Sorbet for the Soul, Memorable Moments

I always wear headphones when I run or walk, but often decide not to listen to anything. Same goes for music in the car. As, I’m sure, many of us do, my mind has to process, think, count blessings, and pray.

Outside, I listen to the wind whisper to the treetops until its message reaches the leaves at eye level and they turn to answer.

I’m trying to find out if I’m on the right path in my Kidlit writing journey. And when quiet and concentrating, I whisper my wishes to the leaves at eye-level and send them through the treetops so that the wind will gather them up and then let them go into the ocean-like skies and out into the universe.

I hear blue jays squawk, robins chirp, and woodpeckers drill. Rustling reveals chipmunks and squirrels scurrying and watching, and gobbling spotlights the harem of wild turkeys that lives on our road or the single tom turkey who digs by himself. In the quiet, field mice, groundhogs, raccoons, opposums, deer, foxes, coyotes, a black bear, bighorn sheep, and elk have crossed my path.

One of most memorable moments of quiet was the time Lucy and I were walking in the South Mountain Reservation and we sat down to watch a young male deer. Lucy didn’t bark, I didn’t speak, and the deer sized us up and kept on grazing. After awhile, Lucy and I continued on our walk, and when we came to the field where I let Lucy off-leash to run, guess who joined us? The young, male deer wanted to play! He ran and so did Lucy and I, playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can. Pure joy.

Hon, keep listening. I am.

Sorbet for the Soul, Giant Wishes!

There we were, hiking down a trail in Meyer Ranch, Colorado this summer, when we came upon a meadow with the largest dandelions I’d ever seen. It’s like the universe was saying, “Hon, writing and publishing Kidlit is such a herculean ask, you need wishes big enough, loud enough, and strong enough to be carried all the way from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. Take a deep breath and blow!”

Turns out the palm-sized puffballs aren’t dandelions, but Western Salsify whose flowers looks like a yellow daisies. Soon after, we met the infamous llamas, Stardust and OnFire, and that chance meeting was even more spectacular than hiking in the Rockies, discovering golfball-sized dandelion lookalikes, listening to the click-click-click of a flying grasshopper, passing an elderly man hiking uphill with a cannula and portable oxygen, and saying hi to many happy dogs with their people.

Then, a week ago I was on a run and stopped mid-stride to take a pic. I asked the homeowner if he’d put “Don’t Give Up” out just for me and he said, “If that’s what you need…”

It is. It’s what I need.

So, in an effort to take a deep breath and blow my wishes and energy and thoughts and words and characters and layers and stories all the way from my imagination to the page to childrens’ imaginations, I’m posting a series called Sorbet for the Soul–photos and sentiments along with literal and figurative signs which beg for my attention.

Maybe if I take a moment to blow giant wishes and absorb messages and do the thing that informs my life–finding the extraordinary in the ordinary–my herculean ask will one day soon come to fruition.

Western Salsify flower, image source: Wildflowers of the United States.

Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt, Review and Interview with author Kathleen Wilford

Kathleen Wilford, one of my critique partners, can now say her middle-grade historical novel is published! The story is funny, emotional, full of interesting, historical details and, most of all, Cabby is engaging!

All credit for this review and interview are due to middle-grade author Darlene Beck-Jacobson and her blog Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories To Life.

Kathleen Wilford’s debut CABBY POTTS, DUCHESS OF DIRT (Little Press) is a delightful story set in the 1870’s during the migration of Americans to the prairies of the Midwest for homesteading. Here is my review:

This historical fiction story set in the 1870’s, is a fast-paced trip to the days of homesteading on the Kansas prairies. When her parents force her to work at grand Ashford Manor, 12-year-old Cabby Potts will do anything to escape, including playing matchmaker between her sister and the rich young lord of the manor. If it succeeds, her scheme will save her family’s struggling homestead. If it fails? Cabby can’t even think about that.

Can Cabby find the courage to stand up for her family, a Native American friend, and an entire community threatened by land-grabbers?

The author does a wonderful job grounding the reader in time and place with period details and appropriate phrasing and language of the era. “My brain buzzed like it was full of gnats” is one of many similes that feels fresh and original. The characters are well-rounded and engaging, making for a quick read. Readers will enjoy Cabby’s antics and feisty demeanor as she navigates the unfamiliar world of the wealthy. A highly recommended debut.

Darlene Beck-Jacobson

Thanks Darlene and Kathy for this interview!

What was your inspiration for Cabby Potts?

