Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Writing Blogs....

There are a few. This is one of them. When I'm here it's my Children's Writer mode; the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators member mode. The one who won the NaNoWriMo with over 50,000 words (but no end of the story in sight). Oy vey.

However, if you're into things like checking dates, you'll see that it's been a very VERY long time since I've written, which belies my description as "writer". I apologize.

My explanation (NOT "excuse") is....BUSY. But as I write today, NaNoWriMo is last month and therefore history; the "busy" has been working at the Museum, spending some family time, preparing for the holidays (takes SOME, when you celebrate Chanukah....Solstice....Yule....and Christmas) and today is the day-before-the-day-before Christmas.

So I'm not going to write much now either, but did want to point out that the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated and I will write a proper Post in the next few days.

To stave the guilt I'll include here a brief rant.

I've been given three books by my boss at the Museum who manages the shop; he asked me to read them and give an opinion about whether or not they might be good books to carry in a Historical Museum gift shop.

Seems all three were self-published. Now, they LOOK good; professional-looking covers, good typefaces, all in all nicely turned out. The two I've finished are not bad stories. One is sort of "memories of life in early Wisconsin" and is charming; the other is a young people's novel and a good, hearty tale. The third is very thick and I'm not finished reading it.

But they all share one thing in common: they're DREADFUL! By which I mean, the punctuation is terrible, they're full of either spelling errors or typos or both (I prefer to think they're typos, NOT spellling errors....). And I mean both kinds of error are frequent enough that they're a real distraction to me. Admittedly, I see errors like that as if they were neon red, but I'm of the thought that people assume what they're reading is 100% accurate - and they have a right to.

The kid book? Well, aspiring youngsters looking to become writers might subconsciously be learning from every book they read. I suspect that none of these three books was proofread by anyone qualified - including authors themselves. I'm not suggesting that they pay for an expensive editor or proofreader; I AM suggesting that no one who is self-publishing (be it online or any other way) who does NOT at least run their manuscripts past other writers or a review group or ... heck, their Retired English Teacher Grandmaw! before putting out money (which I suspect might have been considerable in one case) to produce their book, is remiss.

I'm thinking they may sell some copies, if they offer them through their churches or social groups. I'm also thinking that if they try to sell them through their own public or school libraries they WILL be reviewed, and will receive the same response I had.

That's it; that's my rant. Puts me in an interesting position, because I AM going to drop each writer a note - it'll be a test of my diplomacy to explain my position, but I can't not, if you ken my meaning. I would certainly want the truth if it were my book.

The fact that "there may be no chance anyone else will notice" isn't good enough for me.

Any thoughts? (By the way -- I AM aware of my use (over-use?) of semi-colons. I love them and use them now and then. Maybe too much....bear with me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Time Marches On....

Oh wait, that's a cliche, isn't it? And it's only three words. Lemme see here.... OK. "Time groaned ever forward in the method which had propelled humanity toward its ultimate finality, relentless and unforgiving."


SEE what this NaNoWriMo stuff does to you? Why use one word when you can use 15 ridiculous, florid, overblown and unnecessary ones? I mean, REALLY!

OK, not going to take too much time here because I have a Writing Meeting arranged and some stuff to do before I go.

Let's see -- I'm long past the birth, the death and the nekkud priest. The body's buried, and the baby with her -- but only it wasn't THE baby, which is still alive and being nursed by the Priestess who has never herself been a mother made!! (That happened in my last year's novel too....hmmmm.) He's learned that the goddess to whom the baby was promised is NOT EGYPTIAN (!) so he ... and the priestess...must take her to Greece, only it's "Hellas" because that sounds cooler.
At this moment they have finally gotten on the boat, though it hasn't pushed off yet. And they've decided they have to Give Up Everything and travel as a lower-middle-class family. And he's decided the tyke is going to be easier to conceal and will have a better early life in general if they disguise her as a boy!

The high dray-ma is almost too much for me, truth telling. Seems like the story is about half-way, if there's going to be much going on with them when they actually get to Gree....uh....Hellas.

Today's On Track Word Count: 33,340
MY actual word count: 36,122 !

Tonight covering both of my passions: writing on the novel from about 5:30 - 9:00 (when Barriques closes) then out to The Sow's Ear to knit until 11:00 when THEY close. I may do some surreptitious novelling while there too - there's another badge for that!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

(the sound of shackles falling away)....

I gave my presentation! And lived to tell about it (more or less). I did a final terror-ridden immersion type attempt to get my notes in order and thoughts cognizant right up to the last minute (which included fleeing out to the car because there was a chap in our dorm, where I went expecting no one to be there. He was fussing around in his stuff and whistling. Very melodic but very repetitious, same phrase over and over. I was howling some VERY unlady-like things at him top volume (but only in my head; I am a LADY).

I was pretty disappointed in myself. Felt like it was choppy, disconnected, farbled, garbled and wonky. But several people came up "afters" and said nice things. Well, I have time to really polish and streamline before delivering it at the senior center (where I have the great advantage of an audience of interested, curious people - who likely do NOT know waaaay more about it than I do!). That NAVC crowd is a tough audience, what with every single one of 'em being Knowledegeable with a capital "K".

So now, instead of being AHEAD on NaNoWriMo.......I'm behind! Therefore I'm briefly updating blogs and then hunkering down (isn't that a great phrase, I can just SEE it) and trying to catch up and move ahead.

TIP to MYSELF: arrange for meals. I'm quite brilliant at describing tables full of comely, beautiful dishes and table settings, &c at GREAT LENGTH (which is, after all, the name o' the game). No new word count to list yet, but watch this space!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Oh am I going to pay....

I guess it was bound to happen. TWO important projects. One human being. (That human being being me.) I've alluded to my incredible Olympic powers of Procrastination. Well, it's turned into a beast and it's gnawing...GNAWING, I tell you...on my behind.

Here's the scoop: I'm working on this program. It's an oral presentation, sort of a lecture. I found out when it has to be given: 3:00 pm tomorrow. And it's not an hour.......I have an hour and a half. (I wonder how early I can ask for questions?)

I'm not ready for it. Now, I DO have the rest of today and some time tomorrow to work on it, but there are other things going on that I'm going to want to hear, and people to visit whom I only see once a year. And meals (believe me, the meals are reason enough to go!)

