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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why I Write...

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A reader sent me the most amazing email the other day... Betsy Hinze is an artist who felt inspired to make a jaguar mask after reading What the Moon Saw. (Clara's grandmother's spirit animal is a jaguar.)  I followed the link to her etsy page, and was met with this fantastic work of art that took my breath away:

And not only is it absolutely stunning, but wait till you read about her process!  I am so honored and moved that my book inspired someone to put all this care into creating something beautiful.  You can tell that Betsy put her heart and soul into making this... I love this mask for so many reasons, but most of all, I'm grateful for this reminder about the deepest reason why I write-- in hopes that through story, souls can touch and create beauty.  Thank you so much, Betsy!  

Okay, I'm cutting and pasting Betsy's description here-- it's long, but eloquent and fascinating and inspiring and definitely worth reading. (She quotes from What the Moon Saw, which, if you haven't read yet, you can read more about here.)

"I have used many symbols in this mask, all based off of the book (as I will explain below). I absolutely loved reading this book-it let me escape into a completely new world, in which I became totally immersed...

To the symbols:

First, I soaked the leather in a mixture of spices and coffee, based on these quotes:

“I would sit in the dark and watch the rabbit in the moon and let Pedro’s music enter me…I would feel the fresh herbs dripping rainwater down my arms, the warmth of hot chocolate, the sweet copal smoke, the taste of mango juice, the color of his voice, the smell of goats.”

“I stood still while she brushed wet herbs [ruda, basil, white flowers] over my head and neck…”

“For years, Clara, my life was drenched with aromas of herbs and spices…stirring cinnamon into hot chocolate, stirring oregano into soup. Stirring lemongrass into tea.”

Then, I molded it into the shape of a Jaguar:

“It was the shiny form of a jaguar! His spots shimmered like tiny moons…moonlight glinted in his eyes.”

I painted the mask in colors based off of these quotes:

“There was a strange light, kind of orange-yellow, thick as squash soup. Everything glowed like a painting done in a palette of eerie colors.”

“The sky melted from black to deep blue to gray to pink.”

“Abuelo came back with the firewood and a sackful of wild mushrooms. Some were sea green and some fiery orange…Usually mushrooms taste like dirt to me, but these tasted like forest secrets. Like sunsets hiding in tree hollows.”

“I chose the cup of good, and drank down every last drop. It was golden and sweet, like honey, and filled me with light.”

Next, I added silvery iridescent lines and webs with mica powder (you can hardly see them in the photos):

“Only when the light was right, only if you were paying attention, could you begin to see the connection. It occurred to me that hidden strands linked us all, through decades, over thousands of miles, across borders.“

“Watching the light shine through the leaves, specking my skin with jaguar spots.”

“Only a crescent of moon showed that night, but the leaves and branches glimmered, silver. And everything pulsed with life…Below, I saw threads, like spiders’ webs, connecting everything.”

Lastly, I added the details. I put real Swallowtail butterfly wings on the ears. The butterfly died naturally. 

“What I remember most about our walk were the butterflies dancing in the air above the uprooted trees, as though it were a day just like any other.”

I added parrot feathers, cacao beans, and wood pieces with goose egg pieces glued to them: 

“We left gifts to thank the spirits for the plants. Gifts of eggs and green feathers and cocoa beans.”

“Gifts of cocoa beans, turkey eggs, green feathers.”

I used porcupine quills as whiskers because all animals are connected, even the mighty jaguar to the small porcupine.

The very last thing I did was add long orange ribbons:

“She unwound the orange ribbon from her braids and carefully wove it into mine.”

I hope you appreciate the time, effort, and thought that went in to creating this mask. I really tried to encompass my love and respect for the book I created it in honor of."

(This is me again, Laura.)  Isn't this amazing?  It moves me every time I read it and look at the photos... I get happy shivers!

You know, in general, I feel content with my fairly modest income from writing books-- what gives me fulfillment is getting emails from readers, like this one...  BUT every once in a while, I see something like this jaguar mask that is just bursting with soul and magic, and I *wish* I had a few hundred dollars lying around.  I would buy this in a heartbeat!

