Kindling with the Muse

So, if my beloved Eagles can’t win, I throw my support down the PA Turnpike to the Steelers. Which means I sort of get to say “We won!” Awesome game, great-half-time (tho’ it sure looked to me like Bruce is going to be a little sore today, what with flinging himself into the stage and crashing into the camera. When he popped down on his knees in the first song, I though for sure he tore an ACL. Maybe he does yoga. Or maybe he’s in traction right now.)

We enjoyed the game in our basement, which BH has been renovating for the past year. It is becoming affectionately known as the “Man Cave”. I have lifetime privileges.

And, for the record, I did not break my thumb. More on that later.

But before we get to that, let’s back up to the Kindling Words Retreat this weekend. For those of you dropping into the Forest today for the first time (this blog is an LJ Spotlight this week – welcome, everyone!) Kindling Words is a writer’s retreat. It’s a bit different than most writer’s conferences in that the emphasis is on craft and inspiration, instead of getting published.

One of the nice things was that I did not have to give any presentations this year, so I was able to focus on my own writing and listening to the wisdom of others. The retreat started out with an evening of being creative outside the box, with the opportunity to create group poetry, group painting, and to sit in on a drumming circle and be taught by a gentleman from South Africa.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic I forgot to write his name down, but he was AMAZING. That’s him with my friend Marnie Brooks, who is one of the organizers of the retreat. I was completely ready to run away and hide because the thought of having to play a drum in front of other people, was very scary. But everyone else walked in, so I screwed my courage to the sticking point, went in and picked up a djemba.

To say that I forgot my shyness and played with enthusiasm is to put it mildly. I didn’t know that I loved playing the drums because I had never played the drums before! (How many other fun things have I not yet tried that could be a blast?) Our teacher was extremely good and he led us (30 of us) in a drumming circle for about 20 minutes, then we had another brief session that night. I got in that place that I sometimes get to when I’m writing or running, when I am so deep in the experience that I lose sense of who and where I am. I am sure this looked scary to the people sitting next to me. I. Was. Gone. More on the consequences of that later.

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were filled with presentations by author Nancy Werlin, artist Mary Jane Begin, and a keynote by Mr. Ashley Bryan, who is one of those people who carry themselves with such dignity, but at the same time exude such warmth, that I could not bring myself to call him Ashley all weekend. He is Mr. Bryan.

I attended a few of the presentations, but played hooky from a few more so I could concentrate on a plot knot and some extremely wrong character motivations in the book I’m working on right now. Despite the fact that my hands were sore from the drumming, I spent most of Friday and Saturday morning typing like a mad woman. More on the consequences of that later.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic But there was plenty of time for catching up with folks at meals. Where else can you breakfast with Mr. Ashley Bryan and Jane Yolen, and see over their shoulders, Gregory Maguire, and the brand-new Coretta Scott King honor book author, Hope Anita Smith?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Or lounge on a couch by the fire with Ellen Wittlinger and Sibby Falk? The number of authors there whose work I admire was staggering. You can see more pictures on Kate Messner’s LJ.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic There was an additional drumming circle, but I could not participate. In fact, by lunchtime on Saturday, I couldn’t move my thumb. (Notice swelling and bruising.) I was pretty sure that I had fractured (in a small way) a bone at the base of the thumb and had aggravated it wicked by all the frenzied typing. It didn’t seem to make much sense to go for x-rays until I was home, so I iced, iced, iced it, and put arnica on it, courtesy of Anne Sibley O’Brien.

By Sunday, the swelling started to go down and I could move it again. Crisis over. Many pages accomplished. My only regret was that the weekend had to end. Note to self: participate in drumming circles only when not on deadline!

At the traditional bonfire on Saturday night, I threw in my wishes for the next year. (It certainly worked for me in 2008!) The retreat is held in Vermont, so yes, the bonfire is built in the snow.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A bonfire in the snow is the perfect metaphor for our creative journeys; improbable, unexpected, delighful, circled by friends, kindled by the Muse.