I ran across a book called Prairie Fever, by Peter Pagnamenta, and I was intrigued to learn about the British aristocracy’s fascination with the American West. Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt is based on the true story of Victoria, Kansas, an enclave of British aristocrats in the 1870’s. Victoria was designed as a “community of culture and refinement” where “the arts and graces of life” could be imported straight from London.

I couldn’t imagine a bigger culture clash than between the English nobility and hardscrabble American homesteaders. I pictured an outdoorsy 12-year-old girl forced to work as a housemaid at a grand English manor, and the character of Cabby was born. Trying to save her family’s struggling homestead, Cabby plays matchmaker between her pretty, romantic sister Emmeline and the rich young lord of Ashford Manor. What could go wrong with that scheme?

As an author of historical fiction myself, I was immediately drawn into the setting and era of the story. What drew you to writing historical fiction?

I love the way historical fiction immerses readers into a different world. All good fiction is immersive, but with historical fiction, the past comes alive in a fresh way. And there’s a serious side too: I believe that to understand where we ARE, we need to understand where we’ve BEEN. Non-fiction helps readers do that too, but fiction adds an important layer of empathy.

As for this particular era, 1870’s Kansas, I’ve always been fascinated by pioneer literature, from Willa Cather to Laura Ingalls Wilder. My life is so easy compared to women who endured life on lonely prairies, living in sod houses and struggling to keep themselves and their families alive.

Tell us a bit about your research process.

I like to begin with books that situate the time period I’m studying in a larger historical context. I follow that up with more specific books and then with primary sources. For Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt, I consulted homesteader journals, 1870’s editions of the Dodge City Times, an 1841 book by Dr. Samuel Sheldon Fitch called Diseases of the Chest (fascinating, trust me), Mrs. Beeton’s book on the duties of a housemaid . . . etc.! Since I work for Rutgers, I’m lucky enough to have access to the rich depth of primary materials owned by the university. I think primary sources are key not only to authentic details but to the language of the times.

Several experts also helped me with questions, and of course, Google is great for filling in details!

What amazing thing did you discover while writing?

How much time do we have?? I learned so many fascinating tidbits of information, many of which I couldn’t include in the book but would be happy to tell you about sometime. Some facts that DID make it into the book: people used to believe that walking on the prairie could cure consumption (tuberculosis)—housemaids were not allowed to whistle in the house—dried up buffalo dung was burned for fuel.

One fact that informed my book: fully half of all homesteaders didn’t make it and never “proved up” on their claims. We tend to romanticize homesteading on the prairies, but it was brutally difficult.

What message do you want young readers to take away from this story?

I hope kids will enjoy a funny, fast-paced story with lots of drama! Beyond that, I hoped to give readers a clearer picture of the homesteading life. Along with showing how difficult the life was, I wanted readers to see how race and class prejudices infiltrated even supposedly egalitarian rural America. Cabby wakes up to this prejudice as she forms a friendship with Eli, a half-Kiowa boy. She finally learns to use her “intemperate tongue” to stand up for him, her family, and her whole community. In Cabby Potts, I tried to portray a funny, feisty girl growing into more awareness of her world, with all its imperfections. She learns to use her voice to make that world a better place, something I hope we all can do.

Kathleen Wilford, @kathwilford

Memorial Day Poem

I’m re-posting this poem, a prayer, from last Memorial Day with an added line.


In this year,

an historic year

of a global pandemic,

economic and educational disparities,

racial and religious hatred,

ideological and political divides,

innocence and freedom terrorized,

and our beautiful, irreplaceable earth

in deep trouble,

remember those who have served our country

and those who still do,

sons and daughters

whose families long to embrace them

and welcome them home.

Amen.

Meaning and Miró , The Smallest Noise and Constellations of Sounds

Joan Miró, gouache, c.1934

Last in series of posts from Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.

I found many of Miró’s works intriguing for their artistry and for their meanings. As a writer whose Kidlit language is lyrical and seemingly simple, but actually layered with emotion and action, I appreciate knowing the thoughts that inspired the process.

When it comes to canvases saturated with one color, I have a harder time connecting to the work, but the meaning behind “Landscape” felt different–it’s like us as individuals in our lives or us as humans in the universe.

“Letters and Numbers Attracted by a Spark(V)” called out to me. Letters float in the sky and look down on water and earth. I wonder,

Do the letters which form sentences and tell stories that are derived from my imagination with the goal of resonating with children ever going to get a chance to come to life?

The depth of meaning in Joan Miró’s work springs from a desire to capture the essence of human existence. On a personal level, this desire also implied an affirmation of identity that arose from Miró’s strong connection with the land–with Mont-roig, the original source of his creativity. ‘It is the land, the land. It is stronger than I. The fantastic mountains have a very important role in my life, and so does the sky. It is the clash between these forms within my soul, rather than the vision itself. In Mont-roig it is the force that nurtures me, the force.’