Ah well... just knowing it exists makes me happy.  And I'm going to print out a color copy of it and hang it in my trailer!

(Incidentally, if YOU have a few extra hundred dollars lying around, you could buy it here and tell me about it and send me pictures of you wearing it!  That would definitely make me happy, too!)

Have a lovely day, and Betsy, thank you again!

Laura  P.S.  So now, after writing that post, I'm thinking, hmmm.... maybe I can scrounge that money together after all.  It would be so amazing to have this in my home-- every time I walked by it, I'd be reminded of why I write... We shall see!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fort Collins Writer Friends and their Creations!

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Hello everyone,

One of the best things about being a writer for teens is the great sense of community that comes with it.  Here are what two of my YA writer friends in town are up to....

Todd Mitchell, another Fort Collinite, had a recent book release -- The Secret to Lying.  Full disclosure: I read an early draft of this YA novel years ago and fell in love with it... and ever since I've been incapable of talking about this book without gushing!

 Over the next few years, the story went through many revisions, but it was definitely worth the wait... it is now a perfectly polished gem.  Here's the review I posted of it on amazon:

Oh, how I wish this book existed when I was a teen! I would have connected so strongly with it. (Now, in my thirties, I still connect with it, but in my teens I was *craving* a story like this!) I love how the book deals with multiple layers of reality and consciousness-- the faces we show to people and the parts of ourselves we don't. The story really resonated with my feelings about existence as a young adult-- how I felt unsure at times what was real, wondering to what extent I could create reality, puzzling over who I was, grappling with how to connect with people. (Deep stuff!) The matrix-like alternate dreamscape works beautifully in the story and really sets it apart from similar books (like John Green's work-- incidentally, I have to say that as a John Green fan, I liked The Secret to Lying even better than any of J.G.'s stuff for this reason). In addition to the psychological thriller/philosophical elements, this book is full of hilarious dialogue and a tender romance and mystery/suspense. Don't miss this fascinating, funny, and utterly engaging read for teens and adults alike! 


 Here I am with Todd at last spring's CO Teen Lit Conference

Here's the front jacket flap summary for The Secret to Lying:

          James was the guy no one noticed —another fifteen-year-old living in a small town. So when he gets into the American Science and Mathematics Academy (or ASMA), James decides to leave his boring past behind. In a public boarding school made up of nerds and geeks, being cool is easy. All it takes is a few harmless lies to invent the new James: rebel, punk, street fighter. Everyone’s impressed —except for the beautiful Ellie Frost, whose icy demeanor holds an inexplicable attraction for James, and the mysterious ghost44, an IM presence who sees right through his new identity.
           But James is riding high —playing pranks and hooking up with the luscious Jessica Keen. Things seem perfect until he begins having strange dreams of a dark city haunted by demons. As the line between dreams and reality blurs, James begins to wonder: What’s the price for being the coolest guy around?
            Funny and real, Todd Mitchell's debut YA novel takes readers into a school for the intellectually gifted and socially awkward, as readers discover the secret —and consequences— to lying. 

Todd made a really funny book trailer for The Secret to Lying called "How NOT to Promote a Book"... you can see it here.

Speaking of funny videos, if you've ever wondered how reviews affect the emotional well-being of us authors, check out this short and hilarious YouTube video made by writer friend  (and Fort Collinite) Amy Kathleen Ryan.

Surprisingly, I don't have a photo of us together, but here's her very elegant author headshot...

     I'm looking forward to reading her recent release Zen And Xander Undone -- I just saw the book trailer on her website, and the book looks fantastic.  

