Wednesday, July 11, 2012
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Tuesday, June 19, 2012
In case you haven't found my new blog location.... please follow me over there and read my latest post:
"The Popsicle Lady."
My new website link is simply:
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Upper Right Hand corner: click on the orange square and it will ask for your email. (see screen shot at right)
Or . . .
At the end of the last post on the left there's a place that says "Subscribe".
Either way, please follow me over there, and check out the other pages on my new web site simply by clicking the tabs across the top.
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Friday, June 15, 2012
Pen & Palette has moved to:
Please click on the link and read today's post there:
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My new web site is still under construction, but getting better every day:
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Pen & Palette is moving over to the web site, so please keep following the blog at:
While all this busy stuff is going on, just relax and enjoy the wit and wisdom of Baby Blues:-)
THANKS FOR READING!!!
Monday, June 11, 2012
During his craft talk on PLOT during the 2012 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writers Workshop in Oxford (Mississippi) this past weekend, author Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) gave us a great visual for remembering the three things all stories need. He started out with the 3 Ps (augmented by the 3 Cs):
And then to make it even clearer, he added the 3 Ss that every good story has:
the SUCKER, the SITUATION, and the SHIT.
How the person/character/sucker in the place/context/situation negotiates the problem/conflict/shit = the PLOT.
Of course Tom’s talk was peppered with great illustrations, from his own work and others’ writing.
Creative nonfiction author, Sonja Livingston (Ghostbread) talked to us about “Writing Your Life One Snapshot at a Time.” Her wisdom can also apply to fiction writing, although the samples she shared with us were mostly memoir and essay. She talked about structure—writing little pieces that are like tiles in a mosaic—and then tying them together to form the essay or book. And about SEEDS—moments that are broken open so you can get to the heart of the matter. Good stuff.
Scott Morris (Waiting For April, The Total View of Taftly) deviated a bit from his usual philosophical address to give a practical talk on the CRAFT of writing. Perfect timing for me, since I had my second meeting with my freelance editor that same day. Between the two of them I think there’s hope for my novel! This seemed to be the year for lists. Scott explored 5 basic elements of writing and how to use them (or not) in our writing:
1. Dialogue (including interior monologue)
2. Descriptive Writing (relating things in terms of the 5 senses)
3. Expository (explaining)
4. Commentary (opinion—the author’s or a character’s)
5. Action (what’s happening)
Modern American realists use only 1, 2, and 5, leaving expository and commentary out of their work. Lots of editors in New York City don’t want 3 or 4. But Scott points out that’s not how the real world is. I was so glad to hear him talk about how to use expository and commentary WELL in our writing, especially since my editor was telling me to quit using dialogue to explain things. Like Scott said, we talk in code. It’s unnatural to have our characters explain things through dialogue. Are there exceptions? Sure. One of my main characters is a teacher, so she sometimes explains things in dialogue in my novel. It was good to be reminded that the rules are just a starting place. We need to know them—just like a good jazz master who bends those rules and creates improvisational music.
It seems that every writing workshop eventually gets around to a discussion on this whole “show, don’t tell” mantra. Workshop Director, M. O. “Neal” Walsh (The Prospect of Magic) (left, sporting his YOK tattoo) reminded us of something he learned from Richard Bausch: “It’s not show OR tell, it’s show AND tell.” Neal did a fabulous job coordinating the weekend, hosting the Open Mic events, and even took time to do written critiques of our work.
The bottom line? Scott said it well, “Tell a story that creates a level of excitement in yourself and don’t worry about the rules.”
What a great weekend. One of my personal highlights was Saturday night. Tom Franklin gave a reading for the workshop participants at Off Square Books. When we arrived there was a table set up with books by the workshop faculty. And right there at the end—rubbing elbows with one of Scott’s books, was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality.
Since I contributed an essay, a number of folks (about eight, but who’s counting, right?) purchased the book and asked me to sign it for them. Thanks so much, everyone! (That's Vaughan Dickson and me at left.) I was very humbled and gratified by their support. I loved signing the books during the workshop weekend, since the faculty and participants at the past six years of Yoknapatawpha helped shape the words in that essay, just as they did the novel I'm trying to finish now. I can't wait to buy your books and have you inscribe them for me!
