Thursday, December 6, 2012

all the things


I know, I know. Things have been kind of sparse on the blog for a while. BUT! This is why!

Oat Loaves.

Epi Baguettes.

Sesame Bagels.
Can you tell what I’ve been doing? Lots of baking. At a bakery. VERY early in the morning. (Which I generally love, but every once in a while I have to bribe myself to get out of bed. 3am sometimes looks like: “Okay Kristen, if you get up RIGHT NOW you can… eat a cupcake for breakfast! Huzzah!”)

Cocoa Raspberry Friand. Mmm.

Another reason for the dearth?


I’m working at the loveliest little bookstore in the whole world for the holidays. Which is kind of a dream, but also? DANGEROUS. Seriously. For a while now I’ve been trying to make do without getting a new bookshelf (because as soon as I get one, I'll want to fill it up, you know?). However, the books are spilling onto tabletops and windowsills and floors. They're crowding me out, is what I'm saying. AND YET I KEEP BUYING MORE.

I’m going to need to buckle down and get new shelves soon. Cuz… this. Times a zillion.


Aaaaaand last of all, these:


Those are revisions on the novel I’ve been plugging away at for the past year and a bit. Which is hopefully getting better instead of just... more… different. Ha Ha…. Ha. *gulp*

So, what does this all mean? Just that after all the bread baking and the book selling and the novel revising I pretty much have enough energy to feed myself and/or drag myself into bed and sleep. Which means no socializing and definitely no blogging. Trust me, I'm a very boring creature these days.

So I'll come back when I have something more interesting to say.

Catch ya later.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wishes

I collected these this past year on walks back and forth to my studio. Then I put them in glass bottles. Now they live in my window sill.




One day, when I need to use up lots of wishes, I'll set them all free.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bread

It draws you in.

In the beginning, it’s just a few ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast. These are simple things. They aren’t expensive. They’re generally easy to find. And there’s only four of them. But once they’re mixed, they become something else. Something almost magical.

When making bread, the baker starts out being in control. You decide what and when and how the bread will be made – but that’s where it ends. After that, after those ingredients are mixed, you have to give up control. Because the bread takes the lead, and if you want to participate in this process, you need to do what it tells you. Not in a bossy kind of way. Bread doesn’t boss. It… calls. And you can’t help but be drawn in.

Making bread is an early morning endeavour. It takes a while. And if you want to eat toast with your eggs, or have sandwiches for lunch, you’re going to be getting up before the sun. Which is another thing: bread shows you a different world. A quieter world, where the pace is slower (at first). A world where the sun gently creeps up on you, and where a minute ago the world was blue-black, now it’s this lovely shade of pink. You can’t help but marvel at this – not for long, though. Because the bread is rising.

When you’re alone with the dough, mixing or kneading, cutting or shaping, there’s something meditative about it. It’s just the two of you and the breaking dawn. As you work, there’s room to think and ponder. To put things in perspective.

By now, the room is warm, and your cheeks are rosy, and the bread is ready to go into the ovens. Through the oven window you watch as these little orbs of dough are transformed, and you can’t help but ask yourself: Is there any mystery greater than this? And when the time comes and you pull them all out, they’re beautiful and golden and bursting at their seams. You can’t help but stare down at them with awe and pride… and a little bit of hunger.

So you grab the butter and fetch a knife, and then you get to eating. As you eat, you find yourself grateful, not just for the final product, but for the whole journey.

Because bread is a gift that fills the belly - but also the soul.

Monday, October 8, 2012

say that your main crop is the forest / that you did not plant / that you will not harvest

Wowsers. It’s definitely autumn! Which has gotten me thinking about trees. Because really, how can you not think about trees at this time of year? All you have to do is take one look out the window and they start beating you over the head with their gloriousness.

So, as a tribute to autumn, I thought I’d make a list of my top three favourite trees.

#1 Sycamore

Part of the reason I love this tree so much is because it’s the first tree I learned to climb (there are two giant sycamore’s rooted outside my mother’s house) and the other part is that it’s just a breathtakingly beautiful tree. Its bark is mottled in a way that kind of looks like jigsaw pieces, and every spring it drops these giant fluff balls – which drove my mother crazy, but I thought was magical.


#2 Sassafras

When I was little, there was a conservation area that I loved to visit. My dad’s house happened to be right beside it, which was very convenient, so I went there all the time. There was a pond, and a bridge, and lots of hiking trails. One of these trails was called “Sassafras Stroll” because, well, it wasn’t a particularly hard trail, and there were TONS of Sassafras trees along the way. So, why do I like the Sass so much? Because of these:


Their leaves are just so freaking adorable! Like mittens! I want to gather them up and keep them all.

