Posted January 27th, 2010 by Candice

The novel I’ve been working on for over a year is finished!  I delivered it to my agent yesterday afternoon.  Do I feel happy, overjoyed, relieved?

Yes . . . and no.  Mostly no.

This is how I feel:

1.  Lonely.  I carried this novel around in my head, in notebooks, in manuscript form, for months and months.  It wasn’t far from my mind no matter what I was working on.  It entertained me on long road trips, helped me go to sleep (and kept me awake), and distracted me when I did boring ol’ household chores.  I miss its physical presence.  Does it miss me?  I hope so.

2.  Sad.  The characters in my novels never get what they want.  They get what they don’t want and that turns out to be better for them in the long run.  I have high hopes for this book, but suppose my life is like my characters’?  I know what I want, but what if I don’t get it?  I’ve had books rejected so many times, I put them away forever.  I don’t want that for this book and I can’t imagine rejection being better than being published.  Does that make sense?

3.  Nervous.  The reason I cling to my books as long as possible is that I hate sending them out into the world.  That’s my child out there where people can make fun of her.  Until I hit the SEND button on the email attachment to my agent, the book is mine.  All mine.  Now other people can take potshots.   I don’t like this part.

4.  Tired.  Yes, it’s been a long haul.  I thought I’d have this book finished by early fall, then by Thanksgiving, then by Christmas, then New Year’s . . . It’s off my desk mainly because a) it was time, b) I’m leaving for Florida for a few days, and c) I have two nonfiction contract books to write.  My house is a wreck.  I have a vintage furniture store in the middle of my office.  Laundry is piled to the moon.  We have been eating "out of the freezer."  And clearly I need a haircut and dye job (and wrinkle cream!  Crow’s feet when my eyes are closed!)

O, I miss you, book!  Take care out there.  Don’t catch a chill.  Keep your chin up when people say unkind things about you.  And remember, you can come home where you will always be loved.


A Room of One’s Own

Posted January 24th, 2010 by Candice

I’ve been reading Louise DeSalvo’s book On Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again.  It’s the perfect book to dip into right before going to sleep.  And it’s no wonder my dreams have swirled with fragments of the house I grew up in or my cousin’s house or my grandparent’s house . . . DeSalvo moved into the house of her dreams, but instead of feeling happy, she felt conflicted and unsettled.  She studied other writers and their reactions to homes, particularly with regard to working.

I identified with so many of these writers.  Marguerite Duras bought a house where she could "hide in order to write books."  But the house left her feeling empty and a period of difficult, "naked writing" followed.  If she hadn’t experienced that difficult time, she believed the books she would have written would have been "facile, inauthentic."  When she and the house finally adjusted to each other, Duras wrote novels that "depended on this particular house–the light flooding the house from the garden, the table she sat at to write."  And she included those elements in her work. 

From the time I was 15, I have had a writing room.  I took over my old bedroom, sometimes used as my mother’s sewing room, as my "office."  My stepfather found an enormously heavy filing cabinet with shallow drawers, probably for machine parts.  I painted it turquoise and stuck lime green "mushroom" magnets to the sides (this was the late 60s, after all).  My sister gave me a desk and a purple shag carpet I adored.   I typed at my Montgomery Ward typewriter, terrible stories and poetry and novels, but knew instinctively if I was going to be a writer, I needed a place to do the work. 

Virginia Woolf believed the houses she lived in helped create the type of books she wrote in them.  She stumbled on crumbling Round House, in Sussex in 1919.  She found it "just the kind of eccentric house she’s always desired," DeSalvo writes.  "She can already imagine the pathbreaking books she’ll write there."  Virginia Woolf buys the house instantly.  But when she shows it to her husband, they see the cramped bedrooms, the busy streets.  Then VW hears of Monk’s House nearby.  She sells Round House and buys Monk’s House, believing her life will change there

She placed a desk and chair facing the window in her studio.  As she wrote in her diary in 1904, "I long for a large room to myself where I can shut myself up and read myself into peace."  She used the setting of Monk’s House for a novel, but restlessness overtook her again and she decided they should move back to London.  She began looking for a house "that will inspire her, transform her art."  The house she chose was in Bloomsbury.