And kudos to third-time YOK participant, Michael Risely, for the success of his self-published crime drama, Through These Eyes. I enjoyed reading it on Kindle a few months ago and appreciate the paperback Michael gave me as a gift this weekend. (Michael and me, on the square, right.)
Enjoy these parting shots... all taken with my cell phone. Watch for some better quality photos from Doug McLain on Facebook! Hugs out.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
This Friday I'm headed back to Oxford (Mississippi) for the 2012 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writer's Workshop. The workshop organizer, Neal (M.O.) Walsh, sent out an email to all the participants yesterday. He mentioned that you can either bring a (physical) notebook for taking notes during the workshop, or you can bring your laptop... but not if you type too loudly.
I hadn't considered that some people might type more loudly than others, but I guess it depends upon your intensity. And maybe your keyboard.
So I Googled it and discovered this convenient Soundproof Keyboard Cover Silencer, which you can purchase for only $36.
Being a polite, Southern Lady, I always use an old-fashioned notebook and pen for taking notes during the workshop. But I thought I'd share my find with all the LOUD typists out there. You know who you are.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Today is Holy Spirit Day… the day following the Feast of Pentecost in the Orthodox Church. I wrote about this day back in 2008:
(photo is from 2008)
Father Stephen Freeman wrote about “The Trees of Pentecost” in his blog a few days ago:
“The Jewish feast of Pentecost (fifty days after the Passover) marks the beginning of the harvest feast. The first-fruits of the harvest are brought to the temple to be blessed of God. For Christians the harvest that is sought is the harvest of a renewed humanity and the renewal of creation. Thus the trees are a representation of the created order, assembled together with the people of God, awaiting and receiving the gift of the Spirit through whom everything is made new.”
The Church is decorated with greenery to remind us of everything being made new. As I look out my windows today, I see GREEN everywhere. This wondrous rain we’ve received the past few days (it’s raining as I write these words) feeds that new life and adds to the beauty of creation around me.
Our pastor gave a wonderful homily at St. John Orthodox Church yesterday morning during the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. There was much to take in, but the main thing for me (and this probably wasn’t even one of his main points) was the reminder that I have two spirits. Why does that matter so much?
My own spirit—given to me at conception—is important to who I am as a person.
God’s Holy Spirit—given to the Church at Pentecost, and to me at Baptism—enables me to heal the injuries that happen to my person because of my sin.
The following is a prayer to the Holy Spirit, which is part of my regular Morning Prayers, when I’m not too lazy to pray them:
O Heavenly King, O Comforter,
The Spirit of Truth,
Who art in all places and fillest all things;
The treasury of good things and giver of life,
Come and abide in us,
Cleanse us from every stain
And save our souls, O Good One.
As I prayed this prayer this morning, I thought about how rarely I ask the Spirit of Truth to abide in me when I’m writing. I just finished writing a guest editorial for the religion column in the Commercial Appeal (Memphis’s paper) that will be out later this month. It’s about my spiritual journey. As I did final edits on the piece yesterday afternoon, I finally remembered to ask the Holy Spirit to help me.
I’m also in the middle of heavy revisions on my novel, with help from a gifted editor. It’s harder work than I anticipated, and sometimes my spirit gets weary. Today I will try to remember to ask God’s Spirit to abide in me as I’m working.
The difference, I think, is that when we ask the Holy Spirit’s help, our own spirit quits warring with Him so much.
I’m tired of fighting.
O Heavenly King.
Come and abide in me...
Friday, June 1, 2012
A preview of coming attractions for the month:
June 7: My friend, Sue Brownlow, has a painting in the Artists’ Link Exhibit at Botanic Gardens. There’s a reception on June 7.
Here’s more info:
Artists’ Link Exhibit on display and available for purchase in the Visitors Center Gallery. Opening reception June 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m. A portion of proceeds benefits Memphis Botanic Garden’s education and horticulture programs. Open to public, free admission. Monday through Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m./Sunday: 11a.m.-6 p.m. Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry Road, Memphis, TN 38117. Call (901) 636-4100 for information.
Burke’s Book Store
936 South Cooper
$1 Book Sidewalk Sale
Memphis writers, Tom Carlson and Gordon Osing reading at 6:00 pm
Book signing of La Belle Dame from 5:30 – 7:00 pm
June 8-10: 2012 Yoknapatawpha Summer Writer’s Workshop in Oxford, Mississippi.
