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Monday, July 21, 2014

Blog Writer Chain Thingie

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Hey guys,

Hope you're having a glorious summer! Wilma the Beagle's summer has been quite relaxing, as you can see...

So, I was asked to be part of a Blog Writer Chain Thingie (not the official name), in which the baton was passed from my dear novelist friend (and writers' group member) Laura Pritchett to me, and after answering these questions, I in turn, will pass it along to another writer friend...

If you want to see Laura's interview, you can go here and see it in conversation form with another awesome writer friend, Amy Kathleen Ryan.  Laura Pritchett's latest novel is STARS GO BLUE and it's gorgeous and gritty and moving.  (Note it's marketed for adults, not YA.)  

Here is the blurb I posted about STARS GO BLUE on Goodreads: 

Reading this book was a profound experience that I don't think I'll ever forget. It made me FEEL so DEEPLY. It made me feel BIG things, like life and death and love and sorrow and laughter and landscape... Pritchett has this incredible ability to capture the expansive range of human experience and make readers feel it all, right down to their bones. I was already crying just a few pages in-- but the good kind of crying, the kind that lets you glimpse what matters about being a human on earth. There are hard and gritty elements in this book, like the murder of a loved one and mental deterioration from Alzheimer's... but there is a soaring beauty as well, seen in the poetically spiritual descriptions of snow or trees. And Pritchett somehow manages to weave all this poignancy into a suspenseful and breath-taking plot that kept me glued to the book.

Okay, so as I understand it, for this Blog Writer Chain Thingie, I am supposed to answer these questions about my own writing:

1. What am I currently working on?

I'm revising my upcoming novel with my wonderful new editor... and I hate to be mysterious, but the contract is not quite signed, so I'm not allowed to tell you about it yet.... argh!!!  (I'll just say that it's set in Oaxaca, Mexico and there's magical realism in it, as well as a rescued skunk, goat, and duckling.  It also involves a caravan and outdoor films and lightning and coins and dust.)   Okay, I'm afraid I'll get in trouble if I say anything else, so I'll move on to the next question!)

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I feel passionate about indigenous rights and immigration issues, and I hope this comes through in my novels.  I think these issues need to be approached with a sense of empathy and compassion, and with the understanding that we're all connected on this earth.  I think that my anthropology training comes through in my work-- I know my participant-observation research style has been an essential part of my process.  Oh, and also, I can't resist weaving in sparkling threads of magic and travel and adventure...

3. Why do I write what I write?

Er, see above?  ;-)
4. How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

Let's see, first I find myself jotting down ideas and notes on a possible future story.  This stage often involves my dozens of spiral-bound notebooks, and it might take a few months, or a few years, or a few decades.  At some point, I start writing bits and pieces of the story, sometimes from the beginning, sometimes not.  I don't censor myself, and let it flow out in a stream-of-consciousness way. 

After a few pages, or a few dozen pages, I write a kind of provisional outline, mapping out the character arcs and plots and subplots.  I also take notes on the imagery, symbolism, tone, atmosphere, etc.  Then I write more stream-of-consciousness stuff for a while, and then at some point, I revisit the outline and tweak some things to accommodate all the cool surprises that pop up while I'm doing the actual writing.  I go back and forth like this for months, and sometimes years. 

When I have a pretty good chunk of manuscript, I start revising, looking at elements like character development, pacing, plot, layers of meaning, imagery, language, etc.  I might move between revising what I have, revisiting the outline, and writing new stuff, until finally I have a solid draft. 

I show it to my critique partners and writing group members, and once they give me their feedback, I do more revising.  When it feels right, I pass it along to my agent and if she wants any revisions, I do them.  Then it's on to my editor.  And then there's more revising ahead...

which is where I am now.  I'm at the point where I'm fine-tuning and polishing and fact-checking, working with a spiral bound hard copy.  It's nice because I can just sit on the wee balcony just outside my writing room, get cozy with Wilma, and revise away...

Okay, so I'm not sure yet which writer will be next in this chain, but once I know, I'll update this post with an intro and a link.

Thanks for swinging by, and have fun this summer!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Ducklings of Ron's Childhood

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Hello, dear readers!

