Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lois Lowry

I'm so behind much to do, so much to say.

I have more pictures to post of my visit to Crestview and Indian Hills in Clive, Iowa, but I'll do that after finishing final grades....this is too time-consuming.

I do, however, want to mention that after Lois Lowry's live online booktalk through School Library Journal, I quickly ordered Gathering Blue (which I had started and never finished), Messenger, and her latest novel in the series, Son. 

Image lifted from Amazon, obviously:
I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know these four books were a series. Not having gotten far enough in Gathering Blue to see the connections (which were sort of magically aha-inspiring when I got there), I didn't know that an answer existed in the universe as to what happened to Jonas and Gabe at the end of The Giver, which I've read many times. I love that book so much, I even required it a few times when I taught Humanities Critical Thinking at SCC, in hopes that the idea of treasuring knowledge and learning might sink in.

So, in between grading and the frantic pace of December in a college, I did plow through the last three books. Lois Lowry is a master of character and what I would call magical realism. She creates a dystopian world but makes the characters so heroic and human, even with their gifts, that I couldn't put down any of the books.

Son was truly a crowning end to the series. It's an epic struggle of good-heartedness against controlling society and against evil (is there a difference?). In the Ceremony of "Twelves"--the ceremony where Jonas was named "Receiver" from the "Giver," Claire is named "Birthmother." Birthmothers' job is reminiscent of "Handmaid's Tale" by Maraget Atwood. When something goes terribly wrong with the birth, Claire is deemed unfit for her position in the community and cast out of the birthmothers' dwelling. In a new position, no one remembers to give her the daily pill that eradicates emotion and desire. Hence, she longs for the son she's never seen. The longing leads her on a quest that reaches the edge of the Community and beyond.  Gripping, chilling, delightful, tragic, and heart-warming. Worth every second of reading.

The novel is richer if you've read the whole series--or at least The Giver, but it's a stand-alone story if you haven't.

I wished for just a little more conflict toward the end of the book, even though the tension all the way through made me want to yell the truths at the characters (the only book in the series where dramatic irony pulls us along--we know much more than the characters in this story). So the wish for more conflict wasn't due to a lack of it in the book. It's just that the final "battle" seemed almost too easy...I wanted it to demand just a little more...but who am I to be in the least bit critical of a master storyteller like Lois Lowry????  The book was masterful, powerful, horrifying and wonderful.

Any fan of The Giver should read the entire series.

I think I admire her so much, and love her characters and stories so much that she may have moved up onto my pedestal with Harper Lee and Barbara Kingsolver Dennis LeHayne and Marguerite Henry and Lois Lenski and Carol Ryrie Brink and Mary Calhoun and Astrid Lindgren and Sarah Pennypacker: enduring, forever-favorite writers of stories I love.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Connecticut school shooting

The news is mind-blowing: Shooting at a Connecticut elementary school..
It's so bad, I am at a loss...
Who could shoot a kindergartner? I guess the same kind of person who can abuse a child...
What is wrong with this world?

I don't remember being this shaken by national news except three in my life:
When President Kennedy was shot
When the Challenger blew up
When the World Trade Center blew up

This seems somehow even worse because the disregard of the murderer is so personal and so cruel and so lasting and inflicted by choice.
The world is screwed up beyond my ability to believe.

In the meantime, my heart is breaking for those moms and dads and sisters and brothers and little kids who watched their classmates get shot.

I'll write more when I have more to say or make some sense out of it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Gasland" and "Girl Meets Boy"

Have you seen GASLAND?

I finally watched it last night. The documentary had been on my "to watch" list since I heard about it. School and other obligations have kept me from watching a single movie for a long time.

Holy smoke. I want EVERYBODY in the country to watch this movie. The destruction of water systems, drinking water, livelihoods, farmland, human health to say nothing of ANIMAL health, is devastating. And the oil and gas companies don't seem to care because they're making soooo much money.

While I was watching the movie, I kept thinking, this is the new dystopia. We are creating the world we've seen in the Dystopian stories. It's like the world from "The Road" or from "Hunger Games." Frack enough of our countryside, and it looks possible. 

I wish I were kidding. 

And the new Matt Damon movie, Promised Land will be in Theaters everywhere January 4. We all better see it if we want to keep our country.

On a BRIGHTER NOTE, my short story "Mars at Night" is part of "Girl Meets Boy" and Kirkus Review named it one of "Best Teen Books"!! Whooeeee!  (Scroll to the bottom).

Do the two tie together? Yes...actually, the characters in my story "Mars at Night" live on. Some reviewers said they "need their own novel." Well, I've shifted and twisted them, and moved them from rural Iowa to rural Minnesota, and they have new names, but essentially, I think they will live on...and instead of fighting the invasion of hog factories ("Mars at Night") which is a moot point--it has happened; big factory farms have won except in small range-free and organic farms; what Maddie and Ben have to fight: Fracking and Frac-sand plants. Stay tuned.

Crestview and Indian Hills

I lost my phone, and therefore all my photos. I'm hoping to get some photos I can upload here from the schools in Clive, Iowa because those two days were a BLAST.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clive--Crestview and Indian Hills

I just spent two SPECTACULAR days in Clive, Iowa. I visited CRESTVIEW ELEMENTARY and INDIAN HILLS JUNIOR HIGH. The kids were wonderful, and we had so much fun talking about writing, dogs (Freya got to go with me!), and bikes.

I have to get ready for another school day at South Central College, so I don't have time to write much, but I'll post more as soon as I have some pictures. I had a TERRIFIC time. So did Freya, but she's pretty tired right now!

