December 31, 2010

Two Sides to Everything

Yesterday we visited the World War I Museum here in Kansas City. An amazing place--filled with artifacts, letters, diaries and journal entries from enlisted men and officers, and extremely well-done multimedia presentations.

A special exhibit called Men and Machines shows the war from the German viewpoint. We saved it for last and reading the excerpts from German soldiers' writing brought home so clearly that those fighting in a war, regardless of the side they're on, view the death, injury, and destruction in much the same way. Both sides suffer hardship and indignities, loneliness and heartache, hunger and fatigue.

As a writer, I was especially touched by the personal accounts of life in the trenches expressed by men on both sides. Here are two excerpts from German soldiers:

Let's hope that in the coming year we travel down the road to peace!

October 8, 2010

pocketfuls of tomatoes

This summer's garden has been erratic in its production of fresh produce. The mixed lettuce seemed to be almost exclusively some strain of Asian cabbage that one member of the household refused to eat. The butternut squash is just now coming on and the flower gardens have tended to produce wild strains of asters and ageratum. A wayward marigold plant invaded the herb patch and became a high-ride ground cover.

So, it's been a nice surprise to discover that the two pots of jellybean tomatoes have begun to produce. They weeks ago left the pots to sprawl across the ground and finding those sweet red treats is like finding strawberries hidden among the leaves.

Here's today's catch:

Now to fix a meal to go with them!

September 28, 2010

The Day Google Disappeared

As usual, I opened my laptop one morning and clicked on Safari, only to discover that the browser bar and Google had disappeared. How to read blogs? How to do research? All right--how to play East of the Web's Cryptoquote for the day? I tried restarting. I tried quitting Safari and re-opening it. I tried sighing and cursing and deeper sighing. I resorted to clicking on "Help" but nothing appeared that remotely touched on the problem.

I've never liked doing business on the phone, being more of a visual learner. I was sure the solution to my problem would be complicated and convoluted--directions I'd never be able to follow by simply hearing them. Finally, as a last resort, I called the Apple Help Desk. From now on, should a computer problem arise, it will be my first resort. The young woman who answered asked me to describe the problem, didn't laugh or snort when I told her what was wrong, and gave me simple, clear directions about how to drag what was missing back onto the toolbar.

So, as with so many mistakes I've made in life, the solution to my computer problem taught me something. I can apply that solution easily should the problem arise again. If only that were true of all my missteps. It would be nice to have a Life Help Desk to turn to in times of trouble, confusion and/or remorse.

August 7, 2010

A Visit to the Grocery Store

That sounds like a picture book title, and that visit may actually lead to a picture book.

While I wandering through the dairy section, I overheard a little girl ask her mother a question about brown eggs. I won't repeat the question because I want to save it for a writing project, but it showed the girl's imagination. Her mother smiled and answered honestly. The question and answer routine gave me an idea, which led to some research, which led to an even better idea.

Another bonus to this shopping trip was a surprise meeting with someone I used to teach with. He and his daughter were buying supplies for her eighth grade year. When I last saw them, she was moving into first grade.

I didn't get everything on my shopping list but I went home with a smile because of two wonderful surprises.

August 4, 2010

Summer Colds, Basement Skeletons and a Red Pickup

I woke up yesterday morning with no voice, no energy, and a tight feeling in my throat, attacked by a summer cold. I love everything about summer--the heat, the humidity, the loose time structure of each day (a carryover from the summer freedom from school schedules), and a cold in the midst of summer bliss is just not right. Colds are meant for the winter, when it's COLD. Something's off kilter when it's hot and sunny outdoors and one must view it from inside, surrounded by cough syrup, Kleenex, and Zicam. Books and DVD's and a knitting project vie to take my attention away from preoccupation with my respiratory misery, but what I really want to do is get outside and rescue the garden from the newest crop of weeds and wayward grasses that have grown up after the latest rain. As I hack and sputter indoors, they grow and travel over and around and across whatever might still be surviving in the August heat. I long to be outside with them! In the meantime, I'm sure Peter is enjoying my silence. I'd be wise to use this quiet time to meditate or work on my next writing project, another historical novel for young readers, but I've never made any claim to wisdom. It's much more satisfying for now to grumble!

