TIG’s first bookstore!

I have joined forces with my first bookstore!

Paperback copies of The Illuminator’s Gift are now available at Spectator Books in Piedmont, CA! (I blogged about them when I first visited last month.)

027

On a bohemian street offering boutiques, antiques, and handcrafted coffee, check out this independent bookstore that’s bigger on the inside. Spectator Books sells both used and new books. Their fiction selection (for both adults and children) is particularly impressive.

And now I can personally attest to one of the titles in that section 🙂

028

So if you find yourself in the area, get a little lost in this lovely labyrinth of books. And maybe pick up a certain title while you’re there (wink, wink).

Book Family

One of the things I didn’t realize I’d get when I wrote a book was a book family.

I thought writing a book was about sitting alone for hours and hours, documenting your thoughts and ideas, and sending them out to other people. Like a one-way letter to the world.

What I didn’t realize was that others would write back.

The Illuminator’s Gift is connecting me with all sorts of people: friends and strangers, children and adults, people who are like me and people who are different. As they read, the story becomes theirs. The ideas no longer belong to just me.

It’s the best thing ever.

DSC07038I’ve gotten to meet dozens of kids in schools. Some of them have written me letters with questions about the book that I’d never thought of before.

 

DSC07051

One girl even wrote a book report. I think her summary of the story was better than mine.

 

DSC07040

One precious boy had The Illuminator’s Gift read aloud to him because he can’t see the black-and-white letters on the page. He catalogued his reading time in Braille, a language of dots that I don’t yet know how to read.

 

DSC07044

And I’m not the only storyteller out there. Two anonymous writers sent me prequel and sequel chapters to The Illuminator’s Gift. Maybe I should take a leaf from their book. So to speak.

 

DSC07047

Maybe the most fun, though, is the e-mail correspondence I get to do with people I’ve never even met. As a kid, I was too shy to write to my favorite authors (even the ones who were still alive). I didn’t want to bother them or take up their time. Now I see that not only was I missing out on the fun of a correspondence–I might have made their day. I wish I’d been as brave as the kids who write to me now.

I thought writing a book was something I would start, then finish. That once it was published, the journey would be complete.

I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The journey is just beginning. What was once a one-way letter is now a two-way conversation.

I am blessed by a book family, bound together by words and pages.

Beautiful British Library Mania!

It’s Friday! I’d say it’s time for some beautiful libraries, wouldn’t you?

Let’s take an armchair trip to Britain to visit 5 beautiful libraries. (While the Republic of Ireland is not politically part of Britain, it is geographically part of the British Isles…it’s a long story, better expressed by a YouTube video than by me.)

1. The Bodleian Library, Oxford, England. No library tour would be complete without the Bodleian, which houses 11 million printed items in addition to thousands of other materials. It actually consists of many different library buildings as well as a subterranean storage labyrinth. (Mystery novel, anyone?) The fan ceiling is renowned as one of the most beautiful in England.

Photo credit: redjar

2. The Wren Library, Cambridge, England. A small gem, tucked away in Trinity College, this library was designed by Christopher Wren, one of England’s most famous architects. Containing first editions of works by Tennyson and Byron and the handwritten manuscript of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, the library also has a walking stick and lock of the hair of alumnus Sir Isaac Newton. Love the checkerboard floor, too–makes me think of Alice in Wonderland.

Photo credit: Photodesk.at

3. The Long Room, Dublin, Ireland. Two stories, marble busts of thinkers, and sliding ladders, oh my! Also located at a place called Trinity College (different from the Cambridge one), and sharing a building with the inimitable Book of Kells, they raised the barrel ceiling to accommodate more books! 200,000 of the college’s oldest, rarest books, to be exact…

4. The Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland. A little-known gem I discovered quite by accident, this library is resplendent more with inner than outer beauty. More than a simple collection of books, it’s a curiosity cabinet of antiquities from all over the world, including some incredibly old manuscripts. Imagine illuminated texts, an ancient copy of Augustine’s City of God, and fragments of Bible papyri from as early as AD 150–yes, people, that would be an almost 1900-year-old book. Er, scrap of a book.

