Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Guest Post: No Lifeguard On Duty by Novelist Chandra Hoffman


by Chandra Hoffman
Author of the novel Chosen

I am coming to the end of my two week tour of the West Coast, primarily consisting of book clubs where I have enjoyed being the guest author, an appearance at Powells and more notably now, thirteen straight days of single parenting and taking our homeschooling show on the road.

Today we got to the beach in Oxnard as the marine layer burned off over the Channel Islands. A pod of porpoises came in to the final breakpoint and cut through huge breaking waves right in front of us and a sea lion cruised by, his eyes on ours, not ten feet away. Amazing. I was content to stand and take in the vastness of the ocean, the clear canvas of cool grays and blues, sea and sky with my pantlegs rolled up so the saltwater and sand could exfoliate three days of flipflops at Disneyland grime off my feet. But serenity was short-lived as I quickly found myself locked in a struggle to inspire healthy respect for the ocean in my fearless just-turned-nine-year-old who is starting to think he might know better than me in most areas, including water safety.

The surf was breaking loud and variable, huge cross currents converging in front of us and surfers, grown-ups in wetsuits, were being ripped off their boards which came at us, unleashed, in the shallow whitewater like broad javelins. I watched as one stand-up paddler had a wave double his full height swell and break over him and I got nervous. I looked around the beach for other swimmers, families, kids, and found nobody but the most die-hard surfers and a few dog walkers and fishermen. This was not Cayman with its mellow aqua water or the Jersey Shore with its ubiquitous lifeguards and their whistles.

But Hayden, who couldn't get enough of the Disney rollercoasters and thrill rides from his newly acquired height of 48 inches screamed an enthusiastic "YEAH!" and ripped his shirt off, throwing it back towards the beach in preparation.

I wished for J to be there, more experienced with the ocean when it was dark and ominous, a veteran surfer, windsurfer and kiteboarder, someone who had stared down waves bigger than these in Baja and out at the main channel. I wanted another grown up, my coparent, to assess the situation, to help me guide our son. I even thought briefly of taking a video clip and emailing it to him, then calling him for a bi-coastal parental consultation, because this is what being the giddy owner of a fancy new iPhone does to you...

"Just up to your knees, Haybes," I said lamely, feeling every bit like the nervous nelly dad Marlin in Finding Nemo with his suggestions that his son play on the spongebeds with the toddler fish.

And still Hayden jerked his bare shoulder out from under my restricting hand and plowed out into the foaming water.

"Haybes, wait," I faltered.

I looked to the only other adult nearby, a surfer about my age who was surveying the waves. I was preparing to ask if he knew the currents here well, and would he let his kid in the water, but he was already jogging ahead toward Hayden, yelling over the roar of the water for him to stop, and for this guy, Haybes did. He listened as this stranger told him that this area was too dangerous for swimming, that there were still decent waves but less current a few hundred yards off, down by the jetty.

Blushing from being spoken to by a stranger, Hayden sulked back to me and his younger siblings, their arms snaked around my thighs, giving me a grouchy thump with his shoulder as he passed, kicking up sand. I stood there equally chagrinned--how come I hadn't stood my ground earlier when everything in me was saying this was more surf than he could handle? The thing is, I want my kids to have fun--my backpack is crammed with a testimony of receipts to waterparks, themeparks, carnivals, zoos, helitours and science centers all to this end. And here we are at the largest ocean in the world! What could be more fun than the ocean?! Except, of course, when it looks and sounds like a hungry, roaring predator, anxious to swallow up my kids forever like Pinnochio's Monstro. (Sorry for the second Disney reference in one post--I was just 'experiencing the magic' for the last three days. Might need a brain scrub.)

So I thanked the surfer and shepherded my kids down the beach to the suggested place where the waves looked more like Cayman when a Northwester blows in, decent surf, but predictable, waves that come in straight, break and go out. I let the boys wade in and get tumbled in the chilly water. Max took a few spins in the break, got some sandburn on his shoulders and abandoned body surfing for beachcombing but Hayden stayed in until he was blue-lipped, shrieking with joy and taunting, waggling his surf-shorted bum at the waves that rolled in and summarily took him down.

I stayed crouched at the edge of the water, half my attention on Piper as she doodled in the sand behind me, eyes darting to Max drifting down the water's edge at a comfortable distance from the reaching fingers of the waves, but ready to rush for Hayden should he not surface quickly enough. Letting him bodysurf in the Pacific, build memories and feel that exhilarating pull of the water's power, trying not to think about all of J's aunt's stories about people who have drowned here at this very beach, experienced swimmers, kayakers, surfers, adults, children... Keeping these stories to myself because I don't want him to grow up afraid, but I also can't let him set all the boundaries.

