In her book The Moon and I, Newbery-winning children's author Betsy Byars ranks the elements of a novel: first, Characters, second, Plot, third, Setting, and then Good Scraps. I personally rank Setting first, but had never thought about Good Scraps. Byars says, "Plenty of good scraps are as important in making a book as in the making of a quilt. I often think of my books as scrapbooks of my life, because I put in all the neat things I see and read and hear."
One "scrap" from Byars' list is a man who could smell snakes (he said they had a musty sweet smell like old brown bread). That's what our notebooks are for–to record the scraps. We have to remember to dig them out and read them every so often.
Last week was so busy on campus all I can give you is scraps. From Wednesday until Sunday morning, Hollins hosted the Children's Literature Association annual conference. The faculty taught one class and then we turned our students loose the rest of the week so they could enjoy the conference. The conference was dedicated to the memory of Hollins' program's professor, J.D. Stahl, who was my teacher, mentor, colleague and friend. This boulder is painted several times a year by students for various events. (It's actually a pebble under fifty-thousand layers of paint.) In this photo is illustrator Ashley Wolff (Mrs. Bindergarten) and her wonderful new dog, Tula. I did suck in my stomach, but nothing moved.
In addition to the scholarly papers being read, we also ran a "writer's track" of panels. I chaired the panel on historical fiction that included Mary Down Hahn, Lisa Rowe Fraustino, and Alexandria LaFaye. I also participated on a panel about chapter books with Claudia Mills and Nancy Ruth Patterson.
The single most important thing I did at this conference was give the tribute to J.D. Stahl, who passed away during the term last summer. I worked five months on the tribute, which included a slideshow (one hundred slides!) and my talk. But it really wasn't work. For five months I was able to be with J.D. again, studying his images, reviewing the work I did for him, remembering our lunches and discussions of the books we loved. But when the tribute was over, it was finally over. I had to let J.D. go and I did, a few mornings later when my walking buddies and I came upon this monarch in the road. As we "herded" the butterfly in the grass, I felt J.D.'s spirit rise with it.
And when I took this photo a few moments later, I realized this is where J.D. went.
A heron flew up from Carvin Creek, where Margaret Wise Brown once dabbled her toes. He landed prettily in this tree and posed for quite some time while Ashley and I fiddled with various settings and angles on our cameras.
Bluebirds are more plentiful than ever. I think every bluebird nesting box on campus is in use. They are scraps of blue sky flying across the fields so we can admire them.
Tomorrow my students and I meet again for our second class. They are eager to get into this term, even after I gave them four assignments during the week we were off. We are ready to write small, travel small, listen, and keep our eyes wide open.
Whenever I leave home, even to a place as familiar as Hollins, the rounded edges of my life become sharp and cornery. I get irritated, tired, and cranky until I make the transition.
We had an easy trip. Didn't hit any t-storms in the mountains and for once, moving the 12 boxes, 10 bags, 5 suitcases, etc. across the lawn and up the stairs wasn't as awful as it usually is because the sun was under a cloud. (Though my husband swore, as he did last year, that he is never doing this for me again.)
After we carry the stuff upstairs, I always drive us to my husband's favorite restaurant, K&W Cafeteria, for lunch. This time I noticed a Christian Tours bus in the parking lot. In line my husband scoped the food selections and I looked for Christians. I don't know what I expected to see. It's not like I'd never seen a Christian before–all I have to do is look in the mirror. But I was curious about a busload of them. My husband got his favorite Swiss steak and rice and forty-eleven side dishes. I got chicken and my favorite egg custard pie. Not as good as my mother's but after a four-hour drive, it was pretty tasty.
Back on campus, my husband read while I unpacked. For many hours. The problem with a four-room apartment is that I bring four rooms' worth of stuff. When I was a student and lived in the dorm, I had one room and only brought two rooms' worth of stuff. The daily thunderstorm broke around suppertime, around the same time my back gave out. We waited, then I drove us back to K&W Cafeteria (I only do this when my husband is here).
To my dismay, there were two Christian Tours buses in the parking lot! Somehow the Christians had doubled, like yeast bread. This time I had no problem finding them. They clogged the serving line all the way out the door. All my crankiness and irritation exploded. "We'll never get through that line!" I squawked. "Look at all these people! Why do they have to eat here? Is this the holy cafeteria or something?" Of course what I meant was, why didn't the line part before me so I could go ahead of them. After all, I had traveled farther (and not on a bus) and worked harder and deserved to be fed sooner.
