People often want to know where writer’s get their ideas. The idea for Pony Island came from a dream of mine to go to Chincoteague Island. I had read Misty of Chincoteague as a kid. More importantly, when I was ten, a friend of my stepfather’s bought two ponies at the Pony Swim and Auction. The ponies were pastured at my stepfather’s mother’s place, just down the road from us. I often went with him to feed and tend the ponies.
Wild! You have never seen such wild critters! Ginger gave birth to a foal we named Cookie. Cookie was the cutest thing on earth but I couldn’t get near him. I wasn’t one of those girls who was horse-crazy, though. Horses were all around me, so I never thought anything of them.
But I became intrigued with the barrier island off the coast of Virginia where people have settled and the other barrier island, Assateague, where the wild horses actually live. If you look at Chincoteague in relation to Virginia on a map, you’d think, so what’s the big deal? Just drive on over. There is no bridge crossing the Chesapeake Bay to the island. You have to drive north into Maryland, cross the Bay Bridge at Annapolis, drive down through Maryland to the Virginia half of the Eastern shore. Trust me, it’s not a hop, skip, and a jump.
For years, I longed to go. At one point, my husband and I were going to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. After the Outer Banks became too crowded, I suggested Chincoteague. We fell in love with the charm of the place. We have never been there during the Firemen’s Pony Swim and Auction because the town swells from about 7000 people to nearly 75,000 for that week. But we go when we can.
When I was getting my MFA at Vermont College, I began writing for preschool children. One day I started writing a book a rhyming book about the coming of the ponies to the islands. And that became Pony Island. I actually sold that book and Tractor Day while I was still in the program. Pony Island’s illustrations are by Wade Zahares and they will knock your eyes out! The book is getting really good reviews, which makes me, and I’m sure Wade, very happy.
So here’s to Pony Island! And here’s to Wade and my editors Emily Easton and Mary Kate Castellani at Walker Books for Young Readers! And here’s to–
What’s that noise? Did I hear a big sigh? It sounded like it was coming from another blog. Maybe from Becky’s Book Reviews? Oh, well, maybe it’s my imagination.
No, it’s not . . . can I come home?
Tomorrow is the publication date of my latest book and my first ever nonfiction picture book. It takes place on the island of Chincoteague, of Misty of Chincoteague fame. So come on by tomorrow for my little book launch–
I’m supposed to be Misty. Trying to get your attention. Winchester has run away! Haven’t you noticed how quiet it’s been?
Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen him standing sentinel in front of the refrigerator for a few hours.
Aren’t you going to look for him? Call the police? Send out an APB? (All Paws Bulletin, that is).
Not having Winchester around is like not hitting yourself with a hammer. Anyway, I see my vintage doll’s suitcase is missing. He took it, didn’t he?
Poor Winchester. Poor me. He was my best friend.
Sometimes there is such a thing as too much springtime. This morning a cardinal singing right outside my window knocked me out of bed. Today the Porch Man is supposed to finish our new front porch. I can’t wait to hang up my pink porch swing and–
Winchester? Is that you? What are you doing here? You have your own blog.
I thought I’d stroll over and see what the fuss was about at Under the Honeysuckle Vine. Not much of a blog, if you ask me.
Nobody asked you.
Very girly. Purple butterflies. Userpic of you and That Other Cat, The One Who’s Allowed Outside.
Persnickety stays out because she hates every breath you draw. She’d kill you if we let her in the house.
Puh! You say.
Winchester, you’re afraid of the mop when it’s not moving , so don’t pull that Big Brave Cat act with me.
I’m not afraid of anything. Just overly cautious. Anyway, the truth about that userpic is that you’re about 12 pounds thinner–
Okay, that’s enough! Get out of my blog!
You don’t want me. Fine. I’ll find a blog where I am wanted.
It’s chilly here in Virginia today. The cherry trees and pear trees and forthysia are blooming and the daffodils are up. Very different than March 25th twenty-two years ago. The weather was lovely that day, sunny with soft southeast breezes. My stepfather died that day, at home, after a long illness.