On the OTHER hand -- I have NOT neglected my NaNoWriMo novel (Bulwer-Lytton still has nothing to fear) and my daily word count is:

11,085. Boo-yah!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Keep on keepin' on....

OK, so we had a Kick-Off for NaNoWriMo 2009. Zombie Joe secured the use of the Italian Workmen's Club from 9-5 on Sunday, being 1 November; the challenge actually began at midnight but SOME people (not your reporter) live normal lives and sleep at night.

I was interested to see the inside of the Club - I knew it had been a fixture during the 1920s and 1930s when the surrounding neighborhood was called "The Greenbush" and was a rich Italian neighborhood. It proved to be a fairly plain big room now, with lots of long tables and at the head of the room a little counter and sort of kitchen-y bit. When I arrived I wasn't sure I was in the right place, because I heard nothing.........but I discovered some 20 people or so bent over their respective laptops WRITING! There were also some stalwart souls using pens or pencils and notebooks. I do love historical types....

Anyway, not taking much time to write THIS, as I have other writing to do -- not only my NaNo novel but that blasted report on the Metis. I swear, when I say "Thank you - are there any questions?" at the end of my presentation I'm likely to burst into tears of gratitude that it's actually over. (I hope there ARE no questions; I'm threading facts and tales onto a pretty thin cord and any divergence is likely to produce a blank, trance-like stare.)

At this writing I have over 5,000 words; I'm well within where I need to be. Same thing is happening that I experienced last year: I sit reading the text scrolling past on my screen, fascinated with it all....and my busy little fingers are just dancing along on the keyboard all of their own. I have NO connection to them, they're making the thing up as they go along. I'll make occasional reports here but don't expect to post much more. At 3,000 words I had experienced a birth, a death - and a naked Egyptian priest standing before the gold figure of Horus. Who knows where it'll all end? (Not ME, I can tell you that quick enough!)

One change I WILL have to make at some point, but a simple "find-and-replace" will do it. My characters right now are named XX, QQ, TH, RR.....and I want something a tad more creative in the final analysis.

I'm off to work on my report; the NaNo-ing takes place around midnight.

NOTE: I actually DID meet with two fellow local Wrimos at Perkins, at midnight on November 1. They're a young married couple, absolutely delightful! She's a very clever and artistic girl who moved here from Georgia; her husband is a handsome young Norwegian Lutheran Minnesotan-type fella. We had the most enchanting conversation for two hours....and then dutifully wrote a sentence or two each before departing for home. I had a word count of 130 when I left. I have caught up, and it was worth it. FUN meeting new friends.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Three Days and -- some hours

I am writing on ...well, actually the title should be "TWO Days -- some hours", as I'm writing at 2:36 AM on Thursday. This is good practice.

Last year I learned, by participating in NaNWriMo, that my peak "writing time" begins at around 10:00 PM. So I expect to find myself writing around this time all month. I still don't have much in the way of any ideas, but progress HAS been made: I have two Writing Buddies and a couple of Vague Notions; the local fellow WriMos have spoken up on the NaNoWriMo website and a Kick-Off party location and time has been set; quite a few folks have stated their intention to come. My friend James from last year has reconnected (even on Facebook!) and will be there, so there'll be at least one Familiar Friendly Face. Of course, this will NOT be a "social" for the most part, as we will all be hell-bent on launching our novels.

This week at the museum we're ("we" = Education Staff) going about in costume in honor of Halloween week. I'm wearing my very nice 1830 day dress (E-bay!) and portraying Rosaline Peck, first non-Indian woman living in Madison. She and her husband moved here and put up a cabin which became the first inn or boarding house; she acted as hostess to the guys who were building the first capitol building.

Yesterday I struggled some with the length of the gown and the fact that the hooks up the front seemed to come open. I put on the pellerine (a sort of cape deal worn over that leg-o'-mutton style dress) which covered the hooks.
I figured I could help the first problem with an extra petticoat, SOOOOOO today I did wear an extra petticoat, I wore a bit higher-heeled shoes.....and I realized that I had worn it BACKWARDS. Yes indeedy, ladies and gennulmens, the hooks go up the BACK. MUCH less trouble today.

Wonder if that could be worked into the plot? OK, I'm taking a poll (short poll, I have no delusions about my vast readership):

Ancient GREECE? or Ancient EGYPT?
Magical and Fantastical? or Historical and "realistic"?
First-person? Third person? Narrator?

Just heard that some part of Colorado is socked in with heavy snows! We import our weather from the west, via Minnesota. Laissez les bon temps ROULET!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


OK, I thought I'd win the Worst Lousy Blogger award here -- but this year I lost. And get THIS! I lost to a housewife in New Zealand who doesn't even have a computer!! I mean, I don't even see how she can be considered!

Anyway, rather than waste time on sour, by gumbo, I AM going to waste time on sour grapes, but being a writer I'll procrastinate and do it later.......just noting here that in ONE WEEK it will be Sunday again (duhhh) and the date will be...

NOVEMBER 1, 2009. What that means is, it will be the first Official Day of NaNoWriMo! Yes, I am participating again. I'm all registered and everything. I hear that rumbling "if she can't write a lousy BLOG but once every blue moon how can we believe she's going to crank out 1,667 words a DAY???" Ah, well you may say that.

But don't, because I don't have an answer. Anyway, I mean to give it a shot and I'll try to document it here. (Operative word, O Ye Naysayers: TRY.) Smartasses.

So I'm off to begin the earliest preparations. At this point I have:

No ideas

No plans

No plot

No characters

....but an Iron Will (stop that cackling, you in the back) and my cherished little netbook which goes everywhere with me and has (I'm SO not making this up) something over FIVE HOURS' battery time on a full charge. Take THAT, Barnes & Noble, with your two lousy outlets both in one corner of the cafe.

Watch. This. Space.

written by dale-harriet, Optimist of the Century (for our region, which includes Lilac Lane only)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Reports of my Death.......

....are FALSE, I swear it! On the other hand, considering that most of my reading for the intervening months between the last post and this have been about Spiritualists, Spiritualism, mediums, &c &c, if this WERE coming from the Great Beyond you might not even be able to tell.

