Monday, July 31, 2017

A Long View from Carla's Office

We TeachingAuthors are writing about the view from our offices during these long, hot summer days.  I look out my office window and see a flowerbed full of beautiful black-eyed Susan flowers.  Butterflies gently land on one bloom, then another.  Hummingbirds flit around the feeder on and off all day. 

Outside my office window.

I’ve written here before that I’m writing a new book about the enslaved people who lived and worked at Mount Vernon.  The working title is BURIED LIVES: THE ENSLAVED PEOPLE OF GEORGE WASHINGTON’S MOUNT VERNON.  Holiday House will publish it in the fall of 2018.  This summer I’ve been working on revisions on the book. 

In BURIED LIVES I’m concentrating on the lives of about six specific enslaved people.  I’ve gotten to know them really well over the last two years.  While rewriting the same paragraphs over and over to get them right—not good enough, but right—I’ve looked out at those black-eyed Susan flowers a lot this summer.  I’ve watched them sway in the hot breeze, but often I didn’t see them at all.  Instead in my mind’s eye I’ve seen Mount Vernon as it was in the 18th century.  I’ve imagined sweeping the stairs with Caroline; working in the stable with Peter; making perfect stitches with Oney Judge; riding with William Lee during the Revolution; caring for George Washington’s clothes with Christopher Shields, and cooking in an open hearth with Hercules.   

As a nonfiction writer, the people I write about must be real to me before they can come to life through words on the page.  The enslaved people whose lives I’ve been studying are very real to me.  I can’t wait to introduce readers to them. 

The flowers outside this window are nice and orderly.  But on the other side of the window-not so much.  This is what my office looks like when I'm working on a book.  It looks like a disaster zone, but it is controlled chaos.  I need every single thing you see here (and a lot more that you can't see).  The problem is where to put everything when the book is finished.    

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Spending the Summer Outside

For this series of posts, we Teaching Authors are sharing the views from our summer workplaces. Bobbi,  Carmela, and Esther have already posted about their locations. I’m spending most of my time at home. During a recent local weather forecast, I heard that the longest we’ve gone without rain so far this summer in Southeastern Wisconsin is three days. Everything is really green!

The flowers on our front hill are thriving!
Between thunderstorms and neighborhood construction projects (including our own new roof), it’s been hard to find quiet time. But in spite of noise and dust, I’m trying to write outside whenever I can.

In the backyard, I raise monarchs in a mosquito net tent and grow milkweed in pots.
Reading outside is a pleasure, too. I’ve been studying The Granite Pail: The Selected Poems of Lorine Niedecker. Niedecker’s poetry focuses on nature, especially around her Wisconsin home. Here are three of my favorites from that collection:

Get a load
         of April’s
frog rattle—
lowland freight cars
in the night

bee in milkweed flower

Poet’s work 
  advised me:
Learn a trade 
I learned
  to sit at desk
and condense 
No layoff
  from this

monarch butterfly, just released from the backyard tent

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch

Rosy, my backyard companion, in my favorite spot
Inspired by Niedecker’s approach to structure, I’m playing around with this draft:

wet notebook—
wind tips
leaf pockets 
last night’s rain falls

Where are you working?

Happy summer, all! Happy Poetry Friday! Today’s Roundup is at A Word Edgewise.

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, July 24, 2017

The View from MY Chicago Desk

Ah! Let’s hear it for the soul-warming, sunny southern exposure the view from my Chicago desk offers me daily!

And, what about those postcard-perfect images my balcony conjures up
when I look west,
to the spine-steeling Water Tower, the only public building to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871,

or east, to Lake Michigan’s Spirit-calming ever-changing blue, blue waters?
I pinch myself often to test my Good Fortune’s realness.

No matter the work, woe or worry I’m wrestling, seeing my big-shouldered city that Carl Sandburg poetically-tagged “a tall bold slugger” miraculously keeps me at bat.

And should I falter somehow, and strike out, I can always pull up an internal treasure or two I’ve stored for such times.

Like the pure joy the seven talented writers (pictured below) magically made and bottled last week during our Manuscript Workshop at the Landgrove Inn in Landgrove, Vermont.

                           ( Left to right: Heather Preusser, Lee Miao, Libby Ester,
                             Jerry Oberle, Mary Serocynski, Beth Najberg,
                             Cheryl Sullivan)

Happy viewing from your desks, both in-and-ex-ternally!

Esther Hershenhorn

If you’re curious as to what I would see if able to look north, click here. :)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Working While Out and About

Hello Everyone,
As Bobbi mentioned on Monday, we're back from our summer break with a series on the "view from our window." My work the last few weeks has focused on teaching rather than writing, so I haven't been home much lately. But my "view" hasn't been in a traditional classroom. This week, I presented at the Catholic Writers Guild conference. This post is a bit late because I didn't get home till around 2 this afternoon. I'd spent the morning there signing books alongside fellow middle-grade/YA author Amy Cattapan and saying farewell to some lovely friends, some I'd just met in person for the first time.

Amy and I did NOT intentionally color-coordinate our outfits
Yesterday, Amy and I did a team presentation with YA author Stephanie Engelman on "Writing for Teens and Tweens." We forgot to ask someone to take a picture while we were speaking, but we did get one afterward:
Stephanie, me, and Amy right after our talk

Immediately before our team presentation, I gave a talk on "Turning Life into Fiction."

Photo courtesy of Amy Cattapan
All these presentations follow on the heels of my teaching a new week-long Creativity Camp for students age 9-12 at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.
My camp students hard at work 
I won't be teaching for a while now, so I hope to get back to writing soon.

Meanwhile, don't forget--today is Poetry Friday. This week's roundup is over at The Logonauts.

Remember to Write with JOY!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Hello, it's me!

The Teaching Authors return this week with a new series on the view from our window. As you may remember, I recently moved to Georgia, so my work space is still a work in progress.

But some things never change. Like cats and their windows. And writers and their cats.

Comma’s back. And he says hello.

Meanwhile, here’s a poem to celebrate…

The View from the Window

Like a painting it is set before one,
But less brittle, ageless; these colours
Are renewed daily with variations
Of light and distance that no painter
Achieves or suggests. Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart. All through history
The great brush has not rested,
Nor the paint dried; yet what eye,
Looking coolly, or, as we now,
through the tears' lenses, ever saw
This work and it was not finished?

-- R.S. (Ronald Stuart) Thomas

Bobbi Miller