It’s Sunday again. The last week at Hollins. This week will fly by. My last classes are Monday and Wednesday. On the final class, we’re having a party in the gathering room of the guest house I’ve been staying in. Everyone will read their picture book manuscripts and we’ll eat lunch and talk about plans for new writing projects and online classes (which Hollins offers between summer terms). I’ll go through their final projects, post grades, and pack. By Friday, we’ll be ready to load up my car and my husband’s truck. We’ll be home by Friday afternoon. I can already anticipate Winchester’s reaction after my being gone for six weeks. "You again? My dish is empty. Fill it!"
The last week also brings meetings and other campus busines. I wish I had more time to devote to my novel. (What I really wish is that I could live in that sweet little apartment with my husband–he could use a vacation–for another six weeks and write.) I came with the expectation I would write 5 chapters of my novel and a synopsis. The book and I picked up speed the second week and I decided to write 6, no, 7 chapters. I could do it! I didn’t count on the book withdrawing to some pouty place. I spent all of last week revising Chapter 5. The book seems stuck there for the moment. While my book continues to sulk, I will try to win it back by working on the synopsis. But I’m disappointed I didn’t get more written.
Writing novels these days is a tedious process for me. The older I get and the more books I write, the less I seem to know. I pull out every trick in the hat to get my novel moving. One thing I do is keep a journal. The journal is from my point of view, a daily record of how things went that day (or didn’t go), a place to iron out small problems, and anticipate big ones. In addition, I am writing a synopsis from my main characters POV, letting her tell her story, so to speak. I’m also translating her synopsis into a workable outline. Then there are character sketches from the characters’ POV . . . see what I mean about being tedious?
Yesterday was the student-run Francelia Butler children’s literature conference. Hollins has been doing this every summer since 1995. It’s a ton of work (when I was a student I was on the decorating committee one year and the art committee another), but it’s worth it. The very famous children’s literature scholar Maria Tatar (professor at Harvard and Radcliffe) was our keynote speaker. She was so impressed that she wants to come back to our little conference every summer. The conferences are themed and critical papers and creative pieces are read. The winners are chosen from a panel of highly-respected judges (this year’s creative judges were Lois Lowry and Paul Zelinsky, among others). Maria Tatar gave an excellent and inspirational talk based in part on her new book, Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood. I am already deep into my copy.
Books, as I’ve often saved, saved my life as a child. They were my companions and a ticket out of my daily life. I know firsthand the power of stories. That’s why I became a children’s book writer. My next post will be from home!!
The chapel’s Westminster chimes are tolling four in the afternoon as I write this. The weekend is nearly over. This week begins Week 5 of the six-week term. Has it gone by fast? You bet! I feel like I just got here. Most weekends I stay on campus and work (my novel, student journals and manuscripts), but yesterday I grabbed a friend and we tooled into downtown Roanoke to the Market Square, which was bustling on that beautiful (low humidity, breezy!) Saturday.
Downtown Roanoke is a mixture of funky, Art Deco, and retro. I love this old dry cleaners (still in business) with all the neon signs, especially the one that says "Hat Cleaning." The Downtown Market is more of a street fair than a farmer’s market, although you could buy the best fruits and vegetables I’ve seen in a while. Vendors sell amazing crafts. Bakers and soap-makers, jewelry-creators and photographers were all selling their wares. Dogs of all breeds wound their leashes in and out among the shoppers. I loved the dogs and took pictures of some cuties. At our farmer’s market back home, dogs aren’t allowed–I think because meat is sold. Still, I think a happy, smiling dog belongs on that Saturday morning outing.
I spied an elderly gentlemen sitting alone on a bench singing hymns. He didn’t look at anyone, wasn’t interested in an audience. He was simply singing. A group of street performers weren’t the least bit modest. They sang "O Susannah!" in Spanish, accompanied by a guitar player and two guys drumming on upturned plastic buckets. They were so lively and energetic–and LOUD!–you couldn’t help but stop and listen. The singers do-se-doed, yipped, cat-called and yodeled. They were wonderful!
This morning on my three and a half mile loop around the campus, I walked by the pond, as I always do. The pond is deep and dark and seemingly lifeless. Years ago, I saw a black turtle slip into the water. Last week, I heard a bullfrog thrumming. As I approached, he fell silent, but started up again when I moved on. That’s been the extent of activity. But this morning! As I walked by, mulling over chapter five in my novel and wondering why it isn’t working, a sleek dark head popped out of the water. The head slid down and a tail, flat as a paddle, flipped up. Beavers!
