Saturday, July 30, 2011

Confronting the Dark

I woke this morning with a bad dream. Bad enough to rise early, turn on my computer and write it down. Sometimes writing things helps you get over them.

Then I checked my e-mail and social media accounts. Right there on Twitter someone had posted a quote:

Confront the dark parts of yourself. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. ~ August Wilson

Wow, I thought. Is that a sign?

I've been struggling for some time - hashing out whether to write something in a different genre. I've always written light-hearted stories with children and animals that usually come out alright in the end. But could I write darker? Write from some scary experiences deep inside of me, some stories that might want to be told?

So I wrote a scene. One scene - in verse.

Sometimes being a writer means being open to what comes through you.
I might be on a bit of a different journey here - I think I'd best hang on for the ride . . .

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Birds in the Barn

Summer is such a busy season in the country. There is mowing, watering, and weeding to be done, as well as picking strawberries, raspberries, and soon, vegetables.
And of course there is Birdwatching.

I caught these little Barn Swallows on their very last day in the nest, just before they fledged.

I'd been watching this nest for days. It's on the rafter right above the stall door, and the mama and daddy flew off whenever anyone came near. I wasn't sure they'd be successful raising their babies, and I hardly heard a peep above me. So imagine my surprise when I looked up one day and noticed these little ones, already crowding the nest.

Usually the fledglings fly around in the rafters for a few days, testing their wings and getting a good handle on the whole flying process. But not these guys . . .

The very next morning they were all over the sky! Mom, Dad, and not three, but four babies! Soaring, darting, swooping through the air - a multitude of scissor-tailed Barn Swallows!

Good luck little ones! Have a Happy Life!

Have you ever watched baby birds learning to fly?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Year on a Deserted Island

If you had to spend one year on a deserted island and could only take One Book with you, which one would you choose?

This question was posted on Twitter, by my friend and fellow writer Holly Bodger. It took me about twenty minutes to come up with an answer, and I've been thinking about it ever since.

Would you choose a favorite piece of fiction, or should you choose a non-fiction book to learn things from?

After more reflection, I kept thinking I should have picked a title on How to Survive on a Deserted Island or Robinson Crusoe or something that might actually be useful. Maybe I should have picked the thickest book I could think of so that I might use it for starting fires or well, other personal matters. But since this was a hypothetical question, assuming you would be rescued at the end of one year, here were the books I choose: (I cheated and picked two.)

  • FLOTSAM, by David Wiesner, which is a picture book without words, quite appropriate for the situation, and I could look at it for days, and weeks, and months (yes, probably twelve whole months.)

  • THE SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRDS, by David Allen Sibley, because this is the best book on birds that I know, and I am constantly curious about new birds, and I might see an actual Frigate Bird or something.

How about you? If you had to spend one year on a deserted island, what one book would you choose to bring along?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Social Media - How Much is Too Much?

So - I'm on Twitter (which I Love), Goodreads (which I love), Facebook (which I keep mostly for personal stuff), I Blog (on two different blogs), and now (because it's new and for the cool kids *sigh*) I joined Google+.

Why? Why?? Why???

Yes, you will soon read article after article about how cool Google+ is, how clean, uncluttered (no ads!) and how you can drag people into Circles!!

For me (bah humbug) all the circles are making me dizzy and learning One. More. Thing. is about to tip me over the edge. I just keep wondering how much important stuff do we all have to talk about in all these different mediums without repeating ourselves over and over and over . . .

But the thing that worries me the most is seeing how human beings are changing. Although we now have the means to contact people we don't even know, all over the world, and tell them something Instantly. Right Now. With Pictures!!! we often sit in separate rooms of the house and talk to each other on the computer, or by text, and humans are forgetting how to actually Speak to each other, in person, in a meaningful and useful way.

Don't think so? How many people do you know that will not answer a phone call from someone they don't know? Or they do know? And prefer to receive a text instead?

Technology is a wonderful thing, but I do see it changing us as humans. And on days like this, when I'm feeling overwhelmed about having to learn one more new way to communicate with people (yes, that's you Google+) I just want to personally go up and shake someone's hand, or give them a hug, or look them straight in the eye and say "HI - How's your day going?"

Let's not let too much technology and too much social media take the place of actually, personally communicating with each other.

Excuse me - I'm now going to go tell my husband (in person) how much I love him. And then go OUTSIDE!! and walk the dogs.

Are you on Google+ yet? What do you think?
How much is Too Much Social Media for you?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Meet Rosanne Parry

Please Welcome Northwest Writer Rosanne Parry, author of two wonderful novels for young people - HEART OF A SHEPHERD and SECOND FIDDLE (both from Random House) as well as a picture book called DADDY'S HOME!

HEART OF A SHEPHERD, set in Eastern Oregon ranching country, has won numerous awards, including two state books awards, the Rodda award, and nominated on Best Book lists by Horn Book, Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, and is a Cybil's nominee for middle grade fiction in 2009.

Her newest book, SECOND FIDDLE, released March/2011 is already an Indie Pick book, with I'm sure other awards to follow. Clearly, Rosanne is an author to watch, and to read!

So now - on to the interview:

Rosanne - how did you get your start as a writer? What made you want to write for young people?

I didn’t much care for writing when I was a child. I’m a terrible speller and sitting still has never been a talent, but I have always loved to make things up. I did lots of story telling as a camp counselor and a teacher. Once I had a houseful of my own children I decided to seize the moment and write some of my stories down. I still don’t like the sitting still part, which is why I’m sitting in my tree house right now. If I get stuck, I can indulge in a few trips down the zip line and up the rock wall.

I was quite moved by Heart of a Shepherd, and talked about it in an earlier blog post entitled Kids, Animals, and the Effects of War.

Second Fiddle, although it has some dark and scary situations, is more of a light-hearted adventure story.

The two books are so totally different - can you explain?

Yes, my editor and I had a long conversation about what kind of book to follow up Heart of a Shepherd. He would very much like me to keep writing in the more intense and literary vein, and although I hope to write many books like that one, I don’t want to write a book that makes people cry every single time. So we have a general plan to alternate more serious books with somewhat more light-hearted ones. My editor is also mindful of not having me pigeon-holed as a regional author so we chose a second book with an international setting.

Rosanne – your use of setting in both of your novels is such an integral part of each book. Heart of a Shepherd takes place in the rugged ranching country of Eastern Oregon, and Second Fiddle is set in Berlin and Paris. In each case, your descriptions make us feel like we are right there. Can you talk about this a little?

Setting is one of my favorite parts of a story to develop, because it’s a great opportunity show something about a character in a unique and memorable way. For example, Heart of a Shepherd opens with a chess game. The way that Brother plays chess, assigning a personality to each chessman, says volumes about the kind of boy he is and where he’s from. He doesn’t have a dozen other kids on the block to play with. He doesn’t have a lot of fancy toys, they are playing with the same chess set they’ve had for 4 generations. He has an extensive knowledge of horses. He has a crush on his best friend’s sister, adores his grandparents, is worried about his dad’s deployment, and values honor above victory. That’s a lot of information about a person to pack into a scene of a thousand words. I don’t know how I’d do it if I didn’t have setting to lean on.

How did you come to know these settings so well, and do you find it easy or difficult to use setting in your books?

The difficult part about setting is the need for accuracy. You can trace every step my girls take in Second Fiddle from the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to the Eiffel Tower because I had maps of those towns beside me on the writing table and I looked at them every day.

When I wrote Heart of a Shepherd I used for reference: a topographical map of Malheur County, and field guides to birds, mammals, tracks, trees, weather, geology. and stars. I had photographs, school schedules, times for sunrise and sunset, travel times on horseback and in a car, the Oregon state brand registry, calendar of county events, and information on local cattle and sheep breeds. There’s a lot more research in fiction writing than I thought there would be.

One of the similarities I did notice between the two books is that both feature main characters from military families. Do you have experience with this?

My husband is a veteran of Desert Storm, and I have many extended family members in the active duty military, so I do know a thing or two about the dynamics of a military family. When I was writing HEART and FIDDLE from 2003 to 2009 there were not very many books about the military family experience. But in the last 2 years there’s been quite a few good books about them, which delights me because the military is in many ways it’s own culture and deserving of representation in literature just as much as any other minority culture.

I had the opportunity to do a panel at NCTE in Orlando called Fiction and the Military Family with authors Suzanne Morgan Williams (Bull Rider) and Sara Holmes Lewis (Operation Yes). There is a list of resources from our panel on my website
I’m very happy to be presenting this panel again at the New York Public Library’s Literary Salon on November 12th. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, please come. 1.7 million children have had parents on overseas deployment. 900,000 of them have had parents go on multiple deployments, it’s a much bigger part of the current landscape of childhood than many of us realize.

Do you consider yourself a YA author or middle grade? I read a lot of books from my public library, and sometimes they shelve them as Middle Grade (Junior) or YA in a rather arbitrary manner. How do you feel about each of your books? Does your publisher market them one way or the other –YA or MG?

Random House markets the novels as middle grade, which is the perfect choice for me as they focus a lot of attention on teachers and librarians. I need those readers the most, because they are the people who can give a book longevity. I’ve seen my books shelved in middle grade, young adult, adult regional interest, and travel sections of the bookstore. They have been used in classrooms as young as third grade and as old as high school. To my surprise and delight Heart of a Shepherd has been chosen as a first novel in English to be read by adult English Language Learners in a number of local colleges. What an honor!

So I don’t think of myself as a category of writer any more than I think of myself as a category of reader. But marketing, I’ve learned, requires a measure of focus and the middle grade focus serves me best. I occasionally blog over at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. It’s a great resource for anyone interested in middle grade literature. My latest post is here:

Can you describe you writing process, Rosanne? Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you use an outline and have an idea where the story is going, or just set your characters on the page and see what happens?

I usually start with a setting and a character that interests me and write a group of scenes or sometimes a whole draft of a story with nothing more than a vague end point in mind. But once I’ve got a draft to work with, then I’m pretty organized about plotting. I’ve found I need to write about 100,000 words in a novel before I really know my character well enough to write something I feel good about. It’s not very efficient, and I am not at all patient with the process. I probably could learn to speed it up, but I bet I’d be unhappy with the outcome.

What does your writing life look like?

Ha! Messy!

Do you write every day?

Nearly, but how much I write depends very much on where I am in the process. If I’m working on a first draft I try to write 1,000 words a day and in reality I tend to get about 5,000 words a week. If I’m revising I often take out thousands of words and replace them with a few hundred. When I’m doing a final draft or copy edits I might work for 10 to 14 hours a day reading 10-20,000 words over and over very slowly out loud and only make a few dozen words worth of changes. That doesn’t seem very productive but it’s hugely important in terms of the quality of the final book.

How do you balance the demands of writing and family?

Balance? Who balances? I don’t think anybody balances. Sometimes I write too much and it’s not so good for my family. Sometimes I spend time with them that plays havoc with my deadlines. I work very long hours. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t work on a weekend. On the other hand, I love my work, and I have a family of avid readers who are wonderfully supportive of my crazy schedule. I feel incredibly lucky to have the demands I do. My life would be so much smaller without them.

I understand you are going to be part of the faculty at Fishtrap Writers’ Workshop in Joseph, Oregon in July, 2011. Tell us a little more. What will you be teaching?

I feel so honored to be invited to do this, and I nearly fell out of my tree house when they told me that it was Molly Gloss and Ursula LeGuin who recommended me to lead the first YA writers class at the Fishtrap Summer workshop! It’s a great opportunity to meet and learn from writers from all different genres, poetry, non-fiction, memoir, literary fiction, and essays. It takes place in the spectacular Wallowa Lake region which is the Alps of Oregon—simply breathtaking!

I’ll be teaching a 5 day workshop on coming of age fiction. I’m really excited about it. We’ll take a look at what makes YA fiction uniquely powerful and tackle the nitty-gritty of developing strong setting, characters, and plot. I’m starting over on a project so I’m looking forward to doing all the exercises myself in the company of like-hearted writers.

Any words of wisdom or advice for fellow writers?

Well, everybody says READ! And everybody is right about that. But I think it’s equally important to do stuff, so that you have something to write about that you know intimately.
When I was working on Second Fiddle I started playing my violin again and Loved It! I never would have been able to get at the heart of making music with your friends if I was just listening to music or just remembering what it was like to play as a child. The best writers I know have things in their lives besides books and their work is the richer for it.

And finally, Rosanne, are you working on anything new you could share with us?

Yes, I have another novel in progress that I’m very excited about. It’s set in Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. That crossing of the Columbia bar is the most dangerous dozen nautical miles in the Pacific so it seemed like a promising setting for a novel about cousins spending the summer together.

I also have a younger chapter book about a boy who makes friends with the dark, which was a blast to write, and I recently finished a picture book text inspired by a trip I took to Ireland this spring.

Exciting! I'll be looking forward to these. Thank you so much for stopping by the blog, Rosanne! To learn more, please visit Rosanne at her website:

Rosanne has agreed to giveaway a copy of her most recent book SECOND FIDDLE. Set just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and featuring 3 friends and their adventure across Europe involving a wounded soldier, a music competition, and a dangerous train ride while being followed by the KGB, this is a great read!

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below.

One more entry each if you are a) a follower of this blog and b) if you repost or retweet this interview (let me know!)

Contest runs through through July 10, 2011, so hurry!

Good luck, everyone!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Puppy Watch, Happy July, and Coming Attractions

Happy July Everyone! Hope you spend the weekend Reading, Writing, Riding, Barbecuing, Sailing, Skydiving, Biking, Hiking, or whatever else suits your fancy!

As for me - I'm on Puppy Watch.

Our new dog Penny had her spay surgery yesterday. We picked her up this morning with instructions to keep her calm and quiet for 10-14 days. Are you kidding me? This whirling dervish of a dog?

The veterinarians must have felt sorry for us because they sent us home with tranquilizers. Penny is an outside dog, constantly leaping, chewing, digging, biting, running, jumping, and wrestling with our old dog, Homer. I had envisioned simply separating the two dogs, and that Penny would lie down and nap. Ha!

Even after a tranquilizer, this little dog darts around like crazy, and so now she is locked in a big crate (I am not a fan of this, at all) while I take her out for frequent short walks on a leash or sit with her. *sigh*

Let's hope she heals quickly so we can return to some degree of normalcy, and she can go back to leaping, playing and being her youthful, exuberant self.

Meanwhile, some upcoming things to watch for -

A great interview with author Rosanne Parry, author of Heart of a Shepherd and her newest book Second Fiddle, with a giveaway of Second Fiddle. Coming up here on the Blog - Soon!

Summer Reading Giveaway
over at Equestrian Ink (a blog of horsepeople/authors of which I am a member.) Every Saturday for awhile, we'll post a giveaway of one of our books, including one of mine, soon. Here's the link:

Have a great weekend! Find something good to READ! And wish me luck keeping Penny calm and quiet!