Wool Scarves and Mittens

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since May! So much has been happening. My son and daughter (twins) left for college in September and I finished the rought draft of my novel THE FIELD featuring Eric Horton, the older brother of Marcie from INDIAN SUMMER. More on THE FIELD to come in another post.

Here are some projects I’ve been working on.

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Santa brought me this jacket for Christmas and I knitted this scarf to go with it! Okay, I picked out the jacket myself and Mrs. Claus gave it to me!

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My new obsession is felting sweaters and making stuff with them. Felting involves washing old wool sweaters from Goodwill in very hot water so the fibers in the wool ‘felt’ together and make a fabric you can cut that won’t fray or unravel at the edges. I made these mittens for my cousin, but don’t you think they match perfectly with my old Lands’ End jacket? I may have to keep them for myself!

These are pillows I made from sweaters and rick-rack that I bought years ago at Tuesday Morning thinking that I would someday have a use for it.

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Having the kids go off for college was hard, but it’s the next stage for them and they’re having a great time! It also freed me up for my next stage in life! First step – take over the band room in the basement. I’ve transformed the space into my craft room. I can’t share pics at the moment as it is still a mess from various projects, but stay tuned! Craft on!

Summer Reading Recommendation – A Conversation with ASHFALL author, Mike Mullin

A couple weekends ago I attended a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) conference at McCormick’s Creek State Park. It was a wonderful conference and I left feeling very energized with lots of ideas for my work-in-progress. While I was there, I caught up with SCBWI member, Mike Mullin, author of, ASHFALL, a dystopian young adult novel about the eruption of the Yellowstone Park supervolcano. ASHFALL is getting rave reviews being and is touted as a book for fans of THE HUNGER GAMES. ASHEN WINTER, the next novel in the trilogy is coming out this FALL. Here’s a link to Mike’s webpage. http://www.mikemullinauthor.com/ 

Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when Yellowstone erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter.  When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.

Conversation with Mike Mullin, author of ASHFALL –

Tracy: I’d like to talk with you from a writer’s perspective. Once you got the idea that you wanted to write about the supervolcano, how did it evolve for you? How do the ideas come? How do you work on getting those ideas?

Mike: The idea came from reading another book, Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of NearlyEverything”, and I thought Ah ha, supervolcano. I’ve always been interested in disaster fiction. I’ve been an avid reader of apocalyptic fiction all my life and I thought here’s an apocalypse. I’ve always shied away from writing about one because it seems like they’ve all been done, and done well. I mean if I want to read a great book about tsunami’s or tornados, or what have you, it’s out there. Plenty of volcano stories out there. So the supervolcano, I thought that maybe no one has written about that and it turned out at the time that I had the idea nobody had. Now there a couple books about super volcanos which is fine, of course.

T: After yours or before?

M: After. Mine is the first and now Harry Turtledove has a novel titled “Supervolcano: Eruption,” which is an adult novel.

T: Do you think your book was part of him writing his novel?

M: No, just a coincidence. They were in the pipeline at the same time. It came out only two months after ASHFALL.  He got the idea from watching the national geographic special on it. He probably started writing his about a year or two after I started ASHFALL.

I read lots of YA (young adult) and I’ve always read YA, so it felt very natural for me to write in that genre. From there it was just a matter of thinking, okay, so I need a teenager and I needed to put him in a situation where his parents wouldn’t be around, because I don’t want the novel to be about the parents.

T: Which is what Margaret McMullan was just saying. ( Award winning author of SOURCES OF LIGHT and keynote speaker at the SCBWI conference.)

M: Exactly. So the idea of having his parents be visiting relatives just flowed naturally from that, from trying to figure out how to structure it to be a good YA novel. As far as finding the idea for the teenager that really came from my research. I did tons and tons of research on volcanos, obviously, but I also knew that I needed my protagonist to have some kind of special ability, something that was special about him to be able to survive this horrible, horrible natural disaster I was going to put him through. But I wanted to write realistic fiction. I didn’t want to have any magic. I thought that the way I would make my book different from all the dystopian novels I’ve read would be by making it intensely realistic. Something that could happen and would happen. So I decided that my main character would be a martial artist. The only bad part was that I didn’t know any martial arts. So I started taking Taekwondo and I thought I would just take it for a while, but it turned out I really enjoyed it and stuck with it and finally earned my black belt just before ASHFALL came out and now it’s a big part of my school presentation.

