Birth Announcement

When we first moved to our house on the White River in Vermont, we set out to make our little part of the watershed as flora-and-fauna friendly as we could.
Goslings 2 2015 for web
Except for some pink garden phlox on either side of our front door, a little bit of rather dull iris and one tiny patch of crocus, there was absolutely nothing in our front yard. It was hot in July (very hot) and birds were rather scarce.
Goslings 4 2015 for web
In addition to that, our land had once been the site of a public swimming facility called Island Park so lots of local folks were used to crossing our land willy-nilly to get to the water.

It took a while on a lot of fronts—letting trespassers know they were not welcome, planting gardens plus a little natural re-routing of the river—but nowadays, we have a lot of birds in the yard all year round, lots of flowering plants, and critters who have decided we’re pretty friendly (though they still, wisely, keep their distance).

One of our favorite rites of spring is the arrival of the Canada geese. They flock here in early April making a heckuva ruckus as they sort out who is going to live where.

Then at some point after mid-May, we’ll spot a new brood of chicks. These six little ones accompanied their proud parents for a swim for the first time on May 21.

Aren’t they just adorable!

Carding Three

Yep, I know that Thieves of Fire is barely out into the world (and work on the ebook files will not be complete until next week). But a writer’s gotta write.
Index cards for TOF 2 for web
So I spent this week outlining my next Carding novel. The working title is Three-Penny Picnic but don’t hold me to that because it could change several times between now and publication.

I’m still absorbing the lessons learned from Thieves, especially when it comes to planning before I write and how much time that can save.

Thieves-front cvr only-6x9-04272015

Thieves was launched at a crazy time in my life, the aftermath and recovery from the damage we sustained from Hurricane Irene. I was neck-deep in paperwork, trying to figure out how to do what we knew needed to be done, getting permits, following lines of possible funding (believe me, building retaining walls–LARGE ones–is an expensive proposition) and coordinating excavators, engineers, federal agencies, etc.

Yeah, crazy. But to give myself a little wiggle room here, I needed something that was stable in my life at that moment in time and writing has always been my rock.

Regardless of the reason why, I know that Thieves suffered from a lack of planning. Instead of starting with a story arc, like the one I had in The Road Unsalted, I started Thieves with a few pieces of knowledge about Carding, Vermont and a lot of questions.

Not the best idea if you would like to satisfy readers in a timely manner.

At one point, I was so discouraged, I almost gave up on Thieves entirely because it was so, so, so scattered. I can’t tell you how many months it sat on my desk while I scowled at it and it scowled back.

I finally decided I needed to impose order on the mess of words so I grabbed a pack of index cards, sat down with what I had written to that point, and noted each scene. This is an idea that I learned from an interview in the Paris Review with Vladimir Nobakov. (Did you know that he almost burned Lolita? His wife literally rescued the index cards for that book from a burn pile.)

Then I shuffled my cards around until the sequence of events made more sense. AND THEN I figured out where my holes were and noted the scenes that needed to be written in order to weave the book into a whole.

Then I sat down to write.

And write and write and write.

There were a lot of holes.

As I said, I learned a lot.

But the biggest lesson is this: A little planning goes a long way to saving time later.

I recently celebrated my birthday, a day that I treat somewhat like my personal New Year’s Day. I always make a resolution (OK, usually more than one). This year, it’s to up my game as far as writing output is concerned.

I have a lot of Carding stories crowding my head, a lot of characters I want to explore in much greater depth.

And readers who are asking when the next book will be out.

My goal is a new book in September. That’s THIS September.

I’ll keep you posted.

Cloud Collectors

Did you know there was a website and book dedicated to cloud appreciation?

Early morning clouds over the White River
Early morning clouds over the White River

I just love that idea.

I bought the book for my husband for his birthday a couple of years ago and picked it up last night, intrigued anew by the idea.

So when I went out for my early morning walk today, I decided to start my collection. The combination of the river, the magical quality of light in Vermont, and the ephemeral nature of clouds is a perfect combination, in my book.

Reader Reviews

Most readers don’t realize how much power they have in the brave new world of publishing.
Thieves-front cvr only-6x9-04272015
You see, back in the traditional-publishing-only era, reviews were all written by professionals who served the interests of the publishing establishment. This is not to say that reviewers wrote what publishers wanted to hear. For the most part, that is definitely not true.

But publishers fed reviewers the books they really wanted to sell, and didn’t bother with the rest.

If you were the author of “one of the rest,” getting reviewed was nigh near impossible.

But then Amazon tore that whole cozy relationship to pieces when they created a review mechanism that was open to EVERYONE!!!

Gasp! Horror! Readers can’t write reviews, the establishment said.

Ah ha, but they can. And they do. And they’re really, really, really good at it.

Reader reviews drive book sales. A lot of reviews raise a book’s visibility. A lot of bad reviews can sink a book. Pointed comments about a lack of editing can get a book pulled from the Amazon shelves.

Yep, readers are powerful.

