March 21-March 29, 2010:

Much book work this week:

Finished the revisions (this round) of Curses, Foiled Again. It said Revision 2 on the folder, but in actuality closer to 4 or 5. The main problem was to make the characters earn their endings. I hope I managed that. Sent it off to the editor and the illustrator.

Then Adam and I tackled more of BUG revisions.

Heidi and I got the first section of Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts in to the editor, the introductions and brunch.

I did a revision of A Bear Sat On My Porch Today, though I’m not happy with it so far. I need to talk to the editor.

Heidi and I were sent the first color proofs of Pretty Princess Pig. Except for the fact that Heidi’s name was spelled wrong, it was delicious! Thanks illustrator Sam Williams.

Meetings, Greetings, and Eatings:

Crescent Dragonwagon stayed overnight at the house, and she and Patty MacLachlan and I went out to dinner. Lots of hilarity ensued.

I did a SKYPE interview with a group of teens who had studied Briar Rose. A bit like pulling teeth, Fortunately their teacher had already done most of the pulling! So she asked their questions.

Along with Patty, Rich Michelson, Corinne, Kathy Brown, Katie Schneider I was on a panel at Mt Holyoke. Loved hearing their stories about working on books.

Then it was a birthday dinner for Maddison and Glendon at the Go Ten restaurant.

Went to the WMIG (illustrators’) meeting at Bob Marstall’s studio.

And then the weekend got me on about six panels at the Smith College Science Fiction convention called ConBust. Interestingly, the best attended and (to me) most interesting panel I was on was with Tamora Pierce and Jody Shapiro, a folklorist/religion professor about religion in fantasy and sf literature. And it was at 11 a.m. Sunday morning. Who knew!

And lastly:

The first bathroom is completely renovated except for some cupboards and some touch-ups and looks sensational. The wonderful Dan the Handyman will be taking a week between to help his sister with some flooring and begin the second one next Monday.

Interstitial Moment:

Today (March 22nd) is the fourth anniversary of my husband’s death. David and I met when we were both out of college, he a year, me a newly-minted alum. We had both gone to New York City, he after a year of teaching math at Wheeling College in West Virginia, come to the city to get a job with IBM in the first group of programmers to work on Fortran. I to get a job in publishing.

We met cute (as they say in the movies), in the summer of 1960, and two years later were married. September 2, 1962.

Though we were both busy people, often on the road in different directions, it was a wonderful marriage, we had three bright, talented children, and were 44 years legally wed and the first two not legal but just as important, 46 years altogether. He got to see all six of his grandchildren. One was even named after him.

And then he died. On March 22, 2006, he (quite literally) turned his face to the wall, slipped into a semi-coma, and died while son Adam played “Jamie Across the Water” on the guitar, a piece David had requested for his funeral, and while I held his hand whispering, “Go across the water if you must, my love.” The early spring birds were singing outside, piped in by a microphone that his friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology had hooked up for him, and that was a comfort on his journey as well.

So today it was raining after a week of explosive birdsong and a false early spring. That seemed appropriate. I sat by myself in the living room, lit three candles, drank a cup of tea, and talked to his pictures. Daughter Heidi says it is only a problem if the pictures talk back. Snark runs deep in the DNA of Yolen women.

Did it make me feel better? To be honest, only having him return would feel that way though having been deeply scarred by “The Monkey’s Paw” as a child reader, I would never wish for that. Or at least I wouldn’t make that bargain. But it made me feel a bit peaceful and a bit resigned and a bit nostalgic and a bit weepy. But mostly I felt a deep peace.

I, too, will some day go across the water. Will be there be someone waiting for me there? I have never been that sort of a believer. But if there is, it had better be David. He was always the best guide and companion on trips.

Selah.

The cancer had turned my tall, strong, marching-up-mountains husband who was–in the admiring words of his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews “The man who knew everything” into a shrunken, probably blind, thinned down ghost. But he could do one last thing. And he did it. He willed himself to go across the water.

I wrote this poem for him among many others in the years after he left.

Grief Is Not

Grief is not getting easier,

But becoming more ordinary,

As if I’ve always carried this stone in my breast,

Calling it a heart.

Grief is not going away,

Just not arriving in tsunami force.

Rather it’s a steady high tide,

Which makes me wonder about the rocks below.