As my kids get older, I feel like I am struggling between hovering and hands off, between choosing for them, and letting go. Last week on our Santa Monica beach ride, Max insisted on leaving the hotel room wearing flip flops instead of the shoes I suggested for bike riding. Surprise; as we pedaled along the waterfront he had to stop, exasperated, several times to retrieve a lost flip. I managed to keep the 'I told you so' to a mere two times. (Okay, three.) But flip flops vs. sneakers was a choice I was okay with letting him make. In Disneyland, Hayden informed me that my insistence that WOMEN on the restroom door meant "Moms and Kids" didn't fly, and he would be using the MENS room from now on. Okay with that one too... Sort of. Yes. Okay. He's nine. I'm right outside. It's freaking Disneyland.

But today, the height of the surf, the force of the water, that audible clap as waves broke--today I made the unpopular choice, and we found something that reeked of compromise. I never fully relaxed on the beach and Hayden's eyes kept drifting longingly down to the surfers and their rides on waves triple the height of his, you know, over here on the spongebeds. With his mom watching him. If you know Hayden, then you understand that the idea that other people are having fun, more fun than him, it's torture.

Today I think I made the right choice. Anyway, we're here in our cute little Mexican-themed motel room, him snoring safely away, his resentment receding like the tides. But I also know we will meet this situation with increasing frequency. Just me and Hayden, facing off in front of the dangerous bass thump and thrilling allure of something so much bigger than us both, no lifeguard on duty.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Guest Post by Doreen Mcgettigan

A Guest Post
By Doreen Mcgettigan

Something has been nagging at me for the last week or so and I strongly felt the urge to share.

First things first; thank you Rebecca for giving me this opportunity to guest post for you.  You are one talented and amazing lady and I feel blessed to consider you a friend.  The truly amazing part is we have yet to meet but it looks like that just might happen in the near future!

I am a writer/storyteller so if I drag on a bit I’ll try to shake myself.  On Facebook last week there was a discussion started on the ‘old’ tuck, duck and cover exercises those of us who were born in the 50’s had the pleasure to endure.

Back then it was the Russians.  They were out to get us.  As a young child I had no clue what political propaganda was, I was just terrified.  Okay I was also a really weird little kid.  If I saw an airplane in the sky-especially the ones with the square back-the bombers, I was terrified.  I ran for cover so fast into a neighbor’s shed, under a tree or under lawn furniture.  Anyplace I could get too quickly and feel safe.  I can still feel my fear now as I type this.  The sweaty palms, my red, burning, face, my heart beating out of my chest.

As far as I know it was never talked about.  I never brought it up, my fear that is, or the weird way I would just run and hide.

Back then communist and socialist dictators and Nazi’s made really bad leaders.  Many, many people throughout history have been terrorized, tortured or murdered.  That is a fact.

Fast forward to today.  We as Americans have taken our eyes off of our flag, our constitution, and our long and hard-won fight for freedom.  We have allowed our government to take over in areas that now threaten our very freedom.

Okay; she is getting political…uggghhh!  Not really.  I am just being honest.  This is not a story about politics but a story about Americans.  I have voted in every election since I was 18.  I am very proud of that fact.  Sometimes I have been a Democrat and sometimes a Republican.

I was actually physically sick when George Bush won his second term.  I was scared to death of the puppet-masters pulling his strings.  My young daughter, who had just voted for the first time said, “Don’t worry, Mom.  We will have Hillary next time and NO one can beat her”.

Okay, we all know how that turned out.

Then the propaganda started.  My 5-year-old grandson came home singing ‘yes we can’.  Parents complained, but the campaigning continued and still does. Whether it was my candidate or yours really does not matter.  In America we do not campaign in our public schools, period!

Behind the scenes and under the radar, yet right in front of our faces I have been hearing some very frightening words.  Words that had terrified me when I was 5 and certainly scare me far more now that I am 52.  I first saw glimpses of the words on the internet.  Then I saw them on blogs.  I saw them buried way in the back of several magazines and newspapers.  The words popped up on news channels; cable, of course.

The words were ‘Communist’ and ‘Socialist.'  Of course anyone that mentioned they were seeing or hearing these words were called fear mongers or racists.  They were also called conspiracy theorists.