I'm in the midst of revising my next book (which I still can't tell you about till everything is finalized!)  I've given you a few glimpses here and there, though... A few months ago, I did a post about my writer friend, Ron Cree's, pet skunk that he had as a kid.  Not only is there a devilish rescued baby skunk character in my next book, but there's also a rescued duckling character... and wouldn't ya know it, Ron *also* had pet ducks as a kid. Ron's vivid descriptions of his relationship with his animals and their fascinating behavior were helpful to me in my research...

So, without further ado, I shall paste Ron's incredibly moving childhood duckling recollections (really, I got a lump in my throat at the end...):

"I was in the fifth grade (around 10 years old) when I convinced my parents to let me purchase two duck eggs from the local hatchery.  Eggs were a much easier sell than two live ducklings, and they were cheaper, too.  I think I only paid a buck or so for each one.  They were about ¾ incubated, and due to hatch in just a few days.

I set up a cardboard box in my bedroom and focused a strong, 100 watt bulb on the eggs, which I’d carefully nestled in some towels.  I made sure to turn them at regular intervals and stayed up late most nights, staring at them and dreaming about how amazing it was going to be when they finally produced ducks!  I was very impatient for them to hatch…it was worse than waiting for Christmas.

Even now, nearly forty years later, I clearly remember the excitement of the day my ducks were born.  I watched in awe as the eggs trembled and cracked.  It took a huge amount of willpower to not help them out of their shells.  (I had a book that explained what to do, and it stated very forcefully that you should never “help” your ducklings during the hatching process.)  I could see their bills breaking through the eggs, and the urge to reach in and assist was nearly overwhelming.

After what seemed like hours, both ducklings had fully emerged.  They were wet and peeping up a storm.  The warmth of the lamp dried them off pretty quickly, though, leaving them fluffy and yellow and unbelievably cute.


I named them Puddles and Sunbeam and couldn’t resist picking them up and playing with them, even though they’d just hatched.  It was sort of love at first sight, both for them and for me.

My book had explained the concept of imprinting, and I was eager to try it out for myself.  Less than an hour after they were born, I put the ducklings on the floor and started walking around.  I was amazed (and still am) at how they immediately began following me.  No matter how fast I moved, no matter how I zigged and zagged, they kept right up with me, peeping all the while.

Over the next couple of weeks, we grew even closer.  They’d follow me EVERYWHERE.  I loved taking them outside and showing off for the other kids in the neighborhood.  Even in a crowd of people, Puddles and Sunbeam never lost focus—they always followed me and only me.  I took them to school for show and tell one day and they followed me up and down the hallway and into the classroom.  Even the teacher thought they were adorable.


It was interesting to see the change in their personalities as they grew.  When young, they were easily spooked and tended to stick very close.  I had to be careful not to step on them.  They were always visibly excited when I came home from school and played with them.

As they grew into adults, they became hilarious.  They still followed me everywhere, but now, instead of being tiny and yellow and fluffy, they were gangly, white, and weirdly independent.  They remained quite protective of me and had no problem facing down other animals, like my dog, cats, squirrels, whatever that tried to come between us.  They’d get into the face of anything they perceived as a threat to me.  They were my protectors!

They had their own small swimming pool that they’d spend the day in (during warm weather), and a secure hutch they’d sleep in at night.  They ate plants and worms in the yard, and I had to pay attention to keep them out of my mom’s garden.  (I spent a lot of my allowance on Purina Duck Chow…little pellets of who-knows-what that was the staple of their diet.)  They liked being carried, and I can still remember the feeling of tucking one under each arm like a football and lugging them around town.  Of course, whenever I did put them down, they immediately fell into line behind me and just followed me wherever I went.

They drew a lot of attention from people, but whenever someone would approach us, they’d get all ruffled and start quacking aggressively.  They’d run in circles around my feet.  No one else could pick them up.   

They really didn’t have time for anyone except me and each other.


I can’t say that they were particularly “loving” pets.  I couldn’t cuddle with them or sit with them in my lap.  They couldn’t sleep with me or even come inside the house, once they were grown.  But they were extremely loyal and I couldn’t get enough of them.

For my Mom and Dad, it was another story.  As the ducks became adults, they became messy and smelly.  Lots of poop everywhere.  My parents didn’t like that.  Plus, they were loud.  Their cute peeps became annoying quacks and honks.  They considered themselves the “bosses” of me and of the yard in general.  They were surprisingly territorial.  Most strangely—it was as if they “knew” somehow they belonged to me, and as my pets, they acted “entitled” or something.  It was weird.

