Blame it on not having TV at home. The instant I hit a hotel room, I turn on the television to see what I’ve missed (usually nothing).
I was in my room at the Marriott going over my critique notes and my workshop talk ("Chapter Books: Not Just Short Novels" for the SCBWI Carolinas conference) when I decided to turn the TV on for a little company. I landed on "My Dog Skip." I knew about this movie based on the memoir of former Harper’s editor and Southern author, Willie Morris. Immediately I was enchanted with Frankie Muniz and the 40s settings (even though the hairstyles were too modern). And that dog! Skip was played by Moose and Moose’s son the Jack Russells on "Frazier." The dog of dogs!
Now I knew this was not going to end well. I kept telling myself, "Turn it off, you don’t want to see the dog die or even hear about the dog dying." But did I? I watched to the very end, where Willie goes off to college and poor old arthritic Skip has to be helped up on Willie’s bed and lies there staring at Willie’s baseball glove as the scene fades. The voiceover says that Skip died. And that the real life Willie Morris thought about his dog Skip every single day of his life.
By now I’m a sobbing mess with one minute to get myself downstairs and give five back-to-back critiques immediately followed by a one-hour workshop! So I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I confessed. In my workshop, a woman described that last sad scene with Skip trying to get on the bed and I nearly lost it again.
Bawling aside, I had a wonderful time at the conference. It was very busy with critiques, workshops, and intensives all day Friday, and panels and sessions all day Saturday and half a day Sunday. After Friday, I was a civilian and sat in on panels. I especially enjoyed the "dissection" of the forthcoming Fantasy Baseball by Dial editor Liz Waniewski and author Alan Gratz. From Alan I learned to re-do my chapter outline with every revision. I usually work over top of the messy previous outline. His method is much better.
Josh Adams, Abigail Adams, Me
The best part of any writing conference is meeting new people. The amazingly small volunteer committee of SCBWI Carolinas did a wonderful job–this conference ran without a hitch. And everyone was so nice.
As it happens, my agent, Tracey Adams, lives in Charlotte, where the conference was held. She picked me up from my hotel and I spent Thursday evening as part of the Adams family–husband and fellow agent Josh, and their two daughters. Later we went to dinner, where we were met by the third member of Adams Literary, Quinlan Lee. I stuffed myself with the best skillet cornbread ever (spicy and served with honey!) and an amazing banana cream pie that is nothing like the recipe on the Jello pudding box.
John Bemis, Me, Josh, Tracey, Jo Hackl, and Stephen Messer
Josh and his oldest daughter presented an award at the conference and joined us at the luncheon. Abby entertained me with stories of taekwondo (she and Josh just got their black belts and Tracey was testing for hers that very day!). Later Tracey and Josh came to the evening artists’ reception where I met fellow Adams Literary clients Stephen Messer, John Claude Bemis, and Jo Hackl.
It was a wonderful conference and I was thrilled to be a participant. I learned about the state of publishing from Little Brown editor Alvina Ling and how to make Kool-Aid pickles from my luncheon tablemate. I also learned not to lean over the tub to see what’s "wrong" with the shower when I’m trying not to get my hair wet, and of course, I learned never, ever watch a dog movie before giving a presentation.
What a week! On Monday my Internet computer got infected with a virus. The second time this year! Despite the fancy security system, my computer is sitting off to the side until I can get it to the computer hospital. I dug out my laptop. The mouse died. Actually the wireless mouse died when I was at Bell House earlier this month. It happened last year when I was at Bell House, too. I’m beginning to think Bertha, the resident ghost who once turned on my cellphone from across the room, has taken a disliking to me.
Then yesterday, as I was rushing around to get ready for this trip, I had to take Winchester to the vet. It’s rare that I can get outta Dodge without someone small, furry, and unwilling having to make an emergency visit to the vet. Winchester has a heart murmur now and possibly an overactive thyroid. All of our cats get overactive thyroids. I dispense synthroid like cat treats. I suspect Winchester has to lose some weight.
Meanwhile, I am off to Charlotte, North Carolina, today! I’m attending the SCBWI Carolinas conference that starts tomorrow. I’ll be critiquing manuscripts and giving a workshop on chapter books.
This evening my agent, Tracey Adams (and her husband Josh), are taking me to their house to be part of the Adams family for a while and then on to dinner. Tracey has promised me the best banana cream pie in the South!
I’ll report back next week (on some computer or another).
Don’t let this dewy rose fool you.
It’s happened already. The slight change in light. The shift in the air in the morning and the evening, no matter how hot it gets during the day. The birds aren’t singing much any more. They don’t need to mark territory or impress a mate or threaten an intruder near their nest. Now they mostly talk.
I’m relieved we aren’t getting up to 78 degrees (or going to bed to 93 degrees). And the light that bends into my office windows is honey-gold. But I always feel a little melancholy this time of year.
Our roses are still blooming like crazy. Look closely and you’ll see somebody . . .
There she is! Persnickety, enjoying the nice September day, following my husband around as he takes pictures. Yes, he took these pictures with the Nikon I bought at Christmas and gave to him so I could get a Samsung that I don’t use either.
Me, I was indoors baking banana bread, making Italian soup (from scratch!), revising a nonfiction book, and thinking September thoughts.
Seven days in an 1893 Victorian house with nothing to do but write! And eat! That’s my idea of a writing retreat. I intended to write 3 chapters on my novel. I wrote 5 chapters, plus notes on another book and lots of journaling. When you don’t have to get groceries, wash dishes, fix breakfast and supper, feed cats (the gathering and fixing of meals takes up a lot of time!), do laundry, sweep, vacuum, and make beds, you get a lot of writing done!
Colonial Beach was the "Playground of the Potomac" at the turn of the last century. Excursion boats steamed from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The boardwalk was long and wide, lined with bathhouses, picnic pavilions and amusements. When the auto became popular, Colonial Beach fell out of favor. Then gambling was legalized in Maryland in the 40s. Since the Potomac is owned by Maryland, gambling piers were built out into the water. People came in droves to play slot machines. You can find traces of that era here and there:
Breakfasts at the Bell House were wonderful. Eggs Benedict, crispy-edged pancakes. Often we had dessert as a first course! (The innkeeper knows what I like). This is my last breakfast, strawberry-cream-stuffed French toast. I ate every crumb, licked the plate, then packed my car and drove home to Frederickicksburg. Till next year, Bell House!
I’m off today to my favorite place in the world, Bell House in Colonial Beach. The Victorian b&b is right on the Potomac River. Every year I go there for a week to work on my current book project. I stay on the third floor in the Melville Bell Room (Alexander Graham Bell’s father who originally bought the house in the 1890s). Across the hall is a library that I take over, too. No Internet, no TV, no radio, no distractions.
Generally I "push through the middle" of a book at Bell House, writing 10 pages a day and come home with five to seven chapters. My goal this time is to come home next Wednesday with three chapters (the book is shorter and therefore harder).
I will also do a little of this.
And this! The innkeeper’s breakfasts are so yummy!
My husband will come on Saturday to help with some of the heavy lifting!
Ta-ta! Have a wonderful Labor Day holiday!