A Word About Scotland:

I have been in Scotland since Saturday and this is Monday, on a Bank Holiday weekend. Meaning no mail, no banks, and lots of folks milling about the streets of St Andrews.

The weather has been predictably odd, meaning Scottish. I arrived in sunshine, but with the temps fast dropping. A cool night led into gales making the back garden pines in front of the low stone wall dance about like madcap hula girls. Then the sprinkle of rain began, not bad by Scottish standards, but occasionally icy pins assaulting any open skin. By afternoon the sun had come out though that warmed nothing up appreciably. Another cool night. And by this morning, a clear blue sky, sun, and a bit of a breeze. As my friend Ron says, “The weather here changes on your back-swing.”  A golfer’s comment.

It took me a day and a half to figure out why my internet service didn’t work. Seems dear friend Debby tried to help by picking up the house ahead of time and that included plugging stuff in. She plugged the router into the fax machine’s box instead of the phone machine. I suppose David or any competent computer expert would have figured that out in the first five minutes of frustration, but I just cursed under my breath and did all the old stuff over and over, expecting–I suppose–a kind of sympathetic magic would take place. Sympathetic to me, I mean! Finally went to friend Claire’s and used her computer and when I came back managed to sort out the problem.

Then I tackled my closets. Turns out nothing–and I mean nothing excepting two odd dresses and a couple of shirts and two short jackets still fit. Everything else swims on me. I will keep the very best of the large pieces. . .just in case. The rest will go to the Cancer charity shop in town.

Mostly I have spent these first two days lazing about, reading an Ian Rankin non-Rebus mystery, drinking pots of tea, and connecting with old friends. Driven back from the airport by Elizabeth Kerner. Dinner with Debby and Bob Harris (the later sporting a broken arm from a spectacular fall), a hugely funny chat with Janie Douglas, a wonderful gossip with Marianna Lines, quick catch-up with Ron Morrison whose wife Ann is away on her sailboat). And of course a hug from Claire Garabedian before nabbing her ‘puter. Will be having tea later today at Christine Crow and John Anson’s sitooterie. And dinner with Tory friend Peter tomorrow. A dinner party later this week in St A’s. A day in Edinburgh on Saturday. Still several friends off on holidays. Folks who regularly read this journal will recognize the names. And so my 2010 Scottish sojourn begins.

Soon I will be out and checking the garden. There are roses blooming already on the bushes that climb the back wall of the house. And the plants (can’t remember the names of course) that I planted in a lovely box out front last year are blooming heartily with a delicate, feathery pink flower. These I can see from the window. May report on others. But remember, I have a kind of floral dyslexia and can never remember names.

Tomorrow, when everything opens again, I have stuff to do on the car/insurance, get a new tv box for enhanced digital or some such, some banking to be done, and fixing some bill problems. All stuff I hate doing, of course. And then, come Wednesday, my writing life commences. . .I hope. But then I always do good writing whilst here in Scotland.

Time enough when Heidi and Maddison get here at the end of June to do a couple of weeks of being a tourist. (Though Saturday I will be Edinburgh-ing with a friend.) Time enough to revisit the beloved landscapes. I have 3 1/2 months ahead of me here.

So the journal–and I–are seriously interstitial now.

Enjoy.

May 28-29, 2010:

Traveling and settling. Or somewhat Unsettling.

I was up early, made sure everything was packed properly, unpacked it all and packed it again. I have two boxes of books already on the way, and a third will be popped into the mail this next week. Research stuff and books of mine. I carried little of that over.

Heidi drove me to the airport after I’d run through a bunch of alternatives and Glen was ready to go, but Heidi found a bit of extra time. As always, we had plenty to discuss!

The trip to Newark was a bit unnerving as we hit huge pockets of stormy air and did a lot of rocking and rolling. But it was only an hour and bearable. I dreaded thinking about the longer part of the trip ahead.

I concentrated instead on going to the Continental President’s Club, the VIP lounge. Alas, unlike Delta, there was no real food, just cheese and crackers pre-wrapped, fruit, and drinks. However, it was quiet, good chairs, internet access, clean bathrooms. I had a five hour layover.

