Friday, June 29, 2012

a message from Blackberry

Dear Two-legged one,

Oh how you have betrayed me.

For years we have shared our morning rituals. First you give me my breakfast (which, by the way, is never enough). Then we watch the pigeons prancing along the roof across the street.

Recently I found out the real reason that you have been studying the particular way they bobble their heads as they walk. You are writing about them! In your new novel!  Which apparently is full of birds––including the hero, an African grey parrot named Zeno. If you can call a parrot a hero.

Why would you elevate an animal who isn’t a cat to such a lofty position? Just because he can talk your language? That is very arrogant––even for a human.

As a writer, you should be paying attention to all kinds of communication. Especially the non-verbal type. Isn’t that the real meaning of show don’t tell?

I can tell by your pacing that you are doing rewrites. You have been muttering that you can’t find the exact right ending for your novel. You need a final image that will resonate with the reader, long after she has shut the book.

I have a suggestion. Maybe your parrot should encounter a strong, wise, beautiful black cat.


Blackberry THE CAT

Friday, June 8, 2012

32 miles. 12 1/2 hours. The Great Saunter.

On May 5, 2012, I walked around the island of Manhattan with my friend Nancy Johnson and about a thousand other members of the Shorewalkers Hiking Club.

See our smiling faces? This photo was taken when we had completed about a third of our journey. We’re under the George Washington Bridge -- right by the little red light house of children’s book fame. 

A few miles after this photo was taken, sauntering ceased. (According to the dictionary, to saunter means to walk in a slow, relaxed manner without hurry or effort.) A few more miles later, our hike felt  more like a forced march. During the last third of the 32 miles, we didn’t dare sit down. The effort to resume our slog far outweighed however welcome the rest would have been.

WHY oh WHY would I subject my feet and my psyche to such an ordeal?

When Nancy first suggested that we “saunter” 32 miles, it didn’t sound that difficult. I felt confident that I could do it. I had walked plenty of miles in Manhattan before. But at the 20 mile mark, I was ready to quit. My joints ached. My feet seemed to be one big blister. At the 25 mile mark, when we were on city streets, a few yellow cabs followed our straggling group. If Nancy hadn’t been there, I might very well have succumbed to temptation and yelled, “Taxi!”

I didn’t.

The sun was setting as we reached South Street Seaport, the point at which we began. People in sombreros were out celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The contrast would have made me smile if I had the energy to move one extraneous muscle.

So why oh why DID I do it?

I wanted to see if I could. And I am extremely proud that I did. Yes writing a novel requires a huge amount of stamina. Any long term creative project demands energy, mental tricks, motivational techniques--and lots of coffee. This was the first time I had ever pushed myself to do anything physically strenuous. Now I have a deeper respect for people who put themselves to physical tests.

There’s one other reason I (why not say it again) walked 32 miles in 12 and 1/2 hours. I wanted to know if I could accomplish what I made my poor character Megan do in my novel Nature Girl. Well, could I?

Yes––but just barely.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Nature Nurtures Me

I grew up right next to a woods. My mother said this was a good thing––girls need a place to go and cry. She was wrong. Oh sure, she often saw me running toward the trees with a thunder cloud across my face. No matter how miserable I was, I never cried in the woods. As soon as I was among the trees, I felt what the adult me now knows was peace.

Sadly there aren’t as many wild places anymore. Children no longer have much unstructured time or unstructured places in which to spend it. As a result, they have what Richard Louv describes as a “Nature Deficit Disorder.” He believes that lack causes all kinds of health and learning problems. According to Dr. William Bird, the chair of Britain’s Outdoor Health Forum, a person’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.  

The same is true when I see blue oceans, brown deserts or even a vast grey sky. When I'm in nature, I don’t dwell on my own problems. I gain perspective. The woods, the sky, the ocean, the desert are all much larger than I am. The abundance of life outside myself doesn't diminish me. It expands me. When I am in nature, I feel part of the world. 