But the line didn't part and we got served and my husband happily ate Swiss steak with rice for the second time that day (but with different side dishes) and I ate chicken pot pie and chocolate cream pie and felt better.
Life at Hollins is like making crepes. You know you have to throw out the first two–they won't turn out. I know I'll be cranky and won't sleep the first two nights. But then I'll get into it and the corners and sharp edges will round. I'll get used to living with other people around.
This morning after my husband left, I put on my new walking shoes and walked up the hill to the barns. Swallows dipped and scalloped the air. I noticed chickory growing alone the fence. I love chickory. And Queen Anne's lace and even goldenrod. I've always loved weeds (good thing since we have so many in our yard). But isn't this chickory pretty against the fence?
I noticed this moth resting against the concrete step. Very nearly blending in.
A horse yanked up a mouthful of grass and looked at me, irritated. I was the busload of Christians in his cafeteria. I know how he feels. He'll get used to me. And I'll learn to blend in.
Early tomorrow morning I will leave for Hollins for six weeks. My husband will drive to Roanoke, too, his truck loaded with five suitcases, ten boxes, my task chair, two-burner stove (my apartment has a small kitchen but no stove), and a TV table. My car will be packed with all my vintage things, food, my pillows, my work, and six or seven bags of books, shoes, etc.
It's a huge job to get ready for these summers. I clean the house, do all the laundry, change the sheets, stock the house with cat food, cat medicine, cat food plates, and staples (for humans). I made chili and froze in batches and stocked the freezer. In between packing and stocking and cooking, I'm also still working. The very last thing I will do tonight is print out my current book project.
But I also take time to make something new for my apartment. This year I made an inspiration board which I will take to my first class to set the tone for our summer term.
These are wicked easy to make. Go to Michael's, if you have one, and look for the already tricked-out scrapbook frames. They have paper and flowers and gems and faux stitching and a plain mat for a photo or two. They cost $19.99. Use your half-price coupon and get them for $9.99. Hand-letter or use alphabet stickers to letter your writing mantra. Done!
Okay, I cheated and added a few more embellishments because I can't keep my fingers off anything. But this is my mantra for my work. And my life, I guess.
I hope to post a few times this summer. I don't have Wi-Fi on my laptop (that's on purpose), so I have to go to the computer lab or the computers in the common room downstairs to use the Internet. You would be amazed how much work you get done without handy Internet.
Have a great summer, everyone. Listen. Keep your eyes wide open.
I'm packing for Hollins. The biggest bag by far holds my summer reading. I have more books than I can read in five summers, but the beauty of summer reading is that if you aren't in the mood for a particular book, just go on to the next one in the stack.
I store my books in an open vintage suitcase that will sit on the hearth in my faculty apartment. The books lean companionably against each other in the suitcase instead of standing in tense rows in the bookcase. Even the books are more relaxed.
I can't wait to read three that I just picked up:
Probably everybody in the world has read Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. I picked up an ARC of the book at ABA (now BEA) a hundred years ago, but never finished it. I'm ready for it now and I love the early 60s style dust jacket.
I haven't read Faulkner yet but I read about Faulkner, which is easier and more interesting. This memoir by his niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, has gotten excellent reviews. I'd love to go to Mississippi and visit Faulkner's Rowan Oak in Oxford and Eudora Welty's house in Jackson.
But of all my books, I'm diving into this one first. How can a book about the creation of Charlotte's Web, the best children's book ever, miss the mark? I often wish my mother's doctor had scheduled her Caesarian to have me a day later. Then I would have been born on July 11 and shared a birthday with E.B. White and Henry Thoreau, my two favorite writers. Really, what was one more day? I think I'll find myself in this book–White and I were both shy kids who grew up in the sticks. Despite his New York success, White was happiest in the country and he identified more with animals than with people.
To carry my wallet, journal, and book-of-the-moment, I made this summer tote. Big purses are a drag when it's hot. I can pitch a few things in this tote and go. I found the naked tote at Target for $2.50, in their dollar section. You can hot glue on flowers, buttons, and other fun bits in two and a half minutes flat. I chose to stitch mine on, which took a little longer. Tie a few ribbons around the handle and you've got a summer purse embellished in your favorite colors.