Got to writing: revising A Bear Sat On My Porch Today (a picture book I am expecting an offer on next week, fingers crossed) as well as revisions on a second picture book the same editor might offer on–Daddy’s Hug, to go along with their Mama’s Kiss book. Worked on some of the Jewish Fairy Tale Feast stuff ,and read half of the galleys for the paperback edition of Dragons! in which Adam and I have a long short story.

And then it was time to get on board the plane to Edinburgh. We were jammed in, not a free seat around. I think it was filled by folks bumped by the Brit Air strike.

The volcano stayed quiet, and the trip over was the smoothest I think I ever experienced. Got to watch two movies–“Leap Year,”  silly and predictable light romantic fare, perfect for the plane, and “When in Rome” equally silly and forgettable, but again perfect for the plane. I started watching “The Messenger” but it was way too heavy for what I needed, a doze-able film that would keep me engaged just enough. I also read every magazine I had with me (back issues of Newsweek and PW), did crossword puzzles, and dozed off probably three times for a count of less than an hour in all.

Picked up by my friend Elizabeth (the usual, Debby Harris, was home tending her husband Bob Harris–yes, my co-author of 8 novels–who had fallen badly and broken his right arm. Luckily he’s a lefty.)

Wayside was filled with flowers and the weather was lovely when I arrived, though by the next day we had gales and rains in the morning and early afternoon, that led to sunshine in the late afternoon. Typical Scottish summer. Ooops, summer according to Janie Douglas , was last week.

After a three hour nap, I mostly  wrestled with the fact that only four things in the closet actually fit me. Luckily I had brought along a bunch of clothes from home. I can see a trip to the cancer research shop is in my future!

Also wrestled with the fact that the Internet connection failed continually and none of my usual Internet helpers were around.

Dinner at Debby and Bob’s with lots of commiserating.

Slept like the proverbial log. Nine hours. Felt like a slug but a happy slug.

The next morning wrestled some more with the internet to no avail. But luck was to come in an odd way. I went to friend Claire’s house and used her computer to check my nearly 100 emails. (It’s a holiday weekend, so slow.) And when I came home, the phone kept ringing and cutting off.

When I finally realized the phone in the tv room had, somehow, been connected to the fax machine by someone who’d stayed here, I disconnected it. (Debbie has just confessed.) Next time the same person rang (it was my buddy Marianna Lines) I found out that she’d been ringing the regular phone and it had gotten switched. That gave me the idea that maybe the router had been switched, too. And so it had. Problem solved.

Did another revision of Bear and another of Hug, organized something for Heidi viz Jewish FTF, and tried to decide if I was awake enough to go to a concert tonight. More anon.

May 26-27, 2010:

Winding down, getting ready to travel to Scotland. This means packing (usually I don’t carry many clothes, because I have a closet full over there. But having lost 40 pounds, I have little that fits. Shifting over US money to Scottish money. Getting my granddaughter and her boyfriend ready to completely take over the house. Sending off several boxes of books for research and to restock my JY shelves there.

Also a tooth filled, bank stuff done, visited friend Bob Marstall who has (alas) shingles and brought him dinner. (He says I am the Jewish Mother Theresa because he began to fill better the minute I got there!) Emailed all my editors about my shift to Summer Mode. Dinner with Heidi and Maddison. Last writers’ group for me till the fall. Hugs and kisses all around. Changed seats in the airplane. Got a driver for the airport.

No writing. . .but a possible (even probable) new picture book sale to be settled next week with my agent. A GREAT Publishers Weekly (no star, alas) review of Not All Princesses Dress in Pink. And continuing great and/or interesting reviews of both Foiled and Except the Queen.

After I get to Scotland (Saturday morning) and rest up from jet lag (I don’t ever sleep on the plane) I hope to tuck into some writing. This is the list of what I have to get done, which does not include something that might ambush me:  Novel–Snow in Summer (I am 3 chapters in). Nonfiction–Girls’ Bible (we want to get half done, or another 4 chapters.) Possibly (probably) more revisions on BUG and Curses, Foiled Again. More Bug Off poems. A final retold folktale for Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts. It will be interesting to see how much I actually get done in the 3 1/2 months to come.