DeSalvo’s book reminded me of the mid-90s, when I was dissatisfied with our house and neighborhood.  I wasn’t who I wanted to be there any more.  The town had changed; my parents had died.  It was time for us to move.  I’ll spare you the grim details, but in 1996, we moved from our Virginia home to a rental in North Carolina.  The rental house and I raged against each other.  Although we were going to build "the house of my dreams" I was in the wrong place.  Period.  So we moved back to Virginia and then built our house, a total of 3 major moves (13000 pounds of stuff, no furniture) in 8 months. 

The new house had a room over the garage, connected to the main house, so my office was finally out of a bedroom.  I’ve posted before how I’m redecorating the room because I need a change.  I’m buying white vintage furniture, painting the walls an actual color (as opposed to "builder’s white") and ripping up the stained carpet for real floors.  I am purging books, papers, projects, and other deadwood that I’ve just been dusting around for years. 

This weekend I picked up a small, round club chair that Winchester has claimed for his own because it’s cat-sized.  And I couldn’t resist this chalkboard easel.  At first I wanted to put it in the kitchen and write the specials of the day on the blackboard, but I don’t cook and there’s no room in the kitchen for it anyway.  The handles at the top turn, showing the farm animals, sport scenes, and the alphabet (can come in handy when I forget what comes after "g") but I really bought it for this delightful scene when you drop the blackboard down. 

I have absolutely no idea where this enamel kitchen table is going in my office.  When I saw the fruit decals, I was a goner.  I have drawn several floor plans of how to arrange all this furniture in a finite space, but I keep buying new pieces!

I hope the change will feed my writing soul what it’s been missing.  I don’t anticipate any drastic changes in my work–I’m still writing for children.  But I sense a shift coming.  I’m hoping the new room will inspire me and, more importantly, transform my work.  Because our house is new, it lacks a sense of history.  I’ve decided to hang a vintage mirror, the more discolored the better, to remind me of other lives beyond my own.  By looking into an old mirror, I might find what I’ve been searching for in my work . . .

Ebay, TJ Maxx, Goodwill . . . and Me

Posted January 20th, 2010 by Candice

On Christmas Day, at our family gathering, I noticed my sister’s outfit.  She has been stylish since she could toddle, appearing at age two in a glittery royal blue bathing suit in a blizzard, flouncing around in our mother’s aqua net dinner dress at age three, and once, running outside naked, probably because she couldn’t find "a thing in her closet." 

Me:  Cute shoes.
Her: TJ Maxx.
Me:  I like your top.  Where’d you get it?
Her: TJ Maxx.
Me:  Pants?  Ring?  Bracelet?
Her:  Maxx.  Maxx.  Maxx.

In all the times my sister and I have gone into TJ Maxx (or Marshall’s), I wander around with a dubious-looking sequined tee-shirt, say, unable to find a skirt or even a pair of ripped pajama pants to go with it.  Meanwhile, my sister has been whipping up and down the aisles, pulling out slacks, a winter coat, shoes, handbag, scarf.  Everything looks wonderful on her, fits perfectly, and the whole outfit totals $24.58, for heaven’s sake.  In all fairness, my sister lives across from (and in) TJ Maxx and scours the merchandise as soon as it hits the floor.  I have given up on TJ Maxx and Marshall’s.

The same with Goodwill.  One of my students came to class last summer wearing Goodwill finds–one day a vintage blouse and pencil skirt with famous department store labels, two bucks.   Another day she layered slips (she is tall and thin and can get away with this) under a bed jacket with handmade lace, 50 cents each.  I went to the same Goodwill, but after pawing through the racks, I could only find frumpy jumpers.  Instead of looking daring and Bohemian like my student, I’d resemble a 1980s Mennonite.