Thanks, Clive students. You ROCK!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving and other stuff

Wow, I haven't blogged for over a week. A bunch of things to report. FIRST, I am very, very (did I mention VERY?) excited to go to Crestview Elementary and to Indian Hills Junior High for author visits next Tuesday and Wednesday. It's such fun to have students excited for me to come.
I picked up three boxes of books from Capstone yesterday to fill their pre-orders. A box of Chasing AllieCat is on its way from FLUX.

And then there's this:

The Youtube video Ann asked me to make for the schools in Clive, Iowa

In between times, Tom and I are headed to Boston tonight/tomorrow morning for Thanksgiving with my son Josh, his wife Emily, and Anissa, Pascal, Lili, and Nina. I wish Nikki, Tom, and Alec could join us. Then it would be perfect, but they can't. At least I get to see them at Christmas time.
I am EXCITED. Haven't seen Josh and Em since June.

Two more things. Bear with me.

First, we read The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton for Children's Lit. last night and launched a discussion of young adult literature. Lively discussion, largely about student's own experiences with clicks and prejudice in their own high schools. I forget how much I LOVE that book until I read it again. It's timeless and it's powerful. How can you not shed a tear when Johnny tells Ponyboy to stay golden? What a great, sad scene. I'm a little jealous that "Suzy" Hinton wrote this when she was sixteen, I guess! But The Outsiders is timeless...not so much because of the Greasers and Socs but because all the emotion in it is raw and real and honest. About half the class didn't realize S.E. was a woman. I guess the publisher's suggestion back in 1967 for Suzy to use her initials WORKED. :)

Jill at Capstone and I talked about me writing a Greek myth title for them. I get to write a myth book for third graders from Medusa's point of view! How cool is that???? I can't wait. Actually, I already started.  I have too much to do already, but I can't pass that up!

Over and out. I have tons to do, and maybe I can write for an hour if I get most of it done...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wendy blogged about me!

And here it is. I cried when I read it.

A blog about Children's Books of WWII

I just found this blog (thanks to Children's Literature Network), and am intrigued. It features books for kids that are about WWII. Set in, during, or around the time of the war, it's a great concept. What a wonderful resource for elementary teachers teaching about the war.

Selfishly, I'm hoping like crazy that Slider's Son gets purchased for publication in the near future...Then I can be a guest on this blog, too.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Um, a video...

The Youtube link above is an introduction for my school visit to Crestview Elementary and Indian Hills Middle School late this month. I'm excited about this visit.

Here I am on YouTube...
talking about stories, talking about being alive, riding my bike (yeah, I filmed myself on a ride), and hiking with Freya on the Kasota Prarire.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

World Bicycle Relief

World Bicycle Relief

In Africa

I may have found my calling. I'm determined, somehow, to set up a fund-raising effort so my trip to South Africa with students in May can be paired with raising money and awareness for this cause.

I am not sure yet what I will write about this....I guess that remains to be seen as it all unfolds.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A delightful writerly weekend

BOOKOLOGY, Children's Literature Network, Nov. 3, 2012
With my buddy Kirstin Cronn-Mills (new novel: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children), Molly Beth Griffin (Silhouette of a Sparrow), and my dear friend Pamela Klinger-Horn, who supports writers and all good books! 

With Pamela and John Coy (Crackback, Top of the Order and many more). I got to sit at the same table with John and three librarians/teachers. We had a BLAST and tied winning the identify-the-author-by-"ten-things-you-don't-know-about-me" game!

It's Mary Tyler Moore! Back in St. Paul! (the hat is so high it's out of the picture, maybe?)
Oh, no. I guess it's author and my buddy Kirstin Cronn-Mills, on the street outside ADDENDUM book store, where she read Saturday afternoon. I loved the event. Not only did our friends Justin and Brian show up (below, listening attentively), but every single person in the store was "sucked in" and listening or asking questions by the time Kirstin was done! 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Life in Publishing, repost

Trying hard to get some writing done, in the midst of school. I have this panicky feeling that I'm forgetting something of major importance right now. I'm sure I am, but I don't know what it is. That's why it's called forgetting.

Want to write. Want to ride my bike even in the cold. Want to snuggle Freya. Don't want to grade papers.

Note to self:
Shut up and write. Shut up and grade.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Another rejection

Slider's Son garnered its second rejection this week. "Not enough historical detail" is what Calkins Creek said. George is baffled by that (maybe more than I am, even), so he's going to ask them what they meant by that. In the meantime, I'm going to spread in some more Depression-era details into the manuscript. I was mostly concerned with the character in the small town and making his life real. Guess I'll try to make the national news come home to roost more than it does already.

I have some ideas. I'm going to add some of them this weekend.

I wish I could get a book right the first time. Or second, third, fourth, fifth, or sixth. Wonder what it means that I have to revise at least TWELVE times before anything gets published.

It mostly means that I should do nothing but write and maybe I'd get a book done WAY faster (and be with my kids, and be with friends, and ride my bike, and play with Freya--oh, yeah, and teach and grade papers).

Oh, well. I'm heading out on my bike to THINK in a few minutes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

North Carolina and other ramblings

I'm in North Carolina with my kids (well, part of them), and my grandson Alec. Thank you, Minnesota for having a long MEA weekend so I can do this.

Yesterday, I went for a bike ride while Alec napped and Nikki graded papers (after she went for a run).
Snapped these pictures:
First, I rode alongside a few miles of cotton fields. They're beautiful and strange to a northerner's eye.
Some, like this one, look like soybeans piled with snow. I'm reminded of all the stories I've read about cotton picking. I'm reminded of reading about Eli Whitney's cotton gin...but no matter what, crops of cotton and tobacco make the South feel like a different country. Period.