Whew; thank God it wasn’t for real.  I tried to put the fear towards the back of my mind.  Then I started seeing the red tee shirts everywhere.  The tee shirts with the white letters spelling the word Communist on the front.  The shirts were on children.  Now that got my attention.  Then Time Magazine and Newsweek had their ‘Socialism’ covers.

Yes my dear fellow Americans, in 2010 it has become very cool to be a Communist, Socialist or a radical.  I am so angry I could just spit!  I am angry with my fellow parents who have sent their children off to be educated and have had them returned indoctrinated.  I am angry with my fellow Americans who do not care.  I am afraid for the ones who say “It could never happen here”.  Hello, it is happening.

We all need to start sharing some history with our young people.  They say this is the most educated generation of Americans in our history.  What a shame they are also the most illiterate when it comes to history of their own country and theology.

They believe they can stand for something they do not even understand.  How dare they have the arrogance to hold all the answers before they have even paid taxes?  I would challenge them to find a time in the history of this world when communism or socialism ever ended well.  I would dare them to watch the movie “The boy in the striped pajamas”.

My 10-year-old granddaughter does not say the Pledge of Allegiance in her classroom.  The teacher does not have enough time.  She has no time to honor our flag but she has time to teach my granddaughter to bitch at me for occasionally using a plastic grocery bag. {Oh yeah; how about all those polar bear, breast cancer and rain forests eco-friendly bags I bought?}  Now they tell us they were made in China and are full of lead that is just rubbing up against the veggies and fruit we feed our kids.  Oh and the light bulbs; the twirly ones that cost a fortune.  Read the warning on them.  You need a hazmat team if you break one!

As we sit down and journal our reasons for Thanksgiving and gratitude this year, I challenge each and every one of you to have a conversation with a young person.  Share with them the reason for the holiday.  Explain to them that Americans are exceptional, and why.  Yes, we can be arrogant but we are also the most charitable country in the world.  Explain that socialism does not mean spreading the wealth around.  That is a big lie.  Socialism is stealing from the ‘haves’ and giving to those in power - not the ‘have-nots’. 

We have always been a country full of people who could grow up and be anyone or anything we dreamed we could be.  We need to make things.  Invent things.  Things that other countries want to buy from us.  We have simply become consumers.  When did we stop raising kind and empathetic children?  

When did we start raising radicals and stop raising dreamers?

Below are just a few things I found on the website:  www.cpusa.org/

This is only one example of many, many sites out there.

A better world is possible — a world where people come before profits. That’s socialism. That’s our vision. We are the Communist Party USA.

If, however, what is meant is that many more people are ready to give socialism a hearing, not reject it out of hand, then I would say, "Yes, this is a ‘socialist moment'." This is no small thing. It wasn't that long ago that socialism didn't have much currency among broad sections of the American people. It was considered a failed model, undemocratic and worse, a bankrupt idea - something best consigned to history.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What the Love Goddess' Cooking School is Really About by Melissa Senate

by Melissa Senate

The summer I was getting divorced, a close friend flew from New York City to Maine to stay with me for the weekend in my new apartment. She glanced around my quaint small town of 8,000 with its lovely young families and historic homes, then looked at me and my (then) four year old son, and said, “You have to move to Portland. You won’t be happy in this town. As a single mother and living in an apartment, you won’t see yourself reflected here. You won’t feel like you belong. In New York (from where I’d moved two years earlier), anything goes. Here, perfect—however surface level—goes.”

Sledgehammer. I hadn’t even thought of that one. You won’t feel like you belong. You won’t see yourself reflected here. Perfect goes. That was four years ago, and as it turned out, she was both right and wrong (there turned out to be quite a few single mothers). That first year, though, I did struggle to feel like I belonged. But there was no moving: my town has one of the best public school systems in the state, which was my main priority. And it’s one of the few towns with great schools that also has a walkable downtown, albeit a little one—a necessity for me (including a sweet little indie bookstore). I was staying, despite the blinking  neon D on my forehead. 

Because my dear friend was also very right, I stayed home a lot more than I usually would. And I started to cook for the first time. I had the legendary Julia Child and Marcella Hazan and Mark Bittman by my side. And my dear little son, Max, asking if he could work the stove (no, but you can beat the eggs. And you can dip the chicken cutlets in the egg and flour and breadcrumbs). As my son and I spent hours in the kitchen, making pancakes from scratch, baking cakes and cookies, layering lasagna, talking, laughing, being together, I slowly began to feel that I belonged in my own house, my own life . . . and when you feel that way, you leave your house with your head held high. The neon D faded for me until I completely stopped thinking of myself as divorced or a single mother or different at all. I started thinking of myself as just me. A new me, but me.

