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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Announcing my next book... THE IMPOSSIBLE CARAVAN!!!

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 photo credit: Charlie Cox of Irish Rose Farm

Hello, dear readers!

I can finally announce the news I've been hinting at for a while now (and which some of you already know via Facebook and Twitter)! Here's the official announcement of my new book deal!!!

Children's: Middle grade
Americas Award-winning author Laura Resau's THE IMPOSSIBLE CARAVAN, in which an indigenous boy and a Romani (Gypsy) girl form a friendship in rural Mexico that spans the rest of their lives and embraces magic, music, and predictions of impossible destinies, to Andrea Davis Pinkney of Scholastic, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Erin Murphyof Erin Murphy Literary Agency (world).

(Expected Publication Date: Fall 2015.  And note that the title might change!)

You guys, I'm so excited!  This is a new publisher and editor for me, and I've heard incredible things about them both.  I've been working with Andrea on revisions this summer, and I keep pinching myself because she is a dream to work with... this whole experience, in fact, has felt like an abracadabrant dream.

I got the idea for this book about 15 years ago, when I was living in an indigenous region of Oaxaca, Mexico, teaching and doing anthropology research.  I met a 96-year-old healer named Maria Lopez Martinez, lovingly nicknamed "Maria Chiquita," and her daughter, Fidelina.  We immediately hit it off, and after Maria Chiquita gave me a limpia (spiritual cleaning involving chanting, praying, and beating me with bundles of herbs and spitting on me with alcohol), she and her daughter told me I reminded them of the gitana (Gypsy/Romani)  women who used to visit their Mixtec village in the mid-20th century. They launched into enchanting stories about the caravans that would show outdoor movies and tell fortunes and bring joy and excitement to their community.

 I could only find this small-resolution image of the three of us

I ended up becoming good friends with these women, and although Maria Chiquita passed away a year later, I went to her cabo de anno (that double nn is supposed to be an n with a squiggle above it but I can't figure out how to do that in blogger!)  This was a beautiful candlelit gathering a year after her death in which we honored her spirit.

 "Drops of Wax" illustration by Emma Shaw Smith

Maria Chiquita had a big effect on my life, and I ended up weaving her stories about the gitanas into a short story called "Drops of Wax" for Cricket Magazine-- my first big publication.  Fast forward about ten years, after I'd published seven books and was struggling with what I thought would be my next book-- a YA fantasy that my writing friends and I referred to as THE CHOCOLATE BOOK  (or, THAT  #$&*! CHOCOLATE BOOK).  This was the spring of 2013, and man oh man, was this book giving me trouble!  It was super-intricate, jumping around in time and space, leaping from one character's point of view to another... and then there was crazy-complicated fantastical world-building I was getting lost in...

Around that time, I took a trip to Half Moon Bay, California for an author visit and walked along the succulent-covered ocean cliffs.  It had an almost magical effect on me... I started getting vivid glimpses of a new story.... a story that was for younger readers, and involved the Romani (Gypsies) and a Mixtec village... and it felt graceful and fun and soul-soaring to me.  I decided I needed to give my poor brain a break from THE %*&!@ CHOCOLATE BOOK, and this new story was the perfect project.  I jotted down bits of dialogue and scenes and imagery in the little notebook I carry around with me, and started getting really excited about it.  It felt deeply special to me--  after all, the novel had been brewing in my unconscious mind for the past fifteen years.  I'd written that short story, but I'd always had the sense that I wanted to weave some of its basic elements into a full-length novel someday... and the day had finally come!

The book was a pure joy to write... I ended up finishing a solid draft by the fall-- in less than six months, which is really fast for me.  Then, for a few months, I asked some smart and generous writing friends to critique it, and I did a few revisions.  By the winter, my agent was reading it, and then, in the springtime of 2014, Andrea Davis Pinkney made the offer. Then I had to sit on the news all summer long until the contract was signed and the deal officially announced. So... it's been a fruitful and exciting year!

SO many people have helped me with this manuscript... the acknowledgments will be looooong! My friends in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca were enormously helpful, and I feel bowled over with gratitude.  And my writer friend, Ron Cree, contributed awesome real-life stories about some unusual pets he had as a kid-- this helped me with "character development" of the rescued skunk and duck in the book.  (You can read his hilarious stories here and here.)

The abandoned, injured gosling my family and I rescued back in May 2013 was also a big inspiration for the duckling character in the story.  Here you can see photos of Baby Goose Grape (and also read another true, funny waterfowl story.)