HOWEVER. I think summertime just blasts me. It's true, we like being outdoors and all, but I seem to have no inclination for a lot of my usual pursuits. That -- and travelling great distances (which always knocks me off my pins) have largely occupied me.

But I sense those first little tendrils of the Change of Seasons and am again settling in and getting out my stories and am beginning to feel the delicious calm that comes from tucking into my nest. I'll be back (said in my best Schwarzenegger accent...) and there are good things ahead. The Fall Retreat of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is coming up (and I'm IN, although I almost missed the deadline) and ... then....

LAYDEEZ AND GENNULMENS, sharpen your pencils. There's another NANOWRIMO on the horizon. James, if I haven't lost you ferever, let's be Non-Procrastination Pals this year! (Are you going to do it again? You BETTAH!)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It is the Dawning.....

....well, maybe not of the Age of Aquarius -- but then again, maybe it is.

While there are still ten days of the "official prescribed"period of Mourning, I'm ready to Resume. Resume almost all, if not actually ALL, of my daily round. I still have minor meltdowns. I knew she'd die, and I sort of figured it might be before I did what with her dialysis and all. But goldamnit, I was not READY to lose her. But I've told her all that, and she's moving into the place where are loved ones to whom I talk occasionally, rant periodically, and complain to.

I have another cherished friend, Toutee Gens du Bois (that was his historical reenactment name/character, a noble Shawnee warrior). He is over there too, seated at the great Council Fire, and he's been in that place for some time. I talk to him a lot when I'm in the car - I have a beautiful soft deerskin thong with a feather on each end which hangs over my rearview mirror; I've put a tear-shaped crystal on one of the feathers and it reminds me of him. So a dialogue might go something like this:

Toutee, did you see that @$)@*# cut in front of me? He's on his %#)*@(&$ CELLPHONE for petessakesalive. Aren't you glad you never saw crap like that? Or...

Toutee, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. Too much to do and no good sense to organize it in a manageable fashion. Yes, yes - I know what you're telling me, as you used to: "settle your mind, imagine your things to do laying in front of you in a semicircle, and arrange them to your satisfaction. Then act." Yeah - you're right, as usual. Thanks.

So now, I have another companion, my "sister" Sunawa, and a chat with her might go like this:'s been almost a month. Are you having a good time there? 'Cause I saw something funny today and thought "I'm going over to Dialysis tomorrow and tell Sunawa about this because she won't believe it either......." Oh. No, wait - you're not going to BE at Dialysis tomorrow, or ever again, and HOT DAMN but that makes me SAD! Well, I didn't come here to berate you, but I'm saving up all these funny stories, so when I get there prepare to be regaled. That's all I can say. Over and out.

I'll never NOT do that, talk to those friends. And when I go to the Spiritualist Camp (some time this summer) it's going to be VERY tempting to arrange a session with a medium and see if either of them has anything to tell me via that route. But I don't know as I will. (IF I do, you'll be the first to know, more or less.)

OK, having established that my overweening wordiness hasn't apparently suffered, I can report what I came here to report.

I had my Writers' Group today, and I took along the first revision of the story I laid on them last time. It's about a girl named "Endear" who lives some time around the end of the 18th century in some place settled (Ohio?) on a farm. The deal is, Endear is keenly aware that she's a disappointment to her mother, who is a mistress of the finer needle arts, and in spite of now being a farmwife, is fully possessed of those qualities thought most desireable in a well-bred and genteel lady.

NOTE: for years I've written short children's stories, and I've considered myself a Writer of Short Stories for Children. Until VERY recently (since joining this group, really) I had NEVER done any rewrites or revisions, virtually. I might change a phrase or polish a bit here and there, but actual revision? Nope, hadn't done that.

Well, OK, so I've been giving these short stories, but my colleagues in the group write novels, so I thought I'd start this story in mind of something a little longer - I guess I'm thinking "YA". So today, as I said, I took my first revision, based on their recommendations and suggestions from their first reading last month.

And Patty said, "You've NAILED it!" (They've been telling me there has to be conflict, and it has to appear near the start as a hook.) Then Joan, my first-and-ONLY writing class teacher, said, "Here's your assignment - STICK WITH THIS." Of course, the writing class was two winters ago, but it was she who invited me to join this august group.

Boils down to - I have a novel in the works, apparently. A real, genuine, work-on-it writing job. I'm surprised, a little intimidated, and very excited. How's it going to come out? What's at the end? Couldn't begin to tell you.

I'm thinking a rough, skeletal Outline might not be amiss.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Well...there never was an excuse. I write good stories - (if I didn't like the way there were I'd write them differently). My Writers' Group folks like my stories -- and being "real writers" offer brilliant suggestions and helpful criticisms which are as gifts to me.

Then my Husband, he who thinks of everything, pays attention, and makes my life truly the best it can be in all ways (I think in the vernacular, that's "a KEEPER"), gave me a present. And this present removes any excuse for not writing in every odd moment available, regardless of where I am, or when.

Now, a couple of years ago he gave me my cherished laptop, which is a dream. I love it more than anything (but not .000001% as much as I love him, needless to say). Daisy (yes, I name everything, and she's a Dell) has given me so much FUN, and more than having access to the innerwebs, a source of wonder to my 66-year-old self, Daisy allows me to write whenever - and WHEREver, I want.

My first purchase with my first earned money, was a portable typewriter so I could go sit down by Lake Harriet (no relation) and write. Of course one can write anywhere, and "#2 Ticonderoga Word Processers" never run out of power or anything. But with Daisy I've spent happy hours at Panera or Atlanta Bread or the library........amazing.

Of course, being a spectacular laptop, Daisy is fairly large (lovely BIG monitor screen) and a bit heavy. Now, Mr Dearling has given me a wonderful bag which holds Daisy (safely) and all my files, a few books, all necessities and even a skein or two of yarn and related effluvia. AND it has wheels; doesn't hardly get better.

Currently, mine is a house of Mourning; this afternoon I am burying my dear friend of 38 years and I will be following the custom of shiva and spending seven days quietly; I may not be doing much writing and I won't be blogging after the ceremony (for the seven days). But I have to mention something because I'm so pleased, and my friend would be tickled for me (now see, I think she IS - yes, I believe in the deceased being "with us").