#3 Birch

There's only so much to say about the birch. It's such a simple, gentle, delicate tree, but it's subtlety always entrances me. Like the Sycamore, it has astonishing bark. And it's generic name is Betula, which always makes me think of a wild-eyed girl who goes out flower-picking at dawn and doesn't come back until dusk.


Anyways. If I had all day, I could also go on about Western Catalpas and Willows and Oaks. And don't even get me started on Magnolias...

But I’ll leave those for another day.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

let it ferment

It came to me as I was making bread the other day that the beginning stages of writing a novel is a lot like the beginning stages of making a sourdough.

I know, I know. You're thinking that's the strangest thing you've ever heard. But this is what I mean:
  
Sourdough Beginnings

I start by measuring out my flour and my water, mix it all together in a jar, then set it aside and wait.* During the waiting period (days and days) I feed it roughly every twelve hours. (See how committed I am?) Mostly, though, there’s a lot of waiting.

I check on it multiple times a day, but not much happens. And then I... WAIT! Are those bubbles??!! They are bubbles! The starter is alive - only it’s not strong enough to actually make bread with yet. So I keep feeding it. Then I wait some more. Feed it some more. Wait, feed, wait, feed, wait...

This is what I’m waiting for: My starter needs to smell and taste right. It needs to be hearty, and have tang, and the yeast also needs to be strong enough so that the bread won’t collapse when it’s baked (that's what the bubbles are for).

Novel Beginnings

In the beginning, I sit at the computer with a blank word document open. Sometimes it has a title. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I start writing various ideas down: character names, scenes that I think might be in the story, the cool thing that made me want to write the story to begin with. Sometimes I delete all these things and start over. Sometimes it gets to be too much, and I open a new document and start writing things there. And then I open another and another, and soon all of my novel planning spans five or seven documents.

And none of it is cohesive at all.

I do this for weeks. Months, even. Sometimes I open all the documents and just stare at their contents, overwhelmed, until I close them all again and walk away shaking my head. Needless to say, for the first stretch of my novel planning, a whole lot of nothing happens.

The important thing is that I keep bringing myself to it. If I keep feeding the story with ideas, if I stir things up, then - even if nothing happens for a while - inevitably a day will come when…

WHAM!

In bread terms, this means:

The starter is ready. It’s bubbly and strong and tastes just the right amount of sour. When I make bread with it, the bread comes out flavourful, and a bit chewy, and the colour is beautiful.


In novel terms, this means:



A major idea has hit, usually out of nowhere, and as soon as that happens, others follow. Because I’ve laid a foundation of ideas (strung across half a dozen word documents), things begin to fall into place. They aren’t just stand-alone ideas anymore, but ideas that connect, that hold the big parts of the story together. Once I have a more cohesive sense of things - of the characters and conflicts, of how the novel will end and start - then the novel really begins to take shape.



I guess what I’m trying to say is, for me, ideas need to ferment before they’re strong enough and tasty enough to make a whole novel. Just like a starter needs to ferment before it’s strong and tasty enough to make a good sourdough bread.

*I wrote about this process in more detail here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

holding on

There's a poem I've been clinging to these days. It's called HOLD ON TO WHAT IS GOOD and it's by Nancy Wood: 

Hold on to what is good
even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe
even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do
even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life
even when it is easier letting go
Hold on to my hand
even when I have gone away from you.

I have a tendency to hold on to things. Sometimes I hold on to the wrong things. Other times, I hold on to the right things, but end up convincing myself that I'm doing the wrong thing by holding on.

For example: I keep old love letters from various ex-boyfriends in a box beneath my writing desk. They span a period of about seven years. I told my writing group this once and everyone’s mouths dropped open like this was the most scandalous thing they’d ever heard. I never take the letters out; I don’t even remember the last time I opened the box. I keep them because they are a part of my life, a part of the girl I once was, and I don’t want to forget the people and circumstances that have made me who I am. For me, there is pain in those letters, but there is also love, and there’s no shame in either of those things. There’s no shame in remembering them.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, "You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news." She then goes on to talk about how losing your loved one is like breaking your leg, only your leg never heals right, and you have to "learn to dance with the limp". I remember reading that passage a long time ago and clinging to it the way I've been clinging to Nancy Wood’s poem. And this is why: These days, I'm holding on to a certain place and certain people who are either mostly gone or who will soon be gone, and I won't be able to get them back. There's this inevitability that one day they will no longer be a part of the normal rhythms of my life, or if they are, those rhythms will be drastically changed. 