The storefrong building below is beside a cotton field (can you see the cotton behind it?), and I have no idea what it used to be. I wonder if it was a company store for everybody who worked on the cotton plantation. Speculation, but lordy, I could find fodder for great story ideas hanging around is true in any place in the world rich with history, I suppose. 

The Gateway to Harvest Time Food is below, also. I'm always amazed at how "in your face" Christianity dares to be down here. I don't think anybody would try to get by with that signage in Minnesota!

And last of all, and MOST IMPORTANT, absolutely not least, here's my grandson Alec with whom I'm spending hours of wonderful time playing, reading, snuggling, and whatever else hits our fancy.
JOY. Joy, Joy, Joy. :)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October 7 Mankato River Ramble and other things

Today, I rode as a marshall for the Mankato River Ramble bike ride. What a blast! Great people, good ride, well organized event...just all around fun. I rode to and from the ride, so I got about 56 miles in. What a great day for a ride. 
Below: The FLYING PENGUINS (Jon Anderson at left--Jon is the first person who ever made me think I might be able to be a serious cyclist). 
I met some pretty cool new friends on the ride, too.
And bikes galore at the Rapidan park. Pie from Jenny at the Dam Store. Everybody was delighted.

And entirely unrelated, Tuesday night is the big meeting about the proposed frac sand plant in Lime Township. Now we realize we need to get the TOWNSHIP in charge of the be the planning committee or to appoint one, so the township can set the conditions for the use permit. Hopefully, a moratorium can be placed on its operation for a year....but that's not entirely looking hopeful.  More research needs to be done FAST!!!
Mankato Airport, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m. EVERYBODY can come!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Autumn Harvest and Waldorf Homecoming

I wonder if how people are jerked by the heartstrings while driving along during fall harvest. I drove from home to Forest City, Iowa and back on Saturday for Waldorf Homecoming. On the way down, I passed too many combines to count. The first field I passed where there were trucks and wagons lined up along the end rows almost stopped my heart. I love the smell and sounds and sight of a golden field ripe and being picked. And I miss getting to drive a tractor or a truck to help--or to do the chores at home so my dad and brother could stay in the field. I loved fall on the farm.

 I was in somewhat of a hurry (imagine that!) so I didn't stop to take pictures. I just snapped these two on the go. I also had about a six-mile detour on gravel. Since I live on a gravel road, it didn't faze me until I heard a familiar rattle and roar that I haven't heard close up for a couple decades. Tears started running down my face. It was simply the roar of corn being augered into a grain bin, but the sound is so much ingrained in my being that hearing it made me miss my dad and being on the farm to the point of tears.

 As I drove on, instead of being sad, I felt grateful that I had loved my growing up years on the farm so much that such a thing as the sound of corn augering could make me cry.  And I loved every minute of driving through the midwestern fields, lush and golden, in spite of the drought we've had this year.   
Here's the Scarville Lutheran Cemetery sign. I had to snap a picture of that, too. The pastor at Fjeldberg Lutheran Church in the late seventies, Rev. Norris, came from Scarville to Huxley. His daughter Barb ended up in my dorm at Waldorf and was a friend of mine. It felt serendipitous to drive past this cemetery on the way to the reunion.
I didn't take enough pictures....but I had a blast with friends  I hadn't seen for over thirty years. I sold some books at an alumni craft sale in Salveson Hall in the afternoon...but the best part was getting to see Jeneen (here), Bev, Pam, Carol, Sue, Liz, Diane, Nancy, Kathy, Kris, Mark, Ron, Mike, Bruce, Gary, and many more. I'm waiting for more pictures from more friends, and maybe I'll post a few more.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

One Long Eventful 24 Hours

Children's Lit class kicked off this 24-hour period. We talked about Dr. Seuss, but we spent most of the class period talking about banned books and censorship. Most of us were in agreement that talking with kids as they read difficult material or questionable material is the absolute best way to deal with tough issues. Removing questionable material from a library is not an answer.

Then I came home and wrote a couple hours. Went to bed and could not sleep, tossing and turning and debating a couple plot points in my head in Slider's Son, which has been done for nearly a year, but has had major and minor editing going on either in my hands or sitting with my agent or a publishing house (only one has rejected it so far). At one o'clock this morning, I had the idea that could tie the pieces together...the way to make the last little plot twist work. I thought--aha--now I know, so I'll get up and fix it in the morning. No go. Still couldn't sleep, so I jumped out of bed and sat down at my computer.

When I looked up, satisfied with how the story turned out, the clock read about 3:45 a.m. I reread and checked that everything worked together, saved the document, and at 4 a.m., I emailed it to George, my agent.

I fell in bed, but left my alarm set at 6:15. I got up after  a little over two hours' sleep and took Freya for a walk at the Prairie. Jeanne met us there. The morning glistened. Dew, frost, sunrise, golden reds on the hills....a spectacular walk.

Morning mist over the pond. And Freya pretending to a wild, pouncing beast.

Sunrise, finally, and morning light glistening on a frosted spider web.

Got back in the house and before 8, the phone rang. George had received the manuscript, had a couple questions, we talked about the title, and he said he'd look at it and send it off to Calkin Creek Publisher today. When I got to school, he had already sent it, and by noon, Calkin Creek responded that it was received. They're getting an exclusive read, so we'll know something by October 22. Wheeew. Didn't know anything in the publishing business ever moved that fast....of course, rejections often do, and that's what this could be, quite easily. Keeping hope high for now.