And with a little perspective, I started to write about a thirty-year-old woman named Holly Maguire who feels adrift in her own life and stuck in one she doesn’t feel is her own. She inherits her legendary grandmother’s cooking class and now has four students who also feel adrift, who need to feel that they belong. And as they cook together, they talk. They share, they hope, they dream, they wish (the recipes call for adding wishes or memories into every pot and pan) into the chicken alla Milanese and saffron risotto and three cheese gnocchi. And their hopes and dreams begin to come true, not from the wishing, but because of the wishing, the asking for what they wanted. The daring to deserve, perhaps.

In THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, heartbroken Holly hopes to rediscover her love of cooking, taken from her by a long ago mistake. A twelve-year-old girl abandoned by her mother signs on as Holly’s apprentice so she can learn to cook her dad’s favorite Italian food and stop him from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. Holly’s childhood friend twists her wedding band, barely bear to be in the kitchen as she hides a painful secret. A serial dater pressured to get married by her overbearing family can’t admit she longs for love. And a separated father hopes to cook his way back into his young daughter’s heart.  In the end, they’ll all discover what belonging truly means.

All that cooking and home-bodying worked out quite well for me. It gave me a book. And today, I’m giving one away! Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL, published just a few weeks ago by Simon & Schuster.  You can comment on my post, cooking, writing, the weather—anything will do!  P.S. Many thanks to Rebecca for sharing her blog with me!

Follow Melissa on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MelissaSenate
Friend her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MelissaSenate
Visit her website: http://www.melissasenate.com/

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Faith and Fiction Saturday c/o My Friend Amy

Books Where the Main Character Rejects Faith

Faith and Fiction Saturday is a weekly discussion of the intersection of faith and fiction. Excerpted from the amazing blog My Friend Amy.

Amanda recently raised the question of why characters in today's general market books are without religion. She wanted to know why faith is either a huge deal to the storyline or completely absent. I thought this was interesting, and followed the discussion in comments. Jodie brought up that there's a lack of books where characters consider faith or religion but decide against it for one reason or another.

I have to admit that really got me thinking. Can you think of any books in the general market where characters consider religion but reject it? I searched my brain and only came up with one book and it's not exactly the same thing.

The Big Love by Sarah Dunn is about a girl who grew up as an evangelical Christian but left the faith. It's significant to the storyline because it still affects her in many ways. But the book isn't really about how she made that choice, only that she did.

Another book where a character had an evangelical stint was 
Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter. It seems the character in the book no longer practices the faith but had a time in her life when she did and she remembers it fondly in the novel. I remember appreciating it for the positive portrayal even though the character was no longer really practicing or active in a faith community.

I can think of one book in the Christian market where a character considers conversion to evangelical Christianity from Mormonism, but in the end chooses not to. Books about conversion might also be in short supply. (in general market fiction they are probably in fine supply in Christian fiction!)

So that's today's question for you. If rejecting faith is a part of the faith experience just like embracing it is, do you know of any books where the characters have considered faith and rejected it? How about books where characters convert from one religion to another or even from one form of Christianity to another?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mike & Ollie by Susan Bearman

Mike & Ollie 
by Susan Bearman

Some people suffer from writer’s block. Not me. My problem is too many writing projects. The siren song of the new idea is irresistible to me. Right now, for example, I’m working on an alphabet picture book based on my husband’s pet shop (http://theanimalstore.com) that I plan to self-publish. I’ve been searching for the right vehicle to experiment with print on demand, and I had this great idea. My sister-in-law Rebecca Hamlin (http://www.chichonia.com/about.html) , a magnificent artist, is working on the illustrations.

This idea came about because I am completely redoing the website for my husband’s store, which is from way back in Web 1.0 and in desperate need of an overhaul. It involves writing copy for dozens of new pages, all of which require research. So of course, that seemed like the perfect time to start the picture book, so we can have it ready to launch with the new site.

I also decided to try my hand at NaNoWriMo for the first time — National Novel Writing Month. My brother says I’m cheating because I’m working on a memoir, not a novel, but there are plenty of other NaNo rebels out there who support me. NaNoWriMo seemed like the perfect opportunity to draft my memoir that has been simmering for almost 19 years.

My twins were born at 24 weeks gestation, at just about a pound and half each. They spent nearly five months in the hospital, a year on oxygen, and many years in therapy catching up. It’s been an exciting roller coaster of a ride, and many people over the years have encouraged me to write about it. When my twins graduated from high school in June, it seemed like the right time to tell my part of their story. The rest of it, from here on out, is theirs to tell.