When Ebay was fairly new, I thought I could find the bargains my friends were scoring–a Bakelite "cherries" pin (normally hundreds of dollars) for a mere $10.50, for example.  I signed up and bid on a set of Trixie Belden paper dolls.  I watched my bid like a mother hen.  Near the very end, someone stepped in and upped the ante!  I raised my bid.  Again.  And again.  I had to have those paper dolls!  I got them, for $50.  They are worth $30.  Worse, they’re from the 70s, not the highly-sought-after Trixie Belden paper dolls from 1958.  I closed my Ebay account and haven’t bid since.

When I decided to redo my office, which you can see is in sore need of either redecorating or a bulldozer, I knew I wanted vintage furniture to replace the Target fake-wood bookcases and odd computer tables.  People in lifestyle magazines are forever bragging about how they found a dressmaker’s dummy on the side of the road or that fabulous Eames chair in a junkshop. 

One weekend my husband and I went to Goodwill.  I walked straight up to a white dresser with bright green paint spilled all over the top.  The dresser was marked $20.  My intent is to replace ticky-tacky bookcases with dressers and chests.  This one would require some work, but that was okay.  I walked up to the counter and said I wanted the $20 dresser.   It had already been sold.  From there we went to the Salvation Army.  In case you wondered, the Salvation Army is where VCRs went to die.  Nada.  I knew I would have to haunt thrift shops every day, probably throwing myself on a crummy old nightstand to get it first.  No.  Not me.

The next day we went to my favorite antique/shabby chic shop.  I walked in with $540.  At Goodwill, I could have bought a houseful of $20 dressers and chests with that money, but it wasn’t worth my time to keep looking.  Plus I’d have to strip and paint those suck–bargains.  In the antique store, I picked out a long, six-drawer dresser, a tall five-drawer dresser, and an armoire.  Wonderful vintage pieces with decorative trim and hardware, already painted white.  I also bought three more vintage suitcases (to store books), a Brownie box camera (because it was cute), and a 1940s wire dish drainer (for file folders).  I walked out with 14 cents.  But I got all my furniture in one swell foop. 

Last Saturday I met my sister at a new junk/antique shop.  I found a comfy club chair for $45, plus a bunch of other things for my office like a vintage green lunchbox (supply holder).  The lunchbox had a note inside:  "I carried this for many years.  My father used it before me and my Uncle Vern has [unreadable] in his shop."  Burning with curiosity over what Uncle Vern had in his shop, I snapped up the lunchbox.   My furniture/accessory shopping was done in two trips! 

So if you are one of those charmed people who can find your trousseau–tags still attached–in Goodwill or on Ebay for pennies, more power to you.  Me, I’m sticking with stores where the things I buy are are vintage, not won in a footrace, and come complete with stories about folks like Uncle Vern. 

Which Fairy Tale Character Are You?

Posted January 15th, 2010 by Candice

Once (upon a time) I asked my sister which fairy tale she most identified with.  She said, "The Princess and the Pea."  "Me, too!" I said.  I had always been picky and delicate.  We were both princesses, though my sister really looked like one whereas I most resembled the scullery wench or the dog-girl.  To celebrate our shared fairy tale character, I made us both princess-and-the-pea bracelets. 

Clearly I have not found the "jewelry" setting on my camera, but this is the best I could do (be glad you are spared the shot of the bracelet on a vintage black velvet flower pin that showed every speck of dust).  The beads are all silver or pink and green glass.  You can’t tell, but the silver tag next to the green "pea" bead reads princess

But as time wore on, I decided I wasn’t really the Princess and the Pea type at all.  I’m Goldilocks!  Yes, I’m picky (and no longer delicate at 140 pounds), but I’m also nosy.  And wasn’t that what got Goldlilocks in the most trouble?  She just couldn’t keep her schnozzola out of the Three Bears’ stuff. 

When I was a kid, I went through my mother’s dresser drawers the instant she left the house.  The contents never changed and there were no secret jewels or diaries, but I kept checking anyway.  If you turned me loose in your house, I would have to fight the urge to rummage in your dresser drawers. 

But that’s what makes me a writer (I tell myself and other people when they catch me red-handed in their medicine cabinet).  Curiosity.  Not the Alice-in-Wonderland kind of curious (she seemed rather foolish to me), but the Goldilocks kind.  Nosy, annoying, and a little destructive (sometimes you have to take things apart to understand them). 