A monarch enjoys one zinnia arising from the weeds.

A honey bee finds a juicy marigold.

Buddha's serene, weeds or no weeds.

As I play host to a summer cold upstairs, the basement languishes in its skeletal state below me. Its 2x4 bones have yet to be fleshed out, although we're entertaining bids for the job. Now that we've gone through the worst part--the winnowing and throwing out--we're taking our time in getting things back to a habitable state down there. For now, we're content to have a working laundry facility and convenient access to the back yard (where all the weeds are). We're in no hurry to reopen our vast storage area because we now know what happens when you have a lot of storage. It gets filled with stuff--ours, theirs, everyone's. One good thing has come from this massive clean-out and re-do--one office will move down there, thus making a more utilitarian use of the space and also relieving one room upstairs to be a true guest room. Right now, any person who dares spend a night with us must squeeze onto the futon that fills the entire space of my office when opened. Not comfortable nor very private. The question now is: will it be Peter's office that goes below, or mine?

In the midst of cleaning up and out, our Honda had some repair issues, which set us to wondering how long the '95 Accord (190,000 miles) would be in good enough health for us to keep. We've been a one-car family for almost two years and have managed to juggle our schedules and accommodate one another enough to make it work. However, what would happen if the Honda died? As we pondered that possibility, our mechanic mentioned that he had a Chevy pickup for sale and would we be interested. We were, especially when he told us the price. So now we have a little red pickup. Although we have room for it in the basement, it seemed more practical to park it in the driveway.

July 11, 2010

Blessed Be Nothing

My grandmother was fond of saying, "Blessed be nothing," and she lived by that motto. Partly through necessity, but mostly through choice, she lived her life free of unnecessary "stuff." Our recent battles with water and mold have brought her "travel-light" philosophy into a clearer focus than ever before.

Flooded basement

We've spent the last week going through all the things that cluttered our family room and too-spacious storage rooms. Faced with decisions about what to pitch, what to give away, what to keep, and what to recycle, we're determined not to repeat our past acquisitive mistakes. As these photos will show, we first need to restore the drywall, cabinets and ceiling tiles before adding anything else to the mix. I'll keep Grandma and her saying in mind in the future. I hope.


July 2, 2010

June: a month of ups and downs

Like all of life, June was truly a time packed with highs and lows. A wonderful family celebration in St. Louis of Peter's birthday was definitely a high. Friends and relatives came to the party, which included a surprise visit from our daughter-in-law, Kara, who was back in the States for a wedding and business.

Peter doesn't feel a day older the day after his birthday.

We came home to find that our basement had flooded while we were away, leaving the kind of destruction that only water can create. We have to get rid of everything, including a hefty mold infestation. Definitely a low. An expensive low, although highly expensive.

However, the next day brought a magnificent high when I received a contract offer for my historical novel HANNAH'S LEAP! Cedar Fort, Inc. an independent publisher in Utah, will bring Hannah's story to life. I'll be posting more about this as the process develops. In the meantime, I smile a lot.

The following weekend our cat Precious died. Almost 20 years old, she was my constant companion in the garden and made me smile every day. She was a sweet, funny little cat and I'll miss her. A sad low.
The mighty hunter hoping to play with a ground squirrel.

So, on to July and the highs and lows it will offer. It begins with the massive cleanup downstairs that we're undertaking before the pros come in to rid us of mold and other dreadful conditions. Then on to my mother's 98th birthday celebration!

June 7, 2010

Caladium Watch

Every spring, when the chance of frost is over, I plant caladium corms in the shade garden to the west of our house. Then I begin a daily watch for the first sign of a plant poking its way out of the soil. It takes a long time for that first tightly-curled leaf to appear and until it does, I'm riddled with uncertainly. Did I plant it too deep? Was the corm healthy and alive? Am I watering it too much? Too little? Does it need more sun or more shade? Just when I'm sure that a squirrel or other hungry critter must have burrowed into the earth and devoured every nascent plant, I spy a touch of color spiraling up from the dark ground.

