Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mini (Mom)Me

"How did Grammie used to do your hair?"

"Who was your best friend in second grade?"

"Did you ever get in trouble with your teacher?"

Daney wants to know all about her mommy as a Little Girl. She reads the books I read, dresses the dolls I dressed, asks me to describe the matching Holly Hobbie bedspreads my sister and I shared.

It was a lovely thing when Daney came home from a trip downtown yesterday and presented me with a perfectly wrapped gift.

Inside the silver box was this:
A little woolen angel with sequins and straw hair. Exactly what I would've bought myself when I was that age.

I don't know if Daney is just curious about her mommy's youth. Or if she wants to see how alike we are.

But I love that she loves the Little Girl in me. And I completely agree with her when she asks me if we'd be best friends.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Have A Problem With Time

Since high school, the part of writing I've struggled most with has been organization. It's not introduction or conclusion so much; it's transition, specifically, timing.

When I write, I lose all track of time. Literally. Like, on the page. I have no idea what day I'm writing about, or the day that came before it, or what day comes after.

It's an epic problem.

Because when I'm done writing, and I go through that first draft, I have sometimes 11days in a week in my stories, or maybe 4. Fridays follow Mondays. Afterschool detention precedes breakfast. That sort of thing.

Putting the hours and days and weeks into a logical timeline is one of the last things I do in revision. Because it's SO HARD! Because mine is SO QUIRKY! Because I can't GET IT!

I know. There are ways to avoid this. Outlines. Plot summaries. Those things.

But all that gets in the way.

So I just write.

All out of order.

Exactly like my hours and days in real life.

I never know what day it is. Or what day tomorrow is. Or what time two hours from now will be.

This is one of those things that is really tricky for me.

And I think it will be that way for many 11-day weeks to come.

Monday, August 23, 2010

They Might Be Writers

Some actors get into their roles so deeply, they would have to be excellent writers of first-person fiction, don't you think?

At the top of my list:

Sean Penn

Tilda Swinton

Steve Buscemi

( Jackman?)

Who else? Who's on your list?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fabulous Fiction

My friend Karlee and I have this little debate sometimes about which is better: fiction or non-fiction.

And tonight, when Dave and I watched the quirky comedy The Invention of Lying, I really thought about the real differences between the two genres.

Non-fiction is straightforward, clean. It tells us what to believe. There's no wrong, no mess, no controversy.

Fiction, on the other hand, uses the higher-order thinking skills that Benjamin Bloom defined and categorized over 70 years ago: interpretation, evaluation, analysis. With fiction, we are pushed to wonder, to question. We react emotionally. We feel. We make it personal.

Fiction is created. It takes imagination and some serious hard work to produce.

It is exaggerative, enhanced with stylistic devices like metaphor, hyperbole, and setting. It welcomes ownership and debate; promotes thought; and fills the human need to study, to understand.

To me, this is what reading is all about--when the actual reading itself is secondary to the interpretation and emotion and discussion that comes from it. To not have truth all spelled out, but to find it for myself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Where We've Been / Where We're Going

Would you believe that in the last 48 hours, we've zipped back down I-5 to my dad's, where I whipped up a mediocre organic dinner for him and Mac, we've hit up the American River one last time, had a ball at a big family bbq in Davis, then sent off Dave and Dominic to net a nice salmon from the Feather River?

It's true, all that!

So it was no wonder that Dominic kept tapping on my wall last night, wanting to snuggle with me (it's the first time I've held one of my babies who's actually become bigger than me).

And today is begins the craziest week of our summer: the kids and I will be at Tree Frogs Treks science camp, chasing boa constrictors and launching rockets of Spaghettios off our heads.

We'll come home hot, tired, sunburned, sticky, completely unable to wash the vinegar off our legs.

It will be absolutely incredible!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Last But Not Least

Setting is somehow the last thing I put into and polish up in my stories.

From the very beginning, I do have a definite idea about setting, but I don't add much of refine until plot and character are completely flushed out. I think the reason is that I have to know my character first. Then I can write her world as she sees it.