So what happens when the places that you once belonged to and that once belonged to you are no longer yours, no longer accessible to you? What happens when the people who you belong to and who belong to you begin to fade away, or walk away, or stop remembering you, or close their eyes forever? What do you do?

For me, there’s a little voice in my head that says: Everything changes. Everything dies. You have to move on, grow up, put it behind you. But the thing is, that kind of thinking never helps me. It only makes me hold on tighter. Words like these, on the other hand – like Nancy Wood’s or Anne Lamott’s – they say something else. Just like Lamott's limp, this poem suggests that there is something indestructible about really fragile things. You can never truly escape the loss of something or someone that was once a part of you - and that is both the awfulness and the loveliness of it.

It’s okay to move on from things, if that’s what you need to do. But it’s also okay to hold on to things that are important to you. You’ll have a limp, yes, but you'll still be able to dance.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How to Make a Sourdough Starter


If you search for “sourdough starter” in Google, you’ll find half a dozen recipes on the first page alone all saying different things. Some will tell you to add sugar, honey, juice, etc., which can help, but aren’t necessary. Some will say to add yeast and this is definitely not necessary, since the starter will cultivate its own yeast. There are tons of ways to make a starter, and tons of different kinds of starters, but the truth is, all you need is two ingredients:

Water and whole rye flour. 

Seriously. That's it. 

Why whole rye flour? Because it’s high in nutrients and fermentable sugars. Personally, I also use flour that's organic and locally milled - but that sort of thing is up to you.

Okay, are you ready? Let’s begin.

First, take a sealable jar or container. Any kind will do. A mason jar. An old margarine tub. A Tupperware container. Anything with a lid.

Next, measure out ½ a cup of rye flour and dump it in to the container. Go on. I’ll wait while you do it.

Done? Okay. Now measure out ½ a cup of lukewarm water (use your wrist to test it) and dump that in with the rye flour.

Got it? Great. Take a spatula and swish it all around until it’s good and mixed. When you're finished, it should look something like this:

  
Now clap on the lid, and wait. And wait and wait and wait. 24 hours later, it should look like this:


What? You're not impressed? Yeah, okay, that's because it's not that impressive yet. Right now, at the 24 hour mark, you need to feed it. In this container of soon-to-be starter there is ½ a cup of rye flour and ½ a cup of water (from 24 hours ago), and in order to feed it, you’ll need to add those same portions again. So do that: add in ½ a cup of flour and ½ a cup of water, then mix it around and clap on the lid.

In another 24 hours, it should look something like this:


See how it’s risen? See the bubbles in there? It also might be starting to smell a bit funky - which is good. It's just not quite the funk that we want. That will take a bit longer.

After this, you're now going to want to feed it everyday, twice a day (at 12 hour intervals), for at least seven days before you make your bread. And if your starter is getting too big, just throw half of it out before feeding it, which will keep the size down (and not waste so much flour).

Got all that? Just in case, here's a recap:

Day 1: Add ½ a cup of rye flour to ½ a cup of water, then cover.
Day 2 (24 hours later): Add ½ cup of rye flour and ½ a cup of water to the 1 cup of rye-water mixture from the day before (this is called a feeding).
Day 3 (24 hours later): Throw out half (1 cup) of the rye-water mixture and add 1/2 cup of rye flour and 1/2 cup of water. Do this again 12 hours later.
Day 4,5,6,7... Feed your starter twice a day at 12 hour intervals until you're ready to make bread with it.

And that's it! Happy Baking!!

Addendum: I forgot to mention, if you’re not going to use your starter, put it in the fridge and it will go dormant. But before you use it again, make sure to give it a few feedings, or it will be too acidic.

Sourdough Apple Loaves 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

sometimes you just gotta dance


Here’s a paradox for you:

I’m a pretty cynical person.

I’m also a pretty naïve person.

I’m not exactly sure how these things co-exist together inside my body, but somehow they do.

Some days, it is extremely easy for me to believe that people are inherently good at their cores. Broken, maybe. But beautiful and good, too.

And then there are days when I want to fling that idea into the ocean and watch it sail far, far away from me.

So. How do I reconcile these opposite feelings?

Sometimes, I think that the only thing you can do is play your favourite song really, really loud until there's only you and the song and your naive belief that the world is inherently precious and lovely and working towards restoration.