Now that I’m an adult, I live in a city of 8 million people. When things go wrong, when I feel bullied or disappointed or discouraged, I walk to our nearby park. I find a spot where the grass isn’t mowed and the bushes aren’t trimmed. A hawk flies by. The wind rustles the branches. Two squirrels play chase up a tree. Life continues there, in a crazy profusion, so I feel like I can too.

You’ve probably heard a lot about saving the environment. Let’s not forget that when we save the environment, we are actually saving ourselves. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

GPS or Map?

Which do you use to plot your course?

(Before I explore that question, I need to thank my guest blogger, Blackberry the cat, for re-inspiring me. I’m sure she will return from time to time. But since she uses maps for naps, I’ll post on this topic today.)

A car trip is kind of like writing a novel. You start here. You end over there. In between are so many routes you could take, it’s probably a good idea to make some kind of plan before you start.

Thanks to satellites we can’t even see, the Global Positioning System knows where you are and the location of where you want to go. GPS will insist, in a polite but firm voice, that you turn where it tells you. If you stray, it will “recalculate” and tell you again. Of course you can disobey its commands. Once my husband Lee thwarted the GPS so many times that it shut down. He is the exception. Most people are grateful for its advice.

If the goal were just to arrive at the end where the monster is killed and the lovers get married, then GPS probably works best.

But I love maps. I always have. I like solving the puzzle of navigation. I like making the leap from the two dimensional view to where I am in the world. I like to look at maps even when I’m not going anywhere. I like to see where I might go. I love the names of places. The Great Dismal Swamp. Jenny Jump Mountain, Promised Land Lake. The town of Porcupine. And just to the south of it, South Porcupine.

Yesterday I reached the end of a draft. I was so happy when the ending I envisioned flowed from the previous chapters. I had gotten from the start to the finish. But I had not stuck to my plan. Sometimes the characters took detours. Sometimes they decided, hey, why not take a trip to the ocean because I can see from the map that we’re pretty close to the beach. Would GPS have told me that?

With a novel, the journey is always about more than reaching the destination.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fur-ther thoughts from Blackberry


Dear Two-legged One,

I don't know why you are upset that I rearranged your pieces of paper. How was I to know that you had spent hours placing each square in a particular order?

I didn't think you were the type to make an outline. That implies planning. Do writers plan? I don't think so. I never see you creeping up on a target. You never tense your muscles in preparation to pounce. You never twitch your tail because you absolutely must have some outlet for the adrenaline surging through your veins.

Oh that's right. You don't have a tail. Perhaps that's why I never see you twitch it.

I did find it interesting that you wrote some of the squares in red ink and some in black. Is that because the red words describe the actions of one character and the black words describe the actions of the other? Hmmm. Have you  taken my advice about making me one of your characters? I am, as you know,                                                  

PS After re-reading your first book, I've decided that I like the dog after all. He is almost clever enough to be an honorary cat––provided he changes his name to Mew.

Monday, February 27, 2012

a CAT-a-log

Dear Two-Legged One,

I have taken over your blog. Don’t be surprised. I always sit in the chair you have just vacated.

Besides, you don’t blog very often. I've eaten 63 cans of cat food and many mice since your last entry. However that isn't the main reason I'm taking time from my grooming and napping to walk across your lap top.

I know you are writing a new novel. I want to make sure that this time you feature a cat.

Your first book Nature Girl centered around a small white dog with questionable hunting skills. Believe me, if I had been in the woods with Megan, I would never have been hungry.

A cat made a brief appearance in your second book, The Girl Behind The Glass, but you portrayed it in a most unflattering way. What’s worse, you allowed your characters to name it Mr. Muffin. How could you do that to one of the most aristocratic beings in the animal kingdom?

Why won’t you write about cats? I would be an excellent subject. You've had ample opportunity to observe my leaping, my battles with pens, and my preoccupation with paperclips.

Maybe now that you know I can also write, you will change your heroine to . . .


P.S.  Are we out of tuna fish? The last can you opened contained tomato sauce.