Our anniversary was Sunday, and although I spent the day with the rabbi and at the funeral home with my friend's partner, my cherished husband gave me my anniversary present anyway. (I gave him his present too - a book. It's one he really wanted, but HE is the giver of GIFTS.)

My gift is a little sister for Daisy -- a netbook! Yes, I have an extremely portable, tee-tiny little laptop, to literally carry in my daily tote with my daily stuff, where she'll not even be noticeable. (Yes, "she" -- HERMIONE.) So if I just want to jot something, or have a quick idea, or want to work on something while waiting for something........I'll have Hermione. Brilliant!

Did I ever mention that my 4th grade teacher told us "one day, you'll have adding machines and typewriters you can carry in your pockets". Well, Hermione is JUST past fitting into my pocket, but fits in my daily tote bag; she's about the size of a book, and much thinner.

And get this: Hermione has....SEVEN HOURS' WORTH OF BATTERY POWER!! (And I've tested her, she really does; turning down the brightness of the screen and doing a few other things bumps it up to eight hours. So I don't even need to take my wonderful rolling case.

Replacement for Daisy, you say? OH NO, not by a looooong shot. But for perfection of convenience for the little things, the moments - can you imagine?

My teacher was a visionary.

(And my beloved, my darling, my single word can express my gratitude; I take some comfort in knowing that you know.)

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Knock, knock.....Who's there?

OPPORTUNITY! No, wait - that's not how "knock knock" jokes go.

But that seems to be the fact of it. (By the way, this is my little figure of the Bear Goddess and Her Cub. Why is she here? Let me put it this way: this post refers to things which some might consider luck, fate, serendipity....perhaps even synchronicity. And I attribute such things to my little friend, the Bear Mother. Quirky? Yeah, I'll buy that.) To quote our birthday boy (two days ago): "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

So who is this Opportunity, who has come knocking? Ah, therein lies a tale. Pull up a little tuffet, Grasshoppah, and I will relate it.

I've been a lazy writer these last couple of months. No, worse. I've been a NON-WRITER. I've written almost nothing since - yes, since I had to have something to take with me to my Writers' Group in March. I started a new story for the occasion, and I think it's a good one. And since then? Nothing. Nada. Nischt. Zippo. Zero. Crickets.

Might I add - two writing colleagues have made offers, one to participate in a short version of NaNoWriMo, and one to join her in some pieces from a book of writing exercises. What do you call it - ennui? Block. Or...let's call it like it is. "Hello. My name is Lazy McProcrastipants, and I'm a Writer."

But see, I am a writer. I have ideas, I have a new stack of scraps with ideas which - at 3:28 AM sounded like Brilliant Young Adult Novels. I have the desire. And I have a gleaming, shimmering casque of lame excuses.

But I really AM supposed to be writing,and in spite of all of it, The Powers That Be make it perfectly clear. And they have done it with two incidents which I cannot ignore or misinterpret.

First - a chance comment which I might have mentioned before: at State History Day the Editor of the State Historical Society Press suggested I might write a Badger Biography (series of books about notable Wisconsinites for young people) about Mary Hayes Chynoweth. Now, if that's not an Opportunity, polished up, dusted off, gift-wrapped and dropped in my lap......then nothing is. As in: if I don't act on this I deserve to have all my Ebony pencils taken away and my dictionaries impounded.

The second? Today I went to the SCBWI Spring Luncheon; I went with one of my fellow members of my Writing Group AND another local writer and member whom I had not met before who had asked if she could ride along. I feel bit like a wannabe in such a group of published, accomplished, clever writers and illustrators, but then, I DO want to be like them, for real.

On the ride (to Oconomowoc, where the luncheon was held) we three conversed, of course, and (ready for this?) the woman whom I met for the first time in the car on the ride has written Badger Bios in the past and has just launched a new one, a biography of Gaylord Nelson, father of Earth Day !!

So when I mentioned that I was considering submitting a proposal for a Badger Bio about my Spiritualist Healer (on account of 1) it being mentioned by the SHS Press Editor; and 2)because I'm already elbow-deep in research about her anyway, for my portrayal) she said she thought it would be a very GOOD idea and mentioned a few little tips and thoughts, advice from one who has written those bios and gotten them published.

So let's run this past once more: I am immersed in research about a very interesting Wisconsin character; the SHS Press editor (a former colleague from my job at American Girl) runs into me at the History Day affair; the selfsame editor suggested that I put in a proposal for a Badger Bio; I meet a current author of books in this very series; she offers tips and hints for success in the writing of them.

Well! You don't need to hit ME over the head with an L.C.Smith & Corona. I have a new project on the drawing board. How's that for incentive, inspiration, a little prod in the tushie?

Oh - and my Writers' Group has its next meeting Monday (day-after-tomorrow)....and as Fate would have it, the meeting is AT. MY. HOUSE!

Watch this space, news at 11:00.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'd NEVER have guessed.....

....he was half-a-century old!

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy 50th Birthday dear Strunk & Whi-i-i-i-i-te,
Happy Birthday, to you!

Can you believe it? Today, 16 April, is the 50th birthday of Strunk & White. They've put out a very fancy Anniversary Edition in honor of the occasion. Now, the edition I have (and anyone reading this, and any writer in North America - at least - and frankly everyone else in the world SHOULD have an edition) is the Third Edition. My understanding is that the additions to the new one are nice enough, but the reviews seem to indicate that it's not enough change to go nuts to get the new one.

One thing that IS in the new edition (I heard this on NPR) is Dorothy Parker's quote regarding Elements of Style, as follows:

"If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy." -- Dorothy Parker, Esquire

If you don't have a copy, RUN, do not walk, to your nearest Half-Price Books or other used bookstore, college bookshop, anything, and buy it. (Or if you're That Sort, go get the fancy-schmancy one......even though I don't need it, of course, I might get one just because I'm a hopeless bibliophile-addict.)

Friday, April 3, 2009

At the risk of repetition...

I meant to post this here......but put it here instead:

Check it out--


Editor's note: After that rant on inaccuracies over at the other blog - *I* made an error here. What I meant to say was "meant"; what I HAD said was "mean". Typo, typo....with thanks to my Lovely Daughter for noticing!

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Ever have the feeling you're being looked at? No...more than that. PERUSED ? So I started wondering why she was looking at me that way. Then I realized. She's reading my mind. She knows my innermost thoughts. And she's saying "Aren't you supposed to be writing something ? And I reply "I AM writing something. Blogs are 'something'. Go to sleep."

