Reflecting on a decade

First things first!


All of the creatures in the Forest wish you and yours a healthy and happy New Year!

For me, this has been the most unexpected, exciting decade a person could possibly enjoy. I feel like I’ve lived thirty years in the past ten, and that is a rather cool feeling. But I have been so deep in the work on my new book that I haven’t given much thought to the fact that the decade is closing tonight.

What made me open my eyes?

WINTERGIRLS was named as one of the ten most influential books of the past freaking DECADE by the Chicago Tribune.

I NEVER saw that coming. I am utterly gob-smacked by the notion. (And incredibly grateful that one of my books would even be considered for such a list!) It stopped me in my tracks and made me take a good, hard look at the past decade.

Because you probably don’t want to read all of this, I’ll insert headings.


The most important changes have had to do with my family. My biological kids have grown up into outstanding women. They are by far the best accomplishment of my life, though I can only take a smidgen of credit; they did the hard work of growing up and figuring out how to make their lives rich and rewarding.

Ten years ago I was sorrowful about my fractured marriage. Eight years ago my first husband and I found a way to divorce peacefully. We decided to act like grown-ups and put our kids first. I will forever be blessed that we figured out how to become friends again, and stay family, and celebrate the fact that we both found partners that were right for us.

And then there is Scot; my childhood sweetheart, my Beloved Husband, and the builder of the most awesomest writing cottage in the history of Western literature. More importantly, he gave me two more completely incredible kids, who made space for me and their step-sibs in their hearts. ANDhe gave me the Creature With Fangs.

Did you like any of the books I’ve written since 2003? Then send your appreciation to my husband. He is my entire world.

In my journal ten years ago, I was worrying about the impending death of my mother. Because she was a Yankee hewn from granite, she lasted ten years later than I thought she would. Thank God. This year I was blessed to witness her cross over to the next world, and a few weeks later, my father-in-law. I miss them. We miss them. But it’s all good.


I am an introvert. Some would say a fairly pathological introvert. But for some reason I can’t understand, my life has overflowed with friends who have enriched my life beyond the telling. I consider all of the readers who have reached out to me through email, on a social networking site, through old-fashioned snailmail, or who took the time to meet me at a bookstore I really struggle to make sense of this.I’ll never figure it out, so let me just say thank you.

To all of you.

I am fairly adept at word-spinning, but the only way I can think of to explain how much you mean to me is to put my hand on my heart, bow my head, and say:


::runs downstairs to hang with family and look forward to the next decade::


Yep. The Muse gets whopping heaps of thanks. I show how much I appreciate Her Presence by showing up to write every morning. Sometimes I draw. And I hum a lot.

And so it goes.

I really can’t grok most of what has happened in the past ten years. But I am grateful. Crazy grateful.

I really appreciate all the minutes I’ve been given to love and laugh and make up stories.

Thank you, my friends.

It’s Getting Silly Around Here & Revision Tip 23

The Creature With Fangs Elfed yesterday.

My Beloved Husband Elfed yesterday.

Queen Louise Elfed yesterday.

And I did, too.

A most merry time, indeed!

Revision Tip #23

I rarely have the image systems of my books in mind when I start writing. But by the end of the first or second draft, some image (symbol for Eng lit majors) has cropped up and I realize that I can riff on that symbol throughout the book to tell the larger story. In a subtle way, I hope.

In SPEAK, it was the image of the tree. There was only one mention of it in the early drafts. When I realized the power of it, I wrote in all the art class scenes, and made the tree into a year-long project for her.

WINTERGIRLS was interesting. The first paragraph of the first draft of the book was this:

"The crows stalk me, wings folded neatly behind them, hungry yellow weighing my soft spots. They circle around me once, twice, three times, claws scarring the stone floor of the church.

I curl up on the frozen altar. They flutter close, black feathers filling my mouth and eyes and ears."

I really don’t know where that came from; I just wrote it down, plus a bunch of other stuff. The reference to the "frozen altar" is what got me thinking about ancient religions and mythology, which in turn led me to ponder if there was a mythological story within Lia’s story. Ofcourse there was: the story of Persephone. That became a central image system for the book, with references to pomegranate seeds and the death that is winter, along with mother/goddess figure at her wits end, trying to pull her daughter back from the grasp of hell.

(For the record – that opening paragraph wound up migrating to page 264. It fits much better there.)

Is there a small detail in your draft that could be expanded into a central image system?

The care and feeding of julenisse & Revision Tip #22

All work in the Forest today will grind to a halt as we enjoy the ceremonial viewing of Elf. And we might even make spaghetti with maple syrup.

I got to thinking about my family’s tradition of setting out rice pudding for the julenisse. Nisse have been around long before Christmas celebrations. English words that describe them as elves, or gnomes; I’ve seen "pixie," too. If properly cared for, nisse will watch out for your farm animals, your house, and your barn. If you don’t take care of them, they will cause all kinds of mischief on your property.

Nisse are low-maintenance creatures. All they require is a bowl of rice pudding (risengrød) set outside your door or in your barn on Christmas Eve. We’ve always done this faithfully and I think our nisse appreciate it.

But as the sun was setting yesterday and I was lighting candles in honor of the solstice I realized that the nisse have been around a lot longer than Christmas celebrations. Ack! Have I been disrespecting the nisse all these years? They are ancient creatures… do they wait, forlorn, on the night of the winter solstice, their tummies grumbling, while the Big People go about their ignorant business? And when the pudding FINALLY shows up on Christmas Eve, do they call up the other nisse and complain?

So last night I put out rice pudding for them. And I will again on Christmas Eve. You can’t be too careful with nisse.

Revision Tip #22

Are you sure that you’ve chosen the right point of view for your novel?

Take your favorite chapter and rewrite from a different POV; shift from third to first, or first to third, or if you are bold and way smarter than me, experiment with the second person POV.

Or…. (and…..) fool around with the tense structure. If your story is told in present tense, rewrite that favorite chapter in past tense. If you’ve written the whole thing in past tense, try out that chapter in present tense.

What’s the point of all this mucking around? It helps you see your characters and the Story from a slightly altered perspective.

Two Tips In One Day!

Good Solstice, everyone!

I feel like calling your main character Rudolph today. (Humor me.)

Revision Tip #20

Don’t make it too easy on Rudolph.

Your story should not be a tale of the desires of Rudolph. It should be the thwarted desires of Rudolph up until the very end, when finally, FINALLY, things go right, tho’ not in the way he originally thought they would.

For every desire, there should be an obstacle. Every step on the path leads to another detour.

Review your manuscript and make sure that poor Rudolph runs into obstacles over and over again. You fiend.

Revision Tip #21

1. Record yourself reading your manuscript aloud. The whole thing.

2. Listen to it with your manuscript in front of you (I am most comfortable with the printed-out version at this point.)

3. Pause whenever necessary to make notes on what needs fixing. This is when I find repeated words, awkward phrases and dropped plot points.

4. After a marathon listening session, go back in and finish all the repair work.