I have a lunch date for Monday with friend Debby, she and Bob will most likely feed me Saturday night, and am invited to a dinner party for next week. Also I expect to have some tea dates and a movie date and. . .all fun stuff.

Volcano willing.

Now I have to check over everything once again.

May 8-May 25, 2010:

The sound you hear is me tugging my forelock and bowing submissively and begging with my eyes for absolution. But I have been massively busy. Here is a taste of it:

May 6: Lawyer for stuff, Austin Lounge Lizards for fun.

May 7-9: Maddison performing with Amherst Ballet. I attend three performances, talk to friends, hand a big check to the Ballet as a sponsor.

May 10-12: Spoke in Binghampton, New York, a five hour drive there and back, applause, book signings, exhaustion.

May 13-16: Flew to South Carolina, the twins and Jason’s birthday celebrations, much storytelling, poetry invention, hugs, eating out, working with Jason and Joanne on book ideas.

May 17: Doctor’s appointment, celebrating Bob Marstall’s birthday.

May 18: Bob Marstall part of an artist’s salon. The “coven of brilliant women” (as he calls us): Patricia Lewis, Mira Bartok, and me all invited to attend. Lots of fun conversation, interesting art (from landscape to sculpture to performance art.)

May 19: Major house cleaning.

May 20-23: my 50th college reunion, with one friend staying over at my house, lots of meals, conversations, book sales and signings, reading of a grief poem for the class memorial (from the same podium where I had run David’s funeral so very difficult time). Standing O for the 101 year old alum who came back for her 80th reunion (only one left in her class) and marched in the parade with only a cane and an undergrad “ambassador” on either side for support.

May 23 (yes doubled over)-May 25: Honesdale PA. four hours drive there and back, to speak and critique at a Jewish writers’s workshop sponsored by Highlights/Boyds Mills. Some great voices, books. I expect at least half of what I heard to be prominently published some day, maybe more!

May 25: Catch up, and begin count down to Scotland.

So, you ask, what about writing. Think these words: writing in the Interstices. In other words, anything I managed to write (three bug poems) was written in the few quiet moments, mostly revision stuff because of editorial comments. Nothing really new or exciting, but those tough choices which make up a writing career as distinct from being a writer. For example, Heidi and I created Yolenbooking@gmail.com to handle my speaking stuff since I had become completely overwhelmed by it. Another example: reading copyedited mss. which may be the fifth or ninth or even twentieth time I have gone over a book. Example: Updating my files on what has been seen where and by whom. It all needs attending to but it sure ain’t writing!

Interstitial Moment:

My friend Steve Sunderland sent on an essay about talent and hard work that resonated with me. It  is by David Shenk and is based on his upcoming book, The Genius in All of Us. Here are some excerpts:

“Baseball legend Ted Williams was widely considered the most gifted hitter of his time, endowed with spectacular eye-hand coordination, exquisite muscular grace and uncanny instincts. ‘Ted just had that natural ability,’ said Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr.

“But to Williams himself, all that innate miracle-man stuff was just ‘a lot of bull.’ He insisted his great achievements were simply the sum of what he had put into the game. ‘Nothing except practice, practice, practice will bring out that ability,’ he explained. ‘The reason I saw things was that I was so intense…It was discipline, not super eyesight.’

“Such comments may once have been cast aside as a form of false modesty, but now scientists are coming to recognize their essential truth. In recent years, a mountain of scientific evidence has emerged that overwhelmingly suggests a new paradigm of success: not talent scarcity, but latent talent abundance. In this conception, human talent and intelligence are not permanently in short supply like fossil fuel, but potentially plentiful like wind power. The problem isn’t our inadequate genetic assets, but our inability, so far, to muster all the necessary resources and attitudes needed to tap into what we already have.

“. . .The first and most important lesson is that intelligence and talent are not innate or static. Fixed abilities are not biologically possible. Instead, all abilities (while strongly genetically influenced) are dynamic skills that get developed over time.

“Let’s be careful not to overstate this point moment of conception, is a result of this nature-nurture interactivity. Genes guarantee that differences will exist, but the actual end-result will emerge from a dynamic developmental process.

“Separately, there’s also strong recent evidence to suggest that few of us ever reach our true genetic limits. The vast majority of us do not come close to tapping what scientists call our unactualized potential.”