Grief is not a one-time thing,

Not several days, weeks, months,

But is a visitor who has moved in for good,

And occasionally helps out around the house.

Grief is not unwelcome here,

For it reminds me of how much I have lost,

And how blessed I was

To have so much to lose.

March 15-March 20, 2010:

Ah spring. Well not exactly. It’s March which, as often as not here in New England, means lots of snow still, winds, gusty, chill. So why have we been running a temperature? Really–we have had a week in the high 60’s and low 70’s? The flowers are thrusting forward. I keep running outside to shout at them: “Stop! Be careful! Don’t trust this!” But do they listen? No.

In fact it has been so warm, the maple syrup guys are saying they have gotten only 20% of last year’s crop. They needed another month of freezing or close-to-freezing nights to keep on sugaring. One told me this when I was out to breakfast with friends at his sugarhouse.

So what have I done on these glorious days? Walked a bit. Sat outside a bit. Then ran back inside to do work.

What work you ask?

Taxes.

Taxes.

Taxes DONE!!!

Oh and got a first round finished on the Curses Foiled Again revision. Now to go back over my notes from the editor, and re-read Foiled, and do the old retro-fit shuffle.

I did a first revision of the picture book A Bear Sat On My Porch Today because an editor is interested in it. It needs more work, though. (Yes, they always need more.)

Read my new picture book–The Old Giant Comes to Tea–to my writer’s group and then came home and revised it.

Dan the Handyman (scarcely more than a boy–well Heidi’s age) began work on the first of the two bathrooms that needed revamping, refitting, re-working, and restoring before someone fell through the shower stall and into the basement! By the weekend the first was taking shape and looking stunning. He’s a good worker, is Dan.

Hosted Battlefield Band, the great Scottish folk rock group, after their Iron Horse gig and instead of going to bed like sensible folk, they decided to play for us at the house. We sang, we danced, we went through three huge bottles of single malt. One of the guests (she had lent them her keyboards since it now costs an arm-and-leg to carry these things on an airplane) made the mistake of trying to match Scottish lads drinking  Scotch. Bad idea. So we insisted she stay over on the sofa.

Went to friend Jan’s for dinner-movie night with the girls. We watched “The Crucible.”

Took Scottish Country Dancing lessons one evening.

Had dinner with old friend Shulamith Oppenheim at Chez Albert. Went to the monthly Cummington Group dinner party.

I forced myself to stay home Saturday night.

Another dinner with a new friend tonight.

What a round of gallivanting.

At least the taxes got done!!!

March 3-March 14, 2010:

Apologies. Really, life just got away from me. Or ran away with me! Here is a round-up with a boatload of observations. Mostly, though, I have been gallivanting around giving speeches, fulminating, potificating, and any other gerund that means I have been standing on soap boxes and lecturing folks.

Books:

Along the way I have been doing a bit of writing. Mostly revising CURSES, FOILED AGAIN. It is a slow process, with a lot of retrofitting and rethinking how the characters can–in my editor’s words–“earn” their ending. But also doing a bit more humor amidst the mad-dash of the terrifying plot. (Well, maybe more mad-dash than terrifying, if I want to be absolutely honest.) Also along the way a new picture book about tea with an old giant surprised me.  I shall read it tomorrow to my writing group in the hopes that I am nearly ready (enough) to send it to my agent.

The main thrust of my writing, though, has been to work on the above lectures.

Books Take Two:

I received the f&gs of Elsie’s Bird which are lovely. David Small is a brilliant minimalist illustrator and has captured this small tale of a widowed Boston father who drags his young daughter west to make a new start in Nebraska where at first the girl is overwhelmed by the bigness and silence of the prairie.

Also, I was sent Scholastic’s first attempt at a sticker book for the Dinosaur brand. The stickers are fun but the problem is that it has lost the peppiness and the bad/good manners play of the series. So I have told them we have to rethink it. And I need to be more involved.

Bob Harris and I have had an offer for a theatrical production of our Hipployta novel. Mark Teague and I are fielding a possible movie/tv offer for the dinosaurs. All this takes energy and time, even while it sounds like a great deal of fun.

I have been nominated (“It’s an honor just to be nominated”) for the Fantasy Poetry Society of America’s Grand Master award. A Mirror to Nature won the John Burroughs children’s book prize. Never a bad two weeks when this sort of thing happens!