A caladium corm is not a pretty sight. It looks like a clump of dirt:

It's hard to tell whether it's up or down or sideways, but the plants one little corm produces are spectacular:

Waiting for the caladium to appear is somewhat like waiting to hear from editors or agents. I send out queries and manuscripts that are, I know, more attractive than the dirt-colored corm. I have similar questions. Was my query lackluster? Too aggressive? Did I revise until I was sending my best work? Did I study the market enough to be sure I was sending my work to the best editor/agent/publisher? I wait and watch the mailbox and my inbox for replies that will produce attractive results...a magazine editor accepting an article or agent agreeing to represent me and my work. Lately I've had good luck in the magazine world, but I keep hoping that one book-length manuscript will take root with an agent or publisher and produce spectacular results.

May 23, 2010

It's been three weeks since I posted, but I have several good excuses (good at least in my mind). My last post was about baby cardinals and trying to write a picture book a day. And did I mention that we were in the midst of a painting project?

The cardinals have fledged. I managed to write a rough draft of seven picture books, but the painting goes on. Home improvement projects seem to become more complicated as they progress. We started with walls that needed a new coat of paint, which led to touching up the baseboards and woodwork, which led to new switch plates and heating vent covers. Then the scratches and stubborn drawers on the old dresser glared out at us from the lovely new walls and a new project has begun. We're almost at the finish line, when we'll put everything back together, retrieve clothes and shoes from the living room, hang new pictures, and clean out all the unnecessary "stuff" we've discovered lurking in the dark corners of the closet.

Redecorating is much like manuscript revision. I finish the fourth or fifth draft and realize that my new ending doesn't make sense unless I go back to insert passages and characters, and as I make the necessary "fixes," I realize that other aspects of the story have gone wrong. Somewhere along the line I've changed a character's name or changed the sequence of events so that it no longer makes sense. Each time I read through I find something else that needs sprucing up or a fresh coat of words or action that needs some scratches removed. And, finally, I clean out all the unneeded "stuff" that clutters up the story.

I've just finished "redecorating" HANNAH'S LEAP and have sent off queries to a group of agents who seem interested in middle grade historical fiction. I believe the new HANNAH'S LEAP is the new improved version. I hope an agent agrees to give it a try!

May 2, 2010

Baby Birds and Picture Books

Yesterday we discovered three baby cardinals in the nest outside our kitchen window. Their parents are busy filling those hungry mouths with mushy morsels of worms and other delicacies.

On the same day I began participating in National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee), an undertaking for nutty children's writers. The challenge is to write a picture book a day for one week, beginning May 1. So far, I'm on schedule.

Apparently, so are the cardinal babies.

April 28, 2010

My apologies to the cardinal family

This morning the male cardinal was in plain view and probably has been around all the time his mate has been on their nest. So, I take back my suspicions that he was a deadbeat or unfaithful or --worst of all--dead at the claws of Whiz the cat.

The prospective father's job, I've learned, is to guard the territory and bring an occasional treat to his mate. He does this stealthily because today is the first time we've seen him.

Now--to wait for the eggs to hatch and watch the next goings-on outside the kitchen window!

April 27, 2010

Cardinal Mother

A female cardinal has built a nest in the holly tree outside our kitchen window. She rarely leaves her post and then only briefly to fetch a seed or two from one of our feeders. When the weather turned cold again, she snuggled in to protect her eggs.

photo by Peter Doyle

We wonder where the male is. Did the female choose a deadbeat spouse that can't be bothered sharing the parental role? Or did her mate take off with a younger redhead? There's a strong possibility that he met with the backyard equivalent of drive-by violence. A neighborhood cat named Whiz seems especially fond of stalking the feeders hoping for a bite of bird. We've found more than one dead cardinal or robin in the yard.

Whatever the reason for her mate's absence, the prospective mother keeps her eggs warm and struggles to maintain her energy with sunflower seeds and suet. She'll need all the energy she can muster once those chicks hatch and start clamoring for food, food, glorious food.

