Month: April 2015

Muck-Out Monday: Making Room

(‘Muck-Out Mondays’ = sharing inspiration from the backlog of blog posts in my inbox. Check here and here for previous Muck-Out Monday posts.)

My old friend Liz’s one-a-day poem for National Poetry Month last Friday was a ‘Poem of Apology’, from the POV of a sticky tag. It followed the form of William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just to Say”.

Reading (and thinking) about that particular poetic form made me think (again) about This is Not My Hat — and (this time) about how that book could be understood as one giant apology that doesn’t want to be said. The little fish builds this crazy, untenable, underwater house of cards rationalization not for why stealing the big fish’s hat was ok, but for why he will actually get away with it. Somewhere in there — if you really dig, and you maybe project a little bit too — you may find a misshapen mea culpa.

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I love the dodgy little dance that the text and images do in This Is Not My Hat: the images both undermine and compel the narrative at every turn. So, instead of writing, I sat at my desk Friday perusing various other amazing choreographies of text and illustration — like Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead’s If You Want to See A Whale.

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Two recent blog posts — perfectly timed for thematically-aligned distraction — focus on the making of a new picture book and the author/illustrator dance: one from an author’s perspective and another from an illustrator’s.

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Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad’s This Is Sadie is due out May 12. Pat Zietlow-Miller and Eliza Wheeler’s Wherever You Go was released last week. Danielle Davis interviews Sara O’Leary about her writing process for This Is Sadie at thispicturebooklife.com, while Eliza Wheeler guests posts about the journey of illustrating Wherever You Go at picturebookbuilders.com.

Here’s a bit from the Sara O’Leary interview:

TPBL: Was the fox your idea or did Julie Morstad add in the fox on her own?

Sara O’Leary: There was a fox in the first draft of the story–a line about how when she grew up Sadie might get married and how she might marry a fox or a tin soldier but that she was in no hurry. And then the idea of her little fox family came in later. And then once Julie had added that into Sadie’s imaginative world I found that we didn’t need the line of text anymore. That happened a few times.

My favourite joke in the whole book is when the text says that Sadie is quiet in the mornings because old people need a lot of sleep and then we see Sadie merrily hammering away. My second favourite is when she “tidies her room” and we see everything madly stuffed underneath her bed. That sort of friction between the text and image pleases me inordinately.

It’s very strange because this is my fourth book with the fabulous Julie Morstad but it’s the first that really and truly feels like a collaboration rather than a co-creation. It’s partly a product of working with Tara Walker who is an absolute genius of a picture book editor–an Ursula Nordstrom for our times. It’s also partly a product of knowing Julie and her work so well that I was kind of writing the book for her this time and imagining it as a way of showcasing just what she can do.

And from Eliza Wheeler:

An awesome thing about Pat’s text was that it was completely open; no character descriptions or even specific story-lines. It allowed the story to be told in the pictures, which is a dream scenario for any illustrator.

The take-away for me, at my desk, avoiding writing but thinking about how I would write if I was writing: leave room for those fabulous illustrators.

But: how to leave room? Maybe, as Wheeler describes, you have to leave things out to make space for illustration. But you can’t leave so much out that you create befuddling gaps and holes. Perhaps it’s more about making room, as opposed to leaving it: about opening doors and leaving them ajar, offering up poetic language that is rich and suggestive without being overly prescriptive. Which means: you have to write.

Wherever You Go is about roads and journeys. At the book’s start, Pat Zietlow-Miller writes:

Roads give you chances to seek and explore.
Want an adventure?
Just open your door.

Writing is its own adventure. So: point taken. The first steps to writing-and-leaving-room: open the door; hit the road; write.

And off we go…

A Desk Homecoming

I am sitting at my desk today, writing, for the first time in three months. I thought I would be spending the morning at PT but it turns out I read my calendar wrong — which only makes the fact that I am here, with extra work time, that much sweeter.

My desk lives in my office (aka guest room), at the back of the third floor of our corner row house. It shares this top level with my daughters’ bedrooms. The desk is situated partway into the bay that projects off the rear of the room so that when I sit, my back is to the bay’s three windows and I face out into the small room and can see through the door to the space of the rest of the third floor and house.

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This morning, sun throws my shadow onto the desk from behind and warms my shoulders, and if I look out the side window I can see the first of the three Okame Cherries that we planted along the side of the house when we moved here 11 years ago and that — despite the indignities perpetrated weekly on their branches by the trash and recycling trucks that wedge their way down our narrow, 19th century side-street — has managed to extend its reach up past the level of the second floor ceiling and into my view. Its deep pink blossoms began to open yesterday, starting at the bottom of the tree and working their way up. Finches and sparrows will soon gather in the glow and pluck the flowers off one by one. I am certain they congregate mainly on this tree because of the feeders that share its pit, but I have never figured out what, if anything, they take from the buds — nectar? droplets of water? On bad days I assume that it is just their way of passing the time and ungraciously thumbing their beaks at me, their feeder. The seed ran out a week ago though, so maybe this year the birds will forget us and let the blooms stay suspended a bit longer before ceding to gravity on their own as they make way for new leaves. Honestly, though, I may just bask in glow of the pink shadow that the plucked blossoms form on the pavement beneath the tree, and laugh.

Since January 6 — D-day for my podiatric post-op nightmare — I have written. Just not here. Life ground almost immediately to a halt when my foot literally exploded, and though I gradually got back to work I wrote first from my lap in bed, later from my lap on the couch and, once calluses developed on the heels of my hands and tendonitis in my right elbow (oh, the palimpsest of indignities), from an adjustable, portable lap desk in the den armchair.

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My old friend Liz has just begun penning a poem a day for National Poetry Month, all prompted by things you would find on/in a desk, and she offhandedly asked friends and colleagues to share photos if inspired. My desk, not surprisingly — and like many other lateral surfaces in my house — has achieved peak accumulation during its extended vacation. To wit, here is what greeted me and my laptop from the center of the desk when we arrived this morning (to address the periphery, too, would take all day so I won’t): a mailing announcing that Cricket’s Odyssey and Muse magazines have merged, atop a copy of Ann Lamott’s Bird By Bird, atop a journal, atop an article about South Korea’s haneyeo or “sea women”, atop an SCBWI Bulletin atop, a North Creek Nursery plant catalog; a grey-black, river-washed stone with a stripe of white through its center, aka ‘the ice cream sandwich’; a Cornell Lab of Ornithology flyer on Citizen Science plus two packs of their ‘Celebrate Urban Birds’ Lemon Queen Sunflower Seeds, together bridging the white envelope they came in with a drawing of an un-named animal by a colleague’s 3-year old daughter on a pink sheet of paper beneath, plus a Vaccine Information Statement about HPV that partly covers my daughter’s cartoon of a ladybug who lives in an avocado; a pin cushion; a gravity-driven, perambulating cast-plastic (and hand painted) Moomintroll; a roll of trace on top of two mock-ups of my nine year-old’s whale and dolphin valentine (“Whale you be my valentine?” “Dolphinately!”); a pile of more native plant nursery catalogues, over a small sketch of one of my older daughter’s Schroth Method exercises; a wool, felted bullseye pin-cushion; and a lacquered, Russian, khokhloma cup that is home to all things long and thin (rulers, eraser brush, flags, pens, pencils, scissors).

The clutter would at other times feel oppressive — a reminder of so many things un-done and the persistent and ignored need to purge. But today my desk is better for the whole mess of it. All this flotsam and jetsam — so easily slid to the side — tells me that the current presses on, and I am so thankful to be easing back into it.