For example, in Drain, my MC (16 year-old Kat) tries to find a quiet place to sort out everything:

I walk away, back toward the church, unwrapping a Jolly Rancher and popping it into my mouth. Outside the gate, I hold the iron spears in both hands. The metal is cold and smooth.

The gate swings open widely when I push it, but the big wooden church doors don’t budge. It’s starting to rain harder, though. Water from my hair is dripping onto my eyelashes. So wandering around the outside of the church, I keep my eyes open for a crack or a crevice I can sink into for a while, at least until the downpour stops.

But after I’ve circled the building twice, I can’t find an opening. I can’t find anything, except some kind of a tomb outlined with seashells.

On my third walk around the church, a flight of steps catches my eye. It’s hidden by dense gardenias, and suffocated by ivy, and it heads down into a cellar or a basement or something. This is just the place, I’m sure of it.

Stepping lightly down the narrow steps, I find a door with an antique knob: tarnished brass, and bumpy, with a key hole underneath. When I twist it slowly, it turns. I crack the door and peek into the darkness. It’s a tiny room with a cement floor, and a big Gothic cross with blackened silver and spirals and vines leans upside-down in a corner.

Widening the door, I find a few chairs stacked on each other, and leather hymnals crammed into a book shelf with empty glass jars.

I sweep my hand along the wall, flicking on the light, a dim single bulb.

From way down here, I hear the tower bell ring five muffled rings.

I’ll give myself an hour.

Closing the door on myself in the little room, I slump against the wall, and I turn the cross right-side up, and I breathe in the leather from the hymnals, and I close my eyes.

This was all put in last. After the story was written.

The setting lends itself to Kat's loneliness, her inner conflict.

She's searching for an opening, literally and figuratively.

She's looking for a place of comfort.

In this scene, Kat is the only living thing among forgotten books and empty jars. And yet she feels at home here.

It is right here, right in this scene, where without even telling her audience, Kat makes a critical decision. Did you find it?

It's when Kat turns the cross right-side-up.

She makes a choice then to serve a greater purpose. She will sacrifice everything she's ever wanted for it.

So setting enriches plot and character, but it also strengthens tone.

This is a sad scene. But there aren't many modifiers or dialogue to show that. It's all in the time, weather, sound, surroundings.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fluid Fluency

Since Sentence Fluency is one of six traits in the Oregon Writing Benchmarks, I've thought some about mixing up sentence beginnings.

Especially in narratives, it's easy to start with "I" "I" "I."

But what are other, more interesting/sophisticated beginnings?

Okay, there are adverbs: Slowly, the ketchup oozed across the floor. But adverbs can always be replaced by a strong verb, and are distracting and often redundant.

Prepositional phrases are definitely interesting/sophisticated: After the ketchup oozed across the floor, I had to jump over the puddle. They also lend themselves to varying length. Delicious.

Participial phrases and gerunds are also yummy: Coming downstairs for dinner, I smelled spaghetti.


Participial phrases also lend themselves to funny dangling/displaced modifiers: Coming downstairs for dinner, the spaghetti smelled of garlic and basil. Since participial phrases always modify the noun closest to it, in this case, the spaghetti is coming down the stairs. Quick fix: Coming downstairs for dinner, I could smell the garlic and basil of the spaghetti.

It's important to stay true to voice when mixing up sentence fluency. But it's fun playing around and trying something new.

How about you? What are your tricks for sentence beginnings?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The August Question

It came today, that thought I always have around this time of year: "How much longer until the kids go back to school?"

Don't get me wrong.

It's been a great summer of swimming, visiting, reading and math. We've had good talks and good times together.

But there's this craving I get--and it usually comes sooner than now--for quiet. For the freedom to take a walk, hit the yoga mat, bake honey bread. For writing time.

The lavender is blooming. It will begin to dry out just as the Hibiscus pops. The last reminders that summer is short, that fall is coming.

In many ways, I want to tell autumn to wait. I have so much still to do with the kids. So many places to go, things to teach, stories to read.