Last Friday my husband and I took our "summer vacation," lunch in Colonial Beach, a little town on the Potomac River. We had our mouths all set for the special shrimp salad and German chocolate pie at The Happy Clam. But The Happy Clam had closed and another restaurant changed the nice little place into a waterfront sports bar. Lunch prices were in the $25 range–ridiculous for a town the size of Colonial Beach. I had a fish sandwich and my husband unhappily ate a chicken Caesar salad. We left hungry.
At a frozen custard stand, I had a twist cone with chocolate sprinkles. Filled in the hunger cracks nicely. My husband opted for a quarter pounder at McDonald's. Next to the McDonald's was a Quonson hut turned into a beach shop with signs that screamed "Cheap!" Combine the Dollar Store with the tackiest souvenir shop you've ever been in and this store would still be miles below it.
I had never seen so much junk in one spot. This display of refrigerator magnets reminded me of all the jokey ashtrays and wooden outhouse salt and pepper shakers you used to see in roadside shops.
The mermaid display totally confused me. I couldn't find any of the merchandise she was wearing. But I appreciated a frustrated window-dresser's attempt to bring some class to the store.
This display of sleeveless men's tee-shirts went up to size 5X. For $2.99, I was tempted to buy one just for the yardage.
I was very tempted to buy one of these. It was much nicer than the foam viser that said "Elbo Room," worn by one woman customer with boat-frazzled hair and two bottom teeth missing.
Then my attention was snagged by this sign.
Look at all these dresses! There were racks and racks of $11.99 dresses! No sizes. Basically one size. It fit or it didn't. I rifled through the racks. Most were strappy or smocked and not appropriate for a woman my age. But then I found the dress of my dreams.
I'm not sure what's going on in this dress. Two gigantic flipflips with palm trees on the inner soles. But the greenery of the palm tree looks more like marijuana. The stitchery-sunset-mountain-marijuana thing at the hem looks like the designer had been eating funny brownies. Ugly or not, the dress is cool and perfect to wear running errands on hot sticky days. I bought two of them in different colors. I think I'll wear them with my Mary Janes.
Yesterday it was one hundred billion degrees outside. Too hot to sit on the porch and eat my lunch. But around lunchtime, I walked past the front door and glanced through the sidelights. A package lay on the mat. My first guilty thought was, “What did I order?” My second guilty thought was, “Get it off the porch quick before my husband sees it!”
It was from Hyperion. Inside, warm as new-laid eggs, were two advanced reading copies of Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World, Well, Her Part of Virginia, Anyway! I stared at the cover in amazement.
It’s blue! It’s olive-y grass green! It has touches of rust and brown, colors of exploration and discovery! Sweetlips is eyeballing a butterfly! (Yes, that’s Iva’s dog, named after George Washington’s favorite foxhound.)
In an earlier post, I revealed Heather Ross’s wonderful sketches. There are tons of illustrations in Iva. I love how Heather managed to draw Iva looking into a goldfish pool, how she drew a night sky flecked with stars. Anybody can slap on color–it takes real skill to draw in black and white, use negative space.
And here’s the back of the book. My editor, Emily Meehan, summarized the story so well, making Iva sound so fresh and funny, I want to read the book all over again.
I’m carrying the Iva ARCs around with me, like a puppy. I want to show people! Having Iva in my hands reminds me of our journey that began four years ago, how she pulled me out of the pit of depression, and that our journey isn’t over yet.
Iva Honeysuckle forever!
Despite the fact my memory is like Swiss cheese, I ditched my dayplanners and keep my calendars mostly out of sight. I don't even wear a watch, preferring to shape my day by my work and not the clock. A few weeks ago I came across an old dayplanner. Instead of pitching it, I decided to alter it into a journal.
I ripped out the calendar pages, address pages, and kept the note pages. I used the dividers–Calendar, Addresses, Plans–as templates and created my own dividers. I left in the plastic dividers, zippered pouches, business card holders, etc. Then I gathered a bunch of papers, photos, bits and bobs and collaged and glued and had fun. You can do this too!
The cover is shown above. I tied a ribbon near the edge of the binding, added some blueberry-colored flowers, glued on some buttons and other embellishments. Don't make it too fussy because it will get messed up.
The inside cover has a sturdy plastic divider, an ID card window and slots for various cards. I made my own "ID" with my high school graduation photo. The buttons are actually chipboard and tied with baker's twine. I made fun little cards to slip in the slots. The plastic divider is clear, so whatever I did on the front, I had to match on the back.