Maybe that’s delusion.

But it makes me feel better. So there’s that.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

that time again

Revisions kind of take over my life. I think about them while I’m brushing my teeth, and then while I’m making coffee. When I’m eating lunch, or walking to and from home. Even when I’m in the middle of a conversation, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, If I amalgamated both of those scenes, would that solve the problem of x? I smile at something that's being said, and then wonder, If I take out y, then is that scene even building towards anything? I make sure to nod a few times, because that’s polite, and quickly sink back inside myself, And maybe I should change this person’s name to…

It really is better for everyone if I just stay indoors during revisions. Actually, Zadie Smith sums it up nicely here:

In the middle of a novel, a kind of magical thinking takes over. To clarify, the middle of the novel may not happen in the actual geographical centre of the novel. By middle of the novel I mean whatever page you are on when you stop being part of your household and your family and your partner and children and food shopping and dog feeding and reading the post—I mean when there is nothing in the world except your book, and even as your wife tells you she’s sleeping with your brother her face is a gigantic semi-colon, her arms are parentheses and you are wondering whether rummage is a better verb than rifle. The middle of a novel is a state of mind. Strange things happen in it. Time collapses. - That Crafty Feeling

So. I probably won’t be around much this month. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this fantastic poet who I met at Hillside. Her name is Winona Linn and her poetry reads like "confessional autobiographical fiction". Her poems are incredibly moving.


See you on the other side!

Monday, July 30, 2012

how to chase your dreams

It all started after blogging about my new years resolutions a year and a half ago.* I made a list of my goals for the year and in the comments, an artist friend of mine talked about how silly she felt speaking a pretty significant resolution she had made aloud. Despite the fact that this goal was important to her and she really wanted to accomplish it, she was scared to say it out loud because what if it didn’t happen? She also asked, “What motivates us to follow-through [with our goals]? What keeps us from accomplishing the things that are important to us?”

I really like these questions; I think they’re important. I’m also fascinated by how terrifying it can be to voice our dreams and desires. Why does the thought of our dreams not happening frighten us into not voicing them? Why are we so very afraid of failure? (I'm so intrigued by this idea of failure.)

The thing is, artists aren't just people whose books are published or whose paintings are exhibited in galleries or whose albums are sold in record stores. Being published doesn't make you a writer, just like recording an album doesn't make you a musician, just like having a painting in an exhibit doesn’t make you a painter. Making art is what makes you an artist. Therefore, the only way you can fail at being an artist is if you don't make art.

There. I said it.

Now that that's over with: I think there is something to be said for putting your art out into the world. (That is where art belongs, after all.) Whether this is by recording an album, or having a novel published, or whatever your goal is, it can be a big, huge, scary thing because you’re basically saying that this, whatever this is, is important and you think you’re pretty good at it and you want other people to think so too. You want your art to become Art with a capital A. And that’s completely understandable. (But just to be clear, I don’t think it makes you any more of an artist than the guy who doesn’t go down that road.)

So, “what keeps us from accomplishing the things that are important to us?” (In this instance, putting your art out into the world.)

I think the answer can be one of two things.

The first thing is that it wasn’t really that important to begin with. Maybe you thought it was, but that was actually your parents or friends or whoever thinking for you. Or maybe you just changed your mind – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t think anyone should ever feel ashamed of changing their mind, so long as you've thought it through. If anything, it just means that you’re narrowing down your options. That you’re that much closer to the thing you really want.

The second reason is fear. It can be fear of anything, really, but I think that most often it’s fear of failure or rejection or finding out that you’re “not good enough”. Often, I think (and this is my fear, for sure) it’s the fear of those close to us – our friends, our family – discovering our plans and then labeling us as unrealistic.

But let’s face it: we are unrealistic. We’re artists, for heaven’s sake. This is our lot in life. We dream, we woolgather, we ask more questions than is maybe good for us. It's who we are. And when we suppress it, we end up unhappy. So I for one am embracing it. Feel free to join me.

And again, in terms of failure, I think J.K. Rowling says it well: 

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Basically, be afraid of not getting your art done. Don’t be afraid of the other things.

Next question: “What motivates us to actually put in the hard work to pursue our dreams?”