But I know that she knows. Because I AM supposed to be writing something, and it's not a blogpost.

Yesterday was the Regional State History Day competition, and we went as Judges (we've done that for a few years; it's quite the experience). This year I judged "Documentaries". These are kids from all over the state who've probably succeeded in some school event and now they've come to The Capital City. The ones who succceed here advance to the State competition (it's in May, also here). And the winners THAT day go to the National Competition, in Washington DC. I can tell you that Wisconsin sends on some awfully fine work - I've never followed up to see how we do in the Nationals but it's hard for me to imagine work better than what I see.


OK - "Documentaries" means they've put together a film - they're allowed ten minutes. It has to be along the lines of something seen on PBS, more or less. The theme this year was: The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies. That's it - it could be ANY individual, not restricted to Wisconsin or even America, actually. The mind reels. Charlemagne! Queen Elizabeth I! Steve Irwin! Even movie stars could be the topic, if one could prove up some legacies. Might I add, the topics are ALWAYS some form of this, and the thoughtful or creative student would have almost no limits.

Last year I judged "Exhbits" and there was one brilliant one done by a girl perhaps 12 years old on Polio. She had the facts, she had illustrations, conclusions - it was really splendid. In her interview I asked how she happened to decide on her topic. She said, "I came upon the word 'polio' in something I was reading, and I didn't have any idea what it was." Think about THAT! I instantly recalled those television spots showing Sister Kenny exercising the atrophied limbs of little children who were crying in pain........and this child did not know what the word meant. See why I like to go judge?

OK, this year I had "Senior Individual Documentaries". That means that each was the work of a kid between 9th and 12th grade, working alone. (There are strict guidelines about how much - and from whom - they can have assistance.)

It was not lost on me that this little kids were producing technology that I'd never heard of in school. I was prepared to be knocked off my pins. I always am. This year - I wasn't.

(I think blogs need pictures, even if they don't relate. Sue me.)

Oh, the technology wasn't bad for the most part. They were films, they had fades and music (some of 'em) and illustrations. Only one had text - the rest were slide shows, pretty much. I put myself in a frame of mind to envision watching a documentary on television: I should learn something about the person, I should see how their actions or experiences had an impact on their community, or state, or country. Before we watch the films we (oh - judging is done by teams of three people) look over the students' process paper and bibliography. This should indicate an idea of how they decided on their topic, something about their methods of production - and then the list of primary and secondary sources.

In this day and age we have to be watchful -- 34 citations from Wickepedia? Nawww. And I noticed very FEW citations from actual books, perhaps only one or two from newspapers. The rest were ALL from the Internet, not necessarily a failing, but come ON, boys and girls. There was a lot of material out there before there WAS an Internet and the information is still valid. It almost seemed like the kids think that, unless it IS on the 'net, it's dubious. Oy.

Two of the expected entries didn't show, leaving us with five. I consider an entry (in any category) a success if it either piques my curiosity, makes me want to look up some of their sources for more information or leads me to want more information.

One of the programs was on Steenbock, a university scientist responsible for the establishment of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). That was the best of the lot.

There was one on Amelia Earhart, which had SO MUCH potential! It wasn't bad but it didn't even touch on what it might have. There was one on Steve Jobs (of MAC fame, infamy and fame again). It was fair. Zona Gale was represented too - and again, it could've been tighter and more informative; it was mostly pictures of the subject.

And there was one that presented a problem. Now - allow me to say this: what I AM going to be writing today is the Comments. We judges get sheets on which to tick off points for various things, (Analysis and Interpretation, Historical Context, Wide Research) and then we must write a sheet of comments - things that we liked, ways in which it might have been a little more polished, &c. The thing is, these kids work hard, and long - for months - and then come to Madison .... sometimes from tiny schools upstate, and it's a HUGE DEAL for them. If their work isn't impressive, the labor behind it is, just the same. And one of the main things is that we want them to have enjoyed the entire process, and perhaps develop an interest, an enthusiasm, for history along the way. I'm good at writing positive, inspiring, appreciative comments, even for the ones that are pretty lame.

But one in my group - is going to be more of a challenge than I've faced before. It was a documentary about a girl named Sylvia Likens. Here's a link to the entry in Wikipedia: about her and it pretty much tells the same story shown in the documentary. The recorded narration was just that...didn't include any conclusions. The process paper concludes that this girl's legacy was that she stayed strong to the end and became "one of the most iconic victims of abuse in the United States." (I haven't gone through her citations yet, but I'm sure to find that phrase.)

Thing is - there was no information in the documentary about the victim's character, and nothing about the solution other than a mention of the penalty given to the main abuser (a jail term). I was waiting for some information about a law passed, or a change in methods of reporting or investigating abuse....nothing. Oh - and the girl died in 1965. There are six pages of bibliography - and every single citation is a website origin of one of the images used. Not one single newspaper article, no reference to a newscast - the only exception is the citation of the film made (fictionalized) that premiered at the 2007 Sundance Festival (to some acclaim)about the incident. Now - we judges, in talking later, had a couple of wonderings: where was the student's TEACHER? They're supposed to provide guidance, assistance and support - did a teacher KNOW she was using this topic? And if so, W T F?? Also, the student said that she'd decided on her topic after watching the film about the incident with her mother. I repeat, W T F??

Now, most of the judges fill out their judging forms at the site in the afternoon and turn them in. My husband and I have gotten dispensation - we bring them home and TYPE them up, turning them in early Monday morning. Our feeling is that we want to put some serious and thoughtful work into the comments, considering the time put into these projects by the youngsters. So that's what I'll be writing today (procrastinating?? who said that?!?!?!).

I'm saving the Sylvia Likens one for last, because I'm going to have to drag out the BIG BAG of words to form sentences of encouragement and gratitude for doing the project at all. I'm going to have a tablet next to me on which I can scribble the things I can't say to her: Is something unhappy in your own home, that led this girl's story to appeal to you? Are you fascinated with this story - beyond the usual delicious interest all kids have in the Grotesque? Have you talked to your mom or a counselor? I won't say any of that and have no reason to even think it. But the whole documentary and the whole process paper and the whole (lame) "bibliography" made me feel really, really sad. Need I add that her film is NOT going on to State competition?