Everything else:

Doctor’s appointments (am doing much better, thanks), and then off to Spartenburg, SC for their enormously successful “Jamboread” festival in which I gave a presentation to  standing-room-only crowd, and signed a gadzillion books. OK, not by actual count. But it felt that huge. Also I had two dinners with Lois Lowry and we bonded at the hip.

Then there was a reception for four authors and four illustrators (though one–Leonard Baskin–was a posthumous no-show!) because of a gallery show at Mt. Holyoke College of our work.

Several days later I was off to Honesdale, Pa, where I did a 3 1/2 day picture book workshop under the auspices of Boyds Mills Press. I had ten students, all of them published, some with books, others with magazine or newspaper credits. There was a waiting list, but I had specified only ten. The writers came from nine different states, including Oregon and California. I think there will be–after serious revisions–some very publishable books coming out of the group.

Now I hve three weeks at home or within driving distance of any speechifying. I hope this means I will finish this draft of Curses, Foiled Again and some other revisions. I hope it means movie dates and theater dates and dinner dates all with my neglected friends and family.

Interstitial Moment:

H

On the airplane rides to Spartenberg SC for a conference and back again, I have been reading May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal. And realizing—as I often do when reading poetry and personal narrative—how little I know about the world and how shallowly I think about things. I am a moment-to-moment kind of person with a mayfly mind compared to those people who can think  deeply about their lives: past, present, future. It was something I admired lavishly in my husband David’s makeup. And I expect it was what enabled him to live life to the fullest without complaint and then turn his face to the wall when he was done.

Do not, I beg you dear readers, write to me and tell me how smart I am or how deep. I am not fishing for compliments, but acknowledging something I understand at the bone level. I am satisfied with my small talent and have made the most of it. I love what I do. I know my place on the pecking order of writers. There is nothing to complain about. It is just an observation.

February 21-March 2, 2010:

Sometimes life gets away from me, and I do not get to this journal. So a quick catch up of life, books, and the interstices.

Books: About five rejections from various publishers, but this balanced by the joy of selling two small (novella-sized) fairy tale novels to be elegantly published by Philomel. Titles later on when I have thought about the some more. With great thanks to editor Jill Santopolo. These will be our first books together, and she took the lead in getting them through the rigorous acceptance process.

Meanwhile, I worked on writing and rewriting speeches, a bit on the revisions for Curses, Foiled Again. Then I put together a collection of my adult fantasy poems and sent the mss. off to the small fantasy poetry publisher, Midsummer’s Night Press, with my fingers crossed.

The Branding arm of Scholastic has sent a new Dinosaur book idea–a sticker book. It has some delightful elements, but I am a stickler (hah!) for it to hold on to the format of the original books. So we are doing the pushme-pullyou dance right now. Since they are being very accommodating to both Mark Teague (the illustrator)  and me, I have high hopes we will work this through.

There were two writers’ group meetings and an illustrators’ meeting at Ruth Sanderson’s new and sumptuous studio, as well as tea with a quite wonderful Jewish feminist artist I’d love to work with.

I spoke at the South Deerfield Womens’ Club about my life as a writer, then went off the next day to Atlanta for the SCBWI’s Southern Breeze conference. Gave a speech about writing and the new and difficult world of publishing, a Q&A where I gave even more difficult news but reminded them that the people who stumble at the first gate do not go on to win the race. I was also on two panels, gave five picture book critiques, and did a signing. The people who put the conference together were unfailingly charming, funny, talented folks who made certain I was well taken care of, with shout outs especially to my conference angel Debbie, my driver Lisa, my artist buddy Elizabeth, and my new best friend Hester.

But as you can see, so much to do, I was frustrated by not having enough time to work on more things.Writing is my passion. When I cannot do it, well I get cranky.

Life, the Universe, and Everything or What I Did For Fun: A dinner/history movie night at friend Jan’s; tea with a date (an actor who was quite interesting); and a Celtic music duo at the Iron Horse with my old friend, Patricia.

Also physical therapy, a new med tried for back pain that made me reel as if I were on a three-day drunk, and a lot of shopping for bathroom stuff for the renovated bathroom with Heidi who makes sure I hold the purse-strings close.

Interstitial Moments:

Sometimes old friends are all but invisible as we chase the new. We expect them to be around always, like old beloved toys stashed in the cupboard, which we take out once and awhile, admire, remember, then put away again.

Note to self: do not let this keep happening.

 

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