As I watched, they dove, surfaced, swam to a new spot. It wasn’t easy sorting out all the heads and tails but I counted five beavers–two adults and three kits. Oh, they were so cute! The babies played, flipping up and down, nudging each other. At one point, the three little ones climbed on each other’s backs and swam with their heads in a tight row. Then one of the adults swam past and saw me. He stared at me. I stared back. They played a while longer, but the daddy beaver kept looking at me. Then they all swam toward me! I thought they were going to climb out and come over! They headed toward a sunken concrete step–and vanished. I believe there is a tunnel or a pipe under that step that leads to nearby Carvin Creek. On my second loop around the campus, I walked quietly by the creek. Sure enough, I heard a tiny splash. I spotted the beaver parents swimming in the creek. The kits were nowhere in sight. They made my day! I’d seen something dark crossing the creek a few weeks ago and figured it was a beaver. Now I know!
I will miss the beauty of this place more than anything when I leave in two weeks . . .
I meant to post to my journal every week, but here at Hollins one’s life is overtaken by events. The first two weeks are jam-packed with extra-curricular activities and getting my class underway. I also came with the hope that I would write half of a new novel and research two book projects. Hah! I am teaching and revising student projects and writing the novel. Period. One of the best parts of the Hollins summer is that for two weeks we have a Writer in Residence. Last summer it was Nancy Willard, who cast a spell over everyone she met. The Writer in Residence visits each of the creative writing classes. When Nancy came to mine, I wanted to hand my class over to her forever and go sit in the back and absorb her every word. A wonderful, classy, magical lady who now sends me Christmas cards. I exchange Christmas cards with a Newbery winner! How cool is that!
This year’s Writer in Residence was Liz Rosenberg, who just pulled out of the parking lot a few minutes ago, leaving me her basil plant, a beautiful size 8 Talbots skirt, newfound wisdom . . . and a hole in my heart. I miss her already! She is an amazing writer of children’s picture books, YA novels, poetry and a brand-new adult novel called Home Repair. I started to read this novel when I found it on the coffee table at the program director’s home where we had Liz’s welcoming potluck dinner. It’s rude to read at parties but I didn’t care. The book is that good! When Liz visited my class (I’m teaching the genre and writing of picture books), she gave so much wonderful information. I particularly liked the advice to "write toward the image," invaluable to picture book writers who are not illustrators.
On our 3 1/2 mile morning walks around the campus, she mentioned her theory about "gatekeepers." These are people you will meet on the road in your career. They may tell you to switch to another genre or quit writing altogether. We had both encountered one of these people on our journey. If you make it past your gatekeeper, who is actually an angel in disguise, you discover that you have the grit and determination to do this hard thing after all. Don’t you love this theory? I owe a lot to my gatekeeper, an unnamed writer who is connected to Liz too, for making me mad enough to "show him." Thank you, Liz, for the basil plant, which I’m repotting in a McCoy violet pot (one of my recent vintage passions), for the gorgeous size 8 skirt that I actually fit into (all that walking every day is paying off!), and for your warmth, honesty, and friendship. I hope our paths cross again soon.
Yesterday was my birthday. I won’t mess around with people guessing my age–I’m 57, look and feel every minute of it. My husband sent me the most beautiful floral arrangement I have ever seen (he does every year and every year I’m surprised!). The officers in the campus safety office, where it was delivered, couldn’t believe this arrangement. Even better, my husband drove from Fredericksburg (which means separating the cats, leaving extra food, and feeding Winchester 8 times before my husband leaves and even then Winchester will gobble all his weekend food before my husband is out of the driveway). He arrived just before lunch yesterday, the first time we’ve been together on my birthday in five years. I was so glad to see him!
We went out to lunch, then browsed through the big antique mall (my husband is such a sweetie, he’ll even go "junkin’" with me). I added to my collection of vintage purses (which I actually use), Bakelite bracelets (ditto), and a new passion, vintage dresser jars and compacts. More stuff to dust but I love it. Then we went into downtown Roanoke to the Market Square at had vegetable tempura at a wonderful Japanese restaurant. Later we watched TV in my cozy little apartment and this morning we went out to breakfast before he left. I miss my husband already but it’s only three weeks until I see him again. Maybe by then I’ll be able to get into the "test" skirt I brought (the zipper doesn’t close by an inch). I brought the skirt instead of scales which always depress me because the needle either doesn’t move or goes the wrong way.
Enjoy the pics from my walk! I’m sorry they’re dark–it was cloudy. Horses from the riding center (Margaret Wise Brown started the horse shows when she was at Hollins) and Carvin Creek where Margaret liked to dip her feet. I watch for great blue herons and the smaller green herons. Till next week!