This will be my sixth year at this terrific writing workshop, led by some of the best writers and teachers in the country, including Scott Morris, M.O. “Neal” White, Tom Franklin, Sonja Livingston and others. Check out last year’s post for more information: “Writers Are Haunted Creatures: Making Sense of the World.”
June 15-17: Murrah High School mega reunion for the classes of 1968, 69 and 70.
(I’m in the class of 1969.) We’ll be headed to Jackson, Mississippi for a weekend of fun with old friends, many of whom my husband knows, since we started dating while I was still in high school.
June 22-30: Cushman-Wright Family Reunion at Club Med, Columbus Isle, Bahamas! Our last reunion with these branches of my husband’s family was a cruise to Alaska, about 6 or 7 years ago. That group included over 70 people from about 5 generations. These fabulous reunions are paid for by one of my husband’s cousins, Dave Wright—a wonderful and generous soul. I’m only sad that my two younger children and their families can’t go beca
use Club Med doesn’t allow children under age 2. It will be great to share this fabulous week with our oldest son, Jon, and over fifty cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews from all over the country.
I’m loving this coolweather on the first day of June, (looking forward to cheering on the runners going through our neighborhood during the Harbor Town 5K later today) but I’m sure the heat will be coming back soon. So thankful for all these special events. It’s gonna be a hot time in the summer time. (I photographed these water lilies by a pond near our house on a walk just before the storm on Thursday.)
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
It’s been seven months since I blogged about my old friend, acedia.
Not because we haven’t been hanging out at all during those months… he’s never too far away. But I try to keep busy, which helps, some. But obviously not enough, since he launched another full attack at me during this past weekend, when I was BUSY: hosting a party on Friday night, watching the air show over the Mississippi River and then enjoying a rehearsal dinner at Spaghetti Warehouse on Saturday night, attending a wedding (which my husband officiated) and dancing at the reception on Sunday night, and then having good friends over for a cookout on Monday night. So how was it that throughout all those festive events I felt the presence of this demon?
Picking back up Kathleen Norris’s book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks & A Writer’s Life, I read Chapter XII: "Day By Day." While Norris’ circumstances at this point in the book were more acute than mine (her husband was dying and she was diagnosed with perpetual posttraumatic stress syndrome), I can identify with her feelings of emptiness, numbness, and nothingness. It’s just that I can’t “excuse” them with such circumstantial reasons for having those feelings. But they are real. And they are mine.
These words of Norris’s help:
“Acedia contains within itself so many concepts: weariness, despair, ennui, boredom, restlessness, impasse, futility.”
So, boredom and restlessness share the same sentence as despair and futility? I read on:
“Spiritual dryness is the state explored by the sixteenth-century Carmelite John of the Cross, a patron saint of poets, in his long poem Dark Night of the Soul. His characterization of the signs of this condition is easily recognized by anyone who has ever felt stymied, whether in writing, art, prayer, marriage, or parenting.”
Stymied… in writing. Yes, I think that’s what’s going on with me. I’ve been so BUSY that I haven’t carved out the necessary time to finish revising my novel, and that makes me feel bored and restless… irritable, even. (You can ask my husband.)
But I wouldn’t have related that boredom and restlessness to spiritual dryness, as Norris does. Here she quotes the Carmelite Constance Fitzgerald:
“The most confusing and damnable part of the dark night is the suspicion and fear that much of the darkness is of one’s own making.”
I almost quit reading at that point… the last thing I need right now is another shitload of guilt and self-loathing. But I did read on, and discovered that Norris (through Fitzgerald) was about to point me in the direction of “psychologists and theologians, poets and mystics, who over many epochs and in diverse cultures have insisted that ‘impasse can be the condition for creative growth and transformation if the experience of impasse is fully appropriated.’ In other words, the dark night must be entered and endured. There are no shortcuts, only the passage through.”
Shit. I was definitely hoping for a shortcut. But the events of the weekend have reminded me that drinking (and over-eating) isn’t the answer (did too much of both) and that surrounding myself with people also isn’t the answer. Not that I didn’t enjoy the party, the wedding and the cookout. But I won’t be content until I work through this impasse—in general, and until I finish revising this book.