Which fairy tale character are you?  Be honest . . . and my feelings won’t be hurt if you lock your bedroom door when I’m in your house.

Princess and the Pea illustration, Edmund Dulac; Goldilocks illustrations, Jessie Willcox Smith; tee-shirt Cafe Press, Sur La Lune

First Bound Copy . . .

Posted January 13th, 2010 by Candice

. . . of my first, illustrated how-to book.  Yes, I am the author and the illustrator of Scrapbooking Just for You!  Five years in the making.  Lots of hair-pulling (you can tell I don’t have much), many days of whining, "Why did I agree to this project?," but many more days of saying, "Look what I just made!" 

Flash back to spring 2005.  My agent is having lunch with Meredith Wasinger of Sterling.  Meredith, wistfully over her chopped salad, (Meredith took me to this same restaurant a few years ago and talked about that lunch with Tracey Adams): "I want to do a book for girls on scrapbooking, but I don’t know anyone who can do the project."  My agent:  "I know just the person.  She’ll be perfect."  Now picture me, innocently humming as I work on my little 2 by 2 inch scrapbook album of my stuffed elephant Ellsworth, having no idea of this conversation in NYC.

My agent contacted me.  Would I do this book?  Welllll, yes, I said, with only a tiny shiver, like a goose walking over one’s grave.  I had to send in samples.  I whipped up an envelope book (made from envelopes) with "trading cards" of my cats, my only photo subjects.  After years of "cropping" Friday nights at my local scrapbook store and watching girls who came with their mothers glue their photos in the four corners of their cardstock and add a scattering of stickers (known in the business as a "sticker sneeze"), I knew girls were more artistic.  They deserved a book that showed them how to make sophisticated projects.  They could learn simple design principles. 

All this sounded good and I got the contract.  I ran into three obstacles right away:  1)  most of the book would consist of layouts for scrapbook albums.  I never made layouts.  Never worked 12 by 12.  My projects were weird little things, sometimes without photographs.  2) Although I had taught journaling and life journey classes at my scrapbook store (where I was also a designer), I never measured anything.  Never.  My students squawked like scalded turkeys when I said, "Don’t try to make it like mine–create your own project using my example as a springboard."  3) And my biggest hurdle:  I didn’t have photographs of girls age 9 to 13.  None.

You know that tee-shirt that says, I Forgot to Have Children?  Well, I forgot to have tween-age girls so I could take pictures of them doing fun girl-like things.  I couldn’t do 60 projects with photographs featuring my cats and stuffed elephant.  I put out a call at my scrapbook store and soon had lots of photos of girls.  My editor also answered my desperate plea and sent photos.  First thing I learned:  every person in every photograph not down on all fours had to have a signed model release. 

I began work on the book in 2006 (that September day in 2005 I learned the contract was a go, I also learned that I would be writing 6 more Time Spies books–7 books in one day!).  I made lots of mistakes and lots of ugly layouts.  I wrote my text, describing in detail the principles of design, color, matting photos, supplies, equipment, the history of scrapbooking . . . Each project required me to measure every single little piece.  I decided to keep my measurements in quarter inches so I wouldn’t lose my mind or have frustrated readers.  But still, I wrote stuff like, "Trim card stock strip 4 1/4 by 3 3/4 inches.  Place strip 1 1/2 inches from left border . . ." a thousand times, it seemed. 

The first round of projects were ready to go in 2006, plus the text.  I color Xeroxed the entire book (128 pages).  Time went by.  I wrote lots of other books.  Then Meredith sent my projects back with her comments.  I threw some out.  Created new ones.  Revised the text.  Many, many times.  The book and projects went back again.  Now I had 60 projects showing different techniques.  In 2007, we went over the book again.  Created different projects.  Began cutting (I think there are 30-some projects made the final cut).  By 2008, the book was scheduled for spring 2009.  Then fall 2009.  But we were still working on it.  Me, Meredith, photographers, designers, technical artists, copyeditors, stylists.  They weren’t sure how to photograph the projects.  I sent Meredith a trade magazine with examples of what I envisioned.  The magazine got lost in the mail.  I had to track down another copy, send it again.  The first photo session was a disaster.  Meredith never showed me the results–she said they were too awful.