T: Which is really great!

M: Yeah, I break blocks! Its fun.

T: Which is kind of amazing when you think about it.

M: I enjoy it. I like breaking stuff, what can I say. Also, I met there (at the Taekwondo Dojang), Ben Alexander who’s this fifteen year old third degree black belt. This was back when I was just a white belt and he was really patient and would explain things over and over again. Just a really great kid. He’s kind of small – he comes up to about here on me (indicates mid chest). I’ve got probably 80 pounds on him and tons of reach. He’s so friendly and helpful but then we have at our dojang what we call Friday night fights. We strap pads on our hands and feet and chest protectors and helmets and then we try to kick the crud out of each other. It’s awesome! Ben Alexander can pretty much kick me in the head and knock me down any time he wants to. He’s that much better. Even now, he’s still a third degree black belt, and I have my black belt now, but he’s just so much faster. I thought, ah ha! That’s the guy I need to have in my mind as I’m writing my character and that’s why my protagonist in ASHFALL is named Alex after Ben Alexander. I don’t know why I didn’t like Ben (the name, not the boy!), but he didn’t feel like a Ben to me so I used Alex.

T: So do you find that ideas just sort of pop into your head; that they come to you that way? And when you’re actually starting to write – let’s talk about that, too. Do you do an outline? I know one author says he throws all the ideas into a box and then takes it out and storyboards it. What’s your process?

M: Before I wrote ASHFALL, I had a YA horror novel that I ‘pantsed’. I had the idea and the characters and just wrote it as I went and figured out where it was going as I was writing. (Mike’s wife, Margaret sees my confusion about the term ‘pantsed’ and interjects ‘By the seat of your pants’ to clarify for me. I am obviously not up on writer jargon!) And that novel was so bad that I sent it to three literary agents and two of them quit the business forever!

When I was doing ASHFALL, I actually plotted it out. I wrote a very rough, chaotic five page outline before I started writing. And planned things like here’s how I’m going to get his parents away and planned it basically all out. Darla was in that outline.

T: How true was it?

M: To what I actually ended up writing? Not very. I wound up diverging from it. And some of the best parts of the novel are where I allowed myself to diverge from the outline. Many people tell me that their favorite part of ASHFALL is chapters 37 and 38 and when I’m asked, I usually say chapters 37 and 38.

T: Tell me what happens in those.

M: It’s when Alex and Darla meet Katie and her mom on the road.

T: Is that with the little girls in the snow suits?

M: Yeah. Exactly. With the blond hair. They were never in any outline, or any plan. I wrote that while I was out in Portland visiting my uncle Chuck who was then dying of stage four colon cancer. When I’m drafting, I try to write absolutely every day. So I would get up in the morning at 5 or 6 and write for a couple of hours until my uncle Chuck would get up about 10 or 11am. He’s very sick at this point. He died two weeks after I left. Then I’d put my writing aside and spend the rest of the day with my uncle Chuck. The thing that affected me most deeply about that wasn’t so much watching my uncle Chuck die as watching his family around him; his kids and his wife who were just trying to shower love on him even while they are obviously already grieving; deeply into this grief process. And so I think from that I wrote this woman who had just lost her husband and was trying to protect her children and found that she couldn’t. I know that really worked because one of the revision techniques I use is to either read my work aloud, or better yet, have it read out loud. And so I’ll volunteer to drive Margaret, my wife, to her education conferences. So I’m driving her to this education conference in Pittsburg and she’s reading the draft of ASHFALL out loud in the passenger seat – because it’s really better if you don’t read and drive.

T: Yes, I’ve tried it, but not a good idea.

M: And I hear this little noise and I look over and she’s doing this kind-of quiet crying thing and there’s just tears streaming down her face and I thought, YES, I’ve nailed it! I’ve made my wife cry. I’m a great writer and a terrible husband.

T: (Laughs) But that is exactly what you want. You want to get that emotion. So when in the writing of ASHFALL, or maybe it wasn’t during the writing, did you start getting ideas for the sequels?

