field notes (6.24.16)

The most effective forms of revision that are working for me at this moment are asking questions and reading aloud.

I finished my July column for the newspaper last week and was so happy to have completed it so far in advance: I needed time to work on my other projects. Well. I reread it the following day and realized that while the essay was “good,” it wasn’t true. After giving myself 30 minutes to try to make it true, I set it aside and started fresh on a new column. Still working on it…

The Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference is happening this week. I’ve been grateful to catch the (free) evening readings.

Going to try biking and running without music. I don’t know why, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should try this. So I will.

Beyond my immediate family, I’ve realized that words are the main relationship of my life.

I love my early morning journaling. If I don’t do it, my whole day feels jagged.

A trip to the Mississippi River Headwaters left me  feeling alive and oxygenated.

Visited Itasca Leathergoods: they are making art.

field notes (6.17.16)

The urge to journal has been overwhelming lately. A quick glance through my notes reveals this. And yet I resist because it doesn’t feel like work, like progress. I wonder if such efforts will add up to anything publishable. But still, I can’t ignore the urge to just write about all the swirling thoughts. And then I read a FB post from the writer Amy Gigi Alexander:

“Tonight I was thinking about all the really dreadful things that happen to one. I mean the dark and terrible, and the grim and depressing – those things which cause anxiety, self-doubt, and make you wish you’d never tried. There’s much you have to overcome to be the person you’re called to be, to do the things which have your name on them – I guess, to even recognize that’s your name on the binding.

But one day, you realize you got to the other side, past all those things. You wouldn’t have gotten to that spot unless those people hadn’t given you a hard time. To get to where you are, you had to really want it. The truth is, the bad stuff can help you define who you are, just as much as the good – and sometimes more so.

I had a bully in elementary school. Her name was Peggy Johnson. Oh, she was cruel. She would scare me every morning telling me she was going to beat me up after school, and I was terrified of her. I was so scared of her, I used to shake, and when I told other kids and my teacher about her threats no one cared. Everyone would just tell me that I was making a big deal out of it, or that I should just avoid her, which was impossible. Sometimes she would hit me in the stomach behind the school yard, and I would just try to be as quiet as possible when it happened, in hopes she would stop.

I barely survived fifth grade because of Peggy Johnson, had it not been for the HARRIET THE SPY books which taught me this: You don’t have to fit in, you just have to be really good. Like Harriet: she was excellent at taking notes. Notes that mattered, later. I began taking notes on Peggy, and those notes helped me understand who she was, and who I was, too. I used those notes later to put her in her place, and it worked.

I’ve taken so many notes in the last ten years. I took notes on how I felt, and every single thing that happened – there is nothing that happened – there is nothing has affected me that I did not write down, in detail. I paid rapt attention. I’ve been like Harriet in that way most of my life, but especially recently. I’ve written more for myself personally, in diary format, in the last three years, than I have in the last twenty. There’s been a great deal to observe and reflect on.

Well, I’m going to be a writer. And when I say that’s a mountain, that’s a mountain.” – Louise Fitzhugh in HARRIET, THE SPY

In a weird way, I’m glad I met Peggy Johnson. I remember the day I stood up to her still, and how she never bothered me again. Not to condone bullying, but the resilient side of myself took Peggy and made something good come out of her. And that’s kind of what adult life is like too – you will meet people who don’t think you can – but the thing is, you very much can, and you will. You really will.

Life is a struggle and a good spy goes in there and fights.” – Louise Fitzhugh in HARRIET, THE SPY

Take good notes, because the notes matter. Journaling will be the thing that helps you get to the place you are supposed to be. You’ll see yourself change long before anyone else does. And that’s quite a thing to witness. It’s a force. We’ve all got it.”

And so I am journaling. I began on Monday. My resistance to journaling is connected to my (slowly being phased out) standard operating procedure which is: work as hard and as fast as possible. I’m attempting a new tack. I’m going to not rush. I am going to write daily. My writing may be publishable, it may not. I am recommitting myself to the work. To keep the pen and the pencil moving across the page. I kickstarted my novel on June 1 after spending almost 9 months researching and brainstorming and preparing for it. I’ve got some great scenes down. But, guess what? I’m not ready yet. There are parts of it that are completely blank in my mind. And I know some people will say that I’ve just got to do the work and I’ll write my way into it. But, something tells me that won’t work for me for this novel or for me.

First, I haven’t had the time to go through and elaborate on my notes from my research road trip to the South – which is all fodder for the novel. Second, I received a text this week that triggered a cascade of memories that I’ve been pushing under a rug and that directly influences my work on this novel. I felt raw after reading that text. And I know that what that means is that I need to turn toward that pain and fear and figure out what’s on the other side. I need more time to write for myself about this issue before I share it in the form of a novel. I need to complete some circles in my life story. I need time to write my personal story. I need time to read more craft books. I need time to read more YA novels. I need time.

