers, and police are sifting through toxic rubble looking for bodies at the West Fertilizer Plant explosion: the death count from Wednesday has still not been confirmed.
Letters laced with ricin were intercepted in Washington this week, addressed to President Obama and Mississippi senator Roger Wicker.
On Wednesday, the senate rejected an amendment to expand gun background checks, going against what the majority of Americans clearly support, yet the NRA does not.
Closer to home, our own Kim Bullock's daughters' elementary school was on lockdown Monday after a man killed his pregnant girlfriend and eluded police for a few tense hours before being captured in Dallas.
And outside of America, Crazy World? Last week, North Korea pointed nukes at us—maybe. A blast in Baghdad killed twenty-seven, and dozens were killed in Somalia at a courthouse attack. Dictators are ranting or threatening, others are imprisoned. Earthquakes and landslides and fires ravage the planet. The world keeps spinning, and it seems the violence expands, all over the earth, all around us. We are not the center, dear people, we are the passengers, turning against each other out of fear and loneliness and hatred.
I wish I could write this letter to you to provide a solution, or an antidote to this violence, this hate, and to the randomness of pain. Instead I'm asking that we step back and take the time to focus on who we love and the joy in our lives, instead of the latest tragedy. Because when I look closely at the past seven days, my life has still been filled with beauty and art, not just the bombardment of tragedies.
For example:
I was honored to listen to Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout talk about her four novels, her writing process, and her life in words.
I attended the theatre and watched Wicked with my daughter and her junior high choir, exploring the majesty of a live performance with thirteen-year-olds whose faces glowed with amazement and awe at the beauty and power of Elphaba, Glinda, and Fiyero.
I finished reading Sharon Olds' latest Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection, Stag's Leap, and George Saunders' latest short story collection, Tenth of December.
I did daily yoga, ran six miles, did a few hundred push-ups, and went on a long walk.
I talked to friends who love me. I hugged my daughters. I laughed with my best friend about a strange occurrence in our neighborhood until we both had tears streaming down our faces.
And after the prompting of a popular quote online, I watched several episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood to remind myself to be kind, loving, and full of peace to counter the effects of a hateful world. I reminded myself to be one of the good guys, or as Mr. Rogers says, to be one of the helpers.
And so, Crazy World, good things still abound, love and peace can only prevail if we choose to be the solution. Help your neighbors and community. Laugh. Produce art, write new words, paint and act and sing. Maybe I'm a dreamer, thinking art, words and song can save us. But at the center of all art, prose, poetry, and music, is love. And love, I believe, is the only thing that can save us.

Peace and love and words,

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

There's more than one way to ...

By Julie (and really, by Elizabeth, too)
Following up to Pamela's Monday post, here's a photo of the group (minus Kim--ironically our ONE Mainer) at the Dallas Museum of Art Monday evening, posing with Elizabeth Strout after her on-stage conversation with Skip Hollandsworth, author of the Texas Monthly article about our favorite Texas bad boy and co-author of the Bernie movie script. Strout wrote the beloved, Pulitzer prize-winning novel in short stories, Olive Kitteridge, and is now touring in support of The Burgess Boys, a novel that returns the reader to Shirley Falls, the fictional Maine town she originally visited in Amy and Isabelle.

Elizabeth LYND (popping her head into the picture there at bottom right) and I had an interesting conversation following the event. During the Q&A, someone from the audience asked about Strout's writing process. Elizabeth L. asked her to expand on part of her answer. Strout had mentioned that she writes in notebooks and hundreds or thousands of individual sheets of paper inevitably end up everywhere--some to be used, some to be discarded. Elizabeth L. was curious how much went in the wastebasket, and Strout explained that a LOT of it ends up there, or filed away somewhere, not in any real organized fashion, perhaps to be used in something else.

