New home for my blog

Welcome to my new blog home. It was with a very heavy heart that I have finally left LiveJournal where I have been happily blogging and building a water-cooler network of friends for seven years. But the technical issues that LiveJournal continued to have made it more frustrating than fun to blog so it was time to go. On the plus side, I was easily able to move all my old posts over here. Now they are nicely categorized and tagged and will be a much better resource for people to use. On the down side, no comments were able to be imported and that’s rather heart-breaking when I consider some of the wonderful conversations I’ve had with people over the years. I decided I could spend who knows how much time trying to hack the code and have it maybe work or I could just let it go. People can still go back and comment on any old posts here and I’m motivated to write entertaining and helpful posts to get some new conversations up and running.

Some of my popular posts from the past, such as the series Of Dogs and Writing,  have been added as menu items at the top.

I’ve gone a long while without blogging. Part of it due to the frustrations with LiveJournal, part of it to do with this shiny new website my blog is a part of now, and part of it is just plain life. And so it goes.

I’ve been working on a lot of art lately and am excited to announce that I am going to be in my first show at the Axis Art Gallery in San Jose. The opening reception is February 29th and exhibit will run through the month of March. Read more details about the show, and if you’re in the San Jose area, I hope you’ll stop by to see the beautiful art our group has created.

I’m putting the finishing touches on another website that will showcase my California native plant garden and talk about our journey to claim a little bit of space for wildlife in the middle of this busy city.

I’m also starting to plan something fun for National Poetry Month. In the past I’ve written a poem a day for the month of April (see the menu for each year’s collection) but this year I’m going to do it with a little interactive twist. Stay tuned for more details.

Old friends and new, I bid you welcome. Poke around the blog and website and since I’ve just moved in, please let me know if something isn’t working the way you expect it to.


Saturday, February 18, 2012|Categories: Random|Tags: |4 Comments

Hello blog. Where I've been while I've been gone.

Hello blog. It’s been a while. First things slowed down (in the middle of the series about my incarcerated teen poets because Livejournal had the attack on their servers and then, well, life intervened, as it has a way of doing. And even though people say you don’t need to say to write a post about being gone I feel compelled to say a few things. Three, I think.

Number one, a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to Las Vegas to speak at their SCBWI conference. I had a wonderful time talking about creating characters and met some enthusiastic writers. But if that wasn’t enough of an event, the day after the conference I had the pleasure of finally meeting the half-sister I never knew I had.

My lovely niece capture the very first hug.

What do you think, can you see a resemblence?

We spent a wonderful day together talking about similarities and differences and telling family stories. And as I posted on Facebook (forgive me for those of you reading this/seeing pics a second time) there will always be a hole in my heart from not knowing my dad but getting to my sister and some of the rest of the family goes a long way toward filling that up again.

Second, I’ve been spending a lot of my time and energy on learning how to eat in new ways and man, that takes more time than I realized. It’s taken most of my focus just to get into these new habits but now I’m feeling like yes, they are habits. I’m maintaining the healthy course I want to be on and I don’t feel at all deprived. I’ve lost 38 pounds so far and plan on keeping with the program until I am as healthy as I can be and then staying on the program to keep myself that way. And by “program” I don’t mean something like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or some diet with a catchy name. I count calories and track it every day. I’ve cut out sugar and flour except for rare occassions. And that’s about it. It really is that simple.

And third, I’ve been able to focus on my writing again. At last. In the past year I’ve let go of a ton of emotional baggage that has been weighing me down for years. And then there’s the whole getting healthy thing. Not eating the right foods was rotting my brain and affecting my ability to focus. So I’m back to work, hard and fast, on my YA verse novel, coincidentally enough, about a very interesting pair of sisters. I’m sure you’ll get to know them a bit better as the character letters start going back and forth again.

I’m a lucky gal. Life is good and I’m smart enough to know it. You know those songs where they say, “I feel like I could fly…” Well it’s like that.

Yeah, just like that.

So hello blog, I’ve missed you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011|Categories: Family|Tags: |7 Comments

Climbing mountains

The mattress on our bed has a mountain running right down the middle of it. I think it’s fairly common when two people share the same mattress for years. You each sink into comfort on your own side of the bed and then, over time, this mountain forms in the middle. We turn the bed on a regular basis but still, there it is. When we bought the bed the salesguy told us it would form a hump in the middle and that was not considered a flaw in the mattress. It just was what it was. Accept that the mountain would one day appear and there wasn’t a darn thing I would be able to do about it.

Most of the time I don’t think much about the mountain unless I’m trying to roll over and it suddenly feels like I am trying to roll myself uphill. A few times I’ve gotten frustrated with it and piled all sorts of heavy objects on top of it, hoping by bedtime that it would have miraculously flattened back down again. Of course that never worked.

This morning I woke up sleeping on an angle, half on the mountain and half rolling down the hill, and I smiled. I’m sure the smile was influenced by my before-bed reading of Patti Digh’s book Creative is a Verb. I thank her for that.

There are always going to be mountains in our lives. I usually throw myself at them with equal parts of anger that I have to climb yet another dang mountain and blind energy to just hurry up and get it over with. Forget about other plans or enjoying the view. There’s a mountain in my way and I need to get past it.

Or do I? As Patti said In my reading last night, "You are always in choice."

Not every mountain needs climbing. Lots of the time you can walk around it. Take another route. Or maybe, just sit at the foot of the mountain and contemplate its place in your life. Embrace the mountain and sometimes they vanish right before your eyes. Gather supplies, make a plan, and go ahead and climb.

But the important thing to remember is you don’t have to climb every mountain. You are always in choice.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011|Categories: Random|Tags: , |7 Comments

At work or at play?


On my art desk today. It makes me happy just to look at it.