5. The British Library, London, England. Last but not least, a classic among libraries. Along with the Library of Congress, the British Library is the second-largest library in the world. Yes, world. It’s a legal deposit and research library containing over 150 million items. Contemporary architecture (including a bench shaped like a folded-open book) pairs here with a mind-blowing collection of some of the world’s oldest manuscripts. Inside you’ll find everything from Beowulf to Jane Eyre, from Handel’s Messiah to the Magna Carta, from a Gutenberg Bible to Anne Boleyn’s copy of the New Testament. It’s the Louvre of libraries.

Oh, guess what? It’s a…

Bonus #6! The Strahov Monastery Library, Prague, Czech Republic.

This one may not be in Britain, but it sure belongs in a tour of the most beautiful libraries. Tucked away in a hilltop monastery in Prague, surrounded by whitewashed walls and the waving stems of yellow roses, is this little-known gem. After a climb up a steep hill, one is rewarded with this sight:

Globes, illuminated manuscripts, a book wheel, and a painted ceiling! It became an important point of inspiration for my novel. And made me think of this scene from Beauty and the Beast: 


Photo credit: Jessica Ta


Happy Friday! Which of these libraries (the Disney one included!) would you visit if you had the chance? 

Inspiration: The Playlist

How do you get inspired to create? 

Some authors (and other kinds of artists, too) have the luxury of full-time creative work. Others, like the 40 pictured in this article, have had brilliant, inspiring spaces dedicated exclusively to their craft. 

But some of us have other jobs. When I’m not writing, I’m teaching kids to craft paragraphs or fixing people’s grammar. I’d love it if my workspace always looked like this:


But more of the time, it looks like this: 


Or just this: 

Just enough space to sit in the middle of the explosion.
So how do you get your mind to travel to far-off places and create vivid, enthralling scenes when all you can see is the carpet that needs vacuuming or the piles of unanswered notes on your desk? 

I’m going to be writing a series of blog posts on where I find writing inspiration. These are my personal quirks to trick my brain into creating, even when the space around me doesn’t inspire or my brain would rather just spend all day staring out the window.

Number one is the playlist. 

For my novel-in-progress (which is very, very close to being my COMPLETED novel), I write to a list of songs that take me to the fantasy world of my story and reconnect me with the characters. I’ve developed an almost Pavlovian response to the song “Ora” by Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi (the first one on my list). The first few notes play, and I’m instantly in the story. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write another story to this song. It’s too tied to this set of characters. 

Over time, I’ve collected more and more songs for this list. There are now 43 songs on it, for a total of 2.9 hours. I know it’s a good writing day when I finish the last song and have to start the playlist over. 


With a few exceptions, most of the songs are instrumental, so the words in my head don’t have to compete with the ones in my ears. Some tunes are classical (like Beethoven’s 7th Symphony or Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”) but more have a Celtic flavor to them. I especially like Enya, Jim Brickman, and Loreena McKennitt. 

Soundtracks are also one of my favorite resources. Music that was originally composed to tell a story helps me tell mine. My list includes selections from the live-action Peter Pan, The Lion King, and A Series of Unfortunate Events. 


I’ve made playlists for other stories, too, but they look completely different (well, except for the emphasis on instrumental music). One has a couple of Irish drinking songs on it; another emphasizes classical Spanish guitar. When this novel is done, I guess I’ll have to start an entirely new playlist of inspiring songs.

Does music help you to create? What songs get your creative juices flowing? 

Blogiversary #2

I love fall. The student in me thinks of September, not January, as the beginning of the year. As the weather gets cooler, I get an almost Pavlovian excitement for office supplies, pumpkin spice lattes, and new beginnings.

Photo credit: Jason A. Samfield

But what almost took me by surprise is that this approaching fall season also marks my second blogiversary. I went to write this week’s blog post and realized it’ll be two years on Sunday! Which prompts a bit of reflection.

It’s a little harder to track this year’s progress than it was last year. I do know that I’ve published a total of 95 posts and accumulated nearly 20,000 page views since starting this blog in 2011 (numbers which thrill, startle, and humble me by turns). Sometimes numbers help me step back and get some perspective on the small routines I perform regularly.

This year I have branched out to share a wider variety of art forms, including poetry, photography, and excerpts from my novel-in-progress.

Speaking of which, that novel is in its 4th (and hopefully final) draft! Sometimes not losing vision in the last stage is the hardest part. I’m both eager and nervous to set out on the road to publication.

I struck the words “recent college graduate” from my Blogger profile. Now that I’m 2+ years out of academia, I think I’m really beginning to consider myself a working adult.