I covered the inside of the transparent divider with a different card, but I let the back of the flowers on the front show. On the facing page is a plastic ruler holder. I took out the ruler and made a bookmark–my initials, a very tiny July calendar with my birthdate marked with a tiny little gemstone, and vintage C&O railroad seat ticket are on this side of the bookmark. You can see most of the first collaged divider page.
This is the back of that first divider page. I did fun things like add the names of my characters and cut out bits of paper to make interesting designs. Though I used a lot of different things, I did keep to a color scheme of mostly red, blue, black, and green.
The front page of the next divider. That's me in the 11th grade.
You can't see the label on this divider, but it says "Thursday." It stands for "Thursday's Child," which I am. I've grown used to the fact I'll never get where I'm going, that it's all about the journey.
I used images that symbolize my life–the vintage typewriter, a cut-out of a Thornton W. Burgess book (I read those very old-fashioned books when I was a kid and loved them). That's my ninth grade picture. I look like I'm dreaming of royalties.
The back of that divider. Colonial Beach is where I go on my private writing retreat every September. Just scheduled my retreat for this year!
I put fun cards in the business card holder at the back of the book. I can use those in on-the-run art projects or quick notes.
The back of the business card holder. And the zippered pouch which has a vintage library card and another bit of ephemera I can use on my work or on notes.
And that's it! The most work is gathering the stuff but you can use anything–magazines, catalogs, downloaded images, photos. Got an old dayplanner gathering dust? Alter it into a fun summertime journal!
I was tearing myself, no doubt about it. That indelicate expression was my mother's, and it meant there was no rest in me until I got something or did something. My sister is the same way so we believe it's a shared trait.
Generally I enjoy going to antique malls and junk shops with a vague idea of what I want. Sometimes I find it. Sometimes I don't but find something else instead I didn't know I wanted until I saw it. But this time I was tearing myself for two things, all because of an episode of "Mad Men" and a magazine.
The episode of "Mad Men" is the one where Betty Draper finally gets the key to Don's locked desk drawer and she opens it. The camera closes in to her turning the key . . . Do you think I'm wondering about what's in the desk? No. I'm fixated on Betty's charm bracelet–a heavy chain with a single large heart charm. The kind of bracelet you see on "I Love Lucy." Very big in the 50s and early 60s. I wanted that bracelet.
Next I was flipping through the pages of a magazine, I think it was Cottages and Bungalows (I have so many "shelter" magazines I can't keep them straight), and I glimpsed a straw tote with raffia flowers, like the kind you brought back from a trip to Mexico in the 50s. I'm not going anywhere but the grocery store this summer and that tote would be my summer vacation. I could carry my novel-in-progress and books and journals and snacks in that tote and feel like I was going somewhere. I wanted that tote.
Looking around my usual haunts was useless. Those items were too specific. I would have to go to the source. The source was in Carytown, the cute, boutique-y district of Richmond. I went by myself because when you are on a mission, it's best to travel alone.
My first stop was Bygones, the best-known vintage clothing shop in Richmond. They have a large inventory of jewelry, hats, purses and clothes. I learned to my dismay that unless you are a size 2 or 4, don't bother with the skirts and dresses. Women in the 50s and 60s had small waists (or were girdled in). The shop is popular with swing dancers because they also sell new 40s-style dresses in wonderful swingy fabrics. I couldn't fit into one of those either.
But I did find a bracelet. Not Betty Draper's heart charm, but a "jeweled" fob that is weighty and has authority. It's a Coro, a costume jewelry maker from the 20s to the 70s. The signature style on the clasp (I look these things up) tells me its from the 40s and 50s. It was not cheap.
No straw totes, though I did spot a darling wicker purse with plastic cherries on it. I'd need a shirtwaist dress and fifty crinolines to pull off that purse so I left it and went on to Halcyon, a sweet little shop filled with cheerful dirndl skirts that made me long for liposuction. The tote bag of my dreams was in the window. It cost less than the bracelet (not much) and it's wonderfully sturdy and big enough to hold my whole summer.
My goal accomplished, I was free to stroll around Carytown. I went inside the historic Byrd theater, one of those 1920s movie palaces. You can still go to the movies for $1.99! The ceiling is ornate and gorgeous. Remember those polished brass ticket-takers? I ate a BLT without the T in a place called the Starlight Grill. I stopped at an upscale Goodwill (yes, there is such a thing) and bought a skirt that did fit. And then I drove home to Fredericksburg, satisfied (for the moment).