Now if you'll excuse me, I must figure out how to embed videos in my blog! ;)

Before I go, I'll leave you with the latest funny thing Lil Dude said... Last night we were on our way back from a bluegrass festival in the mountains (Lyons), and the sunset was breathtaking-- liquid pools of red, pink, orange, all golden and glowing and melting across the mountains.  I told Lil Dude to check out the sunset, and he said, "Aw!  It's sooo cuuuute!"  Hehehe... but his comment did make me think objectively about the words we use to describe sunsets-- spectacular, beautiful, gorgeous... Cute is definitely outside of the box!

Have a cute week!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Winners of the Spring Contest!

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Hello everyone!

I'm in high spirits-- just had a lovely morning of NIA (dance), tea at a cafe with friends, and then a fruitful few hours of writing more of The Jade Notebook.  And speaking of Notebooks, yesterday I was delighted to get a UPS delivery...  a package from Random House containing two shiny copies of The Indigo Notebook paperback, with its new cover look.

  (This will officially be on sale on August 10, but you can preorder on amazon or indiebound now).

A cool and refreshing cover, perfect for these 100 degree days we've been having lately in Colorado! I wouldn't mind wading in shady blue-green water right about now...

If you have a few minutes to spare and you like reading about writerly things, swing by The Writing Bug blog, where Kerrie Flanagan talks about "writing what you know", and uses The Indigo Notebook as an example.  (Thanks, Kerrie!)

So, I shall now officially announce the winners of the Spring Contest!  The winners already know who they are... several weeks ago they received their prizes-- copies of The Indigo Notebook audiobook.  Here was the prompt I gave: 

In The Indigo Notebook, Zeeta interviews people about their views on life, and records their answers in her notebook. Invent a few of your own philosophical interview questions. Then write down your interview with a person (or people) (either real or fictional) as a one-page notebook entry.

And (drum roll please...) the winners are EMMA of Bowling Green, Ohio (age: just-turned-14! Happy B-day!) and DESIRAE of Corpus Christi, Texas (age: 12) !!! Huge congrats, ladies!!!

Here's an excerpt from Emma's fabulous submission:

What song represents your life?  “Blackbird” by The Beatles.  “You were only waiting for this moment to be free.”  Out of my first life with my mother, yes it was wonderful, but I’ve spread my wings and am flying through life, but not to fast because I don’t want to miss any of it!

What is the most life-changing thing anyone has ever said to you?  “Hey!  Watch out!  Life’s throwing you a curve ball, but you’re a MVP of the major leagues of life if I’ve ever seen one, so I’m sure you’re going to hit a homerun.”  I heard this from Mr. Dublin, my hermit, philosopher, and avid sports fan I always turn to for advice.  

And an excerpt from Desirae's fabulous submission:

Q: What is your view on life, Mitch?
A: It’s long. It’s a long road that you go down. It’s got bumps and potholes and sometimes there’s bad weather, but whether you want to stop at a nearby gas station or not, you have to keep going because that’s all you can do.

Q: And what do you think of this road?
A: We all go down different roads. Sometimes there’s a fork in the road and you choose whether you’re going down a highway to a big city or to the country. It’s all about the choices you make. The road I’m going down is passing by very fast. I wish I could go slower.

Q: If you could change one thing about the road that you’re currently on, what would that be?
A: I’d want to know where I’m supposed to go. I don’t have a map or directions. I have to go with my instinct, and right now, I’m not totally sure what my instinct is. I would want some instructions on where to go.

Thank you for your wisdom and creativity and overall brilliance, Desirae and Emma!  Keep writing!

Thanks for reading and have a great week!  The Jade Notebook manuscript is calling to me, in all its messy glory...


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What Would MacGyver Do?

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That's actually a line from The Queen of Water, which I just finished going over in page proof form last week.  This is one of the final stages before the ARC (Advanced Review Copy) comes out this fall.  I am SO excited about this book... it's different from my other books in a number of ways.  For one, it's cowritten with Maria Virginia Farinango-- based on the true story of her amazing girlhood in the Ecuadorian Andes.  Here we are together in a photo taken by my friend Ken Burgess, who also took the cover photo on the book!