Thursday, May 19, 2011|Categories: Random|Tags: |9 Comments

People don't see what you think they see

Boy, after National Poetry month I seem to have fallen off the blog wagon, again. I had a Friday Five, sort of, in my head. But this morning five seems like four too many so I have just one random thought.

About a month ago I cut my hair. It was long, long enough to sit on. Long enough to make an impact when I walked into a room and I’ll admit, that impact was a big factor in me keeping it long for such a well, long time.

But I cut it. Cut off 13". More than a foot. Cut it so it is a little below my shoulders.

I expected to get a little bit of attention when people saw me for the first time because, to me, it was such a dramatic (almost traumatic) event. In the month since I cut it I can count on one hand the people that noticed it. And they were all in the same room at the same time. After that, nothing.

Now granted, if I were still working in cubicle land I think more people might have noticed but still it surprised me. And heck, if I’m being honest, it hurt for a bit. Then I realized there is an important lesson here for me if I am smart enough to internalize it:

What you think you look like matters less than you think, so quit worrying about it so much.

Food for thought. I think.

Monday, May 9, 2011|Categories: Random|Tags: |14 Comments

5 Things I've Learned About Myself Recently

I was going to post this on Friday for a Friday five but then it started getting really long. Then I was going to post it on Saturday and didn’t. By Sunday I convinced myself to wait until Monday. That’s the way my thought process has been going these days.

I haven’t been around the blogosphere lately because I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about myself and my writing and my online life and art and a whole bunch of stuff. Not sure that many folks even read this any more because I haven’t been good about interacting and I know that’s what makes you fall off of other people’s radar. Anyway, here are some thoughts around some of the things I’ve been thinking.

1. It’s important to think about the whys behind your doing of things.

I have become (mostly unintentionally) greatly disconnected from the online world. Some of this is a carryover from all the house stuff last year but some of it is me dog-paddling for so long that I just don’t have the energy to keep it up anymore. Hard to keep swimming when you don’t see any land in sight. So lately I’m not Tweeting. I’m not blogging or responding to blogs. I’m trying to keep up on Facebook status updates but that’s about it. In some ways this has been good. Online is noisy and even if the noise is virtual, for me it’s like being at a rock concert 24/7. And I don’t do concerts.

Taking in all that info, trying to remember who to check in with, making the rounds and making the rounds and then, one more time, making the rounds it can drain me. It can also fill me, when there’s the give and take with people but because of my unintentional disconnect, there hasn’t been that give and take. I’ve taken from everyone for too long without giving back so people move on. I understand. It’s the way things work. The trouble is figuring out where to jump back in again because it’s not just the jumping in…it’s the convincing myself to keep going beyond those quiet times while things build back up again. So this has been the subject of much pondering on my part.

I recently bought and watched a CD from Brene Brown called The Hustle For Worthniess which was an extension from one of her books (sorry, I can’t remember which one) but the idea of hustling around, doing things we think will make us worthy of someone’s attention rang a little bit too true for me. So I’ve been wondering, why do I Tweet? Why do I use Facebook? And most importantly, why do I blog? Am I trying to help other people or am I seeking attention for myself? And if I want the attention, is that a bad thing, a hustling for worthiness sort of thing? I’m still trying to figure that one out. What confuses me is that a friend told me recently that I am at my best when I put myself out there with honesty and transparency. That rings true for me but then it is all about me, me, me and I don’t know that I am offering anything else to the world.

2. Not everything you try is going to work, and that’s okay.

I am probably going to retire The Poetry Push I started on Tuesdays. It hasn’t taken off and I know that a big reason for that is because of my own lack of participation in the event and in other online things. I think the result might have been different if I had started it during a peak rather than a valley. I might use the list poem prompts as my project for National Poetry month since that’s coming up next month and I have no idea what I am going to do for that. Two years ago when I participated for the first time I wrote haiku about my native garden. Last year I wrote poems about the father I never knew.This year I have no idea. I thought about trying to write poems about Cassie but I don’t know if I could come up with 30 of them. I thought about doing a different poetry prompt each day, doing the exercise myself and hoping more people would participate. I thought about trying to write about art and what it is adding/doing to my life. But so far nothing seems both right and achievable. Because I really hate failing.

3. Play time is an important gift to give yourself, especially guilt-free play time.

I gave myself the gift of March as an entire month of play. It came about as a result of taking with a friend about working and not working and she said you know, there’s a big difference between not working and beating yourself up about it and feeling guilty and then, instead, giving yourself permission to take time off and then not feeling guilty about not working. She was right so when I went to my Asilomar conference at the end of March I let myself think about which one I was doing and finally decided to give myself a month of guilt-free play. I’ve been taking painting lessons online and doing a lot of art. I’ve been sitting in the garden and doing nothing. I’ve been reading non-fiction. And I’ve been waiting for stories to tell me they want me to pay attention to them. The stories, well they’ve surprised me. I’ve been reading more poetry and feeling, at times, less like writing it. I am being drawn back to some middle grade prose ideas I’ve played with. Then of course I start to second-guess myself about why I feel less like writing poetry when I go back and read what I’ve written and mostly like it. I think some of it has to do with the labels and pressures that are placed on verse novelists. (Not that labels and pressures aren’t places on all writers.) Which goes back to my first point and wondering if it is about chasing worthiness again? I’ll continue to let myself see-saw on story thoughts for the next couple of weeks and see how I feel at the end of March.

4. Doing something with a friend makes it more fun. Plus there’s that accountability factor.

Some of you might have read  posting about an upcoming poetry adventure she and I are undertaking together. So many times we get poetry books (or writing craft books) and we really MEAN to do the exercises but we don’t. So Laura and I are starting a weekly feature called Write After Reading where we actually, gasp, plan to DO the exercises in a book as we read it and then discuss it in alternating weeks on our blogs. The first book we are starting with is Writing the Life Poetic and we’d love for you to join us. I’ll write more about it all in a separate post later but for now you can pop over and read about it on Laura’s blog. She’s started us off on Wednesday.

