Carnelians, a pink pottery bowl, and a sage leaf

 

This is a true story.

It was an ordinary day in November in the year 2015. I went to the mailbox to fetch the usual things I don’t want—advertisements, bills etc., but in the pile I spotted something unusual: an air mail envelope from the UK with a customs declaration on the front that also had a gift box checked and a description underneath that stated it was costume jewellery. What’s this?

envelope from Ann Connack Knowland, Malthouse Farm[1]

I opened it up at once. Inside was a valentine!

Valentine from Ann copy

And inside the card was a sort of letter:

card from Ann copy

Dear Lynnie, Paul,

Not before (not sure I am reading this word right) time I write to you for Valentines Day and have enclosed carnelians which I have found on the beach in Walberswick and sending them to you with the extract from your story in my mind, “Squinting through Carnelians” which I loved…

My heart danced a jig. My good childhood friend Ann, originally from the village of Walberswick, Suffolk, UK, went to the beach and collected carnelians for me! What a thoughtful thing to do!

 

package from Ann

“Squinting through Carnelians” is now a part of the book Jewels That Speak: Tiffanys, Freuds, and Me to be published on April 17th, 10 days from now.

Kirkus Reviews addresses this part of the book: ‘She did get one thing from her Tiffany heritage: her father shared with her an appreciation of beautiful precious and, especially, semiprecious stones…  “I never went with [my father] on his solitary walks. Alone, he ambled along the chilly shoreline, especially on sunny days when light shone through the wet stones, revealing their yellow-orange to reddish-brown to rich red tones.”’

And here are the carnelians three years later.

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Ann’s carnelians from the beach in Walberswick, Suffolk UK, in a pink pottery bowl from my daughter, Cora, and with a sage leaf from my son, Roland.

 

Only twelve days away…until publication

 

Where did I leave off? Staring at my last blog on the computer screen right now, I see it was February 15th. Forty-nine days ago, and the eBook is still not where I would like it to be! Almost, but not quite. It became so frustrating that I had to change eBook publishers and this one is better, but there have still been many issues perhaps because the original file was done in an InDesign file format for the print book to make it attractive to the eye and because it includes photos and graphics and InDesign does not readily convert to mobi–which is what you need for Kindle devices. The epub file needed for Apple devices, like iBooks, also had conversion problems from the original InDesign file. There have been entirely too many files to count!

Last night I carefully studied the new file I had just been sent on Kindle previewer in KDP (Amazon Direct Kindle Publishing) in font size 4 (it goes 1-9). I read the whole book through. Even though I know the book so well, it took hours to do the examination. I prayed that my eyes would be copyeditors’ eyes, instead of the ordinary eyes I possess. I found only a few things (4 exactly) that can easily be fixed. Big, big, sigh of relief! We just might make the deadline, which for a publication date of April 17th must be April 13th on KDP.

I receive Nathan Bransford’s blogs in my inbox. He’s been very good lately with his media tips for getting the word out about your books as well as his concentration for author writing tips.  There’s tip-meat there to chew on if you are an organized person, and if you’re not, if you make yourself be organized with what he calls “extreme calendering” (his spelling.) He said he would probably have a future blog about this in more detail. I was already doing his suggestion. Yay! How? By writing down every single thing I do for my book Jewels That Speak: Tiffanys, Freuds, and Me, its date and its time in a calendar notebook. I head to my study about 5:30 am, sometimes 6:30 am, and stay there working for hours until I notice a slump in energy and know it is time for some food sustenance. Following Nathan Bransford’s tip of last night, I have my computer on full-screen mode, my phone is put away, and I have a sticky note on the top right of my screen that blocks out any incoming emails from floating across my screen. (Next step is doing the blocking on the computer itself. Oh dear!). Concentration seems to be working though! Yay again! Thanks, Nathan!

Now, for something beautiful, peaceful, and relaxing about spring that I love.

Spring flowering daffodils are symbols of rebirth and often called Lent lilies. This leaded-glass window, c. 1916, from the Morse collection is by Tiffany Studios.

Gearing up for Jewels That Speak Publication…

It’s February 15th today and my memoir comes out on April 17th. That’s only 61 days away. Better get cracking!