To that end, I’m going to pull in from a busting social life for the next week or so (except for one previous commitment) and work on revisions. That also means not checking in on Facebook and emails all throughout the day, which is really hard for me. Someone suggested taking my laptop somewhere to write where there’s not wi-fi, but I love my “room of my own” too much to leave it right now. As I swivel in my chair and look at my book shelves, my eyes rest on a small pottery plate I purchased from a new friend a few months ago, which says:
Hope is the thing with feathers.
It’s from Emily Dickinson’s poem, which continues:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches on the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all….
Friday, May 25, 2012
Two treasures arrived in the mail while I was in New York. Both are magazines with articles about the next two books in my "to read" stack. First up was the July/August issue of Writer's Digest, with a terrific interview with Adriana Trigiani, author of The Shoemaker's Wife (and a dozen other books.) I haven't started the book yet, but Jessica Strawser's interview with Trigiani makes me want to move it to the top of my list. One reason is that her words mirror some of the advice I received from my freelance editor after our first meeting about my novel, Cherry Bomb. Mary Ann (my editor) says I need to make my images more vivid, so the reader can see the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt (one of the settings in the novel) and also smell, hear and taste its aromas, sounds and flavors. I'm shooting for literary fiction with my work, so I know she's right. Read what Trigiani says about this element of her writing, begining with one of Strawer's questions in the interview:
S: Your books are very atmospheric. How do you go about bringing a place to life, and why do you feel that descriptive quality is so important to a story?
T: .... when I was a young writer I always worked hard on imagery, and I knew that the root of imagery were the senses--and that if my readers could feel, taste and see what I was talking about, I would be able to tell them a story. Sometimes I get criticized, because there are readers that don't want all that [description], but I think it's important. It's the hallmark of my work, and I would never change that. It sets the stage for those real characters to come through and tell their story.
What a treat to read this interview just as I'm working to improve the imagery in my novel.
The second publication that arrived in the mail was the spring issue of Memory: The Magazine of Health and Hope, which is published by the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation. It always contains the latest news on Alzheimer's research and treatment, but also personal stories.
In this issue there's an article about Diane Keaton's memoir, Then Again, which shares that top spot on my "next book to read" stack. Keaton has always been my favorite actress, but when I discovered how much we have in common, I loved her even more:
We both have mothers with Alzheimer's.
We both have adopted children.
We have both struggled with eating disorders.
We both lost our fathers to cancer.
We both love hats.
(Okay, I guess that last one isn't so significant, but I was thrilled to be told I look like Diane Keaton once.)
One thing I love in the article is what Keaton said when asked what advice she would give to caregivers (of people with Alzheimer's):
"I don't feel like advice is what people need. They need to be heard. And they need affection."
Keaton went on to describe what she learned about caring for her mother during her decline, and also her father, when he was sick with cancer:
"Because you're supposed to do the right thing, you are making that time you have together conflicted, unpleasant. It's unpleasant anyway. I think that's all you can do, to make them comfortable. Bring the dogs and cats in. Whatever they want. Who cares."
Keaton and Trigiani. Can't wait to dive into both books! Have a great weekend, everyone!
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
We've had five wonderful days in New York City (leaving this afternoon) and of course photos can't really capture the experience, but I'll share a few.
SHOPPING is always a treat here... on Fifth Avenue, in the Chelsea Market (new to me this year), and in the cool boutiques on the Upper East Side and down in the Village.
The Metropolitan Museum of ART is always a must see when I'm here, and this year the rooftop exhibit was a special treat, as well as "The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde."
Our choice of a BROADWAYP PLAY was "Once," which received the most Tony nominations of any show on Broadway this year. The writing, set design, acting, singing, and choreography were all fabulous. Before the show and during intermission, they opened up a bar ON STAGE where audience members could buy a drink while being serenaded by cast members! (see photo)
After discovering a FAVORITE NEW DRINK, the "Moscow Mule," in Denver in April, it was fun to find another new favorite here in New York, the "French 75." It's got champagne, gin and lime. Nothing fancy, but the mix was wonderful, and we enjoyed them on the patio of a cafe just a block from our hotel... several times:-) Evidently it's named after a WWI artillery gun, because it's got quite a kick.