First, I think it helps when you take yourself and your goals seriously. Maybe this means renting a studio/practice space, or saying out loud “I want to record an album this year”, or setting aside time in your week to plug away at that novel you’ve always wanted to write. Second, I think it helps to surround yourself with people who are doing what you're doing or what you want to be doing. I find that when I get to know artisans or authors – either personally, through their blogs, or through venues like Etsy – I realize that my dreams are doable, and that the people I admire are normal and are more like me than not. Last of all, and perhaps most importantly, it helps to have a few key people in your life who can centre you again when you start to doubt yourself (or when the doubters around you are getting too loud). I think everyone pretty much knows who their centre-ers are. Mine happen to be my husband and my friend Leslie, and let me tell you: they are vital. Vital.

Last of all, this: 

FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BRAVE.

I saw this on a sign once. It's SUPER cheesy, I know, but it gets the point across. I think that being brave is key. Being brave is about knowing that it won’t be easy (in fact, it will be really hard and lonely and scary as hell) and then stepping out into the darkness anyway. To really know and trust who you are is extremely hard work, and takes a TON of bravery. And if you can do that – know and trust yourself – then you can trust in your dreams. And it is SO IMPORTANT TO TRUST YOUR DREAMS. To trust that they’re there for a reason, and not just silly fluff in your head.

And if your dreams are there for a reason, the only way to find that reason out is to follow them.

*I originally wrote this over a year ago now, but after reading this, I went back through all my posts to take out any images that I didn’t have permission to use, and when I took the image out of this particular post, the html code went all screwy and I couldn’t fix it. So I rewrote it and posted it here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

a drawing a day

When I was younger, I used to draw like mad. I spent my childhood illustrating creatures and characters and scenes from the stories I was reading or writing or daydreaming about. In fact, there were more pictures of Smaug and Legolas in my calculus notes than actual calculus – just ask my stepmother (who, being a math teacher, was quite vexed about it).

Drawing helped me think. It set my mind free to wander - which is particularly helpful in novel writing. Not so much in calculus. (Why was I in calculus, you ask? That's a perfectly reasonable question. One that has everything to do with the fact that all my high school crushes were nerds, and nerds were always found in calculus classes. And computer programming classes. Which I also took, and nearly failed.)

Unfortunately, for most of my teen years, I saw my creative endeavours as things to be ashamed of. They were immature. They belonged in childhood. I even went through a period where I thought my art was bad (not bad as in "of poor or inferior quality", but bad as in "immoral"). And when I left home to go to school, I left my stories and my drawings and my daydreaming behind me. It was time to grow up, I decided.

So I lost the itch to draw, to put pencil to page and coax an image out of it. I got out of the habit of daydreaming and writing down my daydreams. I even stopped reading for pleasure.

Lucky for me, I woke up one day. I came to realize that these negative ideas I had about creativity and imagination were lies. Lies that were sometimes shouted, sometimes whispered, sometimes spoken through silence. (Silence can be the most dangerous, in my experience.) Sometimes the lies were told by others, and sometimes they were told by my own self. And they did their damage in my life: I spent five years not drawing, not writing, not challenging myself creatively in the ways that I could have. And though that may not seem like a very long time, I mourn the loss of it.

In light of this realization, I have spent the past few years slowly taking this part of myself back. Claiming it for my own again, only this time, without any shame. I did it first with my ceramic business, then with my writing, and now… well, I intend to do it with drawing.

But there’s something about going back to the thing you loved, the thing that was so deeply embedded into who you were for so many years… that thing you abandoned… and asking it back into your life. It’s almost like I have to earn its trust again. Like I have to go slowly, with my hands open and outstretched, and approach with gentle hesitance.

So this is what I’m going to do: for the rest of the summer I’m committing to one drawing a day. It doesn't have to be huge and involved, it could be something as simple as a sketch of my coffee mug in the morning. And I’m NOT going to gang up on myself if I miss a day or two. The point is to draw. Just draw.

To kick this off, here's my first one from last week. She's a character from the novel that my agent is currently editing. She's a bit of an oddball (the character, not my agent!) but that just makes her more endearing - to me, anyway.
And here's her counterpart.
I'll leave you with these here words of H. Jackson Brown, Jr. (which he accredits to his mother, but they sometimes get accredited to Mark Twain):

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where do you go for creative inspiration?

This question was asked over at YA Highway this week. This is where I go...

TUMBLR.

Some people stay far away from Tumblr because the idea of using people’s images without their permission makes them queasy. I totally get it. I do. But for me - someone who loves and collects art - I have actually discovered way more artists using Tumblr than ever before and have bought way more art than ever before because of these discoveries. Anyways, with that said, I make Tumblr blogs for every novel idea I have. For me, it’s a way of organizing unformed ideas. Also, for me, writing and illustrating have always gone hand in hand. So it just makes sense.