The book was pushed back to spring 2010.  I went over proofs and revised the text again.  More proofs.  More tweaking.  Photos were swapped (in-house with their magic Photoshop) within projects to add variety.  The book began taking shape.  Last summer I was asked if I wanted to do the art for the jacket.  I submitted several ideas to the designer.  She choose one.  I took my materials with me to Hollins University last summer and created my jacket art the weekend before classes began.  Mailed it off.  Felt my four-year-old great-nephew could have done better.  My design was fine, but I had to create the title and I had no idea what I was doing.  Plus Meredith had added a subtitle.  Mercifully, the jacket was created by the designer.  But–oh!–I did so want to have Jacket Art by Candice Ransom on the inside flap.

I had crafted a color wheel–selecting card stock to represent the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, then carefully hand-cutting pie-shaped slices to create the wheel.  It was decided to go with a more professional-looking color wheel.  More proofs.  More checking and copyediting and tweaking of color and positioning of elements.  And then . . . it was done.  Incredibly, the book was finished. 

When I received the bound copy yesterday (which Meredith snicked from an upstairs office–the very first copy–and sent to me), I couldn’t believe I had done this book.  It’ll be out March 2.  Mark your calendars . . . draw an X in that square 1 and 1/2 inch from the top, 2 and 3/4 inches from the right border . . .

A Tale of Three Cameras (Plus One)

Posted January 11th, 2010 by Candice

Once upon a time, about a month ago, I walked into Target and bought a DSLR camera. This one:

It was on sale, but still cost $600.  That night at supper, I told my husband I had bought a $600 camera.  He didn’t choke, which was admirable, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled either.  Neither was I.  It was an impulse buy, based on feelings of grief and guilt (I had had Xenia put to sleep that morning).  I returned the camera the next day.   It didn’t feel right for me.  Not too big, not too small . . . just not right.

I didn’t need a DSLR camera.  I’ve never learned to use the features on my Sony Cybershot 230, the camera I’d upgraded to last spring (from a fewer-megapixel Sony Cybershot and that was an upgrade from my first digital cameral, a Kodak Easy Share, a camera that had to be re-charged by the hour, it seemed).  While it was true that I didn’t know how to turn off the flash and had never even moved the mode dial from "Easy" to "Automatic," I long to take the kind of pictures I see on blogs and in scrapbook magazines.  Mostly I want to take close-ups of things like, say, typewriter keys, with the background blurred.  According to my Dummies Guide to Digital Photography for Seniors (I’m not a senior citizen yet, but they don’t make a Dummies Guide to Digital Photography for Pre-Schoolers), only DSLR cameras can take those interesting depth of field shots.

Enter Camera #2:

The Nikon D3000 was just the ticket, I thought.  I ordered it from Amazon and it was about a hundred dollars cheaper than the Canon.  It seemed easier to use.  Then I bought a camera case and signed up for classes at Ritz Camera.

When the new camera arrived, it scared the bejabbers out of me.  I didn’t even take it out of the box for two days.  Then I lifted each piece out gingerly.  It was big and heavy and it had a separate lens.  I set the camera on the table where it seemed to sneer, "I’m way too good for you."  I had to agree, especially when I found you can’t view through the LCD window on the back–the biggest advantage of digital cameras to me–only the very tiny viewfinder.  My vision in my left eye, the one normally used to look through the viewfinder, is 20/600. 

After much agony and trying to take pictures with my right eye (the good one for distance) with my hand over my left eye, I decided the Nikon D3000 was too big for me.  And so I returned it.  Also the camera case and I canceled the classes.  By now, my husband was worried about this alarming pattern of buying and returning expensive cameras.  I had more important things to do, like write books, but I gave it one more try.  Surely there was a Candice-sized camera out there?