Or as I tell my writing students, “Fully half of you in this room are as talented as I am. A quarter of those are more talented. But I doubt anyone here works as hard at his or her writing every day as I do. Every day!

May 6-7, 2010:

I seem to be in the Slough of Despond, otherwise known as Revision Hell. Now don’t get me wrong, normally I love doing revisions. The idea of revisiting a piece I haven’t seen in a while usually energizes me. Time to have a New Vision, Girl!

But somehow everything I had out there has come back for work at the same time. And that leaves me little time to do new stuff. So the new stuff I have tried, felt rushed and ungainly, DOA. If I were triaging, these new pieces would have been set aside. Well, in fact, I did push them aside and not just because they were dull and dead, but because I had so many  DA&3&^*EGY$ revisions to work on.

So I did them: the Wee Poems copyedited mss. (where I wanted a big STET rubber stamp since someone decided to lower case ever single line in every single poem when I wanted them all caps). The poems and nonfictional parts of Birds of a Feather yet again. Several pages of the graphic novel The Lost Dragon which needed some new bits, as suggested by the illustrator. (She was right, but still. . .) A graphic novel proposal that needed re-doing.

I am sure you can tell from the above paragraph how different these books are, and so I was hopping between serious poems, baby poems, graphic novel, which means my mind had to do outrageous acrobatics. If I’d had a week. . .or better yet a month. . .but I do some serious travel starting Monday until I leave for Scotland on the 28th.

So I had to put pedal to the metal and move.

Also along the way–Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, published just last month, has been reprinted. Heidi and I need to celebrate that. And My Uncle Emily has won the Carol Otis Hurst Book Award for a children’s book about the New England experience. The new bathroom is moving on apace.

Oh yea–in the evenings I went one night to hear the “Austin Lounge Lizards” at the Iron Horse with friends Amy, Forrest, and Bob. Topical humor encased in song. And the next night Maddison and the Amherst Ballet troupe performed flawlessly.

May 3-5, 2010:

Arrrrrgh:

A benighted child thought it fun to send me an email saying that: “youre books all sukkkkkk” Now she can’t spell and doesn’t know grammar and hasn’t (a good guess) read ALL my books, but I (the adult) chose to write back and scold her for her overreach etc. Luckily, the return address didn’t work and by the time the email got returned as undeliverable, my pique had subsided and I realized that getting into a pissing contest with a school child was plain stupid, so I just deleted everything. Doesn’t mean I can’t mention it here, though. Parents, teachers–are you aware of the messages your children are sending out to strangers?

Book work:

Heard that both Come to the Fairies’ Ball and My Uncle Emily are on the Bank Street Best Books list–hurrah! Got my complimentary copies of My Father Knows the Names of Things and my first copy of Lost Boy: The Story of James M. Barrie.

A small company wants to do an audio of The Scarecrow’s Dance. That should take–let’s see–a minute and a half of reading, even if they pump it up with music!

Wrestled with a picture book one editor wanted about an Elementary School’s Hundredth Day. It did not work. Not a bit of it. Am throwing it out.

On the other hand, using a poem I had sold to a Lee Bennett Hopkin’s anthology years ago and enlarging on it, I wrote a Chanukah book called One Little Light, requested by the same editor. We will see if she likes it and wants to buy it. If not, I have several other places to try it.

Finished the revision stuff on Bad Girls which I shall pass over to Heidi. She’s terrifically busy on Maddison’s ballet stuff right now.

Had an interview by phone for WBZ radio that went well.

Grand writer’s group meeting from which the Interstitial Moment below came pouring out.

Other stuff:

Ran the Jane Yolen Annual Writing Contest for Hatfield Elementary. Probably the 20th or maybe 23rd, we long ago lost count. Eighteen winners got autographed books by me. In addition, four young authors got checks for $10 each, and the grand prize winner a check for $15. All the kids were wonderful, cheering on the winners.

Had a nice tea with neighbors, Nina and her daughter Annie.

Learned that another old neighbor/friend died last week and I was completely unaware of it since the local papers simply stack up here mostly unread.

We are all suffering with snow/cold rain one week, and temps in the low 90’s the next. Everyone is sneezing, snuffling, grumbling. I am counting the days till I get to go off to Scotland.