Music.

It’s the same with music. I curate songs the way I curate illustrations. I buy and collect music sometimes because I just really love it, and sometimes because it really resonates with a story idea or character or setting or theme of a WIP. I make playlists for every novel I write, and then, when I go on long walks to try and work through plot problems, I listen to the songs I’ve specifically chosen for that particular book. It seems to help.

Books.

If I’m stuck in a writing project, I'll often go through my shelves, seeking a book. Sometimes it will be a new book that I pick up, but this is rare. More often I'll choose a book I’ve read two or three or four times before, because clearly there’s something there if I’ve read it that many times - something I liked, something that worked. It also forces me out of the knots and tangles of my own stories and into someone else’s. It loosens me up.

The Eastern Shore.

Obviously, this one requires a bit of money, since I presently live in the middle of the continent and need to either fly or drive if I want to get to the ocean. However. This is probably one of my biggest sources of inspiration. Two of my favourite places of all time are Cape Cod (in the fall, when the beaches are bare and all the tourists are mostly gone) and the western shore of Newfoundland (in spring or fall, for the same reason). I’ve been West, to the Pacific ocean, and don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous. But it’s not the same as East. It’s the Atlantic I prefer.

Home.

This is the last, best thing. Home for me is the farm I grew up on. It’s where the people who I’ve loved longest are. Often, one of the first things I’ll do once arriving home is go on a kind of “pilgrimage” to all the sacred places of my childhood. The barn. The pond. The forest steps. There is so much complexity found in this place I have known and which has known me in all the various stages of my life that it’s difficult to not be inspired there. Besides, one day it might not be there to go back to, so I have to soak it all up now. Or as much as I can, at least.

Where do you go for creative inspiration?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

the blank page

Seriously. What exactly is so terrifying about a blank page? Is it the endless possibilities? Is it the inevitability that whatever words I put there, they will fail at being perfect? Is it the knowledge that a book takes THOUSANDS OF HOURS to write, which translates into, well, a really long time, with lots of moments of bipolar thoughts? Thoughts like, this book is AMAZEBALLS and, conversely, this book is so hideous it DOESN’T DESERVE TO LIVE?

Or is it something else?

Whatever it is, I need to get over it because this book isn’t going to write itself.

I’m going to eat a cookie now.

Monday, July 16, 2012

newness

After spending the last year writing and re-writing and re-re-writing the same two novels, I now get to move on to a new novel! Well, actually, that's not quite true. I'll still be working on those other two. But I get to start something new. And if you've been around this blog for a while, then you know how much I love starting new things. (It's the INFP in me. I work very hard to keep it caged.)

Anyways. I'm not saying too much about the new thing, other than this.

And maybe this.

And that is all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

wake on up from your slumber

Oh wow. A friend of mine just introduced me to this song, and as soon as it started, I was enthralled. It actually reminds me SO MUCH of the book I'm working on, in which there is a significant "waking up" theme. But it also reminded me just how much I love this theme in general - whether it's in music, literature, sacred texts (do those count as literature?), etc. Maybe it's the stage of life I'm in, but if it is, I've been in it for a really long time! Like, since I was eighteen.

Anyways. The song is great. Here, listen for yourself:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vårens första dag

Hello July! How did you get here so fast??

This month is always whirlwind busy for me. With two festivals and one art show in four weeks, it’s both exciting and stressful at the same time. So, while listening to the click click click of my kiln steadily climbing to 2232 degrees Fahrenheit, I've found a small pocket of calm. And in the calm, I'm making a little list...

What July means to me: 

  • long days hunched over clay
  • being clay-speckled when I go out in public
  • clay beneath my fingernails ALL THE TIME
  • and really sore wrists

But it also means:

  • the smell of wet clay ALL THE TIME (which I happen to love)
  • being caught up in things like colour and shape and texture
  • getting to see super awesome bands
  • meeting lovely artisans
  • and eating delicious food

So there! It’s not all stressful.

Anyways, I’m heading up to Orillia tomorrow for the Mariposa Folk Festival. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the supremely talented Laleh:



I love this girl's music SO MUCH.

Monday, July 2, 2012

feeling the reels

I'm not exactly sure why fiddles have me so captivated. For some reason, they make me feel things more deeply than other kinds of instruments. You know, that deep down in your gut kind of feel? The kind of feel that makes your heels start drumming the ground and gets you wishing that it was socially acceptable to just start dancing in public?