Enter Camera #3:

The  Nikon Coolpix P90.  The lens is built in.  I can view through the LCD window.  But it has a lot of very neat features and I’m even learning one or two (plus a few on my trusty old Sony Cybershot).  I won’t be able to take gorgeous portraits like you can with a DSLR, but that’s okay.  I have two cameras now.  One I can throw in my purse and another that elevates me above (in photog lingo) "point-and-shoot-pocket-cam." 

Not a great big jump.  Just the right size step up for me.  My husband, the mailman, and the guy at the UPS store are all relieved.


Goals, Art Journals, Regular Journals, and Paint Chips

Posted January 7th, 2010 by Candice

So many writers have posted their 2010 goals.  I used to do that–well, not in a blog because they weren’t invented then, but in my DayRunner.  Once I had DayRunners in all sizes.  In the 1987 New Year’s meeting of my writing group, I priggishly extolled the virtues of having a DayRunner system, that all real writers needed some sort of system, and flashed my own neatly-written goals.  That year the word for the month of January on my Mary Engelbreit calendar said, Onward.  I went "onward," all right, but not in the direction I wanted to go. 

Since then I have given up resolutions and kept my goals to myself.  Some days it’s enough to put one foot in front of the other.  One goal I’ve announced is that I want to be a better blogger and take better pictures (can only go up on that one).  But I also want to make an art journal.  I’ve wanted to create an art journal for years.  I’ve drooled over the beautiful journals splashed in the pages of mixed-media magazines.  I’ve collected old photographs and ephemera (that I can never bear to part with); I have vintage ledgers and old books to use as journals; I have a supply of Copic and Pitt pens and watercolor pencils and crayons.  But no Golden Gel medium.  I refuse to hunt down a special glue I can’t buy in Michael’s.  So why haven’t I done an art journal?

Truth?  Art journaler’s block.  I can’t mess up those old ledgers with my tawdy little drawings or inept watercolor daubs.  Art journals are a hot topic in Blog World these days.  Susan is starting a new one.  Jessica teaches online classes called Love This Journal, Be an Art Journal Diva in 21 Days.  And there is a lively discussion over at Vivian’s on what constitutes art in an art journal.  I look at the journals of Cathy Johnson and Hannah Hinchman and Vivian Swift and think, "I can draw, but only a little.  Anything I add water to becomes a disaster.  Who am I kidding?   I’m a writer.  Why the heck am I so bent out of shape about making an art journal?"

Because I once had a room like this:

Yes, my dirty little secret.  That was my studio.  I was an avid scrapbooker and mixed-media artist for several years.  But I became paper-and-supply greedy (a common scrapbooking disease) and ignored the laws of physics that the only way to transport two tons of canaries in a one-ton truck is that half of the birds have to be in the air.  This room became so depressing I couldn’t bear to look at it, much less "create."  So I shoveled it out and turned it into a sitting room.  My art supplies are neatly stowed in a vintage washstand.  My scrapbook supplies are tidily put away in a vintage lingerie chest.  And my "studio" now occupies half of a small walk-in closet.  Do I still scrapbook?  You bet.  I sit on the floor, using a cedar chest as my worktable, while I watch "Miami Vice."  But do I make art journals?  No.  Maybe because I’m afraid the same thing that happens to my regular journals will happen with my art journal.

In his introduction to A Life in Hand: Creating the Illuminated Journal by Hannah Hinchman, Geoff O’Gara says,

"For a professional writer, journal-keeping is mercenary.  I have tried at times to work through my problems by consulting with myself in writing, and I’ve tried to regularize my life with a morning tea-cup of record-keeping, but it never works.  My journal always resorts to cold-eyed thievery.  It thrives inversely to the writing I do for public consumption.  I turn to it during fallow periods, and it fills up like water rising in a canal lock; when a kind of equilibrium is reached, the gates open and I turn to an article or a short story; I pick through the journal, steal from it, and otherwise shun it."

The same thing has happened with my journals.  I resort to journaling when I have creative constipation.  Then the journals become organ donors.  So why should I expect any more freedom in my so-called art journal?  Why should I let a stupid over-priced jar of Golden Gel medium stand in my way?  Maybe because of this year’s goals.