I adored my stepfather because he rescued our family when I was five. He let me trail behind him as he went about his chores. He spoke little and I talked even less. He taught me to identify trees by the bark and to predict the weather by watching the sky and noticing the behavior of birds and the way leaves hung on the trees. He built me a treehouse that accommodated my fear of heights. He got me my first and only dog and when Pooch was hit by a car, he told me my dog had "gone away." I didn’t learn the truth until I was nearly 30.
My stepfather thought I could do no wrong, which was certainly not the case with my mother. It’s a rare thing to find someone who thinks you are wonderful, despite your many faults.
My stepfather has appeared in many of my books, and I’ve dedicated several books to him. Seeing Sky-Blue Pink–which will always be the book closest to my heart–is about our relationship, the unsteadiness of a child suddenly acquiring a father and a man suddenly acquiring a daughter. It’s a two-way street. I put the treehouse in that book and our private jokes and stories and one of our cats. My stepfather is the subject of The Old Blue Pickup Truck, which will be out this summer.
Most importantly, I wrote about his garden and his old tractor. My stepfather loved his garden. We’d pore over the seed catalogs in February and wait for the southeast breezes in March, which meant a good plowing day. I rode the tractor with him, sitting his lap when I was younger, and standing on the running board, clinging to the big fender when I was older. Tractor Day is dedicated to the man and his tractor.
And what a tractor! Cranky and fickle as an old laying-hen. My stepfather had to woo his Ford-Ferguson to get it to start. Or beg. Or offer presents. Anything to get that engine to turn over.
When the breezes blew from the southeast on this day twenty-two years ago, my stepfather asked a neighbor to plow his garden. When the red earth was tilled, ready to be planted again, my stepfather finally let go. And even though he has "gone away," I will continue to keep his memory alive through my work.
And the tractor? Funny thing. Some weeks after my stepfather’s funeral, my brother-in-law, a driver and mechanic of big rigs, tried to move the old Ford-Ferguson. But it would not start. The engine never turned over for him or for anyone. Not ever again.
Last week I learned that a novel and it’s sequel sold! I’ll fill in details as time goes on, but needless to say I was very excited. I’d been working on this book for over a year–or forever, as in the case of some books.
I had the idea back in 2005 and even talked to an editor about it. She was receptive, but the timing was off. The idea wouldn’t bend to my will and become a book. So the idea and I parted ways, amicably. From time to time I’d revisit the idea, take it out, examine it from all sides. But the idea didn’t like such treatment and wriggled out of my hands. I wrote a lot of other books but that idea was always in the Honeysuckle Hideout of my brain. It could peer out at me, but wouldn’t let me come in.
And then one day in October of 2007, the whole thing fell into my lap. The entire book, cast of characters, plot, all of it. Except the main character’s voice. Oh, she was a coy one. She eluded all my traps and didn’t reveal herself until she was good and ready. Six months I waited for her voice. And then, and only then, was I able to start writing. There’s more to this story, which I’ll parcel out in later posts.
My husband and I celebrated this happy news by going to brunch yesterday at the Hanover Tavern, in Hanover, Virginia. The tavern dates back to 1721, was the home of Patrick Henry and his family for a while, and was where Lord Cornwallis and his henchman Col. Tarleton had their headquarters as they closed the noose on General Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War. I had honey-fried chicken with apricot marmalade, white cheddar grits, grilled asparagus (just coming in!), and buttermilk pie.
Not too far from the tavern is the strangest antique place in the world, Squashapenny. I wish I had taken a picture of it. It’s an old warehouse right next to the railroad tracks. The front porch has manniquins and plaster horses and a giant hand grows out of the yard . . . inside you have to move sideways because merchandise is crammed from floor to the very high ceiling. I had my eye on a set of clown heads from a 1940s carnival–the kind you throw baseballs at. In another life I would be a carny.