I check on her every morning and throughout the day and whisper encouragement through the closed window.

April 15, 2010

Mt. Everest at 13?

I just heard a piece on NPR about a 13-year-old boy who's planning to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, thus becoming the youngest to do so. Having spent several years teaching 13-year-old males, I have concerns about judgment, decision-making abilities, etc., which certainly must figure into the formula for successful mountain-climbing. I also don't understand the hurry to do something so monumental. If you scale Everest at 13, what would be next for you? What would you line up to surpass the thrill of that accomplishment?

I just don't get the drive to be the youngest--or the oldest, as is now the case for me--to do something. I think back to when I was 13 (yes, I can still remember back that far)--a freshman in high school, struggling to unlock the mysteries of Latin grammar, hold down my scholarship job in the school library and have a good time with my family and friends. My goals were pretty humble and always attainable and I set them mostly for myself. I can't think of anyone my age back then who aspired to anything as grand as scaling Mt. Everest.

I hope that Jordan stays safe and healthy and happy. I also hope that, if he reaches his goal, that this will not set off a wave of 12-year-olds trying to break his record.

Maybe kids should just enjoy life in the valley and save climbing mammoth mountains for later.

March 28, 2010

Getting around in the Mideast

One of the more unique aspects of our trip to the Mideast was the many and varied modes of transportation. We flew there, of course, on Etihad, the Abu Dhabi airline. Long flight with fairly good leg room, good food and movies, and attentive flight attendants. From Dubai to Cairo, we flew Emirates, Dubai's airline, equally comfortable and accommodating. Then Egypt Air to Luxor--an okay flight. From Luxor to Aswan, we rode the train in a first-class car. Not so first-class by US standards, but apparently much better than second- or third-. One morning at 3:00, we rode in a convoy of trucks and vans from Aswan to tour the temples at Abu Simbel near the Sudan border. (more about that later).

All along the way, we rode cabs, horse carts, and an assortment of boats. Here's a gallery of modes we rode and some we didn't:

Horse cart in Petra--even more harrowing than the front seat of a Cairo taxi,
this ride was a true bone rattler. Much less enchanting than it looks!

After the horse cart and watching others climb on and off
camels, we decided to forego the experience and photograph
these all-purpose animals instead.

After a morning spent touring prehistoric petroglyphs in the hills outside Aswan, we were treated to some Nubian music and dance on a felucca ride back down the Nile to Aswan. We found ourselves on many different boats this trip--A dhow trip along the Gulf to the Oman coast; the ferry across the Nile in Luxor; and the abra that runs back and forth across Creek Dubai.

I was still recovering from the rattling horse cart and declined to ride a donkey the next day, but Peter rode one to the highest point in Petra and got some terrific photos--and I got a lovely necklace that he bought from a Bedouin woman up there.

This is a produce truck in Jordan and no, we didn't ride in one, but I enjoyed the decorations that the drivers used to identify their vehicle. The designs seemed to be made with a combination of plastic or metal magnetic pieces that gave each truck a unique design.

We rented a car in Jordan, so we did have the experience of exploring the countryside at our own pace with an expert driver--Gerry--and an excellent navigator--Kara. We also rode the rapid transit train in Dubai and a tram in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

So there you have it. Our trip went beyond Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It also involved animals and water craft.

March 21, 2010

Catching Up

Looking back at my first blogs from the Mideast, I realize that I was really quite chatty early on. That changed to brief and then to none as we traveled on and met problems with Internet connections and/or total exhaustion at the end of a day of walking, climbing, learning--and, of course, eating.

So--let me try to remedy that. From Abu Dhabi, we went to Dubai, home of the Burj Khalifa, which is currently the tallest building in the world
(160 stories, half-a-mile high) and the Bourj al Araba,
a very expensive hotel shaped like
a sailboat and featuring a helipad
on which those guests
able to do so can land their helicopters.

The Bourj at sunset on the Gulf.