Interstitial Moment:

While I was driving home from my writer’s group today, I thought–and not for the first time–how much I love the women in my group. They are all well-published children’s book writers (though some of us also write adult books). So I decided I needed to write about the phenomenon of such critique groups.

There are basically two kinds of such groups. First, there are those groups in which each author reads pieces aloud at the meeting and it is critiqued then and there. Secondly, the group in which manuscripts are handed over a week or two in advance (sometimes more) and everyone offers a written critique, sometimes accompanied by a spoken critique.

My group is the read-aloud type, which makes sense because most of what is read in our group are poems, picture books, short fiction, and essays. But we also have the occasional novel (both YA and adult) which pose certain different problems, mostly because they have to be read aloud over weeks and weeks and if one or another of us cannot make a meeting or two, the threads of the novel seem to go missing. And it is true–we realize it every time–that a book heard is different than a book read. The eye and the ear are different listeners.

But a critique group is more than just what is being read. It is also about the personalities, tastes, backgrounds, and critical acuity of the members. I know, for example, that some of my peers are amazing poets and I listen very carefully when they talk about the lyrical lines, parse single words, remark on scansion. Others have an innate sense of the arc of a novel, or the compression of a short story, or a fine ear for dialogue. We critique the critiquers, though usually inwardly.

And our group is also about networking. We have so many agents, so many publishers, so many editors in our histories, that we can share that sort of information. In our group we have had movies made of our work, theatrical plays, audio books, musicals, even gourd sculptures with a poem attached. (Okay, I’ll admit, that one was me.) We discuss recent new delivery systems (other than just books) and changes in publishing personnel, as well as the latest hirings and firings in the business, etc. And occasionally we discuss money.

And finally, it is about friendships. We are family. We care about spouses, children, grandchildren, aging parents. When my husband died, these women were my rock. When my grandchildren were born, they rejoiced with me. As I do with all of them and for all of them.

As for their critiques–they have saved me from overwriting, underwriting, and no writing. They have encouraged me and instilled courage in me when I needed it. Stopped me from making a fool of myself with editors. They can be ruthless with their criticisms and yet couch it in the terms of love. We always say something good before the critique.

People talk about how lonely a writer’s job is. But I have two answers for that: how can I be lonely with all those invisible friends talking to me in my head every day? And how can it be lonely when I have these seven women in my life?

May 2, 2010:

Worked most of the day on the edited Bad Girls, trying to get as much done as possible, but not rushing it. Heidi will get her turn next. Got about halfway through. This next-to-last time with the manuscript (I hope) gives me a chance to read it aloud and hear it again. For me, the ear is as important in good writing as the eye.

I did some more cleaning up of the house. Gave my wonderful cleaning lady six pieces of clothing that are now too large for me and she was thrilled.

The early evening I met friends Shelly Rotner (photographer/author) and Diane deGroat (author/illustrator) and off we drove to the foothills of the Berkshires for dinner with Susan Pearson (author/editor) and her partner Alice Schertle (poet/author)/ at their house. Four hours of gossip, sharing stories and new books, passionate discussion, hearty laughs, and sighs over the wonderful food later, Diane and Shelly and I drove home. Ah. . .the good life.

May 1, 2010:

Except for a quick trip into town to get the laundry and pay the last tile bill for the second bathroom, I was at home, doing some house cleaning and rearranging furniture, laundry, putting together the four boxes of birthday gifts to send off to the four grandlings who have birthdays May-August, when I am not around to celebrate with them.  And a lot of writing.

What did I write? Email, mail, a Saturday Night Live-type skit with friend Franny Hoeskstra, for our 50th Smith College reunion later this month. (Her idea. But I fell into it easily.) And then I settled in to work on finalizing stuff for Lunch Bunch with Jason, 500 more words on Snow in Summer, thinking about what to send Pirene’s Fountain (an online poetry journal which has published me before), and catching up on my journal here.

Doesn’t sound like much, but it took up the complete day. And–as I had promised myself–after four days of getting to bed late, I pushed my body up the stairs right at 9 and was asleep before the clock’s hands moved around to the quarter-after slot.

 

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