5. Learning something new makes you look at everything else in life differently.

I’ve been mostly focused on art this month and really stretching myself to learn a lot of new things about art in a short amount of time. I love the excitement that comes with learning something new. I love the lack of pressure that comes from being a newbie. I love making “mistakes” and just letting go of the mistake as learning experience and not beating myself up.

I dug into my stash of “beautiful blank books” and just started throwing paint on the blank pages. (oh yes, artists suffer from blank page syndrome just like writers do.) I wanted to overcome the idea that the book was too beautiful for me to use and anything I put into it had to be beautiful too. I had a stash of craft paints that have (to me) a horrible chalky texture that I can’t stand to touch, especially after becoming addicting to Golden Fluid Acrylics. So I decided to use them as a first layer in a new art journal. Every time Cassie rang the bell to go outside I’d sit down at the art desk and slap a coat of paint on a couple of pages. After about a week the journal is mostly filled up with color. Some color I like. Some I don’t. It doesn’t matter. It just the first layer and it’s only paint. I can paint over it. I can collage over it. I can even rip the pages out if I really don’t like it. But I no longer have a blank page staring at me. Now I have something to edit. Just like writing. You can’t revise a blank page.

As usual this went on a lot longer than most people want to read but hey, I’m consistent with my gabbiness. Here’s hoping to be around the blogosphere more in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2011|Categories: Family|Tags: , , |24 Comments

Coming soon!

Coming soon!, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

Just a little teaser for a new poetry feature I’ll be starting on my blog next week.

Tune in on Tuesday to learn more.

Saturday, January 29, 2011|Categories: Random|Tags: |13 Comments

Friday Five

I've been dealing with some health stuff this week so it has been an unproductive week which makes the Friday Five a bit more difficult. But I'm going to give it a shot.

1. I am hit and miss with my 2 poems a day. More hit than miss so that's good.

2. I hit Zero In-Box with my emails. This was huge because while all the house stuff was going on and my hard drive was dying I wasn't using my Outlook mail. I just left everything in Gmail which really got to be a pain because I'm addicted to sorting my mail into folders. When I was finally able to download all my old mails and then added them to what had been in Outlook before, well I had 12,000 of them to process. I still have about 100 in my "follow-up" folder but hitting zero felt great!

3. I have confirmed in my head that my office needs to be painted green. It might be a year before I get to it and I have no idea which green because the green I used in the rest of the house reads brown in my office, but just picking the color family felt pretty darn good.

4. Our family lost a childhood friend this week, a young man, only a few years older than my son. He lived across the street from us, the oldest of three sisters and he played big brother to my son through-out his childhood. I remember him best with a skateboard under his arm. My son wrote a moving post about it here.

5.I added a new habit to nightly routine – reading a poem a night and recording what I read. I chose index cards to record the name of the poem, the book it was from, what I liked it about, any favorite parts and how it makes me feel. I haven't read enough poetry and I want to read and try to understand more of it. I keep thinking of some kind of blogging poetry community, something apart from Poetry Friday, where we could discuss poems we read because there is just so much I don't understand. I began with Billy Collins and the second poem of his I read was called Monday and spoke to the vision of the poet who is always looking out the window because there is always something there to see. I loved it until the last two stanzas but then it lost me and I wish I could talk about the poem with someone and understand what I have missed.

If you're looking for the Poetry Friday round-up, please visit A Teaching Life.

Friday, January 21, 2011|Categories: Random|Tags: , , |12 Comments


Though it might be the season for retrospectives I’m not buying into it. I am not doing a look back at 2010 because I already spend way too much time look back and wishing I had done things differently. Instead, I’m looking forward.

I’m looking forward into possibilities.

I’m looking forward, sometimes only ten minutes at a time, but that’s okay. It’s enough.

I’m looking forward because there could be something absolutely amazing waiting for me around the next corner and if I’m turned the wrong direction, I just might miss it.

Monday, January 3, 2011|Categories: Random|Tags: |18 Comments

Look who came to visit at my house!

Cooper’s Hawk, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

Keep in mind, I live in a big, crowded Silicon Valley city. But one of the reasons we put in the native garden was to invite wildlife into our yards. We’ve been pretty sure there was a hawk hanging around the past few months because of the bird feathers we’d find every so often in the yard. Now we know it was likely this beautiful Cooper’s Hawk. I didn’t have my good camera and had to take it through the dirty window but he (she?) stuck around long enough for me to get a few pictures.

Sunday, December 12, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |13 Comments

New library bookcases!

aaDSC04267, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

I’m so excited. The new shelves for the library were just delivered and they are even more beautiful that I had imagined. I can’t wait for our carpenter friend to come over tonight to help us attach them to the walls, remove some backings for the electronics and bolt them all together.

Can’t wait to put all the books back on there again!

Friday, October 29, 2010|Categories: Home & Garden|Tags: , , |16 Comments

Home from Kidlitcon

I’m home after a few days in Minneapolis which mean a few days of trying (and not succeeding) at sleeping on a bed of bricks. I slept 10-1/2 hours last night and feel myself approaching human again.

There’s so much to say but right now I have to get some work done and then get to a meeting so I’ll try to blog more in depth and with some pictures, later today.

One thing I will say now is that I’m 99% sure that it is time for me to move the bulk of my blogging to a different platform, away from Livejournal. I’ve really known this for a while but have kept my eyes closed because of all the work that I know it will entail (because of course I want to keep most of my old posts) but since Winding Oak is redesigning my website it’s the right time for me to do it.