It is not laziness that is compelling me (which is a big fear for me), it’s the necessity of figuring out an honest and true way to live my story before I tell my story. And the feeling that if I try to skip to making a pretty bloom (without a stem or roots), I will not have learned what I am supposed to learn. Instead, I’m building my soil, adding compost. I’m letting me change. I’m writing the changes down. I’m practicing being brave in the way I need to be right now: by going slowly.


A colleague reviewed one of my manuscripts this week and I was reminded that sometimes the best kind of feedback is a series of thoughtful questions.

field notes (6.10.16)

My latest essay, RUNNING ON EMPTY was published this week.

They say to follow your heart, to follow your bliss. But they are wrong. You must follow your fear. You must FACE your fear: behind them lies what you most desire.Turn your feet and your face toward that furnace of your own fire-breathing fear dragon and slay it each day so that you may pursue what you love the most.

Reading NORTH SHORE by Chel Anderson & Adelheid Fischer

I started my novel push: I set some goals and am relishing the times when I lose myself in a scene.

Book ideas abound! I am enjoying playing with them and reminding myself that some books require three years of research and writing and revising and some do not; some ideas arrive quickly and completely. One is not better than the other. They are simply different.

I am officially a tea drinker.

I discovered thousands(!) of yellow lady’s slippers on my bike rides this week. It left me feeling elated and hopeful.

Steady on!

field notes (6.3.16)

This sentence is the best sentence I’ve read in a long time (from Rick Bragg’s MY SOUTHERN JOURNEY): “Juanita, tough and tiny, made of whalebone and hell, looked about to cry.”

I’m in the thick of establishing a new summer writing routine, that is to say, I’m lining up babysitters and setting specific writing goals and creating momentum and saying no.


Carrying the word “amateur” around in my mind’s pocket. From Latin, it means “for the love.” To me, it means creating and doing for the love, for the journey, for the process. Amateur is not about the product. Writing and creating in this vein helps me to take risks and step out of my try-too-hard tendencies.

Polishing & finalizing the teen reading workshop I’m leading on July 20 at the Bemidji Public Library.

Considering attending LoonSong: A Writer’s Retreat.

Reading: READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN by Megan Dowd Lambert and MY SOUTHERN JOURNEY by Rick Bragg (which I love, but would love to see Southern writing which does not disparage the North in its rendering. Which I now realize is the thing I must do as I write my novel which takes place in the North and the South. Have the customs and weather and traditions clash, yes, without naming one inferior and the other superior. Just Different.)

Submitting! (and it feels so good.)

Got the garden planted: squash, carrots, potatoes (they love the soil here), zucchini, tomatoes, green beans.

Made serious progress on our family photo albums this past weekend which I realize may not seem relevant to writing, but is because completing this enormous project will set my mind free to write and fantasize and create on the page.

Craving some time with my watercolors.

Variability is a strength: it is not to be feared.

“The woman who does not require validation from anyone is the most feared individual on the planet.” Mohadesa Najumi

Chewing on this fragment from Megan Dowd Lambert: “picture books as a visual art form.”

Completing final edits for my next essay.

field notes (5.27.16)

I forgot to mention last week, the awesomeness of this web site, TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) a great tool for helping make your photographs as amazing as possible.

“Your sole mission is to articulate your suffering in a way that emancipates you and empowers other women.” – Carole Radziwill

N.B. I’ll build my novel scene by scene, brick by brick. (Building steam for my June 1 start date. Y’all, I’ve got miles and miles to write this summer. And I am ready.)

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

“Midlife: when the Universe grabs you by the shoulders and tells you “I’m not f-ing around, use the gifts you were given.” – Brene Brown (You guys, so many people complain about aging, but let me tell you, there are some mind-blowingly positive benefits. Knowing your gifts, for example.)

Polishing, polishing, polishing a manuscript and query letter. Sleeping and not rushing and being quietly over this project. So that we are both ready when the time comes. Which connects to this next quote which resonates now: “Listen to me. You need to be a home for yourself and your work. You need to be the safe place to present things to be admired and loved.” – Elizabeth Berg

This poem, My heart is a diner that never closes… by Shaindel Beers and published in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, is simultaneously splitting me open and inspiring a new work. Why does the best poetry hurt so good?

Listening to Righteously by Lucinda Williams and Little Red Wagon by Miranda Lambert

Finishing SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE by Ron Rash: I do not want these stories to end, and yet, I cannot stop reading.

“I can never get my theology to sound right and true on paper or in conversation, but sometimes, I can get it to feel right in my life, in my living.” – Kelsi Turner

field notes (5.20.16)

Made a pilgrimage to Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, Iowa. I gathered a tottering stack of books, headed to a sunny window seat and lost myself in the words and images for two hours before my tummy told me it was time to eat. The entire experience was delightful. (And then I spent too much money!)

Visited the North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum and was amazed by this tiny gembox of a museum. I have driven past this museum dozens of times, always eager to stop and explore, but either a deadline to get to our destination or the museum’s limited hours prevented me. Not this time!

