Rebel McKenzie, the novel I wrote last year, sold! It was acquired by Hyperion, the same house that bought my chapter book, Iva Honeysuckle, and an as-yet-unwritten sequel. Rebel is a big book, a mid-grade, and worthy of more than a dinner out as celebration. Here are my tips for big-book-big-time celebrating:
1. Call every B&B on the water within a 100-mile radius. Realize it is two days before Memorial Day weekend and you may not be successful. Be grateful when you land the "honeymoon suite" at The Gables in Reedville, Virginia, for one night.
2. Pack in such a hurry you forget all your toiletries. But fill the Happy Basket with books, snacks, notebooks, and camera.
3. Drive east, passing corn and soybean fields, noticing the road becoming straighter and the land flattening. You are getting close to the water.
Reedville, Virginia, sits on Cockrell Creek, just off the Chesapeake Bay. It was once the richest town in America (per capita) based on its mehaden industry. These oily fish are still caught today and used in cat food, lipstick, and–start reading labels–one kind of Pepperidge Farm cookies (no one would say). The main factory–once there were dozens–has closed but the strong smell lingers. This will put you off eating fish for months. However, it didn’t stop me from eating fried shrimp at every opportunity.
The b&b we stayed in is called The Gables, a charming five-story brick house in a town of wedding cake Victorians. Captain Fisher (!), the owner, installed the figurehead of his schooner John B. Adams in the dining room. The mast rises through the third story to the roof. The eccentric captain wouldn’t allow a single Baltmore brick to be laid unless the temperature was between 75 and 85 degrees. Needless to say, the house took 8 years to complete; the family took occupancy in 1914. Each of the gables was sited through the captain’s compass and point N, NE, E, SE, etc. The house was built entirely by shipwrights.
Our cottage sat on the foundations of the captain’s shed, right on the water. It’s best feature was this beautiful bed (though not that comfortable). An osprey nest stood on its raised platform just outside our window. I watched the female sit on her eggs, turning them every so often with her feet and beak. The male brought her a fish (but only after she called and called for hours, telling him to get home from that poker game or whatever). Later than evening he brought her another fish, which they shared. Supper, osprey-style. Then they both stood side by side on the edge of the nest and looked down at the eggs. I could imagine him saying, "Wow! Look what we did," and her saying, "What I did, you mean. Tomorrow bring me a nice eel. I’m sick of menhaden."
That night we ate fried shrimp at a restaurant in the marina. I looked across the point at a new big white house with a huge screened-in summer house, a guest house, 3-car garage, and boat house–all matching–and wished I lived there. But then I realized I wouldn’t write a stroke because I’d be gawking out the window all the time, watching the ospreys.
We walked through the town of Reedville (one street–about a mile long). I loved the old Victorians. One was painted lavender and pale yellow! The gardens were mostly English-cottage, with perenniels and old-fashioned "snowball" bushes and rambler roses.
I was most fond of this robin’s egg blue house. Each place was decked out for Decoration Day with flags and bunting and pots of red geraniums. Some people definitely marched to a different drummer. Like the owners who put out this dressed-up dummy next to an old wheelbarrow of flowers.
Any bird would be tickled to take up nest-keeping in this birdhouse . . .
Any child would be delighted with this wooden-fish-trimmed swing . . .
This sidewalk hopscotch grid is painted, not chalked, inviting anyone to toss a pebble and start hopping.
Tomorrow, Part II of How to Celebrate a Book Sale (at the risk of sinking your marriage!).
Out came the vintage linens from the cupboard–the Dutch Boy and Girl tablecloth, the mismatched dishtowels I use as place mats. Out came the mint green Fiestaware from the cabinet. Out came the cherries pattern Depression glass–one piece belonging to my mother, one to my husband’s mother. Out came the Gracewords flatware from the silver chest–the guest got the most inpiring words: "Magic," "Dream," and "Create."
