August 25-29, 2010:

I have been overwhelmed lately with invitations. All my Scottish friends realize I am leaving in two weeks, and suddenly the invites are coming in thick and fast. So think of me wining and dining my way across Fife. Or perhaps it’s whining and dining as I obsess about the bustle of my return, not to mention the dreaded flights.

Why in this four days alone I have had: tea with Marianna and Pete at my house, a visit from Vanessa and kids to report on their first day of school (and more tea and biscuits, a BBQ at Ron and Ann’s with old friends and a food hangover afterwards, Afternoon Tea at Rufflets with Janie Douglas, and a long natter about the novel with Debby as well as discussing Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Catriona.

So, you ask, what about the important stuff? What about writing?

Well, that, too: finished and sent off Snow in Summer, reworked the two first chapters of Girls’ Bible, hacked my way into (but only half done) for a proposal for Wing Beats, a new bird book collaboration with Jason, reworked a poem I’d sent over a year ago to Terri Windling into a picture book called Oh, My Bunny Girls, finished the two speeches for the Irish SCBWI conference, fiddled on several spreads of Last Dragon because of stuff the artist has done which necessitated some changes, reworked Daddy’s Hug (a companion to Mama’s Kiss) and sent it off, received two more rejections, and worked on a couple of poems. See–I am not letting all the invitations to get in the way. Much.

But as usual two weeks from going back across the Pond, I have been dreaming about the States, getting a bit tense about the return trip and all I have to do once I land: book stuff, money stuff, speaking stuff, workshops, and a house full of paperwork to be tended to. Honestly, I like the quieter pace of Scotland and the days I have to read and to write and to think. Thinking about writing is not overrated. At least not to me.

But the nights draw in here, and the pull of a New England autumn is strong. I miss my kids and grandlings. Miss my writers’ group. Miss having dinners with Bob Marstall and others. Miss getting to go into New York and seeing my marvelous agent Elizabeth and the editors. I am truly of two souls. Montaigne spoke about “Two souls in a single breast,” and that’s me. But aren’t I lucky to have both worlds.

Interstitial Moment:

This from a speech I’m giving in Ireland in two weeks for SCBWI:

I seemed to have been absent from school the day plot was taught. So I will tell you in several sentences what I believe plot is all about. You may argue with me at will.

I believe there are two kinds of writers: the ones who carefully consider plot, who craft it with outlines and maps, with tending to the Gross National Product of the place of their story, and they know every thing ahead of time. And then there are the others who simply shake hands with their characters, take the measure of them, let them loose into the mist, and then spend the rest of the book plunging after the characters shouting, “Wait for me.”

I am of the latter group, a true scrambler in the mist, absolutely the wrong person to lecture you on plot.

But this I know: the only place you will ever find a plot-driven life is in the pages of a book. Donald Trump’s life? Too messy and sprawling and positively unbelievable and bad seed-ish. Richard Branson’s life? All forward motion and no place to rest. Tiger Woods? Not a tragedy. Farce maybe, except for the heartbreak imposed upon his wife. You need nobility of character for tragedy. Brangelina? Are you kidding me? Too much character, no real story. Lady Di? Don’t get me started.

and a bit later:

I –being a lover of fairy tales– knew immediately that the deeply-rooted last line in folk stories, “And they lived happily ever after,” is the core of what we think we know about endings. We hear it always in out hind brain because it’s the last line most of us in the West have grown up with. That line stops the story at the point of greatest happiness. The wedding, the homecoming, the mystery unraveled, the villain disposed of, families reunited, babies born.

If we went on in the story, that happy ending might not be deserved. “Cinderella” might be whispered about in court: after all, her manners are not impeccable, she always has smudges of ash on her nose, and no one can trace her bloodline back enough generations. Perhaps she has grown fat eating all that rich food in the castle, and the prince’s eye has strayed.

If we went on in “Three Little Pigs”, the brother who builds with bricks will have kicked the other two out of his house or hired them to run his successful company and they—angry at their lower status—plot to kill him but having little imagination do it the only way they know how, by trying to boil him in the pot that still holds the memory of the wolf’s demise, so being by far the smartest of that trio, of course he finds out.