Right now I am working on getting my e-book in a viable form for various e-book platforms and devices. It gets more complicated when there are photos and captions and there are some of those. What do you do when the text introducing a photo comes on one page and the photo on another? What do you do when a photo comes on one page and the caption underneath the photo gets booted to the next page and the photo is left, well, kinda naked with no explanation.

Print form and e-book forms are different beasts all together. Understanding how one beast moves and operates doesn’t mean you get the other beast; you have to start all over in a way and you have to be very patient. Okay, so do you like being on a new learning curve? (Rhetorical question.) I suppose I do. All that time spent writing your heart out with some ideas you have been thinking about for years. Researching topics to strengthen foundations, and to offer elaboration of ideas. Then, the hard part: getting feedback and revising, revising, revising!

Now, it’s deal time, promotion time, get the e-book done time.

With each step in this demanding process, the writer has to use different parts of oneself, to perform various tasks. One has to become elastic to know and accommodate the beasts, inside and out…or be heated, blown, and bent like complex glass shapes and forms–a Chihully.

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GREAT WRITERS, RIGHT HERE

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                 Me with Cathy Callen

On Saturday, December 10th, I drove with writing friend Cathy Callen to Topeka to attend the Great Writers Right Here Authors’ Fair at the Topeka and Shawnee Public Library. Both of us had books to sell. She had Running Out of Footprints, a biography of three generations of her Neff family relatives, “who arrived on the scene in Kansas City in the late 1800s full of energy and potential, contributed as political, business, religious and medical leaders in the city, and then gradually disappeared into obituaries and the census data.” And, Words in Rows; Poetry and Prose, a delightful witty collection of her poetry and short memoirs. I had my coming of age novel The Starlings in London that intertwines the everyday life of an American London school girl, the release and respite of holidays in a seaside village, letters back to the US., the stress and agony of rising family tensions, shocking revelations, and the excitement of first love.

We arrived promptly at noon and began to set up our displays. I shared my table with a George Feliu, a young fantasy writer who preferred his bright crimson Walmart tablecloth to the pastel green one embroidered by my Norwegian grandmother. We used his. He eyed my book warily as I did his, since fantasy is not a genre I usually read and I suppose my type of novel, not his. But, by the end of the three-hour fair, we were chatting away about our lives and even joking and teasing each other.

I used the fair as an opportunity to look at other authors’ books. “Can I take your book to my table and look through it?” Each person I asked obliged. In this way, I bought a Sheila Dalrymple’s picture book called Tex the Turkey’s Jiggly, Jaggly, Wiggly, Waggly Thing as a gift for a young relative. I bought Denise Low’s The Turtle’s Beating Heart; One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival for myself and had her sign my copy of her Langston Hughes in Lawrence that I had purchased the day before at the Watkins Museum in Lawrence. I was so interested in an issue of The Little Balkans Review: Gordon Parks. Coal Mining. Settlers Vs RRs and kept it so long at my table that the editor simply gave me 3 issues. I figured he figured I’d read them and spread the word. Louise Krug (Louise: Amended) and I traded books. She gave me her Tilted and I gave her The Starling in London. (We once did some writing together about 7 years ago.)

I also used the fair to talk to the publishers present about my memoir, Jewels That Speak. More than one seemed interested in the jewel theme as a way of telling a family story; the Freud/Tiffany legacies; self, lost and found. I’ll definitely follow up on these leads.

On our way home back to Lawrence, Cathy and I chatted about our experiences at the fair. Although these experiences were not identical, they were both positive. We both saw ourselves as putting our work out there and making bridges to the larger regional writing community. We both felt we were helping to make our work grow.

Experiencing the KLA (Kansas Library Association) Authorpalooza on October 20th

KLA Authorpalooza

KLA Authorpalooza

A writer friend alerted me to the new Authorpalooza element of the Annual KLA Conference in Wichita this year. I looked it up on the web and downloaded the application in order to have the opportunity to participate in the event. When I received my acceptance notice I was happy.
Why not try this venue and see what it’s all about?