I've already posted about Dubai Creek and the constant cargo traffic--all loaded and unloaded by manual labor and shuttled off on handcarts--quite a contrast to the newer parts of Dubai which features modern malls (complete with ski slope) and a manmade island shaped like a palm tree. On the other hand, Dubai has seen fit to honor its past with several historic museums that show how people lived and worked and learned in former times.

Our trip was filled with contrasts and the next one took us from the sleek modernity of Dubai to the crowded, noisy, dusty city of Cairo, population around 20 million. The taxi drivers are expert at manipulating their way through the traffic and manage to make five lanes out of the three marked on the pavement. A ride in the front seat of a Cairo cab is an adventure, especially if the seat belt is dangling uselessly and the seat back is wobbly. But, as Gerry pointed out, he's never seen a Mideast cab wrapped around a tree. They do seem to know what they're doing, but I'd never want to try it for myself. Riding shotgun is enough adventure for me!

Cairo, of course, is where you go to get to the pyramids of Giza and the nearby Sphinx. Both are amazing examples of design and construction from ancient times. Seeing them in person makes one wonder how such monumental structures were accomplished without the "miracle" of our modern technology and machinery. We were in awe:

Four tall Americans dwarfed by an Egyptian tomb.

March 20, 2010

Was It a Dream?

A week ago today I was laughing in the sun as I floated in the Dead Sea. Then I came home to Kansas City. Yesterday the temperature reached 70º only to dip into the upper 30's by nightfall. It snowed all night and most of today. Now I'm looking out the window at 6 inches of snow, which makes the marvels of the last four weeks in the Mideast seem like a dream.

Did I dream this?

Beach at the Dead Sea in Jordan

Or this?
Snowy Deck in Kansas City

March 6, 2010

Animals of the Mid-East

My brain is much too full at the moment to try to pass along anything intelligible about the temples, tombs, pictographs, and archaelogical sites. So I thought I'd post a short blog about animals I've seen here and there. Cats abound and they all seem to be street cats. We saw no dogs at all in Abu Dhabi and only one designer dog on a leash in Dubai, but both cats and dogs appear in Egypt, along with camels, horses, cows and donkeys, etc. Here are a few photos of the animal life here.

Well, not tonight. Maybe tomorrow when my brain is working better and I can get the photos down to a manageable size.

February 27, 2010

Creek Dubai

The Creek in Dubai is a fascinating place. Our hotel was near the wharf where cargo boats loaded and unloaded a wide variety of goods--rice, nuts, spices, refrigerators, TVs and probably a kitchen sink or two. All of this activity is done manually. Boats stay at our end of the creek are licensed to stay for only one day, so the work pace is frantic.

After a day spend down in the city viewing the Burj Khalifa--truly a remarkable tower of a building. My little digital couldn't take the world's tallest buildings at one shot, but Peter had better luck with his complex equipment. We also spent time in the Dubai Mall, which featured, among other wonders, a three-story tall aquarium. (It sprang a leak the following day, sending the ground floor into pandemonium before it was repaired.)

That night we decided to cross the creek for dinner and took an abra, small taxi boats that run back and forth the creek with an efficiency that rivals high speed trains. After wandering through the souk (market), we settled on a restaurant overlooking the water. It was fascinating watching the abras come and go, along with the cargo boats leaving harbor to set out for Gulf port and more goods to bring back. Dinner cruise dhows outlined in lights added another visual to the scene, so we were well entertained as we ate.

We're in Cairo now, where it rained for ten hours yesterday and turned cool. Not at all what we were prepared for. We spent today at the Egyptian Museum, which was an amazing look at the civilizations of ancient Egypt. Tomorrow it's on to the pyramids and Sphinx.

February 22, 2010

Onward across the Desert

Since my last post, I’ve been to Al Ain, an oasis in the desert outside Abu Dhabi. This is not a lagoon with a single palm tree such as I remember seeing in old movies. Al Ain is a proper city now, although at one time it was a large green area in the desert. The home of King Zayed, the founder of the United Arab Emirates, has been renovated and is open to the public. I’ll try to send pictures later, but that may not happen until I’m home because of various problems with computer hookups. The home, or palace, is a series of courtyards enclosed by buildings for visitors, the king and his wives and their children. The walls are sand colored (or coloured as they spell here) and must have blended beautifully with the surrounding desert at one time. Now the complex is surrounded by commercial and residential buildings, so the effect is not at as stunning as it once was.