School. Walked in and met my buddies who are willing to help me grade some quizzes (thank you very much, if you are reading this). Erin from the bookstore told me she just opened a box of Kirstin Cronn-Mills' new book--hot off the press! Beautiful Music for Ugly People is now in bookstores!  We called Kirstin in her office and screamed in the phone "It's here!" and made her come down to take this picture. : )

Then a meeting, more grading, and another Freya walk this afternoon, and now I'm hunkered down to grade all evening (But not all night...can't do that again). I just wanted to take a break and write this down before I forget this memorable 24 hours. I'm grateful for my life.

Actually, I think I'll go to bed and get up about 3 and grade then. I can't think anymore.

I'm being ultra conscious of my "use by" date...somewhere out in the future, but always looming closer. I have soooo much to write before that day comes.

Pull your socks up!

From a student paper: "Most of us experience hardship through our life but we should pull our socks up and work hard in order to get what we want to accomplish."
Amen to that. Let's pull our socks up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Bum Glue

Bryce Courtenay says 'bum glue' is a critical key to writing - relentless discipline, no excuses, just get on with it.

Bryce Courtenay wrote one of my favorite novels ever, The Power of One, set in South Africa. Ever since reading that novel for the first time, I've wanted to visit South Africa. Now at looks as if it will be happening in May. 

SCC Field Trip to South Africa May 20-June 7.  Plans are shaping up. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, I had the best writing weekend I've had since school started. I was on a bike ride and and one of those "aha" moments when I knew what I had to do to switch around the novel I've been working on all summer. I'd been feeling stuck, ground into the mud and the action, which was wonderful at first, was starting to bore me. Time to shake things up. I got the idea...moved the location of the story (and for me that's a big deal because I tend to set things very very firmly in a place, but that's what it needed). I wrote fifteen new pages yesterday, and can't wait to get back to it. 

And that's all I can say. I have to write it, not talk about it, and follow Bryce Courtenay's rule about BUM GLUE, no  matter how much other stuff I have to do! 

So, commitments for the fall: 
Be a good mom and grandma.
Be a good teacher and friend.
Be a good dogmom to Freya (see above photo for that reminder).
Ride my bike, no matter how busy I get.

Back to Bryce Courtenay, he recited a poem, a twist of a passage from Song of Solomon (and my poor paraphrase):
A time to live
a time to die
a time to laugh 
a time to cry
a time to love 
a time to hate
and all of us have 
a "use by" date. 

Love it. I NEED to use the days of my life, the hours, to WRITE. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Addendum @ Subtext this afternoon

That's the name of a new bookstore in St. Paul that sells only YA! How cool is that?
I'm headed up there to sign copies of Chasing AllieCat (along with many other Minnesota YA authors signing books) for the grand opening this afternoon.

It's below Nina's Coffee House and a cross from W.A. Frost, and 165 Western Ave. N. in St. Paul.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Slider's Son

So George, my agent, and I had a talk today about what to do with Slider's Son. Zondervan is saying a tentative no. We're walking away from that "without closing the door."
George thinks this is going to be the next place to send it. They want historical fiction! And he's buddies with the acquiring editor. Sounds and looks MUCH better to me! I'm excited. I'm going to do one more read/revision over the next two weeks.

Biggest challenge: this novel needs a different name.
Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged
Chasing AllieCat
both sort of named themselves; however, Chasing AllieCat was simply AllieCat through the first round of rejections.
I think Slider's Son needs a title that moves the focus away from Slider, onto Grant...and maybe hints at the drama/murder and intrigue within.
I am working on possibilities, and I MAY run a contest on FB asking for input. If I'm brave enough.

These are my favorites:
 Two Strikes, One Dead
 Seventh Inning: Three Out, One Dead
Three balls, Two Strikes, One Dead
Three Strikes, One Dead
Full Count: Three Balls, Two Strikes, One Murder

Coal Robber
Honey Thief
Murder Can't Happen Here.
One Had to Die
Murder Please
The Death of Big Joe
Body in the Cellar
Murder Happens Even Here
His Friend Was a Murderer
My friend, the Murderer
All is NOT as it Seems

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lance Armstrong, cycling

I love this guy's perspective on the Lance Armstrong scandal.
He sort of epitomizes what I've been saying all along.
It's too late to make a deal out of this. He won seven Tours and didn't get caught then. How far back would we go to strip champions who have doped through history? More and more evidence about more and more world greats comes to light....where do we stop?

Once again, I compare Lance to Thomas Jefferson. Should we negate what Jefferson said about freedom because he owned slaves and heartily believed that slavery was wrong? Do we write Jefferson out of the history books as a result? It's a moot point.
Let the record stand and clean up the sport now. Even if lots of my die-hard cycling friends don't like Lance, nobody can dispute what Lance did for the sport.

You want to ride the Tour de France even with performance-enhancing drugs? You think you could do what he did?  Let's let him be a hero.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yogi Bear

I've been a little busy since school started, so I haven't had time to write much at all. Here, however, is Freya playing with her newest friend, Roger and Gwen's second Newfy--baby Yogi Bear.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lance Armstrong, Thomas Jefferson: what do they have in common?

They are both big disappointments, whose actions don't quite match up with their words or the ideals they supposedly portrayed.

Finding out Lance Armstrong was indeed hiding the fact that he doped is like reconciling the fact that anti-slavery advocate Thomas Jefferson owned slaves himself. HOWEVER, Lance withdrawing from the fight against USADA is not a conviction; it's just a concession.

What both men did was was WRONG, but both were doing what they did as a product of their cultures.  Thomas Jefferson probably couldn't have run a plantation--and made it lucrative--in the 1700s without slaves. Doesn't make it okay. Makes it a fact. He knew it was immoral, but he did it to survive "at the top" as I understand it.