M: Actually when I was doing the outline, before it was ever written, I had a rough idea. I realized that I had way more story than would fit in one book, and that ASHFALL would probably work best if it was really tightly compressed. ASHFALL takes place over six or eight weeks; just a real short snapshot of Alex’s journey and I really wanted to end on a real note of hope where the reader would have some confidence that Alex had a future. And the volcanic winter after an eruption like I’m depicting is going to be brutal and at least three years, possibly as long as ten years. So I couldn’t finish on that sense of hope that I wanted. So I did do a very rough sketch of this is what belongs in the second book and this is what belongs in the third book and as I was drafting ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER I would keep track of the things that didn’t fit and I kept outlining SUNRISE, the third book, off and on all through the process. When I actually sat down to do the outline to send to my publisher to sell SUNRISE, it was just a matter of putting everything place. Formalizing it rather than creating it. So I’ve had a rough arc for the trilogy since before I wrote ASHFALL.

T: Do you find that while you were writing ASHFALL that you wanted to start writing ASHEN WINTER?

M: Oh, all the time. Ideas come all the time. You get random ideas. You think ‘here’s this really cool idea, I should go write this.’ The way I deal with that is I open a new file on my computer and I write down everything I know about this shiny new idea and then I go back to work. Because you can’t sell an unfinished novel! So the nice thing about that is that I have fifteen or twenty of those little files with chunks of novels or ideas. Some of them are just a few paragraphs and some that are ten or fifteen pages with scenes all written out. When I finish the ASHFALL trilogy I’ll open them up and see which one I’m most interested in writing next.

T: So you don’t have writer’s block most of the time.

M: No, there are definitely days when I have trouble with that, absolutely. What I typically will do – what works for me – it to get out of the house, go for a bike ride, go for a walk, get some kind of physical activity. Sometimes sitting down in an unusual place. I’m a nomadic writer. Anywhere where I’ve got my lap top, I’ll sit down and write. Sometimes I just walk into a new place and sit down and start typing.

T: When I do talks, one of the things that I always say is that imagination is really the most important thing. Einstein said it – of course you have to be able to have a good craft – but having the idea is the key. So any words of wisdom to pass on to writers or people wanting to be published?

M: All I really tell students in my talks is read a lot, write a lot, submit or self-publish your work. It’s that easy and that difficult. Michael Grant says sort of the same thing. I heard his school presentation a few weeks ago, except he says ‘Live a Lot’, so that you can have something to write about.

T: Right, like Margaret (McMullan) said, it’s boring to write about someone sitting in a room alone.

M: Exactly.

T: Okay, great! Thank you so much!

Graduation

My son and daughter are graduating from high school this year. I find myself being very excited for them and perhaps even a little jealous. They will be attending college in downtown Chicago – right across from Grant Park and Navy Pier with a view of Lake Michigan. One thing that I never did was live in the city after college. I guess I can live a little vicariously through my children. They are following creative pursuits -music management and comtemporary music, and photography and graphic design.  They are both very talented artists. The interesting thing is how many people want to tear their dreams down before they’ve even started or tell them that they can’t ‘make a living’ as an artist or to be ‘realistic’.  Is it that these people have thwarted dreams of their own? I even know of a young lady who dreams of being a baker whose mother told her that she can either major in business or education, not culinary arts. Why would you want to subject your child to life in a cubicle? And last time I checked, teaching jobs were pretty hard to come by. I find that very sad. I told her to take cooking classes as electives and learn about the business of owning her own bakery!

I’m not a very nostalgic person, and while I am sad that my children will be leaving home soon and will miss them and all of their friends and all the positive energy that they bring, I am really so excited for the adventure they are about to embark on. Frankly, I’m also a little excited about the adventures that I am about to embark on, because, now its gonna be all about me! 🙂

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

 

“Find your passion and then you will have found your purpose.” ~ Bishop T.D. Jakes

World Book Night

Here I am picking up my books from Big Hat Books and Arts in Broad Ripple for World Book Night! I am going to use the books to host a book group this summer at the Westminister Neighborhood Ministries children’s summer camp. We’ll be reading “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo.  I think I’m more excited than the the kids! If we finish “Because of Winn Dixie” then I will have them read “Indian Summer.”

