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Monday, June 28, 2010

june storms and revision

We’ve had lots of stormy weather in the last few weeks. My sleep has been interrupted with flashes of lightening, cracking thunder, and rain slapping against the windows. The days have been heavy, the air dense and oppressive.

Is it the weather that puts me into a funk? Or all the freelance work I’ve been juggling? Or the problem with my hip and IT band that’s keeping me from running? All of above? Not running definitely affects my moods; I’m less patient and less productive.

D has been home with the girls for a couple of weeks now, so technically I should have plenty of work time, but we’re still muddling through our new schedules and roles. (Me going off to work at the coffee shop every morning while he plans what activities he and the girls will take on: zoo, children’s museum, bike ride to a local lake or park.) Maybe my funk is due in part to the fact that I’ve been feeling a little lonely for my girls and my role as their primary care giver. (Daddy is now the one who is requested more often for bedtime reading, and, well, just about everything else: “I want Daddy to change my diaper!” “No, Daddy wash my hands!” “Daddy do it!”)

But I’m ready to shake off the funk. I’ve caught up on my freelance work and I have the coming week off from teaching. So I’m ready to dive back into the revision of my memoir. (How many times have you heard me say that over the last year and a half? Too many, I’m sure.) But this time I’m serious. I have about 100 pages of the rewrite left, and I need to finish it by mid-August.

This means twenty pages a week. Four pages a day if I write five days a week. That’s a lot for me, but I think I can pull it off. Especially since I already wrote the book once (or twice or three times)?

I remember that the last time I met with my lovely MFA thesis advisor before I graduated she said that by the time I was finished with my memoir, really finished with it (and at the time I had no idea how long this process would take), I would be so sick of it that I’d want to throw the manuscript across the room. I’m actually not sick of the material yet (or at least I’m not sick of it right now, probably because I’m doing so much new writing in this draft that the material still feels fresh.) I am, however, sick of “working on the memoir,” the same memoir I’ve been working on for six years.

I’m ready to move on to the next project, which might be another memoir or might turn out to be a novel. I’m ready to have that buzzing excitement, those months of playing with words and wondering where the story will lead me, what the real story is.

But in order to get to that place, I need to sit down at my computer day after day and finish what’s on my plate. And I’m ready. I hope.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

2011 mother words retreat

I’m excited to announce that the dates have been set for the 2nd Annual Mother Words Retreat!

Join me for a weekend retreat for mother-writers. We’ll write, share our writing, discuss challenges with craft, and have time to connect with other mother writers in the luxury and quiet of Faith’s Lodge. Group meetings and individual conferences will help support you as you delve more deeply into your writing and learn to take risks on the page. Come immerse yourself in the writing life with other mothers who write.

Where: Faith’s Lodge, Wisconsin

When: Thursday, February 24 - Sunday, February 27, 2011

Faith’s Lodge is located on 80 picturesque acres in Northwestern Wisconsin near the town of Webster, less than a two-hour drive from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, less than one hour from Duluth/Superior, and about four hours from Madison. The mission of Faith’s Lodge is to provide a place where parents and families facing the serious illness or loss of a child can retreat to reflect on the past, renew strength for the present, and build hope for the future.

But you need not have experienced the loss of a child to attend the retreat. The Mother Words Retreat is for all mother writers. (Part of the proceeds will benefit the children and families served by Faith’s Lodge.)

The Lodge has eight guest suites, which can accommodate up to 10 people for the Mother Words Retreat. Each guest suite features a private bath, fireplace, balcony/patio, flat screen TV, DVD player, small fridge, and coffee maker. Meals are included.

Cost: $650 for single room, $550 for shared room (separate beds)

To register: Please contact Evelyn Nyberg at or 715-866-8200.

Please contact me with questions about the retreat. You can read about last year’s retreat here and here. And see a few photos here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

happy father's day!

Just a shout out to all the dads out there. Happy Father's Day!

There are some really wonderful Father's Day pieces up at Literary Mama this month. I especially love Sheila Squillante's "All Things Edible, Random, and Odd."


Thursday, June 17, 2010

plot, narrative urgency, and children's lit

The other day Stella went to the library with my mom and she came home with The Boxcar Children. When she pulled it out of the library bag, I started to squeal, “Oh that was one of my favorite books growing up. I can’t wait to read it to you!”

I could tell she was pleased by my excitement, and I was excited to read the book with her, but I was secretly nervous that I wouldn’t like it as much as I had as a child. It was the first book that grabbed hold of my imagination. I remember spending hours and hours sitting in the pink beanbag in my room with it propped in my lap, thinking about where my sisters and I would hide if we became orphans and had to take to the woods to flee an unloving relative.

D and I alternate putting the girls to bed. (If I read to Zoë one night, the next night I’ll read to Stella.) So I made Stella promise that The Boxcar Children would by my book and that she would read a different book with D. (I hate it when I’ve read the first three chapters of a book to her and then I two nights later I have to pick up at the 7th or 8th chapter. I feel completely lost.)

She promised, and as we cuddled into bed with the book the other night, we were both giddy. As I began to read—“One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from.”—I was immediately swept back in time, to the excitement I felt the first time my mom read me this story.

And the book moves! Talk about narrative urgency, from that first sentence. I didn’t want to put it down, but I could tell Stella was exhausted, so I stopped after four chapters.