But there's a pile of stuff on the front lawn that the kids are "saving" to sell at a garage sale in a couple weeks. Whittled sticks and sanded manzanita branches litter my doorstep.

Inside, there are Legos on the floor of every room. And today I confiscated the sixth pair of scissors from which GI Joe dangled on purple floss.

In five weeks, the Star Wars action figures and nail polish and cups will be exactly where they're supposed to be. And so will the kids and me, I guess.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Here's the Handwriting!

Shannon at Book Dreaming tagged me with a handwriting game.

So here's my sample!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gas & Groceries -- Days Three Through Five

For the last three days, we've been mostly on track.

If it wasn't for that darn fruit stand again, I'd have spent almost no money.

And yet, we've spent a whole day at the incredible American River canyon catching minnows and tadpoles, and jumping off rocks, and riding rapids. Again, we'd packed up a picnic, and my sister Amy and I set our beach chairs in the water while we sipped Diet Coke and watched her 8 year-old, Maddy, splash around with my water babies.

We've dug out a bunch of old toys from my dad's house, and the kids spent hours rummagine through boxes. The boys' treasures were mini Star Wars figures and an almost new GI Joe and his ten billion guns.

We've gone swimming at Maddy's house, and to her birthday party at some indoor trampolines, and my dad has taken us to Mel's Diner and Chevy's. MMmmm...

I've made my own mocha every day, and there's been afternoon time for reading and resting and even doing a little math.

Today Mackie is home from his orientation at UC Santa Cruz. Bacon is sizzling on the stove, and I'm already whipping up a pasta salad to take to the Folsom city pool this afternoon, where Daney will meet up with her best girlfriend, Gracia.

And I don't think I've said yet that Daney had strep throat our first couple of days here. $42 went to the Target pharmacy, but cheerfully, to get my girl back on her feet!

Sickness. Penny-pinching. It's a lot of work down here.

When I get home, I'm treating myself to a day of vacation in Ashland!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gas & Groceries -- Day Two

I had really good intentions.

I mean, I had logged 300 miles with 3 kids over 8 hours without spending a single penny. I did it, but it wasn't easy.

The second day was going to be easier, right?

We got up and had bagels and went on a long lizard walk (that's where we watch rocks for little lizards perching on them).

Then we had delicious juice spritzers and sandwiches and fruit salad with marshmallow cream at Erika's house in Folsom. We lounged around like the lizards we'd found earlier.

We were happy and rested and full-bellied.

So why did we stop at the fruit stand on the way home and flip 28 bucks for cookies, muffins, and peaches?

And that wasn't all.

Later, for dinner, we took ourselves and my dad to Taco Tree. Another $28. Whoops.

Must. Try Harder. Tomorrow.

Total for Day Two: $56.00

Monday, August 2, 2010

Only Gas & Groceries? Day One

So the kids and I added a little twist to our trip from Ashland, Oregon, to Auburn, California. While Dave stays home raking in the overtime, we thought we'd try not to spend any extra money beyond gas and groceries. Could we make a 300 mile drive without spending a dime?

The way out of town was hardest. I knew I wouldn't have access to Noble Coffee for over a week, and I had to really restrain myself from grabbing a creamy caramel latte. So I conjured up my own concoction -- definitely not as yummy -- and we hit the road.

Our first stop two hours in was Redding's Turtle Bay Museum/Aquarium.We're members of the International Association of Science & Technology Centers, so admission was free. So was the Wild Animal Show.After watching monarchs hatch and painted ladies land in the Butterfly Garden, we had our packed picnic at the Paul Bunyan Park.

A few more miles down I-5, we stopped to sample some treats at the Olive PitRees' fave was the smokey garlic.

Before pulling into my dad's driveway, we'd piled ourselves silly with library books (I still have my card from when I was a little girl).

It was a night of laughing with Erika and Ryan, and chasing around the eight ducks that Mac is raising. And of course, there were Legos. Lots and lots of Legos.

Total Cost for Day One: $0.00!!!