My husband found something I’ve been looking for: a drop-side toaster. This one is from the 1930s and has Bakelite handles and the original cord. Not too many people would swoon over this, but if you love the 1930s, you know it’s all about chrome and Bakelite. I also bought that sweet bunny bib–there was a stack of them from a store that closed in the 1940s. Brand-new. Of course I had to get the pink bunny hanger to hang it up. And those two tiny things are old Easter basket "peeps." Before they made the furry pompom types, peeps were made from wool felt, I think. I got a bunny and a chick and I won’t tell you what I paid for them. Let’s just say there won’t be any dinners at the Hanover Tavern for a while!
That’s okay. It’s spring. My house is ready for Easter, my favorite holiday. And I have good work to do.
It’s March as I write this, but soon the honeysuckle will green up and put out yellow and white trumpet flowers. Best of all, the scent of honeysuckle will drift through the air, heavy and sweet. Even though it grows like kudzu, I have a patch of it in the "jungle" area in our back yard. It makes good ground cover for the birds that visit our feeders and splash in the birdbath. And it reminds me of my childhood.
When I was in the fifth grade, my best friend and I made a honeysuckle hideout. Just beyond our elementary school property stood a group of dogwood and star-gum saplings. Honeysuckle and wisteria grew thick around the trunks of the skinny trees. I decided that if we yanked out the vines from the center of the group of trees and leave a veil of vines on the outside, we’d have a cool hideout.
It took us several recess periods to pull out the tough vines. Even though it was February, we both caught rampant cases of poison oak because poison oak is just as deadly in the winter as it is in the summer. But when the hideout was finished, my friend and I slipped into the "curtain" of honeysuckle. No one could see us, but we could look out and spy on the other kids on the playground. I made up stories about the old man who lived on the hill above the school and was probably a murderer, but that will wait for another time.
Honeysuckle figures strongly in my newest books, which I’ll be posting about here as I edit one of the books and finish writing and edit its sequel. And soon, another honeysuckle summer will be upon us.
I think we ought to have the option to reinvent ourselves, especially when the old one stops working for whatever reason. This is my third time with LiveJournal. I can’t even remember the name of my first attempt–it was that boring. Then I created "Books! Books!" which is the way teachers in old Appalachia called students into school (before they had bells). It worked for a while, but I still hated the banner ads and the general look of the journal. That’s the reason I had Ellsworth’s Journal at Blogspot designed professionally. I posted for a while here but lost interest.
Then I went into a decline over the winter and wasn’t blogging on Ellsworth’s Journal or Books! Books! I had nothing to say. The stuffed elephant had nothing to say. Winchester had plenty to say but he can’t turn on the computer. The best excuse I can give to my fans (all five readers) is that I’m reorganizing my priorities. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the usefulness of a blog. What was it doing for me? What was it doing for others? With so many blogs and twitters and Facebook and LinkedIn and who knows what else, how can we possibily keep up with all of it? I just switched it all off. I didn’t post on mine. I didn’t read others, except for one or two. And you know what? The world didn’t come to an end. I didn’t lose any big book deals or big prize because I dropped out.
This week I joined LinkedIn, feeling I need some sort of network. I simply can’t face Facebook. LinkedIn wasn’t hard but rather fiddly. I’m not sure how freelance writers benefit. Still, it was nice to find some editors I had lost touch with over the years.
And then I decided to try WordPress blog. It’s free and easy to set up. Easy because there is nothing to put on it! If you want to do any customization, you have to pay extra. Phooey. So I thought I’d give LIveJournal another try. I ponied up the extra fee to get rid of the ads and get a design that I really liked, plus some other perks. I don’t know if I’ll keep that userpic.
Will I keep this up? I think I will because some of those priorities I’ve been mulling over these past few months have fallen into place. Will I keep up Ellsworth’s Journal? Well, Winchester certainly wants me to, and I’ll post when I can. It’s not easy making up stories and sticking a costume on that 16-pound cat every day. Plus poor Ellsworth will be 55 this summer (her birthday is 10 days before mine) and I worry about handling her too much. She’s very fragile.
Anyway, I like looking at the purple butterflies. I hope you do too.