And as for those “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” they have grown old, and are massively obese from lack of nightly exercise. They are all unmarried (except for the oldest who married beneath her, and I’m sure there’s more to that story) and they still keep on about how their disgusting father ruined their lives by hiring the soldier to find out their secret. You see—in fairy tales we know where to end. And it’s taken care of in that last line: “happily ever after.”

But modern books pose a different problem. They present harder choices. It’s no longer fairy tale endings we are talking about, but the other stuff.

And I go on for about 45 minutes along these lines. Hope they enjoy it.

August 13-24, 2010:

This is what happens when I am head-down in a revision. Well, three revisions, really. Days and days of cutting, hacking, sawing, sanding, pasting, un-gluing, the usual.

The initial part of the revision consisted of reading through beta-reader Debby’s major comments, which were mostly about the first half of the book, and understanding the problems therein: getting rid of the father’s pieces and concentrating on the three women whose story it truly is, as well as fixing the forward motion. The second revision went step by step through the entire novel, where Debby had affixed many more notes. The third was to go over the whole thing once again, reading it as a single piece of writing instead of many fixes. And on the way, I solved a major plot problem which both Debby and I had spied but neither of us had come up with the solution until the final final draft.

Now SNOW IN SUMMER is off to the publisher’s editor (who is off on a vacation) so it will be a while till I have to tackle this again. Just as well. I am plumb tired of the book.

Along the way, I also read a bunch of son Jason’s book proposals, worked on Bob Harris’ short story and helped him turn it into a picture book, diddled with a poem or two, and thought about other writing I need to do.

Oh–and two more rejections. As I said above–the usual.

Read Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” for the first time since I was a kid and realized it’s an absolute textbook teaching tool for how to write a brilliant short novel. Have begun the sequel, “Catriona” because I want to know how David Balfour’s story ends and actually never read it before. It isn’t a patch on the first book. Some day I ust write an Interstitial Moment for this journal on writing sequels and following books. Also read Gregory’s “White Queen,” an interesting potboiling historical with a lot of bodice-ripping elements. Good bathtub reading.

Oh, and I had some fun, too, including but not limited to: Another trip to the Pittenweem festival, this time with Christine, to pick up my purchase; two days of touristing around with friend Susannah Richards who stayed over three nights; dinner out with Elaine; dinner in at Debby and Bob’s; a wild day at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh with friends Elizabeth and Steven that culminated in a performance by Battlefield Band; dinner over at Vanessa’s with her family and an Italian colleague of Ifor’s; tea in Janie Douglas’ in-laws garden while her wonderful husband Tom cut-and-slashed his way through the undergrowth (reminding me of the work on my novel, actually, though sweatier!); and plenty of tea and comforting emails as well as Skype visits with Heidi and my brother Steve who lives in Brazil.

Not a bad life, actually.

August 4-12, 2010:

I have been busy with guests and stuff since finishing the novel. Things like tea with a friend and neighbor who’s moving back to the States, old Hitchcock movie with  Nora, one evening at the Pittenweem Arts Festival with Bob and Deb, their son Matthew, and their friend Steve, and then again the next day with Pam. I actually bought a piece which is a first for me!

I had six YA fantasy writers over for lunch on Sunday, and one–Lisa Tuttle–stayed overnight. We called it the First Annual Scottish YA Fantasy Writer’s Summit: Lisa, me, Bob and Debby, Elizabeth Wein, Elizabeth Kerner, and Annemarie Allen.

Friend Connie Kirk, who had taken a workshop on writing picture books with me and was over as an Emily Dickinson scholar giving a paper at a conference, came for an overnight with her husband and son.

Mike Swanwick, one of my favorite fantasy writers, his lovely wife, and a pair of their friends came for a long tea that morphed into dinner.

So I have been a butterfly after weeks of being a bee.

Oh and suffered from a pinched nerve and really bad reflux all on the same day. Well, better to have it all it once than dribbling over days and weeks.

