Iva Honeysuckle, Getting More Real-er

Posted March 31st, 2011 by Candice

It’s been two years since Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World was acquired by Disney-Hyperion.  Since that time I’ve written the sequel (with hope of more to follow!), the illustrator has been chosen, and this past weekend, the copyedited manuscript arrived for me to review.

Heather Ross is the illustrator.  She’s done about 30 illustrations for this book.  I don’t know if these will make the final cut, but I want to share them anyway.  I love Heather’s style!  I think she has captured Iva’s freshness (in every sense of the word).

Copyright Heather Ross, 2011

Copyright Heather Ross, 2011

Yes, the crayons are there for a reason!  You’d be amazed at how much crayon research I’ve had to do the last few days.  Peeking into boxes of Sixty-four crayons, Twenty-four crayons, taking notes in Michael’s.  All that crayon goodness sent me over the edge and I bought a tower of 150 crayons!  Lots of metallics and glitter crayons!

Copyright Heather Ross, 2011

Iva Honeysuckle, forever!  Go, Iva, go!

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Posted March 28th, 2011 by Candice

I took this last week, on a balmy day when it was about 70 degrees.  The pear blossoms weren’t at their fullest, but it was such a pretty day, I wanted to be outside.  Don’t you love this sweet vintage Easter dress?  How I miss dresses with sashes that tie in the back!

I took this yesterday morning.   Who ordered this snowstorm?  I certainly did not!  We were not amused.  You can’t tell the snowflakes from the blossoms. 

And the Winner Is . . . . !

Posted March 25th, 2011 by Candice

Okay, he got all spiffed-up for the occasion.  Spats brushed, bib and tucker slicked down.  Wore a new spring-themed tie.  But Winchester, like me, is down with allergies.  He was very curious about those purple blossoms of paper in the basket but not curious enough

So I spiked them with his favorite treats, Cheezy Craze Crunch Party Mix (yes, it’s for cats).  But he couldn’t smell the treats.  So I threw his mousie in the the basket, thinking he’d reach in to fish out Mousie and pick out a winner at the same time.

After a verrrrrrrrrry looooooooooong time, during which I thought the battery on my camera would run down and moss would grow on my north side, Winchester finally put his nose in the basket.

And the winner is . . . . MELODYE SHORE!  Congratulations, Melodye!

Melodye:  email me your address and your spring journal/notebook will be in the mail.  My addy is winchester at candiceransom dot com.

Thanks to everyone who participated.  This was so much fun, I’ll do it again some time.  Different prize.  Maybe a little handmade album.  Or a framed picture of Winchester (just what everyone is panting to own).

Have a great weekend, everybody! 

My iPad 2

Posted March 23rd, 2011 by Candice

The more new technology comes along (every week now), the faster I run the other way.  My answer to the iPad 2 is this beauty.  It’s a 1932 Underwood Model 6, a desktop machine, which meant it was used in offices and businesses.  It has glorious hand-set tabs in the back, five decimal tabulators above the keyboard, and glass-topped keys.  Built for durability, it weighs a ton.

A restored Underwood, one that works nearly perfectly, costs $1000.  I picked up this gorgeous hunk of metal for $50.  It has an amazing number of gears and bits, a marvel of craftmanship and engineering.  If I wanted, I could have it reconditioned to working order.  Instead, it will join my small collection of display typewriters (a late 40s Remington Rand and my husband’s 1949 Olivetti).  I love the presence of the Underwood, reminding me of the era when typists (called typewriters in the beginning and they were usually men) and their machines ran the business world day in and day out, without once complaining to IT.

I didn’t stop at the Underwood.  From the same dealer I picked up this 1970 Olympia portable, the "writer’s typewriter of the 1970s."  Why a typewriter from the 70s, a time period I feel is totally icky?

