My Big Magic

big magicA few years ago I was cleaning out my file drawers. I use “file” here loosely because the drawers are an odd collection of miscellaneous ephemera: ticket stubs, campground maps, prayer cards, receipts ($12.97 at Meijer, and I saved this?!), and unopened mortgage offers. I’d just slogged my way through some serious upheaval and organizing is my go-to ritual. If I can’t put my life to rights, I can certainly put my papers in order.

At the bottom of one of the drawers I found a folder with a few stories I had written nearly thirty years ago. In another life I’d have been a writer, but I pursued a more practical path instead. I had kids to feed, a mortgage to pay, and ain’t nobody got time for make believe. Part of the fallout of these last hard years was that I had to put off retirement and pay the bills. I was the breadwinner once again–but a heartsick and weary one.

The stories reminded me of what could have been, I was mired in the misery (self-inflicted, mind you) of the wouldas and the shouldas, and I just wanted to forget the dreams. I flipped through the typed pages. Wondered if they should stay or go. And threw them in the trash.

As I did, I remember having some strange sense that those stories could never really be trashed. “They’re out in the universe somewhere–living on in some other dimension. I only set them free.” Maybe I’d done enough to just write them; maybe keeping them wasn’t the point.

So imagine my surprise when I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic last weekend and she confirmed my intuition. Ideas, says Gilbert, are “an energetic life form … ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will.” Ideas will tap us on the shoulder, knock impatiently on our hearts–waiting, waiting for us to give them welcome. Whenever we create (whether it’s story or quilting or painting or dancing) we embody those ideas and they come to make their home with us.

Now am I sorry I tossed those poor stories out? Of course. I think they know that I did so from a very sad place. But I also think they forgive me. Their brothers and sisters–story sprites!–come sit next to me and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.

And we are all of us happy to be alive.

Flash Fiction Friday

I stepped over the warped floorboard on the porch, thinking its crack might wake him. The baby was bundled into her blanket– a yellow one Nana knit after Poppa died. This October night was cold and brittle, but the grass hadn’t yet frosted. It was so quiet I could just make out the horses shuffling and stamping in the barn. The ground around the house was uneven, so I stepped my way carefully until I reached the road.

sears catalog house
Steve Baker@Flickr.com

I should be able to make it to Tammy’s easily, if not quickly. Two miles straight down 14th, a left, then three blocks into town. She wasn’t expecting me, but she’d never turn me away.

“Next time he does it, you just up and leave,” she’d made me promise. But I didn’t the next time or the next.

Tonight I’d flinched before he even straightened up out of his chair and that’s when I knew it was time.

Ceci stirred in her blanket, one little fist popping through, so I folded her in more closely. I couldn’t carry Ceci and a bag, so I’d need to come back for some things. But not tonight. Tonight it was just me and Ceci on our way. Ahead, the asphalt of the road met the dark autumn night–I fixed my eyes to where they met and walked.

[The flash fiction “Leaving”, 2016 draft, appeared first on This Is My Symphony.]

Write now

I’ve amused myself with this little blog for eight years now. For most of that time, blogging was a delightful diversion, a pastime for those long summer days.

And then suddenly, it wasn’t.

Thinking I’d been bitten by the blogging bug, I saw blogging conferences in my future and read everything I could about the business of blogging. I poked around the sidebars of blogs I read for book bloggers who were of my own heart. (Networking, I learned, was key.) I hemmed and hawed about participating in blog hops and challenges. Then I bought a StudioPress template and my domain name and migrated from Blogger  to a self-hosted site. I even hired a web designer to help with the back-end technicalities about which I knew nothing.

writer
@Petr Kratochvil

And then I realized that what I really wanted to do was simply write. Now if I’m a picky reader (which I am), you had better believe I’m an even pickier writer. Writers are Anne Tyler and Paulette Jiles. Fredrik Backman and Alan Bradley. Barbara Kingsolver, for goodness sake! But word by word, paragraph by paragraph my thinking shifted. I found I wasn’t as interested in developing my brand as I was in playing with words. I didn’t want to market myself as much as I wanted to get the characters who have played in my head for so many years on the page. I took one Writing Workshop, then another. I attended Sunday morning Writing Circles. And every now and again I’d think oh-so-tentatively, “I’m a writer.”

Because a writer, after all, is someone who writes.

So write I will. No more and no less. There will be no e-books or POD books in my future any time soon. I won’t be distracted with my Klout score or scramble to get my post on Medium. For now I won’t worry about missing out on yet another NaNoWriMo–I’ve got bills to pay, papers to grade, lessons to plan. Because does the world really need another novel, or do I just need to write?

Those characters who’ve lived in my head? They’re making their way onto the page, peeking out every now and then from a workshop piece. It’s slow going, but there’s no rush. I only need to write.

With special thanks and gratitude to Emily and Pat and Brenda who helped me draft my way.


Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-oct-2016

Lush and lavish: Amy Snow (review)

Amy Snow
Tracey Rees
Simon & Schuster

Life just seems to move at a slower pace in the summer. Afternoons are hot and humid, the evenings languid. We spend a lot of time on the deck and not so much time in front of the television. It’s a time when we try to break free from our daily routine.  Amy Snow, a novel published earlier this month, makes for a great escape. One of this novel’s blurbs reads: “An abandoned baby, a treasure hunt, a secret. As Amy sets forth on her quest, readers will be swept away …” Pretty accurate, I’d say.