And there is book news: In less than an hour, friend Debby will be over to discuss her close reading of Snow in Summer and what it still needs.

I sold Grumbles from the Forest, a book of fairy tale poems I wrote with Rebecca Kai Dotlich to Boyds Mills after a very long wait.

Accepted the offer from Holy Cow Press in Minneapolis, a small but well-thought-of literary publisher, for my book of poems about David’s death–Things to Say to a Dying Man.

Contracts came for A Bear Sat On My Porch Today, a picture book.

Starred review for Elsie’s Bird and 4th printing for Not All Princesses Dress in Pink and also a special sale to the Hallmark stores.

Wrote a short story “Andersen’s Witch” for an anthology, though my guess is that it’s not quite what the editor wants. Wrote How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Christmas and How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Chanukah, which the editor and the illustrator like.

And got three rejections.

Good few weeks.

Intersitital Moment:

This is a poem about the gull George that I fed and took care of in the garden till he was ready to fly off.

Goodbye to the Gulls

For two weeks, down the flue,

from their nest on the chimney pots,

the black-backed gulls cackled and called,

spitting out bird words—food, flight, danger.

When the baby slipped down the slant

of the canted roof and landed in the patio,

Aal fluff and legs, screaming for food,

his beak wide open for hours at a time,

I thought I’d go mad with the noise.

Yet for three long weeks I fed him,

named him George or possibly Georgette,

with baby gulls it’s hard to tell.

I ducked when Mama Gull dived down at me,

crying out danger, food, flight, all of the above.

For three long weeks I watched over George

feeding him crackers., cooked chicken, bread.

He always demanded more, in that insistent

creak of a voice., and well-trained, I supplied it.

Four days ago, fully fledged, he flew

over the garden hedge, into the town

where gulls scream all day and all night long,

and the residents complain, their voices

louder, trilling their Scottish r’s

like kettles on the boil.

As for me, strangely, I miss the gulls

who all flew off after George,

carrying their cacophony with them.

The silence is worse than the cries.

© 2010 Jane Yolen All Rights Reserved

July 27-August 3, 2010:

Boy, have I been head down and working on Snow in Summer, writing about 1500 words every two days, setting the words down the first day, revising the next, dreaming of the chapter to come, figuring out the ending. And yes, Dear Readers, I did get the complete draft down, just a bit over 40,000 words, right on target.

Now the book is with my beta reader, Deborah (Debby) Turner Harris.(She’s my plot guru, too.) So I am hoping what she has to say won’t be too onerous. I have the next two weeks with multiple guests to get the revisions done, and then off to the editor whom–I am certain–will have MUCH to say.

Do I like it? Parts. But the whole? It’s too new to know. Still at the “just words” stage.

I also worked on the 3-5th revisions of the How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Christmas and How Do Dinosaurs Celebrate Chanukah. This was the editor’s brainstorm and I am waiting to see what she thinks of what I sent. Heidi sent me great notes on it, and I reworked it and sent THAT on to the editor. I’ve heard from illustrator Mark Teague who is itching to start. After all, he has to do two complete books instead of one. But we need the editor on board.

And I have a bunch of short stories partially written, trying to decide which one is a good idea for one of the anthologies I’ve been invited to.

As to playing:

I went with friend Claire to the Cheese Farm where we had a great natter about life, studying (at 50 she’s going for a doctorate), books, music, & everything.

Nora and I took in “Inception” at the movies. An interesting combination/gloss/redaction of “Matrix” and several other movies as well as a couple of Phil Dick short stories. First time I ever heard an entire audience gasp at an ending before.

Several dinners at Bob and Debby’s and watching the new Sherlock Holmes series with them. Lucky that Bob taped it because he fell asleep!

I have been watching the first of the Swedish “Wallender” mysteries  now out on CDs which a friend lent me.

Walked around town and did some gallery hopping with Christine one day.

Had Janie and her builder husband over for tea and we discussed three possible projects for the house, one of which he helped me dismiss. One of which I hope to get going on for next summer.

And getting ready for the onslaught of friends this weekend and next week. Thank goodness the book is done.

 

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