I guess a trip to the Big Apple wouldn't be complete without a visit to the APPLE STORE across from Central Park. My hubby has been wanting to get a Mac, (he got a MacBook Air) so we spent our first afternoon here at this store, which had a cool see-through elevator that went through the core of winding steps down from the sidewalk level. My favorite part of the store was the "kids' table" where there were always a group of techy tots having a great time, like these two little girls, who reminded me a lot of my granddaughters.
We're headed back to Memphis this afternoon. Next year's ASH (American Society of Hypertension) meeting is in San Francisco (my husband was speaking, which was the reason for the trip) so I'm saying goodbye to NYC for a couple of years. I'm actually ready to get back to Memphis and finish revisions on my novel. Have a great hump-day, everyone!
Monday, May 21, 2012
When I was in Denver in April, I read Dinty Moore’s wonderful new book, The Mindful Writer. No. 49 and Dinty’s comments on the quote made a big impression on me when I first read the book, and now as I pick it back up to re-read some my favorite pages:
“Writing is a struggle against silence.”—Carlos Fuentes
An excerpt from Dinty’s comments:
“It is wise to remind ourselves on occasion why we write and why it matters so much. There is too much left unsaid in the world, either because what needs to be said is deemed to be impolite, because it is deemed dangerous, or because it contradicts the accepted version put forth by family, government, religious leaders, or the society we live in….
… the very act of giving yourself permission to write, to speak, to share the truth no matter whether the truth you understand is the truth others want to acknowledge, is brave, powerful, and important.”
Why are these words so meaningful for me right now? In addition to being in the middle of final revisions on my novel (before querying agents) right now, I’m also starting a book tour for Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. My next reading/signing will be at Burke’s Books in Memphis on July 12. David Waters, Religion Editor for The Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper) has asked me to contribute a guest editorial for his regular column, “Faith Matters.” The column will appear sometime in late June, and he has offered to promote the Circling Faith event alongside my editorial. Generous offers, so I went to work right away.
I sent a copy of my first draft of the editorial to my two best friends last week. You know—the draft you write without any “watchers” censoring you? There were things that needed to be said, but not necessarily in a large city newspaper. As I take out my editor pen and begin to cut and shape the piece, I’m thinking about Dinty’s words with each slice and tweak:
Will my words be deemed to be impolite or dangerous?
Will they contradict the accepted version put forth by family members or religious leaders?
If I give myself permission to share truth that others may not acknowledge as truth, am I being brave?
The answer to all three of those questions would be “yes” if I were to submit the unabridged version of my editorial. But there’s another force at work here, and it’s coming at me through the wisdom of close friends as well as my own conscience when I step away from the writing long enough to tune in to that inner voice. (Which is different from the voice of “watchers,” by the way.) That inner voice tells me to ask some different questions as I edit the column:
Will my words convey anger or frustration, rather than compassion and peace?
Can they be written with respect to family member and religious leaders?
Can I still share “my truth” with honesty and integrity, knowing that some others may not acknowledge it as “their truth”?
One of the best pieces of wisdom a friend shared with me about my approach to this piece is to remember that I’m not writing a memoir that people can choose to buy or not to buy. This is not my book. I’m an invited guest of a newspaper (and specifically a religion editor) that is read by thousands of people in the greater Memphis area and beyond.
I’m thinking about mystery and manners now and wondering what would Flannery O’Connor do? Or Madeleine L’Engle? Or two of my favorite contemporary memoirists, Mary Karr and Anne Lamott? I know all of them would “tell it true,” (and with a masterful command of prose) but I also know that their words would be seasoned with grace.
And so I return to the work with all of these thoughts in mind, as well as Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians about “speaking the truth in love….” (Ephesians 4:15.)
Watch for the results of all this posturing in about a month… I’ll link to the column here when it comes out. Thanks for reading!
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Monday, May 14, 2012
Friday, May 11, 2012
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
If you can’t make it to the event, just call Burke’s at 901-278-7484 and order an autographed copy to pick up after July 12.
Monday, May 7, 2012
When I was nine years old, I answered all 107 questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism by heart when asked by the Session (elders) at Covenant Presbyterian Church in order to become a communing member. Number 14 is forever etched onto my soul: