Saturday, June 26, 2010

Old Yeller, or why I love books that make me cry.

I probably read OLD YELLER before. It was written in 1956 by Fred Gipson, and won the Newbery Honor award in 1957, the same year it was made into the famous Disney movie starring Fess Parker and Tommy Kirk. I saw the movie as a kid, and I'm sure many of you have seen it over the years. It's a classic family film, and we all remember the ending, right?

OLD YELLER. I just finished reading the book again last night, and promptly bawled my eyes out. Even though I sort of remembered the whole plot. Even though I knew the ending.

And I thought, I want to write books like that.

Why? Why do I like books that make me cry?

I started thinking of all the books that really affected me - the memorable ones that stand out in my mind. I looked at my list of books on GoodReads to see which ones I gave five stars.

Some of them, THE HUNGER GAMES, THE GIVER, THE CITY OF EMBER, UGLIES, were just so cool in their concept, or what they had to say, or they were fast moving and really well-written.

But the ones that stand out in my mind as memorable are the ones that made me cry. INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH, THE UNDERNEATH, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, LASSIE COME HOME, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET are just a few that come to mind. Why do they make me cry? Because I am emotionally invested in the characters - so that when the story wraps up and the last scene ends - I have had an experience, an emotional catharsis that leaves me weeping, and drained, and thinking about it for days afterwords. And isn't this what great art, or literature is supposed to do?
Make us feel??

OLD YELLER has two of the best first paragraphs I ever remember reading:

We called him Old Yeller. The name had a sort of double meaning. One part meant that his short hair was a dingy yellow, a color that we called "yeller" in those days. The other meant that when he opened his head, the sound he let out came closer to being a yell than a bark.

I remember like yesterday how he strayed in out of nowhere to our log cabin on Birdsong Creek. He made me so mad at first that I wanted to kill him. Then, later, when I had to kill him, it was like having to shoot some of my own folks. That's how much I'd come to think of the big yeller dog.

OLD YELLER is a coming-of-age story, a historical novel, an animal novel, and even though I didn't list it when asked, it's up there in one of my Best. Books. Ever. Maybe my most very favorite. Find a copy. Read it. You won't be disappointed.

So now I ask you - do you like books that make you cry? Why?
What kind of books make your most favorite list?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How To Have a Successful Garage Sale

So you're thinking of having a garage sale . . . it's a great way to get rid of all that STUFF that seems to accumulate when you've lived somewhere for awhile. If you do it right, you can have the satisfaction of cleaning out your garage, closet, shed, shop, or barn as well as making a few extra dollars, too. It's a win - win situation. But don't think you just put up a sign in front on Saturday morning and start pulling unused items out on the driveway. That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster. Instead, follow these simple rules, which take a little planning and foresight, and you too can have a successful sale.

First, give yourself plenty of time to go through the stuff you might want to get rid of. It does no good to start cleaning out the closet and remembering that dress you wore to prom and all those memories it holds. This is stalling, folks. Instead, when you are looking through an area for possible sales items make 3 piles: It Sells, It goes back in the closet, Maybe -I'm not sure. Put the Sell pile in a box, and after the Maybe pile clutters up your room for another week or two, chances are - it will go into the Sell box also.

Hint: I usually pretend I will be moving 400 miles away. I hold each item up and ask myself - is this important enough to pack, store, and take with me? If so - keep it. If not - in the sale box it goes. After awhile, you get better and better at this. You start looking at everything you own with a critical eye: important? or clutter?

Next: When your boxes marked 'garage sale' start taking up quite a space in your garage, it's time to start thinking of a date.

In our neck of the woods - Fridays and Saturdays are the best garage sale days, but check around and see what works for you. Figure out how you will advertise your sale. In a small town, newspaper classified ads will bring in most of your buyers, but I have seen signboards at post offices, churches, and even Craigs List as places to post your sale. Make sure you state your days and hours plainly, as well as what you have (dishes, antiques, books, tools, etc.) If you live in a high-traffic area, you might get by with just signs (more on that below.)

Next: and I cannot emphasize this enough, start marking prices on your stuff. Give yourself lots of time to do this (not just the night before the sale!) You will miss lots of sales if people have to ask what the price of an item is. Buy some price tags (the sticky kind work well, except for books) and keep a stash of pens handy.

Do not mark things high! People come to garage sales to find deals. Yes, expect some hagglers, this is common practice. But most things go for pennies on the dollar. If you are unsure of prices, stop in at a few sales in the weeks before yours to get an idea.

Next: Make your signs. Here's where a little extra work will really pay off - big time. If you just put one sign at the bottom of the driveway, you will get the people coming from your advertisement, and maybe a few drive-bys and neighbors. If you take a little extra effort, buy bright colored poster board, or get some stencils and spray paint and make a bunch of signs (even that just say SALE with an arrow) and put them up (early in the morning of the sale, or the night before if it's not raining) at several major intersections directing traffic your way, you will probably increase your sale attendance by double at least. Yes, we have done this!! Yes, it works!! Drive traffic to your sale!!

Okay - you have all your stuff laid out on tables, etc, and priced, right? You have your advertisement placed, your signs up, you have plenty of change to give back to people when they start shopping. You have your coffee pot ready, a box of chocolate donuts to get you through the stress of the day, someone to help you (of course) plenty of change for customers, a stack of boxes or bags for people to load their stuff in, a comfortable chair to sit in. You're all set, right?

Be prepared for an onslaught! People will come early. (And this is where you will be in big trouble if you are not Prepared!!) If you say you start at 8:00 AM, be dressed and ready for a line of people earlier than that, cause that's when the dealers get there, and they will walk through quickly looking for stuff, buy what they want and leave. Then you get the regular garage sale people, and finally (have you taken a breath yet or had time to eat a donut?) you will get the late birds, the ones that stroll through and want to buy Something. Anything. It is totally amazing how much of your JUNK (I mean treasures *cough*) that people will give good money for.

So have fun. Make sure you follow all of these directions. Have a plate of free cookies for your customers and play a little music in the background (it puts them in the buying mood.) Put a smile on your face. Be amazed at how your garage empties out. Then relax and be glad it is all over. (We are still recuperating from our recent sale.)

Let's see, have I left anything out? I'm sure I've forgotten something. Who else has had a successful sale, and what can you add??

Friday, June 18, 2010


Publishing is a slow business. Sometimes things don't go as fast as we like. It is easy to get disheartened, discouraged, and lose faith in ourselves and our writing. At these times we often need an encouraging word, a day or two off, or maybe some good old-fashioned Persistence.

Now That We've Exhausted All Possibilities . . .
Let's Get Started.

My daughter gave me this poster several years ago, and it hangs it my writing area. Sometimes I need it as inspiration to dig in when the going gets tough.

Today, I'm sharing it with you. Hope you can use it from time to time also, when you're down to your last pencil stub.

What keeps you going through tough times, slow times, and down times? Care to share?

Monday, June 14, 2010

In Celebration of the Printed Book

Yes, I know you've all heard about Kindles, E-readers, and various electronic devices on which you can read printed material and even (amazingly) full-length novels. And maybe someday they will develop a feature where you'll be able to sign them electronically: "Love to Dear Shantal on her 6th birthday from Aunt Lucille, June 14, 2014." But do you think Shantal will cherish and keep that electronic reader on her bookcase until she grows up and goes off to college, and eventually packs all her things and moves away? Yeah, me neither.

But a book - an actual tangible printed book - is something you keep. Or you pass down to a friend. Or you donate to a school or library where it will be enjoyed again and again. Or you tuck it away for later. Or you pack in a box, and that box gets moved around, or passed down, or sometimes lost. Until somewhere, way down the road, someone opens that box and pulls out long-forgotten treasures.

Such as the ones below, that I found in a box of books I was going through to sell at a garage sale:

BAMBI, by Felix Salten, first published in 1926, translated from the German. I grew up with the Disney movie, but I've never seen the original book.

THE PEARL, by John Steinbeck. I remember reading this in high school or college, long ago. It meant a lot to me then, and I will definitely re-read it.

OLD YELLER, by Fred Gipson, the book which inspired the wonderful movie.

Sell these books in the garage sale?? Oh no. I am so excited to find these! They are old, with yellowed pages, obviously read and loved in the past. I am not sure where they came from, or who read them in the past. But you can be sure I am reading them now - all these years later!

I have nothing against electronic readers. Reading is good, period, and obviously we read things in lots of formats (including blogs like this one, on the internet.) But BOOKS.

Oh, give me an actual printed book that I can hold in my hands and carry around any day of the year.

In fact, I am opening an old one right now . . .

He came into the world in the middle of the thicket, in one of those little forest glades which seem to be entirely open, but are really screened in on all sides. There was very little room in it, scarcely enough for him and his mother.

He stood there, swaying unsteadily on his thin legs -

What experiences have you had with e-readers vs. printed books. Thoughts? Comments?

Do you have any old books that you will keep forever and ever and ever?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Revision Addiction

I've been a little lax on my posts lately, and I apologize, but we've been getting ready for the Most. Humongous. Garage. Sale. Ever. (a tiny portion of which is pictured below - sorry Mom, the globe is going.)

So I thought I'd talk just a bit about writing, and something a lot of writers struggle with in their first drafts - revision addiction. And by this I mean the constant revising of what you've already written. I know lots of writers that go over and over and over their first chapters, trying to get them Absolutely. Perfect. And what happens? Months later, they still haven't got past their first few chapters. (Confession - this used to be me.)

I was reminded of this by a Twitter conversation this morning with agent-sister @MeganPwrites and our fearless leader @JoSVolpe. Megan made a comment "the worst is when I make a change that affects something earlier." Ah, yes.

It's bad enough that we want to make every sentence perfect as we go along, but then when we change the plot just slightly so that it messes something up that came before, what's a writer to do?

Press on, I say. Press on. In my latest manuscript I was hung up for something like two or three weeks, eek - WEEKS! trying to figure out the time line for two chapters near the end. I knew how I wanted it to end. I had a good inkling of the sequence of events leading up to the ending, but I couldn't get past the terrible conundrum of these two chapters.

Finally, I said heck with it, jotted a few notes to myself of what I need to fix, and pressed on. I wrote the exciting sequence of events towards the end, I wrote the exciting climax, and I wrote the ending. Happy and satisfied, I went back and fixed the two problem chapters and it wasn't really so hard after all. Hey, I had finished the book - what were a couple of problem chapters?

So my advice today, before I head out for another long day of pricing our wonderful junk (er, I mean treasures) is Press On. Finish the chapter. Finish the book. Your feeling of satisfaction and completion will give you renewed energy to go back and fix the things you need to - later.

Carry on, hope your writing flows, and don't forget to listen to the birds sing.

P.S. How do you handle revision addiction? Can you keep going, knowing what you've written is not perfect?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Song of the Swainson's Thrush

I woke this morning to the song of a Swainson's Thrush. Joy. Pure joy. This rather plain, unassuming little bird has the loveliest song of all - like Pan in the forest with a magical spiraling flute.

He arrived last night - after a long journey from Central or South America - or somewhere far to the south. I sat in the living room, simultaneously watching television, checking twitter on my lap top, and reading a new YA book. Then, in the waning light of evening, a beautiful sound came through my window, and I hastily jumped up and walked out on the porch to listen.

With tears in my eyes I recognized the thrilling song and welcomed the little bird back. (Yeah, I know, I'm a sap.) It rained all day yesterday (in fact, it's been raining for three weeks straight) and the wind blew stormy and it didn't feel like June at all. Until now. The Swainson's thrush blew in behind that storm, and he will stay only about two months, here just to raise a family amidst our tall fir trees, and sing sweetly every evening and every morn.

Thrush are shy birds, and hard to spot. I learned to recognize their sound from a CD on identifying bird songs. Yes, folks, besides being a book worm, peep, tweep, and gleek, I'm also a bird nerd. And once you've identified the song of a thrush, you never forget it.

Writers talk a lot about goals. So many words a day, or pages. I made a goal many years ago (when I was just reaching adulthood) that I would always live somewhere pretty. And for the most part (except for some very short stints in apartments in San Francisco and Nashville) I've accomplished this goal.

What are your goals in life? I hope they encompass joy. For me - it's hearing the song of a Swainson's thrush.

Let me know what brings you joy in life.