I will keep LJ for more of the friendly rants and chatty things.

Monday, October 25, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |14 Comments

Kidlitcon in Minneapolis

KidlitCon is a week away. I’m going a little early so I can have some time with friends and my co-workers at Children’s Literature Network. The fantabulous Laura Salas is arranging a little hangout next Thursday night, the 21st, at 8:15 pm at the Holiday Inn Metrodome which is after we go to the Christopher Paul Curtis lecture that night at the Kerlan. If you want to join us Thursday night, please let me know.

Thursday, October 14, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |0 Comments

Hello, it's me

I decided if I am going to Kidlitcon in a few weeks (and I am) and since it is a conference about and for bloggers, it might be a good idea for me to jump back into the blogging waters. Here goes.

I’ve probably started this blog post 20 times over the last week. I tried a Cassie post and a house post and even considered a garden post. I tried writing about the current WIP, a YA verse novel. I tried writing about the new character that just started speaking to me that has to wait. I tried writing about a lot of things but what would usually happen is that I’d get a few sentences down and I’d decide that it wasn’t witty enough for a come-back-to-blogging post.

So life, the short version.

Lots of stuff done around the house. Lots of stuff not done around the house. Susan got happy. Susan got sad. Some things changed. Some things didn’t. Life goes on. The end.

The slightly longer version. We now have a stair railing so Cassie won’t launch herself sideways off the staircase on the way down. However the guy that installed it cut the carpet wrong and now all the carpet on the stairs have to be replace. The first arguement with the painter came over varnishing the banister (one coat is good enough, right? And who really notices the bumps in the wood when you run your hand up and down the rail?) The house interiors are painted and look beautiful. The bathroom cabinets are painted and look like crap and need to be redone by a different painter (who will also be redoing the banisters.) The colors I picked for the walls are just what I wanted, however some of it ended up in places that weren’t walls. The colors on the fireplace in the new dining room, not so much. New chairs for the new sitting area are finally the ordered but the rugs are eluding me, probably because I’m not willing to pay a thousand dollars for a rug that Cassie will, at one point or another, throw up on. The wood floor is still not installed and is another month away. In the meantime furniture is bunched up in places, left from when we had to move it for the painters. Cassie’s play area has shrunk by half because there are boxes of all the stuff we took off the walls for the painting and won’t be put back up until the tile is demoed. It feels like we just moved in but were told we couldn’t unpack for a couple of months. The built-in bookcases for the library were scheduled to be delivered/installed the weekend I’m at kidlitcon so that’s being pushed out another week too. In the meantime the old bookcases in the library have been partially dismantled and moved into my husband’s office for his book collection which leaves a few thousand books in the library stacked willy-nilly. 

It is, as you can imagine, exhausting.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing and everything. The single thing I am sure about myself as a writer is that my very best writing is when I rip my guts wide open and let them spill on the page.

The book I’m writing about right now is inspired by my father poems written last April for National Poetry Month. It’s inspired by finding my sister and my brothers and aunts and uncles and oh so many cousins that I found when I located my father’s obituary. It’s inspired by my own life and some of the questions I had as a child, questions that have never, and now, will never be answered.

While all this work has been going on around the house there have been confrontations that I have worked hard to avoid, many times I bit my tongue, telling myself to pick my battles. There have been compromises from what I wanted to have done to what we could afford to have done to what was even possible to have done considering the eccentricities of our house. Prices of things have doubled then tripled and electricians who should have been done in a couple of weeks were here for over a month.

Thank goodness I’m writer. All that emotion, all that, I’ll say it, anger, it has to go somewhere.

What better place to put it in than in a book?

Monday, October 11, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |6 Comments

Friday Five – What I've been learning about me lately

As I once again climb back on the blogwagon I am trying not to kick myself too hard in the backside. I’ve been sorting out some things in my head that meant staying away from the blog reading and blog writing because while I believe in emotional honesty and transparency in my work and in my blog, there are things going in my life the rest of the world doesn’t need or want to hear about.

But I think I figured out a couple of important things and the rest, well I hope to figure it out as I go. We’ll see. This Friday Five is inspired by things I’ve learned, or relearned, about myself recently.

1.  All the social media opportunities surrounding us today make it easy to reach out and connect with other people but the fact is, (IMHO) you never really totally change your core personality. If you’re an introvert (like me) jumping in and out of the cocktail party chatter on Twitter is probably never going to feel completely comfortable, you will probably edit and reedit your Facebook status update a few times before actually posting and you will continue to occasionally stick your foot in your mouth, even if the conversation is virtual. I love social media. Love the idea of what it represents in global sharing and connecting. But what I am learning about myself is that social media conversations, whether on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, wherever – they all make me feel like I am back at school trying to prove that I belong somewhere. God I had so hoped I was past that but evidently not. In another lifetime perhaps, I hope to master the art of casual conversation. In this lifetime, I’d just like to accept that I am who I am.

2. You have to sow before you can reap. Seems pretty basic but I needed to be reminded of this. I think it’s a class that ought to be taught in elementary school so it becomes an ingrained habit. Apply it to just about anything that isn’t working in your life and see if it rings true. There are some fields I can’t revisit and that makes me sad.

3. No one cares how much you beat yourself up because they’re too busy beating themselves up so why not stop it already?

4. Thinking doesn’t make it so. Work makes it so. Again, apply it to something that’s not working in your life and see what you think.

5. Build a support system long before you need one so when you need one, they’re there. Otherwise you’re going to spend a lot alone wishing you had someone to talk to about stuff that was going on in your life.

Friday, July 9, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: , |12 Comments

Playlist help?

Help me build a musical tears (songs that make me cry) playlist.

Criteria: male vocals only. No females. No instrumental. I realize not everyone is going to get that teary feeling at the same songs so throw them at me – all genres welcome.