A picture of HOPE, from last summer

Monday, March 23, 2009

Learning Curve

Man would you just LOOK at the dust around here! Boy, this is some kind o' scandal. "Nice bloggin', Dale-Harriet." And this a writing blog? Swell. Dandy. Fine. OK - so what's yer excuse, Dale-Harriet?


WELL? What do you have to say for yourself, Mrs WRITER WOMAN? How're you explaining this, what lame kind of excuse are you going to insult us with, after this length of time?

(silence...but head hanging in shame)

{major sigh} OK, let me try this: I've read that writers procrastinate. In fact, I've heard that the best writers are terrible procrastinators. Do you realize what this means? *I* am in that rarified group called "the best writers"! No, huh? Oh, OK.

Truth is - I don't really know. I still haven't managed to sit down and chew through my NaNoWriMo, start to finish. Furthermore, I've dibbled here and dabbled there, but haven't really written much of anything for EVER so long. I couldn't go to my last Writers' Group meeting -- see, I was sick. (Furthermore? I didn't have one single word of anything that I could take along. That alone made me a little queasy.)

In the old days - we're talking the early 1950s when I was in elementary school (Eugene Field, no less) I used to get this heady feeling the last week of school every spring. Oh, I know, "everyone does".......but mine wasn't a "No more tests, no more books, no more Teacher's dirty looks" sort of thing. It was a "oh goody, now I can really get some learning done!!" (That's TWO exclamation points' worth.)

Gratuitous Grilled Brats Picture

Now then, what was I saying? Warm weather...meal No, it was something else. OH yes, summer vacation! OK - so what that meant was, as soon as school was out I headed for the library. I spent my happiest summer days reading about whatever it was caught my fancy at that particular time.

One year it was Ancient Greece. I studied books of myths, and read about all the gods. I looked into the festivals and found costume books with illustrations of the Stola and Pallas. I found out what I could about the diet and about the different roles of different genders and classes. I even borrowed a book that taught me the Greek alphabet and a few words of vocabulary. (The only one I remember is "tatto", which meant "tactics".)

I also tried to "live the Greek life" that summer. I refused to wear anything but a white bedsheet, draped in the appropriate way (Mommy wouldn't let me out of the house dressed that way); I didn't want to bathe but rubbed a "fragrant oil" into my body. (I wanted Mommy to buy me some fine white sand to rub my skin with, too. She wouldn't.) I wanted to recline at my meals, drink only grape juice and have honeyed fowl stuffed with dates and almonds. (Mommy wouldn't do any of that either.) Now...I have to say - in retrospect (and suggested by my sister a while back) I was probably a 24k paininth'arse to my poor, traditional, accomplished 1950s housewife Mommy. This was just revealed to me last summer. I feel confident that it's correct. Oh - I think I was nine years old for my Greek summer.

The next year it was Ancient Egypt. I outlined my eyes in "kohl" (ok, so it was Maybelline, shut up). My ancient Greek scented oil served to slick my hair down. (Think on that.) It was the best I could do - this was pre-Internet so I didn't have an ice cube's chance in Hell to find cones of solid perfume to wear on my head.

I tried again for the honeyed fowl stuffed with dates and figs and almonds. Mommy said "NO" again. I wanted coarse whole-wheat bread. I wanted to drink beer mixed with honey. But hey, I agreed to sit at the table! Mommy said "NO!" I read about all the numerous gods and goddesses - and worshipped a select few. I studied hieroglyphics most earnestly. Mommy wouldn't look for "white pleated linen so fine you could see through it" so I wore t-shirts and shorts. It was a great summer -- from my point of view.

NOTE: As I sit here, I have a nagging worry - I hope none of that affected my poor mother's long-time history of severe migraines. She had them before I came along - but I do here apologize to her for being such a trial and I will tell her so, should the opportunity present itself in the Other World

Have I ever mentioned on this blog that I digress? No? Well....I do. FYI. Enjoy another gratuitous picture:

I am LAWVINGK on these zucchinis!

All right, so here's the deal. It's SPRINGTIME again. We're fast approaching what my internal clock tells me is "Out for Summer Vacation" -- and I'm feeling all over INSPIRED again! What all this boils down to was my Writers' Group meeting again. I got up at 6:30 AM and wrote until 9:30 when I had to leave. I had a named character and not much else. ("Endear Louisa Hannah P---".) She was given a journal for her birthday ("today" in the story) and it's the third part of the 18th century, on a farm, probably in Ohio or thereabouts. She has two brothers, a baby sister, a genteel, well-bred mother and an educated father who now farms.

I took it with me to Writers' Group. (Just call me "cheeky as all hell", I deserve it.) They liked it! P and S said I have an "incredible voice" and a "gift with descriptions and evocative scenes". J said I needed only conflict, and JP gave me some suggestions, which the others added to: I suggested that the baby sister might die -- there was a suggestion that she might have died prior to the beginning, perhaps the journal was a gift to help her deal with the death. She might feel guilty about it - or be responsible for it.

And wonderful questions were posed: Why is this educated father farming now? What factors are responsible for the parents, who seem to be "citified" and scholarly, winding up in humble means on a farm anyway? I thought perhaps the mother is pregnant again...and perhaps she could die in childbirth. Endear reads and writes, and her father is educating her -- she dislikes her training from Mother in needlework and "womanly arts".

Bottom line? I now have a better handle on what is meant by conflict; I have some further ideas for this story; I have the "school's out and I'm inspired" feeling; I'm feeling motivated to truly de-crappify my nest this spring -- and I'm inspired to write again. It all feels very, very good indeed.

Now then..........gotta go buy me some brats.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Like the Sands through the Hourglass.....

....time is ever slipping, slipping. (You thought I was going to say something relating to the soap opera, didn't you?) Anyway, owing to a round of busy-at-the-Museum ... I haven't taken time to visit here. We're doing a lot more Outreach programs, and they require some advance preparation, even the ones we've done a few times. Gotta keep 'em fresh for the new audience, you know.

Anyway, not writing the blog in this case also means not writing. Not on my novel, not any short stories, no editing, no polishing ... just plain no writing. And this is not good.