Which is beginning to make sense, now that my weeks are full with 15 tutoring students, regular freelance editing projects, novel revisions, and some very dear relationships that make my life full and sweet. Sometimes living has been so sweet that I’ve clean forgotten about blogging (that’s why there’s no December under the 2012 tab).

I had a chance to share my life story with some peers a few weeks ago and it gave me a chance to realize what this blog has done for me. Not only has it kept my writing muscles limber in busy times when other writing projects have gone into hibernation, but it’s been cathartic for me as well. Sometimes it’s easier to blurt out the truth in a public forum (especially online) than it is to be honest with your close friends and family.

Here I’ve reached new levels of honesty as I’ve broached subjects like vulnerability, loss, and lament poetry. What’s even better is that some of you have come to me and shared that my halting admissions of hurt, confusion, and failure have made you feel freer to admit your own struggles. And that makes it worth it.

It’s also been joyful to celebrate new beginnings throughout the year, noticing small magic, overflowing like popcorn, and cooing over adorable hedgehogs. It’s wonderful to celebrate fullness and joy. I think honesty about the empty and the hard makes this part even sweeter.

And with that, I commence celebrating blogiversary #2. No pumpkin spice lattes in my local Starbucks yet, but I’m waiting. Oh yes, I’m waiting.

Photo credit: brina_head


In the meanwhile, let this changing season give you a chance to reflect. What milestones are you celebrating? What are you looking forward to this school year? 

Novels and Ships

So instead of blogging yesterday…

…I worked on my novel.

Which looked kind of like doing Internet research on ships.

I found one that might end up in my final draft. It was known as a packet ship of the Black Ball Line, active from 1817-1878.

Cool, huh? Fast, spacious, well-armed. I won’t tell you what it’s for, but let’s just say it’s making a cameo in this book so it can possibly reappear in the sequel.

And here’s a snippet of what I was working on yesterday:

Ellie took the pen and let it hover above the page. Fill the words with light. Where on earth to start? She closed her eyes, remembering the story. Instead of curly black letters, she saw sailors fleeing from giant waves, a salty hurricane of spray overwhelming them. But then the clouds broke, and the white gull came wheeling down in a shaft of late golden light. The fearsome waves were turned to turquoise mountain peaks, capped with snowy foam–and gilded with light like the Legend in her visions. She dabbed her pen in the dish of blue ink and began to draw. 

Getting excited? So am I. I’ve only got about 45 pages left to revise!

Imagine

Lately, my lunchtime reading (out of the enormous stack) has been the book Imagine by Jonah Lehrer. It’s a fascinating investigation into the conditions under which creativity occurs. While the book has attracted some bad press recently, the main messages ring true with my own experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately, because my novel is chugging slowly toward completion. I’m now in the midst of a 4th (and hopefully final!) draft of this 4 1/2-year project, so fostering the conditions under which creativity can blossom is a major preoccupation. While I may not be as scientific about it as Jonah Lehrer, I do have a few favorite ingredients for effective creative work.

First ingredient: chocolate. Chocolate makes everything better. Especially if it also has coffee in it!

Second ingredient: post-it notes. Definitely multicolored (although I’ve heard rumor that the yellow ones are the stickiest). I’m currently using them to color-code my revision notes: pink for introduction, green for body, blue for conclusion, yellow for characters. I use so many that I should probably buy stock in the post-it note company.

Third ingredient: English tea. Yesterday I even got lucky and found a scone to go with it. Tea, scone, post-its, favorite pen, and double-spaced manuscript. Perfect recipe for a productive novel-writing afternoon. 

I must have picked up this habit while I was in Britain. I never even liked black tea until I drank it in a window seat overlooking the rugged Welsh countryside. With a book, of course. (That’s Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia, if you’re curious.)

Of course, I don’t take pictures of the long hours I spend slouched in my office chair, or the late nights when I have to push up my eyelids to keep them open. The ones pictured here are the nicer moments. But they’re important to the creative process. Says Lehrer:

“This sort of mental relaxation makes it easier to daydream and pay attention to insights; we’re less focused on what’s right in front of us and more aware of the possibilities simmering in our imaginations.”

I’ll buy that.

What are the ingredients of your creative process? 

Turning the Page

Well, good morning, 2013. I’ve been underground for a while. Nice to see you.