Excerpts from Fundació Joan Miró

Landscape, c. 1968

“‘Silence is a denial of noise – but the smallest noise in the midst of silence becomes enormous,’ said Miró. As the only referential element, a blurry point acquires a powerful presence, but also makes the space around it resonate. Therefore the point reinforces the presence of the space while also emphasizing the weave, the material of the canvas.” (https://www.fmirobcn.org/en/)

Manifesting a Grasshopper?

Bonding with a striped-leg grasshopper.

One of my favorite sounds is the nighttime chirping of grasshoppers and crickets. Summer chirping lulls me to sleep the same way as ocean waves. Right about now, in mid-October, I pay close attention to insect mate-calling. There will be a night when the air is filled with nature’s stereo, and the next night the record’s put back in its sleeve. Though I love autumn, it makes me melancholy to bid an official farewell to perfect-temperature-nights, warm-sand-days, and a summer’s promise of possibilities.

As I continue to work towards my writing goals, I’ve added something to my thought process–manifestation. I concentrate on my goals; what they are and what it would feel like to achieve them. If you see me gazing at the sky, know that I am sending my independent-minded characters, lyrical writing, and layered stories out into the universe, hoping they find champions who will bring them to life.

Did I know that when I read the poignant poem Postlude, I was also manifesting a grasshopper? I did not, but there he was, away from his lawn forest, a striped-leg, little guy who let me scoop him up. When I opened up my palm, he hung out and studied me with his five eyes. Then, he hopped out of my hand.

Do you think it’s a sign? A coincidence? A message from the universe that my-work-my-heart-my-passion to share the wonder in the world by writing Kidlit is traveling on both puffy white clouds and waving green grass? I pray so.

Stay by the hearth, little cricket.
Cendrillon

You prefer me invisible, no more than
a crisp salute far away from 
your silks and firewood and woolens.

Out of sight, I’m merely an annoyance,
one slim, obstinate wrinkle in night’s 
deepening trance. When sleep fails,

you wish me shushed and back in my hole.
As usual, you’re not listening: Time stops
only if you stop long enough to hear it

passing. This is my business:
I’ve got ten weeks left to croon through.
What you hear is a lifetime of song.

by Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize winning poet

What is Storystorm?

STORYSTORM is the brain child of Tara Lazar, a children’s book author and mentor whose blog Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) is a source of information and showcase of personality. In Tara’s words:

The Storystorm challenge is to create 30 story ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas.

You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. Or just a silly thing like “purple polka-dot pony.” The object is to heighten your idea-generating senses. Ideas may build upon other ideas. Your list of potential stories will grow stronger as the days pass. Eventually, you will have a list of ideas to flesh out into concepts, premises and manuscripts in the coming year.

On this blog, daily posts by authors, illustrators, editors and other publishing professionals will help inspire you. By the end of the month, you’ll have a fat file of ideas to spark new stories.

Tara Lazar

This year, STORYSTORM inspired me to start a new journal in which I’m collecting ideas. Some may turn into stories and some may not, but one of the takeaways from this year’s authors and illustrators is to see where your creativity takes you. I’m up for the challenge!

I create with clay, yarn, fabric and, of course, ingredients. I imagine worlds with words.

Hon, where does creativity take you?

Ceramics: Two-Year Tea Set

Teaset glazed in nutmeg and slate.
I had no idea that a tea set project would take two years!

Wheel throwing a tea set was a challenging project for many reasons. Who knew that centering and opening a ball of clay that could fit in the palm of your hands would be so hard?! In my attempt to create tea cups, it looks weeks to get six, relatively similar sizes. Some were too thin and some were too lopsided–so many throw-aways!

Then there was the teapot itself. This proved so challenging that almost all of us students needed hands-on help from our instructor (Shout out to Beatrice!) She patiently taught us how to form a vessel and spout, a lid and, much harder than it looks, a handle.

After the tea cups and tea pot were made, what about a tray? My first attempt cracked in the kiln, and that’s where the project stalled. I didn’t want to glaze the pieces until I’d made them all so, discouraged, I put the them away. I waited and waited until I was ready to hand-build another tray. Two years later, this summer, I did.

The tea pot set saga is a metaphor for my writing, though working through the disappointments and successes of pottery feels completely different. In Ceramics, I’m more interested in the process than the product. When working on a manuscript, I enjoy the process, but have a specific goal in mind–to bring my characters and stories to life.

Whereas, the clay ignites my imagination…my imagination ignites the stories.

Hon, happy creating and imagining and working and persevering.