Monday

The quad at Villa Cabrini was always in the shade in the morning. We were deep inside the grounds, up the oak lined front drive, past the grotto of the Virgin Mary, around the small holly lined circular drive to the imposing marble stairs. The front of the school was classrooms below, nuns living quarters up stairs. The building was solid brick, meant to withstand the ages, Mother Cabrini no slouch in considering the long run.

When we were late <which was a lot, because Mom was never on time> we dashed through the front door, the wooden screen door slamming behind. We’d come out in the middle of the quad, right near where the Angelus bell was rung every single day at noon. Mother Amedia, tall, thin, very Italian, used to call me Brigante…although she well knew my name, she well knew me.

When we were early, which for us was on time, we came up the back drive, lined  with eucalyptus trees, leaves dripping down, bark hanging like worried scabs, into the lower parking lot, past the fishpond, alongside the chapel and into the quad. Maybe if we were early enough I would enter the back of the chapel, drop to one knee on the cold marble tile and whisper the prayer to St. Anthony, because I was always losing something. Sometimes it was just precautionary, Anthony and I went way back.

In the quad, we lined up by class, eighth grade closest to the playground, kindergarteners way at the end although their class room was on the other side of the kitchen above the eighth grade room.  It would be cool, that California cool of the 1950s, desert cool, knowing that the day would be warm, hot, but this was a shiver up your spine, glad you had your sweater, the one you wouldn’t be able to find, maybe, by the end of the day, cool.  Then over the loud speakers would blare a John Philip Sousa march. I loved those marches, the beat of that music started the pace of my day. The nuns probably thought it started our blood, but I’m a morning person and by the time we lined up to march, heard the announcements and then the music, I was way past the start of my day. The march would begin. And we would start to move our feet. We would be lined up in rows of two, peel off toward the back, come down in rows of four, peel off toward the back, come down in rows of two and head for our class room by grade.

The first morning of school was always my favorite. August had been hot, always hot, September would be too, but that first morning! Shoes polished. Collars and cuffs crisp. Blue uniform pressed. Sweater warm. A new book bag, sharpened pencils, new binder, with note paper, and a new lunch pail. Now that was heaven. It was ordered in a way my mind could never be. It was consistent year after year.

I didn’t know why I loved it. Maybe it was because it was the movement. Maybe it was because it was outside before long hours indoors. Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was all of that but more. Maybe that is why I have always loved Mondays and Morning.

Naming

My favorite biblical story is where Adam and Eve get to name everything. I always imagined them sitting on a log side by side. Sun shinning, nice breeze and,  “Lion,” says Adam pointing to a fluffy white ball with a puff tail.  “No, silly,” says Eve, shaking her head, pointing elsewhere. “That is a lion. Look at the teeth, the mane, the eyes.” And so it would go, day after day until they almost ran out of words…LOL, nobody runs out of words.

Almost every child has a naming story. For me the doctors were sure I would be a boy born mid to late January. Well, I must have been very comfy, because I didn’t come out until February 2 and at that I was born at around 11:40 PM, noticeably the last time I was truly a ‘night’ person. With the boy thing, my parents picked a name: material grandfather and paternal uncle. Oops!  My mom suggested the name of her favorite cousin. Turns out my dad was not enamored of said cousin. Compromise time. Part of the name but not all. [as was the custom then and turns out the perfect saint for me–Teresa of Avila! another blog posting for that one] with a very Irish nickname. At home I was rarely called by my baptized name–well, unless I was in extreme trouble–and yes–I did hear it often enough. But I considered my ‘nickname‘ my real name. Ah, sly parents trying to trick the middle child!

What made me think of this? An article in the WSJ: DO WE LOOK LIKE OUR NAMES?  The consensus is that people come to look like their names. Ha! I don’t think people LOOK like their names. I couldn’t pick a Joe from a Ralph, or a Mary from a Susan. But I do think most grow up, and in that process of growing, they perceive how others say, write, add adjective and adverb to that name! The author of this study talks about naming her daughter Lilac,  “and already, she says, people are cooing that Lilac is blossoming into a beautiful flower and smells just as sweet.”  Poor child!

My name…nickname…was very different. [From 1880 to 2015, the Social Security Administration has recorded 23 babies born with that name in United States. The name was first given to 5 or more babies in the year 1967. The highest recorded use of the name was in 1969 with a total of 7 babies.] It is/was consistently misspelled, miss-pronounced, made fun of–yes the bullying part [except by the nuns who were uncanny in singling me out–was it the name? or the child?], one of the reasons why I don’t use it except with family and close friends. And here’s the deal: I don’t think we look like our names, but I do think we PERCEIVE ourselves as our name. Add to that birth order and you have a combination, for me, that could keep a panoply of mental health professionals busy for a lifetime. Ha!