Time to get a new year of blogging up and running with a post about New Year’s Resolutions. Someone told me recently that they don’t bother with resolutions at New Year’s–if they see a need for change in their life, they’ll get on with changing it immediately. I respect that, and I don’t hold much stock in resolutions either, but last year I talked a bit about my philosophy about resolutions vs. goals. I do like the opportunity afforded by a new year to turn a page in life. If 2012 beat down your idealism and best efforts and dragged you through the mud, it’s okay. Wipe the slate clean. Cancel the debts. Start fresh. Tomorrow is another day.

I like to start by glancing over my shoulder at last year’s goals. It’s a bit encouraging, a bit dismal, and a bit amusing to remind myself of what I set out to do in the last year:

1. Get to know God better by reading the Bible through in chronological order

Status: in process (forever). I made it about halfway through the Bible before this year’s hurricanes got in the way. I’m hoping to pick up the other half and finish it this year.

2. Have the second draft of my novel completed and be ready to start looking at literary agents by June

Status: in process (hopefully not forever). The second (and third) drafts of my novel are done (yay!) but I’ve learned a lot about the process of publishing since last January. I decided to recruit a squad of test readers, primarily 9-14-year-olds, to read the manuscript and help me identify its weak spots. That process is now winding up, as the last few of these loyal secret agents send me their invaluable files of comments. Armed with these, I plan to troubleshoot the manuscript one last time and then apply to some literary agents. I’ve also learned more about the increasingly attractive and accessible process of self-publishing, which may be another possible route for my book.

3. Take a 2-month class on blogging and social media for authors

Status: done! One down! I learned so much from this class, taught by Kristin Lamb. We may not agree on every issue, but it definitely got me thinking about writing as a business, kicked me into gear on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Google+ (yipes!), and most importantly, got me connected with a network of other writers who are working toward the same goals.

4. Buy a car

Status: also done! My sweet silver ride still makes me smile. Ever since we met back in July, it’s been love for Baby and me 🙂 Incidentally, I’ve also learned how to check PSI, buy a pair of windshield wipers, and refill wiper fluid in the engine (hint: you can use plain water :)).

5. Read Gone with the Wind, Othello, and The Kite Runner

Status: 2 out of 3. None of these are especially happy books, but The Kite Runner was just too intense for me by the time I thought about it in mid-August. Othello–forgive me, Shakespeare–was not my favorite play ever. The conflict felt contrived and the female lead was just downright wimpy. Othello wasn’t exactly a genius, either. I think the best role went to Iago’s wife, who told everybody what was what (before dying in the last scene, of course). Gone with the Wind was the best of the bunch–a soaring, operatic panorama in a style that reminded me of Les Miserables, but was much easier to read. The characters are fiery and unforgettable, and the portrait of the antebellum South was detailed and dramatic. A great book, if you’ve got time for a long one.

And now for some new goals. We’ll see how these fare in the year to come 🙂

1. Grow closer to God

2. See my novel accepted for publication or self-published

3. Work up to a monthly income I can live on

4. Learn the craft of bookbinding. Okay. How cool would THAT be??

File:Restore.jpg

What are your goals for 2013? 

Brave

My novel’s characters are getting braver. 
In college, I had a writing professor who continuously told me that my stories needed more conflict, that nothing happened in them. 
I didn’t tell him that that was because I’m terrified of conflict. 
Free image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Actually, I’ve spent most of my life tiptoeing around other people’s disappointment. Conceding. Scrambling to deliver. Shying away from honesty about my needs, feelings, and limitations. 
As I revise my novel, I’m seeing that fear in my characters. In my last draft, they’d get frustrated, feel beaten down, get worked up almost to the point of an argument–and then dodge, preferring to dwell inside the safety of their own heads. 
Not in this draft. Not as much, anyway.
In the last month of my life, it seems as if opportunities for conflict have abounded. Mounting stress and limited energy have sometimes left me in a corner, with no choice but to say “no” or crumble. 
Turns out, though, that “no” can feel pretty good. (This video about “no” makes me laugh.)
“NO” is one of the hardest words for a people-pleaser to pronounce. WHAT?? I’m NOT Superwoman??!! 
Guess not.
People aren’t always going to be happy with me. It’s not always good for me to say yes. It’s not always possible. And that’s OK. Even if it makes people mad on occasion. The people who really matter will stick around, love me even when I’m not perfect.
And guess what? It’s even OK for me to ask other people for help sometimes, too! Wonders abound. 
While I was at camp this past week, volunteering as a counselor, I had the chance to walk a prayer labyrinth: an interactive tool for meditation that involves prayer in motion. As my feet walked, one in front of the other, in between the double line of stones, I got such a picture of what it means to set limits. All I can do is walk between my rocks. They’re my boundaries. I can’t control what goes on beyond them. I just need to keep walking in a lane just wide enough for my feet. Those are my limits. And it’s OK to let other people know I have them.
Touchstone Maze
 © Copyright Carol Walker and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License 
Sometimes that means conflict.
And conflict…I guess…can actually be a good thing. Admitting that has given me such a boost of confidence.
I’m still not great at this whole say-no thing. I end up folding a lot more than I’d like to admit. But at least I don’t get nauseous anymore when I’m trying to write an argument scene. Not usually. 
My characters are learning right along with me to step up and slap conflict in the face rather than tiptoe around it. 
And here’s a sneak peek at the results. 