Plugging along at a pretty good pace, I’m well past the halfway point of the NaNo 50K word goal. As I was writing, I remembered some little journals that I kept while the babies were in the hospital. I hauled them out and began transcribing them (great for the word count), but realized that I would not be able to use them verbatim in my memoir. They are raw, unfiltered, present tense letters to my sick babies. There is plenty of information and emotion to mine from these journal entries, but they are not something I will use in their entirety.

It occurred to me, though, that since I was already transcribing them, I could use this material in a different way. I envy young mothers today for their access to the Internet and the support it can provide. I would have loved to have been able to reach out to another mother who understood what I was experiencing. There weren’t that many of us back then.

So I decided to post my journal entries on a new blog called Mike&Ollie (http://mikeandollie.wordpress.com/about/), the joint nickname used to refer to the twins in the hospital (think Brangelina). Today, November 17, is the official launch, as well as the twins’ birthday. I will post every day between now and March 26, which is the date we were finally all home from the hospital. My hope is that parents who read it will find hope and inspiration from two babies who have been through it all and who came out well on the other side. I know my children have always inspired me. Today, November 17, also happens to be National Prematurity Awareness Day (http://www.modimes.org/news/nov1_2010.htm ). This seems like a perfect way to celebrate.

Thank you so much to Rebecca, who has wholeheartedly supported this project since I first committed to it in an essay at the beginning of the year. Everyone should be so lucky as to have such an enthusiastic supporter. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen by Nancy Hinchliff

Nancy Hinchliff writes and blogs in Louisville, Kentucky as well as on line at Examiner.com, Eye on Life Magazine, Pink magazine and hubpages. She co-authored Room at the Table, a cookbook for The Bed and Breakfast Association of Kentucky for which she won their president's award in 2008. She is currently working on a memoir titled Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen, a humorous and poignant account of how an admittedly asocial retired school teacher reinvents herself as an Innkeeper. In this intimate and engaging memoir, she candidly writes about her challenging sixteen year journey of self-discovery. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky where she still runs her bed and breakfast. You can find Nancy blogging at: www.businesswomensforum.blogspot.com  

Excerpt from Operatic Divas and Naked Irishmen (a work in progress) 
by Nancy Hinchliff

I heard it loud and clear. I was on the third floor at my computer with my shoes off, working on a new article. By the time I finished the last paragraph, it had turned into a steady pounding . I got up and walked to the stairway, shoes in hand. Sitting on the top stair, I put them on one at a time, as the pounding got louder and louder and took on a sense of urgency. I hurried down the forty stairs to the ground floor, thinking that this must be a worker from the street who had come to tell me they're turning my water off for a while.

I opened the front door and there he stood,  completely rumpled;  his weather-beaten canvas jacket open in the front revealing a denim workshirt, hair all askew, and backpack thrown over his left shoulder. He looked a little annoyed.   
"Sorry," I said, "It's a big house....over four thousand square feet.........takes a while to get to the door....... Can I help you?"   
"Yeah, I'm here to check in"  

Check-in? Check-in? I thought, my mind racing. Did I have a check-in today? Oh my God, I think I did! But not this dirty construction worker, who was about to turn my water off.

I finally gathered my wits and said       "And you are.....Mister....?"   
".... Evans," he interrupted, "the business man from Virginia"  

Business man...that's a laugh. This guy is no business man. If this is a business man, where is his brief case and his computer?
"Mr Evans, of course" I smiled "Come on in"    
"And you are?" he asked, reeking of tobacco.   
"I'm Nancy, the owner and innkeeper."

Telling him to put his backpack down in the hall, I took him into the parlor to give him the grand tour. As we left the parlor and entered the dining room, I pointed out the snacks and drinks available to guests. 
"Is it okay if I have some of that liquor over in the corner?" he asked, completely oblivious to the fresh baked chocolate chip cookies nearby.      
Hesitating to think that one over for a bit, I answered

 "Yes" I'm such a trusting soul.   He told me he would be eating breakfast at nine and asked if his friend, the one who had made the reservation,  Roger I think his name was, could stop by later for a visit. 

Then he asked "Is there anyone else here but me?"  

I thought seriously about lying, but answered "No"   
 He went on " Do you live here alone?"  

A sharp jab in my stomach alerted me. Do I tell him the truth?  Why is he asking that?     "Yes", I said and sent him up to the third floor with a key, to find his room.  