So. Naming. For a story it is like from the inside out–the idea comes with a name–the story and the character who will have both the active and emotional fortitude to take the story to the conclusion. It has taken me a while to figure this out. I’m slow :). Not prone to a lot of internal examination, so this journey to understand where the names of my characters comes from has required more time than I wish. But! And here is the cool part. When I look up the names I am mostly right on in my choice. Damn! This could have saved me a lot of time in my revision!

Next time!

 

Processing

So. Four days out from the end of the 18th Annual 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference. I always feel like we are on timers and we have to get to this, move onto the next, then the next. And by the end on Sunday. Whew!

Time to process. I love the keynotes. They are all inspirational in their own way. Each leaves behind a nugget. A tidbit to get me through the writing process. No, not going to share. I’m sure each person who listens hears their own nugget.

The panel on picture books is always fascinating to me. I listen and am still star struck at what they are able to imagine to create a book of 32 pages that has so few words and yet conveys a whole story, emotion, life. A picture book is a wondrous thing.

This year my two picks for Saturday breakouts brought more to my toolbox than I could have imagined. I go to these all the time. I listen. I take notes. I wonder two things: if this is an editor/agent that I could submit to and in the end, I usually say no. And, I pay attention to their presentation skills and if this is someone we could bring to our regional conference. Both were a yes on both–a first.

The first editor used the Newberry Award Committee criteria as a prism through which to view middle grade. The first thing I liked was the discussion about middle grade. The editor stated that middle grade encompassed everything from Captain Underpants to Brown Girl Dreaming. Interesting. Do you know the Newberry Criteria?  If not, and you are writing middle grade, then look it up. Here’s the short version: Interpretation of the theme or concept, Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization, Development of a plot, Delineation of characters, Delineation of a setting, Appropriateness of style.  I am huge on show and tell, so the editor illustrated each point with a book and why, including short readings, which is cool.

The second editor was unexpected. I had not realized this editor’s involvement in nonfiction. I had always thought in terms of fiction, which is why we hosted the editor at one of our conferences in Carolinas.  I think when I checked that box I was more interested in title than I was in presenter. What did I get? The knowns: nonfiction is powerful, shows how to think, works for curious children and has a reverence for the facts. This house publishes commercial quality nonfiction.  And mentioned was Capstone, Lerner, Rosen, Scholastic, National Geographic. The house like series, not unlike the success of the Magic School Bus, though not from this house. I think the thing that was most exciting about this presentation was that the editor delved into what would be almost Pop Culture nonfiction. And that versus the nonfiction I grew up with, there is now a push to have nonfiction reflect the 21st century.

The Sunday panel on The Current Landscape for Children’s Books was more interesting than I thought it would be. One participant claimed that the ‘role of the gatekeeper’ is outdated. Now there is  independent publishing,  self-publishing, as well as publishing that comes from blogs, serialized graphic novels that form a platform for and a entry into traditional publishing.  Also mentioned was that a large number, 55%, of young adult novels are now considered crossovers. Sheeze, I have been immersed in children’s literature for so long, I’m not sure I even see that, but there you go. 55%!

Some new terms I learned in the publishing business. Editors/Agents are looking for empathy builders. They worry about marginalized readers. And, they use sensitivity readers to ensure that the books they publish that are of a diverse nature are accurate and appropriate.

One very positive note. Ken Geist, VP Publisher [Orchard Books, Scholastic Press Picture Books, Cartwheel Books, Readers, Branches and Little Shepherd] stated that there is no doubt the picture book market is better than it has ever been!

On the publishing side, there was also the note that the NYTimes has changed it list. And because I have not focused on that, I’m not sure I get the change. But one VP/Publisher was very concerned. So need to investigate.

So. Good stuff. Time to review my own submission. Push the ideas that I have into a manuscript format. And of course, time to submit the manuscripts that have been so very vetted and are ready.

Processing is a constant. I think I like that.

Write!

That’s what this whole blog is about. Write! String words together, make them constructive, make them sensical, make them more than a thought, give them attitude, admit they are me; they are my thinking.

We are at the end of January. I’ve written. I’ve read. I’ve revised. I’ve submitted. I’ve followed. I’ve commented, on politics, on free speech, on the economy, on policy issues, and probably more if I was to break it down. The importance is that I write. I write every day. Maybe not here, maybe not on my stories, but I do write. I seek to explain, entertain, inform, and defend.