As if THAT doesn't make me feel crappy enough --- my birthday resolution of at least SUBMITTING in this, my 65th year, has fallen by the wayside too, and that bums me out more than I even thought it would. I am BIG-TIME BUMMED.

Sooooo....I'm renewing the resolution and adding to it. I admit, these are Intentions, and at this rate I'll be sailing straight to Hell in a galleon of gold with sails of shimmering silver silk. With a fancy dining room serving gourmet fare. "I'll take the baby back ribs, thanks."

I am redeemed (in the tiniest most insignificant way) by the fact that I am, at least, reading, and at the top of my list is "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle", a Wisconsin-based story. It's a first novel (oh GROOAAN!) by a fellow who grew up in Wisconsin, though he lives somewhere else now.

It's also an Oprah Book Club book; normally any designation of "best-seller" is an instant turn-off for me. When there's been weeks and weeks of hypehypehypehype I get turned off, and I suspect it's because prior to my feeling this way I DID read some such books and discovered that none of them fit the buzz.

This book is an exception, though. I've avoided reading or listening to ANYTHING about the book past the mention on NPR. It was at the top of my "when-I-get-out-to-Barnes&Noble" list.........but then the truly dear coordinator at one of the senior centers we go to (see "Outreach", above) gave us a copy as a thank-you gift! I was really excited to have it!

Now -- for me, it's NOT a fast, can'tputitdown kind of book. It's a delicious book to be read slowly and savoured, and that's how I'm reading it. While it's not as evocative as some things it's a strong story being told well. When I finish it, I think I'll incorporate it into our program on Wisconsin authors, because I think it merits attention for the guy.

First novel indeed! Hmph!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Shaking off the Dust....

Well! I think I've recovered from the Inauguration. I got myself all prepared for it (fortunately I didn't have to work or anything). I had two knitting projects, a BIG box of tissues (knowing myself as I do), a pot of tea and a notebook and pencil lest I should have any impressions.

Oh - I also had the husband buy me some DVDS....I'd never recorded anything on a DVD but I figured it was probably not a good idea to tape it on VHS. So there I was, and the whole thing unfolded. There were about 9.4 bazillion people in Washington - and I venture to say that there were probably not many people in the country not watching. Well...I know some people had to work and couldn't, and some really didn't have the means, and of course there were people who felt as *I* did for the last two Inaugurations - not worth watching.

But the whole Witness to History thing got to me big-time, Civil Rights Worker that I was/am. I guess my thinking now is that we have a man singularly appropriate for the job at hand, a man wise enough and young enough and bright enough to at least be able to sort OUT the nasty knot that the country seems to be in, and because his message is that we are ALL going to have to work on it, I'm betting time.....with a lot of crossing and pulling and tugging and following loops to their ends, that we'll be able to put back the skein into some semblance of order.

I pretty much wept through the whole thing, but I downright CRIED when I saw the ancient Tuskegee Airmen standing there, or saw Dr. King's son (who looks much like his father). And I cried over things like seeing the President {yay} and the First Lady {yay} hold hands as they walked along the parade route. Later in the evening I watched some of the Balls that they had to go to (I imagine by then they BOTH wanted nothing but a glass of orange juice and a hot bath) and I watched them dance together and it struck me that anyone watching them, who maybe didn't even know who they were, would still have two impressions: 1) those are some TALL FOLKS; and 2) they really do care for each other, deeply.

The contrasts between the "current Administration" and the last are as glaring as being taken from icy water into a soft, warm blanket.....and I've been reading blog comments all over the place and it seems to me that by FAR the greater number of "my fellow Amurricans" are saying things like "hope" and "optimism" and "relief". And you know - if it was the SELF-SAME guy, and even he wasn't black, I think we'd be saying the same things.

I can't stand Ashton Kucher. (How's that for a topic change?) Anyway, I never liked "Punked" or any of that stuff. But he (!) said something that I found one of the most inspiring things said during all that long day. I'm probably paraphrasing, but what he said went something like this:
"I've seen Presidents hand off the baton to Presidents -- but this is the first time I've seen the President hand the baton to the people." It's true, the whole message is that we're in this grim, sticky, war-filled pool, watching the whole economy not only fall into the toilet but hearing it flush, and yet -- by gum, if we ALL put some effort into it, we will be able to get out!

I love that there are children in the White House again. I love that our First Lady wore a gown designed by some 26-year-old kid (whose name will now be preserved.....with the the Smithsonian). I love that she orders stuff online.

I love that Obama took a train and hung out the back waving at people (like Lincoln). I like that he used Lincoln's Bible to take the Oath on. I like that he ate pheasants from Wisconsin at his fancypants Inaugural luncheon (and that it was somehow like Lincoln's too).

And I like the fact that we have a President in whom I have some faith. But it makes me wonder....what are John Stewart and Stephen Colbert going to talk about? (In the words of me aul' mother o' blessed memory, "may that be the worst problem you have all year!")

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thinking of Wigwams.......

If you look at any blogs being written in Wisconsin you'll see the same story: it's about -22 degrees outside this evening (and if you take into account "Wind Chill" factors, it's about -47 degrees).

In Wisconsin terms, when it's colder than twenty degrees below zero, we concede that it's "gettin' there". It's pretty cool out.....downright chilly. When it drops below about thirty degrees below zero (especially before wind chill) we nod wisely and say, "Uhn-huh....gettin' cold. Pretty cold out."

Of course, on the flip side, when Weatherman Gary announces that it may be up to 34 degrees above zero next week - even if it IS still January, we start rooting through the drawers to find shorts and tank tops, because clearly summer is right around the corner. And believe me -- when it gets up to +50 degrees in March we WILL be going out in sweatshirts. It's all relative, and we have a saying here: "If you don't like the weather.........just wait a minute." (We have been known to have three distinct seasons -- between sun-up and sundown, in one day.)

So what has that to do with wigwams? Well, think about this: in the Old Days, it would be lovely and snug in the wigwam. The sleeping mats are drawn close to the glowing fire, the buffalo robes and beaver-pelt covers are warm. But then -- nature calls. Imagining this I thank the Powers that Be once again for the brilliant thinking that evolved into the Indoor Bif, for which I am eternally grateful. Just sayin'.