On our way back to Abu Dhabi we found the camel market in a nest of livestock pens. Several emirates stood around, apparently eager to sell us a camel. We were the only “customers” in sight, so when we pulled alongside a pen, two men came to see if we would like a camel. I snapped a quick photo, we smiled pleasantly, and took off.

Yesterday we went in search of the beach, hoping to enjoy a swim on a warm, sunny day. We thought we made clear to the cab driver that we wanted a swimming beach, but he dropped us off at the part under construction. We turned right, thinking we’d hit the beach, but all we hit was a two hour walk along the Corniche, a beautifully designed walkway along the bay. At least it was a beautiful day, but we were dragging by the time we gave up and took a cab back to G&K’s apartment. This cabbie told us as soon as we got in his cab that he was new, which resulted in all the cab’s occupants riding around Abu Dhabi in fairly total ignorance.

Last night we had dinner with some of Gerry’s friends (Brits and Scots) from the newspaper with a plan to go on to a Brit pub for the weekly trivia quiz, but we gathered too late and instead spent the evening laughing and sharing stories. Just as well because I doubt we would have won the quiz.

This morning we toured the newspaper offices with Gerry and got to see him in action with one of the reporters he works with, deciding to go with 700 words for a story in tomorrow’s edition and then a much longer article the following day. He’s obviously enjoying his work as an assigning editor and we’re happy for him.

More about Dubai later.

February 20, 2010

Abu Dhabi charms

Somehow I've misplaced most of Thursday in transit from the US to the UAE, but now that I've corrected some strange problems with the Internet and my blog, I'm getting my bearings.

Toto, we're not in Kansas or Missouri any more! We're in Abu Dhabi and it's exciting and different and amazing. Abu Dhabi is a city of 1 1/2 million people from all over the world. About 90% of the population are from other countries, so the streets and stores are rich with a diversity I've seen nowhere else.

Thursday night, we went to a Lebanese restaurant and ate outside. Our table was next to a hedge, and on the other side of the hedge two hungry, big-eyed cats waited in the huge flower pots, hoping for a handout. Tray after tray of meats and vegetables and pita bread, along with bowls of humus, arrived at our table. I slipped scraps of everything to the kitties, who mewed their thanks. A fun introduction to the city and its growing population of stray cats.

Yesterday morning we had breakfast at Jones, an Australian restaurant/grocery and then went to the Saadinyed center to see an art exhibit of Mid-Eastern artists. Nice facility, interesting art in many media--most of it sobering. Plans are in the works for the Louvre and the Guggenheim to join the complex with their own buildings. Frank Gehry designed the Guggenheim addition. Then we went to the Marina Mall to grocery shop and I people-watched while Gerry and Peter did the honors. This mall features an ice-skating rink and a full rainfall over a certain area of the main mall floor. We lingered over coffee hoping to see the rain phenomenon, but it failed to appear.

That night we had dinner at the Presidential Palace Hotel. Luxury, opulence, excellent food. More about that tomorrow. My brain is full!

February 13, 2010

Off the Beaten Track

This morning I had coffee with a friend who'd just gotten back from a cruise. He mentioned that when their ship docked, passengers were advised to stay on the main street of the city. They were warned that stepping off onto a side street might be dangerous and they couldn't be responsible for what might happen. The main street was lined with upscale stores similar, or in some cases identical, to the stores US passengers had left back home.

My friend ignored the advice and turned onto a side street where he saw the reality of life in this third world country. He could look into doorways and see families at work, children at going on among the poor of the city. What he saw was real and at the same time so far removed from life on the main street that the two paths seemed to be in different countries.

It is curious to me why one would take the time and trouble--and spend the money--to travel to another country and stay on the "safe" main street. I think main streets are much the same, no matter where one finds them. It's the side streets that offer a glimpse into the culture of another country. Side streets offer authentic restaurants and the richness of everyday life expressed in the native language and customs of a country.