Because it works.  Not only that, the Olympia came with an astonishing array of accessories:  hard case, plastic cover, key cleaner, several packages of correction tape, two ribbons, original booklet and bill of sale, and cleaning kit.  I haven’t seen Ko-Rec-Type since Hector was a pup.  And kneadable key cleaner!

Price tag?  After a little dickering, $45.  Forty-five bucks for a working manual vintage typewriter.  A reconditioned Olympia Model 8 costs $450.

So why would I want a working manual typewriter?  Because sometimes I want to type a note, roll a real sheet of bond paper through the platen, feel the keys flex under my fingers, slam the carriage home.  No irritating cursor "waiting" impatiently for my next sentence.  No perfectly perfect letters, but the charm of slightly irregular letters, maybe even a filled-in "e" to add character.

You can download "typewriter" fonts to use on your computer–I have several.  But they look too shadowy and aren’t that easy to read.  I want to add real typewritten messages to my collages and artwork, not the illusion of typewriter font.

I’m not by myself in loving old typewriters.  My Typewriter sells, by order, restored typewriters.  Don’t think I didn’t drool for weeks over a restored 1930s Remington Portable No. 3, the model Margaret Mitchell used to write Gone with the Wind.  You can get one from My Typewriter for $625.  I also agonized over a 1950s Royal Quiet Deluxe in retro red.  Also $625.  If I had an extra $625–well, I’d probably by a new stove. 

The Boston Typewriter Orchestra performs music to rhythmic manual typewriters!  And I’ve heard about typewriter parties on college campuses where people pay to spend an evening typing their blogs!

I’ll admit there’s something hypnotic about watching someone swoosh across the screen of their iPad, making images appear magically.  And I’m certainly not about to throw out my computer (but I refuse to buy a new one–the computer I do my writing on is a 2005 Compaq with Word 2003.  Same age and system as my Sony laptop.   I know where everything is!)   But there’s a sense of obscurity in working on computers and electronic devices, a sense of impermanence.  At the end of the day, where is your work?  What can you hold in your hand?

I have a habit of leaving my chapters on the screen, fiddling with them endlessly.  Now, at the end of the day, I print out what I’ve done.  I don’t care if I revise and print a hundred times, at least I can see physical evidence of the day’s work.  Before I go to bed, I slip back in my office and touch those pages to keep the connection between my story even as I sleep. 

New Book, First Look!

Posted March 22nd, 2011 by Candice

My second board book, with wonderful illustrations by the fantastic David Walker! 

Due out June 7 (my sister’s birthday–we were both born in Washington, D.C.!).

Searching for Jerdone Castle: The Virtues of Traveling Small

Posted March 21st, 2011 by Candice

I checked the weather forecast all week:  Friday was supposed to be sunny and 80 degrees.  Fridays are special because my husband has off and we can move more freely than on weekends.  This balmy Friday would not be wasted on grocery stores and yard chores.  We would go someplace.  Thursday I began scouting.

First on my list was the Great Dismal Swamp, a place I’ve always wanted to see since I was a kid, envisioning alligators snapping at snakes hanging Spanish-moss draped limbs.  The National Wildlife Refuge is only three hours away.  But we’d have to barrel down interstates to get there.  And–this ranks high when you get "a little age to you," as my mother used to say–the swamp has no amenities.  When you’re four or five miles from the only visitor’s center and even though you’re pretty sure alligators don’t live this far north, you’re particular about where you "go".

So I turned to the Middle Peninsula–one of those fingery-parts of Virginia that pokes into the Chesapeake Bay–and looked for a bed and breakfast along the water.  I called my husband at work and asked excitedly if he wanted to spend the night in a water-front house in Mathews with twin beds or a king-sized bed in an 18th century manor house with ties to George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Meriweather Lewis, and Queen Elizabeth II in Gloucester and he replied, "What’s a minnlepensula?"

It occurred to me I was working too hard to make a trip happen with only a day’s notice.  As with writing small, it’s better sometimes to travel small.  Little bitty excursions that require a minimum of preparations, no special clothes, or having to pack a toothbrush.  I chose Jerdone Castle, the house in Louisa County we tried to find back in January.