“Can I help too?” Vivian asked eagerly.

“You?” Captain Daevin laughed. “Help with carpentry? It’s awfully dusty work, and you’re in this charming dress. Leave the men’s work to the men. Don’t fret your pretty head about it; you probably couldn’t follow the calculations anyway.”

She whirled on him.

“I beg your pardon? At the Library I was raised to Scholar Sixth Level in half the usual time. I can read in eighteen languages, and I most certainly will not leave this work to the men! What do you think I am; a painting on the wall, existing only to be admired? Thank you, sir, but I have no fear of a little dust, dress or no dress. Here.”

She thrust her straw hat into his hands and turned her back on him, her face flushed, eyes blazing. 

“Now, what can I do to help?”

Slack-jawed, Jude handed her a hammer and a bundle of nails. Captain Daevin, still blinking in surprise, backed out of the room, her hat still in his hands. 

Thinking Places

Last week my family and I got away for a few days together. We scampered all around Northern California, experiencing new towns and possibly discovering every possible way to become carsick on winding back roads. However, it was refreshing to get some quality time together and a change of scenery. A bit of vacation also proved good for my writing.

One afternoon my family sat on the shores of a jade-green lake (interestingly named “Trinity Lake”) and sat in silence, each member absorbed in a different creative project. I took the time to soak in the silence, slowing down after nearly a month of nonstop work (and almost no time for my novel). I scribbled out a poem, a first response to the beautiful place and the quiet moment of being still and noticing. It felt like a drink of cold Gatorade after a hard run or hike.

One of our stops was at the charming Blackberry Inn in the coastal town of Mendocino. Caressed by the foggy, temperate marine layer, lush with dozens of varieties of colorful flowers, and deliciously out of range of cell phone service, it was the perfect place to stop and rest and write. Our adorable little room looked like a life-sized dollhouse, complete with a sunny window and a pair of wing-back chairs.

In my home office, the writing time I eke out is often interrupted by the phone ringing, the dryer beeping, new e-mails, the front door. In this quiet room in Mendocino, I was cut off from those interruptions. Sure, there were all my usual mental distractions (read a book! what do I need to do tomorrow? oh look, a seagull!), but in a one-room enclosure with almost no technology, I found it easier to center down and blurt out eleven pages of new novel material, written longhand in a pink journal. It helped to sit at this old-fashioned wooden desk under a painting of a thatch-roofed English cottage. I felt a bit like Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters.

What I realized most was that my normal life is full of multitasking. It’s a skill that makes getting multiple mindless things done at the same time possible, but it really kills deep, original thinking. Writing is one way we mortals imitate our Father God, who breathed a world into being ex nihilo, out of nothing. That takes focus. When my attention is on fifty different things, it’s hard to get below surface-level maintenance writing and think of anything new

Creative thought, like a relationship with God, requires some periods of silence, solitude, and centering. (Hot tea, fuzzy socks, and a beautiful view don’t hurt either.) Sometimes it’s important to retreat from routine to create a nurturing environment where creativity can grow. For me, it was a time of peace and releasing the story within. It left me refreshed and a little readier to return to the daily world of multitasking.

Does the world of multitasking ever leave you in need of a retreat? Where do you go to refresh your creative side?