I hurried to my room on the second floor and double locked the door. Sitting on the bed, I tried to catch my breath, his words whirling around in my head. Later I heard him leave, then return. I quietly went down to the first floor to check out what was going on. I entered the parlor and there he was with an already half empty bottle of Vodka in his hand pouring himself a huge drink. The brown paper sack from the liquor store across the street was lying on the floor. 
 "Hi," he said, looking up at me from my favorite winged-back chair. He had a crooked but friendly smile on his face. He was now reeking of both tobacco and Vodka.   

"Hi"  I countered, scurrying past him and heading for the kitchen. 
"Like a drink?"    

 "Oh no, thank you. I don't drink," I said, maybe a little too curtly.  

I made it to the kitchen, without appearing too rude, happy that I wouldn't have to answer any more personal questions. I retreated up the back stairs to my room, which I immediately locked tight. An hour or so later, the doorbell rang and I could hear him open it and greet his friend. For a while, it was very quiet and then I heard the two of them leave.  

I finished watching the evening news and went downstairs to make myself some dinner. I walked into the parlor and was a little taken a back by the empty Vodka bottle plopped down on my antique table next to the chair where he had been sitting. I threw out the empty Vodka bottle, had dinner and retired to my room for the rest of the evening. I talked myself into believing everything would be okay and I wasn't in any eminent danger. Then I double locked the door, grabbed the phone, and jumped into bed. 

The next morning, I was up bright and early making fresh ground coffee, when I heard him coming down the stairs. As he walked into the dining room, I was surprised to see how good he looked in the morning light.   
"Thought you'ld have a little trouble getting up for breakfast this morning," I said.   
"Why's that?" he asked. 
I didn't want to be rude, but decided to tell him what I thought. "Well, you had quite a bit to drink last night. You finished that whole bottle of Vodka."   
"Oh that was nothing," he laughed, "I'm a pretty seasoned drinker."     

Seasoned drinker, I thought....more like an alcoholic if you ask me. I sort of expected him to ask for a Bloody Mary for breakfast. 

Back in the kitchen, I cooked up fabulous vegetable omelets, sour dough toast and bacon. He said he was hungry and had asked if I made omelets.

"I'm a vegetarian you know," he informed me nonchalantly as he asked me to join him for breakfast.

 Sitting across the table from him, I wondered just who this man was, who had the gaul to ask if I lived here alone.  We exchanged some pleasantries and then he asked another of his now famous personal questions.   
 "You know," he began, "the jails are jammed packed with prisoners"     

"uh huh," I nodded, gobbling up my wonderful eggs. 
 "How do you feel about that?" 
"About what?"    
"About all those prisoners?" 
Oh my God, I thought, he's trying to get me into a conversation where I expose my position and then he jumps on me and shoves his obsessive ideas down my throat.  How do I get out of this?     

"Well, well......I... I don't usually get into these kinds of conversations, I stammered, especially at breakfast."  

I managed to change the subject. But he just kept on trying to hook me into similar conversations.....politics..... religion.....anything controversial he could think of. Finally he gave up and began talking about himself.

He told me he was an inventor, and through the conversation, I could tell that he was quite creative and intelligent. He also told me he had invented a very hard plastic which had made him the millionaire he was today. Then the conversation switched to Roger, his friend....the one who helped him finish off an entire bottle of Vodka before dinner last night. Roger was a good friend and also an inventor he said.

"Yes, Roger is the one who invented the GPS."  

After nearly choking on my last bite of eggs, I repeated  "the GPS" Was this guy for real?"The GPS that you put in your car to tell you how to get from one place to another?"   
"That's the one" he said nonchalantly.   
"How come I've never heard of him?" I asked,  "What's his last name?" In my head, I was already on line googling GPS."   
"His name is Roger Easton," he answered. 

I was suddenly jerked back to reality by the sound of the front door bell. I quickly ran to the door and flung it open. And there he was...... Roger......creator of the GPS.......master inventor........ savior of the navigationally impaired.........in all his glory.   
"Hi Roger. Come on in. Want a cup of coffee? How 'bout an omelet?

I never asked Roger directly about his invention, I didn't want to embarrass him, in case it wasn't true.  And Mr Evans said no more.

But this is what I found on google: "The evidence shows that Roger Easton invented the GPS and is finally getting credit for it as shown by his receiving the National Medal of Technology (below). Brad Parkinson deserves much credit for his successful development of the system, but neither Brad Parkinson nor Ivan Getting (who also had been given credit) invented it. Further study about GPS has reinforced prior understanding that the Navy had the technology and the Air Force had the money to fund it."   