Jerdone Castle isn’t a castle but a plantation house built in 1742.  In 1879, Ellen Glasgow’s father bought the place as an escape from Richmond summers.  Ellen Glasgow, Pulitzer-prize winning Virginia novelist, spent her childhood summers at Jerdone Castle and that was where she decided she’d be a writer.  I’ve always been enchanted with the idea of the house, its name, and its legacy to a woman who wrote about the changing South when others were still penning "bosoms and columns" novels bemoaning the Lost Cause.

I swapped my purse for my Happy Basket with maps, a bag of marshmallow chicks and bunnies, camera, and journals, and a vintage lunchbox filled with colored pencils, Copic markers, and small sketch pads.  I shed jeans and Nikes for capris, a tee-shirt, and Keds mules and we were off.

We drove south into Mineral and stopped at the Mineral Restaurant.  The same table of people who entertained me back in January was there again!  One of the ladies was celebrating her birthday ("I’ve had ‘Happy Birthday’ sang at me four times this week."  The lady who’d been sick was looking much better and the one with the unfortunate mullet had baked monkey bread.  When I cast a longing glance at their cheery table, they invited us over and shared the monkey bread!  This small-town friendliness you won’t find in your local Macaroni Grill.

Filled up, we headed toward Lake Anna to locate Jerdone Castle.  Lake Anna is a huge man-made lake and the home of the North Anna Nuclear Reactor.  I’m not crazy about lakes (water too deep and scary) and certainly not a fan of nuclear reactors, but most of Jerdone Castle’s original plantation is under water.  The privately-owned house has only 150 acres.

After much arguing with GPS "Samantha" (my husband put in coordinates; evidently Jerdone Castle is too snooty to have an address), it turned out her way was right after all.  A forbidding black iron gate barred entrance up the long winding driveway.  The hollow voice on the speakerphone informed me I’d have to make an appointment.  I guess they don’t like drop-in visitors.  My feeling is that if your house is on the National Register of Historic Places, you’re obligated to open it up to people who have made not one, but two special trips to see it.  But that’s just me.  I took a picture through the gate, a hazy view of distant grandeur.

But I wasn’t really disappointed.  I didn’t need to see the house up close.  What I needed was the experience of trying to find the house.  And the other little sights along the way.

Forsythia spouted bright yellow fountains, usually in the yards of modest houses where bushes grew unchecked and were the size of garages.  A few early cherry blossoms pinked the sky.  Periwinkle, which my mother called "wind flowers" because they bloom in March, spilled out of just-waking-up flower beds.

We passed houses with an astonishing array of statuary and children’s toys in their front yards.  I snapped photos from the moving truck, quick glimpses of happily haphazard lives, houses free for everyone to see.

It was a day of monkey bread, vistas of purple and yellow, and a house that will remain a gauzy dream.  Everything we saw on that little trip factored its way into my current book project.  I doubt the marvels of the Great Dismal Swamp or the graces of the Washington-Slept-Here-and-Robert-E-Lee-Stabled-Traveller manor house on the Middle Peninsula could have matched those unexpected delights.

Write small.  Travel small.  Keep your eyes wide open.

Journal Drawing Reminder

Posted March 18th, 2011 by Candice

A week from today Winchester will be picking the winner of my handmade composition notebook journal.  If you’d like to be in the drawing, drop a comment here

Don’t miss out on a chance to win a journal to record your springy thoughts!

A Little Lesson in “Should”

Posted March 15th, 2011 by Candice

Most of us guide our lives by "should":  I should take the car in today.  We’ve been eating lax lately; I should fix some vegetables.  I should:  lose five pounds, floss every night, hit the gym five times a week, post to my blog.  Sometimes our days are one long list of shoulds.