Saturday, June 19, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |31 Comments

Poetry Power on BlogTalkRadio

Huge thank you to Katie Davis for having me on her BlogTalk Radio show to talk about the poems I wrote (about the father I’ve never known) for National Poetry Month.

For those of you who missed the live event, you can listen to the archive version here on BlogTalkRadio or in iTunes .


Tuesday, June 15, 2010|Categories: Events, Listen to Me Read, Susan's Original Poems|Tags: , , |1 Comment

For BlogTalk Radio listeners – Father/Daughter poems

Here’s the link to all my blog posts about the poems about my dad that led me to finding the family I never knew I had.

Thank you again, to all the Webbs who have welcomed me with open arms, but most especially my brothers and my sister Lori!

Monday, June 14, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |2 Comments

Surprise vist by a Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk, originally uploaded by susanwrites.

I walked out back with the video camera going to take pictures of the yard and was surprised by a Cooper’s Hawk heading for the bird bath. I moved the camera really fast and while you couldn’t see him much on the video, when I extracted them frame by frame, he was there.

You can click over to Flickr to see the frame by frame shots. Not the highest quality of pics but since we’re in the middle of the city, this makes me happy.

Flickr album here:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |5 Comments

Just passing through

I can’t believe it’s been a week since an update. I missed this week’s Of Dog’s and Writing post. Sorry folks. I’m a little scattered lately.

I’ve been back working with my first group of incarcerated teens and had every intention of posting after each visit but like I said, I’m a little scattered lately. I hope to update more tomorrow.

Write on, right now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |5 Comments

looking for a poem and/or quote

I’m looking for a poem and maybe some quotes to give to my incarcerated teen boys for my last day on Wednesday. Ones about hope or overcoming tough times or staying on the right path. I have some of my favorites but wonder if anyone else has any suggestions?

Monday, February 8, 2010|Categories: Random|Tags: |8 Comments

Finding My Father

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve probably learned a few things about me.

1. I love writing poetry and books for kids, my dog, my native plant garden, Santa Cruz, and chocolate.

2. A little over a year ago I was laid off from my day job and have spent the last year adjusting and enjoying being a full-time writer.

3. I’m filled with all kinds of doubts and insecurities about who I am, what kind of a writer I’m supposed to be, and if I am ever good enough whatever task is waiting right in front of me. (In other words, I worry a lot about things I should quit worrying about.)

But probably the single thing that tells you the most about me is that I have never known my father. His name, yes, but that’s all. I’ve never met him or anyone in his family. The only pictures I’ve ever seen were of him as a gawky young man in a white suit at their wedding. He was gone before I was born.

As I kid I used to bug my mom all the time for information about him but she never really said much. No one in the family talked about him and when they did, they never painted the prettiest picture. But here’s the thing, I didn’t want them to tell me whether the picture was any good or not. I wanted to see for myself. Still families do what they can to protect what they feel needs protecting and by the time I was in the 4th grade and someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I said no, without hesitation. I had been trained well.

When you have a hole like that in your life it’s like a scab you can’t let heal. And people who don’t have the same kind of hole often find it difficult to understand why just can’t leave it all alone and move on. I can’t explain the why. I can only claim the hole. It’s grown smaller over the years but it’s still there.

Last week I wrote about the distance we need between real life and our stories before we can write about them. In the past I’ve written about feeling safe enough to write the truth of your story. I believe we should always strive to write with emotional honesty, even when (or especially when) that seems like an impossible task.

That’s where Flyboy comes in. Every question I’ve ever had about my father, about my worth as a person, about how I felt something missing when there was no reason to feel that way because my life was just fine the way it was….all of that has been pouring into Flyboy for, well, over 25 years now.

Characters and plot, I’ve got them. But to take that emotional plunge into the ice water of my past…I just couldn’t make myself do it. I give myself a lot of sleep suggestions about my books, hoping my subconscious will take me where I need to go.

Four years ago I had a dream about my father. In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up without opening the box.

Last week for some random reason I decided to check for my father on I knew where he had gone to high school so I kept hoping that he might show up there. It was a far-fetched hope since people in his generation aren’t as into the Internet as I am. Once I had gone there and found nothing I went through my normal little routine, putting in his name, the town he went to school in and the state where he was born. I’d never gotten anything back with that combo before but it was a familiar search I had done many, many times.

This time was different. This time an obituary popped up. I read it and burst into tears then almost as quickly I chastised myself for crying over someone who had never wanted me.

I’ve pieced together a story from my mom over the years. My father Tommy Webb was born in Arkansas and went to high school in Vallejo, California. His family eventually moved to Concord, to Bonifacio Street, into the little duplex across the street from where my mom lived. He worked at a service station in Walnut Creek, back when they had guys who pumped the gas for you. My grandmother’s name was Tina. She was pregnant with my uncle Robert at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. I had an aunt Kitty who was two years older than I am. There was another aunt Janette. That’s about it. Except for the not so pretty stories that I’ll keep to myself because, as my mom told me today. He could have changed. Turned his life around. People do it all the time.

My father died in Missouri. In January. This year.

In January I was still recovering from being laid off, trying to piece my new life together, trying to figure out how to create a life that nourished my creative soul. I was whole but with rough edges that still needed smoothing. I think if I had found him then it would have been too much. Much too much. Sometimes distance is a good thing. Even if it means we never get the chance to say goodbye.

His obituary mentions my aunts and my uncle. Where they live. It also says he has two sons and a daughter. My half-siblings. And lots of grandchildren. Aunts and Uncles. Bothers and Sisters. Nieces and Nephews. Family or not. It all depends on your point of view. The kind of picture you want to paint.

The obituary does not, of course, mention me.

