Friday, March 29, 2013

Random Notes Friday: Why We Write

I love to read books that talk about other authors' writing process, and feelings about writing. It helps me feel less alone in what is sometimes a lonely business.

That's why I particularly enjoyed reading Meredith Maran's new book, Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do. Many of these acclaimed authors are people who's work I greatly admire: Isabel Allende, Susan Orlean, Ann Patchett, David Baldacci, Jodi Picoult, and more. Her book also introduced me to writers I was, until then, unfamiliar with--Mary Karr, Jennifer Egan, Kathryn Harrison--and now plan to read.

I was heartened to read that many of these authors who's work I so admire don't outline before they write. This is always a topic of great, and often heated debate, among writers. Isabel Allende says, "When I write a book, I have no idea where it's going. I only know that in a subtle way, a hidden way, I want to have an impact on the reader's heart and mind." That prolific mystery author, Sue Grafton, says, "I write largly by trial and error." Sara Gruen, who wrote the wildly sucessful, Water for Elephants, likes to let a story idea "steep...until the first scene comes to me whole." Being a dedicated "steeper," and non-outliner, I took a great deal of pride in the fact I was in good company!

It's always encouraging (in a weird way) to hear how terrified even hugely successful writers are--as terrified and unconfident as I. David Balcacci, who's sold millions of books, says, "Every time I start a new project, I sit down scared to death I won't be able to bring the magic again." And Sue Grafton describes herself as "a persistant writer, and a terrified one." Do you know how happy that makes me?

All the writers, whether commercial or literary, fiction or non-fiction, agree on why they write: because they have to. It's not for the prizes and honors (although between the 20 interviewed authors, there's a bucketful of them), or the money or fame. It's because they can't not write. Just like me, when they're not writing, they feel cranky, out of sorts, and like a big part of their inner life is missing.

At the end of each author spotlight are tips from the author to writers--tips like:
  • "Whether you're writing a novel or a cover letter to a potential agent, shorter is always better." David Baldacci
  • "You can only write regularly if you're willing to write badly. You can't write regularly and well." Jennifer Egan. 
  • "Planning and plotting and research are all fine. But don't just think about writing. Write!" Sara Gruen
  • "It's always good to have a motive to get you in the chair. If your motive is money, find another one." Michael Lewis.
And many more. My only gripe with Why We Write is the fact that no children's authors were interviewed. Hmmm...maybe I see a book on the horizon!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Jane Paley and Hooper!

Jane Paley
We all remember those heartbreaking images in the days following hurricane Katrina: stranded people perched on rooftops surrounded by rising water, desperate for rescue; bodies floating in the water, and people frantically trying to leave the city any way they could. And then there were the animals. So many left behind either because their people were sure they'd be back the next day, or because authorities would not allow owners to bring their animals along. As a result, hundreds and hundreds of dogs and cats were left homeless. The lucky ones were eventually rescued by the various groups (Humane Society, Best Friends Animal Society) who came in the days after Katrina. Some were eventually reunited with their people, but many were not.

Jane Paley is many things: an Emmy award-winning television producer, an assistant professor at St. John's University in Queens, New York, a writer, and a dog lover. It is the collaboration of the writer and dog lover in her that produced her first novel for middle graders, Hooper Finds A Family, which I read a couple of months ago. Can I just say I loved the book? I mean, you have to love a happy, goofy, plucky golden lab who loves to play games with his bone in his back yard somewhere in New Orleans, right? But then the hurricane comes and, like so many animals, Hooper is left behind. Suddenly, he is in a dramatic, can't-put-the-dang-book-down fight for his life. And even when he finally does get adopted, it's not exactly smooth sailing. I really admired that about the book, because often in adoption situations, it's not all rainbows and sparkles at first. But love and patience find their way, and Hooper did find a family to love.

TV Star!
I googled Jane Paley to find out more about her. I was stunned and excited to discover that her book (although fiction) is based on her own Hooper who she adopted from Labs4rescue, and he had been orphaned by hurricane Katrina! In the years since his adoption by Jane and her family, Hooper has become quite the celebrity. He's been on televsion several times (including CBS Early Show!), been written about in the New York Post as well as several other magazines, and has become a much beloved therapy dog.

Given all his star power (he has been called the Brad Pitt of labs), I'm very honored to have Hooper and Jane on today's Fido and Friend in Five!

Therapy Dog!
1. How did you and Hooper find each other? We met on-line. Days after the death of our previous dog, Hammer, I poured my heart out on-line, desperate for grief counseling. In minutes, I heard from compassionate rescuers, one of whom sent a photo of Hooper with a note about how he was a healer. My husband was skeptical. Moreover, he wasn't ready for a new dog, especially one who was sick (heartworms) and far away in New Orleans (Jane and her family live in New York). Many tears and entreaties later, he could no longer buck my force-of-nature determination and made all the travel arrangements. The rendezvous took place late at night in Richmond. From that moment on, Hooper was a healer, as advertised.

Tennis Ball Hoarder!
2. What makes Hooper's tail wag?  We play a game called 2-ball with tennis balls. Hoop won't do traditional toss and fetch because once he gets the ball, he doesn't want to give it up. So we show him the second ball so he'll drop the one he's retrieved. This can go on for 15 minutes or so until he tires. At that point, he simply trots to the back door believing he's won the U.S Open.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog story?  I suppose it's de rigeur to say Old Yeller, or one of the other classics, but the truth is, I love Stanley's Party by Linda Bailey. When Hooper and I visit libraries (we're a Pet Partner team), I always read Stanley to the kids and we laugh ourselves silly.