My friend Charlie Cox helped with some of the Romani (Gypsy) elements in the story-- he lives on a farm on the outskirts of town, and has Romani vardos (caravans) and Gypsy horses!  Here's a post I did after he invited me out to his farm and graciously showed me his vardos.

 Photo credit: Charlie Cox of the Irish Rose Farm

I've been interested in Romani cultures around the world ever since reading anthropologist Isabel Fonseca's ethnographic book BURY ME STANDING in the mid 1990's.  It made me aware of the misconceptions about the Romani as free-spirited wanderers, and gave me a better understanding of the societal challenges they've faced, historically and current-day. And then, as I did research for my novel, I was fascinated to learn more about the Romani through books, oral histories, and documentaries (the recent movie Papusza was wonderful and moving.)

Researching this book was the first time I used a secret Pinterest board to collect images, and it was really helpful.  Here are a couple images from the board that helped me visualize the Romani girl in my novel.

(Unfortunately, a problem with Pinterest is that it can be hard to find photo credits for images-- I don't know who took these pics, but if you do, let me know, and I'll give credit.)

 I imagine the girl in front resembles my main character-- I love her confident, almost sassy expression!

Okay, I think this post is long enough for now! I have more inspiration/research background to share with you later, though...  some of it involves my vintage Viewmaster and slide collection, actually. ;-)

On that note, I will bid you farewell!  Thank you for coming by and sharing in my happiness... and I hope you're enjoying these first bits of fall.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Delights of New Mexico...

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Hello dear readers!

All summer, I've been meaning to give you a glimpse of my outings... but then I just kept getting busy with more outings.  So here's the first installment-- a smattering of pictures from my road trip with Ian to Taos while my parents stayed back in Fort Collins with Lil Dude and his cousin.

Here we are on the Rio Grande, at Manby (aka Stagecoach) hot springs.  We drove on some bumpy, dusty roads past funky earth-ship houses, parked the car, then hiked to the bottom of the canyon, where we were greeted by several natural pools of steamy water.  Ahhh....

Can you make out the ancient rock art with my name on it?

Interestingly, this wall was supposedly built as a set for the movie Easy Rider.  Now I want to go back and see that movie again...

Guess who took this picture?  Reefka Schneider-- part of a husband-wife poet-illustrator team whose books deal with Mexico border issues!  We randomly encountered Reefka and Steven in the hot springs, and found we had lots in common.  Serendipitous, no?

Desert flowers are so stunning... and then there's that refreshing scent of sage brush...

The area was actually relatively lush-- rain has been generous in the Southwest this year.

Next, we went to Ojo Caliente, more developed hot springs near Taos, but apparently we were sooooo relaxed we forgot to take pictures.

The next day we went to the Ghost Ranch, where artist Georgia O'Keefe sought creative refuge for many years.

Selfie with Ian...

We went on a Ghost Ranch history tour and heard weird stories of betrayal and buried treasure and a murdered brother and large flying babies covered in red hair that haunted the ranch...

Did a wee bit of labyrinth-walking, but dang, it was HOT!

My friend Helena saw this photo and wrote "TOTORO!"  (A wonderful Miyazaki film, Lil Dude's favorite, in which the giant magical-forest-creature flies with an umbrella.)

Here is one of my favorite quotes, which I discovered in a tiny, musty, mustard-colored book when I was a teen.  It's from Henry David Thoreau's journal:

"See what a life the gods have given us, set round with pain and pleasure. It is too strange for sorrow; it is too strange for joy.  One while it looks as shallow, though as intricate, as a Cretan labyrinth, and again it is a pathless depth."

My whole life, I've felt this way-- that life alternates between feeling like a labyrinth and a pathless depth.

On that note, I will bid you farewell, dear readers, so that I can go pick up Lil Dude from school.  Oh, and I can finally tell you my exciting new book news within the next few days! Hooray!


P.S.  And I have to tell you about this amazing restaurant Ian and I ate at twice for dinner in Taos!  It's called Loveapple, and is a sweet old adobe chapel converted into a farm-to-table restaurant.  Every entree is insanely delicious and garnished with edible flowers!

Chocolate cake...

Such a treat to have a luxuriously long, kid-less dinner... twice in one weekend!

And here's a random photo of Ian and me at our friend Les Sunde's magical art-place in Bellvue....  (and here's the article I wrote about his wonder-filled place a couple years ago, if you're curious.)

Thanks for swinging by!


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... ;-)