I prepared a luncheon the way my mother would have: chicken salad sandwiches, using her recipe for chicken salad (poach chicken breasts, mince meat with Miracle Whip and slivered almonds). I used her one-handled rolling pin to flatten the bread as she did, used her biscuit cutter to cut the bread into rounds.
I fixed stuffed celery, strawberries (this time of year we would be picking the very first berries in our own patch), and deviled eggs (her recipe again, Miracle Whip, yellow mustard, pepper, paprika). I made pumpkin walnut bread (from good ol’ Pillsbury) with honey almond butter and bought lemon squares and cookies from Wegman’s. The table was set, the food prepared, waiting for the guest.
Yesterday Michelle Vocke, columnist for several online papercraft journals such as D.C. Paper Craft Examiner, Arlington Scrapbooking Examiner, and Scrapbooking and Stamping Examiner, drove all the way from Leesburg–about a hundred miles/hours north of Fredericksburg–to interview me about Scrapbooking Just for You. Michelle, as it turns out, is a member of at least two design teams and is an artist in her own right.
The minute I saw her I lusted after her necklace, a Tim Holtz assemblage she made at CHA (Craft and Hobby Association) trade show (like BEA, only with more fun stuff!). Then we started to talk. We had never clapped eyes on each other before this minute, we were from different states and backgrounds, yet we shared a common bond–art. I have learned over the years artists come in all forms. They don’t just write stories or paint at an easel.
I gave Michelle a house tour, ending it in my office. There I showed her some of my old scrapbook projects and mixed-media pieces. I haven’t been kind to those projects–they have been stuffed under desks. Papers were bent, silk flowers smashed, bits and bobs were falling off. But as I took them out, one by one, I remembered how much fun I had making them. Most of my projects required explanation. Michelle understood instantly what I was doing. After years of people saying, "What is that?" or, worse, "Hmmm," it felt wonderful to hear someone "get it."
Poor Michelle. I talked her deaf, dumb, and blind. She gamely took notes, took photos, asked questions. She asked good questions, made me think about why I did the book, and, in turn, what my work–all of it–is about. I told her that I left my office floor bare because, at the end of my work day, I put on the radio while checking end-of-the-day email. When a song comes on I like, I get up and dance. Yes, this almost-58-year-old chubby woman spins and pirouettes and leaps from one end of the room to the other. She boogies. Cha-cha-chas. Mambos. And flat-out gets down. No one sees (except Winchester, who looks away in embarrassment). Isn’t that what art should be? A day of work ended by dancing?
Later, I took Michelle to our wonderful scrapbook store, Scrapdoodles. Inspired by her Tim Holtz necklace, I bought some of the pieces she used, and last night made my own bookplate/lock-and-key necklace (not quite finished).
Today my husband and I are off to Reedville, a tiny fishing village on the Cheapeake Bay. We are leaving the cats, leaving the daylilies just bursting open, leaving the roses that are shedding petals like petticoats in all the rain we’ve had, leaving the work for just a little bit. We’re staying at the "honeymoon" suite in a b&b. It wasn’t easy getting reservations anywhere on Memorial Day two days before the big weekend, but I managed.
We are celebrating something special. Can’t say yet. Hopefully I can share Monday. Have a great Memorial Day weekend! Fix your mama’s recipes. Make a little art. Dance!
Mother’s Day is Sunday. Don’t forget to buy carnations for your mother (and grandmother). Or have a carnation corsage made up for yourself. Red carnations if your mother is still living; white carnations for remembrance.
Mementoes from the women in my family: my mother’s cameo, a broken rhinestone earring, a celluloid pin (looks like an ivory lace heart), my mother’s pearls, my grandmother’s ivoire button hook.
An old perfume bottle of my mother’s, a photo of her in 1942 with the first grandchild (my cousin John).
A very tiny snapshop of my mother, holding me, one of her 1950s rhinestone necklaces.
The only two pictures of me as a baby with my mother.