My latest novel, Thieves of Fire, has just opened up for reviews on Amazon and I have been so touched and honored by what folks have to say. I’ve always believed that books are incomplete until they are united with readers so hearing what folks have to say about Thieves is crucial to me.

Here’s one of my favorites so far:

I loved this book. I am an avid reader and do not say that about many books, but this one creates a world that I wanted to inhabit, with characters that I felt I knew, both the endearing and the annoying, and a story that kept the pages turning. The back story within the story was far more complex than I expected at the outset, and the way that it intertwined with the main plot was masterfully executed.

I live in Vermont (only 25 years years so no delusions that I’m a Vehmontah) and am a bit skittish about books that are set in our just about perfect world. Thieves of Fire hit all the right notes and showed us for what we are: a rugged, quirky, individualist bunch of interesting (on a good day)/curmudgeonly (the rest of the time) people who like to be left alone except when someone needs a hand or has a good story to tell. Well done, Sonja Hakala, you’ve done us proud!

Feel Me Brave

Yesterday, I wrote about this incredible book that I’ve been honored to help along the path to publishing. It is called Feel Me Brave written by Jessica Stout and her father, Walter Horak.

What is it about? I’ll let Jessica tell you. This is an excerpt from her introduction. The drawing of the dancing little boy was created by Walter.

Introduction to Feel Me Brave
©2015 Jessica Stout

Illustration © 2015 by Walter Horak
Illustration © 2015 by Walter Horak

Parenthood universally ushers in surprises, discoveries, unforeseen challenges and delights. With that said, my initial experience as a parent seemed to fit within the bounds of “normal” expectations.

Even with the perilous delivery of our second child, my husband and I ultimately found ourselves grateful and content with a healthy daughter, Jane, and son, Ryland, roughly two years apart as planned.

Our life course changed dramatically, however, soon after Ryland’s second birthday. We observed subtle yet progressing weakness on his left side and following the advice of his pediatrician, we brought him to the hospital where an MRI revealed the cause as a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, a tumor in the brainstem.

This was a devastating discovery, as the prognosis for DIPG is poor: Most children die within nine to twelve months and very few survive past two years.

The location in the brainstem threatens vital functions and renders this tumor inoperable. Treatment choices are limited and non-curative, and the typical progression of this disease and the way it steals functioning cast a horrifying shadow over the future.

Clearly, my husband and I had had altogether different plans for our future as a family. We had moved to Vermont with the intention of creating a healthy lifestyle with strong connections to nature and the outdoors. As parents we made choices with the overarching goals of security and stability for the family.

I suppose that from this place of deliberate planning came a certain assumption that life would unfold in a way that cohered, at least loosely, to our vision. This vision stretched well beyond our home. It included relationships with extended family members who were experiencing the joy of welcoming first grandchildren into the family fold.

Certainly for these loved ones too, there was a powerful vision for how this chapter of life should look: joyful visits and holidays together, a steady parade of milestones to witness and celebrate, from walking to biking to reading to hitting a baseball.

We also had close friendships with other young families, and in those relationships too were the shared expectations of many fun times together and the hope for lasting bonds between our children.

So this relatively small yet overwhelmingly powerful tumor struck our family at its core, with a profound and far-reaching impact outward.

Touch

In my “other life,” the one that doesn’t include the hands-on creation of my own prose, I construct books for other authors through my book production company, Full Circle Press LLC.

I have met and worked with some amazing people over the years and have proudly produced a wide variety of books from novels to memoirs to non-fiction that ranges all over the map.

But on a personal level, I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a book that moved me like Feel Me Brave by Jessica Stout and Walter Horak.

This book, as they will both tell you, should not be published. Not that it’s a bad read. It isn’t. The words and poetry are riveting in their stark beauty.

It’s because its subject matter is so hard to bear. Feel Me Brave is about a little boy, Jessica’s son and Walter’s grandson, who died of cancer just after he turned three years old. (Cue the tissues. Even writing this makes me cry.)

Feel Me Brave started as a blog on Caring Bridge, written by Jessica, as a way to tell her friends and family what was going on with little Ryland. At some point, Walter (who is a sculptor) spontaneously began writing poetry as a way to cope. Writing is good that way.

In the best tradition of word-of-mouth, Jessica and Walter found me through a friend who knows of my book production habit and must think well of me because he trusted that I would give Feel Me Brave the respect it deserves. I hope I have earned his continued trust.

I’ve never wept while typesetting a book before, and I get teary just making the small corrections we have left to do. I cannot imagine the footsteps in their journey.

The last time we met, I asked Jessica and Walter if they would allow me to talk about Feel Me Brave online because the sense of hope in their book is so strong.

Hope when they lost a beloved child, an event that all too often crushes families? Yes, because the bonds among these folks are so strong, they are almost visible to the eye.

That’s the hope they hold out, that our commitment to one another is strong enough for us to endure together.

I’m going to share snippets of Feel Me Brave over the next few days, starting with one of Walter’s poems called “Touch.” It was written approximately six months after Ryland’s diagnosis when the little guy had been through radiation and had started some further treatments.

Touch by Walter Horak