4. If Hooper could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  Nothing. He thinks I'm perfect. What a rush.

The Dog of Her Dreams
5. In five words, tell us what Hooper means to you:  The dog of my dreams.

Thanks so very much to all that Jane and Hooper do to make a positive (and pawsitive) difference in this ol' world of ours. You really must check out their website to read all the fun things they're doing!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Random Notes: Imagine...

Yesterday I spent some time at a school down in Salt Lake City doing a booking signing for their Scholastic Book Fair. They had me set up at a table in the large lobby, unfortunately far away from where the actual book fair took place, so I wasn't exactly overwhelmed with kids wanting me to sign their books!

My eyes wandered around the walls in the lobby, reading all the notices posted on every possible place. There were notices congratulating kids for making honor roll, reminder notices for ballroom dance classes, and then this notice: "Students are not required to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance." I blinked. Had I read that right? I walked over to the notice and read it again: "Students are  not required to participate in the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance."

Wow. I went back to my table surrounded by memories of high school, all the times I got sent to the principal's office because I refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It was the early 1970's and I, like many others in the country, were doing small (and not so small) acts of rebellion to protest the Vietnam War. I felt so strongly that our country's involvement was so misguided and destructive I did not want to pledge an allegiance. I also felt there were far too many injustices in this country to claim, as it does in the proclaim "justice for all." After I was sent to the principal for about the tenth time, he finally called my mother. She came down and gave that principal what-for.

I still don't recite the pledge, on those rare occasions I'm in the situation where it's being recited. I've often said, the older I get, the more I understand and even embrace the sentiments in John Lennon's song, "Imagine." I truly feel it's that division of "us" versus "them" that has created so much heartache in this world. Every religion feels it has God's ear and the corner on truth; every country believes it is the best country, every person thinks their way of living, their way of raising their children, their way of loving is the best and, therefore, the only way.

Some people have called John Lennon's "Imagine" the anthem for atheists.  I don't think that's true. I think all Lennon was trying to say is we need to somehow eliminate these artificial barriers so that we can all--Christian, Muslim, Republican, Democrat, heterosexual, homosexual--can "live as one."

So thank you, Hawthorn Academy, for understanding and respecting differences, and for giving students the choice to pledge or not. It sure would have saved me a lot of trips to the principal!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fido and Friend in Five: Susan Taylor Brown and Zoey!

When my editor for A Dog's Way Home, Molly O'Neill, told me I needed to have a "presence" on social media when my book came out, my heart sank and my hands grew clammy. I couldn't imagine spending time at my computer tweeting, friending, and being linked in! And while I'm still only an occassional tweeter (and have avoided being linked in), I do enjoy the friends I've made on FaceBook. Some are old friends, some are dog friends, and some are author friends. And some are both!

Susan Taylor Brown is a great example of why I enjoy Facebook. She's both an author and a dog person--a passionate and very knowledgeable dog person, I might add. She's also an amazing photographer. Trolling through Facebook, I always look for her photographs, particularly of her gorgeous white (newly adopted) German Shepherd Dog, Zoey. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

First, I want to say this about Susan: she has a beautiful soul. No, I've never met her, no I've never seen her soul, but she's a poet and an artist, garderer, and a dog lover. That's enough evidence for me. She's the author of the multi award-winning middle grade novel in verse, Hugging the Rock. Susan is also the author of several picture books, including Oliver's Must-Do List and Can I Pray With My Eyes Open. She's also published a whole mess of books for the educational market. What else does this amazing woman do? She's a motivaltion speaker and teaches poetry to incarcerated teens. Don't you think that earns her some angel wings? Susan is also one of the "authorletes" in this year's March Madness Poetry Tournament!  How cool is that!

Speaking of angels, there's her dog, Zoey. She's as white as an angel with the same soulful eyes. Okay, so she may act like the devil sometimes, but Susan loves her all the same. Let's meet Susan and Zoey on today's Fido and Friend in Five:

Angel girl
1. How did you and Zoey find each other?  We adopted Zoey from the German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California, which is the same rescue group we adopted our last German Shepherd, Cassie, from.  We lost Cassie in December, and when I contacted Cassie's foster mom to let her know, I asked her to keep an eye out for another potential dog for us. She said she just happened to have one she was fostering that she felt would be a good match for us. She worried that it might be too soon after losing Cassie, but we had been grieving Cassie for several months as her health went down hill. We knew we didn't want to be without a dog for long. We set up a meeting with Zoey (who was being called Noelle by the rescue group) ASAP. It took all of about 5 minutes for Zoey to lean into me and "claim" me as her human.

Fast girl!
2. What makes Zoey's tail wag?  Playing chase or anything involving food! Probably chase most of all. She gets the "zoomies" and loves to run, and she is FAST! I think there's lure coursing in her future, maybe even flyball.

3. What's your all-time favorite dog book?  Because of Winn-Dixie

4. If Zoey could change just one thing about you, what would that be?  That my bum knee would let me run and chase her more often and faster than I can right now.

5. In five words, tell us what Zoey means to you:  Pure joy fills my heart.

Pure joy...
Thanks so much, Susan and Zoey, for sharing your love with Fido and Friend in Five. Be sure to check out Susan's website, and particularly her blog, to find out the latest with her writing and with Zoey. Ever blog entry is graced by one of Susan's arresting photographs. And beautiful Zoey also has her own website! Be sure to check out more news about her life and her growing vocabulary.