At Vivian’s blog, we talked about paint chips–you know, the colored samples in Home Depot and Lowe’s–as a springboard to a new kind of art journaling.  Just reading the names of colors can set you spinning into poetry.  This coincides with my big goal this year of remodeling and redecorating my office.  It’s a 400 square foot dedicated room over the garage, a space I shared with sick cats for 7 years.  Like my old studio, this room isn’t working for me any more.  So I am shoveling books and papers and old-Candice artifacts to make way for something new.  I’ve chosen my colors.  The cover of this magazine inspired me.  This shade of blue for old treasured furniture, crisp white paint for the other furniture pieces, the vintage red in the magazine’s title for accents, a warm butterscotch for the walls.

Even after I’ve picked my colors, I continue to be fascinated with paint chips and I keep stealing them from Lowe’s and Home Depot.  The names!   The colors!  And something small inside me clicked.  Why not combine my photography goal with the paint chips?  Make my own style of journal–photograph things that remind me of the color names and make a little book with my photos on paint chips.  Or something.  It’s a small, portable project that doesn’t involve a drop of Golden Gel medium or desecrating my precious ephemera.

So those are my goals.  Let the chips fall where they may.

Spring Book Cover!

Posted January 6th, 2010 by Candice

I’m still too sick/busy/addle-pated to write a real post today.  But I want to share the cover of my first board book.  Coming out in May from Sterling.

Isn’t it cute?  I just love my illustrator!


2010, Paris, and a Writer’s Group of One

Posted January 4th, 2010 by Candice

On New Year’s Day I woke with one of my notions.  These are seemingly wonderful ideas hatched between the hazy verge of wake and not-awake.  When I grab the wriggling idea with two fingers and hold it up to the cold light of day, it reveals itself as ridiculous or worse.  For example, once I woke with the notion that I would make Margaret McElderry, an esteemed editor I don’t even know, a scrapbook of her life.  Like she would let me–a big fat nobody–have access to her priceless photos and memorabilia!

The newest notion has roots in something I learned from Patty Lee Gauch, Philomel editor.  She told a group that back in the late 60s, she was in a writing workshop led by Jean Fritz.  Jean had the group read books which they discussed before critiquing their work.  I nearly melted with envy.  I couldn’t imagine a more perfect writer’s group.  When I woke on New Year’s Day, I thought, "I can lead a workshop like Jean Fritz’s!  People can come to my house.  I’ll give them mind-stretching exercises and we’ll discuss only the very best children’s books.  We’ll drink tea and eat cupcakes." 

While I lay in bed, I mulled over the details.  The workshop should be Tuesday mornings.  People run errands on Mondays.  Tuesday would be good.  Did I have enough chairs?  Yes, though most weren’t comfortable.  For some reason, we furnished our house for Munchkins with no sofa, only a loveseat and mismatched vintage chairs, usually occupied by cats.

Then I remembered my one goal for 2010:  to strip away extraneous clutter–in my office, in my house, and in my work life.  Facilitating a workshop means time away from my work.  I turned over in bed and saw the book on my nightstand (beside a vintage Baby Ben clock that doesn’t run–okay, some clutter stays).  A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul, by Eric Maisel.  This is a book about learning to write wherever you are, but Maisel hints broadly that writing in Paris is way more inspirational than writing in, say, Frog Level, Virginia.  I’m reading Maisel’s book in conjunction with Vivian Swift’s Paris trip book-in-progress that she is writing and illustrating and is generously posting on her blog

Everyone I know has been to Paris.  These photos are of a set of watercolors my husband bought from a street artist when he was stationed outside Paris in the mid-50s.  We were planning to go to Paris for our 30th anniversary this year, but the trip to Europe turned into a trip to Irvington, Virginia, because of sick cats and various other things.  It’s not likely I’ll get to Paris to write or do anything else.  Maisel’s book and Swift’s  blogs remind me that though I live in the suburbs of Fredericksburg, a mile in any direction will take me to rolling farmland, manicured battlefields, a charmingly preserved downtown district, ugly strip malls, my local library, a Big Box development marked with a sign that can been viewed from Landsat, and a pond filled with geese. 