Writers are especially prone to should-itis.  Sometimes by writing for the wrong reasons:  I should be writing an award-winning book.  This book I’m working on should net me a huge advance.  My mother will be so proud of me for telling her life story.  Everybody says this incredible thing that happened to me should be a book.

Most of us toiling in the field know to sidestep the most obvious should pitfalls (well, maybe not the big advance one).  We know the work is done by moving forward a step at a time, guided by the story and not a great big bunch of shoulds.  Yet the last few weeks I’ve found myself pushing the-new-novel-boulder uphill, only to have it roll back over me at the end of the day.

What’s wrong with this book? I asked myself, flattened with despair.  I’ve spent nearly a year mapping it out, double-checking its course for sand traps and quagmires, and yet it will not behave.  Like it should.  While I’d like to send my book into the Time Out corner and let it think about what it’s done, I know the fault lies with me and not the book.

In Chapter After Chapter, author Heather Sellers discusses should-itis, first by defining it.  "What’s a should?  A "reason" your ego uses in order to try to whip you [or the book] into shape . . . The ego never has good ideas for the writer.  Shoulds almost always send writers down the wrong path.  The ego is afraid of losing its job.  Writing, however, is driven by the unconscious mind, a part of self the ego has no control over.  That freaks it out.  Writers steer by wonder and desire."

Wonder. Desire.  In all the mapping and charting, I had lost sight of why I started this book in the first place.  I have to stop pushing it, stop writing it a certain way and let it lead me toward what I don’t know. 

Sellers recommends writing a list of reasons why you want to write a particular book.  Most reasons are outcomes.  Within your list (which will mainly consist of outcome-based shoulds, many in disguise), you’ll find the "one, heart-based, curiosity-driven reason."

She goes on, "Catch the shoulds and dismiss them.  You need to power through this book on clean green energy, the renewal resource that is the curious part of your heart."

So yesterday I stopped pushing my book.  We’re both resting at the moment, a little out of breath and somewhat wary of each other.  But we’ll start over soon.  I think we understand each other better now. 

Notebook Week, Part III: First Ever Journal Give-away!

Posted March 11th, 2011 by Candice

                                   You’ve got to keep journals.  You’ve got to write everything down.  ~~  Pat Conroy

Don’t you love it when the right book falls into your hands the exact right moment you need it?  I was eating lunch on my front porch last spring, leafing through a library book called Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers (Blair, 1994).  I’d just finished wallowing in Pat Conroy’s South of Broad, and was eager to read his interview and learn how he worked.

Parting the Curtains is great wallowing material itself, with over twenty interviews conducted by Dannye Romine Powell and photographs by Jill Krementz.  Pat Conroy is one of my favorite writers, but I wondered what he did between his books, which were published too far apart to satisfying my cravings (favorite writers!  write more!  write faster!).  In the interview, Conroy generously talked about his journals and how he used them.

At the time I read the interview, I was carrying my covered composition notebook mainly for on-the-run notes on my current writing project.  I would transfer my notes into my three-ring project binder when I got home.  Yet my fingers itched to write more in those journals but I wasn’t sure what.  I was still at the stage where I used a cobbled-together system of index cards and typewritten daily logs.  Pat Conroy gave me the answer.

He told the inteviewer he had a series of journals, mostly leather-bound with lined pages.  When I’m not writing a novel, I do my best journaling work . . . If something happens or somebody says something interesting or thought-provoking I try to write that down.  I don’t do my thoughts:  ‘Today, I thought, Oh, Lord.’

Bingo.  Those last words hit home.  If it’s good enough for Pat Conroy, it’s good enough for me.  I would not whine my journals.  In fact, I now call whining, "Oh, Lording," after Mr. Conroy. 

I have lists of words . . . Here’s a list:  Heart-struck.  Philodendron.  Cabbagy.  Horoscopes.  Spices.  Oboes.  Ginkoes.  Dragon-headed.  Intermezzos.  And Appliance.  When I read, I read for words whose sound I like.  Words that I have not ued for a while or thought of for a while.  Those English words that disappear from your mind.  They’re on the clothesline somewhere, and you just haven’t pulled them in.