I didn’t have them long…maybe a year.  It got to a point where it was impractical to keep them.  We didn’t live on a farm.  We lived in the suburbs of Cincinnati.

So my parents finally convinced me that my ducks would be happier at the city lake with the other ducks.  I didn’t want that, of course, but I was only 11, so I didn’t have much say.

I can remember the evening we took them to the lake and let them go.  They very quickly merged in with a whole group of other domestic ducks, making them impossible to identify by sight.


That night, I tossed and turned and cried and cried and cried.  It was horrible.

I went back to the lake almost every day for a month, hoping to see them.  And I did a couple of times.  They actually broke from the crowd of other ducks and proceeded to follow me when I showed up!

But the day finally came when I showed up and they weren’t there.  Or they simply decided not to follow me anymore.  I eventually stopped going and never saw them again.

I still remember them, though.  Two of my favorite pets ever."


*sniff sniff*  This is Laura here again.  You know, I got inspired to have a rescued baby waterfowl character in this book after I found an abandoned Canadian gosling in the road last year. We brought her home and named her Grape, but soon had to deliver her to the wildlife rehabilitation center.  I cried like crazy, and I'd only known her a few days.  Here she is:

Oh, and one more thing-- if you're in the Fort Collins area, please come by and see me (and wonderful writer friends Laura Pritchett and Kayre Cattrell at the Old Town Book Fair on July 12!  Here are details:

Saturday July 12, 1:00-2:00 pm, Local Author Tent, Old Town Book Fair, 

Old Town Square, Fort Collins, CO

Ask a Writer – or Three!
Have questions about the writing process, finishing your novel, or finding an agent? Or perhaps you'd rather talk about plot, character, pacing, or setting. Whatever the questions, three acclaimed Fort Collins authors will do their best to answer them while chatting about writing and the writing life.
Free and open to everyone!

(See here for details and the full line-up of Book Fair activities.) 


P.S. Besides, Baby Goose Grape, the other waterfowl in the photos here were randomly found through an online image search... I didn't have any pics of Ron's actual ducklings, but you can only imagine their cuteness. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Vermont Retreat with EMLA!

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Hi guys!

So, I am a very lucky lady to be part of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.  We do an annual authors' retreat, and oh, what a retreat it was this year in Brandon, Vermont!

Here I'm hanging outside Cafe Provence with old friends Cynthia Levinson, Liz Garton Scanlon, Carrie Gordon Watson, Tamara Ellis Smith, and Jeannie Mobley...

Making new friends-- Kevan Atteberry and Laurie Thompson... (Ruth Barshaw's an old friend!)

Dressing up for the Time Snap party... here I am with other steampunk ladies...


Okay, I'm apparently too lazy to label everyone by name, but you can go to EMLA's client list and play your own match-the-author-to-the-time-traveler-game (note that some come from other dimensions entirely.)

And the illustrious, time-traveling, mad-scientist agent herself... Erin Murphy!

 A taste of the party decor...

The band Erin Murphy's Dog jammin' while a rapt audience listens and laughs hysterically at the funny songs.


Love attacks on Liz Garton Scanlon by Katniss (Phil and Kevin's dog)


There were games and raffles... here's a Bobble Ami-Joan Paquette doll that Anna won!

 Bobble Erin Murphy doll prize!


Pretty stuff encountered on walks around Brandon...

A taste of the decor of my room at the Brandon Inn... made me smile!

Robert Frost Hike!


A little-known Robert Frost poem that charmed us all...


Thanks for swinging by! (For you curious readers, I *do* still have secret, happy news that I can't share with you yet... just know that the Secret is sitting in the middle and knowing while you dance around in a ring, supposing... ;-)


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Ron's Pet Skunk

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Hello, dear readers!

If you've been suffering from a horrible allergy season, as I have, this skunk story might cheer you up.  It makes me laugh between sneezes.  (My allergies have been horrendous for the past 6 weeks-- I've gone through so many boxes of Kleenex that I'm going to plant some trees in my yard to make up for it.  Really, I am!)

So, my new manuscript has, among other animals, a rescued skunk in it.  I put out a call for real life pet skunk stories on Facebook as part of my "research."  My good friend Ron Cree sent this one.  (He's also an awesome YA author-- check out his books here!)   

Here's Ron's story, in his own words, and I hope it makes you laugh (between sneezes), too!