This book is also the most "sweeping" of my books in terms of timeline... it covers Maria Virginia's life from ages 7-15-- an eight-year span.  In my other books, the action is mostly limited to one season-- summer in the case of Red Glass, What the Moon Saw, and the Notebooks, and spring in the case of Star in the Forest.  It's definitely been more challenging for me to cover such an expanse of time, deciding what scenes to tell and what to summarize and which flashbacks to give and where... I rewrote this manuscript many times, trying to sift through Maria Virginia's entire lifetime to figure out where to begin her story, how to pace it throughout, which years to fast forward through... a monumental task!  It's so amazing to see it all coming to fruition after six years of working on it.

I really love the pop culture elements in her story-- I had fun weaving those in.  She had a crush on MacGyver (with Spanish pronunciation, MacGeever)-- he was her hero, too.  His approach to problem-solving inspired her to overcome obstacles in her own life.  I'm thinking about sending the actor a copy of the book once it's published (March 8 2011)-- I bet he has no idea that he influenced the destiny of an indigenous Ecuadorian girl in the eighties!

I also love the way The Slave Isaura-- a Brazilian soap opera set in the 1800s-- is part of our book... I've never actually seen the show (I'll get it on Netflix one of these days!) but I've read a lot about it online. I think it illuminates the hypocrisy in MV's society as she was growing up beautifully.

 Another thing I enjoyed about writing this book was seeing Maria Virginia's photos from events that ended up as scenes in the book.  Here are a few of when she was in a school play that altered the course of her life.

Maria Virginia wrote and directed and starred in the play... here she is crying over the death of her mother.

Here's the audience... her performance brought some people to tears.

Here she is giving her mother a Mother's Day card... this scene has a lot of emotional significance in the book-- you'll see!!

This is actually an event that happened after the book ends... she's graduating from high school.  Notice she's wearing her indigenous clothing, which is significant.  Figuring out her ethnic identity is one of the themes in the book, as you'll see...

All right!  Time for me to write more of The Jade Notebook now... my deadline for handing this to my editor is Dec 31, and I'm trying to get the first big chunk done soon to give to my mom, who's my first reader.  Wish me luck....


Monday, July 5, 2010

Trailer Tour at Long Last!

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Hello everyone!  For two years now I've been meaning to give you a tour of my sweet lil fifties rig, which I impulsively bought as writing studio space just before my baby (aka Lil Dude) came... My trailer now sits happily in my driveway and serves as my tiny creative oasis.

Come in, come in!  This is what you see from just inside the doorway...

To your right is the little booth where I write...

And to your left is the place where I dream and doze read important books and go over copy edits and page proofs, hee hee hee... go ahead, make yourself comfortable...

  As you're lounging on the bed, take in the views...

 If you glance up, you may spot a butterfly...

 Or your gaze may land on a picture of Ian  in a cafe in Oaxaca...

Or on pink lights reflecting off of vintage blue glass (I like to make red Jell-o with lots of whipped cream in these)...

And *red glass*, of course....

You'll notice that most everything in the trailer is old-- from flea markets or from special nooks in my life many years ago... here's a thick, cloudy bottle I found in an ancient junk heap in southern Maryland...

This handwoven carpet came from the Plaza de Ponchos in Ecuador-- I bought it while doing research for The Indigo Notebook and The Queen of Water...

I found this little postcard years ago in Oaxaca-- the artist is Cristina Bayliss.  It's Playa Mermejita near Mazunte, Oaxaca, Mexico...  where The Jade Notebook (my work-in-progress, to be published next fall) is set.  Sea turtles play a big part in the book...

One of the many things I love about my trailer is that it rocks, literally, like a boat, as you walk in it... or even if you make any movement, really... so I've filled it with things that make lovely little sounds when moved... go ahead, wiggle and dance and jump around!

Reach up and ring the bells!

The bells are a favorite of Lil Dude, who likes jumping on the bed, which makes them chime...

Try on the old velvet belly-dancing wrap (another Lil Dude favorite), which was inspiration for The Ruby Notebook...