Took a basics photography class with Bryan Hansel at North House Folk School this weekend and I finally understand aperture settings, shutter speed, ISO settings and other photographic mysteries. This is so satisfying after years (!!!) of trying to figure all this out and failing. I’m hoping I can get my photographs to more accurately portray what I see.

Sugarloaf Cove Nature Center is a jewel: hike out to the rocky point, face into the wind and breathe. What a place.


Digging in deep to prepare the workshop I’m offering at the Bemidji Public Library in July. So excited about this event! More details to come…

field notes (5.13.16)

I visited Parnassus Books! When I was a child living in Tennessee, Davis-Kidd Booksellers was the most magnificent bookstore imaginable. I had never seen or experienced another bookstore like it. Each visit was magical. When they closed, even though I was living in Arizona at the time, I was devastated. Some vital part of my childhood was dead. But then Parnassus came along and picked up the baton. And last week I got to stand inside Parnassus bookstore and bookmobile and rub my hand along the book spines and touch the counter top and it felt as if Parnassus was also magical.

While in Nashville, I had the chance to visit the Parthenon and Athena and also, Katherine Ace’s swooningly beautiful exhibit of her Grimms’ Tales paintings.

My essay, WEATHER OR NOT, was published in the Bemidji Pioneer last week. I hope you like it.

Reconsidering and tinkering with my summer writing schedule….hoping to add a babysitter once a week so that I can make some big progress on my latest writing project.

Overwhelmed at all the notes and ideas that came with attending the WWMW 2016 Conference and the research road trip I took immediately after: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

field notes (5.6.16)

attended the Wild, Wild Midwest SCBWI Conference 2016; it was brilliant, inspiring and so much fun

woo hoo! I won the runner-up award for my picture-book biography manuscript in the nonfiction contest at the Wild, Wild Midwest Conference. I am surprised and grateful and take it as a sign to not quit writing just yet. Thank you, judges, for the nod

during my drive to Chicago to attend the conference, I listened to ECHO by Pam Munoz Ryan and it was brilliant. I lost track of time as I listened. You can read it too, of course, but then you miss the excellent harmonica playing

enjoying a solo road trip through Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Iowa and Minnesota. Ladies, solo adventure is the answer

visited Parnassus and enjoyed speaking to the booksellers about classic and contemporary Southern writers. Left with a stack of books and a list of more titles. Reading SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE by Ron Rash to begin

reading MY FRIEND FLICKA by Mary O’Hara: this novel is a comfort object for my soul and perfect to restore peace to my sometimes anxious heart when I am away from home

reconnected with a dear, dear friend after a 20-year absence. Grateful does not even begin to describe how I feel about having this woman back in my life

feeling grateful, also, for my writing buddies Annette and Rose

loving sweet tea, being called darlin’, blooming magnolia trees, having doors held open for me, eating fried okra, talking from my soul with my dearest friends, walking barefoot

realizing that the only way to get braver is to do things that are profoundly scary

field notes (4.29.16)

reading Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior and it’s just right, right now

in CHICAGO! for a writing conference

cleaned and purged and refreshed my (tiny) writing studio so that when I return from my travels, I will be ready to write

I’m not sure where the idea of “paying your dues” came from, but for my entire writing life I have bought into it. Until now. I AM DONE PAYING MY DUES. (Do you hear me, universe?) DONE. It is time for me to produce and produce and produce and submit and submit and submit

sleeping and sleeping and sleeping (gathering my strength for all to come)

Wondering about story structure: I took a class this autumn that was all about following the W story structure. And I have spent the last few months unsuccessfully trying to get my novel to fit into that form. In the depths of my frustration, I read a beautiful essay by the accomplished John McPhee in the New Yorker and he basically said that structure is essential, but that each story has a unique structure. As a writer, you’ve got to figure out what structure works for each story. This was so liberating. I went through my picture-book biography manuscript and all my columns for the newspaper and drew diagrams of each essay: none of them fit the W form, but they all had a solid structure. Now, as I think about the structure of my novel, I’m keeping this in mind. This is not to say that I am throwing out the W form, it just means that I’m considering other forms. And wondering…

field notes (4.22.16)

Made it to the Talley Gallery to see the McKnight exhibit. Brilliant. Especially Kip O’Krongly’s work.

Finished WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron. So much insight contained within this book. Now, going back and attempting to make sense of my notes and create a cohesive vision for my novel.

Planted mesclun, spinach, radishes, gemstone and DMR lettuce mix. And they have started sprouting!

Reading Jim Harrison’s trilogy of short novels – REVENGE, THE MAN WHO GAVE UP HIS NAME and LEGENDS OF THE FALL – and absolutely hanging on his every word. What a ride! Also, slogging through A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf and now that I’ve typed that I’m pretty sure I’m going to stop the slog, because life is short and there is such great writing waiting for me to read it.