Thursday I did an author talk at the Canterbury School Book Fair for third graders. Very fun! One of the other authors brought her dog, Martha, who was fabulously well behaved and sweet. Of course the kids loved her! Its hard to compete with a dog. 🙂

 Then on Friday I went to the Christamore House Author Luncheon, a benefit with five authors speaking and selling their books to fund the Christamore House children’s programs. Books, Books, Books ~all to benefit kids! Yeah!

March Madness

While Indiana is consumed with the March Madness of the college basketball tournament – go IU Hoosiers!, another March madness is quietly taking place…80 degree temperatures! 🙂

First daffodils

               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Bowl Village Indianapolis

Friday night we ventured downtown to see the Hoosier Hospitality we’ve been hearing about at the Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis. The weather has been perfect – 50’s and above and no snow. Downtown Indy is perfect for this event because everything is within walking distance including the stadium. It was PACKED, but everyone was in good spirits and having fun. We saw the much talked about zip-line and many street performers. The areas around the concert stage for LMFAO was too crowded to get awaywhere near, but we had fun just people watching. Its nice for the rest of the world to see what a great city Indianapolis is! These pics were taken with my iPhone, so the quality isn’t great, but you get the idea.

Sunday night I’ll be watching the game and rooting for Eli Manning and the Giants to beat the Patriots!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zip Line tower and Lucas Oil Stadium

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Crowds of people

Art and Science

I was listening to a show on our local NPR station “The Art of the Matter” on Saturday and they mentioned a new program called The daVinci Pursuit. It is aimed at young adults who are a little old for the ‘Children’s Museum’, but still need a cool place to hang out and experience art and science. The director of the program referenced Leonardo daVinci (obviously) and Michealangelo as examples of artists whose work was informed by science. This really resonates with me as I didn’t start off as a writer (although if you read my last post – Projects – you’ll see that I’ve always been interested in art.) I worked summers in college in the mirobiology lab of Evanston Hospital and have a B.S. in Biology from IU. I still love science even though my career path took a different route. I’ve always felt that my mathmatical/scientific mind helped me to see patterns and shapes, relationships and colors in my art and that understanding science (or perhaps making new discoveries) requires a considerable measure of creativity. My sister-in-law once gave me a terrific complement by saying that I was one of the few people she knew who is both left and right brained. I was flattered, but I wonder, is that really true, or do we all have equal measures of both? I find that my writing incorporates my science background as well. My next novel-in-progress, a YA titled THE FIELD, deals with alternative energy sources (wind, solar, and so-called clean coal) and The Universal Energy Field or Zero Point Field that some scientists postulate permeates every inch of space in the Universe. It takes a bit of creativity to imagine it and a lot of scientific work to discover it. I’ll post a new excerpt to THE FIELD soon!

Projects

I love this time of year. I know I am in the minority, but I’m not alone. I grew up in Chicago where it got cold in December and stayed cold until April. We had outdoor skating rinks and skiied all winter. Winters in Indianapolis are wimpy. It was 60 degrees today! There is no such thing as winter sports here. Someone from Michigan once told me the reason people in Indianapolis don’t like winter is that it doesn’t stay cold long enough for them to enjoy it. Interesting fact – Indianapolis is on the latitude with the most freeze/thaw cylcles. It snows, but it doesn’t stay for more that a few days. Not like in Chicago where I can remember coasting onto my ice covered driveway for two months because it hadn’t gotten warm enough for it to melt.

But the real reason that I love this time of year is that there is nothing else going on so I can do projects! In the Spring you have gardening, spring break, and graduations. Summer needs no explanation. In the Fall everyone gets busy with work and school until the ‘Holiday Season’ which basically starts before Halloween and goes until New Year’s Day. But in January, February and March we only have MLK Day, President’s Day, Valentine’s Day and St. Patty’s Day. Not much preparation required except buying a card, making dinner reservations and maybe a shamrock or two. Lot’s of time for me to MAKE THINGS! I am a crafter, though some people would call me crafty, and what I really consider myself is a Fiber Artist, since most things that I create are with fabric or yarn. In the 70’s I was into macrame and I made a table that hung from the ceiling with a plexiglass cirlce suspened by a metal ring. It was quite a conversation piece in my dorm room in college. When my children leave for college next fall, I am going to start calling myself a Fiber Artist (and author, of course!) I am also planning to reclaim the basement from my son who has turned it into a recording studio and band practice space. I am coveting a work table from the Martha Stewart Collection – call me Martha!