 I quickly scanned the picture to see if it was the Roger Easton I had had coffee with that morning at the breakfast table.  But it was not; it was a different Roger Easton, the one who had invented the GPS. I don't know who Mr Evans introduced to me to that morning and I guess I never will.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Streak, Mr. Duck, and a Vision by Christi Craig

Note: This post originally appeared on Beth Hoffman's amazing website -- I read it and loved it so much, I asked Christi to share. Thank you ladies!

The Streak, Mr. Duck, and a Vision

By Christi Craig (you can find her here)

A few months ago, my husband completed a year-long running streak. For 365 days straight - no matter the weather or a late night of work or a killer cold – he put on his running shoes and hit the pavement.

Three miles.
Six miles.
Ten miles.

He was dedicated, committed, and some days a little obsessive. Once he hit the year mark, he turned to me and said that running every day was no longer a streak.

“It’s a way of life.”

I nodded in complete understanding. Running, I thought, is a lot like writing.

I write every day.

A paragraph.
A few hundred words.
One whole page.

I am dedicated, committed, and some days a little obsessive. Though that wasn’t always the case.

I was in the fifth grade when I first caught the writing bug.

“A How-To book,” our teacher, Mrs. Young, told our class. “That’s your assignment. You are the author, the illustrator, and the expert.”

I focused on the word “expert,” and tried to think of something I could do well. I could play the piano, sort of. I knew the rules of Softball, but I had barely worn in my glove. Never mind my batting average. 

I was pretty good at irritating my older sisters, but that wasn’t a skill I could break down into five simple steps.

I had nothing.

Then, at school one day, the catch phrase of the year echoed down the hallway outside of the classroom.

 “Gag me with a spoon!” I heard.

The words reverberated in my mind and an image formed. Once I got home, I scoured the house for pencils, crayons, and Manila paper. Manic and determined, I worked all afternoon, writing and drawing. 

I re-worded the catch phrase to make the story unique and wrote my very first book:

How to Gag Yourself with a Spatula, Starring Mr. Duck.

(I would not realize the art of naming characters until much later.)
When I turned in the assignment, Mr. Duck wore a red bowtie, and I wore a broad smile.

Mrs. Young hosted the How-To book release party in the intimate setting of our homeroom. When I stood up to read, I planted myself in front of the chalkboard. I ignored the heat rising up my neck and read Mr. Duck’s five steps to a successful gag with an everyday kitchen utensil. Afterward, I received rave reviews, and I was hooked.

Hooked on writing.

Hooked on taking the spark of an idea and turning it into a story that would capture and captivate an audience.

It took years and another writing assignment – this time from a published author teaching an online course - for the seed of writing that was planted in the fifth grade to take root.

“Write your own beautiful vision,” our instructor directed, “of where you want to be in five years.”

I struggled to dream big. But really, I knew what I wanted.

I have just finished reading the final proof of my novel. Tomorrow, I call my agent, who calls the publisher, who calls the printer. I fan the pages of my manuscript and see my words come alive as the story unfolds - the story of a character I've been getting to know for several years now.

Let the story go, I tell myself, and let it land where it may.

My son and daughter are in school for only a few more weeks, so my afternoons are still mine, and quiet. I step outside and walk to the garden. With bare hands and tools, I turn the soil, wake up the earthworms. I prepare the ground for herbs, tomatoes, and wildflowers. The wind raises goose bumps on my arms, but the sun warms my back.

Today, the dream of holding my novel in my hands seems much more possible. Not because I have an agent or a publisher. Not even because I get paid to write. But, because the moment I wrote that vision, I called myself a Writer.

I write every day – no matter my mood, or the status of my muse, or the absence of time.

One paragraph.
One page.
One whole story.

Writing is no longer a dream; it’s no longer a hobby. It’s a way of life.


"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." ~Anais Nin

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hard Frost. Slow Dance. By Laura Munson

Laura Munson is the author of the New York Times and international bestselling memoir, THIS IS NOT THE STORY YOU THINK IT IS: A SEASON OF UNLIKELY HAPPINESS, which Book of the Month Club named one of the best books of 2010.  While the entry point to her memoir is a marital crisis, true to its title, this is a book about empowerment; about living in the present moment, and committing to being responsible for your own happiness no matter what’s going on in your life.  She has been on a national book tour with many media appearances, including Good Morning America and various NPR stations.  Her work has appeared in the New York Times Modern Love column, The New York Times Magazine Lives column, O. Magazine, Woman's Day, The Huffington Post, The Sun, Big Sky Journal and others.  She lives in Whitefish, Montana with her husband and children. 