I find this past eighteen months instructive in understanding the imperative that Memory Is Tyrannical. Oh. Yeah!  Let me amend for the current century: [ apologies to Rosenstock-Hussey] Raw facts are  tyrannical. They can be bullying. Why? Because there is no time!  In today’s world of instant blogging, posting, tweeting and messaging there is no time beyond the blur of information, no time to verify facts.

So,for the sake of my blood pressure and for my sanity,  I’m back in time. From this perspective the past looks quiet. Calm. Unassuming. There is the meme going around Facebook I’m glad I grew up before social media. Most of which claim the giddy feeling because they grew up in the 70s or 80s. Ha! No, before that, back when there were only two, maybe three channels on the TV and they the pictures were black and white. Back when we were informed via newspapers via teletype. When phone calls across the US were a big deal, never mind from continent to continent. Not quite the covered wagon, pony express, not quite.

It’s 1954. The Congo. The more educated black part of the population is beginning to understand that it is not enough to ‘act’ white, or more, correctly, Belgian. It is not enough to be educated the way the Belgian government allows. Now is the rise of the evolue, the most prominent is Patrice Lumumba.

It is 1954. The United Nations. Dag Hammarskjöld is the second Secretary General. He is considered a technocrat, an administrator. He takes over a demoralized organization, traumatized by the ‘red scare’, the McCarthyism in the US, the clash of communism versus capitalism.

The turmoil, politically and culturally,  in Congo, over a hundred plus years,  is a story of personal gain oppressing a native people, of national interests obscuring sovereignty, and of  the willingness of world to allow it all to happen.

 

Roiled

Roiled. A state of mind-my mind. Hmm…I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wrote, well, gee, yesterday. About reality and wordsmithing, joy and raw history. I worry. I wasn’t always a worrier. I was mostly unconscious as a kid–and sometimes, no, lots of times, I miss that. But I’ve had kids, have a husband and a life, and possessions and so now I am a worrier. Sigh. Probably goes well with that Type A + personality that is high in Command.

And what I’ve been thinking about and worrying about is words more than anything else. I just reread Cheryl Klein’s MAGIC WORDS chapter POWER AND ATTENTION on writing across cultures…but I think this chapter also speaks to writing across time. She states six basic principles. And if I were to distill them, I’d say what she asks is that you write truthfully, in the moment, in the character and don’t let your own self get lost in the story.

Sometimes I think almost everything we write is across time; a different type of diversity than we usually consider. You may write it as contemporary, but by the time you sculpt that idea into a workable story, develop characters, write dialogue, craft settings and worlds, it is no longer contemporary, even if you are writing in the present tense. Even if you write about the future, it is already past, because the idea is now out there.

Between my middle grade mysteries I am writing non fiction. Not science. Not biography although it started out that way. Sort of like my one picture book story, I think I have one and only one nonfiction in me, I think. It started with my admiration and fascination with Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the US, remembering as an adult the impact his death in 1961 when I was a kid. And while I was fascinated, his story is not really one for kids in that you can almost believe although he was small and grew into adult hood, in truth,  he was never a kid. So I needed a story around his story and I chose where his life ended. It ended not by him,  not on purpose, not willfully, though from the publication of his journal, when he took the job as S-G, he had made his own peace with God and with the future. It ended because of politics. Of national interests. Of personal gain. Of disrespect for another human being.

The story is of the Congo. Of all the nation state stories in the history of the world, Congo stands out among the most sad. From the moment Leopold II of Belgium decided he needed and wanted to rule something bigger and more prestigious than Belgium, Congo became not a home of a people, not a land graced with much of the earth’s wealth, not a nation, or even several nations, it became one person’s property. And, although Leopold II is gone, it is in many ways, still one person’s property.

Here we sit, I sit, in these United States, in a country that has a covenant of over two hundred years giving me, all of us, the right to rule ourselves. Yes, it is through others. Yes, we do not all agree. But we have that right.

I will not be writing the current history. Doubtless not even the next generation will, although many will try. Probably someone who was born in this decade will be writing this story, will have access to the news, the tweets, the posts, the blogs, the pundits, the instagram, and all manner of communication and will be able to distill the story, be far enough away from the story not to get lost in the story.

I am writing the history of a story that started more than a century ago. And I worry. I worry not about getting lost in the story, I worry about telling the story in current terms, not telling it in the time it happened, not telling it in the language of the people who lived it, not telling it truthfully.  I worry and  that roils my thoughts and disturbs my writing.