While in line, I mentioned to Elizabeth L. that someone almost always asks the writing process question during the events I've done for Calling Me Home. I jokingly said, "Does it matter?" What I meant was that each writer seems to have a different process; no across-the-board method works for every single one of us. I wasn't saying it wasn't an important question, but rather that what works for me won't work for you, or Elizabeth, or Pamela, or Susan, or Joan, or Kim, and so, in a way, my process or Elizabeth Strout's process is irrelevant to anyone else.

But Elizabeth L. came back with a really good point. She said (loosely quoting), "It matters because it says to me, well, if this process works for Strout, and this other process works for Julie, and this other process works for Jamie Ford or Cheryl Strayed or Chris Cleave or ... you know ... then maybe my own, mixed-up seeming process can work for me. It gives me permission to have my own process if all these other successful writers have achieved publication with so many different processes."

I was nodding (vigorously!) and saying, "Yeah, you're absolutely right." I made a mental note to add something about that the next time I answer a writing process question.

After all, as I said to Elizabeth Lynd, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

(What does that really mean? I've always wondered ...)

Monday, April 15, 2013

On being a groupie

By Pamela

I've never been a People magazine subscriber. I'm not a fan of celebrity interviews, per se. Nor do I stalk follow many people on Facebook or Twitter I don't personally know, unless they have something interesting to say.

Pinewood Book Club members meet Julie Kibler!
To that end, I will admit that authors tend to draw me in, and I try to not pass up an opportunity to attend a book signing or talk by someone whose work I admire. This month, we in the Dallas area have been fortunate to have several authors stop through on tours.

Of course, Julie has been back in town, making the rounds to local stores. She was even gracious enough to spend a couple hours with my book club friends at my nearby retirement community. They read (or listened to) Calling Me Home this month and seemed to be delighted to have Julie discuss her story with them. The fact that Susan came, too, made it even more special.

Cheryl Strayed signs Joan's copy of Tiny Beautiful Things.

Last Tuesday Susan, Joan and I met at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) for an evening with Cheryl Strayed. I've read both Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild, so it was wonderful to hear Cheryl speak about her creative process.

Tonight, most of us from What Women Write will be back at the DMA to spend the evening with Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout, author of several books including Olive Kitteridge and her newly-released The Burgess Boys.

Even if you're not close to a big city where authors frequently stop, you can enjoy virtual tours via Facebook or their websites. Also, Oprah's OWN featured her interview with Cheryl Strayed yesterday. My mother, who lives several states away, was able to watch Cheryl's interview, giving us something to share over the miles--a treat for us both.

We'll keep posting about authors as they cross our paths and would love to hear about your experiences, too. As for me, I've dedicated a special section of my bookshelf for my autographed books. Not only did I treasure the stories they told, but each also holds a memory of the time I met the author--typically while in the company of my dear friends.
Me with Susan and Joan at the Cheryl Strayed event. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Literary Crushes

By Kim

As an avid reader from the age of three and a sucker for a good love story, I confess I’ve fallen in love with more fictional men than real ones in my lifetime. Most are transitory infatuations that last only as long as it takes for me to finish a novel or until they do or say something that annoys me, whichever comes first. I don’t remember their names a month later.

Some remain with me, luring me back to their pages so I can again experience that heady rush. I don’t always get it. At nineteen, I loved Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff. Twenty years later, I wonder why. My opinion about Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie Fraser has not changed since 1992, however. I’m sure I’ll feel much the same about Cathy Marie Buchanan’s Tom Cole and Stephanie Cowell’s imagined version of Claude Monet.

I met my first literary love at twelve, when my mother gave me my first copy of Jane Eyre. Ever since, Edward Rochester is like the bad boy ex-boyfriend I’d take back in a heartbeat, damn the consequences. I forgive him the moodiness, the mind games, and even the mad wife imprisoned in the attic. Each time a movie version comes out, I’m at the theater and praying that the actor in that role fits the image in my mind. He never does, though Toby Stephens was my favorite.

My eldest daughter is now almost twelve and she, too, has fallen in love for the first time. The object of her affection: Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games. As soon as she finished book three, she immediately picked up book one again, so she could have “her” Peeta back the way she wants to remember him.

How about you? Who are your literary crushes?
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