One fiddler in particular has me completely under her spell. Her name is Hanneke Cassel, and one of the things on my To-Do List For Life is to see her play live. The song above is from her album For Reasons Unseen, and it also happens to be one of my favourite songs to write to. The song below is Hanneke playing with Brittany Haas. It's not on either of their albums, but I so wish it was, because it's fantastic.


Sigh. I just... I have no words. Only feels.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

on writing and creativity

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.” Annie Dillard


It's so tempting to store up words, to hoard them like treasure. But it’s also dangerous. Creativity and imagination are these amazing renewable resources. They’re the kinds of things where the more you use them, the better you get at using them. So if you constantly stockpile words, you end up being so busy holding on that there’s no room for you to catch any more words floating through the atmosphere. And so they pass you by. But if you use those words you love so much, if you fasten them into something now, then you open yourself up to the next ones. And there will always be more words. Like Annie Dillard said, most likely they’ll be even better ones.

It’s like a brand new bicycle that sits, waiting to be ridden. It’s perfect, pristine. You don’t want to take it out because you’re afraid of getting mud on the tires, or scuffing the paint. But if you don’t use that bike, it’ll rust up. And then it’s no use to you at all. And you’re no use to it.

Besides, there’s only so much time in a life. If you sit, waiting for that perfect place in the story to use your perfect words, what if that place never comes? What if the story veers off in an entirely different direction? Just like in life, it’s dangerous to sit waiting for that moment when x will happen. What if x never comes? Have you wasted all the moments before it?

Use your words. And your moments. Make the most of them now, so that you can be open to the next ones, the better ones that come along.

Monday, June 25, 2012

a bit of magic

Sometimes when I visit the farm I grew up on, this strange feeling comes over me. It can happen as I drive down the street, which is all vineyards on one side, and all valley on the other. It can happen when I walk between my mother's house and my grandmother's house, making little stops along the way - to pick some grapes, or step inside the barn, or stop at the lilac bushes. It can happen when I go downstairs to fetch something out of my grandmother's cellar. It's the kind of feeling that steals the breath from your lungs and fills you up with wonder. Anyways, when I first began to notice this feeling, I thought it was nostalgia. But lately I've been thinking it's something else. It's often associated with very particular things. Things like this:


(Those are little plants growing out of the barn wall.)

I think I've figured it out. When I was a little girl, I had a strong belief in magic. And magic, for me, was in the little things. Magic was in my grandmother's cellar. It was in the way the sun warmed the grapes that burst across my tongue. It was in the smell of the lilacs and the sight of the little plants growing between the barn wall cracks. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I still think these things are magic. And then, inevitably, I wonder...

Maybe they are magic.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

so, this happened


Something fantastic happened this week. Want to guess what it is???

I’m now officially represented by a literary agent!!

Her name is Emily Gref and she was my first choice out of all the agents in all the lands, which is pretty amazing, I think. Want to hear how it happened?

Okay, I’ll tell you.

It began with a query for my first book. I don’t remember how I came across Emily’s blog, but somehow I did, and it was there that I discovered her favourite reads of 2011 - which just so happened to coincide with a ton of my favourite reads of 2011 (Chime and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, for example). So I sent her a query letter on March 30 and she emailed back on April 9th, asking to see the full manuscript. But by this time, I had just finished my second novel, so I told her about it and she asked to see that one too.

And then? I waited. Well, sort of. There were other agents involved, requesting material, rejecting material, or asking for revisions. By the end of May, I had kind of lost hope in the possibility of Emily being interested. After all, it had been almost two months. (In her defense, she was reading TWO fulls.)

On May 30 I got an email. It was from Emily, and she wanted to know if we could set up a time to discuss my manuscripts. Um…what? Had I read that right? My heart did a little flip. I read her email again. She made no mention of offering representation, but I still couldn’t stop myself from being excited. She was going to call! Call me! About my manuscripts!

It was a week before she did, and by the end of that conversation, even though she hadn’t offered rep, I was even more sure that (if I could choose) I wanted her to be my agent. We discussed my books, the second one in particular (though she loved the first one too, which made me nearly cry) and then she asked for a revision. Since I had just spent the last month and a half on another agent’s revisions, it didn’t take long to fix the manuscript up for her. When I did, I sent it back.

And then, a day later, I got an email from a different agent who wanted to set up a phone conversation. It was Monday morning when this agent called. I remember sipping coffee on the back porch and I remember the way the sunlight made the magnolia leaves glow around the edges. I barely remember anything else, only that she offered representation, and I told her I needed a week to think about it and to let the other agents know, and then we hung up. I sat there for a good five minutes just staring into my mug.