I keep thinking about that dream I had. How odd to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift I’ve always wanted. Answers to questions that have haunted me for years.

The Internet makes things easy sometimes. Really it took no more than a few hours of searching to locate most of the family. They’re not active online. No websites or blogs or Facebook profiles. But mailing addresses. Phone numbers. I have some of them now.

It’s a chance. A chance to see at least part of the picture for myself.

Monday, November 9, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |41 Comments

The distance between real life and story

There have been some things going on in my life lately. Some things that have me thinking those deep, dark thoughts that keep you up at night. I found this old post from a few years ago that touches on it somewhat and I thought I’d share it again, (with some editing) because it explains a lot of where my mind is at of late . . . though it helps if you can read between the lines.

* * *
Hemingway said, and I can’t remember the exact quote so I’ll try to paraphrase it, he said that he couldn’t write about Paris when he lived there. He had to leave Paris before he could put the words on the page that would describe his experiences. While living there it was too much, too intense, too something and it skewed his vision. He needed distance and the passage of time before he could tell his story.

Some stories, while not easy, can still be written while you are in the midst of living them. When my kids were little I wrote about events within weeks or months of them happening. It was fun, like putting things in their baby scrapbooks. I recorded their awkward moments, their growth, and many of our special family memories. I told stories about our family and I got paid for it. Now I can go back and reread those old articles and it’s like picking up an old teddy bear and paging through a scrapbook of their childhood.

But other stories, perhaps those that touch the most painful parts of us, lay fallow for many years before the words begin to venture forth. I believe our emotions go into self-preservation mode and give us time to heal before we’re strong enough to attempt share a piece of ourselves through the telling of a story. My first picture book, Can I Pray With My Eyes Open? rested deep beneath the surface for over 25 years before it burst forth, near fully formed in one sitting. I can tie that story to an exact moment in time, when I was 10 years old, and I know that the book was an answer to a question asked long ago. Another picture book, Oliver’s Must-do List , seems, at first, to be a simple story about a mother and a child have a playday together but I can tell you now that it was born of guilt – immense guilt that my children were grown and I couldn’t go back and spend more time with them. Hugging the Rock is a novel about fathers and daughters, but more than that, it is about making peace with things you cannot change. I never knew my father and I wondered about him for many years. I can’t remember when I finally stopped searching but when I did, I realized that my own story was inching closer to the surface, closer to being ready to be heard.

Hugging the Rock is also about picking up the pieces after a divorce. Though many friends advised me to, I couldn’t write about my own divorce in the years immediately after it happened. The pain was too immense, the emotions too raw. But time was a helpful balm. Eventually my emotions bubbled to the surface telling me when it was time to write the story. In the process of the writing there were still some deep and painful moments but because I had waited, I was strong enough to go to the dark places and still come out alive. Enough time had passed that I could accept the blame for what was mine and let go of the blame for anything else. I could see the details through the tears.

There are other childhood events I want to write about someday but they’re still simmering and I’m still healing. Those stories will have to wait a bit longer. It’s been almost a dozen years but I know I am not yet ready to write about my time in New Orleans. I don’t know how long it will take before I am brave enough to face those demons head on. Not all my writing is tied to a piece of my past but I am making an effort to mine the treasures I have within because I do believe that’s where the juiciest stories wait to be told.

As many of you know, I’m working on Flyboy’s story right now. This project began over 25 years ago when my then-husband and I spent weekends out on the tarmac, our necks straining as we watched the sky at the air shows the way film buffs watch the movies.

What part of my life is like Flyboy’s? Where’s the connection? What makes it so hard to write? I don’t fly planes. I’m not adopted. My dad wasn’t famous. But I know what it’s like for the main character to obsess about planes the way I obsess about writing. I know what it’s like to wonder where you came from and how that might affect where you’re going. I know what it’s like to feel lonely even in the midst of a family.

When you’ve been working on a book for over 25 years, like I have with this one, the story becomes so wrapped up in your own life that sometimes it’s hard to remember what happened to me and what happened to Flyboy. Was it Flyboy or was it me that found the box that held so many secrets? Was it Flyboy or was it me that met someone who knew their father and answered questions held silent for so long? Was it Flyboy or was it me that finally realized the true meaning of family?

I hope it is both. I hope I can tell that kind of a story, one that feels like it happened to you.

I hope that helping Flyboy find his answers will help me decide what to do with some questions of my own.

Thursday, November 5, 2009|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , |11 Comments

Where am I?

Well I am home but insanely busy in the best possible ways.

1. Working on a couple more work-for-hire projects that need doing and then finishing.

2. Diving deeper and deeper into Flyboy.

3. Taking an online class at with the fabulous editor Jill Santopolo which is helping me a lot with #2.

4. Trying to figure out more ways to get the word out to educators about the FreshBrain Book Trailer Scholarship contest.

5. Starting to ponder ideas on how to promote my Alamo book coming out next year.

6. Trying to implement a new computer file structure on Puck, aka, the radioactive computer.

7. Putting together a shopping list for native plants that I hope to buy in the next week or two.

8.  Coming up with a plan on where to put those plants once I buy them.

9. Working on the next online class – introduction to Social Media for Authors.

10. Falling farther and farther behind on blog reading, Facebook stuff and Twitter updates.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: |3 Comments

Austin trip – the inside story

Yesterday I shared the few pictures I got on my trip to Austin. Today I want to share the inside story.

The decision to go to Austin for the one day VCFA conference was a sudden one made in the burst of confidence that I was riding after a conversation with an editor who had said all sorts of great things about me. Still flying high I quickly signed up and paid the registration before I could change my mind. It took about a week for me to start to freak out.