For all of my childhood, I wanted a skunk as a pet.  I mean, I was obsessed with the idea.  For all of middle school and for most of high school, I read about them, looked at pictures of them, devoured every magazine article and book I could find about them.
My parents were smart, though.  They always said “no way” whenever I brought it up.  It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that my dream finally came true.

I discovered that a friend of my dad’s had somehow come into possession of a de-scented skunk and was looking to sell it.  I jumped at the chance, and without telling my folks, I paid him $15 and took possession of a gorgeous, grown male skunk.

I named him Prints, and he was the coolest thing EVER.

I bought him a small halter/leash, the kind you’d put on a poodle or small dog.  With that, I was able to walk him around.  Traffic would literally screech to a halt when people saw us.

Traits I remember about him:
  • ·         He would frequently go into “spray mode”.  If he was startled or felt threatened, his tail would stand straight up.  He’d arch his back and stare you down.  He’d stamp his little front feet on the ground and hop backwards a few inches.  If none of that worked, he’d whip his butt around and “spray”.  Then, feeling 100% confident that he’d succeeded in warding off any danger, he’d calmly proceed to go about his business.  It was pretty hilarious.
  • ·         He was nocturnal.  He’d sleep most of the day (curled into a tight ball) and was very active at night.  I would let him roam around my room while I slept, and he’d get into EVERYTHING.  He particularly liked going into the closet and under the bed.  He didn’t like being “exposed.”
  • ·         He was very curious.  He’d often strain to see what I was doing if I was at my desk or in bed.  (Of course, he could have just been looking for food.  He ate A LOT.)
  • ·         He was sort of like a cat, in the sense that you could pick him up and pet him.  He’d sit in your lap or fall asleep while you were holding him.  His personality was cat-like, as well.  Sort of aloof, but dumber, if that makes sense.  Like a dumb cat.  Not sneaky, but confident.  (He really thought all he had to do was spray anything that messed with him.)
  • ·         He had a temper, and if I tried doing something he didn’t like, or pick him up when he didn’t want to be picked up, he’d bite, or try to bite.  He was definitely a wild animal.
  • ·         When picking him up, he’d often be real wiggly, and whip his head from side to side, as if trying to bite.  I eventually learned to pick him up by the skin of his neck.

 There was one time, when I was out of high school, that I took a cross-country road trip in February.  I had Prints in the car with me.  I’d made a wooden box with a small round hole cut in the side that I’d keep him in.  He liked the solid darkness of it (unlike a cage), but he could still poke his head out to see what was going on, if he wanted to.  I put the box on the passenger seat with the hole facing me, and he’d stick his nose out every now and then to check things out.

Anyway, we got stuck in a very bad snowstorm in Minnesota, and I-90 was closed.  So we were forced to stop at a hotel for a couple of days.  Trust me, getting a skunk into a hotel is not a good idea.  The first night, I left him in the car.  BIG mistake.  I’d forgotten about a box of Pop-Tarts in my baggage.  But he hadn’t.  He got out of his wooden box and DESTROYED the inside of the car, getting to those pastries.  He literally tore (clawed, gnawed, whatever) his way through the side of my suitcase.  Tore the upholstery.  Shredded clothes, other boxes, etc.  It was a MESS.

So I decided I had no choice but to smuggle him into the hotel.  He liked it.  He got to do his usual nighttime prowling around while I slept.  (Except he decided that chewing up the carpet under the bed was a good idea.)

Unfortunately, housekeeping caught him the next day and I got in trouble.  The manager was called and we were asked to move out, but it didn’t matter, since the freeway opened again later that morning.

I took him to Mount Rushmore and walked him around the plaza on his leash.  That was pretty funny.   
Again, I can’t emphasize enough the REACTION that occurred when people spotted us.  They’d do a double-take, then a retreat, then a confused, whispered conversation with whomever they were with, followed by an “are you crazy?” glance at me, before finally asking what the deal was.


Me again-- Laura here.  Isn't that all great?  HUGE thanks to Ron for taking the time to write this down for me.  I can't wait for you guys to meet the skunk in my upcoming book...


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Battle of the Books!

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Hey guys!

I just had the best time in the Terre Haute area of Indiana, presenting as part of their awesome Battle of the Books!

Star in the Forest was one of about twenty books involved in the battle, and I was honored that they asked me to come and meet all the participating kids, who came from schools throughout Vigo County.  There were a few hundred kids total, and they were all amazing!  And so were the teachers and librarians who worked so hard to organize the Battle events.

