I am thrilled to say that I went on a much needed solitary writer’s retreat a couple of weeks ago! A writing friend had recommended that I try the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, KY. I did some emailing, and found out that I could stay at the Cedars of Peace retreat there.
Here is my cabin from the back. It is called Joy.
The cabin had everything I needed: a kitchen, a bed, a desk, a window with a view of the woods. More than that, it offered complete quiet and solitude!
Here is my cabin from the front.
The cabin was perfect! The setting was perfect! I set up my desk…I sat and looked out the window…I wrote…I read….I walked in the woods…I wrote some more…I read some more. I hardly spoke to another soul, except for the two lovely ladies who run both Cedars of Peace and Knobs Haven at the Motherhouse. They just wanted to make sure I was settled in. And yes, I was very settled in. I hardly wanted to leave my little cabin.
Here’s the view from my desk…..
And here’s the kitchen….
I spent four amazing days of total solitude and stillness. It was exactly what I needed to help me get back into the novel I have been struggling with. I had never been to the Loretto Motherhouse before, even though it is only an hour from my home. It has a fascinating history — was founded in the early 1800’s. There’s a quiet cemetery there dating back to the beginning. There are trails to walk and a sculpture studio with sculptures by one of the resident nuns. I can’t believe it was only an hour from my home, and yet it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere.
I can’t wait to return to the Cedars of Peace the next time I need a restful and inspiring break from the everyday.
It’s been a while since I blogged about poetry. But here I go again. Because I recently read that one of my favorite poets died.
Wislawa Szymborska was born in 1923 in Poland. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996. I remember reading the announcement in the New York Times back then. They wrote about her surprise at winning. Apparently, she was a very private, quiet poet. The newspaper printed several lines from her poems, a sample of her work.
Something about the poems grabbed me. I think because the language was so simple, so frank. And yet it had a lyrical quality, a spare beauty. The lines I read had wit about them as well, a subtle wit. A sly kind of wit. A bit of a nudge and a wink. It seemed to me the poet was speaking through the words, saying, “Don’t worry. I’m not taking this very seriously, and neither should you. It’s just a poem, after all. The world is so much more important than this.” And yet, the words demanded attention all the same. They took hold, they sprouted. Her voice got in my head.
I cut the sample poems out of the newspaper that day and put them on my bulletin board, where they stayed, curling a little, browning at the edges, for several years. I also went out back then to St. Mark’s Bookstore in the east village in NYC and bought her book of selected poems. I have it still. I’m looking at it now.
Here are the last few stanzas from her poem, “On Death, Without Exaggeration:”
Hearts beat inside eggs.
Babies’ skeletons grow.
Seeds, hard at work, sprout their first tiny pair of leaves
and sometimes even tall trees fall away.
Whoever claims that it’s omnipotent
is himself living proof
that it’s not.
There’s no life
that couldn’t be immortal
if only for a moment.
always arrives by that very moment too late.
In vain it tugs at the knob of the invisible door.
As far as you’ve come
can’t be undone.
from View with a Grain of Sand, selected poems
Wislawa Szymborska, 1923-2012
As a writer, I’m often asked to come to speak to schools or to groups of young people, and it’s always an honor, and often very inspiring for me. A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Lancaster, Kentucky and spoke to three different groups of young writers from several different counties:
The Fire Writers
The Clark Moores Middle School Pencil Breakers
Wow! What cool names. And what cool kids! They all sat and listened intensely as I read the first chapter of Dream of Night, and then they had some truly terrific questions ready for me. Obviously these three different groups were serious about books and reading and writing, and that’s something that’s just so awe-inspiring to see in this day and age when there are so many distractions.
Thanks to Beth Dotson Brown for inviting me to speak, and thanks to those awesome girls for being who they are. Keep reading, keep writing — and as I noted in your books — keep dreaming, because once upon a time I dreamed about being a writer, and I’m here to tell you that dreams really can come true!
Linda and I met three years ago at Books by the Banks, the annual Book Fair in downtown Cincinnati. We’d been randomly thrown together, as you always are at these events: two — possibly three — authors sitting side by side for a solid eight hours, smiling till your cheeks ache, signing books till your hand hurts, answering questions, pitching your story over and over again, hearing your table mate pitching her story over and over again to parents/grandparents continually strolling by, unsure of what type of book they want to buy for their child/grandchild.
I’ll be honest. You don’t always get along with your table mate at these events. You are always cordial, of course, always polite. But by the end of the day, you are often tired of hearing about the book the other writer is selling, and when you pack up and say, “Oh, let’s keep in touch,” you don’t always mean it.
This was not the case with Linda Sanders-Wells. Over the course of that day, as we began to really talk, to exchange stories and experiences, we just clicked. When we both said, “Let’s keep in touch,” there was no doubt that we would.