On the writing front -- I did a little tidying-up of the first ten pages of my NaNo novel (!) and boldly took it with me to my Writing Group. I felt cheeky as all get-out, truth to tell -- but I did it. Now, I have to admit - the first few pages I was really writing -- I got into the heavy-duty padding a little later on. I was more nervous than usual - I've taken short stories with me up until now and gotten excellent meaty comments and some decent feedback. A "novel" is a whole different pig race.

Well -- I did get the anticipated good comments, some descriptions of such things as "point of view", &c, and two comments which I took particularly to heart -- no, three actually.

1. They said that they DO all agree that those first moments intimate a story worth telling, and that I definitely SHOULD continue with the salvage plan;

2. My long suit is, without any doubt, description, and they all enjoy my descriptions. Stephanie again said various bits were evocative, which is, in my mind, about the highest praise. "Evocative", to me, is the imaginative creation of an experience, and when I read stories that *I* feel evocative I am one happy reader;

and the 3rd comment, which truly went to my core: I think it was Patty said it but the others concurred: I should start to think past "short stories" and begin planning and anticipating longer works, perhaps YA - but in the realm of NOVEL.

Those group meetings are always stimulating, inspiring -- but I thought that was really something. What it means, of course, is that I'm going to have to buckle down even more, start to get much more serious, and instead of fancying myself a writer I'm going to have to accept and embrace the identity of "Writer" and act like one.

My new-found discipline that saw me keeping up the word count every single day during NaNoWriMo has .... waned, diminished, faded - and must be revived and stimluated. I'm not going to say "Resolution"....but I'm going to try to establish some compartments in my daily turn. I'm easily distracted (OK, I'll wait while you laugh your behinds off, wipe your eyes and regain control) but c'mon, after 10:30 pm I have a chunk of time Entirely My Own, and I'm going to try to establish a genuine habit of going into my writing room and ... you know, writing! (The sad part? The reason I'm going for 10:30 pm is that theres nothing I want to see on the teevee after that. Sheesh.) resolutions, but I'm going to make a little list:

1. Reduce the amount of time spent in front of the teevee
2. Fill the time away from the teevee with knitting or reading (or knitting AND reading)
3. Except for the Tuesday Night Conference online, keep Daisy in the Writing Room. (Note to self: if you try to watch the teevee AND write or work on the computer, it doesn't work.)
4. Sublist: items requiring genuine research, and it is NOT one minute too soon:
a) Mary Hayes-Chnoweth
b) The Metis Wife and Mother in the Fur Trade
c) that lady doctor up north


Put in scheduled time to work on not only the novel but the other ideas -- and last -- set a goal for myself, a deadline, and actually DO submit the stories the Group told me to submit. Those magazines aren't going to come to the door asking for something to publish.

That is all. Now then - to work!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

That's not a windstorm.....'s ME, sighing with relief. All the busy and all the fussy and all the anticipation that lead up to the holidays are past, and so are the holidays. I love 'em, but the older I get the happier I am with my good ol' routine, with my normal daily round (or what passes for normal anyway).

2009! I remember sitting in my little desk at Eugene Field Elementary School in Minneapolis -- it must have been about 1951, and thinking, for some reason, "I wonder if I'll still be alive when it goes from 19-- to 20--?" I also remember being just tickled when we could finally write "1956", although I've no idea why. No, wait -- I think I turned 13 that year, maybe that was it.

And following that thought - when I WAS 13 my sister was away at college and I had my parents and the house to myself as though I were an only child. The only thing I really remember of that was that, a few days after she'd left (she went to school in Ann Arbor) Mom and Dad and I went to try out a new thing in our neighborhood: a PIZZA place! And of that? What I remember most was the novelty of being out for dinner (a rarity) AND of it being "just the three of us". Hmmm....

(Have I ever pointed out, here, that I tend to DIGRESS? I'll apologize right here for it because it's going to happen again. And again.)

Now then - my NaNoWriMo novel. Can you believe it? I still haven't just gone back and read it straight through!! I might be just a little bit afraid to -- but the Husband has. He said he liked it, and did say that it would be worth going back to edit. It was pretty clear to him that there were vast sections where I'd been really trying for word count (well fer SHER) but it was his opinion that there may be a salvageable story in there.

I'm not much one for Resolutions; seems to me they're self-defeating. But I think that I'll make a Decision for the New Year, and that's to do it. To go back, to resurrect those characters, and to make a real effort to get into that story armed with vinegar and water, crumpled newspapers, and a stout broom and see what I have left at the end. It COULD be that I'll tidy here, polish there, rearrange something -- and wind up with "The End". But if the experience of editing it is even HALF the learning that the writing was, I'll still be ahead of the game.

I really do like the feeling of a new year beginning and all the effluvia of the last year gone and blown away. This year, of course, there's much to be optimistic about, not the least of which is the change to a cognizant, intelligent, clear-thinking young man in the White House, which fills me with a confidance I'd all but forgotten.

The economy is in the toilet (and guess what, it's been flushed) but MAYBE, just MAYBE, folks will look around and recognize their WEALTH, which has been hidden under all the STUFF. Instead of going out to a restaurant maybe some families will gather around their supper tables again.

Perhaps instead of agonizing over a ton of new clothes because the season has turned, girls will get creative and realize that they have an infinite number of new outfits already - all they have to do is pair things up differently or add one of the many scarves........

I think what I'm thinking is this: Husband and I have always said "We're absolutely as rich as Croesius - we just don't have much money" and I think that would be true of everyone if they only paused a moment and thought about it. Two quotations come to me, both popularized during the Depression (and as a writer, and one not very sharp about maths, I'm not sure what the difference is between then and now in the scheme of things):

"Wear it out, use it up, make it do or do without". Just take recycling a little further than we have been and it's a win-win-win-win-win.

"Do and say the kindest thing, always in the kindest way". That was on classroom walls for many, many years. It's the Golden Rule, it's the Wiccan Rede, it's just simply the way it should be.

Now then - my Writers' Group meets on Monday, and I have some work to do. I don't know if I'll begin taking "the novel" to that or not, but I may; otherwise, it's going to be a very writerly weekend.

Oh - and to anyone who may be reading this: I do hope that this new year brings you contentment, delight, curiosity, opportunity, optimism, enthusiasm and laughter. And prosperity, of whichever sort brings you the most of the aforementioned!