It seems to me that in life, as in travel, the greatest rewards come from stepping off the main strip to see what's waiting down a side street. The determination to stay "safe" can lead to missed opportunities to experience other people and their culture.

February 10, 2010


We leave on a month-long trip overseas in a week, and we've taken to compulsive viewing of any electronic weather report we can find. We're both puzzled at this behavior. Normally we take the weather as it comes, but this winter has been tricky. Three weeks in December, wintry storms paralyzed our area just in time for Christmas, then New Year's, then Twelfth Night. My brother who lives in the DC area was scheduled to visit Kansas City this week but couldn't get out of DC because of multiple feet of snow. He planned to reschedule for next week, but the area is currently being hammered with another foot or so.

We're scheduled to leave JFK next Wednesday night. Will New York be snowed in? Mayor Blomberg has apparently just warned off anyone thinking of driving into the city. Will sun and warm breezes melt things sufficiently for us to take off for Abu Dhabi? Who knows? Will watching the weather channel help? Absolutely not. Will we discontinue our slavish watching of said channel? Again, absolutely not. Will said watching change anything? Again and once again, absolutely not.

January 31, 2010


A week or so ago I received a editor's rejection of my mid-grade historical novel. It was a positive rejection. "We found the quality of your writing excellent, with original and lively characters and setting." What writer wouldn't enjoy reading those words?

However, (there always seems to be a however) the editor had decided not to publish the manuscript at this time, but indicated that she'd be willing to look at it again if I revised the ending. She felt it closed in "an awkward place."

I'm, of course, willing to revise. But what specifically is awkward about the closing? Is it inconclusive? Up in the air? There was no clue in the letter. I've written to ask for more details and am waiting for some direction. In the meantime, I'm pondering how to make the story's ending less awkward. Should something more happen to Hannah, the main character? Should her Blackfeet friends leave? Should more sheep die in the mountains where she's been charged with their care? This coming week, I plan to dive back into Hannah's world and figure out what needs to be added or changed. I hope to emerge with a better, more satisfying conclusion to her story.

January 30, 2010

Critique Group Extraordinaire

Among the many things I've been thankful for in my writing life, I have to say that the critique group to which I belong currently ranks as #1. I have the opportunity to meet once a week with a group of women who are dedicated to writing for young readers--from pre-school through young adulthood. The members have a remarkable ability to critique firmly and wisely and provide support and encouragement at the same time. Citing flaws or weaknesses is always balanced with suggestions for change. Everyone is there to learn from one another. I have never left a meeting without having gained an insight into marketing, effective use of dialogue, creating a unique voice, etc.

The group celebrates successes (of which there have been many lately--see and commiserates with those who've received unexpected or rude rejections. We keep one another abreast of market news, editor and agent moves, and good reads.

No matter how difficult my writing week has been, for two hours on Wednesday morning I'm inspired by the writers around the table who come to read and be read. I go home, determined to keep at my writing with enthusiasm and a positive spirit.

January 22, 2010

The Better to See Life with

A few days ago, I sat with my sister and mother as we waited for our mother's cataract surgery. When the surgeon came in to talk with her about the surgery, she expressed some doubts about whether, at her age (97), she should go ahead with the procedure. He apparently hears this quite a lot and gave her time to ask questions, tell him how she felt, etc. He said it's never too late to replace cataracts and reminded her that he'd done the procedure on a 102-year-old man--someone considerably older than our mother.

He also related a story that impressed me even more than the 102-year-old. A man had been told that he had terminal cancer and was given 8 months to live. Just before that diagnosis he'd learned that he was a candidate for cataract replacement surgery. He decided to go ahead with the cataract procedure because, even though he might have only 8 months to live, he wanted to be able to see everything clearly--places he would travel, books he would read, people he would visit, etc. He didn't want to just live out his remaining time; he wanted to live with his eyes wide open. He wanted to look at life through a clear lens.

It's a choice we can make every day, with or without cataract surgery. We can open our eyes to life. We can see everything and everyone we encounter and revel in the wonderful variety and beauty of it all. Or we can look through a lens clouded with our own distortions and preconceptions of how life should be.