I wish I'd remembered to take pictures at the presentation, but I was so busy chatting with these incredibly enthusiastic students that I completely forgot.  (Thanks, Angie Miller, for the above photo!)

I did manage a few pictures with my delightful liaison, Kathy Deal, who gave me the warmest welcome an author could hope for...

My farewell lunch included this gigantic milkshake... I didn't even get hungry on the plane ride home.

 I was so impressed with all the friendly cooperation among community members to make this event a success!  Thank you, Vigo County, for an unforgettable visit!

And now, on a different note.... I can't resist whispering this to you:  
Exciting, new-book-related stuff is happening in my life right now!  I hope to be able to tell you about it soon... but in the meantime, let's be secretly happy together! :-)


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Costa Rica trip!

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Playa Pelada-- the beach a three-minute walk from our rental house...

Hello everyone!

Thought I'd share some images from the trip I took with Ian and Lil Dude to Costa Rica over spring break.  We stayed at Playa Pelada, on the Nicoya peninsula... bliss... (except for all those times we got lost because none of the roads were marked... and a few other moments (stay tuned for more on that)).

Riding on horseback through the jungle (Lil Dude and Ian did this without me-- I'm allergic to horses, hippos, hamsters, cats, guinea pigs, and bunnies.)

On the beach...

Mangrove swamp!

 Howler monkeys hung out in our yard and woke us up every morning before dawn... they made this low, growly sound that brought to mind a zombie apocalypse.

I love caves... and these were accessible only at low tide, which made them extra enchanting for me!

En route to the caves...

I hardly brushed my hair for two weeks-- the sea and salt and wind made it wild... and then one day, I noticed dreadlocks forming, and finally gave in and had a looooong session with the hairbrush.

The other end of "our" beach... a place where local, ex-pat, and tourist families all hung out together at sunset.

My boys...

Lil Dude is such a creature of the sea... the sand and water could entertain him all day.

He learned to surf from an instructor that looked like a Costa Rican version of young Brad Pitt.

Ian practiced surfing too-- he's still a beginner, but very enthusiastic. ;-)

We hung out at this gelato place in the hot, hot, HOT afternoons...

Lil Dude LOVED the pool at our house... that's his snorkel you see on the right.

Our porch, where I read some magical books and scribbled in my journal and sipped agua de sandia.

Bougainvillea is so pretty... I wish we could grow it in our garden in Colorado.

Hibiscus, too...

We snorkeled here one morning... the most exciting discovery was a giant rusted fishing knife as big as a sword.  Fake pirate fights ensued.

We watched many sunsets from many scenic spots...

I feel compelled to interrupt this series of sunset photos to show you how we afford an international vacation every year.  I present to you my car (which has no hubcaps, a torn interior ceiling thanks to Lil Dude ripping it off as a toddler, and -- in addition to transporting us--it serves as storage for junk for several months/years at a stretch until making it to Goodwill.)

So I occasionally ask myself, Laura, would you rather have a new car or go on yearly international vacations?  Laura, would you rather have hubcaps or pay for half a plane ticket?  Laura, would you rather have that ripped ceiling fixed or pay for the other half of a plane ticket? Laura, would you rather get the car detailed or pay for a night at a rental house in some tropical paradise?  You get the idea. I believe that making travel a part of our lives is largely about priorities.  And really, visiting another country will stimulate your mind and spirit and senses SO MUCH MORE than a nice shiny new car (or the latest technology) will.... Anyway, pardon that rant, and now, on with the sunsets!

Well, actually, I also feel compelled to tell you that although we did experience high levels of bliss on this trip, every day one of us threw a temper tantrum (as with every family vacation we take).  It could be me, Ian, or Lil Dude... and I've learned to accept this as the small price you pay for vacation bliss.  (For example, one day I threw a tantrum about the jackhammer noises thundering from the house next door.  Ian threw a tantrum because Lil Dude and I claimed it was too hot to accompany him on a tidal pool exploration one afternoon.  And Lil Dude threw a tantrum because Ian and I wouldn't clean out all the bugs and leaf debris with the pool net one morning.)  I just feel it's important to juxtapose these sunset pictures with a little grounding in reality, you know?

Okay.  Now back to reveling in sunsets.  It's funny how usually temper tantrums don't happen in the moment you're watching sunsets over the ocean... everyone stops what they're doing and stares at the disappearing sun and just soaks in all that beauty.

Here's to happy travels in your future!