It felt… surreal.

But it was Emily who I really wanted. So, with hope in my heart, I sent out emails to the other agents who had my manuscripts and waited. Soon enough, an email from Emily popped into my inbox and she offered too. That was it for me. She called early the next morning, and after I hung up the phone I went and jumped on the bed (careful not to jump on a certain someone sleeping there).

Exactly twenty-three-and-a-half hours after Emily’s phone call, I officially accepted her offer. And now I’m her client. I’m an agented writer!

It still feels surreal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

forgetting


Memory is such a strange thing. This weekend I was at my grandparents’ house for Father’s Day and my cousin was reminiscing about our holiday dinners, and how the basement used to be full of people, with two long tables that stretched across the room and family members everywhere, while all of us cousins sat beneath the stairs, hiding. I had forgotten all about this. (I’ve always coveted my cousin’s memory.) All I remembered were recent holiday gatherings – much smaller, never downstairs, and fewer of us crammed around the dining room table.

This conversation made me think of other ways that I’ve allowed the present to erase the past. Namely, I think about my grandfather and how I’m starting to forget the man he used to be, to forget what our relationship was like before the dementia set in.

I grew up in my grandparent’s house and when I was little, my grandfather used to always say, “One day you’re going to forget all about me.” Up until this weekend, I always thought that was ironic, since he’s the one who’s forgotten me. Except, as I sat with him after dinner, I realized that he was completely right. I have forgotten him. I’ve forgotten the man he was and who we once were together. And that really scares me.

I don’t want to forget things. I don’t want to forget anything. I wish I was better at just writing down the seemingly mundane things about my life, a little bit every day, so that later I can see the world not just through the lens of now, but through the lens of now, and before, and before that.

Before I forget it all.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

literature or not literature?

Wow, this article is a breath of fresh air. An English professor at Kansas State argues that children's books (like, say, Harry Potter) are in fact literature.

Shocking!!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

hidden beauty

In doing some research for a writing project, I recently came across the Hubble website, and wow. It’s like I’ve been bewitched. So many pictures of stars! And nebulae! And galaxies! I can’t turn my eyes away…

Star-Forming Region LH 95 in the Large Magellanic Cloud
Source: Hubblesite.org 

The Ring Nebula (M57)
Source: Hubblesite.org 

Jet in Carina: WFC3 UVIS Full Field
Source: Hubblesite.org

How can beauty like this be out there, every moment of every day, and I'm so unaware of it?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Duck 'n Cover


*swoons*

(See more of her artwork here.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Handmade Market

An image from my booth:

Photo Cred: Mark Elliotson

I spent this weekend betwixt a vineyard and an orchard, surrounded by sunshine, good food and friendly faces. One of the reasons I love this show so much is because it's near my childhood home in the Niagara region. So not only is the setting beautiful (vineyards, orchards, countryside) but I get to spend the weekend with people I love a whole lot and I get to see people from my past stroll by my booth all weekend. Which is kind of lovely.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

mmm pictures...

Yesterday I came home from my favourite bookstore with a new picture book. It's called Extra Yarn and it's by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. I’m pretty choosy about picture books, but I really like this one for two reasons. First of all, the illustrations. I'm head over heals in love with Jon Klassen’s style. I love how the contrast between colour and no colour is actually a contrast between soft variances of colour and shades of grey. I also love the abundance of white space. (You can purchase Klassen's prints here.)

Second of all, the premise rocks:

Annabelle has some yarn, so she knits herself a sweater. Realizing she has extra yarn, she knits her dog a sweater. Very soon she realizes she has still more yarn and that the people around her really like the things she knits, so she keeps knitting things for everyone around her. And still, her yarn doesn’t run out. So she keeps on knitting, clothing the world around her in colours. When an archduke from across the sea offers to pay a fortune for Annabelle’s limitless yarn, she refuses. So he steals it - only to find that when he does, the box of yarn is empty. The box floats all the way back to Annabelle, who picks it up and promptly starts knitting again.

Why I love this premise:

Annabelle has a gift that she is extremely generous with. And in being generous with her gift she turns a world that’s all shades of grey into a world of colour. She uses her gift to make the world more beautiful. Moreover, her yarn is endless, so long as she keeps using it. When the Archduke tries to steal Annabelle’s yarn and keep it to himself, the yarn disappears... kind of like creativity, which is endless so long as you keep using it, putting it out into the world, and don’t keep it all to yourself.