Wealthy heiress Aurelia Venneway finds a newborn baby naked in the snow. Without a thought to propriety, she bundles the little girl under her cloak and rushes into the parlor.amy snow Lady Venneway is cold and distant; she’s just lost yet another pregnancy and the foundling is like a slap in the face. The orphan (named Amy Snow by Aurelia) is banished to the kitchen while the entire household staff tries to keep her out of Lady Venneway’s sight. For a time, Amy is Aurelia’s play thing–eight years younger, she adores the headstrong lady, and is game to join in any of Aurelia’s escapades. And then the two young women grow to be best friends. It’s harder now to stay invisible to Lady Venneway, but the consequences if Amy doesn’t are humiliating. When Aurelia becomes deathly ill–and the prognosis is dire–she demands that her parents permit Amy Snow to be her companion.

The real story begins after Aurelia’s death. Turned out of the house immediately after the funeral, Amy Snow is on her own. Or is she? A mysterious letter is secreted away in her skirt–and Amy soon begins the work of getting to know the real Aurelia Venneway. Before her death,  Aurelia arranged a scavenger hunt, of sorts, for Amy, each clue giving her specific directions: find Enwhistle’s bookshop; stay in Twickenham for three months; travel to Bath. At the end of her travels, Amy doesn’t simply adore her friend blindly but rather with eyes open to Aurelia’s charms … and her faults.

What adds even more fun to the novel is that it was an unsolicited manuscript, submitted by writer Tracey Rees to the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ Competition–which makes the author’s story a bit of a fairy tale, just like Amy’s. Amy Snow kept me turning page after page–like the post title says, the novel is lavish. If you want to get lost in a world of nineteenth century manners, velvet dresses, carriages, stately horses, dashing young men, and strong-willed women, Amy Snow is perfect for your blanket or beach chair reading.

Destination: Walnut Grove & Plum Creek

sod house
Soddie with sod roof

My goal was De Smet–850 long miles from home–where I’d visit Little Town on the PrairieThe Long Winter, and By the Shores of Silver Lake sites. But I sure couldn’t travel that far without a stop along the way to the banks of Plum Creek. The small town of Walnut Grove, namesake of the TV home of the Ingalls family, is just a few miles from Plum Creek, so I figured a stop at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Gift Store was in order. Except for the fact that TV actors visit Walnut Grove each year for the Wilder Pageant, Walnut Grove doesn’t offer much to LIW fans. Wilder herself only mentioned the town in passing; the family’s home in the area was at Plum Creek. This little town’s fame is totally reliant on the television show.

soddie with windows
Walls like concrete

The emphasis is on ‘gift store’ at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Gift Store. This museum was similar to the one on my trip to the Little House in the Big Woods last summer–a lot of books, dolls, and souvenirs for sale, but not much actual Ingalls’ memorabilia. (But of course I did buy two books!) One room housed story boards floor to ceiling, illustrating the family’s journey with photos and explanation of the period, along with excerpts from Wilder’s books. There was a binder of photocopied articles Wilder wrote when she and Almanzo settled in Missouri. A buffalo coat like Pa wore. But other than that? Only a place setting of dishes, a sewing basket, and two balls of crochet thread actually belonged to Wilder. My favorite (and most authentically museum-worthy) display was a few original sketches and paintings by Garth Williams that became the illustrations fans of the books know and love so well.  The originals are surprisingly small–some only 3″ X 3″!

The other room in the museum itself was dedicated to the TV series–magazines, photos, autographs–but that really isn’t my connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I admit I barely looked at it. The museum site also has a few other exhibits representing the time period: a chapel, a “Grandma’s House” (which focused on all things housekeeping), and a school room.There was also a sod house on the museum grounds, but it couldn’t compare to the display of sod houses (or soddies as they’re lovingly referred to) on the McCone family prairie grass farm in Sanborn.

I actually visited the Sod House on the Prairie (which is a private venture) first since it was on the way into town. The family has built replicas of different styles of sod houses–a dug out, a sod house with plastered walls and wood floors, a rough soddie with dirt floors and hay roof–and furnished them accordingly. It is a labor of love–and the re-creations gave me an idea of what life would have been like in prairie homes. One word: dirt. Dirt everywhere. Even the display cards in each soddie were covered with gritty grime … and bird poop. So when you look at Garth Williams’ endearing renderings of Laura frolicking on the banks of Plum Creek with the cozy little sod house tucked into the hill like a Hobbit house, just remember: dirt.

on the banks of plum creek
Plum Creek

Even though Plum Creek is just a creek (!) and the “remains” of the Ingalls’ dugout is only a depression in the bank, the site is surrounded by restored prairie that is home to birds and snakes and foxes (oh, my!) that makes a lovely little hike. (Bring bug spray!) In all honesty, I’d skip Walnut Grove and just drive through Plum Creek for a quick walk to stretch your legs and maybe a wade in the creek.

It was those times when I walked on Ingalls’ land and listened to the tall grass rustle, maybe catching sight of a thrush on the wing, that I felt Laura’s legacy. And that’s what I came for.