Clothesline!  I should add that to my own journal of words (yes, I keep a separate journal devoted to words, names, and expressions).  But I loved the way he recorded ordinary words like "appliance."  It doesn’t have a wonderful sound, doesn’t it?  All of those words sound lovely when read aloud.  Something else to do in my journal:  read words aloud. 

The interviewer asked how he integrated his note-taking process into his work.  Conroy replied:

One of the notes I had in the journal was "Remember the white porpoise that used to swim between Harbor Island and St. Helena when you first came to Beaufort."  Just that note reminded me and became the basis for the white-porpoise chapter in The Prince of Tides . . . I have found that one line or one phrase can become a chapter in these books.  [Interviewer:  When you’re not writing a novel, you’re taking notes on a novel.]  No question.  There’s always that process going on.

He re-reads his journals frequently.  If he writes in them every night, he probably reads them every night as well.  Therefore, they must be close at hand.  Then Conroy revealed he "talks" to himself in his journals.  This is a passage from one of his journals:

The writing in a journal is a kind of unrewarded heroism, but it does not give the accurate picture of the soul I supposed it would.  When I look back over the entries, I’m surprised by how commonplace my thoughts were.  Or at least the ones I chose to write down.   But I think I use a journal as an aid to my memory, for it helps me to remember lost days almost perfectly, and my mind suddenly fills with the names and faces of friends and strangers I neglected to record.  They spring up, a dark city of the second order, pressing around me to remember them and to put down what they said.

I read every syllable of every interview in that book–and bought it from an online source after I’d returned it to the library.  And I began using my journals in earnest.  Now I work back and forth between my computer-typed book-specific journal, my handwritten composition notebook, and my current project.

If you’re ready to be hooked on journaling at any level, or to peruse all kinds of new notebooks and journals (because you can never have too many), visit Notebook Stories, a blog about travel diaries, sketchbooks, Moleskin debates, and reviews of every kind of notebook on the planet. 

And now for my first-ever giveaway!  The composition notebook is covered in vintage-style Spring-y papers in shades of Turkey red, sage green, rose, and Tiffany blue.  Much prettier in person!  Unlike the journals I make for myself, this one is "fully-fashioned," that is, it’s covered on the inside in coordinating papers. 

If you’d like to win this handmade-just-for-you composition notebook, drop a comment.  Winchester the cat will be choosing the winner on March 25, two weeks from today.  I’ll remind you of the drawing a few times between now and then.  And, thanks to Debbi Michiko Florence for showing pictures of Trixie picking the winning entry at your give-away.  We’ll see how Winchester does!

Notebook Week, Part II: My Journals

Posted March 9th, 2011 by Candice

During my thirty-year career–and well before–I’ve devised a number of note-taking systems.  Index cards, steno pads, spiral notebooks, three-ring binders.  But as my career grew and my brain shriveled, I finally settled on a low-tech, cheap system that works for me.  My thoughts, which often strike like shrapnel, need to be corralled consistently–not scribbled one day on scraps of advertisements or neatly transcribed the next day in leather-bound journals.

I would love to admit I’ve been a faithful journal-keeper since I could crawl.  Instead of keeping a diary when I was a kid, I wrote stories.  I didn’t feel the need to record my activities since they consisted of going to school and writing stories.  In later years, I dabbled in journaling, like the dream journal I kept that rivaled anything Stephen King ever thought up.

When The Artist’s Way was popular, I faithfully wrote my three Morning Pages.  Morning Pages are meant to be a place where you gripe and whine and get it over with so you can have a productive day.  I didn’t leave my griping and whining in my Artist’s Way workbook, but would continue to worry and obsess.