Hard FrostSlow Dance.  

This is the time of year when the muse is hungry.  Starved by a summer in Montana where the physical world bullies you to come out into it and join the dance that leads with mountain, and twirls with rivers, and rests in lakes-- a spent tango.  And we find ourselves in fall.  The physical dance over.  Time to go home in the dark.  There is a lot of darkness now. 
            This morning was the first hard frost.  I could see it on the roof by moonshadow, silver and glinting off shingles.  It was confirmed by the first light over the ridge as I stood at the stove making my first cup of tea—the Mother cup.  The rest will be Writer cups, and there will be at least three more of them before it’s time for another Mother cup.  I drink a lot of tea.  Green with jasmine.  The muse used to be thirsty for coffee.  I taught her that tea is a more graceful entrance into the act of empathy which all writers must take if our work is to find itself dancing with our characters and our readers.  It’s easier to find empathy with tea. 
            So with tea and the first light, I go out to start the truck.  The frost has covered it and I rebel against the ice scraper which is lost under life jackets and beach towels—summer things, and I sacrifice a bit of tea to get the windshield thinking about doing its job, rock pocks and hairline fractures and all.  I am not ready for winter.  I don’t care how hungry or how thirsty the muse is to dance, in silence and dark, grey by day, and then dark again, for many months; many dark mornings with sacrificial tea rites.  I can feel myself brace against it this morning.  There is something different about this fall.
            It’s been seventeen of these in Montana and normally I meet the season and the muse with a warm embrace.  Relief, even.  I don’t know why I am dragging my feet this year to this dance I love.  It’s not that I don’t love what the muse covets; requires.  I do.  Writing is my practice, prayer, and way of life.  But it’s like what my ten-year-old son said this morning, snuggling with me.  “I don’t want to go to school.” 
            “Because there’s so much work.” 
            “But work can be fun if you look at it like an adventure.” 
            “It’s not fun when somebody asks you to do it.” 
            I smiled.  “You’re right.  But it’s possible to look at it like you get to be asked to do work, and you get to learn something you might not have thought to learn all by yourself.” 
            He wasn’t really buying it.  And neither was I.
            Yes, there is something different about this fall.  And my son helped me see it:  this is the first fall that I’ve been asked to do my work.  I have jobs.  I got a book published, finally, after many failed attempts, and suddenly…I have jobs.  In fact, it’s an embarrassment of riches, I have so many deadlines.  I’m not bragging.  It’s just that I’m worried.  I don’t know how to do this dance. 
            What I know how to do is this:  bow to winter by getting to work on a novel.  This time of year there are characters dancing in my mind’s mountains and rivers and lakes.  They want out.  They want their dance on a parkay floor in a dance hall with a live band and pretty girls and guys with gyrating hips.  They have no patience for the world of book promotion and magazines and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and books begging to be blurbed.  They don’t care if I’ve grown fond of the generous community of the internet and other writers, or that there’s finally a way that the writer can meet the reader without the publishing world.  They don’t care that I’ve learned to use Twitter as Haiku and my blog as a daily writerly warm up. 
            Most of all, they don’t understand that a writer needs an income.  That I’ve been at this years and years and finally…my dream came true.  They don’t know that once you’ve had a book published, you have a window of opportunity.  Especially, they don’t want to meet the baby being passed lovingly through it.  They are jealous lovers.  Sabateurs of other dance halls but their own.  They want to sweat and grind and tip back their heads in pleasure.  They want to feel the drumbeat re-arranging their heartbeats.
            And I fear that the work I have loved so much for so long, will somehow suffer.  And in-so-doing, I will too.  Never mind my muse or my characters.  Or potential readers for that matter.
            When I return from the Mother cup of tea, the sun bright, the yard is a puzzle-- bright green where the frost has melted, still stiff and sage-colored where it has not, a perfect shape of the shadow of my house.  I pause and smile:  nature’s dance. 
            The dance is perpetual, I decide.  The characters aren’t leading the dance.  I am.  My work is to keep writing and trust that I’ll know which dance it is to dance.  Now tango.  Now foxtrot.  Now waltz.
            I can bring these cups of tea, these yard shapes, these characters, and even my muse with me, wherever I am dancing.  And we will all be better for our other writing adventures.  No one will go hungry or cheap for the drum beat.  It is just slow for now in the way of novels.  I’m sure that winter will change that soon enough. 

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."

"These are the days when Birds come back/a very few/a Bird or two/to take a backward look."