Sure, I "knew" some of these people online, some of them for many years. But was I really going to get on a plane and fly to a place where I had no backup, no one I would be assured to walk around with, no one to pull me out from behind the potted plant when I wanted to hide? On top of that I am taking an online course which requires 10 pages of writing per week and I hadn’t finished my work for the week. I haven’t been able to succesfully write away from home since my kids were little. (They’re 27 and 30 now, so it’s been a while.) And of course there were the various choruses of doubt, what if they didn’t like me? What if we had nothing to talk about? What if I stuck my foot in my mouth?

I am an introvert who can fake the extrovert when I’m in the public but who needs a lot of quiet alone time to recharge my energy. I am a doubting Thomas when it comes to believing in myself and my gifts and my right to write. I am a person who has let a lot of life slip on by because I was too afraid to go out and live it. But I want to be different. I want to but sometimes I just don’t know how.

When I got off the plane in Austin the first thing I saw in the terminal was a Schlotzsky’s deli. Back when I lived in New Orleans I ate at Schlotzsky’s a couple of times a week because it was the cheapest place to eat next to where I was taking some night classes. So when I saw that Schlotzsky’s sign I was instantly transported back to New Orleans. I tell you, I went weak in the knees and felt like my trip was over right then and there. (For those who don’t know, no, I did not live there during Katrina but it was a traumatic time for me for other reasons.) Honestly I had to find a chair and sit down before I fell down because instead of coming in one at a time, memories washed over me like giant waves and I was drowning in things I didn’t want to remember.

But I shook it off. Reminded myself I was not in New Orleans, I was in Texas. And Texas welcomed me with open arms.

I was so glad I went early to have time to visit with friends, Don Tate, Mary Sullivan, Liz Scanlon, Peni Griffin – the four of you set the bar high for the rest of the trip. There were no awkward moments. There were no long stretches of silence when no one knew what to say. There was just wonderful conversation and sharing and laughter that flled up holes in me that I didn’t even know I had.

By the time I got to the conference I was feeling like someone had released a super power that I never knew I had. From the first hug from old friend Cynthia Leitich Smith to the last hug from new friend Donna Bowman Bratton, it was a near perfect trip.

There were some odd moments, like when I came out of the bathroom and looked around and everyone had someone to talk to and for a minute, I felt myself falter. And then the foot in the mouth time when I not once, but twice, mistook one person for someone else. An important person that I should have known. And the scariest part of all was when Kathi Appelt was talking about a verse novel that didn’t quite work for her and I kept thinking, Please don’t let it be my book. Please. Please. Please. And thankfully, it wasn’t Hugging the Rock.

But those moments were few and far between. To meet friends in person that I have built various relationships with online was such a gift. It changes things once you have that face-to-face time. It changes things for the better. I never once stopped to ask myself what I was doing here or why these people might want to converse with me. I just did it and in the doing it I realized that we each brought something special to the table that once shared, was made even more special. With each conversation I felt my confidence grow.

What I found most fascinating and perhaps frustrating is that I was able to relax and be myself in this place so far from home and yet I find it so hard to do the same thing in my own arena. I’m not quite sure how to work on that but I need to figure it out.

What did I learn? I learned that I could, again, write away from home. And not just crummy pages but good pages that earned good feedback. I learned that my years in the business had taught me much and I was able to share some of that knowledge with others. I learned that most of the other writers there felt just as lost and unsure of themselve as I did.  Most importantly I learned to look at myself differently, as an equal, as a person of value. I learned to let go of a lot of negative voices that were fighting in my head telling me the opposite of what I could see for myself.

None of this matters to anyone reading this blog as much as it matters to me. That’s okay. You can read or pass on by.

I know the inside story and that’s all that matters to me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: , |19 Comments

Girl versus computer

Let me preface this story by reminding folks that I don’t do change well at all.

My new computer finally arrived on Tuesday. The one I had to order because I killed my last new computer (less than a year old) by dumping a Coke in it.

Last computer was red. I LOVED it. Loved the red. It looked perfect in my office. It made me smile when I saw it. Once I finally transferred everything over to it I could imagine the stories me and Big Red were going to write together. But now Big Red is dead. Well if not dead at least seriously injured to the point that I will never fully trust that he won’t fall apart on me again. So Big Red is now being repaired so hubby can have it as his "on his lap in the evenings in front of the tv" computer. Which means he will now have a red computer. I needed a new computer.

I forgot that I was a 50 year old woman and started acting like I was in high school again. I could not order another red computer could I? I had to have my own color. I needed to have a different one.

I didn’t want pink.
I didn’t want blue.
I didn’t want black.

The only other color was green.

And I thought my office is a garden office and filled with greens and yellows (and once, the perfect red computer) and so I could have a green computer. Green is the color of money. The color of growing things. The color of something new.

Hubby said are you sure you want that green because it’s not a normal green?

And I said yes. I said I loved green. Look at all the green in my office.

And hubby said, really, I think you should think about it because I don’t think it’s going to look like you think it’s going to look like.

(You can see where this is going, right?)

So I ordered the green computer.

And it came Tuesday.

And I fell apart over the stupid color because it looks like a radioactive computer with its florescent apple green shell. I do not like it Sam I am.

But I can’t send it back just for the color (and pay the 15% restocking fee and wait another month for them to build me a new one.) No, really, I can’t. (Because I checked and they don’t even offer this configuration anymore.) And no, they don’t make skins yet for this model since it’s a brand-new model and a different size. (Besides the skins are just giant stickers and would totally change the outside texture which is another issue for me because right now it has this nice spongey like cover on it.)

Yes I am grateful for a new computer. Really I am. I’m lucky to have it and I know that but sometimes I just astound myself with my ability to make the wrong choices about things that are going to end up bugging me. (We won’t even go into the goof that I made on the resolution of the laptop which means I now need a new monitor.) And yes, I’ll get used to it and will go on to write wonderful things with the radioactive little beast but right now I feel like an utter moron for even caring about something so stupid as what color the computer is.