In the Author Alert that was sent out from KLA, the advice from organizers that proved to be the most helpful to me is listed below:

Prepare to Make the Most of Your Time

• Be prepared with your elevator speech for both readers and librarians…can you hook a librarian’s interest in your books and your potential as a speaker or presenter in just a couple of minutes? How would you expand if you have a little more time to chat?
• Do you have cards or bookmarks that librarians can take with contact information? Bring them with you!
• Have you done other presentations or book talks that you can draw on? Have you gotten good feedback? Consider making a one-page CV with dates and information. Print one to show, print a small stack to hand out to interested librarians, post it on your website, or have it ready to email when you receive inquiries!

I drove from Lawrence to Wichita – roughly three hours — and arrived at the Hyatt Regency an hour before set-up time with my rolling suitcase full of copies of my book, The Starlings in London, bookmarks, business cards (really a book cover, with the book’s description, price and availability), and a one-page CV. I also had a 20” X 35” poster of my book, a yardstick, duct tape and a collapsible lamp.

When the doors to the conference room opened, I rolled my suitcase in and immediately spied a woman whom I recognized, although I was pretty sure she did not know me. Her name is Susan Kraus. (I once taught her son in the gifted program at West Junior High in Lawrence.) I introduced myself and sure enough, she did not remember me! With an hour to kill, we decided to go to lunch. Over salads and french fries, we talked about our books, and current writing projects…a little about teaching and being a therapist (which she is).

Then back up to the conference room we went. By now almost all the tables were occupied by authors who had already set up and were ready to go. We scurried over to an empty one and shared a table. On her half Susan had her name, her books, post cards, a large description of her mystery series on a book holder, a vase, and strips of paper with printed matter for each librarian’s name, name of library, email of librarian and request for phone number. These were for librarians to fill out, fold over and stuff into her vase. On my half I rigged up my poster with the help of my lamp, duct tape and the yardstick. I also had my name, and the rest of my promotional material I previously mentioned.

Wait time came next. Eventually the librarians strolled through in groups. They paused at certain tables and when they paused at ours, we took the opportunity to pitch our books to them. Later on, when there was a lull, I wandered around the room and looked at other author displays. I enjoyed a chat with Robert Day (I have read his work in New Letters and found it interesting.) I also talked to Denise Low. (I had researched her ahead of time and I knew about her book, Jackalope. I bought a copy.) My next door table neighbor was Annette Hope Billings. At one point a microphone was offered and she did a reading from her poetry book, A Net Full of Hope. I liked it very much and bought a copy.

On the next door table neighbor on our other side was a man called Roy J. Beckemeyer. The title of his book of poems, Music I Once Could Dance To, drew me in. I borrowed a copy and read some of his poems. They snapped my interest to attention and I bought a copy of his book, too.

That’s about it, readers. Since arriving back in Lawrence to my normal life, I have thought about the librarians and the authors I met and I am taking the time to read the authors’  books. Right now I am enthralled with the poems of Beckemeyer. Here’s a very short one:

Confessional

Are sins of omission empty as they sound,
Free of all passion, hollow and round?

Are the acts we commit
In the dark of our souls
Worse than when we forget
To embrace or to hold?

When zero hour comes,
In the blackness of night,
Won’t sins of omission
Also hold back the light?

~Roy J. Beckemeyer

Like it?

An artist’s work brings hope, comfort, and energy to help beat youth cancer odds.

My brother Stephen, an artist, sent me an email on September 20th with a link to a September 18th Huffington Post blog by Jim Luce about Stephen’s installation “Whisper” at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The installation is part of The Lounge, a newly created space for teens and young adults with cancer at MSK.

I gave the blog a quick read and have since gone back and read it several more times in order to grasp the meaning of what Stephen is trying to convey with his “Whisper” piece.

 

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“Whisper.” Photo: TYA@MSK

I found that I like what he says about his work; that I can relate to it very well.

Here are some of his words that I have taken out of context but are all interesting words to me: whisper, hope, membrane, perceive the intangible, universal, search to find the spiritual, the mindful passage, elements, break through restraints, sensory world, cumulative knowledge, belief. These words in and of themselves draw a person in. In context, they take shape with meaning.