It’s my choice:  where I go and what I choose to see.  What I choose to write about.  And how I choose to use my time.

And that writing workshop?  Do I really want to worry about cat hair and enough chairs?  No.  I really want to be in a workshop where books are selected thoughtfully and carefully discussed, where I can sample mind-stretching exercises and review the progress on my current project.

So I’m creating the Workshop for One.  I’ll meet with myself on Tuesday mornings for an hour or so.  Sit in any chair Winchester isn’t snoozing in.  Ignore the fact the den needs cleaning even though some joker wrote "2008" in the dust on the coffee table.  I’ll sift through promising books to read and discuss them with myself.  I’ll give myself mind-stretching exercises.  I’ll review my current novel and decide what needs to be done next.  I’ll have a cup of tea and a cupcake or a few cookies.   

What do you think?  Want to start a Writing Workshop for One, as well?  Your work will be critiqued by the person you trust most.  You can sit in the comfiest chair in your den.  And you can slurp tea from the saucer and lick the frosting off your cupcake and no one will think you’re gauche. 


New Year’s List

Posted January 1st, 2010 by Candice

On New Year’s Day you are supposed to–in addition to eating black-eyed peas cooked with a new dime for good luck–do something you want to do every day in the coming year.  Some things you do aren’t by choice, like washing dishes or laundry or sweeping the floor and if you run a household, chances are you’ll be doing those things anyway.

We intended to spend New Year’s Day at the Hope and Glory Inn, the wonderful retreat where we celebrated our 30th anniversary back in May.  After arriving there yesterday afternoon, it was obvious I wasn’t worth a flit since all I did was sleep, blow my nose and cough.  If you have to be sick, I can’t think of a better place to be than our beautiful pink and white and green cottage.  We had a nice dinner (I woke up long enough to eat) and a blissfully quiet night with no fireworks.

However, we reluctantly decided to come home after breakfast this morning (where we were served black-eyed peas in pot likker!).  I didn’t get to take all the pictures I wanted, but enjoy these of the Inn’s festive decorations.

So, what did we do on New Year’s Day that will count toward our daily activities in 2010? 

1.  Drove from the Northern Neck to Fredericksburg.  Spotted one eagle, two deer springing across the road, and dozens of grumpy black buzzards slouched in rows on a radio tower.

2.  Stopped at Wal-Mart.  Overheard in the cat litter aisle:

   Daughter:  Do you think he’ll like this cat litter mat?  Won’t it hurt his feet?
   Old woman:  Not the way they scratch and carry on.  How much is it?
   Daughter:  $4.74.
   Old woman, picking up another style of mat:  Same price as this one.
   Daughter, studying hectic-looking cat face on the mat:  I don’t know.  I think it’ll give him the heebie-jeebies. 

3.  Ate mediocre lunch at Bob Evans.  A come-down from scallops wrapped in bacon and chocolate truffle cake at dinner last night and the divine baked French toast this morning at Hope and Glory.

4.  Came home, were greeted by half-famished cats (faking since they still had food left in their bowls), put away ten tons of stuff. 

5.  I cleaned powder room, laundry room, washed a load of sheets, cleaned out closet under the stairs, and one shelf in our bedroom closet.  Felt both virtuous and put-upon.  Coughed a lot to make that point.

On the minus column of this list, it appears next year I may be doomed to go to Wal-Mart every day and eavesdrop on inane conversations in the cat litter aisle, unpack, scrub toilets, fold sheets, eat mediocre lunches, clean closets, and watch grouchy buzzards.  On the plus side, it’s equally possible I’ll drive quiet back roads, spy an eagle, see leaping deer, and breakfast on baked French toast.

And I’ll write.  That’s Number 6.  I’m posting this entry because I want to write every single day next year.  Books, love letters, journal entries, blog posts, articles, stories, poetry–good, great, and mediocre.  Writing is what I do, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. 

The thought of not doing it flat-out gives me the heebie-jeebies.