Lance might have won a Tour, but certainly not seven, without doping. Was he alone, absolutely, 1000% NOT. Does it make it okay? Absolutely not. Does it make every cyclist who has ever doped a criminal? Is it possible to  ferret out every single offender? Absolutely not. I've even read allegations that the great Eddy Merckx supposedly used some performance enhancers (I have that info third or fourth-hand and can't find evidence, so I hesitate to write it, but it does imply how widespread and long-lasting the problem is). And Merckx is like a god in cycling fans' minds.

 If nothing else, this whole thing proves how nothing in the world is "black and white" (And that's a bad term to use in the same paragraph as the term "slavery," so excuse me). The whole Lance thing makes me sad, but I think everybody sort of knew Lance doped. His most famous refutation: "I've never tested positive." And at the same time, he did so much good for the cancer community. This doesn't make him evil. It does mean he lied. He also made us hope and dream: Look what a human being is capable of. What can I do, therefore? Most of the greats have doped. Doesn't make it okay, but Maybe we can just clean up the sport from here on out. I think stripping the yellow jerseys from past wins is sort of futile: where would one stop?

Perhaps the best media response is that of five-time Tour de France champion, Bernard Hinault, who was unsympathetic to Armstrong's plight.
"I couldn't give a damn," the French cycling icon told when asked about the Armstrong news. "It's his problem, not mine. This is a problem that should have been sorted out 10 or 15 years ago but which never was." Find this here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Historical fiction

Yippee! Maybe this kind of attention will make it a good time to be publishing a middle grade historical novel after all.
Discussion on using historical fiction in the classroom.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Advice from famous writers

ADVICE from famous writers.

This is priceless. I'm mostly posting it here so I know where it is and I can find it whenever I want a little boost.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Freya wanted to go to church, but instead just stole the show at storytime...

As you can see in the first photo, Freya really thought maybe she could visit Jesus at St. Theresa of Jesus Catholic Church. However, she had to settle for stealing the show at Mapleton Public Library Story Time this morning. We had fun, and the preschool kids loved Freya.

According to the second picture, however, it looks as if Freya is her own petting zoo!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dear Universe...

Please, Universe,
If I could write a best-selling book so that I could teach only half-time and write a lot more, I promise I won't waste a bunch of time. I promise I'll focus and work on the stories that I think the universe wants me to write. I'll love people around me and take care of Freya and ride my bike a lot, yeah, but I promise I won't squander writing time.

It's soooooo weird how life moves along, isn't it?

All my life...and I mean my entire life since I was four years old, my biggest goal was to write a book and get it published. That happened. Having those books come out were the most satisfying events of my life EXCEPT for having my kids grow up to be astoundingly wonderful human beings who I would want for friends if they weren't related to me...'cause they're awesome people. Besides my kids (and of course Alec, now, but I have nothing to claim in how awesome he's turning out), my books being out in the world are the most satisfying accomplishments ever.

Racing bikes? I love. Running Boston? I loved....but it's not the same as having a book on the shelf.'s strange that my desire has shifted...not just to be published but to sell a bigger that sells and maybe gets noticed nationally. I'd like that...but it's not because I want to be a big famous author. I have no desire, really to walk into some public place and have people know who I am. That's not what I want. What I want is to make enough money writing that I can do it more of the hours of the day of my life. I have some stories I really want to get out into the world.

My life is well over half over (I do NOT want to live to be 112, okay?), so my writing time is precious.

Universe, are you listening? I'm writing.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Romneyhood: rob from the poor to give to the rich.

The theory seems to be rob from the poor to give to the rich.

HOW does ANYONE with a modest to low income think Romney in charge could or would possibly, ever be good for us?

I'm waiting for an answer to that question.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Enjoying the last vestiges of summer...

Bought tickets to Willie Nelson in Mankato Sept. 19. How can a Willie Nelson concert not be fun, anyway? I think that will be a blast--and I am embarrassed that I have not been to a concert in Riverfront Park yet. Planning on Sunday afternoon Ribfest there, though. That's always fun, and usually HOT.

I have to admit, the only times I have been in Riverfront Park are when I've biked the trail right through it. Guess it's time to change that.

I'm sitting with my laptop, breeze coming through wide-open windows, blue sky stretching to the treeline, and sad that summer's almost over.

Rethinking the end of summer: if I had three weeks with no classes ANY other time of year, I'd feel free as a bird. That's my mantra for the rest of the summer. I'm still free as a bird. And maybe, maybe I can kick out a draft of this novel I'm working on. Back at it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ideas that matter to me

Zondervan Publishing Co. (HarperCollins subsidiary) is seriously considering Slider's Son. 
This whole operation has forced me to articulate ideas that matter to me in the world. Here are a few. These are thoughts that I preach as a teacher and as a guest writer/speaker and try to subtly convey in my stories.

Follow your passion with all your heart.  No one is going to hand you your dreams on a silver platter. If you want your life to be the way you dream it, you better go for it.

Better to burn out than to rust out. 

Live so that you are comfortable in your own skin.

Being active is essential to being fully alive.

The world is missing kindness. Avarice—greed—fuels too much of our society. Prejudice and thinking “we—they” is always counterproductive and the absolute opposite of “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Oldest Olympian

Well, this man should inspire us all. He says he's still improving, little by little. So it's not so crazy that I rode my fastest TT ever this past week.