Despite the fact I'm built like a fireplug, I will always paw through any rack of vintage clothing. Bed jackets make wonderful little cover-ups for restaurants and places too air-conditioned.
Jewelry, hats, and purses fit anyone.
A few weeks ago, Susan Taylor Brown passed along the Stylish Blogger Award to me. I was thrilled! But then life got in the way and I think I left my blog right after that for a while. Really, Susan, it wasn't an insult!
According the the Stylish Blog etiquette, I must thank Susan, which I did in a comment but now I'm thanking her here, where I'm supposed to. It means a lot to me that someone as multi-talented as Susan thinks my blog is stylish! And I must reveal seven random things about myself. And pass the award along to five other blogs. Finding blogs I admire was the easy part. Figuring out what to say about myself was the hard part.
Since I've been blogging, I think I've revealed every secret and scrap of information. You've heard about my depression, my Winchester woes, and my shingles. You can't get any more intimate than shingles. So I'm going to do what Susan did and write about seven things I would like to do. Susan has a great many projects underway. I have a few book ideas in folders but tend to mainly work (slave) on one project at a time these days.
If I had unlimited time (that is, if I didn't need to sleep), this is what I'd like to do:
1. This is my art box. It's both artless (not a special container from an art store) and artsy (it's vintage). It's meant to help me break down my barriers about creating art. I can grab this beat-up lunch box and take it anywhere. I can open it and use the simplest supplies–crayons, colored pencils, markers. It will go with me this summer to Hollins. I hope that I actually use it.
2. There's a thing called memory painting. Where people paint from memory. In theory, all painting and drawing is done from memory. You look at something and then look away to your canvas or paper and you are remembering what you saw. But memory painters, or artists, work from memory. Old memories. Their work is often naive, folk-art, like Grandma Moses. Child-like. You draw what you remember and don't worry so much about perspective and composition and if that leg really looks like a leg. I'd like to do that.
3. I have a stash of fabric, felt, and embroidery floss. I'd like to incorporate textiles and texture into my scrapbook albums. It sounds easy. I even have a little sewing machine. Can I thread that sewing machine? Am I afraid to thread it? I would like to get over my fear of bobbins and use my sewing machine in my scrapbooking.
4. I wrote a memoir four years ago for my thesis. It passed as a thesis (don't anybody at Hollins dare look it up) but it's awful. Truly. I've figured out how I want to do the memoir, starting over from scratch. I've done a little on it. This is the third time I've written about this subject (me) since 1989, two previous versions that suck dead rats. I would like to get over myself and tell this story before I get much older and can't remember what happened!
5. Some writer, I forgot who, said to meet yourself where you are. Wait, I think it was Susan Marie Swanson. Anyway, I've been thinking about that a lot. Where am I? I'm nearly 59 years old. I've written every kind of book you can think of, even a cookbook which I wrote in a single day. What do I want to do next? Where do I meet myself? I'd like to take some time–five days, maybe–and go someplace and think. Just think. No writing. No talking. No reading (Lord, that will kill me). Just think.
6. I miss embroidering. I miss working with my hands. I'd like to embroider tea towels with old-fashioned designs like flowers and Scottie dogs and days-of-the-week kittens and sew red rick-rack on the bottom and actually use them.
7. I love taking pictures. Pictures of scenery doesn't do much for me. You can admire the photo but it doesn't tell you anything. Pictures of people trigger stories. And pictures of old abandoned buildings and houses. I want to take a million pictures of people when they're not looking and pictures of old buildings melting into the ground before somebody slaps Walmarts over them. I'd like to do something with this notion, something serious. A book, a show. Something. Would you look at photographs taken by somebody who doesn't know flit about light or composition or depth of field?
So that's my list of dream projects. I have the supplies, for the most part. I have ideas. Maybe when I meet myself at that five-day silent retreat, I'll see that I'm carrying the art lunch box, an embroidery kit, camera, sewing machine, paintbox, and journal. I think I'd be very happy.
And here are the five people I've chosen as Stylish Bloggers. If any of you has had shingles below the waist three times, now's your chance to tell the world.
Marty at Marty Rhodes Figley: Herself
Connie at Writing Rare and Blue
Jeannine at Views from a Window Seat
Amie Rose at Revise, Rewrite, Review, Research, Reword, RETREAT
Stacy at Stacy Whitman's Grimoire