I substituted a family snapshot in this magazine advertising calendar (hard to find 1952 calendars) with the photo of my mother and me, our first day home from the hospital (I was a C-section baby and in those days they kept women in the hospital two weeks. What luxury!).
Happy Mother’s Day!
Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door;
Or has it feathers like a bird,
Or billows like a shore?
Now that spring is well and fully here (81 degrees at 5:30 this morning!), my thoughts turn to getting up early and getting outside. Pollen and yard work notwithstanding, I love this time of year. My circadian rhythms shift–when the sun rises, so do I. However, I can’t seem to catch the dawn, that time before the sun slides over the horizon.
After reading Diane Ackerman’s latest nonfiction, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day, I’d like to experience day just as it slips from night. What? You’ve never heard of Diane Ackerman? If you love nature, sensuous images, and poetry, run to the library. You’ll find a veritable Ackerman feast: An Alchemy of Mind, Deep Play, A Natural History of the Senses, and Cultivating Delight.
After reading this passage, I was determined to get up early this weekend and get outdoors:
"In the twilight world, a full moon looks close and touchable as a pinata. The first few birds began testing out their songs . . . As the low lights of dawn filter in like news from a far country, a gray sky becomes visible. One wren sings a little more stridently than usual, chalking out his domain . . . Five minutes later, half a dozen birds join the chorus: some pipe delicate tentative song fragments, others tweedle and twitter emphatically. A single crow whacks out a caw, caw, caw, caw. A monk parakeet sounds like its prying the lid off a can of motor oil. A phoebe begins darning a hole in the sky…" [Don’t you love her imagery? Now go get her books!]
Good heavens! I was missing all this!
Saturday I got up at 6:00 a.m., put on my walking gear, and slipped out the door (but not before feeding two cats). It was lovely–I felt like the only human in our neighborhood. And so I began walking into birdsong. I meant to think about my current book along the way. Or the day’s plans, which included a book signing and the porch that was in desperate need of washing . . . but I blocked those thoughts and stayed in the moment.
Songbirds swooped across the road in front of me–robins, mockingbirds, starlings, sparrows. They were busy finding food for the wifey sitting on the nest or maybe feeding younglings. They had no time for one lone human ambling down the road. And sing! Did they ever! I listened hard to separate the different calls and melodies. The familiar cheer, cheer, cheer of a cardinal calling for rain. The amusement-park warble of a house finch. A cacaphony of crows as they were dive-bombed by a mockingbird protecting its nest. A pair of blue jays in a shouting match: My tree! Get off! Says you, buster! You get!
And, of course, I was treated to several mockingbird concerts atop road signs, mailboxes, and trees. When I was growing up, every summer mockingbirds loved to broadcast from the tip of a 40-foot radio antenna on a garage across from us, singing arias at 2:00 a.m. My mother appeared at the breakfast table bleary-eyed and poor-tempered. My stepfather would tell her to keep her voice down, the mockingbird was trying to sleep. This is what Ackerman says about the Mimus polyglottos, the polyglot mimic:
"This morning, one lone mockingbird sits atop a telephone wire, testing out its full repertoire, a dictionary compendium under "birdsong" which it hurls into the faint light. It trills and warbles, yodels and sighs, buzzes and caws in a single ribbon of magically changing song."
A lovely description of what some call racket. Still, the mockingbirds–and other birds–pull me out of myself. They let me share their morning space. I was sent home wide awake, with a lift in my step and abiding gratitude that I don’t have to hunt for grubs and worms from dawn to dark to stuff down babies’ gullets.
I found two online sources for those days when it’s too cold to walk into a birdsong dawn. Birdsong Radio promises a peaceful dawn chorus (probably not taped in May!). And over at Birdjam you can listen to birds by habitat (city, country, forest, wetlands) or click on a specific bird and finally learn the difference between the song of the chipping sparrow and the song sparrow.
Set your alarm tomorrow and get up for an early morning walk. Much better than Twitter!