Senior Games next year, here I come.
Japanese Equestrian defies Father Time and rides Olympics 2012.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Pondering summer and cycling and getting older

One of the things I love about summer is using the clothesline. And for me, among the most joyful things to hang out there are my cycling kits--or just jerseys, in most cases. Today, I realized I had a collection of this summer's favorite jerseys on the line:
The Jackson Co. Brevet jersey, the King of the Mountain Euskatel-Euskadi jersey Nikki and Tom brought me from the Tour de France, my Nicollet Bike Shop jersey, the Seattle Emerald City Cycling Club jersey, my old stand-by never-weary-of-promoting A-1 Bike Shop jersey (now a classic collectible), and my Gotta Love Hills girls' jersey that I actually designed. Set against greenish grass (in spite of the heat and drought) with horses in the background, it's hard to beat such a summer scene.

Last night, I stopped my car and snapped this on the way home after riding the fastest Time Trial of my life. I like TTs because it's me against the clock...but who's kidding here, I also want to beat other people, compare my times with theirs, and don't want to get passed by any but the fastest guys. I'm "old"--well over 50, and this summer has been one of my best cycling seasons ever. I've ridden four century rides, the awesome Jackson County Brevet, qualified for nationals in all four Senior Games cycling  events, and have ridden each subsequent time trial this summer faster and faster. The last two (on the same course as the Senior Games) I beat my national qualifying time.  It's a joyful thing to keep striving to grow after 50, I have to admit.

Sometimes I pause--cycling, writing, playing with Freya, or just driving, and I think, I really love my life.
That's a beautiful and peaceful, satisfying thing to be able to say.

When I used to feel that way--wow, I am really happy--I love my life--I used to think, uh-oh, that means something bad is going to happen because everything balances out; therefore, the other shoe will drop. Now I don't feel that way. It's okay to just revel in being who we are, to keep striving and growing and to love the effort.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

It would be my mom's 92nd birthday...Lovingkindess

I've heard that used as one word. Is that a Christian thing? Lovingkindness?

Maybe I'm thinking about lovingkindness because my mother was full of lovingkindness, in spite of the fact that she was a terribly strict Christian mother, and she didn't have a lot of tolerance for sin. Still, she was kind. And today, if she were still alive, would be her ninety-second birthday.

From that reliable source, Wikipedia:
"Loving-kindness is a term used to describe a specific kind of love, initially coined as a translation of the Hebrew word chesed. Chesed is one of several Hebrew terms used to describe sentiments that modern English speakers may describe as love, charity, pity, mercy or kindness. Terms used to specify particular forms or expressions of love are often used by theologians and religious practitioners."

I guess that in the Bible, its use primarily refers to God, and not to people.

However, it's my theme of the week, I think.

Very strange things have happened in the last forty-eight hours. First, I have been working on my Kerry and Rafi novel--in which sixteen-year-old Kerry who is a Christian and from a very strict, moralistic Christian home, falls in love with Rafi who is the only Muslim in her high school.

Everybody loves Rafi in spite of prejudice that prevails anywhere in post 9-11 USA. He's handsome, athletic, likeable, smart, and is even elected student body president.

When he asks Kerry to prom, at first she can't even believe he means it. When she finally has the guts to ask him why he asked her, he says he noticed her because she "walks in kindness." She can't even figure out why he thinks that. She's just being herself. When he gives her a few examples, she's sort of flabbergasted, thinking she was just being a decent person in those instances. I'm trying to create a character who is naturally, but intentionally kind and yet the quality has a basis in being human--not in being religious (which rarely results in kindness in my opinion).

The religious struggle the young couple experiences, along with the prejudice of their families, is the crux of the story.

In the mean time, my agent has submitted my most recently completed novel Slider's Son to Zondervan, a Christian--and evangelical--publisher. Very interesting. I have been a little distressed about this, even though I'm anxious for the novel to find a home. I made contact with and had a delightful conversation with another Zondervan author who has had great success with the book they published. I was somewhat put at ease, am very grateful for the information she provided, but I'm still not entirely at ease about the idea of being published by Zondervan.

I don't really consider myself a Christian anymore. I don't believe that a loving Father who is full of lovingkindness could or would ever condemn one of his children to hell. Even Grant, the protagonist in Slider's Son, doesn't think God should send Big Joe--who has done some rather heinously cruel things--to hell after having been so miserable in life.

I don't believe that believing Jesus died on the cross to forgive and take away all my sins should be the answer to eternity's mysteries. I have made more mistakes in my life, some of them hurtful to other people, than lots of people. I don't want them washed away  like George W. Bush's cocaine use. I carry them with me. Not the guilt. I carry the understanding I got from them with me. I am no longer guilty, but the wisdom I gleaned from making big mistakes informs my life now and I don't want to repeat them. If they are forgiven and washed away, I don't have that knowledge in my soul. This lack of adhering to Jesus' forgiveness makes me, by all understandings of the faith I've seen, heard, and been taught--not a Christian.

I've never said this in writing in any public forum before, and it's a little scary, but I'm being honest. 

I do, however, strive to be as kind as I am humanly capable of being. I know how to forgive, and most of the time, I know how to not hold grudges, and how to be unconditionally accepting of other people. I fail. But I get up and keep trying. I want to be kind, and I don't want to judge. I overreact and I get angry, but I try to go back and be kind again or make amends. I can say honestly that I think I'm a kind person rather than that I try to be kind.

Today, I had coffee with a dear friend who is going through a tough life situation. She asked if she could ask me something...and what she wanted to know was how  I learned, or how I came to the point in my life where I could live in lovingkindness. I was taken aback. I was flattered and honored. I also found it serendipitous, considering all this thinking I've been doing about kindness this week. She sited the fact that I am friends with or kind to or at least on very good terms with both of my ex-husbands. Therein lies a disclaimer--I do have two  ex-husbands which itself speaks volumes about my deep lack of perfection. But the lovingkindness concept had come full circle this morning, and I knew I needed to write about it.