On the plus side, the green is only on the back and I don’t see it when I’m typing. And on the other plus side I’ve figured out how to block it so that I don’t see it flashing Kryptonite warnings at me when I walk into my office. Still, I’ll know the green is there.

There is no moral to this story.

Well maybe one, don’t park your Coke too close to your laptop. Okay, and another one, not all shades of green are created equal. And then a third one, husbands are sometimes right.

And this week, mine gets a gold medal in putting up with me as I work my way through all this mess.

Thursday, September 17, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: |27 Comments

Seven on Sunday?

Okay, I missed 5 on Friday and 6 on Saturday so here are 7 for Sunday while there is still a little bit of Sunday left.

1. I don’t understand how it is that the more I cut back in my life the busier I get. It might be because I have difficulty with the word no. Might. This is not likely to change.

2. Next week I hope to have something fun to announce. No, nothing around a sale but a really fun promotional event that will be open to kids 13-18 around one of my books. So if you have a kid in that age range, stay tuned.

3. I have a lot of work-for-hire stuff going on right now which is good, because money is nice, but I do wonder at how it is always feast or famine.

4. Saturday the electrician came out and installed new lights on the outside of the house and two chandeliers inside the house and there was much rejoicing. Some pictures are here if you haven’t already seen them on Facebook. I love it when you finally get something done and it looks as nice as you hoped it would.

5. Of course being as it is this house, nothing with #4 went easily and there are still "tweaks" that need fixing like the fact that the outside lights slant against the house because of the siding and the kitchen chandelier that isn’t really centered over the table (my goof.)

6. For several years I have been trying to figure out how to turn the living room into a dining room but I just couldn’t figure out what to do with the area where the dining table is now. Right after the chandelier was hung over the dining room I got the bright idea that what we needed to do was make it an alcove of floor to ceiling bookshelves for hubby’s cookbooks (he has hundreds of them) with a few casual chairs in front of it. Sigh. Later. After we get the tile replaced with wood floor. Maybe.

7. Flyboy’s dad is really fighting for a story of his own which is a little bit bizarre for me to think about writing an adult novel from a different POV using these same characters. But I promise to finish Flyboy first.

Sunday, September 13, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: |4 Comments

Writing Again at Last

Okay, I missed a couple of days here on the blog and I owe some people some responses to comments but I have a good excuse. I made major progress with Flyboy. Sunday night I actually sent out 60 pages to my first readers. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I’ve done that with fiction. A good feeling, that’s for sure.

So I am waving as I pass through. I’ll be back tomorrow with a juicy post about dogs and writing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: |7 Comments

Tuesday Ten?

Let’s see if I can come up with ten things about Tuesday.

1. I worked in my office for about 5 hours today. By that I mean in my actual chair, in my actual office, plugged into the nice keyboard and monitor. For FIVE hours. This is huge.

2. #1 felt really, really good.

3. I wonder how long it will take to make #1 a habit?

4. I also wonder why it is that I put things off for so long, things that feel like they are going to be so hard and then, well, I do them and it is okay.

5. Based on #4 I might be adjusting to Firefox more quickly than I thought and I haven’t even checked out the add-ins yet.

6. Right now I am more than a little in love with the spellcheck that shows up everywhere without me having to click things.

7. I think I am equally in love with the fact that I can add tags to bookmarks.

8. I bought something for Plant Kid on Ebay today. I didn’t plan to but I saw it and I could picture it in his room and I bought it.

9. And now I wonder what Plant Kid would put in the box.

10. I also wonder if Flyboy is going to get jealous that I didn’t buy him something.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: |9 Comments

Monday Mania – Or How Life is Making Me Crazy

After many long months (okay, since last October) I have finally moved onto my new computer. I am not a person who does change well so this has not been a lot of fun. But I do have most everything on the new computer. I just can’t find it all.

The new laptop keyboard stinks. I’ll get used to most of it but the noisy spacebar, not thinking I’ll get used to that or the really slippery trackpad. If nothing else this should motivate me to be more in my office plugging into the regular keyboard, right? 🙂  I have given up my beloved Paint Shop Pro for Fireworks but I’m not quite feeling the love for Fireworks when it comes to organizing my photos. I need to find a Fireworks expert to ask a couple of questions. Anyone?

I was able to move all my Outlook emails over to the new computer no problem. I got my rules and my calendar items and my contacts. What I didn’t get were all my reminders and I have no idea how to get them. I suppose I will be hand typing them all over again. There’s a lot of little dinking to do with everything that comes with switching computers and I just don’t have the time to do it until next week. I have a week full of deadlines but each one I cross off my list is making my life a little bit more clear for priorities.

I ordered new curtains for the kitchen but they aren’t quite right so they need to be sent back. However in one of those rare clean up as I go modes I managed to throw away the receipt. Sigh. Rugs arrived but the blue is too light and makes the kitchen look like a new baby’s room rather than the French Country look I was going for.

I won a beautiful huge rooster on Ebay and it arrived in four pieces. Yes, there is insurance but now there is the hassle of filing a claim and the fact that it was pretty unique and I haven’t seen another one like it ever.

There is still paint in the driveway from when the roof was put on. Less of it but it is still there. Tomorrow we get some new windows put in. Hope they don’t need to use spray paint for anything.

But Sunday was my husband’s birthday and we went to the beach with Cassie and watched her romp and play with the other dogs and then had a lovely dinner at Ma Maison where Cassie was able to sit with us on the patio while we ate a yummy meal.

Life is nothing if not a series of transitions. I just need to learn how to slide in and out of them a little more quickly.

Monday, August 10, 2009|Categories: Random|Tags: |6 Comments