I wanted to go beyond art. “Whisper,” for me, is hope for the patients, the family and friends of children living with cancer. My work springs directly from envisioning humanity’s cumulative knowledge and belief encapsulated within an ever-expanding membrane that emanates from the Elements themselves.

My work stands for the universal Membrane and involves my search to find the spiritual, the mindful passage, to allow one to break through our restrains and to see what lies beyond our sensory world. To perceive the Intangible – that which is unable to be touched or grasped, that lacks a physical presence.

~Stephen Burlingham

Stephen says his yellow “Whisper” piece “offers a way to look through and beyond.” I am looking at the photo of The Lounge right now. My eyes are immediately drawn to the wall where his painting hangs. I love the yellow color. It is so vibrant. I like its soft shiny texture. I like the wispy wire imprints that suggest movement, undercurrents.

 

the-lounge

The Lounge at MSK

The title of the Huffington piece is “Stephen Burlingham Going Beyond Art for Youth with Cancer.” I think Stephen’s “Whisper” goes beyond art with the hope the art piece provides. It offers comfort, belonging, and the energy of a steady daring to beat the cancer odds.

Creative Emergence

Lately, I have been thinking of these two words: creative and emergence; about how they fit together to form a certain meaning.

In a radio interview on September 26th about my writing of The Starlings in London, I chose to focus on a section of the book where the artistic and aesthetic environment is evident. Here the narrator of the book, 12-year-old Lily Starling, is captivated by the allure and beauty of the English countryside and seaside as well as witnessing the working process of painters, like that of her father and his artist friend Lawrence.

Writing in a diary for the first time, Lily tries to express how the old windmill–where her father and Lawrence go to paint–affects her with its tangible and intangible spirit. “Is the windmill really brown?” she begins.

Lily is thinking about what she feels about what she sees. She is struggling to understand it. She decides to submit herself to its control over her thoughts, her being, and attempt to write about it. This is the narrator’s creative emergence.

Something about the place (private; overlooking the sea; by a reedy canal), the object (the old windmill…a sort of vessel), brings its visitors rapture, coupled with self-renewal. Why else would painters and impressionable girls, like Lily, go there again and again and try to capture its essence?

My present thinking about creative emergence is that it occurs not by the struggle to control it, but by submitting to its powers over you, the artist. It comes from the unconscious and the artist must recognize its appearance and harness it while you work your art to create your vision.

 

 

 

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 3

I took the summer off…now I am hard at work again. So where was I in the story? Oh, I remember: THE FINAL FILE.

Said final file was sent to a book designer, Molly Cook, recommended to me from the artist Nancy Purington who created the cover art for The Starlings in London. This cover captured in art the essence of what I decided to convey in the dilemma with which Lily Starling and her family are confronted once they reach England. I have to say the cover exceeded my expectations and has not ceased to capture my imagination when I look at it in book form, or better yet, when I study the painting itself.

The book designer worked and reworked and reworked the design to get what I wanted: simple presentation, with the letters interspersed throughout the book in block print, yet looking like real letters on the printed page.

This part took weeks to get right.

Because I read so much and am critical of what I read as well as its presentation, I went one step further. I submitted the book designer’s pages to my copyeditor. And, she did find a few things that needed tweaking!

Another aspect of publishing which I have not yet mentioned is the feedback I received every step of the way from a cousin who used to be in the book design business for major publishing houses in NYC.

It’s 8:55pm. I know not to call once the minute hand for 9:00 has ticked into its getting- ready-for-bedtime place.

“Oh, Hi! Sorry to bother you so late in the evening, but can you just take a look…”

“I will, but in the morning.”

“OK. Thanks!”

Whew! Thank God for devoted cousins.

So, what am I getting at here so far? Publishing is an act of collaboration. The higher the abilities of the collaborators, the better the final product.

Now, to take it one step further.

raven-reading-9816-jpg

Thursday, September 8th, was the celebration of my book at our local bookstore here in Lawrence KS: The Raven Book Store. This store is the neighborhood gem for all of us here who love books. And this store caters to the needs of local authors by promoting them and their new books. They gracefully exhibit the books and provide opportunities to gather together over wine and cheese to listen to authors present excerpts in oral presentation. Again, this is another example of collaboration. This time between authors and bookstore and neighbors/Lawrentians (Not D.H.).