In this modern world, it’s easy to keep in touch, but it’s harder to actually spend a lot of quality time together. I’m sad to say that over the past three years I did not see Linda as much as I would have liked. We lived three hours away from one other; we were both busy with work and family and writing. But in that time Linda became somebody I knew I could go to for advice and encouragement. She was smart and funny and self-deprecating and wise. She was a writer, a true writer. She had a way with words. She had a lot of stories inside her; she had a lot of stories left to tell. I was hoping more of her work would be published. I still am. She had/has a voice that needed/needs to be heard.
Here is a picture I took of Linda at my favorite bookstore, The Blue Marble, in northern Kentucky. She’d come in support (of course) of my latest book, Dream of Night. When I went back last week to look at the photos, I couldn’t believe I didn’t have a picture of the two of us together from that day. But I’m so glad I at least have this one: a photo of Linda surrounded by something she loved — books.
I will keep you in my heart, Linda. I will remember you always. Thank you for your friendship.
Here is a cut and paste of the obituary which appeared in Cincinnati newspapers, along with the link:
MADISONVILLE – Linda Sanders-Wells introduced herself on her blog this way: “I’m a writer. Since my first poem at about age six, I’ve been trying to put stories into words in a way that would connect with other people.”
Ms. Sanders-Wells, 54, died Oct. 20 at home after a long struggle with breast cancer.
In her 33 years in the publishing industry, Ms. Sanders-Wells wrote for companies ranging from the Louisville Times to Mademoiselle Magazine to F&W Publications.
Most recently, she was a communications consultant for Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, devoted to improving results in secondary education. Her friend Carri Schneider called Ms. Sanders-Wells a model of “how to live a life of joy, acceptance and loving kindness.”
Ms. Sanders-Wells’ passion was as a children’s book author and editor. Like the best writers, she drew on her own experiences to tell a larger story.
She had great success in 2009 with her children’s picture book “Maggie’s Monkeys,” about a little girl who believes a family of monkeys has moved into the refrigerator.
Ms. Sanders-Wells told her fans “Maggie’s Monkeys” was inspired years ago by living with her daughter Abigail’s “invisible-to-us friend.”
Ms. Sanders-Wells had her own invisible monkey friend as a child, when her family lived in Central America, “where some children had actual monkeys. And yes, it lived in the refrigerator. Not the family refrigerator, but my toy one.”
“Maggie’s Monkeys,” a Junior Library Guild selection, is included in the Bank Street Best Children’s Books of 2010 and was on the Master List for the Kentucky Bluegrass Awards for 2011. It won raves from teachers, librarians, parents and kids.
The book celebrated what Ms. Sanders-Wells called two powerful forces: love and imagination. She was “thrilled – and humbled” to meet fans at events like Cincinnati’s Books at the Banks.
A devoted member of a local children’s book writing group, her good friend and colleague Sally Derby of Cincinnati called Ms. Sanders-Wells “an old soul,” and said her stories delved deeper than the regular children’s book.
“I still have hopes her other books will be published,” Derby said.
Filmmaker and author Eunice Charlton-Trujillo of Cincinnati has dedicated her next book, which will come out in 2012, to Ms. Sanders-Wells.
“I decided long before she was sick,” Charlton-Trujillo said. “Linda was very inspirational and an incredible motivator for me to keep writing. She had faith. She believed in people.”
Ms. Sanders-Wells wrote: “The special books we encounter as kids go straight to our hearts. That’s why I write for children. In the hope that perhaps something I have to say will register with one other person.”
There are plans under way to publish at least one other of Ms. Sanders-Wells’ manuscripts. “Sometimes Friends,” which explores how friendships are made, will be published by Charlton-Trujillo and Sanders-Wells daughter, Abigail, 17.
It’s a book, Charlton-Trujillo said, that will change young lives.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include her partner of 24 years, Howard Wells; her parents, Robert and Sue Sanders of Indianapolis; two brothers, Neal Sanders and Alan Sanders, both of Chicago; and a sister, Laurie Sanders Squire of Chicago.
A memorial and celebration will begin 5 p.m. Nov. 10 at Grailville, 932 O’Bannonville Road, Loveland. For directions, www.grailville.org or 513-683-2340.
I just found out that Dream of Night was nominated for Missouri’s Truman Readers Award. My friend Catherine Balkin over at Balkin Buddies (http://balkinbuddies.blogspot.com) gave me the good news this weekend, and I’ve only now had a chance to put it up.
Catherine, who worked with me at HarperCollins many years ago, is always one of the first to know about awards lists, and I’m really grateful to her for letting me know!
Here’s the info about the award:
Missouri Association of School Librarians’ four Readers Awards represent the best current youth literature available to students of different grade levels. Every year, MASL’s Readers Award Committees work to create a preliminary list of titles that are read and voted upon by groups of Reader/Selectors to create the final list of nominees. Titles on the final list are then read and voted upon by students across Missouri to determine the recipients of the MASL Readers Awards. The Truman Readers Award are for grades 6-8. The other three awards are the Show Me Readers Award (Grades 1-3), Mark Twain Readers Award (Grades 4-6), and Gateway Readers Award (Grades 9-12).