For Christmas presents this year I made mittens and scarves out of wool sweaters that I felted (basically shrunk in hot water in the wash). Pics below. I have to say I think they turned out cute! Then I made bags and pajamas and pillows! I am even making myself a jacket. I haven’t made clothes for myself in years, but I went to a new, high end fabric store (The French Seam) and found myself leaving with three yards of gorgeous watermelon colored wool. Bookstores, fabric stores and yarn stores are dangerous places for me. Did I also mention that I am making curtains and pillows for my family room? I’ve taken over the living room and dining room and since I like to have my projects out in the open until they are finished, and I have multiple projects going on at once (just like you readers who have multiple books on the nightstand) it’s a bit of a mess. My office is the same way. I’m a pile filer. I don’t agree with the people who say that if you haven’t completed a project within a year to discard it. I have at least three knitting projects waiting in the wings that I may not get to until next Fall, but I will get to them. To me its like when you finish a book and you’re at loose ends until you find your next book. One must always have a project ready to start.

So for those of you who love this time of year for the cold and the luxury of time to create, pour yourself a cup of tea or hot  chocolate and get crafting!

Felted Flower Pins

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

'Matching' mittens

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Scarf and Mittens

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Woolen Mittens

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Pillow with Felted Flowrs

Coincidences – Part II

I had to share the next episode in the Winnetka, IL coincidence saga. At the Indy Author’s Fair I talked with Margaret McMullan, winner of the National Author Award. We had met before and I went to a workshop where she talked about her novels. One of her novels for adults, “In My Mother’s House”, really intrigued me, so I got it and started to read. It turns out that the family in the book moves to Winnetka, IL!!  That really got my attention. Why all these Winnetka references? Stay tuned to as the story unfolds….

Coincidences

I’m one of those people who find meaning in even the smallest things, so when ‘coincidences’ happen I take notice. I believe that coincidences are really the universe giving us little nudges or responding to our thoughts and desires. Several serendipidous coincidences happened to me just recently. In October, I attended the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) conference in Memphis, TN. The keynote speaker was Margaret Peterson Haddix, a highly regarded and prolific YA author. In her speech she mentioned that she used Conner Prairie as inspiration for her first novel, “Running Out of Time” (see post under ‘Conner Prairie’ 10/14/2011). I live right across the river and about two miles away from Conner Prairie. The really interesting coincidence is this -while I was at the confernce I purchased Ms. Haddix’s novel “Found” and discovered that one of her characters is from Winnetka, IL, which is the town where I grew up and is fictionalized in “Indian Summer”! So what made me pick that particular novel? Is there going to be some connection between me and Margaret Peterson Haddix? (I hope so!) Her books are mostly in the science fiction genre, which is the direction that I find that my writing going. (My science background is appearing more and more in my writing, but that’s a subject for another post).

Then last week I suddenly thought of my son’s first grade teacher for no particular reason. She just popped into my head while I was at the drugstore. I hadn’t seen or talked to her in over 10 years. A few days later while I was shopping at Costco, who do you think I ran into? Mrs. Tobias, former first grade teacher! We chatted for a few minutes and she was stunned to learn that my son is now a senior and applying to colleges. I have to wonder why I thought of her and ran into her.

The third synchronicity was that I called some friends of ours to get together for a night out and then I saw our friend Celia at the church Bazaar (shopping again!). She said that she had just mentioned to her husband that they should get together with us – she hadn’t gotten my message yet. ~ Que the theme from The Twighlight Zone!

So what do these synchronisities mean? Haven’t you ever had the phone ring and you know who it is before you answer or even more spooky, been thinking about a friend and have them call? Do our thoughts somehow communicate with one another remotely or telepathically? I’m exploring these ideas in “The Field”. I believe that we are all connected. I’d love to hear about ‘coincidences’ that have happened to you!