My writing group is called The Write-On Group. We came together on Thursday to the Raven Book Store to promote my new book and to present their work to an audience. Again, collaborative effort and celebration.

Here is the program for the Raven reading, if you wish to take a look.

r-a-v-e-n-fall-2016-program

So how does it feel to be published and have your work celebrated? It feels like your work has been officially stamped and sent out into the larger world.

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 2

So how did capturing a “smell” in notes turn into a manuscript–a book–and why would publishing said book change a person?

The Dad who smelled earthy, the smell in the train station of metal burning foreshadow the coming of age the narrator (a twelve-year-old girl) is about to go through.

The writer (me) is committing to following the idea of a girl coming of age to its conclusion. Somewhere early in the writing, not long after taking notes on smell, I came up with the book’s title The Starlings in London. This is the one thing I never wavered about. It helped me focus on the unfolding story.

I decided I was going to write this story of anguish, the break-up of a large American family in the foreign city of London in the late 1950s and I decided I wanted to contrast the city with the country to make it more interesting for the reader, and to give the anguish a breather once in a while.

The book’s ending, I knew from the book’s beginning. That helped give it bookends so to speak.

Each chapter I wrote was brought to writing group to be critiqued. I did not incorporate all the suggestions of the other writers. Instead, I thought about the suggestions and decided which of the suggestions made sense to me.

After a good long year of writing and critique in writer’s group, and re-writes, I then worked without interruption…not reading any books during this 3-month period because I did not want any other voices in my head other than the ones I was honing in the book. No reading. No Facebook.

When I had completed the manusrcript to the very best of my ability, I sent it to a very good copyeditor. Lots of grammatical errors were corrected. I had to give way to her suggestions about word changes (hard to do). For instance, I wrote that Lily Starling states, “my socks were dew wet.” The copyeditor changed that to “wet with dew.” For the most part I went with all the copyeditor’s corrections/suggestions, as in copyeditor knows best. However, I would only do this because I know how good my copyeditor is.

Now we have the final file. Great! I can read again! Check out Facebook if I want to again. Have a dinner date not just with my husband, but with friends. Rejoin the human race.

To be continued…

In case you wonder what it feels like to get published…

Day 1

Yes! my new book The Starlings in London is out! My last blog was about a road trip. I always imagined road trips as LONG. Enough time to even change the inside of you by what you experience along the way, so much so that you even act differently when you return home. Hopefully more grounded and with greater perspective about life. Well, the road trip to Bentonville, AK was short and it was everything I had hoped it would be but it did not change the inside of me.

Publishing has changed me. It may take a few blogs to convey this change.

Read on if you want to hear about it…

First you have an idea and begin to type or write something. My idea began with writing about smell in a writing group. My “smell” was getting off a train as a kid in a zombie like condition in London in the wee hours of the morning after a crazy trip across the Atlantic on The Queen Mary to rejoin my father, which is later fictionalized in the book.

Writing assignment in writing group:

There are smells to seasons. There are smells to places, and there are smells to every time of one’s life. Use this prompt and write something. (I don’t like prompts, but I was trying to be a good group member.)

Okay, okay. What can I possibly say? I’ll jot down some notes:

Smell of the change:

Deadness in the air, gritty, greasy, metallic, foggy, gray heavy air, permeates nostrils. It hangs on the insides of them. Combines with sights clanging, shuffling of feet, train whistle, deadness, different shades of gray, tiredness, wasted, depression, forced smiles, vacancy, wool coats in summer, nothing obvious, or direct, unseen forces, reaching through a pea-soup fog and finding a hand, whose hand is it? A friend, a family member, a stranger?

The above notes became these words in The Starlings in London:

Dad smelled earthy. I was sure he had not had a bath. The skin of his cheeks was loose, yet bristly. The hanging mole next to his left eye jiggled in my right eye. My warm blood leaked fast, out of my face, down my throat, past my chest, and through my stomach, coursing toward my toes.

I smelled metal burning. My spit tasted like poison. I could no longer hear anything.

to be continued…