I'm reminded of Ben Franklin, who said, "if I could conceive that I had completely overcome [my pride], I should probably be proud of my humility." Kindness seems to follow the same vein--if we get proud of being kind, we probably aren't, so by writing this, I may have negated everything I worked for.

The glory or joy or relief of being a writer remains. In ways that I fail, perhaps my characters can triumph.

Publication dilemmas

My agent, George Nicholson, has submitted  Slider's Son, my latest novel, to Zondervan for publication. It's been there a month now, which is NOT a long time in the publishing world by any standard, but it's long enough to give me pause...

Zondervan is an evangelical press. There's nothing remotely evangelical about Slider's Son. Grant, the protagonist, does go to church, but it's the platform for his questioning a lot of things about Christianity...heaven, afterlife, how God can send someone (even someone Grant hates) to hell. And Grant certainly doesn't resolve these issues in the course of the story.

So I've been thinking about Zondervan a lot. I googled their books, and some of the books had no mention of evangelical or Christian or faith in the description. I wondered if that was just a ploy, or if it was true. I  emailed an author of a prominently promoted secular-looking book (socially conscious--story about a bi-racial girl discovering her heritage), and she wrote me back within 24 hours. She gave me her phone number and said to call. So I did, and we talked a long time yesterday. Awesome conversation, and very helpful.

She has turned her character into a three-book series, but chose not to stick with Zondervan for the next two books. No legality since it didn't start out to be a series.
Anyway, at some point a staff person (editor? publicity? I can't remember) asked her about her "faith story." !!! Joan (the author) said she didn't know if it was even legal to ask that, but she answered with "I'm a very spiritual person and my faith is important to me" which satisfied them.

She did feel a vague discomfort with the whole process, even though she had a very positive experience with them as publishers, and they treated her well and promoted her book well. Very interesting.
Next step: talk to George about all this.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Grand Rapids, Here I come!

I love northern Minnesota, and Grand Rapids has become a favorite spot of mine. Next Wednesday, July 18, I get to spend most of the day there.

At 1:00, I'm doing a workshop type presentation for teens at the Grand Rapids Public Library: "Creating a Character out of Nothing."

Between 5-6 p.m., I'm heading to Itasca Trail Sports Bike shop to hang out with local cyclists, and go on the group ride at 6 p.m. I have to peel off really early, though, and head back to the library because...

At 7 p.m., at the library, I'm doing a presentation for the public about the writing process entitled "Prairie-Dogging Your Way to a Story --or (Subtitled) From Here to There by Way of the Zoo."
Everybody's welcome. It should be a fun day.

Support your local bookstore! Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids is an awesome place.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fracking, Jordan Sand, and Lime Township.

Last night, I attended the Lime Township Board Meeting. I don't live in Lime Township, but my boyfriend Tom does, and I spend more than half my time in that township, so I was interested.

Why? Because Coughlan Companies (yes, the publishing company) owns Jordan Sand, which wants to put in a new silica sand processing plant less than a mile from Tom's house.
The boardroom was packed.

Concerns raised last night:

AIR QUALITY--you can't process 200 railroad cars of sand a week without some dust, now, can you? The Jordan reps insist that there will be "NO DUST." Really? They say it's like beach sand--no dust. "Ambient dust is NOT an issue." Have you ever walked on the beach when the tide is out and returned with NO residue on your feet? I haven't. I don't get that argument. And silica dust is dangerous. More on that later. Besides that, at least one of the roads to access the plant and quarry is gravel. No dust? really?

TRAFFIC: 3rd Avenue already has heavy truck traffic. There are several Kasota stone quarries on the road, and trucks make traffic sketchy at best, noisy and dangerous in reality. The new processing plant would add one truck every 2 MINUTES for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. The route is short--the quarry where they're pulling the sand for the first 5 years is very close...but that still means 350 trucks making round-trips (that's 600-700 truck trips) making left turns 30 times an hour in a short distance. Plus, at least one of the roads on the route is gravel and already deteriorating. Dust?

PLUS, they either have not determined, or refuse to disclose where they'll be getting their sand in five years. The route from quarry to plant cannot and will not be shorter. That's guaranteed.

NOISE: Jordan officials insist that the plant will be quiet, and gave us decibel statistics about how quiet the operation would be. That does NOT include truck noise, train noise (two 100-car trains a week), truck backing-up beeps, workers coming to and from, etc., etc.

WATER: The Jordan sand plant will drill an industrial well, probably 350 feet deep. Residents affected by the Holtmeier plant have experienced well contamination, and they were told they would not be affected. We were told last night that residential wells shouldn't be affected because they are rarely that deep. Kathy  (of Kathy's Bait shop) interjected that hers is 335 feet deep. How can hers not be affected, and water is a source of her livelihood.  The officials tried to tell us that the plant will be a closed loop; that is, the water will be reused after washing the sand and used in the slurry to wash away impurities. Part of the hauling will be reduced by an under-road pipeline to pump slurry back to the quarry. However, because there will be constant water loss from evaporation, etc., their new well will need the ability to pump 400 gallons a minute. Do the math. That's over half a million gallons a day.
And that won't affect the water tables for area residents?

Jordan officials said anyone concerned should "register their well" and then these wells will be monitored. If a change occurs and Jordan is deemed responsible (who determines this??? nobody knows, it seems), they are responsible to replace the well. And what good does that do, I wonder, if available water tables are all contaminated???

OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS: Several acres of wetlands will be affected...destroyed, effectively. Coughlan promises to eventually return these to the community by building a park on land fill areas from the gleaned sand contaminents. Great. That really replaces wetlands where wildlife have lived safely for centuries.  The last plant (another company) promised the same thing, but now Jordan Sand is going to be building on the site of their promised park which negates the former contract to return to the that doesn't exactly build residents' trust now, does it?

The final arguments actually used Mankato economic development arguments that the plant would bring jobs to town (only 35 that are not contracted out!!!) and would add $1.8 million dollars a year to the local economy. REALLY? The residents affected by all the above quality of life issues care about the Mankato economy?  And Coughlans will be raking in billions, none of which the area residents will ever see except that the tax base for the township will be supported. That's just great because the residents will most likely watch their home values plummet. Who wants to live next to a giant sand plant?

The Jordan folks sited what great neighbors UNIMEN makes. Yeah, because they bought out ALL their neighbors. Nobody lives there anymore.

The Jordan folks have invested millions and a year's time to get to this point, and somehow wanted residents' township board to approve their Conditional Use permit, with conditions attached, which Jordan pledged to honor. Conditions attached at this point--before the meeting--numbered 27, and afterward, skyrocketed. The Permit was tabled for further research on both sides.

Finally, an issue that seems crucial to the entire question is a moral one. However, nobody intimately involved in all of the above quality of life issues can care about this because the above concerns are only a few steps higher on the life food chain than basic survival.


Do a little research on FRACKING. Fracking is destroying water tables and shale layers under the earth to glean every bit of natural gas we can get. Often, fracking is done under people's land. Fracking can drill a mile down and 5 to 7 miles across under homeowners land--homeowners who often don't even know that they do NOT own mineral rights beneath their land, until their water supply has been contaminated. Have you seen the videos of people who turn on their kitchen sinks, hold a lighter to the tap, and their water bursts into flame because of the high gas content?

INSTEAD of cleaning Frac sand and Fracking, why aren't we starting to invest money in alternative energies? Our nation in particular is SO dependent upon oil and gas. These gas and oil companies have more money than god and can squash research like that done on the electric car. Eventually, we'll run out of oil and gas resources, and then we'll HAVE to find other energy sources. Why not do that now instead of ruining every single last place on and within the earth?

The whole thing makes me sad and more than a little sick. What a badge of honor to live in the area that supplies the most fracking sand in the country.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

TOUR DE FRANCE, Phil Liggett

Okay, I cannot believe what Nikki and Tom send me from Rouen, France, where they watched today's stage of the Tour de France.
There are many pro cyclists I love watching--love as people from this great distance...but the one I've always most wanted to meet is Phil Liggett--funny, smart, kind, gracious, absolutely quick wit, and today they got to talk to him and he made me THIS!!!!!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Southern Life

I feel as if I'm living in another country....when I think that, I wonder what would this place be like if we had let the South secede? Is it sacrilegious to say that out loud?

Anyway, at the great risk of sounding like I'm stereotyping, I'm going to make some observations. These are things I've observed.

1. I love Crepe Myrtle. It blooms brilliant pink on short bush-like trees everywhere here.

2. In Minnesota, you'd never walk through a big Methodist Church parking lot and find the African American groundskeeper singing the blues at the top of his voice as he swept the parking lot while parents traipsed through the parking lot dropping off toddlers at preschool.  I have to say I loved it. He was entirely un-self-conscious and he was singing his story, not a rehearsed chorus. I never heard the same line twice. I am only reporting what I saw and heard. I'm not trying to stereotype or be racist in any way. I just loved experiencing that. Another day when I brought Alec to "school," we stopped and had a nice conversation with the same man.  He wasn't in a singing mood that day, I guess.

3. I love bullfrogs. In spring, when I ride miles of Minnesota paved county roads, the wet ditches host dozens of often raucous frogs. But here, we walk every morning over a tiny waterway in the neighborhood, and daily a bullfrog sounds at least one loud note. I love how a bullfrog sounds like the plucked string of a bass viol.

4. I like tobacco fields. I don't like all that growing tobacco means in this country, and I don't like smoking, and I don't like the history of tobacco farms steeped in slave or indentured labor, but I love how tobacco fields look with their great broad green leaves stretching to the sky and spreading to fill the field.

5. I love cicadas. I know we have them in Minnesota, but here at night, they can be positively deafening, and in suburbia, it feels like I'm in a jungle! Many night birds join the chorus, too. Tonight Alec and Franklin the dog and I went for an evening walk before bathtime and bed. A single cicada sounded a long trill. Instantly, a chorus of them erupted, as if the first one had been the oboe tuning the orchestra and they ALL jumped in with their notes. It was astonishing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

South Africa

I have a bunch of things I want to write about, but I want to post this info about next year's trip.

South Central College will host a student trip to South Africa May 20-June 7, 2013 (dates may vary slightly). Cost will be in the neighborhood of $3200-3400.  

People who are not students at SCC are welcome to go on this trip, too, but students will be involved in a related course during spring semester.

This trip will be a journey in understanding humanity, exploring the history of human rights, and being immersed in South African culture by spending fourteen days on the ground in country.  We will see the country, strive for an understanding the historic culture, and connect with people. The trip will include experiencing Cape Town, District Six (political basis for the feature film “District Nine”), Port Elizabeth, the Red Location Museum (Apartheid Museum), Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years), Eden Campus Tertiary School of Business Administration, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Sedgefield “Garden Roots,” an African safari, Elephant park and Ostrirch park, and personal connections with South African students.

Scott Fee, MSU professor of Construction Management, will be our group leader. He has taken groups to South Africa several times and was instrumental in the founding of Eden Campus TSBA.

Let me know if you're interested or have questions!