November 15, 2013

New Site!

This blog has moved! 

From here on out, I'll be blogging at my new author website:

Come check it out! 


November 13, 2013

Moving Day: Friday

Two weekends ago, I helped my cousins move.

It was a happy thing--loading boxes into my car, toting furniture around, helping family settle into a pretty, spacious new home that much betters suits their needs. Their old house wasn't what they needed anymore.

It's just always a bit nostalgic to say goodbye to a place you've lived.

Photo credit: Douglas Porter

It is with that same mixture of anticipation and nostalgia that I get ready to close up this blogspot and move to my new author website on Friday (I'll post the address that day). I'm getting ready to launch my book in December, and I need an online living room big enough to host it. All the old blog posts will show up there, and I'll still be blogging every Friday. The new site is clean, fast, organized, easy to find, and (I think) beautiful. Michael, you're an incredible genius for building it.

But though this blogspot no longer suits my internet needs, it's where I first learned to blog--first agonized over publishing a post--first learned to say vulnerable things out loud. And so, though I'm thrilled to make the move, I quietly turn the key in the lock of this old house and fondly pat the closed door. It's been a good place to live.

Stay tuned for Friday's reveal of my new web address, plus a blog post on the new site!! 

October 30, 2013

Pumpkin Fun

Today's post arrives on a Wednesday. I hope that doesn't lead you to think that tomorrow is Saturday...

I am introducing this confusing mix-up because tomorrow is Halloween and I want to write about pumpkins! 

My very favorite kind of pumpkin is the costume variety. I think all babies should be dressed up as pumpkins at least once in their lives. 

Photo credit: James Willcox
 Awww...just TOO adorable! Dogs make pretty cute pumpkins, too:

Photo credit: C Jill Reed
But at my house, there being neither babies nor dogs to dress up, we paint real pumpkins. One of the vegetables below was designed by the engineer, one by the artist, and one by the writer in the house. I'll let you guess whose is whose.

See? They're Betty Boop, a hot air balloon, and a poem.

Last year, I stopped trying to fight my klutziness and penchant for stick figures and instead repurposed Halloween as the World Literacy Project, decorating my pumpkin with the opening lines of "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes.

This year it's a different famous, slightly spooky poem (which I subjected my family to a reading of as I was writing it out in Sharpie). 10 points if you can guess the title and author! 

But though I'm greatly enjoying the World Literacy Project (and I hope the neighborhood kids will, too), there's nothing wrong with stick figures. In fact, they can even make pretty cute costumes. Get a good laugh out of this one, and enjoy tomorrow!

October 25, 2013

Get Motivated

Today I'm THRILLED to announce that my long-awaited novel, a middle-grades fantasy adventure, is finished and going to be published! I hope to have it available in time for Christmas. To receive book updates, insider promotions, teacher resources, book-related games, etc., please sign up for my e-mail newsletter at the top right corner of this screen. Thank you!!

*begin blog post*

No matter how old you are or what you do, there are times you feel like you're a failure. That you're bad at what you do. That you're just barking up the wrong tree in life. 

But when that happens, often the truth is that we're tired. (Or lonely, or hungry. Sandwiches have solved some of my life crises.) Sometimes we do need to stop and rest, but there other times when we just have to press on. Move forward. Get it done. 

And it's in those times that motivation becomes priceless.

As a writer, I may have more self-esteem problems than the average person. It's important for me to stay reminded that I'm doing what I've been called to do, what I'm good at doing, what I love to do--especially on the tired days. Even with a book about to be published, it's easy to get bogged down in the immensity of work and lose sight of the goal.

So I'm sharing with you 5 signs in my home/office that motivate me. They've helped me through some dry days, and now they help me celebrate as I get ready to see my dream come true. Most of them are word-based, because I love words, but I think motivation can come just as easily from pictures. When I lived in Seattle, nearly every student's desk or worker's cubicle contained a desk calendar with pictures of palm trees and white sand beaches. Case in point.

This one came from Barnes and Noble when I was probably 15 years old. Now I hang it on my door when I'm working instead of a "Do Not Disturb" sign. I look forward to the day when it'll come true!

This was an "award" I received during my freshman year of college. Apparently it was my dorm floormates' unanimous prediction. Later that year, I started writing my novel. Thank you, ladies.

This was drawn by my artistically gifted and always-faithful mother on a paper plate when I was in 7th grade. That's me, doing what I still do almost every day. (Maybe minus the scrunchie.) 

This was a Trader Joe's greeting card that almost made me cry when I spotted it in the grocery store. I bought two, framed one for my wall, and mailed another to my knit-designing friend Audry. When you're in a career that doesn't make financial sense and that takes a long time to produce gratification, you need this reminder EVERY SINGLE DAY. Actually, maybe you need it in any career, at any age. 

And last, a beautiful picture made by my late grandmother, which she gave me for my 24th birthday. I think it's made of watercolor, pen, and of course her signature--glitter. Besides representing a heritage of art, this picture reminds me of one of my literary role models, Anne of Green Gables, and all that she stands for: optimism, hope, and adventure to be found in the wild blue yonder.

So happy Friday! Be motivated today!

What signs or images motivate you in your daily endeavors? 

October 11, 2013

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'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:
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? 

September 27, 2013

Rest along the Road

What's the purpose of your life?

The thing that's bigger than yourself--your mission, dream, calling, purpose, the something that you alone feel uniquely designed to do.

Maybe it's writing a book (harrumph). Maybe it's spiritual growth. Maybe it's investing in a relationship. Maybe it's leading a ministry. Maybe it's raising a child (or a few). Maybe it's spending a year backpacking across the country, like my friend David. Maybe you don't have a clue, but you're seeking it. Something you were born to do. Something you believe in, that gives you purpose, that makes you feel alive.

Purpose is a great thing. Without it, we constantly ask ourselves, "What am I here for?"

But journeys of purpose are big. And big journeys take time. Lots of time.

As time passes, energy drains away. We lose sight of the distant, big-picture goal because our myopic vision gets crowded with small failures, hiccups, hardships, naysayers...and tiredness. Just plain road-weariness.

Photo credit: Chaz Harding

I read this story about the Biblical prophet Elijah today. Talk about someone with a big life purpose. But at one point he said to God, "I have had enough, Lord" (1 Kings 19).

Had. Enough. 

Photo credit: Soon
The long road of pursuing purpose can leave us feeling burned out like fire-gutted stumps. Elijah was so fed up with chasing purpose and feeling like a failure that he wanted to die.

God's advice, delivered by angelic messenger?

"Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you."

God even sent Elijah an ancient Hebrew Happy Meal to get him started.

Photo credit: Stefan
Before God urged Elijah forward in his journey of purpose, the prophet's immediate needs had to have some attention. He ate some food. Took two long naps. Went away to Mount Horeb for some refreshing alone time. Spent time in the presence of God. Found a helper.

And THEN he was able to go back to full time prophet-ness. Proclaimed God's words to difficult people. Did miracles. Made history.

There's a lot on my plate right now, especially as I look to move forward with my writing career. Maybe there's a lot on your plate, too. But Elijah's story encourages me.

The strength to carry on, to continue down that long and worthwhile road, may be closer than you think:

Eat food. Get sleep. Take some time away to refresh. Be in the presence of God. Get a helper.

Or, in the sweet and simple words of my friend and fellow blogger Anna Taylor: Peace, darling.

Purpose is a long road. So pace yourself. Rest along the way. You'll make it in time.

How do you find rest along the way of purpose? 

September 20, 2013

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?