Half-mowed is the grass as I write these words on a warm morning verging on summer in Birmingham. The sabbatical marches on, the sands in the hourglass drain ever faster.
I’ll mow the backyard tonight.
If only chapters were as easy as mowing the grass. Though I do see similarities. I use a push mower which means aggravating little sticks get caught in the blades constantly. I have to stop and untangle them much like I do the words in my stories. The only difference is that I swear a lot more mowing the grass than I do writing my books.
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I signed my book contract yesterday for my new Maggie Valley picture book called, Ernestine’s Milky Way, which is still kind of a “somebody pinch me, please” sensation.
The book is described this way in the contract:
2. Description of the Work. The Work shall be a picture book about a five-year-old girl delivering milk to her neighbors in the Appalachian Mountains during World War II.
I have a few more edits to do but it’s so close now. It’s fascinating to play with 1100 words, and I’m definitely trying to get it shorter with my editor’s fantastic eye and suggestions.
Where the Wild Things Are is 337 words. I cannot imagine ever writing that short. The pub date for Ernestine is summer 2018 with Random House/Schwartz & Wade.
Are You There Vulcan? It’s Me, Millie-Graciela is now 35,000 words, 146 pages. I wanted it done by now but it’s not and that’s okay. I’m in a new writers group and that is helping my head and sanity as we share work every few weeks. I love a good writing group where we read our work aloud and heard what’s working and what is not.
My new goal with Vulcan is to focus on the tasks he sets for Millie-Graciela to accomplish. Right now the tasks include something to do with the marble in Sylacauga, the Dismals Canyon and its Rainbow Falls, and Sloss Furnaces.
I have no clue what exactly yet, but E.L.Doctorow said, “‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.'”
So that’s what I’m doing and driving very slowly while I’m at it.
I do have a draft of a brand new picture book called “The Teardrop Sisters of Bodrum Castle,” inspired by a trip to Turkey in 2007. Here is a picture of the Teardrop Sisters. They make tiny bottles to catch the tears of princesses. I fell in love with these sweet girls who have haunted me to write a story ever since.
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I have also begun another new picture book called “The Water Buffalo of Ningbo,” inspired by a rollicking and frolicking water buffalo I once saw splashing in the rice fields of Ningbo like a giant labrador retriever. I’m thinking of it as a kind of Chinese Ferdinand.
What else? I don’t understand why I’m writing picture books now, but they are coming to me, and even though it’s tempting to resist them in order to keep plugging away at the novel, I am trying to stay open and receptive and welcome these stories into my “What are you doing here?!!!!!” frantic imagination, if that makes any sense.
As for Hop the Pond, the book for grownups, I have a new file called “Hop the Pond on a Diet,” which is basically me ruthlessly slicing out voices that don’t move the plot forward in those galumphing 400 pages.
Finally, I am just home from a family wedding and a funeral with college visits tossed in too. Norah and I drove to Washington DC last Thursday and returned on Monday. We spent the night in Knoxville on the way up and back. It was a torrential downpour of rain and trucks on 81 the whole way up, but sunny skies all the way home.
We stayed with friends on the way there but on the way back, Norah had a 3D art/poetry project due. I could not show up at any of my friends’ homes with a hot glue gun and paint at midnight, so we stayed at the Rhodeway Inn where art occurred until three am and then I shouted at the child to go to bed.
We had to stop at Jittery Joe’s in Cleveland, Tennessee to revive ourselves, and she went directly to school, caffeine-fortified.
The wedding was lovely with cousins I hadn’t seen in years and many of whom Norah had never met. Shortly before the wedding, an elderly cousin died so we went to the funeral before we drove back to Alabama. There is so much to say about the wedding, but I’ll save it for another post except to say the bride and groom were beautiful.
Rafael & Jeanne-Marie
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At the funeral luncheon a few days after the wedding, Norah told me that a cousin approached her and said “So Norah, were you named after James Joyce’s wife?”
“No,” she replied, “I don’t think so. I think I’m named after the song – ‘Norah, the Pride of Kildare.'”
The cousin replied, “Hey, I’m Irish. But I’m not that Irish. Never heard of it.”
This makes me laugh. I don’t even know which cousin it was who asked her. She met so many cousins that she has no idea either, but it made her laugh too.
When I was pregnant with Norah, my parents asked about baby names. When I said, “Norah,” my father’s response was: “Norah? Norah? That sounds like a scullery maid!”
My mother hushed him at once and said, “Norah with an ‘h’ sounds very distinguished.”
Dad said, “Ah hell. Distinguished? No, it’s a name for a scullery maid washing dishes and scrubbing floors. Name the baby ‘Keely’ or ‘Casey.’ Those are all real Irish names!”
My sister is Keely and my brother is Casey, and I have another brother, Duffy.
I am positive that my father, a former football coach, never used the word “scullery” in a sentence before or since, but now that makes me laugh too.
As for the town of Kildare, it’s about 30 miles west of Dublin, and here are some of the lyrics of this old Irish folk song.
Norah, the Pride of Kildare As beauteous as Flora, is charming young Norah, The joy of my heart and the pride of Kildare; I ne'er will deceive her, for sadly 'twould grieve her To find hat I sighed for another less fair.
So that’s all for today, but I’ll leave you with these lovely words from Susan Sontag as I head back into the land of stories.
“Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.”
(Thank you for this quote, Patti Callahan Henry.)
Here are images from the trip, including the gift of my grandmother’s dishes and my grandfather’s drinking glasses. They’ve been in the barn twenty years, and my sister and I are splitting them. I ate off these dishes every time I came to DC, and my grandfather, a hunter, probably shot all the wildfowl on these glasses.
Dishes and glasses of childhood
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A few images of the weekend
Aunt Sally & Keely
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Norah and Keely playing “Christina’s World.”
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Norah, Aunt Sally, my dad, Joe, Uncle Ray, and my mother, Janis.
View from the barn 🙂
More pictures and stories to come.