I remember that Julie Schumacher, a wonderful fiction writer who has been primarily writing young adult novels in recent years, said that she turned to YA fiction because she felt she needed to work on plot and structure, and that because YA novels are very plot-driven, she thought she’d try it out. You can read an interview with Julie here.

The Boxcar Children is all plot. (I remember certain plot details from when I read it, almost 30 years ago, which is extraordinary.) But as we made our way through the first chapters, I kept getting the siblings confused. I know I’ll be able to differentiate them as the book goes on, but I was surprised that we weren't given a few more character details in those first chapters. But then maybe I spend too much time thinking about character development. (I’ll admit that I’m a little obsessed lately.)

Do any of you out there write for children or young adults? I’d love it if you’d weigh in on plot and character (or really anything else that you’d like to share about writing for young people.)

In the meantime, I’m going to try to sneak away with Stella to read the next chapter of The Boxcar Children.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

big girls

Sorry I’ve been quiet this week. Zoë has been out of toddler school and Stella has been out of her before-school program for almost two weeks now, and I’ll admit that it’s been a serious challenge to try to get all of my work done. Thank God for my parents, and especially my dad, who has come over a number of times so I can slip out to the coffee shop for a couple of hours before Stella gets on the school bus.

And now Stella is done with kindergarten, as well. She’s been counting down the days for weeks, and yesterday she was giddy with excitement. “I’m a first grader now! Can you believe that?”

I can’t believe it, actually. I have a first-grader? How did that happen?

Even though my stress level has been higher than usual lately—I’m teaching an online class, juggling two freelance articles and two book-editing projects—I’m trying to take a little time to just enjoy my girls each day. Last night before dinner, we filled water balloons at the hose and smashed them on the sidewalk, and then Zoë and I watched Stella go back and forth on her new skateboard. (I never had the guts to skateboard as a kid—I don’t even think it occurred to me to try—but my girls are something else. As Stella careened by us, Zoë shouted, “Wow, Stella. That’s cool!”)

Both of my girls are full of sass, both are incredibly strong-willed. (Now where did they get that?) And I’m aware—suddenly painfully aware—of how fast they are growing. So this summer, I’m trying to capture as many cuddles as I can.

Back in February, around the time that Zoë had her seizure, she started wanting to be rocked to sleep. And because she was sick and then she had the seizure, we started rocking her to sleep. So now, before nap and bedtime, after we have read her books and after she has “cuddled me” (“No, no, mama. I cuddle you!”) and after I have then cuddled her and we have gone back and forth a few times about it being time for nap or bed, she agrees to let me wrap her up in her soft, soft Tinker Bell blanket (“Wap me, mama. Wap me!”) and I rock her in my arms, humming a lullaby until she falls asleep.

There is nothing like staring down at a sleeping toddler. When she’s asleep in my arms, she looks so much like a baby still. I gaze down at her relaxed face, at her open mouth. I brush her sweaty hair from her forehead and lean down to kiss her cheek. And when I feel her body grow even heavier in my arms, I stand up to transfer to her crib. But then her eyes flutter and she says, “One more minute, Mama. Just one more minute.” And if I hesitate, she says, “Sit down.” So I sit back down on the edge of Stella's bed and rock her a little more. I just can’t help it.

Luckily, D will be done with school next week, as well, so I can write and work on teaching in the mornings—I’m going to finish the revision this summer if it kills me—and then we’ll switch in the afternoon. And each day, I’m going to hold my daughters and tell them how much I love them. Because soon I won’t remember them being this small.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

for the running mamas

I spent last weekend at my mom’s cabin in northern Minnesota with my family, and it was just what I needed. The weather was gorgeous on Saturday (think mid-July heat and sun), so I decided I’d take a day and not work at all. (I clearly have an unhealthy relationship with my computer if it’s that remarkable that I didn’t open it for one day.)

Instead of work, I went for a too-long run around the lake (on a combination of country roads and small highways) without any water. That wasn’t such a good idea, but I did end up making it back to the cabin without passing out. Then I ate a big lunch and collapsed into bed for a wakeful sort of nap. Then there was the pontoon ride and white wine and my brother-in-law’s ribs on the grill. The kids were outside for 12 straight hours. It was perfect.

And this week I’m excited to post about a new book for mother runners by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea. Run Like a Mother contains alternating essays by McDowell and Bowen Shea that detail what it’s like to be a mother runner. They offer encouragement, practical tips, and basically make it seem possible to get yourself up and out the door for an early-morning run even when you feel sleep deprived and over-extended. I especially like that they make this seem possible even for those of us who aren’t hardcore marathoners (which of course you know I’m not.)

But while I’m not signing up for a marathon anytime soon, I am ready for a 5K, and that’s what I’ll be doing on Saturday morning. Dimity will be in the Twin Cities promoting Run Like a Mother this week and she'll be doing a number of readings and fun runs.

Thursday, June 3, she’ll be reading at The Bookcase in Wayzata at 7 p.m. On Friday morning she’ll lead a 5K fun run followed by a short reading at Title Nine in Edina. On Friday night at 7:30, she’ll be reading at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis, and on Saturday morning, June 5, she’ll lead a 5K around Lake Calhoun from the Running Room at 9 a.m. Strollers and walkers are welcome on the runs, and apparently there will be lots of prizes at the end!

So if you’re a local mama runner (or if you want to be a mama runner, but need a little motivation), come to the Running Room on Saturday morning. I’ll be there plodding along in my slow, happy way.