January 15, 2010

It's in the Mail?

I've just finished reviewing my marketing data for 2009 and noticed again the number of submissions to editors and/or agents for which I received no reply. The policy of not returning a manuscript unless interested in developing it as a project leaves writers in a quandary. Did the manuscript arrived safely at the agency or publishing house? Did someone actually look at it? There's apparently no way of knowing. Those who follow this policy advise writers not to send an SASE because no answer will be forthcoming unless "we're interested."

Now that more and more houses are accepting only agented material, this no-return practice narrows even more the field of submissions.

Rejections are never what a writer wants to receive, but it's helpful to know that your work arrived and was looked at before being turned down. It seems just common courtesy to acknowledge the writer who's waiting to hear something. How hard can it be to tuck a rejection letter into the envelope that's already addressed and stamped?

January 9, 2010

A Helpful Agent and Her Blog

A fellow writer recently put me on to an agent's blog that offers sound advice and reflects an understanding of a free-lancer's life. Mary Kole reflects on the wisdom of following up on a ms rejection by asking an agent for a referral to another agent. I found her latest post on exclusive submissions very helpful. The question of whether to submit to one agent/editor at a time has long been debated in the writing circles I hang out in. I've vacillated over the years between sending out one at a time as an exclusive; mailing mss wholesale as simultaneous submissions; or some combination of the two. Mary's advice makes it clear that the choice is the writer's; but she points out that, if you've chosen ten targets to send out your work on an exclusive basis, you're running the risk of losing several months or years waiting for an acceptance.

Mary's running a contest this month for MG/YA mss. She'll look at your first 500 pages. Check out this link for more information:

January 7, 2010

Can She Be like a Tree?

I have a great view outside my workroom. A giant oak dominates the scene, along with several other trees up and down the street. Right now, they're all unadorned. No leaves. No blossoms. Seemingly not bothered by winter's cold and wind. It's occurred to me that, whatever their outward appearance, they remain true trees. They retain their inner "tree-ness" in all kinds of weather, in every season.

Which makes me wonder about a character I'm developing for a middle grade novel. She sometimes reacts to situations in ways quite inconsistent with her inner self. Is it realistic for her to maintain her internal "me-ness" while acting in opposition to what she believes is right or proper? If so, does this create a tension between her interior character and her outer behavior? Should she be aware of it? Try to change it? And is this enough to involve a middle grade reader's interest?

So many questions. So few answers.

January 5, 2010

Global Warming

This morning, even though it was only 3º out, I went to the YMCA pool for water aerobics. As every conversation does these days, talk among the four of us who showed up for class turned to the weather. The amount of snow and ice plus temperatures below freezing for two weeks led most to agree that the global warming theory is false. It's easy to feel this way when one is homebound by unusually frigid weather and when the past summer in Kansas City was cool and rainy rather than extremely hot and humid.

It's also easy to forget that we're talking about GLOBAL warming, not Missouri warming or US warming. It's been documented that polar bears are losing their icy habitat because of global warming.• That's hard to grasp here in the middle of America. No polar bears around here, although the KC Zoo is due to welcome one in April. Maybe its new habitat will include some education about what's happening to his counterparts in the wild...and how that might eventually affect all of us.


January 4, 2010

The Key Search

As soon as my bangs begin to impede my vision, I know it's time for a haircut. Saturday I ventured out to the neighborhood Great Clips for a trim. Things went well. Loretta was my stylist and we chatted about the changes the weather had made on our holiday plans. I paid, donned my hat and coat, and reached in my pocket for my keys. Not there. Not anywhere. Not in any pocket nor in the car nor under the car. Several customers joined in the search, both in the shop and the icy parking lot. When I removed my knit hat to call for help on my cell, I heard a faint jingle. "Are those your keys?" a customer asked, pointing to the floor. Yep. There they were. They'd caught on the yarn inside my hat and hid out there while I searched for them.

How did those keys get in my hat? I'm blaming it on the subzero weather.