Then I began keeping journals on the computer and found I could gripe in more detail and much faster.  My entries became one great big long Whine Festival.  When I wrote Iva Honeysuckle, I kept a computer journal to help me sort through problems and plan ahead.  That journal was very helpful and I only let myself whine a little bit.  Now a typewritten journal for each book I write is essential to my process.  But I still required something portable.

Some women buy shoes–I buy notebooks.  From an early age, I printed writerly notes in small tablets, like those handed out by insurance agents and feed stores.  My elementary school best friend once splurged a whole dollar at Woolworth’s for my Christmas present (she always had more disposable income than I did) and gave me ten–ten!–little ten cent notebooks.  I was so overcome by that gift, I immediately began scribbling in every single one.

Above is an assortment of little notebooks I used in high school after I had decided to become a writer of children’s books.  And yes, that is a little book I created on toilet paper.  Desperate writers use anything. 

Nowadays I divide my notebooks into two categories:  small emergency "back-up" notebooks that slip into a clutch, pocket, or cellphone case and a bigger notebook for serious journaling.  My favorite "back-up" notebook is the slim Moleskine "Volant," 2 1/2 by 4 inches, in different colors.  Yet while legions swear by Moleskine notebooks, I prefer a simple composition notebook for major note-taking.

The composition notebook became my go-to notebook a few years ago when I was staying at Bell House on one of my private writing retreats.  I was working on Rebel McKenzie Will Never Wear Big Hair and found myself needing something to jot notes on besides the blank pages in my three-ring binder where I store my plot outline, character sketches, etc.  I needed something to carry to The Happy Clam where I ate supper or the widow’s walk outside my room.  In Rite-Aid I found a marked-down composition notebook with a ugly green cover.  It was the right size, feel, and number of pages.  The stiff cover enabled me to prop it against my steering wheel when I was in my car.  I dragged it everywhere.

Because I’m a scrapbooker, I could stand the ugly green cover only so long.  First I cut out a picture of an old postcard and pasted it over the title that screamed cheap mark-down.  Then, remembering the dozens of altered composition notebooks I’d made and given away, I broke down and covered my own notebook.

Now I make composition notebooks to suit the seasons (I can’t carry a winter-themed notebook in the spring–it’s like wearing white shoes before Memorial Day), or dedicated to a particular project.  When my friend Connie sent me Joan Bauer’s new novel, I loved the palette of the dust jacket so much I covered a notebook in that color scheme.

So what goes in these notebooks?  My only rule is no whining allowed.  I jot observations as I travel, possible characters, names, places, book ideas.  I also copy passages from novels and nonfiction books–yes, you read that correctly, I handwrite entire pages.  It’s an excellent way to reinforce what I’m reading. 

I store my notebooks in a vintage train case.  In the evenings, I read over old entries.  I don’t have an index system and there are times when I wish I did.  When I come home with notes for my current novel, I immediately tranfer those notes into my three-ring project binder.  I enjoy re-reading my journals to remember things that were important to me, say, six months ago, and now view in a different way.

Here’s a sampling from my fall 2010 journal:

"Southerners tend to live in one place, where they can see whole lives unfold around them.  It gives them a natural sense of the narrative…a form of the story comes readily to hand."  Eudora Welty

On the specials board at Frost Diner:  Fried bologna w/2 eggs, grits, home fries

Kids in a family crossing a street with embedded railroad tracks:  A boy yells to his sister, "Train!"  "Not funny," says his mother.  But it was.

When you see an old African-American cemetery:  Ask permission before entering.  If someone answers, don’t go in!

My notebook fits nicely in my Vera Bradley City Sport zippered tote (that I have in three colors just to accommodate my journal).  On my way out the door, I grab my purse, my journal, and my camera.  Simple and easy.  And my composition notebook will never be replaced by newer models or updated operating systems.
On Friday I’ll discuss the writer who inspired me to keep this type of journal, other notebook addicts, and reveal the Great Notebook Give-away!