Me as Robinson Crusoe

What with all the family drama this summer, I am a little behind on my writing schedule. (Though I did get in a minimum of 15 minutes a day, every day, even when Mom was in the hospital!)

Right now I need about 16-18 hours a day with no interruptions or distractions. I have to hold all of the story threads in my hands at the same time to figure out how they need to be woven together.

I have dragged myself, my laptop, and several tons of research to a desert island where I am writing what shall forever be known as the “Desert Island Down-and-Dirty Draft”. The goal is to complete this draft and polish it to the point where I won’t be embarrassed to show it to my editor before I leave on book tour in October.

As these things go, it’s a fairly comfortable desert island. I have a supply of Diet Red Bull and fruit and I have music. Truthfully, it’s not on an island. It’s at a secret location just down the road from my mom’s rehab place so I can get there in a hurry if necessary.

Yesterday was the first full day here. I worked from 6am to midnight, with breaks to eat and an hour-long walk in the middle of the day. I could not type fast enough. The way the scenes unfolded in front of me was pure magic, as if the Muse had been impatiently waiting for me to come back and pay Her my respects.

It is much easier to hear the voices when the rest of the world stops shouting.

For your consideration

Yes! I ran outside yesterday! The wind chill was about 20 degrees, but there was no ice on the side of the road and I saw robins. ROBINS! Granted, they had wrapped their wings around themselves and were hopping up and down to keep warm. And, granted, they were accusing each other of making a big mistake flying north so soon. But they were ROBINS.

My daffodils are still sleeping under the snow, but I bet they are starting to think about doing something green.

Here is your quote for the day, from photographer Dorothea Lange: ““The secret places of the heart are the real mainsprings of one’s actions.”

She was quoted by my friend, Elizabeth Partridge, in a wonderful Horn Book article about the spirit that fuels all us artists, and what makes life worth living.

What do you think about this article?

Taking the Muse to a hotel room

Note to self and to all others who write for a living: Never, ever, ever agree to a January 1st deadline.


Why not? Let me count the ways – NCTE/ALAN, Thanksgiving, Daughters 1, 2 & 3, Boyfriends of Daughters 1, 2 & 3, and Number One Son, the 25-person family extravaganza called Christmas dinner, etc. etc, etc.

Life calms down AFTER January 1st, not before. Doh!

I have been working on my new YA on and off for months, but I keep being interrupted; by travel, conferences, speeches to write, interviews, last edits on the historical books, research and planning for the next historical, and all of the above-mentioned winter/holiday frenzy.

To be blunt, I was getting near meltdown about giving the book the energy and focus it needed. My Beloved Husband had the answer: I needed to run away from home. Which was not the answer I was looking for, but he was right. I have a great writing set-up; house in the country, supportive partner, no toddlers hanging around, luring me to play outside. But I needed total solitude so I could immerse myself in the story – no interruptions, no threats of interruptions. I needed to go to the Magic Place.

After giving a speech at Syracuse University and dinner with a dear friend and her daughter Friday night, I holed up in an undisclosed location (fairly comfortable hotel) and got busy. I am not going to tell you how many pages I wrote – I hate it when people get competitive about page counts or word counts. But I’ll tell you this: I arrived with a character in my head. I am leaving with her story on the page. I doubled my personal page goal, and I thought that goal was unrealistic to begin with. (This was the raw draft; the brain dump onto the page. I don’t know that I would even call it a first draft, not yet. But it’s close.)

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Magic Place.

I am feeling better about being a writer right now than I have for about six years. Because I spent two very, very long days and nights completely given over to a story. I ate and wrote, went out for more food, wrote some more. Ate a snack, wrote. I feel kind of crappy about not running, but I didn’t want to lose a precious minute. I fell asleep thinking about the story, I woke up thinking about the story. I had many instances of unreality, not sure where I ended and the story began.

I did not totally abandon my family. I fielded several Santa question calls and checked in with my BH several times a day. He’s going to be picking me up in a few minutes and we are off to celebrate Jessica’s birthday.

So today I feel like a writer, a real writer. I highly recommend this sort of weekend to everyone who is fighting to find time to write.