Wow! I just met with a group of amazing girls yesterday! I’d been invited a while ago by Trinity Episcopal here in Danville, KY to be part of their Summer Reading Group. Yesterday I arrived at Trinity to discover there were only 3 members of the program, but the small number made no difference at all! The three gals I met and spent some time with had so much presence, enthusiasm and spark — enough for a whole roomful of readers!
First of all, what great questions! Each one of these young minds had very focused, very specific questions about the story I read, the book itself, the art, how the art gets to the page….just really terrific! I read from That Book Woman, and then we talked about the Pack Horse Librarians (first question: were they all women? Answer: no, but there were only a few men who worked as PHL’s), talked about the time period (1930’s), about the poverty and lack of schools or libraries back then. We talked about old time customs, like drinking Sassy Tea and looking at how thick the black band around the middle of a wooly worm is as a way of predicting how cold the next winter will be.
All three girls — Lina, Addie, and Jade — like to write stories as well. We talked about the journals they’re creating, and they said they might help me out with some ideas for a book I’ve been trying to write about “Runaway Hennie,” my son’s pet chicken who seems to disappear all day long and then reappears mysteriously at night as if nothing has happened.
What does Runaway Hennie do all day anyway? Maybe the girls can come up with some good ideas this week! Maybe I could post them on my blog here!
Anyway, it was just a special day. Thanks so much to Jan at Trinity for inviting me, and thanks to all the other folks there who were so friendly and welcoming.
But the biggest thanks of all goes to you girls! You are the BEST! Don’t lose that curiosity! Don’t lose that love of learning! Don’t lose that spunk and that unique thing that makes you YOU!!!! Don’t lose that fantastic GIRL POWER!!!!!
Love and xxx’s and oooo’s to A, L, and J!!!!!
Johnny is back!
Two years ago, my family’s summer stock theatre, Pioneer Playhouse, invited Johnny Crawford to be our guest celebrity for the season. Johnny is an original Mouseketeer and the Emmy nominated co-star of the classic TV show The Rifleman. (One of my fav shows as a kid!) He is also a singer with a smooth-as-silk crooning voice.
This year Johnny is returning to Danville to do a one-night only performance of Big Band/Swing music in conjunction with the Playhouse’s third show of the season, That Madcap Moon. The play is written by my aunt, Jan Henson Dow, an acclaimed playwright. It is our “Kentucky History” play (we do one a year), set in the Henson Hotel on Main Street in Danville during World War II. The main character is my beloved “Grandma Hen” who ran the Henson Hotel for nearly 7 decades and had a lot of amazing stories to tell. The play incorporates memories of local veterans and those who remained behind during the War Years.
Back to Johnny…Although best known as a versatile actor of stage and screen, Johnny Crawford has also had a successful singing career. Signed by Del-Fi Records, Johnny had a string of hit singles in the 1960’s. More recently he was the vocalist in Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks Orchestra, featured on a Garrison Keillor TV Special from Radio City Music Hall and performing at the 1989 George Bush Inaugural Ball. After forming his own Vintage Dance Orchestra, he now provides authentic period music for film, special events and education. A new CD of his music was recently released to great critical acclaim.
Johnny will be at the Playhouse on July 17, 8 pm, for an evening singing and dancing. (Wear your dancing shoes!) But he will also be at the Boyle County Public Library for a one hour event on July 16 at 2 pm. During this show he will sing a few songs and answer questions about music from the War Years era — and maybe sign a few autographs!
I had the privilege of spending time with Johnny the last time he was in town, taking him around to some of his TV interviews, etc, and I have to say he’s just a wonderful person. So charming and yet so accessible, so down to earth. And so knowledgeable about music! I had no idea before hanging out with him that he had such a vast and rich knowledge of songs and music from by-gone eras. Truly a wealth of fascinating info.
Can’t wait to see Johnny again — and write more about his re-visit to Danville here on my blog. Keep checking back.
And check out the Playhouse website: www.pioneerplayhouse.com for more about the season and Johnny’s performance. You can also listen to one of Johnny’s songs!
I’m really excited to announce that not one, but two of my books, Dream of Night and That Book Woman, are both finalists for the 2011-2012 MD Black-Eyed Susan Book Award. Yay! (Black-eyed susans happen to be one of my fav flowers!)
Thanks to Catherine Balkin for letting me know about the announcement and for posting it on her wonderful blog: http://balkinbuddies.blogspot.com.
It also happens that Catherine allowed me to guest blog on her site recently, and I wrote about how thrilled I was to receive a fan letter from a class in France. In the letter the students had written an imagined scene (in French) between Cal and the Book Woman. How creative! Below is a picture of the class holding La Dame des Livres.
Merci to the students — and to Catherine — for allowing me to be a guest on her blog.