Peek out the window... listen to the breeze making the chimes tinkle a magical melody...

Make yourself at home and light a beeswax candle...Lil Dude also enjoys the candles (anything involving fire, actually)... This black clay candleholder is from Oaxaca, made in a nearby village. If I'm feeling unfocused, lighting a candle often helps me delve deeper and get in a creative mood. It also makes my trailer smell like honey... mmm...

Peruse some old books, gifts from my flea-market-fanatic-thrift-store-lovin'-ebay-shoppin' dad...

Old children's books inspire me...  I love how they have golden lettering and swirling illustrations inside. And I love how musty and mystical they smell...go ahead-- take a whiff!

Feel free to pick up little trinkets and things lying around... here's a bit of sea glass from southern Maryland, where I lived on a beach on a Chesapeake Bay tributary for a few years during college...

Squint at the wee little shells and sparkles in the Pee Pee Island keychain my friend Amanda bought me in Thailand... Those of you who read The Indigo Notebook may remember Zeeta's Pee Pee Island T-shirt, which she wears out dancing with Wendell in Ecuador...

 Run your fingers over the silky peony table cloth that I found ages ago at a thrift store...

And peer at another lovely peony on this little old vase my grandmother left me...

Tap your fingertip on the butterfly wings to make them flutter...

Try on the vintage trapeze artist outfit I found super on sale in Boulder... it inspired parts of The Ruby Notebook... (actually, on second thought, don't try it on... unless you have a 15 inch waist and 40 inch bust and hips-- those 1920s acrobats had unearthly proportions!)

Enjoy the *pink* lights!  I found a box of these at a flea market store near Loveland... these are another favorite of Lil Dude...

Puzzle over my photos of a bunch of Dali-esque trompe-l'oeil murals I encountered on an island off the coast of Marseille many years ago... part of les Iles de Friouls (which appear in The Ruby Notebook).  Needless to say, the elusive paintings have disappeared... I searched for them to no avail on my most recent trip to Provence.  The bottom right pics are fountains, which also appear (everywhere!) in Ruby...

Read some inspirational quotes from Mary Oliver (poetess extraordinaire) and Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) and from other creative people... When I'm sitting there, trying to gather the courage to jump into my manuscript-in-progress, I read their words and feel a bit braver...

Light some pinon or copal insence at my altar-ish area...

If you've read Red Glass, you might remember the mention of the Virgin of Juquila, Oaxaca's patron Virgin ... well, here she is!  Years ago, when I was teaching English in Huajuapan, some friends of mine (an adorable older couple who ran the juice stand on the zocalo) went on a pilgrimage to Juquila, and brought back this for me.

Here's another Virgin from Oaxaca... La Virgen de la Soledad... this is a very old one that I bought in a little shop near the Santo Domingo church in Oaxaca.

Here's another old one that I got at a market in Otavalo from an antique vendor... La Senora del Rosario de Agua Santa is an important Virgin in Ecuador.

This next Virgin came from the antique section of the street market in Aix-en-Provence, France--  I bought this while researching The Ruby Notebook a couple summers ago... and there's a scene in Ruby that takes place in this section of the market!

I believe that any act of creativity is sacred-- it involves tapping into something deep and wise and mysterious and beautiful... I've found that surrounding myself with objects that feel sacred to me is essential to my writing process.  The smell of beeswax candles burning, the sound of silver and brass bells ringing when I shift in my seat, the feel of old velvet and silk, the sunshine filtering through old colored glass... all of these sensual details help me tap into the source.  Here's some ocote wood for burning with copal in a clay incense holder that an old friend in Oaxaca gave to me... smells and textures that inspired bits of What the Moon Saw...

Et voila... that concludes our tour!  If you'd like to read about how I ended up getting this much-loved trailer, click here for a little article I wrote about it. Thank you so much for stopping by... I hope you enjoyed your moments in my trailer... come back again sometime... I hope you gleaned some ideas and inspiration for your own creative space.  Now, if you'll excuse me, my pillows are calling to me ...